Your Semi-Ignorant Guide to College Football: Week 2

Matt BarkleyHey guys, good news. I’ve got a fantasy football story for you!

Look, I know it’s horrible to hear about someone else’s fantasy experience, and I’m being totally self-indulgent here, but I can’t help it. This is my first year playing fantasy football. It’s like when a comedian has his first kid — they know intuitively that they hate hearing about other people’s kids, but holy shit, they have a human child! It’s impossible not to talk about it. As someone completely unfit to ever be a father, fantasy football is my newborn infant.

I was never one of those people who was opposed to fantasy football on moral grounds. It always sounded fun, in the abstract. But I tried fantasy baseball once when I still had my soul-killing New York City office job, and lasted about three hours before I stopped caring completely. Then I spent the rest of the season trying to sneak horrible trades by the commissioner to help my friend win, or forgetting to start my pitchers, or filling the lineup with injured players. I was the worst. I just didn’t have the constitution for it.

But people kept telling me football was more fun, so this year I agreed to an all-ACC league with a bunch of sports journalists in the Chapel Hill–Durham area. And so far, despite being 1-0 with a great roster (FSU defense!), it’s been the worst experience of my life. Here’s a list of grievances:

1. Since we couldn’t get all 12 people together at the same time, the folks in charge decided to have unlimited time for every pick. This. Is. Fucking. Brutal. As you might imagine, the league quickly boiled down to six people who were focused, and looking forward to each new pick, and six who apparently forgot they were in a fantasy draft and that computers existed. Or maybe they just wanted to infuriate the rest of us, because a steady dynamic soon emerged — one of the attentive drafters would be designated to remind the slacker, by tweet or by text, that he was on the clock. The slacker would then make a big deal about being hassled, or just respond with something passive-aggressive like “whatever.” This simultaneously made us loathe ourselves for caring too much about an ACC fantasy draft, and want to murder the slacker for their infuriatingly casual attitude.

Finally they’d make a pick, and then the whole thing would start all over again. It took 71 hours to finish the draft. So excruciating. So miserable. One guy took 13 hours to make a pick. In all, there were 11 rounds (one got cut off, screwing everyone’s strategy), which means that the average length of a pick was 32 minutes. Even the actual NFL Draft goes faster than that. I already hated the league by the time it was over.

2. Just in case you were wondering, the ACC has enough good players to fill about 1.2 rounds of a 12-team fantasy draft. Not 11. In a panic, I drafted Bobby Bowden in the 10th round. As my receiver.

3. The live scoring system failed to keep accurate stats, and didn’t count categories like fumble recoveries, special teams touchdowns, and sacks. In my Week 1 head-to-head match against Jim Young of ACCSports, we both had to break out the calculators to figure out who was winning at any given moment. Could we have just waited until CBS sorted out their glitches? Maybe, but then we wouldn’t be neurotic writer types. We did the math instead, and going into Monday’s awful game between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, I had a healthy lead. Except that, for some reason, my Florida State defense wasn’t getting any points for their dominance against Murray State. I appealed to the commissioner, who said that defenses don’t get points against FCS teams. That was the last straw, and I had a bit of a breakdown, because IT DOESN’T SAY THAT IN THE RULES AND OFFENSIVE PLAYERS STILL GET POINTS AGAINST FCS TEAMS AND WHAT THE F**&$W%(*&W)%*&%*(%.

4. Of course, the critical Georgia Tech–Virginia Tech game went into overtime, and Jim got tons of points from Logan Thomas and the VT kicker. It was one emotional swing after another, compounded by the fact that we didn’t really know where we stood. Uncertainty is the mother of anxiety, as Bobby Bowden famously said. When OT came, I gave up, knowing I’d lost. I almost quit the whole league right there, because what the hell? Then, a day later, the scoring system finally fixed itself. Turns out, Jim’s running back (Albert Reid, from Maryland) had lost a fumble that hadn’t been counted. Final score? 103-101, I WIN. I had to pretend to feel sorry for Jim, even though I was laughing and dancing and mocking him in my apartment.

The point is, I picked the worst league in the world as my first foray into fantasy football. And now I’m stuck, but I feel better having made you read all that. Let’s get down to business.

The Week of No Ranked Games, and a WACKY Prediction

Yikes. I looked ahead, and barring a total breakdown of the college football power structure, this will be the only weekend of the year where no ranked teams do battle. That’s not ideal, obviously, but the sport has an odd way of surprising everyone in the so-called off weeks. Which means that something strange is going to happen. Maybe even really strange. And I’ll tell you what — I have a prediction.

No. 2 USC will lose to Syracuse.

Yes, that’s a batty thing to say. But hear me out. First, Syracuse got totally jobbed by a late-hit penalty against Northwestern last weekend, extending the Wildcats’ game-winning drive and resulting in a 42-41 loss. The 0-1 record disguises the fact that, after trailing 35-13 in the third quarter, the Orange offense turned the switch and became incredibly efficient, even dynamic. Ryan Nassib threw for 482 yards! That’s tops in the country. And if USC is vulnerable anywhere, it’s on defense. Second, this game is being played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. That means they’ll be playing at an outdoor venue instead of the climate-controlled Carrier Dome, and at the moment there’s a chance of rain and thunderstorms. It’s already tough for a West Coast team to play on the East, and now rain might crimp the Trojans’ style. Plus, Syracuse has a karmic win in the bag and Lane Kiffin is a comic, traitorous fellow who has somehow convinced the world to keep elevating him beyond his station. Something’s gotta give.

Yes, this is still a crazy bet, and I’m probably an idiot. But when the second half rolls around, and it’s still close, and weird things start happening, I want you to remember me. And when you remember me, I want you to send me money. Just mail it to Grantland, but make sure the check is made out to me or I won’t see a dime.

Top 5 Games

Counting down …

5. Duke at no. 25 Stanford
Yes, seriously. Perhaps you missed it last week, being distracted by the Alabama throttling of Michigan, but the Dukies came out at night and throttled FIU 46-26. Unless you follow Duke football with any regularity, you have no idea how incredible that result feels. To give you some perspective, the team started 2011 by losing to Richmond, an FCS team, in a tragicomic masterpiece of missed field goals, terrible coaching, and general incompetence. Success just isn’t part of the scene here, and hasn’t been since Steve Spurrier coached. So are people in Duke nation excited? You bet. Are they blowing one win out of proportion? Oh hell yes. But come on, they scored 30 points in a single quarter! They won by 20! This is uncharted territory!

And maybe … maybe there’s something there. First off, Stanford squeaked by San Jose State 20-17 in the first game of the post-Luck era. They’re barely holding on to a top-25 ranking, and they’re very vulnerable to a strong offense. And here’s the weird thing about Duke: They’re not actually that terrible. Yes, they shoot themselves in the foot, and yes, it’s been years since they’ve fielded a winning team. But every season, there’s at least one game that shows how close they are to being, well, decent. Like the 14-10 loss to Virginia Tech last season, or the four losses by five points or fewer in 2010, or the amazing win against N.C. State in 2009. Could head coach David Cutcliffe actually have his team on the verge of a .500 season? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it seems weirdly possible. Surely the Devils will find a way to blow it in Palo Alto, but just know that this is probably the program’s biggest game in at least a decade, and a downtrodden fan base is desperate for some magic.

4. No. 24 Florida at Texas A&M
First SEC game in College Station! First game for new head coach Kevin Sumlin! First career game for starting redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel (what a great name, straight from a Scorsese film). I’m a big fan of up-tempo offense, especially in programs that languish somewhere below the elite level. That’s why I thought Larry Fedora was a great hire for UNC, and I think the same thing about Sumlin.

Sure, maybe the key to national championship success is the crushing, boring defense of teams like Alabama, but if you’re not quite there on a recruiting level, wouldn’t you at least want a guy who can put on an exciting show? I can’t imagine anything worse than having to root for a team like Georgia Tech, who runs that agonizing triple option offense that will never succeed against teams with fast linebackers. But Sumlin, who presided in Houston while Case Keenum broke every NCAA passing record known to man, is a superb find. It will be at least two to three years before the defense catches up and makes the Aggies competitive in the SEC, but in the meantime, they’re going to score some points. The bold new offense might even make a dent in their massive UT inferiority complex.

3. Air Force at no. 19 Michigan
Alabama ran all over Michigan, racking up 232 yards and 5.5 per carry. Air Force racked up 484 yards rushing, the highest Week 1 total in the nation, in a win against Idaho State. Trouble in the Big House? Maybe. This could be the continuation of a tough second year in the Brady Hoke era.

2. No. 16 Nebraska at UCLA
Good God, did you see Husker QB Taylor Martinez last weekend? He actually looked … competent. No, that’s not strong enough. He looked great, passing for 354 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-20 win against Southern Miss. UCLA was great, too, racking up lots of offense (most of it from RB Johnathan Franklin, who had 214 yards and 3 touchdowns) in a rout of Rice. This should be a really exciting, high-scoring, shoot-out type of game. Unless Martinez reverts to form, throws six picks, and runs the wrong way for a safety.

1. No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona
I’m loving this game. First of all, Rich Rod is coaching at Arizona, so you know they’ll be kind of shady, kind of great, and kind of a disaster. That certainly seemed true last week when QB Matt Scott threw for 387 yards, but Arizona still almost lost to Toledo because their kicker missed 24- and 25-yard field goals in regulation. The ‘Cats pulled it off in overtime, but Oklahoma State is no Toledo. In fact, they’re coming off a positively Rich Rod–ian 84-0 win over Savannah State, racking up almost 400 yards on the ground despite the fact that some of the starters were pulled before the end of a 35-point first quarter. (In a cruel and sadistic twist, Savannah State is at no. 7 Florida State this weekend.) OSU supporter T. Boone Pickens was among the folks who questioned why this game even happened, and despite the fact that Mike Gundy did his best not to run up the score, you have to wonder if his team is slightly ill-prepared for a legitimate game. Should be fascinating.

Your Perfect Saturday

I’m going to respect your collective intelligence this week and assume you have not one, but two ways to watch football. Like a TV and a computer.

Noon — UCF at no. 14 Ohio State — ESPN2
The Knights showed a balanced offense in a blowout win against Akron. It’s hard not to imagine Urban Meyer attempting to spend time with his family, twitching and muttering under his breath, before completely breaking down, screaming, “WE MIGHT LOSE!” and rushing back to spend 36 straight hours analyzing tape of one play.

Noon — Miami at no. 21 Kansas State — FX
Collin Klein miracle win no. 1? I like the odds. Last week, the Wildcats led only 16-9 after the third quarter against Missouri State. So what did Klein do? No big deal, he just scored 35 POINTS IN THE FOURTH QUARTER. BY HIMSELF. NOBODY ELSE WAS ON THE FIELD.

3:30 — No. 2 USC at Syracuse, Air Force at no. 19 Michigan, no. 24 Florida at Texas A&M — ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
All on the ESPN family of networks! I just got a huge raise.

6:30 — Fresno State at no. 4 Oregon — Pac-12 Network
God bless the influx of new college-football-themed TV stations. The Pac-12 Network is a huge addition to my arsenal, and it’s also the only reason I’ll get to watch Duke-Stanford (albeit online) at 10:30. Anyway, Oregon is sexy. That’s all.

7:30 — No. 16 Nebraska at UCLA — Fox
Oh yeah, raise totally revoked.

10:30 — No. 18 Oklahoma State at Arizona — Pac-12 Network

This Day in Fake Duke Football History

On September 6, 1997, Duke football officially reversed a century-long stance and adopted the forward pass. The first Blue Devil quarterback to utilize the maneuver was Frankie “Nine Toes” Bolivar, who threw a pass utilizing a blind, discus-like motion. The fluttering pass was intercepted and returned 14 yards for a touchdown, and it would be five more years before anyone in the program understood the concept and benefit of the spiral.

Heisman Handicap

5. Andre Ellington, Clemson
He racked up 228 yards rushing last week, and is on pace for 2,736, which would beat Barry Sanders’s record by just over 100 yards. Don’t you wish some college programs functioned like video games, where they sold out to get one guy the gaudiest statistics possible? I can assure you that Duke QB Sean Renfree (or his likeness, anyway) will set all kinds of passing records by the time my NCAA 2K13 season is over.

4. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
A one-man wrecking crew against Boise. By the way, I’m a little upset that the apostrophe in his first name doesn’t do anything to the pronunciation. Everyone says LEH-vee-on, just like you’d say it if it was spelled Leveon. With the apostrophe, my take is that it should be leh-VEE-on. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s not just decoration, folks! Respect the punctuation!

3. Matt Barkley, USC
Candidacy will take a huge hit after the Syracuse loss.

2. Landry Jones, Oklahoma
I just put him up here to make a point, which is that Landry Jones is 2012’s official “Guy who seems like he’s been playing college football for 10 years” award winner. Also, I’m clearly not taking my Heisman handicap seriously enough. I’ll get better, I swear. But not yet …

1. Collin Klein, Kansas State
Why not??? Can you disprove me? Collin Klein is the scrappiest guttiest scrapper in the world. He’s like Doug Flutie, if Doug Flutie were John Stockton and John Stockton were Rudy. I think you get my point. Enjoy the games.

Filed Under: College Football, Shane Ryan, USC

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Shane Ryan is a contributing writer for Grantland. His book about the young stars of the PGA Tour will be published by Random House in early 2015.

Archive @ ShaneRyanHere