Perhaps we all should have seen this coming from the start. I found myself unusually excited for this college football season (likely due to the misery surrounding the Mets’ baseball season) and, for the first time ever, actually tuned in to the season-opening Thursday night game between South Carolina and North Carolina State. It was a horrid football game, the kind of game where neither team deserves to win.
Two days later, BYU scored one of two big upsets of this college football season,* beating Oklahoma with the help of a Sam Bradford injury.
*Washington 13, USC 10 the other.
The tone for the season was set.
Here are the six worst things about the 2009 College Football Season:
1. The Heisman “Race”
For the first time ever, we entered the season with the top three candidates in the Heisman from last season all returning. It promised to be an epic battle between Tebow, Bradford, and McCoy—almost certain to be won by McCoy so neither of the other two ended up with a second Heisman.*
*This isn’t to say that voters would never give a guy a second Heisman; they already have. It’s just that, in my opinion, to win it again, you not only have to be the best player in the country, but you have to be better than you were the previous time you won the Heisman, and Tebow and Bradford set some pretty high standards when they won it. So, McCoy would only have to be better than those guys this year to win; Tebow and Bradford would have to be better than each other, McCoy, and their own historical precedents.**
**This personal theory of mine is unfortunately not exactly borne out by history. Archie Griffin won the Heisman in his junior and senior years, and his senior year was, in fact, statistically worse than both his sophomore and junior years.
But Bradford got hurt in Week 1, and Tebow and McCoy are having subpar years. Tebow has thrown just 12 touchdown passes this season, and four of them came against Troy. McCoy put up better numbers in his freshman season, and he’s saved time and again by Jordan Shipley. Mark Ingram of Alabama has emerged as the third major candidate, but it’s hard to say he’s more valuable to the Crimson Tide offense than its kicker, Leigh Tiffin, who has made 24-of-27 field goals. C.J. Spiller does everything for Clemson, but have you seen the Atlantic Division of the ACC? Clemson is the best team! And they lost to Maryland!
Other dark horse candidates such as Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant, Case Keenum, Jacory Harris, Tony Pike, and Jimmy Clausen have all flamed out. In fact, the two best performances by a single player this season are probably by Thaddeus Lewis (40-of-50 for 459 yards and five TDs at NC State) and Zach Collaros (29-of-37 for 480 yards and a TD passing, 13 carries for 75 yards and two TDs rushing v. Connecticut). Lewis plays for Duke, and Collaros is a backup.
Suffice it to say, the New Jersey gubernatorial race was more inspiring.
2. The Lack of Good Games
Good games are integral to a sport’s success. When there are no good games, the sport tends to lose popularity. Name me a good game from this season. I mentioned BYU-Oklahoma and Washington-USC already. Name me a third one.
No, Florida-Arkansas doesn’t count for two reasons that will be listed below (Nos. 4 and 5). Bama-Tennessee? Please. FSU-Miami? Right, a battle between teams with eight combined losses.
The third best game of the season was between Georgia Tech and Clemson, and nobody watched any of that.
3. The Plunge of the Big XII
A lot of this has to do with injuries and suspensions in the Sooner State, with Oklahoma getting two first halves from Sam Bradford and nothing from Jermaine Gresham and Oklahoma State struggling without Kendall Hunter for a few weeks and Dez Bryant for the last few months. What was supposed to be a three- or four-team race (if Texas Tech could reload) has turned into a one-team coronation for Texas, who has been anything but impressive. McCoy was badly outplayed by Landry Jones in the Red River Rivalry, whose 16-13 final couldn’t realty be termed a “shootout.”
The Big XII North, meanwhile, is even more horrendous than usual, with this week’s “showdown” between 7-3 Nebraska and 6-5 Kansas State for the berth in the conference championship. Luckily, since Texas isn’t that good, the North’s rep won’t lose 70-3 this time around.*
*And Texas didn’t score in the fourth quarter! It could have been worse!
4. The Almost-as-Dramatic-as-the-Plunge-of-the-Big XII Plunge of the SEC
Can we be honest here? The SEC is having a terrible season. It has only three teams in the Top 25, and anyone who has seen LSU knows the Tigers are not very good. The second best team in the SEC East is Georgia, whose “best” win is at Arkansas, where it allowed 41 points (just wait to see what Georgia Tech puts on the Bulldogs). Vanderbilt and Kentucky have returned to serious doormat status; Mississippi has been a massive disappointment; Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn, and Mississippi State are still a year-plus away. After a ridiculous 2007 season that saw five teams spend time in the Top 10 and the league finish with the top two teams and five of the top 15, the SEC has seriously slipped. The last two seasons, its depth has been compromised by the drop-offs and subsequent coaching changes at Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee.
If this is the best conference in the country, that ain’t saying much.
5. The Referees
The most compelling storyline of the season has been the controversy surrounding referees, in particular their tendency for bad calls to almost universally favor undefeated teams. Florida-Arkansas is the most egregious example, but the week before LSU benefited from a key (and incorrect) unsportsmanlike penalty versus Georgia. The Big East saw an at-best questionable overturn of a goal-line fumble in the Cincinnati-West Virginia contest last week.
The biggest problem here is that, when you think about it, it makes sense for conference officials to favor undefeated teams. It’s in the best interest of the SEC for Florida or Alabama to play in the national championship. Television ratings will be much higher for the conference championship game if the two teams are undefeated. Why not slip a call that helps the Gators or Tide? Why not, if you’re a Big East replay official, interpret the rules just a little liberally to help your lone title contender?
Of course, this is just residual from…
6. The Fact that This BCS is still around
One of the biggest flaws of the BCS is that it creates a system where the excitement of the regular season is inversely proportional to the excitement surrounding the title game. In other words, when there’s a really exciting regular season with a lot of upsets (2007), the title game matches two teams that seem as if drawn from a hat. When the title game brings together two titans in an unforgettable matchup (2005), it’s because the regular season was completely devoid of upsets.
Well, 2009 gives us the worst of both worlds. We’re going to go straight through the year with only one top-three team being knocked off, and that happened in the first week because the quarterback got hurt. Even then, though, a title game between Texas and Florida/Alabama certainly won’t have the buildup of USC-Texas or even Ohio State-Miami. None of those teams have been particularly dominant or merit discussion as a transcendent squad. Plus, at the end of the year, it’s possible there will be three other undefeated teams, including one from a BCS conference, left in the cold.
This year, like 2007, seems ideally suited for a playoff. Take 12 teams and give TCU/Cincinnati/Boise State the chance against the Florida/Texas/Alabama trinity. It’s not like the SEC and Big XII are that head and shoulders above the Mountain West/Big East/WAC this year. They’re better, sure, but look at each team’s best win. Florida/Alabama’s will be over the other in the SEC title game; right now, their best wins are each over LSU (again: not a good team). Texas’ best is over Oklahoma State, currently 12th in the BCS. TCU crushed No. 21 Utah, Cincinnati won at No. 19 Oregon State, and Boise State manhandled No. 11 Oregon. And if you want to talk about depth, well, TCU and Cincinnati have both beaten more BCS top 25 teams than Texas.
It always comes back to the BCS.