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McCollum's Column: The appetizer was about as good as the main course

Posted: January 7, 2014 - 5:29pm

You’ve had your mouth water from this kind of meal, I’m sure.

Every morsel, from salad to dessert, is tasty and delectable. The beverages were refreshing. You didn’t want it to end. You leave full, but still wanting more — soon.

That’s kind of how it was for the end of the college football season, especially Monday’s BCS championship game, which is the template for what a championship game should look like and feel like.

But first, we’ll take you to the night before when Arkansas State and Ball State produced quite a scrumptious early course to the main entree.

Actually, the good stuff was in the fourth quarter and the final few minutes.

Note this was a game far removed from the BCS radar. The teams were good but hardly rated among the nation’s elite. When the bowl schedule was released, the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile wasn’t on many’s to-watch list, except for supporters of both schools.

While it didn’t have the hype, it had all the vigor of a BCS game. It was inspiring that ASU played with such passion despite being coached by an interim bowl game coach, John Thompson, for the second straight year.

Both teams exchanged haymakers in a final flurry. Ball State drove for a touchdown with 1:33 left. Fifty-three seconds later, Arkansas State countered with a drive. Ball State engineered a drive with the clock ticking down and seeds set to win it before the Red Wolves blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game.

We saw bigtime elation and exuberance and Thompson, who no longer has a job at ASU, being carried off the field by joyous players.

It was a great finish and whet the appetite for the BCS Championship the next night.

The championship matchup was perfect: A grand setting at the Rose Bowl. The nation’s best team over the course of the season, the only unbeaten one (Florida State) against the hottest one, the spunkiest one and probably the luckiest one (Auburn).

The Heisman Trophy winner (Jameis Winston of Florida State) and a finalist who jumped on the radar late (Tre Mason of Auburn) showed why they were invited to New York.

Two of the most excitable, innovative and dynamic coaches (Gus Malzahn of Auburn and Jimbo Fisher of Florida State) showed why they have been on so many wish lists openings.

Two assistants who were Broyles Award finalists, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashley and FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, showed why they were finalists as they matched wits and strategies with each other.

Except for bedtime approaching, it was a game you didn’t want to end or didn’t want anyone to lose.

The game was full of ironic twists:

• Malzahn, a master of trick plays, saw the game turn after a fake punt by Florida State led to a touchdown.

• Auburn, which defeated Alabama in the final seconds with a return of a missed field goal for a touchdown, saw Florida State regain the momentum late on a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. On the return, an Auburn player rushing downfield appeared to pull a hamstring and went down, turning it into 11-on-10 for the end zone with the kicker (usually the last line of defense) taking the wrong angle.

• The winning touchdown was set up after Auburn’s Chris Davis was called for pass interference in the end zone. Davis was the player who returned the missed kick to beat Alabama.

• Winston, who was celebrating his 20th birthday, looked like a scared teenager early then matured before our eyes in the final quarter and on the final drive. And the winning pass by Florida State was a jump pass into the end zone, similar to a favorite play by former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

• The Southeastern Conference’s string of seven straight BCS championships came to an end. However, the last six have been won either by a team from Alabama or Florida (Florida, Alabama three times, Auburn and Florida State).

The much-maligned BCS, which yields to the College Football Playoff next season, went out in a blaze of glory with one of the best championships in history.

What a game, so many posted in social media.

But with far less hype and far fewer stakes, the GoDaddy.com Bowl featured the same drama, similar excitement, similar momentum swings and the same heart by players and coaches.

That’s what’s great about college football. The one- and two-star operations can be just as delicious and appetizing as the five-star setups.

We’re still digesting all that’s happened. But we’ll be ready for more.

Withdrawal pains have already set in.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)

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