Sunday, November 30, 2008

They Call Them Mr. Touchdown, Ms. Touchdown, and all the Little Touchdowns

Yours truly watched most or a large part of four college football games yesterday. One of them, Kansas-Missouri, was outstanding entertainment Both teams scored 14 points in the last five minutes, star players left the field hurt, then came back for more heroics, and the final quarter was conducted in a snow squall. Kansas won 40-37.

That was the LOWEST scoring game of the four. The other three games finished Georgia Tech 45-Georgia 42, Oregon 65-Oregon State 38, and Oklahoma 61-Oklahoma State 41. Tech and Georgia struggled from beyond the three-point line, or that one would've gone higher.

There have always been high point totals in college ball, because powerhouses all play at least one little sister of the utterly destitute each season. But there wasn't a cupcake on my Saturday snack tray. Every one of the eight teams cited above is bowl-eligible. Most of them will go to bowls played after Christmas (In college football, December 26 is the new New Year's Day). One of them, Oklahoma may very well play for the fraudulent, I mean, mythical national championship of the BCS.

And it gave up 41 points!!! Brent Musberger went on and on about the Sooners' "great athletes" on defense, usually before they surrendered yet another 20-yard gain. Oregon State was only playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl, and allowed 700 yards of total offense to its archrival. Its quarterback threw five touchdown passes and still lost. Matt Stafford of Georgia also threw five touchdown passes and he lost too. I guess those guys haven't learned to "manage the game."

That's not football. That's XBox football. As a former defensive player in high school (I was "gritty," meaning I sucked, but did so while full of enthusiasm), it offends me. And as the steroid fueled home run binge of the 1990s made baseball less enjoyable, so too is the touchdown binge of this decade making college football less enjoyable, to me anyway. Games are artificial creations, and when they lose their competitive balance, they become bad art-a painful exercise for the spectator.

Ergo, I am rooting for Alabama to win its final two games of the year and win the BCS. Head coach Nick Saban is a supreme jerk, who I've witnessed cop an attitude after a big win, and his word means nothing. Were I his employer, I wouldn't go to lunch with Saban without my attorney present. But Saban's team is built around its defense, and therefore, an Alabama title is an aesthetic necessity.

There are various reasons for the growth of college's touchdown tumor. The rules are consistently tweaked to favor scoring, just as in the NFL, and despite the amazing salaries talented NFL defensive players earn, the best athletes still prefer playing running back or wideout to linebacker or defensive back. And colleges are currently in the grip of a formation mania, the allegedly unstoppable spread offense.

The spread is basically the shotgun with a running back alongside the quarterback and about nine receivers set wide across the field. Its roots are in the single- and double-wing formations invented by Pop Warner. The theory is, defenses cannot cover every receiver, and if they do, the quarterback or running back has about a guaranteed 15-yard gain on every run. That is how it's working out in practice, and will until some defensive coordinator abandons the innate conservatism of his profession and takes the logical leap known as creativity.

In football coaching (and the best ones, like Bill Belichick, all freely admit it), creativity means stealing a past idea that's gone out of style. In the case of the spread, the idea goes back to the first idea of how to stop a passing game-commit grievious bodily harm on the passer.

Coaches hate giving up the "big play." If you're giving up 60 a game, there must be some big plays in there despite your efforts to contain the spread. Some genius will decide to turn into the skid, bring back Buddy Ryan's 46 defense or some variation thereof, and send 10 guys blitzing on every down. Turn Tim Tebow or Sam Bradford into sandwich spread, and the spread offense will seem less attractive to its practitioners.

Maybe it won't happen this season. But what college football needs most (besides a playoff, that is), is a mythical/fraudulent national champion who wins their final game 10-6.


At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Football Plays said...

Your analysis is spot on.
If you have to account for the QB as a runner it puts the defense in conflict. That is why Single Wing type attacks are so effective from youth football all the way tot he NFL now. Look at Florida and Mississippi, they are Single Wing teams a lot of the time. My youth players haev run this offense for the least eleven seasons and we love it.


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