Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why This Season is Not a Huge Disappointment

There's a lot to complain about this college football season (officiating, parity, etc.), and if anyone would, you'd expect it to be me. And I did (see the previous blog about PSU football). But now it's time to look at the great stories in college football and be thankful (after all, it's this time of year). How's that for a segue?

First, Temple is bowl eligible. I can't describe with words how completely, utterly excited I am to see them in a bowl. It might be the thing I've looked forward to most this season (mainly because it isn't accompanied by an impending sense of dread like PSU-Iowa, PSU-OSU, Iowa-Indiana, etc.). You may be asking yourself, "You pig of an elitist, why do you care about a lowly, barely-Division IA (aside: I will NEVER use "FBS") team from one of the crappiest places on Earth?". And to be honest, I don't know why. Maybe it's because Al Golden is coach. Maybe it's because everyone loves the lovable loser that finally lifts itself up and succeeds. Maybe it's something else. But I love this team, and they're 8-2 and looking good.

Bill Simmons commonly uses the "Shawshank Redemption" as a metaphor for the 2004 Boston Red Sox season. I think that this metaphor could easily be applied to the 2009 Temple Owls season too. They've definitely crawled through their share of feces to reach the promised land that is bowl season. If you look at the Temple football program, its statistics look like this:
  • First season: 1894
  • Bowl record: 1-1-0 all time (Won Garden State Bowl in 1979, Lost Sugar Bowl in 1935)
  • All time record: 406-541-52 (.432)
  • Attendance record: 69029 (11/10/07 vs. Penn State)
  • Average attendance record: 34543 (1986)
That gives you an idea of where this program has been for the past 115 years. But this season has a different feel to it. Granted, they played one Division I-AA opponent (and lost) and their Division I-A opponents have a combined record of 32-61 (helped along by 9-2 PSU and 8-3 Navy). However, they finish their season with 5-5 Kent State and 7-3 Ohio, two wins that would go a long way toward legitimatizing their record (at least in the MAC).

Second, SMU is bowl eligible. Similar to Temple, this is a program that had fallen on hard times for more than two decades (although, to be fair, it was of their own accord) before this season. The only football program in the history of the NCAA to receive the "death penalty" (for those of you that don't know, the "death penalty" is when the NCAA terminates a sports program for a certain amount of time), they haven't been relevant since 1984, when they beat Notre Dame in the Aloha Bowl. Since they were reinstated, they've only had one winning season and have not gone to a bowl. That's changed this year. Looking at their first bowl in 25 years, they only really need to win one of their last two games (at 5-5 Marshall, vs. 3-7 Tulane) to lock up a late-December trip to a postseason game.

All that being said, it'll bring a tear to my eye to see Craig James' alma mater get up off the mat. The perennial crushing of his soul is a ray of sunshine in my life.

Third, many traditional powers continue to struggle. Why is this good? Wouldn't weak (and "weak" is a relative term here) Michigan, Notre Dame, USC, Penn State, and Oklahoma teams be bad for the sport? No, it's not, and not just because I hate Michigan, Notre Dame, and USC, and love watching Rich Rodriguez being raked over the coals.

While there's been a dearth of truly outstanding games this season (due to the inability of any two good teams to meet... for example, this is Rivalry Week and the best game is Oregon-Arizona), non-traditional powers have emerged as contenders. It's entirely possible that TCU, Boise State, and (shudder) Georgia Tech could slip into the National Championship game (as a result of a series of terrible, terrible events, but still). And while these teams will likely be stuck on the outside looking in, they've shown the country that there are high-quality teams at schools not named Texas, Florida, USC, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.

Fourth, nobody wants to win the Heisman. At least, it seems that way. Again, isn't the lack of a truly dominant player bad? And the answer is unequivocally "No". Defensive players have a glimmer of hope. Running backs are once again relevant. Just like TCU and Boise State are showing that there are football programs other than Florida, players like Toby Gerhart, Dion Lewis, C.J. Spiller, and Jerry Hughes are showing that there are positions besides quarterback. By the way, I would do terrible things to see a defensive player win the Heisman.

Fifth, it's possible that all three service academies could make it to bowls. At least two of them will definitely be playing in bowls. Navy is 8-3. Air Force is 7-4. Army is 4-6 (and can become 6-6 and bowl eligible by finishing their season by beating 2-8 North Texas and Navy). Nobody doesn't want this to happen. Except the University of Kabul. Man, do they hate the service academies.

The truth is, I absolutely love seeing the service academies succeed. And not just because of who their players, fans, and alumni are, and the tremendous debt we owe them. I love seeing them succeed because they play a style of football not often seen today. Navy runs a predominantly option offense (if you don't know how I feel about the option, read my last post) and has shown that it works (statistically, they have 779 rushing yards to 3108 rushing yards on the season, with an average of 4.8 YPC). Air Force is a predominantly ground-based attack too (they have 7 guys with 100 yards on the season, 2 of whom have over 700 yards thus far; their offense has 900 passing yards to 3071 rushing yards, and they average 4.5 YPC). Army is similarly run-heavy (697 passing yards to 2133 rushing yards with 4.2 YPC). And yet two of these teams are bowl-bound, and the third could potentially sneak in. In the age of spread offenses, this is quite a feat.

All three have NEVER made bowls in the same season, so here's hoping Army rolls on 11/21 against the Mean Green and again on 12/12 in Philadelphia (Army, here's a hint to help you with Navy: you may see a triple option at some point).


So, in the spirit of the season, be thankful for all of these things. This has been a... unique... college football season, and I've actually enjoyed it on the whole. I'm getting crushed by work right now, so I probably won't be posting again until after the holiday, so have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

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