Thursday, September 10, 2009

September Wasteland, Cont.

Pro football fans like to thumb their noses at college football for a number of reasons. But when it comes to mismatches, they do have a point.

Yes, they do play those meaningless exhibition games in the NFL (at most papers, including the ones that I worked for, it's verboten to call them "preseason" games), but once the real deal gets started, it's serious stuff. Every game immediately attains a whole lot of meaning, and you have to take even the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders seriously every week.

Not so in college football. Not in September, for the most part, anyway.

College football in September is filled with junk. Championship caliber teams taking on overmatched foes in games that are nothing but glorified scrimmages. The difference, however, is that those games do count in the standings, and just like NFL exhibitions, the money from TV, tickets and concessions is real.

This week, of the top 25 teams in the AP Poll, 23 will be in action. But there is only one matchup pitting ranked teams, ONE - USC at Ohio State. Most of the rest are having more glorified scrimmages - Florida vs. Troy, Alabama vs. Florida International, Cal vs. Eastern Washington (I-AA) and Oklahoma vs. Idaho State (I-AA) - all in the comforts of home.

Some blames the BCS for this, but don't kid yourself, loss-averse is an ancient habit for many football programs. There are just three I-A schools that have never played a I-AA team: USC, UCLA and Notre Dame. This is nothing new.

How do I know this? Let me give you a little anecdotal evidence. I went to Cal State Fullerton, which had a I-A program pretty much in name only. By 1992, the school finally wised up and canned the football team so it could feed all the money to Augie Garrido's baseball squad (which of course was a wise decision).

In my years there, these were the Titans' globe-trotting highlights -

1987 - @ LSU, 56-12; @ Florida, 65-0
1988- @ West Virginia, 45-10 (the real highlight was my buddy FB DeSean Beasley scoring a garbage time touchdown); @ Wyoming, 35-16
1989- @ Colorado State, 42-14; @ San Diego State, 41-41 (a tie is really a W)
1990- @ Auburn, 38-17; @ Mississippi State, 27-13
1991- @ Mississippi State, 47-3; @ Texas Tech, 41-7; @ Georgia, 27-14
1992- @ UCLA, 37-14 (the Titans did break the leg of Bruins QB Wayne Cook, thus ending UCLA's season in the opener); @ Georgia, 56-10

As you can see, Fullerton could've been a member of the SEC. In those six years, the Titans went 0-7 and were outscored, 316-69 (or something like 45-10 on average) by SEC teams, who gave the school around $250,000 each for those Body Bag Games, as was so aptly called by former Fullerton coach Gene Murphy.

Bring Back Titan Football? Please Don't.

There are still plenty of Fullertons in the world of college football, and most of them will never become the next Boise State. They will slog away through all eternity (like San Jose State) or drop down to I-AA (like the Ivy League) or eliminate football altogether (like Boston University, and Fullerton).

And until they get rid of football, they'll continue to be asked to perform human sacrifice at a monstrous gridiron edifice near you. For a few dollars more.

★★★★★ GAME OF THE WEEK: USC at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET. Despite all their woes against college football's elite teams, give the Buckeyes credit for scheduling these games. They might get beat, but they duck nobody. In the Jim Tressel era, Ohio State has played at least one BCS conference foe every season, and for the most part, in home-and-home series.

The bad news, though, is that Ohio State will be taken to the woodshed. Even with a freshman quarterback, USC will have too much for the Buckeyes to contend with. The Big Ten's flagship programs (at the moment, Ohio State and Penn State) are still not on the same playing field with top BCS teams, not in terms of talent and coaching. Chalk up another one for Troy.

★★★★ FOUR-STAR GAME: Notre Dame at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET. Even with their recent troubles, these are still the two winningest programs (by both total victories and percentage) in college football. And this game has the smell of a death match. A victory for Michigan will provide an emphatic statement that Rich Rodriguez has brought the Wolverines all the way back from last year's dismal 3-9 debacle - and silence all the BCS talk about Notre Dame. A win for the Irish puts them on course for a BCS bid and buys Charlie Weis a little more time.

★★★ THREE-STAR GAME: TCU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m. ET. The only reason that this game has any meaning is to further validate the ascendancy of the Mountain West Conference, following BYU's upset win over Oklahoma. But Virginia is terrible, as evidenced by its 26-14 loss to I-AA William and Mary. So TCU had better not lay an egg.

★★ TWO-STAR GAME: Arkansas State at Nebraska, 2 p.m. ET. The Red Wolves will play anybody, and sometime they even manage to beat the big boys, as they did last year in a season-opening 18-14 upset of Texas A&M. Two years ago, they hung tough against Texas before losing 21-13. Nebraska needs to be alert against this very capable foe, who opened the season with a 61-0 wipeout of Mississippi Valley State.

★ ONE-STAR GAME: Fresno State at Wisconsin, Noon ET. Last year, the Badgers eeked out a 13-10 win in San Joaquin Valley. They needed three missed PATs to beat Cal Poly SLO in overtime to get bowl eligible, then they proceeded to get romped by Florida State. Wisconsin's 2009 debut was rather inauspicious, too, a 28-20 squeaker over Northern Illinois. A Fresno victory will give the WAC (and Boise State) more cred and damage the Big Ten's tattered reputation even more.

1 comment:

utesfan100 said...

A game that might better measure the ascendancy of the MWC than the TCU game is the Air Force @ Minnesota game.

If Air Force wins then this would combine with CSU's win over Colorado to bulster the case for the middle of the MWC.

That would help the discussion far more than another win by the top of the conference over a struggling BCS conference member.