Do you want a college football playoff? Do you love the tradition of a New Year's Day packed with A-list bowls? You can have both, as shown by Stick Jockey's video game simulation of a 16-team tournament - and 27 bowls.
Warning: This is a very long column. There are more than 40 games described below. I've highlighted the playoff results in yellow if that's what you're really interested in.
One of the most false debating points in the college football playoff argument is the idea that somehow the bowls diminish a playoff, or vice versa. I maintain that the bowl postseason should be preserved, running alongside a meritorious, 16-team playoff inviting the champion of every conference. The bowls - the better ones, anyway - have a majesty that far surpasses any "football NIT" label some think they'd acquire if the NCAA implemented a Division I football playoff.
My idea is that, while a game like the Orange Bowl may not prefer a pairing of conference runner-ups, provided the sides are appropriately matched the games can be no less memorable. The bowls relentlessly tout their tradition, but forget that tradition, until the early 1990s, felt no obligation to help determine a national champion. And for a sporting culture so built on haves and have-nots, a holiday-based bowl structure as a consolation prize offers a much more meaningful postseason "reward," as one of the talking points always describes the bowls, to teams that rarely, or have never visited fabled venues like the Sugar or the Cotton, rather than sending them to Birmingham to play in an advertisement for Papa John's.
The bowls have a great value. But they have no place in determining a national champion. The Bowl Championship Series is the most meritless selection of a champion in major sports in the entire world. Worse than boxing. Worse than international soccer's reputation for draw-rigging and other shenanigans. The Bowl Championship Series is a system that is built on backroom dishonesty, not one exploited by it. And it's almost proud to announce it up front.
Well, not in the reality I control, which is NCAA Football 10, my most favorite model railroad of sporting sims. So this week I set up a 16-team playoff, and then painstakingly redrew the bowls as close to their existing conference ties as the pool of eligible teams would allow.
For an eloquent argument in favor of a 16-team playoff, and the legitimacy that comes from inviting every Division I conference champion, I encourage you to read Dan Wetzel's recent column for Yahoo! Sports. To it, I'd only add that teams like Troy are either major college football participants or they're not. It's not a self-declared thing. The NCAA admitted these teams to the highest level. But the comments and behavior of BCS conferences and the bowl committees hellbent on dividing the pie for the fattest do more to diminish a football program like East Carolina than the quality of the Pirates' schedule ever does.
Alright, here's the backstory of what happened in my reality this week. After creating this 16-team playoff, the NCAA made one demand and one concession. All bowls had to be completed before national title game. In return, the NCAA would never schedule a playoff game on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1. (or Dec. 24 or Dec. 25, for that matter). The larger bowls, cutting their own TV deals, then began a run back to traditional New Year's and New Year's Eve dates, bringing us back to the days of the Rose, Cotton, Sugar and Orange, all on the same day.
The championship game was booked for San Diego, largely because the city has a strong track record hosting Super Bowls, and because it's not home to any of the (very likely pissed off) former BCS bowls. And also because Qualcomm Stadium is an available venue in NCAA Football 10.
The football playoff seeding was then handed to an NCAA committee much like the one that handles the basketball bracket. The seeding considered mathematical formulae but, ultimately, it was a human decision, the same as the basketball tournament. Since everyone is so fired up about protecting the sanctity of the regular season games, I made a rule that no at-large team may host an opening round game. Yes, that effectively seeds a team like Florida ninth. It also turns the eighth-seed into a seat of death (likely facing an at-large team that is seeded artificially lower, and then the tournament No. 1 if they win) but, dammit, this is football. It's hard. We can't pave everyone's way to the semifinals, and a seeding reflects how many games a team is expected to win. Without the rule, this eight seed would drop at least one spot lower, which means it is expected to lose in the first round, anyway. Instead, an eight-seed under this rule gets a game at home - against a difficult opponent, sure - but also the advantage and, more importantly, revenue, of just such a date. I still expect Georgia Tech to hate me for this.
Anyway, following the Big XII championship game on Dec. 5, my seeding committee met and selected the following teams:
(5) Boise State
(7) Ohio State
(8) Georgia Tech
(10) Virginia Tech
(12) Brigham Young
(14) Central Michigan
(15) East Carolina
BYU provides the only selection controversy, bumping Penn State. Both teams are 10-2. Brigham Young had a greater strength of schedule in the Sagarin Ratings and, although the victory doesn't look as good now, the Cougars' victory over then-No. 5 Oklahoma to begin the season was a mammoth upset. BYU also gutted out a victory over a ranked Utah to end the year. Penn State did not defeat a human-ranked team all year; did not beat any team that finished in Sagarin's top 30; lost badly to Iowa and Ohio State at home; played the definition of a cupcake non-conference schedule and didn't do a damn thing except start the season ranked high. Plus, the Nittany Lions finished a decisive third, and the Big Ten is a good conference, but it's not three-teams good. That's the SEC, and LSU is the third team. If I would not take Penn State over BYU, I definitely would not take it over LSU.
Brigham Young also was seeded ahead of LSU to avoid an opening-round rematch of conference opponents. These rematches are unavoidable elsewhere on the bracket, but it can be controlled here. I'm aware that Alabama and Florida will likely rematch in the second round, three weeks after their SEC title game. I prefer - and therefore my committee prefers - that such a meeting take place there rather than in the national championship.
The bowls were then free to invite any .500 or better, six-Division I win team, absent the ones above. Of course this means there are more bowls than can host eligible teams. Six died: the Poinsettia, Meineke Car Care, Little Caesars, Texas, Armed Forces and PapaJohns.com. Lots of horsetrading was involved as the minor bowls scrambled to fill slots. Ultimately, the free market prevailed. The total payout lost with the death of these six: $8.2 million. I think the conferences can spend their share of $8.2 million to reap a much larger slice of a nine-figure television contract for a football playoff.
With all that out of the way, here are all the games - 27 bowls and 15 playoff games - simulated on NCAA Football 10 using the roster and depth chart written by RomanCaesar from Operation Sports. The games are presented in the order they were played on the calendar.
I do not claim that this is a scientific simulation. These games were played once. A simulation for accuracy would require a much larger sample size and more finely tuned sim settings. The games were played with nine-minute quarters to hold down garish scoring and statistical performances. That also skewed a lot of the results to down-to-the-wire finishes.
at St. Petersburg, Fla.
St. Petersburg Bowl
South Florida (Big East, 7-5) vs. Central Florida (Conference USA, 8-4)
These two Sunshine State up-and-comers did not play their rivalry game this year, so they meet here. USF holds on, 21-17.
at Albuquerque, N.M.
New Mexico Bowl
Wyoming (Mountain West, 6-6) vs. Fresno State (WAC, 8-4)
This pairing is one of a few drawn up that reflect real life. Fresno blasts the Cowboys 55-27 behind 151 yards rushing and two touchdowns by Ryan Mathews.
NCAA Division I Football Championship
(seedings in parentheses)
(16) Troy (Sun Belt champion, 9-3) at (1) Alabama (SEC champion, 13-0)
Alabama only leads 24-20 at the half, stoking huge upset interest. But Heisman winner Mark Ingram breaks a 74-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter, en route to a 52-27 first round win for the Crimson Tide.
(15) East Carolina (Conference USA champion, 9-4) at (2) Texas (Big XII champion, 13-0)
Absolutely zero drama here. Texas annihilates East Carolina 52-0.
(14) No. 25 Central Michigan (MAC champion, 11-2) vs. (3) Cincinnati (Big East champion, 12-0)
The fearless Chippewas open with a come-into-the-room-honey 10-point lead early in the second quarter. But Cinderella fantasies prove premature, and the Bearcats respond with 35 unanswered points to win 45-24, behind six touchdowns from quarterback Tony Pike.
2 p.m. games:
(10) Virginia Tech (at-large, 9-3 ACC) at (7) Ohio State (Big Ten champion, 10-2)
The first nailbiter of the playoff. Ohio State leads 26-21 after a touchdown and failed two-point PAT. Virginia Tech faces third-and-18 from their own nine, but the Hokies' Tyrod Taylor responds with a 35-yard bomb to get a fresh set of downs and great field position. VPI scores but also misses its two-point attempt, and leads 27-26. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor finds Ray Small for a 20 yard gain on 4th and five from the Buckeyes' 42 with 1:09 left, then hits DeVier Posey for a 26-yard gain to get down to Virginia Tech's 8. Aaron Pettrey hits the 25-yard field goal for the 29-27 win.
(9) Florida (at-large, 12-1 SEC) at (8) Georgia Tech (ACC champion, 11-2)
Florida coasts 43-3 in the playoff's first upset 43-3 - in name only - holding Tech's Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt to 85 yards rushing combined.
4 p.m. games:
(11) Iowa (at large, 10-2 Big Ten) at (6) Oregon (Pac-10 champion, 10-2)
Another blowout victory, 41-15 for Oregon. The Ducks pile up 507 yards of offense and clamp down on Iowa, holding the Hawkeyes to 283 yards of offense. Oregon's LaMichael James gets only 79 yards rushing, but adds 107 receiving and even throws a touchdown pass.
(12) Brigham Young (at-large, 10-2 Mountain West) at (5) Boise State (WAC champion, 13-0)
Trailing 38-26 late in the fourth, a miracle 85-yard run by the Broncos' Jeremy Avery with 5:22 left makes it 38-33. The Cougars respond with a quick field goal, pushing the lead to eight and giving the Broncos one more drive. Kellen Moore's eight yard out pattern to Austin Pettis on fourth down from their own 44 keeps the Broncos in business. They reach BYU's 17 and throw three incompletions before Moore hits tight end Tommy Gallarda to make it 41-39 with 35 seconds left. But Moore's two-point conversion pass to wideout Tyler Shoemaker is no good. The onside attempt fails, and Brigham Young provides the prototypical 12-5 upset we expect in the college basketball bracket.
8 p.m. game:
(13) LSU (at-large, 9-3 SEC) at (4) Texas Christian (Mountain West champion, 12-0)
The primetime matchup explodes into one of the greatest games ever played in the history of college football. TCU gets out to a 28-10 lead at the half and then LSU puts it in gear, shrewdly making a two-point conversion in the third quarter en route to 25 unanswered points and a 35-28 lead with 1:17 left. TCU gets a 24 yard kickoff return, a 15-yard pass interference call, a 14-yard pickup on 3rd and 1 from LSU's 22, and ultimately an 8-yard touchdown strike from Andy Dalton to Jimmy Young with four seconds left to send the game to overtime.
Both sides trade touchdowns in the first two overtime periods. In the third, LSU cracks, settling for a 46-yard field goal. On third down of their final possession, the Horned Frogs' Joseph Turner shoves two defenders to the ground on the way to a 17-yard touchdown run and the win, 55-52, in triple overtime. Delirious TCU fans rip down the goalposts, forgetting they will need them the next week.
at Las Vegas
Las Vegas Bowl:
No. 23 Utah (Mountain West, 9-3) vs. UCLA (Pac-10, 6-6)
This kind of matchup proves how a playoff would improve the bowls. In real life, this game brings a school with fans who don't travel (Oregon State) to Las Vegas to face one whose alumni don't drink or fornicate (Brigham Young). Under my system, we'd have Utah and UCLA. Great attendance, and indeed a great game. UCLA triumphs 28-25 in a rare bowl overtime.
at New Orleans
New Orleans Bowl:
Southern Mississippi (Conference USA, 7-5) vs. Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt, 9-3)
Another real-life pairing. MTSU is probably the best nine-victory team no one's ever seen. For a reason. Senior halfback Damion Fletcher carries the day for Southern Mississippi, 167 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-9 snorefest.
Nevada (WAC, 8-4) vs. SMU (Conference USA, 7-5)
Yet another real-life draw. June Jones returns to the 50th State for SMU's first bowl appearance since the NCAA leveled the infamous Death Penalty in 1986. Hawaii rolls 41-13 as the Mustangs stumble to just 178 yards of total offense.
NCAA Division I Football Championship
(7) Ohio State at (2) Texas
The Longhorns take a 21-3 lead after the first quarter and never look back, winning 45-17. Terrelle Pryor is intercepted three times, sacked four, and throws no touchdowns. Colt McCoy, meantime, tosses four.
(6) Oregon at (3) Cincinnati
Oregon, leading 20-17, misses a 46-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter. Cincinnati responds with a 71-yard, 14-play drive and a 24-20 advantage. The Ducks take over on their 20 with 1:27 left, getting to the Cincinnati 13 with no timeouts left. Jeremiah Masoli spikes the ball, then on fourth down finds D.J. Davis for a touchdown with 14 seconds left and a thrilling 27-24 victory.
4 p.m. game:
(12) Brigham Young at (4) TCU
TCU connects on a field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter and leads 17-13. Later, a disastrous, shanked punt gives the Horned Frogs the ball on BYU's 35 with 5 minutes to play. The key play comes on 4th and 2 from the Cougars' 13; TCU elects to go for it, makes it, and Joseph Turner ultimately scores the decisive two-yard touchdown. The Frogs need it, as Brigham Young responds with a desperation touchdown and converts the two-point try but can't recover the onsides kick. TCU wins another thriller, 24-21.
8 p.m. game:
(9) Florida at (1) Alabama
The day's second rematch of conference titleists with runners-up. This dazzler features seven lead changes and a finish even more amazing than the TCU-LSU epic of a week before. Trailing 28-24 with the ball at midfield, Tim Tebow fumbles the snap, falls on it, then converts third-and-18 with a 33-yard bomb to Riley Cooper, and ultimately Tebow carries in a four-yard touchdown himself for the 31-28 lead.
Alabama gets the ball back with three minutes left and all its timeouts. Quarterback Greg McElroy throws three straight incompletions and is sacked on fourth-and-ten from Alabama's 27, apparently sealing Florida's victory. But the Crimson Tide use all of their timeouts, force Florida to kick a field goal, and get the ball back with 1:05 remaining. A miracle 68-yard bomb from McElroy to Julio Jones with 21 seconds left absolutely detonates Bryant-Denny Stadium. Jones has three touchdowns, 175 yards receiving, and never has to pay for a drink in Tuscaloosa the rest of his life.
at Tempe, Ariz.
Insight Bowl: Iowa State (Big XII, 6-6) vs. Air Force (Mountain West, 7-5)
With two teams going to the playoff, the Big Ten ran out of bowl-eligible teams to send to this game. So I yanked the Zoomies from the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth and sent them to Arizona, home of a more established, higher-paying midlevel bowl. Air Force salts the game away in the fourth quarter when defensive back Anthony Wright returns an interception for a touchdown and the final 35-18 margin.
at San Francisco
Navy (9-4) vs. California (Pac-10, 8-4)
Cal and its fans get a short trip across the Bay Bridge, assuming it's functioning. Navy gets a nice holiday in a town with a strong seapower tradition. Jahvid Best, back from his scary injury against Oregon State on Nov. 7, gets 138 yards and three touchdowns. the Bears romp 48-17 in a game not even half as close.
at Orlando, Fla.
Champs Sports Bowl:
No. 14 Miami (ACC, 9-3) vs. Michigan State (Big Ten, 6-6)
ACC schools are not picked by finish and to a bowl committee, Miami - outside of the Orange Bowl or a national title game - is a money-losing disaster. That's why the Hurricanes fell so far here, but the good news is they stay close to home. Michigan State has the kind of fans who are delighted to go to Disney World for the holidays and call that the biggest thing they've done all year. I'm not sure I believe this result myself, but the Spartans trail 21-7 early before scoring 27 unanswered points and coasting to a 48-24 win. Miami's Jacory Harris is intercepted four times.
Northern Illinois (MAC, 7-5) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (Sun Belt, 6-6)
Lacking enough participants from its tie in conferences, this new bowl survives only because it pays (Dr. Evil voice) one million dollars. Unfortunately, it's getting the least desirable matchup - UL-M isn't even going to a bowl in real life. But the Warhawks give a great show, winning 33-26 when Trey Revell and Luther Ambrose hook up on a 30-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left.
at Boise, Idaho
Bowling Green (MAC, 7-5) vs. Idaho (WAC, 7-5)
Boise State isn't the only school that can go out guns blazing on the Smurf turf. Bowling Green and Idaho combine for more than 1,000 yards of offense - 433 of that from Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle's arm - as the Vandals win a 44-42 track meet on a field goal with 1:56 left.
at Nashville, Tenn.
Music City Bowl:
Boston College (ACC, 8-4) vs. Kentucky (SEC, 7-5)
As a bowl attraction, Boston College is an even bigger disaster than Miami. BC can't even sell out its own stadium in the regular season. But at least Nashville's chamber of commerce gets Kentucky, whose fans regularly go to Tennessee to get their asses kicked without complaint. BC obliges, 35-17.
at Shreveport, La.
Kansas State (Big XII, 6-6) vs. Rutgers (Big East, 8-4)
Rutgers had been slated for the Meineke Bowl, but with the SEC exhausting its bowl-eligible members, I shipped the Scarlet Knights to Shreveport, owing to the fact the Independence has been around longer, pays more, and enough time has passed since it was known as the Weedwhacker Bowl. Rutgers freshman Tom Savage tosses a bowl record six touchdowns in a 47-10 blowout.
North Carolina (ACC, 8-4) vs. Georgia (SEC, 7-5)
I have to say, for the realism of matchups, I'm proudest of this one. The Chick-Fil-A, formerly the Peach, loves teams from the Old North State. And who better to play in Atlanta than the Georgia Bulldogs? Plus both schools can settle that technical dispute regarding America's oldest public university. For the record, it's UNC, which also wins 35-17.
at El Paso, Texas
Texas A&M (Big XII, 6-6) vs. USC (Pac-10, 8-4)
Brut smells like a man, and in El Paso, the Aggies smell like an armpit, losing 38-13 in a sim that probably did not account for USC's nosedive this year.
at Jacksonville, Fla.
Florida State (ACC, 6-6) vs. Pittsburgh (Big East, 9-3)
The Gator wants to give Bobby Bowden a gold watch? Fine. They can take the 6-6 Seminoles over more deserving ACC teams for this one, too. It's not like Jacksonville's gonna sell out this stadium on Sundays. The Panthers hold on 37-31 thanks to 136 yards and four TDs - two of them receiving - by freshman back Dion Lewis.
at San Diego
Texas Tech (Big XII, 8-4) vs. No. 16 Oregon State (Pac-10, 8-4)
Unfortunately for Oregon State, Lubbock isn't the only city where Beavers get the Raider Rash. OSU loses 23-19 when, from Tech's 23, Sean Canfield can't hit James Rodgers on a fade as time expires.
at Orlando, Fla.
Capital One Bowl:
No. 24 Wisconsin (Big Ten, 9-3) vs. Tennessee (SEC, 7-5)
This one is formerly known as the Citrus - which as Steve Spurrier reminds us, can't be spelled without the UT. Tennessee gets the ball on its 20 with 2:45 left, tied a 24. Jonathan Crompton passes of 14, 16 and 20 yards get Tennessee into kicking range, and Daniel Lincoln's 42-yard boot, after missing two previously from shorter distances, provides the 27-24 victory.
at Tampa, Fla.
Northwestern (Big Ten, 8-4) vs. Auburn (SEC, 7-5)
The most major bowl reflecting real life in this simulation, Auburn trails 31-13 early in the third before charging back with 28 unanswered to win 41-31. Tigers halfback Ben Tate helps carry the load with 105 yards and two second-half scores.
Oklahoma (Big XII, 7-5) vs. Arkansas (SEC, 7-5)
The shooting gallery seesaw begins late in the third with Broderick Green's 60 yard catch-and-run to get Arkansas on top 38-34. Oklahoma hits a 47-yard field goal to draw to 38-37 early in the fourth. Quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks storm back with an 11-play, 81-yard drive, 63 of it by air, to lead 45-37 with six minutes to play. Oklahoma stitches together an-eight play, 82-yard drive, and knots the game on a PAT pass from Landry Jones to Dejuan Miller with five minutes to go. Holding Arkansas to a three-and-out, Oklahoma goes back to work from its six, picking up passes of 18, 27, and 34 yards, and rumbling the final 10 to lead 52-45. Mallett gets one last drive, however, bringing the Hogs to the Sooners' 22 with eight seconds left, where he is intercepted by linebacker Travis Lewis to seal the game. Mallett's inhuman 485 yards passing is easily a Cotton Bowl record.
Clemson (ACC, 8-5) vs. No. 20 Nebraska (Big XII, 9-4)
By virtue of its tie-in with the ACC, the Orange has been the de facto Kids' Table of the BCS for much of this decade, including a Wake Forest-Louisville matchup in 2007 that should have been broadcast by Raycom. But here the Orange returns to its old Big Eight roots to invite Nebraska, pairing the Cornhuskers with Clemson in a matchup recalling 1982, Tom Osborne and Danny Ford, and the Tigers' only national championship.
Clemson's C.J. Spiller starts the game with an Orange Bowl record 82-yard run from scrimmage for a touchdown as the Tigers sprint to a 21-7 lead by the half. Nebraska rallies to a 28-28 tie, then goes for it on 4th and 1 from their own 35 with 6 minutes left in the fourth - and fumbles. Spiller's ensuing 7-yard touchdown grab out of the backfield from Kyle Parker provides the final margin, 35-28.
at New Orleans
No. 18 West Virginia (Big East, 9-3) vs. Ole Miss (SEC, 8-4)
After the SEC sent three teams to the playoffs, the bowls were left with an 8-4 Ole Miss, and a bunch of 7-5 teams. So the Rebels visit New Orleans for another A-list nailbiter. West Virginia scores 21 fourth quarter points to take a 35-28 lead. With three minutes remaining, Ole Miss begins driving from its 24, surviving a 3rd-and-18 with a 27-yard hookup from Jevean Snead to Shay Hodge. The drive gets down to West Virginia's 6 with 1:01 left but sophomore Brandon Bolden drops Snead's bullet in the end zone, and the Mountaineers hang on for the trophy.
at Pasadena, Calif.
No. 11 Penn State (Big Ten, 10-2) vs. No. 22 Arizona (Pac-10, 8-4)
This one is indeed the granddaddy of the day. Trailing 27-20, facing 4th and 10 from Arizona's 25 with less than four minutes remaining in the fourth, the Nittany Lions' Daryll Clark hits wideout Derek Moye for a 16 yard gain to keep the drive alive. Then Evan Royster rumbles in from nine yards out to tie the game at 27 with 2:37 left. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles opens the next possession with completions of 11 and 14 yards but, facing 4th and 1 from the 50 - what an agonizing decision this had to be - the Wildcats opt to punt, pinning Penn State on their own 13 with 1:13 to play. On third and 15 his own 34, Clark hits Graham Zug for a 35 yard gain down to the Wildcat 29, and then three rushes by Royster reach paydirt, providing the final margin, 34-27, with 14 seconds to go. Fourteen points in four minutes, 17 in the fourth quarter, and an absolute double-dragon-kick-to-the-nutsack defeat for Arizona in its first-ever Rose appearance.
NCAA Division I Football Championship
4 p.m. game
(4) TCU at (1) Alabama
Alabama nails a 44-yard field goal at the end of the first half to take a 13-10 lead, then late in the third quarter goes 77 yards - the last 31 of it on seven straight carries by Mark Ingram - to go up 20-10. Alabama coffin-corners a punt, pinning TCU on its two midway through the fourth quarter, then Justin Woodall intercepts Andy Dalton and returns it for a touchdown. TCU does respond with an 11 play scoring drive, but can't recover an onsides kick, trailing by 10. An Alabama field goal ices the game 30-17. Mark Ingram rushes for 208 yards a playoff record. But then, everything is this year.
8 p.m. game
(6) Oregon at (2) Texas
Texas does not get beyond the 50-yard line in the entire first half as Oregon races to a 24-7 lead. Eddie Pleasant intercepts Colt McCoy on the Texas 27, and a 12-yard swing pass to the redeemed LeGarrette Blount gives Oregon the 31-10 advantage late in the third quarter. Texas responds with consecutive 80 yard drives to draw within seven, then recovers a LaMichael James fumble at the Oregon 18 with 2:11 left. But McCoy immediately tosses an interception, picked off by Spencer Paysinger, to cement the Ducks' 31-24 upset.
Temple (MAC, 9-3) vs. Connecticut (Big East, 7-5)
This game would be much better if it were Jim Calhoun and the Huskies back in the day facing John Chaney's Owls on the hardwood in Philadelphia. Instead, these two meet on a gridiron in Canada, with UConn winning 31-28.
at Mobile, Ala.
Ohio (MAC, 9-4) vs. Marshall (Conference USA, 6-6)
This game survives because of its MAC tie-in, but it had to drag over Marshall as a replacement, absent any ACC participant. Fortunately, it restores the Bobcats-
Hundering Turd Thundering Herd rivalry. They last played in 2004, when both were members of the MAC. Marshall wins here, 31-24.
at San Antonio
Minnesota (Big 10, 6-6) vs. Missouri (Big XII, 8-4)
Another seesaw battle sees Minnesota upend favored Mizzou 35-31 with a 63-yard drive at the end of the game. The Tigers waste 330 yards from quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who also tosses two interceptions.
at Memphis, Tenn.
Houston (Conference USA, 10-3) vs. South Carolina (SEC, 7-5)
South Carolina's defense gets Houston down 17-0 early, but Case Keenum and the high-powered Cougars come storming back for a 45-34 win that isn't that close. Keenum tosses five touchdowns, two to Tyron Carrier, who also has 175 yards.
at Glendale, Ariz.
No. 19 Stanford (Pac-10, 8-4) vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State (Big XII, 9-3)
As the wild card of the major bowls, the Fiesta schedules itself after New Year's Day, and picks Oklahoma State for proximity and Stanford for the star power of Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. The Cardinal lead 16-14 at halftime, but the Cowboys pull away for a 35-16 win. Gerhart gets 116 yards rushing but no touchdowns.
NCAA Division I Football Championship
at San Diego, Calif.
(6) Oregon vs. (1) Alabama
Alabama punts on its first three possessions. Oregon scores on its first three, on the way to a 28-7 halftime lead. The Crimson Tide draw to 28-17 on a 70-yard punt return by Javier Arenas, but Oregon immediately answers with a 14-play drive covering 75 yards for the 35-17 advantage. Alabama scores again in the fourth quarter, but can't make the two point conversion, and its final drive dies on 4th-and-10 from the Oregon 14 with 2:05 to go.
The final is 35-23, and the first champion of the NCAA's first football tournament is the same as the champion of its first basketball tournament 70 years before: Oregon.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays at 10 a.m. U.S. Mountain time.