The End of An Era

7 01 2014

The BCS gave us 16 years of a system that had plenty of kinks and bumps along the way. Monday night’s game gave us plenty of missed tackles and dropped passes along the way.

In the end for both, though, was a perfect finish.

Redshirt freshman and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had himself a very special 20th birthday party Monday night.

Winston threw a 2-yard post pass to a place only Kelvin Benjamin—the second coming of Larry Fitzgerald—could get it with 13 seconds left, and the top-seeded Florida State Seminoles took down the Auburn Tigers 34-31 to take home the final BCS national title.

This was the best national championship game since Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns to a nail-biting 41-38 victory over the USC Trojans on this exact field and in a similar game-winning drive fashion.

After a third quarter that only had one Florida State field goal, the final 12 minutes consisted of five scores and three dramatic lead changes as destiny seemed to change along with it. (Even though there won’t be much talk of defense, the fact that Florida State held Auburn to 19 rushing yards in the third quarter should be considered as a huge reason Auburn was blanked in for those 15 minutes and momentum shifted.)

The final quarter gave football fans everything they could ask for—costly interception, kickoff return for a touchdown, game-winning touchdown. Auburn’s only turnover of the game was Nick Marshall’s interception early in the fourth quarter that allowed the Seminoles to pull within one point. Auburn didn’t make many mistakes on the night, but the ones they did make were costly. (Oh Chris Davis…)

After a Tigers field goal, Levonte Whitfield then decided to Auburn Auburn…or have Auburn be Alabama’d. However you look at it, Whitfield—a man who ran a 10.1 in the 100 meters, the third-fastest in high school history—gave the Seminoles their first lead since the first quarter and the national title game its first special teams touchdown since 2007.

But as Auburn has shown all season long, resiliency is in their blood, especially in Tre Mason’s. Finishing with 195 rushing yards, the most by a running back in a BCS Championship, the 5-10 running back bulldozed his way to a 37-yard touchdown to take back the lead, leaving 1:19 on the clock. Mason striked the Heisman pose for the entire nation to see after his score, but as if the football gods were playing the role of foreshadower at that exact moment, the true Heisman was about to leave his mark.

Jameis Winston.

The kid had not experienced much adversity, for the most part, on the football field this season. He hadn’t faced a deficit since being behind 17-10 against Boston College on September 28, a game his team ended up easily winning 48-34.

The Seminoles were behind for 44 minutes and 42 seconds against the Tigers.

Monday night gave Winston plenty of adversity for any type of athlete in any sport to handle. Through the first 10 drives, he was 11-for-25 for 120 yards, giving him a 17.7 QBR. Winston looked young, inexperienced and in over his head. It looked as if the pressure Auburn’s defensive front was applying gave the youngest Heisman Trophy winner too much to handle.

But he fought back and showed maturity, proficiency and composure. In his last two drives, Winston went 9-for-10 for 117 yards—a 99.5 QBR. His final drive, in which he went 6-for-7 for 77 yards, included the beautifully thrown pass to Benjamin, who also played well down the stretch. He had all of his 54 receiving yards in the second half.

As impressive as Winston has been this season, there might not be a better indicator of his magnificence than what he showed the nation Monday night. Winston struggled for the majority of the game and had one of his worst overall performances of the season…and his team still took down the second best team in the nation. The 20-year-old proved he doesn’t need to be at his absolute best to win—and win on the biggest stage at that. He gave his team the biggest comeback win (18 points) in the BCS national championship game history by stepping up and making plays when it mattered most. That is true Heisman material.

None of this would have been possible for Winston and Florida State, though, if it wasn’t for the gutsiness of Jimbo Fisher. As Sean Payton showed us a few years back, sometimes a coach needs to reach down into his bag of tricks if he wants to reach the top. Fisher did just that, when he called for a fake punt on his own part of the field while facing a 21-3 deficit. If this hadn’t have worked out, Auburn could have put this game out of reach for good—and Fisher knew this. But he did what needed to be done by giving his team the jolt of energy necessary to come back and win this game.

Fisher also had been preparing Winston for his shining moment all season long. After the game, defensive end Mario Williams Jr. said the Seminoles coaches would put 1:15 on the clock at practice and tell the defense to stop Winston from scoring. So when Winston found himself in a place he’d never been before in an actual game, he had actually already been there throughout the season on the practice field.

The Tigers owned the stat sheet—having more first downs, rushing yards, total yards, total plays, third-down conversions, sacks, and time of possession. But they didn’t have the advantage in the one statistic that mattered—points. To put it simply, the Seminoles offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff all made the right moves when it mattered most. The Tigers might have taken out plenty of the Seminoles’ pawns and maybe even their queen, but Florida State ended with a commanding checkmate. And because of that, they dethroned the SEC from their supremacy.

As this BCS era comes to a close, we must not forget how a certain conference found a way to dominate the system to the point of its collapse. When the BCS had its first championship game in 1998, an SEC school (Tennessee) took home the crystal ball. After Auburn’s defeat, the conference appeared in a total of 10 games, claiming 9 championships. And in all actuality, the SEC appeared 11 times since the 2011 Championship showcased LSU and Alabama.  I don’t know if there is a better way to describe dominance than that right there.

Due to the power of this conference, the NCAA was forced to abandon a system that wouldn’t allow the third or fourth best team—often times an SEC team—in college football to compete for a national title. Under the new championship of the College Football Playoff, there will be a four-team playoff with no limit to the number of teams from a conference. This season, if there had been a four-team playoff decided upon by a selection committee, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State would have most likely faced off.

Thankfully, though, the last BCS national championship displayed a matchup between the two best teams in the nation that played a down-to-the-wire game many may never delete from their DVR.

So now we move on, and we thank you for all the good and bad you have given us, Bowl Championship Series. It has been a rollercoaster of a ride, and for me, I’m glad to have been on board. You won’t be forgotten.

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It’s the Perfect Time To Be A Cardinal

8 04 2013

Rick Pitino quite possibly just had the best day of his life.

After it was announced earlier in the day that Pitino would be a part of the next group to enter the Hall of Fame, he watched his Louisville Cardinals take down the Michigan Wolverines 82-76 in the NCAA championship game Monday night, as he now becomes the first coach to ever win two championships with two different schools.

Even though Michigan jumped out to a 12-point lead late in the 1st half, Louisville remained focused on playing a full 40-minute game as they have done all season and all tournament. Just a few days ago, the Wichita State Shockers also held a 12-point lead, which Louisville erased by game’s end. These Cardinals know how to rally like another Cardinals team from a different sport…

This event was simply a great basketball game to watch with two teams that had budding basketball players. To put it simply, this was some high-quality basketball and good for the league.

The Wolverines (52.1 percent) actually shot better than the Cardinals (45.9) for the game, but due to Louisville doing the little things, they pulled this one out. The men in red snatched 15 offensive rebounds, led by Chane Behanan (15 points and 12 rebounds), who grabbed seven big offensive rebounds – only one less than the entire Wolverine team. That ability to pound the glass on the offensive end gave the Cardinals 13 more possessions than their opponent.

Even though Trey Burke (24 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field) continued to show the nation why his draft stock keeps rising, possibly all the way to a top-3 pick position, this game was about Luke Hancock‘s hot hand and Peyton Siva‘s ability to do it all.

Sixth man Hancock made all five of the three-pointers he attempted Monday night, leading to a team-high 22 points. This matches his season-high for the year and gives him 42 points in the last two games. The Cardinals have had to fight back to win each of these games and Hancock suddenly becoming extremely dangerous from deep has been a cornerstone to their resiliency.

What Siva did should be considered as just another Siva-type night. He’s been doing it all year long. The senior point guard may not have the best shooting touch but he makes up for it in every other possible way.

18 points. Six rebounds. Five assists. Four steals. Six-for-six from the free throw line. 36 minutes played.

I really like what this 6-0, 185 guard brings to the court night in and night out. His team can always count on him to give one-hundred percent, no matter the opponent and no matter the deficit. Monday night was no exception for the Cardinals’ leader. I believe he has the raw skills to find himself a place in the NBA.

This team showed the nation how you catch fire at just the right time. While the Kansas Jayhawks and Indiana Hoosiers – also No. 1 seeds – looked to have teams ready to make a deep run, each had losses less than a month before the tournament began. Louisville finished the year on a 16-game winning streak, including 12 double-digit victories. That is how you finish a season strong.

The 2013 college basketball champs have kept a trend going of predictability when it comes to the one team that wins it all in this March Madness. (Pay attention to this next stat bracketology gurus.) Six of the last seven and 16 of the last 22 champions have been a No. 1 seed. Even though plenty of Cinderella teams, such as Butler, VCU, FGCU and George Mason, have made an exciting push, none have been able to make it to the finish line.

If you’re not a fan of the rich getting richer, you might as well look away at this point.

Following an 11-2 football season in which they defeated the Florida Gators to take home the All-State Sugar Bowl, their sports program is in the middle of a spectacular Spring sports season. In addition to this recent championship, the Women’s basketball team will continue their Cinderella run when they face the Connecticut Huskies Tuesday for their own national championship. Also, their 14th ranked baseball team is holding their own with a 25-6 record. Director of Athletics Tom Jurich must feel like it’s been Christmas Day 24/7 this entire academic year. For those students currently enrolled at Louisville – you have my jealousy.

Over all of these accolades and numbers, the best part about this championship was the Cardinals’ desire to win this for someone not on the court.

I’m sure most of you have seen the Kevin Ware injury video. Yes, it’s disgusting. But it’s also sad to see a young man fail to finish out his sophomore season playing the sport he loves.

His teammates and brothers wouldn’t let this be a gloomy season’s end for Ware. All the players again came out with Ware’s No. 5 on the back of their warmup jerseys and “Ri5e to the Occasion” on the front. Once the title was obtained, he was right in the thick of the celebration, giving just as many high fives and hugs. Finally, when it was time for that net to be cut, they lowered the net in order to let Ware cut the final strand out of the net.

These are the moments that make sports so captivating and intriguing to watch. When you can visually grasp the type of powerful bond that is formed on these sports teams, especially at the college level, and take a dive into the positive off-court stories, that enriches the game itself and makes it more enjoyable to watch. The support that Ware received from his basketball home couldn’t be more admirable and is simply amazing to see.

“These are my brothers,” Ware said. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”

Now they can enjoy this championship together as a family. Congrats, Louisville.

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Fun Fact Friday

22 03 2013

Florida Gulf Coast just made their program known for all of the college basketball nation.

For the third time in the past two season, a 2-seed has been taken down by a 15-seed as the FGCU Eagles took down the Georgetown Hoyas 78-68. The 15-seed has only won four other times since the 64-team field was created in 1985.

For Georgetown, this is deja vu… again. Since they went to the Final Four in 2007, other than 2009 when they were in the N.I.T., the Hoyas have been the 2-seed or 3-seed every single season. And every single time they entered the NCAA Tournament, they have been defeated by a double-digit seeded team. No one should have been surprised to see this surprise.

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Seminoles and EJ Make a Statement

23 09 2012

Just as the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles proved their legitimacy as a team with a gritty 49-37 victory over the No. 10 Clemson Tigers, so did Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel prove his authenticity as a Heisman candidate.

This man truly did it all Saturday night – and did so in an efficient way. Not only did Manuel throw for a career-high 380 passing yards, but he also completed 77 percent of his 35 passes and threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions. If that wasn’t enough, the 6-5 senior ran for a career-high 102 yards, averaging 8.5 yards per carry. This was his Saturday night.

The Seminoles faced their first respectable competition in Clemson since outscoring their opponents 176-3 up to this point in the season only gave them a backseat to three other undefeated teams. Once they trailed 28-14 early in the second half, the first gut check stared Manuel and his Seminoles right in the face. Last year this team faced an almost identical deficit (28-17) to Clemson as Manuel was forced to watch from the sidelines with an injury. That night ended in a loss as Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd stepped into the limelight.

Things were different this time around. During his team’s second-half comeback, Manuel seemed to have a command and fight in him that Boyd and Clemson simply couldn’t match. And to add to this powerful force, the Seminoles seemed to feed off their quarterback’s energy – something all great teams need in order to overcome any sort of obstacle. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, Manuel’s teammates had his back and helped push their way to victory.

Now, this team looks primed to compete for the national championship if they continue to play at this level. They have a coach in Jimbo Fisher that seems to finally be close to stepping out of Bobby Bowden’s shadow while the play on the field has few weaknesses. There’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be able to breeze through the rest of their schedule, facing all unranked opponents that have already lost until their last game of the regular season when they go up against the feisty No. 14 Florida Gators.

What about Manuel’s case for the Heisman? Well, with USC’s Matt Barkley sudden drop in production the past two weeks (a loss to Stanford along with only two touchdowns and four interceptions), this thing is up for grabs. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Oregon flashy running back De’Anthony Thomas are most likely still frontrunners for the award, but Saturday night should put Manuel in the conversation.

There are still many games to be played until that elusive trophy is handed to one man. If Florida State goes on to have a successful season and plays the strings of the voters’ hearts by “revitalizing a once renowned program” due in large part to their quarterback, that man might just be EJ Manuel.

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College Football Top 10 Preview 2012

27 08 2012

 

#1 USC – The Trojans seem to be picking up where they left off a couple of years ago before the NCAA hit them with sanctions. QB Matt Barkley is a major Heisman contender (if not the very early front-runner), and head Coach Lane Kiffin seems to be quickly bringing this team back into elite status. With a relatively weak PAC-12 Conference, the biggest obstacle in their path right now is a trip to Eugene on November 3rd to play the Ducks. Can this team handle the pressure that comes along with being #1?

#2 Alabama – The reigning national champion lost a lot of players to the NFL. The offense and defense are going to have a lot of new faces, but Coach Nick Saban is one of the best out there, and he won’t expect any less than the best even from his younger players. The Crimson Tide have an early test this Saturday as they travel to Arlington, TX to meet Michigan in a key non-conference matchup.

#3 LSU – The Tigers have a lot of talent returning this year, and every one of those players is being motivated by their 21-0 embarrassment in last year’s national championship game. LSU will have a dominant defense, but the question is whether or not their offense can generate anything against the solid defenses of the SEC. As good as they were last year, the Tigers were only able to score a total of 9 points against Alabama in the two times they matched up against their divisional rival. November 3rd is lurking.

#4 Oklahoma – With Robert Griffin III, Justin Blackmon, and Brandon Weedon all off to the NFL, the Big XII is up for the taking, and Bob Stoops should be in a prime position to seize this opportunity. QB Landry Jones has decided to play one more year for the Sooners, and Mike Stoops has rejoined his brother as defensive coordinator. Even with all the great teams that have come through Oklahoma over the past decade, the fans in Norman are still looking for their first title since 2000.

#5 Oregon – The Ducks are returning 14 starters from last year’s Rose Bowl winning team. LaMichael James has moved on, but there is still more than enough firepower on that team to give any opposing defensive coordinator nightmares. Even if no one will want to admit it, every coach and player on that team is looking ahead to November 3rd when the Trojans come to town.

#6 Georgia – Last year’s SEC East champions look ready to continue the momentum they began last season. With neither LSU nor Alabama on their schedule this year, the Bulldogs look to be in a wonderful position to make a legitimate run this year. A trip to South Carolina on October 6th currently appears to be their biggest challenge, so if they can pass that test, expect those Dogs to bark up some noise.

#7 Florida St. – Year after year, Bobby Bowden consistently made FSU one the elite football programs in the country. Even after he left, those expectations still remained, and Jimbo Fisher has done his best to get his team to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, over the past two seasons, the Seminoles haven’t been able to prove themselves when it matters. This year’s squad is full of talent, but we’ll have to see if they are finally ready to make that big step.

#8 Michigan – This season will be all about QB Denard Robinson who is one of the most dynamic players in college football – he could easily become this year’s RG3. The Wolverines might have one of the best teams in the Big 10, but they also have one of the toughest schedules with road games at Nebraska and Ohio St. along with opening the season this Saturday against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. They will provide excitement, but a successful season in terms of a preseason top 10 ranking is looking to be doubtful.

#9 South Carolina – When Steve Spurrier was brought in as head coach in 2005, he was expected to turn a perennially mediocre program into a contender. (This is no small feat in the SEC.) While the Gamecocks made strides early on, they always seemed to be “almost there.” Then, last year, they hit two major milestones setting a school record with 11 wins and finishing in the season in the AP Top 10 for the first time in school history. If this team can use this momentum, they could have a very respectable season.

#10 Arkansas – Over just a few seasons, Bobby Petrino had instilled a confidence in his team that was lacking and had begun convincing fans that he would be able to bring the Hogs back to their former glory. With Petrino now gone, it will be up to the new head coach along with the players to focus on continuing the direction their program is headed. This is crucial if they want to have a chance at competing in a division which houses rivals Alabama and LSU.

 

Here are some match-ups to keep an eye out for this season:

September 1: Michigan @ Alabama

September 5: Alabama @ Arkansas

September 22: Florida St @ Clemson

October 6: Georgia @ South Carolina

November 3: USC @Oregon and Alabama @ LSU

November 23: LSU @ Arkansas

 

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Playoff Possibility

21 09 2011

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College Catch-Up

11 09 2011

Notre Dame 31,  Michigan 35

Starting with their very first drive, the Irish dominated most of the game, but Denard Robinson and the Wolverines decided to wake up in the fourth quarter, turning this into one of the most memorable games of this series between the NCAA’s two most winning programs. The final 1:12 saw both teams combine for three touchdowns with the game winner being caught at the :02 mark. Denard Robinson’s big play capability was in full effect as he had 338 yards on only 11 total pass completions and also 108 rushing yards to add to that. Things are not looking up for the Fighting Irish as #15 Michigan State, who have outscored their opponents 72-6 in the first two weeks, is next on the schedule.

(#12) South Carolina 45,  Georgia 42

Georgia needed this win for their credibility as a program after their tough loss to Boise State last weekend. They played hard, and in his post-game interview, Coach Spurrier said his Gamecocks were outplayed by the Bulldogs. So how did they win? South Carolina was just able to capitalize on all of Georgia’s mistakes scoring four defensive touchdowns. This puts Georgia in a 0-2 hole it hasn’t seen itself in since 1996. Even though their next opponent, Coastal Carolina, is undefeated, that should be a prime opportunity for the Bulldogs to get back on track.

Toledo 22,  (#15) Ohio State 27 

The Buckeyes haven’t lost to an in-state opponent since 1921. They came dangerously close to breaking that record on Saturday. Ohio State never got into an offensive rhythm, and Toledo showed that they weren’t going to be intimidated. Fortunately, for Ohio State though, the Rockets were also error prone and made enough mistakes on their side to help preserve victory for the Buckeyes. Next week will be interesting as Ohio State and Miami – two programs struggling off the field – will face each other.

Auburn 41, (#16) Mississippi State 34

Once again, Auburn pulled off a close win, although this weekend it was against a tougher opponent. The Bulldogs had a chance to tie up the game as time expired, but the Auburn defense stood their ground and won the game. If Michael Dyer can keep up his play from this game (150 yards and 2 touchdowns), he’ll be a valuable asset for their offense; however, it’s still anyone’s guess how the Tigers are going to do as they progress through the treacherous SEC.

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