Despite its drama, the Fiesta Bowl couldn't have ended any other way
After leading at halftime, Buckeyes began a familiar BCS fade
Texas proved that it might be the nation's best one-loss team
Ohio State's loss gave the reeling Big Ten a 1-6 record in bowl play
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's become a storyline as cliché as boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end.
Only for Ohio State, its romantic comedy has devolved into a horror film where the Buckeyes get the lead, lose the lead and continually fall short in the end. It's a script they've followed the past three years in BCS bowls, although this year's episode provided the most heart-wrenching finale.
The happy ending was dashed when Texas wide receiver Quan Cosby shook off Ohio State safety Anderson Russell in the middle of the field and ran into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown with 16 seconds to go to give Texas a dramatic 24-21 win at the Fiesta Bowl.
Through three quarters, Ohio State followed the script perfectly. After taking a 6-3 halftime lead, it began to fade in the second half as it had during its last two BCS blowouts, watching Texas take a 17-6 lead that looked as if it would only grow. That's when the Buckeyes were supposed to exit stage left and allow Texas to run away with the win just like Florida and LSU had the past two years. Only this time, they reversed the script. They didn't go away. They planned to leave with the girl this time.
Ohio State scored 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take a 21-17 lead with less than two minutes to go that seemed about as improbable as senior quarterback Todd Boeckman connecting with his freshman replacement, Terrelle Pryor, for a touchdown. It was playing out to be a storybook ending for the Buckeyes before quarterback Colt McCoy and Texas won the game on a last-minute drive -- just as Texas Tech had done earlier this season in knocking the Longhorns of the national-championship picture.
"It was a dream come true," Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo said. "When you are a kid, you dream of making plays towards the fourth quarter. Quan made a great catch. Colt made a great throw. Man, it's a story you can write a book about with this 2008 University of Texas team."
While Ohio State did its best to reverse its current trend of three straight losses in the BCS and the Big Ten's now six-game losing streak in BCS bowls, Texas did its best to prove that the best one-loss team in the country may not be in Miami Beach right now.
"I think this is the best team in the country, that's why I'm going to vote us No. 1," said Texas coach Mack Brown, echoing the sentiments USC coach Pete Carroll and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about their teams after their recent bowl wins. "I don't think anybody can beat Texas right now."
That's right, move over USC. Step aside Utah. The "What If" club just got a little bigger heading into Thursday's BCS National Championship Game between Oklahoma and Florida.
If all publicity is good publicity, then the BCS has been great for college football, but in a Britney Spears/Lindsay Lohan/Paris Hilton kind of way. Yes, we talk about it ad nauseam, but never in a positive light. Any conversation about the topic is usually pointless and leaves you with an empty feeling.
In what system does an undefeated team that beat six bowl teams, including the No. 1 team for the last half of the season, have no shot at the title? In what system does a former No. 1 team that only played one bad half in September and would be favored to win the national championship by every sports book have no chance to win the championship? And in what system does another former No. 1 team that loses one game on one freaky play get passed over for a title shot in favor of a team it beat on a neutral field by 10 points? It's a system so absurd and illogical that only Paris Hilton might be able to understand it.
Now Texas will not (I repeat: WILL NOT) win a share of the national championship. Yes, it has a strong argument if Oklahoma beats Florida to finish with the same record as the Longhorns, with Texas still holding that 45-35 trump card from October.
Texas will find out that the card has expired. Had it beaten USC, Utah, Alabama or even Penn State, there might be an argument. But beating Ohio State in January, as great as the Fiesta Bowl played out to be, is sort of like beating Kimbo Slice. Sure, it's a "name" opponent, but does it really mean anything at this point?
The loss was yet another stinging blow for an Ohio State program that desperately needed to redeem itself after two straight BCS embarrassments. Perhaps never before had a team entered a game with more at stake for its program and its conference. The Fiesta Bowl wasn't just a statement game for the Buckeyes, who had been blown out of the last two BCS National Championship Games by nearly three touchdowns each time. It was a statement game for the Big Ten, too.
To say that the Big Ten has struggled lately in bowl games would be as obvious as saying the economy has hit a rough patch. There has never been less confidence in the Big Ten, historically one of the strongest conferences in college football. Utah was given a better shot of beating Alabama than Ohio State was of beating Texas, or Penn State was of beating USC. That the conference finished the bowl season at 1-6 isn't surprising, as it is now commonplace for a league that hasn't had a winning record in bowl games since 2002 -- going 15-23 since Ohio State beat Miami for the national championship in a game that seems like a lifetime ago.
Despite its struggles, no conference has benefited more financially from the current BCS set-up than the Big Ten, which has sent the maximum allotted two teams to the BCS in each of the last four years and five of the last six. Although many pundits bemoaned another Ohio State BCS appearance, the truth is the only other viable options were Boise State and TCU.
That most college football fans outside of Ohio would have rather seen a mid-major from the Mountain West or the WAC play in the BCS rather than Ohio State should tell you all you need to know about the backlash against the Buckeyes. It was the same feeling most had at the prospect Penn State playing for the national championship, and we saw how that likely would have played out.
While Ohio State came into the Fiesta Bowl as a 10-point underdog and was given little chance to win, it outplayed Texas for most of the game, being done in largely by third quarter that saw the Longhorns not only score two touchdowns, but gain 14 first downs to Ohio State's zero.
But in the fourth quarter, the combination of Boeckman, who passed for 110 yards and one touchdown, and the Vince Young-like elusiveness of Pryor nearly won the game. Then McCoy took over and put together an 11-play, 78-yard drive in 1:42 that would culminate in the most dramatic game-winner Texas had seen since Young scrambled into the end zone at the Rose Bowl three years ago to win the national championship.
"On that last play when they brought everybody, [Quan] kind of said over and over, 'If I catch the same look, give me a slant, give me a slant behind the linebacker,'" said McCoy, who completed a Fiesta Bowl record 41 of 59 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns. "If he comes, you just make that (guy) miss, we will score. I gave him a good ball and he made the play."
Of course he did. In the end, as intriguing as Ohio State made it, you knew how it was going to end. The same way it always does for Ohio State and the Big Ten -- with Buckeyes leaving empty handed, no matter how much hope they gave you that it would finish any other way.