Ben Roethlisberger's ability to perform under a heavy pass rush remains critical to Pittsburgh's offensive success.
by Russell Levine
With the 32-game bowl season now complete, and LSU having vanquished Ohio State to wear the champion's crown, it's time to add up the postseason's winners and losers,
Not only did the SEC capture its second straight BCS title, the league had a 7â€“2 overall bowl record, the best winning percentage among the six BCS conferences. SEC backers have always felt the BCS system was unfair to their conference, punishing it for playing a tough conference schedule. This year, with LSU becoming the first-ever two-loss national champion, you can put that myth to rest. The good times should keep on rolling. Georgia looks like a potential preseason no. 1, LSU has enough talent to overcome graduations and early entries to the NFL, and Florida returns with the Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback.
It was another rough bowl campaign for the Big Ten, which sent a pair of teams to BCS games, only to have both beaten handily for a second straight year. The conference continues to fight perception that its teams are slow. Off the field, the Big Ten Network has struggled to find wide distribution on cable TV.
Not all was bad for the Big Ten. The Wolverines pulled the upset of bowl season, sending retiring coach Lloyd Carr out a winner by beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl. Michigan fans also got to see Ohio State lose a national championship for the third time in 365 days (two in football, one in basketball), which is the next-best thing to actually beating the Buckeyes. Rich Rodriguez now takes over and is tasked with modernizing the Michigan program. First priority: Beat out Ohio State and other suitors for Ã¼ber-recruit Terrelle Pryor, a run/pass quarterback from Pennsylvania.
If there's one Michigan man who probably didn't enjoy the Ohio State loss to LSU, it was Rodriguez. If he doesn't beat Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, he'll be sure to draw unfavorable comparisons to the man who just did: would-be Michigan coach Les Miles. Plus, there's that not-so-pleasant matter of a lawsuit over the $4 million buyout Rodriguez owes his former school, West Virginia.
Pat Hill's Fresno State program throttled Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl and heads into 2008 as one of the favorites to capture a BCS at-large berth from outside the automatic-qualifying conferences.
Sure, Hawaii will feel the financial benefits of having played in the Sugar Bowl for years to come. But the Warriors looked like they didn't belong on the same field with Georgia, as Heisman finalist Colt Brennan was turned into a tackling dummy by the Georgia defense. Worse, the architect of the program's resurgence, June Jones, departed for SMU a week later.
Talib, a junior, was considered one of the nation's best cornerbacks despite the Jayhawks' limited national exposure. This year's surprising 12â€“1 campaign changed all that, and Talib put an exclamation point on an outstanding season by returning an interception for a touchdown against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. His play no doubt influenced his decision to declare for the NFL draft, where he should be among the first defensive backs taken.
Hawaii was so outclassed in the Sugar Bowl -- and Brennan so ineffective against a relentless pass rush -- that the outcome risks recasting his entire career in a negative light. Perhaps Brennan's spectacular career numbers were nothing more than the product of Hawaii's run-and-shoot system and weak opposition. NFL scouts will have the final say in April's draft.
Its rival league, the WAC, may have snared coveted BCS at-large bids the last two years, but the Mountain West Conference proved its chops this postseason, going 4â€“1 for the best winning percentage of any league with at least two bowl teams. BYU toppled UCLA, while Air Force was more than competitive in a 42â€“36 loss to Cal in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Wait a second, didn't the Mountaineers just stomp favored Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? Yes, but they still lost Rodriguez to Michigan in a nasty divorce. Meanwhile, major booster (and Arizona Diamondbacks managing partner) Ken Kendrick has been very public in his criticism of the athletic department's handling of both the Rodriguez departure and the decision to give interim coach Bill Stewart the full-time job in the hours following the bowl win.
The Big 12's strength was questioned all year as Texas struggled, Oklahoma stubbed its toe against Colorado and Texas Tech, and the North Division was paced by a pair of nobodies: Missouri and Kansas. But the conference redeemed itself in bowl season, despite Oklahoma's pratfall against West Virginia in the Fiesta. Missouri stomped the SEC's Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, and Kansas upset Virginia Tech in the Orange.
Two seasons after completing an expansion that was supposed to turn it into a super-conference to rival the SEC, the ACC continues to struggle along with the declining fortunes of Miami and Florida State. It was a BCS conference-worst 2â€“6 in bowl games.
All the confusion caused by this chaotic season has the major conference commissioners talking openly about turning the BCS games into a seeded "plus-one" tournament, in effect a four-team playoff. They'll still have to overcome the opposition of the Big Ten, the Pac-10, and the Rose Bowl to make it a reality, however.
While BCS officials have been candid about exploring a "plus-one" system, those hoping for a more inclusive playoff will remain disappointed. The university presidents remain steadfast in their opposition to any sort of large-scale tournament. To quote Ohio State president Gordon Gee, "Never going to happen."
Wisconsin (No. 15), Hawaii (No. 17), South Florida (No. 20), Boise State (No. 22), Virginia (No. 23).
Rankings that may require further explanation: Oklahoma is too high, but they beat Missouri twice, so I'm kind of boxed in there. To me, LSU/USC/Georgia is pretty much a tossup. Everything below the top 10 is pretty much throwing names at the wall based on vague recollections of how these teams performed in their bowl games.
Also, you should know that I did not even look at my final regular-season ballot when I filled this out, so that accounts for the wild swings by many of the teams.
Portions of this article appeared in Wednesday's New York Sun.