BCS Becomes Bruin Ruins; Florida, Wake, Louisville, Oklahoma, Troy Win Titles
by Mike Mitchell
So much for cut-and-dried.
UCLA downed USC 13-9 and threw the BCS into chaos. The loss was the Trojans' second consecutive setback in the Rose Bowl, the scene of last year's national championship defeat at the hands of Texas, and USC (10-2) will now have to return to that same venue on New Year's Day for their next game - the Rose Bowl itself.
USC was apparently driving for the game-winning touchdown when the Bruins' Eric McNeal tipped, then intercepted, John David Booty's pass at the UCLA 20-yard line with 1:10 left in the game.
The Trojans had preserved all three of their time-outs, but only :04 remained when they got the ball back inside their own 20-yard line after a booming punt. A desperation heave fell incomplete and the Bruins began a jubilant celebration while USC coaches and players watched in disbelief.
The Congrove Computer Rankings' preseason projections had USC and Texas staging a rematch for the national title. The Trojans defeat means that this will be just the fourth time in fourteen years, and the first time since 2001, that the computer did not forecast at least one of the national championship game participants.
UCLA (7-5) will ride the momentum of a four-game winning streak into its' Emerald Bowl matchup with Florida State.
The 9 points is the fewest scored by USC in a game since a 10-6 loss to Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, and it's the first time since the start of the 2002 season that the Trojans failed to score at least 20 points in a game. It was their lowest point total against UCLA since a 7-7 tie in 1971. Just last year, USC beat the Bruins 66-19.
Could Florida move into the BCS title game? The Gators made their statement with a 38-28 win over Arkansas in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. The Gators improved to 12-1 but entered the game in 4th place in the BCS Standings, one spot behind Michigan.
The Gators and Razorbacks staged a wild affair that featured a Florida fake punt from inside their own 20-yard line, an end-around pass for a Gator touchdown, a double-pass for an Arkansas touchdown, an intercepted shovel pass for a Razorback score, and a muffed Arkansas punt return in the end zone that the Gators recovered for six points.
Florida took a 17-0 lead before Arkansas reeled off the next 21 points. The Gators answered with the next 14 points for a 31-21 lead. After the Hogs trimmed the margin to 31-28 on the double-pass play, Florida put the game away with its' own trickery - the end-around pass play.
In Jacksonville, Wake Forest beat Georgia Tech 9-6 on Saturday in a battle of defense and field goals to win the ACC Championship and the conference's automatic berth in the Orange Bowl. The game-winner came from 22 yards out with 3-and-a-half minutes left. But the Yellow Jackets went 3-and-out on their ensuing possession and the Demon Deacons ran out the final two minutes of the clock.
Wake Forest improved to 11-2 with the win, while Georgia Tech fell to 9-4. The Yellow Jackets stumbled down the stretch with three losses in their last seven games, and only one touchdown in their last two games.
Wake Forest's only other ACC title came in 1970. Their opponent in the Orange Bowl will likely be Louisville.
Louisville rolled over Connecticut 48-17 early Saturday to conclude an 11-1 season, 6-1 in the Big East, and knock West Virginia out of contention for a BCS bowl bid. The Mountaineers (10-2, 5-2) then outlasted Rutgers (10-2, 5-2) in triple overtime 41-39 on Saturday night to give the Cardinals (11-1, 6-1) the outright Big East title.
West Virginia and Rutgers staged a see-saw battle that saw the lead change hands six times, even though the Mountaineers trailed until the third quarter when they grabbed their first lead at 13-10. West Virginia stretched it to 20-10 before the Scarlet Knights racked up the next 13 points and reassumed the lead at 23-20 on a 31-yard field goal with just under four minutes left in regulation. The field goal came after a wide open pass on third down was dropped in the end zone.
The Mountaineers moved back down the field and knotted the score at 23-23 on a 30-yard field goal with under a minute left. Rutgers moved into position for a possible 52-yard game-winner, but the kick fell short.
Both teams traded field goals in the first overtime, and touchdowns in the second and third extra periods. The deciding factor came when Rutgers failed to convert its' mandatory two-point conversion attempt on a pass tightly defended in the end zone.
Five turnovers doomed Nebraska as Oklahoma bagged the Big 12 title with a 21-7 win over the 'Huskers in Kansas City. The Sooners are headed to the Fiesta Bowl where they are expected to face undefeated Boise State.
The Sun Belt Conference title was also decided on Saturday. Troy bounced back from a sluggish first half to defeat winless FIU 26-13 and claim a share of the title with Middle Tennessee. The Trojans get the conference's automatic entry into the New Orleans Bowl by virtue of their 21-20 win at Middle Tennessee last week.
Also on Saturday:
Navy beat Army 26-14 for its' fifth straight win over the Black Knights. The Midshipmen also retain possession of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for the fourth straight season. Navy heads to the Meineke Car Care Bowl with a 9-3 record. Army ends a disappointing season at 3-9 with its' sixth straight loss.
California beat Stanford in "The Big Game" 26-17 to give the Golden Bears their fifth straight win in the series. Thanks to UCLA's win over USC, Cal also snagged a share of its' first PAC-10 crown since 1975.
In the final game of the regular season, Hawaii and Oregon State kicked off after Midnight eastern time and wrapped up around 3:15 in the morning. The Warriors saw their 9-game winning streak come to an end with a 35-32 loss to the Beavers.
Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Colt Brennan threw two touchdown passes for Hawaii, giving him 53 TD passes for the season - one shy of the NCAA record held by David Klingler who threw 54 with Houston in 1990.
The 32 points scored was Hawaii's fewest since a 25-17 loss at Alabama in the first game of the season, and only the third time all year that they were held to less than 41 points. Undefeated Boise State beat the Warriors 41-34 on September 23 at Boise.
The Hawai'i Bowl-bound Warriors finished the season with a 10-3 record while Sun Bowl-bound Oregon State improved to 9-4.
Houston captured its' first outright CUSA title with a 34-20 win at home over Southern Miss on Friday night. The win also earned the Cougars a trip to the Liberty Bowl while Southern Miss will play in the GMAC Bowl.
Houston outscored Southern Miss 21-3 in the second half to overcome a 17-13 halftime deficit en route to their sixth straight victory. The Cougars improved to 10-3 over-all, securing their first 10-win season since 1990. The Golden Eagles slipped to 8-5.
For the first time since the MAC went to a two-division format, Central Michigan and Ohio played in the conference championship game with the Chippewas prevailing 31-10 Thursday night in Detroit.
Central Michigan put the game away when Ontario Sneed ran 96 yards from scrimmage for the final score of the game with just over six minutes left in the contest. It broke the MAC title game record for the longest run from scrimmage by 31 yards.
Both teams take records of 9-4 over-all, 7-1 in the conference, into their respective bowl games.
The Chippewas will return to Detroit to face Middle Tennessee State in the Motor City Bowl on December 26. That will be Central Michigan's first bowl appearance since the 1994 Las Vegas Bowl, which was also the last time that the Chippewas won the MAC title.
Ohio heads to the GMAC Bowl on January 7 where it will play Southern Miss. It will be just the third bowl appearance for the Bobcats who lost 15-14 to West Texas State (now Division II) in the 1962 Sun Bowl, and 49-42 to Richmond (now Division 1-AA) in the 1968 Tangerine Bowl (now the Capital One Bowl). 1968 was also the last year that Ohio won the MAC Championship.
This was the second consecutive season, and the third time in the last four seasons, that the MAC Championship game was staged between two teams that had not previously played in the title game. Last year, Akron beat Northern Illinois on a TD pass with 10 seconds left for the first conference championship in school history.
Ohio State and Boise State both finished their regular season schedules with 12-0 records but won't play each other in the BCS title game. The Broncos will likely be going to the Fiesta Bowl to face Oklahoma.
Duke finished the year at 0-12, including a loss to 1-AA Richmond.
FIU (0-12), lost 26-13 to Troy on Saturday.
1-A vs. 1-AA
1-AA teams finished 7-71 for the season against their higher-classified brethren. Since the start of the 2003 campaign, 1-A teams hold the upper hand by a huge margin, 235-25 (.904).
77 schools took the opportunity of a 12th game to schedule a cupcake opponent and New Mexico State double-dipped for two of its' four wins.
Ohio State has won 19 straight games.
Boise State has won 14 straight regular season games, 12 straight over-all, and 36 consecutive regular season home games. The Broncos have never lost a home game to a WAC opponent (24-0).
USC has won a nation's-best 33 consecutive home games.
Duke has lost 20 games over-all, and 22 straight to 1-A teams.
FIU has lost 12 straight games after a 26-13 defeat to Troy.
The 2006 season introduced 11 coaching changes. Five have led their team to a bowl game. Here is how each of those teams finished the regular season.
Boise State, 12-0 under Chris Petersen (Bowl Game).
Wisconsin, 11-1 under Bret Bielema (Bowl Game).
Kansas State, 7-5 under Ron Prince (Bowl Game).
Middle Tennessee, 7-5 under Rick Stockstill (Bowl Game).
Rice, 7-5 under Todd Graham, (Bowl Game).
Idaho, 4-8 under Dennis Erickson, season completed.
Northwestern, 4-8 under Pat Fitzgerald, season completed.
Buffalo, 2-10 under Turner Gill, season completed.
San Diego St., 3-9 under Chuck Long, season completed (beat CSU. 17-6).
Colorado, 2-10 under Dan Hawkins, season completed.
Temple, 1-11 under Al Golden, season completed.