12 January 2011

Once again, the Heisman Trophy predicts the BCS champ

In 2009, Alabama quarterback Mark Ingram, Jr. won the Heisman Trophy, and the #1-ranked Alabama beat #2 Texas in the BCS National Championship Game to close out the season. The next season, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman, and on the BCS game on Monday evening #1 Auburn won the game in the final seconds with a field goal that broke a 19-19 tie to beat #2 Oregon, 22-19. I was personally rooting for Oregon, so it was disappointing seeing such a subpar Oregon performance on Monday.

Backstory of Auburn and Oregon
Auburn's last national championship was in 1957 season. Its last undefeated season was in 2004, when Auburn also won the Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech 16-13. Both Auburn and Oregon have been bowl regulars in the 2000s, and Oregon last won a bowl in 2008 (Holiday Bowl over #13 Oklahoma State, 42-31.)

Heismans vs. BCS
Before 2009, the last time the Heisman winner's team won the national championship was in 2004: USC quarterback Matt Leinart (now with the NFL Houston Texans team) won the trophy, and #1 USC beat #2 Oklahoma, 55-19 in the Orange Bowl (2005 season and before, BCS picked specific bowl games to be the championship game, and since 2006 BCS championship has had its own game). However, in the wake of the USC scandal in 2010, USC vacated its 2004 championship pending appeal. The next two years though was the opposite. The 2005 Heisman winner was Reggie Bush, running back for USC (although he later forfeited it after NCAA ruled he received improper benefits while in college), but #1 USC lost the Rose Bowl to #2 Texas, 41-38. Bush went to the New Orleans Saints of the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Saints after the 2009 season, but sadly the Saints got eliminated from the Wild Card by the Seattle Seahawks 41-36, coached by Bush's former college coach Pete Carroll in his first year with Seattle.

The 2006 postseason bowl game began a 5-season streak of SEC championships. Although Ohio State and now San Francisco 49ers QB Troy Smith won the 2006 Heisman, his top-ranked team ended up losing the BCS to #2 Florida, 38-24. The following champs? #2 teams Louisiana State (2007) and Florida (2008). Even though Florida QB (now in the Denver Broncos) Tim Tebow won the 2007 Heisman, Florida won the BCS next season (when Oklahoma's Sam Bradford won).

Questionable calls sunk Oregon
Regarding the game, there were some questionable reviewed calls that screwed Oregon. First there was an intercepted out-of-bounds catch by Oregon that was upheld as incomplete Auburn pass because the Oregon player didn't have both feet inbounds. Then at the way end of the game, with the score 19-19 and around a minute or two left, Michael Dyer almost got tackled in his own team territory but not quite (his run started at the Auburn 40):
Dyer, who chose jersey No. 5 because that's how old his brother was when their father died in a car accident nearly two decades ago, took the handoff from Newton and ran off right tackle for what looked like a 6- or 7-yard gain. Nothing routine about this one, though. He wasn't sure his knee hit the ground, so, urged by his coaches on the sideline, he popped up and kept going. Almost everyone on the field had stopped playing, but the referee never blew the play dead. Dyer made it to the Oregon 23. An official's review ensued and the replay showed that, indeed, his knee had never touched the turf.
Wow, Oregon, way to forget the rules. I was watching it on ESPN3.com and noticed how Dyer just rolled over the defender and no one approached him assuming that the play was called dead. Eventually Auburn ran for a touchdown, but that call was reversed because Dyer was down at the 1-yard line instead of end zone. Thus Auburn ended up running down the clock for Wes Byrum to kick a 19-yard field goal for the win with 2 seconds and counting.

Both teams missed 4th & goal opportunities from 1 yard out of the end zone. First Auburn, trailing Oregon 11-7 in the 2nd quarter, decided to go for it on 4th & goal at the Oregon 1. A Cam Newton incomplete pass gave Oregon the ball on downs, but Auburn got the ball back after tackling LaMichael James in the end zone for a safety (2 more points). Then late in the 3rd quarter, with Auburn leading 19-11, Oregon was 4th & goal from Auburn's 1, having made a 4-yard gain on 3rd down. Kenjon Barner was stopped for no gain.

I've got to give credit to Oregon for making both 2-point conversions following both of their touchdowns, though.

Recruiting controversy looms over Auburn
The New York Times sports section reports: "For Auburn, Grimaces May Still Replace Smiles":
...Auburn cannot lock the crystal championship trophy in a case until the N.C.A.A. finishes the Newton investigation. The N.C.A.A. enforcement staff has been looking into Newton’s recruitment for at least four months. If it finds that he or his family committed violations, he could be ruled ineligible retroactively and Auburn could be forced to vacate its title.

In the aftermath of the N.C.A.A. ruling that Reggie Bush and his family received improper benefits from Southern California, the Trojans are expected to lose their 2004 title. The university is appealing the decision.


The actions of Cecil Newton put Auburn under the N.C.A.A. microscope. The N.C.A.A. and Auburn agree that he attempted to shop his son to Mississippi State for $180,000 in a pay-for-play scheme brokered by a middleman. The Mississippi secretary of state is looking into the case because of the involvement of the middleman, Kenny Rogers, who has financial ties to the N.F.L. agent Ian Greengross.
Ouch. I guess this might appease some Oregon fans. Note that the Kenny Rogers here is not the singer but is rather a former Mississippi State football player. This season, #21 Mississippi State beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl, 52-14.

My friend Alejandro Madrid, who attends USC and is very steaming mad over the idiotic, arbitrary rules, sharply criticizes the rules: "Commentary: NCAA Rules Need to Go", "Todd McNair Railroaded by NCAA, Again", and "Good News for USC: NCAA Makes Inconsistent Ruling, Again". This third mentioned post regards the NCAA decision to suspend five Ohio State players (including star QB Terrelle Pryor) for the first five 2011 season games but not for the Sugar Bowl - and guess what? #6 Ohio State ended up beating #8 Arkansas 31-26. The suspensions were for "selling some awards and exchanging autographs for tattoos". Alejandro comments:

The NCAA hoped to make USC an example and show it wasn’t messing around, but it has undone the message sent by its harsh punishments by creating loopholes in its own rulings. Does the punishment against Ohio State seem rather harsh? Yes. But the severity isn’t the issue. The fact that the NCAA is cherry-picking which games the players can miss doesn’t make sense.

To have the sanctions reduced, USC must prove the NCAA made procedural errors. The Ohio State case gives the Trojans ammunition because of the inconsistencies between the rulings. Proceed with cautious optimism. Today’s findings certainly appear to help USC, but when the NCAA is the appellate judge, the jury, the prosecutor, it is impossible to predict what they will do with the appeal.

He also told me recently that if the NCAA lets Auburn off the hook, USC gets even more ammo in its appeal.

Why show the BCS only on cable?
BeyondChron called the decision to show this season's BCS only on the cable network ESPN "disturbing":
This past New Year's Day many sports fans without cable or satellite TV were shocked to discover that unlike past years when New Year Day football games were on their local TV stations from early morning until late evening, only one game, the Outback Bowl featuring Penn State vs Florida, was on the local ABC affiliates. The five other bowl games on New Year's Day; the Capitol One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Rose Bowl, Ticket One Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl were all on ESPN. Thousands of non-cable subscribers expecting to watch the Rose Bowl and other New Year Day bowl games were sent into a state of panic as they contemplated options of visiting the local bar or dropping in on friends or relatives with cable. The games could be watched for free on ESPN's internet site, but fans who didn't have a broadband internet connection, or didn't realize the game was on the internet had to do without.
Last season, ABC showed the BCS. Thus I ended up watching the game on ESPN3.com, and that stream isn't always perfectly reliable as its resolution degrades at times and sometimes the stream freezes. This cable-only contract stretches until the 2014 game. By then, will more people be aware of different outside-of-television methods of watching the BCS? I wonder. But how could it be that such a notable sports championship game could be NOT shown on broadcast network?

Overall this year's BCS was a nailbiter throughout and amazing to watch, and I hope that Oregon can draw upon this to improve their game for 2011.

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