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The Alphabetical, Week 10: The Home Stretch Beckons

Since Spencer Hall was on the road all weekend, this week's Alphabetical is both delayed and a bit different in that it appraises teams going into the home stretch, continues to say reasonable, nice things about Lane Kiffin, and features no fart jokes.

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after their 37-6 win over the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22: Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after their 37-6 win over the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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A is for Afterthought.  It is truly a bizarre week when most of the attention is paid to a game that will happen the following week, but LSU/Alabama is not going to hype itself, people. Watching Georgia/Florida on CBS had to be like watching the undercards on a less-than-stellar UFC fight, and then discovering that you had signed up for not just a UFC fight, but a hammer match between two apes. Florida got to hold the hammer in round one, and then Georgia was given the hammer in round two. On behalf of all other SEC alums, I apologize for you having to watch that, though if you watched Florida's offense in the second half you deserve everything you got.

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B is for Bisected. Second halves were not on the whole kind to many teams on Saturday. Remember Kansas State's 2011 storyline? The thrifty shopkeeper Bill Snyder, keeping the family business afloat on the plains despite the advancing low prices and ruthless competition of big business like the Big 12's own Wal-Mart, Oklahoma? KSU was at 23-17 at the half, and then Oklahoma lowered the talent boom and dared K-State to keep up, and that is exactly how a six-point deficit balloons into a 58-17 final. Don't mess with Boss Stoops. He will get his hands on the family store, and then probably put his rubber-faced emotional brother in charge.

C is for Curves. This by no means is an indictment of Bill Snyder. To hang for a half with a roster filled with junior college castoffs and a Nathan Scheelhaase clone at quarterback is in itself an amazing accomplishment, one the loss to the superior Oklahoma squad. This is one thing you have to explain to the very naif-est of NFL fans when watching college football: every team should not be evaluated in the same fashion because there is no salary cap, and no salaries, and you, you in the Alabama hat? Stop saying that about Auburn. It's not nice, and no one's ever proved it (or at least since 1990 or so).

D is for Differentials.  Those curves are ultra-important now that we are standing at the edge of November, and something like a report card can be filed for each team. Snyder's team and their effort have been a model of efficiency and living on the margins, with the Wildcats still sitting at eighth in the nation after this weekend's Soonering. (They still only had one turnover versus Oklahoma.) Teams like Alabama and LSU should be good: they sign tons of people, play on television constantly, splash out those dollars on glittering facilities and first-rate staff, and then watch as big gets bigger gets biggerer on the national stage. They still do hard work to get there, but the distance between where they are and Awesometown is much smaller than the mileage sitting between the K-States of the world and them.

E is for Exemplary. So save a moment's praise for teams doing a Duke's work on a pauper's budget. Houston, all 137 soaking wet pounds of Houston, sits undefeated and in sole possession of the C-USA lead after hanging 73 points on a bewildered and terrified Rice Team.

F is for For Example. When we say "bewildered Rice team," we mean literally, as their kicker believed he was kicking, and then playing baseball, and wasn't really sure when to transition between the two. (Click to animate maximum kicking DERP.)


G is for Getting Back To The Point. Hail to you, tiny Toledo, one of college football's worst programs three years ago and today a model for Rust Belt revivification under coach Tim Beckman. (Undefeated in the MAC is nothing to sniff at, as Michigan struggled in the conference for two years after relegation under coach Rich Rodriguez. This did not actually happen, but it allows you to excuse several years of uncomfortable memories, Michigan fans. Take it and run.) The Rockets' three losses all came to BCS conference teams, with the Ohio State and Syracuse losses coming by a combined margin of eight points. Beckman may be next in using Toledo as a springboard to a BCS job. It worked well enough for Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel, so it should work well for him.

H is for Huzzahs. Continued hurrahs and huzzahs for those outstripping expectations follow. To Arkansas State, whose coach Hugh Freeze--FREEEEEEEEEZE--has the Red Wolves off to a 4-0 start in conference. To fellow Sun Belteers the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana--Lafayette, who at 7-2 have their best record since the Reagan administration. Finally, kudos to Nevada, standing undefeated in conference and at 5-3 overall after universal doom was forecast in the wake of losing Colin Kaepernick to graduation. Kudos to all marginal masters: may your checks clear by mere cents, and may your turnover margins be lofty and preceded with a plus sign at all times.

I is for Insufficient Funds. If we can say nice things about those doing much with little, then we can most certainly say nasty things about those who have taken large piles of chips, pushed in on a pair of twos, and then watched with mock horror as things sank southward. We know Florida has depth issues and is fielding the youngest defense in the SEC, but the worst Gator team in three decades will be Will Muschamp's sole accomplishment in his first year as a head coach in Gainesville.  Auburn's plenty young, too, and their only excuse is having Gene Chizik wear a space cult sweatshirts on the sidelines as a distraction. At 5-3, they're not pleading depth chart and youth, are they?

Additional skunkfumes hang in the air in Knoxville where Derek Dooley, another legitimate depth chart defendant, can do little else but plead incompetence after going 0-5 in conference in year two. While nowhere near the level of Dooley's epic 2011 flop, Kirk Ferentz just lost to Minnesota in the year 2011, and that's like getting three losses at once by any sane standard of the word "loss." Jeff Tedford and Cal are the Chingy of college football: uncharted since 2003, and it's just as strange that anyone ever paid attention to any of them. 

J is for Justifiable. Some of this could change in the month of November, but a quick consultation of my own rules of life refutes any of this changing seriously. 

  1. People never learn from mistakes,
  2. Instead, they repeat them endlessly without correction.
  3. If they do learn, they will forget.
  4. Don't hunt for a parking spot ever. Just walk, fatass.
  5. Feel free to ignore any of the preceding four in event of them getting in the way of something you want, because you will ignore them even if you write them down in the form of some kind of stupid list. 
  6. Hope. It's embarrassing, but it is better than the alternative.

Given that, we'll choose to hope against hope for something of interest in the last month of the season. We'll hope that real anarchy kicks win when the SEC West Champion contracts some kind of dire food poisoning and loses to Georgia or South Carolina in the championship game.  We'll hope that we're all watching Stanford/Notre Dame thinking, "I cannot believe this is a de facto national title play-in game for Stanford, but only if they win the Pac-12 title game, too." We'll hope for chaos in all directions, and likely won't get it because this seems to be the kind of year where things go precisely as everyone thought they would preseason with little variation. It's an engineer's dream and a writer's worst nightmare, and somewhere in between lies the definition of adulthood: watching the math unfold, and hoping for glitches in the system to liven up the sad draining of zeroes and ones from the clock.

K is for Kismet. Luck even ran out on this year's magical unicorn, the Clemson Tigers. It did so in a manner only an engineer could love: brutal defense, a superior error rate to the opponent (four turnovers for Clemson, two for Tech,) and the continuation of a quantifiable trend, the 4-1 record Johnson holds as a head coach at Tech against the Tigers. The end of this game was cold-blooded option asphyxiation, a series of short runs eating clock and preventing Clemson from having anything to do with the end of the game beyond mere spectating. Yet another indication Paul Johnson truly is the perfect coach for the Yellow Jackets in every sense of the word: at its best, his brand of football is simple math applied with great force and repetition to a problem.  

L is for Lockout. When November rolls around, your brain has to start doing just a little bit of math when basketball scores pop up on the scroll. This can lead to some momentary confusion, most especially when Big Ten hoops scores start flashing across the screen. ("Michigan/Wisconsin, 38-35? Kind of got a shootout going on there, and--dammit, wait.")

So when I turned off Houston/Rice,  and then saw "73-38" creep across the bottom, I thought "Disregard that. It's clearly a basketball score, and a really bad one between some major program and a small Christian college they're paying for the privilege of a most un-Christian beating." But that is an actual score when you have Houston playing, and when Case Keenum throws nine TDs in a game, and when the Rice defense is waving wide receivers unmolested through coverage and downfield.

(Rice was ahead at one point in this game, so do not ever say that Kevin Sumlin does not have a wicked and cruel sense of humor.)

M is for Maligned. The rest of the world can praise Andrew Luck: it feels unnecessary here, and as useful as saying "water is wet," or "The sun is hot," or "people who wear scarves in hot climates for fashion's sake deserve heat stroke." Let's focus our attentions on saying nice things about someone it is very difficult to say nice things about: Lane Kiffin, the crown prince of coaching entitlements who may now in year two at USC be living up to his vaunted potential. 

Taking Stanford to three overtimes is impressive, but the result doesn't really tell of the crafty adjustments USC made down the stretch to keep the game close. With Stanford smothering wideout Robert Woods, Marquise Lee opened up in coverage for 94 yards, and the USC offense picked away methodically at the Stanford defense with the passing game while running effectively when they needed to (um, with the notable exception of that last fumble, but we're focusing on the positives here).

USC could finish with nine or 10 wins, get another stellar-but-small class in recruiting, and ride out another chunk of a potentially disastrous stretch of reduced scholarship hell with aplomb. I am not saying writing "Lane Kiffin is doing a good job and can coach football" is fun to write, but I would rather tell the pained truth than a gleeful lie. He's doing a good job, and now I'm going to go throw up in this bucket over here.

N is for Nicodemus.  One of the sources for the phrase "born again," and the patron saint of Mark Richt, who rose from the dead and was reborn after opening losses to Boise and South Carolina. Georgia is 6-2 overall, 5-1 in conference, and riding the momentum of a revived defense to a legitimate shot at the SEC East title. This being Mark Richt, I have no doubt he will make keeping Georgia fans happy with him as difficult as possible, and will probably drop inexplicable games to Georgia Tech or Auburn. Could they lose to Kentucky to make things doubly uncomfortable, you ask? One second, please.

[/huffs a whole can of spray starch]

[/punches self in face three times]

Why, shore, talking badger. They certainly could!

O is for Obmutescent. The Big Ten may just be the ACC with flannel-lined pants at this point, since losing 24-3 to Nebraska after winning a thriller over Wisconsin is a move straight from the Al Groh or Chan Gailey playbook, and no two coaches were ever more ACC than these pair. The word means mute, and it's probably the best reaction for the Spartans in moving on to another ACCish tradition: staying quiet, regrouping, and transferring the misery to the overburdened shoulders of a lowly opponent for this week. (In this case that's Minnesota, coming off a big win over Iowa. Regression to the mean will never look so ugly as it will this week.)

P is for Paramedian. Near the middle line, or around where Iowa sits with a 2-2 record and at 5-3 overall after that loss to lowly Minnesota. For additional fun, please now play the BHGP Kirk Ferentz Bingo Game, and think about the $3 million or so Ferentz will pocket for being head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Q is for Qigong. A meditative Chinese exercise practice, and perhaps the solace of UCLA fans attempting to reconcile a win they may not have wanted this weekend over Cal since each loss draws the Bruins closer to the end of the Neuheisel era. Just remind everyone that it's Cal, and then please return to breathing through your feet in silk pajamas in the park until the new hire is announced. Hey, Bob Toledo's available. No, really, he is.

R is for Ratiocinate. To think and behave rationally, something a bad Ole Miss team continues to do by being just as bad as everyone thinks they are. Of all the games left on LSU's schedule, there is one that by logic and trend they could very well lose: their game against Alabama this weekend. Houston Nutt has not had a "Houston Nutt Special" this year, and that's why against all reason LSU should be terrified of their game against Ole Miss. He's just waiting, Tigers. Gesturing with long fingers. Heppin' people. Waiting. Giggitying, if you will.

S is for Stamina. Can you have sleep apnea while being totally awake? If so, Mike Sherman has it, since the Aggies on his watch have now fallen asleep and lost games in the first half, in the second half, and now in overtime versus Mizzou. The CPAP may look weird when he wears it on the sideline, but maybe he can market it as some kind of cross-spectrum advertising for the upcoming Batman movie. ("Look! Mike Sherman is Fat Bane!")

T is for Tittering. There was an audible cheer from our section in the stadium for the Florida/Georgia game when the Penn State/Illinois score changed to 10-7. It was sarcastic laughter at Penn State scoring a TD, but also for Ron Zook blowing a game by three points late. Were these Florida fans laughing? Oh yes, because misery loves company, and crabs love pulling other crabs back into boiling water.

U is for Uneath. Scarce, as in first downs for Texas Tech in their precipitous return to earth against Iowa State. 290 yards total offense is a pitiful performance, but it also backs up our suspicion that Oklahoma's secondary is going to be rent asunder with comical ease by Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Game. There is an element of letdown for Texas Tech here, sure, but OU's secondary gave up easy yards to an attack that totalled 191 yards through the air against Iowa State.

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V is for Vacant. We actually did watch whole chunks of the Tennessee/South Carolina game, but the less said about any of it, the better. Johnny Majors wore a shirt that said "Fear The Pants" under a trenchcoat, however, and the slight threat of Majors exposing himself to the stadium was probably the most exciting moment in the entire game.

W is for Whitney. The video of BYU QB Riley Nelson high-fiving a referee to celebrate a TD in BYU's 38-28 loss to TCU has been disappeared by ESPN. Oh, there are other videos saying they are the footage, but they lead you to people staring into a camera and asking to watch their boring videos, and we hope you all get cancer for wasting our time. 

Instead, let's just all reflect in the glory of Nelson's hair, celebrated with appropriate soundtrack by BYU fans.

X is for Xerophily. The ability to survive dry conditions, aka what teams will have to do as injuries mount and the fatigue of the season kicks in down the stretch in November. Also, what we're going to have to do because adult hangovers are becoming too painful to cope with in our advancing age.

Y is for YESSSSSS. With the Sun Belt and MAC specials in season, the football week is now five days long and starts on Tuesday. Anarchy has its benefits, and scheduling like this is one. (The lack of a playoff or decisive or fair endgame is another, but that's why I'm going to start selling a t-shirt that says "College Football Is Life: The Ending Sucks, And Ten Percent Of The People Get 90 Percent Of The Stuff Sorry Y'all.")

Z is for Zelotypia. Abnormal zeal, which is what will be on display in Tuscaloosa in all directions for this year's game of the century.