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SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
1/08/2008 01:52:00 PM

LSU 38, Ohio State 24: The Day After

Les Miles
Les Miles admires his newfound hardware.

NEW ORLEANS -- I can't speak for everyone, but I know one of the first things I inevitably do after covering a championship game is read what everybody else wrote. One thing stood out to me about the coverage of Monday night's game: People just pouring it on Ohio State.

Among the monikers being thrown about out there: "the Ohio State Punchlines," "The Overmatched State University" and, of course, the Buffalo Bills.

It's going to be another long offseason in Columbus.

· All that pregame talk about the importance of LSU finally being healthy was no joke. Matt Flynn, who'd been nursing injuries since the Virginia Tech game, played arguably the finest game of his career. Glenn Dorsey was back to his old, punishing ways. (Stat lines simply don't do that guy justice. Officially, he finished with four tackles. Unofficially, I feel like I saw him make about eight others.) Receiver Early Doucet could barely be covered.

It was certainly quite a different team than the one that got run over by Arkansas.

· Of course, it couldn't be an LSU game without another key player getting hurt. All-American safety Craig Steltz went down late in the first half and did not return. Yet the Tigers didn't seem to miss a beat with backup Harry Coleman, who recovered a fumble and made several other nice plays. "That's what happens with championship teams," said Les Miles. "The next guy in the game steps up and make plays."

· Ohio State tackle Alex Boone did not mince words about when describing the state of the Buckeyes' huddle as Monday's game unraveled. "Everybody started pointing the finger at somebody," said Boone. "Guys were trying to fight each other, getting pissed because they didn't think people were helping them and all that stuff. Just selfishness."

Between those comments and all those uncharacteristic personal foul penalties, it seems Jim Tressel's team became dramatically unglued. Think the memory of last year's title game didn't haunt them?

· Here's an interesting nugget about Miles: By the time the season was over, he'd wound up beating five coaches -– Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Phillip Fulmer and Tressel -– who have national-championship rings, and two others -– Frank Beamer and Tommy Tuberville -– who have been among the winningest this decade. Now he just needs to solve Rich Brooks.

· At his morning-after press conference Tuesday -– where he accepted four different national-championship trophies (the AP, coaches, Football Writers and Grantland Rice) -– Miles said he began preparing for LSU's next season hours after the last one ended. "Last night about 2:30, I put the next year plan down until about 4:30. Then [4-year-old daughter Mason] woke up."

· I'd love to know what quarterback phenom/Ohio State target Terrelle Pryor was thinking while presumably watching Monday night's game. Did the Buckeyes' second straight title-game debacle scare him away, or did he watch Todd Boeckman's performance and think, "Man, those guys could really use me?"

· A day after BCS commissioners Mike Slive and John Swofford reiterated their interest in developing a plus-one bowl, Georgia president Michael Adams took things several steps further in a surprising Atlanta Journal Constitution interview. Adams, who happens to be chairman of the NCAA's executive committee, its highest rung, said he has written a letter to NCAA president Myles Brand advocating an eight-team playoff and said he'd like to see it instituted "within a year or two."

We've heard similar rhetoric before -- including from Florida president Bernie Machen last year -- and without failure, such overtures have largely fallen on deaf ears. Adams, due to his position, may hold slightly more influence than most, don't count on much of anything happening. Ultimately, he'll find there are far too many parties (conference commissioners, bowl execs, his fellow presidents and Brand himself) with a vested interest in the current system that have no inclination to pursue that path, nor has Brand shown any signs of interest in a playoff.

· And that's about it from here on the Bayou. My immediate plans: Write tomorrow's final Mailbag of the season, then sleep for about three days.
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments | Add a comment
1/07/2008 09:56:00 PM

Halftime: LSU 24, Ohio State 10

Matt Flynn
LSU QB Matt Flynn (left) played a brilliant first half, throwing a pair of touchdown passes.
Doug Benc/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- The first half of Monday night’s BCS Championship Game was itself a tale of two halves.

Early on, Ohio State looked like the sharper, faster, better-prepared team, starting with Beanie Wells’ 65-yard touchdown dash on the fourth play of the game. Meanwhile, LSU -- the supposed home team -- looked rattled, botching a shotgun snap on third down and settling for a field goal following an apparent botched running play on another third down.

The Buckeyes held a 10-3 lead at the start of the second quarter.

Since then, the game has gone in the complete opposite direction. After finding little success early leaning on RB Jacob Hester, QB Matt Flynn started going to the air and promptly found his receivers and tight ends running wide open against Ohio State’s defense. Flynn has picked the Buckeyes apart, going 11-of-15 for 118 yards and two touchdowns -- including a perfectly placed 10-yard touchdown loft to Brandon LaFell that put the Tigers up 17-10.

Meanwhile, despite getting plenty of protection, Ohio State counterpart Todd Boeckman has struggled, most notably throwing an intercepted deep ball that LSU’s Chevis Jackson returned 34 yards to set up another Tigers touchdown. With LSU doing a better job containing Wells in the second quarter, the Buckeyes’ previously hot offense (147 yards in the first quarter) has gone in the tank, culminating with a monstrous Tyson Jackson sack of Boeckman to squash any hopes of scoring before halftime.

LSU went to the locker room with a comfortable 24-10 lead, having scored touchdowns on three straight second-quarter possessions.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that they’re not completely out of it like they were by halftime of last year’s Florida game. And by no means are they getting dominated at the line of scrimmage like they did in that one. But if they hope to come back, they’re going to need to get Wells (10 carries, 119 yards) going again, as clearly Boeckman is not going to win this game for them. They also need to either get more pressure on Flynn, who’s been near-flawless so far, or tighten up their coverage. If LSU maintains its current lead or builds on it long enough, it will eventually be able to eat up the remaining clock with Hester.

Check back after the game for a complete Inside College Football column.
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1/07/2008 06:38:00 PM

Yep ... It's Game Day

Ohio State fans
Ohio State fans have made their presence felt in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS -- At long last, the game is here.

What’s felt like the longest, most turbulent season in college football history (to me, at least) will come to a (hopefully) climactic end tonight at the Superdome. While it’s been unusually quiet this week leading up to the BCS National Championship Game, the streets were a sea of giddy scarlet-and-gray and purple-clad fans as I rode the bus from the hotel to the stadium about three hours before kickoff.

It truly was a sight to behold. First of all, my admiration goes to the Ohio State fans, who we all figured would be severely outnumbered here but seemed to me to be nearly as well represented as their LSU counterparts. I’m guessing they’ll still be in the minority once this place fills up, but not as disproportionately as predicted.

• It seemed like about 80 percent of the fans on both sides were wearing replica jerseys. I saw a lot of No. 10s (Troy Smith), No. 33s (James Laurinaitis) and No. 15s (Matt Flynn). I guess they don’t make too many No. 72s (Glenn Dorsey) in normal-people sizes.

• I had kind of an off-putting experience on the ride over here. The bus driver had on LSU’s flagship radio station, which happened to be broadcasting an interview they’d taped with me earlier in the week. No one likes hearing the sound of their own voice -- except maybe Woody Paige.

Sports Illustrated’s seats in the press box are tucked behind the left corner of Ohio State’s end zone, not exactly an ideal viewing angle. Not complaining -- just throwing out an excuse in case our coverage includes a noticeable absence of details from any significant plays in the opposite end zone.

• After attending a rather hopping party at House of Blues being thrown by FOX, some fellow writers and I took an obligatory stroll through Bourbon Street last night and were surprised by the small percentage of LSU fans. I’m guessing many of them drove in from Baton Rouge and other nearby towns this morning.

• Obviously, the big non-Ohio State/LSU news today was June Jones accepting the SMU job. For months, we’d heard Jones and Colt Brennan speak openly about Hawaii’s grossly outdated facilities and operations, and apparently that -- along with about $2 million a year from SMU -- was enough to lure Jones away from the home where he had reached all-out hero status.

Without question, it’s a crippling blow for Hawaii, which not only loses the coach who led it to the the greatest season in program history but is obviously lacking in resources to lure a big-time replacement. Meanwhile, SMU fans have got to be doing cartwheels today. This is the most exciting thing to happen to that program in 20 years, and I’m certain Jones’ offense will help lift the Mustangs out of the basement sooner than later.

The one thing that makes me cringe: The idea that even a low-level Conference USA program is now willing to spend $2 million a year on a coach. The market just continues to spiral out of control as programs across the landscape thirst for BCS glory.

• Well, some of the players have come out to warm up sans jerseys, Boston’s More Than A Feeling is blaring over the p.a. system and sporadic “O-H!” and “Go Tigers!” chants are breaking out among the smattering of fans already in the stadium. Let’s kick this thing off already!
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1/06/2008 05:29:00 PM

Ready, Set Smile: The Game's Almost Here

Jim Tressel; Les Miles
Jim Tressel (left) and Les Miles were all smiles some 30 hours before kickoff.

NEW ORLEANS -- On the day before their teams are set to duel for the biggest prize in college football, LSU coach Les Miles and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel stood together behind the crystal coaches trophy, holding smiles as they posed for a paparazzi-like throng of photographers.

The staged Kodak moment is an annual aspect of the coaches' final pregame press conferences at the BCS Championship Game, and while they both grin and don their Sunday best, I'm sure it's not the highlight of their day. As Tressel said following his opening statement: "If there are no questions, I could go back to work. Put my sweatsuit back on."

∙ Both coaches were highly complimentary of their Sugar Bowl hosts and the city of New Orleans. Both seem keenly aware of the importance of this game for the still-rebuilding city. "It appears to me New Orleans is a very live and thriving city," said Miles. It sure is, here in the French Quarter/Warehouse District where the teams and media are staying, but I'm guessing a tour of the devastated Lower Ninth Ward was not part of the teams' pregame agendas.

∙ Asked to describe the "mood of his team" roughly 30 hours before kickoff, Miles replied, "Pent up, trapped, held hostage." Indeed, with practices concluded and both teams now in lockdown mode, I can't even begin to image what it's like to be an Ohio State or LSU player at this point waiting for the game to finally get here. "If they feel pent up now, see how they feel tomorrow," said Tressel. "We don't play until 7 p.m. (central) tomorrow night."

∙ As mentioned here earlier in the week, there continues to be incessant buzz about the Buckeyes' rumored plans to mix things up with mobile backup QB Antonio Henton. Miles was even asked how his team was preparing for it, considering Henton -– who was suspended for seven games -- has only played a handful of snaps all season. "We saw all of his early tape and we kind of got a decent feel for his abilities," said Miles. "I think we have a nice plan ready to go once he steps on the field."

∙ This is the second straight year that Ohio State is facing a school that its coaches visited in the spring. In the spring of 2006, they visited Florida, this year, LSU. Asked about the coincidence, Tressel joked, "We anticipated Jan. 7, 2008, and that's why we asked Les if we could come down and visit during the spring." Such informational visits are common among coaching staffs, and it's doubtful the Buckeyes unearthed any deep secrets about the Tigers. Just witness the results of last year's Florida visit. "Maybe they didn't go to the football office too much," joked Tressel.

∙ Tressel drew the biggest laughs of the day when a reporter mentioned to him that LSU was planning to watch the "underdog" movie 300 Sunday night and whether he feared the Tigers were using it as motivational ploy. "I don't know what 300 is," replied Tressel. "I'm not a real movie guy. The last movie I went to was Jaws I."

∙ Finally, college football's title game doesn't exactly draw your A-list celebrities like the Super Bowl -- but that doesn't mean we don't have our share of B- and C-listers. At a media function last night, I met Andrew Hawtrey, the actor who plays dim-witted football fanatic Bergwood in those amusing Allstate commercials. You know -- the guy whose car rolls backward into a truck.

Hawtrey, who is much more clean-cut in real life (though he does sport that instantly recognizable beard), is here participating in a series of promotions for Allstate, the game's title sponsor -- and he's quickly finding out just how big a celebrity he is among college football viewers. I saw people posing for pictures with him throughout the night, and was told later that he was mobbed on Bourbon Street. He also had the unique experience of watching himself on the JumboTron at the Sugar Bowl, where the ads aired during seemingly every TV timeout.

"The first time it came on, I was out in the concourse buying a beverage," said Hawtrey, a diehard Iowa fan who grew up across the street from Kinnick Stadium and cleaned it after games. "I yelled out, 'Hey, look at those guys, they're so funny!'"
posted by Stewart Mandel | View comments | Add a comment
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