We're down to three games left in the 2008 season, so while there's anticipation about Thursday's title game, there's also sorrow that the season is almost over.
Here are some points to ponder while you wait for Thursday.
That perception that the Big Ten isn't that good? Maybe it's reality. The Big Ten didn't really have any marquee non-conference wins and is 1-5 in the postseason going into Monday night's Fiesta Bowl. The league's only postseason win is courtesy of Iowa, over a South Carolina team that faded down the stretch. Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin were overmatched in their bowls. Michigan State's offense couldn't handle Georgia's defensive speed. Northwestern actually gave a nice accounting of itself against Missouri. Then again, that was a Mizzou team that obviously didn't want to be in the Alamo Bowl – and still won.
Utah sure looked good in whipping Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But for all of those who would point to that outcome and scream, "That's another example of why we need a playoff," get off your soapbox and calm down. There's no question Utah was more ready to play than Alabama. But that's because Utah was happy to be there; Alabama wasn't. Alabama was one win from the national title game. The Sugar Bowl was a nice parting gift. And as impressive as the victory was, how would Utah fare in the Big 12 or SEC? Getting up for three or four games a season is a lot easier than getting up for six or seven.
Speaking of the Utes: Given Utah's success of late – two BCS wins in the past five seasons, 49 victories, 5-0 bowl record – maybe it's time to say "It's all about the 'U' " when discussing the Utes, not Miami.
And one more thing on Utah: Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said he would put his team at the top of his ballot in season-ending voting in the coaches' poll. It won't matter: The coaches' poll is contractually obligated to have the winner of the BCS championship game finish the season No. l.
It will be interesting to see where Joe Paterno watches Penn State's 2009 season opener: Will he be on the field or in the press box? For health reasons, he was in the press box for most of this season. That's fine and dandy. But you have to admit it's weird when a head coach doesn't even set foot in the locker room at halftime, which is what happened with Paterno and Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Then again, the game was over, so maybe JoePa figured it wasn't worth his time to go downstairs for halftime. Still, it will be used against Penn State on the recruiting trail: "You want to go to Penn State? That coach is so uninvolved he doesn't even go into the locker room at halftime."
If you watched the Cotton Bowl, you might have gotten the idea that Texas Tech never had seen a blitz before. Ole Miss sent the house on nearly every down, and though Red Raiders quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns, Ole Miss controlled the second half. Ole Miss had the speed to disrupt Tech's timing, and Harrell – who threw two picks – definitely was not comfortable with people in his face and/or pounding on him.
Winners and losers
Going into Monday night's Fiesta Bowl, here is each conference's record – and the conferences they've beaten (*- leagues that still have remaining games).
Won: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West.
Won: ACC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA
Lost: Big Ten, Mountain West
Big East (4-2)
Won: ACC, ACC, Conference USA, MAC
Lost: ACC, Pac-10
Big 12 (3-2*)
Won: ACC, Big Ten, Big Ten
Lost: Pac-10, SEC
Conference USA (3-2*)
Won: MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt
Lost: Big East, SEC
Mountain West (3-2)
Won: SEC, WAC, WAC
Lost: Conference USA, Pac-10
Sun Belt (1-1)
Lost: Conference USA
Won: Big East, Big Ten, Independent, WAC
Lost: Big East, Big East, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC, SEC
Lost: ACC, Independents, Mountain West, Mountain West
Big Ten (1-5*)
Lost: ACC, Big 12, Big 12, Pac-10, SEC
Lost: Big East, Conference USA, Sun Belt, WAC
Staying with the quarterback theme, you had to be impressed with how rookie Joe Flacco played for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday – and this season. And that relates to college football this way: Flacco began his career at Pittsburgh before transferring to Delaware. If you watched Flacco this season and Pitt the past few seasons, you have to realize that the current Pitt coaching staff is clueless when it comes to coaching quarterbacks. Think about a few things: 1. Flacco, who has his team in the second round of the NFL playoffs as a rookie – and who took his team to the Football Championship Subdivision (i.e., Division I-AA) final as a college senior – wasn't deemed good enough to play at Pittsburgh. 2. Pitt's offensive performance this season, culminating in an embarrassing showing in the Sun Bowl (a 3-0 loss to an Oregon State team missing two of its three best offensive players), was below par despite the presence of star running back LeSean McCoy. 3. Pitt's offense under Dave Wannstedt the past four seasons has been an underachieving unit because no one is truly worried about the Panthers' passing attack.
Nine of the 11 conference champs have played their bowls (all but the Big 12 and SEC, obviously). Already losing were the league titlists in the Big East (Cincinnati), Big Ten (Penn State) Conference USA (East Carolina), Mid-American (Buffalo), Sun Belt (Troy) and Western Athletic (Boise State). Cincinnati and Penn State lost to other conference champs. The winning titlists have come from the ACC (Virginia Tech), Mountain West (Utah) and Pac-10 (USC). USC and Virginia Tech beat other league champs.
Of the teams that played the 20 toughest schedules – as determined by the NCAA – 12 made it to bowls. Eight already have played, but they're just 4-4. The winners were Florida State (second-toughest), Georgia (third), Kansas (tied for ninth) and Virginia Tech (18th). The losers were Clemson (12th), Texas Tech (14th), Pittsburgh (15th) and N.C. State (19th). Still to play are Oklahoma (first), Florida (fourth), Texas (sixth) and Ohio State (tied for seventh).
Of the teams with the 20 weakest schedules, 11 made it to the postseason. So far, they're 4-5. The winners were Florida Atlantic (99th), Rice (109th), Louisiana Tech (111th) and Arizona (113th), while the losers were BYU (tied for 100th), Troy (102nd), Fresno State (104th), Northwestern (108th) and Memphis (114th). Still to play are Ball State (112th) and Tulsa (118th), which meet in Tuesday night's GMAC Bowl.
OK, if there were a playoff …
Last week's column on making New Year's Day important again and adding a plus-one game created a lot of e-mail. A few folks did say nothing short of a playoff would do, and one person did ask that if there were a playoff, what did I think would be fair.
Thanks for asking: To keep the regular season sacrosanct, have a playoff involving only conference champs.
There are 11 leagues, and a playoff would be quite easy with 11 teams. Using something like the BCS standings, seed the teams first through 11th. The top five seeds get a bye, and everybody plays the second week.
Using this season's final BCS standings as a guide, the teams getting a bye in the first weekend would've been Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Utah and Penn State. The first-round games would've been Boise State-Troy, Cincinnati-Buffalo and Virginia Tech-East Carolina. In the second round, Oklahoma would've met the Virginia Tech-ECU winner, Florida would've met the Cincinnati-Buffalo winner, USC would've played the Boise-Troy winner and Utah would've played Penn State.
In the semifinals, it would've been the winners of the games involving Oklahoma and USC on one side and the Florida and Utah games on the other.