A season to remember -- and forget
The regular season? Are you kidding?
What was regular about a 2011 season in which Joe Paterno got fired but the BCS didn't? When you could lose a game against the No. 1 team, not play in your conference championship but still get a rematch for a national title?
When you wish the Heisman Trophy had a twin brother?
This season began at 6 p.m. ET on Sept. 1 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium -- Murray State at Louisville -- and ended at 11:53 p.m. ET on Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis -- Wisconsin vs. Michigan State. And, OK, just for fun, we'll include Saturday's Army-Navy game as the final exclamation point.
In between, we had a year to remember and forget, to applaud and question. The only indisputable fact is that LSU will end 2011 as the lone unbeaten team in the country. What we don't know is whether the Tigers will end Jan. 9, 2012, that way, too.
If you say you saw this coming, you're a genius or a liar. Because Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1 in the AP and coaches' polls -- the same injury-riddled Sooners who were steam-cleaned from the national championship equation in October and crushed by Oklahoma State a December night ago.
Meanwhile, Alabama started at No. 2 in that same poll, and that's where the Crimson Tide are now: No. 2 in the coaches' poll, the Harris poll, and, most important, the final BCS standings. They did it by having the least offensive loss of the one-loss teams, which isn't exactly the same thing as erasing all doubt.
This is the college football world we live in these days. It doesn't always make sense. If it did, there would be a playoff, and Bama and Oklahoma State both would be part of it.
Instead, the voters and the human-configured computer programs had to split atoms when deciding between the 11-1 Tide and the 11-1 Cowboys. Bama's schedule wasn't as demanding as Oklahoma State's, but the Tide didn't lose to 27-point underdog Iowa State.
No. 1 LSU was going to the Allstate BCS National Championship Game no matter what. It could have lost the SEC championship game (and for a while there, as the Tigers ended the first half against Georgia with zero first downs and trailing by three points, it seemed they might), but it wouldn't have changed the rankings math:
LSU = No. 1. Everybody else < LSU. Much less.
Oklahoma State did what it could, which was put the Sooner Schooner on cement blocks and sell the parts to a wagon train chop shop. The Cowboys had OU quarterback Landry Jones so flustered that I'm not sure he could have qualified for the Dr. Pepper Tuition Throw. The Overthrow, maybe.
So LSU won by 32, OSU won by 34 and Bama won by not playing. For all we know, the Tide spent the weekend eating Dreamland ribs and channel-surfing between the LSU-UGA game, the OU-OSU game and C-SPAN.
But Bama and LSU will play for the national championship, and one-loss teams Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State and Houston won't. So sad.
How did we get to this point? Easily. The season took a right turn at nuttiness before the first game even was played. Otherwise, how do you explain first-time head coach Luke Fickell on the Ohio State sideline and Jim Tressel back home folding his gray sweater vests?
We should have known something was up as early as Week 1. That's when Baylor beat TCU, South Florida beat Notre Dame, LSU beat Oregon and Boise State beat Georgia.
As late as Oct. 9, there were 13 undefeated teams. By Oct. 30, the number had shrunk -- only six unbeaten. By Nov. 20, only LSU and Houston were perfect. Now it's just LSU.
There is no logical way to explain this season. Texas Tech beat Oklahoma but then lost its next five games. Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State by six, but Oklahoma beat Iowa State by 20. Oklahoma State then crushed OU.
Houston entered the Conference USA championship game with a 12-0 record but lost by 21 to Southern Mississippi, which lost to 3-9 Alabama-Birmingham, which lost to 1-11 Florida Atlantic. In less than four hours, C-USA and Houston lost a reported $13 million in BCS bowl revenue.
Paterno lost to the Penn State board of trustees in early November. The winningest coach in major college football history was fired over the phone.
Meanwhile, USC lost to Arizona State, which lost to UCLA, which USC beat 50-0. But you can make the argument -- almost as compelling as the ones Oklahoma State, Stanford and Bama would make -- that no team is playing as well as the Trojans. Too bad they're ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.
It has been a season of controversy (the BCS); of expansion (the SEC and ACC), of contraction (the Big East) and of both (the Big 12); of conference championships that popped and crackled (the inaugural Big Ten title game), of conference champions that didn't (the inaugural Pac-12 championship); of hellos (Urban Meyer, Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez) and of goodbyes (longtime rivalries, Mike Sherman, Rick Neuheisel, Ron Zook, Howard Schnellenberger, Turner Gill, among others).
And yet, here we are, still wanting more. So the question goes from "How did we get here?" to "How can we keep it going?"
The irregular season is complete, but the postseason isn't. The bowls begin in less than two weeks. They can't be any weirder than what happened in the past three-plus months.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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