Arkansas-LSU, BCS future and more
This week's top 20:
20. Game Of The Century Jr.
Friday is why God invented the couch, the 52-inch plasma, leftover turkey and the Southeastern Conference.
At precisely 2:30 p.m. ET, my rear end will be sofa bound and the TV remote will summon the satellite waves from faraway Baton Rouge, La. And for the next glorious three hours or so (or until I have to drive to O'Hare and catch my flight to Atlanta for Saturday's Iron Bowl at Auburn), I'll watch, like many of you, the supposed second-best matchup of the season: No. 3 Arkansas at No. 1 LSU.
I can't wait. Then again, I also couldn't wait for the Nov. 5 LSU-Bama game -- Game of the Century Sr.
That was No. 1 versus No. 2, but the game itself didn't live up to the hype. How could it?
And in retrospect, the outcome didn't do much to really define the national championship race. Bama lost, 9-6, but it's no worse off today than it was after missing four field goals that night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was No. 2 then, it's No. 2 now.
The same sort of thing could happen Friday afternoon. A scenario exists where LSU could lose, but still end up in the national championship game against Bama. And if that happens, we'd have Game of the Century III in less than 2½ months.
The dominoes could fall this way: Arkansas upsets LSU, Bama beats Auburn, Georgia beats Arkansas in the SEC championship game. Or LSU beats Arkansas, Bama beats Auburn, Georgia beats LSU in the SEC championship.
Depending on what happens with Oklahoma State (or maybe not), we could have a No. 1 Bama versus No. 2 LSU on Jan. 9 at the Superdome.
Meanwhile, the smart guys in Vegas seem to be leaning heavily toward LSU beating up the Razorbacks. LSU is a 14-point favorite, though that could be Tigers fans driving up the spread. But as a helpful reminder, Oklahoma State was nearly a four-touchdown favorite against Iowa State last Friday. How'd that work out?
Anyway, I'm taking LSU, but unlike Century Sr., this one will have actual offense. Something in the 28-24 neighborhood sounds about right.
19. 500 words or less
A week ago Monday, BCS officials were meeting in San Francisco to discuss possible changes to the system. As one conference commissioner later told me, it was a glorified spitball session.
But a few of the ideas have a chance of sticking. The full-blown, 16-team playoff system that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is pushing? Uh, no. But just about everything else, including a plus-one model, is on the table.
After talking with four people who were in the meeting room (and another who was briefed on the discussions), it's obvious that the commissioners are open to change. One commissioner actually asked me what mode I would prefer. That's a first.
"We need to consider all the options," said the commissioner.
I'm a playoff guy. But even though a pure playoff format was discussed last Monday, it was probably more of a courtesy than anything else. A plus-one model, though, remains a possibility.
"I think a plus-one could work," said one of the attending commissioners.
And he wasn't the only one who thought so.
Lots of things could work, including the suggested proposal that the BCS get out of the automatic qualifiers/BCS bowls business and concentrate solely on creating a No. 1 versus No. 2 BCS championship matchup. No more BCS affiliation with the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Discover Orange Bowl, Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio (these roll off the tongue, don't they?) and Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
There was also talk of seeding teams, of adding another bowl to the rotation, of doing away with the piggyback format where the same city has two games (this year the Sugar oversees its own game and then the BCS championship), of the BCS bidding out the game to the highest offer.
"People are open," said another commissioner. "It's fresh. It's creative."
It's also a response to the annual criticism leveled by the pro-playoff faction.
"I think there's a lot of well-intentioned people in that room who are getting beat up for doing what they consider is the right thing," said one of the BCS attendees.
Give the commissioners credit for trying to fix what they can fix. They do care about college football. And, of course, they also care about the self-interests of their respective conferences.
The current BCS cycle ends after the 2013 season and bowls are played. Recommendations by the commissioners to the presidents could take place as early as this June.
According to one commissioner, the presidents will abide by their recommendations "unless we just go nuts." But another commissioner told me there could be a wrestling match between the presidents and the commissioners relative to who will actually make the decisions.
Whatever. The good news is that they're talking.
Said BCS executive director Bill Hancock: "I suspect between now and six to nine months from now you'll hear many ideas to change the BCS. Plenty of ideas have been brought forward and more are to come. I know you are aware that the process has just begun and any speculation about a leader in the clubhouse is unfounded."
18. BCS -- Part II
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has a dog in the BCS format fight. Under the present model, his program has preferred access to BCS bowls, as well as a favorable financial arrangement with the BCS. A new model could affect that.
For example, if the BCS adopted the proposal that required it only to arrange the No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup -- and everyone else was on their own to make their best bowl deals -- would that help or hurt Notre Dame?
"Notre Dame is an interesting story on this," said a high-ranking conference official. "That might finally force them to do something, I don't know."
By "do something," he meant give up its football independence and join a conference.
But Notre Dame doesn't necessarily see it that way.
"I don't think it would make any difference," said a school official. "If you're a good football team and win 10, 11 games, you're going to get in there."
But the point is, what if you're not a 10- or 11-win team?
Right now, if Notre Dame isn't among the elite teams at season's end -- and the Irish haven't been in a BCS bowl since the 2007 Sugar -- then it gets the table scraps. It does have an arrangement that gives it access to the Champs Sports Bowl once in a four-year window. Otherwise, the Irish go where conferences can't fill their bowl tie-in spots.
"We've had a lot of people interested in trying to figure out how we fit," said the Notre Dame official.
If Notre Dame were in, say, the ACC or the Big Ten, its ease of access to bowls might improve. But the Irish would lose that independence and the ability to cash very big checks all by themselves.
17. BMOP (Big Man On Podium)
"I really didn't know what to do. I just threw my hands up, started yelling, started screaming and running around a little bit. My mind kind of went blank."
-- Iowa State wide receiver Darius Reynolds, on his reaction to the Cyclones' upset of Oklahoma State (courtesy of Andrew Logue, Des Moines Register).
16. BMOP runners-up
"I really have no explanation for what just happened."
-- North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien after the Wolfpack crushed Clemson, 37-13 (courtesy of J.P. Giglio, Raleigh News & Observer).
"We don't consider it an upset."
-- Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, on the Bears' 45-38 upset, uh, non-upset win against Oklahoma (courtesy of The Associated Press).
"They blew the play dead. But they explained to me again why you can do that and it can still count. They explained every call to me on the sideline and I didn't have my rulebook. They were very pleasant when they explained them."
-- Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, on a botched call in overtime that resulted in a Tennessee interception return for a game-winning touchdown (courtesy of Jeff Lockridge, Nashville Tennessean).
"During the play, the head linesman incorrectly ruled that the Tennessee player's knee was down when he intercepted the pass by blowing his whistle and giving the dead ball signal. The play was reviewed as if there was no whistle on the field and as a result, overturned the incorrect ruling. By rule, if there was a whistle blown, the play is not reviewable."
-- Steve Shaw, SEC coordinator of officials, in postgame statement.
"It's a joke. Those [officials] should have to come look at my little kids, look them in the eye and tell them."
-- Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, on two offensive interference calls that wiped out a touchdown and a key first down (courtesy of Chicago Tribune's Shannon Ryan).
15. Heisman Trophy race
Seated in the front row at Best Buy Theater:
Alabama RB Trent Richardson -- Don't count on Richardson doing an Andrew Luck and returning for his senior season at Bama. But if he does, they'll have to commission another statue of Tide coach Nick Saban outside Bryant-Denny Stadium. The new statue will feature Saban jumping in the air, spirit fingers at full extension, and with a "Whoooooee, Trent's coming back!!!!" thought-bubble attached.
In the meantime, Saban and Bama fans will have to make do with another killer performance: 175 rushing yards, three total touchdowns against Georgia Southern. Now it's on to Auburn, where I'm guessing Richardson will have a teensy-weensy better game than he did a season ago against War Eagle. Remember? Ten carries, 24 yards.
Baylor QB Robert Griffin III -- Mention the name, "RGIII," to Oklahoma's defensive players and they start twitching uncontrollably. Just watch the highlights against the Sooners and you'll instantly understand why he should be in New York for the presentation ceremony. Griffin has been in and around the BMOC short list all season. His numbers are otherworldly (No. 1 in total offense) and he carries himself with class and poise. That's a nice combo platter.
Houston QB Case Keenum -- If it were a lifetime achievement award, Keenum or Boise State's Kellen Moore would be your winner. But it's not. It's for 2011 and Keenum moves up to the No. 3 spot on my ballot because you can't swing a chin strap without hitting his name in the NCAA stats book. He leads the nation in passing yardage, yards per game, touchdown passes and TD-to-interception ratio. But notice he isn't No. 1 in pass attempts. He's No. 15. And did anyone mention that Houston is one of only two undefeated teams?
Keep a coat and tie handy:
Stanford QB Andrew Luck -- This one hurt. A lot. But as much as I love the big lug, he hasn't thrown for more than 257 yards in each of his last three games. He has eight touchdown throws in that stretch, but also four INTs. And he struggled (not necessarily all his fault) in the overtime win against USC. I'm not giving up on him. But just because you're going to be the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL draft doesn't mean you get the Heisman.
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball -- No. 1 in scoring; only the fifth player in FBS history to reach the 30-TD mark; tied with K-State's Collin Klein with 25 rushing TDs; makes opposing defensive backs wish they'd lettered in table tennis.
Oklahoma QB Landry Jones -- It's not his fault OU's defense is 93rd against the pass.
Boise State QB Kellen Moore -- For old time's sake.
USC QB Matt Barkley -- A little late to the party this season, but you've always got that senior year. Or not.
Thanks for stopping by the booth:
Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden -- He was 28 when the Iowa State game began, 48 when it ended. Weeden picked the absolute wrong time to throw three picks in a huge upset loss.
Oregon RB LaMichael James -- Love the effort. Love you trying to play hurt. But it just wasn't to be.
Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson -- You'll never forget your transfer year.
K-State QB Collin Klein -- Maybe next season?
14. The picks
LSU over Arkansas, Bama over Auburn, Virginia Tech over Virginia, Notre Dame over Stanford, Houston over Tulsa, Boise State over Wyoming, Oregon over Oregon State, Michigan State over Northwestern, Oklahoma over Iowa State, Wisconsin over Penn State, South Carolina over Clemson, Georgia over Georgia Tech, Michigan over Ohio State, Baylor over Texas Tech, Nebraska over Iowa, West Virginia over Pitt, USC over UCLA.
(Last week: 15-7. BMOC had waffled on USC-Oregon pick, but took the Ducks because of home-field "advantage." Was worried about OU at Baylor because of Sooners' defense. Should have followed my gut on that one. Iowa State over Oklahoma State and North Carolina State over Clemson? Wouldn't have seen those upsets even with night vision goggles.)
13. Hot seat
Ron Zook's Illinois team started 6-0, but has lost its last five consecutive games. His athletic director -- the guy who replaced the guy who hired Zook in 2005 -- is noncommittal about the future. His offensive coordinator is publicly campaigning to give Zook more time.
It's a mess in Champaign and it didn't get any better after another uneven performance in last Saturday's home loss to Wisconsin. That means the Illini haven't won a game since Oct. 8.
Zook was hired because he can recruit and because he had the experience of a strange, semi-successful three-year reign at Florida. But it hasn't translated at Illinois, where Zook has a 34-50 record heading into Saturday's season finale at Minnesota.
The guy is a grinder -- you have to give him that. He'll recruit until he drops. And as the Illinois offensive coordinator told the Chicago Tribune: "I wouldn't be so happy and so trying to run everyone out of town. It's a really good staff. It's a bunch of guys who bust their butts."
All true. But you don't always get wins for effort. Since Zook led Illinois to the Rose Bowl in 2007, the Illini have won five, three, seven and now six games.
Zook didn't do himself any public relations favors, either, when he walked out of his weekly news conference last week. He did so after a Tribune reporter asked a legitimate question about the challenges of preparing a team when dealing with job status issues.
"You just couldn't let it go," he said to Shannon Ryan.
Zook and his job status are football-related issues. In fact, it's THE football-related issue at Illinois. To pretend otherwise, or to walk out because someone violated a self-imposed no-fly zone, is silly.
I have no idea what first-year Illinois AD Mike Thomas is going to do. But I do know Illinois, in the heart of some prime recruiting real estate, should have more than 21 total wins during the last four seasons.
12. No bowl policy
Whatever they're paying Al Golden at Miami (a recent USA Today database doesn't include his earnings because UM is a private institution), it isn't enough.
University officials didn't tell the first-year Hurricanes coach about a huge booster-related scandal when they interviewed and later hired him. And now, according to Golden, he wasn't "privy" to the school's decision to forego a bowl invitation.
It's the right decision -- one of the few correct ones made by stealth UM president Donna Shalala during the booster scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation -- but how could you not involve Golden in the process?
Miami is 6-5 with a final home game left against Boston College on Saturday. It's not like the Hurricanes were going to play in a BCS bowl, but a postseason game would have been a nice reward for the players and fans who stuck it out in the aftermath of multiple player suspensions related to the Nevin Shapiro/extra benefits scandal.
The decision to impose a bowl ban is a pre-emptive strike before the NCAA levies its own set of penalties. Showing some contrition now might help the Miami program later.
11. BMOS (Big Man On Sideline)
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State
Rhoads would be the first to tell you that it helps when Oklahoma State gives the ball away five times. But Iowa State, in its upset of the then-No. 2-ranked Cowboys, took advantage of those mistakes and didn't shrink in the moment.
The Cyclones still have Oklahoma and K-State on their schedule, but at least the win against Oklahoma State makes them bowl eligible. For a program that has been to one bowl game in the last five years, that counts for something.
10. BMOS runners-up
Lane Kiffin, USC
When I praised Kiffin after the Trojans lost to Stanford in triple overtime late last month, a head coach texted me and asked if I was feeling all right. After all, Kiffin and I had had our moments in the past.
But the BMOC almost always moves forward and we're certainly not going to ignore the run USC is on these days. A 9-2 record (soon to be 10-2 if it beats UCLA) is an extraordinary accomplishment, considering the Trojans aren't eligible for a bowl.
So Kiffin convinced his team that the trip to Oregon was the Trojans' postseason game. He must have called it the Let's End The Ducks' National Championship Hopes Bowl.
And he obviously has convinced his upperclassmen that NFL scouts, general managers and personnel directors are watching every snap of every USC game. Because they sure play like they want to impress those people.
Bottom line: Few, if any teams, are playing better than the Trojans.
My only criticism of Kiffin during the Oregon win: the oversized white stocking cap he wore on the sideline. It looked like it belonged on the head of a USC Song Girl. Or on Admiral Ackbar of "Star Wars."
Dave Steckel, Missouri
Gary Pinkel's one-game replacement kept the Tigers together in a comeback win against Texas Tech.
9. 250 words or less
Pinkel is lucky to have a job today after his arrest last Wednesday night for suspicion of drunk driving.
First, there are all the obvious practical dangers of drinking and driving. He could have killed someone, including himself.
Second, he's supposed to be the role model and leader of his football program. Instead, he acted like a knucklehead player.
Mizzou AD Mike Alden could have done more than suspend him for last Saturday's game against Texas Tech, essentially fine him about $300,000, freeze his salary for a year and require him to complete 50 hours of community service. He could have fired him.
And from a football standpoint, just think if Pinkel's absence had caused Missouri to lose to Texas Tech. The Tigers would have been 5-6, with one final chance at bowl eligibility Saturday against Kansas.
You write, BMOC reads.
On the BCS chaos:
"Let's play What If.
"What if LSU beats Arkansas? What if Georgia beats LSU in the SEC Championship? What if Auburn beats Alabama? What if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State? What if Virginia Tech wins out? Just what if Boise would have won? What if USC wasn't on probation?"
-- T. Chip
What if Boise, Oklahoma State, Alabama and Oregon could have made their field goals? What if Houston played in the Big East? What if Jim Tressel hadn't tried to cover up Tattoopalooza? What if Wisconsin hadn't given up two game-winning Hail Mary passes?
I can play this game all the day long.
"Hahahaha! Now are you gonna keep writing how Oregon deserves a rematch? Hahaha! The two best teams in the country are LSU/Bama. I've written you this every week since the four missed field goals cost Bama the game.
"I'm just happy now I don't have to listen to your anti-SEC, anti-BCS spin machine you've got going. No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 are all SEC West! Crazy! See you in New Orleans with my Crimson freak flag flyin!"
By all means. Let's meet at Antoine's. Bring the freak flag and your credit card.
7. Hiring advice
If I were Penn State, I'd make a serious run at Miami's Golden or Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald.
All things considered, I'd hire someone not connected to the Penn State family tree. This is a program that needs a clean break from the Paterno era, so that means no candidate with Penn State blue and white on the résumé.
That's why I'd go after Fitzgerald. I'm not sure he'd take it (he has a 10-year deal at Northwestern, has strong family ties to Chicago, etc.), but Penn State would be stupid not to make inquiries.
Fitzgerald played in the Big Ten, coaches in the Big Ten and has the proper amount of respect for all things Big Ten, including Penn State and the football legacy of Joe Paterno. But he also has a strong enough personality to be his own man, with his own singular ideas.
If Penn State insists on staying within the family, then Golden, who played tight end for the Nittany Lions, would be a no-brainer. He can handle crisis (see, Miami scandal). And he definitely can coach.
6. Burning question
I asked my podcast co-host Ivan Maisel this one Monday (of course, I had to speak slowly, so he'd understand):
ESPNU College Football
Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski recap one of the craziest weekends in college football history.
Who has the best chance to score an upset between now and the BCS championship?
Your options: Arkansas over LSU? Auburn over Bama? Oklahoma over Oklahoma State? Georgia over LSU/Arkansas/Alabama in the SEC championship? Notre Dame over Stanford? Virginia over Virginia Tech? Tulsa over Houston?
Ivan took Virginia. I took Notre Dame.
Feel free to send along your picks. I'll try to see if there's a consensus.
5. If there were a playoff
Oh, to dream
Shoulder Pad Bracket:
LSU vs. Oklahoma State* (Cowboys reach BMOC playoff scenario only because USC is ineligible for postseason play this season.)
Stanford vs. Houston
Chin Strap Bracket:
Alabama vs. Boise State
Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech
4. BMOC player of the weekBaylor quarterback Robert Griffin III
His name sounds like he ought to be running a multibillion-dollar hedge fund, presiding over the Texas Supreme Court or winning a yacht race off Cape Cod. And maybe one day he'll do all of those things. But for now, he's the most electrifying player in college football.
RGIII threw for IV touchdowns and a school-record 479 yards against Oklahoma, including the game-winning score with 8 seconds remaining. He did it while scrambling left and then throwing to the right corner of the end zone.
Baylor and OU first started playing each other in 1901. This was the first time the Bears had ever beaten the Sooners. And according to our ESPN researchers, it was Baylor's first win against a top-10 team since 1986.
So, yeah, we're going to go with Griffin this time around.
3. POTW runners-up
USC weakside linebacker Hayes Pullard
What's scarier: that Pullard had 14 tackles (12 solo), two tackles for losses, two sacks and one forced fumble against Oregon, or that he's only a redshirt freshman?
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish
Harnish didn't do much in the win against Ball State except account for 519 of NIU's 710 total yards. He completed 26 of 36 passes for two TDs and no interceptions and he rushed for 181 yards and one TD on 28 carries. NIU won its eighth game of the year.
Houston linebacker Sammy Brown
Case Keenum this. Case Keenum that. But Brown had 10 tackles (4½ tackles for loss) and three sacks in the Cougars' latest win.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball
What the heck, why not let him run it every down? He has the perfect last name for an offense that loves to turn defenses into oatmeal. Ball had 38 carries for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
Did anybody really think Urban Meyer wouldn't be interested in the Ohio State job? Weeks ago, word was that Meyer was ready to return to coaching -- if the right job was available. I still don't think people appreciate the politics of the West Virginia/Louisville death cage match for a spot in the Big 12. I've been told that West Virginia was absolutely in, then absolutely out (thanks to some backroom maneuvering by U of L alum and U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell), then absolutely back in after Jay Rockefeller, the U.S. senator from West Virginia, used some last-minute heavy muscle. Still no congratulatory e-mail from you-know-who after Tennessee won the inaugural Buster Olney-Geno Bowl. Buster is a Vandy alum. Nothing against hyphens Alabama-Birmingham or Louisiana-Monroe, but I'll be openly rooting for Florida Atlantic in its next two games. No way should Howard Schnellenberger's 27-year career as a college head coach end with a victory 0-fer in his final season. The Zooker is catching some serious heat at Illinois for a five-game losing streak, but Washington has dropped four of its last five games after a 5-1 start. The losses to Oregon and at Stanford and USC were understandable, but a 17-point loss against 3-8 Oregon State last Saturday? Remember Faulkner University quarterback Josh Hollingsworth, who led his NAIA team to a 95-89 triple-overtime victory against Union College in the regular-season finale on Nov. 12? Hollingsworth finished as the NAIA passing leader, Faulkner finished as the NAIA total offense leader -- and the Eagles fired their coach after a 3-7 season, lowlighted by a defense that gave up an average of 53 points per game. Western Michigan's Jordan White ranks No. 1 in receptions (108), yardage (1,388) and yards per game (138.90). Now compare that with Davyd Brooks, who leads Army with a grand total of eight catches for 137 yards -- or almost 2 yards less than White averages per game. Out of 120 programs, the three service academies are ranked 114th (Air Force), 119th (Navy) and 120th (Army) in passing offense. Ohio State is ranked 118th. If Rutgers beats UConn on Saturday, it secures a share of the Big East championship. Just goes to show what us media types know: Rutgers was picked last in the preseason Big East media poll. ESPN BCS guru Brad Edwards was nice enough to do a little research for me. Said that if USC were eligible for the BCS standings (and it isn't), the Trojans would be 12th.
1. The BMOC top 10
Is there anything sadder than seeing grown men dressed in duck bills leaving Autzen Stadium after a loss? Oregon could have been a contender. Now it's just another team in fluorescent green unis. If you can't take care of bidness on your own turf
9. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys and Weeden had the whole college football audience to themselves -- and from a BCS standpoint, they wet their Pampers. Under no circumstances should a team that committed five turnovers, blew a 17-point, second-half lead and lost to a 27-point underdog be allowed anywhere near the BCS championship.
8. Boise State
At least the Broncos blew their BCS chances by losing to a ranked TCU team (No. 24 in the Coaches' Poll at the time).
7. Virginia Tech
Since it's Thanksgiving week, I'm going retro and referring to Va. Tech as the Gobblers. Betcha they wish they could have an Oct. 1 mulligan. That's the day Clemson came into Lane Stadium and beat the Gobblers by 20.
Let's face it, the schedule is laughable. The Cougars' opponents are a combined 21 games under .500. But UH does what it's supposed to do against so-so competition -- it crushes it. The Cougars' toughest game is its last: Friday's road game at Tulsa.
Notre Dame arrives at The Farm for the regular-season finale. I know what you're thinking, Stanford Band. Don't do it again.
To all those e-mailers who are angrily firing up their laptops, I'll beat you to the Send key. Yes, I know Stanford beat the Lane Kiffins less than a month ago. Guess what? I don't care. The Trojans have zoomed up the BMOC top 10 because they might be one of the toughest outs in college football right now. No way they'll lose to UCLA, right?
The Razorbacks are everybody's new favorite team. If they can somehow beat LSU at Tiger Stadium (the world's largest empty bottle recycling center), then we're going to have to call the fellas in IT to keep the BCS computers from melting down.
The Tide gave up more points (21) to an FCS team than they had the previous combined three games to Mississippi State, LSU and Tennessee. And they moved up.
1. LSU The Purple-Gold spring game was more competitive than LSU's 49-point win against Ole Miss. Now that the bye week is done, it's time for a big-boy matchup. The Tigers own the longest win streak in the FBS (12).
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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