Iron Will: This one was bitter and sweet. It will linger in the consciousness of both schools. The historical record is irrelevant. Auburn fell 24-points behind archrival Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The Tigers fought back for a 28-27 win and probably reserved themselves a seat in the title game. The Crimson Tide contained Cam Newton. They forced him to be a passing quarterback, and he torched them for three touchdowns through the air. He was money. Auburn still has flaws. – their secondary allowed 377 yards passing – but routinely finding a way to win is never a coincidence.
Culture Change: Notre Dame beat USC. It may be a sanctioned, depleted USC with a backup quarterback, but it was still USC, for the first time since 2001. The Irish ended the season with a three-game win streak against decent teams, lightening what had been a dark season. They’ve won seven regular season games for the first time since 2006. It’s not perfection, but it’s notable, first-year progress and it should solidify support for Brian Kelly that had been wavering after defeats to Tulsa and Navy. Considering the close games and the injuries, the Irish are closer to a BCS return than most would expect.
Big Game Bob: It had become a mantra. Don’t bet on Bob Stoops in big games. Don’t bet on him outside of Norman. The combined trends did not inspire optimism as the Sooners headed to Stillwater as underdogs, but they came through. They went blow for blow with arguably the country’s best offense. They held Justin Blackmon to “only” 105 yards. They won 47-41. As disappointing and weird as this season has been, they beat Texas, they won the Big 12 South and enter the title game as favorites. Credit Bob Stoops.
Upset: Boise State walked into a living room and found Chris Hansen Friday night. That doesn’t mean they were frauds. Like many contenders before them, the Broncos slipped up on the road against a Top 20 team. In the Big Ten, the cost would be a marginally less prestigious bowl game. For a non-AQ team, it’s the difference between the national title game and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Boise State may not have been national championship caliber, but their incredible run, however much it may have been overhyped, has been healthy for college football. Hopefully, the disappointment won’t derail it. Don’t forget to credit Nevada.
Saigon: Michigan played the five best Big Ten teams in 2010. All five punched them in the face. The Wolverines lost 37-7 Ohio State. They were profoundly impotent and uncompetitive. The margin could and perhaps should have been worse. It was an absolute failure. Rodriguez’ post-game posture was defensive. No contrition. Little accountability. No lament for his players. He spoke again of “execution,” “progress,” and “moving onto the next one.” If most fans had their way, there would not be a next one.
[Photo via Getty]