We begin this week with one of America’s most iconic sports figures, a high class gesture, another example of “the dumbing down of America,” and an impromptu history lesson.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had waited all season for Syracuse week.
His top ranked Tigers play at the Orange on Saturday, and he was excited about naming his long snapper, Jim Brown one of his captains, to pay homage to the Syracuse legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
But on Monday when the coach informed his team all he got in return was a bunch of blank stares. These “Mensa Club” members had never heard of Jim Brown.
“It was sad beyond explanation,” said Swinney.
It prompted the coach to give an unscripted history lesson on whom many consider the greatest running back in the history of the game, as well as the greatest lacrosse player to ever pick up a stick.
This weekend, let’s see which teams capture the spirit of Brown and run with relentless abandon, and which are totally clueless on how to slow the opposition, as they blankly trudge off the field saddled with another defeat.
No.3 Alabama at No.20 Mississippi State (Ch.4, 3:30 p.m.) In Genesis 2:2; “And on the seventh day he rested,” doesn’t apply to football in the SEC.
After its black and blue inducing battle with LSU, Groucho’s favorite team, “We tried to remove the tusks but they were embedded so firmly, of course in Alabama, the tusks-a-loosa,” Captain Spaulding from “Animal Crackers,” has to get right back on its high horse and stride into Starkville.
The Tide once again has positioned itself firmly into the playoff picture, courtesy of a Mississippi loss, but the roadblocks remaining are as daunting as the refugee route through Hungary.
The kingfish of the Sons of Bart Starr is its All-America Advil inducing, atom smashing tailback Derrick Henry, the nation’s fifth leading rusher (17 TDs), who is averaging 139 yards a game.
As the season has progressed, QB Jake Coker (11 TDs-7 INTs) has utilized an expanded playbook with the assistance of a trio of receivers; Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and tight end O.J. Howard.
But it’s the nation’s seventh stingiest (16) D, and third overall, which sets the tone for St. Nick’s Title-Towners.
This swarming eleven anchored by All-America backer Reggie Ragland, end Jarran Reed, and corner Geno Matias-Smith surrenders a miniscule 75 yards a game, and is harder to penetrate than the inner circle of North Korean President Kim Jong-un.
In Starkville, Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen has become a better magician than David Copperfield.
The Sons of Tom Neville are directed by its dynamic QB Dak Prescott (18 TDs-1 INT-66%), who also leads the team in rushing yards, while accounting for 7 TDs.
The 230 pound dual-threat dart-thrower has a trio of “high cotton” receivers, Fred Ross, De’Runnya Wilson, and Fred Brown (all over 6-1) who have combined for 108 catches and 12 TDs.
But its ground attack led by Brandon Holloway is nearly as lethargic as Jeb Bush on a debate stage, and sinks to a bottom feeding 94th overall.
MSU’s eleventh stingiest (17) D, led by the “Brown Brothers” backers Richie (8 TFLs-5.5 sacks), and Beniquez, along with end A.J. Jefferson (12.5 TFLs- 5 sacks), is pedestrian stopping the run, which is the wrong recipe against Alabama.
The Tide always has a slower start after its Killebrew-esque slugfest with LSU, but with all the big prizes still for the taking, we think Alabama comfortably silences the cowbells in Starkville.
No.12 Oklahoma at No.4 Baylor (Ch.5, 8 p.m.) With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, except for its inexplicable hiccup against Texas; “Ooook-lahoma, has been sweeping down the plain.”
The Sooners, the nation’s third (46) highest scoring eleven, are led by its lyrical QB Baker Mayfield (28 TDs-4 INts-70%) who tinkers as the second most efficient passer in the land.
The OU hit maker is assisted by a pair of plow horses; Samaje Perine (10 TDs), and his partner Joe Mixon, but luxuriates in lasering onto a trio of glue-fingered game breakers; Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, and Durron Neal who have combined for; 123 catches and 13 TDs.
But the biggest improvement in Norman for the Sons of Billy Sims has been its swarming disruptive D which is the nation’s sixteenth stingiest, anchored by its leader, All-America backer Eric Striker (13 TFLs-7.5 sacks) with assists from backer Dominique Alexander, and safety Ahmad Thomas.
In Waco there hasn’t been this much excitement, since David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were holding court against the federal government, or Bob Wills was touring with the Texas Playboys.
The Sons of Cotton Davidson score more often than a roadie for the Allman Brothers at “Fillmore West.”
Baylor leads the nation in total offense, while averages a mind-boggling 57 points a game.
But the once sunny skies have clouded over McLane Stadium.
Two weeks ago the Bears lost its “All-Everything” QB Seth Russell (neck-out for season) leaving the next man up a true freshman; Jarrett Stidham.
But feat not, the kid has plenty of help led by his “Barbara Walters” 20/20 man; wideout Corey Grant who averages 20-yards a grab while scoring 20 touchdowns.
This descendant of Del Shofner leads the nation in yardage (147) and points (15) points per game. (Maybe the Celts could use him. Sorry!)
The newbie also has two additional quality targets; K.D. Cannon and Jay Lee, plus 1000 yard road-grader Shock Linwood (9TDs) who plows; 130-yards a game.
But it’s the D of the Sons of Hayden Fry which causes the late night agita amongst the faithful.
This group (58th overall) featuring backer Grant Campbell, corner Travon Blanchard, and end Jamal Palmer will ultimately determine whether a playoff invite will be mailed to the football offices located on the banks of the Brazos River.
We’ve been fooled by “Big Game” Bob (Stoops) before, but we’ll stick with Rodgers and Hammerstein as it’s; “Oklahoma, O.K.!
Oregon at No.7 Stanford (FOX, 7:30 p.m.) Phil Knight University, aka University of Oregon has migrated its way from oblivion into a potentially dangerous annoyance.
The Ducks are directed by Eastern Washington transfer (finally healthy -finger) QB Vernon Adams (14 TDs-5 INTs-66%), the bombardier of the country’s ninth highest (42) scoring squad.
The descendant of Norm Van Brocklin also focuses on a pair of field stretchers; Bralon Addison, and Dwayne Stanford.
But the turbo propelling the resurgence in Eugene is the nation’s fourth leading rusher, 230-pound tailback Royce Freeman (1287 yards-6.6 yards-11 TDs) who motors through the opposition like a Rolls.
But as the Sons of Steve Prefontaine are painfully aware, the Ducks D, which has allowed 37-points a game has performed like a bunch of Titanic bottom feeding matadors.
These eleven led by end DeForest Buckner (12 TFLs-7 sacks), and backers Rodney Hardrick, and Joe Walker has more holes than the testing labs of the Russian Athletic Federation, or the security at the TSA.
Since its season opening loss, the Cardinal has run off eight consecutive victories elbowing its way into the playoff conversation.
Its igniter is its Heisman contender, “Mr. All-Purpose” tailback/receiver Christian McCaffrey, who can do more things than a Swiss Army Knife.
The son of former NFL receiver Ed, he leads the nation is all-purpose yards (241), while leading the Cardinal in receiving, and rushing (1207), which puts him ninth best in the nation.
The commander of the Sons of Bill Walsh is senior QB Kevin Hogan (16 TDs-6 INTs-66%) who is steadier than Kelly Slater riding a wave at Half Moon Bay, who displays better leadership than the entire presidential field.
In addition to the aforementioned Heisman contender, tight end Austin Hooper, and Michael Rector are field stretching targets.
The D of the Sons of Ernie Nevers led by backers Blake Martinez, Peter Kalambayi, and strong safety Kodi Whitfield isn’t dynamic, but is solid in all phases.
It won’t be without stress, but we think the “smart-kids” runs its streak to nine with thoughts of a playoff dancing in its head.
No.25 Memphis at No.16 Houston (ESPN2, 7 p.m.) The winning formula for Memphis is smoother than a note from the horn of “Satchmo,” or simpler than anything made by Gerber’s.
So goes its All-America caliber QB Paxton Lynch (19 TDs-2 INTs-69%), so go the Tigers.
Coach Justin Fuente’s, (he’s on everyone’s short list for most openings), starry dart thrower, directs the nation’s sixth highest (44) band of blues makers, with help from a three-pack of chain movers; Mose Frazier, Anthony Miller, and Phil Mayhue who have combined for 126 catches and 7 TDs.
When the Sons of Issac Bruce leave the “air-waves” tailbacks Doroland Dorceus, and Jarvis Cooper make beautiful music on the ground.
But it’s the Tigers colander D, a sludge-like 99th overall, featuring backers Genard Avery, Wynton McManis, and safety Reggis Ball, that gives the faithful; the Memphis Blues again.
So far this season the refrain from the football team remains: “Houston, we have no problem.”
Newly minted head man Tom Herman, fresh off his Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant at national champion Ohio State, has the Cougars rocketing up the polls.
The country’s eighth highest (44) scoring eleven is directed by its dual-threat QB Greg Ward (13 TDs-4 INTs-70%), who also leads the Cougs in rushing with 829 yards scoring an eye-popping 16 touchdowns.
The feisty junior is assisted by tailback Kenneth Farrow (10 TDs) and a big-three of receivers; Demarcus Ayers, Chance Allen, and Steven Dunbar who have combined for 118 catches and 10 TDs.
The D of the Sons of Jim Nantz led by backers Elandon Roberts (10.5 TFLs), Steven Taylor (13.5 TFls-8 sacks) and safety Trevon Stewart (9 TFLs-6 sacks) stones runners but struggles mightily (106th) defending the pass which is not a good recipe against the “Bealestreeters.”
Ultimately, in a game that might take six hours to finish, we think Houston stays on a smooth glide path and lands a few notches higher in the polls.
Washington State at No. UCLA (ESPN, 10:45 p.m.) It took a while, but the mad-scientist of the Palouse, otherwise known as coach Mike Leach, has the Cougars bowl eligible and roaring.
Wazzu’s polar-opposite offensive attack –(second in passing, 126th in rushing) – is commanded by the QB Luke Falk (33 TDs-7 INTs 70%), who leads the nation in both passing yards, and yards (415) per game.
The “Gumby” armed rifleman can pinpoint toward a trio of touchdown makers; Gabe Marks, Dom Williams, and River Cracraft, who have combined for a jaw-dropping total: 171 receptions, and 23 TDs.
In those rare occasions when the gunslinger needs to reload, tailbacks Gerard Wicks, and Keith Harrington are the principle earth movers.
The D of the Sons of Gene Conley featuring backers Peyton Pelluer, and Jeremiah Allison, ranks 84th overall, and is leakier than the Bobby DeLeo’s “sealed” testimony in the Massachusetts Probation investigation.
The Sons of Mark Harmon (’74, Mr. NCIS, Rose Bowl winner) have rolled the bones on the arm of t-freshman QB Josh Rosen (18 TDs-7 INTs-61%), and except for a 2-game losing skid in mid-October, the kid has avoided rolling snake-eyes.
The Bruins catalyst is its starry tailback Paul Perkins (10TDs) who is on the cusp of 1000 yards, while the dynamic wideout duo: Jordan Payton, and Thomas Duarte, have combined for; 92 grabs and 12 TDs.
As the LA faithful are well aware, the UCLAn’s D featuring end Kenny Clark, and backers Jayon Brown and Kenny Young stops the run (100th) about as well as the Commonwealth builds a casino.
This is a tough game on which to get a handle, we can make a case on each side, but we’ll go with the spirit of Harmon to carry the day for the Bruins.
Last week: 2-3 Season record: 31-19
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