We begin this week with white tablecloths, waiters, steak, and an ethnic nickname.
When he played at Alabama, 1969-71, Johnny Musso, better known as the “Italian Stallion,” recalled that there was a class-system in the Alabama cafeteria.
“If Coach Bryant deemed that you played well, you would sit at a table, covered by a white tablecloth and a waiter would serve steak. If not, you stood in line with everyone else, holding a tray, and ate whatever slop was on the menu,” said one of the Tides greatest running backs.
Musso’s moniker came courtesy of team publicist Charlie Thornton.
“When he came up with the “Italian Stallion,” I was embarrassed at first. But over the years as I’ve spoken at Italian American clubs for fathers and sons, and I found out that it was a great source of pride for a lot of people,” Musso recalled.
The All-America grew up in Birmingham, and watched his first Alabama game The Iron Bowl at the age of 11, and from then on, wanted to play only for the Tide. And play he did, leading the SEC in rushing his junior and senior years.
This weekend, let’s teams play so well that they, along with its faithful, celebrate over a prime steak dinner, and which, end the day starved for victory, and saddled with the nickname; loser.
No. 7 Michigan State at No. 12 Michigan (Ch.5, 3:30 p.m.) There hasn’t been this much excitement in East Lansing since its iconic coach; Hugh Duffy Daugherty won the 1956 Rose Bowl.
But despite having won ten in a row, eleven consecutive Big Ten road games, and 32 of its last 35, (only Alabama and Florida have won more since 2013) Sparty has sputtered like the stock of EMC.
It has won five straight, and six of its last seven against its “big brother,” but marches into Ann Arbor, decimated by injuries, the latest being its All-America center Jack Allen (doubtful) and principle road grinder Madre London.
The Sons of Bubba Smith are directed by its senior QB Connor Cook (12 TDs-2 INTs-59%) whose leadership abilities, are better than anything the Republicans have to offer in its search for the next Speaker of the House.
Unfortunately, the Spartans mundane offense (72nd overall) assisted by tailback L.J. Scott (6Tds), and wideout Aaron Burbridge performs more like the Helots working the farm.
Sparty’s highly touted D, led by third generation backer Riley Bullough, his partner Jon Reschke, and All-America end Shilique Calhoun, has been as disappointing Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, and is particularly susceptible defending the pass.
The biggest question in Ann Arbor remains; when does the first batch of “Harbaugh for President” bumper stickers begin to appear?
Even Vladimir Putin would be impressed.
Channeling the spirt of Bo Schembelcher, the Sons of Red Berenson have whitewashed three consecutive opponents for the first time since the last days of Jimmy Carter – 1980.
Harbaugh’s metaphor for his team is a callous; “Building a callous” symbolic of toughness of his Big Blue squad.
The Maize and Blue’s Fort Knoxian D, the nation’s stingiest (6 pts. a game) and second overall, attacks with backer Joe Bolden, Desmond Morgan, and safety Jabrill Peppers, and has allowed a jaw-dropping total of 7-points in its last 19 quarters of play.
It makes this group harder to penetrate than the inner circle of Tom Brady.
If the defense is Broadway worthy, the Meeechigan offense is like a Big Mac at a high end steak joint.
Iowa grad-student transfer, QB Jake Rudock (5 TDs-6 INTs-62%) is the classic game manager, while its committee of road graders featuring; De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Derrick Green is as dynamic as Lincoln Chafee on a debate stage.
When the traffic cop goes aerial, Amara Darbough, and tight end Jake Butt – (yes! tight end Butt) – are the principle safety nets.
On Saturday, we think the callous gets harder, as the Maize and Blue, under its Bo reincarnate, moves deeply into the playoff conversation.
No.10 Alabama at No. 9 Texas A&M (Ch.4, 3:30 p.m.) With apologies to Blondie, “The Tide is high …. I’m going to be your number one.”
Saddled by an early season loss, Groucho’s favorite team has been forced into full playoff mode.
And if, as Blondie sang, Bama is going to be your number one, or at least a playoff team, it cannot stumble again.
The backbone of the Sons of Johnny Musso is a smothering D that’s more disruptive than a lunch between Mayor Marty Walsh and casino magnate Steve Wynn.
These eleven angry men are led by its one man wrecking crew, All-America backer Reggie Ragland, with assists from end Jarran Reed, and safety Geno Mathias-Smith.
But as the title-town faithful are well aware, Bama’s offense is more like a tuna sandwich, not exactly bland, but certainly not a prosciutto, Swiss, and provolone, with pickles and tomato, slathered with natural mustard on thick hand cut Polish rye.
Florida State transfer, senior QB Jake Coker (11 TDs-6 INTs-59%) is a steady game manager, who leans heavily on his All-America tailback; Derick Henry – 10 TDs.
The Tide has also found its game-changing wideout Calvin Ridley, who helps open up the running lanes for Henry and company.
In Aggieland this year’s “12th Man” is its newly hired Gandalf-like defensive wizard John Chavis, who ventured over from L$U to stabilize and toughen A@M’s matador defense.
Now the biggest concern for the Sons of John David Crow is whether USC comes a calling for its coach Kevin Sumlin, and if so, will he’ll listen?
These Lee Roy Caffrey descendants are directed by the latest College Station gunslinger; QB Kyle Allen (13 TDs-2 INTs -64%) who can hit a target better than an Israeli sniper pointing at the head of a Palestinian.
The sharpshooter is assisted by a trio of field-stretchers; Christina Kirk (16 yards a grab), Josh Reynolds (21), and Ricky Seals-Jones, while Tra Carson in the principle road-churner.
The improving D, which plays with the same anger that the Clinton’s harbor toward Barak Obama is anchored by a disruptive pair of ends; Myles Garret (9.5 TFLs -7.5 sacks) and Daeshon Hall (6.5 TFLs -5 sacks).
But as long as St. Nick continues to patrol its sideline, we’ll always take the desperate eleven from Tuscaloosa.
No.11 Florida at No. 5 LSU (ESPN, 7 p.m.) As the legendary Dinah Washington once sang, “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, twenty-four little hours……”
That is exactly the sentiment that enveloped the Gators football office, when it learned that its starting QB Will Grier, has been suspended by the NCAA for an entire calendar year for taking an over-the counter supplement that contained a PED substance. (Coach Jim McElwain said the football program will appeal the decision.)
The QB shift dramatically alters the Sons of Steven Stills (dropped out after a year), who will now turn to its sophomore QB; Treon Harris, who has experience, but not the leadership of Grier.
The new kid on the block will lean on his leather tough tailback Kelvin Taylor (7TDs), while a three-pack of receivers: wideout Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell, and tight end Jake McGee are solid chain movers.
But the guile behind these Swamp monsters is a D (eleventh stingiest 14 pts.), anchored by All-America corner Vernon Hargreaves, end Jonathan Bullard, and backer Jarrad Davis, which plays rougher than Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders, gang tackling the CEO of Goldman Sachs.
This season the L in LSU stands for; Leonard.
Tailback Leonard Fournette, the Tigers Heisman frontrunner, is having a better year than Michael Dell.
The virtuoso, with a future Sunday pedigree, has already surpassed the 1000-yard mark, averaging a jaw-dropping 8.6 yards a carry, and more than 200 yards-a-game.
But there is cause for concern in Death Valley, as the Sons of Billy Cannon are as multi-dimensional as Deval Patrick.
QB Brandon Harris (4 TDs-0 INTs-57%) slim resume includes a total of 89-attempts, and the LSU passing attack sits a bottom feeding 122nd nationally.
When the Tigers signal caller makes a connection, he has a pair of tall-cotton receivers; Travin Dural and Malachi Dupree who have the ability to make a big play.
As always with a Les Miles coached team, its strength is with a D, featuring backers Kendell Beckwith, Deion Jones, and safety Rickey Jefferson, who hit with the intensity and power of a Ronda Rousey right cross.
On Saturday, in a game in which both teams will have more welts than a bee-keeper, it will be Leonard left, Leonard right, Leonard straight ahead, as LSU edges its visitors and continues lurking just outside the playoff circle.
USC at No. 14 Note Dame (Ch.7, 7:30 p.m.) The season for the Sons of Neil Armstrong is as dysfunctional as the campaign of Jeb Bush.
Steve Sarkisian is out, and interim Shawn Elliott is in. It will be the fourth different USC coach in the last four years to coach in this game.
(Where’s Ed Orgeron when you need him? But that is a story for another day. Right Pat Haden??!!)
But weep not for the Trojans. Its brand is revered. It just needs to recover from the; Pete Carroll/Reggie Bush/Snoop et al mess, after Petey bolted one step ahead of the posse for Seattle.
But the underachieving Men of Troy, remain dangerous (39 pts a game) especially under the command of its stellar dart-thrower Cody Kellser (15 TDs-3 INTs-69%) who targets one of the country’s best; JuJu Smith-Schuster – 6 TDs – almost 19 yards a grab.
This Trojans ground attack will never be confused with “Tailback U” as Tre Madden, and Ronald Jones are as ordinary as dandelions dotting the outfield of a neighborhood ballfield.
USC’s D (64th overall) featuring backer Su’a Cravens, tackle Delvon Simmons, and backer Cameron Smith are as undisciplined as a Kardashian preening for the camera.
In order to garner a playoff invite, the Sons of George Gipp are going to need more than an intercession by “Touchdown Jesus.”
The Irish must run the table, and hope that Clemson, and Stanford, whom they play at seasons’ end, do the same.
The Domers balanced attack is under the command of its dual-threat r-shirt freshman QB DeShone Kizer (8 TDs-4 INTs-65%) who plays with the steady maturity of John Wayne in “Rio Bravo.”
The ‘bright-lights’ kid focuses on a touchdown making target Will Fuller (7 TDS-19 yards a catch), while tailback C.J. Prosise (7 yds-9 TDs) rumbles as the nation’s seventh best chain mover.
The D is led by its All-America disruptor, backer Jaylon Smith, his partner Joe Schmidt, and corner KeiVarae Russell struggle mightily (84th) stopping the run.
In what has potential to be a classic, despite all the controversy, we think “Touchdown Jesus” stretches his arms a little higher as Notre Dame takes out USC.
Arizona State at No.4 Utah (ESPN, 10 p.m.) Todd “The Texter” Graham’s desert visitors have dusted up a “win” storm of 11 consecutive victories against the Utes.
But number 12 would be a season changer.
The Sons of Curley Culp are directed by its rocket-armed QB Mike Bercovici (14 TDs-4 INTs-60%), who has the luxury of targeting a passel of receivers; D.J. Foster, Devin Lucien, and Tim White, while the chief road runner is tailback; Demario Richard.
The D, led by safety Jordan Simone, and backers Salamo Fiso (10.5 TFLs), and Antonio Longino, has been as bland and uninspiring as democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb.
Utah is the last man standing!
Amazingly Utah, that’s right, Utah, is the lone remaining unblemished eleven in the Pac-12.
But the concern amongst the Salt Lake City faithful isn’t whether the carriage turns into a pumpkin, but whether its coach, Kyle Whittingham, gets a clarion call from USC.
We think he’d be the perfect choice.
The Sons of Marv Fleming double shift behind dual-threat QB Travis Wilson (5 TDs-3 INTs-66%) who does more damage with his “pins,” averaging 7.1 yards-a-carry, and its Norm Boulash-esque wall busting tailback Devontae Booker, who is averaging 133 yards per game.
But the key to the Utes resurgence is its opportunistic D, that ranks second in the country in forced turnovers with seventeen, led by backers Gionni Paul, Jared Norris, and safety Tevin Carter.
In what will be a very close game, we think Utah clouds the Sun Devils streak. .
Last week: 4-1 Season record: 16-14
That’s it from cyber-space. We’ll be up and running with our recap by noon on Sunday. Until then, Peace, and listen to the music. PK