Some backroom dealing squeezed Oklahoma into a big bowl and lifted all Big 12 postseason teams a notch, but at least the exasperating BCS era will be put to bed with a controversy-free national title matchup.
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn is a no-brainer.
The Seminoles are the only unbeaten team in major college football, and they are a juggernaut. Led by quarterback Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy favorite, the Noles outscored all comers 689-139. They had only one game closer than 27 points and won 10 by 30 or more.
The once-beaten Tigers knocked out two-time defending national champ Alabama and then outscored Missouri to win the toughest conference. Auburn, which won it all just three years ago, will be chasing the SEC’s eighth consecutive national title — and fourth straight for the state of Alabama.
This time, though, the SEC is the underdog; Las Vegas established Florida State as a seven-point favorite for the Jan. 6 finale in Pasadena, Calif.
Below the main event, the BCS matchups lack sizzle and largely were set up to jump-start new alliances that kick in next year. But the Big 12 isn’t complaining because it pockets an extra $15 million for Oklahoma’s at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl. League champion Baylor is in the Fiesta.
Texas A&M did not benefit from its SEC ties. Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner, will play what is likely his final college game on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Bowl against, gulp, Duke, a 45-7 loser to Florida State in the ACC title game.
No surprise here, but Texas State (6-6) was one of 10 qualified teams, led by Western Kentucky (8-4), left out of the 35 bowls.
The BCS played out like this:
Orange: 7-Ohio State vs. 12-Clemson. This bowl had the No. 1 and No. 3 picks (it took the Buckeyes first) yet delivered a yawner that has no real hook to it. Plus, both teams lost their last game.
Sugar: 3-Alabama vs. 11-Oklahoma. College football fans have been clamoring for years to see Alabama-Oregon. The Sugar could have made it happen. Instead, after grabbing the Crimson Tide with the No. 2 choice, it settled for the one-dimensional Sooners.
Fiesta: 6-Baylor vs. 15-Central Florida. Can’t blame the Fiesta; it picked last and was stuck with UCF, the American Athletic Conference champ, which was guaranteed a BCS bid. Again, the matchup is less filling. The Bears should be tested by a marquee, top-10 opponent.
Rose: 4-Michigan State vs. 5-Stanford. They got their traditional Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup, and it’s a good one.
So why Oklahoma and Clemson? Bowl officials acknowledged that the Sugar’s future deal to match Big 12 and SEC teams played a large role — why not start a year early, pals? — and the Orange has an arrangement with the ACC that begins next season.
SEC powers like South Carolina and Missouri were shut out because of the BCS rule preventing two or more teams from the same league playing in the big bowls.
Next year college football will go to a four-team playoff, and participants in six major bowls will all be selected by a committee. So if this were next year, we’d probably have Alabama-Oregon, Baylor-Ohio State or other good stuff.
The Big 12 broke down like this after Baylor and OU:
Cotton: 13-Oklahoma State vs. 8-Missouri. High quality, evenly matched, but too much familiarity for teams that met every year as Big 12 rivals and not particularly bitter ones.
Alamo: Texas vs. 10-Oregon. Big-name programs, great TV ratings, an easy sell. But the Longhorns better hope the Ducks come to San Antonio in vacation mode. If Oregon takes this game seriously, it could get ugly.
Buffalo Wild Wings: Kansas State vs. Michigan. Last year the Wildcats flew to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl. This year they’re back in the desert but flying coach class.
Holiday: Texas Tech vs. Arizona State. The Red Raiders, who dropped their last five games, get the great trip to San Diego, but they’ll be huge underdogs against the Pac-12 runner-ups.
The Texas and Pinstripe bowls had to pick from the leftovers with no other Big 12 team available. The Texas Bowl came up with 6-6 Syracuse to play 8-4 Minnesota, making a return trip to Houston. The Pinstripe made out better with Notre Dame facing Rutgers.
Conference USA champ Rice, Houston and North Texas also will represent the state in bowls. Rice will play the SEC’s Mississippi State (6-6) in the Liberty; Houston (8-4) will face the SEC’s Vanderbilt (8-4) in the BBVA Compass, and North Texas (8-4) will have UNLV (7-5) in the Heart of Dallas.