If we could continue to find our inner pessimism, things might turn out okay.
As one of the secrets to happiness, pessimism certainly worked on Saturday when a blase college football schedule wound up hatching some pretty vivid sights. Now comes a thick first Saturday in October with a whopping six games of ranked-versus-ranked, with four unbeaten teams from the top 13 all playing within 75.6 Mississippi miles of each other, with Stanford taking a curmudgeonly defense (one touchdown permitted in four games) to top-10 Notre Dame and quarterback Everett Golson, with unbeaten Nebraska trying out its reborn self-image and its mighty Ameer Abdullah at formidable Michigan State, with LSU and Auburn in their usual fray that seems an afterthought adjacent all else, and even top-10 Baylor going to curious Texas, plus this and that and the other thing in a huge, teeming country, and …
It will never live up to its run-up, and the beauty of such thinking is that if it does, Wow. And as pessimism can help on the macro, it clearly can help on the micro.
The fans of No. 1 Florida State have a rare chance to practice it even with a 20-game winning streak, for they have seen enough football in their day to know they aren’t seeing championship football these days. Never in all their 769 games had the Seminoles yielded 24 points in a first quarter, but now they’ve done it. Never during any third quarter last emphatic championship season did they throw an interception, fumble a punt and trail by 38-28, but they just notched that trifecta at North Carolina State. Never had they seen Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett entertain so, but now they have (and so have we all). Often they have seen Heisman Trophy-holder Jameis Winston excel, but they’d prefer he not have to excel with a 20-yard scramble on third-and-11 with 3:36 remaining in a 49-41 game (that ended 56-41).
Similarly, but very dissimilarly, there should be no trouble locating pessimism around Michigan Stadium, where it should serve as a vital coping tool going forward. Many of us assumed Michigan would beat Minnesota at home because that’s what happens in American life, and as if we knew Michigan looked bad but couldn’t be as bad as it looked. Well, it’s a badder bad than the bad we badly pooh-poohed. The ensuing 30-14 loss ran the record versus Power Five-conferences-plus-Notre Dame to 0-3, the turnover margin to minus-9 (1-10). One hundred and nine thousand, nine hundred and one seats is a lot to situate before a coach’s march to the ax, but maybe some of the 109,901 will remain empty as people opt for sunnier pursuits such as cleaning gutters.
As for the 102,910 who came to Penn State’s Homecoming, did they practice sufficient pessimism? Did they know their 4-0 team would take a 29-6 mulching from a Northwestern squad that has been rummaging around trying to find its return ticket from the abyss? No, they did not. Did No. 6 Texas A&M dread properly before playing Arkansas in Jerry Jones’ funhouse? We can’t be sure, but the 28-14 fourth-quarter deficit left hints before the thing spun itself into an SEC West classic, replete with three late Kenny Hill touchdown passes, a visiting Johnny Manziel awed on the sideline and the one thing so many fans secretly desire: a refereeing error in the overtime when the men with all the power failed to notice Texas A&M’s false start seconds before Texas A&M’s winning touchdown.
Was there suitable pessimism at Boston College following the wins over Southern California and Maine? Colorado State came to town and suspected not. Did Utah ply enough pessimism after its alleged big win at Michigan? Of course not, so that win shrank in both the afternoon (Michigan’s loss to Minnesota) and the evening (Utah’s loss to visiting Washington State after a 21-0 lead). Any more shrinking, and it might wind up rubbed out of the record.
Now the pessimism challenge comes (micro) to, say, UCLA, host to Utah and Oregon the next two Saturdays, and frightfully abuzz with one of the giddiest passages in the English language: five plays of 80 yards or more in a 62-27 win at Arizona State Thursday. Repeat the chorus, and add some violins: five plays of 80 yards or more in a 62-27 win.
Macro-wise, it might be impossible to practice good pessimism concerning the Southeastern Conference. That band of 14 just had a Saturday schedule that made you go, Eh, only to spawn two of the kind of pulsating delights that make the giant sin of college football so irresistible: Texas A&M-Arkansas and Missouri’s 21-20 win at South Carolina. Now, it gets better and worse. Not only does the 87,451-strong Auburn theatre have LSU inbound for a Saturday evening show, but at 11 a.m. Central Time, unbeaten Texas A&M will start playing unbeaten Mississippi State, whereupon at 2:30 unbeaten Alabama will start playing unbeaten Ole Miss.
Feeling glum about that will take some effort.
Underdogs underwhelming, but not all
Of course, snobbery plays a huge (and increasing) role in college football, and as September departs, so do many of the games between the aristocracy and the peasantry, as the aristocracy starts playing the aristocracy and the peasantry starts playing the peasantry.
Of the 128 teams in FBS, 66 fall in the Power Five-plus-Notre Dame group (counting the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12), while 59 play in what you might call non-power conferences if you were snooty about it, leaving three (Brigham Young, Navy, Army) in an indie limbo.
As the 66 pull away ever more from the 59, like chain stores gobbling up boulevards, the 59 have spent September (and late August) going 12-85 against the 66 by my count, not so bad given resource margins. The marvels include Colorado State (2-0 against the Big 66) of the Mountain West Conference, East Carolina (2-1 against the Big 66) and, now, Akron.
Is there an underdog name any apter than Akron, other than flushing it out to Akron Zips?
Yet by eyewitness accounts, there was nothing funky about Akron’s 21-10 win at Pitt on Saturday, just a straight-up conquering via 148 rushing yards from Conor Hundley and so on, just another reminder that Terry Bowden, who once coached Auburn to 11-0 and a win over Alabama in a probation year, coaches Akron, and that it’s cushier to coach at Auburn than to coach at Akron.
And while we’re doling out exclamation points here: Yale!
The 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl might prove flush with optimism, daunting though that is. Yale beating Army 49-43 in overtime is a different kind of toppling, the FCS-over-FBS kind, and the first Ivy League-over-FBS since Penn-over-Navy in 1986. When you straggle out to the Yale Bowl and witness 36 home first downs plus five touchdowns from a non-scholarship player (Tyler Varga) — note: They’re all non-scholarship players — well then, you might just end up with hope for the future.
Bye, bye, Weis
Having been fired Sunday in the third year of a five-year contract with Kansas, Charlie Weis has followed upon being fired after 2009 in the fifth year of a 10-year contract with Notre Dame. Under Bill Belichick, Weis was a successful NFL offensive coordinator. As a head coach with a 41-49 record, judging caliber against cost, Weis is arguably the best negotiator in the history of the game.