January 16, 2010

Roundtable: Wrapping up the 2009 season

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. This weekend, we will take one final look back at the 2009 season and start to look ahead to 2010 by asking questions each day. Here are today's questions:

WHAT WAS THE BEST BOWL GAME THIS SEASON?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
If not for the final three minutes, I'd say the BCS championship game. That game had become so compelling with Colt McCoy out and Garrett Gilbert throwing two touchdown passes to help Texas rally. But because the score became lopsided in the last three minutes, I'll take the bowl featuring the other SEC team from Alabama. The Outback Bowl between Auburn and Northwestern was edge-of-the-seat intrigue. Just when Auburn appeared to have the win secured, Northwestern forced two fumbles late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win in regulation, but a field-goal attempt was missed. Then, after a field goal by Auburn in overtime, Northwestern came up short on a fake field-goal attempt to win. That game was fun.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
While the Humanitarian Bowl between Idaho and Bowling Green was packed with back-and-forth action, I loved the Outback Bowl between Northwestern and Auburn, which the Tigers won 38-35. No bowl matched the drama of this seesaw battle that ended on a failed fake field-goal attempt by Northwestern in overtime. The teams combined for 1,046 yards.

David Fox's answer:
I'll be the first to say we have too many bowl games. When the bowl pairings were released, the Humanitarian Bowl between Bowling Green and Idaho appeared to be one of the most expendable. But the game justified its existence by being the most exciting bowl, especially compared to the backdrop of some lackluster December games. A game decided by one point when 85 total points are scored always is going to stand out. It finished with a furious comeback. Bowling Green scored the game-tying and go-ahead touchdowns in a span of three minutes. But Idaho scored with four seconds left, and the topper was coach Robb Akey's gutsy call to go for the win with the two-point conversion. We also saw one of the finest individual performances of the bowl season from underrated Bowling Green WR Freddie Barnes (17 catches, 219 receiving yards and three touchdowns).

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I was pleasantly surprised there were so many good bowl games this season. I'll go with the GMAC as the most memorable -- a 44-41 double-overtime win by Central Michigan over Troy in a game utterly devoid of defense (Troy had 572 yards, CMU 504). CMU QB Dan LeFevour capped off a fabulous career by going 33-of-55 for 395 yards. Troy QB Levi Brown capped his career by going 31-of-56 for 386 yards. There were 25 points scored in the fourth quarter, when CMU rallied from a 31-19 deficit to send it into OT tied at 34; a key play was a 95-yard kickoff return by CMU WR Antonio Brown. There was a blocked field goal in the second overtime, 19 guys caught passes and the teams combined to punt just three times.

Steve Megargee's answer:
The Humanitarian Bowl lacked big-name programs (Bowling Green and Idaho) or high stakes, but there wasn't a better postseason game this season. The game featured a brilliant individual performance from Bowling Green star WR Freddie Barnes, who made the most of a rare moment in the spotlight by catching 17 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. It featured plenty of offense, as the teams combined for 85 points. And it also featured a frantic finish. After a 51-yard pass from Tyler Sheehan to Barnes gave Bowling Green a 42-35 lead with 32 seconds remaining, Idaho answered with a 16-yard scoring strike from Nathan Enderle to Max Komar with four seconds left. What happened next made this game particularly fun. Instead of playing it safe by kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime, Idaho gambled on a two-point conversion. The risk paid off, as Enderle connected with Preston Davis to give Idaho the 43-42 victory.

WHAT TEAM EARNED YOUR "MOST DISAPPOINTING" LABEL THIS SEASON?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Kansas had posted a combined 20 victories in the previous two seasons, was returning a bunch of starters -- including QB Todd Reesing and WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier -- and seemed like a strong contender to win the Big 12 North. That especially looked the case after the Jayhawks got off to a 5-0 start. But a 34-30 upset loss to Colorado started a seven-game losing streak, which included losses to state rival Kansas State and archrival Missouri. The Jayhawks ultimately finished last in the North. Coach Mark Mangino was fired, too. Could such a promising year in Lawrence have turned out any worse?

Tom Dienhart's answer:
It has to be Oklahoma, but a big part of the Sooners' struggles had to do with injuries, specifically to QB Sam Bradford and TE Jermaine Gresham. And the offensive line was a MASH unit, too. That's why our No. 4 preseason team skidded all the way to the Sun Bowl and an 8-5 record.

David Fox's answer:
I'm going to pick two on this one, mainly because their seasons were so similar. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State looked like potential BCS teams. Both went into the season with experienced quarterbacks and offensive playmakers. Both also took themselves out of contention for the BCS by the end of September. And both ended their regular seasons by losing in embarrassing fashion to in-state rivals. I thought one of these teams would become the 2009 version of Texas Tech. Instead, they turned out to be typical Ole Miss and Oklahoma State teams. Naturally, they capped their seasons with the worst bowl game of the year in a 12-turnover Cotton Bowl.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
There definitely are more than a few candidates -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, California, Florida State, Notre Dame. But I will go with Ole Miss, a team that I thought had a legit chance to win the SEC West before the season began. But once the pads were put on -- and once Jevan Snead started tossing passes to his opponents -- it was obvious Ole Miss' hype had grown too large. The Rebels were in the preseason top 10, but finished 9-4 after surviving an ugly Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma State. Winning the Cotton Bowl was a big deal for the Rebels last season; this season's win, though, couldn't mask that they had underachieved.

Steve Megargee's answer:
It's easy to understand why Oklahoma fell short of expectations this season. Injuries knocked TE Jermaine Gresham out for the entire season and prevented 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford from playing for most of the year. So I'm not necessarily blaming Oklahoma for going 8-5 just one year after it played for the national championship. That said, if you had told me before the season that Oklahoma would lose five games and would have to settle for a Sun Bowl bid instead of a BCS appearance, I never would have believed it. Fans of LSU, USC, Ole Miss, California and Notre Dame probably had more reason to feel angry with their teams at the end of the season because those teams didn't have the injury problems that Oklahoma encountered. But I believe Oklahoma had the most disappointing season because it opened as a legitimate national title contender and ended it by struggling to stay above .500. I can't think of another team whose final results were so far apart from its preseason expectations.

WHAT TEAM EARNED YOUR "BIGGEST SURPRISE" LABEL THIS SEASON?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Boston College appeared headed for a disaster. Its top player -- LB Mark Herzlich -- was diagnosed with cancer, and coach Jeff Jagodzinski was fired after interviewing for a job in the NFL. QB Dominique Davis transferred after an academic suspension, leaving that position in the hands of Dave Shinskie, a 25-year-old freshman who had been playing baseball since high school. Yet Coach Frank Spaziani kept the Eagles together. Shinskie was serviceable, freshman Luke Kuechly had an excellent season in place of Herzlich and BC managed an eight-win season and a second-place in the ACC Atlantic Division.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
Idaho. The Vandals were ranked No. 119 out of 120 teams by Rivals.com in the preseason. But Idaho finished 8-5 and fourth in the WAC with a 4-4 league mark. The Vandals capped the season with a thrilling 43-42 win over Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. How far had the program come? Idaho went 1-11 in 2007 and 2-10 in 2008 under Robb Akey.

David Fox's answer:
I probably shouldn't be surprised SMU returned to the postseason for the first time since the school was hit with the NCAA's death penalty in the mid-1980s. After all, June Jones holds the record for the biggest turnaround in FBS history by guiding Hawaii to a 9-4 record in 1999 after a 0-12 season in '98. SMU beat one team (FCS member Texas State) in 2008. We ranked the Mustangs 105th going into the season. But they went 8-5 and finished second in Conference USA West. The Mustangs ended the season by demolishing Nevada 45-10 in the Hawaii Bowl in one of the postseason's biggest routs. Who knows what SMU can accomplish next season after going 5-1 behind a freshman quarterback to end the '09 season.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
That Temple won nine games is extraordinary. That has been one of the worst BCS programs in the nation over the past two decades and hadn't been in a bowl since 1979. But coach Al Golden has done a masterful job of rebuilding. It was thought the Owls had a shot to go 6-6, but no one expected them to go 9-3 in the regular season and be playing for the MAC East title in the last week of the regular season. Had star RB Bernard Pierce not been injured late in the season, the Owls might have beaten Ohio University in the game to determine the East crown; he played just half of the EagleBank Bowl against UCLA, and a full game from him might have been enough to lift the Owls past the Bruins.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I'd probably go with Cincinnati. The only other teams to go unbeaten in the regular season were Alabama, Texas, Boise State and TCU. Alabama and Texas entered the season ranked in the top five, while Boise State and TCU were in the top 20. Cincinnati wasn't even in the top 25 and had to replace 10 starters on defense. While the Bearcats' one-sided Sugar Bowl loss to Florida showed that they probably were the weakest of the teams that went undefeated in the regular season, that they entered 12-0 with a suspect defense underscored how they were one of the nation's biggest surprises.

WHAT WAS THE MOST MEMORABLE GAME OF THE 2009 SEASON?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
There is a bunch of good ones to consider: Alabama over Tennessee, BYU over Oklahoma, Houston over Tulsa, Washington over USC, Michigan over Notre Dame, Boise State over Oregon. But I think it would have to be Texas' 13-12 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. Who can forget the sight of Nebraska players celebrating what they thought was the conference championship, only to learn one second would be put back on the clock. And then Texas wins on a long field goal by Hunter Lawrence and goes on to play for the national championship. Not only did Colt McCoy lose the Heisman Trophy in that game, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh became a Heisman finalist and may have clinched being the first player taken in the NFL draft with his 4.5-sack performance.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think it was the SEC title game -- 12-0 Florida vs. 12-0 Alabama in a matchup to decide who goes to the BCS title game. How often do two 12-0 teams meet? It turned out to be a lopsided 32-13 win for No. 2 Alabama, and it showed how dominant the eventual national champion could be in whipping a very good Gators team.

David Fox's answer:
Other games were more crisply played; other games were more exciting for the full four quarters. But I think we'll look back on the Big 12 championship game as the game that defined the season. Just as Texas' one-point loss to Texas Tech in 2008 defined that season for the Longhorns, the Big 12 and the national title picture, this game had similar widespread repercussions. Florida, Alabama and Texas finished their regular seasons undefeated, but not without their close calls. This game was the closest, as the Longhorns were one controversial second away from losing to Nebraska. The domino effect of a Texas loss would have been staggering for the BCS, putting either TCU or Cincinnati in the national championship game and probably knocking Boise State out of the BCS. Colt McCoy's poor performance may have cost him the Heisman, and it also truly catapulted Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh into the Heisman race.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I usually equate "most memorable" with most enjoyable. This season, I'd pick the Arizona-Oregon game on Nov. 21. Both teams came in with Pac-10 title hopes, and the Ducks prevailed 44-41 in double-overtime, setting up a winner-take-all game against Oregon State for the Rose Bowl that Oregon won. Arizona led 24-14 after scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Oregon rallied and the game went to overtime tied at 31. The Ducks tied it at 31 on a last-second TD pass from Jeremiah Masoli, who also tossed a TD pass in the first overtime and scored the game-winner on a short run in the second overtime. In all, Masoli ran for three scores and threw three TD passes. Nick Foles threw four TD passes for the Wildcats. The game also included a 47-yard field goal by Arizona on the final play of the first half and a 43-yard field goal by Oregon that hit the crossbar and bounced through to tie it at 24 late in the fourth quarter.

Steve Megargee's answer:
As far as I'm concerned, the most memorable game of the 2009 season wasn't a particularly close one. Alabama's 32-13 rout of Florida in the SEC Championship Game wasn't suspenseful at all, but I found it memorable because it left little doubt that the Crimson Tide were the best team in college football this season. With apologies to Texas, it seemed to me all season long that Alabama and Florida were the best teams in the country. Florida had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat Alabama last year on its way to winning the national title, and I expected the rematch to be equally close. I never expected Alabama to dominate the defending national champions so thoroughly. But if we're defining the most memorable game as the most exciting game, I'd have to go with Cincinnati's 45-44 victory over Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale for both teams. The game featured plenty of twists and turns, a remarkable individual performance from Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard and an amazing comeback by the Bearcats, who erased a 21-point deficit with a BCS bid on the line.




 

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