Neither outcome was in doubt in the season finales for the college football teams used as a setting for A Coach at Heart, as Stanford dominated UCLA 31-10 and San Diego State ran all over San Jose State 38-7.
For the first time in several years, the Cardinal won’t be going to a major bowl. But they’ve had a great run the last few seasons, playing on or around New Year’s Day. So they had a comparatively down season. It happens. If anyone can afford it, they can. Look for the Cardinal to take on Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl in what will be a real grind-it-out kind of affair between a couple of similarly styled ball clubs.
San Diego State appears set to play Navy in the hometown Poinsettia Bowl. The Aztecs will appear in their fifth straight bowl game.
And there’s the rub. For all the talk of there being too many bowl games — and there are — the last third of A Coach at Heart deals with the frustrations of those around the SDSU program not being invited to a postseason contest despite annually fielding strong teams. And a lot of the first half concerns folks at Stanford and their chagrin over the then-Pac-8 being a “Rose Bowl or no bowl” league. The likes of the Las Vegas bowl didn’t exist back then to take the circuit’s second-place team. Or third, or sixth.
So don’t look for any apologies from these football programs despite their 7-5 records. Stanford went seven seasons without bowl games between 2002 and 2008. From the point where A Coach at Heart ends up to the current streak, the Cardinal went to just six bowls, only one of them in Pasadena. SDSU’s bowl breakthrough didn’t come until 1986. Until the recent five-game streak, the Aztecs went to only three Division 1 bowls. Don’t look for any complaints from either of them.
Best Team – Oregon. You read it here first. The Ducks might just win the playoff. They’ve barely been challenged in recent weeks.
Best Surprise – Arizona, with a freshman quarterback and after losing a top-flight running back. Sit down Dan Mullen of Mississippi State. It’s Rich Rod for national Coach of the Year.
Worst Surprise – Just like in October, UCLA. Their month-long winning streak can’t wipe the stain of their post-Thanksgiving flop against Stanford. The Bruins were just physically whipped, and lost their shot at a Pac-12 South crown and conference championship game appearance. Full of talent, but soft, soft, soft. College football’s Charmin.
Best Player – Wire-to-wire for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. Nationally, he is first in passing efficiency, seventh in passing yards and completion percentage, tied for second in passing touchdowns, and is fifth in total offense and yards per completion. Cudos to QB Cody Kessler of USC for a brilliant year, mostly under the radar. See what I did there? And maybe my favorite, Arizona LB Scooby Wright. Actually, if you pay attention to the Pac-12, everyone gives the proper nod to Mariota’s talent but loves Scooby Does.
Championship Game – Oregon vs Arizona
Best Team – While it’s too early to tell whether the Broncos have their mojo back — it was built by scintillating conquests of power conference teams — they’re clearly the MW’s best team. Only a weird setback at Air Force early in the year kept them from an unblemished conference slate, and now they’re scoring points at a rate that rivals their most successful editions of recent years.
Best Surprise – Air Force. The Falcons went from 2-10 last year to 9-3 this year, with wins over more celebrated division rivals Boise State and Colorado State. Oh, yes, they finished fourth behind those schools and Utah State.
Worst Surprise – Nevada. Really, none of the league’s bottom-feeders were unexpected, but the Wolf Pack’s lack of a finishing kick was a bummer. A month ago, they had a division title in their sights. But they lost two in a row and finished as just another 7-5 team.
Best Player – With all due respect to Boise State QB Grant Hedrick, and Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson and WR Rashard Higgins, the regular season MVP performance was turned in by San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey. For the second year in a row, the sophomore scatback carried a struggling Aztecs offense to a winning season. With no passing game to speak of to take off any pressure, Pumphrey has amassed 1,761 yards rushing and 19 TDs. The yardage total is third nationally. Hedrick had help from RB Jay Ajayi, Grayson and Higgins from RB Dee Hart. Pumphrey and his offensive line have done it by themselves.
Championship Game: Boise State vs. Fresno State.