Now that Notre Dame has been buried in a deep grave, we should probably talk about recruiting. If there’s a January ritual fans hate, it’s the recruiting “hat dance.” It goes like this: A recruit holds a ceremony at his high school gym or at a TV station. In front of him are the flat-brim hats of four or five schools that have offered him a scholarship. He picks up one hat ... and puts its down. He picks up a second hat ... and puts it down. Finally, he picks up the right hat and announces his commitment ... at least until next week, when that gray-shirt from Nick Saban comes through.
The recruiting hat dance has more variations than its Mexican cousin. In 2009, Bryce Brown, a running back from Wichita, Kansas, produced a University of Miami hat. According to a Sports Illustrated account, he then handed the Miami hat to his brother, who already played linebacker for the Hurricanes. This thing must be yours. Brown put on a Tennessee hat. (He later transferred to Kansas State. Bryce Brown, as the saying goes, wears a lot of hats.)
The most interesting thing college football coaches did this month was to stay put. If you believe what you read, Charlie Strong, Mike Gundy, James Franklin, Gary Patterson, and Chris Petersen all had chances to leave their schools for bigger, more storied programs. None of them did. Collectively, they are college football’s new middle class, a well-paid group in no hurry to move.
College football, like America, has its rich and its middle class. Unlike an electrician, of course, a middle-class college football coach makes millions even when he fails. But stick with the analogy for a second.
Take Alabama and Vanderbilt. Bama is a rich school, with lots of national titles (some of them legit) and athletic revenue that last year topped $125 million. Vandy is a middle-class school, and that’s mostly because of its membership in the SEC. “When I took this job in 2003,” Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said recently, “this was a stepping stone for coaches.”
Arthur Gustav Malzahn III, 47, is the Unsinkable Molly Brown of college football coaches. Yesterday’s Twitter chatter focused on how Gus, as he’s known, managed to hop off Auburn’s sinking ship and then, a year later, become its captain. (Malzahn spent last season as head coach at Arkansas State.) But Malzahn is also the sole survivor of a more harrowing episode: the Springdale Five. I recount it here to show Malzahn is either the canniest guy in college football or the luckiest, and that in either case we should be in awe of his powers.
In 2005, Malzahn was an Arkansas high school coach, but one who was sitting on one of the greatest collections of talent the state had ever seen. Five of his Springdale High School players — the so-called Springdale Five — were being recruited by the power schools. Quarterback Mitch Mustain was Parade’s high school player of the year. Arkansas doesn’t have a surplus of four- and five-star recruits, so the Springdale Five became intense objects of desire for University of Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. “We’re going to protect what’s ours, first and foremost,” Nutt told Scout.com.
When Nick Saban and Will Muschamp get into a pissing match, there’s only one thing to do: Call Paul Finebaum and wait on hold. But in this case, we’ve got to do more, because Saban vs. Muschamp points out a sneaky flaw in the upcoming college football playoff. Call it the loser’s advantage.
Here’s what happened: Florida, which plays in the SEC East, is 11-1. Georgia, which also plays in the SEC East, is 11-1. In October, Georgia beat Florida, so the Bulldogs won the division and will play Alabama in Saturday’s conference championship game.
Advantage, Dawgs, right? This year, that’s true. Bama-Georgia is a mini-playoff for a shot at Notre Dame. But what if this game were taking place in 2014, when we’ll have a four-team playoff? The Bama-Georgia winner would definitely snag a spot in the playoff. And Florida, at 11-1, would also snag one. But the Bama-Georgia loser would be eliminated. Meaning, by virtue of losing their division and skipping a tough 13th game, the Gators would get a leg up. That’s the loser’s advantage.
On November 3, on a third-quarter drive against Oklahoma State, Kansas State’s Collin Klein was showing why he was the best quarterback in the nation. He passed and ran and finally plunged into the end zone. But Klein got hurt. Afterward, a source told Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel that Klein “could not recall the details of the drive, including the fact he scored.” The Wildcats coaches took Klein’s helmet away. He spent the final quarter and a half standing on the sideline.
Two weeks later, Collin Klein wasn’t even playing like the best quarterback in the Big 12. In a 28-point loss to Baylor, he threw three picks. He ran for a 2.3 yards per carry. When he walked off the field, he’d lost the Heisman, his shot at an undefeated season, the works.
What happened is obvious, no? Klein got hurt on November 3, and he hasn’t been the same since. But we’ll never know for sure, because between Point A and Point B, Kansas State launched one of college football’s classic misinformation campaigns. It involved Klein, his family, and the Wildcats’ sainted coach, Bill Snyder. It served to obscure why a great quarterback, the guy called Optimus Klein, became mortal overnight.
Kevin Sumlin beat Alabama on the road Saturday. He did. I didn’t think he could, but he did. Was I the only one thinking about Mike Sherman — Sumlin’s white-maned, low-talking predecessor — and the supporting role he played?
Sherman was fired as the Aggies coach last year. If not for his cameos on Hard Knocks, we might forget he even existed. But just like I can’t imagine a Sherman-coached Aggies team winning a big game in Tuscaloosa, I can’t imagine Sumlin winning without the key pieces Sherman left behind. Let us praise a fired coach.
If you’re following the election, you’ve probably noticed a shooting war involving Nate Silver, whom sportswriting lost to politics back in 2008. The issue at stake is similar to the one sportswriters slogged through around the time of Moneyball — namely, how much faith you should put in stats and how much in your lying eyes.
I’m not reopening that can of worms. I’m opening a new can of worms. Since the dawn of the BCS, one of the favorite targets of BCS critics has been the computers. The computer rankings, critics say, are junk. They’re tools of the BCS. There’s a mountain of evidence that this is right. But what I fear is that criticism of specific BCS computer rankings is starting to shade into more generalized statistics-bashing. College football is close to declaring war on math.
“[Steve] Spurrier visited [Marcus] Lattimore on Sunday and said the junior had a good attitude about his condition,” USA Today reports.
"In life, sometimes you've got to move on with whatever hand you're dealt," Spurrier said at a press conference.
“The entire college football world will be praying for Marcus Lattimore,” Yahoo! said.
“We prayed for him as a team," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
As soon as Lattimore’s right knee was dislocated Saturday — as soon as the TV announcers said, "Avert your eyes if you’re squeamish" — everyone started talking about fate. The hand of footballic fate that smote Willis McGahee and Robert Edwards and Adrian Peterson and Boobie Miles had smitten one of the most likable and talented running backs in the sport.
If you watch college football on TV, you find yourself watching commercials for Aflac, Home Depot, and colleges. Ads for the University of Texas say, “What starts here changes the world.” Ads for Texas Tech say, “From here, it’s possible.” The former is a boast, while the latter is more of a timid suggestion. I can’t think of a better way to explain the difference between Texas and Texas Tech.
Before we dive into the aesthetics of college ads, which are called “institutionals,” we should note that these things are weird for a couple reasons. First, what’s the point? They’re plopped in the middle of a game — as mandated by the conference TV deal — to prove that there’s a university attached to the football program. “It’s coeds, cellos, and sports,” an ad executive told the Wall Street Journal’s Darren Everson. Essentially, the school is reminding us, “We put the ‘student’ in student-athlete,” and it makes that label look like even more of a crock.
The other weird thing is that the football game is often a better ad for a college than the actual ad. Alabama’s CBS telecasts have slick graphics, “honey shots” of the cheerleaders, and Verne Lundquist. Alabama’s TV ad has a bunch of robotic, smiling students and looks like it was cut together in the basement of the communications building. Which one makes you want to go to Tuscaloosa?
I’ve gone through the latest BCS standings and reviewed each school’s attempt to market itself. I’ve mixed past ads with present ads, because college commercials don’t seem to have aesthetic “periods.” I’ve also skipped schools like Kansas State, which have boring ads. (You could argue this is a perfect reflection of the Kansas State football team, which is seemingly boring but beats Oklahoma on the road.) Here are the best commercials from the Top 25 (click the team name to view the ad):
I understand! My coach just showed up at the Cotton Bowl with a team that looked like it had graduated from the Wade Phillips School of Game Planning and the Jason Garrett Institute for Workplace Motivation. Happily, college football is one of the few sports where outraged fans can directly affect the course of history. But the way fans rage at their coach has changed.
The Rent-a-Plane Era (1997-2002)
I start in ’97 only because it was my first truly awful season of college football. The Texas Longhorns, who had Ricky Williams in the backfield, lost a home game to UCLA by 63 points. (I challenge even those Texas fans at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday to find a more soul-crushing afternoon than “Rout 66.”) Two weeks later, when we played Rice, an airplane flew overhead.
While watching Arkansas’s John L. Smith flick his tongue in and out of his mouth during his win over Auburn on Saturday — victory is more savory than bankruptcy — I had a thought. It inevitably falls into the contrarian/trollish category, so forgive me. Here’s the thought: Why can’t Arkansas and Bobby Petrino get back together? Why exactly is that marriage unsalvageable?
I think the argument breaks down into two parts:
1. Bobby Petrino is a liar and an asshole. (We pretty much all agree on this.)
2. College football is a morally pure place that can’t accommodate liars and assholes. (Here’s where we may differ.)
Notre Dame is 4-0. Easy now. We’ve been here before. We’re not going to get excited. By “we,” I mean college fans who’d like to hate Notre Dame football again. Irish fans probably think we’ve hated their program in the same way, and with roughly the same intensity, for a century. This isn’t true. The last decade-plus have been as hard on us as it has been on you. Maybe we’re finally on the verge of a breakthrough.
When you have a program with the illustrious history of Notre Dame, you create as many detractors as you do fans. Gazing into the history books, it looks like Notre Dame hating had three distinct eras, ranging from the ugly and bigoted to the football-driven hate that abounded during Rockne, Leahy, Holtz.
O Meyer. O Saban. O Miles, you mysterious, grass-eating prophet
Sorry, you caught me in the middle of my daily prayer to the Southeastern Conference. Like a lot of college football fans, I consider the SEC my guiding light. Only by praising its six straight national titles can I justify my miserable existence as a Big 12 fan. But through three weeks of football — through bumps in the road against Louisiana-Monroe and Western Kentucky — my faith in the SEC has begun to waver. If we college fans are expected to bow before our SEC overlords, we ought to clear up just who’s worth bowing to.
I’ve got three names: Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Urban Meyer. When we talk about the SEC, it’s tempting to imagine a southern behemoth that stretches from Columbia to College Station. The recent spasm of SEC greatness, though, is largely the work of three guys.
To understand how college football views history, throw yourself into the continuously mutating, brain-warping universe of a Philip K. Dick novel. Or visit College Station, Texas. Whichever works.
Last week, the Texas A&M Aggies discovered they’d won championships that no one knew about. That this revelation occurred right before the Aggies’ first game as members of the SEC, and right before the College GameDay crew arrived in town, is one of those ... well, it’s not a coincidence.
An alien that comes down from Mars or New Haven might think America’s public universities are full of football-loving morons. This is deeply unfair. Our rivals are far greater morons than we are, and, during the college football season, it’s up to us to point it out. I like to call this practice “academic smack talk.”
I saw a good deal of academic smack talk after Alabama beat Michigan, 41-14, on Saturday night. A Wolverines fan named “MGlobules” took to the excellent MGoBlog and complained of an uneven playing field. “Brent Musberger is never going to give a shit that we graduate more kids or have a school attached to our football factory,” MGlobules wrote. He/she added, “Should we just go all Ivy League and not give a crap about the SEC?” I think that part was a joke.