BCS, RAIDERS, GIANTS, HOF....AND MORE
The biggest fraud, as usual, was Notre Dame. Because of its national fan base, Notre Dame is on national television every week, and the Fighting Irish are a big draw for a bowl game. But the teams in recent years have been a long way from the heady years of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy.
This year, they didnít really belong in the top 20. Every time they faced a top team, they were humiliated. That trend continued when the LSU Tigers demolished them in the Sugar Bowl.
The second biggest fraud was the Big Ten. For a good part of the season, Ohio State and Michigan were rated 1-2 in the country. As it turned out, they were 1-2 only in their conference. Florida dispatched the Buckeyes easily in the championship game, and USC was nearly as dominant in the Rose Bowl matchup with Michigan.
The biggest winner was the Southeastern Conference. Coaches and fans from that region have contended that the best football is played there, and theyíre right.
The Pac-10 conference showed well, too, as USC and Cal had lopsided wins over their opponents, Michigan and Texas A&M.
The parallels between Florida and USC also show the strength of their conferences. Floridaís biggest SEC win was by 19 points, but they beat Ohio State by 27 Ė and were ahead by 20 at halftime. USCís only two losses came in Pac-10 play, and they also had some close calls, but they won easily against Michigan, Notre Dame, Arkansas and Nebraska, all ranked teams.
The best feel-good story, of course, was Boise State, which started off unranked but advanced to No. 5 in the final BCS standings with an undefeated season, climaxed by a stirring bowl game win in what was probably the most exciting game of the season, as coach Chris Peterson boldly went for a two-point conversation in overtime.
Another good feel-good story was local, as the Emerald Bowl had an exciting game as Florida State overcame UCLA, preserving Bobby Bowdenís record of never having a losing season, and before a crowd which had about 2000 standing-room-only attendees. Under the able direction of Gary Cavalli, this game has grown in importance each year and is a fixture on the bowl schedule.
The biggest losers in all this are those in the media who have clamored for a playoff system. That was never going to happen, anyway, because the university presidents and chancellors oppose it, but the steam went out of this movement with all the exciting, unpredictable bowl games.
Thatís good news. College football is fun by itself. It should not be a minor league version of the NFL.
DISASTER AVERTED: Pac-10 officials were used, lamentably, for the BCS championship game, and they had one of their signature moments early in the game. Floridaís Tim Tebow gained three yards to the Ohio State four, and then the ball came loose. Nobody knew whether it was a fumble, including the TV announcers, because Ė of course Ė the officials hadnít blown a whistle.
This is a practice that drives Pac-10 coaches crazy. This time, the referee finally let everybody know that Tebow had been down before the ball came loose, as a replay showed.
We can be thankful for small favors, though. Because Florida was so dominant, the officials didnít have a chance to make a mind-blowing decision that would have affected the outcome.
STANFORD BREAK: If you want to know why Walt Harris was fired as Stanfordís football coach, the decision of wide receivers Mark Bradford and Evan Moore to return for their senior years is a big indication.
Bradford missed almost all of the 2006 season because of a broken foot suffered in the second game. Moore had missed most of the 2005 season and also missed four games with injury last season. When healthy, they are accomplished receivers. Bradford is the leading active Stanford receiver in all categories and Moore caught 39 passes for 616 yards and six touchdowns in 2004, his last full season.
Both receivers had told teammates they would not return for their last year if Harris remained as coach, but they decided to return after hearing from both new coach Jim Harbaugh and Bill Walsh.
RAIDER INTERVIEWS: Mike Martz is the latest buzz in the search for a new head coach because he definitely knows offense, as he proved as offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams Ė and last year for the Detroit Lions. He wasnít impressive as a head coach, though. His Rams teams were seldom well prepared for a game, and he often made truly puzzling game day decisions.
Steve Sarkisian is an intriguing possibility. Heís young, 32, but not much younger than successful Raider coaches in the past Ė Jon Gruden, John Madden and Al Davis. At USC, he tutored star quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John David Booty, though itís hard to say his coaching was as important as their talent.
And, thereís one nagging question: He was on the Raiders staff as a quarterbacks coach in 2004. Why didnít they promote him to offensive coordinator, especially since they filled the position this last season with two stiffs?
BACK TO THE FUTURE: The Giantsí signing of Russ Ortiz was still another example of their Old and Older policy, but this one makes sense because itís basically a no-lose situation. Because the Arizona Diamondbacks have eaten $22 million of Ortizís contract, the Giants only have to pay the major league minimum of $380,000. If he can regain a significant part of his previous form, he could help them as a fifth starter.
On a personal basis, I hope Ortiz makes it back, because he was always one of my favorites when he pitched for the Giants. The ill-advised trade which sent him to Atlanta in 2003 was an important part of the series of bad decisions which have sent the Giants spiraling downward.
HALL OF FAME: For those of you who are interested, my Hall of Fame ballot included the no-brainer choices of Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, and I also voted for Rich Gossage, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, as I have for several years now. All three were dominant in their times, which is my standard for the Hall.
I did not vote for Mark McGwire, but not because of his link with steroids. McGwire had some outstanding power years but I donít believe he had a HOF career. There were too many weak seasons, mostly because of injuries.
Iíll probably write more on this subject for my Friday Examiner column.
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LETTERS: Iíll update this section later today.
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