5 Thoughts - Nov. 22
(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)
(To Tebow or not Tebow)
(Bama vs. Florida ... already?)
(The pecking order for the national title)
(The Landry Jones era begins)
(Why not Boise State?)
(The at-large BCS teams will be ...)
(The future of Notre Dame)
1. Or maybe it's the Tsar. Whichever
one will get it done, I'll take.
I am the Czar of College Football, and as your ruler, I consider it my duty to bring you the best possible BCS matchups for your entertainment.
I have to stick to the laws and the parameters of the BCS (I do have a High Council to answer to), but as far as the matchups, it’s up to me and I promise I’ll do you all a solid.
I don’t care about which fan bases will travel, and I don’t necessarily care about the TV ratings and the brand name teams. I care about creating the games that will spark the most debate, will get the fans buzzing, and will be the most entertaining. Basically, I’m going to create the matchups with the best interests of the college football world in mind. Again, though, I have to work within the guidelines.
I can’t do anything about the BCS Championship Game. (From here on, all of this is assuming there won’t be any wacky Nebraska over Texas or Florida State over Florida upsets. There will be, but let’s play this straight for now.) It’s going to be the Florida/Alabama winner vs. Texas. I can’t do anything about this, and frankly, I don’t want to. We’ve all been lulled to sleep because this has been a foregone conclusion for several months, but you’ll be more interested in it once the hype kicks in.
I also can’t do anything about the Rose Bowl. It’s Ohio State vs. the Oregon State/Oregon winner. That’s not a bad matchup and I wouldn’t mess with it even if I could. It’s the Big Ten champion vs. the Pac 10 champion in Pasadena. All is right with the world.
And then it gets fun. Outside of the automatic bids, I can take anyone ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings.
Let’s start with the Sugar Bowl. Since the bowl will lose the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings, it gets the first pick of the at-large teams. Of course I’ll keep the SEC in its home bowl and will take the Florida/Alabama loser. The Fiesta Bowl will get the next at-large selection after losing Texas, the No. 2 team in the final BCS rankings, and I’ll grant it an unbeaten Cincinnati (or a one-loss Pitt if it beats the Bearcats).
The Orange Bowl automatically gets the Georgia Tech/Clemson winner, the ACC Champion, and gets the first pick after the BCS Championship teams have been taken care of. Since nothing is really solved if the at-large unbeatens play in this game, I’m going to take the team that provides the most interesting matchup (remember, of the teams ranked in the top 14 in the final standings), and that would be Iowa. I know, the offense stinks and the team has gotten by on as much good fortune and luck as anything else, but the defense is a killer and would be a terrific test for Paul Johnson’s option attack or against C.J. Spiller and the Clemson offense.
The next pick would go to the Fiesta, and I’m pairing up Cincinnati with TCU. The Mountain West got its shot at the SEC in last year’s Sugar Bowl, and it showed it can play as Utah throttled Alabama. We did that already, and TCU beating the Florida/Alabama loser would do nothing more than make a bunch of opportunistic congressmen mad. If the Bearcats and the Horned Frogs battled, the winner might make a claim to the No. 2 spot in the final rankings.
Finally, the Sugar Bowl needs someone to play with Alabama, and Boise State, come on down. I know, I know, we did the WAC vs. SEC thing with disastrous results (Georgia thumping Hawaii two years ago), but Boise State is different. This isn’t a fluky, one-year wonder thing against a miserable schedule; Boise State has proven it can handle itself on the highest of stages, and now it’s time to give it a shot against an SEC superstar.
My matchups would be …
- BCS Championship: Florida/Alabama winner vs. Texas
- Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oregon/Oregon State winner
- Fiesta: Cincinnati/Pitt winner vs. TCU
- Sugar: Florida/Alabama loser vs. Boise State
- Orange: Georgia Tech/Clemson winner vs. Iowa
Not only do these matchups properly define and reward the 2009 season, but they might actually be the games we’ll get if we’re lucky. I’ll arrange a coup (a bloodless one, maybe) and will try to get this done.
2. Wooooo, pig ... oh, you get it.
It’s a fun time to be a fan of Arkansas football again.
You knew this was coming when the Razorback administration lured Bobby Petrino away from the NFL two years, looking past his job-hopping tendencies and graceless departure from the Atlanta Falcons. Love him or hate him, the guy can flat-out coach at this level, especially when dispensing the finer points of offense. Give him a strong-armed pocket passer, like Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett, and you’ve got the recipe for future problems for the rest of the SEC West.
While Mallett was a little clumsy early on, he has been on fire ever since, tossing five touchdown passes in recent routs of Troy and Mississippi State, and moving up to No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency. Remember, this is still just a sophomore hurler, with limited experience two years ago in Ann Arbor. In other words, he’s only going to get better under the watchful eyes of Petrino and brother Paul, the Hogs’ offensive coordinator. Plus, he’s surrounded by gobs of young talent, like Darren McFadden wannabe Ronnie Wingo and receivers Cobi Hamilton, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs.
Arkansas is about where Ole Miss was this time last year, beginning to peak with a young team, a relatively new coach, and a transfer quarterback who’s already starting to get looks from NFL types. You might want to watch these guys closely in this week’s visit to Baton Rouge and the bowl game because if they can make any strides with a porous defense, they’re going to be a real trendy program in the offseason.
3. Now watch them go out and gack against
For the past several years, the Clemson Tigers staged an annual ritual in which they'd display their capabilities and then spend a season falling short of them. Special teams disasters, untimely dropped passes, turnovers at crunch time, face-plants on national television, stumbles against bad Maryland teams, and on and on and on; you name it, Clemson did it.
A timeless sports truism holds that "Legendary players and teams aren't always great; they're just great when they have to be." Clemson football's tortured history in this soon-to-end decade posed an altogether different reality: "Frustrating teams and players aren't always bad; they're just bad when they can least afford to be." The Tigers, tapping into the juju of the 1962 New York Mets, "found ways to lose I never knew existed," in the words of Mets manager Casey Stengel. Tommy Bowden's many ballclubs became world-class experts in the fine art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. A program blessed with considerable athleticism learned how to engineer many come-from-ahead losses and last-minute stomach-punch setbacks.
With this sorry past as prelude, the outlook was bleak when the 2009 Clemson crew dropped its annual head-scratcher at Maryland on Oct. 3. After a 2-3 start (1-2 in the ACC), no one had reason to think that coach Dabo Swinney, in his first full year on the job, would do what Tommy Bowden couldn't.
But after North Carolina's 31-13 win at Boston College this past weekend, the impossible became reality: The Clemson Tigers - for the past 18 years, a team that resisted winning the way the Chicago Cubs do - finally gave its fan base a championship of some sort. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus in Clemson: The Tigers got the girl and will take that pretty lady, Miss ACC Atlantic, on a date to the league's title tilt against Georgia Tech on Dec. 5 in Tampa, Fla.
Today, there is joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey didn't strike out. Prosperity was endured for once. The tiring Charlie Brown and Lucy act didn't emerge; this time, the field goal was kicked through the uprights.
Clemson. ACC Atlantic Division Champions. Savor the moment, Tiger fans. It's a day you most certainly deserve after having your heart surgically removed for nearly two straight decades.
4. Go, you Northwest-ern
Has anyone outside the Midwest been paying attention to what Northwestern has been up to this month? Too bad because you’re missing one of the really good, under-the-radar stories of 2009.
Quick, name a Wildcat player. Any Wildcat player. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re not alone, but that’s the point about Northwestern football. No household names, a limited number of all-stars, yet improbable results for a second straight season. Last year, the ‘Cats went 9-4, including 5-3 in the Big Ten. This fall, they’ve rebounded from a rough start to go 8-4, finish a respectable fourth in the conference, and close with three straight wins over Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Mike Kafka is the quarterback in Evanston. Freshman Arby Fields leads the team with only 294 yards rushing. S Brad Phillips has a team-high 84 tackles. Yawn. Greatness may elude Northwestern on the field, but there’s a budding superstar on the sidelines, the lone common thread that’s helped this program keep its head well above water. Pat Fitzgerald, not yet 35 years old and just four years into his tenure, has begun to make a name for himself on a national level. Can he be lured away from his alma mater, the school where he had a Hall of Fame career as a linebacker? It won’t be easy, but that alone won’t stop the inquiries from coming. He’s too hot of a commodity for athletic directors not to reach out and at least take his temperature.
You can only go so far, financially and professionally, at an institution, like Northwestern. Fitzgerald knows this, but Evanston has a deeper meaning to the coach that extends beyond just wins and dollars. He could have multiple chances to test that allegiance in the coming weeks, as programs across the country begin shedding unproductive coaches and looking for a new injection of life at the top.
5. It's okay to throw the ball ... really
I’ve been enjoying the NFL more and more lately and I couldn’t figure out why.
It wasn’t the level of play; there’s an epidemic of horrible teams plaguing our Sundays. It’s not necessarily my fantasy team; it has hit a midseason lull. It’s one simple reason, and I desperately miss it in my beloved college game.
The forward pass.
Don’t get me wrong; part of the reason I love college football is because of the running game. The Georgia Tech triple option might be my favorite offense in all of sports, I’m a huge fan of what Navy does, and the Nevada Pistol attack has been a work of art over the last two months. But it would be nice if someone could push the ball down the field once in a while.
Because of the infiltration of the spread attack, combined with pieces of the West Coast offense, college football has become way to dinky and dunky. Take a look at the top teams in America.
Florida maybe connects on one or two decent pass plays per game, but the offense is all about the dive play and working around it. Alabama has a superstar in Julio Jones, but Greg McElroy might be the only human who can stop No. 8. Colt McCoy has set a record for the most completed short passes, TCU is all about the spread, Cincinnati never goes deep with its accurate attack, and Ohio State has only been good with Terrelle Pryor under center after giving up on the pass and running the ball Tressel style.
Oddly enough, the most exciting deep passing game in college football, at least among the top teams, might be Georgia Tech’s. At least when the Yellow Jackets throw to Demaryius Thomas, they don’t screw around. It’s all about being conservative now, getting the short to midrange completion to the speedy target on the move, and hoping for yards after the catch. But even so, there’s a place for the deep ball.
Passing game fans lost all hope for a ball that disappears off the screen and then floats down a few seconds later when Sam Bradford got knocked out. The loss of Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant didn’t help, and neither did the disaster at Illinois, where Arrelious Benn was kept under wraps all year long. Kansas was supposed to have a high-flying air attack, but that went bye-bye. USC isn’t bombing away with Matt Barkley, and teams like Oregon and Virginia Tech are too busy running wild to try to throw. Even teams with supposed passing game gurus, like South Carolina, are doing less funnin’ and no gunnin’.
The reason is simple: it’s easier to practice running the ball than it is to practice throwing. An elite passing game needs timing, rep after rep after rep after rep, and most college coaches realize that it’s easier to win with a good defense and a spread running attack than it is to be high-flying. But there can be more of a mix, and as the game evolves, there will be. It’s just not happening enough this year.
Notre Dame has tried to hold up its end of the bargain, Case Keenum has been carrying the load at Houston, and Boise State and Pitt are doing a nice job of opening up the attack. There’s hope in the Pac 10 thanks to several excellent young passers, Ryan Mallett has helped the cause at Arkansas, and Wisconsin, yes, Wisconsin, has been using the pass more to set up the run. But it’s time for more teams to push it deep. It’s time to mix in the deep ball with the dumpoffs. It’s time to start taking some more chances. Please.