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Confessions of a Football Junkie: Bowl Winners and Losers

by Russell Levine

After 28 games and clichés too numerous to count, the 2005 college bowl season is now complete. Texas was the victor and USC the vanquished in a Rose Bowl that will rank with the greatest games ever played, but what about the sport as a whole? Here's a look at some of the winners and losers of the departed bowl season:

Winners

Vince Young

Yes, Young is an obvious choice to top this list, but his performance in the Rose Bowl deserves still another look. The numbers read like something out of a video game: 30-of-40 passing for 267 yards, with no interceptions or sacks, and 200 yards rushing on 19 carries with three touchdowns. Oh, and he brought his team back from a two-score deficit in the final minutes (for the second straight Rose Bowl), and scored the winning touchdown on fourth down.

Young's performance was not just one for the college football ages, it could have a major impact on the upcoming NFL draft. Before the Rose Bowl, the 6-foot-5-inch, 233-pound Young said he planned to return for his senior season and USC's Reggie Bush was one of the safest bets ever to be taken first overall.

But Sunday, with the entire NFL spastically whispering Young's name, the Houston native officially announced his eligibility for the draft -- and the Texans own the first pick. You do the math. Yes, Young has a quirky throwing motion, but his athletic ability is unparalleled, perhaps even by Bush or Michael Vick. The Texans are already facing a decision on the future of franchise quarterback David Carr. Retailers better pre-emptively stock up on no. 10 Texans jerseys.

The BCS

The much-maligned Bowl Championship Series put on perhaps its best-ever four-game slate, capped by an over-hyped Rose Bowl that still managed to exceed expectations. Ratings records were set. Even the ugly-duckling matchups -- West Virginia-Georgia in the Sugar and Florida State-Penn State in the Orange -- worked out as the Mountaineers stunned Georgia and four-loss Florida State gave 10–1 Penn State all it could handle. None of this is good news for the people who annually root for the BCS to go down in flames so that a playoff system can rise from the ashes.

The Big 12

Texas's conference was supposed to be a joke, especially the weak-sister North Division. But the Big 12 went 6–2 in bowls, best record of all 11 Division I-A conferences. In addition to the Longhorns' Rose Bowl triumph, Oklahoma stunned 10–1 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl and Nebraska upset Michigan in the Alamo Bowl.

Keith Jackson

The esteemed ABC announcer may well have called his final game in the Rose Bowl, and if so, what a way to go out. True, Jackson is not as sharp as he once was, but he is the voice of college football and that Southern drawl is still smooth as silk. As a poster on one college football blog wrote, Jackson "could read the yellow pages for two hours, and I'd listen the whole time. He just sounds like college football." Amen.

Losers

Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart

It's conceivable that with both Bush and Young in the NFL draft (Bush's decision to go pro is thought to be a foregone conclusion), Young could be selected first overall, which would be an upset of Douglas-Tyson proportions based on pre-bowl season expectations.

Leinart, who was brilliant in the second half of the Rose Bowl, likely did nothing to hurt his draft stock. What hurt his stock was returning to school for his senior season. He was a lock to go first overall last year, but could fall to third or lower this year, costing him millions.

People With Day Jobs

Look, I love college football as much as anyone, but the length of these games is ridiculous, capped by a near five-hour Orange Bowl as Penn State beat Florida State in triple overtime. Incoming BCS coordinator Mike Slive says he hopes the games can start earlier next year, but start times are not the problem. The NCAA needs to implement rule changes to shorten games, such as not stopping the clock on first downs except in the final minutes of each half. The only thing more laughable than the term "student-athlete" is that the official broadcast window for a college football game is 3 1/2 hours.

The SEC

It was a tough year for the conference often considered the nation's best. A year after undefeated Auburn was denied a berth in the BCS title game, the Tigers were trampled by Wisconsin, one of a pair of stunning bowl losses for the conference. SEC champion Georgia was beaten by the pride of the Big East, West Virginia, in the Sugar Bowl.

Texas-Area Ratings for ESPN

The "Worldwide Leader" didn't win any friends in the Lone Star State with its weeklong series on whether the 2005 Trojans were the greatest team in history. That was followed by College Gameday's Lee Corso all but pleading with Young to turn pro after the Rose Bowl. None of this can be good for the network's ratings deepinthehearta.

John L. Smith Trophy

The bowl season was surprisingly devoid of horrendous coaching decisions. It's usually a time for coaches who've had too much time on their hands to unveil double-reverse passes and fake punts at the most inopportune times.

But I didn't see a whole lot of that this bowl season. Sure, Pete Carroll could rightly be taken to task for leaving Reggie Bush on the sidelines during the critical fourth-and-2 play against Texas, but it wasn't an egregious error given the way the Trojans were running the ball up the gut with LenDale White.

Instead, I'll reach into the pro ranks for this week's winner: Tom Coughlin of the Giants. There were a lot of things not to like about the Giants' performance against Carolina, but the one that stood out was the idea that Terrell Buckley could hold up in man coverage against Steve Smith. I get that the Giants were devastated by injuries, but surely there was a better plan than leaving one of the NFL's most dangerous wideouts singled up with a guy that was on his couch a month ago?

BlogPoll Ballot

Here's my final ballot in MGoBlog's BlogPoll. Last week's ranking in parentheses.

1. Texas (2): Second poster on this article had it about right.
2. Southern Cal (1): I still think going for it on fourth-and-2 was correct.
3. Penn State (3): Was it a one-year wonder? They lose a lot of talent.
4. Ohio State (4): If Tressel had kept the pedal down, they could have scored 50 on ND.
5. West Virginia (12): Gets the edge over LSU based on result vs. common opponent Georgia.
6. Louisiana State (9): Where was that effort the last time out at the Georgia Dome?
7. Alabama (11): Great defense vs. great offense: take the defense.
8. Virginia Tech (13): Enjoy the 7th round, Marcus Vick.
9. Georgia (5): Oh, the dangers of taking opponents lightly.
10. Wisconsin (19): Where did that come from?
11. Auburn (7): Big Ten teams aren't that slow, are they?
12. Miami (Florida) (10): Michael Irvin wants to get more involved.
13. Notre Dame (6): Attention stud H.S. corner: Charlie Weis wants you.
14. TCU (17): Again, how did you lose to SMU?
15. Florida (16): Urban's first year was a success.
16. UCLA (15): Defense optional in SoCal.
17. Oregon (8): Thank goodness they'll be using three different helmets next year. Unis were getting bland.
18. Boston College (18): Hail the smurf-turf streak busters.
19. Oklahoma (25): Mack Brown's winning streak over OU could be short-lived.
20. Louisville (16): Gave a decent account of themselves minus Brohm.
21. Clemson (22): One of college football's strangest teams of 2005.
22. Texas Tech (23): Moving them up after better-than-expected effort vs. Alabama.
23. Florida State (NR): Lot's o' young talent in Tallahassee.
24. Nebraska (NR): Callahan earns another year.
25. Tulsa (NR): Poll filler.

Dropped out: Georgia Tech (20), Michigan (21), Fresno State (24)

Games I watched: Nearly all of them. It was the most wonderful week of the year.

Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun

Comments

1
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:50am

It was a great year for Bowl games. I just wish the overtime format wasn't so lame. I turned off the Penn State game after the first OT. At that point, the back and forth shootout is barely football to me. I would go back to the traditional way, except automatically spot the ball at the first team's own 25. This at least gives the defense a chance to make a stand.

2
by Tom (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 2:33am

Amen on the time factor. I don't care if it is a dead horse, but it's one that has to be beaten until it's changed. As for the OT rules... I know the XFL used it, but scramble for the ball is a non-random way of determining who gets the ball first and preserves the normal format of football, including field position calculations and special teams. Alternative, make it first-and-goal from the 25, and apply automatic first down penalties to simply replay the down, or add another down if they occur on 4th down. (Example: line of scrimmage at the 25, pass interference in the end zone on the play. Ball goes to the 10, as per the normal 15 yard penalty (I'm assuming it's not half the distance, since it's normally a 15 or spot foul). If foul occured on first down, replay first. If foul occured on fourth down, it's now 3-and-G from the 10.) Sure, it's unconventional, but I bet it would be interesting to watch.

3
by Ryguy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:26am

Stopping the clock with first downs at the end of the half is a bad idea. I say this only because that's saying that getting first downs then is more important than other first downs in the game.

But the column a few days ago on ESPN suggesting that there was way too much hype for Texas before the Rose Bowl was rediculous. I don't think ESPN will ever theoretically play past national champs against this number two USC team again.

Another interesting thing to see will be how many of the players from the USC-Texas game go to the pros (like the 2003 Fiesta Bowl had a great number of pros go after a great game).

4
by djt (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:30am

#2: Tom, theoretically I like your OT structure, but practically any overtime rules need to be comprehensible to the guy midway through his fifth beer. Your down structure is going to baffle him: "pass interference, defense; automatic first down. Third and goal, Texas."

I also enjoyed the "scramble for the ball" in lieu of a coin flip, but didn't one of the XFL guys separate a shoulder during one? I suspect that would make the idea unpopular -- you rarely see a player carted off the field on a coin flip.

5
by NF (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:36am

"Instead, I’ll reach into the pro ranks for this week’s winner: Tom Coughlin of the Giants. There were a lot of things not to like about the Giants’ performance against Carolina, but the one that stood out was the idea that Terrell Buckley could hold up in man coverage against Steve Smith. I get that the Giants were devastated by injuries, but surely there was a better plan than leaving one of the NFL’s most dangerous wideouts singled up with a guy that was on his couch a month ago?"

Please tell me you're exaggerating. I don't even like the team, but that makes me want to gouge my eyes out.

6
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:38am

"What hurt his stock was returning to school for his senior season. He was a lock to go first overall last year, but could fall to third or lower this year, costing him millions."

Not to be terribly disagreeable, but I'm really tired of people in the media (that includes FO) getting down on athletes who forego a high draft position in order to finish up college and get a degree. You don't really put him in the loser's column because of his performance: "Leinart, who was brilliant in the second half of the Rose Bowl, likely did nothing to hurt his draft stock." You only put him there because he hurt his draft stock by staying in school. Maybe I'm old-fashioned at the ripe old age of 22, but a degree or an extra year of college is valuable to some. I don't object to the idea he hurt his draft stock - he did - but I do object to the idea that he's somehow a loser for wanting to complete a stage of his education. Rant ends here.

7
by zip (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:51am

#6

Um, didn't Leinart take exactly one class -- ballroom dancing -- his senior year?

I could be wrong on this, but I don't think he needed that 4th year to finish a degree.

8
by Underground Man (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 4:07am

Regardless of what Leinart did in class, is it really the most important thing in life to get the extra X million difference between the first and the third pick in the NFL draft. Assuming he/his agent has some sense Leinart's set for life with his signing bonus regardless of where he goes. If he enjoyed his senior season why rip him for not going for the money? Don't we all have a right to choose what we want to do with our lives? And doesn't the mainstream media already spend enough time ripping players for being exclusively driven by money?

9
by Tim Gerheim :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 4:18am

#6,8

I don't know that it was a value judgment on Leinart. Fact is, he probably did LOSE millions of dollars, making him someone who on some level suffered from this college season or bowl season. Plus, for what it's worth, part of his reason for going back was to win a third consecutive national title for USC, which he failed to do (not that it was his fault).

10
by tunesmith (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 4:33am

I haven't really tweaked the beatpaths to be all that reliable with college football, but it *did* pick Oklahoma over Oregon... there were five bowl games where it picked the winners while the rankings didn't, and three bowl games where it didn't pick the winners while the rankings did.

11
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 5:09am

Re #6: My stance is this- the purpose of college is to prepare you to get a job in the field of your choosing. If you're majoring in computer engineering, and 2 years in, Microsoft comes out and offers you a $500,000 a year job, you take the job and don't look back. There'll be time to finish your degree later, if that's what's important to you. I know that Champ Bailey just got his degree from Georgia this last summer.

That said, I'm not so sure that Leinart would have been a sure-fire #1 overall last year. Everyone knows that a TON of weight (perhaps too much) is given to combine performance and personal workouts. According to Leinart, his shoulder was pretty messed up after last season. If he came out and had a horrible workout, it's possible that he'd fall to 2nd or 3rd, or perhaps even lower (remember the Aaron Rodgers freefall?)

12
by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:23am

...a Rose Bowl that will rank with the greatest games ever played

If you mean greatest in terms of entertainment value, I would agree. If you mean greatest in terms of play on the field, coaching, and/or officiating, I heartily disagree.

While I enjoyed watching it, it reminded me why I so strongly prefer the pro-game. After all, even the oldest (typical) college player is, at most, 5 years removed from high school. Compare that to a pro veteran, who not only was among the best of the best to make it into the pros, but could have 10-15 years of very high level experience. It makes a big, big difference.

13
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:27am

I think Leinart was a lock for #1 last year. The Niners were supposedly considering Rodgers over Smith because of his pro polish, and Leinart was the most polished qb in college football, even last year.

And let's be honest here... Leinart could have gotten whacked around in SF and made a ton of money, or dated every hot girl in LA and still make a ton of money. The man has priorities.

14
by noahpoah (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:34am

Regarding Leinart staying in school, surely part of why he stayed was because he was, as the USC QB, a celebrity in LA. Another year of being perhaps the most popular athlete in a giant city would probably be a pretty compelling reason to stick around.

15
by Scott de B. (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:47am

My stance is this- the purpose of college is to prepare you to get a job in the field of your choosing.

AAAAGHH! I couldn't disagree more, and I hate that this attitude has become so prevalent. The purpose of college is to create well-rounded human beings who are ready to take on the duties of citizenship as well as vocational training. We're not talking DeVry technical institute, we're talking USC.

16
by Dante Svalbard (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 11:50am

Amen to #12 - aside from the ugly mistakes that littered the game (lateral, cough) and the officiating errors (knee down, cough), the defenses were overall quite mediocre. Sure, Young had a great game, but does anyone really a think a first-rate defense would have allowed 467 total yards to any player, no matter how talented, or coughed up a 12-point lead in the last four minutes? And to be fair, UT didn't do a whole lot better, especially in the second half...

17
by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:03pm

Re #12: If you mean greatest in terms of play on the field, coaching, and/or officiating, I heartily disagree.

Has anyone ever judged the greatness of a game on the basis of the quality of officiating? I don't think I've ever heard somebody say, "Wow, that was a great game! The officials got every call right!"

18
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:10pm

Re 15--thank you! If you are going to college to get a credential and a job, more power to you, but, given that people change jobs and/or careers something like a half dozen times during their lifetimes, perhaps getting educated is a more appropriate goal. Remember, the British established and ran a whole empire with a bunch of guys who had spent their college years reading Herodotus and Thucydides at Oxford and Cambridge.

If Leinart "only" gets $10 million instead of $20 million by dropping down a few picks in the first round, it's a little hard for me to identify him as a "loser." That's still quite a few million more than most of us sitting here commenting have (In my case, QUITE af few more!!)

19
by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 12:17pm

Re 12 and 16: As a Steeler fan, I can't assign the pro game superiority based on Bush's lateral (Polamalu, Randle El earlier in the season, cough). In terms of entertainment value and watchability, compare the four NFL wild card weekend games with the four major BCS bowl games. I know which ones I thought were more fun (I'm hoping that the four NFL games this weekend will be better). Even in terms of good football, the performances by the Giants, the Jaguars, and the Redskins (who won!) are not going to go down in history.

20
by Nate (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 1:06pm

18 - Leinart made a decision, and that decision (assumption - he would have been picked #1, and instead gets picked #3) will probably cost him 7 to 9 million dollars over the course of his rookie contract. His decision "lost" him that much money. Leinart is the only person who can decide if one more year of pimping out in LA is worth 7-9 million.

21
by Dman (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 1:14pm

#6, if he had injured himself seriously this season would you say the same thing? That degree wouldn't earn him in a lifetime what being the #1 pick would.

22
by David (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 1:33pm

I'd say Leinart was 100% right to stay on as LA's golden boy for another year, no matter what it did to his draft prospects. There's a time-honored proverb that should explain why:

"Money can't buy happiness. A man with ten million dollars is no happier than a man with nine million dollars."

In other words, he's still going to get paid more than most of his classmates will make in their entire lives just to hold a clipboard, so the exact amount really doesn't matter as much as it might if there were some outside chance that he might actually need the extra money.

23
by Russell Levine :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 1:47pm

Re: Leinart ... I probably didn't do a very good job of making my point clear. Based on a strict financial evaluation of Leinart's decision, it was not a good one.

However, I doubt he has any regrets, and I don't blame him at all for choosing to remain in school one more year, lead the high life, and play one final year of football for fun before it becomes a job. I didn't mean to come off critical of Leinart, because he doesn't deserve to be criticized.

24
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 1:49pm

That said, one can't forget that Leinart was also insured for millions, in the off-chance that he was injured during the year, that policy would have paid out those millions.

The NCAA runs a program that loans money to athletes that are projected to be first-round picks to pay insurance premiums, and generally families will supplant the amount the NCAA works to insure (usually only a few million) by borrowing themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if he was insured for $10 million or so.

I also agree with those that say that signing a $40 million dollar rookie contract instead of a $50 million dollar one isn't really that big a deal to him. Yes, it's lower, but it's not like he'll be hurting. Even if he was the biggest bust imaginable, never played a down, and just collected his initial signing bonus and first year salary, he'd be set for life.

T.

25
by michael (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 2:39pm

Please stop the whinging about Leinart's draft status and how much it "cost" him. Leinart is gold from now on; wealthy USC alums will be bringing him sweetheart deals and setting him up in car dealerships and beer distribution. In the mid-80s Thomas Lott, late of the OU Sooners, was the "partner" in about a half-dozen restaurants in the OKC and Dallas. He knew nothing about the restaurant biz and did little more than show up at openings and cash his checks. All of this courtesy of OU fans grateful for his contributions to the ol' Sooner Schooner.

26
by Nate (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 2:43pm

Yeah, I'm sorry if I didn't make myself clear. I agree that there's a very good chance that if you had told Leinart last year that if he had stayed another year he would make 8 million less dollars, he would have stayed another year anyways.
Personally, I have trouble divorcing gross dollar amounts from the marginal utility I get from those additional dollars. They are pretty much the same to me.

27
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:15pm

re:15

Have you been to college? You certainly DO NOT come out well rounded. I dont think I took anything even remotely non-math-related. Thats what an engineering degree does to you. College makes you ready for work... thats it.

28
by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:26pm

People have short memories. Leinart was not a lock for the number one spot last year. It was certainly a possibility, but Smith had already passed him on some boards. Add to that the shoulder issue and there's a decent chance he would have fallen out of the top 10, a spot where this draft he does seem to be a lock at least at this early stage.

29
by Basilicus (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 3:37pm

Re 15 and 27: College is really what you make of it. It can be a training ground for the skills you'll later need in a job if you choose it to be so, you can do it for the experience, or you can do it because it's the greatest place you'll ever have to learn the things that you want to learn. For me the ideal is to train myself not in what to learn but rather in how to learn and share ideas - how best to master and figure out different skill sets so that I am not simply bogged down in one for the rest of my life. I majored in creative writing and minored in filmmaking - if I wanted to train myself for the work force I would have done better skipping college and working for four years, but I would have learned very little. I owe tens of thousands of dollars now and what I got back was a heap of knowledge and an absolutely great experience. I'm just saying that Leinart - for whatever reason - wanted to stay an extra year. He knew he could lose millions by doing so, but that's the path he chose anyway. I remember Michael Irvin a few drafts ago commenting that Roy Williams didn't have the heart to play football because Williams hadn't come out after his junior year. Irvin said Williams wasn't hungry enough. One of the other commentators brought up that Williams had wanted to finish his degree and Irvin treated it as the worst reason in the world to stay in college. Maybe we're all used to looking at college football as a means to an end, but for those who still want to use college for what it was originally intended for (you know, learning), or for having another year to goof off and be a part of a college team before having to grow up (which may be the case with Leinart) there shouldn't be this collective finger-wagging.

30
by Xao (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 4:00pm

Say Leinart did declare for the draft last year, and that he was the first pick. That means he winds up taking Alex Smith's job at Linebacker Greeter for the Niners. If he falls as far as third this year, he avoids Houston and New Orleans.

I'm not at all sure I would categorize that as a loss, regardless of the financial compensation involved.

31
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 4:40pm

Something that got a bit lost in the Leinart discussion is that this is his 5th year of college, even though it is his 4th year of NCAA eligibility. So in reality he chose to leave late and stretch his college career out as long as possible.

32
by Manteo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 7:21pm

#31: "he chose to leave late and stretch his college career out as long as possible."

Beats working...

33
by Nicolas (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 7:36pm

"Leinart, who was brilliant in the second half of the Rose Bowl, likely did nothing to hurt his draft stock." Ugh...Leinart was NOT brilliant in the 2nd half. He was good in the 3rd Q, but that is it. If he was "perfect" as some news reports have said, USC would have won that game. He wasn't, so they didn't.

34
by Nate (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2006 - 8:24pm

Another non-interesting note - I criticized Leinart for sticking around an extra year, but I took the minimum 12 hours per semester (to stay on my parents health insurance) my last 5 semesters so I didn't have to graduate early. I suppose that lost me ~40k or so.