New Year’s Day belongs to college football. Northwestern met Auburn in a battle of unranked teams on New Year’s Day. New Year’s Day bowls used to be special. Now that a 6-6 team has been invited to one (albeit Bobby Bowden’s final game, but still), the shine is off a bit. Northwestern had not won a bowl game for 60 years and Auburn was a “strong” 7-5. Auburn seemed to be the superior team. I was hung over to death so I tried to work up a sweat to get out some of the toxins while I watched. Northwestern rallied from a 21-7 deficit while I watched. On one play a tight end went out for a one-yard out. The defender couldn’t tackle him. The tight end went down the sidelines. A cornerback practically jumped on the guy but could not bring him down. Touchdown.
Auburn again took a two-score lead. The Northwestern QB Mike Kafka had five interceptions. He finished with four touchdowns as well. Northwestern scored, on a drive in which they completed three fourth down plays. The extra point was blocked. Auburn needed two first downs to win. Their senior RB fumbled and Northwestern had the ball. On the first play, the QB was sacked. I thought that was it. The guy barely brushed his hand on Kafka’s facemask. First down.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Auburn return guy made it to the 50. As he was falling down, a Northwestern player stripped the ball. God bless smart players. NW had the ball and drove into field goal range. The kicker, with a chance to get his school their second bowl win, missed the kick.
Auburn kicked a field goal in overtime. Northwestern got the ball and things got crazy. Kafka hit a receiver for a first down. As the receiver went down, the ball came loose and bounced backward to the QB, who ran for a couple of downs. The Auburn defender was called for illegally batting the ball. The play was reviewed and the receiver was called down, so there was no penalty. Northwestern couldn’t get a first down. Their kicker missed, wide right, again. As Auburn celebrated a flag went down. The kicker was roughed. They weren’t kidding; it was the first time I saw a kicker actually injured on the follow through. NW had a chance to win. They were inside the ten-yard line. On fourth down they lined up for an extra point-length kick. They faked. Auburn tackled the guy out of bounds and it was over.
I kept coming back to football yesterday even though I had no rooting interest. Why? New Year’s Day is supposed to be a special day in college football, even though it has been diluted with too many 6-6 and 7-5 teams and the fact that there are half a dozen more bowl games after this weekend. Tim Tebow looked great against Cincinnati. I did like how Brian Billick criticized his long release and that I finally got to see the long, slow release in person. Somehow I see Tebow going early in the draft. Has there ever been a guy going into the draft with such high intangibles and so many questions about his football skill-set? Maybe the offseason won’t be so terribly depressing.