College Football Overtime (cont.)
Will it be a little weird to see TCU purple in one of the Rose Bowl end zones on Jan. 1? Sure. Are the honchos in Pasadena miffed not to be getting Pac-10 runner-up Stanford? Not as much as you'd think.
Organizers have known all year they'd be getting a non-AQ team (provided the Big Ten or Pac-10 champion made the national championship game). Now that the day is here, and now that the matchup is AP No. 3 (TCU) vs. No. 4 (Wisconsin) -- everybody's pretty pumped, including the participants.
"We all strive to play for the national championship," said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson, "but we feel we're playing a team that's worthy of a national championship in Wisconsin. [The Badgers] are probably playing as good a football as anybody at the end of the season."
From a football perspective, this is the Rose Bowl's best matchup since it hosted the Texas-USC title game in 2005. It's the first time since then that both entrants are top five teams and both are on such a collective hot streak -- a combined 19-game winning streak, during 12 of which the winner scored at least 40 points. Most notably, it's the matchup of Wisconsin's powerful, smashmouth running game against Patterson's perennially dominant rushing defense (No. 3 nationally this year).
"They're a little bit different than the routine stuff we see in the Big Ten," said Badgers coach Bret Bielema. "We don't see TCU much, obviously, but I would always kind of grab some NFL scouts, as they came through [campus], all those people commonly said was how well coached they are, how hard they play and how fast they play."
In an ideal world, the Horned Frogs would get a shot at the title. But there's no understating just what a milestone this will be for TCU. Two years ago, Patterson's program had yet to reach a BCS bowl. Now it's playing in the most prestigious of them all, in a fabled venue that most BCS-conference teams outside the Big Ten and Pac-10 never get to see, and it's doing so on the cusp of its move to the Big East (where, ironically, its chances of playing in another Rose Bowl will be almost zero).
"This is the last piece of the puzzle," said Patterson.
With all due respect to Connecticut (to which I'll give plenty later in this column), the presence of an unranked 8-4 team in the Fiesta Bowl is the big fat fire hose watering down this year's bowl lineup. Spin all they want, there's no way the BCS overlords can defend the side of their system where an inarguably mediocre team goes to one of the most prestigious bowls while a team like Michigan State -- which, like UConn, tied for its conference title, only at 11-1 -- goes to the Credit Card Bowl and a top 10 team like Boise State goes to a bowl played on Dec. 22.
If you want to get a peek behind the curtains of the bowl business, check out Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan's very diplomatic but frankly ridiculous-this-is-even-necessary description of deciding between 11-1 Ohio State and 11-1 Michigan State for his game's at-large spot.
"[AD] Mark Hollis, Coach [Mark] Dantonio, the entire Michigan State operation basically put together a marketing plan and a sales pitch that was really nothing short of outstanding. My hat's off to them. They really made a very convincing appeal. ... But in the final analysis, when we looked at the higher-ranked Ohio State, we did have some background and experience with Ohio State having been in our championship game and games prior to that. So there was a little more familiarity, and of course that made the decision a little bit easier."
So there you have it. Not that there's anything wrong with the decision to take the Buckeyes, but apparently one of the factors was "unfamiliarity" with Michigan State, like buying a new brand of deodorant. Either way, the Superdome will be packed, because Arkansas fans, who will be enjoying their first BCS appearance, have already bought up their allotted 17,000 tickets and asked for more.
It's less certain what kind of crowd the Orange Bowl should expect by hosting a West Coast private school, Stanford, which doesn't normally sell out its own stadium and where classes start the same day as the game (Jan. 3). At least Stanford-Virginia Tech should be fun for TV viewers, as two definitively blue-collar programs square off, and potential No. 1 pick Andrew Luck goes up against the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense.
With Oklahoma's 23-20 win over Nebraska on Saturday, Bob Stoops improved to 7-1 in Big 12 championship games. He won those seven conference titles with six different quarterbacks. The latest, sophomore Landry Jones, threw a 49-yard touchdown to spark the Sooners' rally from 17 down and finished 23-of-41 for 342 yards against the nation's second-ranked pass defense. "He's had a special year," Stoops said of Jones, who's thrown for 4,289 yards.
After dispatching Florida State to win its fourth ACC title in seven seasons, Virginia Tech (11-2) heads to the Orange Bowl with a chance to break several school records. The Hokies could achieve their first 12-win season and 12-game winning streak (Michael Vick's 1999 team won 11) and quarterback Tyrod Taylor's senior class would finish as the winningest in school history (currently at 42). "Those two losses we had at the beginning of the year make these 11 wins and the ACC Championship seem even greater," said Frank Beamer.
The Washington Huskies, once 3-6, rallied to earn the school's first bowl bid in eight years with a 28-21 Apple Cup win over Washington State. Running back Chris Polk dashed for 289 yards and quarterback Jake Locker, who suffered so many setbacks this season, threw the go-ahead 27-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining. "The moment Jake decided to come back [for his senior year], this is what he was envisioning -- this moment," said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, whose team is heading to San Diego.
Remember back in September when Arizona beat Iowa in what seemed at the time a clash of Big Ten and Pac-10 contenders? As it turned out, they were just a pair of disappointing 7-5 teams waiting to happen. The Wildcats' Territorial Cup loss to the Sun Devils (6-6) -- in which Arizona State blocked Alex Zendejas' extra-point attempts at the end of regulation and the second overtime to prevail 30-29 -- marked Arizona's fourth straight loss to end the regular season.
Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis, who much like his team has suffered through a disappointing season, finally returned to his old self with a staggering 42-carry, 261-yard performance in the snow at Cincinnati. Note that in the same game a year ago, Lewis carried 47 times for 194 yards against the Bearcats. The stakes were much lower this time. The Panthers finished the regular season 7-5, while Cincinnati, 12-1 a year ago, went 4-8 in Butch Jones' first season.
Kudos to Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, whose team completed the biggest turnaround of the season (from 1-11 to 9-4) with a thrilling MAC Championship Game upset of No. 24 Northern Illinois. Down 21-20 and facing a fourth-and-20 in the final minute, Austin Boucher's pass over the middle deflected off a Huskies defender and into the hands of Miami receiver Chris Givens for the first down. Two plays later, Boucher threw the winning score.
This year's annual reminder that bowl games aren't truly about "rewarding the student-athletes" comes courtesy of the Outback Bowl. Ever the contrarian, the Outback selected 7-5, home-state Florida -- the Gators' worst team in 22 years -- over 9-4, SEC East champion South Carolina, which crushed Florida at the Swamp. The Gamecocks' reward for earning their first trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game? A return trip to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A bowl.
In a surprise, the Insight Bowl passed up a chance to stage an intriguing Iowa-Nebraska Big Ten rivalry preview, opting instead to take Missouri. The fact that the Arizona game snubbed the Tigers last year probably had something to do with it, but so does the fact that the Fiesta Bowl (which runs the Insight) works closely with the Big 12. Think the conference might have had an opinion? As a result, Nebraska ends up with a Holiday Bowl rematch against the same Washington team it beat 56-21 in September.
The 77-year-old Sun Bowl in El Paso, which could have been stuck with a stinker due to the lack of eligible Pac-10 teams, instead finagled pitting old and future rivals Miami and Notre Dame, both 7-5. This is the first year of the game's ACC partnership (thus the Miami end) and the Champs Sports Bowl used its Big East pick on 9-3 West Virginia in order to free up the Irish. "This city will go crazy," Sun Bowl CEO Bernie Olivas told the El Paso Times.
Seeing as Miami's cleaned-up culture renders the old "Catholics vs. Convicts" tagline outdated, my new suggestion: The APR Bowl. Or, "Catholics vs. Coachless." (I stole that last one from Twitter.)
It's not the BCS, but No. 10 Boise State (11-1) could have done worse than a Las Vegas Bowl date with No. 20 Utah (10-2). It originally looked like the Broncos would be relegated to playing a 7-5 ACC team in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl before a deal was brokered.
Michigan AD Dave Brandon has said he will wait until after Michigan's bowl game to evaluate Rich Rodriguez's job status. The 7-5 Wolverines will meet 8-4 Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Many an SEC coach has been fired for losing to the once-lowly Bulldogs.
Fresno State's 25-23 win over Illinois last Friday, coupled with Wisconsin's Sept. 11 victory over San Jose State, caused the first Gordon Gee Murderer's Row vs. Little Sisters Big Ten-WAC Challenge to end in a tie.
With its Conference USA championship victory over SMU, UCF (10-3) earned a Liberty Bowl date with 6-6 Georgia. While at Georgia Tech, Knights coach George O'Leary went 3-5 against the Dawgs.
Poor Temple. A year after earning their first bowl berth in 30 years, the 8-4 Owls were one of two bowl-eligible teams left out. (The other: 6-6 Western Michigan.) Note that Al Golden's team beat Fiesta Bowl participant Connecticut.
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