Well, another college football season has come to a close, and LSU has been crowned the champion for 2007-08. The BCS Championship Game, though good, only serves to underscore why College Football needs a playoff. I never really thought that I would turn my back on the bowl system -- I have had great experiences as a bowl-goer over the years, but this football season makes it clear that a playoff is needed now more than ever. More on that in a minute... First, a few thoughts on the game.
First of all, hats off to the LSU Tigers for a great season and for winning their second championship since 2004. They represented the SEC well, and -- after the second series -- played explosively last night. I was particularly impressed with their ability to defensively control the line of scrimmage after the first few series in the game. Their penetration on the Ohio State offensive line was unrelenting -- I know that Ohio State QB Todd Boeckman must be black and blue today after some of the hits he took last night. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini's blitz timing was as artful as it was brutal. Throughout the night, the Tigers found ways to stop the run and get in Boeckman's face. As a traditional run-geared offense, Ohio State was simply never able to get their gears turning on offense consistently. Despite allowing OSU's Beanie Wells to rack up 146 yards in rushing, LSU prevented him from getting the big runs into the endzone. By the third quarter, it was apparent that Ohio State was going to have to use Boeckman's arm to win the game -- something that they simply weren't used to doing. In the end, though the OSU offense showed moments of real brilliance, they simply could not get big plays to fall their way on offense.
On the offensive side of the ball, the real key to LSU's success lay in the remarkably cool play of their quarterback Matt Flynn. Flynn was never terribly animated, never terribly flashy, and never overly emotional throughout the game. In the end, however, that is exactly what the Tigers needed as he threw for four touchdowns. His calmness on the field in managing the game allowed him to quietly lead his team without getting caught up in the moment, or lose momentum when the breaks went against him -- and there were a number of breaks which definitely went against him. After Ohio State made it look easy by scoring its first touchdown only minutes into the game, LSU offense came on to the field and looked abysmal in its first series, a series which included a snap sailing past Flynn forcing him to dive on the ball inside the LSU 10. When Ohio State answered with a field goal, it would have been very easy for Flynn to tighten-up and get nervous. Instead, he calmed his team down, and rattled off 31 un-answered points in the 38-24 victory.
I know that Ohio State felt like it had to redeem itself after last year's 41-14 loss to Florida. I know that they were sick and tired of hearing about their 0-8 record against the SEC prior to last night's game. I know that Jim Tressel probably wanted to win the game as badly as any coach could. It was, however, simply not in the cards. For the first eight minutes of the game, it looked as if Ohio State might roll over LSU. From the kickoff, Ohio State moved the ball easily on offense, and LSU was completely unable to get anything going on the offensive side of the ball. Up 10-0, Ohio State appeared to be in the driver's seat. Then, when LSU blocked an Ohio State field goal attempt, everything went downhill quickly. The OSU offense became tentative, and the offensive line began allowing large holes for the Tigers defense to stop the OSU run, and attack Todd Boeckman.
Defensively, the Ohio State defense came in ranked number 1 in the country, but after the first quarter, that ranking began to mean little. LSU showed a variety of new formations and began rushing their snapcounts which stymied the Buckeye defensive efforts. In the end, however, it was poor tackling on the part of the Buckeyes which ultimately was their undoing. On numerous occasions the Tigers' receivers and backs were able to shake tackles by the, typically disciplined and hard-hitting, Ohio State defense. Add to that the fact that Ohio State racked up seven penalties for 83 yards -- many at key times -- and there was little that could be done to stop the onslaught of the Tigers.
I am sure that there will be many SEC fans and followers who will continue to make the "SEC Speed v. Big Ten Size
" argument, and who will say that the Big Ten simply cannot beat the SEC. While I will admit that there is a little something to the speed vs. size argument, in the end I think it is overplayed. Furthermore, anyone who thinks the Big Ten can't beat SEC, need only talk to Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators to see that simply isn't true. At the end of the day, the issue is more one of football philosophy than which conference is better. In the end it all comes down to who plays a more fundamentally sound game within their own system. Last night, LSU was more fundamentally sound -- whether due to greater skill, better preparation, or the massive home field advantage.
Early on, it was apparent that Ohio State was much better prepared than last year's game. On the other hand, LSU seemed terribly unprepared, but as the game unfolded, LSU was more able to adapt to the play of the Buckeyes than the vice versa. In the end, it wasn't SEC speed, or SEC anything that won the game for LSU. In my opinion, what won the game for LSU was the Tigers' flexibility in re-shaping their gameplan to meet the demands put on them by Ohio State. Give credit to Les Miles and his staff, they did a fabulous job coaching the Tigers. By the same token, Jim Tressel is one of the classiest and most skilled coaches in college football. His team was ready to go, but once they lost the momentum in the game, they went terribly cold, and were unable to find a way to effectively execute their gameplan.
That said, all of the "what have you done for me lately
" crew out there, who are going to criticize Tressel and the Buckeyes, can take a flying leap. Ohio State has played in the last two BCS Championship games. They have lost a total of 3 games in the last 2 seasons. They have consistently maintained a ranking in the top 10 since 2002. They have had remarkable success against rival Michigan over the last 5 years. They have a fabulous staff, and some of the best talent in the country. Anyone who wants to say that Tressel or Ohio State can't win the big game, or who questions Ohio State's place as one of the premier football programs in America at this juncture is an idiot. As a Tennessee fan, I would love for the Volunteers to have a record like the Buckeyes over the past few years. Winning at the highest level is not easy to do -- that is why games like this matter.
As for my SEC brethren who will be quick to say that the SEC is the best conference in the country, I say two things. First, at present the SEC has been on a roll, and has won a lot of games in a lot of sports -- at present I believe that the SEC is the strongest conference in the country. The second thing I would say is this: what goes around, comes around
I love the SEC, and the teams which compose the conference. That said, we all know that there is a constant ebb-and-flow in the world of sports. The wind always blows hardest at the top of the mountain, and trust me, there are a whole lot of folks ready to unseat the SEC from its claims of dominance. While the SEC has had a great run over the past few years, rest assured that at some point in the near future someone will come along and figure out how to beat the SEC -- regularly and badly. Folks like Jim Tressel are simply too good at what they do and too motivated to shut all the mouths chanting "SEC!!
" in their ear for things not to change. Enjoy the success, but don't get too arrogant or smug, or payback will be a bitch. Besides, the last thing I want is for all
SEC fans to be perceived
the way that Florida fans actually are
. Besides, as a Tennessee fan, we may be part of the SEC, and may have found gold in what could have been an awful season, but we aren't exactly running out of fingers for all the championship rings we've won over the last few years.
Finally, one thing that became terribly apparent after this football season is that it is truly time for a playoff system in college football. College football has the best -- and most meaningful -- regular season of any sport, and the worst -- most meaningless -- post-season. I love the bowls. I have made the trip to six or seven bowls over the last decade (really enjoyed that one in 2005, let me tell you ... oh yeah, Tennessee didn't go to a bowl that year...hmmm
), but it is time for a change.
Despite all the SEC vs. Big Ten vs. Pac-10 vs. Iowa Sports League for In-bred Martians talk, there is more parity in the ranks of college football than at any time in the last 20 years. Case in point: The same LSU team that the Vols almost beat in the SEC championship game beat the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes -- but that same LSU team lost the last game of the regular season to an Arkansas squad which got hammered by Missouri. Of course, I am ignoring the 956 different times this year an unranked team beat a top-10 team and the 74 times the No. 1 spot got shuffled around. It is time that we determine our championships by a bracketed playoff like every other freakin' college sport
! There is no excuse -- except maybe money -- for continuing to let sportswriters and polls determine who is "the best
" -- let's settle it on the field. I don't claim to know how that should be done, but there are a lot of proposals floating around, including a new one from the President at Georgia
Wake up NCAA, it's time to stagger into the 21st Century.
This was simply supposed to be a quick post on the championship game -- and it has become easily the longest post I've made to date. I guess the only thing I like more than seeing the Vols win, is hearing myself talk, and inflating my ego by pontificating on the internet (not that anyone is reading
). Thus, I'm going to stop the bleeding here.
Congratulations LSU on the championship -- you earned it. And Buckeyes, keep your chin up -- you got farther than anyone else did, and I have a feeling we'll see you in the championship game again soon.
Now it's time for basketball! Bring on Bruce and the Barbarians!!!
- Go Figure …
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