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Alabama-Texas title game has look of a mismatch, more bowl thoughts

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Texas -- the first-ever BCS Championship clash of 13-0 teams -- seems to warrant some grandiose, hyperbolic, "Game of the Century"-type nickname.

How about the Anticlimax Bowl? Or The Granddaddy of All Mismatches? Perhaps you prefer "Pointless in Pasadena?"

While it's true one should never assume anything when predicting a national championship matchup (see Ohio State-Miami, Texas-USC and Florida-Ohio State), it's hard to imagine two teams entering a title game having inspired such disparate degrees of confidence in their final regular-season games.

The Crimson Tide come in having annihilated defending national champion and top-ranked Florida in what was supposed to be an epic SEC Championship Game. The Longhorns, on the other hand, needed the Mother of all Miracles to survive the same Nebraska team that once lost 9-7 to Iowa State in what was supposed to be a Big 12 Championship blowout.

"I'm not sure you would say it was a good experience," Texas coach Mack Brown said of his team's 13-12 escape in Arlington. "But you have to give our kids credit for finding a way to win. I heard coach Saban say after the [Alabama]-Auburn game, 'The strong survive at this time of year.' If you look at Alabama at 13-0 and Texas at 13-0, these teams deserve a tremendous amount of credit."

Perhaps, but I'm not sure too many people view these 13-0 teams quite the same. Normally, the nation's annual BCS gripe-fest revolves around the unfortunate team(s) that got snubbed. But 98 percent of the complaints that arrived in my in-box late Saturday night and Sunday (an annual tradition this time of year) were directed at one of the teams that got in. And it wasn't Alabama.

Four years ago, Vince Young channeled a similar sense of disrespect into one of the greatest performances the Rose Bowl Stadium has ever seen, and the 'Horns knocked off heavily favored USC. Colt McCoy will presumably carry similar motivation on Jan. 7, and one should never doubt a guy who's won more games (45) than any starting quarterback in history.

But he'll have to forgive us if we're not exactly riled up with confidence after watching the Texas star endure nine sacks, toss three interceptions and very nearly commit college football's answer to Chris Webber's timeout in Saturday night's Nebraska game.

Consider: In his three games against top 40 pass defenses this season (Colorado, Oklahoma and Nebraska), McCoy has thrown for an average of 192 yards, with two touchdowns and five interceptions. (Overall: 270.2 yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs). Alabama's pass defense ranks seventh nationally.

Texas fans could justifiably counter that their defense held the Huskers without a touchdown and has been stellar in all but one game (Texas A&M) this season. The 'Horns rank third nationally in total defense -- one spot behind Florida, the same team Alabama just burned for 490 yards Saturday.

"I think you read much too much into one game," Nick Saban said of Texas' Saturday-night escape. "Consistency in performance is the most difficult thing in this day and age. You don't always play your best. We played a game like that at Auburn [a last-minute 26-21 win on Nov. 27], then came back and played a great game the next week against Florida. Its tough to hit on all cylinders all the time, but the great teams find ways to win."

He's right about that. Obviously McCoy -- a long-proven superstar who had little control over the fact his offensive line was helpless to stop the Surge of (Ndaumkong) Suh on Saturday -- and the 'Horns should be commended for going 13-0, no small feat.

Unfortunately, Texas managed to go all 13 games without delivering a single eye-opening performance like Alabama's win over Florida. It never had the chance. Its highest-ranked opponent in the final BCS standings was No. 19 Oklahoma State. Conversely, Alabama beat three teams in the top 15 (No. 5 Florida, No. 11 Virginia Tech and No. 12 LSU).

Yet with all that said, I can't authoritatively argue that one of the three other remaining undefeated teams (Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State) belong in Texas' place.

The Horned Frogs, which finished fourth in the final standings (a notable accomplishment considering no previous non-BCS team had finished higher than sixth), seem to be the popular choice. They certainly pass the eyeball test. TCU was incredibly dominant down the stretch, winning its last seven games by an average 31.1-point margin.

But the Horned Frogs played just six teams that finished .500 or better (8-5 Clemson, 7-5 SMU, 7-5 Air Force, 10-2 BYU, 9-3 Utah and 6-6 Wyoming). By comparison, Alabama and Texas both played nine. That's why they're facing 13-0 Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl rather than 13-0 Alabama in Pasadena.

The fact that Cincinnati, even with its Big East affiliation, still finished behind TCU in three major human polls (AP, coaches and Harris) shows the amount of importance voters place on quality defense. The Horned Frogs rank No. 1 nationally in that department for the second straight year. The high-flying Bearcats are incredibly fun to watch, never more so than in Saturday's 45-44 shootout against Pittsburgh, but nobody would mistake Cincinnati's defense for that of the Bengals.

They did, however, play a much tougher schedule than TCU's, facing seven foes with seven or more wins. Four of the six BCS computers ranked the Bearcats ahead of Texas, boosting them to No. 3 in the final standings -- potentially one missed Texas field goal from playing for the crystal trophy. If Cincy entered Saturday possibly hoping for a date with then-No. 1 Florida ... well, they're getting it, albeit in the Sugar Bowl.

"I can tell you the kickoff specialist from Nebraska is not getting a Christmas card from us," joked Bearcats coach Brian Kelly in reference to the out-of-bounds kickoff that started Texas' winning drive at the 40. "Obviously it's bittersweet. We were disappointed because we thought we might get the opportunity."

Boise State never seriously entered the title discussion despite the fact the Broncos were technically the most dominant team of all. Only one opponent (Tulsa) even came within a touchdown against them, and, as has been noted countless times, they held Pac-10 champion Oregon to eight points. Over the course of the season, however, Boise played nine of its 13 games against teams ranked 73rd or lower in Jerry Palm's expanded BCS standings.

"For us, just to be playing in two BCS games in four years -- five years ago, no one would have thought that was possible," said Broncos coach Chris Petersen.

In many ways, this is the best set of games the BCS has ever given us. For the first time in BCS history, there will be two matchups of undefeated teams (Alabama-Texas and TCU-Boise State). For the first time in three years, there will be two games pitting top-five teams (the title game and the Sugar Bowl). And for the first time since the BCS expanded to five games in 2006, all 10 berths went to top 10 teams.

Yet one can already see this ending in exactly the same fashion as the past three editions: With the SEC champion celebrating atop a stage and the rest of the country lamenting that someone else didn't get a chance.

I never thought I'd say this, but it seems the BCS suddenly has more respect for non-BCS teams than much of the general public.

From the time word of the potential TCU-Boise State Fiesta Bowl matchup first leaked Saturday, right up through Sunday's official announcement, the response from Twitter Nation, e-mailers and my fellow media members has been almost universally negative. It seems most of you feel the Fiesta did these teams an injustice by not allowing them to "prove themselves" against BCS-conference foes.

Have you guys not looked at the latest rankings? TCU is fourth. Boise State is sixth. Both are undefeated. Why would they better prove themselves by beating their originally projected opponents, Georgia Tech and Iowa -- both of which rank lower and sport two losses apiece -- than by beating each other?

"Anybody that says these teams should be playing teams from a 'bigger conference' are doing a disservice to these programs," a very defensive Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker said Sunday night. "If we're going to say these programs are on same level as others, then we shouldn't be making any distinction about who they play other than the ranking of their opponent.

"Maybe its time for people to think outside the box a little bit."

The only disservice the Fiesta Bowl did was pass up an even more compelling matchup: No. 3 Cincinnati vs. No. 4 TCU. Junker, who made a big deal in his comments about the historical significance of pitting two undefeated teams, said his game passed on the Bearcats for geographical reasons.

"Boise is almost 1,000 miles closer to our game [than Cincinnati], and while we didn't consult the Sugar Bowl, but just accessing MapQuest, Cincinnati is about 1,000 miles closer to New Orleans."

The greatest irony is this: Fans have long complained about bowls passing up teams like TCU and Boise for less-deserving "brand-name" schools with larger fan followings. Just last year, the Fiesta selected 10-2 Ohio State over 12-0 Boise and reaped a huge TV rating for it.

In this case, the Fiesta had full opportunity to take Iowa and a likely horde of 40,000 followers as its replacement pick for Texas, yet voluntarily chose higher-ranked TCU, knowing full well the Hawkeyes would not still be available once the Orange Bowl selected next -- and now the bowl is taking heat for that.

As for the conspiracy theories that BCS officials pressured the Fiesta to go all-mid major to appease the commissioners, Orrin Hatch or anybody else, Junker had a pretty blunt response: "I'll try to be nice about this, but that's the biggest load of crap I've ever heard in my life."

If you want to talk about a bowl-selection injustice, turn your attention to Jacksonville, Fla. The next time one of the bowl industry apologists tries to give the usual spin that "bowls reward student-athletes of successful teams" (actual quote), ask Miami's current student athletes whether they feel the same.

The bowl business is no different than any other business, as the Gator Bowl so gallingly demonstrated with its decision to select 6-6 Florida State over 9-3 Miami (and three other eight-win ACC teams) for its New Year's Day game. Bobby Bowden's sendoff game against his former team, West Virginia, will be a certifiable box-office bonanza. But let's not pretend anyone did this for the "student-athletes." Otherwise, the mediocre Seminoles wouldn't be basking in New Year's glory while the Hurricanes slink off to the Champs Sports Bowl and division champion Clemson drops to the Music City Bowl. (Both teams beat FSU.)

"I'm not sure any bowl in America could put together a more compelling matchup in this year's bowl season than we've been able to put together," said Gator Bowl chairman Dan Murphy. "So I will tell you from my standpoint, I'm really not sure what we would apologize for."

Actually, he's got nothing to apologize for -- but the ACC does.

To make the matchup happen, Gator Bowl officials exploited a loophole in their contract with the conference. In 2005 and 2006, when the conference title game was still in Jacksonville, the Gator twice got stuck hosting a return trip from the runner-up, so the ACC made a peace offering: The Gator would not be obligated to select the title-game loser again during the rest of the current four-year cycle. However, the ACC's printed rules also state that no bowl can select a team that finished two games lower than another available team.

In the days after Bowden's retirement announcement, once the Gator's intentions became clear, the two sides privately debated whether the bowl contract's title-game clause trumped the other rule, but it was clear to those of us covering it that the ACC either had no ground to stand on or lacked the muscle/motivation to fight the bowl. (This is the last year of their partnership.)

"The ACC does not evaluate the selection decisions made by bowl organizations," associate commissioner Michael Kelly told ESPN.com. "The only thing we confirmed to the Gator Bowl Association was the acknowledgment that, because they had previously fulfilled the contractual obligation to select the championship game runner-up back in '06, they were within their rights to [take FSU]."

You think Mike Slive would let that happen? Or Jim Delany? Not a chance. With all due respect to Bowden, the league let down several of its constituents.

• The ACC can't get anything right. The conference moved its much-maligned title game to primetime this year in a quest for more exposure, and by all accounts, it was a thrilling contest. Clemson star C.J. Spiller exploded for 233 yards and four touchdowns, but Georgia Tech drove 86 yards in the final minutes for the go-ahead score, capturing its first conference championship since 1990 with a 39-34 win.

Unfortunately, I didn't see a second of it -- nor did most of the country, I imagine -- because I was busy watching Texas play for its BCS title life at the exact same time on another channel. There was some good news for the ACC, however: 42,815 spectators attended, up from 27,360 the year before.

• While Texas celebrated its Big 12 title win over Nebraska, behind the scenes, Huskers coach Bo Pelini and his brother Carl, the Huskers' defensive coordinator, were livid over the replay decision to reset the clock to one second. This Omaha World Heraldstory provided riveting details from the tunnel. "You should be ashamed to accept that trophy!" Carl twice yelled toward the field.

• There were a few raised eyebrows when the AFCA named Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard one of its two first team All-America receivers. Not anymore. The Bearcats' senior star singlehandedly turned the tide after falling behind 31-10 against Pittsburgh, returning a kickoff 99 yards just before halftime, then catching a 68-yard touchdown to make it 31-24. He finished with 381 all-purpose yards.

• Oregon's 37-33 Civil War win over Oregon State featured no shortage of offense from both sides, but the game changed on two defensive plays. Beavers quarterback Sean Canfield was unstoppable for much of the first three quarters, but after Oregon went up 34-33 late in the third quarter, two Kenny Rowe sacks of Canfield helped keep Oregon State off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

• Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour has set every record imaginable during his four-year reign, and in last Friday night's MAC championship win over Ohio, the Chippewas star set the major-college mark for total touchdowns (passing, rushing and receiving) with 147. He also broke Chad Pennington's MAC record for career touchdown passes (101) with two against the Bobcats.

• After a celebrated start to Matt Barkley's freshman season (he was a Davey O'Brien semifinalist), the USC quarterback limped to the finish. Barkley went 20-of-37 for just 144 yards in Saturday's 21-17 loss to Arizona, dooming the 8-4 Trojans to the Emerald Bowl. Following a breakout 380-yard day against Notre Dame, Barkley threw for no more than 206 yards in his last six games.

• Meanwhile, Washington's Jake Locker turned in one of the finest performances of his career in what may well have been his final game as a Husky. Locker shredded Cal for 248 yards and three touchdowns on 19-of-23 passing in a 42-10 rout of the 8-4 Bears. Washington wound up finishing 5-7 in coach Steve Sarkisian's first season, including its most Pac-10 wins (four) in six seasons.

• This is why Skip Holtz's name keeps coming up for major programs' coaching openings (like Kansas). East Carolina (9-4) captured its second straight Conference USA title Saturday with a 38-32 win over Houston (10-3). Case Keenum tried to do his thing -- he completed a staggering 56-of-75 passes for 527 yards and five touchdowns -- but the Pirates intercepted him three times, the last one coming on a pass into the end zone in the final minute to save the win.

• The Outback Bowl made two of the more surprising choices of bowl season, first by selecting Auburn over five other 7-5 SEC teams, then by choosing 8-4 Northwestern over 9-3 Wisconsin on the Big Ten side. The Wildcats, which did beat the Badgers two weeks ago, will be making their first trip to a New Year's game since a 1997 Citrus Bowl loss to Peyton Manning-led Tennessee.

• Who could forget last year's dreadful Oregon State-Pittsburgh Sun Bowl, which the Beavers won 3-0? This year's game could be memorable for better reasons. Stanford will complete its breakout 8-4 season against preseason No. 3 Oklahoma (7-5) in El Paso, with likely Heisman finalist Toby Gerhart playing his last collegiate game against a stout, Gerald McCoy-led Sooners defense.

• For the second time in three years, Missouri fell down the Big 12's pecking order behind a team it beat. In 2007, the Orange Bowl selected Kansas over the Tigers despite their beating the Jayhawks to win the North Division. This time, the Insight Bowl chose 6-6 Iowa State over 8-4 Missouri. However, the Tigers will at least be facing Navy in the Texas Bowl, played in Houston, a recruiting hotbed.

• UCLA (6-6) made an interesting choice in accepting a conditional invite from the EagleBank Bowl in Washington D.C., to play Temple. The Bruins were the Humanitarian Bowl's No. 1 choice, but the school must have turned down the Boise game in favor of some East Coast exposure. However, Army (5-6) has first dibs on the EagleBank berth and will bounce UCLA if it beats Navy next week.

Armanti Edwards does it again.

In a quarterfinal FCS playoff matchup Saturday, Appalachian State's record-shattering quarterback threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Matt Cline with 10 seconds left to lift the Mountaineers to a 35-31 win over defending champion Richmond, the same team that ended Appalachian State's three-year run of national titles a year ago.

Edwards had a rather modest night prior to his game-winning drive, finishing with 267 yards of total offense. Still, one can never emphasize enough the magnitude of the senior star's production over the past four years. Earlier in the season, I mentioned that he became the first player in Division I history to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 4,000. The Charlotte Observer recently ran this great feature on Edwards' impact both on and off the field in Boone, N.C., and noted that Edwards' career production surpasses that of Tim Tebow -- one of the most decorated players in football history -- by more than 2,000 yards.

That puts things in perspective just a little bit.

In next week's FCS semifinals, Appalachian State (11-2) meets top seed Montana (13-0) in a clash of that level's two winningest programs this decade.

For years, college administrators have taken heat for the lack of minority head coaches in the FBS ranks. For years, the number hovered around four or five (out of 119) before four new minority hires last offseason improved the total to seven. It appears the trend is continuing for a second straight year.

With Virginia expected to announce Richmond coach Mike London, an African-American, as its next coach at a press conference Monday, it means all three new hires to date have been minorities (the others: Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Larry Porter at Memphis) with a fourth, Charlie Strong, expected imminently at Louisville. If both the London and Strong hires happen, it will increase the total number of FBS minority head coaches to 11.

In the grand scheme of things, 11 out of 120 is still an extremely low percentage (9.2 percent). But these things don't change overnight, and the fact that the number will more than double in just two hiring cycles is a notable landmark.

London and Strong would also be important hires due to the fact that after the 2008 dismissals of Washington's Tyrone Willingham and Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, Miami's Randy Shannon had become the lone minority head coach among the 66 BCS-conference schools, an incredible burden to carry.

Seven other schools still have vacancies to fill, with others likely to follow from the inevitable domino effect (which will presumably start at Notre Dame).

If you haven't seen it yet, Fresno State beat Illinois, 53-52, on Saturday in one of the craziest endings you'll ever see, with the Bulldogs' 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman catching a deflected pass and rumbling into the end zone.

Three months to the day after his punch-heard-'round-the-world, Oregon's running back returned to game action for the first time during a crucial third-quarter stretch against Oregon State and found his way to the end zone.

Mini-previews for three big bowl games:

Oregon vs. Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Jan. 1:Jim Tressel's team gets its latest chance on the big stage, and while the 10-2 Ducks aren't viewed with the same regard as previous opponents Florida, LSU and USC, it will still be an interesting litmus test due to the teams' polar opposite offensive styles. It may also serve as a "What might have been?" game for Terrelle Pryor if Jeremiah Masoli goes off.

Cincinnati vs. Florida (Sugar Bowl), Jan. 1: Last year, an amped-up Utah team took down a deflated Alabama team in this same venue. Florida would seemingly have little motivation for this one, but it is Tim Tebow's last game as a Gator. Plus the Gators' defense should be eager to redeem itself following the Alabama debacle. Figuring out how to slow down Tony Pike and Co. would fit that bill.

Alabama vs. Texas (BCS title), Jan. 7: You'll have no shortage of material to read about this matchup in the month ahead. You probably figured out which way I'm leaning from reading the top of this column. Of course, there's also no better way to make yourself look like an idiot than to call a game the Granddaddy of All Mismatches a month before it's played. Hopefully I'll still be welcome in Austin.

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