I’m going to have a ton more this week/next week as I’ll be giving out my Ultimate 11 Awards – best by position, Ultimate 11 teams, etc…and my bowl Keys to the Game for each game, but let me look back at the weekend that was, Championship Week version.
1. LSU DB/KR Tyrann Mathieu – What can you say about the Honey Badger that hasn’t been said? I think the best thing about him is what isn’t seen on the stat sheet. Sure, the punt returns against Arkansas and Georgia completely and totally flipped the script in those games, but the fact that he can line up to block kicks, line up on defense in the slot or out wide on #1 perimeter receivers and be a menace all over the field is incredible. He’s the type of player who could’ve played in any era and could’ve been one of the best two-way players college football had ever seen. If not for a pedestrian mid-season effort, I think you could make an honest argument for him for the (gulp) Heisman. And, look who’s a finalist? The Honey Badger.
2. Southern Miss RB Tracy Lampley – The Golden Eagle running back was a superstar against the #6 ranked Houston Cougars in the CUSA championship game. He averaged over five yards per carry and caught six passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Larry Fedora’s offense was brilliant all day long, QB Austin Davis outplayed much more ballyhooed opponent Case Keenum, and Lampley was the offensive beneficiary.
3. Southern Miss defensive line – Before the game, I wrote that Jamie Collins and Cordarro Law would be difficult matchups for the Cougars offensive line. I was wrong. It was a complete and total mismatch. Law and Collins combined for four tackles for a loss and two sacks, but put pressure on Houston QB Case Keenum all day long. Relentless pressure. The offense put them in a great position to succeed, but the defense, led by Law and Collins, deserved game balls all around.
4. Wisconsin WR Jeff Duckworth – Who? Even Wisconsin fans had to be asking who #15 was during the inaugural Big 10 championship game. Heck, I watched them all season long and I couldn’t remember seeing him make a catch in a meaningful spot. But, in the rematch with Michigan State, Duckworth caught a key touchdown pass and the biggest pass of the night – a 36 yarder on fourth down from Russell Wilson, in between two Spartan DBs, to put the Badgers in position to score the game-winning touchdown. It was sort of a reverse Hail Mary situation without the replay…I suppose.
5. UCLA WR Nelson Rosario – If you didn’t see the one handed catch he made for the final UCLA touchdown of the night, youtube that thing. Freaking brilliant. Not Aaron Dobson from Marshall sick, but in the team picture.
6. Alabama – For doing nothing!
7. Northern Illinois QB Chandler Harnish – The senior signal caller pulled one out of the fire, bringing the Huskies back from a 20-0 deficit to win 23-20 for the MAC championship. It was not a typical stat sheet-stuffing night for Harnish, but he had a whale of a second half in leading NIU to victory.
8. Baylor and RGIII – What more is there to say? It’s not often when Baylor beats both Texas and Oklahoma in the same season, but that’s what the Bears did this season. Hang on to beat Kansas State and it’s arguable whether the Bears would’ve been heading to a BCS bowl. Either way, RG III is making the trip to NYC this week, representing the Bears for the first time in a very long time.
9. West Virginia WR Stedman Bailey and QB Geno Smith – With :13 seconds left in the game, Smith made one of the best throws of his career with a 26 yard dart to Bailey, who dove to make the catch inside the ten yard line. He landed on the ball, knocking his wind out, but he got up in just enough time for Smith to spike the ball and set up the game winning field goal that would send WVU to the Orange Bowl.
1. Houston, Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin – It’s hard to even discuss how much the University of Houston “lost” by losing to Southern Miss. But, let me count the ways
a. The first CUSA championship since 2006 and Sumlin’s first ring as head coach.
b. A trip to a BCS bowl game
c. $13 M for the conference
d. A trip to New York City, at a minimum, for Case Keenumfor the Heisman
e. I think that’s all. It still stings.
The offense could never account for the Golden Eagles defensive front, but more so, the Golden Eagles’ second level defenders shut down the Cougars players in space. And, no one has been able to do that all season long. But, how many dropped passes and missed opportunities came back to haunt the Cougars? Too many to mention. Seemingly everybody dropped a key touchdown or interception…or that’s what it seemed. Oh by the way, the consistent chatter about Sumlin taking his talents to a new campus couldn’t have helped. Then again, catch a deep pass early or come up with a key pick six and the game track might have changed instantly. Oy vey. This one may linger for a while.
2. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys shouldn’t be in this category, especially after they hammered the bejeezus out of Oklahoma 44-10. But they lost out on a trip to the Big Dance in the Big Easy because of a loss and not because of its wins. That’s a shame. Now, the Cowboys had better go to Glendale and put a number on Stanford or it will more than validate the rematch that’s going to take place on January 9th between LSU and Alabama. If there is a silver lining, it’s that T. Boone may have his “say” with the BCS sometime soon. Just know $$ talks and BS walks and you know he’s got plenty of the green stuff (and prestige) to make something happen.
3. Michigan State – No offense, Tampa, but a trip to the Rose Bowl is much better than a trip to the Outback Bowl. It’s more about the prestige of going to the Rose Bowl than playing in a middling New Year’s Day After bowl (as the Spartans did last year in Orlando for the Capital One Bowl). Beyond that, the way the Spartans “lost” to the Badgers stings that much more. DB Isaiah Lewis ran into the Wisconsin punter to give the Badgers five yards and a first down that ended the game. I’ve tried to understand why he did what he did – either you have a full out block or you set up the return. If you have the block on, then you go to the block spot, even if that means you have to run right through a Badger blocker. If you have a return on, Lewis must make sure the punter punts the ball and that’s that. If he does his job, Lewis watches the punt, lets the return develop and makes the final block on the Wisconsin punter to spring Keshawn Martin for the game winning punt return touchdown. Martin got knocked out at the four yard line, but it was all for naught as Lewis’ “decision” to rush the punter is one that’ll he rue for a very long time.
Thanks to all of our readers for a great regular season. Stay tuned to thesidelineview.com in the coming weeks for all of our college football wrap-up and bowl thoughts. And, you know that I can get “bowl thoughts” on more than most.