Sometime around 2 a.m. ET on Sunday, the winless Hawaii Warriors, who'd either led or tied the San Diego State Aztecs for four full quarters, found themselves stalled out near midfield. Time expired on what would have been a game-winning touchdown drive to trigger the team's first victory of 2013. As the officials reviewed the overtime procedures, we watched from a couch five time zones away, 14 hours into a nonstop college football binge, the 12th such bender in as many weeks. Clusters of adults with jobs and houses and no discernible ties to the University of Hawaii put down their midnight coffees, abandoned their phones, and launched into an animated This Is How We'd Do It armchair coaching session. For a then 0-9 team that plays its home games 4,500 miles away. Why?
There's a bias-free case for disinterested third parties to cheer on the toppling of every conference front-runner. There's a perfectly valid reason to raise our glasses every time a relentlessly immobile quarterback lurches free of the pocket for a cartoonish gain. There's a real motivation behind our obsession with cataloguing every clip of a winded defensive lineman trundling down the field with a purloined football, and why "MYRON PRYOR! 310 POUNDS OF GLORY!" will hold a place in our hearts until the end of days, and it doesn't stop with "because fat-guy touchdowns are the best." They are, but that's not the point. The point is the endless hours of amusement that can be yours for the low, low price of making a habit of taking joy in the unexpected.
Enter Week 12, which featured, among other occurrences, a Duke football team making its way into the Top 25, a Georgia-Auburn finish straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and Ed Orgeron gunning for a division title. Never mind the bats, the boils, or the rain of frogs in Northwestern alternate jerseys. It's all part of the plan.
The race to the BCS games commences each August as a clown car of near-limitless capacity. It careers into Week 1 crammed with 120-some teams, each anointed with some degree of possibility, however finite, of stringing together a perfect season and hoisting that crystal ball, or tossing oranges into a joyous throng, or ruining a perfectly good mascot outfit with greasy corn chip smears. (And good grief, that somehow looks even weirder written out than when it's actually happening.) Each week, squads tumble out, forced to trundle along behind. Every so often, bloody-minded interloper clowns with hooks for hands are discovered clinging to the undercarriage. This isn't symbolic language; why do you think nobody wants to tackle Jordan Lynch?
And no matter how tightly packed the contraption might seem rounding into November, no matter how dearly we might all wish to conclude the regular season with a handful of undefeated teams to confound the half-assed system that puts on the big-money games, it's just so famously difficult to make it through a full slate of FBS play unscathed.
In Week 11: The intact AQ squads get some elbow room; Oregon gets kicked into the sawdust; and Alabama remains in the driver's seat, maintaining a level speed of precisely five miles above the legal limit.
What do you get when fully half of the teams in the BCS top 10 don't appear on the weekend schedule and four of those that do put on decisive wins of varying degrees of ruthlessness? We come not to criticize our corporate mothership, which did not engineer the expansive talent gaps between the Buckeyes and Boilermakers or the Tigers and Cavaliers, but by the second quarter of the noon games our remote trigger finger had achieved a measure of sentience and was creeping of its own free will toward the National Treasure/National Treasure: Book of Secrets double feature on ABC Family. You snort, but behold the results from Week 10's top BCS teams:
1. Alabama: OFF
2. Oregon: OFF
3. Florida State: PUMMELED NO. 7 MIAMI, 41-14
4. Ohio State: ANNIHILATED PURDUE, 56-0
5. Stanford: OFF
6. Baylor: OFF
7. Miami: PUMMELED BY NO. 3 FLORIDA STATE, 41-14
8. Clemson: OBLITERATED VIRGINIA, 59-10
9. Missouri: TROUNCED TENNESSEE, 31-3
10. Oklahoma: OFF
And here is Nicolas Cage straddling a banister and screaming about haggis:
Take heart: Week 10 may have been short on suspense, but it produced a revealing crest for the ACC's regular season and served as the inhale before the plunge for every other undefeated title-contending team. And what else do you get when half of the top 10 isn't on the schedule? Four of those five teams are scheduled to play one another three days from now.
But let's not skip to Week 11 just yet. Interesting things went on in Week 10. We're acting like they didn't. They did. We're sorry. Haggis weakens our morals and so does Helen Mirren. Movements and moments from all over:
The haves in this week's BCS top five seem so very have-y, don't they? All neatly arrayed in their reds and greens and golds, with so many blowouts and close scrapes behind them, and so few remaining obstacles between them and a balmy January evening in the Rose Bowl. It's all very exciting, and it should be. They've earned this. It's been a privilege to witness.
Now, would you like to hear how each conference's impending champion could still go terribly, terribly astray? We're winding up Week 9 with a mostly arbitrary and entirely nonbinding conference-by-conference look back at the weekend that was and a breakdown of the sure things and pitfalls remaining:
We did it, you guys. We reached college football's midseason point without having to contend with the soul-crushing threat of continued conference realignment. We made it through seven weeks without allowing the never-ending bombardment of NCAA scandal stories to break our collective spirit. We got further than Lane Kiffin and Paul Pasqualoni and Don Treadwell, and that means we get to talk about football. Real, actual football. So forget the distractions and the bullshit, tear yourself away from P.J. Fleck's latest gift to the social-media realm (if you possibly can), and enjoy some of Grantland's takeaways at the midway mark.
We can't have been the only ones steeling ourselves for disappointment prior to Monday night’s Florida State–Pitt bout. The 24-hour, high-speed news cycle has us hardwired for backlash. A two-sport star, acclaimed as the best quarterback prospect in the class of 2012, coming in with this kind of bookworm background and these dance moves? Taking his first collegiate snaps in a conference game, on the road, alone in prime time to conclude the first weekend of college football? As a redshirt freshman? There was nothing about it that didn’t feel too good to be true.
If there was one thing we didn't expect out of the Week 1 finale, it was Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston turning out to be exactly what he’d been made out to be.
New restaurants have a staggering failure rate, largely because the infinite number of aspiring proprietors ignore the eternal truth, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” This explains the inevitable shuttering of your friend’s food truck that specialized in artisanal Fruit by the Foot or that gastropub down the block that tried to target-market college kids by serving a dozen varieties of Bagel Bites and harboring the last known supply of “classic” Four Loko without a liquor license. And yet, in the face of these harsh financial realities, the Atlantic Coast Conference is betting that nature has a hole in its belly that can only be filled by a $20 basket of chicken fingers named after Steve Wojciechowski.
Assuming most interested parties were distracted by the rumors of Selena Gomez cheating on Justin Bieber with Gucci Mane, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport website snuck in a mention of the "ACC American Cafe" that will be be operational by Spring 2014; one imagines its grand opening will be right on cue to attract the numerous Duke and Virginia grads on layovers en route to their horrifying iBanking jobs in New York, desperately guzzling multiple 11 a.m. martinis while watching their lacrosse bros stick it to those Johns Hopkins bozos. One also wonders why they had to go there with “American” and ignore the massive contributions of Serge Zwikker, Ademola Okulaja and Makhtar N’Diaye.
The mind truly boggles at the potential for the “ACC American Cafe,” particularly as it must find a way to compete with the California Pizza Kitchen and the Bruegger’s Bagels, which are truly awesome. Is it going to be a Cracker Barrel that sells DVDs of the first three Continental Tire Bowls in its waiting area? A Johnny Rockets for people whose nostalgia is primarily based on warm memories of Chris Corchiani or Jeff Lamp? Or, when you consider the ACC getting served a vaguely upper-crust rendering of the Big East’s horsemeat football over the past decade, is it just going to be sort of like a Chipotle?
The Big Ten Road Trip, with all its local comforts, is over, and now it's time to plunge back into the chaos of the national scene. A huge part of college basketball analysis is projecting what will happen in the postseason. It makes sense, because the sport is defined by a few crazy days in March, but I always get a fleeting sense of regret around this time of year. I wish conference tournaments meant more, and I especially wish regular-season conference championships meant more.
I love March Madness as much as anyone, but the truth is it's one of the worst postseasons in terms of crowning the actual best team. That's why it's great; you have to win on a given day, and the small sample size allows for the upsets and anomalies that give the tournament its character. In fact, of the six major American professional and college sports, I'd argue that college hoops is at the bottom of the postseason reliability spectrum. Here are my rankings, from most to least reliable:
I was going to make a video of Illinois's comeback against Indiana, but then my editor Sarah Larimer sent me some of the coolest guerrilla footage of the year, from someone standing on the baseline. It starts with Brandon Paul heading to the line for two and hitting the first on a bank shot that Spike Friedman rightly called the most underrated part of the game, and continues through the end: Oladipo's turnover, Oladipo's block, and the incredible inbounds play to end it. Credit goes to Rob McColley for the greatest non-TV footage of the season. It's six minutes long, but the good stuff happens in the first three:
What's often lost in the ACC–Big Ten Challenge is that it's a challenge between the ACC and the Big Ten.
That might be the dumbest opening sentence in Grantland history, but I swear it's true. College basketball fans know that the cross-conference event, which will be held for the 14th straight year over the next two days, tends to match up some very good teams, but they willfully ignore the fact that this is more than just a set of individual games. Sure, they love that no. 4 Ohio State is visiting Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the resurgent Duke Blue Devils, and they look forward to a young North Carolina team testing itself on the road at no. 1 Indiana, but they couldn't care less which conference comes out on top when the 12 games are over. In fact, the list of people who actually follow the overall result is fairly short:
Last week, we looked at the Dangerous Outsiders, the Royal Blues, and the Title Snipers. See the box below for those links. This week, we turn to four legitimate championship contenders, starting with the Wolfpack of NC State.
Today marks my only deviation from the consensus top five. Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State? Sure, they're among the sparkling elites. But no. 5 Michigan? I'm not sold, for reasons enumerated last week in the Title Snipers post. Instead, my pick for the fifth contender comes from ACC country, where the NC State Wolfpack might be about to emerge from the shadows of Duke and Carolina for the first time since 1987 — the last year they won a conference championship.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The University of Connecticut announced that legendary men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun will announce his retirement today. They were going to let Calhoun himself break the news at the press conference, but then realized they should prep everyone since his mumbling, near-unintelligible speeches have previously been misinterpreted as everything from presidential endorsements to sexual advice to, in one case, a recipe for something called "fried Krzyzewski."
You think you're more excited than me about the start of college football? You think?! Then tell me this, hotshot: Did you bring a football to church to get blessed by a priest? In that case, you are definitely more excited than me. I wouldn't do that.
Seriously, though, how great is this time of year? I feel rejuvenated, blessed by the promise of football. I can almost feel my regrets slipping away, like I haven't made an irredeemable mess of my life. That's the power of football. To get us started with a new season, I want to hit you guys with a litany of confessions.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee each pitched eight strong innings, but Matt Kemp's walk-off home run in the 12th gave the Dodgers a 5-3 win over the Phillies. "If I had any less support, I'd be a well-endowed woman without a bra," said a downcast Cliff Lee, making this the eighth straight press conference where he's managed to compare his own pitching to a well-endowed woman. Luckily, his dejected mood made this instance far less graphic than usual.
With 10:56 remaining in an easy win over Creighton, North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall drove right. As he rose for the layup, Creighton's Ethan Wragge put a forearm into Marshall's midsection. Marshall put out a hand to cushion the fall, but his right wrist buckled as it absorbed the full weight of his body.
The result was a fractured scaphoid — a nightmare for Carolina. Marshall will have surgery to put a pin in the wrist, but he's highly questionable for the rest of the tournament.