NIU in Orange? Blame the BCS

A slightly abridged version of BMOC ...

15. Bowl bashing

I have no statistical evidence to support this, but here's guessing that more has been written about Northern Illinois football in the past 24 hours than in the previous 24 years.

I'm thrilled that the Huskies will play Florida State in the Discover Orange Bowl for three reasons:

1. Everybody loves an underdog, and the little fellas from DeKalb against big, mean Florida State is the ultimate underdog story.

2. Please explain to me what Northern Illinois did wrong. It won 12 games. It won the MAC. It featured one of the most fun-to-watch players in the country, quarterback Jordan Lynch. Plus, there's no evidence that it hacked into the computer systems of the six BCS formulas. It didn't bribe poll voters. So instead of telling the Huskies to get lost, maybe it's time to offer them a cold Frostie and a seat at the table.

3. NIU's selection as a BCS bowl team proves what I've been saying since I had hair: The BCS system isn't a system at all, but a beater car that keeps getting new coats of paint. It looks OK but can't make it down the block without the engine block falling off.

I'm not outraged that Northern is a BCS bowl team. I'm actually happy for the Huskies. I mean, if a five-loss Wisconsin team can play in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio and Louisville (of the dreadful Big East) can play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, what's so horrible about NIU in the Orange?

Oh, I know: FSU is going to crush the Huskies? Really? We know this for sure how?

By the way, Louisville is more of an odds 'dog to Florida in the Sugar than NIU is to FSU. And even if the Seminoles do win convincingly -- let's say, by 21 points -- that would be the same margin that Alabama beat LSU in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game last season. Or if the Huskies keep the margin of defeat to fewer than 37 points, they'll have fared better than ACC power team Clemson did in its 70-33 blowout loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl last season.

So quit worrying about how NIU will hold up against Florida State. Remember, FSU is the same team that lost to NC State earlier this season and imploded in the loss to Florida. So the Noles aren't invincible.

14. Bowl bashing -- part II

Anyway, this isn't about Northern Illinois. This is about the knuckleheadedness of the BCS.

How many times have we heard from BCS supporters that -- all together now -- the BCS gets it right?

OK, sure, the BCS got it right with No. 1 Notre Dame versus No. 2 Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship Game. Then again, how was the BCS going to get that wrong? It was a no-brainer.

But no Georgia in a BCS bowl?

No Oklahoma in a BCS bowl?

No LSU in a BCS bowl?

It isn't NIU's fault it got in ahead of those teams. People complained about access issues relative to non-automatic qualifiers, and this was the solution: Make it possible for, say, a 12-1 MAC team to reach a BCS bowl and, as an unintended consequence, squeeze out a higher-ranked LSU team and, in OU's case, a Big 12 co-champion and, in Georgia's case, an SEC Eastern Division title winner.

But if you want the best teams in the best games, Georgia ought to be in a BCS bowl. Even Nick Saban, whose Bama team beat the Bulldogs (barely) in the SEC championship game, said so.

Oklahoma ought to be in one. It lost to Kansas State and Notre Dame. But the Sooners are out and Louisville, Wisconsin and NIU are in?

LSU ought to be in one. It lost to No. 2 Bama and No. 3 Florida by a combined 12 points.

This is the BCS world we live in. In 2014 the world will spin out of orbit, crash into other planets and be replaced by a four-team playoff and new mechanisms.

Will it be perfect? Of course not. Will it be better than this mess? Georgia, OU and LSU will take their chances.

13. Bowl fun

My three favorite non-BCS bowl matchups:

1. Baylor vs. UCLA in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

2. LSU vs. Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

3. South Carolina vs. Michigan in the Outback Bowl.

My favorite BCS bowl matchup that isn't for a national championship: Oregon versus Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

My favorite obscure bowl matchup: Toledo vs. Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

12. Roll Tide

I picked Georgia to beat Alabama in the SEC championship. I don't apologize for the pick, just as UGA coach Mark Richt doesn't apologize for the loss, or for not spiking the ball in the final seconds, or for challenging a reporter in the postgame news conference about the perception that he and his team can't win a "big" game.

I picked Georgia not because I thought it was necessarily a better team than Bama but because I know how impossibly hard it is to win these kinds of games again and again. I picked Georgia because I loved the way the Bulldogs were trending and because I wasn't convinced the Crimson Tide could keep stiff-arming the law of averages.

But Bama is Bama and Nick Saban is Nick Saban because they reinvent how they win but not who they are. And at the end of the day, Bama is a team that won't take no for an answer.

From a pure talent standpoint, this isn't the best Tide team Saban has coached. And that's not me talking, that's Bama's own Barrett Jones saying it.

"We don't have stars," the senior All-American center said. "That's why I love this team."

What the Crimson Tide have are gamers.

Jones said what he said while sitting at his locker in the Georgia Dome, a pair of crutches leaning against a wall to his right. Bama had just beaten the Bulldogs 32-28 in the best-ever SEC championship, and Jones had played almost the entire game with an injured left foot. He needed the crutches to make it from the bench to the postgame trophy presentation and then to the Tide locker room.

"Probably my favorite win I've ever had," Jones said.

Think about that for a moment. Jones has won two national championships at Bama, but this was his favorite victory.

It was his favorite because it was the SEC championship, because of the quality of opponent, because of the Nov. 10 home loss to Texas A&M, because of the way the Crimson Tide won. Alabama not only overcame a 21-10 third-quarter Georgia lead, but it overcame it in primal fashion. The Crimson Tide ran until Georgia finally dropped.

"That's your favorite thing as an offensive lineman," Jones said. "You know it's a run. They know it's a run. And they can't stop it."

Bama ran for 350 will-imposing yards. And yet, it still came down to the final play.

11. Roll Tide -- part II

Jones will remember the night of Dec. 1, when the Tide earned the right to play Notre Dame for a second consecutive BCS championship. But he'll also remember Nov. 17, the day one-loss Bama went from national title outsider to insider.

Baylor upset then-No. 1 Kansas State, and Stanford upset then-No. 2 Oregon. The Tide had turned.

"No, I didn't watch," Jones said sarcastically. "Of course I watched."

He and a select group of buddies invited to his apartment ("No girls. It's not a game you want to explain what a first down is," he said) watched as the mind-boggling upsets unfolded. Bama had its second chance. Then, Saturday night, Jones, his teammates and Georgia's players walked and limped off the field with sweat-soaked and blood-stained jerseys and pants. They looked like they had been in a football war. They had: It's called the SEC championship.

If Bama had to play the national title game this Saturday, Jones said, "we'd be in trouble." It will take days, maybe a couple of weeks to get over the physicality of that game against Georgia.

But the Tide will get over it. Saban and this Bama team have perfected the art of pole vaulting over obstacles. Not surprisingly, the Tide players didn't know much about Notre Dame. Saban didn't even know the date of the BCS Championship Game.

Jones knew about the Notre Dame tradition and that the Fighting Irish played a Bama-like physical brand of football.

Meaning no disrespect, guard Anthony Steen said he couldn't name three ND players. Same goes for the other guard, Chance Warmack. Quarterback AJ McCarron said he knew "nothing" of Notre Dame, "other than my brother's a fan of them growing up."

"I know Manti Te'o," Bama's C.J. Mosley said of his Notre Dame linebacker counterpart.

This is the way Bama thinks. And here's guessing it's the way Notre Dame thinks, too. Concentrate on the game at hand. The Tide couldn't afford to look ahead. Now they can -- after they celebrate and heal.

10. Georgia on my mind

Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Mark Bradley found the perfect tone and pitch to describe Georgia's failed, last-second comeback: "Alas, the Bulldogs needed 85 yards and they could manage only 80. Are five yards sufficient reason to characterize them as losers, to suggest that this four-point loss is living proof that Richt and/or [quarterback Aaron] Murray can't win the Big One? No and no, and if you're of such a mind, didn't you hear me when I said, 'Go away'"?

Georgia lost the game, but it won admirers. Had you been on the field after the game, you would have seen the Bulldogs -- and Bama players -- past the point of exhaustion.

I saw UGA star linebacker Jarvis Jones start to stagger toward the Bulldogs' locker room when he spotted Tide running back Eddie Lacy, the same Lacy who rushed for 181 bruising yards and two touchdowns in the game. Jones stopped, waited patiently for Lacy to complete an interview and then offered the kind of hug and words that only players understand.

There was no dishonor in Georgia's loss. Maybe that's why Richt was so offended by a postgame question that suggested he and the Bulldogs were incapable of winning games that mattered.

Georgia didn't choke. It didn't hand Alabama a thing. The Tide had to take the lead from the Bulldogs. And then they had to hang on for dear life as Murray led UGA to the brink of an upset.

"The clock just ran out," Richt said.

It was a cliché. It was also the truth.

I'll never completely understand Richt's reasons for not having Murray spike the ball on first-and-goal from the Alabama 8-yard line. It would have given Georgia one, possibly two chances to score the winning touchdown. Then again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

But the point is, Georgia gave itself an improbable chance at the last-second win. And that's worth something.

"We jabbed. We jabbed. We jabbed," Bama tight end Michael Williams said. "And we finally got the knockout punch at the end."

Bama needed a haymaker to get rid of Georgia. It was that kind of game. The Bulldogs were that kind of opponent.

9. Coach of the year

Preseason: Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, UCLA's Jim Mora, Texas' Mack Brown, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Arkansas' John L. Smith.

Now: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida's Will Muschamp, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Stanford's David Shaw, O'Brien, Meyer, Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren.

The winner is ... O'Brien.

Runner-up ... Kelly.

Penn State isn't playing for a national championship. It isn't playing in a BCS bowl. It didn't even reach double-digit wins. But given where Penn State's football program was 10 months ago -- wading through more sewage than Andy Dufresne in "Shawshank Redemption" -- O'Brien's work this season is a case study in crisis management. In many ways, O'Brien (and those Nittany Lions players who stayed) saved a season and restored a measure of pride to a university that had been fractured by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the dismissal and death of Joe Paterno and the debilitating NCAA sanctions.

8. Coach under the most duress

Preseason: Tennessee's Derek Dooley, Maryland's Randy Edsall, Texas' Mack Brown, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville, Notre Dame's Kelly.

Now: Gene Chizik (formerly of Auburn), Dooley (formerly of Tennessee), Tom O'Brien (formerly of NC State), Jeff Tedford (formerly of Cal), Jon Embree (formerly of Colorado), Danny Hope (formerly of Purdue), Frank Spaziani (formerly of Boston College), Texas' Brown.

The "winner" is ... Chizik.

Chizik went from a national championship to unemployment in two years.

7. Surprise team of the year

Preseason: Tennessee, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA.

Now: Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, Kansas State, Stanford, Florida, Texas A&M, San Jose State, UCLA, Utah State.

The winner is ... Notre Dame.

Well, Tennessee surprised me by stinking it up. Ohio State surprised me by going undefeated. Nebraska surprised me by securing exit visas minutes before the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin. And UCLA surprised me by beating USC.

But nobody, absolutely nobody, picked Notre Dame to finish undefeated and No. 1 in the country. If someone did, I want to see documented proof. Anyway, a remarkable Irish season for a team where the sum is greater than the parts.

6. Flop of the year

Preseason: No nominees.

Now: Michigan State, USC, Arkansas, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Texas, Southern Mississippi, South Florida.

The flopper is ... USC.

The Trojans aren't the choice here because of the preseason No. 1 pick by Associated Press voters. That's not USC's doing. But a 7-5 overall record and 5-4 Pac-12 record are USC's fault. So is a 1-4 finish, including a 62-51 loss to Oregon, a defeat to crosstown rival UCLA and a home loss to Notre Dame.

5. Player of the year

Preseason: USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

Now: Notre Dame's Te'o, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, Kansas State QB Collin Klein, Wisconsin's Ball and Northern Illinois' Lynch.

The winner is ... Manziel.

Runner-up: Te'o.

I agree with almost every impassioned argument that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has made about Te'o -- he's the heart and soul of the No. 1 team in the country. He is the best player on one of the best defenses in the country. He exemplifies everything you'd want out of the most outstanding player in the country.

But as much as I wanted to choose Te'o -- and I really, really did -- it was impossible to ignore what Manziel has done this season. His numbers were off the charts. His performance against Alabama was off the charts. The way he has helped transform Texas A&M during its first year in the SEC is off the charts.

Is he a clear-cut choice? Nuh-uh. If you told me Te'o was going to win the Heisman, I'd stand and applaud. Same goes for K-State's Klein. They're all worthy of any award you give them.

But I could pick only one for this player of the year category.

I'm with Kelly on one other thing: The POY shouldn't automatically go to an offensive player. Which is why I looked long and hard at putting Te'o at the top of my BMOC POY ballot.

I also try to put statistics in context, which is why Klein is on my short list. His numbers are wonderful, but they aren't overpowering. But when you watch him play, you experience the "Ah-hah" moment.

Manziel was a revelation. He was sort of Denard Robinson with an arm. He beat teams not single-handedly, but close.

The difference between Manziel, Te'o and Klein is as thin as ankle tape. This year, there was no wrong answer.

4. The picks

I missed by picking Rutgers over Louisville. (Great game, though.) Otherwise, a decent little week.

(Last week's record: 10-1. Overall: 172-55.)

3. Why Vegas sends a limo for me

I nailed the Baylor over Oklahoma State upset and almost sneaked away with Georgia over Bama. But the Tide don't win these national titles by accident, right?

(Last week's record: 1-1. Overall: 6-16.)

2. If there were a playoff

(And there will be in two more years ...)

Shoulder Pad Bracket:

Notre Dame vs. Oregon. Green vs. Green.

Chin Strap Bracket:

Alabama vs. Ohio State. Just like the old days: Nick vs. Urban.

1. The BMOC Top 10

No. 10: Kansas State (11-1)
Next: Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon.
As expected, the Wildcats and Klein's Heisman hopes felt better after a visit from Dr. Brown and the Longhorns.

No. 9: LSU (10-2)
Next: Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Clemson.
I was big-time wrong last week when I said LSU was in the BCS bowl mix. But there's nothing wrong with a Tigers vs. Tigers matchup.

No. 8: Texas A&M (10-2)
Next: AT&T Cotton vs. Oklahoma.
I'm hoping my new best friend Reveille can get me tickets to the Heisman ceremony.

No. 7: Stanford (11-2)
Next: Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin.
What, Stanford and UCLA aren't playing a best-of-seven series?

No. 6: Florida (11-1)
Next: Sugar Bowl vs. Louisville.
Yes, I can already hear it from Gators followers: "Why are we ranked below a two-loss Georgia team?" And you've got a legitimate argument. But here's the deal: UGA beat you head-to-head; it won the Eastern Division, and it came thisclose to beating Bama.

No. 5: Georgia (11-2)
Next: Capital One Bowl vs. Nebraska.
Too bad we can't have a Gators-Bulldogs rematch.

No. 4: Oregon (11-1)
Next: Fiesta Bowl vs. K-State.
Yes, I can already hear it from Cardinal followers: "But Stanford beat Oregon and you've got the Cardinal behind the Ducks." What can I say? It's an imperfect science.

No. 3: Ohio State (12-0)
Next: Winter workouts.
No bowl game, but an unbeaten record isn't a bad consolation prize.

No. 2: Alabama (12-1)
Next: BCS National Championship Game vs. Notre Dame.
SEC fatigue? Are you kidding me? Betcha nobody turned off the Bama-Georgia game because of SEC fatigue.

No. 1: Notre Dame (12-0)
Next: BCS National Championship Game vs. Bama.
The Irish had better get ready to trade some helmet paint with Bama on Jan. 7.

(Five on the fringe: South Carolina, Oklahoma, Florida State, Clemson, Oregon State.)