There but for the grace of a few gags, this could’ve been for the national championship.
Had Oregon and Auburn both lost on Saturday, TCU would’ve been a near-lock to play in the BCS Championship Game, while Wisconsin might have found a way to slip into the title game as, theoretically, the best of the BCS conference champions. But it didn’t happen, and now the Badgers and Horned Frogs will play an interesting and historic Rose Bowl.
The Rose had to take the highest-ranked, eligible, non-automatic qualifying team the first time it lost a Big Ten or Pac-10 school to the BCS Championship Game, and while Boise State appeared to be destined here a few weeks ago, now it should be a terrific slugfest with TCU looking to show it belongs among the big boys with a move to the Big East in 2012. The Horned Frogs completed their second straight perfect season, but the respect isn’t quite there, and the national title talk certainly wasn’t there, compared with Boise State. The best BCS win came against Oregon State in a ho-hum, 30-21 opener, and while the blowout over Utah was nice, it lost its luster after the Utah got blasted by Notre Dame.
TCU is No. 1 in the nation in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and pass efficiency defense, allowing seven points or fewer in seven games and allowing more than 20 in just three of the wins. Can the aggressive, talented defense handle the hottest offense in college football?
Wisconsin closed out the year red hot, hanging 83 on Indiana and 70 on Northwestern as part of a breathtaking run of offensive efficiency and power. The Badgers scored 31 or more in each of the final seven games after the loss at Michigan State, and they improved and got sharper as the year went on. With the first trip to Pasadena since winning the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls, Wisconsin finally gets to shed its tag of being the best program to not be in a BCS game over the past 10 years.
Oklahoma vs. Connecticut
You’ll have to forgive the Fiesta Bowl if it’s a little bit grouchy about getting stuck with the Aunt Edna of the BCS season.
It’s not as if TCU vs. Boise State wasn’t a good matchup last year — both teams were undefeated — but it was the kiddie table compared with some of the other great-looking showdowns, and the game turned out to be a dog. This year, it’s Oklahoma, who’s a Fiesta Bowl regular, making this the third trip in the past five years, against a plucky but punchless Connecticut team that’s finishing up with its "Little Engine That Could," rags-to-riches story.
The Huskies didn’t become an FBS team until 2000 and didn’t join the Big East until 2004, but they quickly became a regular on the bowl circuit and are 3-1 in postseason games since beating Toledo in the 2004 Motor City Bowl. Jordan Todman is among the nation’s best running backs, the defense is tough and nasty and the team’s games are almost always thrilling, with the three key Big East wins against South Florida, Pitt and West Virginia coming by a grand total of eight points. The offense can’t throw a lick, and it’ll be Food Network time if the Sooners get up by 10 early, but OU has gagged in the desert before. It was the far better team than Boise State in the 2007 game and West Virginia in the 2008 game, and both ended up being major upsets.
In fact, Oklahoma, for its fantastic resume under Bob Stoops and for all the big things the program has done since the BCS was formed, is 0-5 in BCS games since whacking Washington State in the 2003 Rose Bowl. This year’s team isn’t the best of the Stoops Big 12 champions, but it’s explosive and has the firepower to make this a laugher if it’s well-motivated.
Virginia Tech vs. Stanford
The hope for the Orange Bowl is that Hokies fans fill the stadium, because while Stanford might be among the most attractive teams, the small fan base isn’t going to travel in droves. But, on the field, this should still be a phenomenal game. There’s a chance it could be the best matchup of the lot.
This is Stanford’s first BCS appearance since Ty Willingham took the Cardinal to the 2000 Rose Bowl, a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin. Led by Andrew Luck, the possible first pick in the NFL draft when he’s ready to come out, the Cardinal attack is ultra-efficient, tough and very physical. However, the team needs a signature win. The BCS computers loved Stanford, but the only real win of note was a blowout of Notre Dame. Mostly, Stanford’s claim to fame is playing well for a half against Oregon in the team’s lone loss of the season.
The ACC doesn’t get much respect on a national scale, but Virginia Tech has earned the honor of being the league’s signature team. With a third trip to the Orange Bowl in the past four years, the Hokies have owned the ACC, even if all anyone wants to remember are the tough losses like the gaffe to James Madison and the opener against Boise State. The Hokies came up with a win over Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl, but that was Cincinnati. Beating the No. 4-ranked team in the BCS would do wonders for the ACC, and it would only further Virginia Tech’s reputation as the superpower it is.
Arkansas vs. Ohio State
Does Ohio State ever need this.
The Buckeyes shed the "Can’t Win the Big One" tag with last year’s Rose Bowl win over Oregon, and now they can peel away at the "Can’t Beat the SEC" tag.
The Big Ten has done better than it might seem against the SEC over the years in the bowls, but the Buckeyes haven’t been part of the fun, going 0-9 in bowls, including losses in the 2008 BCS Championship Game to LSU and the embarrassment of the 2007 BCS Championship Game to Florida. Forget that this has been the most consistently great BCS program in college football over the past 10 years and forget that this is an amazing sixth straight trip to a BCS game and eighth in the past nine years; the respect will never come from certain parts of the college football world until Ohio State can finally get over the SEC hump.
Speaking of brain cramps, Arkansas is 0-for-its-past-3 against the Big Ten in bowl games, and while a win over Ohio State would be nice to break that streak, it would be even more important to officially announce that the program is among the SEC elite under Bobby Petrino. The Hogs lost just two games, with a heartbreaker against Alabama that came down to the end and a shootout to Auburn when star quarterback Ryan Mallett got knocked out early. Since then, they’ve won six in a row, including a blowout of South Carolina and a win over LSU to get to the program’s first BCS game and BCS-level bowl since the 1987 Orange Bowl against Oklahoma (a 42-8 loss).
Ohio State has gone 17-1 since inexplicably losing to Purdue last year, and the lone loss this season was a battle at Wisconsin. Outside of the loss in Madison, the Buckeyes have allowed more than 20 points twice – one time was a 73-20 win over Eastern Michigan – and have allowed a total of 51 points in the past five games. Arkansas scored 58 on UTEP three weeks ago and has averaged 42.5 points over the past seven weeks.
BCS Championship Game
Auburn vs. Oregon
TCU fans might have a little bit of a beef, but the BCS had it easy this season with just two unbeaten BCS teams left standing to make it all cut and dried. Auburn won the 1957 AP national championship despite beating no one of note and was the odd team out in 2004 when USC and Oklahoma played for the national title, and now the program can get a real, live, undisputed national championship of its own just a year after Alabama won it all. Auburn is keeping up with the Sabans.
Oregon has hovered around the national championship chase a few times, but the closest it has been was 2001, when Joey Harrington’s team got passed over for Nebraska to play Miami in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks went on to blast Colorado in the Fiesta and finished second, but with a win over Auburn, it can bring the school its first championship, can win the Pac 10’s second national title by someone other than USC since Washington’s 1991 season and it can break the death grip the SEC currently has on the national championship.
The SEC has won the past four BCS championships and five of the past seven national titles, and Auburn has the running game, the defensive front and the signature superstar in Cam Newton to be the next in line to come home with the crystal egg. But if Oregon wins, counting the Reggie Bush-led 2004 USC team, this would be the Pac-10’s second undisputed consensus national title since 1967 USC. To take this a step further, since the AP started naming national champions in 1937, this would be the first undisputed consensus national championship by a team currently in the Pac-10 ever.
It’s a simple analysis: Who’ll do a better job of stopping the run? Oregon is fourth in the nation in rushing and first in scoring, averaging 49 points, while the run defense is 16th in the nation. Auburn is sixth in the nation in rushing, averaged 43 points, and is 11th in the nation against the run.