Instant Analysis - Dec. 6
It’s going to be the common theme and the constant gripe over the next month: where are the compelling matchups?
While to the die-hard college football fans the bowl schedule is a big bag of Christmas, the average sports fan is going to look at Northwestern vs. Auburn, Fresno State vs. Wyoming, Utah vs. California, and have a hard time making a nice face after opening up the present and getting socks.
Where are the games to capture the imagination? Where are the ones that will get everyone interested in college football in mid-to-late December? The simple, tough answer to why there aren’t all that many interesting game is simple.
Everybody stinks. Sort of.
This hasn’t exactly been a bad year for college football, but it hasn’t been the best of seasons for the top programs and the big names (which is part of the reason why TCU, Boise State, and Cincinnati are in the BCS). The Big 12 couldn’t get two teams in, and neither could the ACC, Pac 10, or the Big East. The SEC only had three teams (Alabama, Florida, LSU) ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS rankings, USC became a disaster, Notre Dame decided to pout and sit at home rather than play a 13th game (despite being the most consistently entertaining team to watch, for good and bad, all year), and Oklahoma went bye-bye as soon as Sam Bradford felt his shoulder go crunch. Simply put, there just weren’t that many really good teams out there to create the matchups you might be looking for.
While many will complain about the TCU vs. Boise State Fiesta Bowl, really, would you be more jacked up about an Iowa – Boise State showdown in Glendale and a TCU – Georgia Tech Orange Bowl? We’d learn more if those were the matchups and those games could do far more to advance the cause of the non-BCSers, but the Bronco - Horned Frog Poinsettia Bowl of last year really was interesting (TCU won 17-16) and this year’s Fiesta really should be fantastic.
Once you’ve taken that the Fiesta out of the equation, go ahead and come up with five bowl game matchups that would really get the needle moving. It's hard because there aren't that many marquee teams this season that have gotten America talking.
Last year, everyone wanted to see the Big 12 offenses and the world was pumped to see a steamrolling Florida, a juggernaut Oklahoma, and teams like Penn State and USC each playing at a high level. But there's no buzz coming from the lower bowls because there was no buzz this year, period, even from Alabama and Texas.
However, this is a better bowl season than you think.
I’m college football boy so I can find the beauty in Marshall vs. Ohio (the Little Caesars Bowl has a nice personality), but really, don’t be shocked if the bowl season turns out to be more entertaining than you’re thinking it’s going to be. The matchups are going to be good on the field, even if they aren't on paper.
Besides, it’s the bowl season. What else are you going to do?
It’s supposed to be David vs. Goliath, not David vs. David.
Although I’m thrilled that Boise State is joining TCU in the BCS party, I just wish the two programs weren’t facing one another in the Fiesta Bowl. The real draw of a team from the Mountain West or the WAC playing in one of the five marquee games is watching it go up against a power program. The Broncos against Oklahoma, Hawaii versus Georgia, and Utah battling Alabama were all examples of the so-called mid-majors getting chances to dispel myths and slay dragons from the Big 12 or the SEC. Other than claiming a Fiesta Bowl championship and a perfect season, what great revelation can come out of a game between the Broncos and the Horned Frogs? Non-automatic qualifying conference bragging rights?
There’s a growing grassroots movement that’s suggesting TCU might be this year’s best team from the state of Texas. Maybe those folks are just pining for a heated debate or simply weren’t overwhelmed by a Longhorn team that flaws exposed in the final two games. Whatever. However, if the Frogs were going to develop a more ardent following over the next month, it needed an opponent with national cache, the way Utah earned its stripes versus Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl. For as talented and successful as the Boise State program has become, it won’t provide that type of opponent for TCU.
It’s going to be a story if either TCU or Boise State wins the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, but by pitting the two together, it can’t even approach the wow factor of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl or the 2009 Sugar Bowl. And for that reason, the postseason could have a little less juice and intrigue than in recent years.
1) The first 20 hours after the Big 12 Championship Game offered America a good opportunity to (necessarily) rail against the BCS, but now, it’s time to step back and remember one important fact that’s been overlooked ever since Hunter Lawrence’s 46-yard field goal split the uprights on Saturday night in suburban Dallas: Texas got hosed……… in 2008.
Yes, you can say that Texas didn’t seal the deal, close the sale, or lock up
the shop with conviction. What you can’t say is that the Longhorns
always get their way. Last year, Mack Brown and Co. suffered the
outrageous injustice (worse than what TCU and Cincinnati are
experiencing) of losing the BCS derby to Oklahoma because a “local”
(read: conference) dispute was decided by a national mechanism. When the
Big 12 South tiebreaker was decided by the nationwide BCS rankings, UT
became the victim of a clear violation of common-sense principles.
Plainly put, if any team deserved to have a controversial 50-50 (or as the case may be, “33-33-33”) debate fall in its direction, it’s Texas. The Longhorns were the sympathetic and truly wronged actors in last year’s national title drama, and this year, they’re wearing black hats instead of white. Let’s just be happy that Oklahoma isn’t in Texas’s place. So lay off Texas. The Burnt Orange Bevo Boys are not the problem; they’re just caught up in it. The workings of justice – to borrow a phrase from Catholic novelist Andrew Greeley – “draw straight with crooked lines.” That’s exactly the case with the once-wronged and now-lucky Texas Longhorn football team.
2) The little guys deserve their own moments in the spotlight, so when they fill the marquee in an interesting matchup, you should pay attention.
One day before the BCS National Championship Game – on Wed., Jan. 6, in Mobile, Ala. – you ought to set aside viewing time if you consider yourself a lover of football. Central Michigan and super-duper-record-setting quarterback Dan LeFevour take on Troy and super-duper-record-setting quarterback Levi Brown. Both men have rewritten the histories of the Mid-American and Sun Belt Conferences, respectively, and can throw for 400 yards while blindfolded with a hand tied behind their backs. Against power conference teams, both signal callers came up short in 2009 (LeFevour against Arizona, Brown versus Arkansas), but when pitted against each other, they figure to light up the night sky. Two of the most-accomplished players in the Football Bowl Subdivision deserve a wide audience from football aficionados throughout America. Dan LeFevour and Levi Brown aren’t running for office, but they could use your support the night before Texas and Alabama do their thing.
I won’t scream, like Bo Pelini did, at the BCS for the TCU-Boise State Fiesta Bowl matchup, but something, like that extra second’s being put back on the clock in Arlington Saturday night, smells a little fishy. How convenient that the
bowls were able to arrange for the two outsiders to play against each other, thereby removing the chance that they might go out and beat a couple big-conference types and show they belong in the party. That also removes one more potential undefeated team from the final scoreboard, minimizing the irate critics looking to point out that winnowing the field to a pair of perfect teams is just plain wrong. I’m not going to scream about that, but a loud whisper should do. Maybe it just worked out that way. Maybe the Fiesta Bowl wanted two teams that aren’t going to travel well and have small-conference pedigrees and not much of an attraction to the locals, except for the carnival-barker angle of “Come see the little guys battle it out!” So, the BCS wins again. It gets to single-source its “championship” game. It gets to shunt the little guys into a game against each other. And it pits the other undefeated team, Cincinnati, against Tim Tebow in his final game, in the ancestral bowl home of the SEC. Nice.
As for the rest of the bowl games, the Houston-Air Force Armed Forces Bowl is interesting. So is LSU-Penn State in the Capital One. Stanford-Oklahoma in the Sun will be fun to watch, and Mississippi-Oklahoma State in the Cotton has potential. And, of course, there should be plenty of emotion in the Gator Bowl, as Florida State’s fans salute Bobby Bowden in his finale.
If you want the early line on the “title” game, look for Alabama’s defense to cause almost as many problems for the Longhorns as did Nebraska’s, even without a Ndamukong Suh clone in the middle of the line. The Tide offense is much better than the Cornhuskers’, especially if Greg McElroy has it going on. So, a month out, figure ‘Bama to get its first national title since 1992 and Nick Saban to have a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium pretty soon.