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It's been an awful year for college football

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Thayer Evans

Senior College Football writer Thayer Evans previously wrote for The New York Times and Houston Chronicle, as well as contributed to The Economist, USA Today, The Washington Post and more. Follow him on Twitter.

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ESPN tried and tried and tried.

But even its gussied-up Bowl Championship Series Selection Show on Sunday night couldn’t change what we already knew about college football: It’s been one of the worst seasons for the sport both on and off the field.

One that started with the optimism of a team from a non-BCS conference potentially playing for the national championship for the first time ended in a deafening thud that even Tim Tebow couldn’t have put his hands on and healed. Instead, this season was marred by scandals, tragedy and lackluster competition that added up to another anticlimactic finish in the BCS standings that has finally ended college football's golden age.

But, wait, it gets better with the stale slate of bowl games the broken BCS produced this season.

Oklahoma against overmatched Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl is so forgettable that they'd better keep reminding Sooners coach Bob Stoops and his team to actually show up for once.

The intrigue of plucky BCS buster Texas Christian vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl became as lame as it sounds when the Horned Frogs turned to the dark side last week and joined the Big East.

Stanford-Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl is so unappealing that the use of counterfeit tickets should actually be encouraged.

Ohio State-Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl has the most name recognition, but it’s the equivalent of being Jessica Simpson —- all reputation and plenty of disappointment.

Thankfully, the BCS did get it right with college football’s best two teams, Oregon and Auburn, facing off in the national championship game. But it also highlights the scandal in college football this season with Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton and Oregon tailback LaMichael James, the faces of their respective teams, having both been scrutinized by the NCAA.

Newton was briefly declared ineligible by Auburn last week before being reinstated by the NCAA after his father was found to have shopped him to Mississippi State in a $180,000 pay-for-play scheme that has attracted the attention of the FBI. Conference commissioners like the Big Ten’s Jim Delany and Pac-10’s Larry Scott have expressed concern about his controversial saga.

And with the NCAA’s enforcement investigation ongoing, many wonder if Auburn’s accomplishments this season should be written in pencil or pen.

As for James, he was cleared last month in an NCAA investigation of his driving a 2003 Land Rover owned by a former gang member and convicted felon. He and Newton also have checkered pasts.

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James pleaded guilty in March to physical harassment of his ex-girlfriend and is on a 24-month probation after he allegedly grabbed her neck and pushed her to the ground during an argument. Newton was arrested for the theft of a laptop while at Florida and caught cheating academically three times there.

Beyond Newton and James, the NCAA had an epidemic of problems with agents this season that led to player suspensions that decimated North Carolina and also touched traditional powers Alabama and Georgia.

The scandals even have college football’s power brokers wanting to change the conversation.

“It’s always my preference that we talk about things on the field,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said.

Yet the scandals pale in comparison to the heartbreak the college football world endured this season. Notre Dame student manager Declan Sullivan died last month after a scissor lift he was in while filming a Fighting Irish practice fell over from a burst of wind.

Rutgers defensive tackle Eric Legrand was paralyzed from the neck down in October while making a tackle on a kickoff return. Both tragedies are sad beyond words and put wins and losses in a proper perspective in a bureaucratic sport that prides itself on the mantra, “Every game counts.”

 

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The BCS battle cry that claims every week of college football is a playoff also fell flat on its face this season. We’ve known since late October that Oregon and Auburn would play in the national title game.

That made for another November of predominantly insignificant games. And this one was worse than previous seasons because of the drop in talent across college football.

The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East were again irrelevant before the first month of the season was over. The Big 12 lacked a dominant team and the Pac-10 got off to a fast start before crumbling.

Even the mighty SEC was the weakest overall that it’s been in years. The only BCS conference improved from last season was the Big Ten, which isn’t saying much.

It’s seasons like this that a playoff would bail out college football. The drama of such a system would create more story lines that would help mask the ills of the sport.

Instead, we’re just stuck reflecting how bad it’s been and still wondering how it can be fixed.

Tagged: Oregon, LaMichael James

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