FBS football played its first playoff game. It was magnificent. This was not the “Game of the Century.” It was better. In the Alabama/LSU series the intensity resulted in a muted staring contest. Alabama vs. Georgia percolated into a dynamic rap battle. The line clashes were epic. The skill players showed on both sides. This game was passionate, well played and well coached. Unlike some Big 12 games, this was a true shootout, not merely a succession of blown coverages. We would claim the game lived up to the hype, but few expected it would be that competitive. Credit Georgia.
The Bulldogs entered the season with a forgiving schedule (Only .500 FBS wins were Florida and Vanderbilt). For much of the season, they played like it, letting inferior teams linger and run on them. We saw flashes – the Florida win and the second-half against Missouri, but seldom the comprehensive performance befitting a team with so much NFL talent on defense. On Saturday, they gave it.
Slowing down Alabama’s running game with that line may be impossible for a college defense, but with third-down stops Georgia did just enough to stay in the game. Todd Gurley muscled 122 yards against the nation’s No. 1 run defense. Aaron Murray made some great throws into good coverage. Had the Bulldogs clocked it and taken a deep breath with 15 seconds left, they might be headed to Miami.
Despite falling to 2-10 against Top 10 teams the past few seasons, Mark Richt, his staff and his players did not lose control of this game. Alabama was just a little bit better and a little bit more fortunate.
Bielema’s Revenge: Wisconsin was better than its 7-5 record. Losing five games by a combined six points, they had some frustration to vent. Nebraska was the unwitting victim. The Cornhuskers defense could neither plug gaps nor seal the edge. The offensive line could not protect Taylor Martinez. The result was 60 minutes of pure beat down. The Badgers carried the ball 50 times, running up 539 yards and nine touchdowns. Calling a running back pass to go up 42-10 in the first half was vintage Bielema. Nebraska managed little offense when it counted, besides an improbable Taylor Martinez touchdown run.
Wisconsin was the better team. They scored 70 to emphasize that point. Whatever questions Bo Pelini appeared to have answered will return right to the forefront.
The Badgers will go to their third-straight Rose Bowl. One might claim they gamed the system. In 2010, the Badgers lost to Michigan State but did so early, vaulting them ahead of Ohio State and Michigan State in the BCS rankings to win the tiebreaker. Michigan State would have won in such a format in 2011, but the Big Ten switched to a divisional alignment, permitting Wisconsin a second chance at them. This year, the Badgers would have finished sixth in a single table conference, but won the title game bid with Ohio State and Penn State ineligible and seized the opportunity.
Sending an 8-5 Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl might be a fitting ending for a sorry Big Ten season. That said, the Badgers may be the Big Ten team with the best shot to take out Stanford.
Only the Beginning: We won’t say UCLA tanked in the final regular season game, though they showed far more Friday Night. After getting beaten up on both lines the first game, UCLA ran all over the nation’s best run defense. Jonathan Franklin had 194 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Brett Hundley added another 83 and a touchdown on the ground. The Bruins also manned up on defense, limiting Stepfan Taylor to 3.3 per rush. It might have been enough for a win, had Stanford not outlasted them with a standout effort from Kevin Hogan.
How did the Cardinal fare without Andrew Luck? They reached the Rose Bowl. Had Kevin Hogan been playing the entire year, they might have won at Washington and Notre Dame to push them into the BCS Title Game. The scary thing is this was supposed to be the down year. Kevin Hogan is a freshman. The five-star offensive linemen they recruited in 2012 were freshmen. Some kid named Barry Sanders Jr. they recruited was redshirted. Shaw has inherited what Harbaugh built and is expanding it. The program may have a trifling number of fans, but, in the television revenue era, who cares?
Change is Needed: The SEC has embraced its title game. It produces the atmosphere one would anticipate finding at a major sporting event. The rest of these games stink. Stanford, playing a home game, had its lowest attendance since the 2010 opener for the Pac 12 title game. Nebraska and Wisconsin had little interest in travelling to Indy for the Big Ten game. The ACC was de facto giving away tickets and could not get fans in the seats.
We’re going to be stuck with them in the super conference era. How do we fix them? One method would be to move to an eight-team playoff with conference title auto bids. A playoff place at stake would be more enticing to fans than the prospect of a lame BCS bowl bid. Another would be for the other conferences to stop trying to emulate the SEC. The Pac 12 acknowledged reality and opted for home games, getting sort of screwed this year by the host venue being Stanford and the weather being bad. The ACC and the Big Ten might want to do the same.
In the Big Ten, atmosphere is what sustains the conference. You have some of the best home venues in college football, not to mention some of the best NFL venues and you play your title game in front of an empty crowd in the Lucas Oil Climate-Controlled Dome?
So Close: The BCS Busted Orange Bowl between Kent State and Georgia Tech almost happened. The Golden Flashes lost the MAC Title Game 44-37 in overtime. Florida State, in now classic Jimbo Fisher fashion, came close to coughing up a lead against overmatched Yellow Jackets in a 21-15 win. There is still a chance a Dave Doeren-less Northern Illinois sneaks into the BCS ahead of Oklahoma, but it woudn’t be the same.
Decided Schematic Advantage: It gets repeated often, but the sheer arrogance of that claim remains unappreciated. Playing Kansas proved a panacea for West Virginia, who found their early season form in a 59-10 win. Geno Smith completed 23/24 for 404 yards and three touchdowns. Dayne Crist entered his final college game and went 1/5 with a pick.
[Photos via Presswire]