SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/31/2006 03:29:00 PM
LOS ANGELES -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Most non-BCS bowl games are in no way reflective of a team's season as a whole. The circumstances are just too strange. During the regular season, you don't get a four-week break to reinvent your offense or throw younger players into the rotation. Already this bowl season, we watched Rutgers spring its own Tim Brown, Florida State's Lorenzo Booker morph into the player we'd been waiting to see for five years and some Iowa receiver named Andy Brodell do an uncanny Tim Dwight impression.
Nevertheless, there's no denying one important aspect of these games: The effect they have on a team's ensuing offseason. Winning a bowl game -- particularly one you're not expected to -- can dramatically boost the momentum surrounding a program headed into the following season. Here are five teams whose bowl performances these past couple weeks could be the springboard to even bigger things in 2007:
Georgia (final record: 9-4): The Dawgs, so shaky in the middle of the season, could not have scripted a better ending: A blowout upset of top-10 Auburn, a sixth straight victory over rival Georgia Tech and a phenomenal comeback against Virginia Tech in Saturday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl. When Georgia got down 21-3 against the nation's No. 1 defense, I figured they were dead in the water, but some huge defensive plays and a gutty second-half performance by freshman QB Matthew Stafford led the Dawgs to a 31-24 win.
The bad news for Georgia in '07 is the Dawgs lose most of their biggest defensive stars (LB Tony Taylor, S Tra Battle, DE Quentin Moses). The good news is, they never seem to have a problem reloading on defense, and Stafford and his receivers should only get better.
Kentucky (8-5): If you didn't know about Wildcats QB Andre Woodson before the Music City Bowl, you do now. The junior was phenomenal in Kentucky's 28-20 upset of Clemson, going 20-of-28 for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Not only will he be an All-America contender next season, but suddenly Rich Brooks, who most figured would be run out of town by now, has given long-suffering Kentucky fans something to be excited about.
South Florida (9-4): Arguably the most impressive defensive performance of the season by any team was USF’s upset of West Virginia on Nov. 25. The Bulls crushed East Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl thanks to more of that tremendous defensive speed. It’s time to start taking these guys seriously, folks. With 16 starters returning next season, including Big East freshman of the year QB Matt Grothe and standout LB Ben Moffit, USF should be in conference contention with the Mountaineers, Louisville and Rutgers.
South Carolina (8-5): Steve Spurrier's influence on the Gamecocks became increasingly apparent toward the end of the season, as QB Blake Mitchell took his game to another level in the near-upset of Florida, a 31-28 win over Clemson and a 44-36 Liberty Bowl shootout over Houston. The SEC East isn't getting any easier, but next year could be Steve Spurrier's year to make a move -- if, and it's a big if, stud WR Sidney Rice comes back.
Oklahoma State (7-6): I really like the direction the Cowboys took this season under second-year coach Mike Gundy. Their spread offense, behind QB Bobby Reid, WR Adarius Bowman and RB Dantrell Savage, was extremely explosive in an upset of Nebraska and in last week's Independence Bowl win over Alabama. Next year they could be even scarier.
· Even though it had one of the most impressive wins of the entire bowl season, I did not include Florida State in the above list because I honestly have no idea what to expect of the 'Noles next season. Bobby Bowden is going to be bringing in an entirely new offensive staff (expected to be led by LSU coordinator Jimbo Fisher), and there's no telling what they'll do. One thing that was apparent in the Emerald Bowl, however, is that the talent is definitely still there.
· Pete Carroll was asked at this morning's final Rose Bowl press conference to compare this year's Michigan team to the one the Trojans beat three years ago. If you remember that game, Matt Leinart pretty much had his way with Michigan's defense, while the Trojans sacked Wolverines QB John Navarre nine times. "Their front seven is a whole lot better," said Carroll. "They had one of the conference's leading defenses when we played them last time, but this one just has more firepower, more star power. [Shawn] Crable and [LaMarr] Woodley are ridiculously talented football players."
· Don't bother suggesting to Lloyd Carr that the Rose Bowl has been at all diminished in importance by the BCS. "I’ve watched every Rose Bowl game since the early 1950s," said Carr. "“I know from a recruiting standpoint that every kid, certainly in the Midwest and probably the country, wants to watch this game. So there's certainly something special about the Rose Bowl."
I sure hope he's right. While my patience with the current bowl system diminishes more with each year, the one game I absolutely cannot fathom ever losing is the Rose Bowl. Perhaps because I was once one of those Midwest kids myself.
· Well, I'm going to take a little detour from football here in a couple hours to attend the UCLA-Washington basketball game. Speaking of which, the next time you hear a college athletic director or administrator complain about the escalating costs in their industry and how hard it is to manage their budget, I want you to remember this.
In Pac-10 basketball, teams go on Thursday-Saturday or Thursday-Sunday road trips where they play two games in the same city or area, so the Huskies were here in L.A. for four days this week. They are staying at my hotel, the Beverly Hilton. I don't know what kind of rate they got, but figure minimum $200 a night, for four nights, for about 25 people (players, coaches, trainers, etc.). For two regular season college basketball games. I'm not saying they should be slumming it at a Motel 6, but it does seem a bit extravagant, does it not?
Stew, I think it can be said, because Georgia proved it last night, that having the "No. 1 overall defense in the country" means nothing if you play in the weakest BCS conference.
I'm sorry, but when people are saying that the Jokies are the best team playing in the ACC but got unlucky to not play in the ACC CHUMPionship Game, and then Georgia, in an admitted down year comes out and sticks it to them like that, just proves the SEC's superiority.
We're talking about a conference with 9 freaking teams in bowls. Top to bottom, there is no better conference.
The Pac-1 plus 9 has one good team.
The Big 11 has three decent teams, and no, your man crush, Kirk Ferentz, who you consistantly rate higher than Coach Richt but who hasn't even won his conference once (Coach Richt has won TWO titles in the SEC, by the way), doesn't lead one of those teams.
The Big (1)2 has 2 good teams.
The Big Least has three good teams, but all of whom did everything they could to NOT win their conference.
The SEC has 9 teams in bowls. NINE GOOD TEAMS! And while I hope that Urban's boys get spanked (because I hate Florida), the SEC should finish 7-2 in the bowls. And we're talking bowls in the which the SEC are playing supposedly "better" teams like the Jokies, or Clemson, or Wisconsin.
Stew, you've been highly biased against the SEC for as long as I've read your column, but it's high time you repented.
From top to bottom, the SEC has better football teams than any other conference. And that's in a year when Georgia is down. Just wait 'till next year!
Hey Stewart, did you enjoy my UCLA Bruins thrashing of the Washington Huskies? What a solid game we played, complete with all-star dunks and three pointers galore. While leading the game with turnovers forced, the team thoroughly energized the crowd on those fastbreaks to score. I know UCLA has been subject to skepticism among media poll voters who think they are getting the most votes only because they are the last good team not to lose. However, with each game passing by, UCLA comes back to win fast and hard against the quality opponents in games that matter the most. Maybe you could relay your fabulous impression of the team, I assume, to your friends in the college basketball world.
Happy 007 senor. I'd love to get your take on how NFL-oriented FOX is scrapping to put together a college analyst crew of TBS vets, past duds, NFL retirees and NFL studio guys -- all for most of college football's biggest and most lucrative games of the year? Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Barry Alvarez are all but making debuts in the booth... The BCS announcement special on Fox was awkward and bumpy, and the Cotton Bowl today was marred with technical difficulties. Good announcers balance the emotion of the game -- many do well at this, including oft-criticized Brent Musberger. Can we please just have ABC/ESPN handle the honors next year? They're seasoned and professional, following the game all year. They're don't have to worry about fidgeting with names of players they haven't heard about before game pre-research. Are you with me?
Sec is overrated...bowls are proving it, seems the wac looks better then the SEC and of course the big east is better with 4 quality teams that could beat up on the top 4 in the sec, Ohio state 38-10 over florida, have a great new year!