5 Thoughts - Sept. 27
(What to do with BYU)
(The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)
(The sleeper team to watch out for)
1. Contributing to the noise.
I'm sorry, because I'm about to do what I hate and become what I abhor.
I hate playoff talk because it's fruitless. It's an argument in a vacuum, because it's not going to happen, it might never happen, and there's nothing we can do about it this year but beat our heads against the wall. I hate hearing people bring up the idea of a playoff, I hate hearing everyone's playoff proposal, and I hate hearing over and over again about how much the BCS sucks and about how it would be wonderful if there was a system in place at the end of the year to make everyone happy, because, again, it's not happening. But right now, in late September, this sucks.
Even if it's a 13-0 Florida/Alabama winner vs. a 13-0 Texas for the national title, I'm still not going to be 100% sold on the national champion. Not this year. Not after what has happened so far. Again, I'm sorry for doing this, but I can't help it.
Take the CFN Plan for a college football playoff and dream for a minute how wonderful this would be. We'd have the six BCS conference champions, say, Florida/Alabama winner, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Texas, USC, and Cincinnati, and then there would be the top champion from a non-BCS conference, say, an unbeaten Boise State, and then throw in one wild-card. I don't think TCU or Houston will end the year unbeaten, so let's take the Florida/Alabama loser, or if they somehow finish 11-1, with a win over USC, Notre Dame. How wonderful would that be? How much more complete and happy would our lives be?
Instead, we're all about to go through another year of BCS whining, we're going to all have an empty feeling when all is said and done, and all the nuttiness we're going through now will go for naught.
Again, I'm sorry. Let's try to enjoy the rest of the season, now already in progress.
2. And there's no Utah to worry about in the
One month into the season, I'm beginning to wonder if No. 3 Alabama just might be the team to beat in 2009. And this sentiment has nothing to do with Tim Tebow's head injury in Lexington on Saturday afternoon.
Back in August, few people were completely sure what to expect from the Tide. Yeah, the defense would be the strength, but the offense had to replace veteran QB John Parker Wilson, leading rusher Glen Coffee, and three-fifths of the line, including All-American LT Andre Smith. Some kind of a decline from last year's 12-win season wouldn't have shocked anyone. Instead, however, the Tide has spent September answering its questions on offense and playing every bit as well as anticipated on defense. Greg McElroy is third nationally in passing efficiency, going three straight games without an interception. The backfield is loaded with sophomore Mark Ingram, freshman phenom Trent Richardson, and vets Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch. And so far, so good with regard to the line, which has allowed just four sacks while paving the way for the country's 10th-ranked ground game.
As the rest of the nation is in a weekly state of flux and the polls are constantly changing, Nick Saban has his Crimson Tide poised for staying power near the penthouse of the Top 25. Add this head coach to a power running game and a nasty defense, and you've got the ingredients of a team that's built to spend the first week of 2010 in Pasadena.
3. The ruling on the field stinks as called
We're in the year 2009, and yet, the people who define the rules for acceptable pass completions in college football have not been able to establish sane parameters... on the field or in the replay booth.
At the end of this season--with an eye on 2010 and beyond--those in charge of the rulebook need to simplify the codes pertaining to legal reception of a forward pass. It's insane that this conversation is even necessary in a year when college football is "celebrating" (if that's the right word) its 140th anniversary. The concept behind legal possession of a forward pass shouldn't be too hard to establish, especially in the college game: A pass catcher has possession of the ball and gets one foot (or knee, or his back, or his butt) on the ground in bounds. Period. That's it. No need for any complicating caveats.
There is an understandable rationale behind the move to complicate the rulebook on pass receptions. By requiring receivers to make "a football move" and demonstrate possession of the ball throughout the extended act or process of catching a ball and then hitting the turf or absorbing the blow of a defender, the sport's rule-makers and rule-shapers wanted to reduce the amount of fumbles in college football. It stands to reason that fumbles would considerably increase in conjunction with a simplified set of parameters for legal receptions. The receiver who quickly taps down one foot--with ball control--just before an onrushing free safety blasts the ball loose will suffer a fumble, and not an incompletion, under a simplified, dressed-down rulebook. At committee meetings where these considerations are discussed, it's fair to say that the football people in charge of the rulebook's evolution felt that fewer fumbles would stabilize the game and increase competitive parity. That's an honorable pair of goals. The desire to improve the sport is sincere and well-taken.
However, events from this past weekend show why pass reception rules need to be re-simplified.
First of all, the horrible non-reversal by the replay booth in the Indiana-Michigan game would not have existed if pass reception rules were simplified. Because of the emphasis placed on completing a football move before having full and legal possession of the ball, the replay booth felt--or more aptly, was "allowed to feel, with legal justification"--that Michigan's Donovan Warren deserved the interception by emerging with the ball after rolling on the ground for a bit. If pass rules were simpler ("get the foot down and have control, period"), it would have been far easier for the replay booth to be intellectually uncluttered, and to properly apply the principle of simultaneous possession, which existed at the BEGINNING of the play, but not when the two players emerged from their little tumble.
A second illustration of why pass reception rules must be simplified came from the Ivy League. Yes, in a moment of idle, early-day channel surfing, I stumbled onto the Versus Network's broadcast of Cornell-Yale. With Yale trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the Bulldogs had seemingly scored a touchdown on a slant pass to receiver Jordan Forney. Forney--in the end zone, mind you--had one foot on the turf with control of the ball. The only problem was that after absorbing a modest blow from a defender and then hitting the ground himself, Forney didn't hold onto the pigskin as the full play unfolded and concluded. Because of the complex pass rules, the refs called the pass incomplete.
But then ask yourself: How can a pass be caught in the end zone, with one foot on the ground, only to be ruled incomplete when the ball is dropped moments later? It is truly impossible--legally, linguistically, spatially, conceptually, and otherwise--for a receiver to catch a touchdown pass and then--essentially--"un-catch" that same pass. In the end zone, a receiver does not have to run or otherwise advance the ball after catching it. As soon as a receiver catches a ball in the end zone and gets his foot or knee on the ground, the touchdown has been scored; the play has been made; the outclassing of the opposing defense has been cemented, consolidated and confirmed. Jordan Forney would claim that he achieved all he was legally required to achieve, much as Jabar Gaffney of Florida properly scored a touchdown on a very similar play in the year 2000 against Tennessee... BEFORE the pass reception rulebook became increasingly complicated.
Jordan Forney wished he could have played college football during Jabar Gaffney's era. Nine years ago, Forney would have scored a touchdown. In 2009, however, all the Yale man got for his effort was an incomplete pass and a field goal. Final score from New Haven, Conn.? Cornell 14, Yale--with two field goals, a touchdown, and a failed two-point try--12.
Simplify the rulebook on pass receptions, college football powers-that-be. Yale men would surely agree.
4. A mind is a terrible thing to waste
A couple of falls ago, a coach at a BCS program who has been around for a long time told me about an incredibly scary practice that had been growing in popularity, particularly among some of the better players in the country. It seems that if they had already been diagnosed with a concussion or two, they would refrain from telling coaches the next time they sustained the injury, for fear of its showing up on their injury reports and dropping their NFL Draft status. In effect, they were suffering serious brain injuries and continuing to play, for fear that they would lose money or the chance at longer NFL careers. Forget about brain damage or any long-term post-concussion impact. They were covering things up.
Saturday, there were probably several players throughout the nation who suffered concussions. And, if you include the entire college football universe, from the top of D-I to the lowest JC ranks, there were a dozen or more concussions sustained. None, however, was more visible or covered than Tim Tebow's, which came against Kentucky Saturday night. Tebow was said to be in good spirits and seemingly very lucid Sunday morning, but that doesn't end things for him. The doctors at Florida must be in charge of this show from here on out, no matter what it means to the Gator program. He should not play this week, period.
Concussion experts say a minimum of seven pristine days are necessary for anyone in this state, and that doesn't just mean sitting around. The patient must be able to go through a strenuous workout with absolutely no symptoms. And so it should be with Tebow. First off, he is a young man, with – one would figure – as many as 65-70 good years ahead of him, and maybe more, given the rapid advances in medicine. But second, no one has meant more to the Florida program over the past two seasons than Tebow, and the Gators owe him as much time as possible to recover. Tebow will no doubt try to expedite things, and his competitive streak should be applauded. But on this one, no coach, fan, writer, player or anybody other than a celebrated neurologist should have a say about when he steps back onto the field. And, while we're at it, let's make sure the rest of college football is more vigilant than ever about looking for evidence of concussions and protecting those who suffer them from potential nightmare situations down the road.
5. A big mea culpa for the Big East
Man, did I suffer from bad timing.
I'm told it takes a big man to admit when he's wrong. Well, I feel like Yao Ming right now. Over the last two weekends, I've watched my suggestion that the Big East be stripped of its automatic BCS bowl berth get smacked around pretty hard by the league members. Since then, the conference has acquitted itself rather well, which warrants more pub. How about this for a short-term, non-conference resume? Connecticut upset a rising Baylor team in Waco. Syracuse did the same to Northwestern for its first win of the season. Rutgers coasted over Maryland on the road. Cincinnati defeated Oregon State and Fresno State. West Virginia gave Auburn all it could handle on the Plains. And, of course, South Florida stood up Florida State in Tallahassee this past Saturday. For those keeping score at home, that's two ACC victims and one each from the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-10. Not shabby at all, particularly for a league suffering from an inferiority complex.
I suppose my biggest issues with the Big East since Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College defected is that an eight-team league lacks heft, especially when there isn't a serious, perennial contender for a national championship. Purely on mathematics, winning a conference with eight members is, oh, about 33% less difficult than the one with 12. Hey, as long as the Big East keeps traveling well and winning in the postseason, what do I know, right?