NFL Midseason Report: The AFC

Hoop Dreams, From Senegal to Prep School to the NCAA

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Who’s No. 1? LSU or Alabama?

And the rest of the week in college football

Simple Math (or if you went to LSU, Advanced Math — or if you went to Mississippi State, Figurin’ You’d Just Assume Not Fool With)

(1) — Number of times AJ McCarron’s jersey has been washed this season. And that was only due to a leaky Gatorade bottle. Coach Saban deigned to allow AJ to pitch the rock around for a quarter here and there, but never with the game in genuine doubt and usually in the middle of an open green expanse that can’t with a straight face be called a “pocket.” Unless you’re referring to the pockets in Charlie Weis’ jeans. Ha! Because Charlie Weis is overweight and his pockets are real big. Oh, I enjoy being humorous. Humor cracks me up. In the show Arrested Development, there’s a prep school called Milford Academy, and their philosophy is “Children should be neither seen nor heard.” I think that’s Saban’s modus operandi for quarterbacks. It’s old-fashioned and it works. It’s true that when you throw the ball four things can happen and three of them are bad, and that the farther you throw the ball the more likely the bad things become. It’s also true that Trent Richardson is a better football player than AJ McCarron or any of his receivers. Why get flashy? Why not hand the ball off and chew up eight yards? In one game, after the Tide had been beating a lesser SEC foe’s brains in with the power run for a quarter and a half, McCarron led the offense on a scoring drive during which he got to soft-toss to a couple of wide-open receivers (by this point, the defense might as well have been playing ten in the box), and as he jogged to the sideline after the touchdown — a rushing touchdown — he started pumping his fist. It was very awkward, like a new dance move he was breaking in. None of his teammates were anywhere near him. Each time he unleashed another celebratory shadow punch he did so with increased gusto, and looked lonelier and … can I say, you know, whiter? Anyhow, ten yards from the sideline Saban meets him face-to-face, both palms held up in a slow-your-roll gesture, and says,1 “Calm the fuck down!” It’s times like those you almost have to like old Nick.

So here’s the thing. Is LSU the opponent who will finally force Alabama to employ something other than line-of-scrimmage bullying? A few Bama fans I’ve talked to say no. They say they’ll bully LSU like all the rest. They say this offensive line is just that good, that they’re better than the great D-line of LSU. Well, I say they need to hope so, because if not, the season-long Acela ride McCarron’s been enjoying could quickly turn into standing room only on a Tijuana city bus. Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson have been on that bus many times. Lee sort of prefers the bus, or he should, anyway. It seems like his milieu. Also, there are two of them. If it’s a close game, who has the advantage? The home team or the team who, under center, is battle-scarred and plural? I’m hoping the Tiger front seven holds up against Richardson and the Tide front seven holds up against Spencer Ware, because there are enough star defensive backs in this game to form a boy band and also another boy band to be frenemies with that first boy band, meaning the quarterbacks will have to earn their completions. This is what LSU wants, because they have a balls-hanging-down-the-leg, hat-from-the-remainder-bin-wearing, over-annunciating madman calling the shots, while Alabama has Sabatron 4.0, which can now function for 24 hours on one charge. Also, Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham are better than any of the Tide’s wide outs. I’m trying to talk myself into the idea that this Game of the Century might also be a really good game, and it’s working.

(1) — The final BCS ranking you’ll expect Alabama to wind up with should they win on Saturday. As opposed to LSU. If LSU wins, it will still seem like anything can happen. It will seem possible that Arkansas could beat them, or even the East Division representative. If Bama wins, cancel the rest of the season and mail them their glass. Anything fragile or perishable? Yes, in fact.

(1) — Number of fake kicks that will be called in this game. Watch for it.

Tilt-A-Whirl

South Carolina at Arkansas — I’ve wearied of reaching for uninspiring matchups just to feature three games in this section. Whoever said three anyway? The Big 10 Legends is quickly becoming the most interesting division in the country, but they’ve got no noteworthy tilts this weekend. The usual most interesting division in the country, the SEC West, should be cleared up Saturday. Oregon plays at Washington — not bad in theory. Well, so, what this Gamecocks vs. Razorbacks game does is possibly put the SEC East to rest. Also, I carry that undying and almost creepy fascination with the Ball Coach that burdens most Florida folks. It’s a top ten matchup, and that still means something around here, mister. Arkansas has a good quarterback and a bunch of fast weapons and home field advantage. Carolina has the two most dynamic players on the field, Alshon Jeffery and Melvin Ingram, both of whom you’ll see in a suit in a few months. Ingram’s the 280-pounder you saw running for a 68-yard fake punt touchdown earlier this season. He’s got a couple of interceptions, too. Pretty amazing dude to watch. Also, watch out for Marcus Lattimore’s replacement, freshman Brandon Wilds, who began the season fifth-string and who reminds one of Rex Burkhead. He’s Burkhead light, but he’s got that same unquenchable desire to collide with other humans. He aims for them.

Unnamed Portion of the Post During Which the Outlook Concerning My Hope That Somebody New Is Invited to the National Title Game Is Assessed

I’m not going to pile on Clemson. They went on the road and played a good team whose offense is a bad matchup for them. If they’d lost to Maryland, I would’ve said “same old Clemson,” but this was no embarrassment. The Tigers are mostly an offensive team this year, and offenses have poor outings. Now that their record is blemished, we can safely point out that when compared with Alabama or LSU they never seemed like a title contender anyway because of their defense. (A demon Oklahoma State will have to conquer when they face the Sooners.) Clemson can still have a huge year, though. And there’s a rule that dictates that Sammy Watkins can’t go to the NFL for a while, so the future doesn’t look so bad, either.

So basically, we’ve got Oklahoma State and Stanford and Boise. Maybe the South Carolina at Arkansas game figures into this discussion, but right now it looks unlikely. Stanford will be gearing up for Oregon, and I’ll be interested to see, if both the Cardinal and Cowboys win out, how much the Pac-12 championship will factor in. If you have two undefeated major conference teams, and one plays a conference title game and one doesn’t, and you send the team that didn’t play a title game to the BCS Championship, well, the message to the Pac-12 will be, “We don’t care what changes you make. We have no respect for you. We prefer the Big 12 in whatever form we can get it. Keep playing football if you like, but we’re not going to pay attention.”

Boise: Well, we’ve reached the portion of the season at which they always bump their helmets on the glass ceiling of the polls. The glass should be painted a lurid blue. That way they’d have blue beneath them and blue above them and could suffer that disorientation deep-sea divers suffer.

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: The Journey of Crazy Horse
The Author: Joseph M. Marshall III
The Sport: Equestrian & Archery (though not really for sport)
The Dope: This book is necessarily a history and unapologetically an artifact of hero-worship, but at its core it’s a coming-of-age novel. Crazy Horse is the son of a medicine man, which makes him kind of strange. He has light hair, which makes him very strange to the other Lakota. He absorbs ridicule from the other boys, though Marshall doesn’t belabor this phase of the hero’s life. As Crazy Horse grows into a man, he moves from strange to special and people who once dismissed him wind up wanting to follow him. The thing he’s special at is warring. He’s almost supernaturally good at warring, and Marshall doesn’t shy away from supernatural or religious elements. Dreams are central. One of the most important dreams foretells Crazy Horse’s death at the hands of his own people. There are vision quests, the passing of the pipe. There’s all sorts of good shit. Boys mastering the bow and arrow by shooting grasshoppers. Misunderstandings and revenge and, yes, scalping. The presence of Sitting Bull is felt. There’s the Mormon Cow incident and the Dawes Act, but the conflict that runs through the whole of the narrative is the Oregon Trail.

At first, the whites only want peaceful passage and then they want to build forts and then the talk of ownership of the land starts and then the buffalo are getting slaughtered and so on. Agreement after agreement, the whites encroach. We know how that all turned out, so it’s not a particularly suspenseful book, but I found it impossible while reading this thing — even me, who pays no attention to politics or finance and has the lack of a voting record and lack of investments to prove it — not to notice that the general attitudes toward acquisition displayed by the whites in this book are the same ones that have us in trouble now. What the whites promise and what they deliver is always a little different. There’s always a refinement of the scheme, a refinement of the scheme. A fraction more. Until eventually, success: The schemers have everything. This happens in practice through contractual agreements and the passing of laws, but in the case of the Native Americans the real problem was they didn’t have the resources to fight the U.S. Army. In the case of the American lower-middle class, they don’t have the resources/time/energy to fight scores and scores of highly trained individuals who are paid fortunes to think deviously. Every other month these guys come up with the most devious idea in the history of the world. They’ll top themselves again this month and again in January.

So what I’m saying is, if you’ve never related to the Native American, this is the time to read a book like this. You’ll be sympathetic to the way they get chipped away at season after season. The Oregon Trail, of course, wasn’t enough. The whites wanted to go north to look for gold. And then they invaded the Black Hills looking for gold. Another thing that might occur to you, unless, unlike me, you think about this sort of stuff without literary prompting, is the silliness of believing that gold and jewels and whatnot are valuable. I don’t mean the economy being based on gold — understanding that stuff is above my pay grade. I mean that we individuals turn over our hard-earned money for these polished metals and rocks. Diamonds? You ever think about how not rare they are? How many women over 30 do you know that don’t own one? How many women own a bunch of them? They’re not nearly as rare as, say, Honda Accords. Or basketballs. Or intact conch shells. Or rabbits’ feet.

John Brandon is the acclaimed author of Citrus County. He is writing weekly on college football for Grantland.


Previously from John Brandon:
USC vs. Notre Dame and Seven Unlikely National Championship Contenders
Oklahoma vs. Texas, a Letter to Les Miles, and a Hard-To-Get Hunk
Tide vs. Gators, the Problem With UVA, and a Nice Steak in Tucson
Hunks, Books, and Clemson vs. Florida State
Open Season
Dear Coach Pelini

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