Sunday, November 25, 2007

Extended Wrapup

I may be crazy, but I actually love College Basketball's Championship Week more than the first week of the NCAA tournament. First off, there are actually more games on simultaneously and more games tends to lead to more dramatic outcomes. Second, I enjoy the details of arguing who will be in, who will get the top seeds, who will lose their jobs, and I love when cinderella teams steal at-large bids from mediocre major conference teams. I love the fact that the MWC semis can have a huge impact on teams in the Big East and that by tracking things closely I can see insights into the selection process that even the announcers on TV can't see in real time. I love discussing all these intricacies and when the NCAA tourament starts, it is actually a bit of a letdown for me. After all, the tournament is simply win and advance. There's really nothing left to discuss.

College football works in a similar vein. While I find the last three weeks exceptionally fascinating as teams jockey for last minute bowl position while playing all the toughest rivalry games, once the bowls actually get started, there isn't much to discuss. Teams simply show up and play.

That's why I've traditionally taken time off work for championship week, and why for the first time I live blogged championship week last March. On the flip side, I've been an utter failure this week in blogging the Thanksgiving frenzy. And that's too bad. Because a quick look back on the Thanksgiving schedule shows that there was a year's worth of drama unfolding in just a few short days. I start with a look-back at the college football and then the basketball from this weekend.

College Football Wrap-up

Thursday, USC and Arizona St. met with "the Pac-10 title on the line." This marked at least the third time this year this occurred. First was USC-Oregon, then when Arizona St. kept winning, much to everyone's surprise, suddenly the game of the year became Oregon-ASU. Then when Oregon's QB got injured, it suddenly became USC vs ASU. USC prevailed in dominant fashion on Thanksgiving night which actually sets up a possible 4th Pac10 title showdown next week. If Arizona St. loses to Arizona, USC will meet UCLA with the USC/UCLA winner going to the Rose Bowl. The BCS title picture has been crazy all year, but the Pac 10 has been just as crazy.

Friday kicked off with Colorado and Nebraska playing a win-or-go-home game. The winner would go to a bowl, the loser at 5-7 would not be eligible for a bowl. Nebraska gave up a boatload of points yet again which promptly led to Bill Callahan's firing.

Mississippi St. then met Mississippi in the Egg Bowl. Mississippi St. needed a win to ensure a bowl bid, given the large number of eligible conference teams. Coach Sylvester Croom was practially in tears as his team won to improve to 7-5 and lock up a bowl slot.

When I look back on this season, I think just about every week the best game was the SEC game on CBS, just a tremendous schedule of football this year. Next up was Arkansas vs LSU with LSU hoping to go to the National Title Game. Arkansas showed why college football will always be more fun than the pro-game as elite RB McFadden played QB on numerous occassions in an attempt to stump the LSU defense. Arkansas eventually won in Triple OT, and LSU's national title hopes finally came to an end. West Virginia is now the favorite to meet the Big 12 champ in the title game, although I still keep wondering if Ohio St. won't get an influx of votes at the last minute. If Ohio St. hadn't lost so convincingly last year to Florida, they'd have a better chance of jumping West Virginia.

Texas A&M then held off Texas and even though Franchione was forced to resign the next day after a 7-5 season, his victory over Texas knocked Texas out of a BCS bowl game which had to feel good to A&M fans.

Finally, on Friday Night, Hawaii crushed Boise St. and ended Boise St.'s hopes of a BCS repeat. I'm really curious what will happen now if Hawaii loses to Washington (last place in the Pac 10) in the final game of the season. Hawaii is currently 12th in the BCS which would ensure a BCS at large slot in the Sugar Bowl, but a Hawaii loss could open up another BCS slot for the major conferences.

Saturday kicked off with Boston College rolling over Miami. Miami dropped to 5-7 and Miami is no longer eligible for bowl participation after the loss. The story of Miami's season tended to fly under the radar, but I find it somewhat shocking. The Hurricanes were the whole reason for the big ACC expansion a few years ago, and already the program has collapsed to the point where the Hurricanes are not even going to a bowl. Yikes.

Next Virginia Tech met Virginia with the winner advancing to the ACC title game. While Virginia had a great season, Virginia Tech won convincingly and now gets a rematch with Boston College in that title game.

Next Maryland faced NC State. Like the previous day's Nebraska vs Colorado matchup, only the winner would go to a bowl. Maryland was wildly inconsistent this year, but proved to be the better team here winning 37-0.

Next up was Kentucky vs Tennessee. Tennessee needed to win to go to the SEC title game. If Tennessee lost, Georgia would go to the SEC title game. As mentioned above, the SEC game on CBS once again proved to be the most exciting game of the day as Tennessee won in 4 OTs. Georgia may feel upset that they miss out on the SEC title game, but this basically clinched a BCS bid for Georgia since the Bulldogs are now guaranteed to end the year with only 2 losses. I expect Georgia to play in the Orange bowl against the ACC champ. The big loser in this game was probably Florida. Since the SEC can only get two BCS bids and Georgia has all but locked one up, Florida will play in a non-BCS new year's day game. Could we see Ron Zook's Illini face Zook's former school Florida in the Capital One Bowl?

Next up, BYU met Utah with both teams still having a shot at the MWC championship. BYU won its rivalry game and takes the top bowl slot for the MWC.

Wake Forsest beat Vanderbilt and ensured the Commodore's lengthly bowl drought continued. Vandy fell to 5-7 and is not eligible for a bowl. Vanderbilt and Indiana were tied for the longest bowl drought among BCS teams, but Indiana's streak should end this year as discussed last week. Wake's season was kind of an under-the-radar story this year. Wake Forest didn't fall apart a year after a shocking ACC title last year, but they couldn't beat any of the elite ACC teams either (lost to BC, Clemson, Virginia). Also, Wake's non-conference loss to Nebraska looks pretty bad right now. Still, Wake Forest was at the level of Duke a few years ago, so beating Vanderbilt to finish 8-4 has to feel good.

UConn met West Virginia for the Big East title, and as expected, West Virginia won handily. In a shocking turn of events, West Virginia not only won the Big East title, but is now favored to play for the national title. They simply have to beat a mediocre Pittsburgh team in the backyard brawl to get there. I don't have anything exciting to say about that game, other than, get out a map and look how close WVU's campus is to the Pittsburgh campus. This really is the backyard brawl.

Next, Fresno St. crushed Kansas St. to deny Kansas St. a bowl bid. By the way, anyone questioning why Kansas fell to 5th in the BCS standing need look no further than their resume. Kansas is still a paper tiger with one loss. Kansas beat only three BCS bowl eligible teams this year, Colorado (6-6), Oklahoma St. (6-6), and Texas A&M (7-5).

Missouri on the other hand played some tough competition earlier in the year and was better prepared for the game against Kansas. With Missouri's victory, the BCS title game picture became relatively clear again. If Missouri beats Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, it should be Missouri vs West Virginia. If Oklahoma beats Missouri again, West Virginia will likely face Ohio St. for the National Title. It has finally come down to just that.

Elsewhere, Georgia won its rivalry game against Georgia Tech, earning the likely Orange bowl bid as discussed above. UCLA beat Oregon, knocking Oregon out of the Pac 10 hunt for good. Oklahoma won a suddenly meaningless bedlam matchup against Oklahoma St. And Florida won a game that meant nothing except to the Heisman voters.

This is college football nirvana folks, and if one of these stories didn't excite you, you must not be a college football fan.

To quickly recap the total BCS picture. Should Missouri win against Oklahoma, here's how I see it going down. The four at-large BCS bids should go to Kansas, Georgia, Arizona St., and Hawaii. The Fiesta Bowl will pick Kansas to replace Missouri, the Orange Bowl will next pick Georgia, the Fiesta Bowl will pick Arizona St., and the Sugar Bowl will get stuck with Hawaii. The games will then look like this:

National Title: One vs Two, Missouri vs West Virginia
Rose Bowl: Big 10 vs Pac 10, Ohio St. vs USC
Orange Bowl: ACC Champ vs At Large, Virginia Tech vs Georgia
Fiesta Bowl: At Large vs At Large, Kansas vs Arizona St.
Sugar Bowl: SEC Champ vs At Large, LSU vs Hawaii

If Arizona St. or Hawaii lose, a 3 loss BCS team will end up taking their place. Boston College and Tennessee can also sub in as the ACC and SEC Champs if they win next week.

Turning quickly to the basketball court.

College Basketball Wrapup

Texas A&M crushed Ohio St. to win the NIT proving that either Texas A&M was a lot more than just Acie Law last year, or that Ohio St. is still pretty young. I say it was a little of both.

Iowa went winless in the South Padre Invitational, falling to Utah St. and Bradley. Bradley lost in the championship to Vanderbilt. Iowa which has struggled recently against Drake and N. Iowa cannot be happy to lose to another MVC team in Bradley.

Xavier dominated Indiana to win the Chicago Invitational Challenge. While Butler, S. Illinois, and even Davidson are getting a lot of press early, Xavier was flying under the radar. But that's about to change. Look for Xavier to be a serious March sleeper team.

In one of those, you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me moments, the organizers of the Las Vegas Invitational essentially rigged the tournament to ensure a Louisville vs UNC game in Las Vegas. But, BYU spoiled the party defeating Louisville in the semis. (Missing David Padgett stories were seen everywhere.) UNC then won the title game against BYU.

In the Philly Classic, Seton Hall edged Virginia proving that the ACC is not invincible in early season tournaments, it just looks that way.

In the Legends Classic, Texas beat Tennessee and proved all those early stories about the team not missing Durant may have some merit.

In the Great Alaska Shootout, Butler continued last year's early season tournament magic. Butler beat three BCS teams en route to the title, and made a great case for an NCAA at large selection in March. Butler beat Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Texas Tech in Alaska. The final day belonged to the mid-majors as Gonzaga also upended Virginia Tech in the 3rd place game and Western Kentucky upended Michigan in the 5th place game.

The Anaheim Classic went to the BCS leagues as USC won a tough game against Southern Illinois for the title. That game is going to be a huge feather in USC's cap come March.

Finally, in the Old Spice Classic, Penn St. went winless, losing to Rider and UCF along the way. George Mason picked up two huge wins and a quality loss, edging Kansas St. an South Carolina, while losing to Villaova. NC State won a dramatic 1 point game against Villanova to win the Old Spice title.

With Feast Week wrapped up, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is about to get underway. As everyone knows the ACC always wins this thing. Due to time constrainsts, I doubt I'll have much of a preview, but I'm willing to bet the Basketball Prospectus link will have something to say, so click on the link in the upper left.

Later folks!