NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Well, here we are, on the eve of the game I once proposed calling the "
So -- should I be getting nervous?
Well first of all, having already clinched a losing season on my bowl picks, there's no reason for me or anyone else to be confident in my prognostication abilities right now. In the weeks after that article was published, I started thinking more about the matchup and started having some buyer's remorse. Was I reading too much into the teams' last games (remember, that column was written less than 24 hours after Texas-Nebraska)? Was I not giving
But after being out here a few days, after talking to members of both teams, after boning up on both teams' collective work over the course of the season, I simply can't get over the one glaring issue that makes it hard for me to envision the Longhorns winning: Texas' offensive line.
Obviously, a team doesn't go 13-0 by accident, and the Longhorns' offense played at a high level for much of the season. But the two times they faced an elite defensive front -- against Oklahoma and Nebraska -- they simply could not protect McCoy. The Sooners sacked him four times; the Huskers nine. Now they're going up against an Alabama defense known first and foremost for its endless array of blitzes and ability to disguise them. I don't doubt Texas offensive coordinator
At Sunday's media session, I spent some time at Texas center
But what do I know? I'm the guy who picked Arizona to beat Nebraska.
No matter what the result had been Monday night, there would have been detractors. If the game had been 43-42, they would have complained that the teams don't play defense. Instead it was 17-10, so now the game was "boring." Was it sloppy at times? Sure. There were penalties. There were turnovers. Both quarterbacks missed open receivers. A TCU player dropped a sure touchdown. But these things happen in lots of games. During the third quarter, when the score was 10-10 and neither team could seem to get anything going, I turned to the writer seated next to me and said: If you played this exact same game but put SEC uniforms on the two teams,
I'm not naïve to the fact that Boise State doesn't have the same caliber of athletes as Alabama or Texas. Would the Broncos go 14-0 playing an SEC or Big 12 schedule? I highly doubt it. But all the Boise States of the world have ever wanted is a "shot." And something like 70 percent of you think there should be a college playoff. You don't have to beat a team four-out-of-seven in a football playoff, you just have to beat it once. And the way the Broncos played defense Monday night, they could have shut down just about anybody. They held a team that went in averaging 256 rushing yards to 36. That's just unbelievable.
I used to believe a team like Boise was pretty good, but could never beat a big-time team in a championship setting. I can't possibly say that now. Any team that plays tough, physical defense gives itself a chance to win on any given night. In this case, the Broncos' offense wasn't faring much better than TCU's, and it needed that fake punt to provide the spark to get it over the hump. But contrary to John's opinion, I don't think Boise won "on a trick play." Boise won with defense. I guarantee you whoever wins Thursday night's game will do so much the same way.
Well first we have to get to that point.
Forget the system for a second. This is about Boise's reputation as a program. The Broncos are in the midst of a remarkable phenomenon similar to what Miami and Florida State did in the '80s: They're building a national reputation out of nothing. By no means is it an exact parallel. For one thing, those teams were independents that played rigorous regular-season schedules; Boise still plays just one or two truly respected opponents all season. The Broncos also lack the advantage Miami had in the old bowl system of being able to play the No. 1 team in its backyard. The Hurricanes' upset of Nebraska in the '84 Orange Bowl gave that program immediate and lasting respect as a truly elite team.
Boise has been climbing the mountain with its Fiesta Bowl victories to the point where it may now get such an opportunity, but so much would be riding on that one game. If the Broncos were to get obliterated, they'd probably never get that opportunity again under the present system. And it would certainly hurt the cause of their brethren pushing for a playoff. It's well and good to say the smaller-conference teams should be able to play for the national championship, but if one of those teams finally gets the chance only to lose 42-10, it could set back that movement many years.
No, actually, I think it would do the opposite. I know the
"I'm going to be around for a while, and Will understands that's good," Brown said at Tuesday's Media Day. "He's a very highly paid defensive coordinator and he's doing a good job with it ... But very honestly the decision was not made for today or tomorrow, it was made for down the road, and he and I are good with that."
If anything, Brown is far more content now than he was when he won the 2005 title. If you think back to that time, Brown had spent most of his first eight seasons carrying the burden of proving he was more than just "Mr. February," that he could "win the big one." He had more than his share of detractors. He also had to have knee-replacement surgery right after that season to alleviate the excruciating pain he would feel after standing on the sidelines for three hours. That following summer, he confided to me and a few other writers in his office that he'd contemplated calling it quits after that title season. But the surgery did wonders for him, his program has never been more stable, and oh yeah, by the way, he just got
I feel bad for the Bearcats and their fans that their dream season ended in such nightmarish fashion, both with
Cincinnati reminded me very much of Oklahoma last year: A team with an exciting, pyrotechnic offense but a shoddy defense. Just like those Sooners, the Bearcats eventually went up against an opponent capable of slowing down their attack. Perhaps if the Kelly thing hadn't happened, they would have played a more competitive game against the Gators as Oklahoma did the year before, but realistically,
The problem is, voters will always put a premium on going undefeated, particularly in a BCS conference. It goes against convention to start dropping a team toward the end of the season without it losing a game, especially when there weren't even any one-loss teams left by the week leading into Championship Saturday. I do think voters recognize the importance of defense, and that's why they had TCU above Cincy in their polls, but it's hard to predict which team the computers would have spit out had Texas lost. It could have been the Bearcats. And it could have been just as ugly.
I'm sure there will be many articles written in Nebraska over the next eight months about the Huskers' offense looking to carry over its momentum from the bowl game, but that's being simplistic. You don't fix an utterly inept offense in one game. All of the factors Scott listed, plus some new wrinkles the coaches put in (the Wildcat; more designed runs for
Having said that, I don't disagree that Nebraska could be a top 10 team next season, for the simple reason that they weren't that far off from it this year. The Huskers fielded one of the most dominant defenses in the country. If
I would agree with that assessment. I've felt that way all year. But does it really matter?
The SEC's reigning status as top dog wasn't the result of Outback Bowl wins. It's all about the BCS, specifically the national championship game. So far the SEC is 5-0 in title games. If Alabama wins on Thursday, the league will have won the past
But of course, that could change as soon as Thursday night. Much like the Big Ten circa 2006, right before Florida trounced Ohio State, you can tell that the rest of the country has about had it up to here with SEC hype. And understandably so. I picked up
If Texas wins, I expect nothing short of an Ohio State-level backlash. Speaking of...
Both Ohio State and the Big Ten did exactly what they needed to this year to begin restoring credibility. Because of Ohio State and Penn State's early losses, the conference largely flew under the radar this season. There was no national-title contender. But the conference produced some good, solid teams that didn't just win bowl games, but beat four top 15 opponents (Oregon, Georgia Tech, LSU and Miami). It'd be an overreaction to think that the balance of power has suddenly shifted north, but it affirms what I've said all along: These things are cyclical, and the league wouldn't stay down forever. There will always be skeptics, however, until the Buckeyes or another Big Ten team wins another national championship.
What is that you say? LSU/SEC apologists are making excuses for losing the Capital One Bowl?
So here's the deal, ladies and gents. Thursday night/Friday morning,
Let's talk then.