2009 Season Opener Edition – 9/6/09

I had a strong feeling the college football season would start off with a bang, not a whimper, and things did not disappoint.  Every year it seems like the anticipation for the season to start grows stronger and more intense, and every year it feels like the realization proves even better than the anticipation.  So many things in life disappoint relative to what we hoped they would be.  College football does not.  This is the ultimate expression of Americana. College football is unique to every other sport on the planet.   It is culturally iconic.  It fits the fall season like a glove on a hand.  It is not a “game”, but a “day” (College Game Day comes on a 7:00 am, and the final ESPN highlights end as I fall asleep with my glasses on near midnight; I have generally attended one game in between, and watched two or three games).  If your favorite team is not playing, there are still eight other games you care about.  Like in life, who or what you love becomes a holy passion, and who or what you hate becomes even more of a passion (probably an unholy one).  Your day is not only affected by the outcome, but your whole week is.  And then, from the second your game ends to the second your next game starts, there is an incredible amount of banter, thought, reflection, fear, worry, excitement, anxiety, and activity.  For me, I watch the coverage until my final waking moment Saturday nights.  During the NFL season I generally will watch a game or two on Sundays, but my interest is almost entirely limited to following the players I used to love in college, and hating on the players I used to hate in college.  Come Mondays, I sponsor a table up at USC with a group of die-hard Trojan family members who have lunch, talk to the coach,listen to the coach, watch game footage, and get inspired for the week.  It is the only time of year I read the sports section every day, as opposed to just Sundays (usually to see if our third string safety is coming back from a knee bruise, or our redshirt linebacker is okay with grades, etc.).  Every night when I do the night-nights with my kids I sing the fight song to them, and make them sing it to me.  Whoever the team we are playing next becomes a household name in our family (“daddy, beat the buckeyes”, will be heard all week long, replacing last week’s, “beat the Spartans”) …  It is just a magical time, and it provides a bit of fun and color to a life spent engrained in career, family, and various ideological distractions.  College football is not merely an obsession, nor a distraction; it is all of the above.  And I am holding tight to the moniker, “biggest college football lover of all time.”

I will start around the country this week and come back to USC’s 56-3 whooping of a badly out-matched San Jose State team.

–  I saw the first half of the Alabama/Va Tech game.  I am almost positive that I saw at the bottom of the screen that Frank Beamer is 1-17 all time against top 5 teams.  If that is true, and if I were Va Tech, I would be scheduling #6 teams or worse from now on.  Ay yi yi.  I thought Alabama’s defense looked good, but special teams looked wobbly.  Time will tell where they go, but I expect them to finish top 10 in the country this year, and possibly top 5.  I have publicly said that I think Nick Saban is clearly a good coach, but I could not believe the ESPN report that he has never had two seasons in a row with 10 wins or better.  Consistency is the mark of a good coach.  I think he has the tools to do this at Alabama. 

– It is going to be a mediocre year for the SEC, unless Tennessee is already a very good team (I think it will take Lane and Monte and Ed a couple of years).  Ole Miss likely over-achieved last year, and LSU was lucky as can be to have beaten Washington by one touchdown (the same UofW who went 0-12 last year).  Florida is going to be very good.  Auburn is years away.  I have not seen the other teams yet.  Florida/Alabama rematch in the SEC final?  I’d pay to see that!

– Cal got their revenge game against Maryland (yes, Maryland has a football team).  Stanford is undefeated in Pac-10 play already with a win over Washington State.  UCLA overcame a real rough start to beat San Diego State (Marshall Faulk was not playing).  But most notably, Oregon went to Boise State and stunk up the place.  No first downs until the end of the third quarter??? There must have been eight combined turnovers (or more).  The combined score was substantially less than half of the game’s over-under …  AND THEN, their starting running back popped a trash-talker in the face, and had to be restrained by cops from going after some fans (who unlike the Ron Artest deal, did not throw anything at him).  I think Oregon did the right thing in suspending him for the year, and I think they will also do the exceedingly right thing to try and see this thing all the way through.  The odds are 99-to-1 against him based on past precedent (that he can be NFL-ready after not playing his final year; ask Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams), but if they can keep him in class, keep him practicing, and work with him personally (which he surely needs), maybe a better ending awaits.  I am skeptical, but as a human being, I am hopeful.  But his behavior has to be dealt with harshly.

– The Oklahoma fans worried that this loss to BYU has ruined their BCS chances are making two mistakes.  #1 – they are giving a hoot about the God-forsaken BCS, and #2 – they are ignoring the entire weight of history, which says that random one loss deals ever do anything to disqualify you from the Bowl Crap-Shoot.  Florida lost at home to Ole Miss last year.  LSU lost TWICE to bad teams the year prior.  Heck, Nebraska and Oklahoma have both lost their own conferences and ended up in the BCS game.  The system is so flawed, so bad, and so immoral, that Oklahoma fans can sigh easily knowing they may benefit from such a perverse way of determining a champion.  I do want to say this, though.  The single most offensive defense of this perposterous syatem is the one that states, “We do not need a playoff; with a BCS, every week is a playoff”.  It is not true.  It has never been true.  Teams constantly lose a game and then still go on to make the BCS.  It can be a random selection of zero loss teams or a random selection of one loss teams, but it is always random, and it is always idiotic, and there are always grievous errors committed along the way.  Of course, there are always will be in subjective determinations, which is why the sports world went with a system called “playoffs” a long time ago to determine its champions.  Well, most of the sports world did.

– Not sure what to make of the Ohio State/Navy game.  Were the Buckeyes looking ahead, or is the Big-10 just that bad?  I actually think Ohio State has been a very good team within the worst conference in all of football for a long time (though Penn State got them last year).  The #3-#6 teams in the Big 10 are not in the top 30 or 40 in the country.  The #1 and #2 Big 10 teams are not generally in the top 10 in the country.  Ohio State has a true freshman QB coming into the shoe next week, and may very well avenge USC’s 35-3 man-handling of them last year.  But based on Carroll’s pummeling of Big-10 teams his entire career (two blowouts of Michigan, a blowout of Iowa, a blowout of Illinois, a blowout of Penn State, and a blowout of Ohio State), that home field advantage will need to be a big deal for the Buckeyes.  If USC does get them again, I think the Big 10 may need to look at the Division 1-AA application process.  (And if Notre Dame goes into Ann Arbor and gets Michigan, which I think they will, then I second that emotion).

– Speaking of USC.  We all know that San Jose State is not a good opponent to gauge things against.  This week’s road game is going to be a big test.  But a little analysis of the Trojans seems in order.

– I confess to being among the Coliseum Faithful who was disheartened to see Joe McKnight fumble yet again in the first quarter.  But his 54-yard dash in the 3rd quarter had Reggie Bush moves all over it, and the team did a great job protecting the football once they got rolling.

– Barkley threw a couple out of bounds on purpose, and still completed 80% of his passes for over 230 yards.  He seemed composed to me, and the playbook seemed perfectly suited for where he is at.  I want to see him air it downfield a bit, but I think he gets an A- for yesterday’s performance.

– The staple of running backs running down field for Troy are just sick.  I don’t know what opposing teams do to stop the offense if our line stays healthy, based on this offensive firepower in the running game.  I am 100% committed to the old-school, fundamentalist notion, that teams who run the ball well can win, and teams who don’t run the ball well can not.  This may be the best running game at USC since Lendale/Reggie.  Every team who plays us will have to put eight in the box, which means that Barkley and Damian Williams can do some real damage.  It kills me to see Ronald Johnson out.  I also think Ausberry and McCoy could have incredible years. The run does so much for the rest of the game.

– I need to see this defense against a better offense, but I feel like Gallipo and Morgan are going to be extraordinary in the linebacker legacy at USC.  Taylor Mays also did not disappoint, getting involved in almost every play, and looking like the hitting has gotten more ferocious than last year, which means he may need to be restrained by the authorities.

– Will USC beat Ohio State?  Will USC beat Cal?  Will USC survive the nation’s #1 ranked schedule?  Will all these road games prove to be too tough for a true freshman quarterback?  I have no idea.  But there is a source of my faith and confidence: Pete Carroll.  The doubters look like fools every year.  Mistakes and mess-ups happen, and the road to a consistently successful program is usually going to include some derails along the way.  But Pete has always beaten the big non-conference teams on the road – without exception.  He has replaced QB’s many times.  He has replaced coordinators many times.  He has something going, and that is undeniable.  I am intrigued by what will be going on in the horseshoe next weekend, and I hope against hope that we get it done, AGAIN.

Okay.  I will leave it there for this week.  I want to dedicate this week’s musings edition to my great friend, now departed, Don Bakos (The Doctor).  Don has joined me since the beginning of the Pete Carroll era in our weekly trips to Los Angeles for the Monday Morning Quarterbakc luncheons.  His shocking passing of several weeks ago is not something I will accept for a long time.  He was a passionate Trojan, a phenomenal friend, and a man who loved his country dearly.  He was a tremendous encourager to me, constantly praising my writing and my own ideological pursuits.  He was a Trojan’s Trojan, never giving up, and living out those great two words that have so impacted so many of our lives: FIGHT ON!   These musings are for you, Don.  You are missed, and you will be all year.