College Football Recap: The Reverse Jinx and the Return of Coach O
The dirty little secret about college football in 2013 is that it hasn't been all that great a season.
Yeah, it's college football, and even ho-hum college football is still better than 80 percent of what sports has to offer. And yeah, we have the usual tasty controversy brewing with four undefeated teams going for two championship game slots. And yeah, well, Johnny Football!
But by and large, this is a season long on blowouts and short on signature moments. I mean, those four undefeated teams (Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Baylor) are a combined 39-0 and have played in a mere combined two games that finished with a single-digit margin of victory. Blowouts galore.
I haven't had many "sit in front of the television and watch games" Saturdays this season either, so maybe my frustration with the lack of drama boiled over, but as another Saturday ripe with walkovers was in full swing this past weekend, around 5:30 p.m. Houston time, I tweeted this:
I love college football, but today's games are testing that love. Garbage slate so far.
— Sean Pendergast (@SeanCablinasian) November 16, 2013
And then a funny thing happened. Actually, a few funny things happened. First, this:
And while Michigan and Northwestern were banging out three overtimes on the Big Ten Network, over on CBS, there was this:
And finally, out west, the night was capped off with this:
Apparently, the Saturday in college football just needed some "toughening up," and I was Richie Incognito! I bullied the afternoon into being compelling! Don't mess with me, college football!
Okay, let's take a look at where we are now heading into the home stretch and let's do it "4 Winners, 4 Losers" style:
4. BCS "Control Your Own Destiny" Club The BCS Title Game is obviously the sweet nectar, and right now that one is easy -- Alabama and Florida State win out, and they will both go to Pasadena to play for all the marbles.
As for berths in the other four BCS bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta), here are the teams that still control their own destiny for the big pay day (NOTE: With a third loss last week, independent Notre Dame is now out of the mix, and the non-AQ schools may need help to get their automatic berth, more on this below.):
SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Missouri ACC: Florida State, Duke Big Ten: Ohio State, Michigan State Big 12: Baylor, Oklahoma State Pac-12: Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA AAC: UCF
Duke! Props to David Cutcliffe! Is it ok for me to like Duke football and despise Duke basketball? Just pretend they're not the same school, right?
3. University of Texas I know what you're saying -- "Wait, Sean! How can Texas be a 'winner' this week? They lost their membership in the 'Control Your Own Destiny' Club this weekend, and did so in grand fashion, with the worst home loss of the Mack Brown Era to Oklahoma State!" And you would be partially right. But this assessment isn't about this weekend, it's a bigger picture assessment. A lot of T-sips are angry that Mack Brown has decided to stay around longer than he should have. In retrospect, leaving after 2009 would've kept his legacy totally intact, and leaving after 2010 was probably the right thing to do. However, if Mack had left after 2010, you'd be in the middle of the Will Muschamp Era, Texas. Ask Florida how that's going. Mack will be done after this year, and Texas will have a new head coach -- a new head coach a whole lot better than the 2013 version of Mack Brown. And better than any version of Will Muschamp.
2. Eddie O (and Cajun restaurants in Los Angeles I think we can all agree that life is better when USC interim coach Ed Orgeron is part of it, and if you disagree, may I direct you to this ad for a Mississippi Hummer dealership when Coach O was the head man in Oxford almost a decade ago:
Now, Orgeron is trying to do the seemingly impossible -- take a group of kids recruited by Lane Kiffin, a group of kids whose will to play college football had seemingly been squelched by Kiffin, and lead them to the Rose Bowl, and then in turn land the USC job permanently.
When Orgeron was fired by Ole Miss after 2007, the odds on him landing the USC head coaching job someday would have been somewhere around 1,000,000,000,000,000/1. Now, he may not be the favorite, but he's certainly a dark horse, he's the favorite of the players, and according to many close to him, a different and better head coach than he was seven years ago.
Let me say that, as a graduate of one of USC's primary rivals, I will take my chances that there's still plenty of the old "10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss" Coach O still rattling around inside the big Cajun. Haden, HIRE THIS MAN!
1. Aaron Murray As Georgia was trailing Auburn 37-17 early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the Aaron Murray tweets were flying, and the general consensus on Twitter (which is a solid referendum for public sentiment if you can wade through the gigabytes of trolling, bullying, and general web meanness) was that Murray will be the next generation's Matt Schaub -- third roundish pick, just good enough to consistently tease a team into paying him millions, but not good enough to win.
This season has helped further that image, although the injuries around him have certainly had a major impact. On Saturday, though, down 20 on the road, Murray brought the Bulldogs all the way back. He did it with a 76 yard drive, a 56 yard drive, and then finishing the go ahead drive with as tough a run as you'll see, putting his head down and barreling into the end zone (a play, for the record, that would split Schaub in two if he attempted it). If Georgia's defense just knocks down the 4th and 18 pass that turned into the winning touchdown, we are talking about a redefining win for Murray, a moment where he picked his team up, raised them to a higher place, and saved their season. As it was, he still drove them to a second chance at redemption, but ran out of time.
Yes, on the ledger, it was another close loss, but Aaron Murray got some "Stone Cold passing out in a pool of his own blood at Wrestlemania 13" respect from me on Saturday. Unfortunately, there are no moral victories for.... LOSERS
4. Georgia bettors I know that there are plenty of mechanisms and websites out there that will tell you the percentage chance a team has of winning a football game at any particular point in time, given the margin of score, time left, and other variables. I can say without using one of those sites that at 4th and 18 on their own 22 yard line with 34 seconds remaining, Auburn's chances of winning that game had to be less than one percent. Their odds of covering a 3.5 point spread had to be microscopic. If you're a beleaguered Georgia fan, you're telling yourself "Hey, it may be another gut punch defeat brewing, but at least we will still cover on an Auburn field goal. Naturally, Auburn scores a touchdown, so the Tigers won and covered. That's what we call a salty beat.
3. A.J. McCarron's Heisman candidacy With the Jameis Winston sexual assault investigation suddenly being thrust into the Heisman storylines, the door became slightly ajar to entertain other candidates (not that that's even remotely the most important aspect of this investigation, but I write about football). Johnny Manziel (who should win the award, regardless, by the way) closed the gap in Vegas, and Alabama's A.J. McCarron began to get some "lifetime achievement" love from the likes of Lou Holtz, Archie Manning, and Dick Vitale (pretty much any broadcaster over the age of 64 is on the McCarron Express).
Well, Alabama won (it's what they do), but unimpressively so, and McCarron was just average (187 yards, 2 INT). It would appear that McCarron will have to peacefully live with the consolation prize -- Katherine Webb.
2. Oliver Luck I won't say it's been a tumultuous few weeks for West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, that would be overstating it. Disappointing, maybe? While Luck's son continues to evolve into one of the great, young NFL quarterbacks, the old man himself has had to deal with losing out on the Texas AD job in a mild upset to Steve Patterson, and now having to return to West Virginia, saying "Hey, I still love you guys!" to the Mountaineer faithful, and deal with the likely firing of his first major hire from three years ago, head football coach Dana Holgorsen.
If you recall, it was Luck who concocted the ill fated transition plan from Holgorsen to the late Bill Stewart, which ended with Stewart's getting fired before the two even coached together because he was trying to dig up "dirt" on Holgorsen. It was a bad look for everyone involved, but looks even worse now when the "Was it worth it?" question has such a comical answer.
For the record, since starting 5-0 in 2012 and rising into the top five in the polls, the Mountaineers are 6-13, 89th in the nation in total offense, and in what may have been the last straw, were blown out in Lawrence by a Kansas team who hadn't won a Big 12 game since 2010. Holgorsen should land on his feet as a highly paid offense coordinator somewhere, and Luck will always be well thought of, but in the short term this will probably end poorly.
1. The non-AQ brigade For the majority of bowl seasons over the last decade or so, the BCS bowl party usually gets crashed by at least one (one season, 2009, it was actually two) non-BCS conference school. Utah (twice), Boise State (twice), TCU (twice), Hawaii, and Northern Illinois have all played on the big stage repping the little guy, and when they haven't played each other (again, 2009) they've done well, going 4-2.
The selection rules have become more flexible to allow for these non-Automatic Qualifying conference schools. For example, Northern Illinois was able to sneak into the Orange Bowl, even with one loss, last season because of a rule that allows a non-AQ school automatic BCS bowl access if they are in the top 16 and ahead of at least one BCS conference champion. Automatic access can also be had by one non-AQ school if that school is in the top 12.
This is important because right now, here is what the 10th through 20th portion of the BCS rankings look like (non-AQ schools in bold):
10. Oklahoma State 11. South Carolina 12. Texas A&M 13. Michigan State 14. UCLA 15. Fresno State 16. Northern Illinois 17. Arizona State * 18. UCF 19. Wisconsin 20. Oklahoma * 21. Louisville
Five of the six BCS conferences are in line to have conference champions in the top 6 or 7 teams in the country (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 comprise the top five right now.) So if you're Fresno State or NIU, you're eyeing UCF and Louisville (from the bastard AAC, the Big East after plastic surgery, the 6th BCS conference) right now, and hoping the AAC champion (likely UCF) doesn't creep into the top 16. Imagine if Fresno and NIU both wind up at, say, 13th and 14th and UCF winds up at 15th. The two non-AQ schools could theoretically get sandwiched in between 12th and 16th. Even funnier, one of them could be in a position to be actually rooting to be lower in the rankings come bowl selection time. Here's what I mean:
Pretend that Fresno State or NIU is 14th and they are the top ranked non-AQ school, and UCF is two spots behind them at 16th going into the revelation of the final BCS rankings. In theory, it's actually better for Fresno/NIU for both Fresno/NIU and UCF to get jumped by someone and each get bumped down a notch to 15th and 17th in the final poll. Under the former scenario, Fresno/NIU goes to a minor bowl, under the latter they go to a BCS bowl.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.