By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Aug. 28, 2012
For a college football fan, each week can bring with it incredible excitement, or anxiety. But there are two weeks more important than the rest – the last, and the first.
The last week determines the national champion, which is what all 120-some-odd schools are (or at least, should be) gunning for. The first week is when everyone can finally put away the distractions of the offseason, which are typically replete with arrests, suspensions and rumors, and start actually focusing on the games themselves.
With kickoff just a day away, let’s get a final list together of the things we’re looking forward to seeing, or at least seeing the last of, as the offseason winds down.
The end of the Johnny Football debacle. The NCAA will suspend Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for one half of the Aggies’ opener against Rice, which is the wrong call. He either should sit four games, or zero games. The suspension was accompanied by a statement saying no evidence could be found that Manziel ever took money for autographs. So why is he suspended again? If he did something for which a suspension was warranted, the gold standard is four games. Suspending him for a half sends confusing messages. The only thing we learned from this – well, Auburn actually taught us this in 2010 – is to lawyer up and deny, deny, deny. The NCAA is toothless unless it either has an admission of guilt on the record, or a tape recording of what you did.
The end of the BCS. It actually won’t end in 2013, but the current BCS format will. Given the difficulty college football has encountered in developing both a fair playoff system (“fair” means fair to the best teams, not conference commissioner egos) and a committee that can be trusted to accurately pick playoff participants, we may all look back to 2013 with fondness at some point in a future, considering it to be “the good ol’ days.”
A Big Ten that doesn’t whine and cry. There has been no greater impediment to the BCS process than the Big Ten, which is dangerously close to irrelevance. Were it not for the hires of Brady Hoke at Michigan and Urban Meyer at Ohio State, an unbiased viewer might come to the conclusion that the Big Ten was no longer worthy of major conference status. Hoke and Meyer should rebuild the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, and both men know what they need to do in recruiting. The rest of the conference has devolved into a plodding, unimaginative and at times, semi-athletic collection of decent-but-not-great teams that get exposed in prime-time matchups. It’s no wonder conference officials have demanded inclusion at the BCS Plus-Four table, because they’re unlikely to play their way into it.
The truth about Urban Meyer at Florida. Rolling Stone magazine – not exactly the paragon of investigative journalism, but nonetheless a legitimate media source – is speculating that Urban Meyer helped cover up some of Aaron Hernandez’s transgressions when both were at Florida. At least now, with Rolling Stone putting it out in the open, better-equipped journalists might take up the case. The sooner the truth comes out, the better. Meyer either needs to be cleared of any connection to Hernandez’s illegal activities so that he can work at Ohio State in peace, or he never should be allowed to work in football again if he did what Rolling Stone suggested.
If Nick Saban can three-peat. The very word “three-peat” likely sends the Saban household into a Little Debbie-destroying fit of rage, but he should know that’s what people are looking for, even his enemies. If Alabama does win a third consecutive championship in 2013, that would give Saban an unprecedented three in a row, a total of four while at Alabama and a total of five in his college coaching career. Paul “Bear” Bryant has six – over a three-decade career. Saban’s career spans half that amount of time. There’s already a Jack Nicklaus/Tiger Woods debate going on between Bryant devotees and Saban disciples, and a third straight title might be enough to push the argument to one side of the table.
A quick end to the new anti-cheap shot rules. It’s commendable for the NCAA to go after targeting; the portion of the rule dealing with ejections needs to go. The first time a defensive player gets a Jadeveon Clowney shot on an offensive player, he’ll be leaving the game – never mind the fact that Clowney’s hit on a Michigan running back in the Outback Bowl last year was pure, clean football. While concussions are regrettable, football is a collision sport, and people will get hurt because of it. No one who signs up to play it is forced to do so, nor do they do it without fully understanding the risks. Spearing has been a penalty for decades now, but it’s rarely called. Cutting down on cheap shots is an admirable goal; arbitrarily throwing players out on close calls is unacceptable. Given the questionable quality of NCAA replay officials, expecting them to correctly judge whether an ejection was warranted is like hoping you can smoke cigarettes for 50 years and not get cancer. Ejection/suspension calls should be left to a review committee to be made the day after the game.
The next offensive innovation. Because the ones currently being played out there are endangered species. Football has followed the same pattern since its inception – Defenses are tough, offensive coaches come up with something new, and defensive coaches catch up. The pattern repeats. It’s been this way forever – the Notre Dame box, the wishbone, the run-and-shoot, all have come and (mostly) gone. The spread-option, in the form it first appeared under the Rich Rodriguez/Tommy Bowden teams of Tulane and the Urban Meyer teams of Bowling Green, barely exists anymore. Several teams still run aspects of the offense, but defenses caught up. Remember when the BYU/Louisiana Tech bubble-screen offense couldn’t be stopped? Tell your grandkids about it. Meanwhile, the no-huddle spreads in place at Auburn and Ole Miss, among others, already have defensive coordinators adjusting, in both scheme and during recruiting. Is it any wonder that the fullback is coming back into style at some schools? It’s football being football.
The march toward a “new” NCAA. We touched on this in a column over the summer, but as Division-IA continues to expand unchecked, and the NCAA itself continues to restrict whether larger schools can press their free-market advantages, it becomes ever more likely that the top 60-80 schools will eventually break away from the rest of the NCAA and form their own league, maybe their own governing body. It will be a sad day for some when it happens, because a lot of teams that have been around for a long time – say, a Rice or a Temple – may get left without an invitation. But it’s coming, and it’s needed. There’s no reason for the Alabamas, Notre Dames and Oklahomas of the world to be hamstrung any longer by the current NCAA leadership, or by the whims of its smallest members. The realities of a capitalistic, free-market society often elude the minds at universities, but the ones that currently get it, are about to get more of it.