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11 Dec 2006

Junkie's 2006 College Football Year in Review

by Russell Levine

Here's a look at some of the defining moments, trends, and players of the 2006 college football season:

Games of the Year

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.

Big East/ACC Revisited

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.

The Big Ten Approach

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.

Best Coaching Trend

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.

Worst Coaching Trend

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.

College Football's Most Annoying Aspect Is...

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."

Your 2007 Heisman Finalists

1. McFadden
2. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
3. DeSean Jackson, WR, California

This article appeared in Monday's New York Sun.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 11 Dec 2006

44 comments, Last at 14 Dec 2006, 12:30am by Brian


by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 10:29pm

Pretty good article, but I seriously question your judgement if Steve Slaton is not on your top 3 for next year.

by Mikey Benny (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 10:31pm

Oops, feel free to question my spelling in return. "judgment", not "judgement".

by Dave (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 10:33pm

Also Ray Rice.

by young curmudgeon (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 10:38pm

If Arkansas runs a variation of the single wing, McFadden is lining up at tailback (or sometimes "wingback"); the "quarterback" in the single wing is the guy closest to the line, who functions like a blocking fullback in today's NFL backfields. There's probably an interesting history article in how the terminology evolved after the general shift from single wing to T formation--in order from the line, the backs were quarter, half, full, and tailback. (I'm relying on distant memory here and would welcome correction if I'm wrong.) When the guy closest to the line moved over behind center to take the snap, he stayed the "quarterback" even though his job suddenly became a lot more important.

A few smaller high schools (often prep schools) were still running single wing in the NJ-Eastern Pa. area a few years ago. They often had great success--if you get two or three really good athletes, but none who excel at throwing the football, you can run a good single wing attack, and the opposing team's defense is almost always underprepared and confused.

I've often thought that an NFL team with someone like Young, Vick, Randle El, Elway in his prime, etc. should put in a couple of single wing plays and use them when a two point conversion is called for.

by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 11:01pm


I actually remember a comment about Steve Young in the old Don Heinrich's Pro Preview to the effect that "What a tremendous single-wing halfback he would have been!"

- Alaska Jack

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 11:36pm

Russell, no mention of the one coach who DID figure out how to use the new clock rule to his advantage?

Couldn't resist dude.

by KillerB (not verified) :: Mon, 12/11/2006 - 11:45pm

"A few smaller high schools (often prep schools) were still running single wing in the NJ-Eastern Pa. area a few years ago. They often had great success–if you get two or three really good athletes, but none who excel at throwing the football, you can run a good single wing attack, and the opposing team’s defense is almost always underprepared and confused."

Southern Columbia (PA) runs the Delaware Wing-T, and has been so successful with it, that it has advanced to its 9th consecutive state championship game.

Not sure how similar the Wing-T is to the single wing, but there you go.

by BC Eagle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:07am

How bout the three Big East teams being in contention due to schedule manipulation and weak schedules rather than a perceived increase in quality.

by BC Eagle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:08am

Big East homers.

by BC Eagle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:09am

I suppose saying "Big East homers" exposes me as an ACC homer, which is ironic because BC is seen as the outsider in a southern conference, so I'm a homer without a home...

by Kyle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:41am

Oh I love it when someone actually has the severe lack of historical knowledge or perspective to say "well Rutgers benefitted from a weak schedule!".

by J.D. (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:52am


UNC, Illinois, Ohio, Howard, USF, Navy, Pittsburgh, UConn, Louisville, Cincy, Syracuse, W.Virginia... explain how that is not a weak schedule? They played two top 25 teams all year! One great win does not a season make.

by RecoveringPackerFan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:06am

I've never had the pleasure of seeing the single wing, but a few schools in Wisconsin run wing-T, frequently to great effect.

by StuAllan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:09am

I remember watching the Miami-Nebraska Orange Bowl in 1984. My old man was all excited about Miami's "pro-style offense". He was sick of seeing the run-first offenses prevalent in college at the time.

Yes youngsters, there was once a time when the pro game was considered more exciting and innovative.

by Brad (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:34am

No mention of Hart for Heisman? Not only does it roll of the tongue but he's a stud too.
Also: Bush if he gets a medical redshirt.

by Kyle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 2:49am

#11: You don't get it. Three years ago, the expectations for Rutgers on a soft or easy schedule was a 3-8 season, 5 wins considered as a breakthrough, with blowout losses to any teams ranked in the Top 25 on the schedule. When the Rutgers AD put together the football schedule for 2006 however many years ago (two? three? four?), it scheduled based on the fact that Rutgers sucks at all things football. Rutgers just went 10-2. As I said, maintain some perspective here. Weak schedule? Sure. How long ago was it that, on a weak schedule, Rutgers couldn't hope for more than 4 wins?

Its easy to look at the season Rutgers had based on expectations that formed following the Louisville win and say "well they had a weak schedule", "they choked in the end", or "the conference sucks". Whatever. Its Rutgers. That cannot be repeated more. Before the season, the buzz was that Rutgers could win 8, maybe even 9 this year, and maybe play a competitive game against Louisville since it was home.

I assume you're not from the Central Jersey area, because trust me, you would not say "one win does not a season make!" if you fully understood the history of futility the 8th oldest school in the nation created over the past 137 years.

by Kyle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 2:51am

Hah, I just told myself I don't get it. Take that, me.

Obviously I meant to say Re: #12

by BHW (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 5:28am

UCLA's defense wasn't actually all that porous this year.

by ejt (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 5:32am

re: 12

rutgers played 2 top 25 teams all year...

the same number as ohio state.

ps. not saying ohio state played a weak schedule, or that rutgers played a great schedule, but using top 25 teams as a measure of schedule strength is clearly a flawed measure.

by The Jerricho Road (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:01am

No Mike Hart for Heisman finalist?????????

There is no rule that there are only 3 finalists every year...

by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 9:28am

I really wish that when the NCAA added the 12th game, they had mandated how to use that game. The Pac-10, IMO, got it right by having all the teams play everyone else in the league, so no longer will there be years where someone gets to skip USC (unfortunately) that year. Instead, all the other conferences went out to schedule a I-AA team to pad their schedule and their pockets. The Pac-10 is punishing their teams by making them play a harder game that makes them more likely to fall in the standings, but it's also the right thing to do.

Wouldn't you rather have had another SEC game than that Florida-Western Kentucky game late in the season? I'd have rather seen Ohio State play Wisconsin than one of those bad teams they beat the tar out of. Maybe the NCAA can get involved and force them to make that a conference game, but they won't.

by MFurtek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:06pm

Annoying Trend in Announcing...
Universal adoption of the phrase "trickeration".

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:09pm

I find it amusing that folks tout Mike Hart for the Heisman when the guy didn't even lead his own conference in rushing.

That would have been PJ Hill of Wisconsin. But you won't read any posts from Badger fans screaming "Hill for the Heisman". Because while he is a good runner he isn't great.

Hart is a good collegiate back playing on a good team. Whoop-de-doo.

by Kunk (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:18pm

While the Big Ten may be helping its cause by not staging a championship game, does anyone think that the B10 is hurting itself by ending its season before Thanksgiving?

Say the UM-tOSU game (as well as the rest of the Big Ten slate) gets played the same weekend as the SEC championship. Assuming the same results, does Florida still make the "title" game over Michigan?

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 12:56pm

Wouldn’t you rather have had another SEC game than that Florida-Western Kentucky game late in the season? I’d have rather seen Ohio State play Wisconsin than one of those bad teams they beat the tar out of. Maybe the NCAA can get involved and force them to make that a conference game, but they won’t.

The Big Ten would have to add two conference games, unless they had one team playing all 10 other teams and the rest playing just 9. The current setup is deeply flawed, however (I can't wait until Iowa goes 8-0 one of the next two years).

by Joe (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:02pm

I hate instant replay no matter how it's applied. Let the refs call the game.

We'll find out if the SEC is the best conference or not. They haven't proven a thing this year as far as I'm concerned. I think Tennessee over Cal is the only SEC win over a nonconference opponent in the top 25.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:05pm

I think that if Michigan loses to Ohio State on the same day that Florida wins the SEC title, there's no question that Florida goes to the "title" game. The computer rankings won't change, but the polls certainly will. I wouldn't be surprised if the primary criteria used by many voters is the presence of a W or an L in the Last Game column.

I don't think it would be a good idea for the Big Ten to move that entire set of games a week or so. Let them finish their schedule as they normally would. As Russell pointed out, what they're doing seems to be working pretty well. After all, Michigan still made a BCS game easily; the fact that they didn't make the "title" game just means they didn't get an extra bonus.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:27pm

I agree with zlionsfan - if Michigan lost on the same day that Florida won the SEC title, Michigan would have had zero shot - it wouldn't have been nearly as close as it was.

The "problem" with what happened this time wasn't that Florida overtook Michigan, it was that Michigan fans could say "Hey, before today you thought we were better, but now despite us doing nothing we're worse?" Now, that's not necessarily a good argument, but it can be made. One website (I think Fox Sports?) called it the Brad Banks syndrome, after the Iowa quarterback who seemed a "lock" for the Heisman, but the Big 10 season ended early enough that Carson Palmer had the sole spotlight in torching Notre Dame, and everyone forgot about him.

However, if Michigan lost and Florida won on the same day, then it's simplicity itself to move Florida ahead and one can't complain about everyone 'forgetting' about a performance.

It's the inconsistencies in the polls, and the fact that Michigan remained #2 immediately afterward yet dropped later, that caused the 'controversy'. Had Michigan lost on the same day as Florida, there would have been less controversy in the result.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 1:46pm

Re #12: The Big East was ranked ahead of the Big Ten by a lot of the computer rankings, and OSU didn't have to play the #3 team in the Big Ten. And the bottom 4 teams in the Big Ten - MSU, Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois - were all ranked below the worst team in the Big East (Syracuse).

by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 2:12pm


It was Stewart Mandel of SI who termed the "Brad Banks" effect.

by oljb (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 2:21pm

BC Eagle, you're just feeling buyer's remorse over joining the ACC.

by Travis (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 2:24pm

And Brad Banks was anything but a "lock" for the Heisman - the weekly Rocky Mountain News Heisman poll on November 18, 2002, right after Banks' final game, went:

1. Willis McGahee
2. Chris Brown
3. Ken Dorsey
4. Byron Leftwich
5. Banks
6. Palmer

Banks did not lead the poll during any week of the season.

by navin (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 5:49pm

Re: 26,
I believe Georgia Tech and Clemson were ranked when they lost to SEC teams. Clemson probably will be again if they win their bowl game.

by BC Eagle (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 6:21pm

Can I have my regional rivals back, please?

by Derek (not verified) :: Tue, 12/12/2006 - 11:37pm

Heisman Info - 2002

1) Carson Palmer (Sr.), QB, USC
Season Stats: 288-of-458 (63%) for 3,639 yards, 32 TDs, 10 INTs
Heisman Points: 1,328

2) Brad Banks (Sr.), QB, Iowa
Season Stats: 155-of 258 (60%) for 2,369 yards, 25 TDs, 4 INTs. 74 rushes for 399 yards and 5 TDs rushing.
Heisman Points: 1,095

Larry Johnson (Sr.), Willis McGahee (So.), and Ken Dorsey (Sr.) finished 3,4,5.

by peachy (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 12:24am

#28 - Michigan didn't remain second in the BCS-involved polls after the OSU game; it went from #2 to #3 in both and dropped from #1 to #2 in the computers. It did stay #2 in the AP (although the margin narrowed greatly) but for this discussion the AP doesn't matter. The same thing happened in the BCS as a whole. The next week, while Michigan was idle, USC jumped it in the BCS, having moved from #3 to #2 in the computers and increased its margin in the human polls. In the penultimate standings, USC was #2 across the board, Michigan #3 and Florida #4. When USC vacated all the #2 spots after losing to UCLA, it was a race between Michigan and Florida to fill them; but the AP was the only poll in which UF actually bumped Michigan from a #2 spot it held going into the weekend.

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 1:40am

Mike Hart is a good collegiate RB on a good team. Sounds like a Heisman candidate to me. He is also one of the best RBs I have seen this year as well.

by Travis (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 3:46am

Re: 35

Johnson, McGahee, and Dorsey finished 3, 4, and 5, but a close 3, 4, and 5 - each received at least 100 first place votes out of the 922 cast. In my opinion, McGahee would have won if he weren't 1) a sophomore and 2) had his votes impacted by Dorsey. (Yes, their combined vote totals don't add up to Palmer's, but Miami had a campaign all set for Dorsey, and did ridiculous things to boost his candidacy like attempting throwback passes to Dorsey on the 1-yard line, when McGahee was on the verge of scoring his seventh touchdown in the Virginia Tech game.)

Fun fact: the only QB from an Iowa school to lead the weekly Heisman poll in 2002 was Seneca Wallace.

by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 7:17am

#25: I know the Big 10 won't play a full round-robin schedule, but they could be closer to it if they played 9 conference games, just like the SEC and ACC could be closer, and the Big 12. I don't know what kind of schedule Iowa has, but recently in the Pac 10, before this year, there had been a chance for two teams to go undefeated because they didn't play that year (Oregon and USC, notably), though Oregon choked an easy game away, per usual.

These SuperLeagues (12 team conferences) aren't going to play a full round robin, but when the NCAA gave an extra game, it seems to punish the Pac 10 to play a 9 game conference schedule and let the other leagues only play 8, doesn't it? I know I'd have rather had Oregon State play Midwest Valley PolyTech State than to play Washington State, or even Stanford (who was awful, but better than if we had scheduled Temple most likely).

I'm sure the conferences will never do it on their own, since that easy payday and getting a win closer to making a bowl is too much for them to pass up, but the NCAA should make them, or the Pac 10 should not make their schools (even though I like the idea, we have little exposure on the East Coast aside from USC as it is, and don't need to beat each other up even more).

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 11:40am

It was the Pac-10's choice to play a 9th conference game, not something forced upon them. The Pac-10 commissioner did not want 2 teams who did not play each other tie for the conference lead...despite it never happening in the history of the Pac-10 (or at least in a long time).

The 1-AA or crappy opponents played this year was because a lot of teams had to hurry and add a 12th team to their schedule. I know Alabama added Florida State to next year's schedule-but thats because the rest of their non-conference schedule is crap.

by Travis (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 1:51pm

#25: I know the Big 10 won’t play a full round-robin schedule, but they could be closer to it if they played 9 conference games, just like the SEC and ACC could be closer, and the Big 12.

What I meant was this: The Big 10 has 11 teams, and you can't have all 11 teams play a 9-game schedule (meaning each doesn't play 1 other team). An illustration:

Team #1 doesn't play Team #2.
Team #3 doesn't play Team #4.
Team #5 doesn't play Team #6.
Team #7 doesn't play Team #8.
Team #9 doesn't play Team #10.
Team #11 has no one left to not play.

I don’t know what kind of schedule Iowa has, but recently in the Pac 10, before this year, there had been a chance for two teams to go undefeated because they didn’t play that year (Oregon and USC, notably), though Oregon choked an easy game away, per usual.

Iowa doesn't play Ohio State or Michigan each of the next two years. People, however, will perceive them to be playing a "Big Ten schedule," with the requisite poll bump.

by MRH (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:23pm

If B10 teams can't play a 9 game schedule, play a ten game schedule.

SEC scheduling is a joke. Same with ACC/B12.

My question is, if conference "X" football is so good, why not have as much of it as possible? Play all the teams. If that eliminates some traditional non-conference rival, well then go back to the traditional conference (good luck drawing the line in the sand on when that was...).

BTW, one service academy (Army) doesn't play triple-option offense. The last timme they were competitive, they did. But they don't now.

by Peter Libero (not verified) :: Wed, 12/13/2006 - 2:51pm

I'm not convinced McFadden will win, as that would require Arkansas to win the SEC, which I don't think they'll be able to do. The Heisman goes to the best junior or senior QB or RB on one of the best teams in the country, so really Heisman picks are based on predicted success of teams and not players. In light of that, some better candidates:

John David Booty, USC
Steve Slaton, WVU (better go undefeated though)
Mike Hart, Michigan (Same thing)
Brian Brohm, Louisville
Jamarcus Russell, LSU

I struggle to imagine better choices... all of those teams will be in the national title picture, and thus the hype machine will be in full effect. Guaranteed, just as we knew Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, and Troy Smith, we are familiar with the Heisman winner already, and most of the nation doesn't know Colt Brennan (however deserving) or DeSean Jackson. Not to mention Cal is a lock to lose a game or two and no one will validate Hawaii even if they go undefeated.

by Brian (not verified) :: Thu, 12/14/2006 - 12:30am

"Not sure how similar the Wing-T is to the single wing."

The Wing T starts as the old T formation, with 3 backs line up horizontally in the backfield, except one of them splits out either into the slot, flank, or what would now be called the H-back position (that's where its name originates from). It uses a ton of fakes and misdirections, but isn't reliable in the passing game as plays take a while to develop and there isn't much speed on the field, except for the halfback and fullback. A lot of dives, sweeps and screens are run from the Wing-T.

In the single wing, all the backs except the fullback are blocking backs, and it is the fullback's responsibility to either run or throw the ball (usually run). The single wing plays take a long time to develop and use a series of double-team blocks to crack holes in the defense. The passing game is almost non-existent as all the backs are in the backfield, and any ends are split in tight and used for blocking.