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Pirate Notebook No. 332
Monday, January 7, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

C.J. headlines bowl superlatives

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Tonight’s national championship game concludes the annual bowl season. All that remains is a series of all-star showcases before all attention turns to National Signing Day and spring practice.

In many ways, 2007’s postseason bowls were like any other. There were nail-biters, blowouts, surprises, and breakout performances. It was a microcosm of a regular season in which upsets were bulk-ordered and the No. 2 spot in the national rankings had a new face each week.

Here’s a look at some highlights and lowlights from the bowl season:

Best Performance: Chris Johnson, East Carolina

There was no shortage of options here, and West Virginia’s Pat White is certainly worthy of mention. It’s just hard to imagine East Carolina leaving Honolulu with the bronze pineapple without Johnson’s 408 all-purpose yards, an NCAA bowl record.

Johnson torched heavily favored Boise State almost single-handedly, further establishing himself as one of the most explosive running backs in the country. He also increased his draft value as a difference maker who excels as a receiver and return specialist.

It wasn’t long ago that Johnson was considered a mid-round draft pick who could help a franchise on special teams and as a change-of-pace back. His speed has never been an issue, and this year he showed that strength, durability and sure-handedness aren’t either.

With impressive showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine, Johnson could possibly propel himself into the first round. ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., lists Johnson as the top senior running back, but the number of juniors flocking for green could heavily dictate where he lands in April.

Needless to say, his effort on December 23 is largely why he’s now a part of the first round conversation.

Biggest Surprise: West Virginia

After rolling over in the Backyard Brawl and losing Rich Rodriguez to Michigan, West Virginia was primed for a thumping against Oklahoma. That’s because experts were underestimating the healing power of the big “Stew.”

Then-interim coach Bill Stewart did a masterful job of keeping the program glued amid the Rodgate hoopla. But was that one-game dress rehearsal worthy of rewarding him with the full-time gig?

Not when you consider the more accomplished pool of candidates from which WVU almost assuredly could have drawn. Even so, AD Ed Pastilong stole a chapter from the Paul Dee Book of Football Hiring and went the unproven assistant route.

Pastilong’s decision must have been driven both by the frustration over the brief Jimbo Fisher courtship and the emotion of WVU’s impressive showing in Arizona. Nothing else can explain why a powerhouse program would hire a guy who’s only head coaching experience occurred a decade ago at I-AA Virginia Military Institute, where he compiled an underwhelming 8-25 record.

Yeah, that should get the boosters excited.

Biggest Busts: Hawaii and South Florida

Is there a bigger argument for changes to the BCS formula than Hawaii’s showing in the Sugar Bowl? The Warriors were thoroughly pummeled by Georgia, proving that their 12-0 regular season was primarily the product of a pansy schedule.

It should provide ammunition to institute changes to the BCS, with strength of schedule becoming an important factor for inclusion.

And how about South Florida? After knocking off West Virginia earlier this season, the Bulls found themselves ranked second nationally and poised for a run at the BCS title game before losing three straight.

OK, we can overlook that series of close stumbles against fair competition in the Big East. But it’s too difficult to digest that 56-21 drubbing by Dennis Dixon-less Oregon.

Matty Mohawk could take some quarterbacking lessons from new Wonderduck Justin Roper.

Best Game: Capital One Bowl

College football is about offense, and the C-1-B provided plenty of that. It also had two traditional heavyweights, a Heisman winner, and a coach leading his final charge.

In a bowl season mostly short on epic battles, Michigan’s 41-35 win over Florida should find itself on ESPN classic fairly soon. For the Wolverines, it could also erase the bitter memory of that inexcusable loss to I-AA Appalachian State.

OK, maybe not.

Worst Game: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Condolences to anyone who endured that snooze fest. Mississippi State’s 10-3 victory over Central Florida would successfully cure anyone who has a football addiction, and any game footage that includes quarterbacks Kyle Israel and Wesley Carroll should be burned immediately.

Memo to George O’Leary: A one-dimensional offensive approach just doesn’t work outside of Conference USA. Sidebar to Kevin Smith: Take the money while you can.

Atlantic Coast Cupcakes

John Swofford’s decision to expand the ACC greatly enhanced the conference’s economic profile. New television contracts and bowl agreements have elevated the league as a serious financial player on the national landscape.

But when it comes to performance in the postseason, the ACC just hasn’t cut it.

Since the inception of the BCS, the ACC has just one victory, Florida State’s victory over Virginia Tech in 1999. And this year, the league’s competitive perception dropped even further with a dreadful 2-6 showing in bowls.

It should be noted that the ACC’s wins were delivered by two small, private, academically-minded institutions — Boston College and Wake Forest. Meanwhile, one-time superpower Miami sat home while Florida State and Virginia Tech both lost to basketball schools with modest football traditions.

Blowout Championship Series

Maybe tonight’s Allstate National Championship game will give us what the BCS bowls have lacked — a game that keeps our attention. Only the Orange Bowl provided a competitive final score, though the margin was somewhat deceptive of just how convincing Kansas’ 24-21 victory over Virginia Tech was.

Thank the Tournament of Roses for all these lopsided affairs. Its insistence on having a Big Ten-Pac 10 match-up, regardless of the circumstances or records, greatly unleveled the playing field in BCS games.

Instead of undeserving Illinois in the Rose Bowl, we could have been treated to Southern Cal-Georgia. It also would have made room in the BCS for a more deserving group than the Illini, a move that would have made for more competitive, entertaining games.

Footnote to playoff junkies:

The Rose Bowl is the primary reason that an eight or 16-team postseason tournament is nowhere on the radar. Such a system would rob Pasadena of its annual tradition, which is about the only element of change with which Californians are uncomfortable.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

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01/07/2008 02:52:56 AM

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