College Football Overtime (cont.)
Michigan fans have been waiting since 2003 to taste victory over Ohio State. When replay officials overturned what appeared to be a game-clinching touchdown by running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, and when Denard Robinson's ensuing apparent scoring run was negated by holding and personal foul calls, the faithful had to wait another agonizing 1:59 before a final stop from the Michigan defense sealed a 40-34 victory. For the rest of us, however, those final minutes were more welcome drama in the first competitive and entertaining Ohio State-Michigan game in five years.
College football is better when the sport's most storied rivalry matters. Brady Hoke has done his part in just one year to put the Wolverines back on solid footing, notching the school's first 10-win season since 2006. With Robinson and Toussaint -- who became the school's first 1,000-yard rushing tandem since 1975 -- both returning next season and with a defense that only figures to get better, the future finally looks bright in Ann Arbor.
"He is us, we are him," center David Molk said of Hoke. "I'd do anything for him."
But the rivalry will really get interesting this week with the expected announcement of Urban Meyer as Ohio State's next coach. The two-time national champion and four-time BCS bowl participant brings instant credibility back to a program that's spent the past year in limbo due to the NCAA investigation that cost Jim Tressel his job. Already, followers of the two schools are dreaming of a future in which Meyer and Hoke stage their own version of Woody's and Bo's Ten Year War.
That's going a bit too far down the road, but Hoke and Meyer figure to soon have their programs back in their old familiar roles of contending for championships -- and no one should be happier about that than Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. It's been an awful 12 months for his conference, as the league's two most recognizable Legends and Leaders -- Tressel and Joe Paterno -- both went down in disgrace. And the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky fallout could devastate that program for years to come.
On Saturday, the conference will host its first championship game in Indianapolis, and while fans of the two teams will no doubt pack Lucas Oil Stadium, a matchup between the BCS' No. 13 (Michigan State) and 15 (Wisconsin) teams isn't likely to whet appetites nationally. The Big Ten needs its two flagship programs high in the polls more often than not, and recent and soon-to-be coaching hires may well accomplish that.
Of course, there is one caveat to the rivalry's next generation. With Ohio State and Michigan in different divisions but still meeting the last week of the season, one may need to beat the other twice in eight days to get to Pasadena or beyond. You know ... a rematch.
USC hammered UCLA, 50-0, Saturday night behind the latest aerial assault from torrid quarterback and potential Heisman finalist Matt Barkley, who passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns. The result was both an emphatic statement that the gap between the two rivals has only grown wider and the latest in a long string of embarrassing losses during Rick Neuheisel's four-year tenure -- a tenure that's almost surely at an end.
Yet on Friday night, UCLA will play for a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's baby, the league's inaugural championship game, has devolved into a nightmare due to both USC's ineligibility and a befuddling torrent of mediocrity in the South Division. The 6-6 Bruins, who went 5-4 in conference play, locked up their title-game visit to No. 8 Oregon on Black Friday when Utah (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) inexplicably lost at home, 17-14, to 2-10 Colorado. The Buffs had lost their previous 23 road games, dating to 2007. Arizona State (6-6, 4-5), once considered a lock for the title game when it sat at 6-2, was already eliminated by the time it took the field in Tempe on Friday night for what would be its fourth straight defeat, this one 47-38 to Cal.
Some have suggested the Pac-12 could have avoided this scenario by simply allowing the Trojans to play in the title game, but that was never feasible. The purpose of the event is to decide which team earns the league's automatic BCS berth, for which USC is ineligible. In hindsight, however, that'd be no more awkward than the admittedly minimal possibility of UCLA going to the Rose Bowl at 7-6.
Then there's the matter of what happens to the Bruins' bowl prospects if they lose. Technically, at 6-7, they wouldn't qualify. However, an obscure clause in the NCAA's postseason handbook addresses this exact scenario. UCLA can apply for a waiver, which it would likely be granted based on the stated criteria because the Pac-12 won't have enough teams to fill its seven contractual bowl partnerships. A source at a Pac-12 affiliated bowl confirmed this is the case.
But would UCLA even want that bowl berth with a lame-duck coach and a losing record? Would it want the possibility of becoming the first bowl team from a major conference to finish 6-8? (The lone precedent: In 2001, Sun Belt champion North Texas finished 5-6 but was allowed to play in the New Orleans Bowl, where it lost 45-20 to Colorado State.) Oregon may answer that question for UCLA if it delivers its own 50-0 (or worse) shellacking on Friday night.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games:
Title game: LSU vs. Alabama
Rose: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
Fiesta: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
Sugar: Michigan vs. Houston
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia
While it's assumed Michigan punched its ticket to a BCS game by beating Ohio State, the Wolverines still need one thing to happen: They need LSU to beat Georgia. If the Dawgs win, they'll automatically qualify for the Sugar Bowl as SEC champions, thus reclaiming the spot the Wolverines would be filling. Not to mention, Michigan hasn't actually attained the Top 14 BCS ranking it needs to be eligible; it's 16th. The loser of Saturday's Big Ten title game between No. 13 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin will presumably fall behind the Wolverines, moving them to 15th, but the only other team Michigan can viably pass is ... Georgia. So Michigan fans are LSU fans this week.
Meanwhile, the ugly Big East race is down to three contenders, and while 8-3 West Virginia is the projected pick here, the team with the clearest path is actually ... 7-5 Louisville. If Connecticut upsets 8-3 Cincinnati this weekend, the Cards are in. Seriously. West Virginia, on the other hand, needs the Bearcats to win, creating a three-way tie the Mountaineers would win by virtue of highest BCS ranking. Cincinnati makes it if West Virginia loses at USF on Thursday.
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