Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Big Win For The East In the Deep South
By Ben Valentine

They may not have the credentials of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush or Vince Young. They may not have been part of storied programs or happen to have the opposition dating one of their family members like Brady Quinn and AJ Hawk. They didn’t have a hall of fame coach on their sidelines. But Monday night halfback Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White did something greater than any of those players will accomplish this season, heck maybe in any of their careers.

Those two Mountaineers freshman might have saved Big East Football.

Such talk isn’t hyperbole. While fans of the conference, such as myself, have long argued there is no discernable difference between them and the rest of the college conferences, the rest of the country disagreed. Arguably the biggest complaint with the BCS system nowadays was the Big East’s automatic bid. Many said Oregon’s beef should be with West Virginia, not with Notre Dame. It’s not inconceivable if the Mountaineers had gotten destroyed in this game, the conference would have been in danger of losing its bid.

That’s why we play the games.

It should go down as one of the biggest upsets in BCS history and maybe college football history. That again sounds like exaggeration. But think about it. This game was about more than just the supposed disparity in talent between the Mountaineers and Bulldogs. It was the SEC, college football powerhouse and widely considered to be the best conference top to bottom, against one that some considered weaker than mid majors like the WAC! ABC frequently posted the BCS standings during the bowl games. West Virginia was nowhere to be found on that list. Despite having one loss, they were well behind two loss schools like Miami, Georgia and Auburn. They had no respect nationally because of the conference they played in. Plus, they were essentially playing a road game against a team that some argued coming in might be the third best team in the country right now. Nobody thought the Mountaineers had a chance. Certainly not Bulldogs safety Greg Blue who said of Slaton and White, “We’ve got to introduce them to how we play in the SEC.”

Apparently the Southeastern conference gives up 52 yard TD runs like they’re going out of style. Slaton had two, on his way to an incredible 204 yards and three TDs in the Mountaineer win. He and White dominated the ground game and kept their poise as Georgia staged a furious comeback after falling behind 28-0 in the second quarter. Kudos also goes out to coach Rich Rodriguez who called the gutsiest play you’ll ever see late in the game. He ran a fake punt on fourth and six from midfield. The Bulldogs never saw it coming. You probably could say that about the outcome of this game as well.

Again one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

But the job is far from finished. With their two best players freshman, the Mountaineers will no doubt be highly ranked next year. For the team to really make a statement about the merits of the Big East, they will have to live up to that hype. And with a very good Louisville team in conference, that will not be easy. The key for this team is White. If he can do what Vince Young has done this year, and become decent at throwing the football, the Mountaineers could be next year’s Texas. They run a gimmick offense, but with White’s shiftiness and Shelton’s speed, a passing attack would make them near unstoppable.

It will be up to the people of the country to wake up and realize while losing Miami and Virginia Tech hurt, the Big East can still play football. Since we all know how reputation can so drastically blind people to the obvious (i.e. Notre Dame isn’t very good), one gets the feeling the conference still has a long way to go.

However it’s off to a good start. The Big East is off life support and today the future is a whole lot brighter than it was at 8:00 PM on Monday.

But… But they’re Notre Dame!

A lot of people, mainly minorities, have gotten on Notre Dame for the supposed hypocrisy of giving Charlie Weis a ten year extension after getting off to a very similar start as coach that Tyrone Willingham had in his first year. Now the comparison is complete as the Irish got toasted in the Fiesta Bowl 34-20.

I know, Notre Dame defenders will argue 34-20 is close. It wasn’t. Ohio State had a bad, unforced turnover on poor option pitch from quarterback Troy Smith to Ted Ginn when they were about to go on for seven in the second quarter, while also inexplicably getting two field goals blocked. Had Notre Dame not gotten a ton of breaks, they would have lost by thirty. In the end, they couldn’t do much more with those breaks than barely, just barely, stay in the game. They were outclassed in every way imaginable. Ohio State was too fast on offense and too strong on defense. You got the sense by the second quarter the Irish didn’t have the horses to compete here.

The gushing over Weis and the Irish needs to stop. He’s a good coach, but Monday showed that you need talent to beat the big guns. The Irish, as they stand now, don’t have it. They just aren’t a top class team and did not deserve to be in a BCS game.

The Irish under Willingham had a similar season in 2002. They went 9-2 during the regular season and then got run over in the Fiesta Bowl by Oregon State. And as many have pointed out, that Irish team had a far tougher schedule. I’m not one to jump on the race card in sports often, because it’s so hard to prove, but the people who want to claim it here have a good case. When your best performance of a season is a loss, that says something about you, and it’s not good. It’s amazing to think about it, but Weis got an extension for losing close. What kind of program does that?

I challenge anyone to come up with a reason to explain Weis getting a contract extension and Willingham not. Don’t use the “they did it to keep him from the NFL” line, because it doesn’t fly here. Just ask Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Butch Davis or the multitude of big time college coaches who had cushy deals and bolted to the NFL anyway.

As a side note, the best thing about the Fiesta Bowl being over is how I hopefully will never again have to hear about Laura Quinn, Brady Quinn’s sister and AJ Hawk’s girlfriend. For one, despite what I’ve heard, the woman isn’t particularly attractive. She’s not ugly, but she’s not exactly Jessica Alba here. For some reason her situation translated into attractiveness for some guys. I don’t get it. Secondly, I can’t stand someone who is clearly begging for attention. When you show up wearing a jersey that is split down the middle, Ohio State and Notre Dame, you’re begging for someone to notice you. Of course the media ate it up. We got plenty of shots of Ms. Quinn during the game. Is that what we really want to see here? Is that what’s passing for entertainment these days?

I’ll take an exciting 38-35 shootout any day over that. I mean, that is why people watch sporting events, right?

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