Football Follies 2014 – Magnificent finales

Football Follies 2014 – Magnificent finales
Sugar Bowl defensive MVP, Ohio State LB Darron Lee, does MVP stuff all over Tide QB Blake Sims. (Image: Chuck Cook, USA Today Sports via SI.com)

It’s a much-reduced slate of activity we have to look forward to, now that almost all the bowls are behind us and the pros are heading into the playoffs.  On every football season, the curtain must begin to go down.

But first, the fat lady has to sing.

Inner Circle

Our Inner Circle has played its last for the year, and for some of us, that’s a big relief.  We’re gratified to remember the bowl victories by #6 TCU, Virginia Tech, Navy, Air Force, and – yes, this just in – Oklahoma State.  Some of the other memories, we could do without.

Obligatory

Just when you thought it was going to be all NFL playoffs and the CF-Something final in Arlington, a couple of Booger Bowls sneak in the back door to keep Saturday and Sunday lively for us.

On Saturday, East Carolina (8-4) will meet Florida (6-5) in the Birmingham Bowl – formerly the BBVA Compass Bowl, and before that the Papa John’s Bowl.  The Gators are giving 7, but the teams will have to go some to compete with the bad news about football in Birmingham, which is that U. Alabama-Birmingham canceled its football program at the end of the 2014 season.

UAB was one of the Left Behind Remnant in Conference USA, and until this year had been underperforming since it was last bowl-eligible, in 2004.  (The Blazers lost the Hawaii Bowl to the Warriors that year.)  The Blazers were back on track with a promising 6-6 season in 2014, but became bowl-pointless with their 2 December announcement that they wouldn’t field a team next year.

The city of Birmingham is united in its condemnation of this decision, which reportedly was made for financial reasons.  And it undoubtedly was, but of course there is plenty of dark muttering about Title IX constraints, along with protestations from boosters that the money was there to keep a football program going.

One 5-year-old from Ohio decided to do something practical about UAB’s problem.  Sadly, it wasn’t enough to save the football program.

 

Expect to hear a lot about all this on Saturday.

Sunday gives us a rare bowl treat:  the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, featuring 8-4 Toledo and 7-5 Arkansas State.  The GoDaddy Bowl is even conveniently deconflicted with the NFL wildcard games: the action in Mobile won’t start until 8 PM Central.  The Rockets give 4 at this writing, and we congratulate anyone who has paid enough attention to know how to bet on this game.

As every schoolboy knows, FBS football will have its final paroxysm on Monday the 12th.  Officially, the game is called the College Football Playoff National Championship Game Presented by AT&T, which strikes us as a designation in desperate need of colloquial abbreviation.  Something like “George” would work fine.

The game site is the Jerry Jones Memorial Entertainment Palace in Arlington, Texas, and of course the match itself will be an offense-off between the Ducks and the Buckeyes.  There’s every prospect, in all seriousness, of it being a very good game.

If there was some melancholy at the loss of iconic status for the Big-Boy Bowls this past week – with two of them functioning as semifinals and the others not, who cared which bowl was which? – the payoff is that there were two really good games set up by the new process, and there’s an extra really good game to look forward to.

Minus the question whether TCU, in particular, should have been excluded from the final four, I think we can say at the midpoint that the CFB/CFP framework has already outperformed the old BCS in terms of setting up meaningful contests between the top teams in the nation.  Of the four that played, the only one whose inclusion was questionable to me, after the games ended, was Florida State.  And the question wasn’t very big, all things considered.

There’s no predicting today whether the arbitrariness still inherent in the new framework can be reduced on the margins.  In the meantime, Oregon’s currently giving 7.  That spread may well narrow as the oddsquad focuses in on George over the next week.  Ohio State improved markedly as the season progressed, ending it as a much better team overall than it was in Week 1.   Oregon has been pretty much the same team all season.  There’s a momentum-and-spirit intangible with Ohio State.  But then, the Ducks have Mariota.

There is, of course, the question of the Duck uniforms.  It won’t be all it could be, if the Ducks don’t show up in something migraine-inducing.

Other ranks

The FCS championship game will be on 10 January, in Toyota FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, Texas – the start of a football-blowout weekend for the Dallas metro, with George in Arlington on Monday night.

Illinois State (13-1), the #5 seed, will collide with #2 North Dakota State (14-1; motto: “Inevitable”).  The teams are co-champions of the FCS’s hydra-headed Missouri Valley Football Conference.  (They play other sports in different “main” athletic conferences.)  Both teams in fact lost to the same opponent, MVFC foe Northern Iowa, which Illinois State later defeated in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

Bettors would likely bank on the (NDSU) Bison in this one – although head coach Craig Bohl, who produced the current powerhouse team, moved to Wyoming at the end of the 2013 season.  (Chris Klieman, who took over this year, was previously Bohl’s defensive coordinator.)  The game should be worth a look.

Pros

A wild-and-woolly wildcard weekend yawns before us: eight teams, four winners, four seasons ended.

Don’t nobody believe in Arizona anymore, with its injury woes and desperate struggle to keep a functioning quarterback in the lineup.   Even playing the 7-8-1 Panthers in the early game on Saturday, the 11-5 Cardinals are on the short end of 6.5 in the line.

Saturday night sees Ravens at Steelers, with Pittsburgh giving 3.5.  The Steelers, of course, split their conference bouts with Baltimore during the season – in almost schizophrenic fashion, dominating a slower-moving defensive battle in September, and then acting like they’d never seen a football before in a weird goose-chase in early November.  Expect this one to be hard fought.

Bengals at Colts on Sunday sees Indianapolis giving 4.  The Bengals are OK, not spectacular, against the pass, but if they can shut Andrew Luck down, they’re more than halfway there, as a couple of teams (Patriots, Cowboys) proved during the season.  The Colts blew Cincinnati out in October.

In the late game Sunday, Dallas has a shot at Redemption hosting the Lions.  The Pokes give 7, but with their new, nose-to-the-grindstone attitude, we can reasonably hope they won’t sit around digging each other in the ribs and coasting on their theoretical favorables.  If you’re a Lions fan, good luck.  My Cowboys are finally back in the playoffs, so I have to pull for them.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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