college football

The Almighty Cocks!

Congratulations to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, henceforth referred to as “The Cocks.”

Last weekend, the Cocks were playing their first game after coach Steve Spurrier, the Head Cock himself, quit. Yet the Cocks didn’t come out flaccid. Nobody would’ve been surprised, or even blamed them, if they had been a little limp or come up a little short.

Sure, Vanderbilt isn’t exactly the most turgid of opponents, and the Cocks have smacked the Commodores across the face repeatedly in recent years. But if there was any time Vanderbilt was going to be able to manhandle the Cocks, this was it.

I mean, The coach just up and quit in the middle of the season! I know he’s old, and, at 70, maybe it’s not as easy to get his Cocks up and ready week after week. And with only two wins this season, and winless in the tough SEC, there was already speculation that he’d retire at the end of the season. I just didn’t expect the premature ejection.

Okay, okay. I’ll give it a rest. Take a breather, smoke a cigarette. But only for long enough to get ready for Round Two.

Because I don’t care if it’s sophomoric, dammit. Double entendres are funny. Unless you have a stick up your ass (and that’s not a double entendre).

There’s a teacher in my department that was bemoaning the maturity level of high school boys, who kept laughing at her Vietnam War PowerPoint.

“Every time I mention the attacks on the Cu Chi Tunnels.”

I snickered. So did the other men at the table.

“No seriously, guys. That’s where the Viet Cong would hide. The Americans were always trying to find out where the Cu Chi tunnels were and infiltrate them, but they always had trouble getting in.”

“Sounds like my twenties,” I mentioned.

“Stop it!”

“Hey, I have a question,” another teacher asked. “Did the VC trim the vegetation around the Cu Chi Tunnels?”

“Ugh.” She had given up, but we kept going.

“Maybe if they had played around with the mountains a little first, the Cu Chi Tunnels would’ve been more receptive.”

It turns out the age of the male in question has little to do with his reaction to trying to get into the Cu Chi Tunnels.

Have I mentioned that one of my life dreams is to be invited to the wedding between Ms. Poon & Mr. Tang. I’m also sad that we’re no longer going to be two resignations away from President Boner.

Which leads me back to rooting for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

I know, I know. One should never pick the team one is rooting for because of its mascot. Your favorite team should be much more manly and logical than that, such as a team that you live near or a team that was good when you first started following the sport.

But picking by mascot is just bush league. You can’t just pick the Giants because you are tall. Or the Vikings because you’re a fan of softcore porn on the History Channel. It’s not like chronic masturbators unite in their love of the Yankees.

Especially in college. If you start picking teams just because of their mascot, who are you going to root for when the Auburn Tigers play the LSU Tigers? Maybe you can just switch to be a Wildcat fan when Kentucky plays Arizona State.

Yet there’s something about those Cocks.

By the way, when those Wildcats of KY meet up with the Cocks? It can get messy!

My love of the Cocks (um, I mean my fandom of South Carolina) began one hungover New Year’s Morning. I woke up in a cabin with about thirty people I didn’t know. I was one of only a few that were awake at first because I had slept on the uncomfortable floor in front of the TV, which somebody had just turned on to a random bowl game.

“Who’s playing?” I asked as my bleary eyes tried to focus.

“South Carolina,” the unknown guy who had secured the couch the night before said. “The Cocks.”

A linebacker was on the screen. I responded, “Wow, that’s a big Cock.” Then it was on.

South Carolina sacks the quarterback? That cock got some good penetration. Lining up in the I-formation? A lot of cocks in the backfield. The other team gets called for pass interference? Can’t keep his hands off that cock!

As each new person in the cabin woke up, the process would start all over again. Except for one guy, who was convinced South Carolina was in Canada.

If you would think repeating “That Cock split the uprights” every time a field goal or PAT was kicked would get boring, I direct you again to the Cu Chi Tunnel discussion. Over a decade later, when Jadeveon Clowney hit Vincent Smith in another Outback Bowl, my phone blew up with texts: “They just cock-smacked that dude’s hat off!!” And when South Carolina won the second of their back-to-back College World Series titles, I couldn’t get to Twitter fast enough to congratulate them for rising up and finishing twice in a row.

Before 2000, the Cocks were relatively unknown. They were Baby Cocks – small, barely noticeable, not really sure what they were there for. Lou Holtz ushered in the awkward teenage years, when the Cocks occasionally rose up and made everyone know they were there, but most of the time was spent fumbling around in the wrong direction. There were a few quicks flashes and spurts, but not against anyone that mattered, and the best that could be said was that they could “hold their own.”

Then Lou Holtz left coaching to do impressions of Sylvester the Cat on ESPN.

So the Cocks hired Steve Spurrier and entered the prime of their lives. It didn’t matter who they faced, they were ready to hit it hard and hit it fast. Waking up Sunday morning and looking over at the fresh tail of Gator or Bulldog they had plowed through the night before.  Fielding calls from AP Pollsters who wanted the blow-by-blow of how it all went down. They even tapped the Ol’ Top 10 List from time to time.

But after a decade, that relationship started to get old. Even before this year, the Spurrier-Cock duo had lost a step. They weren’t quite getting up for the big games anymore. More often than not, when the pre-game excitement rose, they had trouble showing up at all. Some of those games, they were finished after running through the tunnel at the start.

Did the romance grow stale? Did the Cocks just not do it for Spurrier anymore or did all of his old moves no longer get their juices flowing? Every commercial break during the baseball playoffs tells me that this is common in older men. Maybe they should’ve looked for some little blue pills.

But now that marriage is now over.

Now that the Cocks might not be relevant, maybe it’s time to move them to the Pac-12. Just imagine annual games against USC (“That Trojan defense is preventing the Cocks from depositing their cargo into the endzone!”). And the Washington State Cougars would always be happy when the Cocks come to town. Then, of course, there would be the games against the Oregon State Beavers. I think those games would have to be broadcast on Pay-Per-View to avoid FCC fines.

In fact, maybe they should form a brand new, “All Innuendo” conference. Take those four teams and throw in the Wichita State Shockers. Ball State and Sac State would be an instant rivalry. Maybe throw the Massachusetts Minutemen in. Would the Crimson Tide be taking it too far?

Regardless of where they play, they are at a crossroads. They are really in the same spot as any recently-divorced Cock. Do they realize their best days are behind them and settle for some Saturday afternoon dates with the sweet Tar Heel or Volunteer from the next block over, maybe spiced up with an occasional minor Bowl game in mid-December to think back on those crazy younger days? Or do they find some fresh new piece of ass- istant coach that helps them rediscover that virility that was lost?

I know what I’m rooting for!  Come and sing their new alma mater with me!

Get up ye Mighty Great Cocks
How turgidly ye rise
Thrust! Firm!
Plunge! Deep!
And depositing your seed
Into the eeeeeeeeeend-zooooooooone!

The Horned Frog Dilemma

See, NCAA? Was that really so hard?

Tonight, we will have a legitimate National Championship Game, featuring Oregon, who trounced Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and Alabama, who easily dispatched… wait, what? Ohio State beat ‘Bama? That will teach me to start writing my blog entry early.

Regardless, we have two great teams, Oregon and Ohio State, who have just beat quality opponents on New Year’s Day, yet still get to play each other, with the winner being crowned national champions. Just imagine – a National Championship game not starting off with one or both teams shaking off six weeks of rust.

Yet there have been no biblical signs of the apocalypse. No players dropping out of college because they have to practice for another week. None of the things that we’ve been warned would happen happened. Except the TV ratings went through the roof.

Oregon beat last year’s champion, a team that had not lost a game in close to two years, and Ohio State beat last year’s runners-up, a perennial powerhouse, and the undisputed number one going into the playoff. This year, it will all be decided on the field, and nobody can claim they were unfairly voted out.

Except maybe TCU.

And, wow, did you see the way Michigan State came back against Baylor?

Wait, does Marshall really have the same record as the two teams in the Championship?

Okay, maybe there are still a few chinks in the armor.  But baby steps, people. Progress is progress. And before we look at how the current problems can easily be solved, let’s take a closer look at the stupid arguments the naysayers have been making for the past century or so as to why a playoff could not and should not exist in college football.

It’s extra workload for the students.

Really? How many classes are they going to be missing in the first half of January? This argument is so stupid that I hesitate to bring it up, but I’ve heard it made over the years by pundits on the Four-Letter Network (which shockingly stopped making this argument as soon as they signed the deal to carry the games).

To be clear, every other division of college football has playoffs. Hell, even high school football has playoffs. They happen in December, when finals are actually happening. They also feature schools with much smaller travel budgets. But I’m sure the Mount Union guys needing three stopovers to get to their Motel 6 are much more rested and capable of studying than the Ohio State players riding first class to the Four Seasons.

We can also look at that other major college sport. You know, the one with the most famous and successful playoff system in all of sports. When a school, like UCLA, is on the quarter system, guess when their Winter Quarter finals are? Smack dab in the first week of March Madness. Is UCLA discouraged from playing in March Madness in order to take their finals? Hardly. Sure, if they’re a one-seed facing Weber State in the first game, it’s effectively a bye, but they still have to show up. Edu-ma-cashun be damned!

But finals are one thing, we can’t have kids missing the pointless first day of class, where you get the syllabus and then leave, can we?

What about the integrity of the bowl season?

This was a huge argument during the BCS years, especially when, after years of moving it from bowl to bowl, they added a national championship game in addition to the “Big Four.” What is the point of being Sugar Bowl champs, people would argue, if there is another game that’s bigger than the Sugar Bowl? Well, you can still say you’re Sugar Bowl champs, right? And really, even before the BCS and then playoffs, the Sugar Bowl winner wasn’t necessarily the national champion, so Sugar Bowl champ really means the same thing now as it always did – you won a very major bowl game, most likely against a very quality opponent.

Heck, if they lose tonight, Ohio State can still call themselves the Sugar Bowl champions (and Oregon can call themselves the Rose Bowl champs), but I’m guessing they’ll opt for “National Runner Up.”

If there is any  drop in the integrity of the bowl season, it ain’t the extra game or two added at the end, it’s all those meaningless bowls in the middle of December. We have a GoDaddy Bowl, a Potato Bowl, and a Fosters Farms Bowl. Bowling Green at 8-6 and Pittsburgh at 7-6, can call themselves bowl champions. (Wait, Houston recovered how many onside kicks? C’mon, people, I’m trying to get ahead in my blogging!). Okay, so Houston, not Pittsburgh, is a bowl champ. Regardless, those teams are going to be more insulting to Michigan State victory than the fact that Oregon and Ohio State are advancing to a title game. I’m sure Michigan State is pissed that they aren’t the ones advancing, because they are competitors, but the phrase “Taxslayer Bowl Champion” belittles their Cotton Bowl victory more than a playoff system.

As an aside, Gaylord Hotels had their own bowl game for a number of years. I wonder how much the winners of that game tried to pump themselves up a “Gaylord Champs” when recruiting.

Hand-in-hand with the “integrity of the bowls” argument is the “traditional matchup” argument. This argument is always, always, always made by Pac-12 fans, and the only bowl they’re ever talking about is the Rose Bowl., which usually pairs the winners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten. I know west coast people. I am west coast people. What west coast people need to admit is that they don’t care who the Pac-12 plays against, as long as there is a Pac-12 team in the Rose Bowl. Then we can move on.

Want proof? Oregon played Florida State, an ACC team, this year and nobody complained.  Quite the opposite of 2011, when Oregon, heaven forbid, played in the national title game, so Wisconsin, the Big Ten winner, faced TCU. Nobody cared that the Big Ten was still being represented, but people bemoaned the missing Pac-12 team.  My father-in-law actually said the players would probably “rather be playing in the Rose Bowl than in the National Championship.”

Why is it always Rose Bowl people who make this argument? Because it’s the only bowl with a traditional matchup still intact. The Southwest Conference, whose champion always played in the Cotton Bowl, no longer exists. It merged with the Big Eight, whose champion used to play in the Orange Bowl, to become the Big-12, which has never been paired with a specific bowl. I think the Sugar Bowl used to showcase the SEC winner, and after the Big-12 merger, the Orange Bowl featured… anyone? Anyone? The ACC? The Big East? Saint Mary’s School for the Blind?

Even when one specific conference sends a team to one specific bowl, the teams they were playing weren’t tied to any specific conference. So it’s only the Rose Bowl that has a traditional match-up between two specific conferences, and again, nobody associate with the Rose Bowl really cares about the Big Ten. And as long as they can get out of January in Minnesota, I think the Big Ten fans would be happy to go anywhere warm. Just ask Ohio State fans today if they’re okay playing in Dallas.

And how ironic is it that we have a traditional Rose Bowl matchup for the national title? If this year had played out under the old BCS rules, neither of these teams would probably be in the championship game. Alabama would still have been number, and I have to think it would have been hard for voters to keep out the defending national champion and only undefeated team. So the BCS Title Game would have been the two teams who lost on New Year’s Day. Oops.

And guess who would have been playing in the Rose Bowl? Oregon and Ohio State. And what would they have been playing for? The right to be tied for third with about twenty other bowl winners. They would have been playing to be on equal footing with Navy, who also won a Bowl Game in Southern California. And we would have been back to the same-old, same-old, “well, neither of them probably could have beaten the national champs, anyway.” Double oops.

Unfortunately, that phrase is still being uttered this year. There are at least two, possibly up to four, other teams that we are hoping wouldn’t be able to beat whoever tonight’s champion is on a neutral field.

TCU had a legitimate gripe. The Big-12 doesn’t have a championship game because they only have ten teams (as opposed to the Big Ten, which has fourteen), meaning everyone plays each other in the season. So TCU was at home when Ohio State rolled over a very good Wisconsin team and leapfrogged the Big-12 champ into the fourth playoff spot. What if TCU had beaten Baylor on that same day? What if it had been as hellacious of a whomping as the 42-3 score they dropped on the former-number-one Ole Miss? Then who do you leave out? The undefeated, defending champion Seminoles?

Plus, the top four playoff system still doesn’t solve the old Boise State problem. When an upstart team from a non-power conference rises up and beats all comers, there still is little chance they’ll make the top four.  This year, that might have been Marshall. They only lost one game, and it was in overtime when Western Kentucky went for two points. What if they had won that game? Would they make it past any of the top five? No. But at least they would have no way of beating a top-flight team, right? Just like when Boise State finally got a chance against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  Oh, wait, they won that game. But, of course, they still would have been rolled by Florida that year, right? Anyone?

But isn’t that argument what the BCS and the playoff are supposed to do away with? Aren’t we trying to get past the guesswork of who might beat whom and actually get to the point where they can prove it on the field? And yet, this year, TCU has to deal with that argument. There are allegedly five power conferences (although how the ACC fits that description most years is beyond me), so if we allow only four in, every year at least one conference champion will be excluded. Some years, if a conference like the SEC puts two teams in, then two power conferences will be left out.  Throw in a good Notre Dame team and over half of the Power Five are left out of the playoff. And the non-power conferences can continue to go screw themselves.

But if we allowed eight in…

Then why not allow sixteen? Or thirty-two?

Stop! Nobody is making a case for the ninth team or the seventeenth team. If you lost three games, you don’t deserve to be in the title discussion. Beyond the top eight teams, you can legitimately start using the “you should have taken care of your own business” argument. Eight is the correct number.

With eight playoff teams, the power five champs would make it in (although I’d reclassify the ACC as a non-power conference), plus three (or four) at-large teams. Oh, and Big-12? You need a title game, even if everybody in your conference has already played each other.

This year, this would have added TCU to the mix. It probably also would have added Baylor and Michigan State. Hey, ironically, those two actually played each other in a bowl game this year, and it was an exciting bowl game with a playoff atmosphere.  Just fathom if the winner advanced. I assume Mississippi State would have made it over Marshall, although I still think it would be more fun to throw the one-year wonder in as the eight-seed every year.  They would have played Alabama, and I’m sure they would have lost. But before January 1, I would have also been sure that Ohio State would have lost to Alabama.

Here’s the best part of this plan. We could keep the Big Four bowl games and, even better, restore whatever tradition people are complaining about. The Rose Bowl can, every single year, feature the Pac-12 and Big-10 champs facing each other, with the winner advancing. The Sugar Bowl can feature the SEC Champ vs. an at-large. Similarly, the Orange Bowl can feature the ACC, if we want to still pretend they’re a legitimate football conference. And let’s bring back the Cotton Bowl, featuring the Big-12 champ, because I don’t know who the Fiesta Bowl slept with to be vaulted into “Elite Bowl” status.

All four of those games could be played on New Year’s Day, and they would be the only four to be played that day. Then the winners of those four games play the following week. Then those two winners play for the championship. We would be adding precisely one week, and two games, to the schedule in early January.

It is so logical, so obvious, that I can only think of one possible thing that the NCAA can do with it.

Tell TCU to shut the hell up and blindly stick with what they have for another ten years.