A Few Thoughts on Pigskin

Cerebral – Not Just Physical – Domination

Yeah, yeah. I know this is a Knicks/NBA blog but the day after the end of the college football season I wanted to say a few words about last night’s “National Championship” game. I suppose you all saw that beatdown last night in the Orange Bowl? Here’s what I find most intriguing about the lead up and the aftermath of the big game. Leading up, most of what I heard was about how OU was the more athletic, physical (i.e., macho) team, even if only slightly. In the aftermath of the beatdown commentators are contractually obligated to assign those qualities to the winning team. And they didn’t appear to be comfortable assigning them to So-Cal. I understand their dissonance. I mean, So-Cal does play in the Pac10 and all. Nevertheless, in stunned disbelief they had to acknowledge that So-Cal was the biggest, toughest kid on the college football block this season.<>

<>Still, to acknowledge So-Cal?s physical dominance doesn’t get it even half right. It simply points to some of the built in biases of sports commentary dominated by ex-players: long on macho bluster, short on insight. Last night’s game was the most thorough cerebral domination of one coaching staff by another I’ve seen in a long time in college (or since the last time anyone played a Dennis Erickson coached team). Bob Stoops, when matched up against NFL-bred coaches the past couple seasons, has had no bullets in the chamber. The debate that no one in the sports punditry seems to want to engage in is whether the Fun n? Gun is a gimmicky offense that?s not nearly as effective when you?re not the athletically dominant team.

On offense Norm Chow absolutely ripped Stoops a new one. There was nothing he did that didn’t work. On So-Cal’s second play from scrimmage OU?s d-line slanted into a play for a big loss, eventually forcing the Trojans to punt (and eventually recover OU’s fumble). That was the last time anything in OU’s scheme was disruptive in that game. Chow used play action, sweeps, draws, roll out passes, and formation variance to keep OU?s defense pretty vanilla. That’s why So-Cal kept converting on 3rd and long. Chow kept OU’s defense super vanilla and still got players to bite on play action fakes opening up the deep pass time after time.

Defensively, I have to say I was surprised that they slowed Peterson as easily as they did. I love that USC defensive front. But Peterson is an outstanding runner, 10 times the freshman running back as Maurice Clarrett in my humble opinion. Yet So-Cal took Peterson out of the game essentially by just bringing up a safety. Hell, that’s their base defense but OU seemed to have no strategic response. OU’s blocking schemes… How to say this delicately… are very simple to defend. I think it’s a serious indictment on Stoops that he never came up with anything to get the ball into the hands of his best runner in space. Pete Carroll?s domination of Stoops was so thorough he even took away that quick screen to the wide receiver. I mean just completely took it away. I doubt that OU ever got a single yard off that play, and you have to know that the play was to be a big play for OU. You know OU was looking to work an option pass off that screen. But So-Cal simpy smothered the wide receiver every time they tried to run the play.

I sorta knew that at the press conference Stoops would essentially lay the blame on turnovers and boneheaded plays, like Bradley?s muffed punt. In his heart of hearts, at that moment, Stoops probably believed what he said. If he is at all an introspective person, however, when he looks at the film he?ll see that the turnovers were effects rather than causes of the Sooner’s problems. Really, only Bradley?spunt muff/brain fart and Kewan Jones?s fumble after slipping on the turf fall into the category of unexpected, unfortunate turnovers. All the others were examples of how So-Cal?s scheme had simply positioned defenders to take advantage of OU weaknesses, like White?s accuracy against man coverage and his tendency to panic when pressured. Like a batter who is perfectly played by defensive alignment, the Sooners simply obliged by putting the ball where the defense had them played. Hell, on that first Jason White jump ball interception I thought the defensive back had time to signal for a fair catch.

Playoffs!? Playoffs!? Don?t talk to me about playoffs!

Now that the season is over and there is an undisputed (sorry Auburn) champion I must admit that I’m one of the few people out here who isn’t jumping down the throat of the BCS. At the end of the day I don’t believe there is much debate about the best team? Now, I’m not dumb. I don’t think the BSC system is fantastic. (Hell, I’ve been a big Utah guy for the past two seasons and was a big Louisville guy this year.) But I also have a tough time seeing the absence of a college playoff as the greatest injustice in the history of the world, unlike Trev Alberts. Frankly, I think the “who is #1” debate is kinda fun. I’m not inherently opposed to a playoff in college pigskin. I’m a fence sitter.

Part of my big issue with the college football playoff idea is that the devil is truly in the details. Despite the widespread wailing and gnashing of teeth about the absence of a playoff it is hard to find a detailed playoff scheme – in print – from its most diehard proponents. Still, far be it from me to close myself off to good ideas. Maybe you folks can convince me. If you have a serious playoff system proposal I’d like to see it. I have some restrictions though.

1. No BCS+1 formats. Even though a BCS+1 format is the most realistic scenario I think it’s intellectually dishonest to institutionalize all the things that are supposed to be horrible about the BCS then add one on the back end. Ehh. Who wants to read that.

2. Somehow you have to deal with a really vexing issue that I rarely hear addressed by the sports punditry. How can you get 50,000 or more fansto travel for 2, 3, maybe even 4 consecutive weeks? Unlike in Division 1-AA, DII and DIII, somebody has to make money at the gate in order for a real playoff to happen.

So have at it. I’d like to see it. Send it to me at dcrockett17@yahoo.com. We start classes at South Carolina next week so it may be a bit before I get to read it, but I will read it at some point.

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Part-time blogger on the Knicks at Knickerblogger.net and Seahawks at FieldGulls.com. In my free time I hang out at the University of South Carolina and occasionally fill thirsty young minds with knowledge about various and sundry things related to consumer behavior and marketing.