Mike Wilson (@pigskinopinion) and Jack Follman (@jackfollman) from Pacific Takes get together to discuss Pac-12 football. Mike and Jack offer their takes on the hiring of Clay Helton at USC, the bowl match-ups for the Pac-12, Christian McCaffrey, and who will win the National Championship between the four playoff teams.
What can you say about the 2015 Cleveland Indians? They had their moments, sure, but to compare the end result to where we figured they would be in late September before the whole party began in April, leaves an almost unexplainable discrepancy.
When the front office pulled off the coup of landing Terry Francona, straight out of the ESPN broadcast booth in 2013, it was supposed to be different. When they pulled out all of the stops for Nick Swisher, and then signed Michael Bourn, under the RADAR, it promised to be a new day in Cleveland.
All three had grossly underperformed in Cleveland, and two of them didn’t last three full seasons. The third, Francona, was brought aboard by someone who opted not to stick around to watch it all crumble. It crumbled in Boston, but they had a couple of shiny trophies on the mantle to remind them of the good times. Progressive Field has only a painted grey flag with the numbers “2013” to show for all of they hype that came with the 2012-2013 off-season.
The 2015 season didn’t mean the arrival of too many new faces; the headliner of the group was Brandon Moss, but the former Oakland Athletic was damaged goods, and the Indians’ brass was all about the reclamation projects (see: Kazmir, Scott). Gavin Floyd and Jeff Manship decided to come along for the ride, joining the pitching staff. They didn’t figure to need a lot of new faces, as the familiar faces were supposed to carry this squad to a title, said the experts at Sports Illustrated.
After all, they had the reigning Cy Young winner, in CoreyKluber1no longer Hansset to take the ball on Opening Day, and pick up where he left off in 2014. Carlos Carrasco showed the accountants enough in the second half of the prior season, that the club decided to extend him 5 years. Trevor Bauer was expected to turn the corner this season, Danny Salazar was expected to bounce back from a sophomore slump of sorts, and Gavin Floyd was the big veteran the team needed to eat up innings at the back of the rotation every fifth day.
It turned out to be the rookie Cody Anderson, and not Floyd, due to completely foreseeable injury, that owned the 5th spot, after Bruce Chen and Shawn Marcum reminded everyone why they were available to anyone willing to give them a shot. Bauer had his glimpses, but finds himself in a battle with Josh Tomlin for a 2016 rotation spot, after Tomlin showed flashes of brilliance, but no consistency in 2015.
Those who did start on the bump, on a semi-regular basis, all flirted with no-hitters. Trevor Bauer was first, but it was early in the season, so he combined with the bullpen for about 8 innings in Tampa, before Nick Hagadone blew the no-no and the shutout. Kluber went 5 or 6 on multiple occasions. Cody Anderson went 5, to kick off a remarkable streak of games in Tampa for the rotation. It was during that stretch that Carlos Carrasco came closest to finishing the job, surrendering a hit with 2 outs in the 9th. Carrasco was on a nice run last Friday against the Royals’ taxi-squad, the night after they clinched their first division title since 1985. Unless it happens in the next four games, Len Barker’s 1981 perfecto against Toronto will remain the last no-hitter of any sort from Tribe pitching.
In a time when the city has moved on to the Browns and getting Johnny Manziel on the field, you could put the celebrity quarterback in the same bucket with the group that plays 81 games a year in the building a few blocks south of First Energy Stadium. You might love the snapshots, but have to understand there’s nothing sustainable, just yet.
Carlos Santana is a first basemen; his days of catching or playing third base have gone the way of the dodo. That might be more of a Yan Gomes thing than a Santana thing, but the effect was felt when Gomes’ season was put on hold in early April, and we entered the black hole of the Roberto Perez/Brett Hayes platoon offensively. The thing offensive about that duo is that fans took offense to the lineup card, but Yan couldn’t go between suffering an injury on April 11th and returning to the lineup in late May.
Arguably, Yan never got things going with the bat all, after a 1-for-4 outing on Opening Day. It was June 6th before he broke the Mendoza line, and his water mark in the batting average category was .237, after a 3-for-4 day in a home loss to the Yankees in August.
Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley had some lofty expectations set on them, and despite some really badly-timed slumps, they’ve given everyone everything they can honestly expect at the plate, when you’re looking at the big picture. The problem is, that can’t do it alone, and the players who manned the left side of the infield on Opening Day in Houston weren’t cutting in the field or at the plate. Eventually, the club understood the formula for insanity, doing the same shit and expecting different results, wasn’t going to work, with Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, though Chisenhall was reborn as an outfielder, a la Alex Gordon, in the minor leagues. There’s a definite “to be continued” happening there, so stay tuned.
Alas, we get the relatively unknown Giovanny Urshela up from the minor leagues to play third base, and not too far behind, but way too late for many die-hard Tribe fans, Francisco Lindor to play short. People who couldn’t pick the latter out of a lineup admired and pined for the services of Lindor in Cleveland. Going against the grain of everything not named LeBron James in Cleveland, Lindor has lived up to the hype, and should be named American League Rookie of the Year. In resetting a season that largely makes me frown, it’s all smiles when it comes to the 8th overall pick from the 2011 draft.
Lindor passes the eyeball test, even when he swings and misses. At shortstop, he turns into outs and fielder’s choices into double plays. While I liked Julio Franco, Omar Vizquel, and various stages of the Asdrubal Cabrera Experience, it’s fair to say this young man is one of a kind. He has fun, he takes instruction, and oh by the way, the numbers on the stat sheet are sexy as hell too. They’re not good for a rookie, they’re good for a baseball player. It’s all there in black and white.
The bullpen did some things, like suffer through CC Lee, Scott Atchison, and Anthony Swarzak outings. Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw didn’t look too bad on paper, but you always cringed when Tito called to the bullpen for their services. Cody Allen was able to stay the course for what he’s been over the course of his still young career, and he will continue to be the starter until he veers obscenely off course (see: Perez, Chris). Manship and Austin Adams seemed to be better with each appearance. We also saw some nice things from Floyd and Shawn Armstrong, but in very small sample sizes.
They sent Marc Rzepcynski packing at the deadline, when Brandon Moss and David Murphy were already gone. Due to their ability to clear waivers, Swisher and Bourn were moved after the traditional July 31 deadline. The moves brought back AAA slugger Abraham Almonte and the albatross contract of Chris Johnson in return; it’s very likely that neither are long-term options, but nice placeholders until the farm system develops recent draft picks a little more.
It was clear after a 7-14 April that this team was not World Series-worthy and the ceiling was reset from 94 wins to 83, and they will be very lucky to even reach that plateau. We’ll miss them anyway.
Rest in Peace, 2015 Cleveland Indians2…or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family. I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club. These players should enjoy their lives..
Simple, little events can do so much to change the way we see things and how we feel about them. We might not appreciate how good it feels, after being antagonized by something for so long, to be past that albatross. A little reflection upon the 2013 College Football season has left me grateful the enlightenment I experienced in the wake of the most recent Championship Game.
It’s hard to believe the days before the BCS were a half a lifetime ago, literally half of my life. Granted, we were all victims to the limited coverage we were offered way back then, but I don’t exactly recall the national networks picking up the SEC games very frequently. It’s not a slight on them; they usually had a Top 10 team in the Sugar Bowl and lord knows Ohio State couldn’t hang with any of their teams on New Year’s Day, but it goes to show that the Southeastern Conference was never anything special in my formative years.
I’d never personally heard anyone refer to a team by the pedigree of their conference before that night in 2005, just minutes after Vince Young and Texas upset Ohio State in Columbus. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, LSU was playing a “home game” against Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium, a game the Sun Devils let get away in the end. That’s when I heard it.
“You can’t do that against an S-E-C team.”
Then, I heard it again.
“The S-E-C is going to make you pay for that.”
Really? The whole conference? When the game ended in defeat for ASU, it was more of the same; I eventually had to look and make sure that it was still Louisiana State playing in Tempe, and not some compilation of all-star student athletes from the Gulf region.
I guess it was more of a warning shot than anything else, something that should have prepared me for the hype machine that would steam-roll the world of College Football for nearly an entire decade. It wasn’t quite that long, six full seasons of College Football, plus a day that brought in this new age in January of 2007. I have to admit I was a little bit surprised, by everything.
I expected Florida to have a similar showing to what Miami brought to the desert four years earlier, which was a weak showing. And though Ohio State was playing in Arizona in January for the fourth time in five years, I still expected an overwhelming delegation of Scarlet and Gray. Things were different this time around, the schools had more of a 50/50 representation, and this SEC tidal wave had hit the Valley of the Sun.
It didn’t just hit the local area; it hit the Buckeyes on the field, where they suffered a 41-14 defeat. It was the third BCS Championship for the Southeastern Conference in the series’ nine-year existence, but Florida’s first since 1996. The fans sang that, “it’s great to be…a Florida Gator,” but throughout the game the dominant chant was, “S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C.”
It didn’t add up for me. Why give your league credit, when it’s your school, not the other eleven you erroneously include with that nonsense, that deserves the glory. I thought about it; maybe I don’t have a good perspective on this because Ohio State’s distaste for Michigan is so intense that I’d never want another Big Ten school have the glory. But, then there’s Arizona State; Pac-10 rival USC had claimed two consecutive AP National Championships, but the jubilation was more in tune locally when Texas denied them a third at the 2006 Rose Bowl. In every professional sport I take interest in, the teams I desire the worst things for happen to be in the same division as my favorite teams.
A year later, almost to the day, Ohio State ends up on the field with the Southeastern Conference’s champion once again; this time it’s Louisiana State in the state of Louisiana. I didn’t take the trip to New Orleans, but I heard it was more of that chant in the atmosphere around the game and saw a similar result on the field. LSU had won their second championship in five years, coincidentally on the same field. A week earlier, Florida lost to Michigan in Florida, but those Florida fans were happy for their conference foe, and it was if Ohio State losing was more important in Gainesville than the Gators winning.
In the following years, it became less about Ohio State and more about getting one team from the league into the big game. While the Buckeyes were forced into a consolation game with Texas, the Gators were back at it again, taking down Oklahoma for the second title in three years, while Alabama lost to Utah in the Sugar Bowl. It was all good in Alabama though; their mighty SEC brother kept the championship in the conference, and the chants continued.
Alabama got theirs the next season, besting Big 12 Champ Texas in Pasadena, giving the conference their 4th straight title, but Alabama’s first since Bear Bryant put them atop the College Football World in 1979. The next season, the conference and the state of Alabama were back at it, but this time it was Cam Newton and Auburn against Oregon in Glendale. The Ducks gave the best effort we’d seen in SEC’s 5-year run, but it was not to be in the end.
A sixth title for the conference was inevitable when the final poll had the SEC West Division Runner-Up at #2, behind the conference’s champion. LSU, the SEC Champion, became the first league champion since Georgia in 2005 not to bring the title home, but that’s really only a matter of a technicality since it was Alabama who took them down, avenging their November loss to the Tigers at home, their only loss of the 2011 season. In 2012, Alabama made quick work of previously undefeated Notre Dame in Miami for back-to-back championships, leaving only one more season for the conference to put a stamp on the BCS era.
It seems so silly, to want it to end. At this point, it had become like rooting for the Washington Generals. I felt like Gary and Ace’s nemesis on TV Funhouse’s Ambiguously Gay Duo; all he ever wanted was concrete confirmation that these faux superheroes were gay, leading him to become increasingly frustrated, which inevitably made for his demise. Of course, this 2013 season coincided with my first at More Than A Fan, dedicated to covering College Football; so, I did my best to put my feeling aside in the name of objectivity.
If I allowed myself to be giddy with a down year for the SEC, I did it quietly. Georgia lost to Clemson, then South Carolina lost to Georgia. Florida lost to Miami, Texas A&M took a home loss to Alabama, Auburn lost to LSU, then LSU lost to Georgia. It wasn’t even October, and most of the SEC had been crossed off the list, not that I was happy or sad about it in any way. Missouri stuck around the ranks of the unbeaten longer than most had expected, until they lost their quarterback in October, and we all knew Alabama would be a tough nut to crack.
When the other shoe would fall for the Tide, all it did was elevate Auburn. It elevated Missouri as well, even though they both lacked a 0 in the loss column. They’d enter the SEC Championship, for the first time in ages, without a berth in the BCS National Championship assured to the winner. They needed help and they got it; Auburn despite the loss to LSU and the need for miracle finishes against Georgia and Alabama got the bump they needed from Michigan State, who pushed Ohio State into the loss column for the first time on the year, and it would be Florida State versus Auburn for that last crystal football.
As the game went to intermission, with Auburn up 21-10, I remember saying to myself, “I’m over it.” The best team in the country should win the title. With thirty minutes left in the season, I couldn’t make an argument for any other team. Stanford laid an egg at Utah, Oregon lost to Arizona, the Buckeyes may shown their true colors in Indianapolis against Michigan State, and Clemson was destroyed at home by this Florida State team that has no answers for Auburn on either side of the ball.
Eight straight titles were inevitable, and it was time to take my hat off to those eight teams. I’d done plenty of that in the past. I can’t think of any year where the title game ended, and thought the winner didn’t earn it, or that the winner wasn’t the best team in the land, even if it did take me a couple of days/months/years to accept that the 2006 Ohio State team just wasn’t that good. The only knock I had on this Auburn team was that nobody paid attention to them until mid-November, but that’s more on me and everyone else than it is about these Tigers, who couldn’t beat a single team they played in-conference in 2012.
Then, the second half happened and Florida State won the football game. They won the final BCS National Championship, and I finally got an answer to the question that I’d been asking for about five years. How will I feel when this streak is over?
I think the answer falls somewhere between feeling nothing at all and being free of the burden. What I’ve learned is, the hype machine wasn’t nearly as I ever made it out to be, even if it was completely overdone. It isn’t like I took any joy in Auburn losing or Florida State winning; it just happened, two good football teams took the field and the better team might have won in the end. I don’t think the result told us much about the ACC and SEC in 2013, let alone what’s happened over the last 8 or 16 years.
They play good football in the SEC. The league’s better teams do anyways. I think it’s possible that Kentucky was just as bad as Kansas or Cal; we really don’t know. I think it’s possible that a middle-of-the-road team like Vanderbilt could have taken down the Pac-12 runner-up; even though Arizona State was embarrassed by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, they had the best regular season record in the conference that was almost granted as the consensus #2 conference in the country. The underlying truth to all of this is that it’s difficult to compare two teams that don’t play on the same field.
What I think we get caught up in is, if Team A or League A is good, then Team B or League B must suck. This logic, or lack thereof, also works in reverse. It takes the lowest common denominator to accept this idea as gospel. Take Oklahoma, for example; had they lost to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it would have somehow made Oregon better and worthy of Oklahoma’s spot in a BCS game after the fact. And since Oklahoma won, Alabama must have been overrated all year.
Damien and I preach it all of the time on the College Football Roundtable podcast, just because a good team loses to another good team, they don’t suddenly become a bad football team. Clemson isn’t terrible for losing to Florida State or South Carolina. Ohio State doesn’t become overrated garbage for losing 4th quarter leads over Michigan State or Clemson. I think we tend to get so hung up on what one or two people say about something, and there’s this panic to overcome the perception.
As fans, especially those who have nearly made it our life’s work to discredit the SEC as a whole, disprove their quality as a conference and dissent from the status quo, we have our own far-fetched views that don’t make any sense. There is some logic that we ignore; if your conference doesn’t win any of their bowl games, it means something, and if the crown jewel of the conference has never won a bowl game against an SEC team, it’s okay for fans of any of those school for keeping that streak intact.
If an analyst is critical of a team with real facts to back it up, he’s not a “hater”; he’s just doing his job. I know that it goes too far sometimes, but not so much from the people we might first suspect. CBS, who does their due in promoting their SEC product, tends to be very balanced. ESPN, another broadcast partner of the Southeastern Conference, has a very large staff, and many of them can be honest when something’s awry south of the Mason-Dixon. Obviously, there are exceptions; some people who shouldn’t have a voice are given one.
So, if we can ignore the likes of Mark May, Clay Travis, and Dan LeBatard, I think I can make my point. The thesis of this whole thing is the ability to have an open mind. The sunset of the BCS, as well as the parity offered with Florida State’s title, cleans the slate. I think we can go back to watching games without any preconceived agendas because of conference affiliation, sans the high-major versus mid-major element, which is hard to deny. I was getting tired of the half-baked theory that Team Y was better than Team Z because one was in the SEC and the other was in the Big Ten; it never made sense to me.
Going forward, I hope to see some quality football from the Southeastern Conference, but I’d prefer it if the logo were just a patch on the uniform and a marking on 14 football fields. It doesn’t need to be a way of life, in fact, it’s better for everyone if it isn’t.
As we get ready for the Super Bowl this weekend, I thought it might be a good time to reflect upon what, in my opinion, would be the perfect college football playoff. We all have opinions on the recently retired BCS and the upcoming College Football Playoff (CFP), but few have attempted to justify what they think is a good system. So, I’ll try.
First, let me say, that in its current form I think the CFP is bad. I say that not because I don’t want to see teams play head-to-head to arrive at a proper champion, but because I don’t think there are enough teams. Four is far too few teams for me personally, and as much as I’ve been the cheerleader for eight teams even that isn’t enough teams.
My new number is 12. I think that number is both reasonable, and fair. The question is how we get there.
If we must, we can take conference champions and a few at-large teams, but are those truly the best teams in the country? Of course not.
Best to Worst
Consider this scenario: Vanderbilt rolls through the SEC regular season and wins the SEC Conference Championship game, but in the process, their quarterback, and best player, sustains a season-ending injury. Their backup has never played, or is terrible. At that point, is Vanderbilt still one of the best teams in the country? No. Are they among the top-12 best in the country? Probably not.
What that means, is even though Vanderbilt won their conference championship game, we as fans and those on the committee know that the Commodores are without their best player they don’t stand a chance in the playoff.
Sure, anything can happen, and they could win in the playoffs, but Vegas will tell you they’re a 12-point underdog. Like Vegas or not, how often are they wrong?
Worst to Best
Certainly, in many scenarios the 12 best teams will be conference champions who deserve the chance to play in the CFP, but what if a team like Ohio State loses two of its first five games, but beats everyone else by double digits. There’s a good chance they won’t play in the conference championship game even if they beat the eventual conference champion during the regular season.
Are you saying that if Ohio State rolls in the remaining games and beats the eventual conference champion that they don’t deserve to play in a 12-team playoff because they have two or more losses?
I can’t say that, and if you are then you’re just being stupid.
The committee needs to have the autonomy to pick the 12 best teams at the end of the year and seed them accordingly. They also don’t need the pressure – real or imagined – to release rankings every week. We don’t ask the college basketball committee to give us weekly rankings late in the season, so why should we expect the football committee to do the same?
Yes, basketball is much easier to seed because of the number of teams, but the rules for the committee should be the same where possible.
Can We Please Play at Home?
Now that we’ve solved the number of teams and the selection process let’s discuss location. This is easy, take neutral site locations off the table until the semi-finals.
Why? Because if the presidents and networks expect fans to show up to multiple games before semi or final then they have to realize traveling is expensive. Expanding the playoff to 12 games will already water down the conference championship games that they’ll want many of those same fans to attend, so why not throw them a bone and give them a round or two at home?
Also, make those true home games. Whatever the teams would do at their home games in the regular season should be permitted during the first round of playoffs. Any pre, halftime, or post-game traditions should be honored including the number of student tickets offered.
What about the bye, baby?
It’s true, four teams will have a bye, and some of those teams won’t like having the bye, so we have a few options here:
The top-four teams will automatically have a bye week.
Two of the top-four teams will have a bye week. The first two teams would have the opportunity to play in the first week or pass their bye to the third or fourth seeded team.
Whichever team takes the bye, the lowest seeded team in their quad would automatically take the bye and the highest-seeded team would take their place.
In Major League Baseball, the higher seeded team chooses their off day, in my CFP the higher seeded team chooses to play or sit. There should be some incentive to being in the top-four, right?
Is my plan perfect or does it solve every problem? Of course not. But, I think it provides a happy medium for fans who want to be able to attend some of the playoff games and the powers-that still want some (read: all) control over which teams make it.
So, what do you think? In my scenario would your team have made a 12-team playoff this year? Which team in this seasons final top-12 would be excluded under my playoff scenario?
Jeff and Damien welcome College Football Roundtable contributor Stephen Garvin in as they wrap up the BCS games. They also spend time talking to Stephen @(CleveNole) about his National Championship Game experience.
Verne Lundquist had to admit that he didn’t have anything on is iPod from DJ Maseo or the group De La Soul, when pointing out that Maseo’s son Tre Mason was Auburn’s star running back. Actually, I have that backwards, the CBS play-by-play announcer was pointing out that the Tigers featured back was the son of a hip-hop artist, and my best guess is that the southern gentleman is no fan of the rap music. However, I am, and my iPad is full of De La Soul music, but enough about Me, Myself, and I, we have a Championship to talk about.
Mason wasn’t just a player in the game with famous bloodlines, Florida State has a player that is a descendant of Jack Nicklaus, who Lundquist could probably tell you a few things about. Hell, try to not let this make you feel old, but Jeff Blake had a son on Auburn’s championship team a few years ago. However, on this night in Pasadena, the Tigers would come up short of their second BCS Championship, as the era came to a close and we all wished the chaotic system a good riddance. That fact alone, the fact that Florida State scored more points than Auburn, cost Mason an MVP.
They say it’s good to be the king, so only the kings of college football could be labeled most valuable, so despite being bailed out by his special teams and defense, Jameis Winston took the honor. If you aren’t new to the program, you are probably well aware that Winston was honored as the game’s most outstanding player in early December, and that was well deserved. Awarding the freshman on Monday night, only fed the argument that the quarterback of the winning team gets the award by default.
You might say he stole the award, but we’ve get bigger fish, or thieves, to fry. The logistics of getting an Auburn player on stage while Nole Nation celebrated may have been difficult, and his pops laid down the beats for Itzsoweezee (read: It’s So Easy). Of course, De La Soul collaborated with Chaka Khan for All Good, but Tre would tell you it wasn’t. Then, there was Potholes in my Lawn, a track about stealing style and lyrics. Theft, or just straight-up mimicking was to be found in abundance between these two teams.
ESPN, who shares a bed with the SEC (Southeast Conference), was quick to point out that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher designed his team after the SEC’s style, just to hush the crowd that was happy to see the run of teams from the conference winning the title stop at seven in a row. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, so the moral of the story states you pull for the SEC teams and their style or forever be ridiculed.
Gus Malzahn is the innovator that runs the Auburn offense, just a few years removed from being a high school coach himself. The option is nothing new, especially to the world of college football, but it’s a little inside-out from the style that we’re used to. Sure, we have called it the triple option; fake to the fullback up the middle, then run off-tackle and let the quarterback decide whether to pitch to the halfback on the perimeter or keep it himself. The first part of it is not supposed to be a fake, but an option to give to the fullback, though that’s not what we’re used to seeing. With Auburn, quarterback Nick Marshall reads the play before-hand and decides whether his bruiser, Mason, is going to take the ball or he’s going to run off-tackle himself, sans a pitch man flanking him.
It’s genius, and damn near impossible to defend, given the right personnel. Florida State has some of the nation’s best athletes at the collegiate level in the box, and they struggled to defend it in the first half. They struggled to be within 18 points moments before halftime of the BCS’s swan song, but they caught a break from their teammates, and I’m not talking about the usually high-powered offense, led by Winston.
One last drive had apparently stalled towards the end of the half, but Malzahn wasn’t the only innovator playing the role of head coach in Pasadena. Fisher never had much need to be that riverboat gambler, beating every opponent on their regular season slate by double digits, but a fake punt, with the up man taking the snap and setting up the reverse to the gunner Karlos Williams yielded a crucial first down. That extended a possession that eventually became a scoring drive. It was the former Auburn assistant in garnet and gold that was Mr. Mischief with tricks up his sleeve that rolled up on us like Christopher Reeve.
21-10 at the half, and if that score didn’t happen, I wasn’t going to spend another two hours subjecting myself to Alabama-Notre Dame Part II (fictional significant other, not included). Hey, Guy vs. Rachel Celebrity Cook-off was on the Food Network; it even featured a Heisman winner and arguably the greatest college football player of all-time. Speaking of College Football greats, I took the bait that ESPN threw on the bottom line about Johnny Manziel and Tim Tebow joining Jemele Hill and Michael Smith for commentary on ESPN2 at the half. It was the train wreck I’d expected it to be, especially knowing that the 4-letter had hired Saint Timmy full-time for the next season.
The theory was, and we heard from Jimbo himself, if Florida State could take the 2nd-half kickoff in for a score. First drive, 3 and out. Fortunately for the choppers of the Tomahawk sort, nothing doing the other way for Auburn after a punt, and Florida State made it a one-possession game with a field goal.
So, beginning of the 4th quarter, Tigers up 21-13, and it’s virtually a mistake-free game, even though some dropped passes and missed tackles have made it less than pretty. Auburn wasn’t looking for vanity, muffing punts and putting the oblong-shaped ball on the ground, but net gains were still at a break-even point, since they all bounced back to the hands of men in white jerseys, Auburn’s designated color for the evening.
You got the feeling that Florida State was on to them after the intermission though, putting them behind the chains on 2nd and 3rd downs, thus forcing Nick Marshall to pass. One of the things that bothers me about quarterbacks with the ability to run is the assumption that they can’t throw. The Georgia-transfer debunks the myth, but you still wanted him to put the ball in the air, and PJ Williams of Florida State showed us why. On a 2nd and 16 play, Marshall targeted Trovon Reed on the right sideline, but Williams said, ‘no soup for you’, which gave the Noles a chance to tie the game…in theory, anway.
It didn’t take long after the athletic interception from Williams and subsequent fumble recovery by one of his teammates that Winston took the field and did what we’ve all seen him to so well, move efficiently and score. It’s just unfortunate when the authorities intervene, and intervene they did after the fact, but it still mattered.
Winston let the unheralded running game take over briefly, Davonta Freeman for 8 yards, then 16, then nothing at all. With just 32 yards between Winston and the potential game-tying score, he took over with his arm, 21 yards to Kelvin Benjamin and then 11 to Chad Abram for the six…but, there was a flag on the field. Freeman, who had done a lot to set up this latest kill-shot was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which meant an 18-yard conversion try for the tie, instead of 3 yards. Fisher, wise in his years, opted not to chase that game-tying point with the odds stacked against him, and we’re at 21-20. Our elderly play-by-play man, unsure if he’s Kirk Herbstreit, Brick Tamlan, or himself, questions the move. After all, points have come at a premium to this point, but crazy hadn’t quite arrived…yet.
Meanwhile, on the Celebrity Cook-off, Florence Henderson aka Mrs. Carol Brady was making a Lentil Stew at Medieval Times, but at the Rose Bowl, all you saw from Auburn was Marshall, Marshall, Marshall or Mason, Mason, Mason. Sans a 26-yard pass to Ricardo Louis on the drive’s second play, Auburn kept the ball on the ground with their quarterback and running back for their entire 12-play, 69-yard drive to the Florida State 6-yard line, before a failed pass on 3rd and 4 forced the field goal unit on to the field. Because of Freeman’s penalty on the touchdown, this 3-pointer gave Auburn a 4-point lead.
11 seconds later, that lead was gone, courtesy of Levonte Whitfield, commonly known as “Kermit” went endzone to endzone to give the team from Tallahasse their first lead since a short-lived 3-0 advantage early. They’d come all the way back from being down 18, but there was time on the clock, and we know that even 1 measly second is enough for Auburn. 4 minutes 31 seconds and a 3-point deficit had the nation preparing for overtime in the championship for the first time since 2003.
They took yards in little chunks and swallowed their losses as Florida State’s defense clamped down, though they were obviously winded. The people of cyberspace were quick to point out that Florida State’s starters hadn’t played more than 2 and ½ quarters all season long, and it showed. Playing behind the chains on third down, Marshall showed his throwing ability in the middle of the field, something he was able to do all night, hitting Sammie Coates for 15 yards and a first down. Later in the drive, he’d find Coates for another 17 yards to cross mid-field.
Marshall was sacked on the next play, and once again forced to play behind the chains, but Mason knew the magic number was six, and took it 37 yards to get that six. He spiked the ball and assumed the Heisman pose, but drew no flag, so his kicker easily hit the extra point, and the Tigers led 31-27.
For the Tigers, this game lasted exactly 79 seconds longer than they would have cared for. Lightning would not strike twice for the Seminoles on the kickoff return, and Kermit got capered at his own 20. Winston got to work, hitting Rashad Greene twice, the second being a dagger to the souls of everyone chanting “S-E-C”, as Greene went for 49 yards on the catch and run to the Auburn 23 yard-line.
Now is as good a time as any to remind everyone about Chris Davis, the Iron Bowl hero. Davis fielded an Alabama field goal attempt eight yards deep in his own end zone, then ran it back 108 yards for six points, a win over Alabama, and a berth in the SEC Championship. But, that was in November; championships are won at this level in January.
Back in the present tense in Pasadena, Florida State was backed up to the Auburn 10 yard-line, faced with 3rd and 8 with the clock inside of 20 ticks. Winston threw for the end zone, and the pass fell incomplete. You never want the officials to take the fate of a game in their own hands, but Davis was guilty as hell of pass interference on the play, so the flag was thrown, giving a first down at the 2. Next play, Winston to Benjamin for six points and the SEC, I mean Auburn was toast. Winston was 6 of 7 passing on the final drive, to finish with 237 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner.
Mason ran for 195 yards on 34 carries, but his defense gave up the big play. Ditto for his kickoff team. Mason set things up for Marshall, on the ground and in the air, so he’s my Most Valuable Player, but he got handed the “L” and that doesn’t fit the Disney script. It would have been nice to see him recognized accordingly, even if he’s not applying for work at Feel Good Inc. anytime soon.
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games a game that could have been better. It was once an introduction to the wisdom of small-time Jim Tressel in the desert, and it was Urban Meyer losing his first BCS Bowl as a head coach in the proximity of South Beach, thus completing the epilogue to the foolishness of the man who wore a sweater vest in Columbus. Everything in between was a chapter in that book, everything that happens from here on out is a new book.
That January 3rd was a Friday, too. It was 11 years ago, but I remember it quite well. This time around, Ohio State was just a part of my night. Back then, it was my entire night, my entire January, and my entire 2003; in fact, it came close to being the defining moment of the “aughts” decade for me.
The moments from that year remain fresh on my mind. The expectations are never rock-bottom for Ohio State, but they were coming off another Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, despite Jim Tressel making good on his plan to make the student body proud of what they’d do in Ann Arbor 310 days after taking the job. Only, this time around, the what-Miami or “The U” became the where-the location in South Florida. I honestly don’t remember what was anticipated of them, but a date with Miami in Tempe on a Friday night in January was far from everyone’s mind, I’m sure. This season, the sky was the limit, and also the only acceptable destination. They were looking at a schedule that lacked a significant challenge; no eventual Pac-12 Champion, no Big XII opponent, and no in-state road game.
What both seasons offered was a running back, one surrounded by controversy at one point or another, that put the team on his back and just refused to lose. In 2002, you remember where you were when for the moments; at The Vine on Apache and Rural when Will Allen saved the day with a game-ending pick in Cincinnati, at the local bar watching the corner TV when Chris Gamble scored the only Ohio State touchdown of the day on a pick-six against Penn State at The Shoe, taking in “Holy Buckeye” from my couch after a late Friday night showing of 8 Mile, and the nervousness of overtime in Champaign with the Phoenix chapter of the Ohio State Alumni Club with Dave and my Pops. A week later, Dave and I were back at that same dive on Camelback and 7th Street, but my father had returned to Ohio, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed an Ohio State win over Michigan in his company.
When I first moved to the Valley of the Sun, I didn’t have much going on, but I always had Dave. He was from Ohio, I was from Ohio, and we both liked Ohio State football, so that was enough. Every Monday, we spoke of the weekend’s game, and he’d pass along his Buckeye Sports Bulletin whenever possible. This wasn’t the most joyous practice in 2001, conversations about Booker Stanley and a quarterback controversy that involved the names Krenzel and McMullen come to mind. Flash forward to the following year, as one second was all that stood between that Ohio State team and a 13-0 season that would earn them a trip to the desert, and only John “The Statue” Navarre could tempt fate. It might have been a few too many Bud Lights, but I couldn’t figure out the math, was Dave old enough to remember 1968? He was 38, and he’d be able to enjoy a title this time around, much more than when he was 3.
I still watch the games, but they aren’t appointment viewing for me, by any means, these days. Dave and I still chat and exchange emails about the game ahead and what we took away from the previous Saturday’s game, but there’s no mystery to it; in most weeks, they’re going to win, everyone expects it, and no one respects it. After the 2002 win, Craig Krenzel had beaten rival Michigan in consecutive seasons. No Ohio State quarterback had ever done that in my lifetime, but Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor have both done it since, provided you aren’t going to be a jerk about the vacated 2010 season. Winning that game at the end of the year just doesn’t mean that much, either because Ohio State has graduated on to bigger goals or because Michigan isn’t up to the task anymore. In 2002, beating Michigan was almost enough for the fans, but by 2013, it was barely enough and perhaps inadequate, standing on its own.
There was no obstacle between Michigan and the bowl game, just Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Michigan State proved to be a difficult road block for Urban Meyer this time around. Jim Tressel didn’t even have to see Michigan State in a 14 game season, or Iowa, who finished undefeated in Big Ten play that year. The Pac-10 was too much for the other Big 10 rep in a BCS Bowl that year, as Ohio State fans felt conflicted watching the Trojans handle the Hawkeyes in Miami on January 2nd, the night before their Friday night date with juggernaut. Clemson didn’t quite earn themselves a juggernaut label this year, but Ohio State fans have resorted to openly rooting for their Big Ten rivals, as if they’re obligated to do so in the present tense. The conference allegiance held strong on New Years Day in Pasadena, where Michigan State handled Stanford in the 100th Granddaddy of Them All. Michigan State’s Head Coach was calling the game of his life, as Tressel’s defensive coordinator, in Tempe, 11 years ago this day.
There was orange to be seen on January 3rd, then and now, and I’m not just talking about the trophy, the color of the seats, or the Discover Card sponsored logo. Miami wore green jerseys, but orange was arguably still their primary color. Clemson wore white on Friday night, and there’s little debate that they’re the orange team. The Buckeyes were a well-documented 13-point underdog, in the days and weeks leading up to that game designated as a championship. In this crazy new world we live in, a few weeks without a game sent Ohio State from the favorites column to the underdog one, an 8-point swing from what I saw. A few fans were willing to admit that beating Miami that night would be a tall order, but there was no consensus going into this one. In the interest of full disclosure, my predictions were a loss for the Scarlet and Gray both times. I remember discussing it with the designated driver on the eve of the game in 2003, while everyone else was liquored up enough to prognosticate with their hearts instead of their heads, and good for them for enjoying life.
Despite what I believed to be a morose inevitability for that night to be all about The U, you couldn’t accuse me of not enjoying life in my first 72 hours of 2003. We rode down Mill Avenue in an RV, singing “Hang On Sloopy” at the top of our lungs, and when we crossed Rio Salado, we took the bridge over Tempe Town Lake, went around the block to University and Mill, started the track over, and did the same thing over and over. We found older adults to assume the role of parents to our underage friends, so they could enter a 21 & over bar, exploiting the loophole that allowed minors to enter with “guardian”. There were stories of paid entertainers doing inappropriate things with Buckeye necklaces in lieu of beads, but to elaborate would put this network’s PG-13 status in jeopardy.
In contrast, on this eve of the Orange Bowl, my wife and I rented a movie, then watched the 4th quarter of the Sugar Bowl. On gameday, I worked a full day, like a normal human being, then met my parents for dinner. We couldn’t even get a table in the bar/lounge area, and were stuck on the family side of the joint, which fortunately had TVs.
On the day of the Championship, and granted, it was in town that year, I attempted to work. Around lunch time, my boss granted me parole, and the tailgating began just a short walk from Sun Devil Stadium. By the way, I didn’t get a ticket for the game, because I was waiting for a connection that fell through. I even turned down a friend of a friend, who was seeking $300 for a single. In comparison, $2000 wasn’t enough for two tickets to a BCS Championship game across town 4 years later.
Then and now, there were concerns about the defense being able to stop their opponent’s explosive offense, but that turned out not to be a legitimate fear in 2003. In 2014, it was a very real combination of inept defense meeting explosive offense, but that great Miami team didn’t have anyone dominate quite the way Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins did on Friday night. Willis McGahee might have, but his night was cut short by injury. Injury to a star offensive player may have influenced the outcome again, on the same day, 11 years later.
“Whoa Nelly” had been replaced with “Buckaroo”, and it was Braxton Miller being too beat up to carry Ohio State across the finish line in a 40-35 loss. Back then, it was Miami’s Ken Dorsey, who had been knocked silly and unable to extend the game. We witnessed that again on Friday, on Braxton Miller’s final interception of the night, a pass that might have given the Buckeyes a 41-40 lead with the appropriate amount of touch.
A lot of people felt the Big XII officials gave them a reprieve in 2003, when Miami’s Glen Sharpe was called for pass interference on what would have been the game’s final play on a would-be failed 4th down play, but the truth is that Ohio State should have never been in that situation. While I don’t expect an overwhelming amount of talk to linger about it, a case could be made against full possession of that final interception, but it should have never come to overtime for Ohio State and Miami and Clemson should not have needed another stop.
Miami sent the 2003 game to OT on a Todd Sievers field goal that was set up by a long punt return, on the third down play that was allegedly not converted and preceded the punt, a case could be made for a bad no-call or a bad ruling of an incomplete pass. A victory in either case meant Miami never saw the ball and never forced the extension of the game. An inexplixable throw from Clemson’s Tajh Boyd to Ohio State’s CJ Barnett could have drawn comparisons to Brian Sipe’s wounded duck in the 1980 playoffs, commonly known by Cleveland Browns fans as Red Right 88. His defensive teammates bailed him out on Miller’s errant throw.
I thought back to Ohio State’s last BCS bowl, whether it was vacated or not, where the Buckeyes caught a major break in the end. Solomon Thomas, one of the lesser known names in the Tattoo scandal, intercepted Ryan Mallett to ice the game for Jim Tressel in his last game as a head coach, to temporarily get in the win column against the Southeastern Conference with a win over Arkansas. On Friday, they played a team that they hadn’t seen since Woody Hayes last game as Ohio State’s head coach in 1978. There were quite a few parallels to be drawn between the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and 2014 Orange Bowl, even if the former was much more crisp. I’d compare the biggest play of that game, Maurice Clarett’s strip of Sean Taylor after an interception to the biggest Ohio State defensive play against Clemson, which was Vonn Bell’s miraculous effort to keep Clemson from going up 21-9 in the second quarter with an interception of Boyd’s attempt to get six with the flick of a wrist. Actually, it didn’t matter; the Bucks stalled on offense, and the Tigers scored on their next possesion, making it 20-9. In defeat, I got in the car and conversed with my wife on the way home. In victory, I showed up at a neighbors house, with no voice, whispering at the top of my lungs, that they did it, and also that I hadn’t been to bed yet; it was 1:00 on Saturday afternoon.
On the surface, it was a disappointing loss for Ohio State and a signature win for Clemson. This is the high point for Dabo Swinney’s team, but another disappointment for Urban Meyer and a major disappointment for his fans, who want to celebrate more often than once a decade. Things worked out well when Miami had to come to them, but when forced to visit Miami in a “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad then Muhammad must go to the mountain” situation, a team from a Valley called Death made things less well in the end.
Since it moved from Tempe to Glendale in January of 2007, the Fiesta Bowl has taken on a different feel, more of a corporate one in an NFL stadium. I don’t really say that in a good way. Sun Devil Stadium hosted the first Bowl game officially designated as a championship game, the first that would mandate the #1 and #2 teams in the country be on the same field, where Tennessee knocked off Florida State. In a few days, Florida State will once again travel west to take on the champion of the Southeastern Conference to determine a title, in California this time around, but Arizona still hosts that Fiesta Bowl game, and 2014’s exhibition would feature two teams without a lot of curb appeal.
I understand why there are two domes in Arizona, which host the area’s NFL and MLB teams; the heat is unbearable for most of baseball season and for the first few weeks of football season also. The only major sport that gets played in a true outdoor stadium in these parts is Sun Devil Stadium, which is on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe and used to host the Arizona Cardinals. I never attended a regular season NFL game there, but it boasts a real college atmosphere. The Fiesta Bowl became a bit of an Ohio State Invitational, with the Buckeyes getting an invite in 2003, 2004, and 2006. The area around the stadium, Mill Avenue to be specific, was always electric with incredible fan bases from Manhattan, Kansas and South Bend, Indiana in the days before the game.
The games on campus always meant something, which isn’t to say that University of Phoenix Stadium hasn’t seen its fair share of thrillers in the past 8 years, but obviously it’s my personal opinion that college games are better in college stadiums. The games I did not attend, since moving to Arizona in 2001, featured teams in 2002 that had a legitimate beef with the system over their rightful chance at a title and a non-qualifier crashing the party in 2004. Of course, the inaugural Fiesta Bowl in Glendale may have been the most memorable non-Championship game in the 16-year history of the BCS, a 43-42 OT thriller that saw Boise State crash the party.
I’d hear arguments for Texas, the victor over Ohio State in the 2010 game, presenting themselves worthy of Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators for the crystal football, having knocked off the team that played the sacrificial lamb to the SEC in Miami that night. You won’t hear a lot of people bellyache about the Championship caliber teams coming to the desert, but there’s this perception with curb appeal when you don’t get the brand names. Wednesday’s Central Florida vs. Baylor game sounded about as lackluster as the 2010 game that featured teams from the Mountain West and WAC on paper, but if you watched the games in 2013, you knew this wasn’t your typical “directional” school versus the academic of a power conference. We saw Western Michigan play Northwestern in September, and this game would be better.
Baylor is the type of team that scored 70 points on 4 different occasions this season, but from one week to the next, they’re just happy to be successful. Maybe they didn’t have a crystal football in mind when they were sweating out the Waco heat during two-a-days, but the prospects of getting to the National Championship were very real in mid-November, when they were being touted as the best undefeated team outside of Tallahasse, when they won convincingly over Oklahoma on a Thursday night where many of us were flipping over to Stanford’s home upset of previously unbeaten Oregon. The dream ended in Stillwater, where the Bears have not been able to sic the Cowboys in six decades, but this team was wild about qualifying for the Alamo Bowl two seasons ago, so the BCS was another step up for Art Briles and this Baylor program.
The American Athletic Conference did not exist last season, but they held an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for this last year of the series. Most had penciled in Louisville, winners of last year’s Sugar Bowl and mere renters of space in The American for a year before the ACC is ready to welcome them for the 2014 season, to represent the conference in the BCS, but George O’Leary and the UCF Knights opted to screw up everyone’s plans with a win in Louisville on a Friday night. Does nothing major happen on Saturday any more?
You can look at the Knights schedule any way you’d like, but be prepared to be accused of having an agenda. You could say they avoided Cincinnati, skated past Akron and Florida International, and just had to catch lightning in a bottle against Louisville. There were some close calls against conference foes Houston, Temple, South Florida, and Southern Methodist (SMU). They lost to South Carolina in what was easily their most difficult non-conference game, if not the best game on their schedule. They lost by three points. They also won at Penn State, a team that ended up beating Wisconsin. It might be bold to say, with the way the dominoes fell with the undefeated teams late in the season, but the Knights might have been 3 points against Steve Spurrier from playing for the National Championship.
Dismiss that last notion, if you don’t mind. People were angry enough that the Fiesta Bowl got “stuck” with this 11-1 team. Sure, Blake Bortles is not Teddy Bridgewater, but he’d been making a name for himself all season and the UCF quarterback is certainly in the same NFL draft conversations as the Louisville junior. Still, their best season in school history was only good enough for the Fiesta Bowl, because Northern Illinois went to Detroit in early December and forfeited their invite to Glendale with a loss to Bowling Green.
Ticket sales weren’t great for this one, it ended up being the worst-attended game in the history of the new venue. On the day of the game, tickets could be found on the secondary market for $16. That’s a fairly stark contrast to my first attempt to attend a game in that stadium that looks like a UFO when driving past it on the 101-Loop; $2000 in cash wasn’t enough to satisfy the scalpers when Ohio State and Florida played for a title in 2007. This, on the other hand, ended up being an experience unlike that in any way. Yes, I realize comparing a National Championship of that magnitude to this exhibition was apples to dumptrucks.
Parking wasn’t cheap ($20), but it was easy. I’d been here before, in March of 2009 for the NCAA Basketball Regional Final, only this space was a desert terrain with broken glass and weeds, but still a stone’s throw from the football stadium. I’ve never been much of a fan of tailgating, but this was tailgating done right, with a grill borrowed from professionals and cold adult beverages. Doing tailgating right isn’t actually difficult, as it turns out.
I didn’t have a dog in the fight, but we saw mostly green and gold clad Baylor supporters in our parking lot, which isn’t to say there wasn’t a few stragglers in UCF colors. Also, the consensus was that Baylor would run away with this. Our caravan included a few Northern Illinois fans extending their vacation after seeing their team lose to Utah State in San Diego on December 26th, which was difficult to explain to passers by, who saw the Huskies flag flying high.
“We were hoping you would get to kill us,” our friend from DeKalb was heard telling Baylor fans. I’d been hearing it since Christmas Eve, how the silver lining for NIU fans was avoiding a 70-point game from Baylor. He was right, they couldn’t stop anyone, but I kept that same sentiment about Baylor tucked away in the back of my head. The team Baylor suited up for that 2011 Alamo Bowl was completely different from this installment of the Bears, but another 67-63 game wasn’t the craziest thought in the world.
The Knights received the opening kickoff and took it right down Baylor’s throat. For a team with an alleged NFL-caliber quarterback, UCF didn’t worry about showcasing Bortles arm at all. They ran the ball six times for 76 yards, and that included two runs greater than 20 yards, capped off with Storm Johnson’s 11-yard run 3:36 into the game. They forced a punt, then Johnson hit paydirt again, however the Knights led 14-7 after one quarter of play. The second quarter was about what you’d expect, the teams combined for 27 points, but thanks to a missed field goal attempt, from 45 yards out as the first half expired, the heavily favored team from Waco was down 28-20.
We got to see a little bit more of Bryce Petty’s coveted arm in the third quarter, notably on a 50 yard touchdown to Jay Lee, and the game was tied after a two-point conversion, which I thought was a mistake to attempt, unless it works, which it did. I have a major problem with chasing points that way before the fourth quarter, and the only thought I had was, Art Briles isn’t going to get away with that when he takes the Texas job after this game. There was some speak of Baylor covering the spread at that point; I believe they were favored by 16 or 17, depending on when you made your declaration…for entertainment purposes only, of course.
Bortles and company would be having none of that. They scored on the very next drive, and after a stop, they found the end zone again. 14 points wasn’t impossible to overcome on paper, but the flags started flying every time it looked like the Baylor defense had stopped the UCF offense. It was pointed out to me that trying to get away with pass interference was Baylor’s best bet to slow down UCF, but these SEC officials were on to them. They couldn’t stop the run either, and ultimately couldn’t get any timely stops, as Johnson and William Stanback closed the game out, giving the fans who traveled from Orlando a big reason to celebrate. When UCF hit a field goal that made it a 3-score game with 4 minutes left, it was time to head for the exits with our care package from Tostitos, two bags of chips, some chipolte salsa, and a coupon for the new White Queso Blanco dip, in hand.
Central Florida recovered an onside kick, as we listened to the call on the radio. 52-42 was the final. Though it was probably preordained anyways, Briles would not be headed to Austin, and there is some real doubt that Petty will declare for the NFL draft. I’m obligated to mention that Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright were spotted on the Baylor sideline, and joined by Cleveland Browns teammates Phil Taylor and Josh Gordon, meaning the pair has still not stood on a winning sideline since early November.
After a little bit of a hiatus, it is finally time for the final installment of this Cloud 9 Series, inspired by a social media conversation between myself, stat guru Sam Drew, and a few others. The concept was simple from the get-go, scrap the bowl system and theorize a 16 team-playoff.
To keep it interesting, Sam carefully calculated a system to rank the top teams and set a criteria to disallow teams with over the threshold of allowable losses, whereas I just winged it, like an executive that is habitually showing up 5 minutes late to important meetings with wet hair and mismatched socks. My non-scientific ways allowed me to see something wasn’t right, like an intraconference pairing or regular season rematch in the opening round. One of the things that kept looming was the potential for an opening round snoozer, a rematch of last year’s Orange Bowl between Northern Illinois and Florida State, but maneuvering would have been difficult, if we were talking about demoting a 1-seed or changing a low-seed into the role of sacrificial lamb for the sake of parity.
I don’t care to be an elitist, cartel-promoting jerk, but getting the mid-majors out of the way makes for a better tournament, even if the real purpose of going 16-deep is to keep an open mind to their potential. Obviously, undefeated hasn’t been good enough for the have-nots, so to speak, to participate in the 1-game playoff that we now know as the BCS National Championship, though we can wonder day and night what would have happened if Texas ran out of time or missed that kick against Nebraska in 2009. TCU and Cincinnati were both undefeated, and theoretically next in line, but Cincinnati was technically in a qualifying league at the time.
No need for me to dispute Sam’s 1-16 rankings this time around, however, we can just compare the final rankings to each team’s bowl pairing, and weigh whether these 16 teams are better or worse off with reality or our hypothetical playoff. Keep in mind, these are Round 1 matchups in a 4-week tournament.
(16) Wisconsin at (1) Florida State
Wisconsin is actually paired with South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. Wisconsin played an FCS school, a poor MAC school, and Arizona State in non-conference play, but technically lost their game in Tempe, even though you could apply mitigating circumstances of poor on-field officiating to erase that. It doesn’t help their case that they lost their biggest game of the year, at Ohio State, and you could dismiss them as a contender altogether for losing to Penn State. Their best win ends up being against at Minnesota or at home against BYU, but they are in it deep with South Carolina in Orlando, any way you look at it. For Better or For Worse: Better with the Capital One Bowl; they have an outside chance of upsetting South Carolina, but no such chance would await them in Tallahasse on the road to a title. Florida State will not have an easy time with Auburn, but I see Auburn having the same type of problems that Florida and Clemson had, not that Florida should be a bench-mark of any sort this season. I think it’s fair to say that they’d end up playing Auburn anyways, but best possible seed would put Missouri and Alabama in the way, after they took care of the Badgers. For Better or For Worse: Better with a one-game playoff than a four-game playoff, which could include Alabama and Auburn in consecutive weeks. Jimbo Fisher says “no thank you”.
(9) Missouri at (8) South Carolina
Missouri wouldn’t be opening with South Carolina, if it were up to me, but I committed to using Sam’s copious research that netted these rankings, exclusively for the purpose of this fun, little series. I have my doubts about the perception of teams in the old Big XII North, but it isn’t like Missouri was a terrible team before emigrating out of the conference two years ago. All that aside, they were good this year, and their only regular season loss came with their very capable, yet distinct #2 on the depth chart at quarterback. They even scored a lot of points on Auburn in a loss. As it stands, they’ll tango with their old dance partner from Stillwater and the Big XII in the Cotton Bowl, which doesn’t quite have the curb appeal of a BCS game, but it’s as close you get to it, without actually being in it. For Better or For Worse: They’re going to be worse off going to Dallas than they would be with a rematch with the team from the other Columbia. In Round 2, it’s likely that they would see Florida State, and they have as a good chance against them as any other team in the field. They, as a #9 seed, feed the argument of the pro-BCS crowd about dilluting the regular season, since they could win it all and render two losses to other tournament teams as obsolete. South Carolina has losses to Georgia and Tennessee, which are somewhat inexcusable and they are the reason this team isn’t in the BCS conversation at all. Maybe wins, however close they were, over Missouri and Clemson should wipe the slate clean for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. They also have a win over BCS-bound Central Florida, but their SEC pedigree needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since you aren’t going to find an Auburn, Alabama, LSU, or Texas A & M on their 2013 schedule. For Better or For Worse: This team is much better off with a one game showcase against Wisconsin than this playoff scenario. They scraped and clawed to beat Missouri at their own place; a sequel would not be in their best interest, but they’d love to be playing Wisconsin in a quarterfinal than a credit card inspired New Year’s Day game. They’d need a lot of upsets for the playoff system to be a good alternative in 2013, if you ask me.
(12) Oklahoma at (5) Michigan State
Oklahoma has become such an afterthought in my mind that they fly under the RADAR, and I’m left to question how they are in the field and the actual BCS, but they were sneaky good this year. Granted, it didn’t show against Texas and Baylor, and they’re in the Sugar Bowl because they’re a better draw than Oklahoma State; of course, it helps that everyone still had the aftertaste of their win at Bedlam on the top of their minds when determining who was in the money. For Better or For Worse: It’s better this way, tis nobler in the mind to lose to Alabama than to Michigan State. This isn’t basketball, so don’t expect any 12 versus 5 miracles. Michigan State has their toughest test in their next game against Stanford in the Granddaddy of Them All, but they convinced a lot people in their most recent outing with Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship. Losing to Notre Dame doesn’t help their cause, and you have to believe they are across the sideline from Florida State if they had their running game in tune, when they lost in South Bend back in September. They managed to avoid Wisconsin in the regular season, but a 29-6 rout of their in-state rival from Ann Arbor was a statement, especially when you compare it to the almighty Buckeyes escape in the Wolverines regular season finale. For Better or For Worse: It’s probably a wash, considering the rich tradition of the Rose Bowl, and the fact that the Spartans have not been there since 1988, the Bowl game is a great thing for the school in East Lansing. However, the longer this current team gets to play, the better, so ultimately a 1-game exhibition is worse than the potential of being the Big Ten’s first national champ in over a decade.
(13) Oklahoma State at (4) Stanford
Oklahoma State dropped a thriller to the team from Norman the last time they took the field, and it’s a shame for them, because it cost them a Big XII title. Down the stretch, they knocked off Texas and destroyed Baylor, crushing their championship dreams. An early, unexplainable loss to West Virginia would haunt them, after the Sooners outlasted them at Bedlam. The Pokes are a team that could surprise in a tournament format, but may not even get Top 10 consideration with a Cotton Bowl win over Missouri. For Better or For Worse: It’s difficult to imagine any scenario where the Cotton Bowl, in its present tense, is a better scenario than a series of games that might result in a national championship. So, reality is worse; it’s much, much worse. Stanford has had its problems staying out of its own way this season, and they’re prone to falling back into that trap at any point in time. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that they’re really good when that doesn’t happen. They might be able to beat Florida State, and they should be a little bit better than Michigan State in reality, but the Rose Bowl is absolutely a consolation, not a reward for this Stanford team in their fourth straight BCS bowl. For Better or For Worse:With no intended disrespect towards the Rose Bowl, a match they could encounter in the second round anyways, if chalk holds up, a 16-team tournament would be perfect for a team like Stanford to rebound. You should have a legitimate chance to show whether or not you’re the best team in the country.
(14) Clemson at (3) Alabama
Clemson isn’t a bad team because Florida State destroyed them at home. They aren’t a bad team for losing to South Carolina, and they aren’t a bad team because Georgia didn’t have a killer season after losing to the Tigers in the season opener. The truth is, while beating up on the rest of the ACC doesn’t seem special to anyone who follows this game closely, it’s much better to be Clemson than Miami, Virginia Tech, or even Boston College, who may have been the best team Dabo Swinney’s team defeated. Ohio State is the perfect opponent for Clemson, a winnable game that is far from a given. For Better or For Worse: The Orange Bowl is better for this team; it’s a one game season and they have demons to exorcise, 70 point Orange Bowl demons. They bounced back with a win over LSU in last year’s Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but being back in the BCS is the key for Clemson. An opening round exit, after losing to Florida State and South Carolina for a second straight year would represent regression, and Alabama would be happy to contribute to their regression. Alabama really has it good these days. They can do no wrong under Nick Saban in the bowls. They either win crystal footballs, make a statement in lower-tier bowl games, or justify any disappointment with the “they didn’t want to be there” defense. It’s still possible that they’re the best team in the country, considering I respect 6 point loss to Auburn more than a double-digit loss to LSU, but this season is what it is. My question is, does it cheapen the entertainment value of the Iron Bowl, if Alabama can still play their way back to the title in the same way a team like Auburn can overcome a mid-season loss? I say no, but proponents of the existing system would sing another tune. For Better or For Worse: For Alabama, being stuck in an undercard match with Oklahoma, while the school in that farm town plays for a title in Pasadena is worse. For the teams in that game, and anyone that doesn’t have to face an angry Crimson Tide, it’s better.
(11) Arizona State at (6) Baylor
Arizona State, in their second year playing for Todd Graham, had one of their best seasons in school history. SurFe, they had some problems with Stanford (twice) and Notre Dame’s physical play in the trenches, but they really wiped the floor with everyone else on their conference slate, a slate that didn’t include Oregon. A loss in the Pac-12 Championship matches them up with a 7-5 Texas Tech in San Diego a few days before New Years, not exactly the post-season test that allows them to prove much. For Better or For Worse: This particular bowl game is worse, but the Rose Bowl wouldn’t have been. The sentiment that these Sun Devils aren’t ready for prime time holds water. They create the type of match-up issues for Baylor that Oklahoma State did, so they can take down Baylor. A Round 2 meeting with Alabama would be nightmarish, but a great experience for ASU nonetheless. Baylor is an exciting team, and just because I think the Sun Devils can take them down, it doesn’t mean I intend to slight them. Bryce Petty has done it with the walking wounded around him, but they have plenty of weapons to accompany Petty’s million dollar arm. After a dominant Thursday night performance against eventual Big XII runner-up Oklahoma, a trip to Stillwater was all that stood in their way. Unfortunately, it did stand in their way. A little help from the Sooners and a stadium-closing victory over Texas put them in the Fiesta Bowl, for what promises to be a fun shootout in the desert against Central Florida, even if the Knights have that stigma of being a “directional” team. For Better or For Worse: The Fiesta Bowl is a better end-game for Baylor, but any big game for the school in Waco would be progress. For this team, a victory over UCF in Glendale would serve as an outstanding finish, even though I’d love to see Art Briles game-plan week after week for the high quality teams they’d see in this tournament, if they could survive and advance.
(10) Oregon at (7) Ohio State
Oregon didn’t want to be in the Rose Bowl, and lucky for them, the Rose Bowl didn’t burden them with an invite this year. To be fair, it was just a couple of quotes that may have been taken out of context, but might just represent the sizzle of the Ducks that may outweigh any real substance. They got beaten in Palo Alto, like they stole something, and when Stanford offered them a reprieve the Pac-12 North with a loss at USC, Arizona beat them 42-16 in Tucson. They’ll meet Texas in San Antonio, Mack Brown’s last as the head coach in Austin, but you have to wonder if Mark Helfrich will have them motivated to play in this non-Rose Bowl. For Better or For Worse: No offense to San Antonio or the Alamo Bowl, but another shot at the Buckeyes in a win or go home game would be awesome, even if Chip Kelly and everyone on that 2009 Ducks squad is long gone. I’m not sure Oregon could win four, but they could make some noise. That’s a certainty. Ohio State has a bad taste from the Big Ten Championship, a 10-point loss to Michigan State that ended a 24-game winning streak for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. They could go in one of two directions, as they prepare to take on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. We don’t know what Meyer’s tendencies are after a loss, because he’s never had to rebound from a loss as the head coach for Ohio State, so we’ll see if they’re fired up about the defeat or they stay flat after the devastation of missing out on a conference title and a crack at the crystal football. For Better or For Worse: A date with Clemson in Miami for the Orange Bowl is nothing to shake your head at, but Urban Meyer isn’t on board to beat Michigan and simply win bowl games; he’s there to win titles. Best possible seeds between the Buckeyes and the promised land would be Auburn, Alabama, and Florida State; Meyer is familiar with all 3, but does he have the horses to take them all down? The Orange Bowl would be worse for them.
(15) Central Florida at (2) Auburn
Central Florida denied us the opportunity to see Teddy Bridgewater on the big stage, a stage bigger than an underwhelming bowl game with a disappointing Miami team, but they’re the American Athletic Conference champs, so let’s respect them for what they are. What they are is a team that’s a 3-point loss at South Carolina from being perfect; forget the fact they they’re only a few points from some disappointing losses to Temple and Houston. Blake Bortels is worth the price of admission, and they shouldn’t be as overlooked as they are for their Fiesta Bowl match up with Baylor. For Better or For Worse: Until we see something that suggests UCF is ready for the spotlight, a one game showcase is the best case scenario for the Knights. They could very well win the Fiesta Bowl, but I’m not sure there are many outside of Orlando that think they could beat any of the 15 teams in this field, outside of a one shot deal. Auburn played Washington State early in the year, and they looked like a team that didn’t win an SEC game last year, one that simply benefited from playing a horrible Cougars team, who actually ended up being bowl eligible. As the season progressed, you couldn’t help but notice the good things Gus Malzahn was doing in his first as the head coach. Hell, I’m a big De La Soul fan, I follow DJ Maseo on Twitter, yet I had no idea his son starred in the Auburn backfield. Tre Mason even ended up getting an invite to New York for the Heisman. Quarterback Nick Marshall is special. They lost to LSU, and it’s taken a little luck for them to be in the National Championship conversation at the end of the season. A ridiculous Hail Mary took down Georgia and your typical 109-yard missed field goal to win the Iron Bowl over rival Alabama. Their SEC Championship win over Missouri will go down as forgotten moment after the moment, a la USA Hockey’s win over Finland in the 1980 Gold Medal Game. For Better or For Worse: One sixty-minute game for all the Roses, Tostitos, Sugar packets, and Discover cards; what could be better? Sure, fans would rather see 15 games than 1, but Auburn doesn’t want to drag this thing out. They’d rather win or lose, and this is an easy call for every #1 and #2 when this question comes up. The BCS works perfectly for them.
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