Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
11 Dec 2006
by Russell Levine
Here's a look at some of the defining moments, trends, and players of the 2006 college football season:
5. Oregon 34, Oklahoma 33, Sept. 16
Two enormous officiating blunders basically handed this game to Oregon, obscuring an already great comeback by the Ducks. This game's importance has grown in retrospect, as Oklahoma ended up winning the Big 12 title and would have been in the thick of the national-title picture without this loss.
4. LSU 31, Arkansas 26, Nov. 24
Arkansas was a surprise contender in the SEC, upsetting Auburn on the road and remaining unbeaten in conference play until its final regular-season game. In a game that was a circus of big plays -- one four-play sequence in the third quarter produced 241 yards and three touchdowns -- LSU eliminated the Razorbacks from the national-title chase. But this contest -- aired nationally by CBS the day after Thanksgiving -- also turned Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden into a legitimate Heisman candidate after he ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns (including an 80-yarder) and completed 2-of-2 passes for 33 yards against the Tigers' stout defense.
3. UCLA 13, USC 9, Dec. 2
All USC needed to do to advance to its third straight BCS championship game was beat cross-town rival UCLA for the eighth consecutive year. But UCLA got an all-time effort from its often-porous defense and held off the Trojans, wrapping up the win with a late interception. The upset opened the door for either Michigan or Florida to get to the title game.
2. Ohio State 42, Michigan 39, Nov. 18
The first-ever no. 1 vs. no. 2 showdown between these traditional rivals picked up an added -- and unfortunate -- storyline the day before the game when former Michigan coach and Ohio State assistant Bo Schembechler died of a heart attack. The game, which had been hyped excessively for more than a month, did not fail to deliver. Michigan scored on its first possession, but never again led as Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith cemented his Heisman run and put the Buckeyes in the national-championship game.
1. Rutgers 28, Louisville 25, Nov. 9
For one night, Rutgers turned the New York area into college football country as the Scarlet Knights staged an improbable comeback from an 18-point deficit to beat then-#3 Louisville on a last-minute Jeremy Ito field goal. Though Rutgers fell short of a BCS game when it lost at West Virginia in triple overtime, the win over the Cardinals on national television kicked off a wild celebration at Rutgers Stadium and served as the official notice of the arrival of the Scarlet Knights program.
Remember how losing Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech to the ACC was supposed to cripple the Big East? Try again. The reconfigured Big East had three of its teams -- Louisville, Rutgers, and West Virginia -- in the thick of BCS game contention for much of the season. And the league's profile was boosted by a series of thrilling, late-season, national-TV games between the three contenders. And the now 12-team ACC? It sent Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to its championship game to play a dull 9-6 contest before a half-empty Alltel Stadium.
Maybe the stodgy old Big Ten has it right after all. Michigan was denied a title-game rematch with Ohio State in part because the Big Ten refuses to stage a championship game, ending its season before Thanksgiving while everyone else plays for two more weeks. But a deeper look shows that the Big Ten has sent two teams to lucrative BCS bowls six times in nine years, while the other BCS conferences have done so just nine times combined. Maybe it's the SEC that should rethink the made-for-TV title game concept it invented. It has had two BCS teams just four times, despite the general belief that it is the strongest conference.
One of the things that makes college football more entertaining than the NFL is variety. In the pro game, nearly every team runs some flavor of the same offense and defense, but college offers a wide variety of approaches to the game. Take Arkansas, which has one of the nation's best tailbacks in McFadden but struggled to find a decent quarterback. So coach Houston Nutt increasingly employed what he called the "Wildcat" formation as the season went on. In the formation -- a variation of the old single-wing -- McFadden lined up at quarterback and ran a plethora of QB draws, end-arounds, option plays, and even passed it some. Then you have the service academies, which continue to plug away with the triple-option offense that helps neutralize their lack of size and athleticism. Navy used the attack to lead the nation in rushing at 327 yards a game.
College head coaches are well compensated, yet they seem to struggle with some of the finer points of the game. It took some coaches all year to figure out how to handle Rule 3-2-5(e) that directed the clock to start following a change in possession. When trailing late in games, coaches would often call timeout before the first snap of the opponent's possession, failing to realize that doing so cost them about 15-20 seconds. By stopping the clock before first down, they saved a maximum of 25 seconds (the length of the play clock), rather than the 40-45 seconds that could be saved by stopping the clock following a play (the 25 seconds plus the time it takes to run the play and have the ball spotted).
The overall reaction to 3-2-5(e) was decidedly mixed. The reduction in the average length of game was a welcome change, but coaches hated the running clock after changes of possession. Expect some tweaks before next season.
The universal adoption of instant replay is good for college football, but its execution so far has been ridiculously inconsistent. Every week, there are plays that should be reviewed but aren't; plays that are reviewed for several minutes but should be decided in 30 seconds, and plays that are overturned on evidence that is far short of "conclusive."
2. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
3. DeSean Jackson, WR, California
This article appeared in Monday's New York Sun.
44 comments, Last at 14 Dec 2006, 12:30am by Brian