"The new president wants to end the BCS."
This from the backseat, offered up by the thirteen-year-old future constitutional law scholar.
"Yeah, well that is what he said." No denying this, at half-time of Monday Night Football, for the love of Pete, the junior Senator from Illinois was asked the most pressing problem in sports. His opponent prattled on about steroids or something. The younger man got straight to the point. I am convinced it sealed the election the next night. At the very least it might even lead me to forgive him for his stance on NAFTA. Settling matters on the field shows a competitive American spirit.
Of course, I don’t want my son to be disillusioned by the promises of politicians.
"He’s not really going to end the BCS, more pressing problems, you know: economic collapse, two wars going on…"
Zach, being a Millennial, does not share in such Gen-X cynicism.
"Dad," he said by way of explanation, "he’s the President of the United States."
Change he can believe in. Later in the day, I remember where this movement really got started.
Penn State 23
The end of this Big Ten classic would make cinematographers weep: grey clouds rolling in, a 70,000 strong caucus of Iowans huddled up against the cold in Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeye black and gold set against the unadorned Penn State unis, a water tower in the background (hey, the Rose Bowl gets the San Gabriel Mountains, Iowa gets a water tower—it’s the heartland, right?) and a last-second field goal resulting in pandemonium. Iowa’s bruising tailback Shonn Greene now leads the race for "Best Player Who Won’t Be Invited to the Heisman Presentation" and quarterback Rick Stanzi, at times maligned, made the clutch throws down the stretch. The Iowa defense makes me wonder how the Hawkeyes have lost four games this season. Oh well.
Penn State can still end JoePa’s career in the Rose Bowl, but it won’t be for bigger stakes, which, thankfully, clears up a fair amount in our world. We are down to a tournament. Big 12 champion in this corner, SEC champion in that one. USC might complain, but, for all I care, they can cry all the way to the bank, cash their BCS check, round up another dozen five-star recruits, have a swim party at Pete Carroll’s house and try again next year. As for this year, the Trojans have serious problems scoring against anyone with a pulse, beating Cal 17-3 this weekend.
Texas Tech appears quite serious about winning the Big 12 title. The game with Oklahoma State started badly with a muffed shotgun snap that led to an easy Cowboy touchdown. A bad sign: you never know how a team will respond to unprecedented success; wary Tech fans sometimes refer to their own team as the Red Faders (EDITOR’S NOTE: Stop with the "no respect" e-mails, I didn’t come up with this. I ranked you number one last week and am about to do it again). This version of the Red Raiders responded by stomping the ever-loving crap out of Oklahoma State, burned a pyre of Garth Brooks CDs in the parking lot and then went and hid T. Boone Pickens’s arthritis medicine and reading glasses. Tech 56, Oklahoma State 20, in a game that saw almost perfect execution from the Raider offense. The Pokes failed to make a single meaningful defensive play against the Graham Harrell-led 600-yard explosion. Once again, the Tech defense bracketed a great receiver (Dez Bryant this week, Jordan Shipley last), left two safeties back and, for the most part, dominated with the play of their front seven. Color me impressed. Again.
In the SEC, Alabama couldn’t have started or ended any worse in Baton Rouge. The low point of a turnover-plagued first half came on a fumbled kick-off after an LSU touchdown, giving the Tigers the dreaded two-for-one special and a 14-7 lead faster than you can say Verne Lundquist. Alabama ended regulation with a partially blocked chippie that would have won the game. Overtime. Alabama’s Saturday hero, safety Rashad Johnson, ended the Tiger’s first possession with a beautiful end-zone pick, his third of the game. Alabama’s future hero, Julio Jones, made a Michael Crabtree-esque sideline snatch on the ensuing possession, taking the ball to the LSU one and leading to an easy touchdown. Unlike Penn State, the other half of the Ghost of 1978 survives a raucous night crowd in an iconic setting. Tide 27, Tigers 21.
Among the one-loss contenders, the quote of the day came from Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops:
"You just have to choose sportsmanship over BCS points. To me, in the end, it’s the right way to play it."
This was after a 66-28 rout where the red team scored sooner, later and everywhere in between for three quarters on the road at Texas A&M. To Stoops’s credit, the score could have been 80-28, or 90-28, or some other homage to the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers (or perhaps the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners, come to think of it).
Texas tussled early against a Baylor team increasingly being described as "pesky." The Horns closed strong in the second quarter and dominated the third on the way to a 45-21 win, perfectly adequate in the style point category, even though a late Bear touchdown kept them from covering the spread.
Florida really styled it up, scoring lots and lots of touchdowns against a Vanderbilt defense many of us bragged about early in the season. Tim Tebow’s really mad; I mean in a loving, Christian way of course. Gators 42, Commodores 14.
Georgia fended off irrelevance and the Kentucky Wildcats, 42-38. Writers have a bad habit of informing teams when they are done. Football players tend to have a different opinion. The Bulldogs played tough in getting off the mat after the Florida disaster.
The season’s feel good story met the season’s feel bad story and it just made everyone feel worse. Michigan 26, Minnesota 6. Moving right along…
Missouri started to close in on the Big 12 North title with a 41-24 win over Kansas State.
I still can’t get used to the increasingly common moments in the age of the spread offense where everyone pauses, stands up, looks at the sideline, then resumes play. I half expect the players to remove their helmets so a funeral procession can pass by.
I was heartened last week that at least West Virginia would be worth watching as the Big East BCS bowl participant. Throwing my ignorance out on the table for all to observe has always been one of my favorite hobbies. Cincinnati 26, West Virginia 23.
Pittsburgh whipped Louisville 41-7 to remain tied for first place with Cincinnati and West Virginia. We’ll try and overlook that ugly outing against Rutgers and concentrate on the positive.
Finally, a worthy ACC champ emerges? Nawth Klina whipped Georgia Tech 28-7, blowing the game open with the help of a few poorly-timed Tech mistakes. Butch Davis is ahead of schedule and the Tar Heels look to me like the best team in the conference, but we are not out of the woods…
As for the rest of the Absolutely Chaotic Conference, front-runner Maryland, naturally, got thwacked by Virginia Tech (never play the Hokies on Thursday night). Back to the drawing board. I would note that, if there were a trading deadline in college football, Terrapin receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey would be at the top of the want list. What would Alabama pay to get another target for J.P. Wilson?
Florida State rallied to beat Clemson 41-27 in a game that featured zero references to the Bowden Bowl.
Al Groh returns. Understanding the Virginia Cavaliers is about as accessible as the average White Stripes song. Wake Forest 28, Virginia 17. That means Wake is now in first place, well, along with a lot of other ACC teams.
Get this, of the dozen teams in the two ACC divisions (the Sea Breeze and the Palms), six of them are either 4-2 or 3-2. Georgia Tech, for some reason, is 4-3.
This is even better. Instead of the USC/Penn State Rose Bowl, we could be treated to the Oregon State/Michigan State Rose Bowl; both teams control their own destiny. I’ll bet the Tournament of Roses is chomping at the bit to get that one in front of a national television audience.
Oregon State beat UCLA, 34-6 and it was Michigan State over Purdon’t, 21-7.
I am certain that the Little River Band is the worst multiple million selling band in the history of recorded music. The danger of FM channel-surfing strikes when "Happy Anniversary" comes on and you have no choice but to revel in its awfulness. It’s uncomfortably bad, but you can’t stop. Sort of like watching Jimmy Clausen throw four picks for a Notre Dame team that may well have called it a year three weeks early. BC 17, ND 0.
Boise State crushed Utah State 49-14 despite two lost fumbles, a pick and 115 yards in penalties. Utah State had a mere three lost fumbles, three picks and 112 yards in penalties. Time to break out the Jim Tressel instructional videos.
Speaking of Jim Tressel, Ohio State 45, Northwestern 10.
BYU crushed MWC doormat San Diego State, 41-12.
Ball State went to 9-0 with a 45-14 thrashing of Northern Illinois on Wednesday night. You’ll never catch Baylor playing on Wednesday.
On Thursday, TCU had Utah on the ropes twice. The Horned Frogs put together a pair of clock-draining drives that both ended with missed short field goals, one hooked, the other pushed. This is how you turn a 16-6 win into a 13-10 loss. Utah’s Brian Johnson engineered an outstanding two-minute drill against a pretty fair TCU secondary to take control of the Mountain West. Most of the sports writing cognoscenti didn’t like it. Hogwash, this was a good football game.
Impressive Showing of the Week: Texas Tech
We have arrived at the point of the season where one could seed an eight-team tournament. This sparked some argument in my family room Saturday. Up against my brother-in-law, Craig, a trial lawyer of no small ability, and the aforementioned 13-year-old, Zach, I was intellectually outgunned. Nevertheless, I took the proposition of Texas Tech on a neutral field against Florida. Maybe a fool’s bet, but I think it would be a better game than most. Tech’s offensive personnel matches up almost perfectly against a Florida defense yet to face an offense anywhere near this good (yes, I am including Georgia), especially the Red Raider offensive line, which is getting too little credit. The question left unanswered is Texas Tech venturing away from home. We will answer that one in Norman two weeks hence. In any case, here are my eight seeds:
1. Texas Tech
7. Penn State
8. Utah, the presumptive Mountain West champ
The ACC and Big East can come back next season.
Last Tuesday, our nation celebrated an historic election. God speed, Senator Obama.
This Tuesday, we need to pause to remember the men and women who made it possible. I had three uncles who helped our nation win World War II: Frank Jones, Jim Silcott and Johnny Williams. They are all gone now. We are just left to be grateful.
Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith Family and Football is the new book by Adam Jones.