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Maurice Clarett: A Life in Two Parts

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The Pac-12 Matters! Well … This Week.

Plus, Miami-Florida State, Nick Saban's futbol foray, and the hitting (oh, the hitting) in Tuscaloosa


This week’s theme is Fun. If you don’t enjoy Fun, you can stop reading right now. If you’ve found, over the course of your life, that you feel favorably about Fun, that Fun is generally worth the trouble, then read on, brother, and by the end of this post you’ll be whistling zip-a-dee-doo-dah out your asshole.

Miami at Florida State — I’m from that generation of Floridians that’s scared in our souls of the Miami Hurricanes football program. Even if I see that they’re experiencing major on-field troubles, my heart doesn’t believe they won’t patch up that fence around the area south of Disney World one night, and two years later win the national championship game by several touchdowns. There’s a certain sense we Floridians have that everyone else gets to win titles because the Hurricanes don’t have their shit together. Sort of the way other Jeopardy! contestants had to hope Ken Jennings got bombed on gin drinks and came to the taping with an enormous hangover, or the way other video-rental companies have to hope the CEO of Netflix loses his mind and chases off a million customers. (One of those happened, huh?) Thankfully, the Hurricanes often don’t have their shit together, which is kind of the nature of their nature. Big glamour in the fat times and big problems in the lean. It takes a special fellow to coach down there, to get them all riled up and playing as a team without being a hard-ass. They don’t really do hard-asses. The Miami program doesn’t take on the personality of the coach. Rather, the coach leans the culture slightly toward his preferred ways and means while attempting to avoid brawls and NCAA death penalties. A manager of egos, more like a pro coach, except NFL players are more pliant because they don’t have as much disposable income as Hurricanes starters.

So this game against FSU is Fun for any over-35 college football fan. No matter what the records of these teams, the history and the dislike and the undisciplined Floridian speed make this a perfect way to say good-bye to the Hurricanes for a while. To say good-bye to our fears. Ding dong, the witch is dead. No more recruiting night terrors. No more waking up in a sweat, Florida State, because Miami might, in one recruiting class, do the rebuilding job it’s taken you 10 years to get under way. We can give Miami our attention one last time, and along with the potent Schadenfreude of knowing Miami finally got caught, perhaps feel a measure of gratitude for all the Fun the Hurricanes have provided. What they’ve done over these past decades, no one else was going to do. It’s been, you know, eventful. The guillotine is trembling above, sharpened and shined, and this might be the last time for a long time that the Seminoles get a chance to beat Miami and have it mean anything. As a going-away present to the city of Miami, I’m going to list some of the players on the 2001 roster. Willis McGahee. Najeh Davenport. Andre Johnson. Antrel Rolle. Ed Reed. Sean Taylor. Clinton Portis. Frank Gore. Phillip Buchanon. Kelly Jennings. Mike Rumph. Jonathan Vilma. Vince Wilfork. Bryant McKinnie. Kellen Winslow. Roscoe Parrish. Jeremy Shockey. William Joseph. Jerome McDougle. I’ll stop there due to time constraints.

Oregon at Stanford — They say if you forget history, you’re doomed to repeat it, but sometimes you remember it real well and you repeat it anyway because you just can’t help yourself. Stanford was up 21-3 in this game last year and Oregon roared back with turnovers and speed and sleight of hand and experimental jerseys and more or less dazzled Luck & Co. The Cardinal, I’m sure, haven’t forgotten that. Don’t you love these clash-of-styles games? Aren’t they Fun? Oregon is still great on offense, but somehow the Ducks are not as scary as last year. Whether that’s because they miss that receiver Maehl opening the field, or just that The Michael has been banged up lately, I’m not sure. They’re so good that seeing them score in the 30s and 40s the past five games seems like a red flag. (I know, for most teams that scoring average would be reason for celebration.) With the revenge factor and the fact that for Stanford this could be a national title play-in game (it probably also needs Oklahoma State to lose, since the Pac-12 championship game is looking worse and worse by the week and ought to be canceled), you have to like Luck and the guys. Oregon’s advantage is that the speed at which it runs its offense keeps the Ducks from ever getting nervous or distracting themselves by looking at the play clock or probably even noticing the score. It’s like when you’re waiting for an important phone call — you busy your hands, you Armor All your tires or iron some pants. In the second half of a close game, that rapid-fire, hold-up-a-poster, point-at-a-linebacker, snap-the-ball, run-fast, hop-up-and-do-it-again pace is preferable to having all the offensive linemen standing around for a full minute while the sideline and the booth argue, and then the sideline performs third-base-coach signs, and then there are 12 men in the huddle and you have to call a timeout, and then there are commercials. By the time the play is run, the defense is rested and the offense is a ball of nerves. Anyway, none of that will matter. Stanford’s at home, and it’s going to win, and it’s going to go undefeated and either get shafted out of a chance to play for the big prize or not get shafted and lose to LSU by a surprisingly/not-surprisingly close margin.

Auburn at Georgia — Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn can coach. That’s apparent. When Florida lost Tebow and Brandon Spikes, it went to abject shit, and two years later has yet to take the first step toward recovery. (If the Florida program is a small town that fell victim to a tornado, the Mayor, Jeremy Foley, is still picking through the wreckage, shaking his head, and hoping to come across something salvageable, like a child’s teddy bear or a locket. Or Mike Gillislee.) Auburn lost Cam Newton and Nick Fairley, and this year it’s still a team that can play football. The Tigers can run plays and such, and can even beat you. They’re coming off a bye week. Sure, they’re going to get punished at home in the Iron Bowl, but against Georgia, even between the hedges, they’ve got a shot. Remember what I said about the Pac-12 title game. If Georgia loses to Auburn, they should cancel the SEC title game, as well. I know Georgia has the easiest conceivable SEC schedule, but at least it’s on a winning streak. South Carolina, which would be sent to Atlanta if the Bulldogs lose this game, has gotten shellacked by the third-best Western Division team, Arkansas, two years running. Georgia vs. Auburn will be fun because neither team has an offensive identity. Georgia always wants to be a power running team that uses play-action to throw deep, but with Isaiah Crowell sometimes nicked up and sometimes suspended and with A.J. Green gone to the League, it just hasn’t quite established that. The Bulldogs’ corners are pretty good running backs, so they’ve got that going for them. Auburn is breaking in a new quarterback after deciding Barrett Trotter wasn’t working out. Michael Dyer is still good, of course, but he can’t do it all. Georgia makes mistakes often, as a matter of policy. Auburn is young and thin. This is going to be one of those games during which you grow desensitized to big plays, like when you’re in Vegas too long and one morning you walk past an albino tiger being fed raw porterhouses by a woman in a bikini and you just shrug and keep walking toward the coffee cart. There will be sacks and interceptions and zigzagging kick returns and reverses for touchdowns and everything. Trust your Uncle John on this one. Fun, Fun, Fun.

What’s With Them Dudes?

Did you see how sincerely LSU and Alabama were hitting each other? How can dudes be that tough for that long? Gracious. After watching these guys collide in a suicidal fashion for three-plus hours, instead of feeling annoyed at my Gators for getting clobbered by both of these squads, I felt pity for them for having to play these savages. Trent Richardson and Spencer Ware have been dragging three and four guys seven and eight yards on every carry all year, and now we see defensive backs taking these guys on one-on-one and earning stalemates. They were enjoying it, the LSU defenders. They couldn’t wait for the next chance to kiss the train. Richardson, an absolute warrior, had 23 carries and five catches, and normally by the end of the game the opponent’s safeties are wishing they could pull a hamstring or break a finger to avoid being steamrolled again by no. 3. In this case, I think Eric Reid and Brandon Taylor and Tharold Simon, if given the opportunity, would have voluntarily kept playing out in the parking lot after the game was over. I guess if you’re a casual fan, a 9-6 game sounds boring, but I would take hitting like that over a barn-burner any day, because a couple of barn-burners happen most Saturdays, while physical battles like the one we saw between the Tigers and Tide happen almost never. Les Miles and John Chavis have done something to convince these guys to treat every hit like it might be their last and to crave the big collision and competition, and to do it for four quarters plus. Last week I wondered if A.J. McCarron was ready for a game of this magnitude, having been playing lesser opponents all season, but that turned out to be irrelevant. Jarrett Lee was the one who looked stoned, not McCarron, and LSU’s quarterback advantage turned out to be having a sober QB on the bench who was capable of scrambling for first downs. McCarron did well enough as an average college quarterback facing an NFL defense. If Alabama has a kicker, it wins the game. The score wasn’t the story. The story was Reid wrestling the ball away from a bigger man, and the game-long barbaric hitting. My God, the hitting. And you heard what Miles said without missing a beat when the sideline chick asked him about possibly playing Alabama in a national title rematch: “We would be honored to play a team like that again.” What an answer. What a perfect answer.

Letter to a Coach

Coach Saban,

First off, let me say you have a fine, fine football team. The running game and the defense are just fantastic. I’ll make this quick because you’re busy. Tuscaloosa probably has a part of town where Latinos are concentrated. If not Tuscaloosa, then certainly Birmingham. In that part of town there will be a makeshift soccer field, or maybe even a real soccer field. On this field you will find children of all ages for whom kicking a ball is easy, second nature, and who haven’t lived lives steeped in American collegiate football lore and therefore wouldn’t be super-duper nervous if asked to kick a weird-shaped ball through uprights that to them would seem a gaping target. After you’ve chosen your boy, explain that he will receive a college education at one of the top 100 state universities in the nation if a few dozen times a year he kicks the weird ball through the uprights for you. There may be a moment of confusion when the boy thinks he has to actually hit one of the uprights with the ball, and then when he realizes he merely has to kick it anywhere between the uprights, both of you will laugh, and laughter knows no borders.

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

Previously from John Brandon:
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
Open Season

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Filed Under: Alabama, Florida State, Miami, Oregon, Stanford, Teams