Here’s the take on the bowl season with the exception of the BCS National Championship Game between #1 Florida State (13-0) and #2 Auburn (12-1):
Michigan State Actually Gets Off the Dime and Goes Over the Top
After years and years of nibbling at greatness, Coach Mark Dantonio and his Michigan State Spartans finally managed to get the fricking job done. #4 Michigan State and #5 Stanford locked horns in the BCS Rose Bowl and the Spartans won, 24-20, following some heavy drama.
The Spartans, with major college’s #1 defense, ended a dominant season with another old-school, smash-mouth performance worthy of the Granddaddy of Them All in the historic 100th edition of the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State’s defense gave up only 159 yards in the final 3 quarters and ended it by stopping the Pac-12 champion Cardinal on a 4th-and-1 near midfield with 1:46 to play, stuffing a run play up the middle when Kyler Elsworth went airborne, soaring over the pile to deliver an electrifying, head-on collision with fullback Ryan Hewitt, and won.
The irony was Elsworth, a non-starter during the year, was the fill-in for suspended Senior Linebacker Max Bullough, an All-Big Ten and All-American player who broke a team rule and never even made the trip to Pasadena because Coach Dantonio sat Bullough down for putting himself before the team and their goal of a Rose Bowl victory.
Dantonio gets high marks for taking the high road. He could have looked the other way, and did not. Dantonio is old school—you screw up and there are consequences, no matter how big or how bad you think you are. The selfish suffer in silence. Hence Kyler Elsworth accomplished what Max Bullough could have, Elsworth was named Defensive MVP for an outstanding game when Michigan State needed it most. There will be no asterisk after Elsworth’s name.
So how did the Spartans put themselves in a position to win on offense? Sophomore QB Connor Cook passed for a career-high 332 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the way.
The Spartans ended their season at 13-1, winning their last 10 games in Dantonio’s 7th year as Head Coach. The Rose Bowl victory was their first in 26 years, since 1988. Dantonio has made Michigan State a winner after weeding out some thugs, malcontents, quitters and stupid 21-year-olds that do dumb things without thinking. Every coach goes through it, not ever coach goes 13-1 and wins the BCS Rose Bowl.
A tip of the hat to Mark Dantonio and his crack staff, especially Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who outcoached Stanford Head Coach David Shaw, who also calls the offensive plays.
Central Florida Upsets Baylor’s High-Powered Offense
Coach George O’Leary and his Central Florida Knights came into the BCS Fiesta Bowl ranked #15 with an 11-1 record and a 17-point underdog to Coach Art Briles and his Baylor Bears, who were ranked #6 with an 11-1 record and the nation’s high-octane, #1 offensive team.
Central Florida won 52-42 in one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season, and for George O’Leary it was more than a BCS victory and putting Central Florida on the national map of top teams, it was redemption.
O’Leary was fired by Norte Dame 5 days after being hired for lying on his resume (which really does not have squat to do with coaching ability) and moved on to Central Florida, a step down to be sure. But O’Leary (please, spare the jokes about being leery) has brought his reputation back in Orlando, taking a program that went winless on bread and water in 2004 to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title and an automatic BCS berth this year (the AAC was the old Big East Conference before the “good” teams left).
Blake Bortles (you will hear his name again on Sundays) led the way for the Knights, going 20-for-31 with 301 yards and 3 touchdown passes as well as 93 yards on the hoof, including a 15-yard rushing score. Central Florida had 556 yards of offense and Baylor 550 yards in this shootout, the highest scoring game (52-42) in Fiesta Bowl history. Central Florida won the 1st half 28-20, and the 2nd half 24-22. It was reported that no one was bored in the stands, and no one left early.
Ohio State’s Soft Schedule Catches Up to the Buckeyes
Coach Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes were a perfect 12-0 and ranked #2 when they faced Michigan State for the Big Ten Championship and lost, 34-24. The Buckeyes entered the BCS Orange Bowl in Miami ranked #7 against Coach Dabo Swinney (yes, that’s really his name) and his Clemson Tigers, who were ranked #12 with a 10-2 record. Ohio State made it two losses in-a-row thanks to Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.
Boyd threw for 378 yards and 5 touchdowns, and Watkins had a career day with 16 catches for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns on 34 and 30-yard receptions as Clemson rallied to win 40-35 for the school’s first Orange Bowl victory in 32 years.
Dabo Swinney was all over himself after the dramatic victory. Two years ago, Swinney and Clemson got their butt kicked 70-33 to West Virginia in the BCS Orange Bowl. Since then Swinney noted that his team has gone 22-4, and has become the first team from South Carolina to win a BCS game—not too shabby for South Carolina, a state not known for its BCS titles.
Urban Meyer and his Buckeyes now have a mental adjustment to make. Ohio State had won 24 straight over two years since Meyer arrived. Now they are 24-2, and hoping to rebound next September.
Alabama’s Unbeatable Dominance Has Begun to Slip Away
Coach Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide from Alabama had been riding a high wave for a long time. They won 3 national championships in 4 years, the last 2 in-a-row, and were aiming to make it 4 in 5 years and 3 straight, but Auburn won the SEC title game, not Alabama.
And now #11 ranked Oklahoma was all business in handing Alabama its second straight loss, 45-31, after the Crimson Tide had won 24 consecutive games leading up to the SEC championship game, known as the Iron Bowl.
Freshman QB Trevor Knight has Sooner expectations in the stratosphere after setting a BCS Sugar Bowl record 32 passes for 348 yards 4 touchdowns. Alabama’s QB AJ McCarron, who had won 36 straight games for the Crimson Tide before losing these last two, passed for 387 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also coughed up 2 interceptions, both of which led to Oklahoma touchdowns, the difference in the game.
Alabama was favored by 16 points and lost by 14, that was about 30 points too much as it turned out.
McCarron, who was sacked 7 times, manned up on the interceptions, taking responsibility for his errors. Credit him with being in the real world. That said, even though ‘Bama produced 516 yards of offense, Alabama’s defense was a train wreck waiting to happen, and it did. Unless Saban can come up with some better defensive players, Alabama’s string of success may be broken again.
Trust Johnny Football to End His College Career Right
In what could easily be his last game at Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel, better known in social media as Johnny Football, made the most of it, leading this team back from a 38-17 deficit in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to beat Duke, 52-48, in a game of pure excitement with virtually no defense played.
When a bowl game has a combined score of 100 points (52 to 48) and the combined teams gain 1,250+ yards (661 for Duke and 541 for Texas A&M), trust me, there was no defense played worth talking about. The 52-48 game score was the highest in Chick-fil-A Bowl’s history.
Duke came into this game at 10-3 (the Blue Devils first ever 10-win season) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division champions. Texas A&M came in at 8-4.
Duke won the 1st half 38-17 as Texas A&M was reeling. The Blue Devils gained 365 yards with no punts in the 1st half while building a 3-touchdown lead. This happened because A&M ranked last in the SEC in total defense and 105th nationally in total defense. A&M has no defense, it has Johnny Football, arguably the most exciting player in college football during the past 2 years.
Manziel is a third-year sophomore who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last season. He is a hot ticket on the way to the NFL to play with the big boys. The probability of him returning for another year is somewhere around zero, there is too many millions involved and if he is injured before he arrives, that sum drops dramatically.
That said, Johnny Football wanted to win against Duke. He flat got in the face of his teammates and then showed them how to come from behind. Duke may have won the 1st half 38-17, but Johnny Football and Texas A&M won the 2nd half, 35-10, and the game, 52-48. All Manziel did was throw 4 touchdown passes and Toney Hurd Jr. returned an interception 55 yards for the go ahead touchdown with 3:33 remaining.
Duke QB Anthony Boone passed for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns, but unfortunately threw not one but two interceptions late in the game that killed Duke’s chances. Boone was a class act in how he handled the disappointment after an outstanding effort in leading Duke.
The elusive Johnny Football opened the 2nd half with runs of 12 and 14 yards before his highlight play of the game. At the Duke 17 Manziel ran places a rabbit wouldn’t go before vaulting a defender and dumping a short pass to Travis Labhart, who scored easily for the 3rd touchdown of the game, and A&M’s comeback was off and running.
Washington Shows Up When It Mattered Most
When Coach Steve Sarkisian showed up at Washington in 2009, he inherited a winless 0-12 team led by Tyrone Willingham, who was canned for ineptitude. When Willingham coached at Notre Dame it was said that they loved him every day of the week but Saturday. Willingham, who was about as hospitable as a rodent with constipation, did not have the people skills to make it work.
Sarkisian went 5-7 his first year and then suffered through three consecutive 7-6 seasons with a couple of signature wins against top-ranked teams. This year his Huskies were 8-4 going into the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco against Brigham Young, an 8-4 opponent, and Washington was desperate for a 9-win season.
Then fate intervened. Southern California needed a coach and Sarkisian never made it to the Fight Hunger Bowl. Sarkisian, who left Southern Cal as its Offensive Coordinator when he became Head Coach at Washington, returned to his glory ground when Pete Carroll, now the Seattle Seahawk Head Coach, was Sarkisian’s boss at USC.
Enter Interim Coach Marques Tuiasosopo (T-e-ah-sa-so-po), the Huskies Quarterback Coach, who was also a legendary QB for Washington, leading them to the Pac-10 title and a 34-24 Rose Bowl victory over Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers in 2000, and was named MVP of the game. Tuiasosopo, who was a pro backup QB for the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets for 8 years, got the Huskies right as they beat Brigham Young, 31-16.
How great it is to suffer disappointment and confusion, face the mess, and come out on top? Junior Bishop Sankey ran for 95 yards and 2 scores, Junior Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a 16-yard TD pass from Senior Keith Price, and Freshman John Ross (the fastest player on the team) returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. Both record-setting Sankey and Seferian-Jenkins declared for the NFL draft.
The Huskies won just their second bowl game since Marques Tuiasosopo in 2000. Washington’s program did not suffer much since Sarkisian bolted, the Huskies won their bowl game without him, and Athletic Director Scott Woodward managed to pry Chris Petersen away from Boise State to be the new Head Coach.
Washington State Fumbles Away a Bowl Victory Opportunity
Coach Mike Leach had brought Washington State back from its darkest days, turning around a losing team into a 6-6 regular season finish and the prospect of a winning, 7-6 season when his Cougars led by 8 points against the Colorado State Rams with less than 2 minutes to play and possession of the ball in the New Mexico Bowl. Then Leach’s worst nightmare happened.
On the first running play to wind down the remaining 111 seconds left, Washington State running back Jeremiah Laufasa was not a bullfrog but a toad, allowing Colorado State’s Shaquill Barrett to strip the ball and recover the fumble.
That lack of ball control set up Ram Kapri Bibbs’ 1-yard run score and Donnell Alexander’s 2-point conversion to tie the score at 45 all with 33 seconds to play. Then Washington State’s Teondray Caldwell managed to fumble the kickoff return at the Cougars’ 24-yard line, setting up Jared Roberts’ 41-yard field goal as time expired to give Colorado State a 48-45 victory.
All of this happened AFTER the Colorado State Rams were behind by 22 points earlier and had committed 3 turnovers. Clearly, Mike Leach, the Pirate himself, has some more training—and discipline—to instill in his deck hands. Leach is known for his fondness of pirates.
Ram center Weston Richburg said this of the gift victory: “It must have been destiny. That’s the most unbelievable game I’ve even been a part of.” Tell me about it, Weston. If you were a Washington State Cougar fan, it was a total, disappointing piece of monkey crap, especially for Mike Leach and his coaching staff.
And especially for Cougar QB Connor Halliday, who threw for 410 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Cougars were minus 10-yards rushing, or minus no running game whatsoever. It’s called back to the drawing board for Leach and Company. We can only be in prayer and supplication that Cougar players learn how to protect the ball in not only crucial situations, but ALL situations.
Cincinnati Hauls Off and Goes Nowhere in the Belk Bowl
Cincinnati strolled into the Belk Bowl with a 9-3 record from the American Athletic Conference, one of the successors from the old Big East Conference, which is struggling to maintain its status a major conference with a bunch of weak sisters in the group (only 4 teams could win 6 games this season). The tough Cincinnati Bearcats got their butt handed to them, 39-17, by an unranked, 6-6 North Carolina Tar Heel team from the major Atlantic Coast Conference.
Louisville’s Cardinals Show They Are For Real
The #18 Louisville Cardinals came into the Russell Athletic Bowl at 11-1 against the unranked Miami Hurricanes at 9-3. The Cardinals did not waste the opportunity, routing Miami 36-9 while racking up 554 total yards of offense. Louisville was runner-up in the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
The Thrill Is Off the Michigan Wolverines
A couple of 7-5 teams squared off in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, one was on the rise and the other was on the slide. Kansas State ended its 5-game bowl losing streak by thumping the proud Michigan Wolverines, 31-14. The K-State Wildcats are on the upswing while the Michigan Wolverines are on the downslide. Michigan has quite the football pedigree; the Wolverines have more victories (910) than any other team in major NCAA history.
Who Else Snapped a 5-Game Losing Streak?
That would be the unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders, who lost their final 5 games of the regular season on the way to the Holiday Bowl at party down San Diego against the Arizona State Sun Devils, who arrived at 10-3 and ranked #16 nationally. The Sun Devils left at 10-4 as Texas Tech won the upset at 37-23 behind freshman QB Davis Webb, who threw for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Texas Tech came to play and Arizona State did not. The Red Raiders scored on 4 of their first 5 drives to build a 27-6 lead that the Sun Devils could not catch.
Why Mid-Major Conference Teams Do Not Get a Lot of Stroke
Have you ever wondered why there are 6 major conferences and the rest are generally wannabes and whiners? Well, here’s why:
#21 Fresno State came into the Las Vegas Bowl with an 11-1 record all full of spit and swagger. The Fresno State Bulldogs (the mid-major Mountain West Conference champions) lost to unranked Southern California (from the major Pac-12 Conference), 45-20. The details are not necessary to make the point.
#24 Northern Illinois came into the Poinsettia Bowl with a 12-1 record as the mid-major, Mid-American Conference champion. The Northern Illinois Huskies left after being upset 21-14 by the unranked, 8-5 Utah State Aggies from the mid-major Mountain West Conference Mountain Division title.
Don’t even ask me why Mountain West Conference leaders would call one of their Divisions the Mountain Division. To show how clever they are, the named their other Division the West Division. So the Mountain West Conference has the Mountain Division and the West Division; talk about a total lack of creativity and identification. No wonder they are a mid-major conference.
Bowling Green came into the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl with a 10-3 record as the mid-major, Mid-American Conference East Division champion. The Bowling Green Falcons left after losing 30-27 to the unranked, 6-6 Pittsburgh Panthers (from the major Atlantic Coast Conference). Pittsburgh had a 3-5 record in ACC play.
Rice became another mid-major team that was like an accident about to happen. The Owls arrived at the Liberty Bowl with a snappy 10-3 record as Conference USA champions, their first outright title in 56 years, since 1957 when Rice upset Bear Bryant’s #1 ranked Texas A&M Aggies who had a 14-game winning streak. Someone forgot to tell the unranked 6-6 Mississippi State Bulldogs from the major Southeast Conference (SEC).
Mississippi State leveled Rice 44-7 in the most one-sided Liberty Bowl victory in the game’s 55-year history. Bulldog sophomore QB Dak Prescott threw 3 touchdown passes and ran for 2 more to lead the way less than 2 months after his mother Peggy died of cancer.
If you thought Mississippi State was a pushover, think about this: Their 6 losses all came against currently ranked AP Top 25 teams, including #2 Auburn, #3 Alabama, #8 South Carolina, #13 Oklahoma State, #14 LSU and #20 Texas A&M. Mississippi came in playing the nation’s 8th toughest strength of schedule (SOS) while Rice’s SOS was 103rd among 122 major college teams.