Bowl season begins with the unheralded and unranked, but features several tight pre-Christmas matchups.
08 Dec 2008
by Russell Levine
The BCS die is cast, and in the end, there were no surprises. As anticipated, Florida jumped Texas -- just as Oklahoma had a week earlier -- to set up the title game matchup between the Gators and Sooners.
By the time the game kicks off on January 8, the Texas controversy will have been largely forgotten and the BCS championship will be among the most anticipated games in college football history. It is easily the most intriguing BCS match since undefeated Texas and USC met in the Rose Bowl four years ago.
The game will either feature a two-time Heisman winner in Tim Tebow or a pair of Heisman winners if Oklahoma's Sam Bradford captures this statuette as expected on Saturday. It features the most explosive offense in college football history (Oklahoma) and one that wasn't far behind in Florida. Both teams run variations of the spread, with Oklahoma relying more on the pass while Florida utilizes elements of the single-wing with Tebow acting as the fullback in short-yardage situations. It will serve as the final verdict on the Big 12-SEC argument that has been brewing all year.
Given that both teams' strength is on offense, the play of the two defenses could well be the deciding factor. The popular perception, one even echoed by Tebow himself, is that Oklahoma, and the Big 12 in general, doesn't play any defense. While it's true that Oklahoma's defensive stats aren't very pretty (65th overall in total defense to ninth for Florida), the Sooners appear to be peaking at the right time. Dr. Saturday offers a closer look at the Sooners' recent defensive efforts and comes to the conclusion that the ranking may be a misnomer. I agree, especially given the quality of offenses Oklahoma has faced relative to Florida. Outside of Florida, the SEC simply was not a great offensive league this year. It was an awful passing league. Fully half the conference -- six teams -- ranked in the NCAA's bottom 25 teams in passing offense. Only two SEC offenses, Georgia (16th) and Arkansas (23rd) ranked in the top 50 nationally. Compare that to the pass-happy Big 12, which had half of its teams -- No. 1 Texas Tech, No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 4 Missouri, No. 8 Kansas, No. 11 Texas, and No. 14 Nebraska -- ranked above the top-rated SEC squad.
Of course, the flip side is also true. There were 11 SEC teams ranked in the top 38 in total defense; the Big 12's top-ranked team was Texas at no. 50.
At some point it becomes a chicken-vs.-egg argument. Is it bad defense or great offense? Bad offense or great defense? The answer to that question won't be known until bowl season is complete. Your opinion at the moment is probably dependent on your accent and your geographic locale.
Clearly there are better passers, and more of them, in the Big 12, which means more explosive offenses in that league. But just as clearly there are more stout defenses -- with big, run-stuffing tackles and speedy athletic ends -- in the SEC. This is not a black-or-white argument, it's shades of gray. And in those shades will be determined the national championship.
Or will it?
Some would have you believe that a split title is possible, with Texas possibly claiming the AP crown if it can destroy Ohio State in the Fiesta while the BCS championship ends up a close, poorly played game.
Before anyone argues that there's no such thing as a split championship any more, that the BCS title is the official crown, know that even the BCS official site acknowledged a split title in 2003 before the site was changed this year.
Such a scenario won't occur this year. Texas's chances of claiming the AP title died when Oregon State melted down against Oregon last week and blew a berth in the Rose Bowl. The opposite result was needed to bounce USC to the Fiesta Bowl, where the Trojans could have been paired with Texas in a game with enough cachet to perhaps entice some voters to put its winner at no. 1.
No, the best Texas can manage is a Fiesta Bowl trophy and a lifetime of "what if" questions, and the knowledge that the Big 12 will probably change its tie-breaking rules as a result of what happened to the Longhorns. To the "settle it on the field" crowd, I offer this year's Big 12 result as further proof of the folly of conference championship games. Here's a crazy idea: If a conference is really determined to "settle it on the field," why not drop the division format, have each team play a full round robin of 11 conference games plus one non-conference affair and truly determine the conference champ.
That will happen right around the time we get a 16-team playoff, which is to say, never.
Until then, I don't see much point in focusing on Texas -- or any other teams that were "screwed" by the BCS. Texas does not own that designation by its lonesome. How is USC or Penn State any less deserving? The BCS did what it is designed to do, pick two worthy teams and have them play for what somebody feels is a worthy designation, the "national championship." Make no mistake. The BCS did not "fail" this year. There are seven major-conference teams with one loss, plus two undefeated teams from mid-major conferences. The two playing for the title are the two hottest teams in college football. It's as worthy a matchup as any other. It is not the BCS's fault that the Big 12 chose to use the BCS standings to settle a three-way tie and elevated Oklahoma over Texas.
Those who would rather focus on the shortcomings of the system rather than enjoy what we have are welcome to do so. I won't be joining them. I look forward to the Penn State-USC game. I think Utah-Alabama has the potential to be a very interesting Sugar Bowl. There are some great battles in the second-tier games as well. I'll be watching the Poinsettia Bowl between Boise State and TCU with great interest. The Holiday Bowl should also be outstanding. Georgia Tech gets another shot at the SEC in its Chick-fil-a match against LSU.
When someone holds up the crystal football on January 8, they will be the champions. Anyone else that finished undefeated or with a single loss will have a valid argument that they were more deserving. They'll carry a high ranking into next season, or maybe they won't. The sun will rise in the morning. Life will go on.
Loving college football means accepting its warts. If you can get your mind around the idea that not having a clear-cut winner doesn't diminish what we've witnessed over the past 15 weeks (and may in fact add to it), bowl season can be one of the most entertaining times of year.
It was a big weekend for Urban Meyer, as he coached his team to its second BCS championship game in his four years at Florida. But it might not have turned out so well if his players weren't able to recover from a penalty called on Meyer for being out on the field.
Florida was holding on to a four-point lead when it faced a second-and-goal at the Alabama 1-yard line with four minutes remaining. There was confusion, and Meyer and two of his assistants stepped several yards onto the field to direct personnel. The officials correctly flagged the Gators for a sideline violation, and moved them back to the six. Luckily for Meyer, Tim Tebow bailed him out with a touchdown pass on third down to salt the game away rather than have to settle for a field goal and a seven-point edge.
In a weekend devoid of any major strategic blunders, Meyer's brain cramp is enough to qualify him for the JLS Trophy this week.
This season, I am again voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and now available on CBS Sportsline. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment, and I may make changes based on comments for a revised ballot later in the week .
Rankings that may require further explanation: Not much shifting in the rankings this week as most teams' seasons were already complete. Texas remains No. 1 on my ballot thanks to its win over Oklahoma. Oklahoma moves up to No. 2, one spot ahead of Florida, because Oklahoma's loss (vs. Texas), is stronger than Florida's (vs. Ole Miss). Alabama performed better than I thought it would against Florida and remains in place at No. 4, just ahead of Penn State and USC.
Games I watched at least part of: Louisville-Rutgers, Buffalo-Ball State, Boston College-Virginia Tech, East Carolina-Tulsa, Army-Navy, Florida-Alabama, Oklahoma-Missouri.
42 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2008, 5:19pm by Kevin 11