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December 4, 2006

Controversy, not consensus again rules day

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Florida coach Urban Meyer and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr haven't agreed on much lately, but they at least found common ground on one issue.

College football needs a playoff.

"What I hope is that at some point in the future we can have a system where all the answers are decided on the field," Carr said Sunday night after learning his team wouldn't play for the national championship. "To me, that's the ultimate in competition.''

Florida (12-1) vaulted past Michigan (11-1) in the final Bowl Championship Series standings Sunday and earned the right to face top-ranked Ohio State (12-0) in the Jan. 8 national title game at Glendale, Ariz.

Michigan instead has to settle for a Rose Bowl matchup with Southern California (10-2), which blew its shot at the title game by falling 13-9 to UCLA.

Meyer had lobbied for a spot in the title game Saturday night after the Gators defeated Arkansas 38-28 in the Southeastern Conference championship. He noted that Michigan already had its chance to face Ohio State in its regular-season finale.

The BCS format worked out in Meyer's favor, but that didn't change his opinions about the system.

"Common sense says it's time to move forward and have a national champion crowned the correct way," Meyer said. "And that's on the field."

College football's stubborn refusal to adopt a playoff system once again created more controversy than consensus. Given the sordid history of the BCS, should this really surprise anybody?

A one-loss Florida State team advanced to the 2000 national championship game despite losing to a one-loss Miami squad that had fallen to a one-loss Washington program.

Nebraska got to play for the title one year later after getting blown out by Colorado in its regular-season finale and failing to win the Big 12 North title.

Oklahoma reached the championship game in 2003 even though it had lost 35-7 to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship.

Then came the disaster of 2004, when an undefeated Auburn team got left out in the cold because Southern California and Oklahoma also had gone unbeaten.

"Do I believe it's an imperfect system?" Meyer asked. "Everybody believes that. That's the way it is. It's not going to change. It's going to be imperfect every year until we figure out a way to determine it on the field."

No matter how much Michigan fans gripe about their absence from Glendale, this latest BCS mess won't cause nearly as much embarrassment as the 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004 controversies. A snubbing of Florida probably would have produced more complaints.

Stuck in a no-win situation, the pollsters made the best possible decision, even though it wasn't the one I expected.

Florida deserved a title shot more than Michigan because the Gators beat more bowl-eligible teams and nationally ranked teams. I would have voted for the Gators if only because they haven't played Ohio State yet, while the Wolverines already lost to the Buckeyes 42-39 in their regular-season finale.

BCS proponents argue that their system works because it makes every regular-season game important. If a Michigan-Ohio State rematch had determined the national title, it would have revealed that the so-called Game of the Year last month hadn't meant a thing.

Carr believed that sentiment against a rematch worked against his team in the final polls.

"I don't think (Florida) would have moved ahead of us had USC won its game," Carr said.

Although I believe the pollsters made the right decision, I still suspect that Michigan is the better team. I can't forget how much the Gators' offense struggled in closer-than-expected victories over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State.

Too bad they couldn't settle this argument once and for all by playing each other in an NCAA semifinal.

Florida's move ahead of Michigan in the BCS standings undoubtedly was the top story in college football this weekend. Here's a look at the rest of the top 25 plotlines to come out of this eventful week.

2. NOT TAKING SIDES: The final regular-season USA Today coaches' poll had one notable abstention.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel didn't vote this week and left it all up to the rest of the coaches to determine which team the top-ranked Buckeyes should face in the national championship game.

"We felt it was somewhat of a conflict of interest," Tressel said.

Meyer said he understood Tressel's decision. Meyer said he never planned to vote in the coaches' poll to avoid situations similar to the one Tressel faced this week.

Carr had a much different opinion take on Tressel's decision.

"I thought it was real slick," said Carr, who indicated he could never see himself refusing to cast his ballot in the coaches' poll.

3. RETURNING TO HIS ROOTS: Get ready to see a bunch of stories in the next month about Meyer seeking his first national title against the school that launched his coaching career.

Meyer was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, earned his master's degree in sports administration from Ohio State and worked as a graduate assistant on former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce's staff from 1986-87.

4. TED VS. PERCY: This national championship game features plenty of intriguing matchups.

Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman will try to run through the Gators the way he scorched Michigan's top-ranked run defense. Ohio State's talented receiving corps will have its hands full against Florida's ball-hawking secondary.

But the game could come down to which team's all-purpose player has the bigger game.

Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. has earned a reputation the last few years as the game's most dangerous multi-purpose player, but Florida freshman Percy Harvin did a heck of a Ginn impression Saturday. Rivals.com's No. 1 player in the 2006 recruiting class scored a pair of touchdowns while running for 105 yards on six carries and catching five passes for 62 yards.

5. LEAK'S LEGACY: Chris Leak didn't play the best game of his career Saturday. In fact, his two interceptions in the third quarter caused Florida to blow a 17-0 lead.

But his winning performance in a conference championship game allowed one of the nation's most analyzed players to solidify his status as one of the great quarterbacks in Gator history. While Leak's failures often are discussed as much as his feats, the senior quarterback will graduate as the school's all-time leading passer.

"Chris has done a lot around here, and a lot of people overlook that," Florida tight end Tate Casey said. "A lot of people take for granted what he's done. I'm sure if you took him away for about two weeks, people would say, 'What happened,' and they'd see what he's done."

6. GAMBLE PAYS OFF: Florida coach Urban Meyer made one of the boldest moves of the season in the third quarter when he called for a fake punt deep in his own territory with the Gators trailing 21-17.

Florida faced fourth-and-10 from its 15-yard line when Jemalle Cornelius raced 17 yards around the left end.

"I've always been a coach who had a hard time facing a team if I didn't believe we shot everything we could to beat that team," Meyer said. "That play has been practiced a couple thousand times in the last two years."

When Florida finally did punt later in the drive, Reggie Fish fumbled the return and Wondy Pierre-Louis pounced on the ball in the end zone to give the Gators a go-ahead touchdown.

7. STOPPING THE RUN: The loss of star defensive tackle Marcus Thomas sure hasn't slowed down Florida's run defense.

The Gators held Arkansas' potent rushing attack to less than 4 yards per carry while limiting Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden to 73 yards on 21 attempts.

Florida allowed 4.5 yards per carry in its first two games after Thomas was kicked off the team, but the Gators have given up just 2.5 yards per rush in the three games since.

8. LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE: Notre Dame indirectly may have finally helped bring Southern California down on Saturday.

The lessons UCLA learned in a midseason 20-17 loss to the Irish helped inspire the Bruins to knock USC out of the national title picture.

UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker reportedly said he got too cautious down the stretch at Notre Dame, which allowed the Irish to rally for a victory in the final minute. The Bruins never stopped pressuring USC quarterback John David Booty, and the strategy helped them produce the biggest upset of the season.

9. OLD FRIENDS, NEW RIVALS: Perhaps USC coach Pete Carroll only has himself to blame for the Trojans' loss to UCLA. He helped mentor the architect of the defense that finally stopped USC's vaunted scoring attack.

Walker worked as a secondary coach for the New England Patriots under Carroll and Bill Belichick before spending the 2001 season as an associate head coach and secondary coach on Carroll's staff at USC.

Michigan's Ron English justifiably has garnered the most attention of any first-year defensive coordinator in the nation, but Walker also has made a major impact in reshaping UCLA's once-porous defense in his first year as a coordinator. Both assistants should earn head coaching opportunities in the not-too-distant future.

10. THIS ROSE HAS A THORN: UCLA's victory prevented a worst-case scenario for the Rose Bowl. We nearly had a Big Ten champion facing a Pac-10 champion for the national title in Glendale, Ariz., instead of Pasadena, Calif.

Then again, what ended up happening isn't much better for the Rose.

A Michigan-Southern California matchup looks like lots of fun until you realize both teams would rather be elsewhere. Having these two former national title contenders involved makes the Granddady of Them All look like the Bridesmaids Bowl.

11. HE'S COMING BACK: Only Florida fans had a better weekend than Louisville boosters.

Louisville's 48-14 victory over Connecticut and West Virginia's 42-39 triple-overtime triumph over Rutgers allowed the Cardinals to clinch the Big East's BCS bid.

Junior quarterback Brian Brohm provided even more good news by saying he expects to return to school for his senior season instead of entering the NFL Draft. Louisville fans now are crossing their fingers that tailback Michael Bush will make the same decision.

12. NO REWARD FOR RUTGERS: Although they didn't have a shot in the national title game at stake, Rutgers suffered every bit as crushing a loss as USC.

A victory over West Virginia would have given the Scarlet Knights their first Big East title and BCS invitation. Rutgers instead has to settle for a berth in the Texas Bowl.

How big a drop in stature is that? The Texas Bowl airs on the NFL Network, which means most of the nation won't even get a chance to watch it.

13. BACKUP SHINES AGAIN: Louisville's players ought to pool their resources and buy West Virginia backup quarterback Jarrett Brown an early Christmas present.

A sore ankle prevented star quarterback Pat White from playing Saturday, so Brown stepped in and displayed the poise of a veteran while throwing for 244 yards and running for 73 yards. The reddshirt freshman's 22-yard pass to Brandon Myles in triple overtime put the Mountaineers ahead for good.

14. WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: Want to add a little more controversy to the BCS mess? Consider this possibility.

Oklahoma defeated Nebraska 21-7 in the Big 12 championship Saturday to improve its record to 10-2. Any Sooner fan will tell you Oklahoma would have an 11-1 mark if not for an officiating blunder in a 34-33 loss to Oregon.

If that blown call on an Oregon onside kick had gone the other way, there's a good chance Oklahoma might be playing for the national title instead of Florida.

15. NEW FORMULA FOR SUCCESS: The team that finally discovered how to stop Oklahoma's rushing attack couldn't figure out a way to contain the Sooners' lightly regarded passing attack.

Nebraska held the Sooners to 42 yards on 28 carries, which marked the first time all year Oklahoma had rushed for less than 124 yards in a game. Starting quarterback Paul Thompson responded by throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

Thompson's progress symbolizes how the Sooners have overcome adversity this season. After opening the 2005 season as Oklahoma's starting quarterback, Thompson moved to receiver before moving back to his original position after Rhett Bomar got kicked off the team last summer.

16. FITTING CONCLUSION: A wretched season for the Atlantic Coast Conference ended all too appropriately, as Wake Forest and Georgia Tech both failed to score a touchdown while playing for the league title in a half-empty stadium.

After 10 of its defensive players were selected in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft, the ACC should have seen the offenses catch up to the defenses this season.

That trend never materialized.

The ACC can only hope the changes in the coaching staffs at Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and North Carolina State can revitalize the league's offenses and make this conference's games worth watching again.

17. HAPPY HOMECOMING: As bad as the ACC has been this season, it has provided one of the season's biggest feel-good stories in Wake Forest'simprobable rise to the conference title.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Riley Skinner capped a dream season by returning to his hometown and leading the Demon Deacons to a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in front of more than 100 friends and family members.

Skinner didn't play particularly well, but his 45-yard pass to Willie Idlette in the fourth quarter set up Sam Swank's game-winning 22-yard field goal.

18. BALL'S FALL: The other quarterback in the ACC championship game didn't have nearly as much fun.

Reggie Ball had put himself in position this season to answer all the critics who said he was too erratic to turn Georgia Tech into a consistent winner. Then he spent the last two weeks proving those skeptics right.

Ball has gone 15-of-51 with four interceptions and no touchdown passes in back-to-back losses to Georgia and Wake Forest. The senior quarterback has completed just 44.4 percent of his attempts this season.

All-America receiver Calvin Johnson will probably turn pro after this season, but it would be interesting to see how he could fare in an offense that featured a more accurate passer.

19. ABBATE'S REVENGE: The ACC championship game allowed Wake Forest linebacker Jon Abbate to settle an old score.

Abbate grew up near Atlanta but wasn't recruited by Georgia Tech because of his lack of height. The 5-foot-10 senior made the Yellow Jackets pay for that decision by collecting 15 tackles seven more than any other player from either team in the Deacons' victory over Georgia Tech.

20. DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAN: Skinner, Texas' Colt McCoy, Indiana's Kellen Lewis and South Florida's Matt Grothe have helped make this a big year for freshman quarterbacks.

One first-year player unfairly lost in the shuffle is Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour.

LeFevour ranks 15th in the nation and leads all freshmen with 2,869 passing yards this season. The redshirt freshman went 22-of-30 for 314 yards with three touchdowns to lead Central Michigan to a 31-10 victory over Ohio in the Mid-American Conference championship.

21. NO RECORD YET: Hawaii's Colt Brennan will have to wait until the Hawaii Bowl to try to set the NCAA single-season record for touchdown passes.

Brennan threw two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions as the Warriors fell to Oregon State 35-32 in their regular-season finale. He now has 53 touchdown passes this season and needs one more to tie the record set by Houston's David Klingler in 1990.

The Warriors face Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.

22. NO BOWL FOR PITT: The presence of 32 bowl games allows too many mediocre teams to earn invitations, but Pittsburgh's absence from the postseason represented a refreshing exception to the rule.

Pittsburgh's 6-6 record made the Panthers bowl eligible, but any team that ends the regular season on a five-game losing streak doesn't deserve to go bowling.

23. HOUSTON HAS NO PROBLEMS: It's been a good season for college football fans in Houston.

One week ago, Rice edged Southern Methodist 31-27 to secure its first bowl appearance since 1961. The Owls (7-5) will face Troy in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22.

Houston followed that up by defeating Southern Mississippi 34-20 to win its first Conference USA championship in 10 years. The Cougars (10-3) will meet South Carolina in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29.

24. LONG TIME COMING: UCLA's victory over USC ended the Bruins' seven-game losing streak against the Trojans, but that wasn't the only West Coast rivalry to undergo a reversal of fortune this weekend.

San Jose State had lost its last 12 games to Fresno State before knocking off the Bulldogs 24-14 on Saturday night. The Spartans (8-4) are heading to a bowl for the first time since 1990, while Fresno State (4-8) completed its first losing season since 1998.

25. STARTING A NEW STREAK: Texas Christian hasn't garnered much attention since its 13-game winning streak ended with consecutive losses to Brigham Young and Utah, but the Horned Frogs have quietly recaptured their 2005 form.

TCU returned to the national rankings Sunday after trouncing Air Force 38-14 for its seventh consecutive victory. The Horned Frogs are ranked fourth in the nation against the run and have allowed 2.1 yards per carry in their last four games.

That sets up an interesting Poinsettia Bowl matchup against Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe, who leads the nation with 1,900 rushing yards.

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