Bowl Show Gives Way to NFL Showdowns 

If you like football, you had to love the post-season games of the last week or so. Starting with the final game of the final Bowl Championship Series, which actually lived up to the mountain of hype it had generated.
Turned out to be a stirring battle from start to finish, but with a few unexpected wrinkles. Jameis Winston, with the Heisman Trophy still hot in his hands, was rendered comparatively helpless by Auburn, which was quicker and better, both offensively and defensively, through the first half as the No. 2 Tigers spotted No. 1 Florida State an early 3-0 lead, then stormed to a 21-3 lead that looked a lot like complete control.
In retrospect, the play of the game might have been a fake punt by the Seminoles, which was a large gamble in a 21-3 game, but it allowed Florida State to scored a touchdown just before halftime to trim the deficit to 21-10. In the second half, neither team did much for quite a while, and the game became something of a Florida State team holding its poise while Auburn seemed satisfied just holding that lead.
Florida State came stalking back in the fourth quarter, however, catching up and taking the lead, falling behind again, but finally winning 35-31 when Winston threw a short touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining. In the last five minutes, the Seminoles got their first lead since 3-0 on a 101-yard kick return touchdown by Levonte Whitfield, but Tre Wilson got the lead right back for Auburn with a 37-yard jog through the vaunted Florida State defense. But dissecting the game, I don’t believe Florida State could have won without the fake punt, and the last first-half touchdown. Had the Seminoles gone into intermission down 21-3, I don’t like the chances of their spirited comeback.
Interesting thing about deciding the national champion on this game. It’s the first time in eight years a Southeast Conference team didn’t win the title. Florida State is kingpin of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and finishing 13-0 is no small achievement. Look also at Clemson, a team Florida State hammered, but a team from the ACC that managed to overcome Ohio State’s great performance in the Orange Bowl in a 40-35 thriller. That means the ACC won two of the strongest performances in any of the bowls. It also means nobody from the SEC finished with fewer than two losses.
But there were a lot of surprises. The Big Ten, subject of considerable scorn in recent years, came up with some big performances. Not only was Ohio State outstanding, but Michigan State beat Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. Nebraska beat Georgia 24-19 in the Gator Bowl, as well. One of the biggest shockers was Alabama, two time defending champs, falling 45-31 to oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
So the ACC reigns, the SEC falls far short of expectations, and the Big 10 did itself proud, mostly. The Pac 12 did pretty well, with Stanford losing to an aroused Michigan State outfit, but Oregon smoked Texas 30-7, Southern Cal whipped Fresno State 45-20, Oregon State beating Boise State 38-23, Utah State stopping Northern Illinois, Washington whipping Brigham Young 31-16, UCLA wiping out Virginia Tech 42-12, while Arizona thrashed Boston College 42-19. Along with Stanford, though, Washington State lost 48-45 to Colorado State to leave the Pac 12 smarting.

With college football now history, we can turn full attention to the NFL playoffs this weekend. The Wild Card games last weekend were a good start, even though Green Bay fans had reason to mourn the loss to San Francisco on the frozen tundra in Green Bay. It wasn’t fair that, while Aaron Rodgers was outstanding, San Fran’s Colin Kaepernick won the duel. Kaepernick is from Milwaukee, so the cold didn’t both him.
This week, San Francisco goes to Carolina for a Sunday game, and I think the 49ers will win that one, too.
I had picked the 49ers to beat Green Bay, and I also picked Cincinnati to beat San Diego, but the Chargers ended the Bengals season unceremoniously and will now hit the road for Denver -- where I think the Payton Manning Broncos will prevail.
I also picked Philadelphia, as the hottest team going, to outlast New Orleans, but Drew Brees was simply too good down the stretch and the Saints won, which sets up Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. classic at Seattle. That might be the best game of the whole playoffs, and I like Seattle to trust its defense to stop Brees and leave Russell Wilson room to win the game.
Indianapolis had a lot of Luck, as in Andrew Luck, and the Colts stopped Kansas City, giving me a 2-2 record for the weekend. Now, however, they go to New England, where, much as many would like to think the dynasty is over, the Patriots and Tom Brady should win the Saturday night special.
If those results happen, the AFC final would put Denver and New England together for a classic, while the two NFC survivors promise another classic, with San Francisco at Seattle in my scheme.