Thoughts on the just-completed college football bowl season ...
• Kent State's GoDaddy.com Bowl matchup against Arkansas State was one of the harder-fought contests of the entire bowl season. What was expected to be a high-scoring affair between two potent offenses turned into a defensive slugfest that would have made Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler proud.
The Flashes certainly had their chances to win, driving to the Red Wolves' 1-yard line in the first quarter before an interception in the end zone halted the threat, and barely missing connections on a long pass at the goal line in the fourth.
And I don't fault KSU quarterback Spencer Keith for tucking it and trying to run for the first down on a fourth-and-long pass play late in the game deep in Arkansas State territory with the game on the line. The senior knew that standing back in the pocket holding the ball would be risking a sack that would end the game, so instinctively he tried to make a play by being proactive and running for the first down. Keith was tackled a few yards shy of the first-down marker, sealing KSU's fate, but the senior QB went down swinging and that's all you can ask for. Keith was clearly distraught on the sidelines following his failed fourth-down run, but he was just trying to make a play and give his team a chance to win. That's a winner in my book.
• Not having junior speedster Dri Archer on the field for the last drive clearly didn't help the Golden Flashes any. An apparent injury sidelined the KSU star, who had scored easily on a run in the second quarter. But you have to win with what you've got and play through adversity, which the Flashes gamely tried to do without one of the most lethal offensive threats in the country on the field for the game-deciding drive. And they almost pulled it off.
• A tip of the cap to Darrell Hazell and his decision to coach the Flashes through the bowl game despite having been named Purdue's head coach way back on Dec. 5. Hazell clearly wanted to finish what he started at KSU, choosing to see the historic 2012 season through to its conclusion with his players. I find Hazell's depth of loyalty and dedication refreshing. If only we had more of that in our society.
• Alabama's 42-14 annihilation of Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game was the most thorough title-game beating since the inception of the BCS era in 1998 -- and there have been some bad ones, including Ohio State's 41-14 debacle against Florida in 2006, Nebraska's 37-14 demolition at the hands of Miami in 2001 and Oklahoma's 55-19 thrashing by USC in 2004.
This is not to pick on Notre Dame, because nobody was beating the Crimson Tide on Monday night. Monday's beatdown says more about the Alabama program than it does Notre Dame's -- that is to say, the Tide are operating at a different level than the rest of college football. The Irish were undefeated prior to facing Alabama yet were completely dismantled by the end of the first quarter Monday night -- keeping in mind that Notre Dame was a team that had beaten Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC this season.
The rest of the college football world has some work to do to catch up to Nick Saban's juggernaut in Tuscaloosa.
• Perhaps the best candidate to end Alabama's reign of terror of three national titles in four years might well be Urban Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes. Meyer coached the Florida Gators to national titles in 2006 and 2008 and knows what it takes to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of the SEC and seal the deal in the national championship game. Therefore, he knows exactly the type of player he needs in Columbus to deal with Alabama and has already set about recruiting them to Ohio State. A couple more recruiting classes should help close the gap for the Buckeyes.
But talent is only part of it. Alabama also plays with an inherent meanness derived from Saban's in-your-face coaching style. I don't see the Tide playing dirty, I see them playing mean, physical, relentless football, an attitude that their opponents can't match. They don't take plays off, and they play four quarters of teeth-rattling, jawbone football.
You could see that type of attitude begin to take hold with Meyer's Buckeyes as the 2012 season wore on, but there is more work to be done in this area before they even begin to match Alabama's intensity. It will be interesting to watch, though, as Ohio State continues to progress and morph into an SEC-style team under Meyer.
• Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was taken to task for the Irish's game plan against Alabama. Notre Dame, normally a running team, came out throwing -- unsuccessfully -- and was quickly out of contention by the beginning of the second quarter down 21-0. But Kelly is nobody's fool. He certainly saw enough of Alabama's defense on film to realize the Irish weren't about to shove it down the Tide's throats strictly by running the ball. He had to throw it early to get the Alabama defense off the line of scrimmage and spread the Tide out to create running lanes for the ground game.
It was Kelly's only hope, and it didn't work. More than one team has been the SEC's sacrificial lamb in the BCS title game, and Monday night was Notre Dame's turn in the fire.
• The Big Ten is at a crisis point. Once again the conference had a lousy bowl season, going 2-5 for yet another losing record in bowls. Yes, Ohio State and Penn State weren't eligible for bowls, but even if the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions had gone to bowls and been victorious, the Big Ten still would have had a losing record. The devastating hit by South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day -- separating Smith from the ball and his helmet (and probably his senses) -- has become the poster child for Big Ten football: Overmatched against the big boys.
What's more, the Big Ten is about to face a major problem within its own conference: Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. As OSU takes on more and more of an SEC look and style, the rest of the Big Ten stands in grave danger of falling hopelessly behind in its own league. Meyer went 12-0 with his first Ohio State team this season, finishing third in the country in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll with a squad that bears no resemblance to what the Buckeyes will look like in terms of speed, talent and attitude in a few short years under Meyer's guidance.
Jim Tressel coached Ohio State for 10 seasons and completely dominated the league in that decade. Tressel's Buckeyes won seven Big Ten championships -- including six in a row at one point -- and went 5-3 in BCS bowls, winning the national championship in 2002 and playing in the BCS title game two other times.
OSU had a total stranglehold on the Big Ten under Tressel and, as difficult as it is to fathom, might well be even more dominant in the league under Meyer.
Either the rest of the Big Ten finds a way to entice the nation's top football players to play on its campuses, or the conference will face irrelevance in short order.