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:
A sterling combined effort from a trio of rookie pitchers led the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, evening up the World Series at a game apiece. The game hinged on the Cardinals' aggressive baserunning and a clutch hit from veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, once again proving that the same things that won big games in the mid-'60s will still win them today.
Good morning! The following events transpired in Week 8, turning a quietly dreadful slate into a conclusively pivotal one:
No. 3 Clemson lost at home to no. 5 Florida State
No. 6 LSU lost on the road to unranked Ole Miss
No. 7 Texas A&M lost at home to no. 24 Auburn
No. 8 Louisville lost at home to unranked UCF
No. 9 UCLA lost on the road to no. 13 Stanford
No. 11 South Carolina lost on the road to unranked Tennessee
No. 15 Georgia lost on the road to unranked Vanderbilt
No. 20 Washington lost on the road to unranked Arizona State
Imagine a massive, invisible hourglass, the base stretching from coast to coast, filled with grains of sand in as many colors as there are stars in the heavens. The hourglass empties completely at the precise rate of one full turn per week. Now imagine that the hourglass is also filled with teeming hordes of bellicose ants, the biting kind, which spend every waking moment building sand castles of unspeakable beauty. Once a week, their world is physically upended, and that's when things get bitey. That's college football. We are either the ants or the sand. We haven't really thought this through. That's also college football.
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.
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.
[If you're looking for words about Lane Kiffin's firing, click here.]
There's something about certain college teams that certain pro sports franchises will never be able to emulate. Maybe you were born into your allegiance and your parents were, too, or maybe you shipped off to your alma mater sight unseen and its teams just got their claws into you at a vital formative stage of your existence. However you arrived at your cheering interest, if you want to, you're practically guaranteed the ability to hold on to it for life, with the chance to pass it on to your children. The odds are astronomically against your FBS football program being disbanded; no callous owner is going to threaten to move your university to London if nebulous thresholds for ticket sales aren't met. This inextricably embeds college identities into the landscape of the communities they inhabit, and the osmosis works both ways, with deeply regional streaks of localized weirdness affecting how college programs are regarded and celebrated.
With that kind of genetic history driving fandom, it's so easy to feel 12 to 14 times a year like college football games are the end of the world or herald the dawn of a new golden age. The brevity of the season gives each contest greater urgency, and with that comes the race to hyperbole. One for the record books is quantifiable. Instant classic is not; it presumes full knowledge of what will stand the test of time and survive the changing tastes of the ages, and is applied too liberally, which only cheapens the classification.
You're going to hear Saturday's LSU-Georgia tilt called "a classic" a lot. The thing is, in this case, everybody who's saying so is absolutely correct. We promise you never to abuse the term, and we promise you now that we're using it in earnest.
Who's That Guy is an orientation tool for use in college football's vast landscape, and is filmed in front of a live studio audience.
Who Is He? Georgia offensive lineman Watts Dantzler.
Where Is He From? Dalton, Georgia
Years Played: He's currently in his third year of activity with the Bulldogs.
Follow the Bouncing Ball: Listed as a guard, he's had experience just about everywhere along the line. A standout personality for the red and black ever since his signing-day announcement, Dantzler appeared in three games in 2011 and six in '12. This year, with Georgia returning its entire complement of O-line starters from last season, Dantzler has seen playing time as a reserve in all three contests.
Week 3 was weird wire to wire, but not without warning. There was spectacle in College Station. There was fantasy in Tempe. The signs were there: Kicking off play with a Thursday-night contest in reliable bat country like Lubbock is just asking for it. Of course the highlight of TCU–Texas Tech was Tech's mascot scampering around the sideline trying to catch a wild fox that had wandered into the stadium. It's only natural that Saturday night wound down with a substantial officiating controversy in Wisconsin–Arizona State. And just like the almanac said, a firefight broke out in the midday showpiece game between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies, with noted gunslinger AJ McCarron flinging touchdown passes about. The almanac's words are written in what looks like blood, and its covers feel suspiciously scaly to the touch. Don’t worry about that now.
Ain't No Ceiling, Only Blue
• No. 1 Alabama 49, no. 6 Texas A&M 42. If you're not feeling sort of smugly blessed, a little overfull from rich visuals, and needing an emotional belt-loosening, here's a courteous suggestion: Go rewatch Tide-Aggies. You cannot have consumed deeply enough from this cornucopia, a profusion of football happenings crafted to satisfy the vast majority of palates. CBS microphones captured Nick Saban telling Kevin Sumlin during their postgame handshake "You took 10 years off my life." Despite suspicions that time as we experience it has no meaning to Saban, such a sacrifice must be ardently cherished given how grumpy he can get about having to take time off from recruiting to do things like coach in the national title game.
In the clash between Johnny Fuckin' Football's mad magic and Alabama's rules of order, natural law reasserted itself, but not before the Tide got good and eroded. Johnny Manziel set a school record for passing yards (464), and did so against a Saban defense. Manziel’s 562 yards of total offense trails only his 2012 bombardment of Louisiana Tech for most offensive production by a single player in a single game in SEC history. Manziel's favored target, sophomore receiver Mike Evans, set a school record of his own with a 279-yard outing. A&M's 628 yards of offense are the most allowed in Tide history.
In case you were busy getting bad news from Dr. James Andrews, because that guy has never once given good news in his life, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Miami starter Jose Fernandez dominated with his arm and bat, throwing seven stellar innings and blasting his first career home run, as the Marlins beat the division-leading Braves, 5-2. Fernandez's outing was not without controversy, however, as both benches cleared after Fernandez indulged himself by watching his home run. "I'm disappointed. He's a great kid, but he let this whole city down," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond after the game. "I mean, this is Miami. You can't just stand around in Miami to check out something because it looks good. This is a city all about hard work and discipline, not about showing off and preening."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter has been shut down for the remainder of the season, leaving new acquisition and defensive whiz Brendan Ryan as the Yankees presumptive starting shortstop for their playoff push. "Darn," said Yankees starter Andy Pettitte as he high-fived fellow starter Hiroki Kuroda. "Man, that's tough for Derek. I'm gutted. Just totally gutted. For him." Pettitte then did a giddy shuffle and mimed a shortstop going confidently to his left for CC Sabathia's benefit, before adding, "Don't know how we'll get by without the captain."
We didn't expect much out of college football's first weekend of games. We got so much more than we asked for, however, and so much more than we deserved. Today, we sift through the cornucopia and plot data points for the course ahead.
We Went There
First: Six thoughts from the Georgia Dome, including a necessary recipe detour.
1. "We have to create an identity as a team," Nick Saban begins, settling into his seat in the underground media chamber of the Georgia Dome. He could be echoing any other coach in a Week 1 postgame press conference: "I don't know that we did that in all phases of the game today."
He goes on from there, in an almost singsong recitation, checking off all the August football coachspeak boxes: There were good and bad things happening on the football field Saturday night; there were players who needed to improve and players who performed well. And then Saban starts talking about showing his Alabama team footage of Michael Jordan's final championship:
"The guy makes every play in the game. Makes a shot. Steals the ball. Makes the next shot to win the game. And what did he have to prove? That was his sixth championship. The [second] time they'd won three in a row. And this guy's playing at 35 years old like there's no tomorrow. And you know, it was interesting — for a guy that had nothing to prove? He was out there playing like he had everything to prove."
You already know that Week 1 college football games aren't all that useful in the discerning sports fan's quest to consume actual, compelling football. It's helpful, the morning after Jadeveon Clowney's tentative 2013 debut performance in a 27-10 win over North Carolina, to remember that Week 1 is also not all that useful for data extrapolation purposes. But that's fine. It's even natural. It's fun to be able to take one data point and draw a line to anywhere.
So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, on barstools and in broadcast booths, by labeling Clowney's junior season an early Heisman bust on the basis of one three-tackle outing, let's take something away from his head coach's postgame press conference.
A couple questions in, a reporter asked Steve Spurrier to elaborate on his thoughts regarding Clowney's conditioning. The Head Ball Coach had mentioned in his opening remarks that he'd told Clowney, at the end of a lengthy weather delay, "You oughta be well-rested now." Spurrier interrupted the reporter seeking to pin down the exact degree of the Gamecocks' star player's gassedness with this: "Well, did you watch what I was watching? I don't have to say it. You write what you see."
Far be it from us to disregard the will of the HBC.