Road trip! A fun-filled season packed with upsets and upstarts produces ho-hum title game Print
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Friday, 04 January 2008 11:20
NCAAF Headline News

 NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Remember back when South Florida was the talk of college football?
Yeah, that didn't last very long.
Boston College was a nice story, too - for a couple of weeks.
Kansas was everybody's favorite underdog until Missouri took that title from the Jayhawks. The Tigers were a big deal for about a week.
All those upstarts turned out to be fads - boy bands have longer shelf lives - in this hard-to-figure, but thoroughly entertaining college football season.
In the end, despite all the yapping about parity and upsets and level playing fields, the national title game will feature two regular visitors to the BCS VIP room: Ohio State and LSU.
Ho hum.
Wait a minute, two teams that lost their next-to-last regular-season games?
Now that's different.
Like any good trip, the best part of the 2007 season was the journey itself.
``We know the road we've taken isn't one that anyone could have scripted,'' LSU running back Jacob Hester said.
That pretty much sums up the entire season.
From the beginning, we should've known this was going to be a wild ride.
How could Appalachian State beating Michigan 34-32 in the Big House not be a sign the college football gods were planning to have some fun at the expense of the sports' upper class?
By the time the season was over, Appalachian State over Michigan on the first Saturday of September wasn't even the clear-cut winner of upset of the year.
Not after October began with 41-point underdog Stanford beating superpower Southern California, 24-23.
Suddenly, USF was ranked higher than USC.
USF, a program born in a trailer park during the Clinton administration, reached No. 2 in the rankings. But just when everyone learned South Florida was actually located in the central Florida, the Bulls went bust.
By then the No. 2 ranking was getting passed around like the spout at a kegger.
When the regular season was over, eight teams had been ranked second in The Associated Press Top 25. Seven of those teams lost as No. 2.
The one team that escaped the curse of No. 2? LSU, which started the season with national championship expectations and ranked behind only No. 1 USC.
Problems for the Tigers came when they got to No. 1.
LSU hadn't been No. 1 in the AP poll since 1959 when it moved from No. 2 to the top spot in the final week of September.
Those good times lasted two weeks in Baton Rouge, La.
On Oct. 13, Kentucky and star quarterback Andre Woodson beat the Tigers 43-37 in triple overtime. It was the first time since the 2003 season the No. 1 team lost before the bowls.
A few hours after the Tigers were taken out by the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., No. 2 California lost 31-28 at home to Oregon State and for the first time in 11 seasons the top two teams had lost in the same weekend.
That uncommon occurrence would become a trend. It happened two more times.
The new No. 1 - almost by default - was Ohio State.
The Buckeyes entered the 2007 season trying to make people forget the ugly way they ended the 2006 season. Ohio State's 41-14 loss to Florida in the BCS title game was a black eye for the proud program, it's highly successful coach Jim Tressel, and the entire Big Ten.
Having said goodbye to Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and first-round NFL draft pick receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State started the season ranked No. 11 and watched every team above it lose during the first seven weeks.
Maybe the rebuilt Buckeyes had less star power but they didn't lack for talent, especially on defense where defensive end Vernon Gholston, linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins gave them an All-America candidate anchoring each unit.
``In the beginning it was a lot of trying to find out who we were, developing an identity,'' Buckeyes receiver Brian Hartline said this week.
November rolled around, though, and the Buckeyes had a second consecutive BCS national championship game appearance in their sights. All they needed to do was beat Illinois at home and the regular-season finale against Michigan at Ann Arbor would be for the Big Ten title and a chance for redemption in the Superdome.
This time it was Illinois spoiling the best laid plans.
Quarterback Juice Williams and the Illini upset Ohio State 28-21 on Nov. 10 and the Buckeyes plummeted to seventh in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
So, with three weeks left in the regular season and only one more chance to impress poll voters, the Buckeyes chances of earning a spot in the national championship game were bleak. At least they could still go to the Rose Bowl.
With Ohio State seemingly out of the picture, LSU got a second chance at being No. 1. The Tigers had started the season playing scary good, blowing out opponents, most notably a 48-7 thumping of Virginia Tech.
After the first month, however, the Tigers were a team that lived on the edge, with a gambling coach that wasn't afraid to go all in.
In a come-from-behind 28-24 victory against Florida, the Tigers converted five fourth downs. In position to kick a potential game-winning field goal against Auburn, Miles had Matt Flynn throw into the end zone in the waning moments. Flynn completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Byrd with 1 second left and LSU won 30-24.
One thing was obvious, the LSU defense that was so dominant early wasn't the same in the second half of the season after All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was injured against Auburn.
Eventually it would catch up with the Tigers.
But first other contenders fell.
Oregon and Oklahoma couldn't overcome injuries to their quarterbacks and lost games to unranked foes.
That set up a huge game in a longtime rivalry between two schools far more accustomed to playing important basketball games.
In 2007, Kansas vs. Missouri got the kind of buildup that used to go to Miami-Florida State games.
On the day before the third-ranked Tigers faced the second-ranked Jayhawks in the 116th and most important game in the heated rivalry, LSU lost again as No. 1, again in triple-overtime.
This time Darren McFadden and Arkansas topped the Tigers, 50-48.
LSU became the first team to lose twice in the same season as No. 1 since Notre Dame in 1990.
Certainly, the Tigers were out of the national title picture for good. No team with two losses had ever played in the BCS national championship game.
When Missouri beat Kansas, the Tigers were the new No. 1. West Virginia, a program with more wins than any other in major college football without a national title, moved into second place in the BCS standings.
There was one game left.
Back in Columbus, Ohio, the Buckeyes were feeling reborn. They would watch championship Saturday, needing either Missouri to lose to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game or West Virginia to fall against three-touchdown underdog Pittsburgh to get back to the national title game.
``It was nerve-racking when you have to sit and watch a couple of games and you know your life depends on what they do,'' Ohio State tackle Kirk Barton said.
It was no great surprise when the Sooners knocked off Missouri 38-17, they were favored by oddsmakers going in.
Then the final shocker in a season full of them came in Morgantown, W.Va.: Pitt 13, West Virginia 9.
``Now that we ended up where we wanted to be, it was fun,'' Hartline said about watching the last two weeks play out.
The final BCS computations favored Ohio State and ... welcome back from the dead, LSU.
``I didn't think we'd be playing any later than Jan. 1,'' Hester said. ``I really like the path we've taken. If we would have come in here 13-0 with the big head, thinking we're untouchable, who knows what would have happened. But the fact that we are 11-2 ... that really makes us have a sense of focus on this coming game.''
Two teams that lost their second-to-last games of the regular season will play for the national championship Monday night.
Perhaps we'll never know for sure which is the best college football team in the country this season.
The wacky road trip that was the 2007 college football season has reached its final destination and all those unlikely contenders that made it so much fun are nowhere to be found.
 

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