NEW ORLEANS – It was a college football season besieged by scandal and controversy, week after week of NCAA infractions, conference realignment back stabbings and sexual molestation charges.
And it got a championship game befitting of the unpleasantness.
The championship will taste just as sweet in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama’s defense should be toasted forever. For fans of college football uneasy with the matchup to begin with, though, this was a dud of a conclusion.
Little action. A dearth of big plays. Missed field goals and a missed extra point. Sloppy play. Just one late-game touchdown. Tepid offensive play-calling. You name it and it was on display.
Sometimes, there’s beauty in an ugly game. For anyone who isn’t a Tide fan, this wasn’t one of those times.
The matchup was controversial from the start. It featured the first rematch of a regular-season game in BCS history and the first time two teams from the same conference met. And it was a replay of LSU’s 9-6 overtime win in November that, while tense and hard-fought, lacked the fireworks to which fans have become accustomed.
[Related: Henson: Humbled LSU bumbles and stumbles]
This didn’t have the drama of the first game, as Alabama’s defense made a mockery of quarterback Jordan Jefferson and the Tigers, who managed just 92 yards of total offense, had five first downs and didn’t cross the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, a high-powered Oklahoma State offense sat in Stillwater and wished it had been given a chance to compete for the title. The Cowboys will, no doubt, get some No. 1 support in the Associated Press media poll as a pseudo-protest.
Miles even made the case postgame that LSU should be in consideration for the AP title based on its season-long body of work, including the previous triumph over Alabama.
“That’s for the voters to figure,” Miles said.
When the coach of a team that was shut out in the championship game is arguing that he should win the championship anyway, the system is an unqualified disaster.
The sport’s power brokers will meet here Tuesday to discuss the future, and many have predicted significant changes. If there is one positive from this tractor pull, it’s that it should help continue the groundswell toward a playoff, even if it’s just four teams to start.
There is no excuse for LSU’s terrible offensive execution, but the illogical month-long-plus layoff between the end of the regular season and the title game couldn’t have helped.
The Tigers weren’t sharp, committing numerous before-the-whistle-penalties and appearing to lack any kind of offensive rhythm. LSU hadn’t played since Dec. 5. Alabama was crisper despite not playing since Nov. 26, but it hardly was firing on all cylinders: The Tide attempted seven field goals.
[Photos: Alabama's decisive victory over LSU]
It wasn’t until Trent Richardson broke off a 34-yard touchdown gallop late in the fourth quarter that there was anything resembling a big play. The teams combined for just two other plays that went for more than 20 yards.
Then there was Miles, the coach of this previously unbeaten club who built his reputation with wild game plans and gutsy calls. Instead, the Tigers just curled up and gave up. LSU repeatedly called conservative plays for the struggling Jefferson. The Tigers averaged just 1.4 yards per rushing attempt.
“We didn’t get it going offensively at all,” Miles said in an understatement.
Bad games happen. They’ve happened in Super Bowls. They’ve happened in the regular season. They’ve happened in all sports at all levels.
When they happen at the conclusion of a season that uses a system so universally loathed as the BCS, though, they tend to get cited as a byproduct, not a coincidence.
“Everything you can imagine will be discussed,” BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Monday of the upcoming review of the system. “Everything from format, who plays who, to where they play, to the business aspect of it … it’s all going to be on the table.”
It should be. This isn’t the time for baby steps. This isn’t the time for concern over protecting the money train of bowl directors.
College football needs to take control of its postseason and do what’s best for itself, not the old cronies who’ve become multimillionaires running these bowl games. So maybe, just maybe, this is the day when the largely unbending egos of the sports leadership finally will act.
“I sense that people who run college football obviously are not tone-deaf,” ESPN executive Burke Magnus said.
They’d also have to be blind to not see this mess.
This is a great sport with significant problems. A lot of them aren’t easily fixed. The postseason can be. And the good news is just about anything would qualify as progress.
It was a tough year to be a college football fan, a series of negative headlines overshadowing so much of the action. Monday was the conclusion of a year gone bad.
Alabama will rightly take its title and cherish the memory. Everyone else can just try to forget this ever happened.
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