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The Week That Was

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The Bowl Season Is Upon Us

All the college football matchups that matter (well, let's pretend they matter)

Pizza and Sex

We’ve all heard the assertion that bad sex and bad pizza1 are still pretty good, and that’s the attitude college football fans adopt in the holiday season. Any college football is good college football when you’re about to get no more of it for eight months, when you’re about to embark upon what I call The Portion of the Year Without Meaning, or The Worthless Time. So we’re going to wind up enjoying these games, as we should, but let’s not kid ourselves. That’ll make me feel better, if we don’t end the year kidding ourselves. The college football regular season is the best regular season there is, but boy is bowl season lame. I guess there was a time when people didn’t travel much during a lifetime, so hearing that your team got invited to play in an exotic locale was big news. These days, everybody goes everywhere all the time. I guess there are always a few teams that don’t normally go to bowl games (Temple, Louisiana-Lafayette), so it’s a thrill and an accomplishment. For the big boys, if they’re not in a BCS game, their bowl assignment is a guaranteed consolation. A bowl bid doesn’t feel like a reward for power conference teams that barely achieved .500 records. It’s part of the deal. A nostalgic last lap for the seniors. The coaches, though they would never admit it, are staying up nights worrying about prize recruits, not about whether they’ll be victorious in a game that means nothing.

The bowls are nice, but there are too many of them. When we hear their preservation being used to justify the continued absence of a college football playoff (as if they couldn’t somehow be combined), well, it’s hard to find anyone who believes that. There may be compelling reasons to not have a playoff, but making sure the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg doesn’t lose its luster ain’t one of them. The powers that be always hide behind a cloud of vague financial worry, and that’s fine. We’re used to it; but saying you want to preserve meaningless games over instituting meaningful ones is a strange argumentative tack.

And now, a public service announcement on behalf of bowl viewers. All you announcers assigned to your various BCBGMaxAzria/Synthetic Universal Power Steering Fluid/Zeke’s Quality Tattoo and Piercing/Phillies Blunt/Federation of Arizona Wilderness Hikers bowl games: Do us a favor. We’re already watching the game — if we weren’t, we wouldn’t hear you talking — so spare us, after a particularly reckless hit or notably joyous celebration, any commentary to the effect of, “And you want to tell me this game doesn’t mean anything?” or “Why don’t you go down and tell these kids this game doesn’t mean anything?” or “And they say these bowl games don’t mean anything.” We’re watching the game, OK? We’re enjoying it. We’re even developing a rooting interest because we like one team’s play-calling or because it got screwed on a pass-interference call. But we’re not stupid. The fact that the participants in any contest are competitively invested doesn’t mean the contest has any greater significance.

I’ve had some pretty intense Ping-Pong matches with my brother, too.

Most Watchable

This is normally where Tilt-A-Whirl resides, but the distinction ‘Tilt’ is, if not sacred to me, at least important enough that I’m not going to bestow it on games that are more like an early leg of spring practice.

Champ Sports Bowl — Florida State vs. Notre Dame (December 29, 5:30 p.m. EST)
Two teams who both hope, perhaps with reason, that next year will be the year. This is Michael Floyd’s last college game, and Floyd will be the biggest loss for ND from this season to next. Tommy Rees and EJ Manuel could both use the reps and experience. They seem like opposites — Rees is plucky but athletically limited, while Manuel’s a big, studly specimen who just doesn’t seem to have the gleam in his eye when things get hot. This could be a big game for Manuel, a step toward confidence and away from seeming too much like Sizzurp Russell for Seminole tastes. Come to think of it, though, Russell torched the Irish in a bowl game a few years ago, so maybe this is a measuring stick for Notre Dame, if measuring sticks measure speed. Greg Reid, FSU corner, is a bona fide playmaker, both returning kicks and as a ball hawk.

Alamo Bowl — Washington vs. Baylor (December 29, 9 p.m. EST)
Two great QBs. RG3 will be playing his last free football. You know all about him. Washington’s signal caller, Keith Price, is off to a great career — 29 touchdown passes this year as a sophomore. He threw four at Nebraska. You think that’s easy? Well, it’s not. Winning this game would mean something to Washington, as it tries to convince the country and itself that it’s capable of graduating to the upper echelon of the Pac-12. That echelon includes Oregon, USC, and, for now, Stanford. Those teams drubbed the Huskies this year.

Music City Bowl — Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest (December 30, 6:40 p.m. EST)
Well, maybe I included this game hastily. One’s a basketball school, one’s hardly a school at all. You don’t hear Dan Mullen’s name coming up for coaching vacancies as often as last year. Using Starkville as a stepping stone sounds sensible. Getting stuck in Starkville? That don’t make no sense at all. And he’ll be stuck, because they won’t fire him. Should there be this much football difference between the state universities of Alabama and the state universities of Mississippi? This much?

For December 31, we’re going with a Choose Your Own Adventure:

Texas A&M vs. Northwestern (Noon EST)
Georgia Tech vs. Utah (2 p.m. EST)
Virginia vs. Auburn (7:30 p.m. EST)

I’m not going to influence your decision. You’re on your own. Pick one. I’m going to watch the A&M game because its offense is fun, and it won’t be next year, but you do what you want. Go ahead, pick. Hurry up. Other people are waiting. Pick.

January 2: The Big Ten vs. SEC challenge
A time-honored technique for making bowl games interesting (if you’re not a gambling man, that is, because betting money you earned is the best technique) is rooting for your conference to beat other conferences. It’s no coincidence the Big Ten and SEC are matched up so often.

Yes, these three games are all on at the same time. Sounds like a rock-solid excuse to go to a bar.

Outback Bowl — Michigan State vs. Georgia (1 p.m. EST)
You know what you’re going to get with Sparty, and you have no idea what you’re going to get with the Bulldogs. I dare anyone to bet on this game. Georgia could score 10 or 40.

Capital One Bowl — Nebraska vs. South Carolina (1 p.m. EST)
Two quarterbacks who can run well and sort of pass. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead (of Hunk of the Week fame) are hard not to like. Alshon Jeffery will still be a first-round pick, but boy has he disappeared since Stephen Garcia got the heave-ho — maybe even before that. With Jeffery not thrown to and Marcus Lattimore hurt, the Gamecocks’ athletic dynamism is on defense: Melvin Ingram, Devin Taylor, Stephon Gilmore, DeVonte Holloman. Two very watchable coaches — and that counts for something. Which do you prefer: Bo Pelini’s fury or Steve Spurrier’s bemused vexation?

Gator Bowl — Ohio State vs. Florida (1 p.m. EST)
This game will do the Buckeyes good, because it’ll mean valuable experience for Braxton Miller, the next great Urban Meyer quarterback. For the Gators, the extra practices are certainly valuable, but the game isn’t. Florida will be starting the only bad Urban Meyer quarterback in recent memory, John Brantley, and he’ll be handing the ball off to two guys who won’t be there next year. Brian White is auditioning for the offensive coordinator job vacated by Charlie Weis, so he may pull out all the play-calling stops. Both defenses have a lot of young talent capable of making big plays or blowing assignments. With the Arkansas win from last year vacated, Ohio State goes back on the schnide against the SEC in bowl games, and a little more motivation: The country found out this week that next year the Buckeyes will be spending the holiday season watching Judd Apatow comedies, sipping hot chocolate, snipping bonsais into miniature Christmas trees — in short, anything they want, except playing football.

A Very BCS Holiday

Rose Bowl — Wisconsin vs. Oregon (January 2, 5 p.m. EST)
Anything involving the Oregon football team is worth watching. If they televised a Ducks special teams meeting, I’d watch it. As for Wisconsin, Russell Wilson has draft positioning to think about. He hasn’t gotten much publicity since the Badgers bowed out of national title contention. You don’t hear him mentioned along with the big four: Luck, Barkley, Griffin, and Jones. According to some, he’s not even in the top 10 NFL QB prospects. He’s not very tall. Judging pro potential in quarterbacks isn’t something that highly paid scouts are able to do with much consistency, so I certainly won’t presume to, but if he plays well in this game it probably helps, and if he plays poorly he’ll continue to fade.

Fiesta Bowl — Stanford vs. Oklahoma State (January 2, 8:30 p.m. EST)
Everyone please spare me the stupidity of pretending that it means something if Oklahoma State loses this game. In particular, spare me from hearing that it somehow justifies the Cowboys’ exclusion from the national championship game. God knows I put up with a lot, but I won’t put up with that. It’s just too dumb. It meant nothing when Alabama went and got beat 31-17 by Utah a couple of years ago because they were disappointed with how their season ended. Same deal here. So say anything you want, just don’t say a Cowboys loss means they weren’t deserving of a shot at the title.

Of course, it’s possible that Oklahoma State believes it might be playing for a split championship, that it believes its win against Oklahoma, instead of being a big-picture waste of time and energy, is a résumé booster it can use to claim the AP top spot if LSU falls to Alabama. Maybe the Cowboys coaches can convince the Pokes players of that. Maybe I can convince myself of it. What do you think? Another ugly LSU vs. Bama game with terrible QB play, this time with the Tide edging out the Tigers, and meanwhile Oklahoma State beats Stanford by a couple of touchdowns. Is a split possible?

Sugar Bowl — Michigan vs. Virginia Tech (January 3, 8:30 p.m. EST)
Denard, mamajamas. Denard.

Cotton Bowl — Kansas State vs. Arkansas (January 6, 8 p.m. EST)
Collin Klein is one of the toughest guys. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t seem like he should be as good as he is. He’s not real fast and he’s kind of lanky, but somehow he gets the necessary yardage. You want to see that. The toughness. Kansas State will make this game ugly. Arkansas might not be particularly motivated, and its offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee, is now the head coach at UAB. At this point, the only thing that can help Arkansas reach the SEC championship game is to reach the next level in recruiting, and that’s what Bobby Petrino & Co. will have on their minds. I’d be shocked if Arkansas won this game, and shocked if Petrino stays in Fayetteville for more than another season or two if he can’t overcome the Western division big boys. He won’t be fired or anything, but he’ll want to go to a school where if he has the third-ranked team in the country in late November, that means he has a shot at winning his division of the conference. Next year is huge for the Razorbacks. No Trent Richardson for the Tide. New QBs for LSU. If Tyler Wilson stays in school, they’ve got a shot. If not, outlook not so good.

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 Sharpshooter Blues
The Author: Lewis Nordan
The Sport: Sharpshooting and small-time commercial fishing
The Dope: The feeling you get reading this thing is that Nordan is receiving the story from minute to minute and trying not to fall behind it himself. Questions arise and go unaddressed, and then chapters later, when Nordan explains, for instance, why Mr. Raney’s refrigerator is full of bullet holes or why Mr. Raney’s son is not right in the head, Nordan gains our trust by showing that he hasn’t forgotten a thing. He answers all the questions that could’ve been lost in the rush. Not all the questions, because a person telling something urgent wants nothing but to tell it, not to sift through and make sure every damn thing is sensible like in a novel. In urgent and essential life, some things are sensible only to the gut. That’s one of the principles here.

This is a book that presents itself as one thing, a voice-based and exhilarating burst of words concerning a boy with a screw loose growing up in a harrowing swamp. Then it appears to be a murder mystery, then a domestic drama, then finally turns out to be a baroque and thorough hymn about the troubled folks of Arrow Catcher, Miss. Everyone has the blues, not just the sharpshooter. Mr. Raney and his son have the blues. Leonard Reel has the blues. Dr. McNaughton’s wife has the blues. They have to. The blues are part of the setting. That’s the other thing I realized, that the most important thing that had happened in the crashing current of the opening chapters was that Nordan had conjured a specific, roiling, woolly setting from which everything else grows. Nordan’s prose itself, the rhythms and recurrences, seems to grow out of this Delta milieu inhabited with beavers the size of collies, buzzards floating above the swamp like prayers, gators calling like old cows.

The victims in the novel, a murderous teenage brother/sister team from Texas who are shot while robbing Arrow Catcher’s gas station, are referred to as “the lovely children.” This is the duo’s name — to the sheriff, to Hydro, to everyone. They are not lovely, these children — the girl bent on “doing tail with a retard” and the boy bent on killing Hydro dead — but as far as the men of Arrow Catcher are concerned, the young can do no wrong. The lovely children have the blues. This book is full of real loss that takes place in a magical setting. It’s a big old blues song. And it’s got the greatest dialogue you’re going to come across. Just infuriatingly good dialogue. Last recommendation of the year. I saved this one because it’s the best.

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

Previously from John Brandon:
When Dwight Howard Leaves Orlando
The Biggest Week in College Football That Doesn’t Really Matter
Rivalry Week and the BCS Rat’s Nest
Can LSU Run the Table?
The Pac-12 Matters! Well … This Week.
Who’s No. 1? LSU or Alabama?
USC vs. Notre Dame and Seven Unlikely National Championship Contenders

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