The College Football Alphabetical: The Endgame, Or How To Love The Bowl Season

This week's Alphabetical fast-forwards past conference championships and talks about the most important thing of all: how to enjoy the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the rest of college football's postseason.

A is for Aphasia. As good an analogy for the BCS voters' current conundrum as the 2011 season winds up to its shambolic finish. The voters can be mocked at this point--that's always fair game, and in Craig James' case more than justified--but if you are not happy with a matchup between Alabama and LSU, the voters have little choice in the current system, and lack the words to make other arguments. They're simply not there, since the season has removed them, and Alabama really does seem to be the only team capable competing with LSU.

This happens when you take a disorder and call it a system. The BCS at this point is a customer service rep playing you off badly over the phone. "Alabama vs. LSU as a rematch? No, sir, that is not a bug. That is a feature. You're welcome!"

B is for Broad. As in comedy, i.e. the kind of comedy centering on misunderstandings, fart jokes, and pratfalls. This has been the Meet the Parents of seasons, since every time we looked for anyone to succeed, they have been caught in an awkward situation, reacted badly, and then been embarrassed when their solutions failed. Remember that time Oklahoma State got caught in a bathroom in Ames, Iowa without toilet paper, and had to tromp pantsless into the kitchen, but thought no one was home, but there was the mother-in-law! And then Paul Rhoads pointed and laughed, and someone in the theater yelled "Oh, no he di-unt!" Man, that was a great movie. 

And that time Wisconsin accidentally dropped a baby from a second story window, but MIchigan State ended up catching it in the endzone? Oh, man, your mother LOVED that movie, but it turns out your mother likes some pretty terrible movies.

C is for Club Dread. There have been moments of comedy horror, too. We'd count the LSU/Alabama game ("The Game Of the Century LOLOLOL") as one of those, since like Club Dread it came drastically short of expectations and managed to bore the pants off the viewer. While we are in the neighborhoodt, The Little Shop of Horrors game? That was Georgia/Boise State, where a charming but deadly alien force threatened the universe as we knew it, but then stuck its hand in an electrical socket while the threatened hero got away. (A good kicker truly is the insulation that keeps teams from sudden painful electrocution. Alabama nods grimly.)

D is for Destruction. Comedic comparisons aside, is it a bit too early to start writing the obit for the 2011 season? Most likely not. Championship Weekend would have to produce a horrorshow of upsets and lopsided results to turn out anything but the most predictable of results. LSU would not only have to lose in the SEC Championship Game to undo a potential rematch situation, but lose in a manner so dramatic it would suggest either a cholera outbreak or points-shaving. Oklahoma State would then have to blow out Oklahoma, and we all know that can only happen when you're Texas Tech, and you, Mike Gundy, are no Tommy Tuberville.

Then there's something about a goat with a thousand horns, and a trumpet sounding, and a feathered serpent who is not friendly at all coming down from the heavens. Or at least there should be, because this will be the end of the universe as we know it.

E is for Endpoint. So where, if anywhere, is this leading? The same place we usually end up in college football: nowhere. Consider, if you will, how carefully we edit endings to make them anything like sense. 

  • 2005: Two undefeateds! And one dead Sooners team in the swamps of Miami.
  • 2006: Florida sneaks in to be walloped by an undefeated Ohio State! And the Big Ten's been cringing ever since.
  • 2007: A two-loss LSU team wins. We're still not really sure how this happened besides saying "Les Miles," and then making laser noises while waving our hands like a magician.
  • 2008: Another Oklahoma'ing, this time by Florida.
  • 2009: Alabama just sort of sits on Texas until they cough up a piece of Colt McCoy's shoulder and a win. Hey, remember Garrett Gilbert playing really well in relief? Neither do we, but it happened.
  • 2010: Oregon quits on a victory by one unpursued tackle on Auburn's Michael Dyer. TO THE WHISTLE, BOYS. ALWAYS TO THE WHISTLE.

F is for Fiction. So if instead of a championship, we basically get a pirate kingship that never really rests, floating from head to head as challenger kills holder kills challenger. All championships have their foibles, even in a playoff situation, but let's at least appreciate the insanity of what college football has now. We will crown a "champion," and they will get to be "champion" for all of three seconds before recruiting starts. Then, someone will pick up a Burger King crown reading "recruiting champions," a title that only exists on the internet, and means as much as someone proclaiming you "Lord of Produce" in the parking lot of a Whole Foods before ever tasting a bite of your wares.

Then you unofficially lose the imaginary trophy the minute you lose your first, or perhaps second game the following year. While no one has it, it sits on Beano Cook's head and demands to be fed Iron City beer and canned ham. Beano Cook also demands these things, but they've been bros for a long time, Beano and the crown. 

G is for Garnish. So, if we crown our conference champions, and then watch the Army/Navy game and get all weepy at the end when they sing together, and then stare out into the sprawl of bowl games ahead, umm...what exactly is the rest of this? Garnish, or a series of holiday specials your football team decides to participate in for money and the greater glories of midsized Metropolitan areas.

H is for Holiday Pageants. At one time, to make a bowl game was a pretty exclusive deal. Admittedly, it was just as irrational as it was then, and maybe more so due to the lack of constant coverage in the national media. You think Houston's underappreciated now? Consider the case of 11-0 Rutgers in 1976, which within striking distance of the nation's media capital was deemed so irrelevant that they had to decline an invite to play McNeese State in the Independence Bowl. Shreveport will never forgive you, Rutgers, and you'll just have to live with that.

I is for In Case You Should Quibble. Rutgers, an independent at the time, only played three D-1 teams on their schedule, btw. The lack of invites wasn't totally insane, but feel free to make the joke about "How's this different than the Big East now?", because unless you're a Big East fan you want to, and we know it. 

J is for Junkets. So teams left on the outside of this extremely unequal and arbitrary system get a slightly better deal on this long and ever-expanding series of football junkets. They do pay someone: the cities that host the events in the form of hotel purchases, food, and whatever else they can bleed out of fans. ($40 parking on your lawn 20 blocks from the stadium? America's gonna be just fine, Ms. Lady-I-Saw-In-Glendale-Drinking-A-Tall-Boy-On-Her-Front-Lawn.) The schools get paid, too, though they often don't make money in the end due to largesse by administrators and football people giddy at the prospect of traipsing in style to Dallas, Miami, Pasadena, or wherever they decide to ball out for a few days on the program's tab.

K is for Kwacha. Malawi's currency, and in essence the basis of the bowl system. Dan Wetzel has a lot of great points about the BCS, but the chief flaw in the argument "How can college football turn down the money of a collective playoff deal worth billions?" is that those billions are imaginary, and would have to be split evenly. For the moment, people have turned down prospective corporate riches for the local banana stand, albeit sometimes with some very lucrative banana sales going on under the guise of "non-profit sports promotion." Did you forget that a.) there is always money in the banana stand, and b.) that bowl orgs get non-profit status under federal tax code? Did you also just realize an extra irony of the new Taxslayer.com St. Petersburg's Bowl Title? I hope you did.

L is for Lucrative. So for just one instant, look ahead not just to the BCS payouts at stake here--a total sum of $181 million divided between member schools in varying increments--but also at the general bribery of the bowl system at large. Georgia and Michigan State may lose their conference championship games, but the Capital One Bowl's $9.1 million payout should soothe some hurt feelings. (Not that the players see a dime of that.) Taxslayer.com recommends that Florida and Ohio State heal their bruises from dismal 2011 campaigns with cold compresses of cash from the $5.45 million Gator Bowl Payout. (Not that the players feel their cool touch.) Laugh at the Music City Bowl if you like, SEC fans, but $3.65 million to show up in Nashville works for us. 

M is for Margarine. Even the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl pays out $650,000. It isn't the buttery goodness of a Cap One payout, sure, but it is a tasty topping that's better than happy thoughts and a heapload of nothing.

N is for Nothingness. The worst part is that as nonsensical as it is, you'll watch it because the alternatives are so forbidding, and the offseason so very long. Two games come on December 17th between teams that had to scrape their way to bowl eligibility. These would be the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the New Orleans Bowl, and I will watch both like they are the end of reality as we know it. These games are so far off the radar we don't have to wait for half the teams involved. It's not like the Ragin' Cajuns are getting another bowl bid. No, they're taking this and running to the hills with it, because we repeat THE RAGIN' CAJUNS ARE IN A BOWL GAME.

O is for Occluded. And here's where you'll go partially blind in the name of fandom. In the dying light of the season, you will find reasons to watch these games. When Troy made the New Orleans Bowl last year, the boredom artist in you made hay from horseshit with ease. Nothing interesting in the game? Will Goggans' beard begs to differ.

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He's shaved it since, and for that men around the world and most of southern Alabama weeps. The point being: you will watch games until they forcibly eject you from the driver's seat, and even then probably for a while after because in light of an imminent famine, you will eat anything coming down the chute like a beef cow ready for slaughter. 

P is for Palatable.  An addition to that last entry: you'll probably be fairly happy with it, too. Or, at the least you'll be pleased by the successful trumping of low expectations, especially in lower-tier bowls. One of the best viewing experiences I have ever had as a college football fan was the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl between Bowling Green and the Idaho Vandals, a 43-42 shotgun party that ended when Idaho Coach Robb Akey pulled a Corso, said "F--- It," and went for two in regulation to end it. They did, the game ended, and the 2009 Humanitarian Bowl set a record by exceeding our expectations for the game by a record billion and a half percent. (That is a real number, and do not dispute our math.)

Q is for Qua. As in, "In the capacity of." It is not a playoff system, or anything that makes sense in the least. Not that anything in a sport with formally unpaid labor working for ridiculously paid coaches in a tax-free non-playoff system run in part by a television network in Connecticut owned by a gigantic children's market conglomerate in Los Angeles and in another by various chambers of commerce and non-profit business fronts should ever make sense. In a way, it is the perfect system to match the basic underlying framework of the sport, which is to say none at all in any recognizable form.

R is for Realism. So the answer is not to spoil the only party you get while advocating something more sensible down the road. Do we want Michigan and Houston to play? Sure. I would rather see it in the form of some kind of tournament setting, but I will acknowledge both that this is probably not going to happen for quite a while, and would also have its own problems. Still, we might get that, and I'll watch happily and most likely while giggling at Brady "Ol' Pizzafarts" Hoke, both because he made Greg Robinson look even worse at his job by having Greg Mattison carve a top ten defense out of Robinson's leftovers, and also because I cannot look at Hoke without thinking "There goes 'Ol' Pizzafarts.'" (Maturity! It's always optional.)

S is for Scott. As in George C., who when he won an Academy Award for Patton had this to say about his decision not to attend.

"The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don't want any part of it."

For this and so many reasons, this is why you should pay about as much attention to the Heisman as you should another very important event like the New Mexico Bowl or televised colonoscopy. At least the New Mexico Bowl will be decided by a definite set of criteria: the Heisman rewards "the most outstanding player in college football," a term that has come to mean "the quarterback or running back who, on national television against something we can excuse as major competition, looks really good to sportswriters too lazy to stay awake for West Coast games."

The first player to no-show and turn down the award because "awards are bullshit" would instantly become our favorite player in the history of college football, but this will never happen because life is not a John Hughes movie, and we're all poorer for the lack of meaningful monologues and slow-clapping sequences.* Trent Richardson will win it, and it should be Robert Griffin III. This happens almost every year, but whatever. No one said voting for anything ever made sense. It's just fair in being equally and stupidly unfair to everyone all at once.

T is for Travesties Abound. Not that the Heisman is alone in being annoying incomplete and arbitrary in its nominations. Brad Wing of LSU isn't even nominated for the Ray Guy Award despite being a key element of LSU's suffocating gameplans all year long. Conspiracy theory: punting committee is jealous of Wing's sweet fake in the Florida game, and thus excluded him from the process as punishment. Hate on, haters.  

U is for Utah. Before it slips over the horizon, though, let us salute this fantastic picture from Colorado's improbable win over Utah in Salt Lake from last week.

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In case you wonder if kickers ever experience anything but agony in the Pac-12, the answer is no. They are all miserable all the time except when they are extra-super-miserable. Thus the go-go offenses of West Coast football: no one likes to watch sad kickers, and thus the emphasis on actually scoring touchdowns. (See this in contrast to Nick Saban, whose style currently dominates the SEC. A kicker saved his life once, and Saban has tried to pay him back ever since by making it the centerpiece of his offense. You sort of hate the way football is played in the SEC right now, and that is okay. We all do.)

V is for Validated.  Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez both coming to the Pac-12 make perfect sense if Larry Scott actually wants to make interesting football, but remember also that the influence of ESPN--the network Leach is currently suing as a result of his firing from Texas Tech and the coverage thereof--is fairly weak with the Conference of the Future, and probably played a marginal influence in Wazzu's willingness to hire him. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott's diversified TV deal does not depend on ESPN, and therefore frees them up from the influence the WWL has with partner leagues like the SEC and ACC.

Not that ESPN could nix a contract if the school wanted them, mind you. We're just saying that if you got to 99% sold on the deal, and then considered Leach's feud with ESPN to be an issue, then that one percent is a lot easier to ignore if you're putting your football on streams directly beamed into people's skulls.<---This is exactly what Larry Scott is planning.

W is for Wistful. Reserve some sadness for the Pac-12's Rick Neuheisel, who stands no chance of pulling off what would be the most epic prank on the entire conference Saturday by winning the Pac-12 title at 6-6. They do get to try to go to a bowl at 6-7, though, so don't say that the Pac-12 South title isn't the only accomplishment from Neuheisel's final season.

X is for Xtranormal. In case he decides to go pro, do watch Texas/Baylor for Robert Griffin III's  possible final performance in Waco on Saturday, and not just because he might have "A Heisman Moment."* Watch him because he's legitimately brilliant at quarterback, and also forces announcers to straddle the line between calling him "athletic" without going into "he's African-American, so we sort of just default to that because he can run."

*Please note: our definition of "A Heisman Moment" involves losing your subsequent bowl game.

Y is for YESSSSS.

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Who's staying up late to behold the shirts and majestic forms of OC Sports' finest homer announcers calling BYU/Hawai'i? YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT I AM. You should too, because the most relaxing thing in the world at the end of a long day of stressful college football is listening to Robert Kekaula pronounce "Jo-ey EEEooseffa" with his island accent. Also, I'm pretty sure they put down a 12 pack each by the third quarter, and that's always a plus with small market broadcast teams.

Z is for Zeus. The old deities never retire, they just walk off into the sunset with their hands on their suspenders. Howard Schnellenberger coaches his final game on Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe. Pay respects to the man. He's taken more hard knocks in 50 years of coaching than you'll take in your life, including some very literal ones. 

Here's to you, Suspenders Of Colossus. May mustache wax be at the ready, and the fishing plentiful and easy. 

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