Addressing the Utah situation, OSU's wasted talent and more (cont.)
Knowing what we know thus far in the bowl season, do you think USC was robbed a spot in the national championship game? After all, Florida lost at home and Oklahoma lost on a neutral field. USC lost at Oregon State, a team that is not that bad after all.
USC may well be the best team in the country at this point -- but the Trojans weren't "robbed" of anything. Once you lose a game, you put your destiny in the hands of the voters, who this year had the unenviable task of ranking seven different one-loss teams from the major conferences. USC got discounted because the Pac-10, 5-0 bowl record or not (we'll get to that in a moment), simply wasn't that good, and because its offense underachieved for much of the season -- as reinforced by what you saw from Mark Sanchez and Co. in the Rose Bowl.
I don't necessarily disagree with Pete Carroll's lofty postgame assessment of his team. I wouldn't go so far as to say "nobody can beat the Trojans," but they'd definitely have as good a shot as anybody in a playoff right now. Unfortunately, Carroll seems to coach his team as if there is a playoff waiting at the end. It's great that USC plays so well in bowl games, but if the Trojans played like that during the regular season, too, they wouldn't have to put themselves at the mercy of the voters.
Stewart, Texas has a great team, but do you feel the Ohio State coaching staff blew the game as well. I am not sure what they were thinking blitzing all three linebackers on the last play, leaving the middle of the defensive backfield wide open.
I'm not a football coach, so I generally avoid trying to dissect play-calls and defensive schemes. (I'd be the first one to tell you I don't know what I'm talking about.) I will say, however, that while Ohio State obviously made the game much more competitive than many of us were anticipating, watching it only reinforced to me just how badly Jim Tressel and Co. wasted their talent over the past three years.
Unlike most people, I never believed there to be as gigantic a talent discrepancy between the Buckeyes and Florida/LSU/USC as the scores of their games indicated, and I don't think there was much of any between Ohio State and Texas. But the Buckeyes did have two pretty significant holes the past few years -- their offensive line and their secondary (outside of Malcolm Jenkins) -- both of which the 'Horns exploited late in the game.
Tressel and his staff never did figure out a way to mask those deficiencies. The Todd Boeckman-Terrelle Pryor package was their big wrinkle for the Texas game, and while it did pay off with the one, big touchdown, for the most part it seemed distracting and counterproductive. The Buckeyes pretty much dominated the first half, yet led just 6-3.
It will be interesting to see what direction OSU takes in the next couple of years. The Buckeyes obviously have a tremendous talent on their hands in Pryor, but there's only so much he can do without the pieces in place around him and a staff that trusts him to throw downfield.
You've said in the past that bowl game performances aren't accurate indicators of where a team is going next year. However, you have to note the 5-0 Pac-10 record in bowl games this year. Does that mean the Pac-10 was underrated this year after an overall dismal September, or that they may be at or near the strongest conference in the country next year? Or is it just another bowl season fluky statistic to be ignored?
I certainly commend the Pac-10 on its achievement. If there were a trophy for such a thing, I wouldn't blame league officials for displaying it prominently in the front lobby. But I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Non-championship bowl games are indicative of almost nothing. They are a season unto themselves. I know everyone wants to make great, sweeping generalizations based off a conference's bowl record, but you can't just look at the numbers. You have to take into account whether the matchups were even, which team was more excited to be there, injuries, suspensions, coaching changes, home-field advantages, etc., etc.
With all that said, here's what I learned from the Pac-10's five bowl wins:
That USC, as I suspected, is really, really good.
That Oregon, as first evidenced in its Arizona and Oregon State games, really caught fire at the end of the season. The Ducks struggled early on as juco QB Jeremiah Masoli basically had to learn the offense on the fly, but by the end they were every bit as powerful as last year's team.
That on a bizarre, windy day in El Paso, Texas, Oregon State managed to make a field goal and Pittsburgh did not.
That Cal and N.C. State share something in common: They both beat Miami at home.
That if Arizona played in the Mountain West ... it would probably have the same exact record. The Wildcats proved capable of both beating 10-2 BYU and losing to 4-8 New Mexico.
Meanwhile, the wins by those five teams did nothing to change the fact that the league's other five teams were flat-out terrible this season, with Washington and Washington State easily the two worst BCS-conference teams in the country. This is why, even though USC passes the eyeball test as a possible national champion, it's hard to justify voting them No. 1. Their best wins of the season came against the Big Ten.