Usually, I don’t do one because I don’t feel like it.
First of all, I’m just never ready for it. College football starts so early now that on opening day some of the players who’ll be starring in the bowl games haven’t even been born yet.
But mostly, as I grow older and more crotchety, I have less and less patience for college football and its predictability, its same small cast of usual suspects dominating their leagues and the bowl picture. Sure, there’s some switching in and out at the margins every few years, a West Virginia here, a Kansas State there, an Oregon over yonder.
But for the most part, if you were to wake up from several years of suspended animation in July — any July — and someone were to ask you what that season’s top 10 was going to look like, you’d go, “Let’s see, Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, Michigan …”
With the opening weekend in the books, the top 25 teams have gone 19-0. That’s pretty exciting. You may have thought Bowling Green had a pretty good shot against Oklahoma, but I guess not.
Now, I know, I’m not being fair. That running of the table was an anomaly. It rarely happens, even in the first weeks, when our nation’s grid powerhouses are testing their mettle against various flag-football outfits. And in fact there’s even some talk that this weekend represented a positive sign because there weren’t the usual insane blowouts. Smaller-conference teams like Bowling Green and Miami-Ohio and Georgia Southern actually hung in there a little, losing by scores like 48-28 rather than 63-6.
And No. 4 LSU only escaped with a win over Oregon State because the Beavers forgot to bring a kicker to Baton Rouge. Their man, a redshirt freshman, missed three extra points in the 22-21 overtime loss. Not to put too fine a point on this, but his predecessor at Oregon State missed two extra points in his career, in 98 tries.
So normally there’d have been an upset or two. Big deal. College football fans will argue that when there is an upset in the top 25, it really is a big deal, rush-the-field time, excitement city. That’s true, but it’s not enough. For a sport to really cook, the underdog has to have more than a snowball’s chance. Otherwise you’re putting up with too much non-competitiveness just to get that once-in-a-blue-moon upset rush.
I don’t know what that minimal level of competitiveness is, exactly, but I know that the first round of the NBA playoffs are pretty much unwatchable because only one of the four series in each conference is really a contest. The top three seeds lose their series 13.5 percent of the time. Not enough.
If I had to pick a minimum required level of competitiveness, I’d put it at 30 percent. Any competition where one side has less than a three-in-10 chance of winning is not competitive enough to warrant sustained interest.
A college football team that plays .300 ball over a season would finish 3-8. An NFL team would be 5-11. An NBA team would go 25-57, a baseball team would lose 113 games and a college basketball team would finish 9-21. Those would all be bad teams, some worse than others because of the differences in the sports. But they’re all still within the realm of competitiveness, though just barely. Much worse — any worse in some cases — and they wouldn’t be.
So when it’s routine for there to be eight losses among the college football top 25 in a given week, when that’s the minimum we can expect, let me know. Shoot, I’ll settle for seven losses, even though that’s only 28 percent. I’m a big-hearted person.
Until then, I’ll do what a lot of folks do. I’ll follow the alma mater dear, forgetting for a few hours every Saturday (or Thursday, Tuesday, Sunday, etc.) that by doing so I’m supporting a thoroughly corrupt enterprise; I’ll pay attention to those relatively rare games when top teams meet and the outcome is therefore in serious doubt; and I’ll get really interested when the train-wreck of a system supposedly designed to crown a national champion once again jumps the tracks.
In the meantime, I do have a few predictions, just for the hell of it:
1) At least six of the 11 teams in the top 10 in the AP and USA Today polls will end up in the top 10. Those 11 teams are: USC, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, Florida State, Miami, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, West Virginia and Florida.
2) One of those 11 teams will be the national champion, but it won’t be USC, not because the Trojans looked less than stellar in their opener against Virginia Tech, but because they were the consensus preseason No. 1.
3) At least eight of the 14 teams ranked 12-25 in the AP and USA Today polls will not end up in the top 25. Those teams are: Kansas State, California, Tennessee, Clemson, Virginia, Auburn, Missouri, Iowa, Utah, Wisconsin, Maryland, Oregon, Purdue and Minnesota.
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Death to placekicking [PERMALINK]
I hesitate to use the name of the Oregon State kicker who cost his team the game Saturday by missing three extra points, because I’m sure he’s having a really rough week, and especially because he’s a walk-on, meaning essentially that he’s paying for the privilege of playing professional football.
But Alexis Serna’s name is hardly a secret, and anyway he’s the latest exhibit in my pet argument about football, that placekicking should be abolished.
I can’t think of a more absurd conclusion to a football game than what happened in Baton Rouge Saturday night. Serna’s teammates mostly said nice things about how one guy doesn’t lose a game, but no, really, one guy lost that game.
The Beavers played brilliantly, way over their heads, in beating the defending national co-champs, a top 5 team, in a brutal road environment. And if their kicker had made one of his first two extra point tries they’d have won. If he’d made one of his three, they’d still be playing. Remember, anything less than about a 95 percent success rate is totally unacceptable.
Oregon State defensive lineman Sir Henry Anderson summed it up pretty well afterward: “I figure if all you do is kick, if you’ve got all that free time and you’re not out there in the heat practicing three or four hours, then you need to make the kicks.”
The skills involved in placekicking are so divorced from all of the other skills required in football that it’s asinine to have wins and losses decided by them. Real football players play real football for three hours, and then they put their fate in the hands of a guy who’s spent the day sitting on the sidelines trying not to look bored without picking up a magazine. It would be less random if at the end of a game with fewer than three points separating the teams, the captains met at midfield and decided the winner by playing rock, paper, scissors.
Imagine Curt Schilling pitching nine shutout innings and then losing the game because a guy came out of the dugout and lost a thumb-wrestling match. Imagine a basketball game ending 99-98 and the winner being decided by a karaoke contest. That’s placekicking. Get rid of it.
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I need your NFL predictions [PERMALINK]
The NFL season opens Thursday, and I’d like to renew the time-honored tradition, begun last year, of having this column’s readers send me their predictions. I’ll collate them into a set of consensus picks, and we’ll see how you do against various media “experts,” a term defined loosely enough to include me.
Last year you did quite well, finishing in a four-way tie for 11th place among 28 entrants. You were tied with Joe Theismann and Mark Schlereth of ESPN and Peter King of Sports Illustrated, one ahead of ESPN’s John Clayton, Chris Berman, Mike Golic and Merril Hoge, the editors of Sports Illustrated and me.
So here’s what I need in an e-mail from you: The subject line of your e-mail has to say “Reader predictions” List your picks for the four division champions and two wild card teams in each conference List your picks for the two conference champions and the winner of the Super Bowl
That’s it. Any prediction e-mail that doesn’t meet these requirements will be ignored. Please save your comments for other e-mails, otherwise I’ll never get this project done. And unlike all other e-mails you ever send me that don’t insult my family, please don’t expect a reply to this one.
Results will run Wednesday, so the deadline is the end of Tuesday, midnight PDT.
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