This year's bowl series did not disappoint: not only was I able to watch an amazing game where Ohio State brought home the Rose Bowl trophy over a talented Oregon team, but the Big Ten really put on a hell of a series of Bowl games.
The elite three teams in this year's Big Ten (Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa) all won very close games where the lead was either in serious danger or changed hands. Wisconsin beat Miami of Florida as well. The closeness of these games does not mean that the Big Ten teams did not dominate them, though: they did, and that was clear when the dust settled.
The rest of the Big Ten slate competed in some wonderful heart-pounding action against well-matched opponents: Northwestern tried a fake field goal in a heartbreaking loss, Minnesota fought to a 13-14 loss to Iowa State. Only the Michigan State - Texas Tech game was a potential black eye for the Big Ten, with 14 suspended players (nine facing criminal charges) on the MSU side and an emotional Texas Tech team trying to win one for their confusingly dismissed coach. Still, even that game was close with two 4th quarter lead changes.
Mostly, I'm just pleased to see that the Big Ten matched up well against all these conferences, and that we won games against teams that really seem to matter.
And then came three duds that were "duels of unbeatens" (or almost-unbeatens in Florida's case). What a crappy way to end the season.
Cincinnati was clearly no match for Florida, not on paper and certainly not in reality. Unbeaten or not, Cincy just wasn't on that level. The 51-24, resounding beating that they received was a foregone conclusion by the end of the first half of the first quarter.
Then came Boise State and Texas Christian: two unbeaten from BCS-busting conferences. The 17-10 score says it was a "close game," but really, ESPN's bloggers described it best:
"At times, the game had a high school spring jamboree quality to it. The first 18 plays of the game featured a pick 6, four penalties, six incompletions, three punts, one rush for no gain, two rushes for positive yards and two pass completions."
Sure, it looked almost like a college game in the second half from time to time, but really, it was more like watching two teams who had never encountered a defense in their lives: they went from scoring 40+ points each per game during the regular season to one touchdown and field goal each (the 7-point lead Boise ended up with came on a defensive play: a pick-six). These two teams, touted to break the hell out of the BCS, ended up showing the entire world that their conferences were clearly not ready for BCS contention: they couldn't even compete against each other. (I fell asleep watching this game.)
Then, last night, No. 2 Texas went up against No. 1 Alabama. What did I learn from this game? Alabama can barely hold up against a true freshman quarterback who has never started a game in his life.
The Texas quarterback (McCoy) was knocked out of the game on the fifth offensive play with a shoulder injury, and Texas sent in an untested freshman to take his place. It took him nearly two quarters to find his feet, but once he did, he planted 14 unanswered points on 'Bama and brought them to within 3 points of taking the lead back.
Alabama obviously has a lot of star-power: a Heisman winning running-back, a lot of defensive stars, and a pretty good quarterback. Texas, however, had one player: McCoy. And with McCoy out, it should have been a free-for-all, and it never should have been close. This game didn't leave settled who the better team was, not really: at least one team simply wasn't at its best. It only left settled that a true freshman quarterback can carve up the SEC champion's defensive line, and if he'd had a bit more skill or practice under his belt, the mistakes he made that allowed 'Bama to win might not have been there to save the day for them.
Now, I'm not one to say that OSU should have been competing there: we had our losses and I know full well what it's like to be embarrassed on a national stage. But I do think that the matchups for those top six spots were some of the most disappointing I have ever had the privilege to watch. This could have been a far better bowl season, but something happened and the whole system broke down.