College Football Overtime (cont.)
I've never seen a more emotional victory celebration than TCU's after winning the Rose Bowl, as I described in my column Saturday night. National championship or not, the win clearly meant the world to a group of players who never dreamed of even playing in a Rose Bowl when they signed at TCU. "This lets everyone know we're a program, not a one-hit wonder," said receiver Jeremy Kerley, one of 14 Horned Frogs starters who ended their college careers with the victory.
Following its predictable Fiesta Bowl rout of Connecticut and 12-2 finish, Oklahoma figures to be on the short list of contenders for preseason No. 1 next fall. Quarterback Landry Jones, who broke his own school bowl record with 429 passing yards, will be one of as many as 17 returning starters. Of course, he'll likely be without all-everything receiver Ryan Broyles, who, if it was his last game, went out with a bang: 13 catches for a school bowl-record 170 yards.
Add Alabama to that short list following its 49-7 Capital One Bowl demolition of previously 11-1 Michigan State, even though Nick Saban may lose as many as six underclassmen to the draft. One of them, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, had a monstrous game against the Spartans. Meanwhile, quarterback Greg McElroy went 13-of-17 for 220 yards and a touchdown to complete an overlooked, marvelous senior year in which he completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 2,987 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Urban Meyer's last game as Florida coach felt ... anticlimactic. Yes, the Gators sent him out a winner and gave him a Gatorade bath and a game ball, and yes, Meyer proclaimed himself "at peace" after the win. There's no question his Florida reign was spectacular (two BCS titles, a 65-15 record), but we're still talking about the coronation of a six-year stint. Plus, after he spends next season at ESPN (he's already met with execs), does anyone doubt we'll see him on a sideline in 2012?
NCAA coordinator of officials Dave Parry told the AP he expects the rules committee to look into adding something like the NFL's 10-second run off at the end of games following the controversial finish to North Carolina's Music City Bowl win over Tennessee. Meanwhile, Vols coach Derek Dooley may have become the first guy ever to receive two congratulatory handshakes from opposing coaches (LSU's Les Miles and UNC's Butch Davis), before ultimately losing both games.
As much of a stir as the Tennessee game caused, fans were far more outraged by the finish to the Kansas State-Syracuse Pinstripe Bowl, in which a devastating excessive celebration flag on Wildcats receiver Adrian Hilburn for saluting the crowd essentially ended his team's chance to send the game to overtime. (K-State had to attempt its two-point conversion from the 18-yard line.) Parry defended the call, saying the player "drew attention to himself." Refs really need to distinguish between celebrating and taunting -- especially in that kind of situation.
Nebraska finished with the same record (10-4) as it did last year, but Bo Pelini's program is facing all sorts of offseason questions this time around. The Huskers' 19-7 Holiday Bowl loss to 6-6 Washington -- the same team it beat 56-21 in September -- marked the lowest point yet in the demise of an offense that looked so powerful in early October. Question No. 1: Will quarterback Taylor Martinez leave after repeatedly clashing with Pelini, and will he even keep his job if he does stay?
Last week's Iowa-Missouri Insight Bowl spotlighted two breakout stars we'll be seeing a lot more of in 2011. Starting in place of the suspended Adam Robinson, Hawkeyes freshman tailback Marcus Coker bulldozed the Tigers' defense to the tune of 219 yards on 33 carries, evoking shades of Shonn Greene before him. Meanwhile, Mizzou sophomore receiver T.J. Moe set career highs with 15 catches for 152 yards to cap a 1,045-yard season.
Mind you, Moe's production next season may depend on whether quarterback Blaine Gabbert returns for his senior year. NFL draft pundits are very high on the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, but he was inconsistent this season. Gabbert had a career night in the bowl game (41-of-57 for 434 yards) before a brutal fourth-quarter pick-six that allowed Iowa to retake the lead. It seems clear Gabbert could use another year, but the NFL values physical traits over production.
Notre Dame's Sun Bowl demolition of Miami was arguably the biggest moment for the program since the great tease that was the Bush Push game in 2005. In earning their first bowl win over a BCS-conference foe since the 1994 Cotton Bowl, the Irish (8-5) ended their first season under Brian Kelly on a four-game winning streak. Dayne Crist will likely regain his role as starter next year, but freshman Tommy Rees went 15-of-29 for 201 yards and two scores in Crist's absence.
ESPN sent out a release Sunday boasting that the Wisconsin-TCU Rose Bowl was the highest-rated non-NFL broadcast in cable history, garnering an 11.7 overnight rating. It conveniently left out the fact that it was the game's third-lowest number of the BCS era. It's hard to say how much the move from network to cable impacted the ratings, but the Oklahoma-UConn Fiesta Bowl was a predictable dud, drawing a 6.7 rating, second-lowest in BCS history.
If college football had a One Shining Moment, Florida International coach Mario Cristobal would earn some serious face time. His team's dramatic win over Toledo -- including a successful hook and ladder on fourth-and-17 -- was one of the most captivating of this bowl season.
You know all those stories you've read about empty seats and unsold tickets at bowls? By my unofficial calculations, attendance at the first 26 bowls (not including the two new ones) is down a whopping 0.9 percent from last year.
Of course, bowls are known to inflate those numbers, which include unsold tickets from schools' allotments. The Gator Bowl claimed a sellout (77,497) for Michigan-Mississippi State, but SI.com' Andy Staples, who covered the game, told me, "I have no doubt they sold every ticket, but between 15k-20k came dressed as empty seats."
Phil Burnett needs a job. How do I know this? Because the veteran assistant coach follows me on Twitter, and when I clicked on his profile recently, it said right at the top: "A GREAT defensive line coach that needs a JOB!" And one of his most recent tweets at the time said: "Looking for a Defensive Line job ... HELP!!"
For every story you read this time of year about a school firing its head coach, there are as many as nine more anonymous assistants left scrambling for a new job. Burnett spent the past eight seasons at Ball State under Brady Hoke and then successor Stan Parrish. Following its recent 4-8 season, the school fired Parrish and replaced him with Elon's Pete Lembo, who retained just two of Parrish's assistants. Burnett was not one of them. So he's taken to Twitter.
"No help yet from twitter but I'm going to keep trying because you never know," said Burnett. "As you know ... its who you know. ... Things will move around more after the bowl games."
Burnett is counting on his connection to Hoke, whom he first worked under as a GA at Oregon State in the early '90s and who himself was once a renowned defensive line coach at Michigan. When Hoke left for San Diego State two years ago, Burnett stayed behind "because things were going good here at BSU + my mom still lives in Hobart, Ind. So I wanted to stay with [Parrish]."
Based on his Twitter timeline, Burnett has apparently been biding his time watching bowl games, as most of his tweets are in-game observations. But he occasionally mixes in something like this: "A perfect day to find a job. If you need a Defensive Line Coach.....let me know!!!!"
If and when Burnett gets a job, we may see a whole bunch of unemployed assistants rushing to join Twitter themselves.
(Incidentally, our entire conversation took place over Twitter.)
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Orange Bowl: Stanford vs. Virginia Tech, Jan. 3 (8:30 p.m. ET): Andrew Luck's father engineered a controversial coaching change at West Virginia. Luck's own head coach may be changing jobs after the game. But the third-year sophomore is nothing if not focused and will come out and pick apart the Hokies' defense.
Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Arkansas, Jan. 4 (8:30 p.m. ET): I liked the Buckeyes in this one before their quarterback became enveloped in scandal and an ongoing war of words with Kirk Herbstreit. Ohio State's defense is still well-equipped to create turnovers, but how many might the Buckeyes' distracted offense cough up?
Cotton Bowl: LSU vs. Texas A&M, Jan. 7 (8 p.m. ET): Depending on whether the Michigan job is open by Friday, Les Miles may have to hold another one of his "Have a Great Day" press conferences the afternoon of the game. Unlike this year's New Year's Day bowl games, this one could be quite the defensive struggle.