5 Thoughts - Nov. 29
(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)
(The best BCS possibilities)
1. But it's far more fun to debate
about what might have been, right?
We have met the face of the enemy, and he is beatable.
New BCS Executive Director, Bill Hancock, was on the Dan Patrick radio show last week and was laughably awful in his lobbying for the idea that a college football playoff wasn’t necessary. To sum up the interview, Hancock has no tangible reason why college football doesn’t have a playoff other than the tired old party lines of “the bowl system is working” and lip-service about academics and logistics. He also had the head-slapping moment of saying the bowl system is good because it allows players to enjoy themselves, like the Virginia Tech players who got to jet-ski in Miami last year. Ask Cincinnati players if they’d rather go body surfing before the Orange Bowl or have a chance at a national title by playing in a playoff.
Go ahead and just say that the BCS head honchos don’t want a playoff because the bowls are making lots and lots of money and no one in a position of real power wants to change the status quo, and say that the college presidents and athletic directors don’t want one because there will be more pressure on their jobs. I can buy that. I don’t agree with it, but I’ll accept the basic notion of acting out of self-interest. But in lieu of the truth, have an answer. A real one.
Playoff backers, let me be the one to try to lead the charge. If you want a more satisfying end to the college football season, I’ll provide you with the ammunition to fight any anti-playoff head out there, and there is no reasonable or rational counter-argument
(believe me, I've seen them all). And away we go.
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 1: What’s the playoff going to be? No one can agree on the right system.
Hancock floated this idea out there, and that means that he just isn’t trying. Four teams are too few and would create more controversy, 16 teams are too many and it would devalue the regular season. As we’ve been screaming about for over the last decade, make it an eight team playoff using the six BCS conference champions, the top ranked non-BCS conference winner, and one wild-card being the top ranked team left on the board. Fine, so Boise State would have a beef this season, with the Florida/Alabama loser likely to get the wild-card, but if the price that needs to be paid is missing one deserving team once in a while, then so be it. It beats having six grouchy teams at the end of the year. It's not worth trying to add everyone (like in a 16-team playoff) if that means bringing in undeserving teams and devaluing the regular season.
The key to this playoff plan is two-fold. First, it keeps the integrity of the regular season intact, and even enhances it. How much more intense would Oklahoma – Texas, Florida – Alabama, and in normal years, Michigan – Ohio State be if they were for a playoff spot as well as a conference title? If anything, this idea would make for more interesting non-conference matchups because there’d be no reason to schedule a slew of cupcakes. All that matters is winning the conference title, and if a team can’t do that, it doesn’t deserve to play for the national championship (a simple fact lost on every other sport and their respective playoffs). Second, it keeps the playoff down to an easy three-week tournament.
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 2: The bowls. The bowl people want to keep the train rolling, and a playoff would kill one of college football’s greatest traditions. Who would care about the bowls if there was a playoff?
Who cares about the GMAC Bowl now? The same people who care about the Alamo, Gator, Texas, and every other bowl in between will still care when there’s a playoff, if not more so. It’s this simple. There are 34 bowls right now, and seven of them (BCS Championship, Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, Cotton, and the Capital One) would be used for the playoff. More on that in a moment. That leaves 27 bowls that need attention, teams and love. Make it a Bowlapalooza as a fantastic lead-in before the main event. Start the bowl season on Saturday, December 12th (using this year as an example), Heisman Day, with the first three bowls of the season. Pack in 27 bowl games over a 14-day span providing a primetime showcase every night but Sunday (the NFL) for two bowl games, with Saturdays being a smorgasbord. College fans will love it, and all sports fans will watch … what else is there to do?
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 3: Logistically, how would the actual playoff work, and would fans travel to the early games?
Do fans travel to the first round sites for the NCAA basketball tournament? A college playoff would be so big that the venues would have no problems getting people to show up.
Does anyone really care if the Fiesta Bowl isn’t on New Year’s Day? No one complained about the Orange getting moved, and no one will have a problem if on Saturday, December 25th (again, using this year as an example), the playoffs start at 10 a.m. EST with the first, first-round game being played in the Capital One. After that game ends, plan on Game Two, the Sugar Bowl, starting at 2 pm EST. Game Three, the Cotton Bowl, would start at 6 pm EST, and to cap things off, the Fiesta Bowl would start at 10 EST (it’s Saturday night and all kids will be off school … they can stay up late). If you’re not at least slightly daydreamy about the idea of first-round day of playoffs like this on a late December Saturday, then I can’t help you. New Year’s Day would give the Orange and the Rose the national semifinal games, and then seven days later would be the National Championship, which would move around the country like the Final Four does now. That would appeal to the Big Ten and the Big East, would would complain about the first round games being played in warm weather locations. Indianapolis and Detroit would host the national title here and there.
Logistically, the entire bowl season would
go through the same time frame it’s on right now, but would start a week earlier, it wouldn’t interfere with the NFL, and college football would be to late December what the first two weeks of March are to college basketball … only tenfold.
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 4: But what about the academics. We can’t mess with finals.
No one is in school when the playoffs would start. Like anyone worried about whether or not North Carolina and Michigan State were fully focused on their mid-terms during the six-week run from the conference tournaments to the college basketball national championship starting late last February through early April.
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 5: That’s too much football for the players. If the SEC and Big 12 champions play for the national title, they’d each end up playing 16 games.
No one seems to worry about that when it comes to the FCS, D-II, and D-III playoffs, and there’s a nice gap of time between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. Most teams would get close to four weeks off to rest up and get healthy.
These are 18-to-22-year-old kids; they'd be
early-August fresh. Again, the season would end the same time it does now and wouldn’t screw up the NFL scouting and preparation process.
Anti-Playoff Argument No. 6: What about the fun of the bowl? According to Hancock, “(the bowl) experience is a lifetime experience, and it’s much better (than a playoff).”
Football players want to play football; they don’t care about the luaus. The 27 other bowls would create those experiences and memories for the players … and they’d all rather be in the playoffs.
Hancock went on with Patrick to say that “hypothetical playoffs are great on paper, but in reality, when you drill down into the details, they’re very difficult.” Bill, Mr. Hancock, I just did it and I kept it, for the most part, within the current construct of the bowl system that’s in place right now.
There’s no playoff because you are lazy and because you’re not doing your job, even though you’ve been at it for about ten minutes. It’s your job to make money for everyone, and this would do that. It’s your job to keep the bowls happy, and this would make them bigger. It’s your job to make the sport of college football better. Get smarter. Get it done.
2. Whatever. It's basketball season.
Just when it looked as if the ACC was about to ditch its stigma as a basketball conference, it goes out and throws up a brick.
There were whispers before the weekend began that the league with so much to prove was beginning to turn the corner. Heck, a healthy one-fifth of the Top 25 was comprised of its members and the winners of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions were riding six and eight-game winning streaks, respectively. At long last, something to crow about for commissioner John Swofford. Or not.
In what will go down as a disastrous day for the conference, the ACC got ambushed in three high-profile match ups with SEC opponents, two of which it figured to win. That Florida State got spanked by Florida, 37-10, was no surprise. That Clemson and Georgia Tech, the league’s representatives in next week’s title game, were roughed up by a couple of 6-5 teams was a turn-of-events that’s going to stunt this conference’s growth both on the field and in the court of public opinion. Throw in a North Carolina loss to NC State, and those ranked members did a poor job of representing in Week 13.
For years, the ACC’s biggest problems were that it lacked an identity and lacked programs capable of extending the brand off the East Coast. After Clemson and Georgia Tech, this year’s cover boys, wilted in the face of more physical SEC teams, those issues show no signs of going away. The Tigers and Yellow Jackets meet on Saturday to decide the ACC champion, but besides determining one of the BCS bowl berths, will anyone outside the region be paying attention? The league earned the yawns and general lack of interest it’s going to receive when it stages its championship game in Tampa next weekend.
3. Silly men doing silly things, part 1
The overheated worlds of talk radio and message boards lead to extreme and highly emotional reactions, so in the wake of Saturday night's late dose of "L.A. Lather" - which you might have missed, given the poor quality of football in the UCLA-USC game - some finely-calibrated comments are in order.
As is the case with so many other situations, a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down approach fails to make the grade as an assessment of the final minute of L.A.'s crosstown collision, which started just after 10 p.m. in the East and naturally ended well after 1 a.m.
While people on the East Coast were sleeping, a snoozefest of a slugfest between the sluggish Trojans and the banged-up Bruins found the height of electricity in the 60th minute of competition. With under a minute left and USC leading 21-7, Pete Carroll had quarterback Matt Barkley take a knee, in a gentlemanly attempt to get off the field and take a 14-point win over a neighborhood rival. However, that gesture - aimed at making the final minute quick and painless - was met with a timeout from UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, who gave every indication that the Bruins were going to exhaust their three timeouts after USC's series of kneel-downs.
During the timeout, the Trojan braintrust talked about dialing up a long pass, and Carroll - irritated by Slick Rick's timeout and the prospect of two more clock stoppages - okayed the long ball. Barkley hit Damian Williams with a 48-yard touchdown pass, and that bomb ignited a powder keg inside the L.A. Coliseum.
The Trojans' bench - clearly aroused by an excited Mr. Carroll - whooped it up on the sidelines, inciting the UCLA team to come halfway across the field. A tense standoff developed for a few extremely nervous minutes before security officials intervened and the two coaches headed off a disastrous and ugly brawl... and just barely. When the game ended, UCLA's players were rushed off the field by security while USC stayed on the turf; violent incidents were averted, but the stench of ugliness filled the stadium just the same.
How to assess this series of incidents? First of all, don't paint in black and white. Bashing Pete Carroll without any caveats or nuances reflects an impoverished view of a coach who's been good for college football and great for the city of Los Angeles. (More on that in a bit.) Yes, Carroll caved in the face of the temptation to answer one provocation with one of his own; the USC coach failed mightily in that regard. However, Carroll didn't initiate the proceedings, which should also affect moral and ethical evaluations of this situation. If you think this is just "more of the same Pete Carroll B.S.", you're wildly out of line in your thinking.
The more important aspect of this case - and the reason why Carroll deserves harsh but measured criticism - is that the USC coach, who had just endured a late jab from Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on Nov. 14 on the same Coliseum field, sent a message to his team and to young Angelinos that "REVENGE IS GOOD." In the SEC, where football passions run deep and the need to settle scores owns more meaning, a gesture such as this wouldn't be quite so controversial. But in Los Angeles, a city plagued by gang violence - violence Carroll has worked so tirelessly to reduce - this kind of statement represents an act of profound moral weakness, a primal surrender to base instincts on the part of a normally intelligent and deeply caring person.
Pete Carroll doesn't need to apologize to Rick Neuheisel, whose completely unnecessary timeout started this whole mess. What Carroll does need to do - as he continues his midnight visits to poverty-stricken gang members and at-risk youth in the City of Angels - is to apologize for his actions and the stirring up of his team, in an on-field version of far too many gang incidents that involve runaway testosterone and out-of-control egos. Yes, there was no actual brawl at midfield, but Carroll's decision to go for the bomb already set a horrible example that will only make it seem even cooler to use revenge when an opponent (a rival gang or a rival football team) pokes you in the chest.
Incidents of gang violence and death occur for all sorts of reasons; some of them are substantial (the killing of a family member, for instance), but some of them have surely been quite trivial over the long march of time: Calling people names, stealing five bucks, arguing over a pair of Nike shoes, and other silly scenarios have served as the prelude to the gunning down of teenagers on the streets of L.A., Newark, Detroit, and who knows how many other gritty metropolitan areas in the United States.
Pete Carroll didn't throw the first punch in this skirmish with Rick Neuheisel; on the field, USC hasn't been terrifically irresponsible in running up the score. (Bob Stoops and Urban Meyer have Carroll easily licked in that department.) However, Carroll - who is serious about the work he does on the mean streets of a city that looks up to him - has a great deal of explaining to do in his upcoming string of late-night visits.
Forget about football, then, in the wake of this incident; Pete Carroll needs to be a better teacher of life, and a better exemplar of the moral jujitsu great human beings know how to display. Another famous L.A. resident - Vin Scully - could tell Carroll a great story about the power of showing restraint in the face of provocative tactics.
When Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey decided to bring Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues and transform American society through the positive influence of sports, he demanded one thing of Robinson back in 1946. Scully - who was there when the Rickey-Robinson partnership worked its magic - knew that Rickey's most important requirement for his young ballplayer was this: "Jackie, you have to have the courage NOT to fight back." The lesson that allowed Jackie Robinson to be the hero he was (and is, and will be) is the same lesson gang members need to learn in their lives... if they want to grow old, raise children, and make a positive imprint on this planet.
For this reason - and not for any trivial aspect of a football game - Pete Carroll needs to do a lot of healing in the gritty corners and pockets of Los Angeles. A great coach and a good man succumbed to a primal temptation Saturday night, and now, Pete Carroll must undo the damage.
4. Silly men doing silly things, part 2
What were you thinking, Pete?
Just two weeks after feeling as if he had salt rubbed in the wound by Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll exacted a similar measure of questionable sportsmanship on UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel, nearly inciting a riot at the middle of the field.
In case you missed it, as just about everyone East of Los Angeles likely did, Carroll called for a play-action pass downfield with his Trojans up by two touchdowns and less than a minute left on the clock. Matt Barkley found Damian Williams wide open streaking down the middle of the field, Carroll whooped it up, and the Bruins had to be restrained from charging the Trojan sideline.
Now, before anyone accuses me of being too touchy-feely in these matters, I don’t expect a team to go into a four-corner offense to spare the other guy’s feelings. On the topic of late-game tactics, I subscribe to the theory of Lou Holtz, who believed it wasn’t his job to stop his own offense. Generally, though, that should apply when there’s a decent amount of time left on the clock. However, what was Pete’s point with just 44 seconds remaining? The game was in hand, and if anything, he might have risked a sack and a turnover by dropping Barkley back in the pocket. Take a knee, shake a hand, and move on to next week’s regular season finale with Arizona.
Hey, for the sake of an already contentious rivalry, Carroll’s odd choice of play-calling isn’t the worst thing, right? It makes for good copy, gets the fans in Los Angeles frothing at the mouth, and generally raises the overall hostility level between the long-time rivals. However, from a tactical perspective, I just don’t understand the move. Rarely does something good come from embarrassing an opponent that’s on the schedule every year. Pete, as much as anyone, should know this after Harbaugh looked to run it up on him earlier in the month.
5. Michael Bradley ... COMING