It’s been a fun season. We had some surprise teams (Rutgers, Wake Forest, Central Michigan), some disappointments (Miami, Penn State) and even a mid-major make a BCS bowl (Boise State). One final time this week, we cleanup the championship action in college football.
Let’s say that this Big XII Championship had a little less drama associated with it than it has recently. It might be the renewal of an old rivalry in Nebraska and Oklahoma, but this game didn’t have the stakes of the last few contests.
2003 – Oklahoma was the leader all season and lost(!) the game yet still went to the BCS championship game. And then they lost to LSU, causing the only split champion under the BCS system.
2004 – Oklahoma again had to put their unblemished record on the line for a chance at the BCS title game. A win got them a chance to be blown out by USC.
2005 – Texas had to roll through this game on their way to the national title.
So, far be it for this game to attract a lot of attention when the national title isn’t on the line. All that was at risk was the “Boise State Challenge Cup.” The winner’s greatest victory was getting a chance to play the upstart Broncos in the Fiesta Bowl in January. Well, that and a great deal of cash.
Oklahoma, who the football gods apparently had a grudge against earlier in the season, managed to overcome adversity to get to the game. They lost what they thought was their opening day quarterback. Their best running back broke is collar bone. They lost a controversial game at Oregon because of obvious replay issues. They needed two losses by South division leader Texas in order to pass them. And yet, Oklahoma kept on running, earning their berth in Kansas City.
Come Saturday, the Sooners took all that adversity and changed it to a positive, winning 21-7 over Nebraska.
The Sooners had to rely on the throwing arm of Paul Thompson more than at any time this season in order to win the game. While Nebraska shut down the running game, holding Oklahoma to only 42 yards, they attacked through the air.
Thompson finished 19 for 34, gaining 265 yards. He threw two touchdowns and only one interception. All told, this was by far his best performance of the year. Not bad for a quarterback who was expected to be a wide receiver during spring practice.
His counterpart, Zac Taylor, did not have as great a day. Taylor threw three interceptions, which were just the beginning of the issues for Nebraska who had 5 turnovers, a title game record.
The game was also record setting for a few players. Malcolm Kelly, who caught both touchdowns for Oklahoma, had 142 yards receiving, breaking the title game record. The Nebraska punter also set a record. Dan Titchener hit 6 punts inside the 20, a testament to how poor the offense was for the Cornhuskers, but also a lesson in great kicking.
With the victory, Oklahoma will go on the Fiesta Bowl to play Boise State. Nebraska gets a trip to the Cotton Bowl to face the Auburn Tigers.
It was well worth the wait for the Houston Cougars.
Kevin Kolb threw for two scores and ran for another to lead his team to its first Conference USA championship since 1996 with a 34-20 win over Southern Miss. Senior Brian Ealy was the benefactor of Kolb’s touchdown passes as the Cougars put up 448 yards of total offense.
The 34 points tied Florida for the second most points scored against CUSA’s stingiest defense all year. Only Virginia Tech (36) had more.
The Cougars (10-3) will take a six game winning streak to the Liberty Bowl against South Carolina from the SEC in a game that should be full of scoring. The Golden Eagles (8-5), who beat Houston in the regular season, will play MAC runner-up Ohio in the GMAC Bowl.
Three other teams from the conference are also headed to the post season. Rice will meet Troy in the New Orleans Bowl, East Carolina plays South Florida in the Papajohns.com Bowl and Tulsa will face Utah in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Central Michigan and Ohio has been TiVo-blogged.
In many ways, the Pac-10 season ended like it has every year for the past five – with USC on top. However, that is pretty much the only familiar outcome that remained intact on Saturday, as UCLA ended an
eight seven-game losing streak against their crosstown rival by pulling off a stunning 13-9 upset over the mighty Trojans.
The game sent shock waves through the sport and wound up vaulting Florida into the all-important #2 spot in the BCS and a title game showdown with Ohio State. The arguments have been raging about whether Michigan should get a chance at a rematch or whether the Gators deserve to represent the nation’s deepest conference. This is all because USC couldn’t slam the door on another fantastic season.
The UCLA win certainly qualifies as an upset and a surprise, but in reality, no one should be completely shocked. USC managed to enter that game with only one loss despite starting a new quarterback and a freshman backfield. They were still terrific this year, but they weren’t scary good the way they have been in the recent past. And if the Trojans had one fatal flaw it was an inability to move the ball effectively in the face of a heavy pass rush. UCLA may not be a great team, but they can definitely rush the passer. Led by the most underrated player on the planet, defensive end Justin Hickman, the Bruins absolutely tormented Brady Quinn back in October and they did the same thing to Booty on Saturday. USC likes to go from a pro set offense and therefore doesn’t employ shotgun formations to buy the quarterback more time. This proved costly, to the tune of just nine points and a missed opportunity to play for the national title.
Big win for UCLA, big loss for USC and for the Pac-10 as a whole.
In other Pac-10 action, Oregon State completed a successful season with a 35-32 win over Hawaii to finish third in the conference (what do you know, I got something right) and Cal slipped past Stanford to win the Big Game and finish second.