More Overtime (cont.)
If, like Herbstreit, you're of the opinion that Northern Illinois has no business playing in a BCS bowl, keep in mind that the Huskies are only the third lowest-ranked team in this year's lineup. For the third straight season, the Big East has produced a champion ranked lower than No. 20 in the final BCS standings (Louisville is No. 21), but even the Big East has nothing on the Big Ten this year.
In a perhaps a fitting end to an unquestionably miserable year for Jim Delany's conference, 8-5 Wisconsin will represent the league in Pasadena for third straight season. The Badgers clinched a spot following their stunning 70-31 demolition of Nebraska in Saturday's Big Ten championship game. Since the division's two best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) are ineligible for the postseason with NCAA sanctions, Wisconsin, 4-4 in conference play, becomes just the second unranked team to reach a BCS bowl (2010 Connecticut was the first) -- and the first to enter a game with five losses.
Frankly, it's embarrassing for both the conference and the bowl, and it's downright insulting to the college football public. Unlike NIU, Wisconsin isn't even one of the top teams in its own conference. In fact, the Badgers had the sixth-best record in conference play.
Before Saturday's game, Bielema called the Badgers "the best 7-5 team I've ever been a part of," and apparently he was right. Wisconsin, mind you, lost three overtime games in the last four weeks of the regular season, including to Ohio State and Penn State. It lost by a field goal in its other two contests, against Oregon State and Nebraska. Still, there was little indication that Wisconsin would explode for 539 rushing yards against the Huskers, including 216 on just nine carries from freshman speedster Melvin Gordon. Perhaps the Badgers are just now finding their stride, in which case they could be even stronger by New Year's Day.
Regardless, Stanford -- an actual top-10 team -- deserves better. The Cardinal's run to a Pac-12 championship is one of the most overlooked stories of the season. With Friday night's rain-drenched 27-24 conference title game victory over UCLA (9-4), coach David Shaw's team reached the 11-win mark for a third straight year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan took over as starter in Week 11 and promptly led the team to victories over Oregon State, Oregon and, twice in six days, the Bruins. In doing so, he also led the Cardinal to a prize that eluded them during their three years with future No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck at quarterback.
"We play with a chip on our shoulder," said Shaw. "Part of that chip on our shoulder was to prove that we're not a one-man organization here. We're a team."
Obviously, a fluky set of circumstances allowed for an 8-5 team to even win its division, much less its league. But teams like Wisconsin and Georgia Tech this year, or UCLA last year, should really cause conferences to pause and take a look at what's become of conference championship games -- particularly given the stated emphasis going forward. This year's largely uninspiring BCS lineup includes four teams ranked No. 13 or lower in the final AP Poll. Fans and those teams' respective opponents deserve better.
OK, enough negativity. On Jan. 3 in Glendale, Ariz., 11-1 Kansas State will face 11-1 Oregon ... and it's going to be awesome. For one thing, there was a time not long ago when these two were jostling for a spot in the national championship game. Moreover, they were originally supposed to play this season before Oregon asked to reschedule and K-State decided to bail.
"From my standpoint -- maybe not everybody else's -- didn't fit our scheduling philosophy," Bill Snyder said on Sunday night, and it's no secret what his scheduling philosophy is.
But forgive Snyder for a moment because here's the thing about this year's Fiesta Bowl: It's Chip Kelly versus Bill Snyder. How cool is that?
It's Kelly's practice-fast, play-fast Ducks against Snyder's make-no-mistakes Wildcats. It's Win the Day against 16 Goals for Success. It's just a fascinating contrast. The question is, will anyone still notice by the time the game rolls around?
As the four-team playoff inches nearer, undercards like this one already feel a bit devalued. If this were 2014, Oregon and K-State would have likely battled for the last playoff spot. Instead, they're playing an exhibition four days before the BCS title game. This is a contest where motivation could become a factor.
For Kansas State, winning the Big 12 and reaching the Fiesta Bowl are really big deals. The Wildcats hadn't accomplished either feat since 2003, the peak before the fall toward the end of Snyder's first tenure. He returned specifically to build the program back to this level.
But Oregon, on the other hand, will play in its fourth straight BCS game, and the first three included two Rose Bowl berths and one national title game appearance. The Ducks will return to the same stadium where they lost to Auburn two years ago.
"I just think it's a strange process to begin with, when you lose, how you lose, all that other stuff," said Kelly. "The longer you're in it, the more you probably think a playoff is the right way to go."
Which brings us to one last point: This may very well be Kelly's last college game before taking an NFL job. Heck, it could be Snyder's last game, too. He's going to retire again at some point. So enjoy both of them while you can. All the better they're facing each other.
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