We are exactly a week away from Christmas, and as Santa Claus is checking his list, likely for the second time, we here at Your Best 11 are doing the exact same thing. This season was a long one, but as always, it was not quite long enough as we get to the quickly approaching end.
As Christmas comes down the chute, we'll take a look at our naughty and nice list for this season.
Kicking off the naughty list, we have Lane Kiffin and USC, the team and coach that fooled everyone a year ago into thinking they had a shot to win it all entering 2012. Kiffin gets top billing, not for the play-calling or for his team's failures, but rather for the petty off-field dealings.
On the field, USC deserves the naughty designation for the way its defense played. The group lacked discipline, was inept in executing the fundamentals and was totally in over its head. It was bad enough to force Monte Kiffin out the door and in moments, like the Oregon and Arizona games, so bad that decent offensive performances were ultimately useless.
In other words, anytime you score 36 and 51 points, you should be on the winning side of things, not the losing side.
To go with the Trojans on the naughty list, we have two whole leagues, the Big East and the Big Ten. Thanks to the way each of those conferences ended its season, the door was left open for Northern Illinois, whose invitation to the Orange Bowl sparked the biggest complaint folks have had this BCS season. Thanks to Louisville blowing it against UConn and Nebraska getting hammered by Wisconsin, the Huskies were able to slide into the BCS mix.
Folks were upset that the Oklahoma Sooners did not get that bid, and instead of blaming the Big East and Big Ten, they got upset at the BCS and the Huskies. The real anger should have been directed at the naughtiest two conferences for leaving that gate wide open. No Sooners-Gators in the Sugar Bowl; instead we'll be watching Louisville against the Gators because the Huskies got the last BCS spot.
Last but not least on the naughty list, we have conference expansion. For a while the rumor mill and conference moves were merely a thing to do in the offseason. However, 2012 saw the continued push for conference realignment to be a major issue during the season as well. This year Maryland and Rutgers announced they would be joining the Big Ten, and Louisville announced it would be joining the ACC, replacing Maryland.
Now, during bowl season, the Big East is set for another split, and conference realignment is back on the table. Media folks hate writing about the rumors. Fans hate hearing about the conferences they love morphing into new-look moneymaking machines.
In the grand scheme of things, perhaps money, through driving the expansion craze, has again been the naughtiest major player in college football this year.
That's enough of the bad; there were several "nice" things that happened this season too. We'll kick it off with one of the most amazing feel-good stories, Manti Te'o. On the field, Te'o put together a season for the ages, taking home a plethora of postseason awards, captaining a 12-0 team to a BCS championship shot and getting to New York as a Heisman finalist.
Off the field, Te'o played 2012 with a heavy heart after losing both his girlfriend and his grandmother. Many people shrink away in the face of adversity, but not Te'o. The senior linebacker rose to the occasion, fighting through the pain in a way that every college football fan could rally around.
Another nice story is the opposite of the Big East and Big Ten, the Northern Illinois Huskies. Led by Jordan Lynch, the Huskies finished with a 12-1 record and their first trip to a BCS bowl game. In fact, the nice part of this expands beyond just the school in DeKalb; this reaches the entire MAC.
For the first time, the MAC earned a BCS bid, and that's a big deal. The WAC and Mountain West were the only non-BCS leagues to get a team into the major bowls. Now the MAC joins the party, leaving just the Sun Belt and Conference USA on the outside looking in. It's a big payday for the conference, and hats off to the Huskies.
That brings us to our final nice of the season, Nick Saban and Brian Kelly. Not the guys you would expect when the list of proverbial "nice guys" of college football comes out, but for our purposes, they fit the bill.
They do so because in a year when scoring increased again, these guys rode defense to a title shot. For a defensive-minded guy like myself, that's about as nice as it gets. Now, not only are we staring at an epic BCS championship game in terms of names, but we are also looking at teams that want to get physical in every sense of the word.
So nice to see.
That's my quick list of naughty and nice. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.