In The Light of the Fire
In the beginning, it was a race between Seminoles and Sooners, Ducks and Spartans, Tigers and Tide. In the end, it was about conferences as much as anything, and getting to claim one of the Power Five as their very own. Left on the outside would be teams, but a conference as well. It ended up being destined, perhaps, that with such stiff competition, it would be the conference without a championship game getting shut out of the dance.
The 2014 season has been undeniably different. The weekly discussion has brought people together - and stoked a suddenly red-hot rivalry between two very closely matched Big 12 programs. It created more dissension than ever before, and it brought into question how to evaluate success. In a broad view, this season has been a home run.
That's the takeaway. The Big 12 is now looking for options to expand, and in turn give them the conference championship game that this season lacked. TCU and Baylor fans will be upset, but it's a smaller routine of college football to occasionally be cheated on by that temptress, glory. The players still have their pride, and their motivation, and a damn good story to tell.
With all of that said - Ohio State got in by the skin of their teeth. All three went 11-1 or better, but TCU's loss came to the #5 team in Baylor, by three points. Baylor stumbled once against 7-5 West Virginia, but beat #6 TCU, #11 Kansas State, and 8-4 Oklahoma by 34 points. Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech.
Of course, there's an immediate flip side - a whole series of counter-arguments: the Virginia Tech loss happened early, and by the end of the year those Buckeyes were pummeling a 10-win Wisconsin team into oblivion. That got them a twelfth win. They had a better strength of schedule. They were conference champions, though that somehow implies that Baylor and TCU weren't. But the Buckeyes stood alone.
The Badgers happened to be the second 10-win team Ohio State can already claim victories over, something neither Baylor nor TCU can claim. Alabama can - they won against Missouri and Mississippi State - and Oregon can, too, with wins over Michigan State and Arizona. Then, there's the matter of Ohio State peaking at the right time. One of the questions about the Committee was how forgiving they'd be of early stumbles, and they indeed showed a soft spot for late-season dominance.
So the argument for Ohio State is there. It's a good one. But this is still undoubtedly a bitter pill for Big 12 fans to swallow. The Big 12 was a stronger conference this year than it has been of late; the sixth-best team (West Virginia) could boast a win over Baylor and a one-point loss to TCU, and the seventh-best team (Oklahoma State) got blown out by the three best conference teams but won against Oklahoma and hung tough with Florida State. 2-10 Iowa State beat Iowa.
And after the Big Ten's top five (Sparty, Brutus, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Minnesota), there was an uninspiring middle class that consists of Maryland, Rutgers, and Iowa - all 7-win teams. The best OOC game from them was probably Maryland's 40-37 loss to WVU. The ACC, another 14-team conference, had a similar glut of 6- to 7-win teams. Half the conference won between 5 and 7 games, and Wake Forest and Syracuse (3-9, 1-7) were worse. Success is fickle, but the Big 12 made strides on some of the other conferences.
But surviving it wasn't quite enough. The year-long round robin wasn't enough. Like for so many football teams, it was about doing the little things right until the end, and hanging tough for the final punch. The other conferences have that last punch to knock down the heartland. The heartland does not.
Hitting the Links Is Going Bowling
Good coaches make things possible that didn't seem like it. One of the things I like about Urban Meyer's approach is how he builds confidence in his players. He wants them confident at all times. The result of this is a better reaction to mistakes and more effort to succeed.
With 1,402 yards now, Ezekiel Elliott left an emphatic mark on a season where he grew from a 3.7 average and 44 yards against Navy to an 11.0 average and 220 yards against Wisconsin.
Almost half of the running backs that got 1,300 yards are from the Big Ten.
There are some really good questions in here about how the Big Ten will fare, especially against the SEC.
Granted, this is only over a four-year period, but this is a pretty underwhelming team outside of the defensive front seven - especially if you consider that Magnus put Denard at running back instead of, say, Fitz or Derrick Green.
Pressure is what fans make it. Sometimes it's unfair pressure. Sometimes it's not.
There were moments of despair, amazing catches, and a baby boy (no, not in full pads), but at least Illinois ended up somewhere. They aren't relevant as a program quite yet, but they aren't a laughingstock right now.
Illinois' other team finished behind the Illini, and many Wildcat fans are becoming disgruntled with Pat Fitzgerald and his staff. Interestingly, head coaches tend to keep their staff stable and intact without pressure from the fans. Firing a coordinator is done in more noticeable cases of failure or else to mollify the fan base.
For all the arguments in favor of keeping coaching staffs completely intact, I think the teams would benefit from trying to find and invest in other position coaches. Just as there is an expectation built into every practice and every workout that a senior starting linebacker might lose his job if he doesn't perform, there should be a similar automatic expectation with the coaches. And head coaches tend to not do that.
Every one of the ten B1G bowl teams is an underdog.
Four innovative coaches made the first final four. Mark Helfrich, Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Urban Meyer will all have tricks up their sleeve in trying to prepare the most efficiently.
Bowlsby advocated evenly for both playoff contenders in his conference, and did it before watching the Playoff Committee flip Baylor and TCU at the last second. There is also the matter of the Big 12 suddenly feeling the pinch of needing a conference championship game (something only a league with 12 teams can have, per NCAA rules). Regardless, Bob Bowlsby is now taking the brunt of a lot of anger.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>OSU will face two of the Heisman finalists (Gordon, Cooper) in back to back games and could see the third (Mariota) in title game.</p>— Jeff Svoboda (@JeffSvoboda) <a href="https://twitter.com/JeffSvoboda/status/542102591769825281">December 8, 2014</a></blockquote>
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