Rose Bowl teams inch closer to elite

Ted Miller looks at the many factors that helped determine such a small difference for Wisconsin and Oregon in their near-miss bowl games last year.

LOS ANGELES -- There are between 120 and 160 plays in a college football game. Most are unremarkable. A 41-yard punt. A 3-yard run. An 8-yard pass on third and 10. But, really, who's to say that one of the 22 players on the field couldn't have transformed the game if he'd just been a little bit better on any given play? A block lasting one more second, a linebacker reacting a split-second quicker, the arc of a pass reduced by an inch.

Oregon lost last year's national championship game 22-19 when Auburn kicked a field goal on the last play of the game. Wisconsin lost 21-19 to TCU in last year's Rose Bowl after the Badgers failed to convert a two-point play for the tie with two minutes left.

For fans of both teams, those were singular moments of excruciation. For the players, it's much more difficult because it's not that simple.

"There are so many factors that go into a two-point loss that you can't ascribe it to anything," Wisconsin center Peter Konz said. "Maybe we weren't cheering loud enough. ... It's hard to just blame it on one thing when it's two points."

But what a difference those small margins make. And not just in terms of the single game.

Only 35 teams can end their seasons with bowl wins. Only five will win BCS bowl games. One will be handed a crystal football and called national champion. A program can be good without winning a BCS bowl game. It can be thoroughly respectable. Hey, just getting there is worthy of celebration, right?

Ah, but there's an invisible yet rigorously protected line that separates those that win BCS bowl games and national championships and those that don't. There are teams with trophies and teams with "what if?"

To read the rest of Ted's story, click here.