Ten things that have nothing to do with this week's Iron Bowl
Nov 27, 2013 at 12:45p ET
As any tailgater who knows anything about coal-fueled infernos and 30-racks of Bud heavy will tell you, pacing is vital.
Just getting to kickoff is something like a science.
So as much as we’d like to roll around in Iron Bowl hype all week – seriously, did you know some people are trying to barter Alabama-Auburn tickets for AK-47s and such? -- we can’t. It’s just not healthy. We’ll never make it to Nick Saban’s first surly pregame interview with Tracy Wolfson.
To enjoy those few hours at Jordan-Hare Stadium as much as possible, we need to ration and resist wringing the moment dry.
Luckily there’s a lot of good football this week, enough for us to carve out 10 totally non-Iron Bowl related things and offer this as a public service. It’s for the best, really.
1. Johnny Manziel is relevant for one more SEC weekend
No. 21 Texas A&M is 8-3 (4-3 SEC), a long way from Sept. 14 when the Crimson Tide came to College Station and all dreams still lived. The Aggies will not win the SEC, and they will not play for a national championship. They won’t go to any BCS bowl, actually.
But that doesn’t mean Johnny Football can’t give us a couple more terrific moments before he turns pro and runs for a land where he can be compensated for signatures without that desire being cast as a deadly sin. The first of his final two opportunities comes this weekend in Columbia, Mo., where Manziel is all that remains between No. 5 Missouri and an SEC East championship, which would send the Tigers to Atlanta for the conference title game against the Alabama-Auburn winner.
More importantly than Manziel, perhaps, is whether Texas A&M’s defense – that leaky cardboard box that ranks 107th in the nation at 6.19 yards per play allowed – can cause Missouri QB James Franklin even a bit of hesitation as he drops back in the pocket and scans for Dorial Green-Beckham or L’Damian Washington. Or maybe it can force the Henry Josey-Marcus Murphy duo to rush for, oh, something slightly less than 5.33 yards per carry – the Aggies’ average, which ranks 113th nationally.
If not, the Tigers will be SEC East champs and then one win away from making the state of Ohio listen to a week of, “Is a one-loss SEC champ more deserving of a national title bid than Ohio State?” talk. Good times.
2. Will Ohio State have any mercy, any at all, on Michigan?
Probably not. Urban Meyer is going to get only more ornery in the coming days, as he realizes he needs to campaign for his Buckeyes to earn a national championship bid.
Part of that campaigning will be trying to obliterate Michigan in the Big House as badly as possible and then attempting the same act of gridiron assault on the Spartans in the Big Ten title game. It could get bloody, particularly this weekend.
But as down as the Wolverines may be this season, Ohio State-Michigan is always must-see viewing, at least to me. There’s so much to love about it. More than 100,000 charged people in close quarters. Hard football in cold weather. The colors. I’m giddy that this game will kick off my football Saturday at 9 a.m. on the West Coast.
But mostly, I love this rivalry because it produces heartfelt, sepia-toned YouTube videos titled, “Ohio State vs. Michigan: The most important thing in the world.” And a quarter-million people have watched! (Warning: Curse word appears at end of video).
3. Boyd, Clowney and fear
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at SEC media days this summer: “I can tell Tajh Boyd is scared back there. He ain’t no sitting duck, but you can see in his eyes that he’s scared of our D-linemen.”
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd one week later at ACC media days: “I’m not afraid of anybody, honestly.”
Isn’t college football fun? Now we can settle this, as No. 10 South Carolina and No. 6 Clemson play in the Palmetto Bowl this weekend, a rivalry that deserves national respect and attention.
4. Duke-North Carolina and the rivalry that’s cheating on basketball
I spent my college years in Chapel Hill, and never once did I envision a Duke-UNC football game carrying implications beyond local bragging rights. This rivalry was always meant for cold nights in February and March. But here we are.
By beating the Tar Heels, Duke will win the ACC Coastal and play Florida State in the conference title game. North Carolina, at 6-5 (4-3 ACC), isn’t playing for quite as much, but knocking Duke out of the ACCCG on Senior Day at Kenan Stadium would be just as sweet. It’d also be the Tar Heels’ sixth straight win after starting the season 1-5, a run that may have saved Larry Fedora from some premature “hot seat” talk.
Our guy who runs social media for college football at FOX Sports is a Duke grad who shall go unnamed – he played football at Duke, too – and we see each other in the office a few times a week. Let’s just say the tenor of our conversations has been different this week. He’s slowly trending toward the cocky side regarding his Blue Devils, forcing me into daily office drive-bys in which I mutter things like “Kenan – where title dreams go to die” and “[redacted].”
That’s really the only bullet I have to fire. Duke’s the better football team this year and, well, yes I’m worried. Win or lose, this week shall pass. Carry on.
5. Get well, Aaron Murray
It’s difficult to think of such a successful career that was, for a time, framed by the perception of failure as much as Murray’s.
Murray won the Georgia starting QB job as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and proceeded to start 52 games and pass for 3,000 yards in four consecutive seasons – the only SEC QB in history to do that – while setting a handful of other school passing records. He helped UGA get to a bowl game every season of his career and was five yards short last season of possibly putting the Bulldogs in the national championship game.
He did this while earning a psychology degree in four years and beginning classes in Georgia’s industrial-organizational psychology doctorate program since he had another year of hanging around in Athens to play football. Murray had to be more than Mark Richt could have ever hoped for when he recruited the QB out of Tampa, Fla.
But along the way, Murray’s high moments were muffled by calls of “he can’t win a big game.” Luckily, he’s not going to leave Georgia that way, not after beating Nebraska in last year’s Capital One Bowl and LSU and South Carolina this season, both of whom were ranked No. 6 at the time of the game. It took losing on a fluke play to Auburn – after leading UGA on a 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback – for people to realize “winning big games” takes more than one player. We could have saved ourselves three years of pointless rhetoric, but hey, at least we made it.
I say all of this because, as you know, Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky last weekend on Senior Night at Georgia. He will now prepare for the NFL, and the first part of that was to get his knee fixed. Murray posted this tweet Tuesday:
Surgery went well! I feel like I'm ready to go wreck tech this weekend!— Aaron Murray (@aaronmurray11) November 26, 2013
Because he didn’t play on a team complete enough to win national titles (like AJ McCarron) or become a sideshow for reasons attributed to non-football things as much as on-field greatness (like Johnny Manziel), Murray didn’t dominate the news and therefore was somewhat overlooked.
We probably didn’t appreciate a guy like Aaron Murray as much as we should have. He deserved better luck than what he got.
Here’s to hoping that luck evens out in the NFL. Get well, Aaron. It was fun to watch you.
6. USC-UCLA is more than just a regional love affair again
The battle for L.A. hasn’t been among the most entertaining rivalry games in recent memory. Every game since 2006 has been decided by double digits, and the ’06 game was a 13-9 slog – although it did include UCLA knocking off No. 2 USC, which was trying to earn a trip to the national championship game.
This year, though, there are reasons to care for more than just USC and UCLA alumni. The Bruins, ranked No. 22, can finish their regular season at 9-3 -- putting themselves in position to win 10 games for the first time since 2005 – which would mark Jim Mora as one of the hot-name college coaches who’d probably receive a call from Texas if it’s looking for a coach this offseason.
For No. 23 SC, beating UCLA would give the Trojans 10 wins and Ed Orgeron one hell of a case for being named the full-time coach. If nothing else, turn on the game for a few minutes to see how gorgeous the Coliseum looks in HD at dusk with USC’s cardinal uniforms blending with UCLA’s blue. Trust me.
7. The Civil War
If you were not in a haze of tryptophan and booze Friday evening, things got a little weird together in Eugene with Oregon State at Oregon.
8. Washington State’s AD hasn’t caught the seasonal spirit yet
So get this: Washington State athletic director Bill Moos says he reads every email that fans send to him, and many of those last year during a 3-9 season were unhappy and, in some cases, just nasty. Moos had someone in his office sort the messages into two bins basically, with the “nasty” bin getting labeled ‘NBT,’ which stands for “no bowl tickets.”
It’s Moos’ intention to not let the senders of those angry emails purchase Washington State bowl tickets in the future. “I’ve got a no-bowl ticket file, and I want people on board and believing in what we’re doing and trusting how we’re going about it,” Moos told The Olympian. “If they don’t want to be on the train, the train’s already pulled out of the station.”
OK, I get the train thing. And there’s no good reason for an adult to send a nasty email to an AD about a sports team. But how about some understanding on Moos’ part? Here’s your win-loss records for the last 10 years: 6-5 (in progress), 3-9, 4-8, 2-10, 1-11, 2-11, 5-7, 6-6, 4-7, 5-6.
You can understand if Cougar fans felt frustrated last year amid another terrible season. The angry emails are misplaced passion, not a sign of not being “on the train.” Hell, if anything, those emails are voices begging for ANY train to be on. Just give them something to cheer for, anything!
Finally, Mike Leach is beginning to, and so it would behoove Moos not to alienate a passionate segment of his fan base at a school that’s craving some football traction.
9. The forgotten game
No. 25 Notre Dame at No. 8 Stanford, and nobody is saying a word about it.
It’s not surprising, as the Irish aren’t in the BCS mix and the Cardinal have locked up their place in the Pac-12 title game. But this game can’t be a side-dish this weekend, can it?
It’s 7 p.m. ET on FOX (I swear this is not just a corporate plug – it’s a great game!) and should be a good capper to a long, full weekend for you.
10. My holiday gift to you
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and thanks for reading. Please don’t hurt yourselves.