Commentary

Cultures clash in BCS bowls

Originally Published: December 28, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

A generation ago, the University of Oregon served as the set for "Animal House," and if that's not the perfect metaphor for this BCS bowl season, then the Germans really did bomb Pearl Harbor.

[+] EnlargeNate Costa
Kirby Lee/US PresswireNate Costa drew fans' ire for hunting.

In the 1978 movie, freshmen Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman walk into Omega House, the fraternity of the campus powers that be. They are immediately shuttled to a couch on the outskirts of the party to join Mohammed, Jugdish, Sidney and blind, wheelchair-bound Clayton, the cultural and ethnic guests the Omegas don't want near their punch.

The Niedemeyers and Marmalards of college football failed to reach the BCS this season. Some are home (Texas, USC). Some are playing on New Year's Day (Alabama, Florida, Penn State, Michigan). Only two of the 10 BCS bowl teams, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Oklahoma, are to the football manor born. As for the rest of the BCS field, they pretty much come from Delta House.

No two teams better illustrate the absence of the traditional powers better than the teams playing in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon. Before this season, the Tigers and Ducks combined to win a share of one national title (Auburn, 1957) and three BCS bowl bids (Oregon, 2001, 2009; Auburn, 2004).

Yet the gap between the two would-be champions and the traditional powers pales before the gap between Oregon and Auburn themselves. The only thing these two schools have in common is their brand of offensive football, a spread attack run at a fast pace. As for the rest, the cultures of the two are so foreign that it's as if they're separated by an entire country -- which, of course, they are.

In downtown Eugene, there's a statue of Ken Kesey, a writer known mostly for dropping acid.

In downtown Auburn, if the streets surrounding campus may be called that, they drop toilet paper.

The tradition of "rolling" the stately oaks at Toomer's Corner after an Auburn victory is as beloved as the lemonade sold at Toomer's Drugs. Eugene upholds its Northwest honor by having its own microbrew. Ninkasi Brewing's top brand seems brewed with the Ducks in mind: Total Domination IPA.

Oregon and Auburn both open new basketball arenas this season. Auburn Arena opened in traditional Tigers fashion -- the men's basketball team lost the inaugural game 70-69 to UNC-Asheville. Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene features 500 valet parking spaces -- for bicycles.

In Auburn, they are happy the Iron Bowl moved back one week to Thanksgiving weekend, leaving the previous weekend for the opening of deer season.

In Eugene, quarterback Nate Costa's story of killing his first deer during an off week was met with howls of protest by local readers.

In Auburn, they love Tiger, their War Eagle.

In Eugene, they love spotted owls.

In Auburn, they have an annual race during Homecoming Week in which the top 25 finishers receive a homemade cake.

In Eugene, they have an annual Naked Bike Ride.

Neither of which is to be confused with the Rose Parade, which will begin on New Year's morning as the lead-in to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO between No. 3 TCU and No. 5 Wisconsin. Someday, that might sound normal.

TCU is so new to the power structure that it makes Wisconsin looked like a gray-haired eminence. The Badgers' current run among the Big Ten leaders began in 1993, when the Horned Frogs spent their time playing their way into being left behind by the Big 12.

The Rose Bowl matches the elemental engines of football -- power and speed -- and redlines them. The Badgers block everything in their path, including sunlight. The Horned Frogs benefit from coach Gary Patterson's ability to put athletes into their most effective positions on the field. That's why TCU is one game from leading the nation in total defense for the third consecutive season.

Oregon and Auburn aren't the only two culturally and geographically divergent opponents this BCS season. In the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, No. 4 Stanford and No. 13 Virginia Tech are 2,700 miles apart by I-80 and several worlds apart by most other measures. Virginia Tech's Corps of Cadets provides a tether to the university's history as a military institute. Stanford tossed ROTC off its campus in 1973.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech lunch pail
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia Tech's lunch pail is a symbol of its blue-collar philosophy.

Virginia Tech is an agricultural school, with 12 academic departments devoted to farming, animal and plant sciences. Stanford's nickname, The Farm, is the only connection the university has to agriculture save Columbae, its vegetarian co-op. Columbae residents, says the house's website, "come together through good food and tie-dye. Our official theme is social change through non-violent action and we explore this theme through environmental consciousness, guest lectures, and library streaking."

One night later, Ohio State returns to the BCS with one foot in New Orleans and one arm in a Columbus ink parlor. "The Rose Tattoo" is a Tennessee Williams play about a woman in Louisiana who withdraws from the world. The Sugar Tattoo is a Jim Tressel play about a team visiting Louisiana that doesn't have to withdraw its ineligible players from the world until next fall. The reviews of the ineligibility have been negative.

Ohio State will play BCS newbie No. 8 Arkansas. The Razorbacks, in their 19th season in the Southeastern Conference, still haven't won a conference title. They reached the BCS the same way Kansas got there in 2007: They won a lot, just not enough to get into the league championship game.

Arkansas has one of the best vertical passing games in the nation and a better quarterback, Ryan Mallett, than anyone Ohio State has seen this season. If the Buckeyes come out of Inkgate with their mad on, they will win. If they don't, they will lose to an SEC team for a 10th consecutive time.

Oklahoma will bring its speed and ability to spread the field to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl to play Connecticut, which is not known for either one. The Huskies, the other BCS rookie, are not known in the BCS ratings, either. They are, however, physical on both sides of the ball.

Huskies fans are so overwhelmed at reaching the Fiesta Bowl in only their 11th season as an FBS school that they have purchased about, um, one-quarter of the school's allotment of 17,500 tickets. Perhaps the Fiesta Bowl should honor UConn forward Maya Moore and her 89 straight victories at halftime.

Maybe, someday, we'll look back at the 2010 season as the transition of power in college football. Until then, it will be the year that Delta House overran the BCS.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com