Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's Back!

College football is back and we finally have games, rather than Manti Te'o's imaginary girlfriend, to talk about. Here are some random thoughts as this opening weekend unfolds:

The Barnburners
The Ole Miss-Vandy and Fresno State-Rutgers thrillers were a very entertaining introduction to the season, though I did not like the latter's lack of defense...Having said that, count me in as one of the few who is a fan of Kyle Flood's decision to go for broke by attempting a two-point conversion in the first overtime...Meanwhile, clear across the country, it was nice to see Jeff Scott get a bit of redemption with his game-winning run and then follow it up with a family values kind of reaction when all was said and done. To see what I mean, go here. 

Jadeveon Clowney did look that way at times in Thursday night's contest. However, part of that might have been because it was the first time a defensive lineman ever had a camera trained specifically on him at every second of a broadcast -- thus allowing the gasbags in the press corps to pontificate every time he puffed. I think media types are making too much of Clowney's conditioning, and in the end will look like fools for doing so. Anthony "Booger" McFarland (who was a dominant defensive lineman for LSU before going on to win Super Bowl rings with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis) said as much on one of my local sports radio stations yesterday, and since he actually played the game, that's good enough for me.

Upset special?
Usually it's hard to consider it much of an upset when the #8 team in the country beats the #5 team, especially when the game is in its own stadium. In fact, when you consider how significant home field advantage is in the college game, you can make a strong case that #8 should be favored to win in that situation. But given the SEC's steroidal reputation for superiority and the ACC's current reputation for football ineptitude, most people will consider it a significant upset if Clemson beats Georgia tonight.

I, however, am here to predict a Clemson victory. My reason is simple: The Bulldogs lost lots of starters from last year's defense, and it is going to be extremely difficult for all the newbies to have their first start take place on the road against an offense as experienced, talent-laden, and hungry as Clemson's.  As an SEC partisan who hails from the same metropolitan area as Georgia QB Aaron Murray, I don't want to see the Bulldogs fall to an ACC foe, but it seems like the gridiron gods have dealt Clemson the perfect hand with which to score a major, major victory at the outset of the 2013 campaign.

Watch out
As the week went by, I heard quite a few Bama fans talk eagerly and arrogantly about the game their team will be playing two weeks from today. Those fans better hope that Bama's players are not also looking ahead to that rematch with Texas A&M, because if they are, the Crimson Tide could very well lose to Virginia Tech today. The Hokies have not been the same the past few seasons as they were from the mid-1990's to mid-2000's, but they are still a strong program, they are hungry, and they have what it takes to beat anyone on any given Saturday. Fortunately for Bama fans, it is not likely that their intensely coached team will have been permitted to overlook the Hokies; but then again, college players are barely out of childhood, so you never know.

Since I just mentioned Texas A&M, I might as well get my Johnny Manziel take out of the way, and I'll start by going back a few decades to the days when Oklahoma owned the Big Eight Conference and Brian Bosworth owned the Oklahoma campus. I was never a fan of Bosworth's, but I remember being impressed when he donned a shirt during a bowl game that read National Communists Against Athletes. I did not totally agree with his sentiment at the time, but as I grew up I realized he was right.

The NCAA's recent action concerning Manziel is absurd not because of its so-called leniency, but because it happened at all. There is not a single speck of evidence -- none -- that Manziel did anything against the rules, yet the NCAA took action against him anyway for no other reason than 1) it wanted to, and 2) it perceived an excuse to do so when a single individual claimed he saw him do something. Never mind the complete lack of evidence, never mind Manziel saying he is innocent, and never mind the accuser's lack of credibility. The NCAA believes it is entitled to dictate to unpaid athletes and trembling schools just because. I say to hell with  it.

Fans of Alabama and Texas Those who are skeptical of high-profile athletes have taken the twisted view that the lack of evidence against Manziel actually is evidence against him. They darkly intone that he escaped "serious punishment" because "there's no paper trail," thus telegraphing their assumption that they just know he did it and know he was too damn smart to cover his tracks. Yet these are the same people who lambaste him for being dumb and reckless and irresponsible and alcoholic. To hell with them too.

As an Auburn graduate, I seem to remember the NCAA targeting another high-profile QB a few years back, also based on uncorroborated statements made by shadowy people with no evidence to back them up...I seem to remember the fine school for which that QB played standing up to the NCAA and demanding that it show its cards, which forced it to admit that it had no cards...I seem to remember that school and QB eventually being proved innocent, and the national media barely mentioning that finding when it was reached a year later...I seem to remember that QB winning the Heisman and then leading his team to the national championship...The analogy between Manziel/A&M and Cam Newton/Auburn is not precise, but there are striking similarities. I'm just sayin'...

Who can beat the SEC?
Technically speaking, lots of teams. I'm not sure who the SEC's worst team is, but I'm pretty sure they couldn't beat the best teams from the Pac 12, Big 12, or Big Ten. And the last time I checked, Florida got its clock cleaned by Louisville just this January, and my own alma matter got its clock cleaned by Clemson to open last season.

Still, there is no doubt that the SEC is the best conference in the land, and I have a hard time picturing whoever emerges as its champion turning around and losing the national championship game. In my opinion the conference has five teams that are all legitimate contenders for the national championship: Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, South Carolina, and Georgia, in roughly that order. As much as I hate to say it (seeing as how I am surrounded by insufferably cocky Gator fans who can't find Gainesville on a map because they didn't freaking go to school there!) I think Florida has a particularly good chance of bringing home the crystal trophy because their defense is stout and nobody is talking about them.

If I had to pick one non-SEC team most likely to defeat an SEC squad in the championship game, I would pick Stanford. Don't ask me to tell you why, because my opinion here is based mostly on gut instinct, but I would like to mention that Stanford has a strong defense and plays the kind of hard-nosed, no-nonsense football that is necessary to beat the best in the land.

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