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College Football Alphabetical, Week 10: Les Miles Is Competent, Part II

This week's Alphabetical repeats itself in stating that Les Miles is indeed competent, notes Joe Paterno's disturbing stalker, and creates the worst possible BCS bowls in an attempt to blow up the system completely.

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A is for Animist. There is an element of the religious here:

"I have a little tradition that humbles me as a man, that lets me know that I'm a part of the field and part of the game," Miles said as a smile widened on his face. "You should have seen some games before this. I can tell you one thing: The grass in Tiger Stadium tastes best."

Les Miles eats grass, goes for it on fourth down, occasionally appears to have no idea what's going on around him, and yet sometimes beats coaches you know spent 80 dark hours the prior week in the film room, calculating, recalculating, and scrutinizing every last bit of film until it bled.

Don't discount the approach: Miles' teams win not only because he is, at times, extremely fond of embracing risk, but also because he will, on any down, attempt to win the game and place the fate of his team in its humanity and expect yours to react in an equally human fashion. This is what made LSU's 24-21 win over Alabama so fascinating. On one side stood Nick Saban, a man whose teams play as joyless and mechanistic a form of football as you will ever see in a team not coached by Bill Parcells. (Mechanistic is no exaggeration. Saban's safeties are bemoaned by pro scouts for being overrated not because of any lack of talent on their part, but because they are coached to perform in such an efficient manner that picking out the player beneath the system is difficult.)

On the other sideline there's Les, who will put a squad of talented irregulars out there and break tendencies sometimes to the point of insanity in playing an uneven but sometimes brilliant game. It feels like repetition at this point because it is, but LSU doesn't win out of luck. They win because they are a good football team, and because the maxim "who dares wins" still applies in football, life, and occasionally at the blackjack table.

[Ed. note. More LSU goodness: SB Nation's Andrew Sharp takes his first trip to Baton Rouge, lives to tell about it.]


Don't black out your school for a big game: based on the sample size of Utah and Georgia 2008, it is a recipe to get a national audience to tune in and sit agog as you're thrown in a meat grinder, turned into sausage that is then fed to sharks, who are then caught, ground into their own sausage, and then re-grilled and fed to giant carnivorous toads.The toads aren't themselves turned into sausage at that point: they just stare at a horrified audience, and together they all wonder what you were thinking attempting such foolishness in the first place.

The TCU Hypnotoad continues to paralyze opponents with a beguiling stare and a defense that in 38 states would be banned as a lethal neurotoxin. Utah came in with a 45 points per game average, and left with just one touchdown and watched their average PPG dip by a full four points to 41 points a game. If they were a stock there would be flattened dead men lining the streets of Manhattan, and we'd have a run on giant, man-sized spatulas.

C is for Calculus: The ACC's finishing scenarios, via D1scourse, are the point where science runs out of answers and into the cloudy, myth-shrouded arms of religion.

And then there's the trainwreck scenario. That's the fun one. Suppose Florida State loses to Clemson but beats Maryland. And the Terrapins upend Virginia and N.C. State. Oh, and the Wolfpack has to beat Wake Forest and North Carolina. Finally --- and perhaps least likely --- Clemson has to lose at Wake Forest. Then again, it's Clemson, so nothing should be counted out. That creates a three-way tie at 5-3 between Florida State, Maryland and N.C. State. The group would be 1-1 against each other, and all three teams would have the same division record, losses to Clemson, wins against Boston College and Wake Forest and no common games against non-division teams. That takes things down to step No. 7 on the eight-step tiebreaker list, which is the team with the highest ranking in the BCS standings at the end of the conference regular season --- unless the teams are within five spots of each other. Seeing as how none of the three are in the top 25 of this week's BCS standings, hilarity could ensue. Step No. 8, by the way, is "the representative shall be chosen by a draw." Fun times.

Given the yearly parity in the ACC, you know it's coming down to a drawing of straws. When the coaches examine them, they will find that all of them will be perfectly even. Then, seeing the ultimate sign from the universe, the conference will disband to focus on its true loves of basketball, lacrosse, and women's soccer. 

Death Blossom. Oregon does that magnificent thing where, at one point in the game at an undefined moment, they unleash all hell on you as a football team and see what's standing when the finish. With the score narrowed 18-13 by a quick Huskies TD off an Oregon fumble, Josh Huff hit the Death Blossom controls, streaked with the kickoff back 79 yards to set up a short field,, and from that point on Washington might as well have not existed with Oregon scoring four more TDs to one FG for Washington. In the marathoning world this is known as a "kick," and in this comparison Oregon 2010's is positively Kenyan Olympian.

E is for Error: In this case Operator Error, as in Rutgers QB Chas Dodd, apparently audibling to a screen play, forgot he was in his own endzone and winged the ball to RB Kordell Young, who gamely danced for a split second before USF's Keith McCaskill tackled him two yards deep in the endzone for a safety. Rutgers would go on to lose the game 28-27.There is no joke about Jersey and Mafia betting lines here; only a pause for the moment of silence that should follow every playcall where an offensive player is, by design, given the ball two yards deep in their own endzone.


F is for Friendly. Like Steve Spurrier was playing one: only this best describes the thorough confusion felt by South Carolina fans as they watched their team go down 24-10 at the half, and then 34-10, and then to watch as South Carolina seemingly woke up, realized this game did in fact count in the standings, and then burped out ten points in the fourth quarter in a vain attempt to catch up. Every Game Counts isn't just a motto: remember that some teams actually need to be reminded of this, most especially South Carolina, a team who was not caught looking ahead. Unless they were.

"I don't think anybody was looking ahead to the Florida game, but I think that was in everybody's minds," Garcia said.

Via this approach to forensic science, setting the victim on fire wasn't the cause of death, but you know, the fire was around, man.

G is for Gallantry. Alshon Jeffrey's freakiness in the service of a doomed cause. Lattimore and Jeffrey still at the mercy of Garcia, who displays a Reggie Ball-ish ability to "challenge his receivers by forcing them to make catches at the fringes of their ability at athletes to do their job."*

*"overthrows them by a yard"

Alshon Jeffrey, whom Lane Kiffin said would end up pumping gas if he went to play , is the best wide receiver in the country right now with a quarterback who is on his best days properly called "adventurously dodgy."

H is for Helpless. Michigan, Illinois, and the difference between a defensive famine and the chaos of a game with no defense turned Michigan stadium into one large hyperventilating schoolchild in need of a huge paper bag.  It's unsettling to the soul to have a game with that many points scored to any football fan: defense is there to do something, just like fire departments are there to at least pull up to a burning building, spray a garden hose on the flames, and murmur comforting things while shrugging the shoulders and letting you know that even if ineffective, there's some kind of greater order out there that cares.

But when a game ends 67-65 in triple overtime in the Big Ten...I dunno, man. You could be forgiven for a complete loss of faith in the world, and the joining of cults and adoption of cultish ways to buffer your shattered worldview with something, anything to establish some order. Greg Robinson defense will do that to a man sometimes.

I is for Invictus.
Morgan Freeman in Invictus doesn't so much play Nelson Mandela as much as he plays God playing Nelson Mandela, which is all Morgan Freeman really plays anyway these days. The only variation in this is that Mandela as done by Freeman is that God sticks his lip out and speaks with a bad South African accent. I'd pan his performance, but God doesn't look kindly on that.

The poem ends with the couplet: 

"I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."

Enter Rich Rodriguez, who like the rest of us is day-to-day but is a step closer back to the captaincy of his soul. Bowl-eligible for the first time as Michigan coach feels weird to type, but even Rutger Hauer crawled before he walked, and he eventually got to fulfill his dreams of making a movie about a hobo who likes shooting people with a shotgun. Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State remain on the schedule, and with a miraculous win over Wisky or the Buckeyes*, they could finish the regular season with eight wins, a total slapped together with furious Denard Robinson yardage, at least three or four punts forced by the defense on the year, and duct tape and wishful thinking.

Brian from MGoBlog sums up this charismatic trainwreck succinctly:

So Saturday was awesome, and this is my favorite bad team ever, and goddammit I'm going to their nondescript bowl.

That's about right. The Texas Bowl will never, ever feel better (unless you play Baylor, and then you lose to the frustrated joys of the historically wretched Bears).


J is for Jehosaphat. Fourth king of the Kingdom of Judah, and close personal friend of Joe Paterno, who calmly won his 400th game this weekend, and was stalked by his constant companion, EldoBear the Senior Fetishist.


Congrats Joe, and whatever you do: don't look behind you.

K is for Kellen. Kellen Moore threw two interceptions in a game. It's almost a compliment to note that this doubles his INT total on the season, and levels his TD/INT ratio to a merely supernatural 21/4. Boise cruised in a 42-7 victory over Hawaii on the Smurf Turf, which you are not obligated to notice since Boise is in the Nicolas Cage "Movies About Wizards and Conspiracies" stage of their schedule.

L is for Lactic Acid. The buildup of this in the muscles of Iowa State's holder Daniel Kuehl is the only possibly reason the ball he threw didn't get to an Iowa State receiver waiting in the endzone on a fake extra point in overtime. At 31-30 , Paul Rhoads opted for the fake to win the game, and for one brilliant second it was open: gloriously and completely open, in fact, with the receiver holding his hands open like a child waiting for candy. Then the throw left Kuehl's hand, and everything started swimming in gelatin except for Eric Hagg. When Hagg picked it for Nebraska, it almost looked like he had to take it off the hook it was sitting on in mid-air. 

M is for Mucilaginous. Sticky, as in the hands of Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State wide receiver and national leading receiving in yards, who caught 13 passes for 173 yards and a TD.

N is for Nguyen. You tread on hallowed rhetorical ground when you invoke Dat Nguyen, but no linebacker since Nguyen for Texas A&M has had as many tackles in a game as Michael Hodges had on Saturday against Oklahoma. Hodges netted 19 tackles, 2 sacks, and was fierce obstruction personified down the stretch for the Aggies in their 33-19 win over the Sooners. As happy as this makes you, Aggies, remember that Mike Sherman has his own balance sheet to fulfill: the Aggies won three to start the season, lost three, and have now won three, and in keeping with his identity as an NFL coach they must now lose three to finish at 6-6. It's all about competitive parity here, and is something Sherman has to do if he wants to keep his NFL Coaches' card.

O is for Ouroboros:
The symbol of two snakes eating eatch other by the tail, the infinite cycle of leveling and kneecapping that is the ACC. Florida State losing by a FG wide right versus UNC was classic Florida State implosion, but more worrying still was the Tarheels' offense going repeatedly to Dwight Jones and the Seminoles' repeated refusal to cover him. This is not an exaggeration: they literally refused to cover him, as Jones went for 8 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown, and the Florida State secondary politely folded their hands and watched him do it.* If UNC's offense is scoring 37 points on you--and by this we mean a very much not good offense--then the Florida State defense officially enters the seventh straight year of The Florida State Impending Defensive Renaissance and Rebuilding Party.

*They knitted while doing this and discussed the last episode of Bored To Death, because Florida State's secondary is into the frou-frou things in life like that.

P is for Prostration. This is what sorrow looks like. You are Colorado, and you begin the 4th quarter with a 45-17 lead. For those who hate doing math, that is a 28 point lead, equivalent in American football to four scores. Then, this happens.

  • First possession: Kansas scores, recovers onside kick. They score again.
  • Second possession:  You fumble, and it is returned by Kansas for a TD.
  • Third possession: You throw an INT despite still clinging to a lead. Kansas then scores. 
  • Fourth possession: some good fortune! you fumble, but still recover, and then punt. Kansas scores.
  • Fifth possession: your quarterback--who is your son--goes 3 for 8 on the final drive and you lose.

In case you've wondered how to lose a 28 point lead, that is how you do it. If Colorado had taken a knee on every single play in the fourth quarter after letting the playclock run down to one, they would have won the game. The soon-to-be-fired Dan Hawkins should have walked out of the stadium with both middle fingers up and sparklers tied to his hands, but then again, I think this this sequence is the equivalent of doing that.

Q is for Querulous. Texas, facing the worst rush defense in the Big 12, opted to throw the ball 59 times and run the ball 26 times for a total output of 14 points. I would at this point suggest Mike Leach had possessed the body of Greg Davis, but when Mike Leach throws 59 times, he's gonna score more than 14 points. At this point one has to assume Greg Davis truly, deeply, and madly hates Garrett Gilbert, and wants to break his spirit by having him throw 30 bubble screens a game. Gilbert finished with five interceptions on the night. Texas 2010 isn't sorrowful, but rather is the spirit of sorrow itself.

R is for Resigned. The first place I watched a football game was at Vanderbilt Stadium, and little has changed from that first impression. The seats are still a particularly tinny and cold aluminum, trees still peek in from the corners of the north endzone, parking is still abundant, and like that first game back sometime in 1985 or so, Vanderbilt football is irredeemably bad.

After Florida had blocked two punts and scored 34 points in a single quarter, the brother-in-law stood with a look of absolute resignation on his face. He played football at Vanderbilt. He held a degree from the school. He was sitting there with his son, willingly introducing him to what would surely be a lifelong relationship fraught with pain, just endless misery and pain with the best possible scenario being a Music City Bowl bid, and then possibly a win.

You could have blamed them for leaving early, but fandom ranks among life's most persistent and benign addictions, sitting somewhere between picking your nose and a coffee addiction in terms of impact. (Fandom and coffee are a push for ulcer generation and expense.) Leaving early is usually an inexcusable offense for me, but I'm a Florida fan: staying 'till the end isn't usually a bloody affair. Being a Vandy fan and staying until the end is to willingly watch the slow annihilation of your team over, and over, and over again. 

So we left early, and I don't regret it. It was an act of mercy, and one of pain management for Vandy fans who would stay for the whole game if the team could just stay close. It is not that Vandy fans don't love their team: it's just that love in an abusive relationship means you only get this much, Vandy, and only get half the effort and attention you'd get if you'd just hold up your half of the bargain.

S is for S@#$: If we were to create the worst possible series of matchups using the top eight in the BCS as they stand right now, and thus implode the system with a slate of wretched and unwatchable football games that would scuttle the system as we know it in a single month. For the purposes of inducing maximum cringe, we have ignored alignments and affiliations to create the maximum cringe per matchup. 

Title Game: Oregon vs. Auburn. With Cam Newton declared ineligible.

Rose Bowl: TCU vs. Wisconsin."Your two anchor demos here, sales staff, are Milwaukee and Dallas. GO!"

Sugar Bowl: Stanford vs. Nebraska. A half-empty Superdome filled with Nebraska fans and 11 Stanford fans, each of them terrified about Harbaugh coaching rumors.

Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State vs. Oklahoma State. Who'll get tired of Ohio State fans getting arrested for publix intox in Tempe? NOT THIS GUY.

Orange Bowl: Boise State vs. LSU. Okay, so this is an accidental piece of brilliance, though the chances of any Boise fans making the trek down to Miami is minimal.

T is for TEA. Transient Epileptic Amnesia, a very rare condition where subjects suffer severe short-term memory loss due to constant epileptic seizures. It's one of the few valid hypotheses to explain the play of UCLA, a team that at times looks like it completely forgets how to play football every five minutes or so. (And yet: still good enough to beat Oregon State. Memo to Oregon State fans: GUUHHHHHHHH. Love, the universe.)

U is for Unvanquished (In Lack): The best pumpkin-carving injury ever led to the beginning of the Stump Godfrey Era, which led to New Mexico tying their longest win streak of the Mike Locksley Era, which ends their spell in the Winless Team Era. Only Akron remains perfectly imperfect on the season, something accomplished with maximum pain in a 37-30 double OT loss.

V is for Vandalized. Robb Akey, he who named his sons "Jack" and "Daniel," likely needed a stiff drink after Idaho gave up 844 yards of offense to Nevada. This actually happened, and was said by real quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the Wolfpack: 

"When you go 96 yards in 46 seconds, that demoralizes a defense," Kaepernick said.

--"When you cut someone in half, it tends to discombobulate them."

--"When you hit a telephone pole at 120 mph, it may cause damage to a car."

--"When you catch rabies, pain and ultimately death may be experienced."

W is for Wanted, Help. Currently adrift with only inexperienced sailors manning the wheels of their respective ships: Colorado, sans Dan Hawkins; Minnesota, without Tim "Compete" Brewster. Likely feeling the breeze of the hatchet swinging overhead next: Paul Wulff at Washington State, who has lost 24 of the 25 games he has coached in the Pac-10.

X is for Xhosa. A Xhosa proverb: "Intaka yakha ngoboya benye," meaning "A bird builds a nest with another's feathers." At this point in the season we are down to serious zero-sum math in terms of the BCS, and one team's lost plumage will be another's new nest.

Y is for Yokefellow.  A fellow work-mate, as in the Arkansas offensive line, who made South Carolina's defensive line and linebackers look like a shadow of themselves and allowed Ryan Mallett the operating room and time you absolutely do not want to allow him to have. Cannons need fortifications, and the Razorback O-line made excellent bulwark material in Columbia.

Z is for Zhou En-Lai. The Scottie Pippen to Mao Zedong's Jordan, and a man who once allegedly crapped his own pants when he heard he was in charge due to Mao's declining health. Credit for Tate Forcier for not pulling a Zhou when Denard Robinson, the NCAA's current offensive yardage leader, went down with an injury late against Illinois. Forcier served the proletariat and served them well, leading Michigan to a victory with minimal soiling of drawers. A grateful people thanks you, Commissar Forcier.