Ten Things, Season Recap
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Hope you didn’t blink. If you did, you just missed another great season of college football pass you by. This season had everything a college football fan could ask for – upsets, domination, controversy, and a national championship game matchup that couldn’t be beat. Of course, Auburn and Oregon put stamps on what looks to be the best in either school’s history, but the rest of the nation has its own compelling storylines, as well. Here are the top ten things from the week - and season - that was.
1. Showdown in Tempe
After 14 weeks, the game is finally set. The whole college football world will descend upon Glendale, AZ as the Ducks and Tigers square off for their school’s first BCS national championship. Both will be lead by high-flying offenses, and opportunistic defenses. This could be the best BCS championship game since the dawn of the system, and could even surpass the hype of USC-Texas in 2005. Keep those tailgate fires going, cause we’re gonna have a barn burner in the desert!
2. Season’s Biggest Surprises
TCU – All the preseason hype for a non-BCS program went to Boise State, and rightfully so. The Broncos have been the winningest program over the past five years, and beat TCU on a neutral field to end last season. In the end, though, it was the Horned Frogs that finished without blemish – and a spot in college football’s most hallowed bowl game. The Rose Bowl is lucky to have a team as talented as Gary Patterson’s group. Don’t be surprised if they pull it out on Wisconsin, either. For all the success the Badgers have had, they have pulled out some ugly wins, and this TCU team is really good.
Michigan State – The Spartans have certainly been a feel good story. From “Little Giants” to their top ten ranking at the end of the year. They were one win away from potentially playing in the national championship, but a Capital One Bowl birth is certainly nothing to sneeze at. With coach Mark Dantonio back and healthy from his heart issues earlier in the season, they might end up with the school’s first ever twelve-win season.
The BCS – That’s right, I said it. For all the moaning and groaning about wanting a playoff, the BCS has produced some very compelling matchups. No one doubts that Auburn and Oregon have been the most dominant teams this year. What’s that, you say? You’ll pass on the spread offense du jour in favor of some blue-collar, smash-mouth football? Plop down in front of the tube when Wisconsin and TCU square off. Underdogs are your thing? How bout Stanford traveling across the country to face red hot Virginia Tech or UConn join the list of overmatched opponents to beat Oklahoma? And who couldn’t love a pro style offense like Arkansas taking on one of the better defenses in the Big Ten in another Ohio State-SEC showdown? This year, the BCS got it right.
3. Season’s Biggest Disappointments
The Big East – Good Grief. What happened? Pitt was a contender, until proving itself useless on the road. West Virginia limped along again. As good as UConn can be, it was even in doubt that they could even go bowling until rolling off five straight to close the season. And when your conference champion isn’t even ranked, there are major issues.
Nebraska – For all the talk of revenge against Texas, the Huskers fell short. When they had the opportunity to knock out longtime rival Oklahoma and win the Big Twelve as they left the conference, they goofed it up again. For a season that began with such high hopes, it will end against…Washington – a team the Huskers beat 56-21 on the road. Some reward for a long season.
The 7-5 Record – So many teams had promise in the season, only to lose almost half of their games. Pittsburg, Miami, Notre Dame, Iowa, Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan, and Florida were all harboring thoughts of a conference championship and the BCS birth that goes with it. Heck, even Syracuse and Baylor (who have played in a combined one bowl game in this decade) would consider 7-5 a disappointment since both were at 6-2 before the final four games. That’s why they play the games on the field, I guess.
4. Goodbye Big Ten/PAC-10 Ties
Maybe it’s because I’m in SEC country, and we were the first conference to go to a divisional format. Maybe it’s because the best two conferences besides the SEC couldn’t seem to figure out a good way to pick a champion. I’ve stated before my disdain for teams claiming a share at a conference title when they lost straight up to the other co-champion (see PAC-10 2006-7 and Big Ten 2005 and ’08). Next season, both conferences should have all the pegs in place to eliminate shared titles, like this year where Ohio State and Wisconsin go to BCS Bowls, but Michigan State, who beat Wisconsin but didn’t play Ohio State, goes to the Capital One Bowl. Hardly seems fair if you ask me.
5. Coach of the Year
Brady Hoke, San Diego State – Before arriving at San Diego State, Hoke made a name for himself by talking Ball State – yes, Ball State – to a 12-0 record and nearly a PAC championship. Now, at San Diego State, Hoke has turned a team who hasn’t been to a bowl game in over a decade into an 8-4 record, finishing just fourth in the Mountain West. It’s hard to find a better coach with what he’s working with.
6. Sanctions, Anyone?
No season has ever been so dominated by scandal than 2010. From the get-go, there was Nick Saban, before the season ever started, calling unscrupulous agents “pimps”. He would later have to sit his star defensive lineman, Marcel Dareus, for two games for questionable circumstances surrounding a trip to Miami. Speaking of Miami, half of North Carolina’s starting team was suspended for all or part of the year due to accepting illegal benefits from agents at said party. AJ Green of Georgia had to sit four games for selling his jersey to an “agent”. Then there’s Cam Newton…
7. Speaking of Cam Newton
Cam Newton, the starring role in the underdog story that is the Auburn Tigers. After transferring from Florida to a community college, then to Auburn, Newton’s father was accused of shopping his son to the highest bidder. “Make me smile”, he was reported as saying. Potential players included Mississippi State, Auburn, and even Oklahoma. Nothing panned out, but that didn’t stop the smear campaign all over the country. In the same year that the first ever vacant Heisman trophy was announced, suddenly no one wanted to vote for someone who could later be found ineligible. While that may still happen, there’s no doubt that Newton is the best player on the field. Let’s just hope the voters see it the same way.
8. Texas Longhorns
They were so much of a disappointment I had to give them a section all by themselves. The Longhorns had eight straight 10+ win seasons, only to miss a bowl game altogether this year. That’s the worst ending to a streak since the Braves’ streak of division titles ended with them finishing last in their division a couple years ago. It’s fitting, then, that Texas finished last in the Big Twelve South. That’s right, last. Five teams from the state of Texas will play in bowl games (Baylor, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, and SMU) and none of them are from Austin. Mack Brown has some serious work to do in the offseason.
9. Coaching Carousel
My favorite spectacle of the offseason is the craziness that is the hiring of coaches. From the end of the season, through the bowl games and sometimes even into the spring, schools are scanning the landscape for their next savior – or at least a guy who’s not as bad as the one they just fired. The past few years have seen remarkable turnover, and don’t be surprised if similar events occur this year. Rich Rod is on the hotseat after another barely over par season. Urban Meyer is out at Florida. Richt may be gone in Georgia. And Pelini might not have much more rope left before he hangs himself with it in Nebraska. So many potential openings could open the floodgates at the middle and lower levels of the coaching ranks. Buckle your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride…
10. Positive Note
I think I should end this column on a positive note. So many happenings in college football are negative. From recruiting wars to scandals to cheating and beyond, I think it’s better to focus on the better parts of the sport. The ACC has an award dedicated to Brian Piccolo, an ACC athlete of the year at Wake Forest and Chicago Bears running back, who died of lung cancer. The award is given annually to the “most courageous” football player.
Those of you familiar with this column are familiar with Mark Herzlich, the Boston College linebacker diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma last year. For a year, he rehabbed and was able to start this season on the active roster after being cleared completely of cancer this past spring. Herzlich became the first Boston College player to win the award, and it’s the first time since 1998 that the award has been shared.
Nate Irving, linebacker for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, was in a car accident in June of 2009 that left him with a fractured leg, broken rib, punctured lung, and separated shoulder. He has since completed a full rehab and finished the season second on the team in tackles and set an FBS record with eight tackles for a loss in one game against Wake Forest earlier this year.
For those who have given all they have to this sport. For those who have entertained us all season long. For those who love this game of football as much as we do watching it from the stands, tailgates, bars, and living rooms, thank you for another wonderful year of college football.
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