The BCS games are lousy, at least a majority of them. Northern Illinois, Wisconsin are Louisville are in. LSU, Oklahoma and Texas A&M are out. Louisiana Tech won nine games and isn’t in a bowl, yet Georgia Tech has a losing record and is one.
There are issues.
It’s ridiculous that all it takes are six wins to become bowl eligible. It’s ridiculous how watered down the bowls have become.
And yet ... bowl season is thrilling, a time to celebrate college football, a special few weeks when there’s a game on almost every night, many that just become the background sound to whatever else is going, but more than enough that are worth watching.
It’s overkill, and it’s still wonderful. And it begins, astoundingly, on Saturday, a full 10 days before Christmas, with a potentially wild shootout between Nevada and Arizona in the New Mexico Bowl, a matchup that pales in comparison to Alabama against Notre Dame in terms of quality but might far exceed the BCS title game in terms of entertainment.
Basically, neither team can play a lick of defense. It won’t appeal to the purist, but with nothing at stake other than our collective attention span, who cares?
Both teams finished 7-5, and both score a lot. The Wolf Pack averages 37 points per game, but allows a woeful 32.5. The Wildcats, meanwhile, score 37.3 points per game and allow 34.3. Seriously, there might be 120 points scored in the New Mexico Bowl. Seriously, the New Mexico Bowl might just be one of the most intriguing games of them all.
But seriously, the teams are pretty irrelevant, so while it may be wildly entertaining, there are four other bowls that should also be appointment TV but have more meaning. And for meaning, it gets no bigger than the BCS Championship Game between the Tide and Fighting Irish, which this year will be played in Miami on Jan. 7.
“We are very excited about coming to South Florida and I congratulate Notre Dame and Coach (Brian) Kelly and his players on an undefeated season and their number one ranking,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said when the boll pairings were announced. “They are a fantastic team and it’s always a special occasion to play against Notre Dame, and especially for the national championship.”
Intrigue starts with the programs involved, two with perhaps the most storied histories of them all. Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska may beg to differ, but there’s no arguing that Notre Dame and Alabama have traditions as rich as anyone’s.
But intrigue goes well beyond just the names of the schools involved.
Alabama and Notre Dame played the best defense of anyone all season, both allowing less than 11 points per game. And because both play such strong defense, there’s a decent chance the game will stay close. The Tide average a lot more points than the Irish (38.5 to 26.8), so if there’s going to be a blowout it figures Alabama will be the one winning big, but Notre Dame had no trouble handling the prolific offenses of Oklahoma and USC and the powerful Stanford attack so might just be able to slow ’Bama enough to pull off a surprise.
Page 2 of 4 - Three days before the championship game is the Cotton Bowl, which pits two teams that very easily could have played in BCS bowls.
Oklahoma and Texas A&M each lost just twice, and to brand-name opponents. Oklahoma’s losses came against Kansas State and Notre Dame, while A&M’s were against Florida and LSU. And like Nevada and Arizona, the Sooners and Aggies should score a lot of points. The difference is the level of play. A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel just became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma QB Landry Jones has been in the Heisman conversation for the last two years, and might be the QB chosen highest in next April’s NFL Draft.
There’s also a Cotton Bowl subplot with A&M, long a part of the Big 12, now a member of the SEC going back to play one of its old conference rivals.
If there’s one game that features teams every bit as good as the BCS title game -- maybe even better -- it’s the Fiesta Bowl.
The only reason Notre Dame is playing Alabama is that the Irish were lucky to survive Pitt when they had a bad day, while Oregon and Kansas State, each who lost once, couldn’t escape defeat on the nights they for some reason didn’t have the right energy. And the only reason Alabama is playing Notre Dame is the Tide play in the SEC, which garners more respect than either the Pac-12 or Big 12, and so were rated highest among one-loss teams.
But no one, when playing their best, has looked better -- or more terrifying -- this fall than Oregon. Notre Dame and Alabama must be thrilled to be playing each other and not Oregon. Kansas State, meanwhile, doesn’t have the same sex appeal as Oregon, but does everything well -- including leading the nation in turnover margin -- and has plenty of star power, Heisman finalist Collin Klein at the forefront.
Finally, with New Year’s Day such a dud, there’s the Chick-fil-a Bowl on New Year’s Eve between LSU and Clemson.
It’s a classic battle of good offense (Clemson) against good defense (LSU), and whichever team can impose its will on the other will be the victor.
It’s also a game that’s about vindication. Both Tigers have two losses, and both had higher hopes when the season began. Clemson’s Tigers were hoping for a return to the Orange Bowl after last year’s humiliation at the hands of West Virginia, while LSU’s Tigers were hoping for a return to the BCS title game after falling short against Alabama last year.
And it’s a game with huge star power, Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins at the forefront for Clemson, and Kevin Minter and Barkavius Mingo at the forefront for LSU.
Page 3 of 4 - Overkill? Yeah, there are too many bowls. But bowl season is a whole lot of fun. And it all starts on Saturday when Arizona and Nevada take center stage.
What We Learned
Heisman voters haven’t always made the wisest choice.
Far too often a very good player on the best team gets the award when there are more deserving players on lesser teams. Far too often, team success is weighted too heavily for an award that should be based solely on the merits of the individual.
For a recent example, look no further than Mark Ingram over Ndamukong Suh and Toby Gerhardt in 2009 – Suh was the most dominant player in college football that year, and Gerhardt was statistically a better running back than Ingram. But Ingram played for Alabama, which was on its way to the national title.
Heisman voters may be getting wiser.
Last year Robert Griffin III was chosen even though Baylor was nowhere near the top of the polls. And this year, with Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel winning the award and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o finishing second, the most encouraging signs yet that there’s a growing openness among voters emerged.
Manziel is the first freshman to win the Heisman.
“I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid,” he said on Saturday after his name was announced as the winner, “running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad.”
Herschel Walker, though perhaps deserving in 1980 when George Rogers won the award, was third. Similarly, Michael Vick was third in 1999, when Ron Dayne was given the Heisman more for career achievement than an outstanding year. That’s it for freshman finishing in the top-five prior to this year.
And it was only five years ago that the first sophomore won the award. After Tim Tebow was awarded the Heisman in 2007, two more sophomores followed in succession -- Sam Bradford and Ingram -- showing that once one won the award a threshold was broken. There likely won’t be a succession of freshmen to win the Heisman given the inherent inexperience that comes with being a first-year player, but at least now there’s been one and the barrier has been knocked down.
Still, the more important finish was Te’o in second.
Defensive players have been far too ignored by Heisman voters. Only one primarily defensive player -- Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 -- has ever won the Heisman, and he was significantly helped by returning punts and playing enough offense to have caught 25 passes and scored two receiving touchdowns.
But Suh finished fourth in 2009, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was fifth last year, and now Te’o was second -- and rightly so given that Te’o is solid but not spectacular the way Suh, Mathieu and Woodson were.
Page 4 of 4 - Next year, don’t be surprised to see South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney get serious consideration, and maybe even win.
Little by little, defensive players are getting more consideration. And in an era when offense is becoming all about quarterbacks, with many like Manziel, Tebow and 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton not only their team’s passer but also their top running threat, it’s important that defensive players be recognized for their contribution as running backs and wide receivers fade from consideration.
No, Heisman voters haven’t always collectively made the wisest choice. But recent votes, and this year’s in particular, show a growing wisdom evidenced by inclusiveness.
Game of the Week
There are only three games between now and next Friday, and at first glance Arizona against Nevada is far and away the best of them.
But a closer look reveals that the Poinsettia Bowl, featuring BYU and San Diego State, is also intriguing.
For starters, both teams are good.
BYU s just 7-5, but the Cougars lost by just three to Notre Dame, hung with Oregon State and nearly beat both Boise State and Utah. San Diego State, meanwhile, is 9-3 and beat Boise State.
And then there’s the matchup itself.
BYU has one of the best defenses statistically in the country. The Cougars allow just 14.7 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally, and their rushing defense is second to only Alabama, allowing 84.25 yards per game.
San Diego State doesn’t do anything quite as well ad BYU plays defense, but while the Cougars are pedestrian on offense (29.2 points per game), the Aztecs put up an average of 35.1 points, and their rushing attack that will go head-to-head with that stout rushing defense averages 229.2 yards per game.
“We are looking forward to facing San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl,” BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said when the matchup was announced. “I have a lot of respect for (SDSU coach) Rocky (Long). ... San Diego State is a very good team that won a share of the Mountain West title this season. Our team is anxious for the opportunity to continue to improve playing against a quality opponent.”
Styles make good games, and the clash of styles between BYU and San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl has potential.
My Top 10
The next poll will be released after the last game is played.
Eric Avidon can be reached at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericavidon.