Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cynic's Guide to College Football, Week 9

It's kind of appropriate that tomorrow is Halloween, because we're entering the Dead Zone. You know--that time of year when the World Series is over (for all six people outside the Philly metro area who actually cared) and the unmitigated evil of the NBA is upon us, but see-who-can-find-the-remote-and-hit-the-mute-button-before-Dick-Vitale-can-talk season (also known as college hoops) hasn't gotten here yet.

Scary, ain't it?

It's hard to believe that we're in the homestretch of the college football season. Everyone is nearly two-thirds of the way through the season and things are getting weirder by the week. With that, I give you your weekly dose of the Dark Side of college football. Happy Halloween everyone. And don’t forget to vote!

1. To Burn or Not to Burn

On paper at the start of the season, last Thursday’s West Virginia/Auburn game looked like it could have serious national title implications. After all, the two teams were the preseason #8 and #10 teams in the country. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Last Thursday’s game between these two was really just about saving face. West Virginia was able to do so, rolling off 31 unanswered points, en route to a 34-17 win that bumped their record to 5-2. They’re still very much in the mix for a BCS bid in the weakened Big East. But how bad are things for Auburn? So bad that West Virginia fans were wondering if beating the Tigers was even worth burning a couch over.

Warning: Contents are flammable.

2. Whodathunkit

Which is more improbable: that, nine weeks into the season, an 81-year old Joe Paterno has a legit shot at his first undefeated season since a then-22 year old Kerry Collins led the Nittany Lions to a 12-0 mark in 1994? Or that a now-36 year old Collins is an NFL starting quarterback and is leading the only undefeated team in the country?

The odds were this long!

3. The Joke’s On Kentucky

A week ago I wrote about Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips and wondered how he got his nickname. Well after seeing some of the Wildcats’ offensive performance in their 63-5 loss at Florida last weekend, now I think I know. To be fair, Kentucky was battling a ton of injuries. But three offensive points?

The Joker enjoying his trip to Florida. The same can't be said for the rest of the Wildcat faithful.

4. Can Drug Use Be Justified?

Fifteen North Texas football players reportedly tested positive for some kind of drug use. But let’s be honest—if you played for UNT, you were 0-8, had given up less than 40 points only once this season and had been outscored 400-135, you’d probably need something to take the edge off as well.

UNT's backup long snapper.

5. OK, who had October 27 in the Pool?

Look, we all knew the end was coming for Tyrone Willingham. But getting fired after losing to the team you were at previously? Talk about adding insult to injury.

6. You Can’t Buy Votes . . . But I’ve Got Two on the Fifty.

With the election just around the corner, I had to throw in one story with a political bent—earlier this week, former Ohio state representative John Widowfield pled guilty to two counts of using campaign money to buy Ohio State football tickets—and then scalp them. He had reportedly made nearly $14,000 in profits between 2003 and 2006, but resigned from the Legislature in May when their Ethics Committee began investigating.

Free market entrepreneur? Evil bloodsucking parasite? Or your next governor?

7. Iowa State is the New Baylor

The reports of the Big 12 North’s resurgence have been greatly exaggerated. After last year’s great runs by Kansas and Missouri, lots of people were saying that the Big 12 North had finally turned a corner and would be on an equal footing with the South. Missouri had national title and Heisman hopes. Kansas had no reason to believe they couldn’t be back in the BCS. This was supposed to be the year that Dan and Cody Hawkins moved Colorado up to the next level. And Bo Pelini was going to get Nebraska turned around. Well, those dreams may have to wait a while. Missouri’s title hopes are down the drain, followed closely by the Chase Daniel for Heisman campaign. KU already has three times as many losses as it did all of last season. If anything, the Buffaloes have actually taken a step backwards. Nebraska, while showing signs of life, is also showing that rebuilding projects don’t happen overnight. The “Fire Ron Prince” bandwagon is picking up steam at Kansas State. And Iowa State fans, modest as their expectations are, have still been disappointed by the Gene Chizik era. To date, the North is just 2-10 against the South this season (Nebraska over Baylor and Kansas State over Texas A&M).

That said, I wouldn’t encourage Oklahoma and Texas fans to get too comfortable. A decade ago, Nebraska, Kansas State and Colorado ruled the Big 12 and fans of those teams thought that’s the way it would always be. But then strange things happened. People like Tom Osborne and Bill Snyder retired. People like Bob Stoops, Mack Brown, Gary Barnett and Steve Pederson were hired. And just like that, the pendulum swung south. But believe me, it can—and sooner or later will—swing back north just as quickly.

The Big 12 (and Thanksgiving--not Halloweeen--weekend) the way God intended it.

However, in 2008 . . .

8. Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter the Big 12 South

While I’m not sure if this says more about these teams or the overall mediocre state of college football right now, has there ever been any division more dominant than the Big 12 South right now? You could make a pretty solid argument that the four teams playing the best football in the country right now all reside in the same division. After successive victories over OU, Missouri and Oklahoma State, there’s no doubt that Texas is legit. Oklahoma State certainly acquitted itself well enough on Saturday to show it belongs in the mix. Oklahoma hung 55 points in the first half this weekend (although only three in the second, and their defense is an issue). And Texas Tech, the team with the most question marks coming in, hung 63 on the road against a good Kansas team. No disrespect intended to Penn State or Alabama but, if my job depended on winning just one game, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t choose to play one of them instead of taking on anyone from the Big 12’s Murderer’s Row.

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