LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – NCAA FOOTBALL 2011 SEASON WRAP-UP

 

 

 

 

Say what you will about the process, but the rightful champ was crowned on Monday night.

In spite of the seemingly-endless stream of complaints and the incessant banter regarding who was deserving and who wasn’t, what was fair and what wasn’t, and/or what was best for the game, I’m of the opinion that there’s very little doubt that the two best teams in college football clashed in New Orleans, and that Alabama proved that they’re the best thing going today. Number one and, to me, indisputably so.

It was the culmination of a college football season that started off with a lot of the usual promise, ebbed and flowed mid-year with a bevy of matchups and games that routinely produced exciting results as well as numerous downfalls of potential contenders, and then sputtered to a bit of a halt both on the field (via process of elimination) and off (thanks to the ugliest scandal in the history of college sports).

College football, for me, has always been about what you make of it, to a certain extent. I suppose all sports are like that, but the amateur scene has unique intangibles that only add to the actual game played. The atmosphere that emerges each week is the result of aspects like school traditions and rivalries, historic venues, uniforms and colors, the legitimacy of the “we” mentality and/or pride in one’s alma mater, etc. With that in mind, even the worst of games can hold my interest, whether live or through the flat-screen. I don’t know – there’s something special about Saturday mornings from September to December.

As such, I didn’t feel particularly different about this year in comparison to others. There have been much better years with more parity or more compelling storylines. There have been worse. This year, however, suffered on a national scale because:

1) Nearly everyone acknowledges that the current postseason structure needs to be addressed in a major way.

2) A bunch of teams had their chances, and they lost.

Addressing the latter of the two points first, it’s relatively simple. The SEC is “that thing” in college football. Like the Big East in college hoops, the AL East in baseball, Lakers/Celtics in the NBA, etc. A sector of a league or organization that gets all of the attention based on perception of superior talent, a perception that, more often that not, gets backed up on the playing field. What’s the best way to break that down? Well, quite frankly, go out and hit the bully in the mouth.

The problem is, nobody could do it this year, directly or otherwise. Oregon had their chance off the jump, and got thoroughly handled by LSU. Alabama walked into State College, long before all hell broke loose, and wrecked the Nittany Lions. Arkansas, the third best team in the SEC, beat A&M and Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. It’s not like teams didn’t have opportunities in the regular season or otherwise.

And what about Oklahoma State? What about Andrew Luck? What about them? Well, they controlled their own destiny within the current structure, and they blew it. In Stanford’s case, the trickle down effect from the aforementioned Oregon loss resulted in the Cardinal and any of the other Pac-12 contenders shooting themselves in the foot. Stanford defeated USC (barely), and then got promptly annihilated by the Ducks (at home). If Oregon had any chance of working their way back into the title picture, that was completely lost when the Trojans put a beating of their own on Chip Kelly’s boys (at home). “What if” it all you want, but that’s as close to concrete as you’re gonna get.

Oklahoma State was emerging as the darling of the Big-12. Granted, Oklahoma proved to be less than elite, Kansas State was very-good-but-not-that-good, Baylor rode RG3 to unprecedented but not elite status, A&M couldn’t win a big game to save their lives, and Texas was disgustingly overrated from point one. Still, the conference was talented, and the Cowboys took care of them all…

… but they lost to Iowa State.

I know, it was coming right off of the news of the horribly-tragic plane crash that rocked the university. I have no doubt that the team was affected by that as any would have been. What is supposed to happen? Do you start giving out mulligans in certain situations like this? Sounds like a slippery slope to me. The bottom line is that the sub-.500 Cyclones, who lost to Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, beat OSU. I can’t ignore it. Furthermore, they went on to barely beat Stanford (in a great shootout, no less) in the Fiesta Bowl. In fact, they should have lost, if it weren’t for the kicker.

If it weren’t for the kicker.

If it weren’t for the kicker, Alabama would have bested LSU in the “GAME OF THE CENTURY” on November 5th. Outside of that game, Alabama killed everyone they played. Outside of that game, LSU killed everyone they played. As a matter of fact, LSU had one of the most historically impressive regular seasons in quite some time. Both schools had offensive squads that lit up team after team. And, of course, we know about the defenses.

The rematch made the most sense. Look, I’m not some huge SEC guy. I have no allegiance to that part of the country or any of the schools, and I don’t pretend to. I get tired of the nonstop narrative, year after year. I understand the outcry for a fresh matchup and/or a team from outside of the conference. But, when I broke it down, I couldn’t come away from the discussion with anything other than LSU/Alabama.

The game itself had an overall composition that was largely to be expected. Defensive-minded. Absolutely nothing in the way of traditional “fireworks.” Dirty, nasty, and ugly in many respects. This game, both before and after, was met with either indifference or a groaning disapproval by nearly everyone outside of the respective fanbases. Ratings were down 14% from last year’s Oregon/Auburn matchup. Not a lot of people wanted to see it, apparently.

On the flip side, it was a remarkable showing by Alabama. Going in, I thought LSU had such an impressive resume that I thought they were probably deserving of at least a share of the National Championship, regardless of the outcome. The Tide came through with the only type of performance that could have changed my mind. The Tigers, who averaged 40+ throughout their trek through a schedule from a hell, got shut out and didn’t even reach 100 total yards. They got past mid-field once. That’s all-time stuff, right there.

The various talking heads immediately noted that Oklahoma State would have provided a different outcome of some sort. Maybe, but only slightly. I most definitely can believe Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon would have brought a little more than whatever that was that Jordan Jefferson showed up with. I can’t believe that the team with 61st best defense in all of the land would have been able to hold back the high-volume Tigers assault, or Trent Richardson and the Crimson Tide. These were the only two teams that could have stopped the other. I firmly believe that.

Which brings me, briefly, to the actual problem (which I mentioned about nine paragraphs ago). The postseason needs an overhaul. I think that, by now, literally everyone recognizes it… even the BCS officials and others who benefit royally from the disjointed, convoluted mess that it currently is. I’m not getting into an in-depth discussion about it because the dialogue is everywhere you look. However, what I essentially think you need is a way for, at the least, the top four teams in the nation to participate in a “Final Four” of sorts. Do it in a way that preserves the major bowls and keeps the regular season as relevant as it is. Also, do it in a way where we don’t have to wait over a month for these teams to clash.

I expect things will change, although not as soon as we’d like. In the meantime, if nothing else, the right team is at the top, and I’m counting down to the 2012 season as we speak…

– Wes Lilliman

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