Buckle up for an intriguing bowl season
December, 8, 2013
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
Well, that went exactly as expected didn't it? It sort of feels like we shouldn't even bother with college football. It's so predictable! Really, who didn't have Auburn and first-year coach Gus Malzahn playing for the national title a year after the Tigers went winless in SEC play?
We kid in order to corral our surprise.
What a wild ride, eh? After all the hyperventilating about who truly was deserving to play for the national championship -- from Oregon fans chanting "We want 'Bama!" shortly before getting Stanford-ed again, to Baylor imploding at Oklahoma State, to Alabama yielding one of the most epically amazing plays in college football history, to Ohio State succumbing in the Big Ten championship game -- we end up with an obvious matchup in the final BCS national title game before we adopt the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014: Unbeaten and as-of-yet unchallenged Florida State against Auburn, the SEC champ and dethroner of the two-time defending champion Crimson Tide.
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe emergence of Auburn from SEC cellar-dweller to national championship participant under first-year coach Gus Malzahn helped make this season great.
It will be must-see TV with plenty of intrigue and very few naysayers about the legitimacy of the matchup.
But what about the rest of the bowl season? There are plenty of other good matchups, with 79 bowl-eligible teams and just 70 spots available among 35 bowls, making it a sellers’ market for even the lower-rung bowls with lesser payouts.
Among the BCS games, the second-best matchup will be in the same venue as the title tilt. The Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio pits No. 5 Stanford against No. 4 Michigan State, which ended Ohio State's 24-game winning streak. That's a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten showdown between defense-first teams. The final might be 10-7, though the way the season has gone, it's as likely to be 40-37.
Some bowl games feature external intrigue. Consider Miami-Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. For one, Louisville's star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native, originally committed to the Hurricanes but switched to the Cardinals after Randy Shannon was fired.
Oh, and Clint Hurtt is an assistant on the Louisville staff. Miami fans know that name because he was in the thick of the Hurricanes’ sordid NCAA scandal -- L'Affaire de Nevin Shapiro. Maybe this year they should rename the game the "Uncomforta-bowl."
Do you like showdowns of great players? The AdvoCare V100 Bowl features the nation's top two running backs who are neck-and-neck for the Doak Walker Award: Boston College's Andre Williams, who leads the nation in rushing, and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, who ranks second after leading the nation in 2012.
The AT&T Cotton Bowl pairs Oklahoma State of the Big 12 and Missouri, two years removed from the Big 12. Do you think Cowboys coach Mike Gundy will ask Tigers coach Gary Pinkel why teams that were struggling in the Big 12 are thriving in the SEC if the SEC is as good as SEC folks tell everyone 1,456 times a day?
Speaking of the Big 12-SEC rivalry, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops trash-talked the SEC this fall, calling its mystique "propaganda." Now Stoops gets to face Nick Saban and Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl. Uh oh.
Staying in the Big 12, it could be about to see cataclysmic change at Texas, as the Mack Brown era could be ending after 16 seasons. That surely will be a main bar in the Valero Alamo Bowl, in which the Longhorns will play Oregon, a team smarting about being left out of the BCS bowl games.
Continuing on the coaching intrigue line, you have bowls for teams in transition. USC, soon to be Steve Sarkisian's team, faces Fresno State and QB Derek Carr in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. Washington, soon to be Chris Petersen's team, faces BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl. And Boise State, formerly Chris Petersen's team, faces Oregon State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Some matchups have a colorful history. Ohio State is playing Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. Old-timers might recall that the last time these teams tangled was in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and the Tigers’ 17-15 win was the least memorable fact of the game. Instead, it was the haymaker legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes threw at Clemson's Charlie Bauman after he ran out of bounds with a game-clinching interception. The punch cost Hayes his job.
More dramatic in terms of on-field play was the last game between Iowa and LSU. They meet for a second time in the Outback Bowl, but their 2005 game in the Capital One Bowl produced an ending for the ages. In Nick Saban's final game at LSU before he left to coach the Miami Dolphins, Iowa's Drew Tate connected with Warren Holloway for a 56-yard touchdown as time expired, giving the Hawkeyes a 30-25 win. Holloway, a fifth-year senior, had not previously scored a TD.
So Saban has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune even before this season. No one is immune to the vagaries of college football.
In college football, you never know until you know, which is why you'd best make plans now to watch all 35 games.
You never know what epically amazing plays you might miss.
And, yes, there will be a quiz.