When the NFL playoffs roll around or March Madness arrives or MLB’s Opening Day gets here we may say the same thing about those sports, but last weekend all I could think of is this: Is there anything better than a college football Saturday? Earlier this season I wrote that it was too bad that the sport is trending towards more night games, because it means fans have to choose among several good primetime matchups instead of watching them all throughout the day. But while I sat in a bar last Saturday night watching the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 teams in the country play competitive games on three television screens at the same time, well, I didn’t think there was anything better than a college football Saturday.
Is Alabama too good?
It’s not an Alabama-LSU game until someone in the press box gets arrested. Bobby Hebert, a host for a New Orleans radio station, was escorted from LSU’s press box for cheering during the game. It wasn’t the first time. The Crimson Tide Radio Network guys are lucky they get their own booth, given their call of Alabama’s game-winning touchdown. Play-by-play man Eli Gold’s delivery is justifiably exciting, but sports fans in bigger markets, especially New York, will agree that the color commentator, former Alabama assistant Phil Savage, takes it a bit too far: “Make a man miss,” Savage pleads to the ball-carrier, T.J. Yeldon, as he breaks into the open field. After Yeldon obliges, Savage lets out an elephant-sized “Yeesss!”
Then again, can you blame Savage? Even with the television on mute you could feel the excitement in Death Valley all night—just as you could sense the life come out of the stadium when Yeldon scored. In addition to providing high-level excitement, perhaps Alabama’s narrow 21-17 victory will convince people once and for all that no college team would stand a chance against even the worst NFL team. There had been some crazy talk throughout the week that Alabama could beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. Suggesting this could happen makes the “Kentucky could beat the Bobcats” talk from last college hoops season seem tolerable. One oddsmaker suggested the spread for a hypothetical Alabama-Jaguars game would be 25 points; the reason it wasn’t even higher is because he thought much of the public would be dumb enough to take Alabama.
More South Bend magic
Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh last week in triple overtime, 29-26, to move to 9-0. The Irish have now defeated a team from every BCS conference this season except the SEC; ND fans are hoping they get a chance for the conference sweep in a national title matchup with Alabama. Things are going right for Notre Dame after a season in which everything seemed to go wrong. All five of their home wins are by seven points or fewer, and two were settled in overtime. Plus, they are the only team to legitimately beat Michigan State this season (see the Tweet of the Week below).
NBC play-by-play man Dan Hicks (filling in for Tom Hammond) was worried his bad luck—it is believed that his two previous ND assignments resulted in huge upset losses for the Irish—would continue in South Bend. “If Irish lost to Pitt tonight no way I’m ever allowed back in Notre Dame booth or my own house!” he tweeted after the game. Hicks’ wife, Hannah Storm, is a Notre Dame alum. The outcome could have been different for the Irish if the referees had noticed that two ND players on the field for Pitt’s game-winning field goal attempt had the same jersey number.
Oregon, Kansas State, and that other unbeaten
Part of what made game-watching on Saturday night so fun were the different styles on display. Alabama has a great defense and run game, while Kansas State seems to do everything well and Oregon fields an offense perhaps unmatched in college football history.
The Ducks made it look easy against USC, as they have done every week. Doesn’t it seem like an Oregon receiver is usually wide open on pass plays? And that the holes for the running backs are enormous? The numbers back it up: Oregon running back Kenjon Barner ran for 273 yards against USC…before contact. He finished with a total of 321 yards and five touchdowns. I realize rule changes for this season make onside kicks more difficult/less advantageous for the kicking team, but why don’t more teams try them against Oregon? If you can’t stop them, don’t let them have it. USC tried one late in the fourth quarter and failed, but it was just the fourth onside kick attempt against Oregon this season, and two of the previous three attempts were way too late to make a difference. Oregon’s win was monumental for a lot of reasons, one of which was that the Ducks broke the Colorado Curse by becoming the first Division I-A team this season to win its next game after playing Colorado.
Kansas State, meanwhile, was outgained by Oklahoma State but won 44-30 because it forced five turnovers and committed none. That’s been the formula for the Wildcats all season—they lead the country in turnover margin, having turned it over just four times. Think of it this way: K-State would still have a better turnover margin than more than half the teams in the country even if they only counted the turnovers they forced on Saturday. And, remember, this acrobatic interception only counts as one.
Then there’s Louisville, the Forgotten Unbeaten. The Cardinals are no better than 11th in the AP Poll, however, because of their weak schedule. A win at Rutgers to close the season would easily be its most impressive win, though it has to get by Syracuse this week (see my Upset Pick of the Week below). Louisville’s margin of victory against Division I-A teams is just 9.6, 30th best in the country and less than a third of Alabama and Oregon’s average margins.
Tuesday was Election Day so it’s time to take a look at college football figures who would have a hard time winning a local election:
1. Mark Emmert in Pennsylvania
He wouldn’t fare too well in many college football towns.
2. Nick Saban in Louisiana
Had this hypothetical election taken place in the early 2000s, he would have been a frontrunner.
3. Dan Mowrey and Gerry Thomas in Tallahassee
They’d get some support from the ultra-conservatives because they both go way to the right.
4. The Stanford Band Trombone Player in Palo Alto
Wrong place, wrong time.
5. Lane Kiffin in Tennessee
Or maybe he’d somehow convince voters he is the most qualified candidate.
6. Doug Flutie in Miami
Then again, how could anyone vote against little Flutie?
Time to hand out the awards from this past week…
Nothing Had to Give Game of the Week: Michigan State vs. Nebraska. Nebraska’s dramatic 28-24 victory continued trends for both teams: Michigan State’s failure to win close games and Nebraska’s penchant for late heroics. Down 10 midway through the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nebraska scored a touchdown with six seconds left to beat the Spartans, its third dramatic comeback victory in Big Ten play. Michigan State, meanwhile, has lost its four conference games by margins of 1, 2, 3, and 4. The frustrating loss in a season full of them led MSU running back Le’Veon Bell to tweet this after the game, our (Deleted) Tweet of the Week: “we legitimately lost ONE game this year…and that was Notre Dame! The black & white team beat us 4 times.” Bell criticizes the referees but gives the Irish more credit than most.
Stupid Rule of the Week: I notice this every week, and I’ve never understood why it’s against the rules for an offensive player to push his ball-carrying teammate forward, a move made famous by Reggie Bush. The refs also must not think it should be a rule, since they never call it. What’s the point of having a penalty if it’s not enforced?
Stat of the Week: The country’s top seven quarterbacks (as determined by passer rating) have a combined three losses. Is college football becoming more like the NFL?
Photo of the Week: Courtesy of College GameDay host Chris Fowler. Since this is LSU we’re talking about, Fowler needed to clarify that it was “not grilled baby elephant“:
student-ATHLETES of the Week: The Pittsburgh football players charged with assault. Buried near the bottom of last week’s Associated Press report on three Pitt players charged with assaulting other students on campus was this line: “While none of the alleged victims could recognize all three players, each player was recognized by at least one, including Mitchell who recognized Street from a class they took together on vampires.” Wait, Pittsburgh has a class on vampires? Did J.K. Rowling peruse the Pitt course guide before designing Hogwarts? By the end of the semester, students enrolled in “Vampires: Blood and Empire” will not only have three (three!) college credits but should be able to answer questions such as, “What qualities does the vampire incarnate?” “How have the depictions of the vampire evolved over centuries?” and “Did I really just spend thousands of dollars on a class on vampires?”
Overrated Team of the Week: Mississippi State. Sure the Bulldogs (22 in the AP, 23 in the Coaches Poll) are 7-2, but their wins have come against teams with a combined record of 24-40; three are in the Sun Belt and MSU’s three SEC wins came against teams that are 0-18 in the SEC. They’ve been crushed by the two good teams they’ve played, Alabama and Texas A&M, by a combined 76-20. They weren’t ranked in the preseason so I’m not sure why voters continue to list the Bulldogs on their ballots.
And now, a very brief look ahead to Saturday…
Kahn Family Smiles: Remember, I’m still undefeated with this.
Upset Pick of the Week: Syracuse over Louisville (record: 3-7, but the “black & white team” cost me last week)