When my wife read Friday's post, she asked me why I cared who was the beefiest or bulkiest player in the country. And I have to tell you guys I didn't have a good answer. Let's move on to this week's epiphanies and observations.
Let's run down the top 10 games, reveal your perfect Saturday, and keep things quick, breezy, and noncommittal, like the cool person at a party of nerds.
The Top 10
10. Pittsburgh at no. 3 Notre Dame
Before facing USC in the final game of the year, Notre Dame has to beat Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Wake Forest to preserve an undefeated record. These are three games the Irish should win, no doubt. But somehow, some way, old-school Notre Dame would lose one of these. Since the David Gordon kick, there's been a medium-to-heavy curse lingering over South Bend, and it seems to be most effective when the opponent is weak. The common wisdom this year is that the defense is too strong to allow a letdown of these proportions, but is it true? Or will the curse find a way through the alleyways of fate and deliver another loss?
The drive to Pasadena from UCLA's Westwood campus is about 20 miles, just far enough to show off the fast-changing topography of greater Los Angeles. The stadium is less than 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean, but aside from a few scattered palm trees, the large park that surrounds it feels more like a setting from somewhere further north and west. Finally, there’s the view to the north of the stadium, a mountain backdrop that I can only assume makes for one of the more idyllic scenes in college football.
The stadium itself is in a state of transition on its way to joining its ideal setting. The east sideline is home to a set of half-finished luxury suites with a price tag nearing $180 million. As Jonathan Franklin scored the game-sealing touchdown in UCLA’s 36-30 win over no. 16 Nebraska on Saturday night, and as chants of “U-C-L-A” filled the air, the contingent of Big Red near the north end zone shuffled toward the exit under an unlit tri-level collection of ladders and scaffolding.
Jim Mora was quick to dismiss the notion that a win over the 16th-ranked Huskers was in any way his program’s version of a similar transition. “What does this win mean?” he was asked in the Rose Bowl’s sparkling new interview room. “It means we’re 2-0.”
In advance of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins tonight, Shane Ryan and Mark Titus exchanged e-mails discussing Duke, Ohio State, the nature of the Challenge, and a few odds and ends, including a new game called Azerbaijan. And after much fanfare, picks were made.
1. It's tough to be a kicker. 2. The 2-point conversion is a cruel mistress. 3. The marquee games disappointed, but everything else delivered.
I feel bad giving the Oregon-Stanford blowout short shrift, but the result can really be summed up in two words: speed kills. The Stanford run defense, which had been one of the nation's best prior to facing Oregon, gave up 232 yards. From the size of the holes LaMichael James was exploiting, it felt like Stanford was playing a prevent defense all game. In fact, if you'll let me brag for a moment (and I hope you will, because I'm so often wrong), everything I predicted in the preview essentially came true. The words of the prophet:
By my count, there are 2.5 HUGE games left on the college football schedule between now and bowl season. The .5 is LSU-Arkansas on Nov. 25. It falls short of a full point only because I don't believe Arkansas has a legitimate chance to win. We've been over this before — the Razorbacks have one loss, but it was an unvarnished throttling against Alabama, and a handful of their eight wins (Ole Miss and Vanderbilt especially) have not been impressive. Nevertheless, LSU is number one, and Arkansas could be as high as fifth by then. It's worth a mention.
The second HUGE game is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. If I had to pick right now, I would guess that the winner (Oklahoma, I suspect) will play in the BCS national title game against LSU. For the Cowboys, it's a no-brainer; they're already ranked second, and they control their own destiny. For Oklahoma, ranked sixth, help is needed. As of now, there are four teams for the Sooners to leapfrog if they want to land in the coveted second position. The first is Oklahoma State, who they'd pass with a win. The second is Alabama, and I believe the nation's desire to avoid a rematch national championship would take care of that. Then there's Boise State, who will almost certainly end the year undefeated if they beat TCU this weekend. Still, we know how that story goes. The BCS never smiles on the Broncos, and I can't imagine this year will be any different, even if they're one of just two undefeated teams in the country.
That leaves Stanford, and brings us to the present for
If you love football and hate reality, then make sure to tune into the Big Ten Network tonight at 9 Eastern for the latest installment in its Icons series. Tonight's Icon is legendary Nebraska Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne. It promises to be a fascinating appreciation of a gridiron legend who built a mighty program and maintained a sterling reputation both on and off the field. It also promises to be like that time in junior high when you said you had a girlfriend who lived in Canada, because during Osborne's tenure (1973-1997) the Huskers were in the Big Eight and later the Big Twelve, but never played a down as a member of the Big Ten, which they joined this season. As easy as it is to get confused amidst all that repetition of the word "big," facts are facts. And yet here we have the Big Ten Network acting as if all of Nebraska's football history has suddenly been retroactively assumed into that of its new home conference. Unimaginative truthmongers might find this somewhat troubling. We'd go a step further: It's vaguely Stalinist.
For the past two Saturday nights, football fans have lived a charmed life. Last week, we got the Hail Mary Game. This week, there was a slice of triple-overtime insanity when undefeated Stanford survived a scare from USC. Those were the best games of the year, and the Musburger-Herbstreit duo were on the scene for both. There's a lot of season left, but it's hard to imagine a better back-to-back stretch. Somewhere in the world, a prime time TV programmer is dancing a jig. And so am I, because this was the most surprising week of the season.
Week 9 is an opening act. Week 9 is a kid brother. Week 9 is the junior-varsity game, starting at 5 p.m. Week 9 is trying out conversational tidbits in front of the mirror before the big date. (You guys do that too, right?) Week 9 is a house salad with vinaigrette dressing when you can smell the steak sizzling in the kitchen.
Have you followed the Jordan Jefferson saga? If you haven't, it's not measurably different from any of the other black marks on college football's name. The gist is that the LSU quarterback and some teammates were at a Baton Rouge bar in August when a fight broke out. Four people were badly beaten — one suffered three fractured vertebrae — and witnesses reported that Jefferson kicked another in the face. He was charged with felony second-degree battery, and that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor last week. Nobody seems to be denying that the alleged brawl happened, but a grand jury decided it didn't warrant a felony. As his lawyer argued, the injury wasn't serious enough. Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a touchdown in the first quarter of last week's win against Kentucky.
Fair enough. If you can't live with that storyline, you shouldn't be watching college football at all.
I think bragging is a terrible offense. There's nothing worse than someone who can't have a minor success without broadcasting it to the world. It's a sign of deep insecurity and shallow character. Boasters, braggarts, and grandstanders are the worst people in the world. I'd never have one as my friend.
Which is why I'm not going to get into the results from my Week 5 preview. Was I a perfect three-for-three in upset predictions, calling wins for Auburn, Kansas State, and Pittsburgh? Sorry, that's not for me to say. Did I pick Clemson's win at Virginia Tech, Wisconsin's effortless romp, Alabama's domination of the Gators, the wild unpredictability of A&M and Arkansas, and Illinois' tenuous hold on an undefeated record? Who knows, man. Who knows. If it were true, I wouldn't flaunt that record here. It's not my place. And if people* want to go around saying I'm some kind of expert with a sixth sense about the game, that's their business. As a professional, I try to stay outside that fray.
I'm just here to be humble and talk college football. Let's get to the Week 5 action.
If you're like me, you spend a good part of the day pondering this question: how can the College Football Spectacular win a Pulitzer Prize? This week, I realized there was just one way — exposing injustice. Seriously, take a look at the list of recent winners in the investigative reporting category. We're talking crooked cops, congressional corruption, university cronyism, insurance scams, voter fraud, etc. But I think I've got one to top them all: