After a flurry of big games to start the college football season in weeks one and two, there’s a bit of a break this week with only one matchup between Top 25 teams. The action picks up again in Week 4, but let’s takes a look at some of the key points the college football world will be talking about on Sunday.
Who will look the best? UCLA
UCLA has been flying a bit under the radar this season, because they haven’t been living up to expectations. Many had them as Pac-12 champion and a playoff team, but they have yet to look the part. The first game saw the defense steal the show with three touchdowns while the offense struggled. Then last week QB Brett Hundley finally played closer to his potential, but the defense struggled in the win over Memphis. This is the week the Bruins remind everyone why they were a pre-season Top 10 team. Part of it is because of what Texas isn’t. With David Ash out and Jaxon Shipley questionable, the Bruins defense will be able to focus on shutting down the Longhorns run game. With the Texas offense unable to get anything going, there will be too much pressure on the defense once again. The Bruins will take this one handily, just like BYU did against the Horns last week.
What team will get too much credit? Oklahoma
If the Sooners, about three touchdown favorites against the Volunteers, perform like they should on Saturday, the hype train is going to get more out of control than it already is. After two weeks some are calling the Sooners the most complete team in the country and one of the favorites to make the playoff. While their current rank is understandable, I feel that if they win handily against Tennessee people will start to overrate them, if they haven’t already. Tennessee has been getting some buzz the first couple weeks, but they’re a team that didn’t have a single starter returning on their offensive or defensive line. As a team who has maybe the best combination of lines in the country, Oklahoma should handle Tennessee. The more interesting game will come next week when the Sooners visit Morgantown and play a West Virginia team that caused people to significantly question Alabama this year.
Can South Carolina save their season? Yes
South Carolina is right there with Ohio State as maybe the two most disappointing teams of the season so far. Unlike the Buckeyes, South Carolina doesn’t have a good excuse. After getting rolled in the season opener against Texas A&M, public perception seems to be that Georgia should win fairly easily. I’m not quite as troubled by South Carolina’s performance last week against East Carolina however. East Carolina isn’t a terrible team and it’s not surprising that the Gamecocks would struggle the game after getting housed at home on a national stage and the game before their only chance to salvage the season against Georgia. The possibility is there that South Carolina will simply struggle with spread offenses like A&M’s and be better against traditional ones, similar to what has been the case with Alabama the last few years. Hutson Mason didn’t exactly play lights out in Georgia’s win over Clemson, so if South Carolina can slow the Bulldogs’ rushing attack and use home field advantage to pull out a victory, they’ll be right back in the driver seat for where they want to go this season.
What team gets exposed? Missouri
Missouri has been cruising along the first couple weeks of the season, parlaying wins against San Diego State and Toledo to a #20 ranking. But I don’t think they’re the 20th best team in the country. Maty Mauk has played well for the most part, but he threw 2 interceptions last week and now faces what should be a stout UCF defense. The Knights have up a ton of yards to Penn State the first week in Ireland, but State threw the ball a ton, and I think the Knight defense plays more like the D they were last year than how they performed in the opener. The Tigers gave up over 5 ypc to Toledo last week on run plays which will allow the Knights to shorten the game and keep Mauk off the field. When the Missouri offense is on the field, they will struggle compared to the first couple weeks against a defense that has had an extra week to prepare. UCF wins in an upset.
Will there be continued uproar over Pat Haden running onto the field? No
I didn’t think the Pat Haden situation was a big deal when I saw it, so I was surprised when it was made into a huge ordeal to begin with. Then people started saying he shouldn’t be allowed to be a part of the playoff selection committee. Talk about blowing things out of proportion. Was it stupid for Pat Haden to run on the field during a game and scream at the officials? Yes. Did it look ridiculous and childish? Yes. But who cares? I would expect anyone with such strong ties to a program to be that invested in his school. Now all of a sudden he shouldn’t be on the selection committee; that’s an opinion that makes no sense to me. So if he never ran on the field last week people would assume that he wasn’t going to try and make a case for USC/the Pac-12 during playoff selection committee deliberation? In the end, basically every one of the committee members will have a bias towards some school, and that is why they have the recusal policy. If Pat Haden isn’t going to be allowed in the room when the committee discusses USC, it doesn’t matter if Haden runs on the field every week. Frankly, the type of passion Haden showed last Saturday is exactly the type of person we should want on the selection committee.
With all this talk of committees and selection process, it’s hard to imagine college football ever used computers to pick its national championship games. Times have sure changed. The much maligned BCS era produced its share of controversy over the years, but for the old Big East (preceding the American), it wasn’t so bad.
The conference racked up a 9–7 record overall during that time in BCS games, with some huge wins along the way. While the conference was never considered the upper crust of college football, it sure had its time in the sun.
Below are the top five moments for the Big East/American between 1998 and 2013.
1) UCF wins the Fiesta Bowl. As far as wins go, it might not have been the biggest. After all, they beat Baylor, and on most years Baylor hardly passes as a division one program. But the Golden Knights winning a BCS game against a top-ten team in 2014 marks the high point for the American. Why? Because in no other year did the conference receive so much criticism, and have so much to prove, than in its inaugural year.
2) West Virginia embarrasses No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. No one saw that one coming. Not even WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan before the game was even played. Interim coach Bill Stewart rallied his team to not just a win, but a good old fashioned beat down of the Sooners, 48-28.
3) Big East finishes 2006 season with a 5—0 bowl record. The only conference that year with a perfect bowl record was highlighted with Louisville’s Orange Bowl win over Wake Forrest. The Cardinals, Rutgers and West Virginia would all finish in the top AP top 12 that year.
4) Cincinnati goes 12—0 in the 2009 regular season. Any other year that doesn’t feature an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Texas, and you might have lived to see the Cincinnati Bearcats in a national title game. When Nebraska blew the Big 12 title game in the final seconds versus Texas, their fate was sealed. Brian Kelly left the team a matter of days later and the Bearcats were outclassed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
5) Miami wins the 2002 National Title. The one and only a time a Big East team won a national title. It seems like a distant memory now that the Hurricanes were ever in the Big East, but they left a heck of an impression.
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Fans and writers alike have quickly forgotten that the American (long the Big East) was a BCS conference. They were a “power” school, one of the big boys. They’ve forgotten the conference’s respectable 9-7 record in BCS games, including UCF handling Baylor, 52-42 last season. The ACC’s record in BCS games, including last season’s banner year, was a pedestrian 5-13.
So what makes the playoff and access bowls so different that everyone seems to be forgetting the American is still a pretty decent conference? There will be new faces, sure. And the conference has undoubtedly lost a lot of its brand identity. But it doesn’t mean that some of the new schools won’t fill the void.
Cincinnati is my favorite example of this, and no, not just because I went there.
Before UC’s arrival in the Big East in 2005, the Bearcats were abysmal on the gridiron. Truly, <i> abysmal</i>. Their small stadium lacked upgrades (or fans, for that matter), no one in the city remotely cared about the team, and they went from 1964 to 2002 without a single conference title. Even the drought in California can’t touch that.
Whether out of some sort of obligation to improve facilities, more money spent on athletics, and/or increased exposure, the Bearcats turned into a contender against programs that were long-considered traditional football schools (Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia). Today, their head coach is someone they ripped away from Texas Tech. Not too shabby.
So who’s to say these new teams won’t elevate themselves in the same manner? Just because Tulane was an afterthought in the Conference USA, doesn’t mean they won’t be a completely new program now that they have a new stadium, TV deal and increased conference revenue.
ESPN and Sports Illustrated like to believe that there is truly a night-and-day competitive difference between the top five conferences and the lower five. They don’t appreciate the grey area. But they grey area is where the American Athletic Conference will thrive. No, I don’t expect a national championship anytime soon, but the teams will hold form against “power” conference competition, much in the same way the Mountain West has always competed well with the Pac-10/12, but still found itself beneath the line.
There’s no good reason for how the American has gotten the short end of the stick in the new selection process. It doesn’t matter how well its champions have performed in major bowl games, it still gets lumped in with the Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA to determine which conference sends a single team to one of these access bowls. So what if there’s an undefeated Boise State and an undefeated UCF in the same season? One of them likely gets to play in a big boy bowl, while they other gets to demolish the sixth best ACC or Pac-12 team.
The American Athletic Conference is going to be competitive, without question, but the Playoff Era isn’t going to be kind to these teams. Win or lose.
Some say the best thing about the BCS is that it exposed the Big Ten, who allegedly received way too much credit for their strength on the football field over the years. I’ve always rejected that notion, but the past couple of years has made it difficult to argue. I still think it’s more of a recent thing than a historic thing, but we live in the present, and it is what it is.
It’s been somewhat of a running joke, between Damien Bowman and I, that the Big Ten is hardly worth our time, here at the College Football Roundtable. For me, it’s basically just satire, but I think the Big Ten shame is all business with my podcast partner. Look, there’s some merit to it, which goes far beyond Ohio State losing back-to-back National Championships; top to bottom, the Big Ten really doesn’t have it, whatever it may be.
For this conference’s Year-In-Review, we’re going to take a sarcastic or satirical approach, to feed the trolls, if you will. I offer you a brief summary of what happened to each team, how they feed that narrative (that the conference should be relegated to the FCS), and why that assessment just might be wrong. Granted, criticism might be natural in some cases and whoever “they” are, “they” might not be wrong in saying whatever negative things they tend to say about some of these programs.
What happened in 2013? It was a rough first year for Darrell Hazell in West Lafayette. Their lone victory came, and it didn’t come easily in a matchup with in-state FCS rival Indiana State. Indiana State’s only win came over a school named Quincy; I had to look this up, but the Quincy Hawks are a Division II school in Illinois that finished near the bottom of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. A week after holding off a late comeback surge from Indiana State, they lost to Notre Dame by a single touchdown, and then went on to lose to everyone except Illinois by double digits. Their signature moments included the 31-24 loss to Purdue and a 14-0 loss to Michigan State, if that tells you anything about the 2013 Boilermakers.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I had to look up Quincy University to demonstrate how meaningless their win over Indiana State was. They didn’t score a single point between October 12th and November 9th, which was only two games, but still.
That’s wrong, because…it isn’t Purdue’s fault that Indiana State stunk. They did win that game 70-7. And as far as the near-month-long scoring drought is concerned, that was Michigan State, Ohio State, and a bye week, but still.
What happened in 2013? They took down the really bad teams on their schedule, lost to the teams that were heavily favored, and snuck in a few surprises in games that I’d have considered a coin flip. After Cincinnati punished Purdue 42-7 in Week 1, the Illini weren’t ready to let Cincinnati think they were a Big Ten-caliber team, with a 45-17 drubbing of Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats. They had a respectable showing in defeat at Soldier Field, to what we believed to be a pretty good Washington team at the time, losing 34-24. They did what they were supposed to do to Miami, the MAC conference’s bottom feeder, then the Big Ten had their way with them. Tim Beckman is certainly on the hot seat in Champaign, after a week finish that included a 4-point win over hapless Purdue and a loss to a broken Northwestern team at home.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they managed to score 32 points or more in four of their losses, and three of those were by at least 17. It speaks volumes to the level of defense they pretend to play in the Big Ten, when the second worst team in the leauge is putting up video game numbers on offense.
That’s wrong, because…they might have been all that terrible after all; they might just need to work on their defense that allowed 60 points to Ohio State and 56 to Wisconsin. The only utter beating they took was 42-3 loss to Michigan State, magnified by the fact that it was not only a home game, but the Homecoming Game.
What happened in 2013? Northwestern came out of the gate at 4-0, with non-conference wins over the Pac-12 and ACC, and then a couple of tune-up games against the MAC and FCS. They were ranked, and deservedly so, with Ohio State coming to town for a game on national TV; Ohio State outlasted them, winning by 10 on a fluke touchdown in the end. Unfortunately, that was the first of seven straight losses the Wildcats, bitten badly by injury, suffered. The losing streak was gut-wrenching, but not as bad as it might sound. Nebraska needed a Hail Mary, and they took Michigan to three overtimes, before losing 27-19 at home in a game they had plenty of opportunities to win. They salvaged the season, to a certain extent, with a season-ending victory at Illinois.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…the Wildcats were ranked, then lost 7 consecutive games. Now, it isn’t Northwestern’s fault they were, perhaps, overrated. Venric Mark was hurt all year, and Kain Colter missed significant time, but a lack of depth in Evanston really cost Pat Fitzgerald a chance at a good season and a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…they didn’t get to play Purdue, which easily could have been a bowl-clinching sixth win for the Cats. People, over time, forgot how close they came against Ohio State. And, it’s okay to dismiss Ohio State as nothing on the national stage, but in Big Ten-speak, they remain the cream of the crop.
What happened in 2013? If you don’t count Michigan in this group, they were probably the best of the bad teams in the Big Ten. They, like Purdue, had a chance to tee off against Indiana State, then lost a close one to Navy, beat eventual MAC champion Bowling Green, and didn’t play dead against SEC runner-up Missouri. Kevin Wilson has them playing offense; they put up 28 against Michigan State and Missouri, and couldn’t quite finish drives at Ohio State, where they had one of the more impressive 28-point losses you’ll ever see.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…nobody respects Bowling Green or Penn State, easily the Hoosiers best two victories of the year. What people will notice is a 51-3 loss at Wisconsin, and maybe even yielding 36 points to Purdue at home to wrap up another season without a bowl in Bloomington.
That’s wrong, because…they aren’t necessarily waiting for the hoops season to start in August any more. Like I said, the offense can do good things, but the defense needs to do what traditional Big Ten fans so desperately miss about this league, and that’s tackling the ball carrier.
What happened in 2013? What always happens in Ann Arbor? When Michigan beats Notre Dame, everyone is ready to hand them the crystal football, and says never mind that they almost lost to Akron and Connecticut. Then, when they poo the bed in Happy Valley, a 4OT loss, and everyone is canceling their flights from Detroit to Pasadena in January. Their only victory after a 63-47 shootout win over Indiana on October 19th was a triple OT miracle at Northwestern. The highlight of their season might have been a 1-point loss/moral victory at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…I asked, and got a serious answer from Lost Letterman’s Jim Weber (a Michigan guy), how much are they missing Rich Rod in Ann Arbor? Brady Hoke’s days are probably numbered at Michigan. I mean, this is supposed to one of the conference’s banner programs!
That’s wrong, because…Notre Dame! They beat #14 Notre Dame in September, the same Notre Dame that just played for a National Championship in January. The Irish came into the Big House, and they lost 41-30. LOUD NOISES!
What happened in 2013? With no big picture to think about for the next three years, Penn State has the advantage of not carrying that burden of what happens to them in December or January. A 3-point loss to Central Florida at home looked a lot worse when it happened in September than it turned out to be. A 20-point loss at Indiana can probably be taken at face value, ditto for the loss at Minnesota, but the Michigan meltdow in quadruple overtime probably would have served at the season’s best moment, if it weren’t for their stunning upset at Camp Randall over Wisconsin, which ended the season for probationary Penn State.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Jerry Sandusky! The kids! The conference advocates that behavior. It really is no joking matter, what happened under Joe Paterno’s watch at Penn State, but it’s time to move forward. In all seriousness, they probably gave the conference a black eye by shocking Wisconsin in Madison; the Big Ten might have been able to boast about three elite teams otherwise.
That’s wrong, because…this probation is going to hit Penn State harder each year, given the scholarship reductions after surviving the intital set of transfers. Ultimately, probation is what made the departure so easy for Bill O’Brien after 2 seasons, but might lead to an upgrade with James Franklin running things now.
What happened in 2013? Jerry Kill spent some time in the hospital, but what else is new? The Gophers did a decent job keeping the out-of-conference schedule soft, so they could enter league play at 4-0. That meant they’d only need to win two games in conference to qualify for the post-season. After a couple of sound beatings from Iowa and Michigan, you wondered how realistic that was, but they didn’t win two games. They won four, in a row, against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State. They dropped their final three contests, including the Texas Bowl, but you have to think they’d take 8-4 with a December bowl every year in those parts.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they feast on the Mountain West, the WAC orphans, and FCS competition. In Minnesota’s case, guilty as charged; the path to 4-0 went through UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.
That’s wrong, because…they’re Minnesota. They were on the level with Syracuse in the bowl game, but no one will be confusing them with Ohio State or Michigan State anytime soon. It’s when they play a non-conference slate like that, and come away 2-2, that they deserve the knock.
What happened in 2013? THey didn’t play a game away from Lincoln until October 12th, which was a layup against Purdue in West Lafayette. They had a good chance to be 5-0, but they couldn’t capitalize on UCLA sleep-walking through the first half, and had their own 2nd half meltdown, allowing the Bruins to escape the Heartland with a 41-21 win. They would lose their second road contest, a 34-23 game at Minnesota, which would have been more of a black eye, if the Gophers didn’t have the great season (by their standards) that they had. No shame in losing to Michigan State, even at home, but beign humiliated in their regular season finale, at home against Iowa, is a different story altogether. Many, perhaps including Bo Pellini, were surprised that Pellini was permitted to coach another game for Big Red, but he answered the call with TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…everyone was a little too proud that the Big Ten achieved victory against an SEC school’s taxi squad in Jacksonville on New Year’s Day. Nebraska has proven to be very average in the Big Ten, in its first three years since defecting from the Big 12.
That’s wrong, because…Nebraska hadn’t been anything special in the Big 12 for many years either. If anything, the immediate success of Missouri and Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference might suggest that the SEC is more sizzle than substance.c
What happened in 2013? Something had to give with Northern Illinois, who had suffered some heart-breaking losses to the Hawkeyes, both at Soldier Field and Kinnick Stadium, and it finally did in this year’s opener in Iowa City. After that, the Hawks had a very respectable season; losing to the consensus Top 3 teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. They also made the mistake of scheduling the 2013 chapter of Michigan State for their Homecoming, but who saw them coming? They suffered an unfortunate setback in the Outback Bowl, a game they were very much in, when they lost their starting quarterback and ended up losing the game 21-14.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Iowa is its 4th best team. Iowa can only be viewed in one way to support the narrative; they lost to a MAC school that was clobbered in back-to-back games by Bowling Green and Utah State. It’s no wonder they couldn’t handle the SEC in a bowl game.
That’s wrong, because…expectations were relatively tapered for the 2013 season. Weisman for Heisman was fun to say, but not realistic. I’m sure they would have rather not lost to Northern Illinois, but the way that game was sold, you’d have almost thought Iowa was the underdog in their season opener, and not the other way around.
What happened in 2013? Forget the 93-0 combined scores of the Badgers’ first two games at home against Who and Who Tech, because BYU and Arizona State make for a decent out of conference lineup. Of course, in traveling to Pac-12 country, Gary Andersen’s team had to deal with Pac-12 officials. They played the Sun Devils pretty evenly in Tempe, but most certainly had 18 seconds taken away from them, 18 seconds that may have afforded them the opportunity to win, but instead they lost. A few weeks later, they lost Ohio State, in a game they were expected to lose. Then, they blew everyone out, except BYU, until Penn State shocked them at home to close out the season. They ran into a very tough South Carolina team in Orlando on New Year’s Day, and dropped a game where they lost their starting quarterback.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…Wisconsin didn’t even play Michigan State. Their best win was either at Iowa or at Minnesota, and this is the third best team in the Big Ten. That’s a hand down assessment, isn’t it? Would you really argue with anyone that said this 2013 Badger team was on the same level as the previous two, who lost Rose Bowls?
That’s wrong, because…while I think Michigan State would have beaten them, I think they showed that they could hold their own against South Carolina. And while there are no trophies given for moral victories, if you can hang with Urban Meyer’s and Steve Spurrier’s teams, you could probably hang with every team in the country that didn’t make it to a BCS game. So, this isn’t a ringing endorsement, but how many nice things can you say about a team with these expectations losing to Penn State on Senior Day?
What happened in 2013? Well, the same thing happened with Ohio State in 2013 that happened in 2012; the Buckeyes went 12-0, only this time they were burdened with post-season games. Once again, nobody was blown away by the Buckeyes schedule, both in and out of conference; as it turns out, they got Central Florida a year too soon and the team with the most curb appeal, Cal, in the worst possible year ever. As it turned out, Buffalo and San Diego State both played in a bowl game, the same bowl game, but nobody cares about that. Nobody would have cared about them beating Iowa, Wisconsin, and Penn State, and nobody would have cared if they played Nebraska and Minnesota, but since they did not see the Cornhuskers or Golden Gophers, I’m sure someone made a big deal about that. What everyone will remember is the last 3 games, the near-miss in Ann Arbor, and the neutral site whiffs in Indianapolis and Miami, to the Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl Champions. Most overrated 24-0 team ever, right?
The Big Ten is terrible, because…TATTOOS, MAURICE CLARETT, RAFFLES AT YOUNGSTOWN STATE! Honestly though, it helps the cause if they regroup from the 34-24 loss in the conference championship and finish against Clemson in a showcase game like the Orange Bowl. If they were the only thing the Big Ten had going for itself, it would be a very sad state of affairs, sadder than it already is.
That’s wrong, because…digging up Tressel era scandals is dumb, and how dare we disrespect Michigan State and Clemson in such ways to suggest the Buckeyes are terrible! Michigan State over Stanford in Pasadena helps their cause; as does Clemson over Georgia in Death Valley, but is there a signature win from any of Ohio State’s other 12 opponents, perhaps one they actually defeated, that gives them a case here?
What happened in 2013? It took Michigan State a few weeks to hit their stride offensively, what to do without Le’veon Bell in the backfield, and they lost a sluggish contest to Notre Dame, 17-13 in South Bend. They figured out the formula was Jeremy Langford running with a slightly different design to the offense, and they never lost again, like ever. However, it wasn’t until November, after holding Michigan to 6 points, that the intimidating Spartans’ D was anything more than a cool story. Personally, I started talking myself into this team beating Ohio State, something that ended up happening. After taking down the Buckeyes, I was convinced they could take down Stanford, my pre-season pick to be the National Champ. They did that too.
The Big Ten is terrible, because…they lost to Notre Dame! Stanford lost to Utah! Ohio State lost to Clemson! Nothing they did means anything; the Rose Bowl trophy, the Big Ten Championship, it all meant nothing! I mean, didn’t Purdue play Notre Dame close? Didn’t Notre Dame lost to Pitt? And, what the hell was up with Max Bullough?
That’s wrong, because…they won without Bullough, against one of the better rushing teams in the country. Even if Stanford lost to Utah, they won what everyone seems to believe is the second-best conference in the country. Even if Ohio State had their quirks, and we admit that they did, they weren’t a bad team for losing to the Spartans and Clemson. In a playoff, they’d have had a crack at Auburn or Florida State, but I’m not going to speculate on the results of the unknown in that case. If you think Michigan State stunk, you don’t have an open mind about things.
I might as well just get it out of the way; I’m tired of seeing the SEC. I’m tired of seeing them in that pedestal, both figuratively and literally. I’m tired of the talk about how seven or eight teams in the conference are better than the best team from any other. That’s how I feel, and now that it’s out in the open, how I feel doesn’t make me unable to formulate a rational opinion about things, even amidst the personal discontent.
Before I get into that, I want to back up. Friday night, the Mid-American Conference took center stage, and Northern Illinois had one more pit stop on the way to another BCS game, the Fiesta Bowl, aka the game that would be “stuck” with them. With household ties to the MAC school in DeKalb, and a close proximity to University of Phoenix Stadium, the prospect of seeing the Huskies in Glendale was intriguing in a personal level, to say the least. Bowling Green showed up, and while I don’t want to say hat Northern Illinois did not, I’ll just state, Bowling Green was certainly the better team on Friday in Detroit.
NIU was handed it’s first lost, so now the Fiesta Bowl is just “stuck” with Central Florida. Must it always be a directional school?
Central Florida is in, because the committee didn’t know what to do with the birth of the American Athletic Conference, aka The American, so the hodge-podge of Conference USA and orphaned Big East programs were kind of grandfathered into the Big East. Once upon a time, the Big East did include Miami and Virginia Tech, who did play for BCS titles. The Knights of UCF knew they have this one shot at an automatic bid, and once they clipped Louisville, it became a very likely thing.
They’re not a bad team, just three points vs South Carolina from being unbeaten, but no one cares. They had to survive at Temple a few weeks ago, and nothing was impressive today at a very empty venue at Southern Methodist on Saturday. It wouldn’t have mattered; they’ve been slated for the Sugar Bowl for months, and fell to the Fiesta Bowl on Friday night, thanks to Northern Illinois or should I say Bowling Green? Coincidentally, it was UCF’s inability to be ranked above NIU, and Fresno State, prior to them screwing their own pooch in the Mountain West, that allowed the mid-majors to be a real part if the conversation.
There are ten teams in the Big XII, so they just play a nine game slate in lieu of a conference championship, but they had two games that affected the league’s automatic bid on this final Saturday of the season. Oklahoma State had the clearest path back to the Fiesta Bowl, win and they were in. When Oklahoma pulled the upset in Stillwater, it made the Texas-Baylor game into a de facto conference championship game. It was a good story, Texas being in the hunt at the end, considering their poor start and speculation of a coaching change on the horizon, but Baylor rebounded from from their follies in the house that T. Boone built and the Sooners did them a favor at Bedlam. Art Briles and Bryce Petty deserve this chance, and you can’t help but notice how far that program has come on recent years.
The main event offered no promises to its winner. Brando sold it from the CBS remote studio at the Georgia Dome. Gary and Verne sold it in the intro. Nick Saban even went to Indianapolis in December, just to tell ESPN that his league ought not be left out. Buyer beware; undefeated meant more in reality than a single loss of the highest quality to 1 of the nation’s 14 finest teams, God’s gift to football, if you ask anyone south of the Ohio River. Auburn and Missouri scored a boatload of points, but it was Auburn rooting for Michigan State or possibly Duke with their SEC trophy on Saturday evening.
Duke was a fun story, but a 38-point loss to Florida State and Florida State’s presumed berth in the National Championship weren’t exactly unexpected results. Next weekend, Jameis Winston will be awarded the Heisman Trophy, and the Seminoles will a ttempt to end the SEC’s run on January 6th in Pasadena. The ACC has an automatic tie to the Orange Bowl, so the Miami game will get the first chance to fill the void left by Florida State qualifying for the big game.
Ohio State is supposed to be that team, because Ohio State fans ooze cash when they travel. They find themselves in Florida, not California, thanks to Michigan State’s effort in Indianapolis on Saturday. Michigan State is that 1-loss team that gets no respect. Ohio State becomes that 1-loss team that no one wants to care about, but everyone will talk about them, me for no good reason. Thanks to Auburn, Ohio State had a chance to officially end the SEC streak in early December, but they did Auburn the biggest favor of the season with the dude they offered on Championship Saturday.
Is that what Ohio State is? Are they one-dimensional on offense and a sieve on defense, when matched up with balanced run/pass teams or dual-threat quarterbacks? How can you defend the perception on Sunday morning? It may be incorrect, but there won’t be many, if any, accepted rebuttal to Ohio State being fraudulent. They haven’t played anyone in two years, and they lost to the first team that was ever worth a damn. If I were an Ohio State fan, I wouldn’t give a damn or seek the approval from Mark May, Matt Hayes, or Clay Travis. I assume the majority do not.
On the other hand, Michigan State is in the Rose Bowl. I have often seen them close to achieving the feat, but this is actual. One loss is one loss, but because the Spartans wear that Big Ten patch in the jersey, their one loss makes them so easily forgettable, whereas in a certain conference whose geography is south and east of Columbus, Ohio, that one loss is never mentioned and quickly dismissed from relevance. Michigan State will represent the Midwest well against the PAC-12 champion.
As Oregon and Stanford both stumbled to the finish line, an unlikely venue ended up playing host to the PAC-12 Championship, but it worked out for me to take in the action live from Tempe on Saturday night. Stanford was just in the Rose Bowl last year, but they’ve been a fixture in the BCS of late. Arizona State has never participated in a BCS bowl, and their last Rose Bowl was in 1997, two years before the commencement of the Bowl Championship Series. It’s hard to show too much respect for a team that lost to Utah, but they were as dominant against the Sun Devils on December 7th as they were on as September 21st. They play big boy football, and their January 1st tilt with Sparty (by the way, I’m told Michigan State people despise being referred to by the name if their mascot) should be a treat, if you’re a fan if 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
So, all those Spartan-fans-for-a-day got exactly what they wanted. They got the SEC into the title game; I’m not sure it ever mattered which one it was, since all 14 are elite. Florida State stands in the way, Ohio State does not. Alabama won’t have a say either, but Auburn vs Florida State is the right pairing for the title game. I don’t think even the most shrewd gardener could plant that seed of doubt right now, even though someone should speak up for Michigan State…you know, just to mention them.
Our undercard games in Miami and New Orleans will involve Ohio State and Alabama, so those games will have the curb appeal that comes with putting either program on a stadium marquee. You may it like the Fiesta Bowl, but three out of four consolation games promise story-lines and the Championship game is top-notch, if only for the simple fact that an undefeated team has a chance to cure folks like me, those suffering from the worst cases of SEC fatigue.
May the best team win. They all won this weekend, when it counted the most.
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