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January 15, 2011

Roundtable: Wrapping up the 2010 season

At the College Football Roundtable, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. We have two questions this week, one today and one Sunday.

TODAY'S QUESTION: One final look back at the 2010 season. What was the best bowl game? What was the most disappointing team in the nation this season? And what team was the biggest surprise in the nation?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
No one could ask for more of a bowl game than what was seen in the Rose Bowl. Not only did that game offer the David vs. Goliath scenario of TCU against Big Ten co-champion Wisconsin, but the teams also have contrasting styles. Could TCU's quick but smaller defensive linemen hold their own against Wisconsin's huge offensive line and the Badgers' powerful running game? Although Wisconsin held the ball most of the time, TCU capitalized on its scoring chances to lead most of the game. And when Wisconsin powered its way down field in the final minutes and had a chance to tie the score, the Horned Frogs' defense made the big play to stop a two-point conversion. Great game.

The most disappointing team had to be Texas. The Longhorns were riding a streak of nine consecutive 10-win seasons and opened the season ranked in the top five and with coach Mack Brown predicting the defense could be his best ever. The defense was good but gave up too many big plays. The offense was mistake-prone and struggled to finish drives. As a result, the Longhorns staggered to five wins and finished last in the Big 12 South.

Auburn had to be the most surprising team. The Tigers had questions on defense and a new quarterback from a Texas junior college. Of course, Cameron Newton went on to win the Heisman and the Tigers won the national championship. Anyone who claims they saw that coming is either clairvoyant or lying.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
The inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium between Syracuse and Kansas State was a barnburner with a controversial ending. K-State's Adrian Hilburn scored on a 30-yard touchdown catch with 1:13 left to cut the lead to two points. But after saluting the crowd, Hilburn was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. That pushed the two-point conversion attempt to the 17-yard line. K-State failed and as the Orange escaped with a 36-34 victory in a game that featured myriad big plays.

Hands down, the most disappointing team was Texas. There is no excuse for the Longhorns ever to have a losing record, given the program's vast resources and recruiting base. But it happened in 2010, with Texas going 5-7, including home losses to Iowa State and Baylor. Just shameful. It was Texas' first losing season since 1997, which just so happened to be John Mackovic's last season. To change fortunes, Mack Brown is making over his staff with five new hires, including new coordinators in Bryan Harsin (offense) and Manny Diaz (defense).

Auburn was the biggest surprise in the nation. The Tigers were coming off an 8-5 season and ranked 22nd in the preseason AP poll. No one on the planet mentioned "Auburn" and "national championship" together. But the Tigers did it, running off a 14-0 record en route to winning the school's first national crown since 1957 and Cameron Newton taking the Heisman Trophy. It has been a whirlwind rise for Auburn coach Gene Chizik, whose hiring was criticized. But look at Chizik and Auburn.

David Fox's answer:
The Sugar Bowl was one of the few postseason games that kept me on the edge of my seat, and for a time it looked as if Ohio State would run away with it. There were few bowls that kept me interested from beginning to end. I watched the championship game wondering when the Oregon and Auburn teams I watched all season were going to show up. And while 14 bowl games were decided by seven or fewer points, some of these were low-scoring snooze-fests -- Air Force over Georgia Tech, UCF over Georgia, Army over SMU. Outside of the Rose Bowl, New Year's Day was a particular dud for anyone looking for competitive or well-played games.

A handful of teams were disappointing this season. Florida went from 12-1 to an offensively inept Outback Bowl team. Cincinnati went from undefeated in the 2009 regular season to 4-8. Major drop-offs, indeed, but understandable to a degree. The title of most disappointing has to go to Texas, where 10 wins had been a given for a decade. You'd shrug your shoulders at nine wins and call eight wins a down year. But 5-7, with only two Big 12 wins, after playing for the national championship a year before? I expected Texas to take a step back without Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley and Earl Thomas, but the Longhorns always recruit at a high level. At least I thought the Longhorns recruited at a high enough level to beat UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor at home.

And I should say Auburn is the biggest surprise. In the preseason, I didn't think the Tigers were on par with Alabama, LSU or Arkansas, much less ready to win the national title. Given the porous defense during the regular season, I expected the Tigers to slip up eventually, though it never happened. At least, though, I thought in the summer that if Cameron Newton were for real (uh, yes, he was) and if things broke right Auburn could be in for a good season. In Auburn's case, I at least considered the possibility the Tigers could be a great team. That's why Miami of Ohio was my biggest surprise. The RedHawks won one game last season -- one! I didn't think they were capable of winning the MAC East. By winning the MAC title game and their bowl game, they won 10 games, tying the NCAA record for best single-season turnaround.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
While the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl wasn't important, I thought it was the most entertaining postseason game. FIU won 34-32 on a last-play field goal, and the winning drive featured a barely successful hook-and-lateral play on fourth-and-17. The Insight, Beef 'O' Brady's, Pinstripe, Music City and Rose also kept my interest throughout. The title game obviously had my interest, too, but it didn't live up to its billing.

A couple of teams that made bowl games had disappointing seasons, given what was expected of them, but there's no question that Texas is the runaway winner in this category. The Longhorns played for the national title in 2009, then didn't even make the postseason in 2010. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for the Longhorns, they invariably did.

FIU, Miami of Ohio, Oklahoma State, Maryland, Louisville, Syracuse and San Diego State did much better than I expected. Still, Auburn was the biggest surprise. I thought that if things broke exactly right, the Tigers could finish third in as wildly competitive SEC West. Instead, of course, they won the national title.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Florida International's 34-32 victory over Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl may have been the most fun postseason game, but I put special emphasis on the bowl games that had the highest stakes. The BCS championship game and the Rose Bowl both featured outstanding finishes, but the Sugar Bowl was my favorite bowl to watch from start to finish. Ohio State's 31-26 victory over Arkansas wasn't a work of art by any stretch, but it sure featured plenty of memorable moments. D.J. Williams' touchdown that wasn't. Cameron Heyward's regular appearances in Arkansas' backfield. Arkansas' rally from a 28-7 deficit. All those great runs by Terrelle Pryor. All those dropped passes by Arkansas receivers. The fourth-down fumble that gave Arkansas a chance to win. The blocked punt that gave the Razorbacks a second chance to win. And the interception that wrapped up the victory for Ohio State. It was the type of game that left fans of both teams feeling anxious for much of the evening.

As for the most disappointing team in the nation, Texas is the obvious choice. How often does a team finish less than .500 and miss the postseason entirely just one year after playing for the national title? No matter how much else changed in college football over the past decade, we could always count on Texas to win at least 10 games. That streak ended this season, at least in part because the Longhorns finally had uncertainty at quarterback. Texas played relatively solid defense all season, but Garrett Gilbert struggled mightily in his first season as the starter and the Longhorns struggled to run the ball. Dishonorable mention goes to Florida and Cincinnati. Florida staggered to an 8-5 finish and showed a puzzling inability to move the ball, while Cincinnati went 4-8 one year after going 11-1.

As for the biggest surprise in the nation, this one's equally obvious. We ranked Auburn 39th in the preseason. That's a long way from No. 1, where the Tigers actually finished. Cameron Newton had struggled to separate himself from John Brantley in the battle to become Tim Tebow's eventual successor at Florida. Even though Newton had performed extremely well at Blinn College in 2009, we never envisioned he would make a Vince Young-type of impact in his first season at Auburn. We misfired on quite a few of our preseason picks (Florida, Texas and Iowa), but our forecast for Auburn was our biggest misfire.



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