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The Missouri Football Strike Highlights Shifting Campus Dynamics

November 09, 2015

By now you've heard about the unrest at Missouri. Angry over a spate of racial incidents on campus and what they perceive as a lackluster response from the university president, Tim Wolfe, students are staging demonstrations and the football team has now gotten involved.

I don't pretend to know the complexities of the campus culture at Mizzou, nor do I have much of an informed opinion on Tim Wolfe and his efficacy as a college president. I've never even been to Columbia, Missouri. But reading about what's transpired there, the protests seem way overblown. This isn't excusing racism, it's disgusting and frankly sad that people still hold such views in 2015. But no one was shot, no one was systematically discriminated against, no one was denied rights or liberties based on their race, religion, or any other identifier. The incidents that led to this mess involved individual students (or allegedly students; in one or two cases it may have been redneck townies) saying or doing racist things. Because Wolfe didn't go after these transgressors as hard as some would like, chaos ensued.

Here's the deal, there will always be racists and a-holes in the world. A small segment of the population will always believe they're superior to others based on characteristics that the rest of us understand don't matter, like race. Occasionally one of these people will give voice to his opinion and it will piss others off. Every once in a while this will even happen on a college campus, those bastions of progressive thought. But is a college president really a bad guy because he's incapable of preventing every one of his students from ever getting his feelings hurt? That sounds like dyadic completion, the erroneous tendency to assume that because there's a victim, there has to be a villain. In reality, a person in charge of 35,000 people aged 18-25, from diverse backgrounds and cultures, living together in a crucible of alcohol, drugs, and hormones, is going to have some unsavory things happen under his watch, no matter how dedicated he is to fostering peace and harmony.

Here's a synopsis of what happened at Mizzou:

The first two incidents involved racial epithets allegedly being shouted at black students. One student claimed he was walking across campus when a group of whites drove by in a pickup, rolled down the window, and yelled the N-word. Then, during a Legion of Black Students rehearsal for a homecoming skit, a white guy, apparently hammered out of his mind, stumbled onto the stage and began using the same word. I wish someone nearby had kicked this idiot right in the nuts. But what exactly is the university president supposed to do here, shut down campus operations until the offenders are identified and direct all resources toward finding them? We don't even know if the perpetrators were students, which begs the question, if they turn out to be townies, should the strikes and demonstrations be redirected toward the local police department?

In another incident, someone painted a swastika on a dorm bathroom stall in human feces, an incident Wolfe allegedly dismissed as a "prank." That's probably the wrong word for neo-Nazi symbolism, but we're also talking about a perpetrator who handled his own poop to get his message across. Maybe I'd feel differently were I Jewish, but that's not the kind of person whose opinions I take seriously.

I mean think about it, this is a person who either stuck his finger up his own butt or reached into a toilet he'd just unloaded a deuce into, gathered up a dollop of his own crap, and then used his finger to smear it on a wall. Regardless of what ethnic or religious group he's denigrating, as far as I'm concerned he's the only punchline in this situation.

He played with his own turds. By choice. Who cares what he thinks?

No one likes the idea of an anti-Semite down the hall, but if he can't get his hateful message across without taking a dump into his own hand, I consider that an even trade. It's not like we have to worry about systemic discrimination from this guy down the road because I highly doubt he's destined to become a Fortune 500 CEO.

Again, what is Wolfe supposed to do? Send the poop to a lab and demand a DNA sample from every student for cross-referencing? Not worth the time (or having to handle this loser's poop).

But since these are college kids and college kids have to be up in arms over something at all times, the campus powder keg exploded. First a graduate student named Jonathan Butler launched a hunger strike to force Wolfe from his job. Butler claims he won't eat until Wolfe is fired or he starves to death, whichever comes first. Next, in a show of solidarity with Butler, the football team went on strike, refusing to show up for practices or games while Wolfe is still president.

Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of the situation, here's what I think:

1) Hunger strikes are inherently moronic. The intention, of course, is to compel someone into a decision by staking a claim on their conscience. If the striker starves to death, the subject feels at fault, since he could have prevented it by complying with the striker's demands. But this is a fallacy. The striker is exercising free will, he can eat anytime he chooses. The decision to die of starvation is one he owns. Should the homecoming queen feel compelled to go to prom with the goth kid because he's going to stop eating if she says no? Personally, if someone tried to change my behavior by starving himself my response would be, have fun with that, I'll be at Texas Roadhouse.

This student's goal is attention, period. If his stunt succeeds in Wolfe's ouster, you can expect a book deal and for him to make a boatload of cash. I guarantee he's chronicling this process in a daily journal, which he'll start shopping around to publishers the day this ends. I wouldn't be surprised if he's furtively throwing down a Clif Bar every now and then to keep his thoughts lucid. 

The Board of Curators at Mizzou should make any decisions regarding Wolfe's future irrespective of this kid's antics. If they want to assuage guilt over Butler wasting away, they can order a pizza to his residence, not let him dictate their personnel decisions.

2) The football strike would be more powerful if this were 2013 or 2014 with Mizzou leading the SEC East. But they're tied for dead last this year. They've lost four games in a row and could easily lose their last three (BYU, Tennessee, Arkansas). Strike or no strike, they probably miss a bowl. So at this point who really cares if they play or don't play? The strike almost smells like an excuse to pack it in during an awful season.

The team and coaching staff are scoring big points with the social justice crowd with this thing. But no one will convince me they would have done the same were it this time last year and Mizzou controlled their destiny in the East. Their response would have been, sucks there are racists on campus, but think how many NFL scouts will be in Atlanta (the site of the SEC championship game), let's get to practice.

3) Speaking of which, every player not showing up for practice or games during this hullabaloo should have his scholarship pulled, and every coach encouraging participation should be fired. Regardless if their beef with Wolfe is valid, this is not the way to handle it. Imagine when these kids enter the workforce, at least the ones who don't make the NFL, which, given the talent level at Mizzou this year is probably all of them. The boss says or does something insensitive and instead of going to HR or filing a grievance, the kid stops working but still demands a paycheck? That isn't reality. In reality, pulling a stunt like that gets you unceremoniously marched to the door.

College is when you should start figuring out how the world actually works. If these kids really believe in the cause, they should put their money where their mouth is. Can't play for a school led by Tim Wolfe in good conscience? Then walk away from your scholarship or transfer to another school. You think a bunch of junior traders at Goldman Sachs could effect a CEO change by banding together and refusing to work (but still expecting to be paid)? No, they would be fired instantly, which is why they wouldn't do something so stupid. They'd deal with the crappy CEO or, if they felt strongly enough, they'd quit and go apply at JPMorgan or Wells Fargo. Auburn always has an eye out for malcontents from other programs, these kids should vet the school's president and then apply there.

Gary Pinkel makes $4.02 million a year. For that salary, his ass should show up to work. Unfortunately, he's handcuffed by his players in this situation. If he forces them to play and yanks the scholarships of the players who refuse, he loses this team instantly. The media, most of which sit slightly to the political left of Che Guevara, would skewer him incessantly. His reputation among black players (like 99.99% of recruits worth recruiting) would be irreparably tarnished. In short, not supporting this strike is tantamount to career suicide for Pinkel. That's why the decision has to come from above his head, namely, the aforementioned Board of Curators. The university's reputation might suffer in the short term, but remember when Oklahoma was never going to get another black recruit because a bunch of frat members chanted a racist song on a bus and the school waited a long time to take action? Oklahoma's doing just fine, and people have long forgotten about that incident (I had to strain my brain to think of it for an example here). And that's the point -- as long as the villain is a faceless institution rather than a recognizable character (like Pinkel), people forget quickly in today's ADD society. If it had any balls, the school could put a stop to this nonsense with minimal long-term collateral damage.

It comes down to this, college used to be a place where kids shed the protective shrink wrap they wore during childhood and exposed themselves to the ways of the world, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They had their opinions challenged. They learned to deal with those who may not have their best interests in mind without running to mommy and daddy to protect them. They learned to deal with conflict without letting things get out of control. In short, they learned to be adults. Somewhere along the way, trigger warnings and free speech zones and sensitivity training has supplanted this crucial mission of American colleges. As a result, you have a situation in which a bunch of college kids are grinding university operations to halt because the president can't prevent three or four kids out of 35,000 from being racist pricks. 

That shows no understanding of the ways of the world. It isn't dealing with conflict in a reasonable manner. And it certainly isn't being an adult. The link between shifting campus dynamics and the new normal of extended adolescence is real. Why do you think so many kids with college degrees -- even master's degrees -- are taking up residence in their mothers' basements? To paraphrase James Carville, it isn't the economy, stupid. Graduates weren't moving back home in droves in 1982 when unemployment shot past 10%, because in 1982 a kid would have been laughed out of the classroom for demanding a trigger warning on To Kill a Mockingbird. Today's college kids aren't learning to be adults. They expect the administration to play the role of mom and dad, and confront the school bully on their behalf, and the administration, perhaps in fear of losing students to competing schools, capitulates. It's a vicious cycle.

Missouri could begin to reverse this nefarious trend by demanding its football players fulfill the obligations of their scholarships or give them up to someone who will. It could resolve to ignore Jonathan Butler's childish antics. (This kid is not going to starve to death. As soon as the media moves on, which takes an average of 36 hours in today's society, he'll be spotted at Five Guys, mark my words.) The university could demand its students act like adults, and implore other schools to follow.

It probably won't, but it could.

UPDATE: This is why it's difficult to write about current events in the era of social media. The minute I hit submit, a Twitter update revealed Tim Wolfe has resigned. No due process, no thorough investigation, just a hasty resignation amid social pressure. Good luck to the next guy. It's certainly not a job I would want, regardless of the money.

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Three Recent Traditions Tennessee Needs to Retire

October 01, 2015

Butch Jones rode into Knoxville on a wave of we-wanted-Jon-Gruden disappointment and skepticism. But he quickly transmuted those negative emotions into excitement and confidence by unveiling a long string of slogans, gimmicks, and new traditions designed to excite the fan base and signal to recruits that a new Tennessee was in the works, a Tennessee everyone should want to be a part of.

It worked. Before Jones even coached a game, ticket prices on StubHub soared, recruits lined up to get on board, and t-shirts bearing slogans such as "Butch Please" and "Time To Get Butch Slapped" were commonplace in Knoxville. Vol Nation was legitimately excited about its new coach.

Fast foward two-and-a-half years, and some of that excitement is morphing back into anxiety. The slogans and gimmicks that excited the base in 2013 are wearing thin, and, more importantly, they aren't converting to wins on the field. They worked two years ago not because they were particularly clever or exciting, but because they personified an idea Butch was highly effective at selling to fans and recruits: that a return to 1990s-style dominance was only a matter of time.

Well, we bought into the slick sales pitch and signed on the dotted line, but it's been over two years and no vacuum cleaner has been delivered to our door. So it's time to drop to the sales jargon and gimmicks, and here are three good places to start.

Checkerboarding Neyland

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Well, Tennessee has done the checkerboard stadium thing twice, and the result was the same: the team blew a big fourth-quarter lead against an inferior opponent. Neither opponent, by the way, seemed fazed by the large squares of color-coordinated fans, probably because by the fourth quarter, those fans had been tranquilized by the coaching staff's blase, sit-on-the-lead-and-play-not-to-lose play calling on both sides of the ball.

One thing about playing in a huge stadium that holds over 100,000 people and reverberates sound like an echo chamber is that the advantage it confers can turn against you in a hurry. Nothing gives the visiting team confidence like looking up at that vast sea of orange and white, seeing nothing but slumped shoulders and heads, and hearing only crickets. We just silenced a crowd larger than the population of Green Bay!

Fan involvement in the game is a good thing, and it's a big reason why teams that play in raucous stadiums enjoy a distinct homefield advantage. But when you involve the fans to a level where they feel personally invested in the outcome, like by telling them what to wear and acting as though that contributes to the team's success, you're setting them up to take anything negative that happens personally. Of course the fans were frustrated and subdued in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma; they did everything Coach told them to do, and it still didn't work.

The only instructions given to the crowd should be: show up, be loud, and enjoy yourselves. That simple philosophy seems to work at LSU, Texas A&M, Oregon, and other stadiums where opponents hate to play.

Third Down for What

First off, the song is freaking old. And if even I recognize that, it must be true, because when it comes to popular music, I've been uncool since about five UT head coaches ago. I don't know how to whip, nae-nae, or any of that stuff. It's 2015 and I'm still learning to shake it like a salt shaker. If it involves music you can dance to, it's a safe bet I'm behind the curve. Part of it is I simply don't care what's happening in the dance world. The other part is even if I did care, it would be futile to keep up, because I can't dance. I'm probably the worst dancer in the world. I'm the guy you see fist-pumping with the wrong hand and spinning the wrong direction when "Jump On It" comes on at the wedding reception. I'm so bad at dancing, I can't even dance to those songs where they tell you exactly what to do in the lyrics: Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, and so forth. Back in college, there was a popular club song with the simplest directive ever: Lean back. Lean back. Lean back. I fell on my ass. Point being, if I'm calling a song passe, then someone with a functional pop culture IQ has probably already reserved it a spot next to the Baha Men on the bus to oblivion.

Then there's the simple fact that getting third down stops is meaningless if Tennessee lets its opponent convert every fourth down. Third down may be for what, but fourth down is for a 63-yard touchdown to win the game and tighten the noose UT fans have fashioned around their necks. Arkansas can kick out the stool on Saturday if Butch Jones and John Jancek don't figure a way to make stops on crucial plays that don't rely on Lil' Jon. Against Florida, Tennessee's third down defense was good enough to force an abundance of fourth downs -- five of which the Gators went for, and five of which they converted. On Florida's last drive, when they lined up for 4th and 14, I turned to the Gator fan next to me and said, verbatim, "If we can't stop you on 4th and freaking 14, you deserve to win, and we deserve to lose." When Medley's 55-yard field goal went wide right by the length of the Chinese guy in The Hangover's manhood, I didn't whine or bitch, I just shook the guy's hand and said, "That was the right outcome."

Memo to Butch Jones: Stop being hip and cool on third down, and start being successful on fourth down. Here's a tip to get started: When you're playing a mistake-prone freshman quarterback, maybe send some pressure.

Brick By Brick

Tennessee has plenty of bricks. Like, I don't know, two top-five recruiting classes worth of them. It's time for Butch to retire this platitude and start building something with his bricks before the next batch gets re-routed to Tuscaloosa, Athens, and Gainesville. Which is a legitimate worry given how little this staff has done with the studs they already have. Why would a wide receiver go to UT when the ones already there, several of whom were huge recruiting pick-ups, endure entire games without being thrown a pass?

As a true freshman, Marquez North was making circus catches in tight coverage against top 10 teams. As a junior, he's averaging fewer than one target a game. I know he's spent significant time on the injured list during the intervening 18 months, but you can't tell me he's regressed in his playmaking ability to the point he shouldn't be thrown the ball. And if he has, well, there's a whole 'nother issue with this staff that needs to be addressed.

Recruits want to feel confident that the staff they'll be developing under for the next three to four years can maximize their potential and provide the best conduit to success in the NFL. That's a hard sell for Butch Jones going forward, when his WRs aren't catching passes, his DBs (save for Sutton) are getting burned, and with two minutes remaining against an arch-rival, his Heisman watch list QB is third on the team in passing yards. Hurd, at least, has been able to shine, but can you imagine what a viable passing game would do for his yards per carry?

It's time to stop chirping about bricks and start being a good mason with those bricks. Saban doesn't spout slogans because he doesn't need to. Despite his repugnant personality, recruits line up to play for him because they know he offers results. Hype and gimmicks and slogans work for a coach's first year or two (remember Kiffin in 2009?) but the Saban blueprint is the only way to succeed long-term. The sooner Butch learns this, the better.

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Chill Out, College Football Fans. Week One Reveals Almost Nothing.

September 09, 2015

Remember last season?

How Ohio State's season fell apart after losing Braxton Miller.

The thrilling SEC Championship Game between the two clear best teams in the conference: Texas A&M and Georgia.

Oklahoma earning a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Kenny "Trill" hoisting the Heisman trophy.

Of course you don't remember. Because none of it happened. The reason it didn't happen? Because week one is a terrible indicator of how a college football season will play out.

Consider last year's Ohio State team. Most analysts began writing off the Buckeyes the minute news of Braxton Miller's preseason injury hit the wire. The team seemed to reinforce the pessimism week one against Navy. They won 34-17, but looked none too impressive. Ohio State fell in the polls. The team's Vegas CFP championship odds, which had hovered around 10:1 pre-injury, slipped to the kind of ratio you see in fine print on the back of a Powerball ticket.

The echo chamber of week one soothsayers had spoken, and its message was clear: Ohio State was done.

Occupying the other end of the spectrum was Texas A&M. The Aggies played South Carolina week one. South Carolina, if you remember, was a preseason top 10 team and a trendy CFP pick. At minimum, the Gamecocks were destined to win the SEC East on the strength of their powerful run game and suffocating defense.

So when the Aggies dispatched the Gamecocks 52-28, their true sophomore QB torching South Carolina's vaunted defense for 511 yards and 4 TDs, "experts" heralded the arrival of Texas A&M. This A&M team, which got little preseason love in the wake of Johnny Manziel's departure to the NFL, was going to be Kevin Sumlin's best yet.

And that sophomore QB with the record-setting performance? That was Kenny Hill. The name may well have worked its way out of your memory by now. But it dominated college football media for the 2014 season's first few weeks. Following the South Carolina game, Hill shot to the top of Heisman watch lists. The same "experts" who declared A&M an elite team speculated Hill's ceiling might be higher than that of his predecessor, Manziel. The media even demanded he give himself a cool nickname like Johnny Football; thus, the woefully unimaginative Kenny Trill was born.

Georgia and Oklahoma, as well, received plenty of week one love. A convincing win over Clemson gave the college football world all it needed to declare 2014 the year Mark Richt would finally do something with UGA's elite talent. The Sooners played a weaker opponent in Louisiana Tech, but looked good enough to keep the hype train, which formed after a bowl win over Alabama, rolling. Trevor Knight was definitely, unquestionably the answer at quarterback. Even Katy Perry took notice of the sophomore signal-caller.

So there you had it. The stage was set for the storylines set up in week one to play out over the following four months. And what happened? Like a frustrated novelist, the season quickly abandoned those storylines, and the week one picture proved as accurate as a webcam shot in blurred lighting on a profile.

Anyone reading this blog probably followed the season pretty closely, so no need for an in-depth analysis on everything that transpired. A quick rundown will suffice: Ohio State looked worse in week two than in week one, losing 35-21 to Virginia Tech. But the Buckeyes rallied and won 10 straight, plus the Big 10 Championship (59-0, no less), then snuck into the CFP amid some controversy, where they beat Alabama and Oregon to win it all.

Texas A&M kept the momentum, and the Kenny Trill hype machine, rolling for a little while, winning its first five games. But the machine soon imploded. The Aggies lost five of their last seven, with Kenny Trill being demoted to Kenny Klipboard and replaced by freshman Kyle Allen. Hill/Trill/Klipboard subsequently quit the team and transferred to TCU, while Texas A&M finished the season unranked.

Georgia followed its win against Clemson with a loss at South Carolina, the same team that made Texas A&M look so good. The Bulldogs still maintained the inside track for an SEC East championship until an inexplicable 38-17 loss to Florida. UGA surrendered over 400 rushing yards to a Gators offense so dreadful it ultimately cost head coach Will Muschamp his job.

Oklahoma finished the season 8-5, limping across the finish line with a 40-6 Citrus Bowl loss to Clemson. As the season progressed, Knight regressed. He lost his job during the offseason; head coach Bob Stoops named Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield the starter for 2015. No word yet from Katy Perry on where her allegiances stand.

But here's what is most interesting. Despite the tumult described above, and all the twists and turns of the 2014 season, college football fans, including the "experts," once again failed to learn the lesson that's been taught every season since the sport's inception: week one means almost nothing.

Week one means nothing because the frame of reference we have to judge team performances is infinitesimally small and notoriously inaccurate. We anointed Texas A&M based only on a win at South Carolina. As it turned out, beating the Gamecocks didn't mean much in 2014. Despite lofty preseason expectations, South Carolina lost six games. Its defense yielded a dizzying amount of yards and points, and made several opposing QBs look like Heisman candidates.

In fact, the concept of a "big win" or "bad loss" really doesn't exist in week one. The opponent your team beat or lost to hasn't played anyone else. Therefore, you really don't know how good or bad they are. No frame of reference exists apart from the crystal ball prognostications of college football "experts," most of whose actual knowledge we've already shown to be dubious.

So when I hear the Texas A&M hype engine once again building to a roar after a win over Arizona State (whose 0-0 record had earned it a #15 ranking), I can't help but chuckle. That chuckle crescendos to a full guffaw as fans from Oregon, Arizona and Tennessee bemoan the sky is falling after lackluster defensive performances against (supposedly) inferior week one opponents. How can we beat the good teams on our schedule, they lament, when we struggled so much against a bad team? Short answer: those "good" teams aren't necessarily good, and that "bad" team may turn out not so bad. Why not let them play a few games before you categorize them?

A big part of the fun over the next few months comes from discovering all the things we were wrong about in August and early September. After all, if everything you're declaring to be true based on week one observations is in fact so, why keep watching? You already know what's going to happen.

Except you don't. You have no clue. In fact, you couldn't be more wrong. Because week one reveals nothing except red herrings and dead-end storylines. Don't believe me? Go visit Kenny Hill and his Heisman-free trophy shelf. He has plenty of free time these days.

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5 College Football Predictions for 2015

August 02, 2015

Let's start with one of those fun lists that uses world events to make a moderate passage of time seem like eons. The last time I blogged about college football, on May 11:

- The Confederate flag flew proudly atop the South Carolina state capitol.

- Gay marriage was illegal in 13 states.

- Fortune 40 companies allowed their employees to use Donald Trump's hotels and golf courses.

- Rachel Dolezal was a black woman.

- Walter Palmer could fill a cavity without fear of PETA sniper fire.

- Tom Brady was a cheater.

While some things never change, in other ways two and a half months ago feels like a different time period, a simpler, more innocent epoch when deflated footballs and steroid kings dominated the headlines, before they were supplanted by headless lions, headless babies and crazy candidates.

Thank God football season is around the corner. Maybe if we turn our attention to the gridiron and away from the news, we can choke the crazy of its needed attention supply before it metastasizes any further.

One more order of business: Let's dispense with the notion of "surefire," "bold," or "bankable" football predictions. All sports predictions are shots in the dark, whether made by people who get paid millions for them (Simmons, Reilly); who get paid a few cents a month for them (me); or who earn nothing from them beyond the satisfaction of winning drunken barroom arguments (probably anyone bored enough to be reading this blog). 

Face it, when it comes to sports, you can spend hours scrutinizing statistics, reading scouting reports and analyzing match-ups, only to gain a nugatory amount of insight, and diminishing returns set in quickly. No one knows what's going to happen, and most of the factors that determine outcomes can't be gleaned from objective data. If I'm wrong, why do guys who pore over college basketball minutiae every March always lose the office pool to some chick who filled out her bracket based on stylish uniforms and cute coaches?

So take these predictions for what they are: the conjectures of one guy, encumbered by bias, shrouded in ignorance, and sure to be wrong. Which, really, makes me the same as the big-time sportswriters, minus the talent and the big paycheck.

Here are five predictions for the 2015 college football season.

1. Ohio State doesn't repeat.

The Buckeyes were unquestionably the best team at the end of 2014. And they return as much or more talent than any team on their heels. But several factors are working against them. The first is obvious: They're the defending champs. The target on their backs is massive. Every team on their schedule has its date with OSU circled. All it takes is one slip-up, one overlooking of an upstart team, one game where they're not 100% dialed in, on the same day their opponent plays over their heads, and Ohio State is on the outside looking in. Even with a four-team postseason, as TCU and Baylor can attest, one loss can be too many.

Then there's Urban Meyer's quarterback situation. It made for fun banter on the late night talk shows in January, but waiting until you're well into August to settle on a QB rarely turns out well. Braxton Miller, at least, appears to be out of the picture, having moved to H-back. But until either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones is named as the starter, that person is only getting half the first-team reps he could be getting. One could argue, and validly, that both guys did more than okay when called upon with little experience in 2014. But the margin for error is smaller when you're the defending champs.

Lastly, lack of team control, an issue that's hung around Meyer's neck like an albatross his entire career, seems to be taking hold in Columbus. Four Buckeye players, all starters, recently earned one-game suspensions for "violation of team policy" -- nebulous coachspeak that is almost invariably code for "positive drug test." OSU's opponent in that one game? Their 2014 conquistador, Virginia Tech. And it's on the road.

2. The trophy returns to the SEC.

This isn't a fanboy homer prediction. It's math. The SEC has the most teams with a realistic shot of winning it all. That simple fact gives the conference, at this point, the highest probability of recapturing the trophy.

Suppose we sort every Power 5 team into one of four categories: good chance of winning it all, so-so chance of winning it all, outside chance of winning it all, and no chance of winning it all. No need to list the teams in the last category, since they're irrelevant. What we want to know is how many teams from the Power 5 conferences have at least an outside chance of winning it all.


Good chance: Florida State

So-so chance: Clemson, Georgia Tech

Outside chance: Virginia Tech

Big Ten

Good chance: Ohio State, Michigan State

So-so chance: Wisconsin

Outside chance: None


Good chance: TCU, Baylor

So-so chance: Oklahoma

Outside chance: Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12

Good chance: Oregon, USC

So-so chance: UCLA, Arizona State

Outside chance: Stanford, Arizona, Utah


Good chance: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia

So-so chance: LSU, Ole Miss

Outside chance: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas A&M

That's 10 teams for the SEC that, based on preseason rankings and analysis, have some degree of chance to take home the title. Only the Pac 12, with seven, is remotely close. The SEC also boasts the most "good chance" teams (which, admittedly, I picked lazily using the top 10 of the preseason coaches' poll).

Ohio State could run the table and make this entire exercise a moot point (as well as trouncing on my first prediction). But the smart money goes to the SEC, given the conference's sheer presence in college football's subset of contenders.

3. No team finishes undefeated.

My feeling is that, moving forward, this will be the case more often than not. Sure, every few years a team will parlay some lucky breaks into a 15-0 campaign. But we'll never see another 1995 Nebraska, one of those on-another-level teams that leaves no doubt.

The explosion in college football's popularity over the last two decades, and the resulting infusion of money into the sport, has done more for parity than anything the most skilled communist dictator could devise. Add to that the move toward superconferences, all with profit-sharing policies that ensure everyone gets a piece of the pie, and no longer can the Notre Dames, the Alabamas, the Ohio States use their huge financial advantages to dominate the recruiting game.

Programs that formerly struggled to maintain pace due to sub-par facilities, unimpressive stadiums and no-name coaches are catching up quick. Texas A&M, not Tennessee or Alabama, has the largest stadium in the SEC. Oregon, for decades in the shadow of USC and UCLA, dominates the Pac 12. Ole Miss, led by a guy who coached high school a few years ago, now pulls top-five recruiting classes. Boise State (had I mentioned them in 1994, you would have replied, "who?") is a top 25 mainstay, and in 2007 beat mighty Oklahoma in an elite bowl.

Point being, there's too much competition at the top. When LSU won the 2007 title with two losses, analysts and casual fans alike called it a crazy season, an anomaly. I predict that to become the norm over the next few years.

4. A non-conference champion makes the CFP.

It has to happen at some point. There are only five power conferences, four of which feature championship games that often pit a two- or three-loss team from one division against a national title hopeful from the other. Sometimes upsets happen in those games. What if, due to such upsets, two of the Power 5 conferences crown three-loss champions? Assuming the other three conferences send their zero- or one-loss champs to the CFP, that still leaves one spot. 

That final spot, then, based on what the selection committee decides, goes either to a three-loss conference champ, or to a non-conference champ with fewer losses.

Or, they could vote for something else....

5. A non-Power 5, non-Notre Dame team doesn't make the CFP.

This will happen as well at some point, probably due to a scenario such as the above where chaos in the Power 5 leaves an opening for one of the little guys to slip in. 2015, however, won't be the year. The best non-Power 5, non-Notre Dame team looks to be Boise State, which, while ranked #24 preseason, has given no indication it can compete with the top teams.

One season in the near future, however, the emergence of a 2005 or 2009 Utah (before it joined the Pac 12), or a 2006 Boise State will coincide with a CFP opening left by a conference championship game upset or general attrition in the Power 5.

That's a surefire prediction you can take to the bank.

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Deflated Balls: Brady vs. A-Rod

May 11, 2015

It's been a few days. I hate when life gets in the way of football. But what better way to get back into the blogging groove than to analyze the just-announced suspension of one of football's most polarizing figures.

Unless your last 24 hours were spent disconnected from society (perhaps you were swimming 26 miles to shore after falling off your fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic), you've heard that Patriots QB Tom Brady, a shoe-in future Hall of Famer, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. An NFL investigation determined he willingly played a role in deflating footballs below league standards during the Patriots' 45-7 playoff win over the Colts last season.

Patriots fans and non-fans are livid, but for diametrically opposite reasons. Fans, not surprisingly, find the punishment draconian. Many have made the comparison to Ray Rice, whom the league originally suspended only two games for a one-punch KO of his then-fiancee (now wife) in a casino elevator. It's still murky whether Goodell or any other NFL official with decision-making cachet had seen the now-infamous video of Rice's left hook, but what happened in the elevator, video or not, was never in question. Almost universal agreement exists that Goodell's subsequent bumping of Rice's ban from two games to indefinite was a pure PR move in response to public outrage after seeing the video.

Non-fans, also unsurprisingly, think Brady got off easier than a 15-year-old receiving his first handie. I tend to agree with them, which makes sense really, seeing that I'm a zealous Patriots non-fan. To me, invoking Rice as a comparison when analyzing Brady's punishment is misguided. What Ray did was atrocious, but it's apples and oranges with Brady's misdeeds. Domestic violence is a far worse crime against humanity than equipment tampering (new masturbation euphemism?), but at the same time, it confers no on-the-field advantage. The NFL should deal with both swiftly and severely, but each should exist in its own realm, and comparisons between the two should be made sparingly.

A better Brady comparison is A-Rod. Different sport, but same crime category--blatantly operating outside the league's clearly-set parameters to gain a competitive advantage. More parallels exist: Brady's cheating, followed by a strident denial (enhanced by an impressive affectation of umbrage at the idea his honesty would be called into question), and finally a defiant receiving of his punishment while maintaining he did no wrong mirrors A-Rod's trajectory in 2013. The slugger repeatedly feigned offense at suggestions he was using PEDs, then continued to proclaim his innocence even as reality set in that his baseball career was embarking on a long hiatus.

They even have the deflated balls thing in common, at least if you believe doctors' warnings about prolonged steroid use.

So how do their punishments stack up? For starters, A-Rod was absent from 162 games (one full season), which is exactly 40.5 times as many games as Brady is set to miss. Granted, that probably isn't a fair comparison since a MLB season features 10 times as many games as an NFL season. A better measure would be percentage of season missed. A-Rod, 100%; Brady, 25%. Plus A-Rod was required to miss the playoffs. A stark contrast without question, and while vastly different means were used, they ultimately committed the same crime.

One possible justification for A-Rod's more severe punishment is that PED use presumably improved his play for more than just one game. But no definitive proof exists that he was on steroids for a full season, or that the steroids he used stayed in his system long enough to have a prolonged effect on his play, or that there weren't extended periods in which he was "clean" and therefore a regular, non-enhanced A-Rod as opposed to the A-Roid who drew the hefty punishment. Nor is it clear that Brady's transgressions were limited to the single game in which he was caught.

My stance is that MLB got it right with A-Rod, while the NFL shanked the kick with Brady. Professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry entirely dependent on fans' emotional (which translates to financial) investment in the game. Few things have the potential to wither away fan support like the idea the league is willing to stand by idly and allow cheaters to compromise the integrity of the game. No fan wants to watch a game in which one team enjoys an ill-begotten advantage over the other. Would you watch a professional tennis match if one player were allowed to hit a foot beyond the baseline, or a golf tournament where a particular player gets a stroke shaved off every hole?

To be honest, I think the only way to level the playing field where PEDs are concerned is legalize them, with players assuming any long-term health risks from their use. Likewise, I don't see the harm in letting teams inflate or deflate footballs to whatever level they want. But everyone has to play by the same rules. And as long as a rule is in place, whether you like it or not, whether the rule even makes sense or not, it should be your responsibility to follow it lest you receive just desserts that are harsh and unbending. Cheating, whether through illegal supplementation, tampering with equipment, surreptitiously recording opponents' practices, or any other nefarious means these guys probably hire people full-time to conjure up, should mean a full season doing something else for a living for the guilty party or parties.

With that kind of disincentive applied across the board in all pro sports, I think we'd see players being a lot more honest. Missing four games for cheating is nothing, especially when your impropriety leads to a Super Bowl win and the millions in contract bonuses and endorsement deals that inevitably follows. Methinks Tom Brady would do it again. After all, it certainly wasn't the Patriots' first time under his reign.

A-Rod, meanwhile, has been a choir boy since his reinstatement.

Punish cheaters, and punish them severely. If Brady is the best ever, or even top five, he can throw a damn football with a little more hot air in it. Otherwise, any GOAT argument featuring his name is, well, hot air.

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WATCH: Top 100 College Football Plays of 2014-15

May 02, 2015

Here's another fun college football video from last season that will make you wish kickoff for 2015 wasn't still four months away.

Props to the guy who made it. Culling over 100,000 plays down to the best 100 isn't easy. And given that it's YouTube, whose comments section is notorious for drawing the dregs of society out of the gutter, I'm sure hordes of ignorant homers representing teams across the country immediately swarmed the poor guy for leaving out some three-yard touchdown run or interception where the ball was thrown right to the DB.

But I'm happy with the list, even if the top 25 or so is heavy on the throw-the-ball-as-far-as-you-can-and-hope-it-ricochets-into-the-right-guy's-hands, desperation touchdown variety. The play he picked for #1 is absolutely the right choice. I won't give it away, but if you're a CFB junkie like me who watched even the obscure bowls, you already know what it is. It happened at the end of a game I almost turned off when the team in question was down by 28 in the second half, but I was working on the computer and kept the TV on for background noise.

Here you go. The best college football plays of 2014-15, according to one guy on YouTube...

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WATCH: Best College Football Catches of 2014-15

April 30, 2015

I know the draft is on tonight and that's what anyone into football is supposed to be watching. But I haven't tuned in to a minute of it. Too much pomp and circumstance, too much manufactured suspense and, most of all, WAY too much downtime filled by uninformed bloviating from the talking heads. It's just not exciting to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm still keeping up with who goes where, especially when it comes to my team, the Titans (we got Mariota! Good luck with headcase Winston, Tampa Bay!). Luckily for me and for others who lack the patience to endure this event live, there's an app for that.

Instead of watching the seconds tick off way too slowly from that annoying countdown timer they put up between picks, how about some fun and exciting football viewing? Like, I don't know, maybe a compilation of the best, most acrobatic, most ridiculous catches from the 2014 CFB season (including the 2015 bowls)? The behind-the-back Nebraska catch against FAU is included. The Kansas circus catch for a touchdown against TCU is there. So are a couple pretty badass interceptions, like one by Miami (FL) where the ball ricochets off several body parts of a falling Cincy receiver, including his foot, before getting scooped up an inch off the ground by a Hurricane DB (who tap dances down the sideline for a TD). It's eerily reminiscent of Nebraska's 1997 flea kicker against Missouri.

So sit back, enjoy, and let your jaw drop at these feats of wide receiver prowess. But don't forget to check your phone periodically. You still need to know the identity of your NFL team's next star center.

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VIDEO: 89-Year-Old Scores Touchdown at KU Spring Game

April 28, 2015

Yet another reason why college football is awesome. Check out this video from the spring game at Kansas. Watch #28 run it in for the score. That's 89-year-old Bryan Sperry, a WWII veteran and former Jayhawk player. He played in the 1948 Orange Bowl

He may not have the same speed as 67 years ago, but look at that vision as he navigates through the openings made by his blockers.

Even better, look at the smile on the guy's face. Ear to ear, baby.

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Bruce Jenner!!!!! Bruce Jenner Transition! Bruce Jenner Courage! Bruce Jenner This! Bruce Jenner That! Bruce Jenner for Days!!!!!

April 28, 2015

Hopefully that'll get some SEO traffic in here.

This post isn't about Bruce Jenner, though. Personally I don't care if the guy is transitioning to a lemur. If he's (she's?) happy, I'm happy for him (her?), and I certainly won't judge him (her?). Live and let live. But beyond that, I have no interest in talking incessantly about Bruce and his (her?) life choices. And I'm over being inundated with Bruce, Bruce and more BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE with a side of BRRUUUUUUCCEEEEE every time I pick up a newspaper, turn on a TV or log into social media.

Consider this my attempt to change the subject.

Besides, there's so much football news! Isn't that a sign of how awesome college football is? It's coming up on May, the season ended months ago, next season isn't close to beginning, but there's still a TON to talk about. Recruiting classes! Spring games! Dark horse picks! SEC vs Big Ten! SEC vs Pac 12! SEC vs all the haters! SEC vs the world! SEC vs those idiots in Baltimore! Seriously, how awesome would it be if every six-foot-five, 320-pound Hulk from the SEC teamed up and just pounded those pathetic bastards into submission?

Maybe that should be the litmus test for conference supremacy. Suppose there's a big riot in an urban center, the National Guard is tied up with an overseas mission vital to national security, the police are gun shy on account of the torrent of bad press they've received lately, and the only hope for peace is for every football player from a major conference (kickers/punters may be excused) to descend on the city and quell the unrest. Businesses, property, even lives are at stake. Which conference do you put your trust in?

The Pac 12 lacks the size. The Big Ten, save for Ohio State, lacks the speed. The Big 12 and ACC lack the breadth of talent. That leaves the SEC. Did I just win the great conference debate using a ridiculous argument? Probably not, since it has nothing to do with football, but come on, admit that if some punks were throwing bricks through the window of your insurance agency and trying to set fire to your Kia Forte, you'd rather have an SEC defensive tackle come to the rescue than some bro from UCLA.

So how did your team look in its spring game? That's another sign of college football's eminence. The sheer number of teams that drew 60,000-plus fans for a spring scrimmage. I mean, we're talking about a game in which most of the really good players wear different colored jerseys to signify they can't be tackled, hit, or given a mean look. Yet tens of thousands come out to watch, because we can't get enough college football!!! Ohio State packed almost 100,000 into the Horseshoe, and that was just to watch Urban Meyer equivocate about his QB situation.

Tennessee looked good. Apparently so good that, as of right now, Vegas gives Josh Dobbs a better Heisman probability than J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller. I'll take it. Even though the Heisman is a joke, and the true best player rarely wins. Here's a gambling tip: Figure out early in the season who the flashiest player is that the media can't get enough of, make sure he's from an overhyped program that receives equal fawning, and put your money on him. If he dates Kardashians or similarly famous-for-being-famous bimbos, double your bet.

OK, so this post was more than a little absurd. And like Billy Madison's answer in the academic decathlon, it probably never came close to anything that could be construed as a point. But for five minutes at least, it got you talking/thinking about something other than Bruce Jenner. Consider my work here done.

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Vegas Odds for 2015's College Football Playoff Champ

April 27, 2015

No surprise here: Vegas overwhelmingly likes Ohio State to repeat as College Football Playoff champion in 2015. Vegas Insider gives the Buckeyes 11/4 odds, or better than one-in-three.

A substantial drop-off follows, with Alabama and TCU next at 8/1 and 9/1. Rounding out the top five are Auburn (13/1) and USC (14/1).

Here's the full list, all the way down to 500/1.

A few thoughts:

- OSU should drop to 4/1 or 5/1 once the money starts rolling in. No one in his right might would take that bet with the current odds. The Buckeyes are the best team, but right now a $100 bet doesn't even win $300, and it relies on OSU coming out ahead of 127 other teams in a season when EVERYONE will be gunning for them. There are too many variables--injuries, suspensions, team chemistry--and the potential reward doesn't outweigh the risk at those odds. At 5/1, OSU is a pretty good bet, the opportunity to quintuple your money justifying the possibility of loss. At 11/4, though, either save your cash, or chase a better return (e.g., Alabama).

- The list is strikingly dissimilar to ESPN's way-too-early top 25. For instance, Oklahoma, absent from ESPN's list, ranks #7 in Vegas with 18/1 odds--the same odds as Baylor, a top five team according to ESPN. Arizona appears way down Vegas's list, out of the top 25, but garners a #13 ranking from ESPN.

- Tennessee is pulling 65/1 odds! A $100 bet wins $6,500, or almost enough to buy this slick-looking Elio Car if it ever comes out. 84 miles per gallon, 0-60 in nine seconds, and one less wheel to worry about. I'll cut you a deal: Spot me the $100, and if we win, I'll drive you to the 2016 Battle at Bristol in my Elio Car.

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