Commentary

From Mountaineer ecstasy to Mountaineer agony, 2007 had it all

Originally Published: December 2, 2007
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

The day before the 2007 college football season started, I wrote a story about the two most underachieving programs in America:

Missouri and Illinois.

That pretty well set the tone for the least predictable autumn in the history of the sport. Today, the historically inept Tigers and Illini are a combined 20-5. On the first day of December, Missouri was ranked No. 1. On the second day of December, Illinois accepted a bid to the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame crawled into the offseason at 3-9.

See that coming? Neither did we.

It has been that kind of year. And it's fitting that it will end in New Orleans, which might be the nation's capital of weird.

Jerry Moore
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoJerry Moore and the Mountaineers were riding high after upsetting the Wolverines.

This was a regular season that began with Mountaineer ecstasy (Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32) and ended with Mountaineer agony (Pittsburgh 13, West Virginia 9). It began with USC a landslide No. 1 and ended with the top ranking changing hands four times in the last five weeks -- and USC wasn't part of the rotation. It began with Kansas receiving zero votes in the AP preseason poll and ended with the Jayhawks earning an Orange Bowl bid.

We are on pace for more points to be scored and more yardage to be compiled than any season in the game's history. Yet the BCS championship game will pit the nation's No. 3 total defense (LSU) against the nation's No. 1 total defense (Ohio State).

We have begged someone -- anyone -- to accept the No. 2 ranking. Eight teams tried it on for size and didn't keep it long. Six of them lost to unranked teams (13 top-five teams have lost to unranked opponents, eight of them doing so at home).

If you don't believe there's some voodoo at No. 2, consider this: Since Oct. 7, when California climbed to that spot, second-ranked teams in the AP poll have gone a grisly 10-18. The last three AP No. 2s -- Oregon, Kansas and West Virginia -- have gone 0-5 since.

It's been coast-to-coast chaos.

Ohio State lost eight NFL draft picks, including the Heisman Trophy winner, and finds itself right back where it was at this time last year: No. 1 and playing for the title.

[+] EnlargeDennis Dixon
AP Photo/John MillerOregon faded after a knee injury sent Dennis Dixon to the sideline.

A bum knee (Dennis Dixon's) and a backup QB (Stanford's Tavita Pritchard) changed the course of the championship chase in the Pacific-10.

In the Big 12, Mike Gundy lost his mind and Dennis Franchione and Bill Callahan lost their jobs.

The programs formerly known as Miami and Florida State continued to drag down the ACC.

UConn used fair-catch subterfuge to nearly win the Big East -- until it gave up 66 points in the de facto title game.

If eternally futile Vanderbilt could finish a game, Georgia likely would be out of the BCS and Tennessee never would have played in the SEC title game.

In other news, Trinity University won a game with a 15-lateral play that took 1 minute and 2 seconds to complete. But if any school symbolizes the sublime silliness of 2007, it is LSU. I cannot remember anyone having a more melodramatic season.

There were two triple-overtime losses. There were witheringly tense victories over Florida, Auburn and Alabama. There were injuries and screwball coaching strategy and rigorous competition to overcome. There were multiple moments of euphoria counterbalanced by multiple moments of dread.

By Thursday night, the Tigers feared that both their title shot and their coach were gone. Stunningly, they have retained both.

Michigan had permission to speak to Les Miles, whose affection for his alma mater reputedly was such that you'd think he hums "Hail to the Victors" in the shower every morning. At that point, odds that Miles soon would be wearing a maize-and-blue tie behind a lectern in Ann Arbor were 1-10.

Then there were the on-field issues. LSU entered December under the impression that it had drop-kicked its BCS championship hopes by giving up 50 points to Arkansas at home. After that, the Tigers were seventh in the BCS standings.

Today, after a Beamonesque leap to No. 2, LSU could become the first two-loss team to win a national title since Minnesota in 1960. And it gets a virtual home game to try to pull it off. With Miles on the sideline, for this month and the foreseeable future.

The fact that Les Miles would turn down Michigan just might be the biggest shocker of all in the Year of the Upset. It's certainly in the top five, alongside App State over Michigan, Stanford over USC, Syracuse over Louisville and Pitt over West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLes Miles and LSU did some heavy lifting in 2007.

Turns out the coach is more of a money man than a Michigan Man. And LSU has a lot of jack to throw around when it comes to football, having short-circuited Miles' talks with the Wolverines by offering him a king's ransom to stay put.

It also turns out that the last plot twist of the regular season is a return to normalcy.

At various points during the year, we were left to speculate on what it would be like to have interlopers such as Cal, South Florida, Boston College, Oregon, Kansas and Missouri playing in the BCS title game. Yet in the end, we get blue bloods LSU and Ohio State -- the Tigers appearing in their second championship game since the BCS set up shop in 1998, the Buckeyes in their third.

That hardly means the BCS got it right, however. The system remains an insult to the sport, and to fans who are smart enough to know they're being sold swampland disguised as beachfront property.

Hawaii began the year ranked 23rd in the AP poll and never could get higher than 10th. In a year when a two-loss team will play for the title, the nation's only unbeaten never could get serious consideration for the national title game.

Why? The schedule. Didn't play anybody.

Yet Kansas began the year unranked and rose all the way to No. 2 in the BCS without having played anyone. By Sagarin rating, KU's best win was over No. 38 Texas A&M.

The difference between Hawaii and Kansas? Conference affiliation.

How would you like to be Missouri today? You beat Illinois on a neutral field. You beat Kansas in front of a 60-40 Jayhawks crowd in Kansas City. You're ranked sixth in the final BCS standings, while Kansas is eighth and Illinois is 13th.

Yet Missouri is playing in the Cotton Bowl and the teams it beat are eating peeled grapes in chaise lounges in BCS Land. Nice system.

The fact that the Rose Bowl took the Illini -- a three-loss team from a lousy Big Ten -- is an indictment of a hidebound bowl that's part of a hidebound system. The Rose Bowl's myopic, weepy Big Ten vs. Pac-10 nostalgia is out of step with the times.

Did it ruin the Rose Bowl to have Texas play USC in one of the best games anyone has ever seen? Was it terrible the year before, when the Longhorns beat Michigan 38-37 on a last-play field goal? Did the world stop spinning when all those Oklahoma fans descended on Pasadena for the 2003 game?

College football fans would be far better served by a USC-Georgia Rose Bowl than by slavish adherence to cloying tradition. But the BCS doesn't exist to serve college football fans. It serves to protect the rich and help them get richer.

Thankfully, the sport with the worst postseason of all is counterbalanced by having the best regular season. And there has never been a regular season like this one.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.