NCF Nation: Allstate Sugar Bowl

NEW YORK -- Kansas State athletic director John Currie asked a simple question. If the BCS bowls don’t use the BCS ratings to pick the BCS teams, then why have the standings?

Kansas State finished No. 8 in the final BCS standings. The Wildcats (10-2) got passed over by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in favor of No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 15 Michigan. Currie, speaking on a panel with four other athletic directors at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletic Forum, said, “We don’t necessarily have to have labels that designate this group of games better than all the other games, unless we’re going to objectively put the people into the games.”

Kansas State will play No. 6 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. It joins the Rose, the Fiesta and the Allstate BCS National Championship Game in matching up top-10 teams. Currie is thrilled that Kansas State is going to Dallas. Wildcat fans bought every ticket and filled every hotel room they could find the last time Kansas State played in the Cotton Bowl. They would have done the same in New Orleans.

The Sugar Bowl took Virginia Tech and Michigan, expecting them to do those things, too. The selection struck at the credibility of the BCS.

“We have to be in control of how we’re presented, in terms of whether we’re ethical and following some explainable scenario,” Currie said. “That’s our responsibility.”

He clarified after the forum that he didn’t intend to suggest that the Sugar Bowl had done anything unethical. He met Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan in New York on Monday afternoon. Hoolahan explained to him the fact that the Hokies had been to the Sugar Bowl twice before played into the decision.

Asked who let Kansas State down, Currie said, “I let us down, because I didn’t know the people well enough to do whatever we’re supposed to do. If that’s what we’re going to be about, whoever had a relationship 40 years ago, I don’t think that’s the thing to stand up and tell student-athletes. ‘Hey, you get to do this or this because of somebody else’s relationship.”

Gotta love the system. In a completely unrelated note, athletic directors Bob Bowlsby of Stanford and Scott Woodward of Washington, also on the panel, said they believe a plus-one is inevitable.
It's official: Michigan is back in a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl, and it will face Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The 10-2 Wolverines finished No. 13 in the final BCS standings, qualifying for an at-large bid. That was really the only question, because an eligible Michigan team is always going to be an attractive option for the big bowls, especially when Maize and Blue fans are hungry for a return to an elite stage.

The big surprise was Virginia Tech, which looked dead in the water for the BCS after getting blown out -- for a second time -- by Clemson in the ACC title game. Somehow, the Hokies got the first-ever ACC at-large bid instead of other qualified teams like Boise State, Kansas State and Baylor.

Virginia Tech, as usual, has one of the nation's top defenses and a star running back in David Wilson. This is the Hokies' fifth BCS game since 2005, but the team has struggled to win those games.

It will be the first-ever meeting between the Wolverines and Virginia Tech.

Michigan fans probably don't care who the opponent is right now. They're celebrating a BCS game -- while Michigan State fans are fuming that the rival they beat and finished ahead of in the Legends Division standings is going to a better bowl.

Awful first quarter for Cincinnati

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- That was about the worst possible first quarter for Cincinnati.

Tim Tebow is 10-for-10 and the Bearcats offense is 0-for-3 on drives. Florida's 9-0 lead seems larger than it is. Cincinnati has yet to adjust to the Gators' defensive speed and may not be able to. Meanwhile, Florida is too big and Tebow has been too good for the Bearcats defense to handle.

This is a big test for interim coach Jeff Quinn. He and his staff have to come up with some adjustments and fast, or they could get blown out.

Yes, things looked really bad early on in the Pitt game, too. But Florida is better than Pitt and is playing with a ton of confidence right now.

Gators plow through Cincinnati 'D'

January, 1, 2010
NEW ORLEANS -- Cincinnati's defense, which was so leaky in the last month of the regular season, apparently hasn't gotten any better.

Florida marched down the field on a 13-play, 84-yard drive to take a 6-0 lead (Walter Stewart blocked the extra point). The Gators are more physical than the Bearcats and any question of whether they'd come ready to play has been answered.

Tim Tebow got it done with his arms and legs that drive. The Bearcats had Florida in a couple of third-and-longs, but Tebow found receivers for the first down. He was 7-for-7 on the drive. If Tebow can stand in the pocket and deliver completions like that, Cincinnati is going to have a long, long night defensively.

One of Florida's best offensive players, though, is probably done for the game. Running back Jeff Demps injured his left forearm near the goal line and was taken to the locker room.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 6, 2009
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati (12-0) vs. Florida (12-1)
Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. (FOX)

Cincinnati had hoped to play for the BCS title after its perfect season. A Sugar Bowl trip against the defending national champs and the team that was ranked No. 1 most of the season is not a bad consolation prize.

The Bearcats -- who are making their second straight BCS appearance -- could even siphon some first-place votes in the final Associated Press poll with an impressive performance against the Gators. But that won't be easy.

The Cincinnati defense allowed 146 points in its last four regular-season games, and while Florida struggled at times this season to score points, giving Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow nearly a month to prepare is a scary proposition. The Gators' overall team speed and athleticism will provide a stiff test, though with guys like Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and Isaiah Pead, the Bearcats are not exactly plodders either.

Interim Bearcats coach Jeff Quinn has to be encouraged by how Alabama scored 32 points on the mighty Gators' defense, which had allowed only 20 points once before Saturday. Nobody has been able to keep Tony Pike, Gilyard and the Bearcats' attack under 24 points all season, and they're very comfortable if it becomes a shootout.

It's no BCS title game, but beating the program that has recently been the gold standard in college football would represent a huge leap forward for Cincinnati, which is Meyer's alma mater. Like a lot of alumni, Meyer probably never thought he'd see the day when the Bearcats could stack up to SEC powers in the Sugar Bowl. We'll find out if that day has arrived.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

 Getty Images
 Duke's Re'quan Boyette and Maryland's Jordan Steffy were honred during the halftime of the Sugar Bowl for their community service.

NEW ORLEANS -- Greetings from the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where two ACC players will be honored at halftime for their commitment to community service.

Too often the off-field incidents reported are negative, and the "Good Works" of athletes like Duke running back Re'quan Boyette and Maryland quarterback Jordan Steffy go unnoticed.

Not in the ACC blogosphere. Here we take the good, the bad, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Seriously, though, players like Steffy and Boyette -- even though they didn't play this season -- deserve some recognition. There are plenty of other players who have taken on important leadership roles with their teams, too (FSU safety Myron Rolle and Georgia Tech defensive tackle Darryl Richard come to mind), but Boyette and Steffy were named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, and they came to New Orleans to help with a rebuilding project here.

We're not talking about athletes who spent five minutes tutoring local middle schoolers here, either. We're talking about significant time sacrifices -- something college football players don't have a lot of to spare.

Earlier this morning, Boyette, Steffy and 20 other college football players participated in a clean-up initiative in the Oak Park neighborhood. At halftime, there will be an on-field ceremony and video tribute.

Boyette was a "Big Brother" to a student at Lakewood Elementary in the spring of 2006 and spent a couple of hours a week with him. They still keep in touch.

Boyette has also volunteered at the Erwin Gardens Rehabilitation Center and the Forest at Duke, a pair of Durham nursing homes. He visited once or twice a week and talked with residents. He also volunteered at YE Smith Elementary School once a week and helped kids with their homework projects or tutored them for their classes.

But wait, there's more ...

Boyette has also volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and the Durham Rescue Mission. He visited residents and helped serve meals at the Ronald McDonald House. He has been to the Durham Rescue Mission twice and helped out with serving meals. As part of Duke's community service programs, he has also gone to local elementary schools for the Read With the Blue Devils program where Duke student-athletes read to kids and stress the importance of reading.

Steffy started his own non-profit organization, Children Deserve a Chance Foundation, which raised more than $50,000 in 2008 to aid young people in need, and he wants to expand his foundation in order to contribute even more.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Graham Watson

Before every one of Utah's big games this season, it seems like the Utes would find something to use as motivation.

Against TCU, it was the attention paid to the Horned Frogs' defense and not the Utes'. Utah went on to have one of its best defensive performances of the season.

Against BYU, it was the hype surrounding the Cougars' offense, and the Utes went on to force six turnovers and score 48 points on BYU, the most the Cougars allowed all season.

So when the No. 6 Utes take the field against No. 4 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Friday, the motivation will be respect and redemption for the entire non-BCS.

"It's a chance for us to certainly make a positive statement for the Mountain West Conference, for the non-BCS schools," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Like I've said several times since we got the invite, it's a process. One game is never going to make or break the entire non-BCS structure or the entire Mountain West. It's just a process.

"When we beat Pittsburgh [in 2005], it was a positive. When Oklahoma got beat by Boise State, it was a positive for the non-BCS. Last year it was a setback when Hawaii lost. ... Nobody really pays attention to what you say; it's what you do on the field. It's just another opportunity for us to line up and see how we fare against an extremely good opponent."

After the SEC championship, Saban cited his team as, "The only team that plays in a real BCS conference that went 12-0." At the time, both Utah and Boise State were 12-0.

Whittingham said he received several e-mails and phone calls after the words left Saban's mouth and then the news started to filter to the players.

"We've played with a chip on our shoulders all season," quarterback Brian Johnson said prior to the team arriving in New Orleans. "That's the mentality that a lot of guys have because we're kind of all from that same mold of a guy who really wasn't recruited, wasn't the biggest, strongest or fastest guy, but they love playing football, they were a good football player. They were mentally and physically tough and found a way to get the job done. I think that helps us tremendously in our preparation."

Since making the comments after the SEC championship, Saban hasn't exactly retracted what he said, but he has given the Utes a lot more respect. During the past week in New Orleans, he's talked favorably about the Utes speed on defense and skill on offense.

Whittingham said he hasn't let the underdog mentality rule his football team while its been in New Orleans. His team has been focused more on beating Alabama on the field then dwelling on what's being said off of it.

"You know, our guys are excited about this game regardless of external circumstances, but they're not oblivious to things. They hear things; they read things. You can't worry about that," Whittingham said. "I think that they're very motivated to go out and play well ... if my assumption is correct, they'll come with that same mindset tomorrow night and play well. Whether that's going to be good enough to win, we'll find out. I know they're going to have the right mindset and be ready to line up and go."

Posted by's Graham Watson

It's taken Brian Johnson nearly three seasons to realize, but suffering a season-ending knee injury during his sophomore year in 2005 might have been the best thing that happened to him and Utah football.

 Boyd Ivey/Icon SMI
 Brian Johnson has tossed 24 TD passes for the Utes this season.

It's the only reason Johnson, a fifth-year senior who had to redshirt the 2006 season, is around this year to lead the Utes to a 12-0 season, an Allstate Sugar Bowl berth and a chance to become the most successful team in the history of the Utah program.

Johnson remembers the moment of the injury all too well. It was against New Mexico, 10 games into the season. Johnson decided to take off on fourth down and was scrambling toward the first-down marker when he was hit awkwardly while cutting to stay inbounds. He felt the knee give way and knew his season was over.

But his career was just beginning.

After Johnson got over the initial frustration of the injury, he found himself with a lot of time on his hands. So he spent that time in the film room, studying opponents, and crafting game plans with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. He started to notice opponents' tendencies and started to realize that being a great quarterback wasn't just about putting up great numbers, it was about putting his team in a position to win by making smart decisions.

"After I tore my ACL in '05, I was preparing before, but I think after that my preparation has kind of picked up each and every year since then," Johnson said. "I was putting up some pretty good numbers, but we weren't winning ballgames. It wasn't translating to the field. So I just tried to take a different approach to it and tried to beat teams mentally. Understand their tendencies, understand what they were trying to do defensively, and going out there and trying and execute."

Johnson said when the coaches informed him that he wouldn't be playing in 2006, he sat down with Ludwig and coach Kyle Whittingham and looked at a depth chart. They highlighted all of the players that would be seniors in 2008 and reassured Johnson that he was sitting out the 2006 season with the future in mind.

So Johnson kept that future in front of him, not knowing exactly what would happen, but knowing that whatever it was, he'd be prepared for it.

But the one thing he wasn't prepared for was getting hurt again.

(Read full post)