College Football Nation: Good bowl games scheduled, but they’re not the BCS ones
Most of the bowls have been pretty good so far, and some were downright great.
The games have featured lots of teams with small followings, lots of schools from conferences that play only a minor role in the nation's consciousness throughout the college football season, but the matchups themselves have been good ones. The teams have been good fits for one another, so there was one game that ended with blocked game-winning field goal attempt, and two others won in the last seconds when a field goal split the uprights.
This week features a slew of other compelling matchups, games that when you look at the combatants, there's real wonder about which team will win.
And that's good.
But there's a problem, which is that the biggest games of them all, the five BCS bowls, don't head the list of those games full of wonder.
The BCS is what it is -- a poor attempt to secure a no-questions-asked championship game between the two best teams. And as almost always, that didn't come to pass this season.
But beyond that it's failed to deliver great matchups in the other four games.
"(I)t may sound somewhat trite now, but the purpose of the BCS was to develop the 1-2 game," BCS commissioner Mike Slive said when the bowl matchups were announced early this month. "What gets lost a little bit in all of this selection process is that what the BCS has done is allowed the teams to move to the 1-2 game from other tie-ups."
In other words, it makes no promise of delivering compelling combatants in the other four games.
On Dec. 31, there's one potentially tremendous game after another, one bowl after another where the outcome is in real doubt before kickoff.
There are six games that day and night, beginning with Air Force against California in the Armed Forces Bowl and culminating with Clemson against Auburn in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Air Force and Cal are not teams particularly worthy of making a bowl, or occupying much of our attention at a time of year when the national championship will finally be decided. But they might play a thrilling game.
The Falcons are 9-3, but that record is inflated by the conference in which they play. Their losses are against good but not great teams -- BYU, Navy and New Mexico. The Golden Bears, meanwhile, were one of the best teams in the country for the first half of the season but fell apart over the second half, finishing 6-6 after losing six of their final seven. Yet they played USC close, and early in the year beat Oregon.
It's a game worthy of curiosity. Which Cal will show up? How will Air Force do against a team from a BCS conference?
The day rolls on from there. The Sun Bowl -- the third kickoff of the day -- features Oregon and South Florida, two teams which once sat among the very elite in all of college football. There's depleted Florida State attempting to rally against Andre Wodson and a Kentucky team that once beat LSU. And the finale features that tremendous matchup in Atlanta between Auburn and Clemson, the eighth-ranked defense in the country against the sixth.
The next morning it'll be 2008, and as always, the first day of the year will feature wall-to-wall college football. Some of the games might turn out to be great ones, but none is must-see television.
The day should start slowly, allowing revelers from the night before to ease into the day. And it should build, culminating with the crescendo of the first two BCS bowls, the Rose late in the afternoon and into the evening and finally the Sugar at night.
Well, the Rose Bowl matchup stinks. And it points directly to the BCS's shortcomings beyond its attempt to produce a no-doubt-about-it national championship game -- it allows the games to choose the matchups, the committee members in odd-colored blazers who care about selling tickets, not selling the game to the college football fan at large.
The Rose Bowl is obsessed with its tradition, its history of pitting the Pac-10 champion against the Big Ten champion, and it still has contracts with both conferences to match their winners against one another in Pasadena on New Year's Day ... unless one of the two conference champions is also one of the two highest-ranked teams in the country and instead plays in the BCS Championship Game.
That's the case this year with Ohio State.
That opened the door for the Rose Bowl to create a fantastic matchup between USC, which is rolling after struggling during the first half of the season and finally playing like the preseason No. 1 the Trojans were, and the best of the at-large teams.
Taking Georgia, which has won six straight, for that open spot would have created a game every bit as enticing at the title game a week later.
Beyond the Bulldogs, the Rose Bowl could have chosen Missouri, which was No. 1 in the nation the second-to-last week of the season. It could have taken Kansas, the only team from a BCS conference other than Ohio State that finished with only one loss. Even West Virginia, which was No. 2 entering the final game of the season but lost in embarrassing fashion to Pitt, would have been enticing with its duo of Steve Slaton and Pat White.
Instead, the Rose Bowl, ever a slave to its tradition, chose Illinois, a team that lost three games and never once sniffed the top 10. The Illini qualified for the BCS's at-large pool by finishing 13th in the final rankings, barely squeaking under the limit of 14.
In addition to allowing a bad bowl matchup in the Rose, the BCS, according to a Sports Illustrated report, quelled a deal to pit No. 3 Virginia Tech against No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2. The Hokies, as ACC champs, are tied to the Orange Bowl while the Sooners, as Big 12 champs are tied to the Fiesta Bowl. But there's a clause that allows the commissioners of the six BCS conferences to adjust the pairings to create the best possible games.
It's never been invoked.
So despite talk of moving Oklahoma to the Orange Bowl, the commissioners elected to go with the status quo.
"I think it is important that there is the host relationship," said Slive, who is also the SEC commissioner. "I think if you think about all the potential possibilities ... the bowls have every opportunity to make these decisions as to what they want."
They want money, the best possible matchups be damned.
There is the potential for good games in the Fiesta and Orange Bowls, and there's even some intrigue to the pairing of Georgia and Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. But the Bulldogs blowing out the Rainbow Warriors seems likely, and both Virginia Tech and Oklahoma could roll in the Orange and Fiesta Bowls, respectively. The Rose? Whatever.
The biggest games don't figure to be the best games. The bowls have been great so far, and that figures to continue right up until -- but not including -- the games every college football fan cares about.
What We Learned
Boise State was a one-hit wonder.
Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. The Broncos could certainly have strong seasons in years to come, but after going undefeated last year and pulling off one of the great upsets of all time -- in great fashion -- Boise State fell back this year.
The Broncos had a good year, going 10-2 in the regular season and making the Hawaii Bowl against East Carolina.
The two losses came in the two games in which Boise State could have shown it was again a potentially great team. In their one regular season game against a team from a BCS conference, the Broncos lost to a Washington team that went on to win just four games. And in a showdown against Hawaii -- the team known as this year's Boise State -- the Rainbow Warriors took Boise State down.
Then came the Hawaii Bowl last week.
Boise State lost to East Carolina, which was just 7-5.
Boise State could have been this year's Boise State, but the Broncos were unable to win the two tough regular season games on their schedule, and a year after beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, couldn't get past East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl.
Boise State, playing in a non-BCS conference, has been a great team against its level of competition. For one year it showed it could play with the best in the game. But unless the Broncos bounce back, they were a one-hit wonder.
Game of the Week
The Four BCS bowls, excluding the championship game, should feature better matchups. There shouldn't be an average of 5.25 spots between the rankings of the participants in each, but these remain the games the season builds toward, and each features reasons to watch ... at least for a while.
Rose Bowl: Illinois looks overmatched at first glance against USC. But the one loss No. 1 Ohio State suffered was to the Illini, who also played Missouri tough. USC, meanwhile, may be the best team in the country right now, but it's also a team that lost on its home field to Stanford. The Trojans should whip Illinois, but if the Illini are at their best and the Trojans play poorly, Illinois has a chance.
Sugar Bowl: After what Boise State did to Oklahoma last year, this game between Georgia and Hawaii holds a lot of curiosity. If the Rainbow Warriors can pull the upset it legitimizes their top 10 status and undefeated record. But if Georgia rolls, which is likely, it's just an anticlimactic end to New Year's Day, which should be the greatest day of the college football season.
Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma and West Virginia have the potential to put on an offensive show, but after the way the Mountaineers spit the bit the last week of the season at home against Pitt with a shot in the BCS Championship Game there for the taking, there's reason to believe West Virginia's record is the product of a mediocre schedule. Also, the Mountaineers don't have a head coach right now, with Rich Rodriguez off to Michigan, and that can't help.
Orange Bowl: Kansas against Virginia Tech pits perhaps the best offense of any team in the BCS against the best defense outside of the two title game participants, but like West Virginia, Kansas may just be a product of its schedule. If the Jayhawks are legit, this might be a great bowl. That's a big if for a team playing in one of the marquee games of the bowl season.
If I Had a Ballot ...
No voting again this week. Soon, though.
Eric Avidon is a Daily News staff writer. He can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-3809.