BCS pairings react; more Overtime (cont.)
Robert Griffin III is often described as humble, and those who have interviewed him would surely agree. But in the moments following his team's 48-24 clobbering of Texas, which gave the Bears their first nine-win season in 25 years, the Baylor star let his guard down in a postgame interview with ESPN's Samantha Steele.
"I could be wrong," Griffin said, "but I think Baylor won its first Heisman tonight."
He got my vote. In fact, he made the final decision much easier than expected. With a 15-of-22, 320-yard passing, four-touchdown (two passing, two running) day, Griffin finished the regular season No. 1 in pass efficiency, with a 192.3 mark that would shatter the NCAA record. He threw for 3,998 yards (10.8 per completion), 36 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for another 644 yards and nine scores. He led a last-second rally against one ranked foe (TCU), threw a last-second touchdown to beat another (Oklahoma) and led Baylor -- yes, Baylor -- to a 9-3 record. Let's be frank: He is Baylor.
The RG3 Heisman bandwagon gained a lot of new passengers in the last few weeks, but we'll find out Dec. 10 whether he gained enough to edge out more familiar candidates Luck and Trent Richardson. The final vote could well be as close as Alabama-Oklahoma State, though it would seem late surges from another running back (Montee Ball) and another SEC player (Tyrann Mathieu) may have hurt Richardson's chances.
Griffin vs. Luck is a tough comparison, in part because they play in such different systems. It should be noted, however, that Luck actually attempted four more passes (373) than Griffin (369), but wound up with 828 fewer yards. Stanford coach Shaw went to bat hard for Luck last week, hitting the media circuit and giving a power point presentation to help quantify Luck's intangibles (he calls plays at the line, he helps set up Stanford's running game, etc.). But Griffin has both numbers and intangibles. Like Luck, he completely transformed a dormant program, serving as a charismatic, articulate ambassador for his school along the way.
But for me, it comes down to this: In his biggest game of the season -- playing Oregon for a shot at the Pac-12 championship -- Luck had his worst game of the year. In his three biggest games of the season -- a coming-out opportunity against TCU, a chance for the school's first win over Oklahoma and the in-state grudge match against Texas to secure the best possible bowl berth -- Griffin came up huge, throwing for a combined 11 touchdowns and one pick.
That fits my definition of "outstanding." We'll see if the rest of the electorate agrees.
As bowls welcome their 2010-11 participants, you'll likely read myriad quotes from bowl executives about how pleased they are with their selections. You'll read about nebulous "committees" of volunteers that chose the teams. That may be true of longstanding, independent bowls like the Gator or Cotton. But when it comes to lower-rung games like the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowls, it's a train wreck.
Part of the problem this year was Conference USA's extremely fluid situation. Earlier in the week, when it seemed likely Houston was heading to the BCS, a source told me that league's bowl picture was "clear as mud." Southern Miss' win only made things muddier, because with the Big East taking its spot in the Liberty Bowl due to a convoluted deal with the SEC, the conference had to find suitable spots for both the Cougars (which ended up with a pretty sweet deal, facing 9-3 Penn State on Jan. 2) and Eagles (which got shipped to Hawaii to play Nevada). Meanwhile, a source at a bowl with an at-large opening told me: "It's nutty out there ... lots of horse trading going on."
Somehow, all of that horse-trading resulted in 8-4 San Diego State, a Mountain West team, ending up in the New Orleans Bowl, normally a C-USA destination; Missouri, a Big 12 team, taking the MWC's spot in Shreveport; the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl staging a game between two teams with interim coaches (UCLA and Illinois); and the BBVA Compass Bowl pitting 6-6 Pitt against 6-6 SMU. That last one's particularly interesting because, according to multiple sources, the Birmingham game didn't want the Panthers back for a second straight year, and Pitt was so opposed to the idea it threatened to boycott. Seriously.
So how did that matchup still end up happening? One word: ESPN. Its subsidiary, ESPN Regional, owns six of those low-rung bowls, including the Beef 'O' Brady's and BBVA Compass games. And lest anyone tell you otherwise, head honcho Pete Derzis ultimately decides who plays where. He's the reason Marshall is playing in St. Pete instead of Pittsburgh and why SMU is in Birmingham instead of ... somewhere else.
The bowls are purportedly for the "student-athletes," and arguably they still are in places like Pasadena and Orlando. In Birmingham or St. Petersburg, however, they're for three hours of television programming, and the teams are ancillary figures.
Mini-previews for three big bowl games:
Oregon vs. Wisconsin (Rose Bowl), Jan. 2: Wilson has certainly proven to be the most valuable free-agent pickup since ... well, Cam Newton. The Badgers won't win a national title, but their first Rose Bowl win in 12 years would be nice. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly gets another attempt at his first big nonconference win.
Oklahoma State vs. Stanford (Fiesta Bowl), Jan. 2: It's the Fiesta Bowl's first No. 3 vs. No. 4 matchup in a decade (Oregon-Colorado), and at first glance it should be an offensive shootout. But don't overlook Jamie Blatnick, Shaun Lewis and the Cowboys' defense. They can put some pressure on Luck.
LSU vs. Alabama, (BCS Championship Game), Jan. 9: The game hasn't even been played and the SEC has already won its sixth straight national title. Ah, but an SEC team will also lose a BCS title game, staining its thus-far spotless 7-0 record in the Big One. Finally, the voters found someone to beat the SEC.