Thursday, December 28, 2006
Cereal and milk. Wine and cheese. College football and New Year’s. Long have such combinations been wonderful together. The full sunup-to-sundown college football feast, however, only happens once a year.
That makes for one special day. For nearly a century, almost all of the biggest games were held every Jan. 1. Unfortunately, that banquet of bowl games has been forcefully disrupted.
We have the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to blame. The top games, hitched to BCS TV contracts, have been sprinkled over the course of weeks. Now the championship game takes place Jan. 8, six weeks since either team last played. To make matters worse, the BCS sold the naming rights of each bowl game to giant corporate sponsors like Tostitos, making it impossible to cover a football game without advertising chips.
They also famously entrusted the task of choosing which two teams compete for the national title to a series of statistical matrices. Previously, that job belonged to coaches and sportswriters—seemingly worthy candidates—who’ve since been reduced to one variable in a set of complex mathematical formulas.
So, instead of one glorious day of nonstop, high stakes college football—and until the powers that be come to and install a playoff system—we’re left with a rather scattered schedule of Faceless Corporate Sponsor Bowls, punctuated by a championship between two teams selected through controversial calculus. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of great football played on New Year’s. Here’s the Weekly’s guide to the big games on the biggest day (and a peek at the best BCS games thereafter):
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OUTBACK BOWL: PENN STATE VS. TENNESSEE (8AM, ESPN) Tennessee was soundly underrated at the beginning of the season, as any Cal fan could tell you. The real question here is whether this is the game that Joe Paterno drops dead on the sideline, having coached Penn State since Moses played safety.
The Pick: PSU, as long as Paterno gets his Geritol and is home in time to see “Matlock.” Paul Posluszny, two-time winner of the “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik Award for best ‘backer, hits with the force of a runaway Mack truck.
AT&T COTTON BOWL: AUBURN VS. NEBRASKA (8:30AM, FOX) Nebraska dominated college football in the ‘90s, earning three national titles and a congressional seat for then-coach Tom Osborne. The 21st Century saw them fall hard and fast. Ex-Raiders coach Bill Callahan has pieced Big Red back into a respectable program. But respectability ain’t gonna beat Auburn.
The Pick: Auburn, the only team to beat #2 Florida, and survivors of the annual trial-by-fire that is SEC football.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL: ARKANSAS VS. WISCONSIN (10AM, ABC) Spectacular sophomore RB Dennis McFadden finished second in Heisman voting after single-handedly carrying Arkansas to the SEC Championship game. Wisconsin’s own young star, PJ Hill, gained a fat freshman fifteen—1,500 rushing yards and 15 TDs—in his first year of eligibility.
The Pick: Arkansas. Each of their three losses came against top-10 teams, while Wisconsin got spanked in its only game against a ranked opponent (albeit Michigan).
TOYOTA GATOR BOWL: GEORGIA TECH VS. WEST VIRGINIA (10AM, CBS) Tech’s offense is pathetic: despite having one of the best WRs in the country in Calvin Johnson, Tech’s passing game ranked 100 of 119 D-I teams. Get the Lamborghini out of first gear. Meanwhile, WVU’s triple-OT win over Rutgers kept the Scarlet Knights from winning the Big East and indirectly kept hell from freezing over.
The Pick: WVU. QB Pat White is healthy again, and together with standout RB Steve Slaton, they form a classy backfield duo that thrills their hillbilly fan base with constant big plays.
ROSE BOWL: MICHIGAN VS. USC (2PM, CBS) The BCS is like most adult films: someone inevitably gets screwed. Playing Jenna Jameson’s role this year is Michigan, whose title hopes fell three points short against archrival Ohio State, who happens to be the best team in the country. A sequel to that game would’ve been like Godfather II and Empire Strikes Back combined. Instead, we’re left with this ill-conceived spin-off, more Joey than Frazier. A Michigan win would be a great way to honor the memory of Bo Schembechler, their longtime coach who passed away in October.
The Pick: Michigan, the best team in the country not named Ohio State.
TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL: OKLAHOMA VS. BOISE STATE (5PM, FOX) This game pits The Most Storied against The Best Story. Oklahoma, six-time national champion, faces lil’ Boise State. BSU has played smart, undefeated football on the “Smurf Turf” for years, but are only now getting their first BCS nod. Despite steering the second-ranked offense in the country this year, they’ve still got an awful lot to prove, and this is the best chance they’ll get: a national TV audience watching them sling stones at Goliath’s forehead.
The Pick: Boise State, the Gonzaga of college football. People will recognize they can play the big-conference heavyweights, Sooner or later.
Right when the post-New Year’s withdrawal symptoms set in, the final BCS games arrive. Tuesday’s FEDEX ORANGE BOWL (5PM, FOX) features explosive Louisville against upstart Wake Forest, who won their first ACC title since Nixon was in office. On Wednesday, Notre Dame and their innocuously racist mascot take on the LSU Tigers, who enjoy what amounts to home field advantage at the NOKIA SUGAR BOWL (5PM, FOX) in N’Awlins.
The brand-new “BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME” happens a full week after New Year’s, ON JAN. 8 (5PM, FOX). If Florida beats Ohio State, they will have effectively turned water into wine: Heisman-winning QB Troy Smith leads a nearly flawless roster, with a dozen starters capable of being drafted this year.