Florida prosecutors announced today that Jameis Winston won’t be charged with sexual assault. Unless new evidence comes forward, the case is “gone and dead,” ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack said on the network.
I didn’t earn a law degree in the last three weeks, but here are six initial thoughts:
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.
That hypothetical we posed yesterday, about whether it'd be more painful to be knocked out of the running for the national title by an outright loss or by the cruelty of polls and unfeeling computers and the glaring lack of a playoff system? Following a nasty pair of prime-time top-10 weeknight games, two of the FBS's best programs might be able to compare notes.
"We don't hold the cards anymore," said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich following his Ducks' failed comeback rally at Stanford, "but we never hold the cards."
He's right and he's not. In the absence of a playoff system, the last handful of contending teams can't control what exactly the pollsters and computers do with them. But it's still on them to make the best case. Last night Baylor did that, and Oregon did not.
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:
Last Thursday, we wondered what this weekend might make of four would-be contenders — teams that emerged from September comfortably within the Top 25 and looking as though they might be cut out for a January Pasadena adventure, but that had some real hurdles left to clear. The findings were surprisingly tidy: two close wins against good teams, and two gaudy blowouts.
That Ohio State and Stanford might hurl themselves against quality opponents like Northwestern and Washington and remain undefeated is unsurprising. That Baylor might blow the doors off West Virginia — good grief; just how sheepish is Oklahoma State right now? — was entirely plausible. But we can't be alone in saying that we really did not expect things to go quite this badly for poor Maryland, which stuck its terrapin neck tentatively into the polls only to have it promptly and neatly sliced off by a cursory flick of Jameis Winston's wrist. (It was then made into soup, though regrettably not in time for last week's Top Chef: New Orleans elimination challenge.)
Let the Wild Rumpus Start
• No. 8 Florida State 63, no. 25 Maryland 0. Oh, Maryland. That's gonna leave a mark. A psychic scar has to come with a conference loss of this magnitude, with being on the business end of a division opponent's biggest-ever win over a ranked team. To quote Dana Holgorsen, who had a pretty bad day himself: That sucks, man.
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.
Despite Alabama's loss to last year's Big 12 also-ran Texas A&M, reports of the SEC's death are greatly exaggerated. And entirely premature. That conference is like the sunrise. You can't stop it.
From a statistical standpoint, there is only a 1-in-7 shot that all three of the remaining unbeatens in college football — Notre Dame, Oregon, and Kansas State — finish the regular season without a loss.
People freaking out that a 12-0 Notre Dame might not play for a national championship are having the wrong nervous breakdown. Those people should have the heebies and/or jeebies about either of the SEC teams in the current BCS top five (Alabama and Georgia) ending up in Miami. Historically speaking, it's not at all unlikely that multiple teams near the top of the polls still lose. Should that happen, and should the SEC step its way into another title game, it might also be totally undeserved.
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.
I have an admission to make: Several times this season I've tried to watch Alabama play an entire game, and each time I've failed. Sure, I’ve watched quarters of football here and there — the bludgeoning of Michigan, the decimation of Arkansas, and the tidy strangulations of Mississippi State and Tennessee. But watching this team methodically squeeze the life out of opponents is similar to what I imagine it’s like to play against it — occasionally awe-inspiring, but somewhat exhausting. That was again the case until the waning moments of Saturday’s comeback victory against LSU.
For much of the night, Alabama had been outplayed. LSU's offense, which looked flat-out dysfunctional for much of the year, absolutely took it to Alabama's vaunted defense. The Tiger passing attack, in particular, went from awful in previous games — against Florida, South Carolina, and Texas A&M Zach Mettenberger had completion percentages of 44, 48, and 37.9 — to something resembling the Montana–to–Jerry Rice 49ers, hooking up on 25 of 36 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown. The Tigers defense played a stout game as well. Before going 4-for-5 on the final drive, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was 1-of-7 for seven yards in the second half.
The Tide’s trademark slow suffocation was being used against them. But down just three late in the fourth quarter, there was still enough time for one of those awe-inspiring moments. Games like that can't be reduced to just one play, but if it was going to be, oh what a play it was. AJ McCarron's screen-pass flip to T.J. Yeldon — who took it the remaining 28 yards to the end zone for the game-winning score — already has its place in football history, known simply as "AJ to T.J."
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):
Here’s the funny thing about college football’s new playoff: It was designed by men who, until about five minutes ago, hated playoffs. It’s like Bart Giamatti writing the text for Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame plaque. Or Jonathan Vilma nominating Roger Goodell for the Nobel Peace Prize. But if, like me, you’re suspicious of playoffs, you can see a certain genius at work.
The first thing the playoff-hating playoff architects wanted to do was keep the thing small. So they devised a four-team format. “A four-team playoff doesn't go too far; it goes just the right amount,” Virginia Tech’s president explained, sounding like he was reading The Three Bears.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
An NCAA presidential oversight committee approved a four-team college football playoff that will take effect in 2014 and run at least through 2025. "I can't wait for the looks on everyone's faces when they realize the new system is just as corrupt and ineffective," said one president, who kept rubbing his hands together excitedly. "Especially the older fans, when it dawns on them that they'll probably be dead before anything changes."
Friends, we’ve gathered Wait. This is the funeral for the BCS. It has no friends.
Enemies, we’ve gathered here today to say good-bye to the Bowl Championship Series. It died last week. It was 14 years old. In its short life, it was subject to repeated attacks by President Obama. Republican backbenchers turned it into a political football. Sportswriters prayed for its demise. (See the 2010 book titled, um, Death to the BCS.)
But I was a bigfan. In death, it’s up to me to be its eulogist. Here are five things the non-playoff got right:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Despite some lingering soreness from cramps that kept him out at the end of Game 4, LeBron James expects to play in Thursday's Game 5. Unfortunately, this probably means he's out for the big swimming relay race at small-town Indiana's Lake Martin, where he planned to show up unannounced and help young Todd Mulberry win the race, and with it the heart of the prettiest girl in school, Wanda Tyler, who currently dates Blaine Sparks, the blond rich kid who always rides around in his fancy boat sneering at poor people and who has now won the big swimming relay race five years in a row with his asshole sidekick Luke Denvers.