The only shining, warming, benevolent sun in North America beams above the crowd in Southern California. Now I remember why people live here. Even better to visit, as long as you don’t establish residency. The taxes could kill a goat.
Part of the Rose Bowl mythology is that the annual game gives frozen midwesterners a respite to come and enjoy the Pac Ten hospitality, hit Disneyland, see the ocean and watch their guys play a little football. As if those poor hayseed Ohioans, Iowans, Michiganders, Minnesotans would never be sophisticated enough to make the trip to Fantasyland otherwise. The enduring broad-brush stereotype of flyover country never fails to amuse me.
Today the Rose Bowl, hosting its first “bonus game” national title contest, provides respite for frozen southerners, of all things. Escaping a hard freeze in Ohio is one thing, but in Austin? Birmingham? Houston? Mobile? Good Lord, it’s snowing in El Paso (home of the Sun Bowl) for the love of Pete.
And so it was that Pasadena hosted 100,000 sons and daughters of Texas and Alabama just trying to stay out of the cold. It wasn’t exactly what you would expect.
Neither was the game.
If ever a final score failed to explain an outcome, this was it. Colt McCoy took five snaps before leaving the game with a shoulder injury, rendering his right arm useless. Texas took the fight to Alabama and benefitted from big time special teams play to take a 6-0 lead. Problem was, Texas would depend upon an eighteen-year-old freshman back-up quarterback to lead the team. ‘Bama’s running game got the Tide on the board as Mark Ingram proved his Heisman worthiness (he was the game’s best offensive player) and Trent Richardson proved he’s one of the most exciting freshman players in the nation. A disastrous end-of-half shovel pass led to a bizarre Alabama pick six and a 24-6 lead. Game over.
Just another SEC blowout of a team that didn’t belong.
Texas does not fold up the tents with time on the clock, certainly not in this stadium. The Texas defense dominated the third quarter—try no first downs for the Tide. Texas frosh Garrett Gilbert learned the value of Jordan “the human security blanket” Shipley, hitting him for two touchdowns. After a clutch two-point conversion, it was Tide 24, Horns 21. With the ball and three minutes on the clock, the time for Longhorn magic commenced—Vince Young and Major Applewhite could both watch from the sidelines. But ‘Bama is made of tougher stuff than to let that happen. A nasty blindside hit from Tide linebacker Eryk Anders pulled back the curtain on the Garrett Gilbert magic show, forcing a fumble that the Tide cashed in, one of two end-game TDs that widened the gap of a very closely played contest. It was one for the ages, just not the one we expected.
Congratulations, Alabama. You owe the world no apologies for knocking out the other team’s quarterback. That’s football. Texas fans would have liked a different game and, to be fair, there were several Alabama fans who felt the same way. But we live in the world that is, not the one that oughtta be. The Tide finishes on top. Deservedly so.
I could write about the rest of the bowl season, but the football was far less dramatic than the coaching changes. Mike Leach fired at Texas Tech for a variety of sins starting with allegedly putting the son of a famous ESPN analyst in a dark closet, progressing through insubordination and ending with the denial of a bonus payment, lawsuit threats, libel, slander and a nasty divorce. The same week, Urban Meyer resigned at Florida citing health problems of the “this job is going to lead to a heart attack and kill me” variety. Before ESPN could even put up a list of potential replacements, Meyer recanted, sort of, opting to take a leave of absence until August.
Jim Leavitt got the axe at South Florida for going George Patton on one of his players. Leavitt built South Florida from the ground up—it would be like firing George Bailey as president of the Bedford Falls Building and Loan. The guy even won his last bowl game, over Northern Illinois. Finally, Pete Carroll will coach the Seattle Seahawks, apparently an organization that has failed to study relatively recent NFL history.
Oh, and Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly away from Cincinnati, who responded by hiring Butch Jones from Central Michigan, which is how the Bearcats got Brian Kelly in the first place. That left the Florida players playing for the beloved Meyer in his last game before taking an extended leave and the Bearcat players playing for an interim head coach who knew he had no shot at getting the head job. Mix in a heaping helping of superior athletes for the Gators and you get: Florida 51, Cincy 24 (the game was 30-3 at the half). Tim Tebow hit on an outrageous 31-35 for 482 yards and three scores. Wow.
In the most intriguing (and at the same time, disappointing) match-up outside of the national title game, Boise State leveraged an early pick six and a brilliant fake punt to extend their winning touchdown drive for a 17-10 win over TCU. TCU played tight all night, especially quarterback Andy Dalton. It was a strange replay of last year’s Poinsettia Bowl, which TCU won 17-16, but dominated otherwise. Relax, Frogs.
Poor Iowa, make the Orange Bowl, plan a special trip to Florida, get off the plane…and it’s 40 degrees outside. Hawkeye hearts were restored knowing that a) it was zero degrees in Iowa City and b) since the Hawkeyes are basically built for 1960’s football anyway, stopping the option is not a real stretch for them. Iowa 17, Georgia Tech 14.
The entire Big Ten played well in the bowls. Ohio State buried an Oregon squad that appeared to be surprised at how many great athletes actually play for the Buckeyes. Terrelle Pryor had a mini coming-out party in a 26-17 win; we’ll see if this one takes. Penn State took out LSU on an extremely muddy track in the Capital One Bowl, 19-17. Wisky knocked off The U, 20-14. Yet again, Wisconsin beats an allegedly superior sun belt (the region, not the conference) foe in the bowl season. Interesting trend.
Northwestern took Auburn to overtime and unveiled the fumblerooskie, which did not work (but, heck, we were entertained, right?), enabling the Tigers to escape with a 38-35 win.
Missouri and Houston both have sophisticated passing attacks, don’t care much for time of possession and can’t stop anyone from running the football. So who do your pair them with in the bowl season? How about some nice, disciplined service academies? Hilarity ensued as Navy and Air Force completely worked the Tigers and Cougars.
Despite the distractions of the Mike Leach Affair, Texas Tech came back against Michigan State and won the Alamo Bowl, 41-31. Come to think of it, playing for Mike Leach is, by definition, a distraction, so it may not have been that big of a deal.
Anyone named Joker Phillips has three career paths: football coach, stock car driver, heart surgeon. Phillips made his parents proud by taking over at Kentucky for the highly underrated Rich Brooks, who retired after Kentucky’s 21-13 loss to Clemson. C.J. Spiller fittingly led his Tigers to victory.
Talk about a successful conference bowl season, the Mountain West, outside of conference champ TCU, beat all comers. In addition to Air Force’s humorous thwacking of Houston (it was 47-20, UGLY), Utah won its ninth straight bowl by taking down Cal. BYU surprisingly ripped Oregon State, whose players must have stayed out way too late in Las Vegas and even Wyoming upset Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. The Big East better keep an eye on their automatic bid.
USC whipped BC in the Emerald Bowl, 23-14, which will now become the unlikely answer to the trivia question: What was Pete Carroll’s last game at USC?
Nebraska completely worked Arizona in a dominant 33-0 romp. Oklahoma also held up the Big 12 by beating Stanford in the Sun Bowl, 31-27.
Oklahoma State? Uhm, no. The Cowboys played a sometimes unwatchable Cotton Bowl against Mississippi. Deadlocked at 7-7 heading in to the fourth, Okie State had six possessions to take the lead…and turned the ball over on every single one of them. Ole Miss 21, OSU 7.
Georgia ripped Texas A&M, 44-20. Texas A&M is really not a bad team, but consulting Gallagher’s Guide to Special Teams before key games is not doing them any favors. You know that he’s a prop comic, right?
Also in the SEC, Arkansas held off a completely torqued-up East Carolina, whose kicker missed on four easy field goals to lead the Pirates to a 20-17 defeat. I am not sure South Carolina knew they had a bowl game, going down to UConn, 20-7. Tennessee only played half of their Peach Bowl match-up, completely self-destructing down the stretch of a 37-14 loss to Virginia Tech.
Bobby Bowden went out a dad gummed winner. He personally buried the flaming spear before the Gator Bowl; then his team buried West Virginia, 33-21.
In the other major Big East/ACC contest, Dave Wannstedt beat Butch Davis in the battle of former Dallas Cowboy assistants. Pitt 19, Nawth Klina 17.
You know how sometimes people become famous for being underrated? I give you Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour, who used to be the best quarterback you have never heard of, but have likely heard of by now. Got it? Anyway, the Big Ben play-alike was the difference in Central Michigan’s exciting 44-41 double OT win over Troy in the GMAC Bowl.
Most shocking result? Try Southern Money’s 45-10 rout of Nevada. Nevada was favored by 15 and change, the biggest spread of the entire bowl season.
Best game? Would you believe the Humanitarian Bowl between Idaho and Bowling Green? BG’s brilliant receiver, Freddie Barnes, seemingly won the game with a TD at the 32-second mark. That was Barnes’s 17th catch for his 219th yard and his third touchdown. Slacker. Idaho’s Nathan Enderle completed a miracle pass deep down the field, and then another, to tight end Max Komer (his only catch of the game), to make the score 42-41. Overtime, schmovertime, Idaho went for two. Enderle to Preston Davis sealed the deal. 43-42. I love America.
If you used my bowl picks to win the company pool, well, then you probably didn’t. I went 14-11, which is three games better than usual.
4. Ohio State
5. Boise State
8. Virginia Tech
Eleven is Cincinnati; perhaps they deserved better.
My final thought of the season concerns the Alabama fans. I have never enjoyed the company of the enemy more than I did in Pasadena. The Tide faithful are fine folks (sort of like the Nebraska fans, but they cuss and drink and talk like us).
It’s one hell of a spectacle, this game of ours.
Good night and God bless.