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Lessons learned from bowl season
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Forsyth County News

What was that?

Bowl season — the fastest three weeks in sports.

The games fly by so fast that we barely have time to grasp all the results, let alone gain a proper perspective.

But now we have time to review the entire body of work and determine just what we learned from this Bowl Season. With one caveat: we don’t consider the BCS Finale a bowl game. And certainly the hype-masters at ESPN agree that Alabama-Notre Dame belonged in its own special category. Somewhere just short of the Super Bowl.

But no matter. We had 34 other games to keep us enthralled. Like the very first game out of the box, where we learned that a great game can break out at any time. Even with a team down by 13 and only 1:48 left.

That was the situation in the New Mexico Bowl. If the matchup of Arizona and Nevada didn’t grab you, then you missed the best bowl game of the entire season. Trailing 48-35, Arizona went 75 yards in a minute for a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, and then had quarterback Matt Scott complete three more passes on a 51-yard touchdown drive.

The 49-48 loss proved too much for Nevada coach Chris Ault to bear. He retired after 28 seasons as the head coach of the Wolf Pack.

We also learned that Georgia Tech is indeed capable of winning a bowl game. Not to mention beating the Number 1 team in the country. No matter that Southern Cal hadn’t been Number 1 since September. Tech beat the Trojans handily.

We also learned that even with plenty of time to prepare for Tech’s funky offense, it’s possible to concoct a scheme that won’t stop it. Of course, SC seemed far more intent on stopping itself than stopping Tech.

"The storyline really came down to our inefficiency on offense, and, obviously, it starts with the head coach," head coach Lane Kiffin told the A.P. Still, that didn’t prevent Kiffin from accepting the resignation of his defensive coordinator. That scapegoat happened to be his father, Monte.

Oh, yes. The biggest lesson we learned in El Paso was that Paul Johnson can actually smile. Laugh, even. Who knew?

And who knew they played such good football in Conference USA? Their 4-1 bowl record topped all conferences. Unless you want to argue for the WAC and its 2-0 mark. Don’t try. Both WAC wins came at the expense of the MAC, which posted a 2-5 bowl record.

In fact, the only C-USA team that lost, East Carolina, was so embarrassed that it fired its defensive coordinator. (Monte Kiffin’s available.) In other action, C-USA teams took down the Big 12 (Tulsa 31, Iowa State 17), Mountain West (Rice 33, Air Force 14), and MAC (Central Florida 38, Ball State 17) convincingly.

And here’s the stunner: SMU (6-6), a 12-point underdog, slammed 9-3 Fresno State, 43-10. After which we got to hear coach June Jones deliver the most definitive statement made during any trophy presentation: "We said we were going to do it, and we did it."

We also learned that Vanderbilt actually has some conference pride, demonstrated by the loud chant of "S-E-C! S-E-C!" that broke out late in the "Dores 38-24 trashing of NC State.

The ACC fared better in its other SEC match-up, as Clemson beat LSU, 25-24. Here we learned (were reminded?) that LSU coach Les Miles is capable of suffering brain lock at any given moment.

Apparently his gray matter seized up during game preparations, as LSU chose to put the game in the incapable hands of its quarterback, rather than pulverize Clemson on the ground.

Undaunted by minimal success, Miles stuck to this strategy until the bitter end. He opted to protect a two-point lead and try to run the final 2:47 off the clock by throwing two incomplete passes.

Still, Clemson had to convert a fourth-and-16 from its own 14-yard line to kick start its winning drive. What were the odds? After the game, Miles said of Clemson’s quarterback, "Tajh Boyd was phenomenal. I did not expect the heroic, if you will, effort that he had."

Another chink in the armor of the mighty SEC came when Mississippi State managed a 34-20 loss to Northwestern. This supplied the Big Ten (2-5) with half of its bowl victories.

This taught (reminded?) us that the Big Ten, for all its bluster, still rests on its history. Hey, folks, all your championship coaches are long gone. Time to pick up the pace. Until you do, no more mouthing off.

Certainly we won’t hear any mouthing off from Gainesville, Florida, any time soon. The Gators taught us that name, reputation, and conference affiliation don’t mean a thing if you don’t bring any zing.

Finally, we learned that Georgia’s Aaron Murray can win a bowl game, even if he starts out trying to convince you that he can’t.

Murray had so much fun in the Dogs’ win over Nebraska that we learned late Sunday night he would return for another season, keeping Georgia’s offense virtually intact.

It might be wise for ESPN to start hyping next year’s season opener, when Georgia visits Clemson.

Expect some heroic, if you will, effort.