December 28, 2010
Revisiting the best (and worst) of the season. Today: The individual plays that earned – and lost – big postseason paydays.
5. Mallett airs it out. With an-large bid to the Sugar Bowl up for grabs, Arkansas and LSU were headed for the locker room deadlocked at 14, until Ryan Mallett and Cobi Hamilton decided there was no reason to let those final six seconds go to waste:
It was Mallett's second 80-yard bomb to Hamilton of the second quarter, but this one reversed the momentum for Arkansas, which never trailed again en route to a 31-23 win and its first ever big-money invitation.
4. Whitaker knocks it through. Stanford's eleven wins came by an average margin of almost four touchdowns apiece, nine of them by double digits. One of the exceptions: Oct. 9 at USC, where the Trojans took control of a back-and-forth shootout to go up by one point, 35-34, with 1:15 to play – just a few minutes after Cardinal kicker Nate Whitaker shanked an extra point that threatened to stand as the difference in the game. Fortunately for Whitaker, the offense put him in position for a mulligan:
The final tab on that kick: $6 million for the Pac-10, which gets its first at-large bid to the BCS since 2002, as opposed to sending the Cardinal to the very nice but considerably less lucrative Alamo Bowl.
3. Iowa can't get off the field. The Hawkeyes crushed Michigan State's Rose Bowl hopes on three separate occasions: Once by trouncing the Spartans, 37-7, for MSU's only loss of the season, and twice by repeatedly failing to get Wisconsin or Ohio State off the field on critical fourth-down plays that kept game-winning touchdown drives alive.
The Badgers burned Iowa twice on Oct. 23, first by converting a fake punt on 4th-and-4 and then by converting on a crucial 4th-and-5 to sustain a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown march the took up half the fourth quarter and gave Wisconsin a 31-30 win. Four weeks later, the Hawkeyes blew another late lead against Ohio State, after Terrelle Pryor scrambled to daylight on a do-or-die 4th-and-10 play that saved the Buckeyes' game-winning touchdown drive with four minutes on the clock.
A stop in either case would have almost certainly meant a Hawkeye win, and second loss for the Badgers and/or Buckeyes and Michigan State's first ever trip to the BCS. As it stands, Wisconsin and Ohio State get the championship spoils, and the Spartans begrudgingly prep for the Capital One Bowl.
2. UConn goes for it. You could point to any number of plays in the Huskies' unlikely stretch run to the Big East title, namely the game-winning kicks by Dave Teggart to beat West Virginia in overtime and lock up the conference crown against South Florida. But it was on a Thursday night against first-place Pittsburgh that coach Randy Edsall – his team leading by two, 30-28, with 2:50 on the clock – challenged the Huskies to take the season by the throat, calling for a straight-ahead dive on 4th-and-1 from his own 19-yard-line.
If the run came up short, Pitt had time to run the clock down and kick a chip shot field goal for the lead without even picking up a first down. Instead, UConn tailback Jordan Todman plunged ahead for four of his 222 yards on the night, the Huskies killed the rest of the clock and took their last three to seal a ticket to the Fiesta Bowl.
1. Wide right. Boise State seemed more or less assured of a Rose Bowl-clinching win going into Nevada on Nov. 26, and even more certain after racing out to a 24-7 lead in the third quarter. Even after a tumultuous, potentially disastrous fourth, the Broncos' 25th consecutive win and a return to the BCS were still in the bag by the time Kyle Brotzman lined up for a chip-shot field goal to win with one second on the clock, thanks to Titus Young's diving grab on a 53-yard Hail Mary from Kellen Moore on the previous play. All they needed was for the school's all-time leading scorer to knock it through from 25 yards out:
That miss yanked a $3 million check out of Boise's hand; Brotzman's subsequent miss in overtime set it on fire.
All told, Nevada's 34-31 upset cost the WAC $8 million by knocking the Broncos out of the BCS, more than $600,000 of which would have gone to the Wolf Pack as their cut of the conference pie. Bronco coach Chris Petersen missed out on a $125,000 bonus stipulated by his latest contract. The Rose Bowl money fell to TCU and the Mountain West instead, and with a third of Boise's starting lineup moving on, the odds of it earning that kind of payday again anytime soon after next year's transition to the MWC are much, much lower than they were before Brotzman's miss.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.