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After one of the best games, and overall experiences surrounding a game, this past weekend in Baton Rouge, I’m not sure why all the negativity I’ve been reading and hearing this week has gotten to me, but it has.

Finebaum, amongst others, thinks that LSU and their fans are scum. I’ve read and heard a few comments from some Alabama fans echoing the same thing.

Doug thinks that, between the two, Alabama fans are “douchier” than Auburn fans. First off, you’ve got a problem if you use a form of the word douchey to describe anything. That’s tantamount to saying assier or dickeyer, or any other word that works perfectly in one form only to be bastardized by someone trying to sound cool.

There are mass comments about how Florida is way better than Alabama and the Tide doesn’t really have any big wins, especially now that Clemson’s season is officially in the toilet. Alabama has only beaten four teams with a winning record -although they usually miscount or give the overall record of Alabama’s opponent (as if that is that much different for any team at this point in the year) and use that as justification that they are no good. Then they throw the fact that both Florida and Georgia hung half-a-hundred on LSU and since it took Alabama overtime to win the game they must not be that good.

These same people seem to forget that Florida lost to Ole Miss, at home. The same team that Alabama went to sleep on in the second half and still won against. These people forget that football is a game played on a field and regardless of what the stats say you still have to compete. I don’t give a damn how good Florida looks now. They lost a game. You don’t get do overs. Saying their playing the best football now is like a guy bringing rubbers to his girlfriends house six weeks after he knocked her up. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are now, the damage is done.

This Alabama team will never set any records. Offensively or defensively. They just aren’t going to set anyones hair on fire. But what they will do is play physical football for sixty minutes. A little more if need be. Alabama looked as bad in the first half in Baton Rouge as they have all year. They turned the ball over three times. One of those resulted in seven points and the other two kept ten to fourteen off the board. Alabama tied the score up by halftime and never trailed the rest of the game. Despite the worst performance of the year by the rush defense and the three turnovers they still won the game. Isn’t that the sign of a good team; you put forth less than your best effort and you still win?

Out in Lubbock, Texas Tech, who I will add is impressive, puts it on an Oklahoma State (a two-loss) team whose biggest win is to a two-loss Missouri team, and all of a sudden their the gaining style points and first place votes. Mike Leach is the best thing since sliced bread and all the quaterbacks in the Big 12 are just so awesome. Not saying they aren’t good but John Parker Wilson would look like a Heisman candidate against those defenses. Of the four teams from the Big 12 South that are soooo good, the best defense (total yardage) belongs to Oklahoma, who slides in at 51st  in the nation. The other three, Texas Tech, Texas, and Oklahoma State, check in at 57th, 60th, and 84th respectively. Those stats are compiled against more FCS teams (4) than BCS conference schools (3) out-of-conference -two of the three BCS teams were Washington and Washington State who are a combined 1-18 and the other against Arkansas who is in a dead heat for worst in the SEC – and exactly one Top 25 team in TCU.

Again, I’m not saying those schools are bad, only that their body of work shouldn’t give anybody any reason to declare them the best in the country. Remember Missouri and Chase Daniels’ run to the Heisman? That should be notice to all that putting up a gazillion points is not the mark of a great football team. Only one that can put up a bunch of points.

Back to LSU and Baton Rouge. I’ve been there for games a half-a-dozen times and believe it or not, I have never been beaten up and left for dead in the swamp. And that includes a visit to the student section wearing a crimson pullover.

I sat in an LSU section the other night and had a blast. When the game was over almost every single person that was sitting near me and and I had spoken with shook my hand. Granted, I didn’t act like a jackass and there were a few, “Florida is gonna beat the hell out of y’all” type comments offered up but no one threatened me with bodily harm.

Some of the best experiences around the sport of college football, win or lose, have taken place at LSU. I will definitely be going back.

So I’m always puzzled when people talk bad about Baton Rouge. I thought about it a lot and I have come to the following conclusion:

If you go into a place, and this goes for any stadium in the conference, and either expect to be treated badly, so much that you are defensive about everything that happens, or you are a jackass and invite reply, scorn, and ridicule by your jackassy actions, then you are not going to have a good time.

Yes, if you go to Tiger Stadium and you wear colors of the opposing team someone will yell “Tiger Bait” at you. Your personal feelings on the appropriateness of that have no bearing on the situation. Your reaction does. Smile and yell “good luck” or even better, “Is that Jambalaya y’all are cooking?” and everything will be fine. Shoot them the bird or tell them what you think of cajuns and things will go badly.

Here is another example. If you live in a state where the predominant fan base pulls for one of two schools from that state and you spout off about being the proud fan of a school from another state and people will give you a hard time or act “douchey” to you. Mainly because they don’t give two continental dams about your school, especially if your school holds any type of streak over theirs and all they read from that fan base reminds them of not only that streak but also how inbred everyone from your state believes them to be.

There are 92,000 fans at an Alabama game and other than a love for a football team I share genuine similarities with about 100 of them at absolute best. Almost half of them voted differently than me. More than 90% have different views on faith, what to do on a first date, what type of beer is best, what vehicle they drive and how they feel about gay marriage (well OK, everyone in Alabama hates queers – I’m kidding, just 99% of them). So to sit there and say that ,”all Alabama fans are,” or even “most Alabama fans are” is just asinine. Let’s face it somewhere right now there is a wife-beating, child-abusing, meth-dealing lunatic wearing something with Alabama on it and talking about how much he loves the TIde. He does not represent me nor I, him. But we are both Alabama fans. Now you can extend that analogy to every school in the SEC, except Vanderbilt.

The son of my grandmother’s next door neighbor was the biggest, sorriest redneck loser I have ever seen. Although he never failed to address my grandmother as ma’am, he was a sorry human being by almost any definition imaginable. He love the Georgia Bulldogs. I could choose him as my image to personify everything Georgia related. I don’t – because I know that there are many things better to associate the Bulldogs with.

The point is that folks need to stop using absolutes when discussing college football. LSU is a different experience, but that does not make it bad and there are assholes in every fan base. There are also quite a few gracious ones too. They are the type that no matter how bad you dislike a school, demand your respect. I’d prefer to focus on them. Then again, I’m an optimist.

The idea of a playoff to decide the champion of Division One (bite me NCAA) College Football is one that seems to gain more popularity all the time. Here we are sitting at Week Ten of the 2008 season and I see two excellent examples of why a playoff is a bad… wait, let me restate that – a horrible idea for big-time college football. The as-of-right-now unbeaten, non-BCS conference affiliated schools Utah, Boise State, and Ball State, and the Big Twelve South. Stick with me a minute.

The premise here is college football is a great game because every game matters. The de facto playoff essentially starts in Week One and goes all the way to the end of the year with the stakes getting higher at every turn. It is not a one-loss format per se, but it certainly can be. A true playoff will degrade that, not in the sense that the games won’t mean as much, but in the sense that, in a an effort to make sure that their teams have the best chance to make the playoffs, the Athletic Director and Coach at your school will schedule worse and worse competition. The quality of the opponents and therefore the quality of the games you watch will decline.

The example is the non-BCS conference unbeaten teams. Three this week – Boise State, Utah, and Ball State – and as many as five just two weeks ago. Let’s look at the most recent to fall form those ranks, Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane were unbeaten and ranked as high as 15th in the polls until they were beaten by Arkansas this past Saturday. The same Arkansas team who gave up about a billion points to Alabama, Florida, and Texas earlier this season and who is at most the the fourth best team in the SEC West. The 15th ranked team in the nation should never lose to a team struggling with bowl eligibility on Week Nine. How did Tulsa get the lofty ranking? They didn’t play any quality teams and beat them all. And that is how the other non-affiliated unbeaten teams are doing it. They are scheduling as weak a schedule as possible in order to position themselves with clean loss columns and lofty rankings come bowl selection time.

Obviously they aren’t doing that for the non-existent playoff. Instead they are doing it to place themselves in position to be undefeated at the end of the regular season and therefore be ranked high enough to be considered for a lucrative BCS bowl game. These teams can never have serious national title hopes but they can elevate their program in both prestige and revenue by having the appearance of being a quality team because their record is good and they get an invite to big paycheck game. Hawaii last year and Boise State the year before are prime examples. Don’t you find it a little odd that the number of the teams that are in this enviable position every season is on the rise? Hey, it’s good for them and I get that, but the overall quality of football suffers as does the reputation of schools that play tougher schedules both in and out of conference.

Let’s look at the three that still harbor a chance at a BCS bowl:

Utah is currently ranked 8th in the current BCS standings, 10th in the AP poll, and 9th in the Coaches Poll. They are 9-0 and boast victories over Michigan and Oregon State. This is the same Michigan team that isn’t going to a bowl for the first time in 33 years (granted they didn’t know that when they were scheduled to play one another) and Utah beat them by two points. The Utes also have a three-point win over a 5-3 Oregon State team that beat USC but lost to Stanford and Penn State. This is easily their signature win. The win over FCS team Weber State, not so much. Utah barely scraped by a 4-6 New Mexico squad this past weekend 13-10. They also have a big game against conference heavyweight TCU this Thursday night and a season finale against in-state rival BYU. Ohio State, Missouri, Georgia, and LSU are all ranked below the Utes and while they might run the table and have a legitimate claim for a good season, you can’t make me believe that they could beat any one of the four teams I just mentioned ranked below them.

Utah might run the table and at least they did schedule some so-called heavyweights but they don’t deserve a bid based on their overall body of work.

Boise State turned the football world on its ear two years ago by beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl but that might be the only prime-time worthy thing they’ve ever done. They currently sit at 10th in the BCS and Coaches rankings and 9th in the AP. The only praise worthy win they have is a five-point win over Oregon. FCS team Idaho State is on their list of victims. The only game against an opponent with a winning record the rest of the year is their last game of the season against 5-3 Fresno State. The Oregon defeat is a feather in their cap but their overall body of work is dismal. Once again, the four teams I mentioned for Utah, plus at least a couple others in the top 25 should beat them.

Ball State. David Letterman be damned, Ball State has beaten no one to make it to 8-0, 17th in the BCS, 16th in the AP, and 18th in the Coaches Poll. Their only game against BCS conference competition was a win over 3-6 Big Ten also-ran Indiana. Now, it’s obvious the voters are taking this into consideration, but you have to believe that any ranked team would take care of the Cardinals but the question remains. What are they taking space that others, who would punish them, are being denied?

The other example is the Big 12 South where , between the four teams that currently occupy the top eight (#2 Texas Tech, #5 Texas, #6 Oklahoma, and #8 Oklahoma State) , they’ve played four FCS schools (two for Texas Tech, none for Texas) compared to three BCS schools and only one team that is presently ranked and all of this coming before the first conference game. Someone touched on this earlier in the year and I apologize for not remembering who, but the point was that all of those teams front-loaded their schedules to play all of their out-of-conference games prior to conference play. The result was that they were all undefeated when conference play started and are now beating each other and getting credit for doing it, both in defeating ranked teams and not losing tremendous ground for losing to other ranked teams.

Are these team from the Big 12 South actually good? We’ll we have to assume that they are for now and the truth may not be known until bowl season. But, regardless the perception will be there. One thing is certain, those school play offense. I just want to know what will happen when they face good defenses?

So, what I have concluded is that to have a decent season a team needs to play in a weak conference and still hope for a little scheduling luck. I’ll be the first to admit that luck plays an important role in any good season. But what I fear is that with a playoff and the prestige that will come with making it as the reward college football fans will see more and more team front-load their schedules with weak out-of-conference opponents with the goal of being ranked and having the fewest losses as possible. Sure, the playoffs will carry a lot of interest, but the regular season will be diminished. Not by value but by the level of competition. So, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

[Update – after reading the first few comments I add the following mea culpa]

Alright, this was never intended to be about Alabama. But, since y’all are going to dissect their schedule (which is only fair) I’ll do a little brief defending. First of all Kevin, I think you mistook Ole Miss (5-4)  for Mississippi State (3-6). Second, personally as an Alabama fan, I am extremely happy to be where we are and believe it or not somewhat humble about it. The Tide have certainly been the beneficiary of schedule luck – no question about that. But they have no FCS opponents on their resume and Clemson was a top-ten team (maybe not deservedly so, but ranked nonetheless) when they met. Alabama did defeat the Ole Miss team that beat Florida at home and also defeated the Arkansas team that just handed Tulsa its first loss. To this point they are perfect in what – even if it is in  a down year by conventional standards – is the top one or two conferences in the country. They may not be after Saturday. But in order for them to get to the championship game they would still have to defeat LSU, not to mention State and Auburn, and then beat Florida in the championship game. They will “play their way in”, if they can, and isn’t that what all you playoff fans want?
I concede that there are positives to a playoff, and I have seen the need for one more and more the last couple of years. My point however, is that there are negatives to it as well, don’t kid yourselves otherwise. College football is not other sports. It shouldn’t have to improve. I am glued to the TV or at a game every weekend because it is the way it is. And if a team loses to a La-Monroe then they should be excluded from the conversation, no questions. In a playoff situation, you could conceivably win your conference, lose to La-Monroe and still play and win the playoff for a national title. That isn’t right.
One final thing, the BCS isn’t perfect. Projections a few weeks ago were for Alabama to be in the Sugar Bowl against Boise State. I can’t imagine a worse reward for a good season than to play Boise State.

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