After so many meaningless games and inconsequential outcomes, Alabama and LSU finally brought down the curtain Monday night on the 2011-2012 college football bowl season.
Actually, Alabama brought down the curtain. LSU went into hibernation sometime in the past month. The grand finale turned into a gross flame-out.
As convincing as the Crimson Tide's 21-0 victory was, though, now we have arguably the best case yet for a playoff — of some kind — beyond the current Bowl Championship Series setup. This could even lead to a first step, which would be the "BCS plus-one" concept. Play the BCS games (minus a title game, of course), then pick two winners to play for the big trophy.
In this case, that would mean Alabama vs. Oklahoma State, both 12-1. But it could have meant different BCS pairings, with LSU and Alabama facing Oklahoma State and Stanford, in some combination.
One other development in this bowl season might force the issue. Crowds were embarrassingly bad for many bowls. Even BCS matchups and New Year's Day bowls like the Outback, Gator and Sugar had thousands of empty seats. When you see that for bowls with teams whose fans usually travel well, you wonder if that might be what brings us to playoffs.
That aside, let's pass out some honors from the bowl season...
Best game: Fiesta, Oklahoma State and Stanford showing why they deserved to be in the national semifinals instead of a consolation matchup, with OSU pulling out the 41-38 overtime win.
Best comeback: Can't settle on just one. Champs Sports, Florida State coming from 14-0 down at halftime to beat Notre Dame 18-14. Outback, Michigan State behind Georgia 16-0 at the half before a dramatic 33-30 overtime win. Sun, Utah rebounding from a two-touchdown deficit to force overtime and edge Georgia Tech, 30-27.
Best start: Houston jumping all over Penn State in the Ticket City Bowl at Dallas, building a 17-0 lead in the first quarter en route to a 30-14 victory.
Best quarter: West Virginia's 35 points in the second quarter of the Orange, leading to its 70-33 rout of Clemson.
Least-deserving bowl team: UCLA, which came in 6-7 after firing coach Rick Neuheisel, then couldn't hold off Illinois. Really, a 6-8 bowl team?
Screwed the most: Boise State, just a one-point loss away from the BCS, had to settle for obliterating Arizona State in Las Vegas.
Best games nobody saw: They came back-to-back, on Dec. 17, with Ohio overcoming Utah State 24-23 in the Idaho Potato, followed by Louisiana-Lafayette's last-second 32-30 win against San Diego State in New Orleans.
Best gamble: Air Force's fake extra point in the final minute of the Military Bowl against Toledo, even though it didn't work.
Most disappointing conference: Big Ten, given that Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern and Washington all lost.
Best coaching job: Alabama and Nick Saban, obviously. But don't forget Texas A&M, with former Air Force player and assistant Tim DeRuyter as interim head coach (before leaving after the game to take over at Fresno State) and pulling the Aggies together to win the Meineke Car Care Bowl over Northwestern.
Worst coaching job: Can't ignore LSU's Les Miles, who had no Plan B against Alabama and should have tried his second quarterback at some point.
Most surprising no-show: Wyoming never had a chance against Temple in what looked to be an interesting New Mexico Bowl, as the Cowboys lost 37-15.
Best duo of runners: De'Anthony Thomas (two runs, 91 and 64 yards for touchdowns, 155 total yards) and LaMichael James (25 for 159 yards) for Oregon.
Biggest disappointment: Virginia had such a good opportunity to show its progress in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn, but the Cavaliers looked unworthy in a 43-24 defeat.
Best defensive showing: Obviously, Alabama putting the clamps on LSU, allowing only five first downs and 92 yards with no defensive penalties. But could the Tide stop Oklahoma State? We'll never know.