When Notre Dame plays USC, I have always thought the game was in Technicolor. Saturated hues play in the twilight of either one venerable stadium built to look like the Roman Coliseum or another that looks like a 1940s movie set (well, it is a 1940s movie set, actually). The same uniforms, the same fans…you can feel the noblesse oblige from your living room. Surprising the visiting team doesn’t arrive by train. You would think Victor Fleming was directing.
Oregon/Auburn? That’s Ridley Scott. This game had to be played in a giant cutting-edge NFL stadium; the perfect counterpoint to last year’s Alabama/Texas contest in a tradition-soaked (and decrepit) Rose Bowl filled with 90,000 of the provincial and well heeled.
But these two programs are one-off from college football’s royalty. One land-grant cousin fighting for its own place in history versus the nouveau-riche neighbors with the Nike stock option cash. Outsiders playing fast, dark, dangerous football, complete with Oregon’s Rollerball uniforms and the sweet whiff of scandal emanating from the Auburn locker room. Harrison Ford could coach the Ducks and we would wonder all game if LaMichael James was replicant or human. Now that’s escapist entertainment.
It almost lived up to its billing.
A scoreless first quarter marked by slippery turf and three interceptions on successive drives gave way to an electric second period gave way to…blocking and tackling mostly. Auburn held on to a 19-11 lead for most of the second half, seemingly dominant, but never putting the game away. The Auburn defensive line—on which Nick Fairley was the best player on the field for either team—made every play, including a length-of-the-football stop on fourth down and goal from the one.
But Oregon forced the big turnover needed to turn the game, popping the ball free from Cam Newton. The Ducks cashed it in, added a two-point conversion and it was 19-19. Auburn drove the field, keyed by a sensational run by freshman Michael Dyer that almost wasn’t: Dyer himself stopped, believing he was down after rolling over a Duck defender. He wasn’t. He took off like a kid playing tag and Auburn was in business inside the Oregon thirty. Another quick hitter by Dyer took it to the one and, with no time on the clock, Auburn kicked a short field goal for their first title since 1957.
War Eagle 22, Ducks 19. A great game, even if not the one we might have expected.
Outside of the title game, the most impressive bowl performance may have come from Stanford. The Cardinal took a 13-12 halftime lead against Virginia Tech in the Orange, but then annihilated the Hokies on both sides of the ball after intermission. The 40-12 wipeout was textbook smash mouth with, like, fullbacks and tight ends and other odd creatures.
Stanford plays football like the 1970s Oakland Raiders. I’m sure they are much nicer boys with fewer substance abuse problems and violent outbursts, but the power running game, play-action deep passing game, game-breaking tight end play, disciplined defense and Owen Marecic’s haircut all looks like it belongs on an old NFL Films reel.
Stanford impressed me most during the bowl season. Least? Easy. Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, disappointed losers of the Big 12 title game, barely showed up against a 6-6 Washington squad they had beaten senseless earlier in the season. They laid an egg big enough to feed Ndamukong Suh for a year. Jake Locker is still running free. HusKIES 19, HusKERS 7.
Boise State started the bowl season…well, started the "bowl season of any consequence"…with a mildly entertaining 26-3 win over an under-talented Utah edition that should be proud to have managed ten wins. The game was more compelling than a late season baseball game between two teams completely out of playoff contention, but otherwise far below the Broncos’ pizzazz standard.
So Maryland’s head-coach-in-waiting became the head coach, no waiting, at Vanderbilt. Then Maryland head coach, Ralph Friedgen, was named ACC coach of the year. Then Maryland fired him (acting like they were a real program or something). Then the administration noted: "You know, Ralph, it would be great if you could coach the bowl game." Maryland ripped East Carolina, 51-20, in something called the Military Bowl (sponsored, naturally, by a defense contractor). The Military Bowl got Maryland with the eighth pick in the ACC bowl lottery, just ahead of the North Carolina Outer Banks Academy for the Gifted and Socially Awkward. After making sure the celebratory Gatorade bath did not send Friedgen into cardiac arrest—seeing as how he goes about four bills, easy—Maryland then hired the head coach of the Big East champion UConn Huskies, who were mercilessly worked 48-20 in their very own BCS bowl game by the Oklahoma Sooners, who are, by the way, actually a real program, as opposed to either Maryland or UConn. Got all that?
Like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State provided a rare bright spot for the Big 12, winning the Alamo Bowl easily, 36-10, over Arizona. Of course, the Big Ten was worse, but more on that in a minute (where do we count the Nebraska result in this calculus I wonder?).
To be fair, the Big Ten did gain some bragging rights with Iowa’s 27-24 decision over Mizzou in the Insight Bowl’s celebration of bad color schemes.
Remember my complaint that West Virginia would be a far better Big East representative to the BCS than UConn? Yeah, me neither. NC State 23, West Virginia 7.
Notre Dame crushed Miami, 33-17, brought to you by Hyundai from freezing El Paso. Sun Bowl my ass.
I don’t get the whole fleece vest thing. What’s the point?
Easiest bet? Taking the over in the Hawaii Bowl: Tulsa 62, Hawaii 35. Wait a second, which team had to take a 12-hour flight to the game?
San Diego State’s Ronnie Hillman rushed for 228 yards in a surprisingly easy 35-14 win over Navy.
If two teams run roughly the same offensive and defensive schemes, basically option assignment football, then you would guess the team with the better athletes would win, yes? No. Air Force 14, Georgia Tech 7.
Both South Florida and Central Florida won on New Year’s Eve. South beat Clemson, 31-26, thwarting a Tiger comeback and wasting a nifty 11 catch, 189 yard day by Tatum "Hash Browns" Jackson. Central put Georgia out of their misery with a 10-6 win in the Liberty Bowl. I am still trying to figure out how any team with A.J. Green can be held to two field goals.
An injured Christian Ponder did start the Peach Bowl for Florida State, but then left in the second quarter with a concussion. No matter, E.J. Manuel took the Seminoles home in a 26-17 win. South Carolina lost Marcus Lattimore early and turned the ball over five times, which makes Steve Spurrier’s heart sad.
A long long time ago, I can still remember how the football made me smile. And I knew, if it was my fate, that I would play for Ohio State and maybe make the people happy, for awhile.
But then November made me ponder. How good are these teams I wonder?
Bad news in the offing. The southern schools are scoffing.
And I can’t remember if I cried, over Jim Delany’s wounded pride. With one more score for the Crimson Tide. The day. The Big Ten. Died.
Did you write the book of love? Do you believe in God above? Can you possibly imagine Michigan losing to Mississippi State 52-14???? That was just one of five losses for the Big Ten on January 1, 2011.
For sheer dominance, Alabama gets the nod with a 49-7 dismantling of a Michigan State squad enjoying an otherwise dream season. The Spartans were beaten from the opening kick, as opposed to the Wolverines, who were somewhat competitive for a half. But really, this was Michigan. All-time wins leader Michigan, being thoroughly embarrassed by the fifth-best team in the SEC.
101 combined points against? There hasn’t been such a celebration of scoring on young Michiganders since Bob Seger recorded Night Moves. Talk about mysteries without any clues.
Meanwhile, Northwestern lost to Texas Tech, 45-38, in the TicketCity Bowl, sadly played in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day, which used to be exactly where and when the actual Cotton Bowl was played.
Florida sent Urban Meyer home a winner with a 37-24 victory in the Outback Bowl. The Gators beat Penn State, who held a 24-20 lead heading into the fourth quarter before Joe Paterno went back to the locker room for his afternoon nap. The Gators Ahmad Black sealed the deal with an 80-yard interception return and capped it by stealing the Saturday paper from Paterno’s front lawn.
The Big Ten ended their day of glory by failing to defend the Rose Bowl from the non-automatic-qualifying-mid-major infidels, as TCU beat Wisconsin, 21-19. This was at least a great game. TCU held a 21-13 lead for almost the entire second half, but could never quite separate from the Badgers, who put together a late touchdown drive, but failed the two-point conversion attempt when Frog linebacker Tank Carder batted away a Scott Tolzien pass. TCU has the fastest group of white guys I’ve seen since Chariots of Fire.
A few days later, the Big Ten restored at least some pride with a 31-26 Ohio State victory over the SEC (in the form of the Arkansas Razorbacks) in New Orleans. Even then, the Buckeyes were criticized in some quarters for shutting down the offense with a 28-7 lead. A late blocked punt put Arkansas in position to win it, but Hog QB Ryan Mallett gave the ball right back on a pick to Buckeye defensive end Solomon Thomas (one of the famous "tattooed five"). OSU defensive end Cameron Heyward was the best player on the field and may well have been the best player of the entire bowl season.
Ridiculously, college football games were played on January 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say Nevada’s 20-13 escape over Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was not exactly the statement game they desired to cap a 12-1 season. I picture the game trophy as a giant bronzed box of macaroni and cheese.
The one significant post-Epiphany game was the Super Bowl Dress Rehearsal at Jerry World (formerly the Cotton Bowl). LSU started slow, but eventually overwhelmed Texas A&M 41-24 with a very un-Tigerlike 446 yards of total offense, while the defense forced four Aggie turnovers. Say what you will about Les Miles (who may never coach at LSU again), but the cold hard numbers say he is a very good, borderline great, college coach. There is no doubt that his LSU squad was one of the nation’s ten best for 2010.
As for me, I picked 10 right and 14 wrong, including my misplaced faith in Oregon.
6. Ohio State
9. Boise State
And so it goes. My best to you and yours for 2011.