The late American star Andy Williams famously sang about "the most wonderful time of the year."
He was singing about Christmas. But, from our vantage point, he was singing about the Pigskin High Holidays. That’s the period from Thanksgiving through the college bowl season highlighted by meaningful and entertaining games from high school right up to the pros.
The TV screen shot from the CHFF world headquarters of the Rivalry Saturday menu says it all: there was big-time college football out the ying-yang.
In the space of just a couple hours Saturday you could have watched many of the biggest rivalries in college football (The Civil War, Egg Bowl, Bedlam, Iron Bowl, Clean Old Fashioned Hate) along with likely Heisman trophy winner, Texas A&M's dazzling freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, then capped it off with a goal-line stand for the ages in Notre Dame's BCS title-game sealing 22-13 victory over arch-rival USC.
Johnny Football sparkles
Manziel is so electric he's earned the nickname “Johnny Football” from Texas A&M fans. His high school numbers were ridiculous: he scored 77 touchdowns his senior year (45 passing, 30 rushing, 1 receiving, 1 kick return).
That's not a misprint. The info was culled from Wikipedia. So take that for what it's worth. But not a misprint.
This year, replacing Miami Dolphins draft pick Ryan Tannehill for the Aggies, he merely broke the SEC record for individual offense with 4,600 yards, passing the previous mark set by Cam Newton in 2010 (4,327) and, before that, Tim Tebow (4,181) in 2007. Those guys each took home the Heisman in those seasons.
Johnny Football is still only 19 years old, by the way. He turns 20 on Dec. 6.
He passed for 372 yards and 3 TD and ran for 67 yards and 1 Saturday night in Texas A&M’s 59-29 win over Missouri.
The Aggies went 10-2 overall and 6-2 in conference in their first season in SEC play, most notably handing Alabama its only loss of the year behind the slippery Manziel.
He completed 24 of 31 passes for 253 yards and 2 TD, while rushing for 92 yards, against a Crimson Tide defense widely considered the best in the nation.
Of course, Notre Dame's defense may have something to say about that honor in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.
Notre Dame trumps USC, heads to BCS title game
Perhaps most importantly Saturday night, traditional inter-regional rivals Notre Dame and USC met at the L.A. Coliseum in a Super Bowl-sized Hollywood spectacle.
The Fighting Irish won, 22-13, in a defensive tussle that has come to define the season for 12-0 Notre Dame.
The Irish negotiated an entire 12-game slate this year surrendering just nine offensive touchdowns, including only two on the ground.
It's a remarkable feat in this day and age of pinball-sized, Johnny Football-type offensive numbers.
Linebacker Manti Te'o (pictured) is widely seen as the best in the nation and a legit candidate to become the first defender since Charles Woodson to win the Heisman.
As the only undefeated and eligible FBS team (Ohio State is also 12-0 but on probation), the Irish will likely retain their No. 1 spot when the BCS rankings are released Sunday night. They will meet the winner of the Georgia-Alabama SEC title game clash in Miami on Jan. 7 in the BCS championshipgame.
Against USC, the Irish dominated the clock (34:38-25:22) and the territorial battle (439 yards to 281), but six drives into the red zone fizzled, and they had to settle for field goal attempts each time. Kyle Brindza hit 5 of 6, including a career high from 52 yards, in what should have been a blowout had Notre Dame been able to convert drives into TDs.
Instead, they were left clinging to a late lead against USC and freshman QB Max Wittek, making his first career start in front of 90,000 people in place of injured Matt Barkley.
Te'o and his defensive mates produced a monster goal-line stand in the fourth quarter to preserve the win: USC had 1st and goal at the Notre Dame 2, trailing 22-13.
A false start penalty knocked the ball back to the 7. But USC ran off 8 plays, two aided by pass interference penalties against the Irish, but still failed to score. The Trojans even had 1st and goal at the 1 after the second PI call, but the Irish stuffed three straight rush attempts while Wittek's fourth-down pass in the end zone fell incomplete.
Notre Dame did not look like a championship caliber offense, however, at least in the red zone.
At one point late in the game, with a chance to ice it, the Irish ran straight through the Trojans defense to inside the 10, led largely by running backs Theo Riddick (20 for 146 yards, 1 TD) and Cierre Wood.
Once they got deep into USC territory, the Irish inexplicably went into an empty backfield set behind QB Everett Golson.
The offense suddenly looked lost and confused, even calling a timeout while trying to kill the clock, and finally settled for a 19-yard field goal to regain a two-score lead with 6 minutes to play.
Perhaps third-year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was feeling the pressure of the moment.
As ABC noted throughout the broadcast, and as is famous in Irish lore, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won national championships in their third seasons. (Knute Rockne went 9-0 in his third season, 1920, but there was no national championship per se back then.)
No coach has led the Irish to a national championship in the poll era (since 1936) without winning one in his third year.
Notre Dame will certainly be an underdog vs. Alabama and probably even against Georgia, too, given the SEC’s dominance in recent BCS championship games
But the Irish defense has proven it can play with anyone this year.
Notre Dame’s defense surrendered just nine touchdowns all season (7 pass, 2 rush) including six TDs over their final 10 games. (Stanford produced one defensive score).
Here's a game-by-game look at the TDs scored against Notre Dame this season:
Navy – 1 pass TD (score: 50-10)
Purdue – 2 pass TD (20-17)
Michigan State – 0 TD (20-3)
Michigan – 0 TD (13-6)
Miami – 0 TD (41-3)
Stanford – 0 TD (20-13 OT); one defensive TD
BYU - 2 pass TD (17-14)
Oklahoma – 1 rush TD (30-13)
Pitt – 1 rush TD; 1 pass TD (29-26 3OT)
Boston College – 0 (21-6)
Wake Forest – 0 (38-0)
USC – 1 pass TD (22-13)