Thus ends a surprisingly bland college football season -- with the clear favorite essentially owning the underdog that loses its starting quarterback about 12 seconds into the game.
Alabama's victory over Texas was clear-cut within five minutes of Colt McCoy going down, and while most thought Alabama would win anyway, the lack of real drama throughout the vast majority of the game brought the season down with a great and final thud.
We say this because college football in its present state thrives on arguments -- spirited, loud, liquor-fueled arguments in which both sides have legitimate points to make, and in which either side can lay claim to some form of victimhood. Say, like Utah last year.
|The LeGarrette Blount situation was almost fuel for the season-long fire, but Chip Kelly diffused the issue (Getty Images)|
Boise State? Great season, but not quite Utah-able. Same with TCU. Cincinnati? Until Notre Dame took its coach and Florida its unbeaten season, swell. And all three coaches, Chris Petersen, Gary Patterson and Brian Kelly, made it clear that they understood their teams did not and never would have a shot at the national championship, thereby stamping out whatever populist insurrection might have arisen on their behalf. They could do the math, and they understood the politics. Yelling about it wouldn't work.
No, for the most part, the drama of 2009 happened in the coaches' suites, where Charlie Weis coached his way out of a job, Mike Leach miscalculated his way out of his, Bobby Bowden was nudged out of his and Urban Meyer's innards forced him out of, and then back into, his.
And the only other what-the-hell moment, LeGarrette Blount's nationally televised snap at Boise State, ended with Blount and Oregon coach Chip Kelly doing the right thing the right way, thus stealing from us another potential yearlong argument.
Even the BCS didn't raise the same level of hackle-dom, at least until it hired Bill Hancock, by all accounts a fine and noble fellow, to defend a system that essentially cannot be defended. It's as if people finally figured out that the beast can only be destroyed by accountants, by showing somehow that a playoff system could make more money than the bowl system.
And when your hero is an accountant, well, the only thing worse is when your hero is a politician, and there are some of those out there too, trying to score a few cheap points by mandating a playoff instead of ... well, whatever the hell it is they're supposed to do.
It's almost as if 2009 was merely a transitional year, from rich, delicious rancor to whatever comes next. Fewer coaches were fired, fewer programs threatened the status quo, and the needle did not move noticeably in either direction. The economy hit most programs one way or another, and as the year went on, the week-to-week watchword was "Wait 'til next year."
The only genuine surprise, amazingly, was the Heisman Trophy, an award that is almost never that. Actual living candidates rose up from the soil rather than from the marketing department, and the final vote, the closest in history, made the award relevant again to those who had long ago stopped paying attention to it. It was a superb show, so much that those who backed McCoy or Toby Gerhart or Ndamukong Suh could not feel much anger about the winner being Mark Ingram.
But if the Heisman Trophy is your high-water moment (except for you, Alabama fans), you've had a bad year as an industry.
There is, however, next year, when Boise State can make claim to being the preseason No. 1 by virtue of having 21 of 22 starters back from a 14-0 team, and we can test the theory of whether a non-BCS team can start from the front and end there while still getting hosed by the system.
We can see if Brian Kelly straightens out of the quagmire in South Bend, and if Pete Carroll can avoid two or three other USC teams being punished for the sins of the football program. There's Meyer's return from vacation, and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State and whoever gets the Texas Tech job, and of course there's Alabama and the terminally lovable Nick Saban.
Next year's college football season, in fact, may be hellacious fun. It wouldn't have to far to go, even though the American sports industry's rising level of weird the last several years has set the bar high for everyone else. This season ended as it should have -- predictably, without drama or angst. Alabama was the perfect metaphor for 2009, and good for them.
But 2010 owes us one, and damn it, we're going to collect.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.