The cliche says “save the best for last” and it can apply to many things. Your workout, your meals, and the 2013-14 bowl season.
Ok, that last part is a new one, but it definitely is true. This year was the best set of bowl games I’ve watched in a long time. From the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21 to the BCS National Championship Jan. 6, there was plenty to cheer about.
But as every college fan knows, all the best games begin on Jan. 1. That’s when the BCS games begin and you start to see the best teams in the country facing each other. There were 12 games Jan. 1 to Jan. 6 and only four were double-digit wins. That’s eight single-digit games. For a college football junkie, that’s our drug.
New Year’s Day historically has the best slate of games in the bowl season. Jan.1 features the Outback, Gator and Capital One bowls (all three feature SEC vs. the Big 10) and the start of the BCS games with the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl, and to end the day, the Fiesta Bowl.
This year, however, was the last year of the controversially flawed BCS system. After this year, the BCS goes away and the college football world goes to a long-awaited playoff system.
Even though sometimes the BCS didn’t always get it right, they did this year. The five BCS games this year were the perfect ending to a system that was widely criticized.
The start of the end of the BCS era was the Rose Bowl. The Rose almost always features the winner of the Pac-12 and the Big 10. Usually those two teams are in the running for the national championship, so this game is always fun. This year it was no different. In a day when the Big 10 went 1-2, it needed a boost from champion Michigan State, which had no easy task in Stanford.
The centennial celebration of the Rose Bowl had no shortage of excitement, or scoring for that matter. With three minutes left in the fourth, Michigan State, leading 24- 20, needed to stop Stanford from scoring a touchdown. And they did. On a fourth and one, the Cardinal’s fullback Ryan Hewitt, was stuffed, giving Michigan State its first Rose Bowl victory since 1988. Underdogs 1, Favorites 0 The finale of New Year’s games was the Fiesta Bowl. Nobody gave this game much of a shot to be a great game because Baylor was a BCS record 17-point favorite against UCF. Although both Baylor and UCF were both BCS newcomers, the oddsmakers had their eyes set on Baylor. After watching UCF drive the field and score on their first possession, it was clear that the Knights weren’t scared of the Big 12 champions.
The oddsmakers did get something right, though-they knew it was going to be a shootout. And it was. Ninety-four points combined, more 1,000 yards total between the teams and the most exciting football game for a UCF fan like myself to watch. UCF never trailed in the game and had as much as a 17-point lead at one point (ironic?) as they defeated Baylor 52-42 for their first ever BCS victory.
Underdogs 2, Favorites 0 Going into the Orange Bowl, the teams that were favored were 0-2 and this one featured the Big 10 runner-up Ohio State and ACC at-large team Clemson. Ohio State looked to end the streak of favored teams losing as they led Clemson by nine in the third quarter. But Clemson struck back, scoring two touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game to take a 34-29 lead and setting up another shootout like the Fiesta Bowl. In the fourth, Ohio State and Clemson exchanged scores, but Clemson failed to convert the two-point conversion, giving Ohio State a chance.
The last six minutes of this game was utter chaos. After the Clemson touchdown, Ohio State ran five plays before fumbling the ball. Now it looked like Clemson was going to seal the victory. But no BCS game is complete without some excitement. With 1:45 left in the game, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd threw an interception, which gave the Buckeyes one more shot. But that dream was short-lived as Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller was intercepted on the second play, giving Clemson the 40-35 victory. Underdogs 3, Favorites 0 Next on the slate was once again a double-digit favorite. Alabama was a 15-point favorite over Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma. From the start it seemed like an even match. Score after score. After the first quarter it was a 14-10 Oklahoma lead. After the first it wasn’t much of competition. Oklahoma outscored Alabama 17-7 to take a 31-17 lead at the half. In the third, ‘Bama tried to make a comeback, scoring a touchdown and holding Oklahoma scoreless making it a seven-point game going into the fourth. But once again the underdog prevailed and Oklahoma took down Alabama 45-31. Underdogs 4, Favorites 0 Now it was time for the finale. No.1 vs. No.2. Florida State and Auburn. The two most deserving teams playing for the title. Not necessarily the two best teams, talking about Auburn, but undoubtedly the two teams that earned their spot in Pasadena. We had about a month to get ready for this showdown. Would Auburn make it seven championships in a row for the SEC? Could FSU complete the perfect season and win its third national championship? The game certainly had the hype of a prizefight or a Super Bowl with an expectation that would be hard to live up to.
But it did. It exceeded expectations. But not at the beginning. In the first half it was all Auburn. The Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead and it was looking like it was bound for a blowout. Auburn was going to secure the SEC legacy in BCS title games. It was going to be seven consecutive years of SEC dominance.
But as famous former FSU quarterback and ESPN analyst Lee Corso says, not so fast my friends.
On FSU’s last drive in the first half, Coach Jimbo Fisher made a decision that ultimately changed the game around. On fourth and four, he called for a fake punt and got the first down. That changed the whole momentum. FSU scored there and made it 21-10. From there on the Seminoles looked like they wanted to win, whereas before it looked like they were awestruck and didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
As I said earlier, you save the best for last. The fourth quarter of this game was the last quarter of the 2013-14 college football year and it was the best quarter of football ever. Thirty-one points were scored. Florida State erased a deficit that was unthinkable at the beginning. They proved to be the best team in the country.
Underdogs 4, Favorites 1 For college football fans everywhere, I thank you. I thank you for one of the best games I’ve ever watched. Also for one of the best bowl seasons ever.
The best was saved for last.
Photo Courtesy of Associated Press/ Rick ScuteriCentral – Florida quarterback Blake Bortles (5) dashes for a rushing touchdown against Baylor during the second half of the Fiesta Bowl.