Oregon's fantastic uniform for the Rose Bowl
NEW YORK (
) -- As we move into the meat of the college football bowl season (not to slight the earlier games; every bowl game is a treat; we just can't cover them all), it's time to wonder about a few things in college football.
First, have you noticed how there is not one college football game on New Year's Day this season? The holiday falls on a Sunday, yes, but regardless, New Year's Day was always the domain of college football.
The reason why? Week 16 of the NFL season, and the television deciders wouldn't want the two beloved institutions to compete with each other for viewers anyway. It's not to say it's not better for fans -- it is. But it's another tradition gone by the wayside.
Another quasi tradition that I'm wondering about is this insistence on playing the national championship game on a Monday night: LSU and Alabama will meet on Monday, Jan. 9.
This is college football. College football is all about Saturdays. Can you imagine the day we could have, with College Football Gameday starting at 6 a.m. and the national championship kicking off at, I don't know, 9:58 p.m. ET or something? It would rival the Super Bowl from a marketing and just plain fun standpoint.
Let's face it, the fans who get the most excited about the BCS title game are those of the two teams playing in the game. It's similar with the NCAA basketball tournament, when you get to the final game. The first few rounds of course are awesome, when more people have a rooting interest.
But move the games to a Saturday night? Wow, then they become events. It's something that, uh, ESPN and the BCS should discuss. Just a thought.
Now, on to the games. We have a cople of dandies -- Oregon vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Stanford vs. Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. The College Football Corner will return next Friday to preview LSU-Alabama.
Andrew Luck, Stanford quarterback
No. 4 Stanford (11-1) vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State (11-1), Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Az., Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
: I need to make a confession. I love college football, but I hate bowl season. All the games (save one) often feel empty and meaningless. Sure, there's the rare gem (Boise State taking down OU in 2007's Fiesta Bowl with a "hook-and-ladder" and a "Statue of Liberty" come to mind. Oh, and there's the proposal at the end that my wife still remembers to this day).
But, more often than not, we're treated to pretty uninteresting football in even more uninteresting locales for no stakes whatsoever. Winning coaches will often parrot the same lines in the aftermath. "It's great to get this win for our seniors" and "this will give us great momentum going into the offseason."
Blah, blah, blah. Even words like that feel empty. It's a disservice to those seniors to cap off their year in a game that has no consequence, and one played more for generating local money than anything on the field.
It's completely backwards. If the NFL chucked their playoff system, instead ending the year with each winning team playing in a preseason-caliber game, there would be an uproar. And though Green Bay is everyone's pick to repeat, no one is simply handing a Super Bowl spot to them. NFL fans still demand that they go through the gauntlet of New Orleans and/or San Francisco and/or anyone else to get there after the regular season is over, with everything on the line, to prove they belong.
I suppose this sort of system made sense 50 years ago in a world where all college football was local, where ESPN and multiple national distribution opportunities didn't exist, and where winning a conference championship was the be-all and end-all of the race. It was a world where national championships were more mythical than real. But we live in a much different world now.
So, when I see this year's Fiesta Bowl match-up between Stanford and Oklahoma State, all I see is a missed opportunity. And that's sad.
The Cowboys, despite losing only one game (but under truly bizarre circumstances), is out of the national championship race. As consolation they'll play the Cardinal, another team with only one loss on their resume.
It's like watching a would-have vs. could-have, with the winner being declared a might-have-been. A fair playoff system would have given them their shot.
But you know what's even sadder? I'm still gonna watch it.
Andrew Luck, Stanford's star quarterback and one of the marquee faces college football hitched its wagon to this year, is now being shuttled off to the Arizona desert to prove ... what exactly?
Justin Blackmon, one of only two receivers in history to win the Biletnikoff trophy multiple times, is now ... gonna show people he's still the best receiver in the game?
Ugh. Alright, I'll get off my soap box and get on with it.
Look, I'm picking the Cowboys to win it. They score fast and quick. Stanford's only loss of the year came to a lightening quick spread team. Sure, they've had a lot of time to prepare. But at this point of the year, you are who you are. Stanford isn't built to contain teams like Oklahoma State. While Oklahoma State's defense has shown they can't stop much, they've also shown a knack for getting stops that matter, and the ability to get turnovers at a prolific rate.
Corner's choice: Oklahoma State 44, Stanford 28
LaMichael James, Oregon running back
No. 5 Oregon (11-2) vs. No. 10 Wisconsin (11-2), Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., Monday, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
: This is one of the most attractive matchups in the postseason for a few reasons. One is that it's a traditional Pac-12 (did I say traditional; it's the first year of the Pac-12) vs. Big Ten (which now also has 12 teams) matchups; it features two explosive offenses, and it also showcases two teams that were a few plays away of maybe getting a chance at the BCS championship.
The Badgers lost two games in a row in October (to Michigan State and Ohio State) by a total of 10 points. They avenged the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and completed their season as the No. 4-ranked offense and No. 6 defense in the country. The defensive ranking is all the more remarkable because they gave up 76 points to Michigan State in two games.
Now if you look at the Ducks -- the only team in the country playing in a third consecutive BCS bowl -- they're the No. 3 offense in the country but only the No. 43 defense. But why should the Ducks care? They can easily roll a double nickels score on you. Oregon's two losses were painful -- 40-21 to No. 1 LSU in the season opener, and 38-35 to USC, the best ineligible for a bowl team in the country.
It's that quick-strike capability of Oregon that makes Coach Chip Kelly's team the favorite. Wisconsin is a rugged football team, but they're a bit plodding. Watching Oregon move the football is like watching a pinball move around the table. And wait until you the see the
the Ducks come out in. But not so fast, my Nike friends, the Badgers also have their own
, courtesy of Adidas.
Corner's choice: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
-- William Hennelly
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins
No. 16 Georgia (10-3) vs. No. 17 Michigan State (10-3), Outback Bowl, Orlando, Fla., Monday, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
has served as an SEC-Big Ten pride match, having featured teams from those two conferences since 1996. The SEC's record in that time is 10-6. Georgia and Michigan State last met in the 2009 Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 24-12.
Georgia Coach Mark Richt, whose team battled back from an 0-2 start, respects the Spartans and recalled the 2009 game.
"We had an awful lot of respect then, we have the same respect now," said Richt, whose Bulldogs sport a 26-17-3 record in bowls all time. "Defensively, there's a lot of similarities as far as scheme is concerned."
The Spartans haven't won a bowl game since 2001, when they edged Fresno State, 44-35, in the Silicon Valley Bowl. The Green and White's overall bowl record is a surprising 7-21, considering the longtime success of the program.
"You come to a game like this, you're going to play someone good; that's just a fact," Spartans Head Coach Mark D'Antonio said earlier this week.
The Spartans bring in the ninth-ranked defense in the country, and gave up more than 24 points only twice, in the two games vs. Wisconsin. A key here could be quarterback protection.
Michigan State has the veteran in senior Kirk Cousins, who was sacked only 14 times. Georgia has a pretty good QB in sophomore Andy Murray, who has thrown for 33 TDs but was sacked 28 times this season. The Spartans are seventh in the nation in sacks, with 40, and sophomore linebacker Denicos Allen has nine of those.
Corner's choice: Michigan State 28, Georgia 24
-- William Hennelly
Denard Robinson, Michigan quarterback
No. 13 Michigan (10-2) vs. No. 11 Virginia Tech (11-2), Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
: Virginia Tech's game plan is pretty simple: stop Denard Robinson. But that logic led Michigan opponents to their own demise in 2011.
Casual fans think that the Wolverines are a one-man wrecking crew with a clever coach and a soft schedule. Michigan coach Brady Hoke is clever, and the schedule was soft, but Robinson (a 1,000-yard rusher) is backed up by another 1,000-yard rusher in Fitzgerald Toussaint and a fundamentally sound defense.
In all its victors, Michigan won by an average of 22.6 points, or a little more than three TDs, in part because the defense gave up only 17.2 points a game. That margin of victory against its soft schedule should ease the minds of Michigan naysayers.
The good news for the Wolverines is that they face a team that struggles to score and, in many ways, plays much like the Big Ten opponents they saw in the regular season.
Tech's defense will look to slow Robinson and, perhaps more importantly, Toussaint. Michigan's losing outings against Michigan State and Iowa occurred on poor performances by the sophomore running back, as he gained just seven yards and 58 yards, respectively.
It's difficult to discern Virginia Tech's biggest weakness in its two losses. Both losses came against Clemson -- once in the regular season and again in the ACC Championship -- and the stat lines don't necessarily reveal the problem.
In the first meeting, Tech had nearly as many first downs, penalties and total yards, but it lagged Clemson by nearly 10 minutes in time of possession. But that doesn't describe the 20-point loss at home to its ACC rival.
In the second meeting, Tech lagged Clemson in total yards by 100, and lagged on rushing yards 217 to 56. Time of possession in that meeting was virtually identical. The killer for the Hokies was turnovers -- they had three to Clemson's zero. They lose by 28.
Michigan, like Tech, must stuff the run, which could likely be where the arrow tips to the Wolverines' favor.
When Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas drops back, few defenses tend to fear the pass. As a sophomore he struggled, but could be a top passer in the ACC next season, but he isn't a playmaker yet.
Robinson is a proven playmaker. He's the kind of guy who singlehandedly transforms a game on his own merit. Take a peak back at the Notre Dame game this season, although, admittedly, it looks more like Robinson's receivers made him look good in that game. But that's all the more reason to give the edge to Michigan.
By the end of the Sugar Bowl, it should be clear that Michigan football is back.
Corner's choice: Michigan 31, Virginia Tech 27
Andre Ellington, Clemson running back
No. 23 West Virginia (9-3) vs. No. 15 Clemson (10-3), Orange Bowl, Miami, Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
: Two teams from uninspiring football conferences will meet in Miami in what could provide viewers with a fun-'n'-gun classic.
Clemson, with ACC-leading passer Tajh Boyd and first-team All-American freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, will attempt to light up the score board against West Virginia's quarterback Geno Smith and pair of 1,000-yard receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
What bodes well for audiences hungry for offense is that Clemson's and West Virginia's defenses give up 26.2 (62nd in the nation) and 26.3 (63rd) points, respectively.
Andre Ellington adds depth to Clemson's dynamic passing game as he rushed for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs, but an odd pairing that likely makes Ellington's day a bit easier is the slot maneuvers of first-team All-American tight end Dwayne Allen.
Allen caught 48 passes for eight TDs and 577 yards as he provided a difficult hurdle that opposing defenses had to plan for. For every down Allen played, defensive lines and linebackers had to determine if the 6-foot-4 athlete would sit back to block for Ellington and Boyd, or if he'd slip under opposing coverage intent on stopping Watkins and receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
West Virginia's Bailey and Austin would say that they've had as good a season as any other pair of receivers, and that's fair, but they haven't had the running back support that would take pressure off the passing game and keep opposing defenses befuddled.
The Mountaineers' Dustin Garrison rushed for 742 yards and six TDs, and was helped by teammate Shawne Alston's 10 TDs near the goal line, but West Virginia's losses this season came on relatively poor ground performances.
Clemson gave up more yards (2,294) than it gained (2,026) in 2011, which means that if the Mountaineers are matching the Tigers in rushing well into the third quarter, it could indicate a tight game.
Expect a lot of offense in this game as a number of All-Americans will look to claim a spotlight for their teams in a BCS bowl appearance.
Corner's choice: Clemson 42, West Virginia 35
Collin Klein, Kansas State quarterback
No. 8 Kansas State (10-2) vs. No. 6 Arkansas (10-2), Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas, Friday Jan. 6, 8:00 p.m. ET (FOX)
: You may have read my diatribe about how much I hate the bowl season. I recognize that was supposed to be a preview of the Fiesta Bowl. Instead, it became a screed. I apologize for that.
How about if I make up for it here. This will be a real preview of the Cotton Bowl. No filler. I promise.
Actually, before I do that, let me tell you a quick story.
Of all the major college football venues (and despite my vitriolic hatred of all things bowl game), the Cotton Bowl was the one place that I held somewhat near and dear to my heart. But that's largely because of what it wasn't than what it was.
The original Cotton Bowl stadium was built in 1929 (hat tip to Wiki). When I was a kid growing up in the Dallas suburbs, I remember it looking every bit its age. It was not a newfangled contraption that oozes luxury and was built for a modern audience more interested in spectacle than the game itself. No dome. Nothing special.
I remember going to a few Cotton Bowl (and also UT/OU) games as a kid there. We sat in the cheap seats. Even then I remember pondering the history of this one place. Doak Walker. Y.A. Tittle and the "Ice Bowl." Joe Montana. Jim Brown. Ernie Davis. James Street. Bo Jackson. Troy Aikman. Ricky Williams. Eli Manning.
I hate bowl games. But what I always found interesting about the Cotton Bowl was its decorated history. It's as much a time capsule as it is a bowl game. That's one aspect of bowl season I can appreciate.
But none of that matters now. The Cotton Bowl is no longer played in the Cotton Bowl anymore. Despite renovations to the old place, officials thought best to move the game to Jerry World (for the uninitiated, that would be the Cowboys new stadium about a half-hour drive away). Now the Cotton Bowl is played in a billion dollar facility, under a retractable roof, under one of the world's largest HD screens.
Nothing wrong with that. But my friendly football ghosts, the ones that made me fall in love with college football in the first place, don't live there.
Sorry, this was a longer detour than I intended. What do I think of Arkansas and Kansas State?
It'll be mildly interesting to watch because both teams have some distinctions. The Razorbacks' two losses this season came to the two best teams in the SEC (who are now playing for the national championship). The Wildcats may be the best team no one is paying attention to.
That's really all I know. Pundits are calling it one of the more intriguing non-BCS match-ups. But does that really mean anything?
If nothing else, this game should introduce many folks to Kansas State. Coach Bill Synder did one of the more remarkable coaching jobs this season, taking a team that went 3-5 in conference play a year ago to 7-2 this season (10-2 overall). Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein had one of the more under-the-radar seasons in college football. He threw for 1,745 yards and 12 touchdowns, and rushed for another 1,099 yards and 26 touchdowns.
For Arkansas, it means getting the taste of their last game -- a 41-14 loss to LSU -- out of their mouths.
My prediction: Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson will move the ball on the 'Cats, but Kansas State will force him into some bad decisions (just as they did with Heisman winner Robert Griffin III). The K-State offense will turn to their ground game, as they always do, and just keep the chains moving while burning out the clock. The Wildcats won't be pretty to watch, but it'll be enough.
Corner's choice: Kansas State 21, Arkansas 18