I love bowl games, and I don’t understand college football fans who don’t. Largely-equitable teams, on neutral fields, during the holidays when we often have plenty of time to watch. What’s not to love?
Anyway, the weekend kicked off a string of 20something bowl games in a week’s time. Observations from the first wave:
Motor City Bowl:
1. Did Howard Schnellenberger really once coach at OU? I mean, how could that have happened?
The Colonel, of course, is one of my all-time favorites. More interesting than every OU or OSU coach since, combined. Now Schnellenberger is 6-0 in bowl games, after his victory over Central Michigan. None of those bowl wins came as a Sooner.
Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic Owls doused him with Gatorade after the game, ruining a very nice suit, and lifted him for a little shoulder ride. I was happy for him.
2. The Motor City MVP was the Central Michigan fans and the bowl organizers. Did they really draw 41,000 fans for this low-level bowl in a downtrodden city?
Meinke Car Care Bowl:
1. By far the worst name in bowldom. Not even close, really. Papajohns.com Bowl is a way better name, and it stinks.
2. But this Charlotte bowl had West Virginia’s Bill Stewart, everybody’s favorite coach. The man who charmed us all at the Fiesta Bowl last year got a 31-30 victory over North Carolina, then showed his humanity with his downhome, on-field ESPN interview after the game.
“We love ESPN,” Stewart said without a hint of bravado. “Call us anytime. We’ll play any day you want.”
Every coach in America should study Stewart’s simple openness and honesty. He ought to give seminars at the coaches’ convention in January.
Stewart was asked about his detractors at West Virginia, and while he admitted there was some critics, he said, “But I know most of them.”
3. UNC coach Butch Davis blew this one. Up 29-24 after late-third quarter touchdown, Davis ordered an extra point. He should have called for a 2-point conversion.
This isn’t the NFL, where two yards are hard-earned. In college, 2-point conversions are manageable for inventive offenses. Some day soon, some pioneer will start going for two after every touchdown and others will follow.
But Davis blinked. When you’re up five, a coach must ask himself this question. What’s more likely? That both teams keep scoring touchdowns? Or that the opponent starts kicking mutiple field goals? In the NFL, maybe the latter. In college, no way.
You’re up five, particularly as the game hits the home stretch, and you’ve got to try to get back ahead by seven. Davis didn’t, West Virginia scored and won 31-30.
4. Noticed John Blake on the Carolina sideline. You see the Tar Heels coming up on recruiting lists, even out here in Oklahoma. I think Blake is a valuable member of Davis’ staff, which has done a very good job reviving UNC football.
5. It’s not surprising that West Virginia’s Pat White is the first quarterback to go 4-0 in bowls as a starter.
Think about it. We’re only talking about since 1972. In those 36 years, how many quarterbacks started as freshmen? Not many. How many of those started four years? Fewer. How many of those made it to four bowls, especially in the days before the proliferation of all the bowls? How many won all four bowls?
See what I mean. OSU never has gone to bowls in four straight seasons. OU never has had a quarterback start four bowls, much less win all four.
6. West Virginia has the greatest auxiliary school song in the nation. John Denver’s “Country Roads” is superb. “Oklahoma” by Rodgers and Hammerstein is fantastic and ably used by both Sooners and Cowboys, but Country Roads is in a league of its own.
Champ Sports Bowl:
1. If they gave out an award for worst coaching job of the year, my vote goes to Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema. In the previous four years, the Badgers were 40-11.
But after a 42-13 loss to Florida State, Wisconsin finished 7-6. In its regular-season finale, the Badgers beat Cal Poly 36-35 in overtime. Before that, the Badgers survived hapless Minnesota 35-32.
2. Hard to get excited about a game in which the game MVP was a punter. Not that Florida State’s Graham Gano wasn’t deserving; three punts downed inside the 5-yard line, a 48.2-yard average.
3. Bobby Bowden, 79 years young, sure sounds like a coach who isn’t thinking retirement. Kept talking about all the young guys that will be back next season.
4. With that in mind, Florida State has turned into college football’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Wait ’til next year.
1. The configuration at Pac-Bell Park is ridiculous. It’s one thing to put both teams on one sideline. But the tiny space between the end zone and the wall is dangerous.
Just because you can play football in a baseball stadium doesn’t mean you should do it.
2. Don’t take the crop of Big 12 quarterbacks for granted. Cal-Miami was a matchup of two excellent quarterback schools of recent years.
Miami, you know all about. But California, too, notably Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers.
And yet, this was a game that cried out for a quarterback. Cal started veteran Nate Longshore, who was mostly terrible, going 10-of-21. Miami starting QB Robert Marve missed the game because of suspension. Backup Jacory Harris was better than Longshore but committed two turnovers, including the game-decider.
In the Big 12, we’ve become accustomed to quality quarterback play. It’s not widespread nationally.
3. Why doesn’t Cal’s Jeff Tedford get more respect? He’s an excellent coach and has done a superb job in Berkeley.
When Tedford was hired in 2002, California had a streak of eight straight non-winning seasons. Cal’s records under Tedford: 7-5, 8-6, 10-2, 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4.
Tedford’s 59-30 record is the most wins and best percentage at Cal since Pappy Waldorf went 67-32-4 from 1947-56. And Cal has employed some good coaches. Marv Levy, Mike White and Steve Mariucci all were NFL head coaches.
Tedford’s curse could be timing. He has turned Cal competitive during a period when Southern Cal has dominated the Pac-10. Before 2003, the Pac-10 was the epitome of balance. Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Washington State, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State, USC. Virtually every Pac-10 school was a contender. Now USC wins the league every year, leaving no glamor spot for the likes of Tedford and Cal.
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