Notre Dame and Alabama meeting in the national title game is the closest-possible equivalent to a last supper for the Bowl Championship Series, one last, dying wish before the system crashes in 2014.
The matchup is a gift from the college football gods for any with a financial or emotional stake in the sport: Two of the most tradition-laden teams (and biggest TV draws), passionate and extensive fan bases, polarizing figures, dynasties and a reawakening. If you were to choose the most interesting BCS matchup available — the two teams that you most wanted to see square off with everything on the line — it’s a safe bet Alabama-Notre Dame is in the mix.
What two programs could offer more for fans, TV executives or advertisers? Texas-USC? Been there. Ohio State-Miami? Done that. There just isn’t a better one.
It is no small measure of irony that in a tumultuous 2012 season, the BCS delivered the two premier teams to Miami without serious controversy. After weeks of hearing candidates roll by — Oregon, Kansas State, Georgia, Florida, (cough) West Virginia — it is slightly relieving that the campaign has reached its endpoint, a break from speculation. The two programs that have most dominated the sport’s history will meet for it all once again. Surely there is some line to write here about the comfort of history often repeating itself.
Now, if it weren’t for all the other pointless and wasteful bowl games and the 36-day wait period until the actual contest then maybe there would be a little more excitement present. As it stands, we’re up against a month-long extravaganza of replayed YouTube hype videos and TV promos. But maybe it’s all warranted.
It’s taken a long time to get back to this point, so what’s another month?
STIFF ARM SUSPECT
The Suspects does not acknowledge name recognition, positional bias, team affiliation or media favorites for its weekly Heisman update. Players earn a spot based on production – and production alone – against quality opponents. This week sees the Top Suspect named for the final time.
Manti Te’o, Notre Dame, LB: When looking back on this college football season, we are going to remember a freshman quarterback’s sensational production, the extended dominance and perseverance of the SEC, conference re-expansion, Arkansas musicals and Lane Kiffin. But perhaps most of all, the 2012 season will be remembered for Notre Dame’s resurgence and the senior linebacker behind it.
The First-Team All-American notched 103 tackles and seven interceptions (tied third nationally), but his tenacity and will to win pushed the Irish to an undefeated season and BCS title appearance. There is no wrong choice between Te’o and Johnny Manziel, but no one in college football was more consistently great on the big stage. Manti Te’o is this season’s Top Suspect, a linebacker barely edging a freshman. Vegas doesn’t like the odds of a similar scenario in New York, but he earned it.
Final Suspects: Manziel (Texas A&M); Collin Klein (Kansas State); Marqise Lee (USC); Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois); Jarvis Jones (Georgia)
THE FIFTH WATCH
An end-of-the-year rendition of The Watch is breaking down the best moments of the college football season.
Manti Te’o’s pep rally: In September, Notre Dame held a pep rally and called upon a mourning Te’o, whose girlfriend and grandmother had just died hours apart, to make a speech. With five fingers held up on every hand in attendance, Te’o told the school what he was feeling. Once again, sports mean something.
Johnny Manziel bobbled TD pass vs. Alabama: Witnessing this game live was like no other, and it all started and stopped with this play. It was his Heisman moment. After the ball popped into the air, the play was officially broken — a typical death sentence against the Crimson Tide — but no one quite knew Johnny Football was capable of pulling a miracle recovery and touchdown toss. Texas A&M went on to pull off the upset.
Nebraska’s tunnel walk: There are a lot of stories to write about on-field performances, but the Cornhuskers overshadow all of them. Nebraska was led through its traditional tunnel walk against Wisconsin this season by two young brain cancer patients, Isaiah Casillas and Jack Hoffman, 6- and 7-year-old fans. Players held the two boys up to touch the horseshoe on the way out. The entire stadium was watching. It is a story tinged with sadness, though, as Isaiah died this past week from his condition. Incredible story.
Geno’s statement game: Of all the games that was supposed to decide the Heisman race, Geno Smith’s evisceration of Baylor’s defense still stands out. Despite a tough end to the season, it’s tough to forget a 656-yard, eight-touchdown day for any quarterback. He completed 45-of-51 passes and set the college football world on fire. It’s reminiscent of the classic Tin Cup scene: Other teams may have won more games or played better, but they’ll always remember Geno’s 656.
O’Brien’s new beginning: Penn State football will long suffer for the crimes and circumstances surrounding the Jerry Sandusky trial, but seeing new coach Bill O’Brien put his stamp on the program and take it in a new direction was a season-long positive. When he beat Navy for his first win, the team soaked him with a bucket of water. The Nittany Lions finished 8-4. By no means does that record erase the past, but at least Penn State can start trying to be defined by something other than one of the worst sports tragedies of all time.
THIS IS WHY…
The coaching carousel is more interesting than the bowl season.
At least on the coaching carousel, which was spinning at warp speed this week with surprise hires all over the country, there’s some genuine emotion and collegiate passion, unlike the neutral-site, middle-of-the-pack bowl games that drown out all signs of life. No, with coaches being hired and fired, something is always bound to shock and awe.
Bret Bielema is this year’s early candidate for most shocking — the Wisconsin coach who has led the Badgers to three-consecutive Rose Bowls bolted for the Arkansas job this week. Safe to say, not even the musically-inclined Arkansas fan base had that one pegged. And now, a man who grew up on a hog farm (you can’t make this up) will make a (more lucrative) living calling the hogs. Tough to make this stuff up.
Other big jobs filled this week included Auburn (Gus Malzahn), Boston College (Steve Addazio) and N.C. State ( Dave Doeren). There’s still no word on Tennessee or Bielema’s replacement in Madison, but there will be changes, and the college football landscape will shift as we head into next season and the next.
The coaching carousel affects the future.
This is why the carousel is worth tracking; it’s pure entertainment. Sorry, but there are very few worthwhile recruits out there impressed with Michigan State’s 6-6 season and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl appearance. Unless someone is turning on the sprinklers midway through the fourth quarter, very few are watching that defensive slugfest. Fans can’t even brag about some of these “postseason” meetings.
College football rarely disappoints — just look at the Jan. 7 matchup in Miami — but the bowl season is typically an outlier. It’s better to watch coaching demographics shift than Pittsburgh-Ole Miss fighting over something called a BBVA Compass.
This is why we still can’t get enough of college football … but we can hold out until January.