Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.
All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).
The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.
The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.
The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.
In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.
Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.
Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.
Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.
Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.
Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.
What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.
Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.
What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.
Who to watch: Start with UCLA’s dynamic duo at linebacker, senior Anthony Barr and freshman Myles Jack. Barr benefited from turning down a chance at the NFL a year ago, developing into one of the nation’s best at his position. Jack needed no such time. He also played running back for the final four games of the year, rushing for four touchdowns as he earned the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors. For Virginia Tech, the best chance to move the football comes through the air, but talented quarterback Logan Thomas must avoid interceptions. He threw 13 this season in 12 games.
What to watch: Virginia Tech is shorthanded without its leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale, a 16-6 win over Virginia. The Hokies struggled to run the ball with Edmunds, so what happens without him? On defense, top cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely out with a groin injury for Tech. Fellow corner Antone Exum will sit with an ankle injury. Against a pair of freshmen in coverage, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could have a big day throwing to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller.
Why to watch: It’s two name-brand programs in El Paso, but in what direction are these programs headed? The Bruins, under second-year coach Jim Mora, are trending up regardless of the outcome on Tuesday as they seek a 10-win season for the first time since 2005. The Hokies lost three of their final five games this season after struggling to a 7-6 finish a year ago under 27th-year coach Frank Beamer.
Prediction: UCLA 28, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies don’t have enough firepower to get into a scoring duel with UCLA, so look for the bowl-savvy Beamer to search for a few nontraditional ways to even this matchup. But expect the Bruins and Hundley to shake free in the second half.
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET, Atlanta (ESPN)
LSU take by GeauxTigerNation's Gary Laney: How does one judge LSU's season?
At 10-2, the Tigers fell short of their preseason No. 1 ranking. They failed to make the SEC championship game, much less defend their conference title.
On the other hand, LSU masterfully overcame a ton of problems.
Tyrann Mathieu, the Tigers' Heisman Trophy finalist at cornerback, was dismissed from the team in August. Chris Faulk, the left tackle who seemed destined to be drafted by the second round, was lost to a knee injury after one game, and running back Alfred Blue was also lost to a knee injury a couple of weeks later. The Tigers finished the season with three offensive line starters who weren't starters at the beginning of the season.
Yet, by the end of the regular season, LSU seemed to have it figured out. Zach Mettenberger was much improved in the passing game, and Jeremy Hill emerged as one of the nation's best freshmen running backs. And the defense, though it gave up passing yards late in the season, remained solid, led by end Sam Montgomery and linebacker Kevin Minter.
So how LSU's season is perceived might come down to how the Tigers play in the bowl. If the offense continues its resurgence and the Tigers win, they will go into the offseason with a rosy outlook. If the Tigers lose and the defense continues to give up passing yards, followed by the seemingly inevitable loss of underclassmen like Montgomery and free safety Eric Reid to the NFL draft, it could be an offseason of worry on the bayou.
Clemson take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Clemson, much like Florida State this year, was oh-so-close to something bigger than the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but the Tigers’ losses to the Seminoles and rival South Carolina ruined the program’s chances at a second straight appearance in the ACC championship and a BCS bowl.
That’s not to say this wasn’t a successful season for coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers maintained their position as a top 15 team all year, and have thrived behind a high-scoring offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was named the ACC’s Player of the Year. In his second season as a starter, Boyd helped lead Clemson to back-to-back 10-win seasons, the first Clemson quarterback to do that since Rodney Williams in1987-88. Clemson had the No. 6 scoring offense in the country this year (42.33) points per game, but was smothered in a 27-17 loss to South Carolina. The defense under first-year coordinator Brent Venables was better, but it wasn’t championship-caliber, finishing No. 47 in the county, allowing 24.92 points per game.
Clemson’s only ACC loss this year was in Tallahassee to a Florida State team that was ranked No. 4 in the country at the time. Clemson reeled off seven straight wins after that loss and had momentum heading into its regular-season finale against the Gamecocks, but for the fourth straight season, Clemson was outplayed and outcoached by its in-state rival.
Clemson will forever be remembered for its abysmal performance in last year’s Discover Orange Bowl, but this matchup against LSU will be a chance for the Tigers to take a monumental step towards redeeming their postseason image.
The Kansas State Wildcats showed why Big 12 pundits should be paying closer attention to Bill Snyder’s squad with a dominant 52-13 victory over Miami. Here’s a closer look at how it happened:
It was over when: Miami appeared to be driving to tie the game at 7-7 early in the first quarter, but KSU defensive end Adam Davis had other ideas, forcing a Eduardo Clements fumble which was recovered by Arthur Brown. Davis’ play gave the Wildcats all the momentum and, more importantly, sent the message that Davis and the rest of the KSU defense were going to be creating havoc for most of the game.
Game ball goes to: The Hurricanes didn't have an answer for Collin Klein. The Wildcats' quarterback accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) and showed improved passing skills. He’s not a finished product by any means but he’s improving, undoubtedly putting a scare into defensive coordinators across the Big 12.
Unsung hero: Davis. The Wildcats' linebacker forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks. If he was wearing No. 92 in black and gold, you would have sworn James Harrison was on the field.
Unsung hero, Take 2: While the skill position players get the attention, the Wildcats dominated the game in the trenches. KSU’s offensive line opened running lanes and paved the way for 498 total yards (288 rushing, 210 passing) on offense.
Heisman watch: Largely considered a dark-horse candidate, Klein could catapult into the Heisman conversation if he continues to play like he did on Saturday. The senior had 210 passing yards and 71 rushing yards in the win. The Wildcats’ Sept. 22 date with Oklahoma could be a defining moment.
What it means: The Wildcats' win boosts the BCS profile of the Big 12 Conference after a dominating win over an ACC opponent. And for KSU, the battle with the Sooners -- assuming KSU wins its home game against North Texas on Sept. 15 -- has become a huge game with national implications.
Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.
Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?
Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?
It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.
So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.
Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.
Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.
After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.
The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.
Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.
Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.
We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?
The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.
The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.
Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.
Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.
But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.
That might say something about playing better defense.
The ACC and the Chick-fil-A Bowl have agreed to a four-year contract extension, which will keep them partners through the 2013 season. The Chick-fil-A Bowl has the first selection of ACC teams after the BCS.
From the release:
“Our 18-year partnership with ACC is among the most important assets we have and is a huge part of our bowl’s success,” said Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “The ACC is a big part of our identity. It’s who we are. We consider it a privilege to provide their member institutions a BCS-like experience in both the Chick-fil-A Bowl and in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.”
The ACC has been a conference tie-in for the Chick-fil-A Bowl since 1992 and the Chick-fil-A Bowl has owned the first non-automatic selection in the conference since 2006. An ACC team has played in 30 of the 41 Chick-fil-A Bowls dating back to 1968.
“The Chick-fil-A Bowl has been a tremendous partner over the years and we look forward to our continued relationship,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Showcasing an ACC-SEC matchup on New Year's Eve in Atlanta has proven to be a solid formula for success. I know the experience of our teams and fans is second to none and we appreciate every aspect of our association with the Chick-fil-A Bowl.”
The 42nd annual Chick-fil-A Bowl will be played Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
The same unpredictability as year ago is engulfing the ACC, when the clear-cut division winners didn’t emerge until the final two weeks of the season. This time it’s for a different reason -- the Atlantic Division just isn’t very good.
Unlike the Coastal Division, which boasts some true parity at the top, the Atlantic Division is simply muddled in mediocrity. Everyone has at least two losses already and only one team -- Wake Forest -- won this past weekend. In the Coastal Division, however, every team won on Saturday -- including Duke. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. While the Blue Devils and Virginia have been making progress each of the past few weeks, teams like Boston College, NC State and Florida State seemed to have taken steps back.
For NC State and Florida State to be a combined 0-5 in conference play right now is a huge disappointment for the ACC, as both were expected to be legitimate contenders for the ACC title. If the ACC championship game were to be played this weekend, it wouldn’t even be a fair fight. Just look at what happened on Saturday.
We knew heading into the season that the Coastal Division was expected to be the stronger of the two, but there was no better illustration of the disparity between the divisions than what happened on Saturday in Virginia Tech's 48-14 thumping of Boston College. The Hokies completely dominated the Eagles on both sides of the ball, as BC was held to just 3 yards of total offense in the first half. And yet somehow, Boston College could still win the Atlantic Division because of its wins over Wake Forest and Florida State.
If Boston College and Virginia Tech would happen to meet in the ACC title game for a third straight season, ACC and Tampa officials should start giving away tickets -- yesterday.
The Coastal Division has three nationally ranked teams, including two -- Miami and Virginia Tech -- that could wind up in BCS bowls. The Atlantic Division has two teams with four losses each already in Florida State and Maryland.
We already saw Virginia Tech play Miami. On Saturday, we’ll see Virginia Tech travel to Georgia Tech. Odds are the ACC title game will have a hard time rivaling either of those this year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Florida State trails 21-6, and if it doesn't turn things around quickly, the Noles will be making the wrong kind of history.
The Seminoles would fall to 2-3 with the loss. They have not been under .500 five games into the season since 1983, when Florida State defeated East Carolina and LSU before losing three straight to Tulane, Auburn and Pitt -- all on the road.
FSU finished 7-5 that season. So far, it looks headed in that direction again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Yes, they were very winnable games, but at least Boston College scored enough offense to make up for what NC State didn't do and what Wake Forest currently isn't doing.
Boston College -- the team that entered this season with ZERO collegiate snaps at quarterback -- is trouncing Northeastern 47-0. No, it's not an ACC win, but it shows the Eagles are capable of putting up some points, and it should give them a much-needed boost of confidence. Finally, some good news in Chestnut Hill and a reason to celebrate.
And Georgia Tech took care of Jacksonville State with a 37-17 win.
If only those two teams could have shared some of their points with the Wolfpack and a now-struggling Wake Forest team, the ACC would be looking pretty good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
OK, so it wasn't the start the conference and its fans were looking for, but the ACC still has plenty of reasons for hope today. Maryland is on the West Coast to take on a talented Cal team, a new Wake Forest defense will try to contain Baylor's potent offense, and of course, Virginia Tech has a legitimate chance to beat Alabama when everyone is watching.
That's the Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC that could all potentially fall to the ACC today. Potentially.
NC State's performance was a disappointment, but it doesn't take away from what could happen today, nor does it lessen the Wolfpack's chances of winning the Atlantic Division. Russell Wilson, the 2008 Rookie of the Year, might have looked a step slower, but he's still a talented quarterback capable of making that offense effective.
Before we jump to any conclusions about the ACC's place in the BCS pecking order, let's see if the rest of the conference can take advantage of today's opportunities, and make sure the other teams don't suffer embarrassing losses to teams they're supposed to beat.