I would like to start this week’s article with an apology as what follows is a bit rambling. Do to some events in my professional life this week, which actually sparked an idea for next week’s column, I did not have time to go back and edit/rewrite the article like I normally do. Hopefully people will still find it at least somewhat interesting and I promise that next week’s will be more on point.
As many of my readers probably know, prior to moving to Australia I was high school football and basketball official in the States. Officiating was a fun activity that allowed me to be involved in sports and helped me to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of sports, you get a very different perspective from watching the game on the playing surface. It also gave me a different perspective on officiating, showing me that it was a much harder job than I had ever anticipated and causing me to back-off considerably in my criticisms of officials and their calls during games. In fact, as many of you who follow me on twitter or who have joined us for our game chats here at The Buckeye Battlecry (if you haven’t joined us for game chats you really should as they are lots of fun), I have often taken to defending the officials, occasionally to the annoyance of others.
As an official I read with mild interest an opinion piece published on ESPN last week about teaching respect for officials. These type of pieces pop up from time to time and while I agree with the sentiment I have given up expecting the piece to actually do anything to change how sports fans view officials and a quick perusal of the comments section confirmed that view. The comments section was filled with the standard responses that one sees when you tell fans to respect the officials as people responded ‘I will respect the officials when they call the game right’ or ‘if I made a mistake at my job as big as what officials make, I would be fired’ or the ever famous ‘I will respect officials when they realize the game is not about them and that they should be invisible’. Of course I am paraphrasing on these but those statements encompass the spirit of most of the posts in the comment section and they are things that we have all heard and many of us have probably even said; I even said things like that before I became an official and I may have even made comments along the lines of ‘if I missed a call like that in a game I would never work anything higher than middle school ball again’ a time or two since becoming one.
It is the football offseason and that means it is time for the NCAA rules committee to come up with its annual recommendations for rules changes. This year’s set of recommendations was released this week and has already caused a lot of controversy and discussion. Before I moved to Australia for work last year I was a high school football official in Michigan so in this column I take a look at these proposed changes from an official’s perspective, as well as a fan’s.
The biggest, and by far the most controversial, proposed rule change concerns the rule about targeting of a player above the shoulders. The current rule states that it is a foul when a player target’s and initiates contact to the head or neck of a defenseless opponent with his own helmet, forearm, elbow, or shoulder; the rule also states that if there is doubt in the official’s mind about whether or not it is a foul, then it should be considered a foul. While there is no change to the wording of the rule, the penalty is changed from a 15-yard penalty to a 15-yard penalty and an automatic ejection from the game. This proposed change is obviously based on player safety which has become a major point of emphasis at all levels of football in recent years. Considering the growing evidence about the long term damage caused by repeated blows to the head, even those that do not cause concussions, more does need to be done to cut down on the number of hits to the head that players sustain.
Oh, college football… How I love you!!
Well, that happened.
While a lot of people were saying that Alabama was ripe for a loss against a Texas A&M team that’s been playing really well over the past few weeks, most of this felt like lip service. You know, the kind of things that ESPN makes one person say on the Gameday set in order to appear unbiased.
And then- “Johnny Football”.
There are a lot of reasons why Alabama lost- coming off of an emotional win on the road in Death Valley, LSU’s offense showed a lot of people the issues that the Tide have in their secondary, Saban’s fear of the high speed offense is based on his knowledge of his team’s weaknesses; but the fact of the matter is that the Aggies outplayed Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, in several key areas of the game.
The Crimson Tide defensive front was stifled, for the most part, by the aTm offensive tackles. Combined with concerns about a quarterback’s mobility, the Tide were not able to mount the type of disruptive pressure that they are so used to.
Alabama’s offense made key mistakes and turnovers, and seemed out of rhythm all night long. The three turnovers didn’t help, particularly when the Tide defense couldn’t get any of their own… and the mental errors were even more egregious. On the final interception, it seems to me that the receiver on the end of the line of scrimmage did a poor job getting depth in the end zone, making it easy for defenders to cover both him and the primary target. In addition, with Bama’s defense stiffening and forcing a punt, to have a member of their punt return/block team create a neutral zone infraction for an automatic first down is an aggressive penalty, but one that is terrible to have happen in that circumstance. Again, the intensity was there for the student in question, but the lack of focus eventually cost them a final chance at victory.
But we can’t miss the point here- this game was won by Johnny Manziel’s continual ability to make plays and put the Tide defense on their heels.
After the third week in a row with this type of performance (Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State), the redshirt freshman has lifted himself into Heisman candidacy- and for good reason. Given the lack of a clear “star” this year, given Matt Barkley’s struggles, the game this weekend was his “Flutie to Phelan” moment; outstanding performance in high profile opportunity. I’ll leave the debate to others, but will certainly enjoy watching the electricity that all of these candidates provide.
Even if he doesn’t win this year, you’ve got to think that next year’s Heisman race is going to be something spectacular- Braxton Miller, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Everett Gholston, Tahj Boyd, DeAnthony Thomas… and those are just the ones I’ve got off the top of my head.
(And since I’m on the topic, I think that Marquis Lee needs to be included in this year’s debate. But that’s just me).
Does this loss end the run of SEC titles in the final year of the BCS? Well, not exactly… more on this in a bit.
This week’s soundtrack takes you back to 1978, well before vampires were sparkly and werewolves were dreamy. Happy All Hallows Eve, folks…
Here we are, mid-October, when everything starts getting pumpkin flavored for better or worse. So, you’ve got two choices for soundtracks this week, via the “full albums” on Youtube- Something October-ish, or something more Pumpkiny. Salud.
Ah, Texas… where dreams go to die. Three of the most interesting storylines this week came Deep In The Heart Of, so let’s travel to Lubbock to get things started. Really, there’s no other reason to head there.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an idiot. Well, when I get the chance… which was this weekend when the team I’d most like to see play Oregon in a bowl game ended up falling victim to the same Achillies Heel that Oregon has in the past- defensive line pressure. The Red Raiders’ ability to disrupt the Mountaineer passing game by owning their backfield was something that the rest of the B12 will certainly pay attention to; Geno Smith is much better in the pocket with his timing not hampered by large persons seeking to do him bodily harm of some sort. Not that this should disrupt his Heisman candidacy; I know a number of quarterbacks who would love to go 29-55 for 275 yards, although West Virginia’s inability to score has got to be troubling with games against more stout defenses looming. What really led to the 49-14 win, though, was the Mountaineer Defense’s inability to stop anything that Tuberville’s Raiders were dialing up… we saw that the the defense was suspect against Baylor and Texas, it finally caught up to them in a way that the offense couldn’t counter. /reads last sentence, looks at tOSU-v-Indiana box score, calls therapist.
If Smith’s Heisman candidacy was bumped at all on Saturday, it might open up the door for Texas A&M’s “Johnny Football”, quarterback Manziel managed 395 yards and 3 TDs through the air, and another 181 and 3 scores on the ground against a very game Louisiana Tech team that went toe to toe with the Aggies. We talked about Tech before; their offensive gameplan is quite unique and very high powered/up-tempo- very similar to what we’re seeing across the country. Don’t be surprised if their coach isn’t in the SEC or B12 in a year or two, given some of the frustrations that the “traditional” programs are having with their current administrations.
Which brings us to the Red River Shootout, a celebration of football and fried food from the Texas State Fairgrounds in Dallas. Over the past several years, though, the “shootout” has been more like shooting fish in a barrel, as the Sooners have absolutely owned the Longhorns on the scoreboard. For many ‘Horns fans, though, the 36-2 halftime score meant that they could head out to the midway to enjoy the Fair rather than watching their team continue to fall apart. The RRSO brings us our first candidate for “hit of the week”, although, given how Texas played, it’s not surprising that the shot in question resulted in a penalty, and wasn’t even in the field of play: Read More
There’s no way that we can start this week’s post without wishing Happy Birthday to Coach Jim Tressel. Ironically, it’s also the day of the ninja; although I can’t imagine the silent assassins being as polite or methodical as Senior Sweatervest- how would you write “Dave” in kanji?
While there were several significant games on the old telly this week, there were also off field doin’s that should not be left undiscussed. First, in this year’s addition of the River City Rivalry/Snow Bowl, Pittsburgh easily handled Ohio’s BCS team. That didn’t, however, keep the Bearcat mascot from getting arrested and escorted out of the stadium. Video and such, for those of you who are into that kind of thing, can be found here.
The Big lEast ended as it started, with a three way tie at the top of the conference. Pitt’s victory, along with West Virginia’s win over Rutgers that seemed to make their fans filled with glee, meant that UConn was still in the driver’s seat should they hold off South Florida. A late, long field goal meant that the 8-4 Huskies have earned themselves a bid to a BCS game.
As we mentioned earlier, this means that a team that only managed 10 points against the Wolverines will get to face off against, most likely, the Oklahoma Sooners. While we’ve given the Big lEast grief here in the past, it should be noted that the conference only has two teams that don’t have the requisite 6 wins necessary to go to a bowl game, a much better experience than our west coast stalwarts in the Pac-10. At this juncture, only four teams from that conference will be headed to the post season, since Southern Cal is on probation (sorry, that’s still awesome to write) and Arizona State’s 6-6 record includes too many victories over FCS schools. So, with two teams going to the BCS, this means that there’ll be four bowls looking for help with the automatic tie ins.