Sunday, November 30, 2008

College Football: Almost in the Rearview

Except for a handful of games next weekend – and the absurdly long list of bowls that will begin kicking off later on – the 2008 college football season is pretty much over. So here are some of my thoughts, and I’ll begin by acknowledging that two opinions I offered in my last college football piece turned out to be wrong.

As soon as I called them nation’s most underrated team and implied that they should make a surge into the polls, the Huskies got clobbered by North Carolina and lost four of their next six. If they beat Pitt next week, they will finish 8-4 and still deserve to be called underrated, but they are not the most underrated team and they are nowhere near as good as I thought back in September.

Texas Tech
After I called them the nation’s most overrated team, and said they are the kind that will “usually wilt as soon as they face a powerful opponent and find themselves in a dog fight,” they went on to win back-to-back games against teams ranked in the top ten – and in the first of those wins, they scored a touchdown with one second left to knock off the number one team in the land. They didn’t look good against Oklahoma, but they are quite a bit better than I thought in September.

Now, as for how the season has played out…

Who’s Best?
We’ll know for sure when it’s all over, but based on what I’ve seen, Alabama and Florida are clearly the two best teams. Of course, they will play each other in next week’s SEC Championship Game and the winner will go on to the BCS Championship Game. Though there are some other impressive squads who are good enough to pull off an upset, I predict that whoever wins between Alabama and Florida will prevail easily in the BCS Championship Game.

Conference Bragging Rights
The SEC and Big 12 (in that order) are obviously the strongest conferences, and the rest of the conferences are petty far behind. And what keeps the SEC in front of the Big 12 this year? Defense: They play it well in the SEC but not in the Big 12, which is a big part of the reason I don’t think the SEC champion will lose to the Big 12 champion if that is who they play for the title.

Speaking of Big 12 Defenses
I have no idea why they are so unimpressive. The Big 12’s schools have a reputation for red-blooded American tenacity, and in past years were known for playing strong defense. Through the years they have given us defensive legends that include the Selmon brothers, Peters brothers, Mike Singletary, Zach Thomas, Dexter Manley, Brian Bosworth, Grant Wistrom, and on and on and on. Yet now we routinely see Big 12 games end with scores like 45-35 and 58-36. I just don’t get it.

But how ’bout those Big 12 QB’s
On the flip side, the Big 12 has such an impressive stable of quarterbacks that it almost defies comprehension. I’ve watched them play, they are as good as advertised, and their productivity can not be explained by doubters saying they go up against defenses that aren’t as good as the ones fielded in the days of yore of the old Big Eight and Southwestern Conferences. The age when option and triple-option offenses ruled the lower Midwest ended some time ago, but now it is buried a mile deep and unlikely to ever return.

Nittany Lions
It was good to see Penn State return to national prominence. Honestly, how can you not like Joe Paterno and the program he has been running for so long up in Happy Valley? It may have been a down year for the Big Ten, but I believe that if Penn State had made it to the BCS Championship Game by avoiding that lone, one-point loss to Iowa, they would have stood a better chance of knocking off the SEC champion than Oklahoma would have.

Why do I think that?
It’s not that I think Penn State is better than Alabama or Florida, and it’s not even that I think they are necessarily better than Oklahoma. It’s that I remember the last two times Penn State won the national title: After the 1982 season everyone thought they had no chance against Herschel Walker’s Georgia Bulldogs, and after the 1986 season everyone thought they would get annihilated by Jimmy Johnson’s swaggering and supersonically fast Miami Hurricanes. Karma-wise, 2008 seemed like the perfect set-up for Paterno’s program to score a hat-trick, by upending a presumed juggernaut right after everyone got done patting them on the head and treating them like some kind of Cinderella who should just be happy to be there.

And finally…
After saying that Alabama and Florida are the best teams in the country, and that I expect one of them to be the national champion, what am I going to do with myself? Of all the bazillions of teams playing college football, those are the two I despise the most. They have the most arrogant fans in the universe. I know most people think it’s a given that Auburn people dislike Alabama more than they dislike Florida – hell, it’s assumed that the word “dislike” is a far too benevolent description of what Auburn people feel about Alabama – but the fact of the matter is I live in Florida and have to deal with chortling, rooster-strutting Gator fans every day of my life, whereas I have to deal with Crimson Tide fans maybe a half-dozen times a year, and even then, only on a one-on-one basis instead of one-on-hundreds. I just don’t know what to do. All I do know is that I will be a major, major Oklahoma fan for the next six weeks, so long as they win the Big 12 as expected.

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