We begin this week with some tough love.
Or to put it another way; I’ll do anything to keep my job. Virginia coach Al Groh is returning for his ninth season in Charlottesville, without the services of his son. Mike Groh, the offensive coordinator for the past three years, was let go by his father, in a coaching shakeup. “There are no scapegoats here,” said dear-old-Dad. “The head coach is responsible for the team.” I wonder how Mrs. Groh feels about that. In this expanded father and son championship reunion week, let’s see which teams show the fat-cat alums some love, by winning its bowl game, and which, break apart, like a dysfunctional family.
No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 5 USC – Rose Bowl Jan. 1 (Ch. 5, 4:30 p.m.) The 82-year old Lion in Winter, “granddaddy” Joe Paterno, the Division 1 all-time winningiest (383-126-3) coach, is taking his Lions to Pasadena for his second invitation to the “Granddaddy of Them All,” – the Rose Bowl. Penn State’s first trip occurred in 1923, a 14-3 loss to Southern Cal, which, amazingly, was a little more than three years before JoePa was born.
Despite its heavy underdog status, the Nits are talented on both sides of the ball. The nation’s eleventh highest scoring team motors behind its senior quarterback Darryl Clark, (17 touchdowns – 4 interceptions), with assists from starry tailback Evan Royster, and a trio of slippery, glue-fingered receivers, led by Deon Butler. The country’s fourth stingiest eleven, who blitz all day from all angles, is led by All-America sack master end Aaron Maybin and backers Navarro Bowman and Tyrel Sales.
USC has the best defensive team seen in L.A., since the “dream team” in the first; O.J. Simpson trial. These Men of Troy, are really Men of Steel, and have displayed better numbers than the MIT Math Department. Pete Carroll’s Boys, who have won an astounding 81 of its last 89, whip-saw an offense behind a pair of All-Americas in backer Rey Maualuga and safety Taylor Mays, with assists from backer Brian Cushing and end Kyle Moore, all of whom will eventually be playing on Sunday afternoon. This wrecking crew, surrenders less than 8 points a game, has outscored opponents by the combined score of 450-93 (surrendered a seasonal total of 7 points in the third quarter!) and is ranked: number one in pass, scoring, and total defense. USC’s fourteenth highest scoring offense directed by quarterback Mark Sanchez (30 touchdowns – 10 interceptions), surfs-up with the help of wideouts Damien Williams and Patrick Turner, and a committee of fast and shifty tailbacks. Overall, these guys aren’t flashy, but comforted by its kryptonite defense, they don’t have to be, and simply, slowly grind down, an opponent. JoePa has been quoted as saying: “It’s the name on the front of the jersey, that’s more important, not the name on the back.” Well, in the 95th playing of this classic, the name on the front reads; USC.
No. 12 Cincinnati vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech – Orange Bowl Jan. 1 (Fox, 8:30 p.m.) If Charlie Weis stumbles again next year, Notre Dame should laser-lock onto coach Brian Kelly, the head man at the University of Cincinnati. Like Mayor Tom Menino, nobody has done more, with less. Despite using five different quarterbacks this season, Kelly, 22-5 in his two years running the show, has his Big East Champion Bearcats growling into its first-ever, major bowl appearance. Cincy is led by its nail-tough quarterback Tony Pike, (18 touchdowns – 7 interceptions), (senior season starter Dustin Grutza leg injury will also play) who has the luxury of focusing on a pair of game-changing receivers in Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman, who have combined for 152 receptions and 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately, U of C’s ground attack is about as effective, as a FEMA agent, after a hurricane. The attacking D, featuring end Connor Barwin, backer Ryan Manalac and All-America corner Mike Mickens, isn’t scintillating, but is very proficient in defending its end zone.
Despite its inexperience, Beamer’s Boys have buoyed the VaTech faithful, with its signature: Blacksburg Blitz. Under the direction of its Svengali, long time assistant Bud Foster, America’s thirteenth stingiest group, led by end Jason Worilds, and backers Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren, have suffocated tailbacks and quarterbacks better than Albert DeSalvo. Unfortunately, on the offensive side, it’s easier to find an honest Illinois politician, than it is to witness a Hokie touchdown drive. This anemic group led by its running quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and tailback Darren Evans, ranks 107th in total offense, 89th in scoring, and is about as empty, as the accounts of the clients, invested with Bernie Madoff. We think it will be an Orange-Blossom special for the Boys from the Queen City, as Cincinnati is crowned; kings of the Orange Bowl.
No. 10 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Texas – Fiesta Bowl Jan. 5 (Fox, 8 p.m.) Defense is to Columbus; as native-son Jack Nicklaus is; to a “major” golf trophy. The 2008 version of the Scarlet and Grey, led by its All-America backer James Laurinaitis, certainly accentuates that well-earned, mid-west, rust-belt reputation. These Buckeyes, who attack behind the nation’s seventh stingiest defense, swarm and punish with the intensity of bulldog U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. The offense, featuring the running of All-America tailback Chris Wells, and its free-flowing freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor (12 touchdowns – 4 interceptions) isn’t nearly as dynamic. In fact, OSU has had thirsty periods in which offensive touchdowns at Ohio Stadium are as rare, as the sighting of a fan of Michigan.
The Horns don’t belong here. These Sons of Austin belong in New Orleans, for the BCS championship game. UT’s motivation is to prove to the country, that the wrong Big 12 team is in the big-game. The Burnt Orange, paint the town with the country’s fifth highest scoring offense, featuring its “Mr. Everything,” quarterback, and Heisman Trophy finalist, Colt McCoy (32 touchdowns – 7 interceptions), who also ran for 10 touchdowns in leading Texas in rushing. The QB, who is the third rated pass efficiency leader, has the Linus-blanket comfort of choosing between a pair of “All-State” receivers in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. The attacking D, featuring All-America end, sack-master Brian Orakpo, and fellow backers Sergio Kindle and Rodderick Muckelroy, swallow runners, but like most teams in the pass-mad Big 12 Conference, struggles (109th) in defending the pass. This is a credibility game for the Buckeyes, and a show-em game for the Horns, we think Texas, is the one, who puts on a show.
No. 4 Alabama vs. No. 7 Utah – Sugar Bowl Jan. 2 (Fox, 8 p.m.) Alabama is one quarter of football – and a great opponent; Tim Tebow – away from playing in the National Championship game. In this game, motivation is the Tide’s biggest obstacle. Luckily, coach Nick Saban is the best in the business, at getting a team ready to perform at its maximum level. The backbone of these Tuscaloosa titans is the nation’s sixth stingiest, and third overall D, which features backers Rolando McClain, Don’ta Hightower, and nose Terrence “Mount” Cody. The offense is powered by a Gibraltar-esque offensive line, which allows plow-horses Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram to move the chains and control the clock. The entire operation in under the watchful eye of steady senior quarterback, John Parker Wilson, who has a pair of money receivers in tight end Nick Walker and freshman jewel, wideout Julio Jones.
The Utes, are celebrating its second undefeated team in the last five seasons, and are the first non-BCS conference squad, to make a repeat appearance, in a BCS game. Kyle Whittingham’s Salt Lake City conquerors, are the fifteenth highest scoring team in the land, and feature unheralded quarterback Brian Johnson (24 touchdowns – 9 interceptions), tailback Matt Asiata and two sure-handed receivers in Freddy Brown and Brent Casteel. The country’s twelfth stingiest D, led by backers Mike Wright and Stevenson Sylvester, stones runners and is a pest in all phases. This is the Utes Super Bowl, and they will not be intimidated, but Alabama is bigger, faster, and better, as Saban keeps his team riding a high Tide.
No.2 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Florida BCS Championship (Fox, 8 p.m.) This game has more impressive numbers than the federal government bail-out. Oklahoma is the highest scoring team in the history of the sport. The Sooners are also the first team in 89 years to average at least a point-a-minute, for five consecutive games. This scoring Tsunami, flows on the arm of Heisman Trophy winner, and the nation’s pass efficiency leader; quarterback Sam Bradford (48 touchdowns – 6 interceptions), who is cocooned by an offensive line that has only allowed a paltry total of four sacks for the season. This field-general can laser-lock onto a pair of All-America receivers in wideout Juaquin Iglesias, and tight end Jermaine Gresham, then shift gears with the running of his two 1000 yard backs in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray, who have combined for 34 touchdowns. (The word came out of Norman on Turesday, December 16, that Murray will need hamstring surgery, and will NOT play in the championship game. He will be replaced by talented sophomore Mosis Madu.) The D, featuring backers Jeremy Beal and Travis Lewis, isn’t of traditional Norman vintage, and is very vulnerable in defending both the pass and its own goal line.
Coach Urban Meyer is attempting to accomplish, what his predecessor, Steve Spurrier was never able to do, win a second national title in Gainesville. The Gators have won nine straight, chomping the opposition by an average game point differential of a shade less than 37. The catalyst behind the nation’s third highest scoring team, is Heisman Trophy finalist, Tim Tebow (28 touchdowns – 2 interceptions – 12 rushing td’s), the country’s fifth leading passer, who has demonstrated better leadership qualities than the Commander-In-Chief. The rest of the Florida offense has more turbo-chargers, than the Big Three automakers combined, and isn’t in need of a bail-out. The tailback tandem of Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps belongs in Daytona, while wideouts Louis Murphy and All-America Percy Harvin, could run at Churchill Downs. In this game, the Gators have a huge advantage, utilizing the nation’s fifth stingiest defense. All-America backer Brandon Spikes leads a group that is second in both interceptions, and turnover margin, and is as menacing as a pirate attack off the coast of Somalia. This is a game in which OU coach, “BGB” (“Big Game Bob”) Stoops, who has lost his last four BCS appearances, hopes to reclaim his nickname, and erase OU’s latest moniker: “Choklahoma.” In the first ever meeting between the two schools, we think Florida has more sunshine, and just enough defense, to slow the Sooners, and capture its second national title under Meyer.
Season record: 48-26.