16 stories shape final postseason of BCS era
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter December 20, 2013 10:58PM
Updated: January 23, 2014 6:47AM
We’re in the home stretch now — of the 2013 season and, on a macro level, of one of the most noteworthy periods in the history of college football. It’s Year 16 of the BCS era, and there will not be a 17th. In honor of that, here are the top 16 story lines of the final postseason before the college game turns to a playoff to determine its champion.
1. The SEC’s title streak
Seven years in a row, a Southeastern Conference team has raised the national championship trophy. Auburn will try to make it an almost-unfair five straight titles for the state of Alabama. No. 1 Florida State is a heavy favorite, though, and it has Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. What to root for, the underdog or change at the top?
2. Urban retakes the big stage
Only Alabama’s Nick Saban has more impressive career credentials than Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, who won two championships at Florida and is 4-0 in BCS games. If the Buckeyes — 24-1 under the Urbmeister — take care of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, their coach will be back alongside the Nicktator in a group of two, better than all the rest.
3. Mack Brown’s swan song
Brown, one of the most successful coaches of his time, has seen his 16-year run at Texas end badly. An upset win over Oregon in the Alamo Bowl wouldn’t undo all the harsh criticism the man has endured, but at least Brown could slide into (forced) retirement in a mighty fine mood.
4. Johnny Burnout
Few, if any, college athletes have reveled in — and struggled with — household-name fame more than Johnny Manziel. Two seasons in the spotlight seem to have been more than enough for Texas A&M’s superstar quarterback, who’s expected to turn pro after a final ride against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
5. Lynch’s milestone chases
Northern Illinois’ quarterback needs 199 rushing yards against Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl to become the first player in FBS history to run for 2,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in a season. He’s also four total touchdowns shy of 50, which would stand up well compared with Manziel’s 47, Robert Griffin III’s 47, Cam Newton’s 50 and Tim Tebow’s 55 from their Heisman seasons.
6. Rose Bowl wrestling match
Smash-mouth enthusiasts will delight as Stanford attempts to run right at Michigan State’s No. 1-ranked defense. Running back Tyler Gaffney is a classic workhorse operating behind an elite line, but the Spartans are beyond nasty. Note: The Pac-12 has won seven of eight over the Big Ten in Pasadena.
7. Bob Stoops eats his words?
Before the season, Oklahoma’s coach publicly questioned the SEC’s top-dog reputation, arguing that best team — even seven years running — doesn’t necessarily equal best league. He then doubled down by taking a shot at SEC defenses. Have fun with also-ran Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, Bob.
8. Meet Blake Bortles
Think the presence of UCF makes the Fiesta Bowl a real dud? Please. Blake Bortles is a first-round quarterback with a chance to outshine Manziel, Fresno State’s Derek Carr and even Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater on draft day. Oh, and he’s playing against Baylor, one of the most fun teams to watch in, like, ever.
9. Battle of the backs
Between them, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams have 3,819 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground this season. Indeed, there might be a few running plays called in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl (formerly the Independence Bowl).
10. Clowney, meet the Badgers
So maybe South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney hasn’t played like the greatest football force ever to inhabit Planet Earth this season. Just wait until the South Carolina defensive end gets his hands on Wisconsin backs Melvin Gordon and James White — or, um, doesn’t — in the Capital One Bowl.
11. Bronx cheers
for old Notre Dame
In its fourth year of existence, the Pinstripe Bowl finally gets an iconic program befitting of iconic Yankee Stadium. We know, baseball fans, Yankee Stadium isn’t what is used to be. But then, neither are the 8-4 Irish. (They can’t lose to Rutgers, can they?)
12. Battle of the backs,
Todd Gurley, maybe the most gifted ball carrier in the country, means everything to a Georgia offense that’s without senior quarterback Aaron Murray. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini would need a ticket to get into the Gator Bowl if not for All-Big Ten first-teamer Ameer Abdullah.
13. LSU’s future
His name is Anthony Jennings, and the true freshman quarterback saved LSU’s bacon after starter Zach Mettenberger tore up his knee in the season finale against Arkansas. If Jennings, a former elite recruit, shines in the Outback Bowl against Iowa, the Tigers will be positioned as national title contenders again in 2014.
14. UCLA’s dynamic duo
The best pass rusher in the country? Many around the NFL believe it’s Bruins senior Anthony Barr, a converted fullback. The best two-way player in the country, meanwhile, can only be true freshman Myles Jack, the stud linebacker who’ll also line up at running back against Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl.
15. Bowl bans lifted
Ohio State isn’t the only program that’s postseason-eligible again after having served some time for running afoul of the rules. Also back in business (in an ESPN doubleheader, no less) are North Carolina, which meets Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, and Miami, which faces Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
16. Good ol’ John Thompson
Who? For the second consecutive year, he’ll be the interim coach leading Arkansas State out of the tunnel for its bowl game. Thompson didn’t get the head job when it opened for 2013, and — no matter what happens against Ball State in the GoDaddy Bowl — he won’t be running the show in 2014, either. Want someone to root for this postseason? The most taken-for-granted man in college football is your guy.