Saturday, January 06, 2007


A B-1B bomber will fly over Glendale during the national anthem before the BCS title game between Florida and Ohio State, according to the AP.

The plane will then race Percy Harvin.

Currently the underdog in contest with Harvin.


I am a huge Cubs fan. As such, I know quite a bit about unfulfilled potential.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this was Corey Patterson. For a few years, he was the golden child. All of us Cubs fans knew Corey Patterson was going to be the next big thing. He had a good half of a season in 2003 before hurting himself and then ... then ...

Well, he had potential.

Oozes potential.

Eventually, Patterson had to go. He was traded to Baltimore, where he's had some more success.
You can't trade players in college football. If you could, Chris Leak would have been a prime candidate several times. Why? Because, like Patterson, he had potential. Success? Eh, that was mixed. But the kid had potential!

How much potential? South Carolina fans will remember feeling like clubbed baby seals in 2004 when, with the hopes of beating the Gators at an all-time high because Florida had been humbled by Mississippi State, Leak threw six touchdown passes in a 48-14 annihilation in Gainesville.

Enough potential to beat USC.

Even before then, I thought Chris Leak was a great player. On that night, after I finished wanting to feed him to a pack of wild wolves, I became a Chris Leak fan.

But, like Patterson, he continued to be potential. Potential, potential, potential. And not much else.

The problem was partially that he kept getting bounced from system to system. The other problem was that, in the first year of Urban, Leak didn't have Tim Tebow to come in, shatter the rib cages of defenders on a QB draw, then hand the ball back to Leak, who then flings it 20 yards down the field.

This season has been different. No. 12 has guided Florida to a one-loss season and, with one more win, can go down with Danny Wuerffel as one of two QBs to lead the Gators to a national championship.

As Orange & Blue Hue has pointed out, Leak has very little potential as a professional QB, with his name more likely to be associated with the transaction wire than the Lambeau trophy.

But it's nice to see him with a chance to complete a redemption in the eyes of Florida fans -- at least, one would hope -- with one more game. And not just because I'm rooting for the Gators.

It's because I'm rooting for Chris Leak.

And hoping he can show that potential is worth something after all.

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Life changes in an instant.

Here I was, ready to write a witty post about how the Southern California Trojans were, according to ESPN, trying to continue their dynasty in the title game, yada yada yada. I hope it would have been a lot funnier than it sounds, but anyway...

Then I found this.

Condolences to the Danelo family and the Trojans.



It is time.

All of the appetizers have been eaten.

All of the previews have run their course.

It is time for the game.

Florida. Ohio State. For all the marbles.

Extenuating circumstances -- namely, the fact that Spurrier needs a few more years to get USC in the championship game -- Cock & Fire must now publicly declare allegiance to one of the teams in the BCS title match. There's no legal or moral obligation to do so; it's simply more fun rooting for someone in this big a game, and C&F might as well get his preference out there before getting all the preview stuff.

For an SEC fan, this is easy. Because of the gauntlet schedules that all conference teams must play, it is rare that we have a representative play for everything. But when we do, that team has acquitted itself well.

The SEC is 2-0 in national championship games in the BCS era. And with the summary executions of Arkansas and Tennessee in their bowl games this year, we have but one chance to revive our conference pride and disprove those who say the Big Ten is better than the SEC.

It is time to put petty rivalries behind us, to rise up in defense of the greatest college football league in the land.

Cock & Fire will be pulling with his team's coach on Monday.

He will be rooting for the Florida Gators.

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Friday, January 05, 2007


Despite losing their last three football games, Georgia Tech fans are on a tear of good luck. First, they got to see a competent team play West Virginia tough instead of witnessing one lead by Reggie Ball get blasted after Ball turned out to be academically ineligible for the Gator Bowl.

Now, it looks like Chan Gailey could be headed -- I can't come up with stuff this good -- to the Miami Dolphins.

And what did Chan say?

"At the same time, I have a great job at Georgia Tech."

Tech fans, let the rejoicing commence.

And with the ninth selection in the draft, the Miami Dolphins select ...

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BOWL PREVIEWS: International Bowl and GMAC Bowl

It should be illegal to have a game that sucks between the BCS bowls and the national championship game. So what do you do when you have two games that suck between the BCS bowls and the national championship game?

You probably watch them anyway.

But you don't spend too much time intro-ing the previews. And you put them all in one post. Because that's what they deserve for doing this to us.

Bowl: The International Bowl
Location: Toronto, Ontario. Yes, there's now a bowl in Canada. If not a well organized one.

We'll get around to it once we make people want to come to our country...

When: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Purported reason for existence: To match a team from the Big East with a team from the MAC. Because I always use to lie awake at night during bowl season and say, "You know what I want to see? A team from the Big East play a team from the MAC!"
Real reason for existence: To advance the Canadian goal of world domination.

Meet the new supreme leader.

Teams: Western Michigan vs. Cincinnati
Interest level: Are they playing by Canadian football rules? No? Then there is no reason to watch this game other than the mere fact that it is college football.
Key player for Western Michigan: LB Ameer Ismail, who really should not be allowed to have other players on the field with him on defense. He has (gulp) 25.5 TFL, 17 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Which makes his numbers more impressive than the Notre Dame defense as a whole.
Key player for Cincinnati: Head coach Brian Kelly, who has a chance to be the first coach to beat the same school with two different teams -- he played Western Michigan while coaching Central Michigan. Now, if he could just remember who his tailback is.
Winner: Western Michigan. There's a reason no one has done what Brian Kelly is trying to do. You can't adapt to a team -- and have them adapt to you -- in a few weeks, and then put together a successful game plan.

Bowl: GMAC Bowl
Location: Mobile, Alabama
When: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Purported reason for existence: To match a team from Conference USA with a team from the MAC.
Real reason for existence: Because no one could come up with an answer when someone in the room where these things are decided asked: "Why not?"
Teams: Ohio vs. Southern Mississippi
Interest level: NBA Fastbreak. You know that, if you can just sit through it, ESPN will eventually show something you want to watch.
Key player for Ohio: RB Kalvin McRae, who has rushed for 1,215 yards and 15 TDs and tacked on another 280 yards and one score on the receiving end.
Key player for Southern Mississippi: RB Damion Fletcher, who's run for 1,330 yards and 9 TDs.
Winner: Southern Mississippi. Because teams from the Katrina zone seem to be on a roll this year.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007


Excerpts from Nick Saban's first press conference as the head coach of Alabama:

I know there's tremendous expectations here for what you would like to accomplish with this football program. I can tell you that however you feel about it, I have even higher expectations for what we want to accomplish.

Alabama fans want national championships? Nick Saban wants WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!!!

I want to win every game we play.

As opposed to those who want their team to lose every game they play.

Had a wonderful owner in Wayne Huizenga, who I truly respect, adore and love as a man as much as anybody except my own father that I've ever met in the world. He came and gave me that opportunity, came back on Christmas Eve, talked me into going to the Miami Dolphins when I was going to stay at LSU. He is a wonderful person, very supportive.

So when I pissed on him, I did it enthusiastically.

We will have to hire a coaching staff.

Nick Saban: Captain of the little-known elements of a successful football team.

I also think it's very important that you use the players that you have; you utilize the players that you have.

Exactly what I was trying to say.

But I think the (Dolphins are) closer to being successful now. I think that the salary cap is in much better condition. I think they have all their draft choices. They're better off now.

It might be important to note here that almost every single independent observer disagrees with this statement.

Obviously the timetable for me was there was interest after Coach Shula was dismissed. I was in the season. I said I was not interested because my commitment and focus was to our team and our players to give them the best opportunity to win each week. Somebody else got hired. That was fine. Then for a long time nothing happened. The assumption was made there was some interest on my part. But I stayed focused to our team, what we needed to do each week to give our team the best chance to be successful. ... Not until after the Indianapolis game did Jimmy tell me there was an opportunity here that people were interested in me here specifically and the possibility of me being the coach here did exist.

First of all, Saban gives about four different times when he became interested in the job. "After Coach Schula was dismissed." "After the Indianapolis game." etc. etc. When was it.

And the idea that Nick Saban, having been hounded by questions from the South Florida press, was oblivious to the idea "that people were interested in me here specifically" stretches credibility. Too bad Saban has no crebility to stretch.

Let me just say this. My next stop, you know where Lake Burton is, in north Georgia, right on the North Carolina border, Rabun County ...

Unless, of course, it's not my next stop.

... it's a lake, where they made Deliverance, if you ever saw the movie. That's where I go in the summertime. That's where I like it.

That's where they have purty teeth.

I think the players that you saw play last night for LSU were primarily players that were recruited when I was there, JaMarcus Russell, Early Doucet, Craig Davis, Dwayne Bowe, LaRon Landry. They were all players that were recruited when I was there.

So I beat Notre Dame! My first victory of 2007! Roll Tide Roll!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

BCS MYTH BUSTER #1: The Bottom Line

So it's time to go busting some myths about the BCS. Granted, this assignment is a bit easier than I thought it would be a few days ago.

(Btw, has anybody seen mgoblog's Brian? There's reason to be worried here.)

In any case, the first myth to be busted is one of the most common and one of the most deceptive: Namely, that the BCS is no better than the old system. That it still has some of the same deficiencies.

Now, I might not be able to marshall as many on-field numbers as some of my counterparts across the blogosphere. I am, after all, a journalist, and spreadsheets and the like usually make my head hurt.

And two INTs plus two fumbles makes ... ouch.

Counting, I can handle. And I count eight years since the BCS was put into place. And I count one year in which there was a split title. And, if nothing else, I am confident of my ability to count to any number lower than ten.

I counted back at eight-year intervals all the way back to 1958. At this point, essentially three polls can be used: The AP, UPI and FWAA (Football Writers Association of America.) This makes it easier to break down.

With FWAA included, the numbers go thusly:

1990-97: 3 split championships
1982-89: 0 split championships
1974-81: 2 split championships
1966-73: 2 split championships
1958-65: 5 split championships

In fairness, you can take FWAA out and get just one split in 1958-65, so you can knock that one down if you want. Nothing else changes.

So, if we take the five eight-year intervals before the BCS, at least three of those periods was worse (in terms of split titles) than under the BCS, one was equal and one was better. In other words, the BCS goes 3-1-1 against the old system. Count in the FWAA, and it goes to 4-1.

Is the system controversial? Yes. But you can't argue with the results: 87.5 percent of the time, it has produced a consensus national title.

Now, there are some that will bicker with the outcome. I think there should have been a split title in 2004, when Auburn was undefeated. Some will say there should be a split title this year because ... ahem ... Boise State beat Oklahoma.

But if the goal is a consensus national title, this system works. Better than what we used to have.

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So, Nick Saban is coming to Alabama. Never mind the fact that he said, "I'm not going to be the Alabama coach." Never mind the fact that Wayne Huizenga has treated -- and continues to treat -- Saban with far more respect than he deserves. And never mind the fact that the Miami media is already carping that Saban left "A failure. A loser. A gasbag. ... (And) a weasel."

Says it all. (HT: EDSBS)

Nick Saban is coming to Alabama. And, somehow, I can't seem to find someone who looks good.

Certainly not Saban, who's done this before. Like when he said, "I'm happy with the LSU job and not interested in doing anything else." Yeah, that would have been shortly before taking the Miami job. Of course, he had already said when he came to LSU: "If I wanted to (go to the NFL), I wouldn’t be here today. It was not my goal to be an NFL coach. It’s my goal to bring this program to the highest level."

Now, I could rant on and on about Saban lying, but others have taken care of that. (My only disagreement: I would argue that Saban, who unlike most coaches issued a categorical denial, was worse than almost everyone else listed in the article.) I could talk about Saban's prospects for winning, but I'll do that later. Here's Maisel's take.

Instead, allow me to tell you a story. Once there was a proud program who thought they had found the coach to put them back on top. That coach's name bubbled up in rumors for another job, but the coach said nothing was in the works. He told his players to "hold the rope." And then he left them -- without saying goodbye.

His name was Dennis Franchione. And Alabama has never forgiven him.

What about in this case? Alabama took a coach from a team who thought he was theirs. A coach who had denied the rumors. A coach who left -- and told his coaches goodbye by speakerphone. Coaches who, it should be said, are not in imminent danger of losing their jobs and livelihoods.

But don't weep for the Dolphins. Or, despite his poise, Huizenga. Spare me the whining, Le Batard. Miami did the same thing when they lured Saban away from LSU.

Don't get me wrong. I wanted Alabama to get a talented coach, because it's no fun for Auburn fans to watch the Tigers beat the snot out of a rival coached by someone with the football acumen of Mr. Potato Head.

Buckets of fun for everyone -- except Auburn fans.

But I wish they could have gotten someone honest. I wish Saban would have the spine to issue non-denial denials and then move on, ignoring the speculation.

And I have a question for Tide fans: Do you trust him? Can you trust him?

Be honest for a minute. What goes through your mind when Saban says "I'm not going to be the Cowboys coach." "I'm not going to be the Texans coach." "I'm not going to be the Southern Cal coach."

Don't get me wrong. He's a great one to get when you can.

But what happens next?

What happens when you're the one waiting by the speakerphone and the plane is warming up on a runway, this time in Tuscaloosa, bound for the next job he's never going to take?

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Since I will likely be at work when the Nick Saban news will be announced, I have undertaken a public service by creating two alternative posts: One if the Dolphins HC leaves for Alabama and one if he decides to turn down the Tide's offer. They appear below, with Saban taking the job in first post and turning it down in the second. (For news, I'd check the Web sites of the Miami Herald and the Tuscaloosa News.)
Welcome to Alabama. You just thought the drug cartels that run Miami are tough. But even they would wet their pants at the sight of the Tide fanbase.
Yes, if hard-core Florida fans are, as EDSBS has suggested, a komodo dragon, then Alabama's diehard faithful are Tyrannosaurs.
Don't worry. They really like you. Just make sure you win 10 games.
You remember that whole winning a NC at LSU within a few years? Yeah, you better do that here. Hint: Don't ever, ever have Leigh Tiffin kick a crucial FG. Near as we can tell, that was seen as one of Shula's more egregious crimes.
It appears that Mal Moore will have to find a third cheek, having been slapped on one by Rich Rodriguez and smacked on the other by Nick Saban. But, taking a cue from their last search, the Tide appears to have found their ... um ... individual: Nicholas Saban, the son of the legendary LSU coach.
But what made the trip back to Tuscaloosa even worse was that Mal had to pay for the jet fuel with cash because the station at the airport rejected his credit card. (Rim shot, please.)
Still on Alabama's list: Bobby Petrino, Paul Johnson and Pope Benedict XVI.
When you see the white smoke, a coach has been chosen.

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Possession receiver that.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Allstate Sugar Bowl

When it comes to bowl sponsorships that appear to have no relation whatsoever to the game's original name, you have to give the nod to the Sugar Bowl.
"The Rose Bowl, presented by Citi" has always sounded like it maintains the unbelievably superiority complex of the game itself. "We shall not call ourselves anything other than the Rose Bowl, by golly, but we will take mililons of dollars to find some other way to slap your name on our logo."
In fairness, that has little to do with the sponsor's name. It could be "The Rose Bowl, presented by the Taliban," and it would still have essentially the same effect.
We will slaughter the Big Ten infidels in our stadium.
The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl? Perfect fit. The FedEx Orange Bowl? Eh, a little odd, but at least some of their letters are orange.
But the initial sponsor of the Sugar Bowl was Nokia. Cell phones and sugar? Probably not that tasty. Now, it's Allstate.
Watch the Sugar Bowl, or he will throttle you with his bare hands.
This year, the bowl features the one player who might be able to beat Dennis Haysbert to a bloody pulp: Man-monster JaMarcus Russell, who might or might not be playing his last game, though I would submit that drafting Russell to the NFL right now would be like leaping off a building with a rotting bungee cord.

Bowl: Allstate Sugar Bowl
Location: New Orleans
When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (kickoff), FOX
Purported reason for existence: To pair two BCS teams.
Real reason for existence: To some of us, it seems as if this game was created so we could witness the humbling of Georgia on national television.
Teams: Notre Dame vs. LSU
Interest level: A monster truck contest. You want to see just how badly the cars get crushed. Substitute "cars" with "Notre Dame."
Key player for Notre Dame (on offense): QB Brady Quinn, who so deserved the Heisman despite looking like a scared little child every time a Michigan defender came within five yards of him. After that game, though, Quinn did fairly well, and on the season passed for almost 3,300 yards and 35 TDs against 5 INTs.
Key player for Notre Dame (on defense): DL Victor Abiamiri, of whom you likely have not heard because he is on the defense, leads the team with 10.0 sacks. He is also second with 14.5 TFL.
Key player for LSU (on offense): Russell, who has thrown for nearly 2,800 yards and 26 TDs, often with three or four defensive linemen draped from various parts of his body. Though he has thrown just 7 INTs this year, they seem to come in bunches.
Key player for LSU (on defense): DE Tyson Jackson, who has 10 TFL, 8.5 sacks, a pick, three broken passes and a forced fumble to his credit. Pressure on Quinn will be essential to shutting down the Irish offense.
Coaching matchup: Les "Sombrero" Miles will lead the LSU Tigers against Charlie "Wirty Dords" Weis who, ESPN will assure you, has shown himself in two years to be the second greatest coach of all time, behind Pete Carroll. Forget those Bryant, Paterno and Bowden guys.
Weis tries to decide if Miles or the trophy looks tastier.
Winner: LSU. This probably will not be the scalping that seems to be the constantly-debunked conventional wisdom (can it really be CW if everyone disagrees with it?), but it shouldn't be too close. I would not be surprised at a double-digit margin. I would be surprised at anything more than 14.

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With a crucial deadline approaching, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was engaged in intense shuttle diplomacy to try to resolve a conflict between the Miami Dolphins and the Alabama Crimson Tide over the services of coach Nick Saban.
"Ve believe ve may be able to complete negotiations before the deadline occurs," Kissinger told reporters as he shuttled between Mal Moore's plane and the Dolphins' complex. "Dis situation, though, is still dangerous, and ve vill vork diligently to zee vat can be done."
Kissinger and a bodyguard who could kill you dead.
The former secretary's plane was followed by posters on Alabama message boards, along with a balsa wood model believed to belong to Paul Bryant Jr.
Both sides remained confident, though, that they will win the battle over Saban in the end.
Alabama AD Mal Moore repeated his statement that the school was "seeking a proven head coach with a proven record of achievement who can reach the level of excellence that all of us desire.
"It might take us getting kicked in the teeth four or five times in a nationally embarassing fashion, but we will get that coach. Whomever he or she might be," Moore added.
Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga also sounded confident.
"Coach asked if we could defer the decision until 10:00 tomorrow morning and then he went into several reasons as to why he wanted to do that," he said. "I agree 100 percent with his reasons. I understand now more about what he is thinking about and so I am happy to give him until 10:00 tomorrow morning. We agreed to meet here tomorrow morning at 10:00."
But local media outlets also reported an answer from Huizenga that seemed to fly in the face of his confidence.
"Asked if Saban's obvious interest upset or disappointed him, Huizenga answered, 'I don't know yet.'"
"A Miami team source told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Saban informed the Dolphins' coaching staff earlier Tuesday that he was 'struggling with the decision,' but the staff got the distinct impression that Saban was likely to take the Alabama job."
But Kissinger urged patience.
"Things like dis take time," he said.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

BOWL PREVIEW: FedEx Orange Bowl

So, after the whole Boise State beating Oklahoma thing, this is probably anything but significant.
Suddenly, Louisville and Wake Forest don't seem quite the upstarts.
Not so plucky?
But remember where we were. Two years ago, Louisville wasn't in the Big East and was one of those medium-sized schools wanting to crash the party. This year, they are Big East champions. Granted, that's sort of like getting called the best-looking woman at Clemson. But it's still worth a BCS berth.
And then there's Wake Forest. When the ACC became a superconference, it was decided by those that know that Miami would play FSU for the conference title nine years out of ten. Two years of ACC championship games later, it has never happened. And, this year, it was Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest. Wake Forest? Yes, Wake Forest.

So this is the kind of BCS bowl we never saw coming. Granted, that means the ratings will all but certainly tank. But I'll say it now: This will be a game worth watching.

Bowl: FedEx Orange Bowl
Location: Miami
When: Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Purported reason for existence: Matching up two BCS teams.
Real reason for existence: So that, even this year, Miami residents can know what a BCS bowl feels like.
Teams: Louisville vs. Wake Forest
Interest level: The indie film you find at Blockbuster. Part of you wants to watch it just so you can say you did. And, hey, who knows? It might be good.
Key player for Louisville (on offense): QB Brian Brohm, who still led the team to an 11-1 record after the loss of RB Michael Bush in the first game of the season. Brohm threw for 2,738 yards, 16 TDs and just 5 INTs.
Key player for Louisville (on defense): What? Louisville plays defense? Apparently they do, because LB Malik Jackson has 14 TFL, 8 sacks, two fumbles forced and two recovered.
Key player for Wake Forest (on offense): QB Riley Skinner's numbers -- 150-of-227, 1,780 yards, 8 TDs and 4 INTs -- might not wow, but he has to run the peacock offense right for it to work. And he's ridden it to the ACC crown and an 11-2 record.
Key player for Wake Forest (on defense): FS Josh Gattis had five picks, 5.5 TFL, 73 tackles overall, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and seven passes broken up.
Coaching matchup: Bobby "I started the plane-tracking thing" Petrino will lead Louisville -- at least for now -- while Jim "How long will I stay" Grobe is the mastermind behind Louisville's peacock. Both have been mentioned as candidates for the Alabama job because they (a) are head coaches; and (b) have a pulse.
Winner: Wake Forest. Why not? Let's put it all on the line for this game. Wake Forest manages to slow down Louisville's offense while confusing the Cardinals D. Wake Forest wasn't supposed to do half of what they've done so far, so let's give them one more they shouldn't win. (NOTE: This could be a result of the post-Boise buzz.)

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Oh. my. gosh.

Oh. my. gosh.

I just saw the best football game of the year. Best I've ever seen? Eh, that might be a bit much after last year's championship game. But, wow.

Boise State beat Oklahoma. Beat them. Didn't win on a fluke. Didn't win on a bad call. They flat out beat Oklahoma.

I'll take that, thank you very much.

This kind of thing isn't supposed to happen. This wasn't an upset. This wasn't a stunner. This wasn't a shocker. This was nothing short of an earthquake.

Yeah, Utah beat Pitt in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. But that was Pitt, and Pitt back then was not what you'd call the best BCS-caliber team on the block. The Panthers weren't even ranked.

But Oklahoma was a bad call away from being in the national championship argument.

And Boise State beat them.

It started out with Boise State up 14-0. Then 21-10 at the half. Then 28-10. Then 28-20. Then it was tied.

And then it was over. Jared Zabransky threw a horrible pass to Marcus Walker, who was notably not wearing a Boise State uniform. So that's it. There's only about a minute left, and the game is done. The Sooners have pulled it out.

"The guys came over to me and said they believed in me and that's all I needed," Zabransky said. And so he led his team back down the field, wrapped it up with a hook and ladder, and we're into overtime.

Oklahoma scored right away on a 25-yard run from Adrian Peterson. Then, Boise State snapped to a WR in the quarterback spot, who threw a TD strike. And then they went for two ... and got it.

You couldn't have thought this up. It gives ammo to everyone. Would this game have been less special in a playoff? Maybe. Does it make the case that the Broncos deserve a chance to take on the other "big boys"? EDSBS thinks so.

What say you, ABC, who decided to pass on the BCS because they wouldn't give in to your playoff demands? You still feel like you made the best move? Your Rose Bowl, HUGE GAME, wasn't that good. Or, in the end, that huge. The BCS bust went bust, as it almost always does.

And Fox got the best game of the year.

The kicker? Ian Johnson proposing to his girlfriend on camera, and her saying yes.

And you're left thinking, man.

It just doesn't get any better than this.

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BOWL PREVIEW: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

Apologize in advance that this is rushed...

One of the criticisms people often have of college football's postseason is that a Cinderella story could never happen. The Fiesta Bowl proves them wrong.

It's not that Cinderella doesn't get a chance to go to the ball in the BCS. It's just that college football doesn't allow a team that it almost certainly not the best team in the country to play for the championship.

On the other hand, it does have a chance to play in one of the biggest games of the year, that being the Fiesta Bowl.

And the Fiesta Bowl actually kind of has two underdogs this year. The other? Oklahoma, whom a lot of people -- self included -- counted out of the hunt for anything other than a bowl named after an obscure corporation after the loss of Rhett Bomar.

Bowl: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
Location: Glendale, Arizona
When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Purported reason for existence: To pair two BCS teams against each other.
Real reason for existence: To test the retractable roof on the new Cardinals Stadium, since everyone knew the Cardinals wouldn't play in January and they didn't want it to fall in the middle of the NC game. Jared Zabransky is expendable; Troy Smith isn't.
Teams: Boise State vs. Oklahoma
Interest level: David vs. Goliath. If it's an upset, great. If not, though, it could get ugly.
Key player for Boise State (on offense): RB Ian Johnson, who ran for 1,613 yards and 24 TDs. In 11 of the team's 12 games. Not bad, that Johnson kid.
Key player for Boise State (on defense): DT Andrew Browning has rung up 10 TFL, 8 sacks and a blocked kick.
Key player for Oklahoma (on offense): QB Paul Thompson, who threw for 2,434 yards and 20 TDs against 8 INTs during a season when he was widely expected to implode on the field. Instead he guided the team even after Adrian Peterson went down. Peterson returns, but Thompson might have to compensate if the running back is rusty.
Key player for Oklahoma (on defense): Rufus Alexander stacked up 101 tackles, 10.5 of those for losses. He also had two sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and two recoveries.
Coaching matchup: First-year Boise State coach Chris "So, Hawkins was the genius?" Petersen against Bob "I hate car washes" Stoops. Stoops has been there before; judging from some performances, though, that's not necessarily a good thing.
Winner: Oklahoma. But the game will be a lot closer than most people think.

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BOWL PREVIEW: The Rose Bowl Game

Sometimes, an event is too great for one game to contain. Sometimes, it is colossal. Sometimes, it is ...
... THE ROSE BOWL. Which is not the same thing as THE ROSE BOWL GAME. Which, ESPN will have you know, IS THE GREATEST FOOTBALL GAME TO EVER BE PLAYED. With the exception, of course, of Ohio State-Michigan. And USC-Texas last year. And the whole Cal-Stanford thing.

But it is THE GREATEST FOOTBALL GAME TO BE PLAYED THIS YEAR. that is located on an ESPN network. Not that that matters. At all.

Break out the liquor. We've got a great one for you today!

Yes, now that all the other BCS bowl games have migrated over to FOX -- wildly animated scoreboards, here we come! -- it appears that the only one ESPN cares about is THE MAGNIFICENT ROSE BOWL. Not that there's any corporate interest there at all.

Could this game be better than the title game? Could it be the real title game? If Michigan were to beat USC convincingly, and then Florida wins, could the AP ...

Give up. You lost the title game because you thought you could force the BCS into creating a playoff, and your plan backfired. You don't have the NC game. Fox does. Deal with it.

Is this going to be a great game? Yes. But how in the world could the AP justify jumping Florida over Michigan after a Michigan loss and two Florida wins, and then jumping Michigan over Florida after a Florida win? It's a great game. But it won't decide anything other than who wins the Rose Bowl.

Bowl: The Rose Bowl Game
Location: Pasadena, California
When: Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, ABC
Purported reason for existence: To match the Pac-10 champion with the Big Ten champion. Sometimes. If they ask really nicely.
Real reason for existence: To give the people of Pasadena reason to hold a parade.
Teams: Michigan vs. Southern California
Interest level: The Unit. Not the best show on television, but it's still great.
Key player for Michigan (on offense): While Chad Henne and Mario Manningham got a lot of the credit for the offense success going into the season and during the first few games of the year, RB Mike Hart has been stellar rushing this year. He's averaging 5 yards a carrying and putting up 126.2 YPG for a total of 1,515 yards and 14 TDs. Hart has to have a big day for the Wolverines to win.
Key player for Michigan (on defense): DE LaMarr Woodley has been an absolute terror this year, tallying 15.5 TFL and 11.0 sacks while forcing four fumbles and recovering four.
Key player for Southern Cal (on offense): WR Dwayne Jarrett has fewer yards than Steve Smith, but he leads in scores with 10 TDs. That's not to downplay what Smith has done, hauling in eight scoring passes himself. Give the checkmark to both of them. If Michigan only manages to slow down one, it could still be a loooong day for the Wolverines.
Key player for Southern Cal (on defense): LB Dallas Sartz is the best player you've never heard of for USC-West. But he's got the best all-around numbers on D, with 8.5 TFL, 6 sacks, five passes broken up, a pair of fumbles forced and one recovered.
Coaching matchup: Pete "Gosh, golly" Carroll will be at the controls for USC-West and Lloyd "Grrrr" Carr will lead the Wolverines. These are perhaps opposite ends of the intangible continuum. Carroll wins almost every big game he plays, last year's NC and games where Pat Cowan is the opponent's QB being the exception. Carr, on the other hand, has been repeatedly criticized for always hitting the speed bump in the trap game.
Carr: I wish I could hold this smile like that gel holds your hair.
Winner: Michigan. The shredding of the secondary by Troy Smith gives me pause, but that was a different game and the Buckeyes were on a mission. The Wolverines should be able to contain, if not hold, USC-West's offense, and the Trojans don't have an answer on defense. It'll be tight, but Blue pulls it out.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006


Some coaching notes and tidbits:

--First of all, the Falcons' loss to Philadelphia second string Sunday all but packs Jim Mora's bags. Look out, Ty.
--Alabama, having lost its senses completely, now seems ready to dish out $40 million -- no, that's not a typo -- to reel in Nick Saban. Showing a knack for understatement, ESPN labels the contract "mammoth."

Interesting bit:

A current Alabama assistant told's Mark Schlabach on Sunday morning that former coach Mike Shula's staff expects Saban to be named the Crimson Tide's new coach sometime this week.
"He's going to clean house here, top to bottom," the coach said.

Since Schlabach is apparently comfortable in quoting the coach word-for-word, meaning he had to understand the coach's statement, one can guess this isn't Joe Kines. But it's interesting that the coaches are preparing for Saban, according to a reputable media source. Those are a few elements we haven't had until now.

More guessing: A $40 million deal pans out to, what, $6 mil/year for five years with a $10 mil signing bonus? $4 mil/year for ten years? Something in between? In any case, that just goes beyond lunacy. You could hire Paul Johnson, all his coordinators, pay your recruits double what you're paying them now and still have the money to take Mal Moore, Bear Jr. and the new coach to Billy Ray's BBQ Shack with $40 million.
--Glen Mason is out at Minnesota after losing the Insight Bowl. Can't you just see the discussion in the former coaches' club?

Larry Coker: I lost my job because I couldn't win more national titles.
Mike Shula: I lost my job because a rabid fan base believed they should win the SEC every year.
Glen Mason: I lost my job because I couldn't finish off the Insight Bowl.

--For the love of all that is holy, will someone please give Charlie Strong a job? What more does the man have to do?

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BOWL PREVIEW: Capital One Bowl

The Capital One cranks up Jan. 1, and you know what that means.
Beware the Vikings.
Yes, it's time for another high-profile clash between the Big Ten and the SEC, this one taking place in Orlando. And a mascot contest. So which do you suppose gets the most space on the Capital One Bowl Web site?
Because this is so much more important.
So while you're waiting for the end of the epic struggle between Butch and Testudo, the Maryland turtle who doesn't look the least bit fearable -- at halftime -- there's some rugby or something you can watch. Oh, football.
Bowl: Capital One Bowl
Location: Orlando
When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, ABC
Purported reason for existence: To match the Big Ten runner-up with the SEC runner-up.
Real reason for existence: To host the mascot competition, of course.
Teams: Wisconsin vs. Arkansas
Interest level: The mascot challenge or the football game? Oh, the football game. In that case, Capital One commercials -- not the main event, but still entertaining.
Key player for Wisconsin (on offense): RB P.J. Hill, who has more than 1,700 yards and 16 TDs in all-purpose offense. That includes an average of almost 128 YPG on the ground.
Key player for Wisconsin (on defense): Nobody really cries out statistically on this team, but that doesn't meant they aren't impressive. Opponents are averaging 11.9 points on them, and the team has 13 INTs. So give the whole unit a checkmark.
Key player for Arkansas (on offense): RB/QB/WR/OC/DC/HC Darren McFadden, who pretty much runs things for the Razorbacks. He has 1,558 yards and 14 TDs on the ground, 149 yards and an additional TD receiving, and is 6-8 for 72 yards, 3 TDs and one INT as a quarterback.
Key player for Arkansas (on defense): LB Sam Olajubutu. In addition to having the best name perhaps in any New Year's Day bowl, Olajubutu leads the team with 112 tackles. Ten of those, btw, are for a loss and Olajubutu has 2.5 sacks. But again, a stout unit that has allowed only 18.4 PPG -- and that's counting a 50-point embarassment against USC in the first game of the year.
Coaching matchup: Brett "I'm new here" Bielema, who led the Badgers to an 11-1 season in his first year on the sidelines and could put together one of the nicest seasons the casual fan is unaware of, against Houston "Is the Alabama job still open?" Nutt, who has trouble controlling his players' parents.
Winner: Arkansas. It's tough to pick this game. Wisconsin has played no one all year, except Michigan, to whom they lost. Arkansas is on a two-game losing streak, dropping matchups with LSU and Florida. But I think this is the game for the Hogs to turn it around, being much fresher than the rusty Badgers. Close game, but Arkansas wins.

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