College Football Makes Final Plays Of The Year

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The college football season is ending Saturday, and there's history to be made. NPR's Scott Simon talks with ESPN's Howard Bryant about this weekend's Bowl Championship Series plus the latest news on Derek Jeter and the NBA.


And, you know, because you still got to play the game (clears throat) - we're joined by our own Howard Bryant, who suited up for us at WFCR in Amherst.

Morning, Howard.

Mr. HOWARD BRYANT (ESPN): Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: I'm fine, thanks.

Mr. BRYANT: I wanted to say, I give you a lot of grief about your Cubs, but I did want to offer condolences to Cubs Nation on Ron Santo. Good man. My Hall of Fame ballot arrived yesterday and it just made me think of that.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. Well, best player never to get to the Hall of Fame, and now if it happens it'll be posthumously. God bless.

Let's move on to the end of the college football season. Oregon plays Oregon State and Auburn plays South Carolina. Both University of Oregon and Auburn are undefeated going in. Let me take this moment in the season to ask, when and how did the Oregon Ducks become a major football power?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, as soon as Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, decided that it was really, really important for Oregon to become a power. It's fascinating when you think about the making of Oregon. The Pac-10 had always been a USC conference and now Oregon over the last - you look at what they've done with Chip Kelly coming in over the last few years, a major powerhouse, a fast team. They can recruit. You've got their quarterback, Darron Thomas, who's from Texas, and they're getting big-time players who are passing up LSU and Texas and some of the big schools to go to Oregon, and it is a real example of the power of money. What they have put into their facility, it's a top-notch athletic powerhouse now. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out over the next five or 10 years, to see if they're still going to be there. But right now Oregon is a very, very strong school.

SIMON: And let me ask about Auburn. And Auburn's what I'll refer to as delicate conditional, but perhaps no longer after this week, because their quarterback, Cam Newton, has been cleared of allegations about improprieties and money changing hands perhaps during his recruitment. It was his father's fault, not his fault.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: If you're USC, you have a right to be very upset about this, because the double standard between the - what the family knew against what the player knew has been very, very different. Because in the Reggie Bush case, he gave back his Heisman, as did the school. And that school has been tainted because of that scandal. And here it looks like Auburn separated what the player knew from what his family had allegedly done.

And it strikes me that the NCAA simply did not want to be bothered with this. I think that you've got a kid - you've Cam Newton, who is a tremendous, tremendous athlete - he's going to win the Heisman running away. He's a fantastic athlete, probably one of the best talents in the last 25 years. And I just think that the NCAA just did not want to deal with this at this time. And I think that they rushed to judgment pretty quickly.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a game that's taking place tonight in Cowboy Stadium - Oklahoma versus Nebraska. Can we can we call this - boy, we love to use this phrase - but is it the end of an era, Howard Bryant?

Mr. BRYANT: Oh, sure. It's the end. You've got 85 meetings between these two teams. And Nebraska's going to move on. And it's one of those things where you get used to it. You got used to those matchups. You got used to Bruins-Canadiens and Red Sox-Yankees. And now the things change.

And I think that there's a generation of fans that are going to have a bit of a soft spot for the old days, for those two teams. Now, obviously they weren't as powerful as they'd been over the previous decades, because Texas has taken over as the powerhouse in college football down in that area now.

But when you go back to the days of the Big 8 and the wishbone and all of that, it goes back to Oklahoma-Nebraska. And it's just another sign that the landscape is changing dramatically.

SIMON: Howard, there was a basketball game in Cleveland this week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRYANT: There was?

SIMON: Yeah. Oh-ho, implication being only one side was playing?

Mr. BRYANT: Oh, I don't know. It was only a 40-point game in the third quarter. I don't know if I'd call that a game.

SIMON: Oh my word. Cleveland Cavaliers, whom you know I revere welcomed, welcomed in their own, as Cavs fans do - LeBron James came home for the first time since he, since he - I don't know how to say this without getting myself in trouble - since he made a decision to take his talents to South Beach, as I believe he said it. And the reception was overwhelming and so was the result, wasn't it.

Mr. BRYANT: Negative result. I mean, horrible for the fans of Cleveland. I think they had a chance to get something off their chest. I think the hard part for the fans at Cleveland is that they've had two periods in their entire history - they've been around for 43 years - and you have two moments in time to be a champion. And one was in the late '80s, early '90s, when Michael Jordan seemed to knock them out of the playoffs every year and dash their hopes.

And then the second time was here, when you had the greatest talent, I think, in NBA history outside of maybe Wilt Chamberlain. And you had seven years and now it's gone. And now Cleveland is back, and average, and normal, and below average now because they're a bad team. And I think that's really where you see a lot of the pain on the faces of the fans, because that moment is gone.

SIMON: Well, I'll enjoy watching them try and build back. OK?

Mr. BRYANT: Well, that's what sports is all about.

SIMON: Exactly. Thank you. Howard Bryant, senior writer for, ESPN the magazine, and ESPN the deep dish pizza.

Thanks so much, Howard.

Mr. BRYANT: My pleasure.

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