Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
16 Nov 2009
by Robert Weintraub
My wife is a Wake Forest alum, but I’ve had memorable times with a couple of former South Carolina Gamecocks (like the saying goes, date the 'Cock, marry the Deac’). As such, I’ve always had a subterranean admiration for the South Carolina program. You have to respect the passion, intensity, and loyalty of the fans there, given how little they’ve had to celebrate over the years (a single conference championship, the ACC in 1969, in more than six decades).
Despite these feelings, I found myself filling with dread as the hour grew late in Columbia on Saturday, and the Ol' Ballcoach seemed poised to spring a crushing upset on his old employer. Cocks quarterback Stephen Garcia, who was playing with a prideful excellence to match the back of his jersey (to honor Veteran’s Day, South Carolina eschewed names on the jerseys for words like Commitment, Integrity, and Service), had just converted a weaving, diving fourth-and-two run. Florida looked confused and on the back foot. The Gators radio guys (I listened to a good portion of the game) were in a blind panic. Meanwhile, Alabama was doing to Mississippi State what the anaconda does to the capybara -- slowly squeezing them to death (consult Jon Voight for further details).
It was then I realized that, much like Mike Slive and (apparently) the SEC roster of officials, I wanted the Gators to win out and play unbeaten Alabama in the SEC Championship game next month. Not being any kind of fan of either team, this surprised me greatly. But this season, while fitfully interesting, has been mostly lackluster, missing signature games and moments. Two 12-0 squads duking it out in the Georgia Dome, following on last season’s epic, would be just the tonic the 2009 campaign needs.
So I was happy-ish that on the first play of the fourth quarter, Florida began a 15-minute defensive clinic, starting with an interception by Justin Trattou that tipped the game away from the potential upset. After the obligatory Tim Tebow one-yard touchdown ram, the Gators defense -- still the best unit in the nation -- turned up the heat. Four sacks, two picks, and minus-15 yards allowed in the last quarter. Player of the year candidate cornerback Joe Haden and his mates simply erased any possibility of defeat. And I had a moment of modest triumph at the gun. What have I become? A writer desperate for storylines, I suppose.
The game remained in doubt mainly because Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis missed three field goals, the Bizarro hat trick. After the second miss, the camera caught Tebow chatting with Sturgis, no doubt telling the beleaguered footman that Timmy’s G-d may no longer be in Sturgis’ corner. When the season was still young and innocent, incumbent Gator kicker Jonathan Phillips lost his gig when he blew a makeable field goal. Against Alabama, or in the all-the-marbles contest to follow, Urban Meyer will probably need someone to make a tough kick for him. Right now, he has no one he feels confident in to make that kick. Advantage Alabama, and Leigh Tiffin.
Speaking of kickers, Columbus is one of our finest soccer cities. Let’s hope Buckeye Nation has a little more appreciation for the real football after former Columbus Crew midfielder Devin Barclay booted Ohio State to the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Barclay only managed three goals in the MLS, so these three points probably rank as the highlight of his multi-sport career. Iowa, the guest of honor at a national pity party after losing quarterback Ricky Stanzi and an undefeated season last Saturday, played with tremendous pride and gusto in almost taking the trip to Pasadena from the Buckeyes. Fill-in Iowa passer James Vandenberg went from worse than James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues to better than James Caan in Brian’s Song (OK, that was a cheat, he played a running back). But Terrelle Pryor’s dink-and-dunk fest and a healthy combo of runners put Ohio State and Barclay in position for his winning field Ggoooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllll.
Down in Fort Worth, TCU staked an impressive claim to the No. 4 ranking by throttling Utah. Now, let’s not confuse these Utes with last year’s model -- the best four players from 2008 weren’t in uniform Saturday -- but it was impressive nonetheless. Unfortunately, the game was on CBS College, so only 78 people saw the destruction. TCU has tremendous speed on both sides of the ball and attacks outside the perimeter so relentlessly that the opposition wilts in the face of the press attack. The storied TCU combo of Billy Clyde Puckett and “Shake” Tiller ain’t got nothin’ on Andy Dalton and Ryan Christian.
Now we can get the petition going to replace the Big 12 North rep (Saturday’s Nebraska-Kansas State winner) in the conference title game with the Frogs. A Texas-TCU semifinal would be epic. And while Texas would probably win, it would be tight. Outstanding TCU wide receiver Antoine Hicks is a reason way. He originally signed with the Longhorns, then saw the writing on the depth chart and skedaddled to Purpletown. TCU’s roster is full of dudes who the big boys in Austin either ignored or didn’t have room for, and those are the most dangerous kind of players -- ones with something to prove.
Chris Peterson clearly thinks his Boise State Broncos have something to prove (he’s right), because style points were front and center in the Battle of Idaho. The Broncos went for two after each of its first two touchdowns (they went 1-for-2) and poured it on well after the contest was decided, crushing Idaho 63-25. Sadly, unless there are some major trip-ups, Statue of Liberty U. may be enlisting Mike Crapo and Jim Risch to join Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah in his anti-BCS legislation. I suppose I should be rooting for said shockers to unfold and let the Smurf Turf boys sneak in, but as I said before, I’m into the concept of the titanic clash. Besides, I have never dated anyone from Boise State...
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9 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2009, 12:01pm by TV_Pete