A is for Amundsen. Most people only talk about the fun kind of 18th and 19th century explorer. "Oh, the first European to find Tahiti, a beautiful island of topless women with libertine sexual mores. Those explorers had it rough, man." You rarely discuss the really unglamorous pioneers like Roald Amundsen, the guy who had the sense (or the lack thereof) to survive visits to both the North and South Poles in an age where stepping on a nail the wrong way could kill you with lockjaw.
Even less discussed than some half-frozen badass like Amundsen are the fully frozen guys like Robert Falcon Scott, who made the pole only to find Amundsen had marked it for Norway five weeks earlier, and who froze to death on the way back. Long trips require planning, excellent navigation, a level head, and more than anything a strong dose of luck.
(You might also need a kicker to survive such desperate stretches.) (One who can come within 50 feet of the upright, for example.)
Nick Saban, eat your heart out! He belongs to Stanford and Stanford alone.
B is for Bonking. Thus to football, which despite being a collection of five to ten second plays strung together does at one point in the season turn to something like an expedition dependent on endurance, planning, and luck. Those who prepared and planned have thrived, while those who ran out of food weeks ago are starting to hallucinate and freeze in the plummeting temperatures. What starts as bonking ends in a death spiral, and even the most unyielding optimist has to at one point concede that those beautiful hawks circling you are vultures, and most definitely not just hanging out because they're lonely. This is bonking in the grandest sense, and not the fun kind where you get to eat an overpriced sack of gels and fell much better and go on about your business.
C is for Comport. No, this is the kind that turns you into a sad, bony souvenir of the Age of Exploration if you haven't planned accordingly. Take Florida, who after John Brantley turned into a walking game of Operation had two freshmen on the bench, no accompanying offense plan, and 68 scholarship players to take into a loaded SEC schedule. Bowl eligibility would be a small miracle, and a victory over Florida State a fever dream at best.
Texas faced similar long odds of survival, with new navigators on board getting lost in a fog of inexperience among the crew (two freshman quarterbacks) and the inevitable injuries (Fozzy Whittaker, gone for good as a Longhorn with a knee injury this past weekend.) Auburn started with no supplies, and ran out of points completely in the Georgia game. Even the well-stocked and composed Stanford crew foundered on the rocks when, ravaged by injury and a storm of hostile wildlife, they surrendered their first loss on Saturday night. (Attack ducks. You never plan for hordes of attack ducks, do you?)
D is for Diarchy. A rule of two in government terms. Have we talked about one-eyed men this season? Should we, if those who planned well, endured, and got lucky in happen to be Mike Gundy and Les Miles? We should, because if the one-eyed man rules in the land of the blind, there happen to be two cyclops left.
E is for Expectant. One of those cyclops, Mike Gundy, has survived the 2011 campaign one way and one way only: by attacking, and attacking, and then continuing to attack until scoreboards smoke. Ahh, the Big 12 special. Yes, the annual Big 12 special, a team with the ability to put up 50 points on all but four teams in the country.
Unfortunately for that annual Big 12 artillery brigade, those four teams capable of defeating it usually end up in the BCS Title game or in a BCS bowl game opposite them. Okay, we're really talking about Oklahoma, mostly, but bear with us, because this is in service of proving why you might consider Oklahoma State to be at least a slightly different animal than the Sooners or their conference stand-ins.
F is for Fiscal Responsibility. If the fate of the BCS--and getting two undefeated teams in the BCS Title game--is tied at all to Oklahoma State's ability to finish out the rest of the schedule undefeated, then the BCS can maintain a cautious optimism. The Cowboys stand first in the nation in the magical stat of turnover margin, having acquired 34 balls courteously placed in their custody while losing 16. Believe it or not, not all of these happened in their game with Texas A&M.
G is for Ground. [Puts on insurance company commercial voice.] But there's so much more you can trust about Oklahoma State. The respectable ground attack averaging 171 yards a game. The diversified receiving portfolio of Josh Cooper and Tracy Moore, options opened up by the year-in and year-out strength of the Justin Blackmon Fund. The steady leadership of Brandon Weeden, who at 37 years old can't ever get too excited over anything ever again, especially after he remembers seeing Jurassic Park on opening night. Those dinosaurs were AMAZING!
H is for Haute-Bourgeoisie. I am not saying you should think this feels normal. it does not, but the other member of the BCS Conference Undefeateds is LSU, a team placed in the unusual position of being the more conservative option for the more cautious college football prospector. Let that sentence alone stand as an indication of how unstable 2011 has been towards the end of the season. Les Miles is your United States Government Bond, and there is nowhere left to put your money.
I is for Itis. A little-known fact: field goals give you indigestion, and should be avoided by those with sensitive stomachs. The heartburn made itself manifest for one thrilling half of football that saw LSU clinging to a 14-7 lead over the upstart Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, a half featuring WKU doing something the Alabama offense failed to do in scoring a TD on the Tigers. When Nick Saban hires WKU's offensive coordinator this offseason, you will know why. LSU would later lower the boom and empty the bench in a 42-9 romp, but for one hungover half it was entertaining viewing.
J is for Jobbernowl. A blockish or stupid head. Tim Brando called an SEC game on television. Please do not ever do this again, CBS. I'll even take a Craig Bolerjack-ing over what transpired on Saturday over the airwaves. Even with Steve Beuerlein yelling "That's a catch, which is what happens when you catch a ball with your hands and don't drop it" over the action. It's still better than Tim Brando openly suggesting Jadeveon Clowney is lazy seconds before Clowney obliterates the entire Florida offensive line on a single play.
K is for Knew Heisel. As in the past tense, since Heisel's about to be out of a job again after severely damaging his chances of surviving 2011 with a 31-7 loss to Utah. Utah left the game as the 109th ranked offense in the country. UCLA left the stadium with a 24 point loss to that team. Rick Neuheisel lost his ability to coach football sometime around the same time Radiohead stopped making accessible music. Am I suggesting that this season is Neuheisel's King of Limbs? Not at all, since some people like that album. No one likes watching this UCLA football team, and given their performance in a pillowy soft Pac-12 South, it's hard to blame the spectators for rejecting the artist's vision in this case.
L is for Landover, Maryland. The site of Notre Dame's obliteration of Maryland on Saturday night, and the home of the dark underlord of sub-football hell, Daniel Snyder. Games in NFL stadiums always feel soulless and displaced, but few more so than those played in Landover with Randy Edsall coaching Maryland in Medieval Times uniforms. The Terps lost badly and then lost twice when QB Danny O'Brien went down with an injury, but at this point in a year when they lost to Temple, insult and injury were an unavoidable pairing. Randy Edsall and Will Muschamp should just have a quiet dinner together in the offseason, go strangle a few adorable baby animals in the forest, weep tears of deep regret for their actions, and then return cleansed to attempt rebuild their football teams.
M is for Murcielago. You forget that Oregon is fast, like, Lamborghini drift-fast...and then you see them break out seventh gear against Stanford, blow the Cardinal S off their helmets, and then spend the rest of the evening cutting swaths in the high turf of Stanford Stadium. (The farm is growing a cash crop of fescue this year. It made no difference to Oregon, but it should be mentioned.) Remember what we were saying about teams maintaining composure? LIke Oregon, whose initial short-circuiting by LSU rolled into an otherwise flawless 2011 season, and a defeat of an undefeated Stanford team who padded their early schedule with teams like Duke? Chip Kelly's aggression in all things might get them in spots of trouble, but on the whole Oregon is a team capable of weathering
N is for Not That We Care. The Heisman really is so far beyond the perimeter of Camp Things We Care About, but while we're at it please note that Andrew Luck enjoyed no time to throw thanks to radio blocks from his linemen, no open receivers thanks to the absence of Chris Owusu and tight coverage by Oregon's receivers, and constant harassment via multiple blitz packages from Nick Aliotti's defense. This will not dissuade a single person voting on major awards who, for the first time, watched Andrew Luck have his worst game of the season against a very good team from the comfort of their couch on the East Coast. (That this is even an issue in an age with DVRs is insane, but grumble programming my VCR beauty sleep the kids with their cellphone grumble sportswriter grumble.)
O is for Opining. So in addition to the minimum of five drops by Andrew Luck's receivers, let us now talk about Chip Kelly's full court press, and why you should admire the rally car strategy of Chip Kelly.
That two-point conversion was unnecessary, but oh was it there, and that's the point. Chip Kelly will take it. The sandwich you left unclaimed on the counter? Gone. the undefended seam at the back of the endzone there for the taking after a play-fake and a quick look-off of the safety? Thank you yes and he would like some more. Naked greed is at the root of so much of what Oregon does: covering the entire field, placing pressure on every possible point of attack, and turning small fissures in your defense into gaping holes. Chip Kelly is college football's food-scrounging brainiac Labrador retriever. If you don't want him to eat it, don't leave it on the counter, and make sure it's put behind something with a secured latch.* (Because he will open it with his nose. Oh, he will.)
*Or get a Tiger. Does not perform so well against those.
P is for Phrynosoma cornutum. The Latin name for the Horned Frog, the mascot of TCU, who also played the role of greedy pet gone wrong in their 36-35 victory against Boise. Patterson's call bookended Kelly's opening two-point conversion; where Kelly wanted to see if it was there, and then apply pressure if it happened to be there.
Patterson's two-point decision was all about endgame, and brilliantly so. What appeared to be brute aggression in going for the win came with numbers in support: Dan Goodale, Boise's freshman kicker, had only five attempts on the entire season, and had only made three of those. Assuming you could keep everything in front of you, that meant putting a dodgy kicker on the line in a situation backed by hard numbers and, yes, perhaps a reminder of the one way Boise lost a game last year. The numbers said go. The vicious psychological warfare was merely a delicious side benefit of playing the numbers.
Q is for Querencia. The portion of a bullfighting arena where a bull makes his stand. Kansas knew they were on the ropes: desperate, needing a two-point conversion to complete a long comeback with an overtime victory, and lining up with a running back averaging well over six yards a carry. Dramatically, Turner Gill pounded the earth with his hoof, reared up, and...and called up a fade that had its own death certificate stamped on the side as soon as it came out of quarterback Jordan Webb's hand. The Curse of Mangino claimed former AD Lou
Tepper Perkins. Now it claims Turner Gill, who in response will lose his composure and say, "Darn it."
R is for Respect. Pretty chill of Joe Adams to respect the recently dead. We had no idea he was such a Family Circus fan, but imitating the path of Billy around the neighborhood could be the only explanation for this punt return.
It is conceded that there is some very bad tackling going on here. It should also be conceded that Joe Adams is not of this earth, and that Arkansas is a team standing beneath the foundations of LSU's great bridge to the BCS title game wearing a dynamite vest and smiling.
S is for Sync. Washington State won its fourth game of 2011 late Saturday night over the sputtering Arizona State Sun Devils, a feat so immense in the Paul Wulff era that only synchronized fist-pumping could properly celebrate the affair:
T is for The Ongoing Collection Of Data Indicating Just How Much Of A Difference Two Players Can Make On A College Football Team. Auburn with Cam Newton was 7th in the nation in 2010 in total offense. Without him in 2011, the Auburn offense has plummeted to 97th. Without Nick Fairley diving headfirst into the soft parts of quarterbacks, their defense has dropped from 60th place to 86th. Great players don't help schemes, but are schemes in and of themselves. We're certain Gus Malzahn will have Auburn in a much better place next year if he's still there, and as for the defense, well, as long as the ACC keeps recycling coaches you'll have a job, Ted Roof.
U is for Unsung. That's about right, dude. That's about right.
This hero was still in the stands when his team was losing by 57 points to Oklahoma State, and came up with the most courageous but emotionally honest gesture possible for the moment. We salute you, Sad Texas Tech Fan. The head down acknowledges your spin through football hell, but the "guns up" says that they can take the imaginary pistola out of your cold, dead hands.
V is for Vade-Mecum. A handy reference manual you carry around with you at all times. For the college football edition, please remove the term "Clemson-ing" from the vernacular, since Clemson was all set to Clemson themselves against Wake Forest, and then un-Clemson'd themselves with a late field goal to win 31-28. The Academy will keep you fully informed of any other necessary changes in the official lexicon.
W is for Wireless.
"I'm calling you to say this is embarrassing. We need headsets or something."
"This is Utah State. We can't afford headsets."
"Perhaps we could get flip phones."
"That might be more embarrassing. Let's go with the corded phone."
"Can we put it on a silver platter? I feel like it needs to go on a silver platter or something."
"Would you accept a silver-plated tray? A full silver tray is asking a lot."
"Certainly. Good day, Person from 1983."
"Good day, Other Person from 1983."
X is for Xenomancy. A form of divination or fortune-telling done with strangers, which apparently you can do with Ole Miss's extremely simple offensive play signs. You lose to Louisiana Tech for reasons, and not just because La-Tech is actually pretty good and 4-1 in the WAC.
Y is for YOU. You, Florida Atlantic? You have three games left to get your first win, and thus send Howard Schnellenberger out on something like a positive note. We will buy supenders for you. We promise.
Z is for Zonelet. A little zone, like the small, bleak slate of games coming up this Saturday. Sure, there are three matchups between top 25 teams, but one of them involves Baylor (versus OU), and the other is USC (versus Oregon) who can't really win anything at this point anyway, and that leaves Michigan versus Nebraska, aka "Bo Pelini Chews A Whole In Brady Hoke's Polo Shirt To Prove A Point." Gameday is at Houston for a reason, though, and that reason is .