The smoke -- and upsets and controversy -- have cleared away from the 2010 season, and the final BCS standings spit out a national championship game that we've seen coming for weeks: No. 1 Auburn versus No. 2 Oregon.
There weren't any surprises when the BCS bowl pairings were announced Sunday night. TCU will try to make a non-AQ statement against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Stanford is headed to South Florida to play resurgent Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl. Ohio State will try to reverse its luck versus the SEC in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. And, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma will square off with Connecticut, unranked in the BCS standings but representing the Big East.
Here's a quick look at the BCS bowls and the best of the rest:
What to watch in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game: The national title game is 37 days away, but that might not be enough time to talk about this one. Start with two seemingly unstoppable offenses headlined by leading Heisman Trophy candidates: Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Newton, the Heisman front-runner, is built like a defensive end, ranks No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency and has rushing numbers that are comparable to James'. Gene Chizik said Saturday he'd never seen a better football player, and his assertion was greeted with more nods than skepticism. Of course, Newton is also controversial -- see the NCAA investigation into his recruitment -- which will only fuel the game's hype. You've also got a pair of impressive second-year coaches. Chizik was an unpopular choice when he was first hired. Guess here is he's sort of grown on Auburn fans, though. Chip Kelly was an obscure assistant at New Hampshire before Mike Bellotti hired him to run the Ducks offense in 2007. Now he's led the Ducks to their first perfect season. Finally, there's the SEC going for its fifth consecutive national title, something SEC fans mention every once in a while. Pac-10 fans roll their eyes at the SEC's claims of super-awesomeness, and often note that the conference has a winning record versus the SEC over the past decade. Well, for the next 36 days we'll talk the talk. And on Jan. 10, one of the teams will walk the walk.
What to watch in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO: The Granddaddy isn't too bad of a consolation prize for unbeaten TCU after second-consecutive unbeaten regular-season, is it? Want closely matched? Both teams average 43.33 points per game. What are the odds of that? But the big showdown here is the TCU defense, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in scoring (11.42 ppg), against a powerful Wisconsin offense which rolled up 83, 48 and 70 points in its final three games. Many believe Wisconsin, which won consecutive Rose Bowls after the 1998 and 1999 seasons, is the nation's best one-loss team. If TCU could knock the Badgers off, it would be a major victory for the non-AQ conferences.
What to watch in the Allstate Sugar: The No. 2 teams from the Big Ten and SEC square off in an interesting showcase for two junior quarterbacks. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett ranks third in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes this year. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is 14th in the nation in passing efficiency and is a dangerous runner. The Buckeyes appear to have a significant advantage on defense. They rank second in the nation in total defense and third in scoring, while Arkansas is 34th in total defense and 43rd in scoring. The Big Ten would really like to beat the SEC in a BCS bowl game, particularly the Buckeyes, who are winless in nine bowl games versus the SEC.
What to watch in the Discover Orange: Who saw this one coming on Sept. 11? That's the day on which Virginia Tech fell to 0-2 after losing 21-16 to James Madison, an FCS team. And Stanford? The Cardinal whipped UCLA 35-0 on Sept. 11 to improve to 2-0, but it wasn't like they were generating national buzz. Now, more than a few folks believe the Cardinal are the nation's best one-loss team. And the Hokies are riding an 11-game winning streak. While much of the pre-game hype will center on Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman Trophy candidate who likely will become the top overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, don't sleep on Tyrod Taylor, who ranks 13th in the nation in passing efficiency and is an outstanding runner.
What to watch in the Tostitos Fiesta: Connecticut lost to Temple, which isn't going to a bowl game. The Huskies lost to Michigan by 20 and Louisville shut them out 26-0. The Huskies can't throw the ball worth a lick.Yes, folks are going to take shots at UConn. And Oklahoma is going to hear about that over and over and over again. The biggest issue in this one is can Sooners coach Bob Stoops keep his team focused and motivated and prevent it from being overconfident. Oh, and the Sooners defense might want to take Huskies running back Jordan Todman seriously, or the nation's second-leading rusher could punish them.
Catholics vs. Convicts redo: The Hyundai Sun Bowl is probably thrilled with pairing Notre Dame and Miami, though both teams had disappointing -- and tumultuous -- seasons. These teams, you might recall, have some history, though they haven't played since 1990. In one of the most famous -- infamous? -- regular-season college football games, Notre Dame beat Miami 31-30 in 1988 at Notre Dame Stadium. The game was widely billed as "Catholics vs. Convicts," playing on the Hurricanes' outlaw image. The two teams were undefeated at the time, and there was a fairly spirited pregame brawl. The Fighting Irish went on to win the national championship -- their last one, by the way -- and Miami ended up ranked No. 2.
Boise State not going to BCS? Vegas, baby! Boise State had national title dreams, but things fell apart at Nevada in shocking fashion. Lots of people go to Las Vegas to forget their sorrows (and the city is no stranger to disappointment, either). And so we have the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22: A showdown of a pair of non-AQ powers who'd rather be somewhere else as the Broncos play Utah. Of course, the Utes aren't long for non-AQ status, as they join the Pac-12 next year. Oh, and the Utes will be without starting QB Jordan Wynn due to shoulder surgery. Both teams have won two BCS bowl games: Utah won the 2005 Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh and the 2008 Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Boise State won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma and the 2010 Fiesta Bowl against TCU.
Rematch nightmare or redemption? Bowl games don't like to put on rematches of regular season games -- sort of a been there, done that. But the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl didn't have a choice: Nebraska was the obvious pick from the Big 12 and Washington was the only available bowl-eligible team from the Pac-10. Another problem: What if the two teams played and they left little doubt who was vastly superior? The Cornhuskers crushed Washington 56-21 inside a stunned Husky Stadium on Sept. 18, a humbling experience for the program and for quarterback Jake Locker, who completed just 4 of 20 passes for 71 yards. That game was the first contest in which a struggling Locker saw his NFL draft stock start to slide. So can the Huskies rewrite the script, or will the Cornhuskers roll again?
Saban and Dantonio, Michigan State reunite: There is disappointment in the Capital One Bowl, but Alabama-Michigan State is a heck of a matchup. The Crimson Tide, the defending national champions, began the season No. 1 and hoped for more than a fourth-place finish in the SEC West. The Spartans didn't start off with high expectations -- at least among national pundits -- but typically an 11-1 finish in the Big Ten means a BCS bowl game. Beyond two good teams, the coaches are connected. Before Nick Saban won a national championship at LSU, he turned in a reclamation project at Michigan State, and current Spartans coach Mark Dantonio was on his staff from 1995 to 1999.
A battle of spread gurus, one up, one down: Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is embattled. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is a hot commodity -- you know, like Rodriguez used to be. Both are spread-option gurus and meet in the Gator Bowl. Mullen and the Bulldogs were hoping for more after an 8-4 season -- the Outback and Chick-fil-A bowls bypassed them -- so they will want to make a statement. And Rodriguez is fighting for his coaching life. And, hey, it's another SEC-Big Ten matchup.