12/14/2019 1 Comment
A season of sports is a trilogy (I apologize in advance for the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars references). The season’s first half is the opening book. Characters are introduced, plotlines are suggested, and the story could belong to anybody…..even the Jets. Just not for very long.
Games, the earliest skirmishes in our tale, start defining the potential for each character. Protagonists develop, villains emerge, while others are demoted to obstacles and spoilers within someone else’s journey. By the middle of the season we know who the contenders are, the characters who will define this year’s fate. For some teams the story is already over, for others it’s just getting good: enter Book Two.
A trilogy’s second installment is often the least consequential, but the most significant. The characters must grapple with the gravity of their position. Sometimes pressure breaks them, like the Panthers or the Golden Gophers. Sometimes it strengthens them, like the Baltimore Ravens or LSU Tigers. Sometimes it even corrupts them (see: Astros, Houston). Like Luke Skywalker’s trip to the Degobah System, Book Two forges the preeminent characters into who they will be for the ultimate conflict. For the purposes of the analogy, this comprises the second half of the season (and we’ll throw in the NFL’s lukewarm wildcard round).
Book Three is, of course, the culmination of all the character development and plot twists. Villains face heroes. Greatness meets its match. Rohan rides against Mordor, and Aragorn trots up to the Black Gate. Some die valiantly, others with a whimper; all in frantic pursuit of that incomparable glory: a championship.
College football fans, at this very moment, are living in the introduction to this Third Book---the calm before the final storm. Everything and nothing is happening. We are Gandalf and Pippin, on the back porch in Minas Tirith, talking of white shores and swift sunrises---the possibilities to come. It’s a quiet and reflective place to wait, before the great forces of this season go to war and complete the trilogy.
I’m hoping this year’s story belongs to Joe Burreax. These are The Things I’m Thinking About:
The Joys of Bowl Season (a good-sized thing)
There’s a long list of sports fans I just don’t very well abide in the course of this life. I’ve got nothing for the guy who thinks I should care more about franchises like the Cowboys, the Eagles, the Knicks, or the Yankees, whose logos are just garish monuments to media bias. There’s also the “watching golf is boring” guy, the “Steph isn’t even that good” guy, and the “SEC actually sucks” guy. I’ll save them for other blogs, because the sports fan drawing the Filch-ire today is the “There are too many bowl games” guy.
What’s this guy’s deal? Does he also complain that there are too many sides at the buffet? Too many girls at the party? Too many accessible cupholders in the mini-van? Who has a problem with more options and opportunities, especially when there’s no edict forcing him turn on his T.V.? If you don’t like ‘em, just watch December basketball, which will supply you with a whole new bevy of complaints to text people who haven’t liked hearing from you since college.
I get the argument that the games feel meaningless. Although they’re of no small importance to the players and fan bases who have pursued them all year, no one’s objectively pumped for the Frisco and Boca Raton bowls. The trick is to add personal investment through one strategy: gambling.
We at WhichCarolina employ a perfect, unimpeachable system for betting on bowl games, guaranteed to infuse your bowl season with thrill and satisfaction. First, find a friend/archnemesis to gamble against. Then, bet every game against the spread (sweethearts bet moneylines). Next, apply your points. This system has gained public momentum over the last few years, but for the uninitiated: assign a point value to every game based on the confidence you have in your pick. There are 40 games (including the championship game). That means you’ll assign a point value, 1-40, to each pick. You can only use each value once. The higher the confidence you have in your pick, the more points you assign to it. Your most confident pick gets 40 points; your least confident, 1. Your second-most confident pick gets 39 points; your second-least confident, 2 points, until each game has a point value between one and forty. If your team covers, you are credited the amount of points you placed on that game. At the end, add ‘em up to see whose total is the highest! Send any questions to WhichCarolina@gmail.com.
Like the bowl season, this system is convoluted, full of strange variables, lengthy, and, ultimately, a wild ride. The Bad Boy Motors Gasparilla Bowl might not look like appointment television, but having Marshall(+7) for 33 points can bring any man to a cold and desperate sweat. We’ll be posting our picks on the next pod, and welcome your competition.
Appalachian State Bowl Tie-ins (A medium-sized thing)
Step aside Pac-12, because the Sun Belt truly gets the rawest deal in college football. Georgia State beat Tennessee, Georgia Southern came within a field goal of Minnesota, and wins over North and South Carolina suggest that Appalachian State could have won the damn ACC Coastal. Despite this success, the mighty Mountaineers, champions of the Sun Belt, are lost to the obscurity of the New Orleans Bowl. There they’ll face the unworthy C-USA runner-up: UAB. This insulting end to a remarkable season is the product of one thing: bogus bowl tie-ins.
I’m no sports historian, but I’m gonna bet that, like every other facet of college football, the Sun Belt’s bowl tie-ins were chiseled in granite around the time the Ten Commandments came down from Mt. Sinai. When these bowl tie-ins were negotiated, the Sun Belt was a Deep South afterthought. UL-Lafayette, Troy, and Arkansas State usually owned the conference, while it was unclear if FBS upstarts like App. State, Georgia State, and Georgia Southern could even compete at this level.
Now, in 2019, these Sun Belt Teams have repeatedly proven themselves worthy of greater postseason competition, especially in a year where the C-USA can only muster a very green (no pun intended) UAB team as their runner-up. At this point, it’s a travesty for the Sun Belt champion to meet a decent C-USA team in the New Orleans Bowl.
There has to be a better way to handle this. As a fan, I wish they’d just put all the non-playoff bowl teams in a pot, pick out the most tantalizing matchups, and assign the bowls based on the quality of each game. Give me App. State vs. Tennessee and Florida vs. Utah, rather than the games we’re stuck with. Changing the status quo, though, is about as likely as me becoming College Football Commissioner. Sorry, Mountaineers.
ACC Basketball Scheduling (a digestible thing)
I’ll break up the flow of football consciousness with a little ACC Basketball minute. I don’t hate change, but I can be skeptical; and the ACC’s decision to play a few conference games last week was downright vexing. I don’t NEED meaningful conference basketball right now. My plate is already too full to fit UNC-UVA into a December Sunday afternoon. Save it for when I have time!
It’s not just rough on my schedule, but also on the product itself. College basketball teams in early December are hardly finished products. The quick incorporation of freshmen and transfers, along with unprecedented roster turnover, makes gelling take longer than ever. UNC and UVA, specifically, just came off jarring losses in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge that have them questioning their direction and identity. This is hardly the moment for a traditional grudge match. Keep this game in January or February, when we’re watching fully constituted, functional versions of these squads. That’s when good basketball happens, and not the 56-47 perversion a couple channel surfers stumbled upon last Sunday afternoon.
At the very least, they could have waited to play those matchups THIS weekend, when the slate is as bereft and wanting as a Joe Buck’s sense of humor.
That moment when…..(a thing requested by the good Stevo)
There were a couple moments this weekend when I dared to hope we might be in the midst of something miraculous. Upsets, as they say, were brewing. Bryce Perkins, deep in Clemson territory, was making the Tigers look vulnerable for the first time since October, and Ohio State-Wisconsin was about to kick off. Although Perkins did end the drive with a gut-punch of an interception, Wisconsin provided reinforcements with an early touchdown. Unlike UVA, Wisconsin seemed for real. When they ended the half up two touchdowns, my stubborn optimism whispered dangerously: “What if Wisconsin actually wins this thing?”
I didn’t have long to ponder. Wisconsin came out of the half flat, and then Ohio State steamrolled them. For two precious quarters, though, I could wallow in the possibility of sweet, sweet chaos.
Ohio State is great, and losing wouldn’t have changed that. Even with a loss by two touchdowns, they’re in the Playoff as the 3-seed, especially since they’d already given Wisconsin the business earlier in the year. The great dilemma would have been Oklahoma vs. Wisconsin for the fourth spot, and I think Wisconsin would have gotten the nod.
Wisconsin has a bad loss at Illinois, but it’s no more damning that Oklahoma’s defeat at the hands of Kansas State. That game wasn’t even as close as its 41-48 final score. That puts Oklahoma’s two wins over Baylor against Wisconsin’s split with the Buckeyes. Sorry Big 12, but I’ll take the team that vanquished Ohio State for a Big Ten Championship. Sure, Wisconsin has one more loss, but who’s blaming them for only taking one of two from the Buckeyes? To put this in Pokemon Card terms (feel free to skip this next sentence), I’ll take one shiny Charizard over two holographic Gyradoses any day. Therefore, Wisconsin goes to the playoff.
The damning piece of evidence against Oklahoma isn’t even this year’s performance. I don’t work for Gallup, but I think people are tired of watching the Sooners get handled in the first round by deeper, more complete teams. If the committee had ANY alternatives, they’d have bounced Oklahoma from the Playoff. Alas, Utah and Oregon faltered, and Ohio State did what Ohio State does. I just hope they start doing it a little earlier against Clemson.
Until next time, readers, keep Carolina on your mind.
12/6/2019 0 Comments
I did something this Saturday that I thought I never would, and if the next paragraph stops abruptly it’s because I’m too ashamed to admit it in print.
The Littlest Gamecock got his own Christmas tree this year: a 2 ½-foot tall mini-Fraser Fir to fill our front window. On Saturday morning, the day of the Clemson-Carolina game, we went to Wal-Mart. I told him he could get one ornament---whatever he wanted---to go on his Christmas tree. He combed through the aisles in wide-eyed wonder at the sparkling extent of our Christmas excess. When he arrived at the Gamecock ornament section, he stopped. I was so proud. Surely he’d want the Gamecock truck with the Christms tree in the back, or the rooster with the wreath over its proud neck, or the garnet Cockaboose. I held my breath.
And he grabbed an orange van. From the Clemson section to the left. It even had one of those disgusting paws on it. He held it aloft in euphoria and dubbed it “The best one, daddy!”. This was, to this point, my tensest moment of parenting dissonance. We know there’s a sacrifice for keeping promises to our kids and enabling their dreams, but this price tag felt excessive. I dragged him to other aisles and showed him other vehicular ornaments: Trains, vans, trucks, cars, sleighs. None of them could compare to the singular Clemson monstrosity that he had dubbed “My Orange Van”. I even had him put it back, only for him to echo throughout Wal-Mart, “Where’d My Orange Van Go”? It was a question as earnest and honest as a prayer, so we went back to the Clemson ornament section. After all, I had promised.
I’m still looking for the silver lining in that egregious $6.50 line-item on the receipt. At the time I’d hoped that my benevolent parenting would pay off in on-field karma later that day. It didn’t. Clemson beat us 38-3. Now I envision us laughing about this in twenty years, when we all love Carolina and that silly Clemson van is just an anecdote about the whims and wants of toddlerdom. We’ll put it on the tree every year as a playful tribute to parenthood’s many ironies. That could happen. Or this ornament will be the top of the slippery slope, impervious to parenting friction, that whisks him into that Pickens County Valley of Death for eternity. Whatever happens, I don’t regret my decision. This life is, ultimately, his ornament; and only he should decide where to hang it.
That being said, it sucks that orange is his favorite color. Without further ado, these are The Things I’m Thinking About.
I’m appropriating the first half of this term from the good Drunk Girls of Auburn University (a very large sorority, indeed). In 2010, after my Gamecocks lost a barnburner to Cam Newton’s War Eagles, I was walking around Jordan-Hare stadium looking to reunite with my Auburn-loving in-laws. Seeing my garnet garb, a number of people, nearly all of them young, drunk southern belles, took some liberties with our sacred nickname. Over that half-mile or so, I was branded “Small-cock”, “Shame-cock”, “Lame-cock”, and my personal favorite, “No-cock”. If I’d known their barrage would inspire a blog-worthy pun, I would have stopped to shake their hands.
Will Muschamp is a Lame-Cock Coach: shot and injured, but still allowed to live for one more season until the hounds come to fetch him back to the purgatory of failed head honchos. It’s a state of agony that the Garnet and Black must endure until Clemson beats us for the seventh time in a row, and mercifully puts us out of our Muschamp Misery. Shoot me now.
College football is the sport in which a Lame-duck coach---a coach people know is finished, but who gets to hang on for a little longer--- can do the most damage. It’s suicide for recruiting, where this blissfully corrupt game is really won. Successful recruiting, network of slithering boosters aside, is based on direction. You need to be able to show that you’re moving toward something special. Mac Brown is spinning a tale of reawakened greatness at Chapel Hill, and it’s working. Spurrier convinced players they were going to be unprecedented, grassroots legends at Florida and South Carolina---then they were. Hope is an easy sell for traditional powers with generations of success, but it’s much more precarious at a place like South Carolina, and recruits scare easy. Everyone knew Spurrier’s days were numbered. Then 10 recruits jumped ship the class before he left. We still haven’t recovered. Even the big-time brands struggle to bear a lame-duck’s weight. No one thought that Southern Cal would retain Clay Helton, and the result is a recruiting class outside the top-40 at one of the most prestigious, easiest sells in all of college football.
All said, this type of coach often oversees two down recruiting years: the season they should’ve been fired, and the season they are fired. That’s nearly half a roster of lackluster talent. Rebounding from that can take years.
Lame-duck coaches usually stick for one more season, but what they cost in roster depth, recruiting momentum, and program continuity lingers for years. Maybe Muschamp’s $18 million buyout is a pretty sweet deal.
(I promise that’s the last of the South Carolina talk.)
A Necessary overhaul in Athlete Endorsements
When companies unconnected with athletics employ athletes to sell their stuff, things get weird. Roger Federer, for instance, sells Rolexes, when he plays one of the few games that has no time limit. The insurance industry is awkwardly smitten with athletes who have, at best, a questionable connection to security. State Farm’s tandem of Chris Paul and James Harden have lately been known for untimely injuries and getting jerseys retired in Houston strip clubs, respectively. Nationwide Insurance, I suppose, cast Brad Paisley alongside Peyton Manning to distract from the quarterback’s history of famous losses. Perhaps no sponsor-athlete relationship is more disorienting than Phil Mickelson’s representation of KPMG, the massive accounting firm. Mickelson’s long spate of reckless gambling, and brush with the law for his insider trading, hardly qualifies him to do your taxes.
The fact is, the public deserves more faithful, representative endorsements, that create an honest, instinctive link between athletes and products. Harden shouldn’t be advertising insurance. He should be advertising Taaka vodka. Why, you ask? Because he likes to take bad shots. The world deserves to see an overall-clad Gardner Minshew in a Mississippi field, harvesting perfect mustaches as an advertisement for Gillette razors and grooming products--- “No one sprouts ‘em like the Gardner!” (for what it’s worth, the porn industry has already offered him an endorsement deal).
This would work for coaches, too. If Xanax needs a frontman, look no further than Nick Saban. Roll a clip of him losing it while up 40 on Western Carolina; give a couple snippets of aggressive press conferences. Then show him stretched out in a hot tub yuckin it up with those guys from the “Roll Tide” commercial and hit the line “Xanax, for the fan bases with no chill”. Hell, he might even give a smile.
These don’t even have to be personality or profession-based. Why not have Saquon “Bark”-ley team up with the humane society? Who better to represent Ikea, a chronically mispronounced company (actually pronounced ee-KAY-uh), than Giannis Antetodkjfsifojosijimpo, a chronically mispronounced athlete? Can you say “M-V-P, silent G”? Giannis and Ikea: pronunciation is hard, buying furniture shouldn’t be. End with a shot of Giannis on an Ikea couch, watching himself play basketball…...while an announcer mispronounces his name. Then he smiles knowingly at his couch. This stuff writes itself.
This might sound cheesy (but not as cheesy as Russell Wilson and Ciara in a Hallmark commercial amirite?), but within this processed cheddar is a satisfying self-deprecation. Few things do more for public favor than a little self-awareness: an admission of imperfection, and a willingness to laugh about it. The joke isn’t at you anymore, it’s with you; there’s no better way to endear you to the public. Kevin Durant, a man tragically unable to laugh at himself, should be advertising Flying Js or Pilot Truck Stops: “I may not be here for long, but it’ll be fun while it lasts!”. He might already be onto something like this with his representation of Alaska Airlines. Kyrie should be repping fireworks: “They’re just like me: You pay for the show and hope they don’t burn the place down!”. Of course, this can go too far---you probably wouldn’t want Vontaze Burfict as the frontman for a conglomerate of assassins--- but, if done right, this can be a humanizing step on the road to an authentic connection with the public.
If it doesn’t work, whatever, at least we might get George Brett doing a spot for Depends.
ACC Depth Redemption?
I, along with most college football enthusiasts, have spent the year gleefully bashing the sport’s shallowest power conference: the ACC. Are my criticisms legitimate? Do we have to put Clemson in the Playoff just to find out if they deserve to be there? Yes and yes. But the reality is they aren’t much worse than almost everybody else.
Utah, for instance, has managed to make it all the way to the Pac-12 Championship game without a win over a current top-25 team, and Oregon’s most impressive game might’ve been a loss to Auburn. The Big 12 is as questionable as old Chinese food, with few quality out-of-conference wins, and even fewer complete teams. Their resume, honestly, might be better than that of the vaunted Big-10.
Between Ohio State, Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, and Wisconsin, there is one(1!) out-of-conference win over a Power 5 team. Yes, I’ll give Michigan a win over Notre Dame (slightly suspect), but outside of that it’s just Penn State beating Pittsburgh 17-10 at home (Pitt just lost to BC at home, who got blown out by Kansas at home. The transitive property remains undefeated.). Ohio State exposed each of them for the puffy pretenders that they were, who’d grown fat on low-hanging cupcakes.
Outside of the SEC West, this is just the way it is. Maybe Clemson will add Bureaux and Chase young to their Tagovailoa scalp collection. Maybe they’ll get blown off the field. If they do, just don’t totally blame the ACC. The other conference aren’t exactly putting them to shame.
Until next time, readers, keep Carolina on your mind.