It’s bowl season, everyone! Following an anticlimactic conference championship weekend that played out by the chalk, there were no surprises in the BCS selection.
The rest of the bowls, meanwhile… that’s another story. While some teams were mercifully given decent matchups — Utah-Boise State, Michigan State-Alabama, and South Carolina-Florida State among the marquee matchups outside the big show — others are forced to wonder what they did to deserve such treatment. (Nebraska and Oklahoma State lead this charge, drawing respectively a Washington team they’d already clobbered by five touchdowns in the regular season and an Arizona team that dropped went oh-for-November with four straight losses to BCS-bound Oregon and Stanford, sanctioned USC and state rival Arizona State.) But hey… at least they’re going bowling, right? That’s more than Temple can say — the 8-4 Owls were left home thanks to the glut of the MAC’s midsection.
Even in such a golden time of the year for college football, there are always gripes both legitimate and outlandish to be uttered…
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GAMES OF THE WEEK
by Matt Strobl
Best Win: Connecticut 19, South Florida 16—This isn’t one of the obvious choices. After all, the ACC, Big 12, and SEC all had their title games on Saturday, so why go with this Big East matchup that…well, stunk? This was the best win of the week because for the first time, coach Randy Edsall and the UConn Huskies will be headed to the BCS. This is a team that only recently became an FBS program. While the traditional powers have up to a century of tradition to fuel their recruiting efforts, Connecticut has been at the adults’ table for only a decade. In that span, Edsall has built a quality team. But until this year, they had limited success. Now the Huskies have earned at auto-bid—admittedly from a very weak conference—and have an opportunity to pull off a shocker if they can take down their likely opponent Oklahoma.
Worst Win: Oklahoma 23, Nebraska 20—And speaking of the Sooners, I hope Bob Stoops and company don’t blow off the Huskies. Because OU (still) doesn’t look particularly good this year. Surviving against Nebraska took all kinds of good fortune; in the first half alone the Sooners recovered their own fumbles 3 times. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez was banged up and clearly hurting, yet it took a fourth-quarter field goal for Oklahoma to scrape out the 3-point victory. Big 12 fans shouldn’t be brimming with confidence for the upcoming BCS, regardless of who OU draws.
Upset of the Week: Miami 26, Northern Illinois 21—The MAC may not be a premier FBS conference, but this was a top-notch performance by Mike Haywood’s Redhawks. No one expected Miami to be in this game in the first place, much less keep it competitive. NIU had blown through its schedule, going undefeated in league play and cracking the Top 25 at season’s end. But the Redhawks were the better team on Friday night. Due to some uncharacteristic blunders like a blocked PAT and a failed fake field goal, they ultimately needed a miracle tip on 4th-and-20 to lock down the win. Still, the outcome reflected how both sides played in this stunner.
Beatdown of the Week: Auburn 56, South Carolina 17—Steve Spurrier finally gets his shot at winning the SEC with the Gamecocks and look what happens. This game was one long defensive breakdown with a healthy dose of offensive blunders mixed in. SC made Auburn look as good as its record and then some; this matchup didn’t even resemble the first meeting between these two teams earlier in the year.
Dud of the Week: Arizona—After a hot start to the season, the Wildcats fell apart. They were 4-0 at the end of September and 7-1 at the end of October, but the team lost its final 4 games to finish 7-5 on the year. The streak proved that Arizona was never a contender, only a pretender. When the meat of the schedule rolled around, the Cats were no match for the Pac 10’s other top teams. There are those who would have us believe that Mike Stoops has made progress during his tenure in Tucson, but all I see is yet another year that failed to live up to expectations.
THE HOT SEAT WATCH
The regular season in college football has come to its conclusion (other than the Army/Navy game), and that means we will likely be seeing quite a few coaching shake-ups in the near future.
Some coaches will be depending on a bowl victory to earn them one more year on their respective school’s sideline.
- Rich Rodriguez (Michigan) – One of the coaches that will be looking for a bowl victory to ensure his job for another season is Rich Rodriguez. It was thought before the season that all Rodriguez needed was a bowl berth to continue coaching in Ann Arbor, but with the possibility of attracting Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, that may have changed. Michigan improved in 2010 to 7-5 and will be headed to the Gator Bowl to play Mississippi State and if the Wolverines are able to win the bowl game and finish 8-5, then you have to believe that Rodriguez will return to the Wolverines sideline in 2011.
- Mark Richt (Georgia) – I still believe that Mark Richt will be Georgia’s head coach in 2011, but he could pretty much assure that with a bowl victory. 6-6 and a Liberty Bowl berth was not the expectations in Athens during the preseason and nobody should be happy about it. Georgia will face off with the Conference USA Champion Central Florida led by head coach George O’Leary. I don’t think it will sit well with the Bulldogs’ athletic department if they finish the season below .500, so to make sure he returns next season, I believe Richt needs to lead Georgia to a victory.
- Houston Nutt (Mississippi) – It was rumored last week that Houston Nutt was going to take the Colorado head coaching job, but that didn’t end up being the case. Unlike the other two coaches, Nutt will not get the advantage of earning good graces in a bowl game, but I do think it is likely that he returns in 2011. Unfortunately, the Rebles outlook in 2011 doesn’t look a whole lot better than it did in 2010. Bringing in Jeremiah Masoli was a disaster, but it showed the desperation of Houston Nutt. I think he will be fighting for his job next season, but I really don’t see much improvement with this team.
- Dennis Erickson (Arizona State) – Erickson has been looking for a signature win at Arizona State and he finally got it as he led the Sun Devils to a 30-29 double overtime win over Arizona. The win did not earn Arizona State bowl eligibility due to two of their wins coming against FCS opponents and according to the NCAA, only one of those wins count. But, it did likely earn Erickson one more year coaching in Tempe with the stipulation of improvement in order to keep coaching.
AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…
Cameron Newton (QB/Auburn) – Regardless of your feelings about his eligibility, Cam Newton played and he played very well in the SEC Championship Game against South Carolina. In the first meeting, South Carolina came very close to upsetting Auburn, but the rematch wasn’t even close. Auburn throttled South Carolina 56-17 led by their QB Cameron Newton. Newton had a career high 335 passing yards against the Gamecocks and accounted for six of Auburn’s touchdowns (4 passing, 2 rushing). Under the lights of the Georgia Dome, Cameron Newton made sure that Auburn was going to punch their ticket to Glendale into the National Championship against Oregon and all but assured himself the Heisman Trophy.
Dion Lewis (RB/Pittsburgh) — The stakes weren’t nearly as high this season when Pitt and Cincinnati sqauared off as they were last season when a BCS berth was on the line, but that didn’t dissuade Lewis from bursting out of his season-long production malaise to stomp on the Bearcats’ D. Carrying the ball an absurd 42 times he racked up 261 yards and four TDs — scampers of 2, 76, 7 and 21 yards resulting in two dozen Pitt points. He finished with 275 total yards of offense after catching two Tino Sunseri passes. And he’s guaranteed to return, a true sophomore with at least one more year for us to marvel at his ability.
Mike Haywood (HC/Miami)—With a win over heavily favored Northern Illinois, coach Mike Haywood beat a ranked team, won his conference, and finished off the best turnaround in the FBS. The Redhawks were a dismal 1-11 last season, but thanks to a retooled defense and fewer offensive errors, the team finished 9-4 and will be on its way to a quality bowl game. A year ago no one could have imagined that kind of progress in so short a time. Haywood’s accomplishment is incredible: an increase of 8 wins and a skyrocketing climb up the defensive rankings.