Bucknell is not the place you expect a grill fire to postpone a game. That feels more like Memphis, Atlanta, or some small school in North Carolina. "East Carolina Football Stadium Burnt To Ground In Barbecue Catastrophe" feels right, and even more so if you add details of locals braving the flames to rescue slabs of ribs.
Still, this deserves mention because it involves the thing that is my favorite phenomenon in the known universe: something burning down without casualties at a football game.
Since we've all decided to forget about the playoff and celebrate the moment:
Jerry Kill is a supremely confident locker room dancer, but why the hell not? When a program goes through the multiple low points Minnesota has over the past decade, you have no option but confidence in the things you know you can do.
For the record, the Gophers can do about three things: run the ball, throw play action passes to Maxx Williams off that run play, and dance in the locker room. Throw in a little defense, and Kill will drop it to the floor like he's at your sister's wedding, because doing three things pretty well means you happen to be a good college football team, or at least one that is 40 points or so better than Iowa. (Football is hard, and being good at more than three things is really rare.)
Is Minnesota a big, lumbering, run-first, classic Big Ten team with a glorified option game? Are the Gophers as beautiful as watching an industrial shredder eat a couch? Yes on both counts, because that industrial shredder is one of the better unsung stories of 2014. (Unless you like considering that Playoff, when one might point out that TCU beat this pretty good Minnesota team, and thus nudged its strength of schedule up a bit more over Baylor's.)
As in a famous dead horse. As in:
Iowa is 32-27 (18-19) since giving Kirk Ferentz the nation's biggest coaching contract.— Patrick Vint (@HS_BHGP) November 8, 2014
To say that Kirk Ferentz is overpaid is not beating a dead horse. It is beating a horse seemingly impervious to all harm until your arms go numb, you give up, and decide to retire to a warm bath of epsom salts for the evening before an early bedtime. Then, after awakening early and feeling refreshed, you repeat the process with no damage to the dead horse whatsoever.
Kirk Ferentz's gigantic contract at Iowa is that dead horse that doesn't rot, familiar and invariable and what Iowa has. This dead horse would also cost $13 million dollars between now and 2020 to move, because dead horse removal is still, after all the years of pointing this out, super expensive.
The laziest thing in the world will happen. Someone will reach for "Urban Meyer's Secret: Bringing SEC Speed To The Big Ten" as Ohio State nears a Big Ten title, and he or she should not, for a lot of reasons. Wide receiver play may have demolished Michigan State, but chief culprit Devin Smith wasn't a Meyer recruit, and is an experienced holdover from the Tressel/Fickell regime. These aren't all new recruits from the Meyer era. They're just doing the things Meyer's done all along, and are currently doing very well.
What Meyer brought to the Big Ten was something he's implemented everywhere he's been: effective run-blocking on the perimeter, space for playmakers, and the willingness to go long off play action once you've broken the defense up sufficiently. Two of J.T. Barrett's TD passes came off play action, and the third was enabled in part by a linebacker watching the run threat from Barrett. (Another Meyer staple, and very similar to what's made Mississippi State so effective this year.)
P.S. If anything, it's the MAC's to claim first, since Meyer did it all at Bowling Green. It's been the consumer testing lab for Nick Saban, Meyer, Gary Pinkel, and Bo Schembechler, and this is your weekly reminder that everything of football value originates in the MAC. And is purchased and adopted for use elsewhere.
P.P.S. Barrett throws such a beautiful ball that you wonder if it has an invisible Nerf tail on it. And he's not even supposed to be playing! Please don't let whatever happens at the end of the season spoil this. Your team is averaging a thousand points a game, destroying other teams with precision, and doing it all in a breakneck, rampage-y fashion. They're fun and good, and that's a truly rare combination. Please tell Urban to enjoy it, and if necessary, break out a dictionary to define "enjoy."
P.P.P.S. Sleep Number beds before every game now, even if you don't understand them, Ohio State.
Another team feeling the joys of a surprisingly successful season: Texas. 5-5 is not living up to any absolute Texas standard, but consider the following:
- Charlie Strong is secretly playing a buffet table at left tackle after kicking every lineman off for violating team rules.
- Buffet Table is going to be second-team All-Big 12.
- The Longhorns nearly beat Oklahoma and are 3-1 in their last four games, with a loss against very good Kansas State team.
- Year one was supposed to be totally miserable, and has instead been better than expected?
- Tyrone Swoopes has been tantalizing at QB, and with another year of experience, could be pure terror.
In short, the Longhorns look like a team that sort of not only knows what it is doing, but cares about playing. There's effort and energy and stuff, and coaches being thrown around the locker room for the right reasons.
Remember this if TCU uncorks 50 on you, Longhorns. TCU might uncork 50 on you, is what we're saying, because Trevone Boykin can fly now, and there might not be much in the playbook to handle airborne ball carriers.
(Yet. Charlie will figure that out in the offseason.)
A quick word with the head coach from another 5-5 team that can be pretty happy about how things worked out this season: Bill Clark, head coach at UAB. (Who talked to us before the Blazers lost 40-24 to another team having a quality rebound year, the 7-3 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, but is still probably pretty happy with how things are coming along at UAB.)
SH: What's changed for you as you moved from level to level?
BC: Originally, it was really just the recruiting.
Where we were at Prattville [High School, about an hour south of Birmingham], we'd really developed the program into something very similar to a college program. We had built an indoor there, we were a Nike school, we had 125 or 130 varsity players. We ran it just like a college program. The biggest difference is the recruiting, and I think having been around so many recruiters coming into my office and recruiting my players, I had a pretty good idea and familiarity with that process.
My dad was a high school coach for years, and I've kind of grown up in the business. But that's the only real difference.
SH: Did you sort of take notes from recruiters as they came through Prattville for future reference? Like, "Oh, that guy's got a pretty good pitch, I'll make note of that."
BC: One hundred percent. If you've got Nick Saban or Tommy Tuberville sitting in your office coming after big name players at your school, you do that. I've been asked to speak around the country and would be at a clinic with Pete Carroll and guys like that, and you get to know what you like and don't like to hear.
You get to understand what's important to players in the recruiting process. That went a long way in understanding what good recruiting looks like.
SH: Who are the people you crib from or admire most?
BC: I think it started with my dad. My dad was a real successful high school coach. The thing I loved about watching him was that his players were real important to him, and that old school tough love was the environment I grew up with, where it was all about not only the things you did on the field, but also the things you did off the field that mattered. What kind of man you become, how you gave back to your community: that's what made me want to be a head coach. That's where I started.
I started out on the offensive side of the ball, but I figured out pretty quick that the next guy in line was usually the defensive coach. So I moved over to the defensive side of the ball, and that became my passion. I was a big fan of Nick Saban and of Bob Stoops and Pete Carroll, and used to go to their camps. I wouldn't say one guy, but I'm probably a combination of a lot of those guys.
SH: Those are all defensive coaches who don't really rein in their offenses, guys who are pretty positive about running innovative offenses. How do you get to that as a guy from the defensive side of the ball?
BC: I'm definitely that way. What's different with me, probably even more different than those guys, is that I started out on the offensive side of the ball. I tell people all the time, I didn't grow up with the 3-4 defense. I called offensive plays, and I think that made me a better defensive coach, and also allows our offense to be a little more free-spirited.
We were one of the first spread teams in Alabama high school. We were doing some things even the colleges weren't doing with quarterback runs and tempo. Last year, when I became a head coach at Jacksonville State, we set about 60 school records, and 40-something of them were on the offensive side of the ball.
I know what bothers defenses, and I know what I don't like to see, and it makes us a little more wide-open on offense. I like to be on the cutting edge, offensively.
SH: What are some of those things you hate to see as a defensive coordinator?
BC: One of the things I hate to see? When we were in the Sun Belt a few years ago [at South Alabama] we had a good defense, but we were playing Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe and Troy, all tempo offenses at the time. What stood out to me was how hard tempo offenses could be. What it does for defenses -- slowing them down, vanilla-ing them up -- that really stuck with me. That was one of our big points of emphasis last year at Jacksonville State, and we carried it over to UAB.
SH: That does change how you call your defense, yes? If you're running a defense with more reps, that will inevitably allow more points, etc.?
BC: Absolutely, it does.
I say this at UAB all the time, that one thing we don't have is all our people yet, because you gotta have almost 22 players defensively now. Your depth is so important, because you're going to play more snaps. Even going back from 10 or 15 years ago, you're playing 15 or 20 more snaps, and that's 15 to 20 more snaps for the offense to score, and 15 to 20 more chances for the defense to get tired and get banged up. You really need more defensive players who can play, and that's when teams who don't have depth find things getting even harder for them.
SH: What were the first two or three things you changed when you came to UAB?
BC: The first thing we saw was that the training wasn't going real good. From a high school standpoint, you had who you had, you didn't get to go recruit guys, so you were big on player development. Yeah, we're going to recruit other guys, but my biggest thing was getting and having the very best situation from a training standpoint. That's nutrition, that's how you train.
My strength coach, he played for me in high school. Our strength coach is just as important as our offensive and defensive coordinator. We want to be on the cutting edge from a training standpoint, on par with anyone in the country. We had about 30 guys who were injured. We had people who were truly out with injury, so we had to get them strong enough to get them through a full season and compete. That was probably our number one thing.
SH: UAB is in a weird spot: in a football state, but stuck between two powers that dominate the whole environment. Do you have a lot of people who root for UAB, but also pull for one of the others?
BC: What I tell people is that I don't have a problem with you rooting for Auburn or Alabama, because we don't play those schools. We've had really good attendance; I think we're fourth or fifth in the conference right now.
But people want success. They don't need undefeated here. They just see that our guys are working hard and playing their tails off, and really trying to put a good product out there. They've embraced it.
SH: You did play on the blood red field at Eastern Washington last year.
BC: That is a great place to play on the FCS level. Just a great place. We had a good game there, played real well down to the wire. Talk about some hard to watch film, though.
It's a tradition dating back to gladitorial combat: your opponent, no matter the game, cannot focus on its goals when its butt is being bothered. It's simply not possible.
Many assumed this was a failed wedgie attempt, but repeated viewings of the footage lead me to believe this was a botched pantsing. The downward motion, the incomplete grab of the waistband, the casual walk away from the scene of the crime: it all adds up.
Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton, two great champions of the distracting midgame pants yank, salute you, Logan Stokes of LSU. This, along with the world's greatest fat guy pass route ever, were the only two things to watch in an otherwise dull Alabama-LSU game.
The bugabear no one really accounts for enough when summing up a season: injuries.
Some continue to succeed in spite of them, like Baylor, a team with astonishing production given the string of offensive linemen going down with various ailments. Oregon's gone a long way despite the demands of the sick bay, too, though injuries to center Hroniss Grasu and tight end Pharaoh Brown might finally put something like a dent in the Ducks' ability to generate points. (Might. Their last two game are against Colorado and Oregon State. You might not notice.)
Then there are teams like Notre Dame, whose matchup against Arizona State got that much trickier when starting middle linebacker Joe Schmidt suffered a season-ending ankle injury prior to the game. They missed him badly, though Schmidt had nothing to do with Everett Golson throwing four interceptions and fumbling once.
Mind you, Golson almost led his team back to win it, too. Like Jameis Winston, Golson is the cause of and solution to all of his team's problems. Notre Dame has two losses on the year, two respectable losses, and has still had a very good season all told, if you forget the Playoff. And remember this for what it is: a pretty good football team, light years ahead of where it was five years ago.
You know, WHEN NOTRE DAME WAS LOSING TO GREG ROBINSON-COACHED SYRACUSE TEAMS. AT HOME. This is perspective. Take some when you lose a hard game against the team that's going to get Todd Graham that Florida job.
As in the annual survey, as in: Is [YOUR SEC TEAM] running the ball enough?
- Mississippi State: "Yes. No. Maybe. We don't know. This is all very confusing for us. Please go away and come back when things get back to normal around here."
- Ole Miss: "No, and having that many people in motion at the snap of the ball isn't Christian."
- Kentucky: "No. And we can't run the ball out of that formation, much less get a decent pick and roll going."
- Alabama: "No. Bear'd be sick if he could see this, and his immune system won the Sugar Bowl one year against Arkansas."
- Auburn: "Yes, the ball gets quite sweaty when you run the ball too much. It becomes slippery and difficult to handle. Why, yes, we recently tested this theory. The results were conclusive."
- LSU: "Yes, but we need to run the ball with that five-star we're going to sign for next year and forget immediately when we sign the next five-star running back we will forget about."
- Florida: [Question not understood; assumes two-phase offense and legality of forward pass]
- South Carolina: "Hell no we ain't, might be time to bring back Lou Holtz and remember what football's all about." [is drunk]
- Mizzou: "Nick Chubb ran the ball enough on us for a whole season. We're good over here."
- Vanderbilt: "We're happy to be here at any speed, walking or running!"
- Texas A&M: "Yes, because a pass is really just a long handoff, and we do that a lot, too. Have you seen our helicopter? We have one and it is spectacular. WHOOOOSH. Helicopter."
- Arkansas: "No, because we still haven't moved this offense to within field goal distance of a liquor store. Please move this offense within 40 yards of a liquor store."
- Tennessee: "Josh Dobbs." ['that doesn't answer the question] [folds arms and yells] "JOSH DOBBS IN TWENTY FIFTEEN."
- Georgia: [IF="Mike Bobo is still coordinator"] AND [IF="play is called pass"] THEN: NO