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Rivalry Week and the BCS Rat’s Nest

The week in college football.

Denard Robinson

Hunk of the Week


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 guess Oklahoma State is rooting for Auburn this weekend. Sincere congratulations to Iowa State. We forget you’re up there sometimes, you big lugs. Ames, right? The Cyclones? Now we’re thinking about you. That was the greatest sort of upset, the kind that seems like it would require magic. Not football “magic,” but the actual dark arts, as practiced by Lord of the Rings characters and David Blaine. The scientific community doesn’t understand these upsets — just like it can’t definitively locate the human soul — but they mostly occur on the road. It helps if the game is played at an odd time, and it also helps if the favorite has a big game the following weekend, and it doesn’t hurt if real-life events have recently put sports on the back burner. USC’s beating Oregon in Eugene was a terrific game and certainly an upset, but when you have a starting lineup of blue-chip recruits, there’s no magic needed. Just a composed quarterback and a coaching duo made up of a father who’s been running defenses since Nixon got in trouble and a son who, say what you want, is a fearless and calculating play-caller. Lane, all you ever had to do was shut up and stay put, and you seem to be doing that. So, well done and good work. Keep at it. Keep shutting up. And stop sidetracking me. What I was doing was congratulating Iowa State. Nobody thought you could do that. Magic. As Tim Tebow would say, “very special.”

Snide Bet

Clemson, you showed up in Raleigh last weekend with absolutely no interest in physical exertion. I guess it was one of those lazy fall days when you just want to curl up with a good book and a sleeve of Oreos rather than put pads on and collide with other men. Even warm-ups were a real pain in the ass, weren’t they? A real imposition. All that stretching and huffing and puffing? What’s the point?

We forgive you, because the outcome of the game had nothing to do with the greater goals of your season. I just want to take a moment here and make sure you know what the greater goals of your season are, especially now that your chances of making the national championship game have gone from slim to none. I just want to make sure you understand that nobody cares if you win the ACC. Nobody from anywhere else in the country, anyway. We don’t care that much any year, but in a season in which FSU and Miami and North Carolina and Georgia Tech and Boston College are all down … I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m merely offering an outside perspective in hopes of getting your best effort in Columbia this weekend. For the number crunchers in the athletic department, getting to a BCS game may be important, but for the can crunchers in the RV lot, South Carolina is more significant than some game played in January that’s really just a well-paying beginning to spring practice. South Carolina. That’s your big game, Clemson. Coaches, leave every trick on the field. Players, block and get off blocks like your life depends on it. You’re not Boise. Going to a lesser BCS game shouldn’t make you all tingly. Beating the Gamecocks should. We need the good Clemson this weekend. And I know this is unorthodox, but for fear of looking like y’all did last Saturday, maybe pull the team bus through the coffee joint on the way to Williams-Brice and order 85 triple espressos.


Ohio State at Michigan — Columbus is managing its depression with visions of a new superstar coach, and Ann Arbor is full of righteous optimism (or, toward Ohio State, self-righteousness), but the Buckeyes still have more than enough talent to cause trouble, and beating Michigan would salvage their season. It would also send Luke Fickell out on a high note — assuming Buckeyes players have any interest in sending Luke Fickell out on a high note. For Michigan, it’s the opposite. None of the good vibes it has enjoyed during the 2011 campaign will mean a whole lot if it loses to Ohio State again, for the eighth straight time, especially when Ohio State is vulnerable. Things won’t get any easier next year, in the Horseshoe, with Braxton Miller a fully functioning quarterback and with Urban Meyer running things. Better go ahead and win this one, Wolverines. Better get off the schneide right damn now.

OK, reader, let’s talk man to man. Life is wearing us pretty thin, and the holidays are only going to make things worse. Ohio State-Michigan is one of those venerable, old rivalries deserving of your undivided attention, and you deserve to be able to give it. Don’t watch this game at home, where the girlfriends and wives and kids can mess with you. Don’t watch this game at some newfangled, 500-TV, shares-a-parking-lot-with-Bed Bath & Beyond chain joint that serves neon-orange chicken wings. We need this, guys. Girls like ’80s parties, and we like to sit in bars that seem like they haven’t changed since 1964. I’m hoping for plenty of chippiness in this game. A lot of pile-ups that take a long time to untangle. A lot of running plays in which the back gets stood up but not taken to the ground and then the linemen from each team get on opposing sides of the guy and push until the refs blow the whistle 20 times, like a reverse tug-of-war. All that, and to keep us alert, a dose of streaking Florida speed in the form of Denard.

Let us watch this edition of Wolverines vs. Buckeyes in an old, off-white building that if you didn’t know it was a bar, you’d think was a locksmith shop. One of those places where the barmaid is pushing 50, a cousin of the owner, and probably down on her luck. A bar with that smell that isn’t good but is the perfect smell for a bar. Get off the grid, my friend. The season’s almost over and then who knows what these women will have us doing on Saturdays? Leave the cell phone in the glove box. I’m even giving you permission to step outside during halftime and bum a smoke from the old guy you’re going to meet who laughs in wheezes and drinks a brand of whiskey you’ve heard of but have never seen anyone drink. Let’s claim a TV — with any luck a TV from before the flat-screen era, a TV with a body — and hide behind the closed blinds of a place with a vaguely Eastern European name that sits on the edge of a neighborhood that’s about five decades past its prime.

Clemson at South Carolina — Sammy Watkins may still be a little banged up. Hopefully for the Tigers, he’ll be about as banged up as Robert Woods was last weekend against Oregon. Neither of these teams comes into this game with what you’d call a head of steam. Since unfairly kicking Stephen Garcia off the team,1 the Gamecocks have found themselves unable to take full advantage of Alshon Jeffery. Conner Shaw can really run, and that’ll give Clemson plenty of problems, but it’d be nice to see the ball chucked to Alshon, who won’t be playing in college much longer. Clemson is coming off a bye week of sorts, so it should be rested. If Michigan-Ohio State and the Iron Bowl are classic heavyweight rivalries, then this Clemson-South Carolina game is that awesome featherweight undercard bout that’s usually more entertaining than the headliner. You just don’t know what’s going to happen with these crazy little suckers. They’ll quit boxing around Round 3 and just start throwing haymakers. They’ll have foreign objects in their gloves. Their drunken entourages will fondle the round-card girls. The families will get in a ringside brawl. The referee will fear for his life.


Sure, he’s an alcoholic, but he’s a functioning alcoholic. What, does Spurrier never need to unwind?

Texas at Texas A&M — So they’re saying it’ll be a while before we see this matchup again. That’s a shame. Texas A&M is going to be pushing up on the glass ceiling of the SEC West for at least the next couple of years, thankful that the Mississippi teams are there to keep it out of the basement. This offense has been fun, but Ryan Tannehill and Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller will be moving on after the season, along with half the defense. On the other side, Texas will continue searching for a way to score. Maybe Bevo ate the offense. Wait behind him with a shovel and some tongs. Texas is just like my beloved Gators. On top of the world a couple of seasons ago, then the passing game gets debilitated because an heir-apparent quarterback apparently sucks and the new receivers aren’t as good as the old receivers. Running game looks good sometimes, mostly against lesser opponents, but is far from proper functioning. Defense has talent, and shows it occasionally, but no playmakers like in the old days. The McCoy and Tebow hangovers. But it was one hell of a weekend, wasn’t it? Epic. If you have to pay for a weekend like that with an upset stomach and a pounding headache, it’s well worth it.

Notre Dame at Stanford — The pressure in South Bend is greater than on The Farm. The Cardinal faithful are pretty happy to have had a team for two straight years that seemed good enough to play in the national title game until it ran into a team that really is good enough to play in a national title game. They live in a gorgeous area of the country where sea lions frolic and vineyards abound. Yosemite. San Francisco. Bully for them. Northern Indiana is glum and gray and flat and the wine is called Keystone Light and they get upset when their team isn’t good and they’ve been upset for almost 20 years. Beating Stanford ought to be enough to convince Golden Dome supporters that good Irish boy Brian Kelly has the program moving upward. A 9-3 season that very easily could’ve been an 11-1 season. No Michael Floyd next season, but a solid returning starter at quarterback. (Wasn’t that kind of funny how in the offseason Kelly & Co. exhausted all manner of analytical technique in choosing their starter, like putting cameras on the quarterbacks’ helmets so they could monitor Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist working through their progressions, and then after eight months of deliberation it took one half of one football game for them to realize they had picked the wrong dude? Tells you something about recruit rankings. Rees was the no. 64 quarterback, according to Scout, meriting three stars; Crist was the no. 3 quarterback, a five-star prospect.) Beat the Cardinal and the season seems an overall success, but lose to Stanford and quickly this campaign becomes a bunch of hollow wins against lower-echelon foes and failure in the face of quality opponents such as Michigan and USC and Stanford.

Georgia at Georgia Tech — I’m going to go ahead and put SEC pride on the line here. The Eastern Division champ may be the fourth-best team in the conference this year, but it’s still going to be in Atlanta and be named, at worst, the conference runner-up. We hear all the time about SEC front-seven speed, about how the most pointed difference between the SEC and the rest is the athleticism of the defensive line. Well, Georgia, here’s your chance to prove that. If you can’t keep up with the triple-option, you’ll be responsible for embarrassing your conference. That’s what’s great about these rivalry games: Unlike bowl games, in which one team is almost always more excited to be there, while the other team is openly dejected to be there, these out-of-conference rivalry games are as reliable a measuring stick as you’re going to find.

Arkansas at LSU & Alabama at Auburn — The two games this weekend with direct impact on the BCS Championship Game. One of these teams needs to be upset, or this is your title matchup: Crimson Tide vs. Bayou Bengals. The re-matchup. Arkansas is good, obviously, and that’s a day game in Red Stick. Auburn’s still breaking in that new quarterback: Ouch.

Is it turning 35? Is that why I’m souring on a playoff? I used to scream for one, but now I’m not sure. I think maybe Herbstreit’s got it right — an optional plus-one system. Of course, I’m a human being, so my opinion shifts each season depending on whether anybody gets screwed, but after a roller coaster like last weekend you can really see the advantage of having only two big tickets and eight or so teams that want them. With an eight-team playoff based on BCS rank, the Oklahoma State upset wouldn’t mean a thing. The Oregon loss to USC wouldn’t have been nearly as tense, nearly as consequential. The Stanford loss to Oregon a few weeks ago would’ve been wholly weightless. You could have a playoff of conference champions, but then you get a team like Alabama sitting home and the Big East champ still alive. It all depends on the particular season. I was as offended as anyone when Auburn went undefeated in 2004 and got patted on the head and told to quiet down because adults were talking.

A plus-one would’ve fixed that situation, and without damaging college football’s signature late-season drama. I heard one of the announcers, just after Baylor beat Oklahoma, emotionally proclaim that now the BCS was in utter chaos. Not really the case. The BCS had been in chaos 24 hours earlier, after OSU lost. Oregon and the Sooners losing actually simplified things. And anyway, the Baylor upset, if not for the current BCS system, wouldn’t have necessarily knocked Oklahoma out of national championship contention. They’re ninth right now. If they won Bedlam, they’d be in the playoff, meaning the Baylor game would mean zilch. Might as well not even play it. A lot to think about. A lot to lose with a playoff. Like I said, things are simple for the moment. They might not stay simple, which is what’s interesting about the whole thing, but right now they’re clear. Sure, LSU has to do more work before the Big Game than Alabama does, but LSU likes that. It wishes it could play two games a week. It wishes the BCS Championship Game was a best-of-seven series.

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

Previously from John Brandon:
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
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

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