For the Ages

Around the Nation Week 16

Texas 15 – Arkansas 14 … December 6, 1969

Nebraska 35 – Oklahoma 31 … Thanksgiving Day 1971

Notre Dame 24 – Alabama 23 … New Year’s Eve 1973

Florida 31 – Alabama 20 … December 6, 2008?

Florida beat Alabama on Saturday to win the 2008 Southeastern Conference title and earn the right to play for the BCS national championship. The Gators will meet Oklahoma in the NCG on January 8th in Miami.

Like the legendary college football games listed above, this was one for the ages.

Gator QB Tim Tebow, the only sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, further cemented his legend by willing Florida to two touchdowns in the final ten minutes including a game-clinching TD pass to roommate Riley Cooper with 2:50 left.

So, how does this SEC championship game rank with those historical relics from back in the day?

From a quality standpoint, very well. From a significance standpoint, unfortunately not so much.

There are common threads connecting the Florida-Alabama tilt to each of those classics.

The Big Shootout

The “Big Shootout” of 1969 was played on the same date and pitted #1 (Texas) against #2 (Arkansas). Much as many now expect Florida to roll to a national title after turning back the Tide, Texas also won a premature national championship endorsement.

President Richard Nixon was on hand for the game, and in the victorious Longhorn locker room (pictured above) proclaimed Texas as the year’s national champs. Texas confirmed Tricky Dick’s prognostication by whipping Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

Game of the Century

The Florida-Alabama game also paralleled the great 1971 Thanksgiving Day battle between Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska broke this

72 yard punt return to give the Huskers an early lead

It is not uncommon among those who truly study college football to rate that game as the most exciting of the post-WWII era. It was a true national event as approximately 50% of the nation’s television sets tuned in after turkey to watch a game that was anything but.

Like Florida-Alabama, the game was a seesaw affair as first the #1 ranked Cornhuskers and then the #2 ranked Sooners would grab the lead and momentum. The game was also exceptionally well-played (although the Sooners lost 3 fumbles in the high-risk wishbone) as there was only one penalty called (a 5-yarder against Nebraska).

In the end, the toughness of Nebraska QB Jerry Tagge and RB Jeff Kinney was too much for the Sooners and a Kinney TD with 1:38 remaining sealed the win. The Huskers would go on to win the national title.

Meeting of the Masters

A third gridiron glamour game matched Alabama and Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve in the 1973 Sugar Bowl.

Simply the best … Bear and Ara 1973

In the first meeting between the two storied programs, the Irish took advantage of a Tide kicking game mistake (Bill Davis missed a PAT in the fourth quarter) to come out on top by a single point and win the national championship.

Similarly, the most significant play in Florida’s win over Bama might have been the brain cramp suffered by Tide returner Javier Arenas. He fielded a wayward kickoff and fell out of bounds inside his own five-yard line … had he simply let the ball go OB, Alabama would have started at the forty … instead Florida held, got good field position, and put the game away.

That ND-Bama game also matched two all-time coaching greats in Ara Parseghian of ND and Paul Bryant of Alabama. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are not on par with Ara and the Bear … but may well be Hall-of-Famers in time.

Since it was not an actual national championship game (like the terrific trio above), the Florida-Alabama game will probably not hold up through the years like those classics. Still, it was a championship caliber contest.

Florida 31 – Alabama 20 … a game for the ages.

Around the Nation

The matchups for all 34 post-season bowls were announced Sunday night.

While Texas has gotten most of the publicity for missing out on the NCG, USC and Penn State also have legitimate complaints. Both teams are balanced, play outstanding defense, and lost last-minute games on the road to strong opponents (just like Texas).

Could the Big 12 end up being more hat than cattle by the time the bowls are over? The North is a disaster (although some of the bowl pairings are favorable) and the verdict is still out on Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in the South (although – again the bowl matchups look good for them). The test of the hype will be how well Texas and Oklahoma fare versus Ohio State (Fiesta) and Florida (NCG) in BCS bowls.

Around the South

Expect the ACC to embrace the planned relocation of the conference championship game to Charlotte in a couple of years.

Originally, a Florida site seemed promising (do you think the league poobahs thought FSU and Miami might be in that game most years), but the empty seats in Jacksonville and now Tampa are unsightly on television (to be kind). Charlotte is the traditional capital city of the ACC and (weather permitting) should be a positive for a league that is improving.

The depth of the SEC suffered significantly with the disappointing seasons turned in by Tennessee and Auburn.

The conference could not fill slots for two bowl partners (Independence and Papa John’s), and an initial glance at the post-season lineup suggests a .500 record or worse might be in the old Christmas stocking.

Be sure to check back soon for The Campus Game preview of all thirty-four bowls.

See you at kickoff!

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