Instant Analysis - GMAC Bowl
Central Michigan 44 ... Troy 41 2OT
We should all end our careers so perfectly.
It's interesting that Dan LeFevour and Tim Tebow played at the exact
same time and in the exact same era when the spread offense took flight
and became the dominant offense in college football, and it's a shame
that all the gushing and all the over-the-top love that was thrown
Tebow's way never trickled down to LeFevour. Of course it's because one
won national championships playing in the toughest conference in America
and the other toiled in relative obscurity in Mount Pleasant, Michigan,
but as NFL general managers which one they're more interested in seeing
work out over the next two months and you'd probably get a 50/50 split.
And as we look back on their respective college careers, it would've
been interesting to have seen what LeFevour would've done had he been
under center for Urban Meyer for the last four years.
I'm not diminishing Tebow's greatness in any way, he's among the most
accomplished players the college game has ever seen and he deserves to
be call the greatest college quarterback of all-time, but LeFevour's
legacy needs to be given more respect. He's the greatest player in MAC
history, he's one of the winning college quarterbacks ever, he has
accounted for more touchdowns than anyone else, and on Wednesday night,
he came through in the clutch to end his career on a perfect note.
While Tebow went out with a magnificent performance against Cincinnati
showing off all the firepower of the Gator offense, LeFevour went out
with two plays in crunch time that epitomized his career perfectly.
Down three in the final two minutes of regulation, instead of taking it
easy and looking for the safe, easy play to get into field goal range,
he threw the pass of his career, a 30-yard dart to Antonio Brown to set
up the touchdown to take the lead. It was a smart, strong, decisive
throw between two defenders that Peyton Manning would've been proud to
make, and it came in one of the game's biggest moments. The second
LeFevour play was the 13-yard touchdown run in the first overtime. He
had evolved so much as an all-around quarterback, but when he had to, he
took off and made it look easy.
Now that the spread makes superstars out of quarterback, we'll see more
and more of Tebow and LeFevour types putting up big numbers, But these
two set the bar. Again, I'm not suggesting that playing in the MAC is
like playing in the SEC, but on the flip side, while Antonio Brown and
other Chippewas playmakers might have been good, LeFevour didn't have
Florida's talent level around him.
The final numbers on two all-time talents ...
- Tim Tebow: 661-of-995 (66%), 9,285 yards, 88 touchdowns, 16
interceptions, 692 carries for 2,947 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 57
touchdowns runs. Two national championships, one as a starter, two SEC
titles, one as the starter, and three bowl wins.
- Dan LeFevour: 1,171-of-1,763 (66%), 12,905 yards, 102 touchdowns, 36
interceptions, 671 carries for 2,948 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and 47
touchdown runs. Three MAC champions, two bowl wins, and in a Motor City
Bowl loss to Purdue, he threw for four touchdowns and ran for 114 yards
and two scores in a 51-48 loss.
Troy was jabbing in the final quarter with Central Michigan as it clung to a lead. With Dan LeFevour on the other sideline, the Trojans needed to deliver a knockout punch.
The Chippewas comeback win in overtime wound up being a gigantic lost opportunity for the Sun Belt Conference. The league already had a postseason victory in December, courtesy of a Middle Tennessee mild upset of Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl. Had the Trojans preserved their 12-point fourth quarter lead, the Sun Belt would have been the only league to go undefeated this postseason. Sure, it had just two bids, but we're talking about a conference that's assumed to be the nation's worst every single year. Too bad. Although the conference still acquitted itself nicely and proved worthy of that second berth, it looks as if commissioner Wright Waters will have to wait another year before petitioning the BCS for its automatic invite.
For LeFevour, it was a fitting end to a phenomenal career, arguably the best career ever by a MAC quarterback. He has the NFL arm and size, but he also has the right demeanor and poise late in tight games to go along with dynamite junior WR Antonio Brown. Unfortunately for Troy, it was forced to witness No. 13's late-game heroics up close and personal in a crushing defeat.
1) If you're a fan of football and you have at least 30 years under your belt, chances are you've probably seen the NFL Films series of Super Bowl stories, a terrific compendium that occupies many half-hour time blocks on ESPN in the weeks before each new Super Bowl. One of the better NFL Films productions from the 43-volume set is the chronicle of Super Bowl XIII, the 1979 classic in which the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 35-31.
That film was called "Battle Of Champions," a tribute to the fact that Pittsburgh and Dallas had both won two supes heading into the final championship game played in the 1970s. (The 1979 season was still to come, but Super Bowl XIV was, of course, played in 1980.) Stately flute music played while the two teams slowly and proudly made their way into the Orange Bowl, the voice of the legendary John Facenda adding even more greatness and gravitas to the occasion. Then, from the opening kickoff to the final gun, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach proceeded to wage a classic duel that was decided by one flinch, a dropped pass by Dallas tight end Jackie Smith in the third quarter. Pittsburgh won, but Dallas – gallant to the very end – fought with the tenacity and resilience that made the showdown linger in the public memory. Two champions honored the sport – and magnified each other – with a fabulous display captured expertly by the NFL Films crew.
The point of mentioning all this is that on the first Wednesday of 2010, college football fans didn't just witness a great lower-tier bowl game in a humble ballpark in a modest-size Southern city; the GMAC Bowl – at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. – was far more than an entertaining night in the ol' ballyard. This game truly and literally was a "Battle Of Champions" as well.
MAC champion Central Michigan and Sun Belt boss Troy produced a pigskin passion play worthy of the highest accolades. The meaning of the moment might be lost on fans of traditional powers the night before the BCS National Championship Game, but for any true fan of college football – not just a particular school – this Chippewa-Trojan tilt represented the very best of a 141-year-old sport. This wasn't the No. 4 team from the MAC or the No. 3 team from the Sun Belt. These two teams weren't also-rans in their conferences the way Bowling Green and Idaho were in an immensely entertaining but decidedly inferior Humanitarian Bowl.
Oh, don't get the wrong impression: The H-Bowl provided ridiculously abundant entertainment, capped by a sensational over-the-top finish with a feel-good result for a previously downtrodden Idaho program. However, the GMAC Bowl boasted two teams with championship rings who acted the part in a phenomenal second half. Central Michigan and Troy – just a little out of sync in the first half but then brilliant after halftime – crafted a masterpiece whose larger trajectory and flow bore a striking similarity to the 2006 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas. Moreover, this epic in Alabama had the quarterbacks and the skill-position studs (Antonio Brown for CMU, Jerrel Jernigan for Troy) worthy of a shootout that still involved some impressive defensive displays. Chips-Trojans featured 85 points, but this game didn't involve a pair of nonexistent defenses. Everyone on the field made plays, but when the Chips were down (and when Troy trailed, too!), Dan LeFevour and Levi Brown rose above the tumult and the shouting to make some magic in Mobile.
Lots of bowl games – in fact, a solid majority of the 34 contests subjected to an Instant Analysis – usually merit only two or three paragraphs of commentary. Notice how – on a night sandwiched between the Orange Bowl and the BCS title game – the GMAC Bowl has earned an extra amount of ink. Yes, it was worthy of such pronounced praise. Three cheers for two terrific teams, two champions who did themselves – and their sport – proud.
2) Seeing a classic unfold between two conference champions re-introduces an issue that's been mentioned earlier in the bowl season: Why can't we get more attractive matchups like this one in bowl games? Why can't the Sun Belt and MAC champs regularly meet? Why can't – to use another pair of examples – the Conference USA champion play the WAC No. 2 team instead of the No. 7 team from the SEC? The smaller conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision deserve to have their best teams play each other in the bowls.
Now, you might be sitting there saying, "Wait! Weren't you outraged that Boise State and TCU played each other in the Fiesta Bowl?" Good question. The difference is that in the BCS bowls, every team is an elite team, which means that the non-AQ conference champions need to be given the chance to strut their stuff against the SEC or Big 12 champions. In the realm of the lower-tier bowls, there's little point in having a championship team like Central Michigan or Troy take on an opponent that finished in the lower half of its conference… like an Arkansas, or a South Florida, or a Michigan State. In the less-hyped bowls, champions should play champions across the country. Tonight's game showed why.
Removing some of the particularly silly, constricting, and entirely unsatisfying tie-ins from the current crop of bowl matchups would allow bowl executives to do more productive horsetrading and create a superior product. Tonight's Central Michigan victory doesn't prove that the amount of bowl games is just right; it proves that when champions are allowed to play each other and the quality of a matchup is given first consideration, good football usually emerges.
We should keep games such as the GMAC Bowl, as long as they pair elite teams from the smaller FBS conferences. The place where college football's "bowl fat" should be trimmed is in the realm of the power conferences. No 6-6 teams should be allowed to play in bowl games, and no conference should have more than six teams be eligible for bowls.
As for teams like the Chippewas and Trojans, let them have this meaningful stage each and every year.