The Alphabetical, Week 4: Ryan Mallett Crosses The Chang Threshold

FAYETTEVILLE - SEPTEMBER 25: Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks passes the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on September 25 2010 in Fayetteville Arkansas. Alabama won 24-20. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In this week's recap of college football's Week 4, we invent the "Chang Threshold," which is not a good thing to cross, as Ryan Mallett learned. Plus: Jim Tressel lets his hair down, Nevada's assent, ACC continues to bore to death, and more.

A is for Automaton. Watching Pitt play football is like watching a computer call plays. Not all computers are created equal, so let's go back and be clear: it's like watching a Commodore 64 call plays on a dialup modem with an AOL account from a Bombay street internet cafe. This may in fact be the case due to cost-cutting measures, and if so the good for you, Pittsburgh. Adam Smith says you're just taking advantage of natural price/labor discrepancies, but you may also want to subcontract recruiting calls for offensive linemen to the Indian subcontinent, as well, since Pitt looked every bit like a Walt Harris team from the bad old days of the early 2000s. Hello? Yes hello [reads computer screen] young Mr. Blue Chip recruit I would like to confirm your interest in our college football scholarship package. No, I am calling from California and my name is Chip and we have openings immediately on our offensive line. Miami put them away on Thursday night, but it was clearly with Pitt's permission to do so. 

B is for Biff Loman. This will end in some kind of father/son reconciliation scene. Garcia and Spurrier will be wearing bad prosthetic face makeup, and they'll both have to dab vaseline at the corners of the eyes to keep the tears flowing, but the two fumbles in the fourth quarter coughed up by the South Carolina quarterback may have been the breaking point for Spurrier's devotion to him as the Gamecock's sole QB. 

Spurrier was already tinkering around with Conor Shaw, but the tinkering might have gone into full bore utilization when Garcia turned into a pinata in the fourth. When cracked open by Auburn defenders, Garcia spat out turnovers, handing Auburn and falling tree/quarterback Cam Newton easy points. Freshman Conor Shaw, welcome to the fun of being the new whipping boy, and Terry Dean is offering you his phone number for comfort and advice, Stephen. You just call any time you need to let it out, and remember: a man is not a piece of fruit, but to Steve Spurrier a quarterback is because the one you have doesn't have as much a-peel as the new ones GET IT HUH HUH---

C is for Chang Threshold. If you throw one interception, that might be an aberration. Two might be lightning striking twice. But if a quarterback throws three interceptions, then something has sprung loose in the brain and any infinite number of interceptions are possible after this point. It's a special threshold, and one we'll call "The Chang Threshold" in honor of Hawaii's Timmy Chang, the NCAA's all-time leader in interceptions thrown. 

Ryan Mallett couldn't have picked a worse time to cross the Chang Threshold than in the fourth quarter against Alabama, but one does not always have a choice in these matters, especially when Nick Saban is throwing Rorschach defenses at you that do not exist on film. If they had played another quarter in Fayetteville, Mallett just continues to throw interceptions until he breaks down in tears because once you get on a good rip of INTs they just keep coming. If you can throw three interceptions you can throw nine, though scientifically there's no evidence you'll throw more than that in a single game. (Florida's John Reaves did this versus Auburn in 1969.)  

D is for DERP. There's nothing really right with LSU besides the defense, and yet they stand at 4-0, but the solace of having no idea what's right with a football team is balanced by the total confusion of having no idea what's wrong with another. Of course this refers to Georgia, a 1-3 team who, when viewed on film, appears to be a non-horrible team. Watch the Mississippi State tape and you'll see nothing overtly inept about them. When you think "major program ineptitude," you think full body convulsions of football idiocy like those in the 2007 Notre Dame team or any team ever coached by Steve Kragthorpe, not what you see with Georgia 2010.  No one's snapping the ball through the endzone or throwing a post pattern to the back judge, and no one's biting on play fakes like disabled video game defenders. Watching this team implode on the field is like watching a leg break by microfracture: a holding penalty here, a missed assignment there, a moment of hesitation on a play-action pass allowing a receiver to get this much [holds fingers apart] of an opening over his defender. 

They may be the most boring fiasco in college football right now, since they deny you even the thrill of disaster. 

E is for Endogenous. Originating from within, i.e. the source of all problems at Texas. Okay, reverse: not all, since UCLA must be advanced credit for the things they did and did not do against Texas in a 34-12 upset of the seventh-ranked Longhorns on Saturday. The Bruins didn't lose four fumbles. They did beat up Texas at the line of scrimmage when required to do so. They didn't spend the first half twiddling away at a fruitless offensive gameplan. They did win the game despite 27 yards passing. That is not missing a number, and is in fact a two and a seven you're seeing there. In summary: they beat some ass, and deserve credit. 

Something in the current DNA of Longhorn football, however, is miscoded and producing some unpleasant effects on the offensive side of the ball. It may have been a colossal error to call Texas "soft" with a roster full of Sun Belt talent, but the skein of truth in Howard Schnellenberger's 2008 comment on Texas's lack of toughness comes via the half decade of mostly constant decline in their rushing offense. 

2005-2nd 

2006-34th

2007-17th

2008-41st

2009-61st

Their current rank: 76th after four weeks, trailing Duke, South Carolina, and Ball State in yards per game on the ground. It's not a perfect toboggan run downhill statistically speaking, but the direction is clear enough. 

F is for Flair. Jim Tressel called a quarterback throwback to Terrelle Pryor up 25 on Eastern Michigan, which Pryor took in for a 20 yard TD catch. Tressel then went home and left his shoes on the floor with the laces undone. Someone could have tripped on them and really hurt themselves, but you know what? Saturday was a day for ol' JT to throw caution to the wind, so he just left them right there and then drank some orange juice straight from the carton before watching some HGTV and passing out from all the excitement. 

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This happened. 

G is for Gemini. Twins of the fraternal variety are what you can expect to see at Florida for the duration. John Brantley will move the offense between the twenties, and then Trey Burton will run the Wildcat/Single Wing inside the twenties. It's not conventional, and it's not pretty at times, but it did work against Kentucky to the tune of six TDs on the day. What works against Kentucky tends to be turned to charred bits of ragmeat against Alabama, but the Gators moved, dammit, and that's more than Florida's offense has done against anyone all season. You take any ray of hope you can into the dark mineshaft of Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

H is for Handicapped Seating. 

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The American Disabilities Act makes no requirements for Will Hills, but nevertheless warning signs should be posted in the future to warn those in wheelchairs if a Will Hill happens to be in your area. 

I is for Invictus. He is the captain of his own ship, the master of his own fate, and he is Patrick Peterson. Peterson struck the Heisman pose after returning a punt for a TD against West Virginia on Saturday night, which is especially fun because being a defensive player he doesn't exist in the eyes of the Heisman voters, but one must admire the gusto nonetheless. Peterson is half the LSU team right now, locking down a half of the field all to himself, returning punts for TDs, and outsquatting offensive linemen in the weight room. The other half of the team is made up of the duo of the punter and kicker, and laugh all you like but 4-0 ugly looks the same as 4-0 pretty on the books. (Until you lose due to your horribly mismanaged offense, which won't matter anyway since Les Miles will be the first coach to win a BCS title with a three loss team. I don't know how this is going to happen, but if anyone can make it happen it's The Hat.) 

J is for Jobless: Tim Brewster of Minnesota, who pulled off a rare double by losing to both an FCS and MAC school in the same year. This week's accomplishment was the MAC leg, accomplished by allowing NIU RB Chad Spann to run for 223 yards and two TDs on just 15 carries. I'm pretty sure that's an average of 839 yards a carry when you do the math, but it would have been hard to concentrate on doing the arithmetic over the "Fire Brewster" chants echoing through the stadium on three different occasions.  

K is for Kon-Tiki. Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory about Polynesians settling the islands of the South Pacific by raft so he did it himself, taking a crew on a boat made of little more than balsa wood and happy thoughts across the waters of Polynesia. He was proven right, and world reveres him as a genius for his daring. 

The same can be said of Bob Stoops, the OU coach and legend in his own right, who is attempting to play an entire season as a BCS title contender without a functioning secondary. Florida failed in this effort in 2007, but if Stoops' math is right they should be able to get at least as far as the Big 12 Championship game with what they've got. Allowing a miserable Cincy team to score 29 and amass 461 yards of offense is really testing the theory, but remember Les Miles' maxim: 4-0 is 4-0, even if it is an undefeated record you land with the plane on fire and smoke pouring out of every engine. Sail on, brave Bob, and we'll see you where the trade winds blow. 

L is for Little City, Biggest.  The Nevada Wolfpack have already beaten Cal, but could be the next real obstacle standing between Boise State and their annual claim to the BCS title game. (Special offer: claim to BCS title game is good for one bid to the Fiesta Bowl or other conciliatory at-large bid in non-title game matchup. Offer good for eternity, or as long as the BCS continues to shun Boise for schedule weakness but allows the Big East and ACC automatic bids.) Boise goes to Reno on November 27th, and barring disaster between then will be undefeated coming into a game versus Nevada's thumping pistol offense (run as well as it's ever been run right now by Colin Kaepernick).

M is for McElroy. Greg McElroy has never lost a game as a starter at Alabama, a streak Alabama continued versus Arkansas. Streaks of a team variety keep going: it was Alabama's eighteenth in a row overall, and 28th straight in regular season play dating back to 2008. It was also the eighteenth week in a row you've heard this stat, because Alabama fans like to remind you of these things. 

N is for Norvell, Jay. The Oklahoma wide receivers coach who earned a 15 yard personal foul for using profane language with a referee. If you doubt that "Jordan Rules" apply to coaches at the college level, watch Nick Saban "engage" an official with "argumentative rhetoric" in a "vivid and colorful fashion" and you will be proven wrong, since he and other head coaches routinely phosphoresce the air into a blue haze without penalty. Saban dropped a magnificent "SON OF A BITCH" on air Saturday that stands in the pantheon of great lipread coaching profanities. (It's not the gold standard, but it was choice.) 

O is for Officiating (Subjective) (Cont'd.) In another parallel with NBA officiating, Arizona State linebacker received a ticky-tack personal foul in the Arizona State/Oregon game due largely to his past history of racking up personal fouls, making him the Rasheed Wallace of Pac 10 Linebackers. 

P is for Prince. Kevin Prince, UCLA QB, had a 38 yard run against the nation's number one rushing defense despite being a 4.8ish runner in the 40 and doing all of this through Texas' vaunted defense on a bad knee. You could say "embarrassing defeat," or you could just recite the sentence preceding one out loud for effect. They mean the same thing, but one is a lot more vivid (and therefore funnier).

Q is for Quadricep. A productively sore one today belongs to Penn State's Collin Wagner, who made five of six field goals for Penn State in their new "Three-For-All" offense that eschews TDs for stylish, demure field goals. Unproductively sore: UAB's Josh Zahn, who went 2/7 on FG attempts in a game UAB would take into overtime against Tennessee and eventually lose. 

R is for Rod Gilmore Run Pass Option Watch: Did Rod Gilmore, in calling the TCU/SMU game, repeat his weekly call for a "run/pass option" at the goal line? He certainly did. We here at the Alphabetical invite you to play along with the Rod Gilmore run-pass option watch at home, and remind you that each time Gilmore says "run-pass option" we donate a dollar to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlanta. After this week, I owe them at least $38 dollars. 

S is for Schlereth. He wasn't as bad as we feared as a color man, though he did lean on NFL-style "THIS GUY JUST MAKES PLAYS GRR FLEX" analysis a bit too much for our tastes. The deep look into the disturbed psyche of the offensive lineman, however, was well worth the trouble. 

T is for Tee-Dog. Boise State's tee dog is adorable, but a moment please for the OG tee-fetching dog, the New Orleans Saints' own Fetch Monster. Now if you really want to be original, train an ape to get it and then run to the sidelines to retrieve its presents of beer and cigarettes. When college football takes off in Mexico, these kind of amazing things will be both possible and probable. 

U is for Underwhelm. If you chained a college football fan between two televisions like Buridan's Ass,* and then put an ACC football game on each, would the college football fan: 

 

  1. Disappear into a single, tiny dot of superdense matter trying to get away from both games
  2. Die from ramming head into one television. 
  3. Hope the slow pace of games put them in a state of suspended animation so future generations could rescue them. 
I'm asking this hypothetically, because I'd never be so cruel as to actually put on two ACC football games at once, much less chain someone up between them. 

*This was erroneously labeled "Balaam's Ass" in an earlier version and pointed out by eagle-eyed readers. Apologies for our confusion between famous asses. 

 

V is for Viaticum. Communion given to those in danger of death, a rite that should be administered to Notre Dame's chances of making a bowl game in year one after a 37-14 loss to Stanford. This assumes a five win Notre Dame team won't be awarded the at-large bid in a BCS bowl game, which they will, but sometimes we like to pretend the world makes a modicum of sense just for the LULZ. 

W is for West Point. Army is 3-1. Normally at this point in the season. a disclaimer follows. They haven't really played anyone. The early part of the college football schedule is a long series of appetizers made of marshmallow fluff, filo dough, and other light, flaky easily edible substances. True, but this is Army with 26 wins in the last decade. That's as many games as Ohio State has lost (25) over the past decade. Let them have this, kill joy, especially since they a.) don't pass the ball more than ten times a game, b.) their qb is named Trent Steelman. 

X is for XXIV. Did Western Kentucky win a game? No, no they did not, extending their losing streak to 24 and continuing the nation's longest FBS winning streak at losing. Big Red will be over here being held upside down until he passes out to avoid watching this. 

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Y is for Yeti-catching. There's no more terrifying moment than to be a defender caught in the path of a rampaging Cam Newton, especially in the final five yards when Newton dives, goes to ground, and flies through knees and other fragile joints like a 747 crashing in a pine forest. I'd love to see a stat breakdown on how many yards he gets falling; out of 176 of them on Saturday night, it had to be something ridiculous like thirty five or so in all. If you see defenders diving out of the path of a falling Cam Newton, just understand: it's a safety issue first, and a football issue second. 

Z is for Zugzwang. The chess term for a situation where a player is weakened by being forced to make a move, a term analogous to the shakeout that will occur next week in the hierarchy when Oklahoma/Texas, Oregon/Stanford, and Florida/Alabama force some inevitable poll shakeout.  

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