Wednesday, January 7, 2009

random thoughts during a random week

Many apologies for my absence the last two days -- I've been learning more about the laws in the state regarding video gambling and attempting to write about them effectively (not to mention the editorial responsibilities of putting together a newspaper). Nonetheless, here are some thoughts I've collected from the last few days.

-- The collective thought that came out of the Sugar Bowl on the state and national level was mainly positive towards Utah -- "Wow! They're way better than we thought!" -- and it should've been. One thing that's worth remembering: even though they won 12 straight games and were ranked number one, this was never one of the mighty ALABAMA teams in days of yore. Their ranking, as we discussed, was mostly by default -- every team in front of them in the polls lost and they kept right on winning. This team still had major flaws all season which weren't fully exposed until Utah brought them to light. It's really a credit to the coaching staff and the leadership on the roster that they were even in that position in the first place.
It is worth noting -- as TMQ gleefully pointed out yesterday -- that coach Saban neglected to be aggressive in situations where a little aggression might have been appropriate (and possibly inspiring).
-- While we're praising Gregg Easterbrook for being correct on one point, let us count all the ways he is at least 95 percent wrong, which almost always happens when the East-Coast geek tries to discuss college football (something he apparently follows only peripherally). For starters, he states Saban "shifted blame" to his players by not being aggressive in those situations (because afterward, Saban could say it wasn't his fault since he played the percentages). This is outlandish -- Alabama was down by 11, meaning a three-point try would've put them within a touchdown and a two-point conversion, not to mention the indoor nature of the game, which should've made a field goal try makeable from that distance (since Tiffin had already made from 52 earlier in the game; furthermore, anyone who read the transcript in the postgame would've noted how the coach repeatedly TOOK the blame for the loss, saying the team wasn't prepared, and that was on him and his staff.
More laughably, Easterbrook paints the respective tenures of Saban, Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino at 'Bama, Michigan and Arkansas (the "Weasel 3") as a collective failure because the three of them have a collective record of 20-18 this season. To put this in a real-world perspective: let's say you drove by a house that had just burned down, almost completely. Then you found out the owners had hired contractors you didn't like to rebuild it. Would it be even remotely fair to drive by that same house three weeks later and make fun of the owners because their contractors hadn't been able to completely rebuild it in that time period? Absolutely not.
Look, Gregg, we get that you have an axe to grind with these coaches. You don't like them. Nobody does. But your personal vendettas are getting a bit outlandish. Just last year, you kept advancing conspiracy theories about the New England Patriots long after everyone else had stopped caring, mostly because you obviously don't like Bill Belichick.
Now you're attempting to speak intelligently about college football, which is about as promising as me trying to write about astronomy and physics (two areas where you clearly have a one-up on me). TMQ, I implore you: stop embarrassing yourself this way. We, the people who read your column and enjoy it, want to continue doing so.
-- If I could make one big change in the way college football games are played, I'd change the overtime rules to be like the NFL's sudden-death rule.
Bear in mind, I'm probably alone here: both Easterbrook and Peter King complained again about the NFL's overtime rule this week in the wake of San Diego's OT win over Indianapolis, because apparently it's the NFL's fault that the Colts' defense -- strong for the most part all night -- couldn't punch San Diego off the field and give Peyton Manning the chance to win the game himself.
King actually pulled out a statistic to help his cause that wound up affirming mine: in regular-season history, 141 games (33 percent) that went to OT were decided on the first possession. Wow ... 33 percent????!!!! ZOMG!!!!! I can see now why the rule must be changed.
Look, I didn't enjoy that Wild Card game. I was pulling for the Colts, if only because I think it's a farce that San Diego (a poorly coached bunch of pouters) got rewarded for playing in a terrible division and finishing .500 (reminiscent of the national lovefest for USC, which may actually claim a few number-one votes as its reward for dominating an awful conference, a screwed-up Notre Dame squad and thumping Penn St. -- another shaky champ from an awful conference -- in a home game). But it's not the fault of the system that the Colts couldn't get a stop, or that they got at least one truly awful flag (that defensive holding called against one of Indy's DTs), or that they couldn't at least hold SD's offense long enough to trot out its shaky field goal kicker with the game on the line. Any of those things don't happen, maybe the game unfolds differently. But please don't blame the NFL.
The fact is, college football overtime, the longer it drags on, turns into a mockery of football. Even the best-conditioned athletes wilt after such long periods on the field, meaning the offenses become virtually unstoppable. That's not football anymore; that's a skel drill. Furthermore, when you start removing the kicking game, suddenly you're not really playing football anymore. At least in the NFL, the game resembles an actual game. Even if you're dissatisfied with the result.
-- Today, we have three teams -- Utah, USC and Texas -- all lobbying for a share of the Division I national championship. Breaking them down by -- basketball phrase -- body of work, we can eliminate USC by virtue of playing the weakest schedule and having the worst loss (at Oregon St.). And we'll take out Utah -- sorry guys, I loved the way you played vs. 'Bama, but you got no favors from Michigan or Oregon St. in your two other "quality wins," plus some of the others (vs. TCU inparticular) look pretty suspect, and that's not a good thing in the BCS beauty contest.
That leaves Texas and whoever wins the Oklahoma-Florida game. Which is what makes tomorrow night intriguing: if Florida wins, my guess is they bring home both shares of the title. But, if OU pulls a stunner -- and I'm not ruling it out -- would the AP be tempted to split the crown between the Red River rivals?
Before Monday I would've said "Absolutely." But then Texas had to come from behind to beat Ohio St. -- clearly tired of all the crap they've taken the last two seasons -- and put themselves into the category of "good, but not impressive." Comparatively, the two teams are almost identical -- OU has the better offensive numbers, Texas the better defensive. Their schedules are virtually identical: both of them played and beat Missouri and Kansas from the North, with OU pummeling Nebraska and Texas hammering Colorado in their other crossovers. For big non-conference wins, OU drilled Washington and TCU, while Texas beat up on UTEP and Arkansas (none of that is terribly impressive).
And, of course, Texas BEAT OU in their head-to-head. Give that whatever weight you believe it deserves.
So we'll see, I guess.

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