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Tide vs. Gators, the Problem With UVA, and a Nice Steak in Tucson

The week in college football


Alabama at Florida — Last year in Tuscaloosa, Florida was beaten in a thorough, profound, exhaustive, soup-to-nuts, multilevel, multifaceted, multicultural, physical, emotional, spiritual, and schematic fashion. UF is improved this year. Last year it had a single player among its defensive front seven — Jaye Howard — who could give an offensive coordinator pause. Now it has six or seven. On offense, the Gators no longer ask a guy who is slow of foot — not in terms of college football, but in terms of a pickup game at the Y — to run the ball against future NFL players. (If you’ve ever indulged yourself during a dead moment in the day and pondered how you might fare in big-time college football — yes, you: optometrist or casino boat deckhand or pastry chef — if you’ve ever wondered how you would’ve made out if given a shot to play SEC football, get a hold of a tape from last year of John Brantley running the option. That’s how you’d do. Unless you’re sort of fast, then you’d do better.) This year, now that he’s in this Weis offense, now that he’s in his element, Brantley is expected to flourish. Through the first four games Weis has asked him to do little, and that’s what he’s done. Whether Weis and Muschamp are being vanilla or Brantley is a bad quarterback, we’ll find out on Saturday. It’ll be a promising start if Brantley’s knees don’t literally turn to Jell-O in the pocket. He’ll certainly be apprehensive back there, unable to sidestep a rusher or step up and buy time, but what I’m concerned about are his knees actually assuming the form of a low-calorie lime dessert and melting in the North Central Florida heat, because even with all the amazing medical advances we’ve made, you can’t play football with no lower legs.

Arizona at USC — 37-14, 37-10, 56-31. Arizona’s past three games. The Wildcats are the 14 and the 10 and the 31. And another loss coming up, at USC. Finished last season with five straight losses, three of them blowouts, did the Wildcats. At some schools, coaches build credit they can ride through tough times by winning a national or conference championship. In Tucson, apparently, an 8-5 season earns you that credit. Before two of those eight-win gems, Mike Stoops went 5-7, 6-6, a couple 3-8’s, maybe even a 2-10 way back there. Is this guy’s seat finally hot? Or hot again? Or genuinely hot? I’m asking. I don’t hear much news out of Arizona and I’ve spent two days of my life in Tucson — saw the Mission San Xavier del Bac, then built up an appetite walking around campus, and then relented to that appetite at one of the finest Outback Steakhouses I’ve ever been to. Let’s take this hot-seat talk in a different direction. If the Arizona athletic department doesn’t care about the football team, hire a head coach who needs the money. Hire a guy with two 11-dollar-an-hour jobs and four kids. This is a chance to help someone, to transcend sport. You can still hire regular assistant coaches to install their systems and call plays. Down South, we honestly don’t see much of a difference between losing most of your games (41-48, the Internet tells me) and losing all of them.

Nebraska at Wisconsin — Top-10 matchup. Slobberknocker. Two best teams in the Big Ten. Interesting quarterbacks. We’re rooting for Wisconsin, right? Because Nebraska already has a bunch of national championships? And this could be the Badgers’ best chance for a while? Is that how we’re doing it? Go Wisconsin?

What’s with them dudes?

I had planned on addressing the University of Virginia last week, but it seemed rude if not too on-the-nose to cast aspersions right after a tough loss like the one UVA suffered to North Carolina. So I decided to wait until after Virginia hosted Southern Mississippi, which I thought might be a win for the Wahoos. So much for that plan. I can’t wait any longer. They’ve got Idaho coming into town this week, but how do I know they can beat Idaho? It’s been bugging me for quite some time that Virginia is not better at football. It’s been gnawing at me because I can’t figure out why. Virginia, the state, the commonwealth, is very large and populous, yes? We’re not talking about North Dakota, where there are no people, or, you know, Idaho or something. Diverse population, too. Not like, say, Vermont. In Virginia it’s not exclusively pale hikers who own big, happy dogs and produce their own goat cheese.

Is the high school football in Virginia poor? Is that the lack? I think not. It ain’t Texas, maybe, but it’s no slouch. Talent base? There’s D.C. and all its remote metro stops. Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach/Norfolk. Richmond. Roanoke. Baltimore, even, unless that recruiting juggernaut University of Maryland strikes fear into you. There’s that web of Mid-Atlantic private schools that are always pooling talent. (Though maybe they make it too easy for college recruiters. The current class UVA coach Mike London and his staff are putting together has four players from Norfolk Christian Academy alone.) Charlottesville is a fine town. If it weren’t, Ben Affleck wouldn’t have moved there. Don’t he and Jennifer Garner live in Charlottesville? I heard that. Rolling hills and pretty girls, just like any other real nice place. Just like Athens, Ga. The situations aren’t totally dissimilar, UVA and UGA. They’ve both got a big Southern state and a nice town and only a Tech to recruit against. When Georgia was weathering its last dark period, the Ray Goff and Jim Donnan regimes, it was roundly agreed upon that it was a sleeping giant and needed only the right coach to again become a national power, and this was correct. In the wake of the pretty successful George Welsh years, Virginia hired former NFL coach and Cavaliers player — dream scenario, huh? — Al Groh, and I guess he achieved a couple of decent seasons along with his mostly mediocre and horrible seasons. Maybe the Groh years were the dark ages for Virginia.

A pretty good year here and there should not be the goal at UVA. Someone needs to wake this giant (Mike London?). Or check its pulse. Sometimes you have to wake it roughly, like by kicking it. Or get someone meaner to kick it. From my vantage in the deeper South, it was comical how long it took Virginia to do something about Groh: 2005, 3-5 in conference; 2006, 4-4; 2007, hooray, it’s our occasional not-bad season, 6-2; 2008, 3-5; 2009, 2-6. Virginia should not be a program that aspires to holding its own now and then. Patience is a virtue, they say, but lying down next to the sleeping giant and going to sleep yourself … I don’t know. Maybe folks in Charlottesville don’t really care, but I do. I mean, if nobody cares, just shut down the program. Y’all can tool around in the hills on fall Saturdays in your convertibles, taking pictures of haystacks and quaffing the homegrown white wine. Let me cook this into a bite-size question: Is there another team in the country with so many built-in advantages that makes them amount to so little?1

Let’s get past the excuse stage. That’s often a crucial step. First, that old chestnut about how it’s difficult to maintain good football if you have a good academic school. We hear this one out of Notre Dame whenever it needs something to blame losses on. Stanford: not exactly a one-room schoolhouse full of mule-kicked farmers’ sons. Georgia Tech — I don’t comprehend the names of some of the classes they offer. Michigan doesn’t exactly let kids in with a fishing license, and the Wolverines have been good for a long, long time, and will be good again. They’re relevant. Wouldn’t that be nice, Wahoos? Relevance? OK, how about Wake Forest? In a properly functioning universe, the University of Virginia’s football program would be superior to Wake Forest’s. Both of you went 1-7 in conference last year, so you’re starting on equal footing. The couple of years preceding that, Wake had a slightly better conference record than you, and then, of course, it wasn’t so long ago that they won the whole ACC. Start there. As a standard for gridiron excellence, get the Demon Deacons in your sights.

Another of the sad excuses you’ll hear regarding Virginia football is that it was placed on a downward trajectory by the Vick/Curry debacle. The way I hear it told is they had Ronald Curry all set to become a Cavalier, and therefore Vick’s high school coach told Virginia not to bother coming after Vick — that, essentially, any college recruiting Vick had to choose between him and Curry. UVA couldn’t court Vick because they had Curry, which allowed Virginia Tech to move in and secure Vick’s services. Then Curry decided he’d rather go to UNC. Result: UVA left with no huge-time QB recruit. Gracious, fellas, who cares? It’s time to let this one go. Let go of that balloon and let it disappear wistfully into the clouds. One recruit doesn’t make or break a program. Nor does one area code. Another pathetically pervasive recruiting lament you’ll hear is that Virginia Tech dominates the talent-rich Hampton Roads 757. Listen guys, SO WHAT? Either get in there and recruit harder or recruit somewhere else. There are states with four or five big-boy programs. Recruit harder. Recruit more. Recruit farther away. Just do something. One quarterback? One area code?

To end on a high note, remember when Virginia had the Barber twins and it stung FSU with the Seminoles’ first-ever ACC loss? Wasn’t that fantastic? I’ve described FSU’s losses in the ’90s as perplexing, and this one fits the bill. The Cavaliers just played their hearts out and slew that giant. It looked like maybe Warrick Dunn broke the plane there at the end, but thank heavens the zebra didn’t see it that way. Sigh. The good old days, when upsets were upsets.

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 Old Man and the Sea

The Author: Ernest Hemingway

The Sport: Fishing

The Dope: This is better as a grown-ass man than it was in high school, and it was pretty good in high school. It’s a manual for proper manly attitudes, the document Papa was meant to produce. While reading this you’ll feel both grateful to be male and also devastated (unless you’re that grizzled but tech-savvy cowboy on the ESPN commercials) at how distant modern life often keeps you from any consistent or pure manliness. The farther Santiago drifts — the more singular his concerns become, the more necessary his knowledge, the more helpful his simple memories — the nobler he grows. And while you come to understand this old man’s nobility, you come to realize anew that something important is broken for us testicled American town-dwellers. This book reminds us how to regard a young boy, how to regard animals. It reminds us what we all know in our blood, that the old, slow, inefficient way of doing a thing — in this case fishing — is better. Multitasking is for girls. We all do it, and it’s girly. Santiago does not multitask. Texting and Facebooking and blogging are for girls. Reading a blog is for girls, but writing a blog is really for girls. Retail punch cards are for girls. K-Cups. Opinion polls. Guys’ Night Out is for girls. It’s Girls’ Night Out and they changed a couple of letters.

These sentences are humble and of a piece. The dialogue reads as if originally uttered in the Spanish these Cubans would’ve spoken and then translated into English with all the purpose but little of the nuance. Salao. That’s the worst form of unlucky. That’s what the old man suffers from until he’s waylaid by too much luck all at once. Good luck can be worse than bad. They’re both just luck, and the old man deals with both in uniform dignity. This short work will take you only a couple of hours to read but will leave you with mixed emotions for weeks or months — chief among them: manliness envy.

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

Previously from John Brandon:
Hunks, Books, and Clemson vs. Florida State
Open Season
Dear Coach Pelini
Dear Coach Tressel
Go Irish?

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