Exciting Bowl Season Coming to a Close

Well, it all boils down to this: one game left in the college football season, one which could create the biggest controversy in the history of the game. But I'm not going to talk about that today — there will be enough of that after tonight's Orange Bowl. What I'd like to focus on is the outstanding bowl season that is about to conclude.

In the past, I've been a vocal opponent of the number of bowl games there are nowadays, and I still believe there are too many bowls and too many mediocre teams that are allowed to play in the post-season. But, I must say that the number of close, exciting games and some surprises (at least to me) made for an enjoyable couple of weeks.

I will admit, though, that I was a bit worried that my long-held contention about the dilution of the quality of the games was going to come true again with the first three games being blowouts. But as we head into the 28th and final postseason game of the 2004 college football season, only a dozen so far have been decided by two touchdowns or more. The rest have been close games with several coming right down to the wire before determining the winner.

We've had one overtime game, three games decided on the last play, and two others won in the final minute. Five more games were decided in the fourth quarter. That's a total of 11 bowl games that have kept fans on the edge of their seats to the end of the game. Each one of those games had a final margin of victory of five points or less.

The Las Vegas Bowl set the tone for exciting victories as Cory Bramlett hit John Wadkowski from 12 yards out with :57 left to give Wyoming a 24-21 upset win over UCLA. From there, it just got better with Fresno State's 37-34 overtime victory over 18th-ranked Virginia in the MPC Computers Bowl.

Iowa State came from behind in the fourth quarter to knock off Miami (Ohio) 17-13 in the Independence Bowl, as did Colorado against Texas-El Paso in the Houston Bowl, winning 33-28. There was Minnesota's late defensive stand against Alabama in the Music City Bowl to hang on for a 20-16 win, and Eric Shelton's interception in the end zone as time ran out to help Louisville hand Boise State its first loss in three seasons, 44-40, in the Liberty Bowl.

Arizona State's Sam Keller put on a great performance in his first collegiate start in the Sun Bowl. Subbing for the injured Andrew Walter, Keller threw for 370 yards and three TDs, including the game-winner to Rudy Burgess with :44 left, to bring the Sun Devils from behind against Purdue for a 27-23 win. While Keller was rallying offensively, Georgia's offense put together a clock-killing, four-minute drive in the fourth quarter to keep Wisconsin from coming back in the Outback Bowl, preserving a 24-21 victory. And last night's Sugar Bowl saw unbeaten Auburn stave off a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Virginia Tech to maybe shake up the BCS a bit, hanging on for a 16-13 win.

But arguably the two best bowl games this season were on New Year's Day. Drew Tate's 56-yard scoring pass to an unbelievably wide open Warren Holloway to give Iowa a 30-25 win on the final play of the game against LSU in the Capital One Bowl was an "instant classic." So was Texas' 38-37 squeaker over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. I don't think there were too many people watching that game who thought Dusty Mangum's 37-yard field goal attempt as time ran out had much of a chance of making it over the crossbar. But it did.

That game to me was one of the surprises of this bowl season. I didn't think Michigan had much of a chance against the Longhorns and firmly believed Cal should have been playing Texas in Pasadena. But in another surprise, the Golden Bears looked more like bear rugs as Texas Tech walked all over them to the tune of 45-31 in the Holiday Bowl. Other mild surprises for me were Wyoming beating UCLA, Fresno State's win over Virginia, and Connecticut rolling to a 39-10 victory over Toledo in the Motor City Bowl.

I guess another "sort of" surprise was Auburn's narrow victory over Virginia Tech. My teenage son was a staunch supporter of the Tigers' bid for the Orange Bowl and was certain they could handle either Southern Cal or Oklahoma. I agreed with his Oklahoma assessment, but I don't think anyone can beat USC this year. Anyway, after the game last night, he told me maybe he was wrong about Auburn, that maybe they couldn't beat either USC or Oklahoma ... which brings me to my final thought.

I have no reason to believe otherwise that the Trojans will win the national championship. I think the game will be exciting, but not too close. I would be surprised if USC wins by less than 15 points. But the matchups are intriguing. The last two Heisman Trophy winners squaring off in Matt Leinart and Jason White. Two terrific running backs in Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson. A pair of defenses that have been quite stingy with allowing yards and points.

Whether this game will live up to the hype and follow in the footsteps of other great games played this bowl season is yet to be seen. And, whether the pollsters will deem Auburn or Utah worthy of sharing the title with Oklahoma should they knock off USC will be the conversation of many before Wednesday's final rankings. But, regardless of the outcome of tonight's game and how the polls end up, this has been one enjoyable and exciting bowl season.

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