Friday, September 12, 2008

Throw the Flag: The Cynic’s Guide to College Football, Week 2

A late version of this week’s truths as, like many of you, I couldn’t bring myself to turn on my computer for fear that yet another of my fantasy football players would be injured. Anyway, on to this week’s trouble spots.

1. Ohio State—Taking the Easy Way Out

A week after feasting on in-state “rival” Youngstown State, the Buckeyes had another tune-up against in-state “team” Ohio Bobcats. You know, the ones playing with a backup QB who nobody knew his name because his afro covered up the name on his jersey. The ones who had five turnovers and yet were still leading by two with 14 minutes to go. Yeah, those Ohio Bobcats. Were the Buckeyes looking ahead to USC? Perhaps. Were they missing Beanie Wells (what kind of nickname is Beanie for a football player, anyway? Sounds more like a trust fund baby frat boy in the Ivy League)? Sure. But, dude, you’re still Ohio State. You shouldn’t be letting your little brothers hang around with you like that. It’s embarrassing for both of us. Take that game with you to LA this week and see how it works out for you. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about getting whipped in the BCS title game by an SEC team again.

2. You Don’t Mess Around with Jim (or Mack)

Will someone please explain to me why some pissant little schools seem bound and determined to have themselves throttled into oblivion by the Texas Longhorns? Two weeks ago, Howard “water is for the weak” Schnellenberger decided it’d be a good idea to call Texas “soft” the week before his Florida Atlantic Owls took on the Horns. 52-10 later, Schnellenberger crawled back onto the team bus and, most likely, into a bottle. Then this week, Texas ventured to the wild environs of border town El Paso for a game against the UTEP Miners. Now let’s get this straight—you are UTEP. That’s University of Texas at El Paso. You are not in the same area code, social circle or tax bracket of the Longhorns. And yet, for some inexplicable reason, the Miners administration wasn’t content to call it Texas vs. UTEP. Nooooo, in all the pre-game hoopla coming out from their athletic department, UTEP insisted on referring to the tilt as “UTEP vs. UT Austin,” as if the game was some kind of meeting of equals. Little hint: it wasn’t (42-13).

Twisting your opponent’s name can be fun if you’re rivals or on a somewhat level playing field (Oklahoma fans like referring to the University of Texas as TU just to watch Horns’ fans faces turn Sooner crimson). But as the song says, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind.” And while I’m not saying Mack Brown is Superman (more like Robin to Bob Stoops’ Batman, although I don’t want to see either one in spandex), it’s still generally not wise to call down the thunder upon yourself.

3. This Just In: Bo Pelini is Not God

Let’s get one thing straight—the national media types don’t know the first thing about football fans. I mean, they’re the same ones who can use the words “Rutgers,” “football” and “tradition” in the same sentence without giggling. So when you hear some east coast media type saying, “Nebraska fans expect to win championships and win them now,” know that the closest he’s been to Nebraska is 30,000 feet and likely couldn’t find the place with an atlas, two energy bars and a corn detector (note to self: invent corn detector). Husker fans are some of the most knowledgeable ones out there—they’re not naïve enough to think that the Bill Callahan era can be undone in two games. Yes, they certainly want to get back to the championship level. But in 2008 what they want to see is hard work, coaching adjustments and improvement.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Most observers I’ve talked to say the effort is definitely there, with many mistakes coming as a result of being too aggressive (e.g. over pursuing a running play, late hit, etc.). And Lord knows the defensive coaching in Huskerland is a step or twelve up from last year. But the Huskers escape over San Jose St. (won 35-12.; Huskers led just 14-12 with 12:08 to go) was, to use the real estate parlance, “a unique fixer upper opportunity.” The Huskers had more penalty (103) than rushing yards (99) and were outyarded by San Jose St. 353 to 315. At one point, they had three consecutive false start penalties. Yes, the Cornhuskers took a step backward against San Jose State. I still think Bo will get the Huskers turned around and return them to their glory days. But Husker fans are going to have some patience with this team.

4. Rules are Rules and are Meant to be Broken. Or Something Like That.

Which is worse—bad rules in college football? Or fans who incessantly whine about the bad rules when a violation of one hurts their team? Much has been written about the excessive celebration penalty against Washington QB Jake Locker in the closing seconds of the Huskies’ loss to BYU. I won’t get into the sense (or lack thereof) of the NCAA’s excessive celebration rule. But it’s on the books—fans should know about it, Jake Locker should know about it and Ty Willingham should definitely know about it. So don’t whine about the rule or blame the refs who enforced it. Don’t make excuses like, “Oh, he just flipped it over his shoulder” (that ball had more hang time than some punts on Saturday). Just suck it up and point the finger where it belongs--blame your special teams who allowed the ensuing PAT to be blocked.

Here’s hoping for a better Week 3. But I’m not holding my breath.

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