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16 Nov 2009

One Foot Inbounds: Begging for a Big Game

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...


  • The Cincinnati athletic department used to give out free football tickets with every purchase of season seats for the basketball team. My how things have changed in the Queen City (and yes, I’m including my beloved and suddenly ultra-physical Cincinnati Bengals in that mix). I mentioned quarterback Tony Pike as a Wally Pipp candidate a couple of weeks ago -- Pike obviously heard about it and threw two touchdown passes on only four attempts in special situations against West Virginia. The Bearcats won a tight one thanks to a poor on-field/replay decision that upheld a touchdown dive for the plain by Isiah Pead. Shows that it isn’t just the SEC striped shirts that are in the tank.
  • Another bad call in the Steel City. Notre Dame was completely outplayed by Pitt (yet managed a cheap backdoor cover to screw yet another of my locks of the week), but they were jobbed by the final play. Jimmy Clausen was ruled to have fumbled on a last ditch drive, but his arm was going forward. More importantly, a national TV audience got to witness breakout star running back Dion Lewis run wild, and Charlie the Tuna get closer to being canned (pun!). Lewis broke off a spectacular touchdown run to put Pitt way ahead, followed by Brent Musberger yelling, “And now the long knives are out for Charlie Weis!” Just a great moment.
  • Stanford. And I mean that.
  • Congrats to Case Keenum for breaking Kevin Kolb’s record for touchdown passes at Houston. Too bad it came in such a stink bomb of a performance by the Cougars. Somehow, Houston lost to Central Florida, last seen losing to Texas (who Houston fancied it could beat) 35-3. Clearly Houston used up all its good karma in last week’s miracle comeback. In a possibly related story, Andre Ware and David Klingler were seen after the game skulking away from BH Networks Stadium in Orlando with a voodoo doll that suspiciously resembled Keenum.
  • Louisiana Tech gave LSU a tougher fight than reasonably expected before falling. But the takeaway from the game was the last play of the first half, a fourth-down jump pass touchdown by running back Daniel Porter that gave the Bulldogs a lead at the break. And you thought Tebow was the only one allowed to throw the jump pass.
  • After running, receiving, and throwing for a touchdown, can we all agree that C.J. Spiller of Clemson had best be in New York when the Heisman is awarded? And Tebow and Colt McCoy should stay on campus and prepare for the scouting combine?
  • Georgia absolutely had to beat Auburn and found a way to do so. But the best plays of the game were turned in by Tigers. Defensive tackl Nick Fairley had a “holy crap!” sack/pile drive of Joe Cox, who resembled a chew toy in the mouth of a Rottweiler on the play. And a 99-yard touchdown kick return by Demond Washington was sensational, though he appeared to drop the ball a fraction before breaking the plain. Not fumble, drop. How guys in this day and age still excuse the rock anywhere close to the end line is beyond me.
  • Temple scored 42 unanswered points to zip Akron, but that was outdone by the Wolfpack of Nevada, who put up 48 straight to spay the Fresno State Bulldogs.
  • My Bengals botched an extra point and still won this weekend. Not so for my alma mater, Syracuse, who lost 10-9 to execrable Louisville despite dominating the contest. But with under two minutes left, the ‘Ville got a touchdown pass to Josh Chichester (Chichester! This is football, not polo!) and stole it. And they have plummeted to another new low.
  • The OFI Top 25

    Every week, Robert votes in the BlogPoll, hosted by mgoblog, and available on CBS Sportsline.

    Rank Team Delta
    1 Florida
    2 Alabama
    3 Texas
    4 TCU 2
    5 Cincinnati 1
    6 Boise State 1
    7 Georgia Tech
    8 Ohio State 1
    9 Stanford 13
    10 Oregon 1
    11 Pittsburgh 2
    12 LSU 2
    13 Virginia Tech 2
    14 Clemson 11
    15 Oklahoma State 8
    16 Iowa
    17 Penn State 2
    18 Oregon State 6
    19 Wisconsin 2
    20 Utah 2
    21 Nevada
    22 Miami (Florida) 12
    23 California
    24 Rutgers
    25 Brigham Young
    Last week's ballot

    Dropped Out: USC (#8), Houston (#12), Arizona (#17), South Florida (#20).
    Lurking: South Carolina, Navy, Temple, Central Michigan

    Posted by: Robert Weintraub on 16 Nov 2009

    9 comments, Last at 18 Nov 2009, 12:01pm by TV_Pete


by Kevin from Philly :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 2:49pm

Wow, a Syracuse guy calling another teams program "execrable"? Pot calling the kettle pot, if you ask me.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 3:18pm

It cracks me up that the BCS folks were so insistent upon having MoV removed from all formulas included in the rankings ... so people wouldn't be running up the score to improve their position, you know.

So instead of having systems that have built-in diminishing returns determined through years of evaluation (although IIRC one system didn't use diminishing returns?), now they have associate SIDs and other random people guessing at box scores.

I'm rooting for all unbeatens to win out, and yes, that includes Florida and Alabama. (Okay, I'll concede that one.) And I'm rooting for chaos in the Pac-10. As long as USC doesn't end up winning.

by Alexander :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 3:37pm

My ideal situation is this:

BCS: Texas/Alabama
Rose: OSU/Oregon
Orange: GA Tech/Cincinnati(After losing to Pitt)
Fiesta: Pitt(As Big-east Champ)/Boise St.
Sugar: Florida/TCU

#1 I'm a pitt fan, and #2 I would find it hilarious for 2 Big East/2 Non 6 teams to be in the BCS picture.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Wed, 11/18/2009 - 12:01pm

As a Gator fan I'm going to have to root for UF in the BCS. However, I think Alabama is the more complete team. It just seems to me that Tebow is not making all of the right decisions. Of course, it also seems like the coaching has taken much of the decision-making away from Tebow with called plays rather than triple option. Tebow needs to take no more than 3-5 seconds on pass plays and then either make the right pass, run it, or throw it away.

I'd love to see both Boise State and TCU in the mix, although I am not sure about having 2 of the Big Least teams in the mix, too.

by Tom Malone (not verified) :: Tue, 11/17/2009 - 9:22am

Don't worry about the USC thing, they'll be in the Sun Bowl, if their lucky.

by DaninPhilly (not verified) :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 4:14pm

So, you're down to less than a 1/2 of 1% chance of incorrectly choosing 10 out of 11 games as your "lock!" I am actively betting against you, you realize. Just don't start trying to pick losers, you might jinx the whole thing.

by Dennis :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 7:58pm

What I find interesting is that nobody is complaining about Texas' weak schedule. They've played one team currently ranked in the BCS top 25. Boise State has played one ranked team, and that team is one spot higher than the one Texas played. TCU has played two ranked teams, albeit both ranked lower. Cincinnati hasn't played any, but will play one. So can someone explain why Texas is a lock for the championship despite playing such a weak schedule? It couldn't be because they were ranked #2 to start with. Or that they are the biggest name. Nah.

by Oldcat (not verified) :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 8:15pm

Cincy has played Rutgers, and Oregon State, all currently in the top 25. They played West Va and South Florida when they were in the top 25.

by Travis :: Mon, 11/16/2009 - 8:40pm

Besides BYU and Utah, TCU also played Clemson at Clemson.