November 20, 2017

Run Big

The Big Ten 10k challenges runners to don the colors of their favorite Big Ten school and run six miles along Chicago’s lakefront in the very early morning and rewards competitors with bananas, beer, bratwursts and at least a few jokes about Notre Dame.
Those jokes went something like this: “Sure I got into Notre Dame.  No you didn’t.”

As the thousands of runners stretched and chatted in the corrals before the race began they were encouraged by an energetic chap with a megaphone to shout their school spirit: “Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State!”  Joyous cheers erupted each time except for when some obnoxious sort shouted “Rutgers and Maryland” and was slapped with a wet sock.

If the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins have any fears about joining the Big Ten, which now has 14 schools, they would have been allayed by watching this collection of pasty kids traverse Chicago’s streets like farmers at a casino.

Big Ten fans run like Big Ten teams play.  They.  Plod.  Deliberately.  Intensely.  Constantly.  Watching Big Ten fans run is like listening to SEC fans read.  They’ll get there, but it’s painful.

Speaking of the SEC, the running times for the Big Ten 10k might have been a bit more impressive if the SEC 10K had been taking place directly behind it.  Alas, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and, for that matter, Stanford, USC and the ghosts of the Rhein Fire don’t dwell in the Big Ten’s world.  They run their course and play their game in the faraway, magical and very, very fast and unforgiving land of Saban and Clowney.

The SEC is Jennifer Aniston. The Big Ten is Lisa Kudrow.

No, that’s not right.

The SEC is Bar Refaeli and the Big Ten is that fat kid who got to make out with her during that disturbingly tantalizing Super Bowl commercial.  Few people know that the super model and the fat geek had sex after that commercial and made a baby named “Arena.”

There was a time when Big Ten football teams were on par with, or maybe even superior to during a given season, schools from the Southeastern Conference.  There was also a time when the sun never set on the British Empire and Johnny Manziel went to church.

The SEC has won every football National Championship since the 2006 season and the smart money says an SEC school will light a cigar again this January while the rest of the college football world is consoled by its job placement and complete sets of teeth.

What can the Big Ten, Notre Dame, Texas, or the Arizona Cardinals do to end the SEC’s stranglehold on amateur football supremacy?  Do they need faster players?  Angrier coaches?  Better facilities?  Fatter boosters?  Slimmer cheerleaders?  Looser rules?

The answer was not found on a summer morning in Chicago.  There was sweat, shiny medals and charming Midwestern merriment but no ladders to climb the wall, no slingshot to topple the giant and no mustard for the bratwurst.

But it’s still only summer.

 

 

Alabama 21, LSU 0

When the two most prominent players in a football game are a punter and a kicker you know you should have spent the night watching hockey.

All credit should go to Alabama, a team that plays defense tighter than a North Korean nanny and all the blame goes to LSU, a team that plays offense like the French play defense, but did we really wait a month for this?  And what did “Coach of the Year” Les Miles spend the last month doing?  Figuring out different ways not to run, pass or appear even remotely threatening?

Hang on, LSU just had another three-and-out. (Don’t worry, it never takes long)

LSU compiled 92 yards of total offense.  Boise State can fart 92 yards of offense.  LSU’s time of possession was 24:34, which was even shorter than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.

Has Les Miles ever heard of an end-around, flea-flicker, halfback pass, forward pass or backup quarterback?  Is Nick Saban so good a coach that when having a talented team, a month to prepare, and a kicker who connects on 80% of his attempts he can beat the top-ranked team in the country?  Apparently so.

Alabama is so good it won the BCS Championship Game with a top scorer named Shelley and a top receiver named Smelley.

The Honey Badger looked more like the Useless Beaver.

The SEC has now won six straight national championships.  Every other conference is the 99% and not even an “Occupy Dixie” movement will give the Big Tens, Pac 12s, Notre Dames and St. Louis Rams of the world a chance at sharing the football wealth.

The BCS bigwigs are scheduled to meet on Tuesday (probably at Les’ house) to discuss ideas for improving the way the national championship is decided.  Before Monday night’s game in New Orleans, LSU could have planned to walk into that meeting saying it’s unfair that the Tigers were in position to finish the season with more wins than Alabama and a 1-1 record against the Crimson Tide yet not be voted the national champs.  But after Monday night’s malaise, LSU’s only argument is that the next time it plays Alabama the TV cameras should not be allowed to show Jordan Jefferson from the waist up.

The only change that needs to be made to the BCS is that the system currently actually considers giving teams from blue states serious consideration.

The BCS says “everything imaginable will be discussed” regarding improving college football’s postseason which means we’re certainly moving closer to either some type of playoff or annexation of the AFC West.

There is no way the NCAA will allow a diminution of the 35 bowl games played this season even if half of those games were played in half-empty stadiums.  College football is a cash cow for schools, coaches and ESPN (but God forbid a player hock a ring for a tattoo) and any tweaks to the system will start with maintaining a paradigm in which 6-6 Illinois and 6-7 UCLA get to meet in the Kraft Hunger Bowl.

So, that means in the future we’ll probably see the current bowl season followed by some type of mini-playoff in which the top four or eight teams in the nation, based in part on bowl game performance, will square off to decide the champion.

That mini-playoff will bear a striking resemblance to the SEC regular season.

Want to make college football’s championship chase more exciting and equitable?  Make all SEC teams play without facemasks.  Play the title game not under a dome but at Lambeau Field.  Demand that the games be broadcast in a format so that TV viewers can still hear the stadium noise yet can turn off the announcers, or at least Brent Musburger.

To dream, to dream.

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide and a pat on the back to LSU.  They were the two best teams in the country and deserved their night in the spotlight and ‘Bama deserves once again to be called the greatest team in the land and likely the best program in the history of college football.  It was a bad game but sometimes even excellence looks a little ugly.  And in Alabama, a state still recovering from deadly tornadoes last spring, and in Louisiana, which is still in the struggling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, excellence, joy and passion are likely welcome in any form.  Football can’t make real life less painful, but it can make people forget about it for a while.

 

 

Will Tigers Take the Tide Twice?

Since the morning of November 6, 2011, college football fans have been making their voices heard: no rematch!

The previous evening’s so-called “Game of the Century” had resulted in a single-digit outcome for both participants: LSU 9, Alabama 6 – in overtime!

Before I read the comment twice I was on the defensive. The purpose of the BCS is to pit the top two collegiate football teams against each other in the season’s final contest for the national championship.  If LSU and Alabama are the best two teams in the postseason, they should contend for the Crystal Ball.

I, for one, am not enamored of the BCS, but whether the current system is flawed is debatable. The outcome of its complicated formula is bound to result in disagreement, regardless of the outcome. Put me down in favor of the Plus-One plan.

Returning to reality, the system has seen fit this season to give the honors of playing for the title to the same two teams who did battle that November Saturday. On that occasion, LSU and Bama were vying for the top spot in the SEC west. This time it is for all the proverbial marbles.

They are the two best defenses in the NCAA. They are the two best teams in the NCAA. They are deserving contenders for the championship, and the winner deserves all the accolades. The SEC wins again because, until another conference proves otherwise, it has the best teams on the planet.

My assessment of the game is all over the map. I have changed my pick three times. Alabama’s defense is ranked first in the country and has surrendered and average of just 191 yards and 8.8 points per game to its opponents this season. LSU’s defense is number two and given up fractionally more yards and points, while forcing more than two turnovers per game.

LSU has three All-Americans this season in Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Brad Wing. Alabama has four: Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Barrett Jones and Trent Richardson.

Richardson has averaged 198 yards against Top 25 opponents this year and has fumbled once in 614 career touches. LSU has scored 40 points or more nine times this season.

Les Miles is 75-17 (.815) at LSU. Nick Saban is 49-12 (.803) at Alabama. Need I go on?

If there are any clear advantages, it would be LSU’s prowess on special teams, but Bama missed four field goals (12 points) in November and still held LSU to just nine points in total.

So how will one team prevail?

Look for the coaches to set aside the conservative approach of the last game in hopes of gaining an early advantage. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to play catch-up against either of these defensive units.

The Alabama players have to feel they have something to prove in this game. I’ll go with the Tide, 17-13.

Missou’s Declaration Perpetuates Realignment Unrest

Just when the mad flurry of rumors and speculation regarding conference realignment seemed to quiet and settle into a temporary sanity, the University of Missouri stoked the fire. After meeting earlier this week, the University’s curators emerged with the now famous rhetoric: We’re exploring all options in the best interests of the University.

Translation: Missouri is not committed to the Big 12. We’ve always wanted to go to the Big 10, but we may go to the SEC also. In the meantime, we’ll smile and wave … and basically keep NCAA Division I football in a state of unrest.

Though the remaining Big 12 teams seemed to have ironed out differences and TV revenue sharing, Missouri’s posturing keeps the conference on edge and causes more frustration for the Big East.

The SEC has declared itself content at 13 teams with the addition next season of Texas A&M. Logic dictates that the conference will even its number of member programs, but the SEC acts at its own pace and discretion, insulated at the top of the college football world.

The Pac-12 has declared itself not interested in short-term expansion, and its long-time Rose Bowl dance partner, the Big 10, has closed doors too.

So the effect of Missouri’s announcement is that the Big 12 cannot presume on the school’s continued membership. At nine schools plus Missouri – for now, it wants to add programs and stabilize. Candidates recently rumored to be brought aboard include Texas Christian University and the University of Louisville. TCU is scheduled to join Louisville in the Big East next season, but the destination is no longer as appealing with the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC – and Connecticut a very public ACC wannabe.

The Big East, like the Big 12, wants to shore up its ranks. Its location, history and football reputation however make it the least likely destination for football programs of stature, and a wait-and-see destination for any program really. It may be imprudent for any school to enter the Big East in its tenuous status of present.

So, Missouri’s opportunity seeking keeps college football on the alert in a conference alignment situation seemingly unable to find contentment.