College Football Overtime (cont.)
Nevada coach Chris Ault knew the television cameras were rolling, knew national writers were in the room, knew there would never be a better time to champion his long-overlooked program than in the moments following "the greatest victory this university has ever had," a 34-31 overtime upset of third-ranked Boise State late Friday night.
"We've been very, very good, although sometimes our community doesn't appreciate it or realize it," said Ault, who has gone 54-33 and invented the now-ubiquitous Pistol offense since beginning his third stint as Nevada coach in 2004. "We've been very competitive with the limited resources we have at this university financially and in terms of support. We've got to make the jump like Boise did a few years ago."
Nevada athletic director Cary Groth sat in the audience as Ault spoke.
Nevada's (11-1) breakthrough victory brought an end to the most feverishly debated topic of the season: Boise State's national title candidacy. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what long-term implications there may be.
As long as Chris Petersen is at the helm, Boise, much to the chagrin of SEC country, isn't going away anytime soon. One overtime road loss to a top 20 team doesn't suddenly render the Broncos chumps. They may not come close to another top two ranking anytime soon, but with next year's move to the Mountain West and a recently announced Chick-fil-A Kickoff date with Georgia, Boise will contend for a BCS bowl again in Kellen Moore's senior season. Like any good program, the Broncos will have to replace pieces, and some years will be better than others. But their status as a nationally relevant program isn't going to fade.
The question is whether Ault's program can put itself in similar position. It took four years of work by quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua -- who became the most productive rushing tandem in NCAA history during Friday's game -- to reach this pinnacle. Replacing them will be no small chore. But with the impending migration of the WAC's top programs to the Mountain West (Boise, Nevada, Fresno State and possibly Hawaii will all move over by 2012), it's a safe bet the league's champion will earn a BCS berth most seasons going forward, even if the MWC does not achieve automatic-qualifying status.
Ault's right about the importance of fan support. About a fourth of the 30,712 in attendance at Mackay Stadium were wearing orange. On the season, Nevada has averaged fewer than 20,000 per game. But with Utah and BYU leaving the Mountain West and TCU possibly following suit, Boise is going to need an adversary. Nevada now has the momentum to make it happen.
Rarely has the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State "Bedlam" game lived up to its moniker as vividly as it did Saturday night. The teams combined for 40 points in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma's Landry Jones threw for touchdowns of 86 and 76 yards. He and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden combined for six touchdowns and six interceptions.
When all was said and done, the Sooners (10-2) had prevailed, 47-41, with Jones finally earning his first signature road win and Bob Stoops earning his eighth trip to the Big 12 title game. The Cowboys (10-2) missed what may have been their last and best chance to win the division before the league goes to 10 teams next year.
All of which sets up a very fitting send off for Big 12 North champ and soon-to-be Big Ten member Nebraska, which faces one last showdown with its most competitive and historic Big 8 rival.
The Huskers head to Arlington with much of their fan base convinced that Big 12 officials will do anything in their power to keep Nebraska from winning a championship on its way out of town. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said the league decided not to send a representative to Lincoln to deliver the division trophy at last Friday's Colorado game after Nebraska fans flooded the league office with "very, very vile, vulgar, disgusting [e-mail and voice] messages," including a voice mail to Beebe that said, "If I see you on the street, I'm going to hit you in the head with a bottle and stab you."
Assuming things are on the up and up, the matchup should be fascinating from a football perspective. On the one hand, it's tough to pick against Stoops, who has gone 6-1 in his previous title-game appearances and whose team's offense is averaging 48.3 points over its past three games. On the other hand, Oklahoma will be going up against the nation's No. 2 pass defense, with Nebraska defensive backs Prince Amukamara, Eric Hagg, DeJon Gomes and Alfonzo Dennard just waiting to pounce on the slightest Jones misfire. (He's thrown 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.)
One thing's for certain: A possible trophy presentation featuring Beebe and Bo Pelini/Tom Osborne would be the must-see event of the year.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. For my projections of all 35 bowl games, click here.
Title game: Oregon vs. Auburn
Rose: Wisconsin vs. TCU
Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Stanford
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia
Sugar: Arkansas vs. Ohio State
The combination of Boise State's loss to Nevada and Arkansas' win over LSU had three effects: 1) It assured 12-0 TCU of an automatic at-large berth; 2) It gave Arkansas the inside track to the Sugar Bowl if Auburn beats South Carolina; 3) It moved Stanford into the top four of the BCS standings, thus guaranteeing the Cardinal an at-large berth as well.
What you see above is the ideal possible scenario, both in terms of matchups and geography, for all five bowls. However, if 7-4 Connecticut wins at 7-4 South Florida, or if 8-3 West Virginia loses to 4-7 Rutgers, the Huskies would become the Big East representative, in which case the Orange Bowl would almost certainly take the Cardinal instead. Also, if Florida State beats Virginia Tech in the ACC title game, the Orange might want to avoid a rematch of last year's FSU-West Virginia Gator Bowl.