College football is nearing an end. With only the GMAC Bowl and the Bogus...err... Bowl Championship Series title game remaining, what has this bowl season taught us?
We've learned that the GMAC bowl is curiously placed in the middle of the majors for some unknown reason, for one. We've learned that it was a lot more fun when all of the major bowls were played on a single day, for another. In the coming days we'll probably learn, or re-learn, that Tim Tebow is not human.
Here, though, are the top ten things that the 2008-09 bowl season taught us:
1. The Big 10 is overrated.
Completely and utterly overrated. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin were all losers. Only Iowa's win over South Carolina kept it from being a total Big 10 bust. Few of the games were even close. Slow is slow. The Big 10 is slow. There's not a single team in the Big 10 that would be consistently competitive in any of the other major conferences.
2. The Big 12 is also overrated.
Vastly overrated. Florida will crush Oklahoma to pound this concept in, but even before the Sooners get Tebowed, the Big 12's big boys haven't set the world on fire. Texas struggled with SEC punching bag Ohio State and looked just as slow and pedantic as the Buckeyes in the process. Texas Tech, which scant weeks ago was touted as the best team in the country, was pummelled by middle of the SEC packer Ole Miss. Missouri skimmed past a Big 10 patsy.
3. The BCS busters deserve their due.
Boise State punked Oklahoma two years back. Utah punk-slapped Alabama this season despite Antoine Caldwell's now famous "We gonna kill you" coin-toss taunt. How'd that work out, Antoine? The next time a Utah or Boise State goes unbeaten, that team deserves the same shot an overrated Texas, Ohio State or USC would get.
4. The best conference in the country is still the SEC.
Despite it being universally accepted as a down year for the SEC and despite the absence of two traditional league powers (Auburn and Tennessee) from the bowl lineup, the SEC notched several impressive bowl victories, including the Rebel win over one-dimensional Texas Tech. LSU demolished Georgia Tech, Georgia crushed Michigan State, Kentucky outlasted East Carolina and Vanderbilt won its first bowl game since John Smith dated Pocahontas. Florida will nuke Oklahoma back to Howard Schnellenberger to reinforce this point.
5. The second best conference in the country is the Pac-10.
USC and Oregon each exposed a pretender from one of the weaker conferences. The Trojans dismantled Joe Pa's Big 10 Penn State while the Ducks plucked Big 12 Oklahoma State. Oregon State's Beavers got in on the act, clipping east coast foe Pitt 3-0. Pity the bowl selections didn't see fit to give us an SEC vs. Pac10 matchup so the country would have a relative comparison.
6. One player does make a difference.
LSU’s defense manhandled a decent Georgia Tech team in the Peach Bowl (aka Chick-Fil-A), but the Bengals got the biggest boost from quality quarterbacking. Freshman Jordan Jefferson played like a veteran. His effective play opened the LSU offense and had the Bengal Tigers looking more like the team that won the 2007 title than the team that stumbled against Arkansas. Poor quarterbacking cost LSU games that could have been won against both the Hogs and Alabama during the regular season. That meant the difference between a shot at the SEC title and a possible BCS berth and landing in the chicken sandwich bowl.
7. One player does make a difference (version two).
Without veteran offensive lineman and Outland Trophy winner Andre Smith in the Sugar Bowl, the Alabama Crimson Tide struggled offensively. Quarterback John Wilson was harassed into making bad plays and poor decisions. Only a special teams lightning strike and a rare Ute miscue kept this game from being a three-score blowout. Alabama’s offense mustered little. Granted, Smith didn’t drop passes or overthrow receivers, and his presence probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but there’s little question that his absence affected the team both physically and mentally.
8. Notre Dame can win a bowl game.
The last time the Irish ended a season with a bowl win, there were only 48 states. So it's only fitting that Notre Dame broke the bowl-losing streak in one of the new states—Hawaii. Of course this is the same Hawaii that Georgia scored 371 points on in last year's Sugar Bowl, that coming the last time the Warriors were really good. This Hawaii was without the star quarterback lost to graduation and without the coach, June Jones, who'd led them from obscurity. This Hawaii was 7-6 coming in and qualified for their own bowl game only. Still, though, the Irish won. I guess that makes them the consensus number one pick in the polls entering 2009.
9. You can't measure heart.
When Southern Miss’ DeAndre Brown went down with one of the most sickening leg breaks ever YouTubed, his Golden Eagles lost arguably the best freshman wide receiver in the country — and at least a third of their offensive production. Instead of folding, Southern Miss kept battling and eventually prevailed over a gritty Troy State team in overtime by blocking a field goal attempt. The Golden Eagle effort made the New Orleans one of the most entertaining of all bowl games.
10. Once again, the bowl season only highlights the need for some form of post-season playoff.
Could this be any clearer? Once again, the bowl season highlighted the glaring need for some form of post-season playoff. Is Florida really the best team in the country? Will demolishing an overrated Oklahoma team prove that?
What about unbeaten Utah, a team that smacked around an Alabama squad that sat in the top spot for weeks? Do the Utes have no argument? Had the final vote been taken immediately after the Sugar Bowl, there’s no question Utah would have drawn a significant number of votes. But with the BCS title game coming a full week later, there won’t be nearly as much residual love for the Utes. Most voters will be wrapped up in the spectacle of Florida and Oklahoma and Utah will be relegated to an afterthought.
Same with Texas, whose fans are crying today that they deserve a share of the title due to a regular season win over the Sooners. What about one-loss USC? The BCS forgave Florida’s loss to Ole Miss and overlooked Oklahoma’s stumble against Texas. Why not give similar passage to the Trojan’s one loss?
What’s fair? One thing is certain: The BCS and the current bowl structure, in spite of all the entertaining games provided, certainly isn’t.
Kevin Strickland is the lead columnist for TigersX.com, a website devoted to college sports discussion in general and Auburn sports in particular. He has covered college and professional sports for 15 years.