This was a good game and tight all the way, until a fourth-quarter Ohio State score extended it to 26-17. Oregon tried to rally and got in position for a 44-yard field goal with five minutes left. Chip Kelly opted not to go for it on 4th-and-1. That’s something I thought it was a mistake at the time. I know he needed a field goal regardless, but he also needed a touchdown regardless, and 4th-and-1 stacked up against a long field goal suggests to me that you keep pushing for the TD. As it was, the Ducks missed the field goal and it was all over but the shouting.
Earlier in the day, Penn State got another big win for the Big Ten, beating LSU 19-17. In the rain and slop of Orlando, both quarterbacks played well, with Daryl Clark and Jordan Jefferson having good games. Neither team ran the ball all that well, but LSU’s run offense was completely non-existent, getting only 41 yards. The Tigers also turned the ball over three times, while Penn State took care of it and that made the difference. This game was part of a split between the Big Ten & SEC as Auburn won a wild 38-35 overtime decision over Northwestern. The Wildcats threw the ball an astonishing 78 times. Mike Kafka’s five interceptions were the reason Northwestern lost, but is it all that fair to blame the quarterback when you’re on a pitch count that would have a lot of major league pitchers looking for the bullpen? Auburn had a more balanced attack (how could they not?). Ben Tate was his usual steady self in the backfield, churning out 108 yards. And Chris Todd had one of his better games of the year against a questionable NU defense, going 21/30 for 235 yards, twelve of those completions to Darvin Adams. The two games combined represent yet another split for the Big Ten & SEC in their annual New Year’s challenge, and the Big Ten has won six of the last ten over the past five seasons.
So is the Big Ten back? That depends. If you’re a fan who ripped them from pillar to post over their big-game performance, you have to say yes. They had three marquee games on the docket this bowl season and are already 2-0, with Iowa’s Orange Bowl date still to come. But if you’re a fan who looks top-to-bottom at the conference, the jury remains out. They are 3-2 and having a nice bowl season. But there’s still two more to go, and the matchups were right for the conference to at least have a winning record. Michigan State can take a lot of pressure off of Iowa, if they win against the headless Red Raiders of Texas Tech tonight in the Alamo Bowl.
It was a good day for the SEC too. Not only did they pick up their split with the Big Ten, but Florida torched Cincinnati 51-24 in the battle to see which team could best overcome all the turmoil at the coaching position. Urban Meyer was back on the sidelines and his team looked unaffected by all the drama. Tim Tebow absolutely sizzled, going 31/35 for 482 yards in the air. It was a fitting exit to a great college career and we add Florida to the growing list of teams deserving of compliments for recognizing what it meant to win a bowl game—especially a major bowl game in this case—even if it wasn’t all they wanted. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Notre Dame please take note.
Notre Dame’s new coach Brian Kelly, couldn’t have been pleased by what he saw from his old team, though it surely made him thankful he was in South Bend and not the sidelines of New Orleans last night. The Bearcats couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t get it down the field. Tony Pike completed 27/45 passing, but those completions only got him 170 yards and all of the scoring came after the game was well decided.
Finally we come to Bobby Bowden, another man who ended his career on a fitting note—by winning a bowl game, something he has done so often. The running backs dominated the Gator Bowl showdown with West Virginia. Noel Devine had 168 yards for the Mountaineers, Jermaine Thomas 125 for the Seminoles. But Thomas had more help, as E.J. Manuel had an efficient game through the air, while West Virginia couldn’t mount a passing attack and the 14-3 lead they built early turned into a 33-21 loss.
Congratulations to Florida & Ohio State, who capture major bowl victories. And congratulations to Bobby Bowden, whose next step will be South Bend, for the Hall of Fame.
Wall-to-wall action concludes today with five more games. See you tomorrow to catch up on them all and look ahead to Monday's Fiesta Bowl.