5 Thoughts, Week 10
Week 1 - Is TCU Deserving? |
Week 2 - The bad, bad ACC
Week 3 - Uhhh ... Texas & Florida? |
Week 4 - Ohio State's
- Week 5 - Boise State's
Poll Slide | Week 6 -
The Poll Problem
- Week 7 - The 2 Left
Standing? | Week 8 -
The Oregon Résumé
- Week 9 - What do you
want for a national title?
1. And yes, there is a Santa. Why do you ask?
Desmond Howard said on GameDay that Cam Newton was "guilty until proven innocent." Several columnists wrote that Newton should probably sit out against Chattanooga, just until more could come of the story. One writer for the Orlando Sentinel wrote that he was going to leave Newton off his Heisman ballot.
I was a guest on 15 different radio shows over the weekend, and all 15 mentioned Newton and Reggie Bush in the same segment.
Several hosts, both on and off the air, asked if I actually believed
Newton when he said he was completely innocent. This was the topic that
everyone wanted to talk about, and it's now a storyline that's going to
be a major deal for the rest of the college football season in one way
or another. And it all comes down to this ...
Do you believe that Cam Newton is telling the truth?
If you do, then there's no question mark about the Heisman. If you believe him, you vote for him, if he's your choice,
and you don't hesitate thinking that a Reggie Bush scenario might happen. But if you don't believe him,
or if you question his honesty, then to you the legitimacy of the entire 2010 college football season is at stake.
Enraged Auburn fans asked me how I could've changed my tone about the story from the initial reaction following the ESPN piece, when I said that if all the allegations were true, again, if they were true, then Auburn was going to have to do some serious explaining and Newton was going to be considered guilty until he proved otherwise, to saying that I thought Newton and his dad were innocent. It's simple; everyone had done
exactly what they needed to do, said all the right things, and acted the exact right way they had to. To me, the story changed, and to me, considering all the garbage I know about how these things tend to work in the college football world, this passed the smell test … for now.
I originally wrote that Auburn needed to get ahead of the controversy and deal with it by the next morning. And it did by coming out and emphatically denying any charges, taking steps to show that there was nothing different now from the investigation from this summer, and not hiding and ducking behind a slew of "no comment" statements. I was expecting double-talking spin control, and Auburn came up with something completely different. I believe the Auburn officials and head coach Gene Chizik when they say they're extremely confident there was nothing wrong with the recruitment of Newton, because now, if they're wrong,
and that includes if there's some rogue booster out there who's a part
of some sort of payment, they're heads are on the chopping block.
I believe the dad, Cecil Newton. Voluntarily turning over phone records, bank records, and e-mails doesn't necessarily mean anything, though. Cheating is so rampant and done so well and so cloak and dagger that this could all be handled without even a whisper of evidence. However, I'm buying his side of the story because of the way he's been so adamant of his family's innocence, and especially his son's. If he's cheating, then he has really put himself, and his son, out there.
Most importantly, I believe Cam Newton.
There might be something going on here. There might be someone in this who's doing something wrong, making some money, or capitalizing on Newton's name, but I don't believe that Cam is involved in any of it. I know, I know, I know, in a world of Mark McGwire, Reggie Bush, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and others lying through their teeth, sometimes emphatically, and sometimes in front of Congress, I'm not supposed to be naïve enough to believe an athlete when he says he's innocent. But with the way that Newton has plowed though all the adversity, and the way that he has stepped up and been up front about his past problems, either he's lying and he's just another scumbag, or he's stepping up and saying everything pitch-perfect correctly while conducting himself with the utmost class and character.
I believe the latter, but I'm more than prepared to jump ship and flip-flop in a heartbeat if something else of substance surfaces. I know that charisma and character aren't the same thing, but Cam has handled himself with more maturity and dignity than anyone else involved in the story.
Now, there had better not be 200K sitting in some third-party off-shore account somewhere waiting to start trickling out
on January 11th, and I had better not be writing a story four years from now about how LaMichael James should probably have Newton's Heisman and whether or not Auburn should be stripped of its national title.
From the people in the biz that I've talked to and from all the commentary I've read and all the correspondence I've received, I'm getting the sense that almost everyone is apprehensive at best and totally disbelieving at worst. There are too many strange things involved,
including the Urban Meyer angle, that I'll save for another time. There
are too many sketchy storylines and too much smoke, and after the Reggie Bush situation, cheaters are getting tighter and do things even more under the radar than before. There's also a chance that nothing actually happened involving the Newtons.
I've heard every rumor possible over the last few days. I was told emphatically that there's a shoe waiting to drop before the Iron Bowl, saving the best for just the right time. I was told emphatically that there's nothing happening and that Newton's dad chose Auburn simply because he thought it would be the best fit for his son.
To be honest, my brain hurts, and I've decided to let this play itself
out. There are too many moving parts that need to settle before the definitive story is finalized.
But for now,
I really hope I'm right and I'm reading Newton correctly. Purely as a fan, I really want him to be totally innocent and for
all the great things he's doing this historic season to be for real.
Purely as a college football writer, I really want one of these stories to finally turn out the right way. And to complete the schmaltzy cornball, I'd really like to believe an athlete again when he says he didn't do anything wrong.
Cam, I'm buying. Don't let me down.
2. Speaking of Urban Meyer ...
All of a sudden, Florida has become interesting again.
For the first seven games of the season, it was difficult to watch a Gator game without having an air sick bag nearby. I mean, this couldn't be the same program that had gashed SEC defenses ever since Urban Meyer had arrived. The bad snaps, the poor execution, and the inability to finish drives. It was an assault on the senses and in direct contrast to everything we'd learned about this program. Yeah, Tim Tebow was now a Denver Bronco, but that alone wasn't enough of an excuse to revert back to the days when Ron Zook was calling the shots. The talent was still in the Swamp, but the results weren't following. While it's way too early to start taking a victory lap, the offense might finally be coming around, which means Florida still has a chance to be relevant over the next month.
Alright, so the Gators' awakening has come against softer competition, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Still, this is an offense that struggled with Miami (OH) in the opener, so it's not so much about who was on the other sideline. No, this is about the program's ability to make plays and find a formula for success, which occurred against the Dawgs and the ‘Dores.
In an homage to Steve Spurrier, whose South Carolina team visits Gainesville with the SEC East riding on the outcome, Meyer is using multiple quarterbacks in order to maximize the talent on the roster. It seems to be working. John Brantley remains the starter, the more prototypical passer in the mix. Two weeks ago, Trey Burton ran for 110 yards and two scores, playing like a modern-day Percy Harvin. And on Saturday, it was time to say hello to redshirt freshman Jordan Reed, who began the season as a tight end, but has switched back to quarterback and looked great on Saturday. Giving the offense the physical dual-threat it craves, the 6-3, 240-pounder ran for 84 yards and a touchdown, while going 11-of-19 for 120 yards a touchdown and an interception. The blend of talent worked to the tune of 480 total yards and six touchdowns, three from the quarterbacks and three from the running game.
Florida has meaningful games left with South Carolina on Saturday and possibly the West winner on Dec. 4. Imagine the Gators facing former teammate Cam Newton, with the national championship game at stake? If they get to Atlanta, unlike the first half of the year, they'll be armed with an offense that can challenge that Auburn defense. And armed with a chance to really become relevant for the first time in the 2010 season.
3. And we'll never see anything like it again
With JoePa, it's just a number.
400 wins. The coach can appreciate the significance, but it's only a number. Next month, Paterno will turn 84—well beyond retirement age for most men, but just a number for him. That's one of the many things that make Joe so special and charmingly unique. While everyone around him fawns over his accomplishments and his storied career, it's business as usual in Happy Valley. Did you happen to catch some of JoePa's comments after Saturday's stirring come-from-behind win over Northwestern? Hey, he loved the win, but you'll never catch him getting caught up in the moment. Ever. All he knows is that there are three more games left on the regular season schedule and an opportunity to improve the Nittany Lions' bowl positioning.
You want to know the essence of JoePa? Less than 12 hours after winning his 400th game at Penn State, he was already planning how to win his 401st. At 6:00 Sunday morning, Paterno was watching film of this week's opponent, Ohio State, noting that the extra hour for daylight savings time couldn't have been timelier. If this happens to be the end of the line for the winningest FBS coach in history, he certainly won't be coasting into retirement or delegating more than he needs to. The body may be aging, but the mind remains sharp and the passion as hot as ever. Rest assured that whenever he does hang up those black cleats, it won't be from a lack of love for the game or the kids under his tutelage.
Joe Paterno won his 400th game on Saturday afternoon, but his impact on the game, the community, and the players who called him coach are impossible to quantify. There is no number. He's an American original and an icon, who transcends sports. Try to enjoy his next four games because there'll never another one like him. And while he's made no decision about his future, at the age of 83, you don't make five-year career plans.
4. TCU, Boise and the BCS: Send Your Outrage To The Right Recipients
And so, the battle lines are clearly drawn for the final four weeks of the 2010 regular season. TCU will almost surely finish 12-0, and if Boise State - unlikely to be pushed by Idaho or at home versus Fresno State - can win the landmine-laden Nov. 26 game at Nevada, the Broncos will also post an unblemished record. If Auburn and Oregon finish unbeaten, the talk shows and blogs will all be asking, "Who's better? Who's more deserving of going to the BCS National Championship Game?" People in the Southeastern United States are going to see the issue one way. People in Eugene are going to see it another way. People in Boise will cast the issue in a different light. The residents of Fort Worth and other Mountain West Conference locales will have their own distinct viewpoint. This is a situation we've seen many times before. In a certain sense, what we're seeing now bears some resemblance to the 2004 season. No, the comparison isn't a perfect one, but some substantial parallels are worthy of your attention.
In 2004, four teams stood above the rest at the end of the regular season. An unbeaten Pac-10 champion was one of them; an unbeaten Auburn was another; and an unbeaten Mountain West champion found itself in the mix as well. Only the fourth team in the arena was appreciably different - Oklahoma was a box-office-bearing Big 12 champion, a team that can't readily be placed in the same category as Boise State (not in terms of on-field quality, but in terms of what that team represented to voters and casual football fans alike).
One issue that's been talked about earlier this season is the need for college football to bring flexibility to its postseason format. It's lunacy to think that each and every season can be solved with the exact same mechanism. Staying within the BCS era (not before 1998), the contours of various seasons are always different. The controversies surrounding the 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons were all different from each other, and while the 2010 season bears some similarities to 2004 (and also to 2009 if you think about it for a bit), it was established above that the parallel isn't a perfect one. Oregon-Auburn-TCU matches up perfectly with USC-Auburn-Utah from 2004, but again, the comparison becomes imperfect when you then put the 2010 Boise State team against the 2004 Oklahoma squad. Because college football has such short regular seasons with such a minimal amount of cross-pollination in non-conference (read: intersectional) matchups, the sport simply does not produce outcomes that can be easily solved with consistent, one-size-fits-all methods. Can we get this straight?
College football needs an elastic system. The sport needs PROVISIONAL GAMES to address controversies if they indeed arise. Under the BCS, we are forced to wonder who's better - or more specifically, who are the top two teams in the country? All the while, the question we REALLY should be asking is, "How can the BCS framework, which is with us for awhile, be tweaked to produce a fair champion?"
Let's not pit Boise State and TCU against Oregon and Auburn. Let's not pit SEC fans against Boise fans. Let's not generate hatreds between and among fans from different corners of the country. If you want to be angry or if you want to stick up for your team and your conference, college football diehards, you need to direct your anger toward a system that doesn't offer flexibility.
Hey, maybe Alabama will win the Iron Bowl and spare us this four-team
pile-up. Maybe Oregon State will win the Civil War (very doubtful
without James Rodgers, though...) and create a clear-cut two-team
competition. Maybe Nevada will make a lot of problems go away by
knocking off Boise State. All those things could happen, but remember
this timeless point which will always apply to the BCS until it is given
a needed dose of procedural elasticity: Even if a given nightmare
scenario doesn't unfold, the simple reality that it COULD UNFOLD - and
WITHOUT PROPER REDRESS OF DEFICIENCIES - is enough of an indictment of
the system. THAT is what we should be focused on, and that's why this
crossfire between Boise State and SEC fans (and their advocates in the
press) is pointless and counterproductive. College football fans should
be united in pushing for reforms of the BCS process in the short term,
and (in the long run) for an elimination of the BCS once the current
four-year BCS contract expires in 2014 ...
5. Part Two ...
What is the short-term solution the BCS framework needs? Elasticity is the concept which needs to emerge in the process, so with respect to the unique situation posed by this 2010 season, the calculus is clear in two obvious ways:
A) In the BCS bowls, this quartet we have before us - Oregon, Auburn, Boise, TCU - must be able to play each other... and no one else.
In 2004, the outrage surrounding that season's title game (the 2005 Orange Bowl) wasn't the only absurd aspect of the bowl-game sausage-making process. While it was quite unfortunate that Auburn got left out of the big game in Miami, it was just as big an injustice that Utah didn't get to play Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Much as TCU and Boise State were sequestered in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, quarantined to face each other instead of taking on BCS-conference opponents, it was similarly true that the 2004 Utah team was sent to the corner of the room with three-loss Pittsburgh in a (2005) Fiesta Bowl that offered no value to the public and no illumination to college football pundits. Voters who spend a lot of time trying to make informed decisions for the benefit of the sport were left with nothing to build on as they cast their final ballots of the 2004 season in the first week of January '05. If USC and Oklahoma played in Miami, Utah and Auburn had to play in New Orleans. In many ways, the inability (and unwillingness) of college football's power brokers to create a proper 3 vs. 4 bowl game is what still rankles about the 2004 season.
This year, if two of the top four teams are playing in the national title game, the other two not only should, but MUST, play in the next-biggest BCS bowl game. If that means Oregon and Auburn play in one game while Boise and TCU play in the other, fine. It's not right for Boise and TCU to have to play each other for a third straight bowl game, and that would represent a considerable outrage in its own right. However, it would be even worse - FAR worse - if Boise State was given Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl (doubtful, but the BCS has pulled so much crap in the past...), or if TCU played a two-loss Iowa team or a one-loss Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Utah and Auburn never got to play in 2004. This year, the third- and fourth-best teams SHOULD be allowed to play in the postseason. Giving college football flexibility, rather than all sorts of restrictive lock-ins and constraining tie-ins, is how the BCS needs to be reformed in the 2011-2013 seasons.
B) If four clear-cut elite teams emerge after the regular season, and if they play in bowl games as outlined above in point "A," those teams should be able to meet in a provisional (not required or pre-set, but provisional) plus-one game on the night following the last NFL divisional playoff game.
In 2004, a properly-functioning BCS system would have stripped away insane and inane conference tie-ins and would have produced a USC-Oklahoma Orange Bowl alongside a Utah-Auburn Sugar Bowl, followed by a provisional plus-one. This year, if the current unbeatens all remain unbeaten, the proper way to handle the situation would be as follows: After an Oregon-Auburn game in Glendale (not on January 10, but earlier) and a TCU-Boise game somewhere else, stage a plus-one title tilt on Sunday, January 16 at 8:15 p.m. Last year, Boise State and Alabama were the only teams left with a claim to the national title - the provisional plus-one would have created a blockbuster battle between the Broncos and Crimson Tide after the New York Jets-San Diego Chargers game concluded the NFL's divisional round. Two seasons ago, Utah and Florida could have played on a mid-January Sunday right after that year's final NFL divisional game between the Chargers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The fact that the BCS system - as presently constructed - does not possess these flexible, situational qualities is what ruins almost every college football season.
SEC fans would love to take on Boise State and see the Broncos get pummeled. Pac-10 fans would love to tackle TCU and sink their horns into the Frogs.
Boise fans want nothing more than to shut up the SEC contingent. TCU fans would relish taking Oregon to the cleaners.
Who's better? Oregon or Auburn? Boise or TCU? Everybody wants to know, of course. Sorry to disappoint you, but here's the answer that almost always applies to a college football season's final weeks: We don't know, and we probably never will know... at least not in terms of judging the quality of all four teams in comparison to each other.
We'll get one game featuring two of the four teams being talked about in 2010, but we probably won't get that second game, that Utah-Auburn equivalent we needed in 2004. TCU or Boise - whoever finishes higher in the BCS standings - will be shipped off to the Rose Bowl to face the Big Ten champion. Wisconsin would make an imposing opponent for a non-AQ darling, but tell me whom Wisconsin beat out of conference; the Badgers haven't been made to prove themselves as fully as an elite team should. In a truly just and fair college football world, TCU would play one of the power-conference teams in a bowl game (Oregon or Auburn) and Boise State would play the other. The BCS will fail to give us THAT pair of matchups as well.
SEC fans, direct your ire toward a system that prevents your best team from playing Boise State in a mano-a-mano duel for all the marbles.
Boise and TCU fans, don't hate the truly deserving SEC teams that ought to be in a title game if they go 12-1 against a daunting schedule loaded with top-25 opponents.
Boise or the SEC? TCU or the Pac-10? These are great talk-radio questions, but since they ARE great talk-radio questions, it means that they're the equivalent of intellectual junk food. They don't go anywhere and they don't solve anything. BOTH sets of teams - the non-AQ interlopers and the BCS-conference heavyweights - deserve to contest championships and stand in the arena locked in mortal combat.
What the BCS does is that it prevents those matchups from taking place - the historical record proves as much.
Hate the BCS, football fans. The Boise/TCU duo and the Oregon/Auburn axis are both worthy of support and deserving of your praise. Want to identify the problem with college football? It's not found on SmurfTurf or in the Mountain West; it's not found in Chattanooga being on the November schedule or in Oregon's two straight losses to Boise. It's found in a system that impedes progress, and prevents us from truly knowing who the best team is at the end of the bowl games. Flexibility is needed to cure college football's lingering on-field problems.