The only news was Duke's decision to give Interim Head Coach Ted Roof the permanent job. Roof took over the Blue Devils for the final 5 games and led them to a 2-3 record including a big win over rival North Carolina.
Was it all that shocking that Kansas State upset #1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on Saturday night? All 3 of the Wildcats' losses were by less than a TD, and two were on the road against ranked teams (Texas and Oklahoma State). Oklahoma meanwhile was virtually assured of retaining their #1 spot in the BCS standings no matter what happened. It would be natural for the Sooners to already be thinking ahead to Bourbon St. and a National Championship. The Sooners jumped off to an immediate lead when Kejuan Jones scampered 42 yards on their 4th play from scrimmage. They had a chance to go up 10-0, but Trey DiCarlo missed a 44-yard field goal, only his 2nd miss of the season. That seemed to energize Kansas St. Darren Sproles bolted for 55 yards on the 1st play following the missed FG, setting up the tying TD – a 19-yard pass from El Roberson to Brian Casey. From that point on, it was all Wildcats as they scored 4 more TDs to shock the Sooners, 35-7. Roberson threw 3 more TD passes, a 60 yarder to Sproles, a 63 yarder to James Terry, and a 10-yard toss to Antoine Polite. The Wildcats' final score came in the 4th quarter when Ted Sims intercepted a Jason White pass and returned it 27 yards. In addition to Roberson's passing, the Wildcats displayed a strong ground game as well with Sproles running around and through the vaunted Sooner defense for 235 yards. Jason White's grip on the Heisman Trophy loosened somewhat as he failed to rally the Sooners. He was 27-50 for 298 yards, no TDs, and two costly interceptions.
USC took care of business as they methodically pounded Oregon State, 52-28. Sophomore QB Matt Leinart had another huge game, throwing 5 TD passes. Trailing 14-7, the Beavers were driving for a possible tying score when QB Derek Anderson tossed an errant pass that was returned for a TD. After another Trojan TD, the Beavers pulled to within 14 points on an Anderson TD pass just before halftime. The Trojans came out in the 2nd half and took full control of the game behind Leinert's passing.
LSU made their case for a trip downriver from Baton Rouge to New Orleans by trouncing Georgia 34-13 in the SEC Championship game in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. The Tigers had previously defeated the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge by a 17-10 score, with the winning score coming on a TD pass from Matt Mauck to Skyler Green with just over 1 minute left. This time, the Tigers dominated throughout, despite a heavily pro-Georgia crowd. Freshman RB Justin Vincent set the tone by galloping for an 87-yard TD run late in the 1st quarter. Vincent ran for a 2nd TD on the first play of the 4th quarter and finished with an SEC Championship Game record 201 rushing yards. Mauck threw a 43-yard TD pass to star WR Michael Clayton and LSU's powerful defense also recorded a TD on an 18-yard interception return by Lionel Turner. The Tigers defense picked off 2 more David Greene passes and sacked him five times.
Mississippi State made it official. As reported here last week, current Green Bay Packer assistant Sylvester Croom is the new head man in Starkville. Croom, a former star at Alabama, thus becomes the 1st black head coach in SEC history. Croom just announced his first two staff positions; Amos Jones as Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach and Freddie Kitchens as Running Backs Coach.
- Miami (Ohio) claimed the MAC Championship with a decisive 49-27 road victory over Bowling Green on Thursday night. This was the RedHawks' 1st MAC title since 1986. MAC Player of the Year junior QB Ben Roethlisberger tossed 4 TD passes and completed 26-35 passes on the cold night. The big question in Oxford is whether he'll return for his senior year. Most draft gurus project that Roethlisberger will be the 1st or 2nd QB taken and is a certain 1st Round pick. Miami wisely gave Head Coach Terry Hoeppner a five-year contract extension (through the 2009 season) yesterday.
- In the WAC, Boise State completed a 12-1 season by surviving the distraction of the Honolulu beaches to defeat Hawaii by a 45-28 score. The only blemish on the Broncos' record was a close road loss to Oregon State. Boise State Head Coach Don Hawkins is a very hot property. He may be waiting to see if a PAC 10 job opens up at Washington, Stanford, or Arizona State. I'll be surprised if he's back on the blue turf in Boise next season.
- Navy completed a great turnaround season under 2nd year Head Coach Paul Johnson by drubbing Army, 34-6. The Middies finished with an 8-4 mark, a 6 game improvement over last season's 2-10 record. Army has the dubious distinction of being the first team in NCAA D1 history to finish with an 0-13 record. They will also be moving out of CUSA next season. Frank Solich, who was just fired by Nebraska, was contacted by Army to see if he had interest in their job. Solich reportedly took his name out of consideration.
- Finally, I had to say a few words about a D1AA Quarterfinal game on Saturday. Western Illinois and Colgate played a thrilling contest in blizzard conditions in Hamilton, N.Y. I admit I watched more of this game than the Notre Dame – Syracuse game. It was a real treat to see these kids play their hearts out in such awful weather, and to see so many fans brave the elements. It was a seesaw battle the entire game, with Colgate scoring a late TD to pull out a 28-27 win. The victory puts the undefeated Red Raiders into the D1AA Semi-Finals for the first time ever. The Red Raiders shouldn't have to worry about any snow in their next game. They'll be visiting Howard Schnellerberger's Florida Atlantic Owls, a 48-25 winner over Northern Arizona, on Saturday. The other Semi-Final contest has 13-1 Delaware hosting 12-1 Wofford.
Before I review the muddled BCS Bowl picture, let's take a quick look at some of the teams who did and did not receive invitations to the other 24 bowl games. Four teams with 6-6 records are "going bowling". They are: Kansas (Tangerine), Northwestern (Motor City), UCLA (Silicon Valley), and Georgia Tech (Humanitarian). Another six-loss team, California, is going to the Insight.Com Bowl, but the Golden Bears had 7 wins. I've always been of the opinion that a team that is no better than .500 does not deserve a bowl invitation. I also believe that wins against non-D1 schools should never count for bowl eligibility. Another school with somewhat dubious credentials going to a bowl (Houston Bowl) is Navy. The Midshipmen were 8-4, but one of their wins came over D1AA VMI and one of their four losses came against D1AA Delaware. Their only victory over a team with a winning record was against 7-5 Air Force.
Which deserving teams were left out? Clearly, the top two names are Connecticut and Northern Illinois. UConn ended up at 9-3. They had one win over a D1AA opponent (Lehigh), but also defeated some decent programs such as Wake Forest, Rutgers, and Akron. Their only 3 losses came against bowl-bound teams: Boston College, Virginia Tech, and N.C. State. Unless you're Notre Dame or a military academy, being an Independent is the kiss of death with the bowls. The Huskies will no longer have to worry about that, as they'll be in the Big East next season. Is it a coincidence that Northern Illinois' nickname is also the Huskies? They were ranked in the Top 25 most of the year and finished with an excellent 10-2 mark. They defeated Gator Bowl bound Maryland and also topped Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Two MAC teams are going to bowls, but this season at least one more deserved to go. After the two Huskies, it becomes more difficult to find worthy teams that were overlooked. The only three that come to mind are two more MAC teams (Marshall and Toledo, both 8-4) and 7-5 Air Force. This leads to the conclusion that we could easily do without a couple of the "minor bowls".
If you hate the BCS system or are just a sadist, you had to be thrilled with the outcome of last weekend's games. There are three one-loss BCS conference teams and only two teams can play for the BCS version of the National Championship. In my local newspaper (the Bergen County, N.J. Record), columnist John Rowe had this to say: "BCS coordinator Mike Tranghese now tells us the BCS will reexamine the system at its annual meeting in April. That's real comforting. As Big East commissioner, Tranghese never saw the ACC raid of his conference coming. Just as he and his cohorts never saw this BCS mess coming."
I agree with Rowe, to a point. Tranghese and the BCS committee are to blame, but they have lots of company. How about the commissioners of the other five BCS conferences and the presidents of all BCS schools? Let's also not forget to give a large share of the blame to the various bowl committee people who have always fought tooth and nail against any playoff system. You can make excellent arguments for which of the three top teams should have been left out of the Sugar Bowl. The BCS folks are praying that either Oklahoma or LSU wins decisively while USC loses to Michigan.
Personally, I'm hoping Santa brings me a delayed Christmas present. A close, sloppy, and inconclusive Sugar Bowl preceded by a decisive USC win over Michigan. This would result in a split National Champion in most fans' minds. And it could finally force much needed change to the BCS system.
There were some other unfortunate developments for the BCS. Kansas State's upset of Oklahoma knocked a deserving Texas team out of a BCS Bowl. It also created a terrible situation for the Orange Bowl, which is stuck with a Florida State – Miami rematch. Most fans would have greatly preferred to see Miami play Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Florida State vs. Kansas State would have made for an entertaining Fiesta Bowl. Too bad for the fans, and too sad for college football. It deserves much better leadership!
For what it's worth, my "Final Five" are:
- Larry Fitzgerald – I still haven't seen a better player this year, and that's who's supposed to win the trophy.
- Jason White – Had a great year, but couldn't help his team win when his defense didn't dominate.
- Matt Leinart – Came on very strong in the 2nd half of the year. Looks to be a better prospect than his predecessor, Carson Palmer.
- Chris Perry – Was consistent all year and had a huge game against Ohio State to help the Wolverines win the Big Ten title.
- Sean Taylor – Will not be in the official Final Five because he plays free safety, but is a top five talent.
- Eli Manning – Probably will make the official Final Five due to strong voting support from the South, but his numbers fall a bit short for me.
- Roy Williams (Texas)
- Mike Williams (USC)
- Kevin Jones
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Darren Sproles
- Another early season #1 took a fall as Kansas lost to Stanford, 64-58.
- #7 Arizona survived a major scare getting by St. Louis 68-67. The game looked to be going to OT when a review of a last second 3-point basket found that the Billiken's shooter had a toe across the 3 point line. The bucket was changed to a 2 pointer and the game was over, much to Lute Olson's relief. Arizona may have been looking ahead to their visit to #8 Texas on Tuesday, followed up with a home game against #24 Marquette on Saturday. The Billikens will have another chance for a big upset when they visit 7-0 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
- #9 Kentucky traveled to Pauley Pavilion and just got by Ben Howland's UCLA Bruins, 52-50.
- Twelth ranked St. Joseph's struggled by city rival Penn, 67-59.
- #17 Gonzaga won the BB&T Tournament by topping Maryland 82-68 in the semi-finals and overcoming George Washington, 96-91 in the finals.
- After losing 70-64 to George Washington in the semis, WVU surprised Maryland, 78-77 in OT in the 3rd Place game. WVU may be a surprise team in the Big East. On Tuesday, they defeated St. Louis 66-57.
- In one more game of note, Rhode Island shocked in-state rival Providence 89-79 on Saturday. Maybe it shouldn't have come as such a shock to the Friars, though. The Rams nearly upset Syracuse in the Dome the previous Saturday!
At this early stage, it appears that this will be another wide-open season with a number of teams having a chance at grabbing the brass ring. One thing's for sure, there will be no dispute when a National Champion is crowned!