All of the college football bowl bids – all 35 of them – have been set and all of the debate can begin on who got favorable treatment and who got the shaft.
LSU's Morris Claiborne, Alabama's Trent Richardson and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden
Today, I will look at the BCS match-ups, share my bowl winners and losers, look at the Big Ten bowl tie-ins and wrap up the regular season with my final top 25 and Heisman Trophy picks. Let’s check it out:
Bowl Championship Series Match-Ups
* BCS National Championship Game (Jan. 9, New Orleans): Alabama (11-1) vs. LSU (13-0), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) – LSU defeated Alabama 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. Poll voters simply liked Alabama better than Oklahoma State and that’s why they got this spot. This is the first national title game rematch in the 14 years of the BCS format. It is reminiscent of what happened in 1996, when Florida State defeated Florida 24-21 in the regular season only to drop the Sugar Bowl and national title to the Gators 52-20 in the rematch.
* Rose Bowl (Jan. 2, Pasadena, Calif.): Wisconsin (11-2) vs. Oregon (11-2), 5 p.m. (ESPN) – The champions of the Big Ten and Pac-12 square off. This should be a heck of an offensive display and two great QBs and RBs in action. First one to 40 wins. (Click here for our coverage of Wisconsin’s Big Ten title game win over Michigan State with a ton of postgame video.)
* Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2, Glendale, Ariz.): Stanford (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) – This should also be a great game with No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Stanford going head-to-head. Will the Cowboys be motivated here after getting riffed from the BCS title game? If one of the other plays really well and Alabama edges LSU, could the winner here siphon off some first-place votes in the AP poll?
* Sugar Bowl (Jan. 3, New Orleans): Michigan (10-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) – This better be a good game or the Sugar will have some egg on its face. It bypassed Boise State (seventh), Kansas State (eighth) and Baylor (12th) to take Tech (11th, coming off a blowout loss) and Michigan (13th). Great first year for Brady Hoke to put Michigan in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2006 and fifth time overall.
* Orange Bowl (Jan. 4, Miami): West Virginia (9-3) vs. Clemson (10-3), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) – This was pretty much preordained to be the Big East champion against the ACC champion. WVU won its season finale with South Florida and then needed Cincinnati to defeat Connecticut, creating a three-way tie for the Big East title. WVU got the nod with the highest BCS ranking (23rd) of the three. Clemson had lost three of its last four before stunning Virginia Tech in the ACC title game. This game, on a Wednesday night, will threaten for one of the lowest BCS TV ratings ever.
Bowl Selection Winners
Here are some of the schools (and others) that landed “jelly up” after the bowl selection process:
* Alabama -- The PR machine that powers the SEC was at Defcon 12 over the weekend to try and point out how LSU and Alabama were “obviously the nation’s top two teams.” Alabama won the No. 2 spot over No. 3 Oklahoma State by the closest final margin ever at 0.0086 of a point. The Tide had the advantage in the human polls (coaches and Harris polls), while Oklahoma State had the nod in the computers. Now can Alabama take advantage of this rare second chance and bring home the crystal football?
* Playoff and Plus-One Model Proponents -- This is a year that cries out for a “plus-one” model where the top four would play one another and the winners then meet for the national title. Who wouldn’t like to see LSU-Stanford and Alabama-Oklahoma State in the semis? BCS and college officials will meet this summer to discuss changes to the format. Will they even consider going to a plus-one?
* The Big Ten -- I don’t know how Jim Delany does it, but whenever he has two teams in the top 14 he gets his automatic two BCS bids. For the 11th time in 14 years, the Big Ten will have two teams in the BCS. The Big Ten now has 25 berths in 14 years with the SEC next with 23.
* Michigan -- There were probably more deserving teams that got left out, but this shows what it means to be the winningest program in the history of the sport. And particularly what it means when you’ve been irrelevant for much of the last five years. And even better, the Wolverines get a winnable game against Virginia Tech. Much better than the possibility of playing Alabama, had the Tide ended up third in the final standings.
* The Cotton Bowl -- Because of the limit on two teams per conference in the BCS, Arkansas (sixth) drops in nicely here for this game at favored son Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium. And they get a top-10 opponent in Kansas State (eighth). In the next BCS go-around, the Cotton needs to be moved up to the main rotation and/or the national title game schedule.
* The ACC -- The Atlantic Coast Conference received a second BCS bid for the first time in the 14-year history of the format, leaving the Big East as the only automatic qualifier league to never get two teams into the mix in the same year.
Bowl Selection Losers
Here are some schools (and others) that didn’t come out of this weekend smiling, uh, not at all:
* Oklahoma State -- On one hand, Oklahoma State will play in its first BCS bowl with its trip to the Fiesta. The Cowboys hoped their 44-10 win over Oklahoma would be enough to catapult them over Alabama in the final standings so they could play in the national title game. But the human poll voters were not buying it. Here’s a stat: No coach voted Alabama below No. 3, while 45 of them voted Oklahoma State below No. 3. That’s unbelievable.
* Houston and Conference USA -- C-USA has never placed a team in the BCS. All Houston had to do was beat Southern Miss at home in the conference title game and they were going to be Sugar Bowl-bound at 13-0. But USM wasn’t having it. USM blew out Houston 49-28, relegating the Cougars to the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas. How costly was this loss? Well, it cost C-USA and its schools about $11 million and it looks like UH coach Kevin Sumlin will not he heading off for greener pastures at UCLA or Arizona State. That’s all. Ouch.
* Non-Automatic Qualifiers In General -- In recent years, the BCS has been (somewhat) kind to schools in non-AQ conferences. Beginning with Utah in the 2004 season, there have been seven teams from non-AQ conferences to make BCS bowls. None of them ever played for the title, but they at least had a seat at the table. Boise State (seventh) apparently was not eligible because it didn’t win the Mountain West. How absurd is that? We aren’t holding Stanford, Virginia Tech, Alabama or Michigan to that standard? Why hold Boise to it? Boise drops to the MAACO Bowl to play 6-6 Arizona State. Wow.
* TCU and the Mountain West In Particular – There was chatter in the last week that TCU could sneak in because it won the MWC and was ranked ahead of the Big East champion. But TCU, which defeated Boise State and finished 10-2, ended up 18th – two spots below the arbitrary mark of 16th it needed to finish to qualify. This marks the third time in four years the Mountain West has had a team ranked ahead of the Big East. Can anybody tell me why the Big East still even has an automatic bid? TCU gets Louisiana Tech in the Poinsettia (yawn) Bowl.
* Kansas State and Arkansas -- We outlined above how these teams fell to the Cotton. They’re both in the top eight and they have to sit and watch Wisconsin (10th), Virginia Tech (11th), Michigan (13th), Clemson (15th) and West Virginia (23rd) play in BCS bowls. What’s wrong with this system?
* Michigan State -- Oh, the long suffering Spartans. They led the Big Ten title game most of the way and seemed ready to break through for their first BCS berth and first Rose Bowl berth since 1988. But they watched as Wisconsin (and QB Russell Wilson) stole that title game 42-39 with a late touchdown. MSU dropped from 13th to 17th in the final BCS standings and now has to watch bitter rival Michigan, whom MSU beat 28-14, play in the Sugar Bowl.
Oh, and the Capital One passed over MSU for Nebraska (although the Huskers did defeat the Spartans). And it was another indignity after last year, when MSU shared the Big Ten title with Wisconsin and Ohio State and watched those two play in BCS bowls.
Big Ten Bowl Tie-Ins
For the first time in Big Ten history, 10 conference teams have been selected to participate in postseason bowl games. The total of 10 bowl teams betters the previous mark of eight in 2003 and 2007.
This marks the seventh straight year that seven or more Big Ten teams will go bowling. Here are some thoughts on the Big Ten bowl bids:
* Little Caesars Pizza Bowl (Dec. 27, Detroit): Western Michigan (7-5) vs. Purdue (6-6), 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2) -- Purdue had to beat Indiana in Week 12 to qualify. The Boilers won to earn their first bowl under third-year coach Danny Hope and first bowl overall since 2007. WMU dropped a pair of games to Big Ten opponents with losses at Michigan (34-10 in storm-shortened game) and Illinois (23-20).
* Insight Bowl (Dec. 30, Tempe, Ariz.): Oklahoma (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5), 10 p.m. (ESPN) -- Oklahoma went from playing for the Big 12 title to this game against Iowa, which lost three of its last five games down the stretch. The Insight passed on Penn State (9-3) for Iowa, which is back in the Insight after beating Missouri there last year (27-24). Kind of curious since Penn State hasn’t had an Arizona bowl bid since 1997. But given the late start of the game, maybe they prefer a Central time zone Big Ten team anyway.
* Meinke Car Care Bowl (Dec. 31, Houston): Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6), noon (ESPN) -- Northwestern gets a fourth straight bowl bid for the first time in school history. Texas A&M presses on after the departure of coach Mike Sherman.
* Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 31, San Francisco): UCLA (6-7) vs. Illinois (6-6), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN) -- UCLA and interim coach Mike Johnson (taking over for the fired Rick Neuheisel) faces Illinois and interim coach Vic Koenning (taking over for the fired Ron Zook). Illinois fills in for the ACC, which did not have a team to send here. Illinois makes back-to-back bowl trips for the first time since 1991-92.
* TicketCity Bowl (Jan. 2, Dallas): Penn State (9-3) vs. Houston (12-1), Noon (ESPNU) -- It is obvious that the selection committees at the Capital One, Outback, Insight, Gator and Meineke Car Care bowls wanted nothing to do with Penn State due to the stigma of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. That is shocking that they penalized this team for that. They deserved much better. On the flip side, it will be one hell of a match-up to see the PSU defense against QB Case Keenum and the Houston offense.
* Capital One Bowl (Jan. 2, Orlando, Fla.): Nebraska (9-3) vs. South Carolina (10-2), 1 p.m. (ESPN) -- The Capital One wanted to get its hands on Nebraska, whom it had never had before because it was in the Big 12. So they were an obvious choice to meet South Carolina, which was ninth in the final BCS standings. This should be a fun, fresh match-up.
* Outback Bowl (Jan. 2, Tampa, Fla.): Georgia (10-3) vs. Michigan State (10-3), 1 p.m. (ABC) -- As noted, MSU can’t be happy to end up spot behind where it was last year. This game matches teams ranked 16th (UGa.) and 17th (MSU) in the final standings. This is the first time in MSU history the Spartans have made five straight bowl appearances. These teams met in the 2009 Capital One Bowl with Georgia winning 24-12.
* Gator Bowl (Jan. 2, Jacksonville, Fla.): Florida (6-6) vs. Ohio State (6-6), 1 p.m. (ESPN2) -- Everybody is calling this the Urban Meyer Bowl. Memo to all involved: Urban Meyer is not coaching in this game. Luke Fickell and whatever members of the OSU staff are still around will coach the team, while Meyer concentrates on recruiting and building a staff. This is a rematch of the 2007 BCS national title game, won by Florida 41-14. Florida’s Gainesville campus is just 70 miles from Jacksonville, so this is a de facto Florida home game. Winner will have momentum heading into 2012. OSU is in the Gator for the first time since 1978. Florida plays in Jacksonville against Georgia every year, but hasn’t played in the Gator Bowl game since 1992.
My Final Top 25
Can I go with Alabama as No. 2 and Oklahoma State No. 2A? I can’t? OK, I will give Alabama the nod. They had the “better loss”, losing to No. 1 LSU while Oklahoma State lost to unranked Iowa State. (I know, there were extenuating circumstances …)
Alabama’s defense is ranked No. 1 nationally, while Oklahoma State is 107th. Again, this is the year where you’d like to see a plus-one format.
Here is my final top 25: 1. LSU, 2. Alabama, 3. Oklahoma State, 4. Stanford, 5. USC (ineligible for bowl), 6. Oregon, 7. Arkansas, 8. Wisconsin, 9. Boise State, 10. Kansas State, 11. South Carolina, 12. Michigan State, 13. Michigan, 14. Clemson, 15. Baylor, 16. TCU, 17. Virginia Tech, 18. Georgia, 19. Houston, 20. Nebraska, 21. Oklahoma, 22. Southern Miss, 23. Penn State, 24. West Virginia, 25. Florida State.
Also Considered: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, BYU.
Heisman Trophy Watch
I had four guys I was seriously considering for the Heisman, which will be awarded on Saturday. Here they are:
* Trent Richardson, RB, junior, Alabama -- Richardson led No. 2 Alabama to an 11-1 season. He had 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns on 263 carries (6.0 average). He also had 27 catches and three touchdowns.
* Andrew Luck, QB, senior, Stanford -- Luck led No. 4 Stanford to an 11-1 season. He completed 261 of 373 passes (70 percent) for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
* Robert Griffin III, QB, junior, Baylor -- Griffin helped Baylor post a 9-3 record. He completed 267 of 369 passes (72.4 percent) for 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns on the year.
* Montee Ball, RB, junior, Wisconsin -- Ball helped Wisconsin post an 11-2 record and win the Big Ten title with four touchdowns in Saturday’s Big Ten title game win over Michigan State. Ball has carried the ball 275 times for 1,759 yards (6.4 average) and 32 touchdowns. He also has 32 catches and six touchdowns. His 38 combined touchdowns are one shy of the NCAA record of 39 set by Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders in 1988.
* Also Considered -- I also looked at Houston QB Case Keenum (5,099 yards passing, 45 TDs, 5 INTs, team was 12-1), USC QB Matt Barkley (3,528 yards passing, 39 TDs, 7 INTs, team was 10-2) and Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden (4,328 yards passing, 34 TDs, 12 INTs, team was 11-1).
* Summing Up – I just sent in my ballot. I went with Robert Griffin III as my top pick. To me, he personified the phrase as the “most outstanding player in college football.” I had Luck second and the soon-to-be record-setting Ball third. I think Luck deserves credit for staying for his senior year. But Griffin, at least to me, is the guy. I heard a radio interview with him on Friday and he’s an amazing story.
During Week 14, I was 9-3 straight-up with losses by Houston (to Southern Miss), Texas (to Baylor) and Virginia Tech (to Clemson). I said Wisconsin would win 34-31 and it was 42-39. I am now 254-72 straight-up for the year.
I was 5-7 against-the-spread – just the second week under .500 for the year. I am now 170-140-4 ATS for the year. I’m still 30 games over .500.
There is one game left in the regular season and I will share my pick on that game right here. I will be back with the first batch of bowl picks on or about Dec. 16.
Army vs. Navy (-7), at Washington, D.C., Saturday, 2:30 p.m. (CBS) – Neither team will be going bowling with Army at 3-8 and Navy at 4-7. Navy opened 2-0, but has dropped seven of its last nine. The Midshipmen have not played since a Nov. 19 loss at San Jose State (27-24). Army dropped five of its last six games and has not played since a Nov. 19 loss at Temple (42-14). Army leads the nation in rushing (350.9 ypg), while Navy is fourth (313.7). Navy leads the all-time series 55-49-7 with nine straight wins, including a 31-17 win last year in Philadelphia. This game has been played on the campus sites as well as at neutral sites in Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Pasadena and East Rutherford, N.J. Amazingly, this will be the first time it’s ever played in Washington. Navy makes it 10 in a row. Navy 32-19
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