Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BCS Review Series: 2012, Notre Dame's Last Shot at Glory

Part 15 of a seriesOver the next few weeks, I will be reviewing each of the 16 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. Here is a look back at who got lucky, who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear throughout December and January.

Part 1: 1998, A New Beginning for College Football

Part 2: 1999, FSU Ends Michael Vick's Quest for Perfection

Part 3: 2000, FSU-Miami Sows Seeds of Controversy

Part 4: 2001, Nebraska Fiasco Rocks College Football

Part 5: 2002, Controversy on Field Mars Perfect Ending

Part 6: 2003, Nightmare of Split National Championship

Part 7: 2004, Unbeaten Auburn Left Out in the Cold

Part 8: 2005, Perfect Season Ends With Epic at Rose Bowl

Part 9: 2006, Dawn of SEC's Reign in College Football

Part 10: 2007, LSU Goes "Undefeated in Regulation"

Part 11: 2008, SEC Wins in Polls, Then on the Field

Part 12: 2009, Alabama, Texas More Equal Than Others

Part 13: 2010, SEC and Pac-10 Finally Get Together

Part 14: 2011, LSU Robbed of Title in All-SEC Absurdity


Make no mistake, the BCS era did not destroy the Notre Dame brand.

Still the biggest name in college football, Notre Dame just signed the richest college apparel deal with Under Armour, worth $90 million over 10 years. Its exclusive TV contract with NBC will be running for 35 years when the current agreement expires in 2025. And in the fiscal year ending in June 2013, the school made about $20 million in revenue from its athletics programs, all of it from football.

But the championship trophy case under the watchful eyes of Touchdown Jesus remains unreplenished since 1988, when Notre Dame last won a national championship in football. And as the BCS era ended after the 2013 season, the Irish not only got a goose egg in terms of titles, they didn't even have a single BCS bowl win to show for it.

Notre Dame had its last shot at BCS glory in the 2012 season, when third-year coach Brian Kelly put together a talented roster that managed to negotiate a brutal regular-season schedule unscathed. But as further evidence that their football gravitas has seriously waned in the age of power conferences, the Irish needed all kinds of help to finally make it to the BCS title game.

Though they remained undefeated, for most of the second half of the season the Irish were behind three other teams in the BCS standings, seemingly consigned to yet another BCS bowl and not a place in the BCS title game. But in a span of two weeks, that all changed.

First, Alabama lost to Texas A&M as America was formally introduced to the powers of Johnny Football. (Amazingly, the Tide dropped only three spots to No. 4 after the loss—now, that's gravitas.) Then, on the following Saturday, both Oregon and Kansas State fell in games they were heavily favored, opening the door for the Irish to ascend to No. 1.

Also on that same day, USC's four-year starting quarterback Matt Barkley was knocked out by UCLA on a brutal hit, rendering him unavailable for the following week's game against Notre Dame. The Irish took full advantage as their defense, led by Heisman runnerup Manti Te'o, throttled the Trojans with a 22-13 victory, securing their first shot at a BCS championship.

But as we learned later, Te'o's fake girlfriend saga started to unravel in the intervening 50-plus days between the USC game and the BCS title game against Alabama. With their star linebacker a non-factor, the Irish were thoroughly outclassed as the Tide rolled to their second consecutive BCS title.

Notre Dame's bid to return to glory fell well short, as it finished the BCS era 0-4 in BCS bowl games. The Irish were the only program that came up winless among teams with at least three BCS bowl appearances, and they lost those four games by a staggering aggregate score of 158-57, never coming closer than two touchdowns in any of the losses.

Final BCS standings: 1. Notre Dame, 2. Alabama, 3. Florida, 4. Oregon, 5. Kansas State.

Likely four-team playoff: Notre Dame vs. Kansas State; Alabama vs. Stanford.

Despite having superior computer rankings, Florida and Oregon would've been left out because the three teams other than Notre Dame were all conference champions.


Another free pass for 'Bama: For the second year in a row, the Tide lost a game in November and never dropped out of the top four and returned to the top two within two weeks. Whereas the loss in 2011 was to No. 1 LSU, the 2012 loss was to two-loss Texas A&M, ranked outside of the top 10, and at home.

Alabama was the beneficiary of now an overwhelming media narrative of the SEC's superiority. With conference teams routinely taking up half of the top 10, any losses within the SEC would not be punished in the polls the same way as did teams from other conferences. Oregon lost in overtime to Stanford for its only loss of the season but would never get the same reprieve.

Did Northern Illinois Belong?: For the first time, a non-AQ team qualified for a BCS bowl berth despite not going undefeated. Northern Illinois had an early-season loss to Iowa but then ran the table and won the MAC title. Still, the Huskies were a longshot to make a BCS bowl a week before the end of the season. At No. 21, they were five spots short of the top 16 qualifying threshold.

Then a series of upsets, particularly Nebraska's blowout loss in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin, opened the door for NIU, which finished at No. 15 in the final BCS standings. While a number of pundits derided their inclusion, the Huskies were ranked ahead of both the Big Ten and Big East (Louisville) champions.

NIU faced Florida State in the Orange Bowl, keeping the game close until two fourth-quarter FSU touchdowns made the final score 31-10. It was only the second loss by a non-AQ team against a BCS opponent, but the deceiving score would prove to have a negative impact on the Huskies the very next season.

2012 BCS Bowl Matchups
BowlScoreAttendanceTV Rating
BCS Champ*#2 Alabama 42, #1 Notre Dame 1480,12015.1
Rose Bowl#6 Stanford 20, Wisconsin 1493,3599.4
Fiesta Bowl#4 Oregon 35, #5 Kansas State 1770,2427.4
Sugar Bowl#21 Louisville 33, #3 Florida 2354,1786.2
Orange Bowl#12 Florida St. 31, #15 N. Illinois 1072,0736.1

Final analysis: Alabama became the first team to win consecutive BCS titles, even though it lost a game in each of those two seasons. But the narrative has now been firmly shaped, and only reinforced by the Tide's rout of the Irish.

It was the seventh consecutive BCS title for an SEC team, which now had nine BCS titles (in 15 years) without losing a game against non-SEC opponents. The Tide's dynasty also appeared to be working toward its zenith, with senior quarterback A.J. McCarron returning for an unprecedented three-peat.

The end of the BCS era, though, was now in sight as a new postseason format came into focus. The crystal ball, the BCS standings and a way of life for college football were about to have one swan song season before being packed off to make way for the brilliantly named College Football Playoff.


Anonymous said...

Oregon wasn't the Pac-12 champion in 2012; Stanford was.

The Guru said...

Yes, I have corrected that. Thanks!