Tag Archives: Fiesta Bowl

College Football Playoff Preview: Fiesta Bowl

The nightcap of the New Year’s Eve bowl schedule is the second College Football Playoff semifinal. This game is a closer matchup, in most people’s minds, than Alabama-Washington. They have good reason to think that, too. Both the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Clemson Tigers have been incredibly good teams this season. Though neither was helmed by the “true” Heisman hopefuls I thought they would be, both teams turned in great resumes. This game will take place at the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, which gives the home field advantage to…neither, I guess? Ohio State fans travel so well, so there may be a few more of them, but I expect the crowd to be about even. The game is sponsored by PlayStation, who should take this as an opportunity to MAKE ANOTHER COLLEGE FOOTBALL VIDEO GAME. I mean, come on guys, haven’t we suffered enough?

I digress. Let’s stop worrying about corporate sponsors and instead look at the matchup. While both teams have highly competent defenses, both Ohio State and Clemson are highlighted by their offensive abilities. This should be a high-scoring affair. Both teams can score in so many ways that it will really be a contest of which defense can get the most stops. J.T. Barrett and Deshawn Watson may make a few mistakes, but both should play well in their final college football game.

In terms of defenses, I think, looking at the body of work, the Buckeyes have the slight advantage. Overall, it seems that the Buckeyes defense has done a better job that the Tigers in keeping high quality opponents from scoring points in bunches. This fact could just give Ohio State the slight edge in this matchup.

Ohio State and Clemson are going to trade punches throughout the night as we get closer and closer to 2017. If the game is as much as an offensive battle as I think it will be, it may in fact mess with some people’s New Year’s plans, to a degree. I think both teams will play great throughout the night, and even if one team gets up by a few possessions, the high-powered offenses mean that it will still always be a game. However, I think near the end of the game, Ohio State is going to get the few stops it needs to seal the deal and move on to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

 

Final Score: Ohio State Buckeyes 52, Clemson Tigers 42

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Big Ten Bowl Predictions

Here are my predictions for all ten bowl games.

Holiday Bowl – Wisconsin vs. University of Southern California

It still is unclear to me and many others how good or bad this team really is but they will have a golden opportunity to prove they are for real when they take on USC in the Holiday Bowl . The Badger defense will face its hardest test of the year when they take on the highly-talented Cody Kessler but don’t expect a blowout or for USC to overpower the Wisconsin defense. This defensive unit is extremely talented and aggressive, constantly pressuring the opposition with Joe Schobert and is No.1 nationally in scoring defense. As for USC, the Trojans front seven will be licking their chops as they take on an injury-riddled offensive line, a turnover prone quarterback in Joel Stave and a run game missing its top threat in Cory Clement. Nonetheless, I predict a close game and that the Badger defense will give Stave a chance to atone for his shortcomings this year late in the game. Wisconsin wins 27-24.

Citrus Bowl – Michigan vs. Florida

Both Florida and Michigan made coaching switches before the season and those moves have paid off tremendously as each program shattered expectations. Also, both teams boast killer defenses but are offensively challenged particularly rushing the ball (Florida – 104th, Michigan – 93rd). I’m not sure how well Michigan can move the ball especially going up against a deep, athletic front seven and a secondary that gave up just 175 yards per game even with a healthy Jake Rudock. Conversely, Treon Harris has been highly inconsistent and the Wolverines defense has allowed the opposition to complete just 48% of their passes on the year with seven touchdowns. However, Florida has kicking problems as Austin Hardin has converted just 5/14 field goals and in what looks like a close, defensive battle, points will be hard to come by. I predict a Michigan win because after being humiliated by OSU, I can guarantee this team will not let Harris run free like J.T. Barrett did. Wolverines win 20-10.

Outback Bowl – Northwestern vs. Tennessee

The Northwestern Wildcats are aiming to put an exclamation point on a solid season by winning 11 games for the first time in history and the Tennessee Volunteers want to close out 2015 with six straight victories. The Volunteers high powered offense will have to work hard against one of the country’s stingiest defenses as the Wildcats have allowed just five passing touchdowns and tallied 12 picks while giving up 200 rushing yards twice. However, if Tennessee can somehow manage to solve the defensive puzzle and score, it could be a long day for Northwestern. They do not do well playing from behind as their offense lacks firepower – they only topped 200 passing yards once this year and are No. 120 in passing yards per game. Also, Joshua Dobbs presents problems with his dual-threat ability and has had time to heal. If Dobbs can perform the way he did against Florida and Georgia, it’ll be a tough task for the Wildcats to contain him. I see the Vols taking this one, 24-14.

Pinstripe Bowl – Indiana vs. Duke

Duke comes into this game losing four of its last five games while Indiana is just excited to be in a bowl game since 2007 and a chance for a rare winning season. The Hoosiers are the definition of polar opposites as their defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing 37 points per game while their offense was a high-octane juggernaut, averaging 36 points a contest and scoring 41 points in the final three games even against Michigan. As for the Blue Devils, they will look to exploit the porous defense with dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk, but Duke has yielded 30 or more points in five of their last six games. This game has shootout written all over it and if that’s the case, then I have to give the edge to Indiana, 38-31.

Foster Farms Bowl – Nebraska vs. University of California-Los Angeles

Nebraska is like Jekyll and Hyde. Are they the bad-ass team that beat Michigan State even if it was controversial or are they the soft, pedestrian team that lost to Illinois? Its hard to gauge how good or bad this team is as six of their seven losses were by no more than eight points but will prove its worth versus UCLA. Speaking of which, despite having true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen throw over 3350 yards and 20 touchdowns, they were also inconsistent and had their own hiccups like a 19-point thrashing by USC. I feel the battle in the trenches will play a pivotal role as Nebraska ranked 8th in the country in stopping the run while the O-line was reliable, giving up only 13 sacks. However, Rosen gets to face a suspect Husker defensive backfield that ranks No. 13 in Big Ten pass defense and Tommy Armstrong faces a unit that allowed 394 ypg. Both teams are very evenly matched but I believe in the kid over the veteran and will take UCLA 21-17.

Quick Lane Bowl – Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

Minnesota had a tough year with close losses to TCU and Michigan, the retirement of Jerry Kill and comes in losing five of the last six games. Central Michigan is red-hot, winning five of their past six and features a high flying offense that averages 313 yards passing per game and if they get ahead, Minnesota’s maligned offense will have a hard time keeping up. Also, the Chippewa’s allowed only one 300-yard passing game and Minnesota is not built to go toe-to-toe passing the pigskin either. Their hope lies in getting the ground game going though it ranked 11th in the conference. Now Central Michigan has not yielded over 180 yards rushing in any of the last six games but teams that could pound the ball did against them and Minnesota could have a breakout game on the ground. Plus, the Gophers have a very strong secondary (15th overall) and while I see Cooper Rush making some plays, it won’t be enough as Minnesota ends their season on a positive note, 23-17.

Rose Bowl – Iowa vs. Stanford

Iowa has a chance to prove that they are an elite team and this year wasn’t a fluke in their first Rose Bowl game since 1990 while Stanford wants to make a statement about missing the playoff. The Achilles heel for Stanford has been their run defense as Northwestern ran for 225, Oregon for 231 and Notre Dame for 299, resulting in two losses and a near third. Iowa has manufactured 200 or more rushing yards seven times and averaged 192 per game on the season. If they can run the ball, Stanford could find itself in a hole. On the other side, the stout Iowa defense will have their hands full with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan but if they can force them to pass, they’ll have a chance especially with the Big Ten’s best corner, Desmond King. Both teams will have shining moments in this game but I feel with the defense and C.J. Beathard, Iowa will do just enough to win a close one, 20-17.

Cotton Bowl – Michigan State vs. Alabama

Michigan State will not beat itself with costly turnovers, silly penalties and will control the pace of the game as veteran quarterback Connor Cook is savvy enough to move the chains. Alabama will be looking to attack a weak, suspect secondary that gave up 200 or more passing yards in four of its last six games as the Spartans run defense has been solid all year, and with time to prepare, will be ready for Derrick Henry – though containing him is a different story. I will also be watching how the Spartans offensive line matches up with the athletic front seven that lead the nation in sacks with 46 but keep in mind, MSU’s also one of the few teams that could possibly hold up itself against the Crimson Tide’s lines as it proved that against Ohio State. Now, Michigan State has a chance if it can attack Alabama’s secondary with Aaron Burbridge but I think the Alabama defensive line will apply good pressure and prevent Cook from having a clean pocket. And I think Henry will wear down this defense as the games goes on. Alabama wins 28-20.

Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Ezekiel Elliott is the heart and soul of this offense and considering it’s his final game as a Buckeye, I expect OSU to pound away against Notre Dame and lean on him. If the Irish do succeed in bottling him up, OSU still should be able to control the game with the speed and elusiveness of J.T. Barrett. As for the Irish, I see them pounding the interior of the defensive line as Adolphus Washington will be suspended to set up play action and manageable third downs for quarterback Deshone Kizer. The Buckeyes secondary also hasn’t faced a receiver like Will Fuller, who found the endzone 13 times and averaged 20.5 yards a catch though, the Silver Bullets were second in scoring defense and sixth in efficiency, allowing over 17 points only twice in the last 11 games. With all that said, I think Urban Meyer will have his team focused and ready to play. Plus, Ohio State has more talent. Buckeyes win 35-21.

Taxslayer Bowl – Penn State vs. Georgia

The Nittany Lions have little offense as they rank 110th in total yards per game (325) and score 24 points a game (101st), and to make matters worse, Georgia features the top passing defense in the country, allowing just 146 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are No. 83 in passing offense, averaging 209 yards per game. However, Penn state also has an elite defense (No. 12 in total defense) andGeorgia has a flimsy passing game (103rd; 187 ypg) so it relies on its ground game and I see PSU loading the box to make Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert beat them. Lambert is not an NFL prospect like Christian Hackenberg but he is a good game manager and will take care of the ball. I see this as a low scoring defensive battle with each offense grasping for any foothold and I believe in the Bulldogs run game with Michel running effectively en route to victory. Georgia wins 17-10.

Campus Pressbox 42: Notre Dame – Ohio State Fiesta Bowl Preview

Ben (@bbeldencle) and Danny (@dcunninghamcle) preview the Battlefrog Fiesta Bowl between Notre Dame and Ohio State. We touch on the rivalry between the two teams despite not meeting on the field. We go over players to watch and key match-ups. Finally, we provide predictions for the game.

Topics:

  • Notre Dame – Ohio State “rivalry”
  • Players to watch
  • Adolphus Washington’s absence
  • Notre Dame’s keys to victory
  • Game predictions

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More Than A Friday: Nothing Has Mattered In College Football Until Now

Every game counts, except for the ones we determine don’t matter, under the guise of not evaluating losses.  The end of the College Football season has always had its ways of frustrating us on one level or another.  Bowl games were set up in a weird way, where the best teams didn’t necessarily play each other, and everyone was proud to play on January 1st.

I know, I know.  This New Years Eve is going to be so awesome, watching College Football through confetti…but really, is it?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the old days of split-titles and what-not, but the more we try to solve the problem, the more we realize there’s no perfect solution.  I mean, it’s nice.  We reward four regular season achievers with a playoff, distinguish four other games as very important, and spend our December and early January evenings watching games of waning importance that feature slightly above average to fairly good teams.

That seems cool, but the undercard action is borderline fatiguing, and there’s such a gap between the motivation you’re going to have for a National Semifinal versus an “Access Bowl”.  Ask Nick Saban about his Alabama team sleepwalking into those consultation games.  There’s gap between the Access Bowls and kicking off in Orlando at 11 AM on the first day of the year, but being left out of the Peach Bowl isn’t quite the same as being five and wondering why a committee thought four was better than you.

That might be a problem.  For the second year in a row, I’d have to assume we’re going to see some sort of subjective cut line, and there will be a solid argument for a team playing in Pasadena1Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford to be competing for a title.  Ohio State and Notre Dame have only lost close games to top opponents, Stanford dropped one to an Oregon team that’s much better than their record and one hard-to-forgive road contest at Northwestern, and North Carolina is begging forgiveness for their season opening loss to South Carolina and the Ole Ball Coach2That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year..

There’s a few ways to look at this.  Chalk makes it easy and chaos makes it chaotic.

ACC Championship

It’s undefeated Clemson and once-defeated North Carolina.  Clemson finally cleared the hurdles created by Florida State and South Carolina in the past, and find themselves in the ACC Championship game for the first time in a while.  Quarterback DeShaun Watson will take the stage with an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy, so head coach Dabo Swinney will set him up to shine.  North Carolina has Marquis Williams, and he’s been nothing short of sensational behind center for Larry Fedora’s team, who enters the weekend on an 11-game winning streak of their own.

Chalk: Clemson wins and they’re in.  Wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina will make the fact they schedule Wofford as meaningless as Alabama’s loss at home to Ole Miss.

Chaos: North Carolina wins, and you start comparing them to teams on the couch this weekend.  Ohio State was underwhelming, despite holding the top spot until we recognized the committee’s rankings over the AP’s.  The Tar Heels didn’t play Florida State this season, and schedule two FCS opponents.  This might come down to style points, and while most would have to think simply taking down Clemson would do the trick, we know the aforementioned Buckeyes made an “All Sales Final” pitch to the committee in the Big Ten title game a year ago.

Big Ten Championship

With all due respect to their recent success, it will be a battle of little brothers in Indianapolis to crown a Big Ten Champion.  Iowa is unbeaten, but no one believes they are what it says they are on paper.  They’re hanging their hat on a non-conference win over Pitt and victories over a few decent intra division rivals.  Michigan State, on the other hand, has been the best team on the field in every game they’ve played this season.  They were better than the Cornhuskers, who won on a very controversial play, and they were better than the Buckeyes, who they dominated in their own building, despite the game coming down to a walk-off field goal.

Chalk: The winner goes to the College Football Playoff.  Few would argue that.

Chaos:  Enough people might get it in their head that if Iowa wins, do you automatically deem them better than all of the 1-loss teams.  Undefeated should eliminate that noise.  You could hold the Nebraska loss against Michigan State, but wins at Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon3You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State., not to mention Iowa on the big stage should quiet all of that noise.  The only chaos here would be an ugly game, and an ugly game didn’t keep Texas out of the 2010 BCS Championship, in the era known as that of The BCS.

Pac 12 Championship

USC has four losses, and they fired their head coach earlier this season, but bounced back under interim-turned-full-time head coach Clay Helton.  Stanford has some momentum after the big win in their season finale over Notre Dame, and they’ll be playing close to home this weekend.

Chalk:  I’m not sure it matters, but if Stanford loses, they are out.  If they win, they are scoreboard watching.

Chaos:  The top teams bottom out in their conference championship games, and the committee has three teams locked in, Oklahoma and the champions from the Big Ten and ACC.  Fourth spot is up for grabs, with 2-loss Alabama, 1-loss Ohio State, and the 2-loss Cardinal reaching for it.

SEC Championship

Alabama was able to convincingly beat Wisconsin on a neutral field to start the year and lost early to Ole Miss at home.  They took care of business versus the rest of the SEC, but the jury is really deliberating hard on just how good the conference was in 2015.  Florida has had a good run under first-year coach Jim McElwain, surviving an unexpected year-long suspension for their opening day starting quarterback to win the SEC East, but a poor showing versus Florida State last week does not inspire anyone into believing they’ll best Alabama in Atlanta on Saturday.

Chalk: Alabama is very likely on the top line with a win and all the way out with a loss to the Gators.

Chaos:  There promises to be a lot of Gator fans in Columbus.  Realistically, a Florida win is the only obvious route for Ohio State (or Stanford) to reach the College Football Playoff, but then what do you make of a 2-loss Florida team.

Actual Predictions

Basically, because rarely does anyone ever find themselves held accountable for being wrong, I’m going to take a stab at slotting the Semis and the Access Bowls.

Orange Bowl (National Semifinal)

Michigan State vs. Clemson

Cotton Bowl (National Semifinal)

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl

Ohio State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl

Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta Bowl

Iowa vs. Notre Dame

Peach Bowl

Houston vs. Florida State

 

   [ + ]

1. Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford
2. That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year.
3. You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State.

The Civil War: Oregon and Oregon State

The Civil War game hits the state of Oregon this week with Oregon State and Oregon going at it on Saturday in Eugene. Does this game mean anything this year? The answer to that question depends on your point of view. To fans of both schools it means bragging rights for an entire year. Duck fans want a good bowl game. Beaver fans (myself included) just want a win to ruin the bowl plans of their hated rival 45 miles to the south of them.

For anybody outside of Oregon, the game doesn’t mean anything, but don’t tell that to the Ducks. Oregon has been playing well and is currently on a five-game winning streak that has included wins over Stanford and USC. This late-season push by the Ducks has put them in a position to earn a decent bowl bid. If they can win on Friday against the Beavers, the Ducks could be looking at one of the bowl tie-ins for the Pac-12 or one of the prestigious “New Year’s Six” bowl games. The Fiesta or the Peach Bowl could be possible landing spots due to those bowls being able to take at-large teams.

The Ducks would much rather go to the Fiesta or Peach Bowl games because of the larger payout financially, the impression it would make with recruits, and the positive reaction of their fans. What happens for the Ducks? That will play itself out here in the next couple weeks. For right now, Oregon is one of the hottest teams in the country and they don’t want anything or anyone to derail their big dreams. Especially the Beavers.
If the Beavers somehow pull off a huge upset and overcome being a 33.5 point dog in this game, the consequences for the Ducks would be large. It would mean no Fiesta or Peach Bowl game. Instead, probably the Holiday Day Bowl in San Diego. No disrespect to the City of San Diego, the host of the Holiday Bowl, but that is a huge step down in every way for the Ducks. They will come out to play and look to quickly put Oregon State out of their misery.

Misery. That is an appropriate word for the Oregon State season. They come into the Civil War game as a huge underdog riding an eight-game losing streak. Things have not gone as well as Beaver fans would have wanted under new Head Coach Gary Andersen. Oregon State will be coming into Friday’s game looking to take anything positive into the offseason.

Being a huge underdog in a rivalry game doesn’t give much hope to the fans of Oregon State. Can the Beavers give their fans any hope of a massive upset? Anything can happen on any given day, but in this case I just don’t see that happening. At the end of day, talent wins out and the Ducks have much better talent than the Beavers.

The Beaver defense has struggled mightily in the last three games, during which they’ve given up around 2,000 yards of total offense. Heck, last week the Washington Huskies had 329 yards of offense at halftime. A defense struggling that much is going to have a tough afternoon trying to stop Royce Freeman, Vernon Adams, Bralon Addison, and Darren Carrington.

You always want to make a team one-dimensional. But do the Beavers want to make the Ducks one-dimensional at running the ball or throwing the ball?

Either way, the Ducks should have their way with the young Beaver defense. Head Coach Gary Andersen is extremely impressed with what the Ducks have done this year considering that they were left for dead just about a month ago. Royce Freeman stands out for the Beaver coach.

“He’s one of those guys that’s gonna go on to the NFL and play for a long time. He’s a great running back who can do it all.” Andersen said in his weekly press conference.

When asked about the dynamic play of the Ducks’ quarterback in the last few games, Andersen was just as glowing in his observation of Adams.

“Vernon now seems to be I’m sure exactly what they envisioned at the beginning of the season. He’s completely at peace with the offense.” Andersen said.

Is there anybody who thinks that the Ducks won’t win this game on Friday? Probably not. Not even myself, and I’m an Oregon State alumnus. Oregon State has to play fast, loose, and they have to remind themselves that they have nothing to lose. However, if the Beavers can be competitive and give some hope to Beaver fans, administration, and even their coaches for 2016 then good things can come from the Civil War game.

“I think it would be a good steppingstone going into next season for the younger guys,” said senior OSU defensive end Lavonte Barnett.

The Civil War game will be won by the Ducks fairly handily. Don’t give up on the Beavers though, despite the fact that their season has been a huge struggle, Coach Andersen will get this turned around and the Civil War won’t be so one-sided in the future.

Un-War "The Game of the Century"

Charlie Ward, Jim Flanigan
It is the Game of the Century, right? I’m told to “UnWar” that term, as it’s use or over-use has diluted its value. If we have a Game of the Century every year, then it’s really just the Game of the Year, and it doesn’t always add up to even that.
Anyone who follows College Football has likely heard the Auburn faithful exclaim War Eagle, but it was the Jim Rome radio show that had its callers end their rants with War Other Things. I haven’t listened to the guy’s show in a few years, but I recall that he’d periodically explain to the newbies that would ask, you say “War” and then something you like. Well, the War gimmick begat the UnWar gimmick, you know, for things you don’t like. I hope we’re all clear on this.

 
Back to unWarring the “Game of the Century”. If you’re not a fan of a particular team involved, how much do these games really resonate over time? You put two good teams on the field, watch them kick each other’s asses for about four hours, and then you answer the question, did it live up to the hype? If it didn’t, you don’t give it another thought or drop some sarcastic quip, along the lines of “Game of the Century, my ass!”. Either way, you probably aren’t telling your grandkids about it, fifty years from now. Now, if said game comes close to living up to its billing, you have some things to think about.
Now look, this isn’t about being a wet blanket and ruining the moment. If fans want to maintain the euphoria, that’s fine; take 24 or 48 hours for this game to be the greatest ever, but don’t hold on to that unless you only surround yourself with people who unconditionally agree with you or in that rare case that your game is and will actually remain the best, most meaningful game in a 100-year period. By definition, you can’t have a Game of the Century every year, though these days it seems like someone is trying to sell you on the idea that one gets played every week.

If you subscribe to the theory of our hero Peter from Office Space, where every day is worse than the day before, hence every day is the worst day of your life, then the opposite could also be true. Every Game of the Century is better than the Game of the Century before it, so every Game of the Century is the Game of the Century. I doubt that’s even somewhat true, but levels of epic are in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. It’s probably a damn good thing there’s no official authority on such matter.
It’s the greatest game ever since the last greatest game ever, right? Or, perhaps it’s the greatest one until the next greatest one? What sparked the line of thinking is the rematch, and we really shouldn’t refer to any sequel separated from its original by two decades like that, involving Notre Dame and Florida State this weekend in Tallahassee. Both the Irish and the Seminoles go into Saturday’s tilt with a sweet, juicy zero in the loss column, but this game hasn’t been sold to us at anywhere near the level the 1993 game in South Bend was.

If not that game, then it was that Florida State team that was hyped all summer and autumn as the team to beat. Bobby Bowden had no National Championships to his name, his school was void of representation on the list of Heisman winners. Now, they had a kicker, the since-forgotten then-frosh phenom Scott Bentley was the Sports Illustrated cover boy, needed to beat Miami (FL), the benefactors of woes such as Wide Right and Wide Right II. They had an eventual NBA point guard in Charlie Ward, who was no slouch in quarterbacking Bowden’s offense, with the help of an outstanding supporting cast that included Warrick Dunn, William Floyd, Tamarick Vanover, and Kez McCorvey. On the other side of the ball, they were stacked with a cast of NFL talent, led by Derrick Brooks. They were 9-0 with four wins over ranked opponents when they woke up on that snowy morning in Indiana 21 years ago next month.

Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame team was put together a little different. Though they too sat at 9-0, their road to the game that mattered more than any other in the 20th Century only saw them play #2 ranked Michigan, who finished #19, and no one else in the Top 25. Alas, a win over the only team that stood ahead of them in the AP Poll on November 13th would be all they needed; style points were irrelevant at this point. They were built differently too, if you aren’t a huge Notre Dame fan, the names you’ll know are limited to TV’s Aaron Taylor, long-time Denver Bronco Bertrand Berry, and current Tennessee Titans front-office man Lake Dawson. In other words, the Irish were led by a lot of good College Football players, whereas their opponent ran more of an NFL training program.
There’s hardly anything David and Goliath-ish about 1 playing 2, but the Catholic school 95 miles east of Chicago was decidedly the underdog, Vegas said the ‘Noles were 7 points better, in fact. Notre Dame quarterback Kevin McDougle did a wonderful job running the offense that day, but that day’s heroes had names like Lee Becton and Shawn Wooden, the Notre Dame safety that knocked down Ward’s final pass attempt of the day, which would have given Bowden a chance to walk away with a tie or even a victory in the days before College Football overtime. Instead, it was Notre Dame 31 Florida State 24, giving the Irish the win and the #1 ranking, which they would lose seven days later on that same field.

Notre Dame’s 41-39 loss to Boston College a week later would doom their championship hopes, and Florida State would rebound well enough to get a title shot at Nebraska, which they won, but that didn’t do anything to taint what happened on that Saturday afternoon or the hype machine building up to it. In fact, you know that pre-game show ESPN does on campus every Saturday morning? Well, that was strictly a studio show until they decided to take the show on the road to South Bend that day, starting what has become almost as much of an institution as the games themselves in College Gameday. It was Notre Dame’s first game of that magnitude, and remains the biggest game of all of my 36 years, but the Irish arguably played in other games given a century-long superlative, against Michigan State in 1966, Army in 1946, and Ohio State in 1935.
GameoftheCentury2
Speaking of the Buckeyes, fans of recency so desperate to live in the moment of every “Greatest Ever” might appreciate their 2006 encounter with Michigan, who sat just one slot below #1 Ohio State in the rankings. You don’t need any any circumstances, let alone a really low number next to your name to make an Ohio State-Michigan game something special, but when Michigan’s long-time coach Bo Schembechler passed away 24 hours before kickoff, a “win it for Bo” element came into play for that game in Columbus. Much like Notre Dame 13 Novembers earlier, the home team held serve most of the way and survived a dramatic finish, earning themselves a trip to the National Championship in another 1 vs 2 battle. Like Notre Dame, the winner in this one would not win the title; in fact, this game’s aftermath spoils the game’s lasting effect because it did not yield the sport’s eventual champ. Also, I’m pretty sure most Big Ten purists don’t want a 42-39 game headlining the annals of the league’s rich history of 3 yards and a cloud of dust.

Given the final BCS standings for the 2011 season, it was inevitable that one of the teams competing at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5th would be crowned a champion, but even with #1 at stake in the regular season, the winner of LSU-Alabama wasn’t guaranteed much beyond an SEC West division title and a berth in the Conference Championship. While this one had the makings of something great, two undefeated teams in the consensus best conference in the land, a close final score in a defensive struggle was not enough for the ends to justify the means. College Football isn’t baseball, where 1-0 games are often considered works of art, so with a 9-6 final in favor of the Tigers, and needing overtime to do it, makes this come up short.
The good news is, there are are a lot of years, hence a lot of games, left in this century. Maybe we’ll get one yet. Until then, WAR the future and the many great seasons of great College Football that inevitably comes with it, WAR the great games of yesteryear, and definitely unWAR trying to make the present into something it isn’t.

Best Experience for the Free Agent College Fan

UF Champs
Idle hands are the devil’s play-pen, right? I wonder how the devil feels about too much time alone with one’s thoughts. It’s during that time that I start theorizing about going to college, putting aside things like educational value and the social aspect, and wondering which institution would have offered the best four-year experience for the sports fan. This is a thought process that works much better with the advantage of hindsight in my back pocket.

Each July, we get the better part of a week that lacks any sporting event of real consequence. Sure, the Home Run Derby demonstrates might, because chicks dig the long ball. The actual All-Star game despicably determines home-field advantage for the World Series, but even thought I’m a big baseball fan, I find myself less inclined to watch it each year. In fact, I skipped the Mid-Summer Classic this year. A day later, I skipped the ESPY’s, the awards show for sport, which I’m thinking we don’t need, but allows ESPN to fill the void with their own program taking center stage. I checked in on Twitter long enough to see that enough people excitedly tune in, or at least settle for the annual extravaganza. My theory is that in sports, unlike other aspects of entertainment, the games themselves determine the winners and losers, so you really don’t need an academy or committee to determine who deserves the trophies.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzMnCOG-C1o#t=470

More so than the nominees and winners, the host seems to be the target of the hoopla, year in and year out. None of them are exactly in the ballpark of Billy Crystal at the Oscar’s, but Norm McDonald had the epic joke about Charles Woodson’s Heisman legacy in 1999 and the rest tend to fall into the Rob Riggle Pantheon of Forgettable Awards Show Hosts. This year, ESPN gave the viewers Drake, the former child actor turned young adult hip-hop artist. The trend seems to be to dislike the guy for a multitude of reasons, but sports fans are quick to point out that the trendy Canadian tends to latch himself to superstars and winners.

For the common man, this is a sports fan sin of the highest order, but if you’re able to laugh off the notion that he should be fiercely loyal to the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, and no other teams in all of sports, it’s fair to say that Drake is somewhat of a free agent. After spending the better part of my 36 years rooting for the Cleveland teams, I know I don’t have that luxury, but that time alone with my thoughts took me back to a “what if” scenario that allows me to be just that, a free agent fan.

drake-espy

In reality, I took my talents to Parris Island and the United States Marine Corps out of high school, a school of hard knocks, rather than a traditional place of higher learning. If I’ve learned anything about fans, especially younger ones, over the last decade, it’s that geography and alma mater don’t matter as much as they used to, but when you have those things going for you, it sure justifies your allegiance a lot more. Now, choosing a school based on the games you might attend and the glory you might share with those teams you watch play is foolish, but this was my time alone with my thoughts; I wasn’t considering any real word factors, just trying to have the fun that Drake seems to, without constantly transferring to chase National Championships.

Since I would have first set foot on campus in the Fall of 1997, we’re only considering what I would have been able to see from the 1997 College Football season thru the conclusion of March Madness in 2001. I’m also only weighing the top two college sports, football and men’s basketball; it is tough to say how open-minded I would have been a half a lifetime ago, but I don’t see myself with fond memories of volleyball or women’s hoops under any circumstances in the present tense. I’m also eliminating baseball as part of the criteria, though a trip to Omaha for the World Series would be on my bucket list, if I had one.

I had to consider the champions in football; Michigan and Nebraska in 1997, Tennessee in ’98, Florida State in ’99, and Oklahoma in 2000. Remember, this is a parllel world and it doesn’t matter that 18 year-old me despised Michigan and all of the Ohioans that chose to attend. I don’t quite weigh basketball success evenly, but if you’re going to get a decent seat for a big March Madness game, there is no grey area between the student body and the extraordinarily wealthy; the path of least resistance to those premium seats involves enrolling at a school that’s going to play in those types of games often.

stoops

Oklahoma would have provided a fine conclusion to my final year in 2001, with the upset of Florida State in a sloppy game in Miami to win the Orange Bowl 13-2, which gave them a National Championship. If I consider Oklahoma from a Class of 2001 alumni perspective, there’s no questioning fifteen years of Bob Stoops, a few seasons of Adrian Peterson, a victory in each BCS Bowl game, and four appearances in the title game would have me screaming “Boomer Sooner” from the rooftops, but this is strictly about the four years on campus. That would have meant two seasons of John Blake before Stoops turned things around in 1999; the Sooners were 9-14, good enough for fifth place in the Big 12 South both years. sure, a National Championship washes away those scars, but outside of that 2000 season, they’d have given me three losses in the Red River Shootout and an unremarkable trip to Shreveport for an Independence Bowl loss to Mississippi to end 1999 with a 7-5 record. On the hardwood, Oklahoma made the tournament in all four of my college years, but a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State in 1999 highlighted those years.

I had a friend from elementary school in Cleveland that actually spent those four years in Tallahasse; he sat on the bench with the Seminoles basketball team as a manager. In what would have been our freshmen year, Steve Robinson led them to a #12 seed in the NCAA tournament. A second round knockout at hands of Valparaiso dropped them 18-14 for the 1997-98 season, and it would be the last post-season action the Class of 2001 would witness in their four years on campus.

Of course, Florida State, under the charge of Bobby Bowden was a football school. It would have taken until the 11th game, the rivalry game in Gainesville on November 22nd, before I’d have seen Bowden lose a football game. Aside from the table in the ACC in ’97, the ‘Noles went to USC and beat the Trojans, slaughtered then-Big East rival Miami at home, and took down Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. If not for the three-point loss to Florida, Peter Warrick and company presented a great argument over Michigan and Nebraska for the title; it leaves me to wonder how the pre-BCS system would have paired the top teams up for the bowls. In ’98, a Week 2 loss at NC State meant they needed help in November to get to Tempe for the inaugural BCS Championship at the Fiesta Bowl, and they got it, so they met Tennessee in the desert.

They lost to a great Volunteers team, but bounced back to take down Michael Vick and Virginia Tech in the second BCS title game at the Sugar Bowl. They had to deal with #3 Florida in the swamp first, and came away with a 30-23 win before neutralizing “Beamer Ball” by 17 points in New Orleans. Four years of Bowden Ball ended on a sour note when Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke couldn’t figure out Bob Stoops defense at the Orange Bowl, but if you do the math, 45 wins and 5 losses with a realistic chance at a title on January 1st in each of those seasons, Florida State was’t a bad place to be for that period.

At Tennessee, I’d have gotten Peyton Manning’s senior year. Sure, the guy couldn’t beat Florida and they’d lose to co-National Champion Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, but the 1997 season set the scene for the ’98 season well. With Manning gone, it was up to Tee Martin to take the reigns on offense, doing just enough to let a defense littered with NFL talent win a title. They stormed the field at Rocky Top when the Vols edged the Gators at Neyland in Week 2 and beat four Top 10 teams, including #2 Florida State in the desert for the first BCS Championship. Florida got them in Gainesville the next season, but they took down #10 in consecutive weeks and reached the Fiesta Bowl, where they’d lose to Nebraska. In 2000, they’d suffer their worst season of the four years, going 8-4 with losses to Florida, at LSU, at Georgia, and to Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. For the travel alone, with bowl games in Miami, Tempe twice, and Dallas, this Ohio-born kid would have loved it. Throw in Peyton Manning and a 43-9 for Phil Fullmer, and Tennessee probably didn’t even need the four NCAA tourney appearances in basketball, which included losses to Illinois State, Missouri State, Charlotte, and a Sweet 16 loss to national semi-finalist North Carolina in 2000.

Nebraska and Michigan gave their basketball fans positively nothing in the way of post-season play during the years in question, but it starts with a National Championship where #1 didn’t play #2. Both were unbeaten, Michigan wrapping up their season with Heisman winner Woodson in the Rose Bowl over Ryan Leaf and the 11-1 Washington State Cougars, while Nebraska’s Scott Frost outplayed Peyton Manning in the Cornhuskers’ 42-17 Orange Bowl win over Tennessee. Michigan would go on to defeat rival Ohio State in two of the next three seasons and beat SEC teams from Alabama in January for the next three seasons, Auburn in the 1999 and 2001 Citrus Bowls, and Alabama in a thrilling 2000 Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s bowl travels took them from Miami, for the title, to San Diego, Tempe for a rematch of the 1998 Orange Bowl, and the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. 1997 was the legendary Tom Osborne’s last season coaching the Big Red. Alumni considerations, which again are not a factor, don’t treat either school well.

From 2001 to 2013, Michigan has lost in all but two seasons to Ohio State, and when they’ve been bowl-eligible they haven’t fared well; the exception being a forgettable Sugar Bowl win over an even more forgettable Virginia Tech team in 2012. Things don’t shape up well for Nebraska either; Frank Solich managed to get them to a National Championship after a stunning 62-36 defeat in Boulder which knocked them out of the Big 12 Championship Game, but not out of the BCS Championship at the Rose Bowl, where Miami kicked their asses. Over the next decade, they showed they didn’t belong on the same field with the likes of Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas, and went running for the Big Ten in 2011.

Two schools without a title in football or basketball during the alotted time do make a good case for a great fan experience. First, Arizona; they’re a basketball school, but the final years of the Dick Tomey Era in football weren’t awful. They went from 7-5 with a loss to New Mexico on their home field for the Insight Bowl in 1997 to 12-1 season in ’98, the only blemish being a 52-28 home loss to UCLA in a season where the Wildcats handed Washington State their only loss of the year. They would beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, but whiffed considerably in 1999 and 2000, going 11-12 and opening the door for John Mackovic to take over for Tomey in 2001. It would be a while before Lute Olsen and the Arizona basketball program would part ways. They would have a single one-and-done year in the tourney with a 1-point Opening Round loss to Oklahoma in 1999, on the heels of a 12-1 football season, but losses to Utah (’98), Wisconsin (’00), and Duke (’01) on the hardwood should have left Wildcats basketball fans with little to hang their head about. Utah played for the National Championship, Wisconsin reached the Final Four, and the loss to Duke was the National Championship.

battier1024

Speaking of Wisconsin, I’m not sure where people in Madison rank that Final Four appearance among the great moments in school history. They are, after all, a football school. They made the tournament in three of these four years, but were 0-for-4 against Michigan State in 1999-2000 and were one-and-done to Missouri State and Georgia State in their other tournament cameos. On the football field, with or without this “what if” scenario, Wisconsin serves as one of the ultimate “what if” teams; what if Michigan didn’t trip them up in their eventual Rose Bowl winning seasons in ’98 and ’99 (they also lost to Cincinnati in 1999)? You may not have anything nice to say about and 1998 Outback Bowl loss to Georgia or their Sun Bowl win over UCLA in 2000, but back-to-back Big Ten Championships and Rose Bowl victories don’t happen very often. If only I could say I was there for it.

In the end, given the choice and the clairvoiance, Tennessee seems like it would have been the best place to spend the time, even though Drake might have had to change into the Florida and Nebraska track suits at halftime on occasion. While Florida is being mentioned, I can’t think of a more choice experience than aligning with the Tebow years in Gainesville; only 2009-2012 Alabama rivals 2006-2010 Florida, but the Gators needed an assist from Billy Donovan, Joakim Noah, and company to lift them to the top.

Where would you spend your college years, strictly from the perspective of a sports fan? Do you think there’s a better four years than any mentioned here? Where do you think you’d see the best teams and the most desirable post-season travel itinerary? I’d love your thoughts, either in e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@JRichRadio); let me know what you think.

BCS In Review: The Bush Push And I

bushpush
Every sports fan has a small, exclusive aisle of “those games” in the mental library; comprised of the short-listed contests we hold near and dear to our heart regardless of outcome.
Some bring memories of joy and happiness, while others we dare not speak of (unless beer and pub-talk have given us no other choice) invoke feelings of anger and frustration that force sounds out of our mouths only Lou Holtz could effortlessly imitate.
By now you should know when I refer to “those games” I’m speaking of the ‘I remember the exact time, date, and location of where I watched” games. From there we can expound even further by detailing sounds of other spectators, the smell of the bar, and even where the grass stains on a player’s pants were located. And, if you’re an arrogant, annoying, and biased Chicago fan like me– you spare no expense in telling your friends no less than twelve times about how much you loved, hated, and in some cases both hated AND loved anything related to your teams, and “those games”.
Here, I’m going to talk about one of my games, if not THE game for me; and what it would mean for my life as a sports fan forever.
The date was October 15, 2005. I was 14 and working as a busser at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery in a southern suburb of Chicago called, wait for it… the Village of Flossmoor.
It was a busy night, especially in the bar, so lucky for me I got to spend most of my time bussing pub tables and refreshing water glasses with TV’s all around me. It was a packed house because all of Cook County it seemed was out to watch the annual Notre Dame-USC rivalry game.
The match-up was pegged by ESPN as the “Game of the Century”. USC would come into the game as defending national champions riding a 27 game win streak. Notre Dame, conversely, despite a national ranking of 9th having won four straight road games, was on a three game home losing streak and had lost three straight contests to USC by at least 31 points. The pre-game pep rally in Notre Dame Stadium featured speeches by Joe Montana, Tim Brown, and Master of Ceremonies—Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger.
Needless to say, one of the clearest things I remember of that night is the noise. Everyone was waiting in angst to see The Irish take back the Jeweled Shillelagh.
Touchdown Jesus was watching.
The other is that everyone was so busy they didn’t notice the spectating schedule I had set for myself which was; for every ten minutes I worked– I watched for one, uninterrupted. It seemed as though all the employees were doing the same thing on a slightly different schedule, as for the customers their fixated eyes were taking care of their generally impatient nature.
However, despite my efforts to miss nothing, at times I would have to turn my back only to hear a loud unified “OHHH”, “AWE”, “WHAT?!” or some variation of exclamation (I was at work after all). And, just to give this oral history an accurate justice, go ahead and add a four letter word of your choice before and/or after any of those examples.
And so as I remember it:
A back and forth first quarter gave Irish fans hope this would actually be a rivalry game rather than a rout, the Trojans led 14-7.
In the second Brady Quinn capped off a 72 yard drive with a touchdown pass to Jeff Samardzija to tie the game at 14. The place blew up.
Forcing USC to punt on their next possession, Irish safety Tom Zbikowsi took that punt 59 yards to the house to put Notre Dame ahead 21-14. “Bartender, get us another round! The Irish are here to stay and so are we.”
Matt Leinart seemed to have had enough and was trying his damnedest to reverse momentum, leading USC 69 yards down the field on the following possession. That drive was capped off by a pick in the end-zone. Drive over. Game over? An overly optimistic Irish fan would certainly say so, and plenty were. As for me, I had been wiping the same table for about 6 minutes. Score, 21-14 Irish at half.
The Irish still had the momentum to start the second half, intercepting Leinart for a second time. The place was electric. Employees and patrons alike were all smiles and cheers. Highfives and Rudy references for everybody! However, the Trojan-D stepped up and forced a punt. This is when Bush finally decided to show up, with a 20-yard return and a subsequent 45-yard touchdown run. But, neither team would score for the rest of the quarter. Here comes the fourth, tie game.
The fourth quarter came just as advertised with all the hoopla and hype that came before the game. There were fumbles, missed field goals, another Reggie touchdown run, and after a clutch 5-yard touchdown run by Brady Quinn the Irish were leading 31-28 with just over two minutes remaining. All we had to do now was hold on and stop the herculean tandem of Leinart and Bush, simple task right? I’m sure the boys in green and gold could feel the pressure of one million tensed up white knuckles. Everyone could tell they wanted this one BAD.
Montana, was watching.
Tim Brown, was watching.
For the love of all things Irish, RUDY WAS WATCHING! Seated under Touchdown Jesus, who was also, you know…
You wanted to be silent but it was too late. What starts loud in Chicago, ends loud in Chicago. It is our nature. We are never quiet, and rarely humble.
What came next was one of those rare moments in sports that defines you, never leaves you, and forces one (despite their nature) to be silenced.
Matt Leinart fumbled the ball out of bounds with seven seconds remaining. The clock continued to run down to zero and the students rushed the field. The referees righted the wrong hurried the students back to their seats and gave Leinart the ball with the correct seven seconds remaining. We thought we had it, and it was at this moment I got that tickle, standing in front of a TV in the bar with seven seconds left on the clock with nothing in my hands and no intention of moving, I knew something was about to happen.
Everyone knows what happened next, so I’ll go ahead and spare you the regurgitation (myself the pain) and just type the call as it was heard when all of ND Nation fell silent.
“USC will get one more play. Leinart gonna try to sneak it ahead. Did he get it?…..TOUCHDOWN SC!”
Actually, I don’t mind anymore. Here it is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62P8_Ik7NlE
I walked away from my 10:1 schedule spot immediately after the push, with no words. I turned around to a collective mosaic of faces in palms and calm before chaos. The rare silence was awkward and infuriating. This was supposed to be a night of celebration. And so brief as it was, there was silence before the bashing.
Despite the outcome, this was the moment I became a true Notre Dame fan. Sure, I had always been a “fan”. But my investment was never really my own, so to speak. I was a fan by geographical osmosis.
I had three logical choices. There was Northwestern, University of Illinois, or Notre Dame. I grew up with family and friends loving the Irish, reliving the glory days of the “horsemen” and growing up during Lou Holtz’s successful reign. But, I was young and knew nothing more. I lived through years of mediocrity in the late nineties and 2000’s rooting and cheering with little excitement or expectation. So when I was coming into my own as a man and growing in literally every way humanly possible it was only fitting that I witnessed this game as a newly minted high school freshman.
At the time I didn’t quite know what was happening to me but still somehow appreciated the mysterious enormity of the moment. High school if nothing else is a very curious and adventurous time of self-discovery. And at that moment, disappointed as I was, I fell in love with the way the Irish battled and thrust themselves back into the national spotlight right before my eyes.
In Charlie Weis’ first season Notre Dame would remain at #9 despite the loss to USC, and win the rest of their games. They earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl where they would eventually lose to a damn good Ohio State team, a disappointing end to a promising year.
But, what if Notre Dame won that game? What if, they stopped the Bush Push, it was ruled illegal, or if they just made a 34 yard missed field goal that would have put it out of reach? Now, considering USC entered the season heavy favorites to repeat as national champions, the hype surrounding that game, and assuming they still swept their remaining schedule; is it reasonable to assume Notre Dame would have been chosen to play Texas for the National Championship?
And, if that happened (even though Weis experienced all of his success with Tyrone Willingham’s recruits) would Charlie have been given the benefit of the doubt when it came to firing time? If they went to the Rose Bowl that year, win or lose, would he have been able to get some 5-star recruits that otherwise passed on him, allowing him build a program of his own?
Okay, probably not.
After all, having been given all the opportunity in the world Big Chuck has time and again proven himself to be a pretty average head coach at best. But, I think the big boys at Notre Dame may have given a little more thought before throwing him $19 million to just go away and die.
In sports don’t we all love a good “what-if”?
And of course all of those wins, Reggie’s Heisman, the National Championship from the previous year; everything would be vacated.
That push kept my team from an opportunity to play for the crystal ball. That push from the kid that (according to NCAA rules) shouldn’t have been playing, cost my team a win against the team we have circled on the schedule every year. And, for years crushed us.
That push silenced Chicagoland.
But, that push made me a fan.
Am I bitter? Hell no. Poetic justice was served and now we have a nice little win streak of our own going against the University of Spoiled Children as my Dad likes to call them.
History is cyclical and therefore success comes in waves. Brian Kelly has a nice thing going and I expect Notre Dame to make me proud for years to come. Sanctions brought the Trojans back down to Earth to mingle with the mortals and the Jeweled Shillelagh back to us. But, I can’t help but feel that success is just as tainted as Pete Carroll’s Trojans. I want to see Notre Dame beat USC at full strength with no strings attached. I want a real rivalry between powerhouse teams that beat the hell out of each other.
I want battered, bruised and broken with pride win or lose. We are arguably the two most successful and storied college football programs in the land. And the Bush Push game was the only time I really got to see it as it should be. It was the day I was convinced I would be a fan for the long haul.
Despite all the failures and controversy that will be forever linked to the BCS era, I am still thankful it brought me that game.
My game.

BCS Dominance: An Ohio State Love Story

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Thee Ohio State Buckeyes. When you hear these three simple words what comes to your mind? Scarlet and Grey? Archie Griffin? How about Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Troy Smith, Eddie George, or how about The Game? Well all of these are great answers but the one thing that comes to my mind is BCS dominance.
Thee Ohio State was the most dominate team during the BCS era appearing in a staggering ten games. Yes they stumbled and were embarrassed in a few of them, cough cough the 2007 National Championship game verse Urban Meyer lead Florida.  Still no team got to the dance more than Ohio State. They always found a way to get a date to prom so to speak.
There were the moments, Maurice Clarett stripping Sean Taylor after an interception in the endzone. Ted Ginn returning the opening kick off of the already mentioned 2007 National Championship. Heck even the Buckeyes making the 2008 National Championship game was a moment. They shouldn’t have had the season they did that year. Then the best moment of them all beating Miami (Fl) in the 2002 National Championship.

Ohio State won the first BCS Nokia Sugar Bowl beating Texas A&M under John Cooper. Yes Cooper took them to a BCS game. Ohio state is the first school to have three coaches take the team to BCS games, the other is Florida (Spurrier, Meyer, and Muschamp). They started the BCS era going 4-0, before losing back-to-back national title games to SEC opponents. They appeared in a BCS game in 6 out of 7 years from 2002-2009, missing the BCS dance in 2004. They also had a staggering 6 “at-large” bids.
It didn’t matter if they had Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, or Braxton Miller under center. The Buckeyes won and won and found their way to the big pay day of the BCS over and over. No team in the BCS era cashed in as much as the Buckeyes did.