It sure would be nice to have LSU play USC for the national championship next week. I'd like to suggest they play that game on Monday.
The college football powers that be should take a lesson from Sunday night's BCS championship game that college football should not be played on Sunday nights. As entertaining as LSU's 21-14 win over Oklahoma was -- and it was -- it looked like the junior varsity after two NFL playoff games played earlier in the day. One of those playoff games was a stinker, too, but it still made the Sugar Bowl seem small.
It's a cardinal rule of showbiz. Don't follow the star attraction.
During the season you watch college football on Saturday, even on Thursday and Friday night if you're hardcore, and you're happy with it. The pageantry, the action, the intensity. Then Sunday and again on Monday night you watch the NFL, and you're happy with that too. There may not be the same do-or-die passion in the stands as at college games, but that's made up for by the superior quality of play. It works out nicely. Most people like one or the other a little better, but they're both fine.
But watching the Sugar Bowl immediately after watching the two playoff games Sunday, especially the terrific Seattle-Green Bay contest, I found myself unable to ignore the shortcomings of the teams. On any other day of the week I'd have been admiring them.
Jason White, Oklahoma's slam-dunk Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, looked confused, rattled and ordinary. The Tigers' defense was speedy, hard-hitting and well-coached, but they didn't seem that fast or hard-hitting after I'd spent seven hours watching the Packers, Seahawks and Colts, and the previous day watching the Panthers, Ravens and Titans.
Every bad decision or poor throw by the quarterbacks, every misdirection play that never would have fooled an NFL defense, every blitz that wasn't exploited reminded me how good the pro game is. Every spectacular play reminded me that such things are routine in the pros, to the point where we take them for granted. Watching White struggle against a good defense, I wondered what his gaudy numbers would have looked like if Oklahoma had played a team that was roughly their equal in all 14 games this year, instead of maybe four times, if we're generous to Oklahoma State?
I don't mean to land on White, or even on the college game, which I like despite my problems with the fundamental dishonesty on which it's based, the myth of amateurism, which is a whole nother story. It's just that in the last few years or so I've really come to appreciate the difference in quality of play between college and pro ball. Mostly I think about that difference only when it's brought to my attention, for example when Steve Spurrier became the latest college football genius to flop in the pros, where he learned how hard it is to win when the other team is able to field players roughly as good as your team's players every single week.
Playing the championship game on a Sunday night, following two NFL playoff games, brought the difference to my attention. That was unfortunate, because it was a pretty exciting game at the end there, when LSU's defense ran out of gas and finally let Oklahoma move the ball. I was impressed by the grit that both teams showed and with LSU's talent and game plan. I think Oklahoma wasn't so much shocked by Kansas State last month as exposed by them, but the Sooners are still mighty good, and they played with a lot of heart, almost coming back to tie the game despite being dominated for most of it.
I felt that LSU and USC -- a more complete team than Oklahoma -- were the best teams in the country before the bowl season and I still feel that way. I wish the system were flexible enough that those two teams could just agree to play a game and go do it somewhere next week.
How's Monday sound?
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A few lingering thoughts following Sunday's game:
At the end of the game, LSU couldn't quite kill the clock and had to punt with nine seconds remaining. Oklahoma went all out for the block, sending all 11 men across the line. Their best hope to pull out a tie and send the game to overtime was certainly a block, but it wasn't their only hope. A single man back to field the punt with a fair catch would have given them time for one snap, and who knows what might have happened? Instead, the ball bounced around harmlessly while time expired.
For example, the officials had just ruled an LSU sideline pass incomplete that looked good in live action. Rather than show a replay of the important call, ABC decided that this was the essential time to talk for at least the second time during the game about Mauck's minor-league baseball career. Crack sideline reporter Jack Arute had to be brought in to tell the tale of Mauck playing for the Lansing Lugnuts and striking up a friendship with LSU coach Nick Saban, then with Michigan State. A still picture of Mauck batting filled the screen. By the time this irrelevant business was done, it was time for the next play. I still don't know if that receiver got a foot down inbounds.
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