5 Thoughts - Oct. 4
(What to do with BYU)
(The problem with the polls, and the new star QBs)
(The sleeper team to watch out for)
(The Big East apology)
1. Let the games begin.
Welcome to the start of the 2009 college football season.
With all the craziness and the upsets and the changes in the top five week after week after week, it's a common discussion topic on talk shows and columns to discuss the parity, the craziness, and some would say the mediocrity of the top 25 because of all the upsets. But now, more than ever, the gap between perception and reality has widened in terms of what fans and the media truly understands when it comes to what goes into a successful college football team.
Because of the unprecedented access to NFL teams, thanks to the NFL Network and the non-stop coverage of all the inner workings of the league, it's easy to forget that college teams get maybe, maybe, a quarter of the same practice time, film study sessions, and prep work that the NFLers get. There's a reason Rich Rodriguez got in so much hot water this offseason.
NFL teams get four or five games of preseason tuning up to prepare for the season and some still aren't quite jelled on opening day. While pro coaches get six weeks and countless hours of practice and film time to analyze and scrutinize every player to the point of knowing exactly what situation is right for every man on the roster, college coaches have to make every second count and then hope for the best. Teams that return a ton of experience, like Notre Dame, or Virginia Tech, or Central Michigan, can rock and roll right away, while others, like Iowa with its offense, Georgia with its defense, and USC with its quarterbacks, could've desperately used more time to prepare.
And now we're four or five games into the season, and now is when the big changes should kick in. This isn't an October malaise for some teams, as has been suggested; this is when several disappointing squads, like Virginia and Maryland, for example, might finally be ready to start playing ball, and it's when some, like Nevada and Oregon with their running games, have had enough games under their belt to start doing what they're supposed to be doing.
So now is when things start to get interesting. Is Ohio State really ready to be a major factor again now that the new and improved Terrelle Pryor is playing well, or will there be an upset this week to an emerging and unbeaten Wisconsin team that is just now getting its O line healthy and working properly? Is Ole Miss going to be over the stumbles and bumbles of too many turnovers and inconsistencies to start playing like the team that had everyone drooling this offseason? Will Oklahoma State's offense finally be as unstoppable as it should've been from the start? Will the Oklahoma offensive line be stronger after four games, and will the team be different with Sam Bradford under center again? Can Penn State's offensive line turn it around and get the timing down? LSU start playing like LSU with so many talented young players now a bit more seasoned?
Of course, the BCS and the national championship deal with what happens at the start of the year, and that kills several teams that didn't play well right away. But that's the deal. As good as the games have been so far (thank you Notre Dame, Michigan, and the SEC), but level of play should now rise dramatically. It was a fun first month, and now expect the teams to be a whole lot better.
2. And its on a bad toe and down a superstar
Is Jimmy Clausen getting enough credit for the way he's played over the last month?
It's sort of odd to say this about a quarterback from Notre Dame, but I get the feeling that most of the nation has treated his recent heroics with a yawn. Maybe it's a counter punch to all of the publicity the Irish typically receiver. Or maybe it's a personal thing in the direction of Clausen, who's been known to be smarmy and somewhat arrogant. However, his play on the field has been well above criticism. Playing the last couple of weeks with a bad toe that's kept him from planting properly and without Michael Floyd, one of his best weapons, he's almost single-handedly kept Charlie Weis from going further under the microscope.
Currently the nation's most efficient passer, he's been at his best when the game hangs in the balance. Three weeks ago, he threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Golden Tate to beat Michigan State. Two weeks ago, he threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph in the fourth quarter to beat Purdue. Last weekend, he threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Rudolph in the fourth quarter in an overtime win against Washington. Are you sensing a trend here?
I have no dog in this hunt, and I get that plenty of folks despise Notre Dame across country. Still, that's no reason to downplay the accomplishments of Clausen. As we approach the mid-point of the 2009 season, there isn't a quarterback in the country who's playing better, especially when it matters most.
3. Upon further review ... review it.
I wrote earlier in the season (after the Clemson-Georgia Tech game, in which a poor holding call late in the game managed to swing the pendulum in favor of the Yellow Jackets) that if officiating makes an unusually large difference in a ballgame, it needs to be talked about. Well, the college football press has finally felt the need to do so after this past weekend's incidents.
Yes, officiating reared its ugly head this past weekend, but let's not spend some cheap outrage or waste the anger that poured forth from fans and players after big games were unfairly altered by horrible calls. It's time to put the arbiters--on the field and in the replay booth--in their proper place, and think beyond them. The right lessons need to be gained and then applied by the coaches and football lifers who shape, discuss, and ultimately legislate the revised rules of the sport, as they're tweaked from year to year. If appropriate rule revisions aren't made, this past weekend's officiating mishaps will have occurred in vain.
Other people will bang the drum about the excessive celebration calls in LSU-Georgia, and rightly so. This problem should have been nipped in the bud after the unconscionable flag thrown against Washington quarterback Jake Locker in last year's game between the Huskies and Brigham Young. The bigger story in relationship to officiating, though, is that instant replay needs to be able to review EVERYTHING, or at the very least, as many plays as humanly possible.
Let's turn to someone with weight and intellectual heft. Someone to look up to. Someone whose views should matter: A philosopher.
Joshua A. Smith is an assistant professor in philosophy at Central Michigan University. He has published a number of articles on epistemology (that's the study of human knowledge in its many dimensions), but he also published an essay, "Upon Further Review," in the 2008 book Football and Philosophy: Going Deep (The University Press of Kentucky). In his essay, Smith argues that "there is no middle ground to take regarding instant replay. Either all plays are reviewable or none are, and in either case, the change to the game need not be that dramatic."
Indeed, the philosopher has a point.
Critics might think that judgment calls can't easily fall under the purview of replay, but go ask yourself: Just how hard could it have been to review the play on which Oklahoma's punter, Tress Way, plainly seduced the referee into throwing a mistaken roughing-the-punter flag that made Miami's 21-20 win a lot closer than it should have been. The seduction of refs by flopping punters--an act which should produce a 15-yard flag on the punter for unsportsmanlike conduct (institute and apply that rule, rule-makers!)--has been a longstanding problem in college football, ever since Tennessee punter David Leaverton hoodwinked the official in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl (the national title game) against Florida State.
Plainly put, replay could have reviewed the play--even though it was a judgment call--and allowed for an appropriate 15-yard penalty... against the Sooners. Professor Smith says this about the false and misleading distinction between judgment calls and supposedly "clear-cut" calls already reviewable under replay:
"Given the nature of an official's imperfect connection to the truth of exactly what happens on a football field, all calls are essentially judgment calls. Some types of calls (like pass interference) are clear less often than other types of calls (like when a player is out of bounds). But that doesn't mean that the two types of plays are essentially different."
Come on, college football powers-that-be: Replay needs to be able to review punt seductions, simultaneous possession on catches (the Big Ten did not and could not do so in the Indiana-Michigan game from Sept. 26), pass interference, and many other plays that are currently unable to be examined. (Heck, celebrations should come under review if a replay booth supervisor can step in and determine that a player celebrated with his teammates as opposed to taunting the other team...)
Philosophers agree; more importantly, the competitive integrity of the sport demands that appropriate changes be made in time for 2010.
4. Let the games begin, part two.
Wouldn't it be nice if we were entering the meat of the conference season talking about the potential for the great championship races out there? It would be a delight to be trying to figure out the ridiculous ACC, which should have more contenders for the title than a splintered European election. And how about that Pac-10? Stanford's in first place. Stanford! Sure, the Cardinal still has USC and Oregon on the schedule, but 3-0 is 3-0. The Big 12 North promises to be zany. The Big East has a bunch of contenders all of a sudden. But, alas, we are now zeroing in on five or so teams and charting their progress toward perfection, or at least a loss that won't be crippling. Every season since the advent of the ridiculous BCS has featured a winnowing of candidates for the title, but this year, the pretenders have been thrown from the bus earlier than usual. That means games that have conference implications won't mean anything outside of their own neighborhoods, and we will build up the few games between "contenders" (beginning with Saturday's Florida at LSU tilt) to Armageddon status. For many, the goal of each college season is to choose a champion, but by marginalizing the rest of Division I-A, the sport suffers overall. There is only one solution, and the hypocrites who run the sport won't let it happen, but wouldn't be great if we cared about the ACC race and Stanford's Pac-10 hopes with the same fervor we approached the three-way SEC tangle? I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm tuning in to Boston College-Virginia Tech game Saturday. It has some serious implications.
5. To Tebow or not Tebow?
Now that LSU has defeated Georgia in Athens, setting up the biggest showdown of the regular season, will it see the total Tebow or a more timid Tebow? It's the key question within the question leading up to Saturday night's mega-clash in Baton Rouge.
I have a hunch Tim Tebow is in the huddle when top-ranked Florida visits No. 4 LSU next weekend. That's just a feeling based on his fearless demeanor and a competitive fire that rivals any in the recent history of the game. Naturally, only his doctors and his inner circle truly know the answer to what lays ahead for the Gator. Watching the Tigers get physical with Georgia on Saturday, I kept thinking about Tebow. Will he be different when he does return? Will his reckless style of play, so synonymous with his legacy, change after suffering a pretty severe concussion in Lexington two weeks ago? An injury, especially to the head, can impact a player in ways that extend far beyond the physical. Psychologically, how will a player, who'd been virtually invincible up until two weeks ago, react to getting hit hard again? No one has ever seen Tebow so vulnerable, making the last couple of weeks oddly surreal in the college football world.
Of course, the flip side is the upside. Baton Rouge after the sun sets. Unbeaten LSU. What happens to the legend of Tebow if he returns from the concussion and guides Florida to an inspirational win? I'm not saying it's going to happen, but it has the potential to make last year's post-Ole Miss pledge seem like a Sunday school sermon.