Saturday marks the first time since 2000 the Penn State Nittany Lions will open a season away from Beaver Stadium, and I extremely fine with that, as I WILL BE IN ATTENDANCE. The Lions will be locking horns with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the dirty Jerz (I’ve never ridden a train to a game before…).
It has been 272 days since Penn State has played an official football game (not counting the Blue and White game, even though I showed up with my buddy at our Penn State bar in NYC, demanding they put the scrimmage on). The now very-much-revered Bill O’Brien enters his second season as head coach, and something feels very familiar… oh yes, Penn State once again does not have a specified starting quarterback.
Will it be Christian Hackenberg (true freshman, left) or Tyler Ferguson (sophomore, right)? Neither has played a D1 game (or has even taken a snap in a D1 game) in his life, which might be O’Brien’s hesitation to throw all of his blue and white eggs in one of their proverbial baskets. But what is this, the start of the 2011 season?! Cough, Rob Bolden vs. Matt McGloin, cough. We all know how that turned out, but it was severely cringeworthy for a while. No matter what happened in 2010-2011, B.O.B. is not revealing his starting quarterback until the first offensive snap tomorrow.
Quarterback situation or not, tomorrow marks another step forward. The Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions still weigh heavily on the program, but a year passing makes a difference. The courage and heart of 2012’s seniors and everyone else who stayed, coupled with O’Brien’s heightened prominence has helped nudge Penn State football out from under the thick dark clouds of last year.
Finally… I have posted a new blog entry! But more importantly, FINALLY (starting in 2014), college football will have a playoff to determine the national champion. The BCS (computers) will be no more, and the automatic qualifier status that favored specific conferences has also been vaporized.
The BCS system has long been scrutinized by national media and fans alike, and for good reason. Here’s a fun example of why it did/does not ensure the best two teams me(e)t in the championship game – a decade ago, Nebraska lost its final game of the regular season by a horrendous 62-36 margin and STILL played in the 2002 championship game. No surprise, they were pulverized in said championship by Miami. Nebraska’s making the championship game in 2002 specifically displayed the culmination of an egregious systematic error, but year after year, great teams are getting leapfrogged by lesser teams based on polls and rankings and automatic bids that cheapen the prior season of play, not to mention make little sense.
The new playoff plan, approved Tuesday by a committee of university presidents, will consist of two national semifinal games (four top teams – #1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3), and the winners of each will meet in the finale.
The Conference title games are long gone (does anyone even remember what happened?). The BCS gods (computers) configured the final rankings and match-ups. The bowls (all 1340983475 of them) have begun. But the big mammajammas (read: BCS Bowl Games) are still looming.
Lots of people find the bowl breakdown come end-of-season wildly confusing. To quote the BCS on the web, “the BCS is a five-game showcase of college football. It is designed to ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game, and to create exciting and competitive matchups among eight other highly regarded teams in four other bowl games.”
I’m not putting a dog in the fight about the BCS this year, whether I think it’s a good system, whether there should be a playoff etc. etc. I’m too tired. What I will say, however, is that there are going to be (should be) some damn good football games to bring in 2012.
Bowl Championship Series (in chronological order)
Rose Bowl – Oregon vs. Wisconsin on Jan. 2, 2012, 5 p.m. (ET obv) in Pasadena, CA
#5 Oregon and #10 Wisconsin fire off the BCS start gun for “The Granddaddy of Them All”, better known as the Rose Bowl. The Ducks lost last year’s title game to Auburn (cough, Cam Newton, cough), and Wisconsin actually lost last year’s Rose Bowl game to TCU. Both are looking for Rose Bowl glory in this now-fairly-standard match-up of Pac-12 & Big Ten champions. Watch these two VERY different, but very high-powered offenses go to work.
After a shoddy match-up last year (Oklahoma faced four-loss Connecticut, in a low-rated and low-attended game) and a scandal involving wrongful political campaign contributions by Fiesta Bowl employees (including the subsequent booting of then president and CEO John Junker), the Fiesta Bowl has what looks like redemption in the form of a great game. #3 Oklahoma State, who some/many thought should have been in the title game, and #4 Stanford, led by likely first pick in the NFL Draft QB Andrew Luck, will bring their offensively-potent squads onto the Arizona gridiron this year. This very well may be the best match-up of the BCS bunch (remember the offensively riveting LSU v. Alabama game earlier this season?)
Allstate Sugar Bowl – Michigan vs. Virginia Tech Jan. 3, 2012, 8:30 p.m. ET in New Orleans, LA.
The Sugar Bowl takes the controversy mini spotlight (of sorts) this year because of the teams playing in it. #13 Michigan will face #11 Virginia Tech – do they seem like fairly middle of the road-ranked teams? Yes. That’s because they leap-frogged teams like #6 Arkansas, #7 Boise State and #8 Kansas State (Arkansas and Kansas State will meet instead in the Cotton Bowl on January 6). People are pissed off, Michigan and VTech are defending their right to play in the Sugar Bowl. It’s not leaving a great taste in a lot of mouths. The Hokies having trouble selling off their share of tickets was not helping matters either. Players to watch (if you watch) – Michigan’s QB Denard Robinson (a multi-purpose offensive threat) and Virginia Tech’s RB and ACC player of the year, David Wilson.
In yet another high-octane offensive showdown, #23 West Virginia (they get a bid because they share the Big East title and because the computer said so) and #15 Clemson meet in the Orange Bowl to try to light up one another. Both of these teams averaged over 33 points and 440 yards per game this season. Clemson started the season 8-0, upsetting ranked teams and climbed up the rankings themselves, setting school records for pass yards, total yards and scoring along the way. The Orange Bowl will be the first-ever BCS bowl for Clemson.
In a VERY high-profile rematch (the first title game rematch in BCS history actually), #1 LSU will face #2 Alabama, this time with the national title on the line. After all the talk of high-powered offenses in the BCS bowls, it’s (almost) refreshing to talk about two stalwart defenses who helped make a 9-3 final score possible when the teams clashed in November. The Tigers won that battle in OT, but I’m sure the Tide has other plans for the title game (like getting into the endzone). They also have something to prove to those who think/feel this rematch shouldn’t be happening. As mentioned earlier, Oklahoma State almost fought its way into the title game (beating rival Oklahoma 44-10 in the last week of play), but Alabama held the edge – the Tide finished second in both the Harris poll and the coaches’ poll, and by enough to overcome the fact that Oklahoma State had the edge in the computer rankings. If the system hasn’t pissed you off enough by this point (I know I said I’m not going to fight about this.. but I can take jabs), take into consideration that no matter what happens in the title game, for six years in a row, a team from the SEC is going to be crowned victorious. The system has ensured it.
It’s a big Saturday for a lot of NCAA football conferences. Last chances for teams to assert themselves BCS-wise, and a lot of final games before the season wraps and the long (monthish-long) wait begins for bowl games. Here are your weekend notables and what has gone down already.
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
#24 Southern Miss is currently visiting and leading undefeated #6 Houston, 42-21 in the 4th. Can Houston overcome and stay undefeated (seems kind of unlikely now)? What will it mean for them bowl-wise? It’s always interesting when a dominant team emerges from a smaller conference – interesting in that even when staying undefeated, it’s hard to crack into a notable bowl. Southern Miss is playing spoiler hardcore.
#14 Georgia takes on #1 LSU for a 4 PM kick-off. If LSU beats Georgia (at the Georgia Dome), they will be (almost certainly) headed to the BCS national title game . LSU has already nabbed the first 12-0 regular season in school history, and today they battle for their 11th SEC title (first since 2007 – the year LSU also won the national title). Georgia might not make it easy for them, having won ten straight games.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
#15 Wisconsin and #13 Michigan State are meeting in Indianapolis for the first-ever Big Ten Conference Championship game – and a rematch (remember that mildly controversial last-second Michigan State hail mary win? No? Go look it up.). Wisconsin was battling for a chance to go to the national championship when it lost to Michigan State earlier this season. Now, a ticket to the Rose Bowl is on the line for the Spartans and Badgers, both of which are riding a four-game win streak. Kick-off at (the awkward time of) 8:17 PM.
The Big 12 no longer has a championship game (because it is kind of falling apart) due to the lack of having 12 teams, but there are big things on the line tonight when #10 Oklahoma faces off with #3 Oklahoma State for what is referred to as Bedlam (kick-off at 8 PM). There is still a (slight) chance that Oklahoma State can leap-frog current-#2 Alabama and catapult into the national title game – they have to blow-out Oklahoma tonight. The Cowboys, however, are only 3-point favorites and have historically been on the losing side of the Bedlam match-up (Oklahoma has a nine game win-streak). If an Oklahoma State win isn’t a big enough beating, or if the Sooners take another win away, the winner will head to the Fiesta Bowl (to most likely battle Andrew Luck-led Stanford).
#5 Virginia Tech is looking to avenge its loss to #20 Clemson earlier this season in tonight’s ACC Championship game. Kick-off at 8 PM. The Hokies haven’t lost since falling to Clemson on October 1, whereas the Tigers, after a strong 8-0 start, have lost three of the last four – most recently falling to South Carolina a week ago (34-13, ouch). Tonight’s ACC winner will also head to the Orange Bowl (the Hokies made it that far last year, falling to Stanford in the Orange Bowl 40-12. Damn that Andrew Luck).
PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP
#9 Oregon is headed to the Rose Bowl after beating UCLA 49-31 on Friday night. The win sealed Oregon’s third-straight conference title. The Bruins kept it closer than most thought they would, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Ducks and RB LaMichael James (who found himself in the endzone three times), who might be slipping to the NFL next year (James is a junior). The game was the last for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired earlier this week.
The biggest (college football) news of right-this-minute is that Urban Meyer is returning to football as the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team (officially hired Monday). Meyer, a native of Ohio, left the helm of the Florida Gators after last season due to health concerns. Apparently he’s feeling up to the task – which spells even tougher games for the other schools in the Big Ten. Yeesh.
The biggest personal news of right-this-minute is that Dirt in the Skirt is FINALLY located at a real domain. Look up at your URL bar. Snazzy as hell.
NOTABLE WEEK 13 GAMES
#1 LSU throttled #3 Arkansas 41-17. With the win, LSU stays undefeated (12-0 for the first time), stays at #1, and looks to its final test next weekend (the SEC Championship game) against #13 Georgia. A win in Atlanta means another trip to the BCS title game. Arkansas falls to #8.
#2 Alabama rolled over #23 Auburn, 42-14. Heisman candidate (and frontrunner) Trent Richardson (Alabama RB) rushed for a career high of 203 yards, Bama QB AJ McCarron threw 3 TDs, and the Cam Newton-less Auburn Tigers couldn’t stage a comeback. Alabama has its eyes on a rematch with LSU, and that will almost assuredly happen if LSU wins next week. Auburn drops out of the top 25 with the loss.
#9 Oklahoma found a bit of redemption (and a trip to the Big 12 Championship game) with a win over Iowa State, 26-6. This sets up a rivalry championship game – Oklahoma vs. #3 Oklahoma State (who were helped back up to #3 with the Arkansas loss). Oklahoma comes in as current champion and Big 12 championship record-holder (12).
#5 Virginia Tech locked up a shut-out against state-mate #24 Virginia, 36-0. Coming into the game, Virginia was working with a four-game winning streak, but the Hokies snapped that with authority (and claimed the ACC Coastal Division title). Virginia Tech holds steady at #5, and Virginia drops out of the rankings.
#6 Stanford dropped #22 Notre Dame, 28-14. Tossing 233 yards in the air and connecting for 4 TDs, Heisman hopeful Cardinal QB Andrew Luck set a Stanford record for most career TD passes and passed his own best-season mark. Stanford climbs up to #4 in the BCS rankings (hoping for a BCS bowl bid), and the Fighting Irish slide out of the top 25.
In a fight to face now-#9 Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, #16 Wisconsin dismantled #19 Penn State, 45-7. Badger RB Montee Ball (and should-be top Heisman candidate) ran for 156 yards and 4 TDs, while Penn State ended its emotionally-tumultous season with a loss (any many questions about what will shift for next year). Wisconsin edges up to #12, and Penn State slips to #22.
#2 Oklahoma State losing on Friday night (to Iowa State) set the tone for the toppling trend in the BCS top ten (holy alliteration). LSU, Alabama, Arkansas – that’s your new top three. Here’s what went down.
-#1 LSU continued to roll, throttling Ole Miss 52-3. #3 Alabama made their BCS title game case with a big win over Georgia South, 45-21. #6 Arkansas didn’t have much trouble with Mississippi State, winning 44-17. LSU holds onto the top spot, Alabama moves up to #2, and Arkansas jumps three spots to #3.
-#4 Oregon couldn’t get past visiting USC, losing 38-35. The Ducks booted a 37-yard field goal wide left with little time left in the game, giving the Trojans the win and quashing Oregon’s hopes of moving up the NCAA ranks and entering a second consecutive BCS championship game. Oregon drops to #10.
-#5 Oklahoma now has two losses this season (and crushed national title hopes) after being upset by #22 Baylor, 45-38. Historically, Baylor had been 0-20 against the Sooners, but Bears QB Robert Griffin III found a receiver in the back of the endzone with 8 seconds left to lift Baylor to the school’s first versus-Oklahoma win. Baylor creeps up to #18, Oklahoma drops to #9, and the Sooners find themselves with new end-of-season goals – vying for another Big 12 championship, and getting into (and winning) a bowl game.
-North Carolina State turned it ON against #7 Clemson, beating the favored Tigers 37-13. Four Clemson turnovers did not help matters, and they drop to #17 overall.
-#13 Kansas State eeks one out against #23 Texas, 17-13. Kansas State edges up to #11, and Texas moves to #25.
-#21 Penn State held on against Ohio State in Buckeyes territory, winning 20-14. A surprising amount of offense for both teams early, but the defenses hunkered down in the second half to allow no scoring on either side of the field. Penn State goes into a game against Wisconsin next weekend with the Big Ten Leaders Division on the line.
-#17 Wisconsin held on to beat Illinois this weekend, which booted Ohio State from a shot at the Leaders division because the Buckeyes had already fallen three times in conference play (prior to the loss against PSU). On the Legends side of things, though #18 Michigan beat up on #16 Nebraska 45-17, #15 Michigan State was able to clinch the division with a 55-3 victory over Indiana. The inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship game will pit newly-numbered #14 Michigan State against either #19 Penn State or #16 Wisconsin.
College football provides a Thursday night match-up (or two), as well as a Friday game at this point in the season, but I generally wait until Saturday morning to talk about the day’s game slate. I should’ve updated yesterday.
Last night, #2 Oklahoma State fell to unranked Iowa State. The National Championship and Heisman races just got all scrambly. Again. I watched Oklahoma State struggle to find its rhythm early, but soon the score was 24-7 (in their favor), early in the third. I switched over to a sweet PBS doc on Women Who Rock. When I checked back in later – two OT’s had brought the Iowa State Cyclones a giant upset victory.
With the first loss of the season last night, Oklahoma State’s hopes of playing in a National Championship game have been dashed and the Heisman trophy has (most likely) slipped out of sight for 28-year-old QB Brandon Weeden, who threw 3 INT. LSU remains the only unbeaten top-10 team (#11 Houston is also undefeated this season) and can hold onto the top spot with a win over Ole Miss tonight at 7 PM. Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Alabama RB Trent Richardson are now in tight competition for the Heisman trophy at season’s end.
On a very sad note – it has a been an incredibly tough week for the Oklahoma State community, as they lost Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna (women’s basketball coach and assistant coach, respectively) Thursday night in a plane crash in Arkansas. This tragedy comes a decade after two Cowboy men’s players, along with eight others, were lost in a plane crash near Denver.
NOTABLE SATURDAY MATCH-UPS
-The #21 Penn State Nittany Lions visit the Ohio State Buckeyes for a 3:30 PM kick-off. Both programs have experienced and are still weathering off-field messes and tragedy (the scale isn’t the same, but both programs have been deeply affected. Think – last year Jim Tressel was squaring up against Joe Paterno). With a win (and a Wisconsin loss), Penn State can secure the Big Ten Leaders Division title, but the Nittany Lions historically struggle mightily in Columbus – they have won only once at Ohio State since joining the Big Ten. If anyone is looking for offensive excitement, don’t bother tuning in. Penn State and Ohio State are statistically at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of passing and scoring.
-USC heads north to take on #4 Oregon in an 8 PM Pac-12 match-up. Oregon is slowly making its way to (and argument for playing in) the National Championship game, while USC is still under a post-season ban. Without any pressure, the Trojans could have dream killing in their game plan.
-#16 Nebraska visits #18 Michigan for a 12 PM game (IN PROGRESS). Nebraska is coming off a win at Penn State, and Michigan logged their own W last week against Illinois. Both of these programs started hot then faltered, sharing 8-2 records overall and 4-2 records in the Big Ten, but today’s game has Big Ten Legends Division implications. Nebraska and Michigan sit one game behind #15 Michigan State (facing struggling Indiana today), and if the Spartans win, Michigan is out no matter what. For Nebraska, today’s game is a must-win while still hoping for a Spartan loss (which would tie things up and give Nebraska the tiebreaker edge over the Spartans). JUICY.
-#5 Oklahoma takes on #22 Baylor on Baylor turf. Kick-off at 8 PM.
-#13 Kansas State goes after #23 Texas at Texas. Kick-off at 8 PM.
November 5 college football turned out to be doozy central. Here is the big ish that went down yesterday:
-#1 LSU stays #1 after Tigers K Drew Alleman booted a 25-yard field goal in OT against #2 Alabama. Final score, 9-6, which goes into the books as the second lowest score of a 1-versus-2 game since the AP poll was incepted. HOLY defense. Neither team could reach the endzone in four-plus quarters, Alabama missed four field goals and threw an interception at the goal line, and LSU turned the ball over twice as well. Not one for the highlight reels, but a strong defensive statement for the two teams at the top of the heap.
-#3 Oklahoma State joins its state-mate Oklahoma in beating #14 Kansas State, but this game was a little closer – Cowboys win 52-45. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden threw for a school-high of 502 yards and four TDs, but it was the Oklahoma State defense that had to fight for the W as the clock ticked down – K-State was threatening on the OSU 5-yard-line with 12 seconds left on the clock. Three incompletions sealed the Cowboy win.
-#7 Arkansas comes up big in the final quarter to beat #9 South Carolina, 44-28. The Gamecocks’ four turnovers didn’t hurt, either.
-Another win pulled out from under #10 Nebraska, this time at the hands of unranked and 17-point-underdog Northwestern and back-up QB Kain Colter (starter Dan Persa was out the second half with shoulder problems). Northwestern wins 28-25. Second-stringer Colter ran for two TDs and tossed a third, helping the Wildcats beat a top-ten opponent for the first time in two years.
-Iowa upsets #15 Michigan, 24-16. Iowa’s defense stepped up to the task of stopping the talented Wolverine QB Denard Robinson, who had his offense on the Hawkeyes three yard line with four downs and 16 seconds left on the clock, trying to tie the game. The Wolverines came up short.
-UCLA sneaks a win from #19 Arizona State (who missed a last-second FG), winning 29-28 at home.
-Louisville upsets #24 West Virginia in Morgantown, 38-35. No one in the Big East was paying attention to Louisville, but they’ve won three in a row.
SIGH. It’s always nice to get a break from a gut-twisting season like this one (SEE ALL OF THE PAST REVIEWS OF PENN STATE GAMES I’VE POSTED), but it does feel a little weird not to have a game to plan my day around. Penn State is unfortunately in the news for a terrible off-field reason, though, which would have been my Fugly had the headlines come up a few days earlier. Jerry Sandusky, a former PSU assistant coach, has been formally indicted on felony sex abuse charges AGAINST MINORS. I think I might vomit. I think when problem times for Penn State come into the news, it’s triple-disheartening for those of us who hold Penn State to a higher standard. I hope the university handles this in the appropriate ways, out of respect to any victims and their families, and out of a passion for making things right.
NOTABLE GAMES THIS WEEKEND
-This is the big one (and you have to wait till 8 PM tonight) – #1 LSU visits #2 Alabama. Both teams are undefeated, both 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the SEC. This is huge. I don’t know how else to describe this game. Can’t wait.
-Another 8 PM kick-off – #14 Kansas State visits #3 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is putting up insane numbers this year, and Kansas State is coming off a rough loss to Oklahoma last week that pushed their ranking down. Can they bounce back? Or does another team from Oklahoma spoil their day?
-#9 South Carolina at #7 Arkansas, kick-off at 7:15 PM. This is a tough SEC match-up, and one that the Gamecocks have struggled with in recent years, having lost four of the last five match-ups. Arkansas only squeaked by Vanderbilt last week, so this is a prove-yourself game for both teams.
Sweet God. The Penn State-Illinois game was making me nauseous in a way only sports can. I clenched consciously and unconsciously as neither offense could do ANYTHING (the first points on the board came in the third quarter on an Illinois TD), and both defenses forced turnovers and three-and-outs like crazy. It was frustrating and painful, and I fully felt that Penn State was going to face its first loss since Alabama, and first conference loss altogether. Somehow, they didn’t, giving Joe Paterno his 409th win (now the Division I all-time leader) with an ugly final score of 10-7.
Everything came down to the final minutes of the game. Nittany Lion WR Derek Moye trotted onto the field (likely because despite broken foot, he was tired of seeing the offense look pathetic) and QB Matt McGloin got the ball to him multiple times, moving the chains (for what seemed like the first time all day) and marching the PSU offense down the field to allow for a 3-yard Silas Redd TD run with 1:08 left in regulation. The score was 10-7 Penn State. The Illini offense woke up for its final drive as well, moving all the way from the Illinois 17 yard line to the Penn State 25 to attempt a 42 yard tying field goal as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Illinois K Derek Dimke’s kick was high enough and long enough – and then thwacked the right upright as the clock hit 0:00.
Penn State again, eeks out a win and again, the defense carries the team. AGAIN, the quarterbacks looked very bad (Rob Bolden has no vision and his internal time clock is warped. I think he’s done; Matt McGloin can occasionally complete a pass but is not much better – I was shouting at him/my TV for most of the game). Each and every member of the offense (minus Silas Redd, who had ANOTHER +100 yard rushing game) should personally thank the defensive squad for keeping their asses in the game and giving them chance after chance to score. NO style points awarded, but somehow Penn State sits alone at the top of the Big Ten Leaders Division and remains the only unbeaten-in-conference-play Big Ten team.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES:
-Speaking of Big Ten teams, #11 Michigan State, fresh off their big-time win against Wisconsin last week, falls hard to #14 Nebraska, 24-3.
-#15 Wisconsin, looking to regain its footing after losing to Michigan State on an end-of-game Hail Mary last week (see above), lost for the second straight week on a late TD, but this time to Ohio State, 33-29.
-#9 Oklahoma played with a chip on its collective shoulder after falling from the top spot in the NCAA last week after losing to Texas Tech. They rolled over #8 Kansas State, 58-17.
-Texas Tech must have been all out of juice after that primetime win over Oklahoma last week. They couldn’t do much of anything against Iowa State, losing 41-7.
-Unranked Georgia Tech upset visiting #5 Clemson (who had previously been upsetting teams all over the place and climbing the rankings) 31-17.
-Unranked Missouri took #16 Texas A&M to OT and beat them, 38-31.