Cavalcade of Whimsy - 10 Bowl Storylines
Posted Dec 5, 2006

Can P.J. Hill and Wisconsin show that the Big Ten is better than it looked all year? Will Florida earn its big break? The big storylines going into the bowl season, why Michigan didn't get into the title game, the Heisman vote and more in the latest Cavalcade of Whimsy.

By Pete Fiutak    What's your beef? ... E-mail with your thoughts  
Past Whimsys
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If this column sucks, it’s not my fault … This was the second-ranked column for most of the season, but when push came to shove, the voters didn’t want to read it again on January 8th.

Out of sight, out of their minds … Don’t let anyone get away with the lazy analysis of “Michigan played two weeks ago, so everyone forgot how good it is,” and/or, “if Michigan vs. Ohio State was played on Saturday, the voters would’ve put the Wolverines number two.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, and has Harris Poll voter Jim Walden, who put Michigan number three and Florida number one would say, “nope.”

If the Michigan-Ohio State game had been played this last weekend, the voters would’ve put the Wolverines third. They just assumed that they could put Michigan two after the close loss and everything was going to work itself out. It didn’t happen that way, so they corrected the system, for right or wrong, a few weeks after the fact.

No one forgot how good Michigan is. No one is even saying Michigan isn’t the second best team in America. The final BCS ranking  was a statement made by the voters that they didn’t want to see a rematch and/or they believe a team that didn’t win its conference shouldn’t have a shot at the national title. The voting had nothing to do with Florida. No one actually thinks this Gator team is the be-all-end-all (more on that in next week’s column). This was a vote against something, not for a team, and there’s a big difference. However it worked out, it's another black eye for the system.

There’s no truth to the rumor that ballots are being counted by Lindsey Jacobellis … Didn’t anyone learn anything from last year when Reggie Bush won the Heisman but Vince Young turned out to be the signature player of 2005? Of course, the Heisman balloting is done a month before the bowl games are over, but the votes shouldn’t be accepted until after the regular season is actually finished. Several votes were in before last weekend’s games were played, and the Heisman people shot out e-mail reminders last Friday suggesting to vote as soon as possible (but they did acknowledge that voters might be waiting until after the December 3rd games were done).

What if Darren McFadden ran for 294 yards and four touchdowns in a scintillating Arkansas win over Florida? What if Colt Brennan threw seven touchdown passes against Oregon State? What is Steve Slaton went ballistic in a West Virginia win over Rutgers? I’m not saying they’d buck Troy Smith out of the number one spot, but finishing second and third is still a very big deal.

Also, feel free to completely dismiss and All-Conference or All-America teams put out before last weekend’s games from publications looking to be first rather than right.

The 23rd flavor - love … Here’s the real Dr. Pepper Million Dollar Challenge: get more then 57 people to show up for an ACC Championship game between Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.

“I hearby designate as my First Choice  Troy Smith  to receive the Heisman Memorial Trophy awarded to the most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2006. To the best of my knowledge he conforms to the rules governing this vote.” … I actually cast my Heisman ballot at 3:19 AM EST on Sunday after Colt Brennan threw a bounce pass on the Hawaii final drive. I can’t believe how much I agonized over who I was going to put in the second and third slots with Brennan, Darren McFadden, John Beck, Brady Quinn and Mike Hart all on my personal list, but since I could only pick two …
First Place – Troy Smith, QB Ohio State. He was the signature player of the year. Never faltering and never imploding, he came through despite shouldering all the pressure of the season, and the wacky Columbus faithful, by himself. The Michigan game ended all doubts.

Second Place – Mike Hart, RB Michigan. The statistics didn’t tell the entire story. Because of his workhorse, 100-yard efforts game in and game out, the passing attack opened up time and again allowing Mario Manningham, and others, to see single coverages at key times. He was also instrumental in helping the Wolverines finish second in the nation in time of possession, which was obviously a huge boost for the defense. 142 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State didn’t hurt.

Third Place – Colt Brennan, QB Hawaii. There’s no way anyone out there watched him play more than a half, so I felt the need to stick up for him. Yeah it’s the system, yeah it’s the WAC, but he’s the real deal. 53 touchdown passes and 4,990 yards, while completing 72% of his passes, is impressive no matter what league you play in. If it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone in the WAC, Sun Belt, or other non-BCS league do it?

However, no one asked my opinion on anything … Putting Paul Maguire on the sideline TV crane thing is like banishing that weird, slightly inappropriate, unshaven, unshowered uncle to the basement on Thanksgiving weekend with a tray of cookie bars, a leftover turkey sandwich and a remote control. Wait a minute, my sister-in-law kept suggesting that I go sit in the basement over Thanksgiving weekend to "relax and unwind." Come to think of it, people kept coming downstairs with food in one hand and Fabreze in the other. It also seemed odd that they checked the batteries in the remote three times.

And worst of all, the bars close at one … During a late third quarter lull of every bowl or conference championship game, every announcing team feels the need to kiss up to whatever city they're in saying, “(insert bowl/championship site here) did a great job of hosting this game showing first-class hospitality the entire week.”  Just once I’d like to hear someone go off. “This city was awful. It had a weird combination of smells alternating between beet soup and wet dog, the Starbucks ran out of soy for my extra-hot, no foam, half caf, three Splenda latte, and there wasn’t any place to get a rub and a tug for less than $100.”

Even so, the hit was really, really cool … Obviously you can’t fine college players, but before someone gets really hurt, something has to be done about the helmet-to-helmet shots like the one USC LB Rey Maualuga nailed UCLA QB Patrick Cowan with in what appeared to be a tone-setting moment for both teams in the 13-9 Bruin win. Use replay to confirm before punishment is metered out, and then throw the player out of the game and suspend him from the next one.

How Richard Kline, in the role of Larry Dallas, isn’t in the TV Hall of Fame is one of the world’s great tragedies … Since they don't get paid, I have a personal rule to never rip on the players above and beyond simply criticizing their play. With that said, watching Georgia Tech QB Reggie Ball throw is like watching and old episode of Three’s Company. Every week there's a new, quirky, bizarre, could-only-happen-here misunderstanding that should be figured out and resolved right off the bat, but isn't. Still, you return either to watch Suzanne Somers in a tight t-shirt or Calvin Johnson in single coverage.

At least Greg Schiano doesn't have to watch MPC Computers Bowl tape this off-season… At the end of the day, Rutgers is still Rutgers. How much do you hate the bowl setup if you’ve lived and died with the Scarlet Knights all year? Rutgers took West Virginia to triple overtime coming agonizingly close to going to the Orange Bowl to play Wake Forest, but the Mountaineers pulled it out banishing Ray Rice and company to the Texas Bowl against Kansas State. Worse yet, it’s on the NFL Network, which still doesn’t have a deal with the New York City cable market meaning about 14 people will watch this with Cal and Texas A&M playing at the same time in the Holiday Bowl.

But it's not worse than when someone says they don’t want fries and then eats half of yours … Sorry, but your team isn’t big-time if another program can hork your head man. The Big East has to be particularly grouchy at everyone thinking they can swoop in and take their coaches. Cincinnati’s Mark Dantonio is off to Michigan State, Louisville’s Bobby Petrino, Greg Schiano, West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez and South Florida’s Jim Leavitt were all on Miami and Alabama's think-about lists.

The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
Depending how you look at it, the bowls can be an end to the season or the start to the next year and a time for programs to identify their places in the college football world. Here are ten big storylines going into one of the most glorious times of the sports year.

10. Can all the sucky matchups produce decent games?
I’m trying, baby, I’m trying. I’m supposed to love all 119 college football teams equally, but to be honest, it’s hard getting jazzed up for the New Mexico Bowl between New Mexico and San Jose State and the Motor City Bowl between Middle Tennessee and Central Michigan. I’m the only person outside of Boise and Winston-Salem who’s excited to see Boise State and Wake Forest get national stage games, and even the national title is likely to bring out little more than a polite nod from the rest of the sports world with Ohio State vs. Florida not quite in the same stratosphere as the titanic USC – Texas Rose Bowl of last season. There were a lot of bad teams in a stepping-stone year, and that produces mediocre bowl matchups, but that doesn’t mean the games won’t be entertaining … hopefully.

9. Next step or step out time for California and Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl, and springboard time for Wisconsin and Arkansas in the Capital One.  
Cal is the Battlefield Earth of teams with a big budget and lots of flash and special effects, but has a plot that goes nowhere. For all the bells and whistles, it’s time Jeff Tedford’s team actually beats a good team on a national stage. Texas A&M spent most of the year fattening up on cupcakes before taking the Dennis Franchione era to another level by beating Texas. A win over the Bears would send expectations sky-high for next year. On the topic of hot teams, Wisconsin and Arkansas will be ranked in everyone’s 2007 preseason top ten, so the winner of the Capital One Bowl will likely get the recognition and buzz West Virginia received coming into this season because it’ll be a big …

8. … Momentum builder
Coaches love bowl games because 32 seasons are finishing up with splashy wins. West Virginia lived off the Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia to be everyone’s “it” team. Wisconsin came of age in a Capital One Bowl win over Auburn and went 11-1. Missouri’s fan base and program were energized after a thrilling win over South Carolina. Which teams build for 2007 of a win?

7. All the lame ducks
Greg Schiano isn’t taking the Miami job, but that doesn’t mean he's not still a red-hot commodity. Rich Rodriguez is even hotter on the rumor mill. Even if those two stick and their schools, Miami, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Arizona State and Alabama all have big changes to deal with this off-season. How will they respond?

6. Who’s into it and who isn’t?
Only week one games are harder to predict than the bowls. Who’s going to be rusty after the long layoff? Who’s going to benefit most from healing up the bumps and bruises? Who’s going to take the game seriously, and who’s going to enjoy all the free stuff and the spiffy vay-cay? You can have all the inside info and all the on-field analysis in the world, and you’ll still get left fielders like last year’s Emerald Bowl when a mediocre Utah team applied an atomic wedgie to Georgia Tech.

5. The 400-pound gorilla is wearing burnt orange 
Fine, I’ll bring it up … the spotlight is back on Mack Brown. When one of the five most talented teams in America plays in the Alamo Bowl after gagging away the Big 12 South, the pressure is back on. If the Longhorns lose to Iowa, it might then be back to the pre-Vince days when Texas was known as the million dollar program with the ten-cent big-game head. Ask Lloyd Carr, Phil Fulmer and Larry Coker how much time a national title buys you before criticism kicks in.

4. Time for the little guy to prove itself
Boise State gets a seat at the adult table, and while it doesn’t have to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, it can’t soil itself or the non-automatic BCS leagues will be set back three years. Hawaii (vs. Arizona State), BYU (vs. Oregon), Northern Illinois (vs. TCU), Houston (vs. South Carolina), Navy (vs. Boston College), and Nevada (vs. Miami) are all carrying the torch.

3. Is the Big Ten any good?  
Wisconsin beat almost no one this year, Penn State, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota were mediocre at best, and the rest of the non-Ohio State/Michigan teams were awful. Now’s the chance to prove the Big Two/Little Nine can actually play. The Buckeyes and Wolverines get the high-profile games while Wisconsin plays Arkansas, Minnesota plays Texas Tech, Purdue plays Maryland, Iowa plays Texas and Penn State plays Tennessee. Only Ohio State and Michigan are favored.

2. Will there be more controversy after the fact?
Let’s say Michigan obliterates USC by three touchdowns and Ohio State annihilates Florida. Will everyone be wishing we had the rematch? What would happen if Florida wins by some fluky, quirky, controversial play and Michigan wins in a walk; will the AP vote Michigan No. 1 to prove a point? What happens if the Gators stink and Louisville beats Wake Forest by 35 and/or Boise State beats Oklahoma? There might be a very unsatisfying feeling when all is said and done.   

1. Captain Miller to Private Ryan: “Earn this.”
Alright Florida, a skeptical nation awaits you. Even though the Gator defense should make this a better battle than expected, after Michigan was left with the Jake Gyllenhaal role, Boise State got ignored, and Louisville was an afterthought, Urban Meyer’s team had better be worth all the trouble.

Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be you (or vice versa)
- How nasty is the coaching profession? Chris Scelfo, thanks for doing whatever you could to navigate the Tulane program through the nomadic journey that was 2005 and for trying to pick up the shattered pieces this year ... you're fired.
- Soon, the wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/all of the above will ask you want you want for Christmas. Being a typical American man, you honestly have no idea, but I have your answer: the rainshower head from one of those Bed, Bath & Beavis places. It’s like showering in a warm hug. You want this.
- The Miami and Alabama jobs aren't the plums many think they are, and both fan bases will be in for a shock when top name after top name turns them down. At Miami, the fans only show up for Florida State, the facilities are mediocre (more on that in a moment), and either you win the national title or you’re a bum. At Alabama, national titles are expected when just winning the division title is a major feat. Who wants the hassle?
- All coaches use facilities as an excuse to buy time. Unless everything is state-of-the-art, blaming the weight room, the practice field and the locker room makes it easy to say, “we’ll be better in two years when the (name the facility here) is built.”
- Colt Brennan, you have my vote for the single season touchdown pass record holder with 53. Houston's David Klingler set the mark at 54 helped by throwing for 11 scores in the 84-21 squeaker against D-IAA Eastern Washington. Brennan didn’t play the fourth quarter in several games.
- The Oklahoma home uniforms are my favorite in the game at the moment. The no-name on the back, Sooners on the front, and color scheme all work for me. I’ll now turn off What Not To Wear and go kill a small animal.
- Todd Graham had a terrific year at Rice and Greg Schiano had a heck of a season, but Jim Grobe is the coach of the year, and possibly the decade. Winning the ACC title at Wake Forest with this team is a bigger accomplishment than Northwestern’s Big Ten titles in the 1990s.

C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
1) Overrated:
Steve Spurrier at Florida ... Underrated: Urban Meyer at Florida
2) Overrated: Rumors about Steve Spurrier leaving South Carolina … Underrated: Steve Spurrier getting an extra half-mildo of salary out of South Carolina
3) Overrated: Jim Walden … Underrated: Jim Tressel
4) Overrated: Michael Richards' apology ... Underrated: The warranted hissy fit the Black Coaches Association is about to throw if Miami’s Randy Shannon, or any one of several well qualified African-American candidates, doesn’t at least get an honest interview for one of the top job openings.
5) Overrated:
2006 Florida... Underrated: 2004 Auburn
Sheer hubris run amok … The early bowl game lines this week that appear to be a tad off. I’m 17-19 in the regular season. I will go over .500 I will go over .500 I will go over .500 … 1) Miami -3 over Nevada, 2) Florida +8 over Ohio State, 3) Texas Tech -7 over Minnesota
Sorry this column sucked, but it wasn’t my fault … 
My goal was to take this column to the Rose Bowl. UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell was happy to oblige.