Commentary

Noles, Tigers and other surprises

Originally Published: December 9, 2013
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The BMOC would like to become very good friends with anyone (or everyone) who laid money on Auburn to win it all during the offseason -- and got 1,000-to-1 odds from the Vegas sportsbooks.

According to Bloomberg.com, there are at least 14 such tickets.

PREGAME SPEECH

[+] EnlargeGerald Demps
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesFSU is No. 1 heading into the national title game.

Of the 20 ESPN college football experts asked back in August to predict the major conference champions, BCS Championship teams and BCS Championship winner, exactly nobody had Florida State or Auburn reaching the title game. In fact, nobody had Auburn winning the SEC's Western Division.

And nobody had Michigan State winning the Big Ten's Legends Division, probably because nobody still knows who's in the Legends and the Leaders.

The BMOC wasn't invited to participate in the preseason picks, even though I, too, have a long history of making spectacularly wrong predictions. (2001 BCS title game: North Texas vs. Army!)

Had anyone asked, I would have run the algorithms and carefully analyzed the football metrics before making my decision. Or I would have done what I usually do, which is pick Alabama to beat whatever jamoke I put on the other side of the bracket -- in this case, Ohio State. And as usual, I would have been wrong.

The reason college football is college football is because sometimes the 1,000-to-1 longshots suddenly become shortshots. In other words, War … Damn … Eagle.

Because not enough people looked at Florida State's roster and said, "I see many of these players getting draft day bro-hugs from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell."

[+] EnlargeAvery Young
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWill Auburn carry off the trophy in Pasadena?

Because Sparty plays defense and because it remembers its history (of Ohio State's 24 consecutive wins coming into the Big Ten Championship Game, only two OSU opponents lost by a single point: Michigan and Michigan State).

So thanks to Auburn's Season of Al Michaels ("Do you believe in miracles?!"), and Florida State's talent pool and coaching (and, OK, a nonconference and ACC schedule as soft as cashmere), and Michigan State's surgical strike on the Buckeyes' title hopes, we now have our improbable VIZIO BCS National Championship matchup: undefeated FSU vs. the best of the once-beatens, Auburn (though, don't tell Alabama or Michigan State that).

FIRST QUARTER

After all that yammering last week about who deserves to be in the national title game -- undefeated Ohio State or one-loss Auburn -- the Spartans made it easy on us. They proved that the Buckeyes were who we suspected they were: a good, but flawed team, especially on the defensive side of the ball, that had taken advantage of a mostly mediocre schedule.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Ohio State were knocked down and out of the BCS title mix by Michigan State Saturday.

Ohio State's loss to Michigan State doesn't make its former 24-game win streak less impressive. In some ways, it makes it more impressive. Urban Meyer and his staff did an amazing job of coaching under the cloud of NCAA sanctions last year, and did a nice job this season of hiding, as long as they could, Ohio State's defensive weaknesses.

But in the end, Michigan State made it obvious: the Buckeyes weren't the second-best team in the country. No. 2 teams don't give up 14 fourth-quarter points, don't go 1-of-10 on third-down conversions, and don't commit crucial penalties and mistakes.

I was going to say No. 2 teams also don't give up 300-plus yards passing and 100-plus yards rushing (which is what Sparty did to OSU), but then I realized Missouri did exactly that against Auburn.

The difference, though, is that Auburn's triple-option offense can outscore anyone. It's what Auburn coach Gus Malzahn lives for. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't send out quarterback Nick Marshall at halftime to win the Dr. Pepper tuition challenge thing.

Before the season began, nobody saw a Florida State-Auburn national championship. And nobody saw it halfway through the season, either. But the emergence of FSU's Jameis Winston, coupled with Auburn's football miracles and rushing offense has created this tasty matchup.

Florida State is 4-0 against ranked teams this season, but only two of those teams (Clemson and Duke) remain ranked. And with all due respect to Duke's historic 10-win season, the smart guys in Vegas made them 29-point underdogs to the Seminoles in the ACC Championship.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Jameis Winston led Florida State offense averages 53 points per game.

What does it all mean? That Florida State is a gravel crusher of a program that hasn't played a team that held up for the length of the season. Now it will face an Auburn team that has emerged from the darkness of a 3-9 record a year ago and reinvented itself, thanks to Malzahn's offense.

Alabama essentially had two weeks to prepare for Malzahn's triple-option attack (sorry, Chattanooga, your game against Bama doesn't count in the timeline) and still gave up 296 rushing yards to the Tigers, two second-half passing touchdowns and couldn't stop Auburn on more than half of 15 third-down attempts.

Yes, it took a 109-yard missed field goal return to beat Bama, but the bigger point is this: nobody coaches assignment football on the defensive side of the ball better than Saban and Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart -- and Bama still got schooled.

Jimbo Fisher and his staff will have almost a month to prepare for Auburn's offense. That's a good thing. So is FSU's team speed and strength on the offensive and defensive lines. It's also a good thing that FSU's offense is going to keep Auburn's coaches busy. The Seminoles are ranked second in scoring offense, sixth in total offense and 14th in passing offense.

With the possible exception of the Boston College win, FSU hasn't had a close game all season. Auburn has won six games by eight points or less and, according to ESPN Stats & Information, four of those wins have come in the last 80 seconds of play.

SECOND QUARTER

Kirk Herbstreit has it right when it comes to assessing bowl games. Don't only look at the matchups, but look at the motivation.

Example: last year's Allstate Sugar Bowl between Florida and Louisville. Some of the Gators played as if they were thinking more about the NFL Combine than the Cardinals. It was as if some of the Florida players thought facing Louisville was beneath them.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (Teddy Bridgewater, in particular) played as if they had a chip on their shoulder pads.

Final score: Louisville 33, Florida 23.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWill Tajh Boyd and the Tigers rebound again with a bowl win?

The Gators won't have to worry about phoning it in this postseason; they're bowl-less for the first time since 1990. But I do wonder about the frame of mind of several other high-profile teams playing in BCS bowls.

Discover Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Ohio State. The Buckeyes had won 24 consecutive games and were favored to win No. 25 in the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State. A victory would have put them in the BCS National Championship.

And then they got Spartan-ized.

Will we get mopey, half-interested, we-blew-our-chance-at-a-national-championship Ohio State, or prideful, motivated, we're-finally-playing-in-a-bowl Ohio State?

Clemson didn't exactly finish the regular season strong, losing -- again -- to rival South Carolina. Last season they lost their final game, but then beat LSU in a bowl.

But … in 2011, Clemson lost to the University of Spurrier, beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game and then was humiliated in the Orange Bowl by West Virginia, 70-33.

In 2010, Clemson lost to the Gamecocks, and then to South Florida in a bowl.

And in 2009, the Tigers lost to South Carolina and followed it up with a loss to Georgia Tech in the conference championship, but then a bowl win against Kentucky. Anyway, put a very large question mark to the GAH Meter (Give A Hoot, in the PG version) for Clemson and Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeJalen Saunders, Jaz Reynolds, Sterling Shepard
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe Sooners should arrive in New Orleans on a Sugar high.

You can also wonder the same thing about Alabama when it faces Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Will the Crimson Tide be thinking about what could have been -- a BCS Championship three-peat -- or will they refocus for the glamor matchup against the Sooners?

I'm betting on the refocus option.

If you watched the Sooners after their Bedlam win against Oklahoma State, there's little doubt about OU's interest level when it comes to the bowl. They won't have to take a charter flight to New Orleans; they'll just float there.

The same goes for Baylor and UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Stanford and Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO.

Unlike some of the Oregon players, Stanford doesn't do the "whatever" thing when it comes to Pasadena. And the Spartans haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1988, so don't worry about their excitement level. If anything, they'll be too geeked up.

Baylor and UCF are making their first BCS bowl appearances since, well, ever. Nobody is going to confuse the matchup with Bama-OU, but at least the Fiesta Bowl people know they're getting two teams who truly want to be there.

HALFTIME SPEECH

When it comes to the BCS "system," the BMOC doesn't get nostalgic or misty eyed. Instead, we count the nanoseconds until we can deposit it into the college football landfill.

Click this video link and walk down the Memory Lane of BCS's most embarrassing moments.

THIRD QUARTER

As I write this column, I still haven't filled out my Heisman Trophy ballot. If you're a regular reader of BMOC, then you've got a pretty good idea of my Heisman leanings.

Out of respect to the Heisman folks, who have asked that voters don't divulge their individual results (and good luck with that, by the way), I'm not going public with my ballot. I'll do so after the official Dec. 14 Heisman announcement.

But if I had to invite five players to New York for the announcement, here are the guys who deserve to have front row seats:

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesTre Mason is rushing for 124.7 yards per game.

Tre Mason, Auburn. Here's guessing that Auburn alum Bo Jackson, who won the Heisman in 1985 and was on the Auburn sidelines during Saturday's SEC Championship, has Mason on his ballot.

Bo knows running, so he knows that Mason's 1,621 rushing yards are the second most in school history, only 165 yards short of Jackson's total in '85 (1,786 yards). He also knows that Mason's 22 rushing touchdowns are more than what Cam Newton had when he won the Heisman in 2010, and the second most in SEC history.

I like to see what players do in big games. Mason has averaged 194.5 yards and two TDs in Auburn's four games against top 10 teams. He rushed for 304 yards and four TDs against Mizzou (the second-best defense in the SEC) and the week before, he rushed for 164 yards and a touchdown against Alabama (the top-ranked defense in the conference).

So I guess what I'm saying is that Mason, who broke Bo's record for all-purpose yards this season, ought to be on anybody's Heisman short list.

Derek Carr, Fresno State. Carr leads the nation in just about every meaningful passing category. His TD/INT ratio is obscenely good: 48/7. He threw for 400-plus yards in eight of Fresno's 12 games. And he led Fresno to the MWC championship and 11 victories.

In Fresno's lone loss, Carr did everything except tape ankles. He threw for 519 yards and six TDs.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State fan
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneWill Jameis Winston be the next Florida State Heisman winner?

Jameis Winston, Florida State. In my Sept. 9 BMOC column, I wrote: "Is it OK if I wait until redshirt freshman Jameis Winston makes his second career start before declaring him the greatest FSU thing since Renegade? Winston has crazy skills, but I want to see how he does on the road (at Boston College Sept. 28) and then on the road against a top 5 team (at Clemson, Oct. 19) before joining the Famous Jameis hysteria."

Yes, well, I think Winston pretty much answered all of the football questions on the test.

As for his legal situation, there will be Heisman voters who will choose not to vote for Winston, or simply abstain from voting because they feel conflicted about the sexual assault accusations made against him. I respect those decisions, but have said all along I'd let the criminal justice process play itself out before voting. Now that the state's attorney has chosen not to prosecute the case, I'll make my choice accordingly.

Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. His (and NIU's) performance in the MAC Championship wasn't his finest. But Lynch's body of 2013 football work has earned a New York invitation.

Andre Williams, Boston College. Simply too hard to ignore those season rushing totals.

In consideration: Alabama's AJ McCarron, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

FOURTH QUARTER

And since it's awards season …

[+] EnlargeLee Corso
AP PhotoLee Corso made coaching stops at Louisville, Indiana and NIU.

I would write this if I worked for another media company, or even if the guy in question stuck the tip of a No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil into my arm. But can someone pleeeeeeeease tell me why Lee Corso isn't in the National Football Foundation's College Hall of Fame?

The official reason is that Corso doesn't meet the Hall of Fame criteria. He wasn't a first-team All-America at Florida State (though, he was star player for the Seminoles) and as a coach his 15-year college record was 73-85-6, for a .445 winning percentage, far below the 60 percent required.

To this I say, so what? Then change the criteria.

Much the same way you can't have the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame without Dick Vitale, you can't have a true college football hall of fame without Corso.

And I'm not talking about one of those auxiliary awards that the College Hall of Fame gives to assorted recepients. I'm talking about the big boy award, the one with the big Hall of Fame framed plaque with your photo on it.

Am I biased? Of course, I am. So? The bigger question is, am I right? And the answer, based on Corso's decades' long impact on college football, is a no-brainer yes.

There are certain things that make no sense: the Kardashians … play-by-play announcers who breathlessly tell viewers, "Now watch this!" … ascots. But Corso in the Hall of Fame makes sense on so many levels.

"I don't know of a single individual who has had more of a positive impact on college football than Lee Corso," says Herbstreit, who has worked with Corso on "College GameDay" since 1996. "He's an icon. I don't know how you could be around the sport of college football for the last 25 years and not look at Lee Corso as not being deserving [for HOF entry]. If you asked any coach or player of the last 25 years, I can't believe any of them wouldn't agree with that."

The 78-year-old Corso, who made his first GameDay appearance in 1987, is the only remaining original member of the show. He has longevity, credibility and a love for the game that makes the rest of us look like slackers.

[+] EnlargeLee Corso
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenLee Corso's picks are a must see on Saturdays.

What he doesn't have is the bona fides as determined by the Hall of Fame.

But here's the thing: the Hall of Fame has made exceptions in the past. Former Baylor coach Grant Teaff is in the Hall of Fame, despite having a sub-.600 winning percentage. Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno were inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 2007 after the NFF waived its rule saying inductees had to be retired.

And it's not just Corso who deserves an actual Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I'd say the same thing for Keith Jackson, Verne Lundquist, Brent Musberger and, one day, Chris Fowler, to name a few. You don't always need to wear shoulder pads to transcend the game.

Corso played the game, coached the game, analyzed the game and, most of all, popularlized the game. That has a certain value -- a value that belongs in the Hall of Fame.

POSTGAME

From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes the season's final version of a four-team BCS playoff format.

No. 1 seed Florida State vs. No. 4 seed Michigan State.

If you thought Ohio State could have given the Seminoles a national championship run for their money, how about Sparty?

No. 2 seed Auburn vs. No. 3 seed Alabama.

There's no way the sequel could ever be better than the original. But still …

On the bubble:

5. Stanford:  Arizona State would be happy to vouch for the Cardinal.

6. Baylor: If ever a head coach deserved some good news, it's Baylor's Art Briles.

7. Ohio State: I guess the Buckeyes can keep those "The Chase" banners up for another year.

8. South Carolina: The Head Ballcoach keeps getting it done.

9. Missouri: The Tigers' defense will be in therapy for weeks, maybe months after what Auburn did to it.

10. Oregon: Marcus Mariota's decision to return in 2014 reduces (slightly) the disappointment of the 2013 season.

Close, but not quite there: Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Clemson, LSU, UCLA, UCF, Louisville, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Fresno State, Duke, Georgia, USC, Northern Illinois.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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