Better bowl games, wild action, and a familiar face

John Gilbert

Marshall’s Meredith Boettcher wasn’t able to get her point-blank shot past Benilde-St. Margaret’s goaltender Paige Greeley. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Marshall’s Meredith Boettcher wasn’t able to get her point-blank shot past Benilde-St. Margaret’s goaltender Paige Greeley. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Former UMD star Shjon Podein, first-year coach at Benilde-St.Margaret's, congratulated Marshall goalie Carissa Mudrak after the Red Knights won 4-1 at Mars-Lakeview Arena. Podein's daughter, Anna, is a freshman defenseman for Benilde. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Former UMD star Shjon Podein, first-year coach at Benilde-St.Margaret's, congratulated Marshall goalie Carissa Mudrak after the Red Knights won 4-1 at Mars-Lakeview Arena. Podein's daughter, Anna, is a freshman defenseman for Benilde. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It will be worth a few hours of concentration to single out a few college football bowl games in the next 10 days and see if you can get a handle on anything approaching superiority among the different conferences. 
I’ve written for years that the selection committee and the folks who rate teams have had an unfairly biased view that the Southeast Conference is superior, with the Atlantic Coast Conference a close second, while putting down the Pac-12 and, to a lesser degree, the Big Ten, and the Big 12. My sinister suspicions came up again this year, when the selection process “decided” that the SEC was the best.

They came very close to picking two SEC teams by ranking three of them —  Alabama, Auburn and Georgia — within striking distance of the final four, so that when Auburn, the one SEC team ranked in the top four, was beaten, they could make it look logical to drop the Tigers and move both Georgia and Alabama in. Clemson, from the ACC, is also in, and Oklahoma, from the Big 12, is the fourth team. So the semifinal bowls have Georgia against Oklahoma and Alabama against Clemson, with the selectors giddy, would guess, at the prospect of an Alabama-Georgia final.

But I say the heck with them. Let’s watch some of the other big bowls and appreciate them for what they are, a validation process for the Big Ten and Pac-12. The Cotton Bowl, in Dallas, has Southern California, winner of the Pac-12’s division winners, against Ohio State, winner of the Big Ten playoff, and both would be worthy final four entries. Two more worthy selections would have been Wisconsin, the 1-loss Big Ten playoff runner-up, against Miami, the ACC runner-up, in the Orange Bowl.

The Fiesta Bowl, in Phoenix, has Penn State from the Big Ten against Washington, from the Pac-12, in what should be a very entertaining game. The Alamo Bowl in San Antonio also should bear watching, with Texas Christian, Big 12 runner-up, against Stanford, the Pac-12 runner-up. And the Holiday Bowl, in San Diego, puts Michigan State from the Big Ten against Washington State from the Pac-12.

There are others, too, and you never know when you’re going to find a spectacular game. Consider last weekend, when Boise State had its chance to take down once-proud Oregon, which came from the Pac-12 after a mediocre season -- but in a conference I feel is clearly more competitive, top to bottom, than the SEC. Boise State blew out the Ducks, but not without some startling plays. It was in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Boise State built a 24-0 lead in the first half, holding Oregon to a meager 77 total offensive yards.

Late in the second quarter, Boise State was pushing for more, but on a trick, statue-of-liberty play, they fumbled the ball. It bounced up right into the arms of Troy Dye, who raced untouched 86 yards for a touchdown — with 37 seconds left until halftime. That run was for more yards than Oregon’s offense had accumulated. Oregon kicked off, and against Boise State marched swiftly downfield, and was in position to add a last-second touchdown, but Tyree Robinson intercepted a pass on his goal line and sprinted the full 100 yards for another Oregon touchdown — with 7 seconds left! That meant Oregon’s defense had covered 186 yards on two plays for two touchdowns 30 seconds apart, and both in the last minute of the second quarter.

That provided a little incentive, and Oregon, whose star running back had chosen to sit out the bowl game to prepare for the NDL draft, made the game closer than it ever was.
If that whole scenario was played out accurately in a movie, you’d probably walk out for it being so phony. But that’s the great thing about college football, carried through bowl games. You can’t make this stuff up!

Vikings Visit Green Bay

The long-awaited rematch between the Vikings and the Green Bay Packers has been greatly defused. They’ll still go at it, Saturday night, and while it will be incredibly cold and nasty in Green Bay, the Vikings have a lot to play for. Having clinched the NFC Central with last week’s predictable romp over Cincinnati, the Vikings now need to win their final two games to have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC — guaranteeing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Packers, meanwhile, were beaten by Carolina last week, eliminating their slim hope for contention, and then when Atlanta won Monday night, the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs entirely. Aaron Rodgers returned from his broken collarbone, and played perhaps his worst game in the NFL, throwing haltingly, and with some ill-advised hope, he was intercepted three times.

There are still some other big battles to be played. I thought Pittsburgh would beat New England, and instead they will have to settle it in playoffs. I thought the Seattle-Los Angeles Rams game would be a prize, but Seattle played very poorly, as if missing five of the top players from the NFL’s nastiest defense might finally have unwound the Seahawks hopes. I’m still pulling for Russell Wilson and his Seahawks, just because I enjoy watching them play.

Shjon, or Shojen, as Coach

Last weeked, I realized Marshall’s new and improving girls hockey team was playing Benilde-St. Margaret’s at Mars-Lakeview Arena, so I stopped in. Continuing my amazing luck at finding good stories where none was anticipated, I saw a familiar face on the Benilde bench. It was Shjon Podein, former NHL and UMD star from Rochester.

I had coached Shjon Podein in a Roseville summer league when he was still in high school, and we’ve been solid friends forever from that relationship. Turns out, when Benilde’s coaches retired, Shjon’s daughter, Anna, was on the verge of starting her freshman year at the school, so Podein agreed to coach the team.

Anna Podein plays defense, and is an alert, quick player who fits in well. Benilde-St. Margaret’s beat Marshall 4-1 that afternoon, and I told Shjon I’d be following the Red Knights, but warned him that fame was fleeting. The lineup sheet they gave out at Mars-Lakeview Arena said Benilde was coached by “Shojen Podein.” Now, I’ve never known another person named Shjon, but unusual or not, he is vulnerable to a scrambled-letters adventure.