Hunk of the Week (Non-Skill-Position Edition)
Barrett Jones — Senior Offensive Lineman, Alabama
Weight: 302 pounds
Hair: Sweeping, untended bangs-flap
Style of Offense: Physical demoralization
Personal Style: Anonymous
Next Victim: Arkansas Razorbacks
This afternoon I wish to address those in your ranks who’ve had their fill of pretty boys — receivers with immaculately crafted faux-hawks, running backs with earrings more dazzling than yours, quarterbacks who leave their hair products all over your vanity so you can’t even set down your curling iron. Have you fatigued, my darlings, of reassuring these glamour-position divas that their press guide head shots don’t look washed-out? Are you done with these trim fashion plates who think they’re God’s gift just because they touch the football? How about touching you for a change, right?
Take heart, ladies. What I’ve got for you today is a Memphis gentleman who dedicates his efforts to making other people look good. Name of Barrett Jones. Didn’t Greg McElroy, and doesn’t A.J. McCarron, look pretty back there stroking the ball like it’s a toy poodle, surveying the field as if gazing upon a harbor full of sailboats? If they look cute, you’ll look dainty as a daffodil on the arm of this selfless 300-pounder. Instead of fretting about his sideburns and working on his tan, you’ll find Barrett giving aid to earthquake victims in Haiti and playing the violin. He’s made sweet music at every spot in the Tide offensive line, but once he’s in position with you, he won’t be straying anywhere. He’ll show you the kind of loyalty he showed Nick Saban — who says Barrett is the best offensive lineman he’s coached since Bruce Matthews — when he decided to stay for his senior year. You’ve begun to wonder if there’s nothing out there but jerks, but that’s because you’ve been doing what we all do — overlooking the offensive line. Barrett has an Outland Trophy and an ARA Sportsmanship Award to recommend him, but linemen don’t do what they do for awards. They live to serve, sweetheart, and if you can get your shiny little hooks into this whopper you’ll be the star of Barrett’s team for as long as you want to be.
Texas at Ole Miss — I wish I were back down in old Oxford this weekend. And not just because, with the combined coed talent Ole Miss and Texas bring to the table, this could be the greatest concentration of winsome young ladies ever beheld. Things got a little out of hand down on the Square a few years ago. First the Rebel Black Bears upset Tim Tebow’s Gators and took the low-esteem tack of making bumper stickers about it: Ole Miss 31 — National Champs 30. Then they came out ranked sixth in the country, hyping Jevan Snead — who’d been chased away from Florida by the aforementioned Tebow and then chased away from Texas by Colt McCoy — as a Heisman candidate. All that unraveled pretty quickly, and the sober (if not in blood-alcohol content, at least in temperament) residents of the Grove have accepted the harsh physical law that Ole Miss will not be a factor in the SEC for a long time. And until someone rescues Dan Mullen1 from Starkville, Ole Miss won’t be a factor in its own state. But Ole Miss will always be a literary factor. Let me recommend, as part of the thinking-man’s tailgate, reading Barry Hannah’s story “Fans.” It’s in a collection called Captain Maximus. It takes place on the Oxford Square on game day.
As for Texas, they continue to tune up, first against Wyoming and then by overpowering Bob Davie’s New Mexico squad. Ole Miss hasn’t played anybody either, which is why they’re 2-0. Longhorn fans are assuming victory — and they’re probably right to do so — but what they’re not assuming is that Mack Brown has finally injected the old swagger back into his talent-laden team. Brown’s job isn’t and shouldn’t be in jeopardy, and I’d say he’s beloved in Austin, but another season like the past two and it’ll be time to page maintenance and have them drag the hot seat out of the equipment closet. Just so everybody knows it’s still around. No need to plug it in or anything, just dust it off with a rag. Kicking some Rebel Black Bear tail will untighten the chests of Longhorn Nation. On the other hand, continued mirroring of their Eastern doppelgänger, Florida,2 will begin to strain the loyalty of the Austin faithful.
Notre Dame at Michigan State — It seems that as long as MSU coach Mark Dantonio is around, no one will have a pleasant time playing against the Spartans. This game will regulate the expectations of the Michigan State fan base, inflating them for doubters or lowering them for the gung-ho. Running back: check. Defense: check. It all seems to depend on quarterback Andrew Maxwell. He threw for 250 yards in the opener, but with three picks. Last week, against a directional Michigan school, he put up 275 yards and threw zero picks. Sounds like he’s getting his feet under him. It’s been a long time since a Notre Dame defense kept opponents up at night, steeping in flop sweat, but the Irish offense will likely score enough to put Maxwell in humid scenarios.
And the Irish. I wish I weren’t interested. I’m part of the problem, part of what keeps Notre Dame the most valuable college football brand. Each and every year, the topic of the Irish being “back” is raised. There’s always a coach who seems to have them headed in the right direction, who seems to be recruiting and all. My stance over the past several seasons has been that Notre Dame’s schedule was bad enough that there’d be no way to tell by their record whether or not they were a serious team again. This season — credit where it’s due — they’ve got a hell of a schedule: Maryland fell off and Oklahoma hopped on; Michigan is a headache in the Robinson-Hoke era; USC is again a national-title contender; these Spartans. This season will leave no stone unturned in its audit of Brian Kelly’s progress. If you root against Notre Dame, which I’m not even sure I do anymore, this season has the potential for much schadenfreude, and it starts Saturday.
California at Ohio State — Here’s an out-there possibility, just something to chew on: Let’s say Cal loses this game, and loses to Oregon and USC and a resurgent UCLA and whoever else, and on top of all that there was the opening-weekend loss to Nevada. Let’s say the Cal powers that be conclude that they’ve reached the plateau with Jeff Tedford, and in fact the plateau seems to have taken on a slight downward pitch. (Sad to say, because Tedford was once the Chip Kelly of the conference — the offensive genius who seemed ready to challenge USC on a regular basis.) Here: Cal will hire Dan Mullen and go spread. If Mullen can talk recruits into Starkville, Berkeley should be a breeze. There will be a culture adjustment for sure, but Mullen will pump life into the program. Cal’s recruiting class last year included six kids marked WR or ATH (for athlete), four of them Rivals four-stars. That’s a pretty good setup for Mullen, who needs a bunch of those all-around guys to run his offense. He’ll start out buried by USC and Oregon, but the Pac-12 North will still feel like an afternoon in Napa compared to the SEC West.
Alabama at Arkansas — You gotta feel for the Hogs. First the guy who’s supposed to be molding them into admirable men gets caught wrecking a motorcycle full of mistress, then their star quarterback gets dinged halfway through a tune-up game against Louisiana Monroe and they go from AP no. 8 to AP nowhere-to-be-found.3 What a redemption story this would be if Arkansas could do what seems impossible but has to happen eventually: If they could somehow outscore the Tide. Knile Davis. Cobi Hamilton. Tyler Wilson, if he’s cleared to play. (Wilson suffered a head injury in last week’s game. His teammates and coaches say he looks good to play, but the doctors haven’t cleared him yet. If he’s held out Saturday, the Razorbacks have about as much chance of winning as you have of getting a pulled pork sandwich at Bonefish Grill.) The Hogs have offensive wherewithal, but as always the key will be slowing down Alabama’s power running game and forcing A.J. McCarron to play quarterback the way other quarterbacks play quarterback. That is, to put McCarron in situations like third-and-8 in a tie game early in the fourth quarter. Tenarius Wright is the Hogs’ only Alabama-size linebacker, the only one bigger than Eddie Lacy. All the things Arkansas must do — slow the Tide when they run on first down, keep Tyler Wilson upright and undinged, force McCarron to play a fourth-quarter game — are easier said than done.
Books for dudes (and non-dudes?) who are smart but don’t have the time and/or inclination to sift through the offerings of literary fiction and who could use a solid recommendation or two and who, if they ignore that recommendation, will feel guilty and think a little less of themselves because they know that quality reading improves the quality of the individual
The Book: All the Pretty Horses
The Author: Cormac McCarthy
The Sport: The cowboy arts
The Dope: This book is made up of primarily of three elements.
- A hundred or so nothing-else-like-them scenic descriptions of desolate Texas and unforgiving Mexico and, well, good-looking horses. McCarthy takes more care with his desert setting than anyone has ever taken with any setting. In these spots his language finds its most rare air and its deepest troughs.
- Dozens of airtight, easy-to-hear, often bilingual dialogue exchanges. McCarthy conjures accents without the tang of parody. The dialogue does everything, often all at once — advance plot, sharpen character, steep the reader in the atmosphere, and iterate the novel’s morality.
- A story that doesn’t flinch in its romanticism. The main character, cowboy John Grady Cole, goes looking for adventure in Mexico. Think maybe there’s no more adventure to be had down there? Oh, there’s adventure. He sets off on his trek with a buddy named Rawlins, who the reader hopes will never betray or abandon John Grady, no matter how bad things get. Things get bad. Rawlins is loyal. John Grady decides to set right, at great risk, wrongs done to a now-dead stray kid he and Rawlins picked up on the trail. Does he avenge? You bet he does. All the Pretty Horses is a man’s man’s book powered through much of its latter half by an engine of star-crossed teenage love. Truly. They’re 16. McCarthy doesn’t bat an eyelash.
His mode of operation — his style, I guess — is daring, yet so consistent and confident and free of false notes that about 25 pages in it doesn’t feel like style at all. It feels like the only language and the only sensibility that could hold the story. From line to line one feels an unflappable practicality guiding the narration, but in the big picture this thing is a dream. It’s not the easiest trick, when you’re a writer, to surrender to a book and become a passive reader and simply enjoy. For me, with this one, surrender arrives early and completely.