The Year in Review 2012: Notre Dame's plays way into BCS title game against Alabama

By JOHN HENDEL, United Press International  |  Dec. 25, 2012 at 5:02 AM
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That Alabama reached the BCS title game isn't a surprise, although the path taken was. That the Crimson Tide's opponent is Notre Dame, was.

Alabama was the pre-season No. 2 -- barely behind Louisiana State -- in the USA Today Coaches poll. Those teams had played for the BCS championship in January (with Alabama winning 21-0). The Crimson Tide took over the top spot in the first 2012 regular-season poll and was No. 1 for 10 weeks.

But then came Texas A&M, which stunned Alabama 29-24 behind an effort that made an immediate Heisman Trophy contender of freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel.

All through the season, though, Notre Dame pulled itself into the national limelight. The Fighting Irish were 24th in the pre-season poll but improved their ranking each week -- not by huge jumps but three spots here, four there -- and by mid-season, Notre Dame reached the Top 10.

Still, the attention was on teams ranked higher than the Fighting Irish. Alabama's loss to Texas A&M moved Oregon to the No. 1 spot and Kansas State was second. Both were playing very well and, along with Notre Dame, were undefeated.

There was talk -- with that many teams without a loss -- of the Southeastern Conference being shut out of the BCS final for the first time since the January 2005 game.

But on Nov. 17 Kansas State fell by 28 points at Baylor and Oregon lost a 17-14 overtime decision to Stanford. Suddenly SEC rivals Alabama and Georgia were back at Nos. 2 and 3 in the rankings behind No. 1 Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish finished an undefeated season with a win at Southern California and sat back to watch Georgia and Alabama meet in the SEC championship. The Crimson Tide won 32-28, setting up the Notre Dame-Alabama finale to be played Jan. 7 in Miami.

While the BCS didn't create controversy with its title game matchup, it still drew criticism as Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois earned a BCS bowl berth by finishing high enough in the BCS rankings and ahead of the champions of two so-called BCS conferences.

At 12-1 (the lone loss was a season-opening 18-17 loss to Iowa), no team had more wins than the Huskies and only one eligible team had fewer losses. But Northern Illinois also ended with one of the lowest ratings for strength of schedule, leading to questions about the team's overall ranking.

Detractors point to eight opponents (including Iowa) that lost eight or more games -- five of those who lost at least 10 games and just four foes with a winning record. One of those is Tennessee-Martin, which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Northern Illinois, nonetheless, goes against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

What was briefly seen as an interesting title game pairing turned out to be the Fiesta Bowl game where Kansas State and Oregon are to play. Other major bowl matchups have Louisville going against Florida in the Sugar Bowl; Texas A&M playing Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl; and Stanford playing Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin had five losses but earned its Rose Bowl berth with a 70-31 romp over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. That the Badgers, who were third in the conference's Leaders Division, were playing that weekend occurred because Ohio State and Penn State were on probation.

Penn State's punishment was related to child-abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach and the school's inability to address the allegation. It was seen that Penn State officials, including Coach Joe Paterno, refused to act in order to protect the reputation of the football program. Penn State, despite harsh sanctions, was 8-4 on the year and 6-2 in the Big Ten.

Ohio State's issues dated to 2010. Players allegedly received improper benefits and Coach Jim Tressel was found to have acted unethically in failing to report the infractions. The Buckeyes ended 2012 12-0, including an eight-game run through the Big Ten, under first-year Coach Urban Meyer but ineligible for post-season consideration.

North Dakota State is looking to repeat as NCAA Football Championship Series after winning its first title last season. The Bison have advanced to the NCAA Football Championship Series title game against Sam Houston State. The game is scheduled for Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.

North Dakota State improved to 13-1 when Brock Jensen scored on 5-yard quarterback sneak with about 3 minutes to play in a 23-20 win over Georgia Southern in an FCS semifinal. Sam Houston State (11-3) built a 35-0 lead by halftime and then held on to edge second-seeded Eastern Washington 45-42 in its semifinal.

NCAA Division II Championship

Valdosta State (Ga.), 35, Winston-Salem State (N.C.) 7

NCAA Division III Championship

Mount Union (Ohio) 28, St. Thomas (Minn.) 10

NAIA Championship

Marian (Ind.), 30, Morningside (Iowa ) 27 (OT)

The BCS continues to refine its championship determination. In November the group announced plans for a four-team playoffs beginning in the 2014-15 season. The teams will be selected by a BCS committee.

Manziel was voted the Heisman Trophy as the top player in college football. Voters went against tradition in selecting a freshman but Manziel led Texas A&M to a 10-2 record. He completed 273-of-400 passes for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He also rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns on 184 carries.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein were invited to New York as Heisman Trophy finalists. Te'o was a fairly close second to Manziel in the voting, however.

Te'o collected the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Award, presented to the collegiate player of the year. He also won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award as the top defensive player and the Dick Butkus Award as the best linebacker and the Rotary Lombardi Trophy for defensive linemen.

Manziel won the Dave O'Brien Award for top quarterback and Klein was voted the Johnny Unitas Award as the top senior quarterback. Colby Cameron of Louisiana Tech was present the Sammy Baugh Trophy as the top passer.

Wisconsin's Monte Ball took the Doak Walker Award as the best running back while Southern Cal's Marqise Lee won the Fred Biletnikoff Award (wide receiver), Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert the John Mackey Award (tight end); Barrett Jones from Alabama was voted the Dave Rimington Trophy (center); and Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel the Outland Trophy (interior lineman).

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney won the Ted Hendricks Award for defensive ends and Johnthan Banks from Mississippi State took the Jim Thorpe Award for defensive backs.

For special teams, the Lou Groza Award for placekickers was won by Cairo Santos from Tulane and the Ray Guy Award, presented to the top punter, was won by Ryan Allen of Louisiana Tech.

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly won the Home Depot Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (football writers) and Sporting News Coach of the Year awards.

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