In today's special bowl edition, we will look at some storylines out of the Fiesta Bowl. Plus, we will look at other bowl games (particularly those involving Big Ten teams) and we will take just a real quick glance at next season's teams to watch.
Here we go:
The Fiesta Bowl
* When you are wrong, you have to be man enough to admit it.
I was wrong.
I picked Kansas State to win the Fiesta Bowl 24-20. I did not believe OSU would be able to move the ball on K-State and, after watching Michigan steamroll OSU, I was skeptical about the Buckeyes' ability to contain the Wildcats' running game.
OSU got no respect from anybody (again) and its fans were probably outnumbered two-to-one easily in Tempe by the Purple Horde. But on game night, the Buckeyes played an engaging, entertaining (almost too entertaining) brand of football that may have been among its best games all year -- right there with Washington and, uh, …
As it turned out, OSU had too much pride to just go away quietly. The team's 26 seniors -- 11 of them starters in this game -- did not allow the Buckeyes to falter.
"We were playing for our pride," said quarterback Craig Krenzel. "We were playing for a win and to go out on top. There's no such thing as an easy win for Ohio State."
Krenzel admitted the Buckeyes were tired of hearing questions about their motivation.
"This group of seniors, we fielded questions all week about, `How are you emotionally going to get up for this game when there is nothing on the line?' " Krenzel said. "We found that to be kind of a slap in the face. We did not want to be a senior class that contributed to a national championship and went out losing their last two games.
"We kind of took that as a personal statement. The whole team backed us up. We went out and played for our pride tonight, to show that we belong in a BCS bowl and to show that we belong playing the best guys in the country."
The Buckeyes figure to get their respect when the final polls come out as they likely will finish third behind USC (No. 1 in AP, No. 2 coaches poll) and LSU (No. 1 in the coaches poll, No. 2 AP). This will be OSU's second straight top-five finish and 15th since the advent of the AP poll in 1936. It also marks OSU's first back-to-back top-five finishes since ending the 1973-75 seasons in the AP top five.
* There is hypocrisy and then there is Kansas State hypocrisy.
Wow, Kansas State set a new low when it comes to ethics with coach Bill Snyder's decision to start quarterback Ell Roberson just 40 hours after he was accused of sexual assault by a former K-State student stemming from an incident at the team's hotel.
The alleged attack occurred at about 3 a.m. two nights before the Fiesta Bowl. News of Roberson's legal predicament leaked at midday on New Years' Day. K-State immediately went into damage control, refusing to announce whether Roberson would play or start against Ohio State.
The next day, KSU athletic director Tim Weiser announced that the school's probe into the allegations revealed they were baseless and Snyder had ruled that Roberson would play in that evening's games.
I tell you what: If I was the Maricopa County prosecuting attorney, I'd be glad that K-State has absolved Roberson of all wrongdoing. He can knock off early this week and go play some golf or do something.
Really, how does Tim Weiser know Roberson was innocent of any criminal activity? Was he in the room when the whatever you want to call it (Roberson refers to it as "consensual sex") occurred?
Of course, that ridiculous statement was followed by Snyder's decision not only to play Roberson but to start him. There were cheers and some loud boos as K-State's celebrated No. 3 took the field to start the game. (The worst of it came from OSU fans in the north end zone, presumably students, who chanted "No means no.")
Obviously, Roberson did not have his best game, but that is besides the point. He certainly should not have started, although I think it was probably O.K. to at least play.
Afterwards, Snyder was in complete spin control mode, almost incredulous that reporters were inquiring about the discipline (or lack thereof).
"A great deal of investigation by our administration gave me information that led us to believe that Ell Roberson was not guilty of what he was … implicated in," Snyder said. "Considering that, it was my decision to allow him to play in the ballgame. That doesn't mean that there is not some discipline to take place."
Discipline for an outgoing senior making his last appearance? Again, I have to point out how ridiculous that statement is. Hey, Coach, what are you going to do, withhold his varsity letter or something? The only thing I noticed was Roberson did not join fellow captains Josh Buhl and Rashad Washington for the coin toss. Now that's real discipline.
I can only recall what Jim Tressel did with Steve Bellisari in November 2001 when the quarterback was arrested for drunken driving on almost the same timeline -- two nights before a big game with Illinois. Tressel suspended Bellisari for the Illinois game and, effectively, for the Michigan game as well.
As I noted, I am probably O.K. with the fact that Roberson played in the game. In his defense, he has not been criminally charged and, in defense of his team, all of its preparation had been with Roberson working as the quarterback.
But the timing is bad -- 3:30 a.m. two nights before a bowl game? Are there no consequences for breaking training or curfew or are those just loose guidelines? Stripping his captaincy meant nothing. Starting Roberson sent a sign that everything that happened was O.K. with Snyder and the K-State administration.
* Ohio State certainly missed Maurice Clarett this past season. I think the Fiesta Bowl showed how much they also missed fullback Branden Joe.
Joe became a key part of the OSU offense in the second half of the bowl game as the Buckeyes were trying to salt the game away. He ended up nearly matching his totals from the regular season of 16 carries and 53 yards by finishing the Fiesta Bowl with 11 carries for 46 yards.
The 6-0, 245-pound Joe missed the first four games of the year due to a torn pectoral muscle. Then, he had nagging injuries the rest of the way, limiting his availability.
"We would have liked to have had Branden Joe doing that type of stuff all year," Tressel said. "But you know, he had the injury preseason and missed a few games. Then, he kind of tried to rush back a bit. Then, he had a little bit of a hamstring problem in the last game or two. So we really didn't get to use Branden Joe."
Returning to full health, Joe split time with Lydell Ross at tailback during bowl preparation. Joe liked having the ball but admits, "I'm a fullback."
But Joe did enjoy being such a big part in this win, even if it didn‘t happen until the season‘s 13th game.
"It could have happened in the 10th game, first game or second game," he said. "It's just an honor for me to touch it and hopefully give it to the ref after the play and go back to the huddle.
"I think I opened up a couple of eyes. Hopefully this game will put some confidence in them to call it. Hopefully it will open some doors for all of us, me and the other guys, because they can all run."
* Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman could beam a little bit after OSU mustered four offensive touchdowns against the nation's fourth-best defense against the score. So Bollman was in a good mood and allowed himself to look toward next season, when he will need to find three new starters on the offensive line to go with tackle Rob Sims and center Nick Mangold.
"I will have some guys to work with," Bollman said. "I don't see a big dropoff. We'll be O.K."
Specifically, Bollman mentioned Doug Datish (has been backing up Mangold at center), Mike Kne (fifth-year senior coming back), Tim Schafer (converted defensive lineman working at tackle) and T.J. Downing. Plus, Bollman said there are hopes that Adam Olds will rebound from arthroscopic hip surgery.
"(His return) remains to be seen," Bollman said. "We want to see how he comes back from hip surgery. You hope he's not done, but we'll have to see."
* Did anybody note the symbolism that as one great athlete (Chris Gamble) was making his OSU swan song at the Fiesta Bowl, Tressel and Co. added another great athlete (Ted Ginn Jr.) just 16 hours later?
It is premature to say that Ginn will squeeze right into the lineup in place of Gamble at cornerback. But his presence next fall will certainly be welcomed.
I will have more on my thoughts on OSU in 2004 in this week's Buckeye Grove and we'll have more in the February edition of Bucknuts The Magazine.
Headlines From Other Bowls
* Congratulations to Minnesota and coach Glen Mason for winning the Sun Bowl 31-30 over Oregon. Rhys Lloyd, nicknamed Winston Churchill because of his British accent, hit the game winning field goal. In one of the funny moments of the postseason, Mason had to admit to CBS' red hot Jill Arrington that he promised Lloyd he would "drop trou" if he made the kick.
Uh, Coach, that's how Mike Price got in trouble.
Ten wins at Minnesota? Believe it.
* At the Outback Bowl, Iowa routed Florida 37-17 behind Fred Russell's 150 yards and one touchdown. Iowa ended a 45-year drought in winning January bowl games and had back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. The noose around Florida coach Ron Zook's neck got tighter after another 8-5 finish (and Steve Spurrier's departure from the Washington Redskins).
* At the Capital One Bowl, Purdue rallied from down 24-0 before falling to Georgia 34-27 in overtime. The game was eerily similar to the 2000 Outback Bowl, where Georgia rallied from a 25-0 deficit to win 28-25.
* At the Rose Bowl, USC did to Michigan what Michigan did to Ohio State, rolling over the Wolverines 28-14 to apparently capture the AP poll national championship. QB Matt Leinart threw three TD passes and also caught one from star receiver Mike Williams for the Trojans. After crushing OSU, Michigan managed just 49 yards rushing against USC.
* Rematches from the regular season can be bad (Maryland's 41-7 rout of West Virginia in the Gator after the Terps won 34-7 earlier) or good (Miami's 16-14 win over new ACC rival Florida State after the ‘Canes won 22-14 earlier). Miami won its fifth straight game over FSU.
* LSU locked up the coaches poll national title by gutting out a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl last night. The Tigers forced Heisman winner Jason White into eight straight incompletions to end the game as OU twice threatened in the last six minutes. Plus, LSU freshman Justin Vincent had 117 yards and a touchdown and defensive end Marcus Spears returned a White pass for a touchdown.
The win gave the Tigers their first national title in 45 years, and it happened in front of 40,000 or more fans in New Orleans -- just 80 miles from the Baton Rouge campus.
* My final top 15 -- LSU (they're just better and they played a better schedule than USC), USC, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Michigan, Georgia, Iowa, Texas, Tennessee, Florida State, Washington State, Miami (Ohio), Purdue and Boise State.
Here are 15 teams to watch around the country for next season (in no particular order):
* Oklahoma -- White will chase a second Heisman (doubt he gets many first-place votes from Ohio out of respect for Archie Griffin). He could be among as many as 16 starters.
* USC -- Leinart will be, perhaps, White's biggest pursuer for the Heisman. He and Mike Williams (as well as Reggie Bush and LenDale White) give the Trojans so many play makers. They could have 14 starters back.
* Georgia -- The Bulldogs will try and build off their thrilling bowl win and will have 18 starters (including QB David Greene) back. They also host LSU and Tennessee in the SEC.
* LSU -- This must be a recurring theme but the Tigers also have their QB, Matt Mauck, back. He would be among a potential 19 returning starters attempting to defend their share of the title.
* Texas -- We always put Mack Brown on this list and his teams almost always can't get out of October without a loss to Oklahoma. But rangy QB Vince Young and star RB Cedric Benson would be among 14 returning starters.
* Florida State -- We always put Bobby Bowden on this list, but his team appears to have a big mental block where Miami (Fla.) is concerned. The teams will meet on Monday Night Football in their first-ever ACC meeting Sept. 6 at the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles could have 15 starters back, led by QB Chris Rix and, potentially, star WR Craphonso Thorpe.
* Miami (Fla.) -- There will be no more Kellen Winslow Jr., but QB Brock Berlin will be among a potential 14 returning starters. Who will win the first "Expanded ACC" championship.
* Michigan -- No more John Navarre or Chris Perry. But Matt Gutierrez will likely replace Navarre at QB. Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston give UM star power at receiver. Marlin Jackson could also be back at safety, giving UM 13 returning starters.
* Iowa -- Kirk Ferentz really has this program going well now. But he'll only have 10 returning starters. He needs a new QB as well as replacements for Russell at TB and Bob Sanders at safety. But LBs Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge will power the defense.
* Clemson -- Great bowl win over Tennessee gives Tommy Bowden job security. He should have 16 returning starters back.
* Ohio State -- The Fiesta Bowl win may cement OSU as a preseason top-10 or maybe even top-five pick for 2004. But that ranking will belie the fact that OSU will only have nine returning starters (five offense, four defense).
* Tennessee -- Another embarrassing bowl defeat for the Vols in Atlanta has to have the UT faithful scratching their heads. There will be as many as 12 starters back, but they need to replace QB Casey Clausen.
* Kansas State -- The return of almost 2,000-yard rusher Darren Sproles will mean a lot. He figures to be among 11 returning starters. But K-State loses a ton with QB Ell Roberson, LB Josh Buhl and WR James Terry, among others, departing.
* Florida -- Time for Zook to deliver or go, likely. He only has seven returning starters, including just two on defense (ouch). But QB Chris Leak will grow up a lot between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
* Purdue -- The Boilers will base their hopes on a strong offense, keyed by nine returning starters including QB Kyle Orton, RB Jerod Void and WR Taylor Stubblefield. Three starters are also back on defense.
I'm sure somebody will come out of nowhere to contend for Big Ten (did somebody say Penn State?) or national honors (Auburn or Washington State or Washington or Nebraska -- could they find a coach, please?).
Recapping My Picks
Recapping my picks on the Buckeye Grove forum for the last part of the bowls, I was 13-6 straight-up and 11-8 against the spread. For all of the bowls that made me 21-6 straight-up and 18-9 against-the-spread.
For the season, I was 180-65 straight-up and 127-115-3 against-the-spread.
I was proud during these last 19 bowl picks that I picked 5 pointspread underdogs to win their games outright and they did (Fresno State, Boston College, Iowa, Miami and Clemson).
As I felt, two of the most obvious picks were Maryland -3 1/2 against WVU and Miami plus-2 against FSU. Both good as gold. I missed the straight-up winners in the Fiesta and Sugar Bowls, but had both winners against-the-spread (that should count for something, shouldn't it?).
See you in August with the next installment (of the Picks and Sunday Morning QB).