Everything sucks: movies, TV, music, people, places, and especially sports. That’s the attitude so often conveyed today from commentators whose eyes cannot see beyond THE CAPS LOCK KEY. Don’t get these folks started on the audacity of bowl games. Though bowls have been played for decades, almost a century in some cases, their existence only adds to the lament of there being no playoff. And while this blogger agrees the Bowl Championship Series is, at best, a half-assed measure for crowning a champion, there must always be a place for bowls in some capacity.
While it’s easy to scoff at the corporate tie-ins and roll eyes that a Sun Belt team get to close its season as a champion, I cannot help but feel sorry for those who miss the bowl season’s positives. Day One of Bowl Month 2011 had, on full display, the good of bowl season. Tell Louisiana-Lafayette, winner of its first Division I postseason how meaningless the New Orleans Bowl is, or Temple, which has a tangible reminder of how far this program has come in a few short years.
And while the comparisons end here — this is no “bowls are better than a playoff” example — the finishes in Boise and New Orleans were as exciting as any March Madness buzzer beater.
Those who lump great college football into the ever-growing pile of what sucks because it’s not the NFL can continue to miss out, while those who get it soak up the final stretch of a spectacular season.
Frank Solich was in an unfortunate position at Nebraska. Regardless of who coached those Cornhusker teams, he would be seen as a failure. Such is the folly of replacing a legend, and few in college football history are as legendary as Tom Osbourne.
Solich is little more than a footnote in Nebraska history, but at Ohio University he is the benchmark. And Solich’s Athens legacy added two lofty benchmarks to headline the Highs.
LaVon Brazill’s spectacular, game-saving fourth down grab set up Tyler Tettleton’s touchdown rush to give Ohio U. its first ever bowl game win. The win was also No. 10 for a Bobcat program Solich built from virtually nothing into a perennial MAC contender. Almost all the university’s bowl history is the result of Solich’s efforts, thus it was only right he get to coach the first Bobcat bowl winners.
And that brings us to one of Saturday’s Lows — Heather Cox, what were you doing?! A rite of bowl victory passage is the Gatorade bath, but Cox was unrelenting in her interview as Bobcat players tried to give Solich the baptism.
When Al Golden began his construction of Temple football, a key to his blueprint was signing top, local talent. Ardmore, Pa. product Bernard Pierce was a cornerstone of the Owls’ three-year, 26-12 spell. It was only fitting the junior take the spotlight with 100 yards and two touchdowns, the latter coming in a first half that sealed Temple’s first bowl win since 1979.
The last Ragin’ Cajun quarterback to have a season as outstanding as Gautier’s would later lead a Super Bowl team. Blaine Gautier abused San Diego State’s secondary for 470 yards passing and three touchdowns. Both elevated him past Jake Delhomme on the ULL single season record book.
Louisiana-Lafayette was a program languishing in the cellar of college football much of its time in the FBS. The Ragin’ Cajuns were expected to be among the bottom run of Sun Belt teams, which is a de facto relegation to the very bottom of the subdivision. But Saturday night’s game winning field goal that brought the Cajun players storming onto the Superdome turf proved definitively once more, teams are not defined on paper (unless they’re pursuing the BCS Championship).
ULL finished 2011 9-4 and a champion, retribution for years of ineptitude. Mark Hudspeth proved why he is one of the hottest young coaching names in the game. And the program’s retribution couldn’t come without individual retribution for kicker Brett Baer. His 50-yarder made up for some previously misfires we’ll delve into later.
Though Utah State ultimately fell short, the Aggies’ dynamic backfield was impressive. Each surpasses 100 yards. Robert Turbin had been the star much of the season, but the senior Michael Smith closed his college campaign with the loftier figures: 157 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
- Special Teams Failures
The New Orleans Bowl included San Diego State’s Abel Perez missing a 36-yard field goal attempt that sailed close to 36 yards sideways, and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Baer missed two extra points that were nearly the difference as Ryan Lindley’s touchdown strike to Colin Lockett gave SDSU a one-point advantage.
Appropriately, a special teams miscue proved crucial in the final play. SDSU was called for illegal…stemming? spinning? shifting? An interpreter would have been helpful to decipher just what the call was, but the result was moving Baer’s final attempt from his career long 55 yards, to a more manageable 50.
- Book-Ending Heartbreak
Utah State captured the college football world’s attention in Week 1, nearly defeating the defending national champion on its home turf. But the Aggies saw Auburn salt away and eventually steal the lead, the first of five regular season losses that came by a combined 25 points. USU dominated Ohio through much of the first half, stifling Tettleton and breaking off significant rushes.
The second half was a microcosm of the Aggies’ campaign, though. The lead didn’t vanish all at once, and there weren’t any truly catastrophic moments at which to point as the reason for defeat. Rather, a gradual and excruciating momentum shift culminated in the final minute as it had against Colorado State, BYU and AU. Such gut-wrenching defeat may overshadow what was an otherwise tremendous campaign for head coach Gary Andersen. He led USU to its first bowl game in 12 years and has the pieces in place for the Aggies to be a non-AQ program worth following for seasons to come.
- The Potato Bowl Mascot
The Potato Bowl was notably for its 6-ton faux spud, but that paled in comparison to the giant, possibly VeggieTale inspired mascot.
- Penn Wagers
Ohio’s game-winning drive was nearly sullied by the officiating of one Penn Wagers, an SEC referee in charge of the Potato Bowl. After his inexplicable explanation of a would-be Bobcat touchdown, he calls Brazill “the boy.”