No one should have to forego the annual college basketball hysteria.

No one should have to go without the illegal office bets, constant arguments, Cinderellas, sleepers, bubble-busters and headache-inducing Coach K commercials.

And no one should EVER have to forego basketball's bracket madness. Not even ... dare we say it ... nerds.

That's why Matt Rizk and Ben Hood -- Ph.D. candidates at UCLA in chemical engineering and economics, respectively -- were willing to take it upon themselves to help those girlfriend-less geeks (per their words, not ours), take part in the March festivities via the NCAA Nerd-Off, the latest spin on the nationwide bracket chaos. The contest invites fans nerds to create a computer program that picks the winning teams throughout the NCAA tournament.

The story began about four years ago. As a Cornell grad (who is now bustling with pride since his Big Red finally made it to the tourney), Rizk was commonly lumped with the outcast groups given his Ivy League credentials and brain that's wired for engineering. But such stereotypes were mistaken. The soon-to-be doc loves, and has always loved, sports, especially hoops.

As has his former roomie Hood, a Minnesota alum whose team "is really terrible," according to Rizk. Word has it Hood is going for the smart pick (shocker) in UCLA.

But back to the story: As the two sat around researching tirelessly for programming classes and writing their theses, somehow, among all that C++ and Visual Basic mumbo jumbo -- and in between a few snippets of Golden Girls ... again, their words, not ours -- The brilliant Nerd-Off sprang to life!

This year is the first in, what the two hope to be, a long history of computer dweebs junkies duking it out for the top basketball-selection program out there. No lame fill-in-the-blank brackets here. To vie for the crown, dorks participants create their own computer programs designed to pick the winning teams throughout the tournament. Just like that friend of yours -- the one who selected Duke to lose in the first round last year -- racked up the points while you could only sulk in your sorrow, Nerd-Off dweebs players are granted points in the same fashion. The program with the most points, and, therefore, the most correct number of winning selections, wins. Honestly, what geek computer guru isn't aspiring to be the BMOC among his geeky friends?

And thanks to the two determined leaders of the Nerd-Off, nerds entrants can even take part in the millions of dollars lost nationwide to bracketology. That's, right, the once non-gambling-do-gooders (the Nerd Council -- Rizk and Hood) have lined up an official sponsor, Percentagesports.com, to fund prizes for the top techies -- $300 for the first-place winner, $150 for second and $50 for third. While goofballs programmers all around are just uber-excited for the extra dough, keep in mind there is one caveat: the tiny probability that Austin Peay may walk away as national champ MUST be included. Just in case.

So far, the Council has received almost 30 entries and is expecting many more. And even though they, have to personally go through each program to check for the basic requirements, the duo is still hoping for as many competitors as they can get, regardless of how their theses are affected.

Or how they'll miss opportunities among the L.A. party scene, where they've met really cool stars like Corey Matthews (a.k.a. -- Ben Savage of Boy Meets World).

Or how their love of Rose from Golden Girls may be hampered by the time constraint.

Why the careless attitude from such over-achievers?

"It could be the next Scrabulous," says Rizk. "You never know."

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