50 Things We Learned from the College Football Season
It was an incredible year in college football (and it still isn't over yet). The preseason No. 1 Oklahoma faded into relative obscurity, while LSU emerged as the only undefeated team. Consensus No. 1 NFL draft pick Andrew Luck returned for a shot at glory, while Robert Griffin III gave Baylor its first Heisman Trophy of all time.
Preseason darlings FSU, Notre Dame and Texas A&M struggled, Kansas State, Clemson and Baylor surprised, while Michigan, USC and Georgia took their first steps in an attempt to return to glory.
But what did we learn from this college football season? What lessons can we take from the season and apply to future seasons, or better yet, to our lives? What pieces of wisdom have we gleaned that we can retain and apply for future experiences?
Read on and enjoy!
Uniforms Can Get You Noticed, but They Can't Make You Relevant
Maryland became a national punch line after wearing the uniforms seen here in its opening game against Miami. Nearly every talk show had a joke or opinion on the matter. At their worst, they were the ugliest things ever seen. At their best, they were a way to bring attention to the program.
It brought attention to the program for exactly one week. Then, Maryland didn't beat another FBS foe the entire season, and the Terrapins were not mentioned on a national talk show ever again.
I argued that if Maryland needed to wear uniforms to attract attention, then it must not have been confident in its potential as a football team. I'm not saying that Maryland did this...maybe it thought the uniforms were legitimately cool. One thing is for certain, however: Maryland was awful this year, and nothing can change that.
You Can Lose One Conference Game and Miss out on a Bowl
This dubious distinction goes to Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers went 7-1 in the Sun Belt, losing only to champions Arkansas State (by four only). They finished 7-5, but were passed over for a bowl by FIU and Louisiana-Lafayette, two team the Hilltoppers beat, but who both finished 8-4.
Ouch. Maybe WKU shouldn't schedule LSU anymore. What's worth more? The payday you get for going to Baton Rouge or the payday you get for a bowl?
At 7-5, they are the only team in the nation with a .500 or better record that isn't going to a bowl. Heck, UCLA is 6-7 and will play on New Year's Eve.
As mentioned, the Hilltoppers are 7-1 in the Sun Belt. Thirteen teams are below .500 and going to bowl games. Illinois, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are 2-6 in their respective conferences and bowling.
Las Vegas Makes the Calls
Time for our "Gambling Story of the Year." (You can fast forward to the 3:00 mark of the video.)
Trailing by three points early in the year, Utah lined up in the Coliseum to kick a potentially game-tying field goal against USC. The kick was blocked and returned for a touchdown as time expired, giving USC a nine-point win.
Upon blocking the kick, USC's sideline ran onto the field. The referees threw an excessive celebration penalty on the Trojans. It was initially ruled that it would fall under the category of the new celebration rule penalty, meaning that the penalty would be a spot foul. Therefore, the touchdown by USC was null, and they won by three points.
Hours later, after "discussions," the Pac-12 ruled that since the infraction occurred against ineligible players (the bench), that the penalty didn't fall under the new rule. Therefore, it was the old-school after-the-play, dead-ball-foul, and the touchdown was good.
To clarify, hours after the game, the score was changed to USC having won by three, to USC winning by nine.
Who cares? USC won either way, right?
The spread was USC -8.
The Force Is Strong with Arkansas, but They Aren't Jedis Yet
Arkansas is probably better than the Sugar Bowl team it put together last year. The Razorbacks beat three ranked teams in South Carolina, Auburn and Texas A&M and had to go to LSU and Alabama.
They hung with Alabama last year and have had success with LSU in the past, but were dismantled by both this year. Against the two best teams in the nation Arkansas was outscored 79-31. As good of a team as the Hogs are (they were ranked No. 3 entering the LSU game), they were boys amongst men in those games.
They'll be slightly better on defense next season and get Tyler Wilson back, but they'll lose their top receivers. At least they'll get LSU and Alabama at home. These are the teams they have to beat if they want to take the next step.
TCU Is Changing Conferences...but Isn't Going Anywhere
The general consensus was that following a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 final ranking, TCU would have a down year. They sort of did, if you consider going 10-2, running the table in the Mountain West, beating Boise on the road and being on the cusp of making the BCS for the third year in a row a down year.
TCU's defense struggled early in the season, allowing 50 points to Baylor and 40 to SMU. Since then, however, the Horned Frogs allowed more than 28 points just once (35 in the win to Boise). They were a couple of plays away from being undefeated on the year.
Now, they are moving to the Big 12, but return a ton of talent. QB Casey Pachall, all their running backs, their top three receivers and most of their defense return. Losing natural leader Tank Carder will hurt, but I fully expect TCU to compete for a Big 12 and BCS National Championship next season.
Coaches-in-Waiting Officially Don't Work
I'm surprised anyone ever thought this was a good idea, but coaches-in-waiting officially don't work.
Would you like it if at your job they hired someone to be your subordinate for a year and then, against your will, were told that you would be replaced by that person? I doubt it.
You might go as far to do what West Virginia coach Bill Stewart did. After Dana Holgorsen was named offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting of the Mountaineers, Stewart asked a journalist to dig up dirt on Holgorsen in an attempt to smear the coach-in-waiting.
What came as a result was a series of disparaging articles, all erroneous, regarding Holgorsen being kicked out of WVU institutions for being overly intoxicated. When the reporter came forward and admitted that Stewart approached him to dig up dirt, Stewart "resigned." Holgorsen became a head coach one season early.
Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher are different stories but provide further examples of how this doesn't work. Muschamp was thought for a long time to be the successor to Mack Brown. Animosity grew when Muschamp left to take a head coaching job at Florida (as anyone would).
Fisher was considered the head coach in waiting at FSU. He got an opportunity to do it early, as Bobby Bowden was dismissed unceremoniously. It wasn't Fisher's fault, but it nonetheless made it easier to fire a legend since there was a sure-fire, in-house candidate to replace him.
In short, these situations don't work.
The Ol Ball Coach Can Still Get the Job Done
South Carolina has been built up to perennial SEC title contenders despite winning the SEC East just once. Perhaps they have been overrated in the past, but the Gamecocks have been unable to cash in on their lofty expectations.
At first glance, it may seem that this season was a failure for the Gamecocks. They didn't compete for the SEC Championship and failed to defend their SEC East crown.
Now consider that they lost their best player in Marcus Lattimore to injury halfway through the season. They dismissed their beleaguered starting quarterback Stephen Garcia after he failed yet another drug and alcohol test. Playing with a freshman running back, a sophomore quarterback and an inconsistent star receiver, the Gamecocks were able to win 10 games for just the second time in school history.
The turnaround at South Carolina wasn't as quick as it was with Florida for Spurrier...but I can see it happening. The Gamecocks are going through their best stint in program history. Next year they will have tons of skill players back and a strong defensive front. They should compete for the SEC Championship next season.
You Should Worry More About Your Team Than Your Schedule
Arizona's schedule was completely stacked this season. In the first five weeks the Wildcats played Oklahoma State, Oregon, Arizona State and USC. They lost all four games (they also played Northern Arizona).
Before the season, Mike Stoops stated he wasn't a fan of the new schedules and thought that Arizona got a tough schedule, while newcomer Utah had it easy (he was right, by the way). Instead of worrying about getting his team ready, he was worried about factors he couldn't control. They lost all those games, and Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start.
This isn't the first time Stoops has been cited for complaining. The Wall Street Journal wrote a comedic piece a few years ago citing the percentages in which he and brother Bob complain when on camera.
Arizona's schedule got easier down the stretch, and the Wildcats improved slightly. They would go 3-3 in their final six games and finish 4-8.
Preseason Rankings Go a Long Way in Determining the BCS
West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville tied for the Big East Championship this season. Since they all beat one another, the tiebreaker went to the team which was ranked the highest at the end of the year.
What team would you like to guess won that distinction? Clearly the team that was ranked highest at the beginning of the season—in this case, West Virginia (it also happened to be the only ranked team at the beginning of the year).
Cincinnati and Louisville will get the distinction of being co-Big East champions, but only West Virginia will represent the conference in the Orange Bowl. Louisville will go to the Belk Bowl, while Cincinnati will go to the Music City Bowl.
All because of an arbitrary ranking put in place before any games were played. Doesn't seem fair.
Cancer Awareness Isn't As Important As Awareness of Investment Companies
We laugh all the time at bowl sponsors. GoDaddy.com, potatoes, helicopters, furniture, department stores, restaurants—nothing is off limits when it comes to sponsorships.
Well, one thing is: cancer awareness.
Consider the case of the "Cure Bowl," a proposed game to take place in Orlando, Fla. at UCF's home stadium of Bright House Networks Stadium. The Cure is a "celebration of women who are living with breast cancer today and will face it tomorrow." The proposal includes an outline of how proceeds from the bowl will go to a variety of cancer charities.
Twice it has been denied. Repeat: Twice it has been denied eligibility to become a bowl game. Repeat again: It isn't a bowl game.
Think about that when you're watching the GoDaddy.com Bowl or the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. At least you'll know that you can create a domain name or what credit union to use if you ever move to San Diego.
Andrew Luck Was Right in Coming Back
This may catch some of you by surprise, but it's true. It was true at the beginning of the season, and it's true now. Why? Because that is what he wanted to do. Every person is entitled to choose his own path in life, and Andrew Luck did just that.
He didn't win the Heisman. He didn't win the Pac-12. He didn't win the national championship. After it was announced RGIII won the Heisman, Tom Rinaldi stuck a microphone in Luck's face and asked what more he could have done to win the award.
I wanted Luck to tell Rinaldi he was an idiot and that the question was the most idiotic he's ever heard in what I'm sure is a long list of stupid questions, but Luck was professional and gave some generic answer.
Luck was successful this season, and he made the right choice. I'm reminded of two quotes to support this.
The first originally comes from a piece of poetry that I cannot attribute but has recently been associated with John Wooden:
At God's footstool to confess,
A poor soul knelt and bowed his head.
“I failed,” he cried. The Master said,
“Thou didst thy best, that is success.”
The other quote comes from Wooderson from Dazed and Confused. Near the end of the film, when star quarterback Randall Floyd is debating whether to give in and sign a pledge to play quarterback for the football team or quit the team, Wooderson simply states:
"You gotta do what Randall Pink Floyd wants to do man."
Luck did both. He did his best, and he did what he wanted.
Big Conferences Ruin the Outcome of the Season
I loved the Big 12 this season. Why? Because the conference played a true round-robin schedule, something the Pac-12 did for years before expanding. There was no "this team didn't play this team" and "this team gets that team, but at home."
Twelve-team conferences are a joke. Utah entered the Pac-12 and didn't have to play Oregon or Stanford. Virginia Tech was picked to win the national championship because it didn't have to play FSU in the regular season. UGA ultimately won the SEC East because it didn't have to play Arkansas, LSU or Alabama! This list goes on and on.
What a complete and utter joke. What is the point of having a conference if you don't even play the teams inside of them? Worse yet, the unbalanced schedule goes a long way in determining the eventual champion (South Carolina beat Georgia but then had one more loss; South Carolina had to play Arkansas, while UGA played Ole Miss).
Did BYU Shoot Itself in the Foot?
BYU was never in a BCS conference, but it was in a small group of schools that were always considered BCS busters or the "next step down." They were the teams that were always ranked and were figured to be included in the BCS should they win one game somewhere in their schedule (the other three were Utah, Boise State and TCU).
BYU made a switch from the Mountain West to independent status. They're 9-3 and extremely under-publicized. The new network the Cougars have may have led them to more revenue and money, but it hasn't led to more notoriety. They were more well-known when playing in the Mountain West.
To illustrate, BYU is 9-3 and received no votes in the final poll. Louisiana Tech is in the WAC (which most of BYU's opponents were) and is 8-4. It received two votes.
The ultimate goal is to win games, but what after that? Winning championships or making money? I would hope it's the former. Boise, Utah and TCU are all moving to power conferences and are improving their possibilities of one day competing for a national championship. BYU may have hurt its chances.
A New Transfer Rule Could Spell Chaos Soon
I know I'm basically accusing programs and deciding they are guilty until proven innocent, but it will only take one instance of this for the landscape to change.
Under a new NCAA rule, if a player has graduated early, he can transfer to another program without having to sit out a year. The only caveat is that those players have to enroll in graduate studies, and the graduate program they enroll in has to not be offered by their original university. You can call it the Russell Wilson rule if you want, because this is exactly what he did (sort of—more on this in a second).
At first I was a fan of the rule. If a player wants to go on to graduate study, let him. With all the crap that goes on in the NCAA, why would anyone complain about a football player pursuing graduate studies? We all know people who have master's degree in a dumb field of study, and those people didn't play college football simultaneously.
The argument has been made, however, that this could lead to something that is akin to free agency. Players can claim they are interested in Major X and then transfer.
I don't see it becoming an overwhelming problem, so like I said, I'm accusing programs of being guilty until proven innocent. Like I said though, there is only going to need to be one harassment of the rule for it to become national news.
I don't see it becoming a problem because it is only going to be applicable to such a small percentage of players. How many players graduate early? How many of those players then want to pursue graduate studies? How many are good enough to transfer to another team and immediately start? Wilson was, but he wouldn't have left N.C. State if not for a rift with head coach Tom O'Brien. Therefore, Wilson didn't abuse the rule.
If it ever happens then it would need to be huge, national news. If Andrew Luck decided to return and play somewhere else, or if RGIII returned and decided to transfer, then we have a problem on our hands. There's no indication of this happening, but it is a possibility (in general it's a possibility, not the RGIII or Luck scenario).
The Heisman Committee Can Choose the Best Player for Its Annual Award
Robert Griffin III was the best player in the nation this season. He had the best stat line and made Baylor relevant for the first time ever. He was as integral to his team's success as anyone. He deserved the award.
Yet all the way up until the day of the ceremony, I thought that he could easily be passed over. It turns out I was wrong, and the committee did the right thing.
They didn't buy the hype and give it to Luck. They didn't give it to a player on one of the best two teams (Tyrann Mathieu, Trent Richardson), and I don't think anyone ever expected Montee Ball to win.
We've seen some head-scratching selections from the Heisman committee before. It's given every reason in the book for past selections, from making a team better to career achievement awards. It's screwed people in the past for playing on a 9-3 team or for being on a lesser known program.
It didn't do any of it this year. The best man won.
Vanderbilt Isn't Going to Be Anyone's BYE Week Anymore
Consider this season as a warning to all SEC powerhouses. Vanderbilt is going to compete and put up a fight. The Commodores don't care about your tradition, your talent or what you have on the line. They will not be intimidated in the years to come.
They went 6-6 this season but lost close games to Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. One or two of those swing their way, and they're in a New Year's Day Bowl.
They continue to compete under James Franklin as I expect them to, and there will be plenty of New Year's Day bowls to come.
Clemson Isn't South Carolina
In one of the funnier moments of the season, Clemson head coach Dabe Swinney responded to a quote many attributed to Steve Spurrier: "We may not be Alabama or LSU, but we ain't Clemson, folks."
Swinney kept his cool but nevertheless went on for four minutes on how Clemson is better historically than South Carolina. My favorite line? "That's why Carolina's in Chapel Hill and USC's in California." He defended his school like any good coach would.
Now for the kicker. Swinney mentions at the beginning of this sound bite that he would be surprised if Spurrier had actually said those words. Swinney would be right...the words were actually spoken by Gamecock play-by-play man Todd Ellis.
Some Things Are Still Based on Merit
Many people may furrow their brow when looking at the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup: Virginia and Auburn. This bowl game annually provides one of the best atmospheres as ACC and SEC fanbases meet in Atlanta on New Year's Eve to see a contest between two great teams.
At first glance, it doesn't appear as if we have those two great teams. Virginia? Auburn without Cam Newton? That isn't sexy.
I don't care. I expect a great game between the two (even with Michael Dyer suspended). More importantly, I'm happy with Virginia being selected.
The Cavs finished in third place in the ACC. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is supposed to pick the second best ACC team. With Virginia Tech and Clemson going to the BCS, Virginia became this team.
The bowl committee could have passed them over. It could have taken the more-popular FSU Seminoles. Or, it could have taken Georgia Tech and given the Jackets a home game.
Instead, it did the right thing. It took the Cavaliers, a team which beat both FSU and GT in the regular season.
Kudos. The bowl committee could have created a much sexier, more lucrative matchup, but instead gave the Cavaliers their deserved due. It's my belief that the committee will be rewarded with a great game.
Getting Your Own TV Network Doesn't Make You Good
From 2001-2010 Texas won 10 or more games every single season. The Longhorns were the definition of a dynasty (not really since the personnel changed), but they seemed to compete for the national championship every single season and won it in 2005.
That was all before there was the Longhorn Network. Now, they have it, and they're a paltry 12-12 in the past two seasons (7-5 A.L.N., after Longhorn Network). If the hope is that the network will spread recognition of the university, then they better start winning and playing better when on the network (we know this isn't the reason either...who doesn't know that UT-Austin exists?).
The network was/is fodder for many critics. Some see that it gives Texas an unfair advantage when it comes to recruiting and have gone as far to say that it is the impetus for much of the conference realignment.
You Can Quash a Potential Quarterback Controversy
You can if you're Les Miles.
LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended before the season began for allegedly being involved in a bar fight. Cynics wrote off the Tigers (even though Jefferson had more interceptions than touchdowns), stating they could not win with their starter.
Enter Jarrett Lee. Lee did what he had to do with the Tigers and led them to five straight wins. Jefferson did not attempt a pass until mid-October against the Gators. Jefferson would even go as far to say that he wanted more playing time. Uh-oh, we're headed for a controversy.
The Tigers would play both quarterbacks but eventually switch back to Jefferson full-time. Lee has attempted only 12 passes in the past five games.
This is completely unprecedented. Never before has a quarterback been suspended, a team been written off, the QB returns and demands playing time despite the replacement playing well, gets the starting job back and then the replacement does not complain.
Oh, and along the way, LSU managed to go 13-0.
How was this not a full-blown controversy? How was Tracy Wolfson not in Miles' face 24/7 asking who the starter was?
I don't know, but Miles pulled it off somehow.
Instant Replay Doesn't Always Get It Right
One could tell right away, watching live, that this extra point was no good. It's pretty obvious.
Yet the referees ruled it good. No big deal, right? They will overrule it when they review it.
For whatever reason, they didn't. They still said that the kick was good.
Toledo would end up kicking a field goal late in the game to force overtime. If the extra point was ruled no good as it should have been, Toledo would have won the game.
Instead, Toledo would lose in overtime.
You Can Go Back to School
It may not be as humorous or antic-filled as when Rodney Dangerfield did it in Back to School, but it's just as cool.
Alan Moore, 61, has enrolled at Faulkner, a Christian institution in Alabama. There, he serves as the placekicker.
Moore was originally a kicker for a JUCO team in the 1960s when he was called to serve the nation in the Vietnam War. After serving he returned and lived a fairly normal life, working construction and raising a family.
He was laid off two years ago during the economic downswing. Instead of sulking, retiring or even returning to the workforce, he began practicing his kicking again in the backyard. He was able to find his form once again and enrolled at Faulkner.
He's moved into the dorms and is attending classes just like every other student-athlete in the nation. In the second half of the first game he was called on to kick an extra point, something he did easily.
Moore hopes his story can serve as an inspiration. He stated to his coach, "I want to show people that no matter what the circumstances, what the deal, that they need to finish what it is they started."
Interim Coaches Don't Stand a Chance
It's rare, but every so often (and increasing at an alarming rate), a coach is fired right before the season, forcing an interim coach to step in. The university will say that it'll consider the coach for the position and that the season will serve as an "audition" or job interview of sorts, but it doesn't mean that. The truth is interim coaches don't stand a chance.
Look at the cases of Everett Withers at UNC and Luke Fickell at Ohio State. Both were hired close to the beginning of the season, both led teams to a bowl game, both are out at the end of the season.
What would have had needed to be done for those men to keep their jobs? A lot more than what most coaches would need to do. Fickell would have needed to go somewhere in the neighborhood of 9-3 and win the division for him to keep his job, and that may not have been enough.
This is also ignoring the fact that if there is an interim coach, that usually implies that something is wrong with the program to begin with. Fickell wasn't playing with a full complement of talent at OSU. Therefore the deck was stacked against him twice.
Withers has the Tar Heels at 7-5, half a game worse than their record last year (8-5). Withers has experience coaching in the NFL and is a solid defensive coach. Why wasn't he considered for the full-time job?
Interim coaches enter when a program is at its low and are then asked to overachieve greatly. Those two factors combined equal what we see now: one year and done for these coaches.
Several Big-Name Programs Will Look Different Next Season
Coaching carousels are a fact of the game and occur every year. That said, it seems as if this year has seen more vacancies at big-name programs than any other season.
Four teams in the Pac-12 will have new coaches next season—good ones too. Mike Leach will take over at Wazzu, Rich Rodriguez will take over at Arizona and Jim L. Mora at UCLA, while ASU has yet to determine its new coach.
Kevin Sumlin has ascended the ranks to take over at Texas A&M. Urban Meyer is back and in Columbus, where he'll take over one of the top 10 programs of all time. Tim Beckman will take over at Illinois, and Hugh Freeze will assume the head coaching position at Ole Miss.
The last opening may end up being the most interesting. It remains to be seen what will happen with Penn State and its vacancy. Surely some coach will be interested in taking over and inheriting the mess that PSU is in, but whether it's a big name or even the name PSU wants remains to be seen.
Those are some big-name teams getting some big-name coaches. The landscape in football will be drastically different next season.
You Can Go to a Bowl Game at 6-7
UCLA will be attending the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl sitting at 6-7. The Bruins applied for a waiver from the NCAA to gain eligibility and were granted their request. (Why wouldn't they be...UCLA in San Francisco on New Year's Eve...cha-ching!)
UCLA finished the season 6-6 and were winners of the Pac-12 South division almost by default. The Bruins had to then travel to Eugene to face Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 title game, where they lost 49-31.
I for one don't have a problem with UCLA being eligible at 6-7. If USC were eligible, then the Trojans would have made the Pac-12 title game, and UCLA would have just been another 6-6 team. No one is complaining that Texas A&M, Illinois, Florida, Vanderbilt or Purdue are attending bowl games. None of those teams would played in a conference title game, and none would have beaten Oregon.
I don't have a problem with UCLA in a bowl game. I had a problem with it in the Pac-12 title matchup.
Brian Kelly Has Some Anger Issues
Anger and frustration have become archetypal characteristics of a football coach. A coach yelling at his players or throwing a cooler across the locker room is nothing unique.
But Kelly takes it to the next level.
When have you seen a coach turn that color of purple before? When have they publicly humiliated their quarterback before? Whenever possible, coaches prefer to have these sorts of escapades off the field, behind closed doors.
The funny thing is that I defended Kelly after this tirade against USF. If that's his personality, then that is his personality. Notre Dame fans, alums and boosters all tabbed him as "the guy" and now were in the position of liking the sausage but not liking seeing how it's made.
What I wasn't a fan of when it came to Kelly was the way he threw his players under the bus. Following a loss to USC, Kelly stated, "You can see the players that I have recruited, you know who they are. ... The other guys here are coming along." (The implication being that the players he recruited are good, the others aren't.)
If you think this is unique to Notre Dame, it isn't. In one particular game at Cincinnati, the Bearcats kicker missed a long field goal right before the half. When asked by the sideline reporter what the decision process was, Kelly replied, "Well, I was just telling him that if he couldn't make it don't attempt it, he's just trying to get on the field. A young kid, he'll learn."
Forget about the fact that most coaches know how far their kicker can kick it down to the millimeter for now. Kelly should not have publicly blasted his kicker in that situation. It was a way of saying, "not my fault, the kid's fault," when in reality it made him look dumber than ever, as it was an admission of "I don't know how far my kicker can kick."
Kelly will need to tone it down and become a more friendly PR person if he wants to survive at such a prominent position.
Winning more games wouldn't hurt either.
The MAC Can Provide Tons of Entertainment
In one of the better ideas of all time, the MAC has chosen in the past few seasons to play a game or two during the week, usually on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Diehard fans will watch, while casual fans will watch if there is no NBA on, and if there is no NBA season whatsoever, then everyone will watch.
On top of their accessibility to the fans, the games turned out to be very entertaining.
NIU won at Toledo 63-60 on Nov. 1. One week later, Toledo defeated WMU, 66-63. Bowling Green and NIU were able to combine for 59 points. Ohio and Bowling Green played to a 29-28 final with Ohio winning, while the Bobcats beat divisional foe Temple 35-31 another week.
We got to know the names, faces and coaches of the MAC. They produced entertaining games on a Tuesday and Wednesday night. Can't ask for much more.
LaMichael James Is Exception to Oregon's 'Softness'
The general consensus when it comes to Oregon is that they're all flash and no substance. The Ducks can beat lesser teams but can't play physical football against teams with a good defense. This is why their only losses the past few seasons have been Boise State, Ohio State, LSU and Auburn.
I don't know if that's true or not. It could simply be that all those teams were/are better than Oregon. I do know one thing though: If they are soft, then James is the exception to the rule.
James suffered a nasty injury on national TV against Cal. Despite his arm bending the wrong way, James returned two short weeks later and looked as if he was in top form.
Despite his diminutive frame, James runs hard. He's shown he can take a hit and is durable, and will find a home at the next level.
His stat line this season actually ended up being more impressive than last season. His rushing yards per game was up, and he can still eclipse last year's rushing total, despite playing in one less game.
Injuries Can Totally Derail a Season
We all know that if Andrew Luck, RGIII or Matt Barkley went down with an injury, their teams would then suffer. Thankfully, none of them did.
But there were some "lesser" known players who proved to be as integral to their team's success as those three listed above.
Tyler Bray went down early in the season, and Tennessee could not continue the Vols' success. Pitt was looking like potential Big East champions, but the loss of the then-leading-rusher in the nation, Ray Graham, derailed any hopes of that. Oklahoma was not the same team after the loss of Ryan Broyles. Even Ohio State looked much improved following the return of Dan Herron (who was suspended).
Oftentimes the injury snowballs into much more. It isn't so much the fact that Broyles was out for OU than it was the spark that ignited other problems. When injuries occur, other deficiencies in a team are exposed. They vary from team to team, but rarely is the actual absence of the player the sole reason for a team's slide. Yet, oddly enough, injuries can derail an entire season.
Florida Isn't the Best State for Football Anymore...
For years the Sunshine State boasted the best collection of programs and could safely call itself the best state in the nation. Florida, FSU and Miami were all national powers, usually competing for the national championship.
Now, they're a far cry from that. FSU was ranked in the Top Five in the preseason but quickly fell out of the rankings following three straight losses. Florida entered a rebuilding year following the departure of Urban Meyer, a process that may be extended with the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Miami finished 6-6 but will not be attending a bowl following a self-imposed ban.
The "lesser schools" aren't much help either. UCF fell to below .500 following a C-USA championship. USF looked primed to take over the state following a 4-0 start but quickly faded to finish last in the Big East, missing a bowl game entirely. FAU won one game. FIU provided the lone bright spot, as the Panthers are back in a bowl game for the second straight year.
The state wasn't as competitive as it was in the '00s as it was in the 1990s. No one is arguing that. Still, Florida won two championships in the decade, and FSU looked primed to carry the state into the next decade. So far, they've struggled.
...Because Texas Is the Best State Once Again
Texas wins the best state contest, narrowly edging California, the latter of which has two teams ranked in the Top Five. Surprisingly, it hasn't been the traditional powers of Texas and Texas A&M giving the Lone Star State its power.
It's Baylor, TCU and Houston leading the charge. Baylor had one of its best seasons of all time and crowned its first Heisman Trophy winner. TCU "regressed" to go 10-2 and finish ranked in the Top 20. Houston was one win away from making a BCS bowl but fell to Southern Miss in the C-USA championship game.
Texas gets the benefit because it has more programs than any other state. Still, Baylor, Houston and TCU are very good teams, while Texas and Texas A&M are mediocre. This gives it the edge over California, which boasts Stanford and USC, but not much else.
Ronnie Hillman Is About on Pace to Break the All-Time Rushing Record
There is a long, long way to go, but San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman could eventually be the all-time leading rusher.
Hillman rushed for 1,532 yards in his freshman campaign. Brady Hoke left in the offseason, but Hillman's production did not dip. The superstar rushed for 1,656 yards this season, and he still has one game to go (the New Orleans Bowl versus Louisiana-Lafayette).
So far Hillman has played in 25 games and has totaled 3,188 yards. Figuring conservatively, Hillman will play in another 25 games (the bowl game and then 24 over the next two years) and would thus add another 3,188 yards. This would put him ahead of Ricky Williams but slightly behind Ron Dayne by a couple hundred of yards.
SDSU's move to the Big East is a mixed bag for Hillman. On one hand, the competition figures to improve. On the other, he should get more notoriety and respect now. I'm confident that Hillman can play against the big boys of the BCS (maybe the MWC is better than the Big East) and that he will be close to breaking some major records should he stay all four years.
Virginia Tech Is Never Gone
A few weeks ago I compared Virginia Tech to Bob Wiley from What About Bob? Just when you think he's gone, he isn't. Since the Hokies back-doored themselves into the Sugar Bowl, the sentiment has never been truer.
They were considered a sleeper team for the BCS National Championship this season because their schedule was easy (logic that never works). They lost twice to Clemson, didn't win the ACC and still will be in a BCS bowl.
Next year they will be national title contenders because they'll be better. David Wilson and Logan Thomas return.
They're never gone. Ever.
You Can Make a BCS Bowl by Beating Exactly One Ranked Team
Apparently strength of schedule isn't as integral to the BCS formula as it has been in years past. Why? Because not one, not two, but three teams in the BCS won exactly one game against a ranked opponent.
West Virginia only beat No. 23 Cincinnati, but we'll give the Mountaineers a pass since they won their conference.
The two teams in question, as you could guess, are the two at-large teams playing in the Sugar Bowl. Virginia Tech and Michigan each have one win over a ranked opponent this season.
Michigan beat No. 16 Nebraska the second to last week of the season. To be fair, the Wolverines only played one other ranked team, MSU, and lost.
Virginia Tech beat No. 23 Georgia Tech (which is no longer ranked) in early November. Then the Hokies lost twice to the other ranked team they played, Clemson twice.
Instead, the teams combined to beat App State, ECU, Arkansas State, Marshall, Miami, Wake Forest, BC, Duke, UNC, Virginia, WMU, ND, EMU, SDSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois and Ohio State. Can someone point to a quality opponent in that list, or at least one opponent that should earn a team a BCS berth?
For what it's worth, Baylor beat three ranked teams (TCU, Texas and Oklahoma), and Kansas State beat two teams (Baylor and Texas).
Only Fans Care About Tradition, and Geography Majors Need Not Apply
The inevitable conference realignment slide. Teams are moving all over the place at the speed of light, so quickly that it is hard to keep up with.
We can argue that TCU will/won't be able to compete in the Big 12 or if Boise will get more credit being a part of the Big East until the cows come home (or until a season is played out), but one thing is for certain.
All the tradition and pageantry of college football—everything that makes the game and legends as storied as they are—is being thrown out the window, and only the fans seem to care.
Longstanding rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Texas-Texas A&M will be put on indefinite hold. Same with Pitt-West Virginia. Oh well.
The fans are what pay all of these commissioners and ADs' salaries. If not for the popularity of the sport, they wouldn't be in position to launch conference networks and realign. Now, by destroying what we love, they're biting the hand that feeds them. The only problem is that we'll continue to feed them.
For the last piece of irony, just to show a blatant disregard, conferences will take any and all with no consideration for geography. Boise and San Diego State in the Big East? Yeah, who cares?
It's insulting to our intelligence. It becomes a joke and punch line where we can all agree that it's dumb, but it's insulting. Until we shut off our TVs, though, they'll get the last laugh. I'm as guilty as anyone.
It's Not How You Start—It's How You Finish
USF started 4-0 and finished 5-7. No bowl game.
ASU started 5-1 and finished 6-6. The Sun Devils finished third in the Pac-12 South and fired Dennis Erickson.
Illinois started 6-0, its best start in 60 years. The Fighting Illini finished 6-6 and fired Ron Zook. Best start ever one week, fired six weeks later.
Texas A&M started 5-2 behind two heartbreaking losses. They finished 6-6 and fired Mike Sherman. A&M is most emblematic of this motto, as the Aggies had big leads over both Arkansas and Oklahoma State before fading in the second half.
All these teams showed great promise at one point early on in the season. All will either be home for the holidays or playing at a lesser bowl than they had hoped, while most will enter 2012 with a new coach.
"Cash rules everything around me / C.R.E.A.M / Get the money / dollar dollar bills y'all" - "C.R.E.A.M" - Wu Tang Clan
The Wu Tang Clan sang the above lyrics in their song "C.R.E.A.M." an acronym for "Cash Rules Everything Around Me."
How appropriate of a statement for the BCS bowl chairmen and CEOs! Forget choosing teams based on merit. Why do that when you can invite teams with largest fanbases and alumni that travel the best?
Perhaps most guilty of this is Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan, the man responsible for choosing Michigan and Virginia Tech over Baylor, Kansas State and Boise State. Many, including Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post, have gone as far to accuse Hoolahan of rudimentary cronyism.
If you remember, last season Ohio State was in the Sugar Bowl and key players, including Terrelle Pryor, were ruled ineligible. Through some loophole, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney assured Hoolahan that the players would play in the Sugar Bowl as to not take away from the luster of the game.
Delaney did a favor for Hoolahan. His return favor? Welcome Michigan to New Orleans this year...and pit it against someone big...as in, not Baylor.
According to Jenkins, "The top three Sugar Bowl executives received more than $1.2 million of the game’s revenue of $12.7 million in 2009....yet Hoolahan and two others skimmed almost $1 off of every $10 the bowl brought in." Hoolahan figures to make close to $600,000 in bonuses this year.
Cash rules everything around me...
Case Keenum didn't win the Heisman Trophy and his Cougars aren't going to a BCS bowl. Up until last week, both looked like real possibilities. Instead the Cougars will travel to Dallas to take on Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl.
What Keenum did accomplish this season bears mentioning. Keenum became the all-time passing leader in both yards and touchdowns.
He eclipsed the old touchdown record against Rice by throwing for nine touchdowns against the Owls. One week later, he surpassed Timmy Chang's yards record with 407 yards against UAB.
Keenum still has one game left but currently sits at 18,685 yards and 152 touchdowns. That's over 1,500 more yards than Chang and 12 more touchdowns than second-place Kellen Moore (who unceremoniously passed Graham Harrell's old record as well).
In other words, it could be a while before we see Keenum's numbers broken.
Lane Kiffin Can Coach and USC Will Be Just Fine
It could be argued that USC was one of the surprise teams this year. Many predicted Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South at the beginning of the year, but USC would go on to win the division by a full two games.
The Trojans won on the road in South Bend as 11-point underdogs. They won in Eugene as 16-point underdogs. Matt Barkley developed into a Heisman snub and a top pick in the NFL draft. Whether he leaves is still up in the air, but the Trojans will return the best one-two punch in the nation at receiver with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee and will return three starting freshman linebackers.
At some point, Lane Kiffin is going to receive some recognition for this improvement, correct? The Trojans looked like anything but a Top Five team when they started the season with a two-point win over Minnesota and a nine-point win against Utah.
USC finished ranked in the Top Five and will be national championship contenders if it gets a majority of its players back. Even if they don't, the Trojans will be a dangerous team going forward. They've already shown they can improve under the tutelage of Kiffin.
Oh, and Les Miles Can Coach Too
Many have labeled Miles as a riverboat gambling, grass-eating, throw-caution-to-the-wind buffoon whose team wins despite him, not because of him.
First, Miles handled the off-field controversy and subsequent suspension of Jordan Jefferson like it was nothing. For one, the team lost the QB and the team still went undefeated (even though everyone acted as if losing Jefferson would be the deciding factor for the Tigers).
Second, when Jefferson was ready to play again, he was slowly inserted back into the game. Now, he's the full-time starter. When was the last time there was such a controversy that wasn't a controversy?
Miles has led the team to three road wins against ranked opponents and two neutral-site wins against ranked opponents. He can develop a plan to beat you in a shootout (47-21 against West Virginia) or a defensive battle (9-6 against Alabama).
Speaking of the Alabama game...it was Miles who out-coached Nick Saban. Many felt going into the game that this is where Alabama's edge lay and went as far to say that not only LSU would run a trick play, but that it would backfire (what kind of logic is that?).
However, it was Miles and the Tigers that stuck to a game plan and ran the ball, while Saban's Tide team attempted a reverse pass that turned into an interception and kept trotting out its kicker for miss after miss.
I expect a lot of the same rhetoric leading up to the BCS National Championship Game. People will give Saban the coaching edge and be wary of taking LSU due to Miles' past. Don't believe it for a second. Miles can coach.
The Window of Opportunity Has Closed on Boise
We all know the story of Boise State. Perennial Cinderellas, repeatedly left out of the national championship picture. This season started no different than years past. Boise started out as a Top 10 team, beat a quality opponent to open the season, destroyed inferior opponents for most of the season and then slipped up.
The truth is, this season should be more painful for Broncos fans than last season. True, last year's loss to Nevada came in the final game, but Boise would not have been invited to the BCS National Championship regardless, as both Oregon and Auburn were undefeated.
With the mess that college football became this year, Boise could have very easily made the championship as an undefeated team. It would have been interesting to see what the committee decided (Boise or Bama...), but it would have remained a possibility.
The loss itself was more painful, given that it was at home, a place where Boise had not lost at since 2001. The Broncos were 16-point favorites over TCU (they were only 9.5-point favorites last year in Reno).
Now, the Broncos are losing Kellen Moore, the NCAA all-time leader in wins, Doug Martin, Tyler Shoemaker, Tyrone Crawford and Billy Winn.
They had a small window there for a few years, and now it's closed.
It's Not the Size of the Honey Badger in the Fight
Despite winning most outstanding defensive player of the 2011 Cotton Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu was a relatively unknown entity entering the season. Perhaps it was his 5'10", 175-pound frame that got him only one offer from a BCS school and had him ranked 191st in the nation by rivals.com.
Whatever the reasoning was behind the rankings and mystery, they were flawed.
Mathieu burst onto the scene against Oregon, changed the game with a strip and score and hasn't looked back. He ended the season as a Heisman finalist, a rare feat for a defensive player and became ubiquitous with the honey badger, an animal I don't think anyone knew existed prior to the season.
I don't think anyone cares how big he is now.
Bill Snyder Is Turning into One of the Most Underappreciated Coaches of All Time
I'm not quite sure what Bill Snyder has to do to gain more respect and notoriety. If he didn't earn it after this season, then it's probably going to take a national championship for him to earn it.
When Bill Snyder took over Kansas State in 1989, he inherited a team that had one bowl game in its history, had an all-time winning percentage of .370 and had a 27-game losing streak.
He built it into a national power, reaching No. 1 for most of the season in 1998 before being upset by Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship game.
He left in 2005, and the program became mediocre at best. After returning in 2009, the Wildcats quickly made a bowl game in 2010 and were a BCS snub this season. The Wildcats are 10-2 and headed to Dallas for the Cotton Bowl.
No one had heard of anyone on KSU prior to the beginning of the season. Now, the Wildcats are a Top 10 team and will have plenty of starters coming back next year.
Don't overlook the Wildcats under Snyder.
Andrew Luck Isn't Superman
Consider this a corollary to an earlier slide.
It turns out that Andrew Luck isn't Superman. Should this come as a surprise? No.
Luck has been built up more than any other quarterback in recent memory. He turned down the No. 1 pick in last year's NFL draft, and scouts came out to say he is the best prospect since John Elway.
People shouldn't be surprised by a lack of yards or touchdowns. That isn't Stanford's game. They like to play old-school power football with plenty of jumbo sets, I-formation, multiple tight ends. This does not lend itself well to gaudy passing numbers the way an offense like, say, Houston's does.
The fact remains that Luck is still a very good quarterback. It's just that everyone had expected him to be an already refined, polished, flawless quarterback like a veteran Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and he isn't. Give him some time.
The SEC Isn't the Best Conference Anymore
Several computer ratings will tell you a potentially astounding fact:
The SEC isn't the No. 1 conference in the nation.
It would be hypocritical to deride the computers in selecting a championship game and then cite it when it comes to determining conference prowess, but it is pretty clear from comparing the two that the Big 12 is superior.
The Big 12 gets its boost from losing two programs, one of them being Colorado. Now, the team is tougher top to bottom. The SEC struggles with strength due to the poor seasons of Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee. Throw in that Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Auburn are mediocre, and you can see that the SEC is a top-heavy conference.
The Big 12, on the other hand, is deeper. Throw away Kansas and Texas Tech as the bad teams, and Iowa State and Texas would fall into the mediocrity. After that all the teams in the Big 12 are good or better (Mizzou is on the fringe).
I know what we just did isn't the most scientific way of processing and analyzing. LSU and Alabama are most likely the top two teams in the nation and are still in the SEC. That said, one cannot argue that the Big 12 is the deeper, and therefore better, league.
Not Every Game Totally Counts
It's clear by now that not every game counts. If it did, the "Game of the Century" would have meant something.
I understand the counter-argument to this. Every game does count, because Oklahoma State losing to Iowa State, Stanford losing to Oregon and Oregon's loss to USC all made the rematch happen. It isn't Alabama's fault that all those teams lost.
But we also have to look at a game like Michigan and Michigan State. MSU dominated its in-state rivals, won the division as a result and was rewarded with a trip to Indianapolis to take on Wisconsin. The Spartans lost, and despite having the same regular-season record and having beaten Michigan, the Wolverines were selected to go to the Sugar Bowl.
What about the ACC title game? Virginia Tech loses and then miraculously gets invited to the Sugar Bowl anyway. I suppose the game counted, because if Clemson had lost, it wouldn't have secured a BCS invite, but it surely didn't count for the Hokies (and their second-half play reflected it). Who would have known that TCU should have been rooting for Virginia Tech?
These are just a few examples, and I'm pretty sure there are more. Every game counts...unless the more lucrative team loses.
Defense Wins Championships
It's a mantra that is instilled in us from the first day of playing pee-wee sports, but it bears repeating time and time again. Defense wins championships.
Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, Clemson, Wisconsin, Arkansas...all great offenses. All good teams. All have mediocre defenses. None of them are playing for the championship.
Alabama and LSU? So-so offensively. Fantastic defenses. Of course, they'll play for the national championship in a month.
The Greatest Victories Occur off the Field
Last season Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down trying to tackle Army's Malcolm Brown. Following the injury, doctors predicted that LeGrand would never breathe without the aid of a ventilator ever again.
LeGrand started making significant strides in his rehabilitation immediately. He did so well that this season he was able to lead the Knights out of the tunnel in an October game against West Virginia and watch over the coin toss in a game against Army.
At the coin toss, he found Brown, now a captain of the Army team. The two shook hands and wished each other luck. It might have been big to the media and those outside, but in reality the two have spoken to each other plenty of times since the accident.
Despite once being predicted to never breathe without a ventilator again, LeGrand recently walked on a treadmill for one hour straight. He reportedly felt burning in his hamstrings.
The eternal optimist, LeGrand had the following to say about his injury and subsequent year of rehab:
"It's probably been the best year of my life [with] how many people I've been able to touch this entire year."
Who deserves to be in the national championship...Alabama or Oklahoma State?
Legends Can Die
"Heroes get remembered, but legends never die."—The Sandlot
The most memorable quote from The Sandlot may be wrong after all.
Right or wrong, innocent or guilty, the legend of Joe Paterno has been irrevocably altered. The pristine, wise, grandfatherly image is dead.
No Predictions, Forecasting or Any Other Rhetoric Means Very Much
We're reminded of this nearly every week, but at the end of the year it's fun to go back and look at the forecasts.
Remember when Oklahoma-Florida State was the game of the year? Or when the Irish were national title contenders? What about Texas A&M and Arizona State's run at conference supremacy?
Similarly, remember when no one had heard of any players on Kansas State or thought Robert Griffin could actually be a Heisman finalist? What about the kids on Clemson? All we knew about the Tigers was that they '"always fade down the stretch."
Andrew Luck was a fool for coming back this season, Auburn wasn't supposed to make a bowl, Vanderbilt and Virginia had no chance of being relevant, Oklahoma State couldn't get over the hump and beat Oklahoma, LSU wouldn't be able to move the ball on offense, Nebraska would reign supreme as Big Ten champions, TCU would step back into obscurity and USC would give up since it had nothing to play for.
All popular thoughts at the beginning. All as factual as the Earth being flat.
It's what makes college football so compelling. No one knows what is going to happen, week in, week out.
We're reminded of this every year. It doesn't matter what the critics think; all that matters is what goes on on those practice fields, in those locker rooms and on those sidelines. Anything is possible.
Enjoy the bowl games.