Friday, July 12, 2013

Best and Worst of the BCS

If the BCS system was a building about to be demolished, there would be a riot of people jostling to push the detonater. The system was introduced 15 years ago and was meant to pit the #1 and the #2 against each other to see who was the best of the top two. It was the next step in the evolution of college football. Prior to that, if the #1 team beat, say the #7, in their bowl game, that team was considered the National Champion. It wasn't a sure fire thing that the #1 would play the #2. This was then changed to get more competitive championship games. But the BCS also brought its fair share of controversy. There were all kinds of debates about how fair it was. Several years into its inception, the system was faced with the problem of two teams going undefeated and winning their BCS Bowl Game. #1 USC slaughtered #2 Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl, while #3 Auburn beat #7 Virginia Tech 16-13. USC won the BCS National Championship trophy which was later vacated, while Auburn had to settle for a Sugar Bowl victory while many believed that they should have been crowned co-champs or something along those lines. Next, questions were raised in 2007 when LSU managed to get into the Title Game despite having two losses on the year. They quelled that when they beat #1 OSU, but the Buckeyes had lost at home to Illinois late in the season and there were questions if they were deserving too. College football almost imploded in the 2011 season when Alabama got into the title game despite losing to LSU midseason and not even playing in the SEC Championship game. That seemed to be the final straw, and now the NCAA is transitioning to a four team playoff. It won't be a perfect system either (it won't reach its full potential until it is 8 teams) but it is a stride forward. But while the BCS has caught so much flak, there is no denying it has led to some fantastic moments. So here it is, in the BCS's final year of existence, the highs and lows of the BCS Bowl Games.

National Championship Game

Best: 2005, #2 Texas 41 - #1 USC 38
This is not up for debate, open to scrutiny, or subject to change. Not only is this the greatest Championship game of the BCS era, it is probably the greatest college game ever. USC was in the middle of a dynasty and this team was already being heralded as the greatest ever assembled. They had back to back Heisman winners and a defense swarming with NFL talent. Texas was coming off a great two years as well with Vince Young under center. He was a one man human highlight reel who led Texas to a perfect season and 50 points per game. Despite that, everyone was picking the Trojans to repeat as champs and solidify themselves as one of the greatest teams ever to play. The first half of the game was relatively quiet, ending with Texas holding onto 16-10 lead. The second half was a different story as the teams combined for 53 points in a back and forth battle. Just when it looked like USC had put the game away, Young put the team on his back and hauled them to victory. After the defense gave them the ball back with under three minutes, Young took the team downfield again and scored the go ahead score on 4th down. What's crazy is that with only about 50 seconds left, USC actually came within striking distance of kicking a field goal to send it into overtime. That would have been the ultimate finish to an already incredible game, but as it stood, it was still one of the most incredible games ever played. Each team made a handful of jaw-dropping plays, but in the end Texas prevailed.

Honorable Mention: 2002, #2 Ohio State 31 - #1 Miami, Fl. 24 (OT)

Worst: 2011, #2 Alabama 21 - #1 Louisiana State 0
The only redeeming factor of this game was that it made enough fans irate that the NCAA was forced to explore the options of a playoff system which was eventually imposed. Other than that, this game absolutely sucked. Lets start with what happened before the game. These two teams met with the same rankings in Tuscaloosa midseason. LSU won the game 9-6 in overtime thanks to Alabama's kicker missing an absurd amount of field goals. If you can't tell from the score of that game, I'll tell you know that it also sucked. Alabama only dropped to #3 after that loss but for a while it looked like they would be left out. Had Oklahoma State survived a late road game against Iowa State, they would have been the ones playing LSU. But as events unfolded, Alabama rose back to #2 and was set to play LSU despite not even playing in the conference championship game. No one except for Bama or LSU alum wanted this game. It was ridiculous that Alabama got in and everyone knew it was going to be a lackluster game. Watching this game was like being punched in the groin repeatedly. It was painful to watch. Alabama's defense dominated the game. LSU didn't get more than 100 yards total and never crossed the 50 yard line. Let that sink in for a minute. They were the #1 team and literally did nothing for an entire game. While Alabama had almost 400 yards, their first touchdown came with 4 minutes left in the game. Seriously, five field goals was going to be the result of a national championship game? I wish I had a neuralizer from Men in Black to erase this game from my memory.

Dishonorable Mention: 2007, #2 Florida 41 - #1 Ohio State 14

Rose Bowl
Best: 2005, #4 Texas 38 - #13 Michigan 37
Another classic thanks to the insane abilities of Vince Young willing his team to victory. By Michigan's standards, they had a disappointing season. They dropped an early game to Notre Dame and then lost their annual game against Ohio State. Yet overall they were still a very solid team that featured Mike Hart, Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Chad Henne. Texas had only lost one game to #2 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game. They had been ranked in the top ten all year long and had won several tough games in convincing fashion. Henne had an incredible game, throwing for four touchdowns and putting Michigan in a great chance to win at the end of the game. The game was marked by big plays from both quarterbacks as Young also had four touchdowns on the ground, one coming on an electrifying 60 yard run. The game went back in forth throughout the entire time, and it ended with Young once again making incredible plays down the stretch that allowed Texas to eek out the victory. It was an appropriate finish to an already stellar game that also served as a sneak peak of what was to come for Texas the following year.

Honorable Mention: 2012, #5 Oregon 45 - #10 Wisconsin 38

Worst: 2008, #7 USC 49 - #13 Illinois 17
This game was already over before it started. USC was coming off of another great season that was marred by two losses (at home vs. Stanford, at Oregon) but managed to win the Pac-10. Illinois worked their way into this game because Ohio State was playing in the National Championship game. Coincidentally, Illinois handed Ohio State their only regular season loss in Columbus. Somehow, they were invited to the Rose Bowl over Michigan, who had beaten them in the season and held the same record. Maybe the selection committee was tired of seeing Michigan lose in Rose Bowl games (0-3 in the 2000s), but who knows. This game was never close as Illinois was outclassed early in the game. By halftime, they had managed only a field goal and gave up three touchdowns. USC was moving the ball with ease while Illini quarterback Juice Williams struggled against Pete Carroll's physical and aggressive defense. By the time the third quarter was over, the score was already 35-10. Three more total touchdowns were scored, but it was not enough to make the game competitive or compelling.

Dishonorable Mention: I can't really think of one here. The Rose Bowl has always seemed to have the best quality matchups in the BCS era.

Fiesta Bowl
Best: 2007, #8 Boise State 43 - #10 Oklahoma 42

This game was supposed to be the one where it was proven that non power conference teams could not keep up with the big boys. Oklahoma was expected to come in, take care of business, and leave. Rather, this game turned into instant classic. Boise State came out firing and was not only showing they could compete with Oklahoma, they were handling them convincingly. Jared Zabransky showed that he wasn't going to be intimidated by the Sooner defense and threw two touchdown passes longer than thirty yards to help give the Broncos a 21-10 halftime lead. Another touchdown midway through the third put them up by 18, and it looked like this game was going to be a rather shocking upset. All of the sudden, Oklahoma turned it on and scored three offensive touchdowns to tie the game. With just over a minute to go, Zabransky made a terrible decision and was intercepted by Marcus Walker who strolled into the endzone to give the Sooners a 35-28 lead. It seemed that reality had come crashing down for Boise State. Then, magic. Facing 4th and 18, Broncos coach Chris Pederson called for a hook and ladder which worked to perfection. Jerard Rabb caught the lateral pass in stride and raced 35 yards for the tying touchdown. Overtime was even better. On Oklahoma's first play, Adrian Peterson went the distance to give them the lead. Boise State again was facing fourth down and had to score. Utilizing more trickery, Boise State managed to score and get within an extra point of sending it to a second overtime. Yet in perhaps the ballsiest move since Tom Osborne went for 2 against Miami in 1984, Pederson elected to go for it all. With three receivers lined up to the right, Zabransky faked a throw and held the ball behind his back where Ian Johnson picked it up and ran in for the winning conversion. It was a remarkable ending to one of the most electric bowl games ever played.

Honorable Mention: 2012, #3 Oklahoma State 41 - #4 Stanford 38 (OT)

Worst: 2010, #6 Boise State 17 - #4 Texas Christian 10
Congratulations Boise State, you have the honor of playing in the best and worst Fiesta Bowls! Truth be told, I don't think I even watched this game. But that doesn't mean I can't make snide remarks about it. The only interesting thing about this game was the conspiracy theories that it generated (people thought these two got matched so that they didn't embarrass an AQ school). Apart from that, this game was inconsequential. The only reason seeing a non-AQ school in the BCS game was the hope you would get to see them humiliate someone. This Fiesta Bowl never had that element from the beginning, and it showed as it suffered in television views. It also didn't help that this game was mind-numbingly boring. The game was close, sure, but the score was tied at ten before Doug Martin scored the go ahead touchdown with four minutes left. I doubt many people even know this game was played, and I bet even fewer actually watched it.

Dishonorable Mention: 2011, #7 Oklahoma 48 - Not Ranked "What the hell are they doing in a BCS Bowl" Connecticut 20

Orange Bowl

Best: 2000, #8 Michigan 35 - #4 Alabama 34
This game is much cooler in retrospect because of the offensive stars on both teams. Michigan was led by Tom Brady playing in his last game and David Terrell, a future first round pick who never really lived up to the potential he displayed in this game. Alabama's entire offense was centered around Shaun Alexander. Brady struggled early against a stifling Alabama defense, but all of the sudden him and Terrell got into a rhythm and just made play after play. Brady ended up throwing three of his four touchdown passes to Terrell and more than half of his 350 yards were to him as well. Alexander, meanwhile, was a one man force as he had three touchdowns and over 100 yards. He gave Alabama a two touchdown lead in third quarter and it looked like Michigan wasn't going to be able to muster enough offense to get competitive. Yet as mentioned, Brady got very comfortable and Terrell just continued to get open and was able to put Michigan in a position to score twice. While there was no scoring in the fourth quarter, there were two huge plays that drastically decided the course of the game. The first was Alabama's defense forcing a goal line fumble with seven minutes left that would have given Michigan the lead. The second was Alabama blocking the game winning field goal with time running out which ended up forcing overtime. Overtime was just as exciting as both teams scored a touchdown. However, Alabama's attempted extra point would sail wide to the right and give Michigan the victory. While the Orange Bowl had the weakest games throughout the BCS era, this game is undoubtedly a classic.

Honorable Mention: 2006, #3 Penn State 26 - #22 Florida State 23 (3OT)

Worst: 2013, #12 Florida State 31 - #15 Northern Illinois 10
One of the least interesting BCS Bowl games played in the entire era. Prior to the 2012 season, Florida State was thought to be back. After half a dozen years of mediocrity that included the inglorious departure of Bobby Bowden, sports writers and analysts were proclaiming that Florida State finally had the makeup to get back into the title hunt. Oops. They started off hot, including beating then #10 Clemson at home 49-37. After rising as high as #3, they lost at NC State and then were outclassed by Florida in their annual meeting, killing any notion that Florida State was one of the elite programs again. Northern Illinois really wasn't that big of a get for the Orange Bowl either. They lost one game to an awful Iowa team and the only power conference team that they beat was a Kansas squad that went 1-11. They were nowhere close to the Boise State and TCU squads that disrupted the fragile minds of college football fans several years ago. Their selection to play was ripped apart, and it proved justified. They simply did not have the athletic ability to compete with Florida State who gets the best recruits from Texas, Florida, and Louisiana on a yearly basis. NIU only mustered 260 yards at a dismal 3.5 yards per play. Florida State had double their yards on the same amount of plays, but they only scored four touchdowns. They only way people were going to care about this game was if NIU upset Florida State or if Florida State put up, like, ten touchdowns. Neither happened, and mercifully this game came to an end.

Dishonorable Mention: 2007, #6 Louisville 24 - #14 Wake Forest 13

Sugar Bowl
Best: 2006, #11 West Virginia 38 - #7 Georgia 35
West Virginia was one of the most dominant teams when they got into a BCS Bowl game. They were 3-0 during the 2000s and often won in very convincing fashion. Not many people expected this result either when the match up was announced. The game was being played in Atlanta, so it was essentially a home game for Georgia. The Bulldogs had lost two games during the regular season, but had destroyed LSU by 20 points in the SEC Championship Game and many thought that Georgia was simply going to outclass the Mountaineers. West Virginia was led by freshman sensation Pat White, who would go on to win a record four bowl games during his tenure. He was the main catalyst of that dynamic offense and started off hot against the Bulldogs, leading West Virginia to 21-0 lead before the first quarter was over. After adding another 10 points in the second quarter while Georgia scored three unanswered touchdowns at one point, making it a 31-21 game at half. The game slowed down a bit after that once the defenses figured each other out but remained a very compelling game. After West Virginia added another touchdown, Georgia reciprocated and had put the pressure on West Virginia to eat up the rest of the clock. With under ninety seconds remaining, West Virginia converted a fourth down on a fake punt at midfield that allowed them to run down the clock and seal their victory. 

Honorable Mention: 2011, #6 Ohio State 31 - #8 Arkansas 26

Worst: 2010, #5 Florida 51 - #3 Cincinnati 24
I don't think that many people thought that this was going to be an interesting game in the first place. Cincinnati was coming off of their best season is school history, but they didn't play anyone with even half the talent that Florida possessed. Also, their head coach Brian Kelly decided ditching his team to accept the job at Notre Dame was more important than coaching Cincy's biggest game in program history. Florida meanwhile was coming off of a crushing loss in the SEC Championship game to Alabama. Florida was looking to repeat as champs, and anything less than that was considered a failure. Almost adding insult to injury, Cincinnati was chosen as the opponent. The result was Florida dominating the whole game. I mean, this game was never even close. The Gators lead 30-3 at half and 44-10 at the end of the third quarter. Cincy scored two more garbage time touchdowns in the 4th quarter, but by that time it was already over. It was a very lame ending for Tebow's illustrious career.

Dishonorable Mention: 2008, #5 Georgia 41 - #10 Hawai'i 10

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