For College Football, New Year’s Day Arrives in December

“It will never be like it was.”

That was the common refrain from my Dad, repeated every New Year’s Day after the BCS arrived and ruined the best sports day of the year.

sec title game 2013
He is right. He is also wrong.

For most of the 20th century, all the best teams would play on New Year’s Day against the other best teams in the country. In the 21st century, a team with a legitimate shot at a national title has played on New Year’s Day once – in 2003, when the BCS screwed up so badly that #1 USC didn’t make the title game.

I realized as I was writing my picks post last week – and boy, did I nail that San Jose State over Fresno State pick – that the players suiting up for rivalry week never experienced New Year’s Day like it was meant to be experienced.

In 1995, the Bowl Alliance was formed, and essentially ended New Year’s Day as we knew it though the Rose Bowl held out for three more years. In 1998, the BCS arrived and New Year’s Day fell off. In 2006, the dreaded “double-hosting” model arrived and the title game was pushed more than a week, usually, past New Year’s Day.

The last year pre-Bowl Alliance in 1994 featured the Orange Bowl being played on New Year’s Night (a Sunday) and Nebraska clinching the national title before the other games were played, including undefeated Penn State in the Rose Bowl. So, I guess the system could be worse?

That means it has now been a full 20 years since college football fans experienced a true, traditional, “what old men tell stories about” New Year’s Day. The day doubled as quite possibly my favorite day as a sports fan.

Read this New York Times lead from Dec. 31, 1993, and tell me you’re not thinking of Saturday: “First come the games and then come the ballots.”

I was 11 years old. New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday and that meant I could watch every game. There were 3 games with National Title implications. #4 Notre Dame played #7 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. #3 and undefeated West Virginia played #8 Florida in the Sugar Bowl. #1 Florida State (who had lost to Notre Dame) played #2 and undefeated Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. If that all wasn’t enough, Wisconsin played its first Rose Bowl in 3-plus decades against UCLA, Arizona would effectively end Miami’s run in a Fiesta Bowl beatdown and the day started with 2 future NFL QBs going at when Tennessee (Heath Shuler) played Boston College (Glenn Foley) in the Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback).

That’s a long-winded way of saying that day was incredible. From 11 a.m. to whenever the Orange Bowl ended, well past midnight, there was high quality college football being played across the country. The games were on multiple channels – ESPN, ABC, CBS and NBC all devoted time to the day’s events.

Football fans argued leading up to the games. Football fans argued after the games. And people, such as my Domer Dad, still believe Notre Dame should’ve been voted #1.

Let’s fast forward 20 years and New Year’s Day has essentially been ruined. The new college football playoff is trying desperately to reclaim it from hockey – and isn’t that a damning account of the sport’s power brokers that the NHL, of all sports, could make a move on New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day is gone but it is not forgotten. It will be on display again on Saturday.

When the Pac-12 and Big Ten jumped into the title game fray, we thought we’d have days like this Saturday every year. But instead, Championship Saturday has been more a quiet period to an exclamation point season.

In 2011, it was almost pre-ordained that LSU and Alabama would play in the title game, even if #3 Oklahoma State ripped their rivals, which they did.

Last year, Notre Dame had already clinched a title spot while Alabama and Georgia played for the other spot in a National Semifinal disguised as the SEC Championship Game. The other games? They merely existed.

This year? This year, Championship Saturday will allow everyone under 25 to experience what New Year’s Day used to mean for college football. Six games between teams ranked in the Top 25 of the BCS rankings. Both spots in the BCS title game up for grabs. Though Alabama has likely locked up a BCS berth, the other 9 are still to-be-determined.

Last week, I wrote about how the BCS could give us one last dose of chaos. Thanks to the Greatest Iron Bowl in History, we now stand at the doorstep of greatness.

I’m writing this post because I want you to cancel all of your plans on Saturday – and probably Friday night too for good measure thanks to Northern Illinois chasing Fiesta Bowl dreams, Heisman hopes and #MACtion.

Starting at noon, every game televised will mean something to someone – even the dreadful Rutgers/USF game has a bowl berth on the line for the Scarlet Knights and maybe even Kyle Flood’s job.

The storylines? Where aren’t there storylines?

#17 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State – Noon, ABC
Oklahoma State needs a win to clinch the Big 12. You think Oklahoma wants to see that happen? And if Florida State and Ohio State both lose, get ready for a 11-1 Big 12 champ to enter the discussion, if ultimately unsuccessfully.

#16 UCF at SMU – Noon, ESPN
If Cincinnati beats Louisville on Thursday, UCF needs to win this game to clinch the AAC’s BCS berth or they can lose and leave it up to the BCS rankings. UCF’s performance may also effect whether Northern Illinois is a BCS buster, while SMU is playing for a bowl berth and potentially June Jones’ job.

#25 Texas at 9 Baylor – 3:30 p.m., Fox
If Oklahoma State loses, this becomes the Big 12 Title Game. Yep, Texas could be playing for a BCS berth. If Oklahoma State wins, Baylor could still be playing for an at-large BCS berth and Texas could be playing the last regular season game for Mack Brown.

#3 Auburn vs. #5 Missouri – 4 p.m., CBS
This is a gigantic game, no? The winner will almost certainly play for the National Title if Florida State or Ohio State stumbles later.

#7 Stanford at #11 Arizona State – 7:45 p.m., ESPN
Winner goes to the Rose Bowl. Loser could fall way, way down the bowl pecking order.

duke wins acc
#1 Florida State vs. #20 Duke – 8 p.m., ABC
Florida State is playing for a BCS Title game berth. Jameis Winston could clinch the Heisman. Duke is playing the biggest game in school history for a chance to play an even bigger game in the Orange Bowl. Oh, and the game is in Charlotte, aka Duke’s backyard.

#2 Ohio State vs. #10 Michigan State – 8 p.m., Fox
Ohio State is playing for a BCS Title game berth. Michigan State is playing for its first conference title & Rose Bowl appearance in a quarter-century. ESPN College Gameday will be on the scene.

Utah State at #23 Fresno State – 10 p.m., CBS
Sure, there’s no BCS berth on the line anymore. But it has to be the first time CBS has ever aired a college football game at 10 p.m. ET. And it’s the last game before a whole TWO WEEKS before the bowl season starts. Of course you’re watching the Mountain West title game.

Now if that lineup can’t get you excited, why are you even watching sports in the first place?

That lineup is as good as any New Year’s Day ever gave us.

Coming off of last weekend, it seems impossible anything could top it. But when Auburn beat Georgia on the Immaculate Deflection, we thought that was the finish of the year. And when Michigan went for two on Saturday, we believed there was nothing that could be more exciting on Rivalry Weekend.

College football is college football because it’s always college football. The years have flown by. The conferences have grown, changed or died. The games are on different channels at different times on different days.

Yet, the undefinable something that permeates through college football is impossible to ignore.

New Year’s Day arrives on December 7 in 2013. It has the potential to be the best single day of college football in 20 years.

There is only one guarantee – what you think will happen will not happen.

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  1. Your Dad is right. ND should've been #1. They beat Florida State.

  2. Too bad they couldn't handle Boston College. Get over it already.

  3. Auburn had a legit shot at the title in 2004 but played on New Year's Day. USC dominated the wrong team and Auburn went undefeated. And USC vacated that championship too, so to add insult to injury it is now NOBODY's title.

    1. THat Sugar Bowl wasn't on New Year's Day. It was on 1/3.

  4. Christmas photo as a gift!!!

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