Who wants to go bowling? BCS pairings set, bowl season right around the corner
The Bowl Championship Series Selection show has morphed into must-see TV. This year, the potential for a rematch between Louisiana State and Alabama in the BCS Championship had the country riveted as the bowls were announced and the BCS pairings revealed. Oklahoma State and head coach Mike Gundy were hoping for a bump in the standings following the Cowboys 44-6 victory over rival Oklahoma in the Bedlam game.
Alabama, idle while LSU played Georgia for the SEC Championship, hoped the voters would value the Crimson Tide’s lone loss to LSU more than Oklahoma State’s loss to unranked Iowa State on the road in Ames, Iowa. Meanwhile, Stanford head coach David Shaw had gone on the record to criticize the BCS and how “the computers” ultimately decide a team’s rank – the Cardinal’s only defeat was at the hands of the Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks, who finished lower than Stanford in the most recent BCS standings.
When the dust settled and the bowl pairings had been announced, Stanford and Oklahoma State were left out of the national championship picture. Instead, the two teams will square off in the Fiesta Bowl to determine the best team outside the SEC.
LSU and Alabama, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the BCS, will face off in a rematch of the “Game of the Century” January 9 in New Orleans with a BCS Championship on the line. Prior to Sunday night’s selection show, it was unclear which team would be slotted No. 2 in the standings to face LSU. If Alabama beats LSU January 9, there still wouldn’t be a clear-cut No. 1 as LSU’s only loss would have been in the championship while Alabama’s sole loss came November 5.
Regardless, all six BCS matchups should provide nothing but excitement – assuming of course the championship is not another 9-6 overtime dud. Everybody likes a defensively battle, but nothing beats a shootout. And we should see more than enough shootouts once bowl season begins December 17.
The Best of the BCS
We’ve been here before, No. 1 LSU vs. No. 2 Alabama. The first time around, it was dubbed the Game of the Century, the second time around, expectations will be through the roof because the first game didn’t quite live up to expectations. ESPN College Gameday was there for the neutral-site battle between the top two teams in the BCS. The week leading up to the game, ESPN rolled out historical footage of games between No. 1 and No. 2 teams during the regular season. With both teams hailing from the same division of the same conference, not only was the top ranking in the country on the line, but so was the path to the SEC championship.
Although LSU and Alabama boasted the top two defenses in the country, they also featured top-15 scoring offenses and the game was expected to be similar to last year’s Iron Bowl. Facing eventual national champion Auburn, the 2010 Crimson Tide allowed Cam Newton to orchestrate a 24-point combeback for a 28-27 victory. As even as the 2011 LSU and Alabama squads were, the Game of the Century was to be an equally-high scoring affair.
Instead, the game was an offensive disaster. Neither team gained 300 yards of total offense and each committed two turnovers – both interceptions. Switching between kickers, Alabama missed three field goals and had another blocked. Overall, it was about as even as you could get. The teams were nearly identical in time of possession as well, with Alabama holding only a 12 second advantage, 30:06 to 29:54. But, something about a football game ending with a very baSeball-like 9-6 score left a bad taste in the mouth of many college football fans.
It was this disappointment that incited many “what-ifs” about how Oklahoma St.’s high-powered offense would far against LSU’s stingy defense. With discension over which team should really be ranked No. 2 in the country, this BCS Championship better deliver or the sports world will once again be left wondering “what if.”
The Rest of the BCS
Bowl season officially kicks off on December 17, but it is not until January 2 – when BCS games begin – that the big money is on the line. With all the talk about the championship, it is hard to overlook the fact that nearly ever other BCS matchup is gold. At least the BCS was able to get something right. The second day of the New Year features the first two BCS games – the Rose Bowl and the aforementioned Fiesta Bowl. Each game features two high scoring teams each with their own offensive weapon.
Running backs Montee Ball of Wisconsin and LaMichael James of Oregon are the centerpieces of each team’s offense. Ball rushed for 1759 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns, two shy of the NCAA record. His Wisconsin Badgers are the fourth-ranked scoring offense in the country at 44.6 points per game and just won the inaugural Big 10 championship game. James, on the other hand, would easily have surpassed Ball’s yardage total had he not missed time due to a dislocated elbow. Playing two fewer games than Ball, James racked up 1,646 rushing yards – nearly 150 per game – and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. The Ducks rank one spot ahead of Wisconsin with the third-ranked scoring offense at 46.2 points per game.
The 2011 Grandaddy of Them All could end as the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in history – neither team has scored fewer than 27 points per game this season. If there is any advantage in the numbers, it’s that Wisconsin boasts the 16th-best scoring defense at 17 points per game, a full touchdown better than Oregon’s 48th-ranked 23.6 points per game. The over/under for points scored in the Rose Bowl could be in the 60’s or 70’s. If that is the case, then total points scored in the Rose and Fiesta Bowl could approach 150.
College football fans are not the only people who will be watching the Fiesta Bowl with a keen eye. The crowd is sure to feature many NFL scouts and coaches preparing for April’s NFL Draft. Both teams feature Heisman Trophy finalists in Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. Luck was the preseason favorite and is the focus of the ‘Suck for Luck’ campaign in the NFL to be the worst team and secure the first overall draft pick. Weeden is the 28-year-old former minor league baseball prospect and now fifth-year senior with a cannon for an arm. Weeden quickly claimed a spot among college football’s elite before the Cowboys lost in Ames and his Heisman campaign slowed.
Other than the two BCS games, January 2 features four non-BCS bowl games, including South Carolina vs. Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Houston vs. Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl and Urban Meyer’s former team, Florida, against his future team, Ohio State, in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. On January 3 and 4, the BCS owns the spotlight with the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl before a four-day BCS hiatus.
The Sugar Bowl includes two BCS at-large bids, including the ACC’s first-ever at-large selection in Virginia Tech. The No. 11 Hokies’ opponent, No. 13 Michigan received an at-large big after first-year head coach Brady Hoke led the Wolverines to a 10-2 record and second-place finish in the Big 10’s Legends Division. Virginia Tech won the ACC’s Coastal Division but was blown out by Clemson in the ACC championship – the Hokies second loss to Clemson this year.
The win over Virginia Tech and the ACC championship netted Clemson its first appearance in the Orange Bowl since 1981. The Tigers face off against Big East champion West Virginia who finished the season on a three-game winning streak but is the lowest-ranked team in a BCS game. Clemson is a young team that excelled early in the season. After beating Troy and Wofford to start 2-0, the Tigers upset No. 21 Auburn, No. 11., Florida State and No. 11 Virginia Tech three weeks in a row. They ascended as high as fifth-overall after an 8-0 start but then lost 31-17 at Georgia Tech and lost three-of-four to close the season before Saturday’s ACC Championship.
West Virginia is the least-exciting of the 10 teams playing in BCS games. The Mountaineers won the Big East on a tie-breaker after finishing tied with both Cincinnati and Louisville at 5-2 in conference play. They boast the nation’s 19th-ranked scoring offense at 34.9 points per game but played only two ranked teams all season, losing to No. 2 LSU 47-21 September 24 and beating No. 23 Cincinnati 24-21 November 12. For a champion from a BCS conference, they are ranked a disappointing 23rd in the most recent standings.
Non-BCS Bowl Schedule
I’ll refrain from providing an in-depth breakdown of all 30 non-BCS bowls and instead point out some interesting tidbits and highlighting a couple teams to watch. Bowl Season kicks off December 17 with three Saturday matchups. Two of the Mountain West’s five teams play the first day – Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl and San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. Utah State makes its second bowl berth in as many season, the first time in school history they’ve done so, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Two other teams from the Mountain West, BCS hopefuls No. 18 TCU and No. 7 Boise State play on back-to-back days December 21 and 21 in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl and the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, respectively. TCU takes on Louisian Tech in what could be quite the lopsided matchup. The very next day, another Mountain West team could win in a blowout with the Broncos take on Arizona State. The Sun Devils just fired head coach Dennis Erickson after a disappointing 6-6 season while the Broncos will be frustrated by being left out of the BCS picture after a loss to TCU, despite the No. 7 ranking.
Potential Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, considered the fastest man to ever play quarterback and who boldly declared “I think Baylor just won its first Heisman” after a victory Saturday, takes on the struggling Washington Huskies in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Huskies enter the game having lost three of four while Baylor gets to play a “neutral” game less than four hours from campus.
During the four-day BCS hiatus between the Orange Bowl and the BCS Championship, college football fans have only one day off, January 5. Then, in the leadup to the championship, No. 6 Arkansas takes on No. 8 Kansas State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl January 6, Pittsburgh plays SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl January 7 and high-scoring Northern Illinois faces Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl January 8.
Check out the full bowl schedule here.
Photos courtesy avinashkunnath, Monica’s Dad, severea and BaylorFans.com via Flickr