This weekend was one of the most memorable weekends of college football, period. Rivalry week always brings out the best of college football, and it did not disappoint this weekend. From the once in a lifetime, epic finish of the Iron Bowl, to Michigan’s failed two-point conversion at the Big House, to Duke’s clinching of the ACC Coastal Division, to Oregon’s one point triumph in the Civil War, to LSU stealing victory from the Razorbacks in Death Valley.
Yes, college football was on its finest display this weekend. And it is even more fitting that it happened in the last season of the BCS as we know it. Heading into Championship Week the title game is far from set in stone, and as has been the norm since the inception of the BCS, controversy will surround any BCS title matchup. It’s not just the money that drives college football. It thrives on discussion, controversy, and passionate water-cooler talk. And this year’s bowl season will provide plenty of that.
With several teams having a shot at winding up in the BCS title game, it feels compelling to make a case for any and all of them. So let’s sort through the rubble of Saturday and see if we can make sense of the mess the BCS is sure to create.
Florida State (12-0). The Seminoles are the heavy favorites to wind up in the BCS title game. Barring a stumble against the Cinderella Blue Devils in the ACC Championship, FSU, which boasts the Heisman front runner Jameis Winston, one of the most talented teams on both side of the ball, and a fairly easy strength has handled their business and done what few only two other teams in FBS play have done. Despite their schedule, should the ACC title game go as planned, the ‘Noles don’t have a reason to not be in the BCS Championship.
Ohio State (12-0). The Buckeyes escaped Ann Arbor by the slimmest margins and showed significant defensive vulnerabilities against their rivals. Despite Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde’s gigantic games, Ohio State had no answer for a hobbled Devon Gardiner and the inconsistent Michigan offense. The Buckeyes didn’t look like the number two team in the country. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to rivalry week. At the end of the day, OSU won the game, and have remained undefeated. Many are down on the Big Ten and don’t find the competition to be as noteworthy as the SEC. Be that as it may, Ohio State has won 24 consecutive games. Let me say that again, 24. They’ll be put to the test with a physical Michigan State team in the Big Ten Championship. Should they beat Sparty, OSU has earned their way to the BCS Championship; even if they are considered champions of a sub-par conference.
Auburn (11-1). The Tigers appear to be the darlings of destiny this season. Lost in the miraculous victories over Georgia and ‘Bama is the fact that it took two miracles for Auburn to win. A crazy, “immaculate deflection” on 4th and 18 to beat the Georgia Bulldogs after blowing a huge 4th quarter lead. Followed by some bone headed decisions by Nick Saban, and an uncharacteristically poor played game by Alabama in which they needed a missed field goal return to clinch a berth in the SEC title game. An offense based around one, triple-option play, a defense that is undersized, but resilient, and a whole lot of luck. I won’t take anything away from the fact that Auburn did win these games. They are big wins against tough opponents and I’m a firm believer that luck is the result of tireless hours of hard work. Somewhere in offseason workouts and two-a-days, Auburn earned the bounces they have taken advantage of. Should they beat Mizzou in the SEC Championship game, plenty will argue they deserve to be there. They won the most difficult conference in college football. They took down a dynasty. And they have become the sexy pick for many. However, their one loss to LSU is a blemish that doesn’t show on FSU or OSU’s records. It’s hard to explain how a one-loss team jumps an undefeated team to the championship. Auburn needs help.
Alabama (11-1). Crimson Tide fans are still walking around with their jaws on the floor. Alabama did something it never does on Saturday; it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. That is not Alabama football. That is not Nick Saban football. But Gary Danielson once said, “the beauty of college football is the players are great enough to make amazing plays, but bad enough to make the biggest of mistakes.” Never did those words ring truer than Saturday, for ‘Bama coaches and players. Their dynasty underwent a setback and it cost them a shot for a third consecutive title. It would take a weekend even more epic than our previous one for the Tide to get back to the title game. They’d need two of three teams ahead of them to fall. And even if Auburn falls, you’ve got Missouri who would be SEC Champions demanding BCS recognition. Sadly more than just a shot at the title game was lost on Saturday. AJ McCarron’s Heisman campaign tumbled with it. Alabama will be in a BCS bowl game and I pity the team they run into. There’s losing, and then there’s losing the way the proud program of Alabama did.
Missouri (11-1). Oh how close the Tigers were to being a contender for the BCS title game. With a lead in the 4th quarter at home against South Carolina earlier in November, the Tigers looked as if an undefeated season was theirs. Then overtime and a missed chip shot field goal cost Mizzou a chance at a National Championship. They have a shot to play spoiler in Atlanta this weekend against Auburn. Should the Tigers win the SEC and see an upset of FSU or OSU, there is a chance they could wind up in the discussion for a berth in the National Championship. Unfortunately for them, that loss to the Gamecocks is glaring, and the country wouldn’t sellout on a title game that contained the Missouri Tigers. I’d love to see ‘em get there. They’ve got a dynamic offense, a strong quarterback in James Franklin, and a very physical defense. But the BCS title game is as much about who you are as it is what you’ve done, which is why I see the Tigers being left out of the picture, even if things fall their way.
Michigan State (11-1), Oklahoma State (10-1), Northern Illinois (12-0). As far as I am concerned the debate really loses momentum outside of the top five. But that doesn’t mean a case can’t be made for these three honorable mentions. First, let’s start with Sparty. Michigan State has a very physical defense and controls the line of scrimmage as good as anyone in the country. Despite their four-point slip against Notre Dame in South Bend, the Spartans have won all 11 of their games by double digit margins. Their matchup against OSU in the Big Ten title game will be a huge opportunity to prove themselves. Much like their opponent on Saturday, the Spartans are a victim of their conference and the distaste it has on the media. Sadly Sparty, even with a Big Ten Championship, will gain little in support for a BCS Championship invitation.
Oklahoma State may be one of the best teams overlooked in the country. The Cowboys dismantled Baylor on national television a couple weeks ago and that was the first time they were given the credit they deserve. The Polks field talent on both sides of the football, making them dynamic on both offense and defense. They can put up points to hang with run-n-gun teams, but boast a defense that is very aggressive and gets many offenses out of rhythm. Their matchup against Oklahoma on Saturday will be a perfect example of just how good the Cowboys are. Sadly, the Big 12’s best team is the victim of a weakened conference. The Polks, in a playoff format, would be a dark horse pick to make a championship run.
Lastly, Northern Illinois. Now many overlook Northern Illinois because the play in the MAC. But the Huskies are an extremely talented football team that has gone undefeated, and has won 24 of their last 26 games dating back to last season. Led by Heisman candidate quarterback Jordan Lynch, the Huskies have put up some of the most points in the FBS this season. Last year they earned a spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State and fell 31-10. The Huskies are on a mission to redeem themselves and win a BCS bowl game. Should they wrap up the MAC championship later this week, they’ll have their chance. And I’m telling you, if you haven’t watched Jordan Lynch run the football, you need to. He runs angry. The Huskies are a lot of fun to watch and having gone undefeated thus far, deserve recognition. No, they won’t be in the BCS title game, but they have won the 24 football games the past two years. That’s impressive no matter what conference you play in.
ESPN frequently runs a holiday add showing highlights of college football matchups and previewing upcoming bowl games to the tune of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” They couldn’t have coined it any better. We saw amazing football this past weekend, and there’s plenty more to come. And as exciting as this year is going to be, next year will be even better. Next year we will see the beginning of a playoff system; system that would have Florida State, Ohio State, Auburn, and Alabama all vying for a National Championship. As college football fans, we would only dream of such matchups. Next year our dreams come true.