Saturday in Review: Conference Championship Edition

At some point in college football’s long and storied history, someone said, “Hey, you know how we could make more money? We could have a championship game between the winners of our conference’s two divisions! That way, even though sometimes one division of the conference is way stronger than another, the weaker division still has a chance to totally screw up the larger team’s season. In the meantime, ticket sales and TV revenues will ensure that we can line our pockets!”

The people who were with this person shook their heads sadly. They admired his attempt and finding a clear-cut conference winner, but knew that it was a gesture designed more to make money than to promote clear outcomes. After all, how could one declare an 8-4 team champion if they beat a 11-1 team? There was still a 2 game difference. So these other people simply shrugged and went on with their lives. That one guy, however, went on to start a major corporation, make millions, and be put in charge of a college football conference, where he created the first conference championship. And that leads us to today. Sure, there were some other games from other conferences, but we all know where the real show was on Saturday. And Friday, in one obscure case.

SEC Championship

#1 Auburn-56, #19 South Carolina-17

Well, sometimes history repeats itself less dramatically. As everyone knows (and if you didn’t, how did you get Internet under that rock?) South Carolina and Auburn played one another earlier in the season. In that game, South Carolina jumped out to an early lead and failed to hold it. In this game, Auburn jumped out in the lead, South Carolina hung around for about a half, Auburn scored a last minute Hail Mary TD, and South Carolina decided to go home after the first half, allowing Auburn to hammer them in the second half.

In short, this game was nothing it was supposed to be. It was mostly dull, one-sided, and didn’t even come close to providing the #1 team in the land with a good game. Guess we’ll have to wait until January for that to happen, because…

#2 Oregon-37, Oregon State-20

You know, Oregon State never really got knocked out of this game. They never looked to be in it (aside from the 1st quarter, obviously) and yet they were never kicked out of the game completely. 17 points isn’t a huge win, especially when you consider that we’re talking about the #2 team in the country beating a squad that wound up 5-7. I know the rivalry factor is fun, but still, this raises some pretty important questions about the Ducks. Neither they nor Auburn have looked invincible this season, and I think we could have a pretty dang good national title matchup on our hands. Mind you, there’s a team from Ft. Worth that would disagree with me…

Big 12 Championship

#9 Oklahoma-23, #13 Nebraska-20

Well, Nebraska’s last Big 12 game didn’t go quite the way the Huskers wanted. At least there weren’t any super-controversial officiating decisions. No, this one was mostly a case of Oklahoma making some good changes and keeping Taylor Martinez and the Nebraska offense off balance for much of the second half. Nebraska jumped out to a 17-0 lead, and then the wheels came off of the Big Red Machine. Wait, that’s the nickname for Cincinnati’s baseball team from the ’70s. Let’s just move to the next paragraph.

Nebraska now goes to the Holiday Bowl–again. They’ll be playing a rematch between themselves and Washington, which will likely look like last year’s Holiday Bowl. Nebraska will then leave the Big 12 to become the 12th team in the Big 10 (ironic, right?), thus ending a season full of backbiting and controversy on the part of the Big 12 and Nebraska. I honestly don’t know what the big deal is. Maybe it’s the belief that Nebraska stabbed the Big 12 in the back. While there’s something big to be said about a sense of honor, please don’t kid yourselves about the cleanliness of college football. This is a sport with a non-satisfactory championship system, rampant recruiting violations, a “look the other way” policy on high-profile arrests, and athletic departments that have ballooned to utterly ridiculous sizes; the Big 12 conference officials can be offended by Nebraska’s departure, but the average fan (even of a Big 12 school!) shouldn’t be worried. Nebraska’s leaving their old home for a variety of reasons, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that money isn’t #1 on the list. If they felt they could get more cash playing in the WAC, they’d have tried. I mean, come on, the Big 12 itself was born out of the collapse of the Southwest Conference. The more profitable schools in the conference got to jump to the Big 12 (Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M) while smaller schools went to lesser conferences (SMU, TCU, Houston, Rice). And Baylor went to the Big 12, too, but every rule has an exception. So fault Nebraska if you must for players drinking and semi-abusive coaching, but don’t fault them for leaving the Big 12.

As to Oklahoma, what is there to say? Congrats to the Sooners for winning the conference title, keeping it in the South Division for the 7th straight year. Barring some conference expansion for the Big 12, that would appear to be where the trophy is staying for the time being. OU looked to be dead in the water after losing two of three back in October/November, but they are now BCS-bound, where they should have no trouble breaking their BCS bowl losing streak, considering that they’ll be playing the Big East Champion UConn Huskies. (That’s right kids, a team in this week’s Bottom 95 will be getting a $17 million payday, while the #8 ranked 11-1 Michigan State Spartans will be getting just over $4 million to play in the Capital One Bowl. Guess they should have just been ranked higher in the preseason and this wouldn’t have happened!)

Utah State-14, #11 Boise State-50

I will admit that I am somewhat proud of the BCS computers and voters. I fully expected them to drop Boise State to at least 15th. But they didn’t and that is somewhat commendable. For their part, the Broncos surprised no one and went out and crushed Utah State this week, thus earning the right to split the WAC title with Nevada.

In addition, whatever group selects bowls did blogs everywhere a service by denying Boise the right to play an AQ team in their bowl, instead choosing to shoehorn Boise and Utah together where they can’t hurt any of the big boys’ pride. In other words, it’s a whole lot like last year. And then, after the season is over, people can say that Boise State only played Virginia Tech and Oregon State–and Virginia Tech lost to James Madison and Oregon State went 5-7, so Boise clearly wouldn’t have made a deep run in a playoff like, say, Butler did last friggin’ year in basketball. But, no, fans of the Big 10, SEC, Pac-10, Big 12, ACC, and Big East can just keep grinning and claiming plausible deniability (look it up!) Oh, and about that Virginia Tech team that Boise beat earlier in the year…

ACC Championship

#21 Florida State-33, #15 Virginia Tech-44

I’ll start with Florida State. The Seminoles enjoyed a pretty good turnaround this season, and they look to continue that going into next year. They’ll be the only big name school in Florida (apologies to USF and UCF, but it’s true) that’s not looking for a coach, thanks to Pope Urban leaving and Randy Shannon getting canned. The Seminoles also have the advantage of playing in the weaker of the two divisions of the already-weak ACC, so they have real potential to be a fixture in the ACC Championship Game for years to come. Consider also that Florida State’s quarterback E.J. Manuel is a sophomore, and you have a recipe for success in Tallahassee. So good for Florida State, and good luck in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

As to Virginia Tech, I had a lengthy bit of season summary stuff to type here, but I think I’ll just post a link to the bottom of this game’s section. There will be time for typing about the Hokies in the Orange Bowl Preview.

Now, the link I’m about to post isn’t for everyone. You don’t have to click it if you’re not on the list of people it’s for. So who is this for? Well, it’s for the UVa fans who swore this would be their year to beat the Hokies. It’s for the ECU Pirates who were sure they would make Virginia Tech lose 3 straight. It’s for the idiots who chant “JMU” on message boards, as though that will somehow change the fact that Virginia Tech just won the conference. It’s for all the fans of all the other ACC schools who beat their 1-AA cupcake and mocked the Hokies for failing to do so. It’s for those same fans who are now looking up at Virginia Tech, the first team to go undefeated in conference play since 2000. It’s for the Florida State fans who bought their Orange Bowl tickets before the ACC Championship Game. It’s for anyone who still thinks Virginia Tech ruined Boise State’s season. It’s especially for the Miami fans who call Virginia Tech “second rate” while Miami fills half its stadium, goes 7-5, and fires its coach. It’s for anyone, anywhere, who thought or hoped that Virginia Tech would give up after Week 1 of the season. If you’re on that list then this link’s for you!

#17 Nevada-35, Louisiana Tech-17

Nevada admirably didn’t let their success go to their heads, avoiding the “week after” letdown that so many schools have suffered this season. That’s really all I got.

Arizona State-30, #23 Arizona-29

I only included this game to make a point: Why, after 3 straight losses, was Arizona still ranked? Yes, they were to two now-Top 5 teams with Southern Cal sandwiched in the middle, but why was Arizona still hanging out in the Top 25? Texas lost to lowly UCLA, then narrowly lost to Oklahoma and they got dropped from #7 to unranked. How come Arizona lost to Stanford, USC, and Oregon and only fell 8 spots (15 to 23)? Is the bottom half of the Top 25 that bad? Just askin’.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen the highlight package of this game, look it up now. Two blocked extra points made the difference in this one, which is a wonderful sight for those of us who think special teams isn’t emphasized enough.*

#24 West Virginia-35

First off, welcome back Big East! We’ve missed you here in the Top 25! Mind you, I sort of wonder what the computers and voters are thinking right now. The lone ranked team in the Big East isn’t the team that won the conference title. Oh, sure, West Virginia has a share of the title with Pitt and UConn, but only the Huskies are going to a BCS bowl. Heck, the Huskies beat the other two teams on that list. So why aren’t they ranked? OK, the losses to Michigan and Temple look a heck of a lot worse than a loss to LSU, but the bottom line is that West Virginia will almost certainly finish ranked ahead of a team that not only beat them in conference, but also beat them head-to-head. In fact, virtually the only way that WVU finishes below UConn is if the Mountaineers lose to unranked NC State and the Huskies pull off the upset of Oklahoma. If only one of those things happens, then West Virginia finishes ahead of UConn. Again, don’t look too hard at college football’s inner workings–you might notice the little man behind the curtain.

#25 Northern Illinois-21, Miami (Ohio)-26

Waaaaaay back at the start of the season, I mocked Miami of Ohio for being “the bad Miami.” I officially, publicly, in front of the 3 people who will read this, recant that statement. The game in which I mocked Miami was their game against the Florida Gators, a team which finished with a 7-5 record– worse than the RedHawks. The school with which Miami shares a name, Miami University (in Florida) also finished 7-5. Neither one of the Florida schools won their conference, something that Miami of Ohio did on Friday night. So, RedHawks, I’m sorry. Have fun at your extremely obscure bowl, which is named and sponsored by a company known primarily for its sexually explicit ads about website domain registration.

Meanwhile, you have to feel for Northern Illinois. They had gone on an impressive run, stuck with Illinois early in the season, and reeled off 9 straight wins before they were bested by a tipped pass at the last second in their conference championship game. At least they’re in the MAC, so very very few people actually saw them lose. Plus, they were ranked this week, which means they avoid going into 2010’s last edition of…

Tales from the Bottom 95

Congrats to UConn, who went from “the team that got killed by Michigan to start the year” to “the team that got killed by Michigan, but benefited from being in a horrible conference and will now be going to a BCS bowl game.” What a difference a season can make…I know it’s not technically about this Saturday, but I have to mention the single greatest injustice of the season. How, with 35 bowl games (not an exaggeration), was there not room for the Temple Owls in the postseason? They’re 8-4. They stuck with Penn State at Penn State. They beat UConn. That’s right, a team which went 8-4 and beat a BCS bowl participant isn’t going to a bowl game. It’s not like there’s not room somewhere, either! The Pac-10 has 6 bowl tie-ins and only 4 bowl eligible teams! Bump someone up, please! Don’t fill the gaps with mediocre AQ teams! Let Temple play!…I know, I know, follow the money. That’s why Tennessee’s going bowling and Temple isn’t…In actual football news, Illinois lost to Fresno State, thus allowing Illinois to keep their streak of .500 or worse seasons alive! Live the dream!…UCLA lost to Southern Cal in a game that lost all of its meaning when UCLA became bowl ineligible last week…Washington beat Washington State, proving nothing, but hopefully raising Jake Locker back into Heisman contention…Cincinnati followed up their 2 straight Big East titles by going 4-8 in Butch Jones’s first year…Finally, UNLV lost to Hawaii. Those poor UNLV players, leaving Las Vegas to go to Hawaii and then come back to Las Vegas. I feel really sorry for Hawaii, whose players must make a return trip next season!

That’s all for the Conference Championship breakdown. Stay tuned for the bowl previews, thoughts on Urban Meyer leaving, and the inevitable victory of Cam Newton in Heisman voting.

*-“Those of us” are basically just Virginia Tech fans and former kickers. Don’t tell anyone.