Yesterday, in a glimpse into the inner sanctum of the reigning NBA champs, LeBron James tweeted about how Ole Miss became the story of Signing Day — no mean feat considering the sagas of Reuben Foster and Alex Collins — and probably violated some arcane NCAA recruiting violation by having an opinion on the subject.
This is astounding on multiple levels. Well, I guess it’s only astounding on three levels. First off, if you look at the Heat’s roster, they don’t strike me as guys who derive a lot of school spirit from their former schools' fortunes on the gridiron. Secondly, recruiting isn’t the realm of the casual fan, it’s the postseason lifeblood of college football bloggers, day drinkers, and people deep in SEC country, which is a very tight Venn diagram. Lastly, they’re talking about Ole Miss ... and when you consider that school’s, to put it delicately, image problems as well as its mediocrity on the football field, you’d think LeBron James would be aware of their recruiting status only if Erik Spoelstra’s kid was offered a scholarship or something. And even then, I think that’s debatable.
1. I should declare up front that I am firmly entrenched in the strata of college football fanatics who find National Signing Day to be a weird and discomfiting phenomenon, and that I do not frequent any message boards, and that I believe that the hat dance has really run its course. I am of the firm belief that recruiting, while of obvious importance, probably means slightly less than we think it does, especially at this moment, with the sport on the dawn of a new age of offensive schemes, at a time when actual coaching seems to matter more than it ever has.
If you were lulled into a stupor watching Bo Ryan run slow, agonizing circles around Tom Crean as the eleven o'clock hour approached last night, you might have missed the hidden gem on ESPNU. And that's too bad, but I'm here to help. Because while Indiana was losing its first home game, an Ole Miss Rebel named Marshall Henderson was putting on the greatest sideshow of the season, and his whole nutty carnival act climaxed with a buzzer-beater that tranquilized the entire Vanderbilt student body. Compared to BadgerBall, it felt like mainlining raw caffeine to the brain.
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.
Manassas Junction, Virginia, 1861 — It's July 21, and the Civil War is about to begin for real. Union soldiers march south from Washington, D.C., to meet the Confederates, and the feeling throughout the north is that the rebels will hightail it back south after they get massacred on day one. The high muckety-mucks from D.C. — congressmen, business owners, and various other rich people — come down to picnic and watch the rout. Instead, after a long day of fighting, Stonewall Jackson and the Confederates send their enemies into a headlong retreat for Washington. As they flee north, the soldiers find the roads blocked by the panicked civilians who had come to watch the end of the pesky rebellion. And that's how the Battle of Bull Run ended.
I was a Civil War nerd as a kid, so it probably figures that while watching the Pac-12 shock the world last Saturday, I thought of Bull Run. It was the conference's best day in years, and it completely transformed their image around the country. The three ranked teams did their job, and that was expected — USC beat Syracuse, Oregon beat Fresno State, Stanford beat Duke. But the little guys did their part, too. Arizona dominated no. 18 Oklahoma State at home, Oregon State stunned no. 13 Wisconsin, UCLA outgunned no. 16. Nebraska in one of the best games of the weekend, and Arizona State destroyed Illinois. (Only Washington disappointed in the high-profile games, failing to make a dent against the Baton Rouge Tigers of the NFL's Second Division.)
There are now five Pac-12 teams in the AP top 25, and two more within sniffing distance. It's a revolution! The games were mostly at home, sure, but even under those circumstances the odds were long. Yet the mighty programs of the Big 10 and Big 12 left with their tails between their legs, fans in tow, realizing they'd underestimated the enemy. Week 2 was the Pac-12's Bull Run, and now everyone has to take them seriously.
So I'm calling it: This is the year of the Pac-12. Here are three more semi-ignorant reasons to love the rejuvenated conference.
Well, friends and enemies, here we are. No. 1 LSU vs. no. 2 Alabama. The national championship play-in. We've been anticipating this game for so long that watching it will almost feel strange, as though, with all the buildup and the weight of our collective expectations, it shouldn't actually happen. It would be like if one of the wacko apocalypse predictions you hear about every few years actually came true. This is fire-and-brimstone stuff, and I'm not ready.
I'll forgo any suspense and admit to you right now that I have no idea who's going to win. In fact, I'm so overwhelmed by the sheer size of this game that I can barely think straight. But I'm lucid enough to know that this is: