Wild Weekends: Halfway Down the Road

It’s rare in football that a game between two teams at 1-3 is the most obsessed over game of the weekend, but “The Panic Bowl” provided that game. Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings edged Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys to put Dallas in the unfortunate position of starting the year 1-4, something that doesn’t offer a happy ending to their season if history has any say over things.

Of course, it’s not as if this was some kind of domination on Minnesota’s part and Dallas made a valiant comeback coming up short, this was a back-and-forth game throughout with Percy Harvin’s kickoff return touchdown to open the second half possibly being the x-factor in the Viking’s win. If anything aided Minnesota towards victory on Sunday it was the Cowboys themselves as penalties all over the place along with sloppy play on both sides of the ball added up to too many mistakes to overcome. The fact that it was a close game and never out of reach should make this loss all the more painful for Romo and Phillips and Jerry Jones to swallow.

Another painful loss took place the night before as Ohio St. was upended from their position as number one team in college football thanks to the Wisconsin Badgers. This was not the game I figured OSU would lose their unbeaten record in (I picked Iowa to be that game before the season started) as Bucky always plays close and plays great against OSU at Camp Randall, but always finds a way to blow it in the fourth quarter with the 2008 meeting in Madison being a fine example. This time around, things were different as John Clay and James White proved a potent 1-2 punch in the backfield while the Buckeyes appeared powerless to stop them. In fact, the only touchdown that Clay or White weren’t responsible for was David Gilreath’s 97-yard kickoff return touchdown to start the game. This proved to be an omen for Tressel and the Buckeyes as they didn’t even seem to be fully into the game until well into the second quarter where they found themselves already down 21-0. To their credit, OSU did fight back (as I expected they would) and got the Badger lead down to 21-18, and it was at this point that I began once again to await the collapse of the Badgers and another climactic OSU triumph in Madison. However, the Badgers didn’t follow the script this time around as White’s lone touchdown of the day knocked all the fight out of OSU and sealed the upset.

It seems that every week in the college football season has offered reason for me to believe that the SEC is slowly turning into the Pac-10, and this week was no exception. Uncharacteristically high scoring games, climactic offensive finishes, not quite as much hard hitting, and a lot more speed and passing all have embodied SEC football so far this season. Those characteristics nine times out of ten would be attributed to the Pac-10 well before they would be attributed to the SEC. But if you were watching the Auburn/Arkansas game on Saturday you should know what I’m talking about. My bad luck when it comes to what games I keep on the tube kicked in for this game as I made the error of heading out for dinner after three quarters and Auburn clinging to a 37-35 lead. Any proof that this game would be an example of the SEC’s slow transformation this year was already given to me, but then all hell broke loose in the fourth quarter. After Arkansas took the lead early in the quarter, the Tigers scored on their next three offensive possessions and added a defensive touchdown along the way for a 65-43 win. The game was the highest scoring SEC conference game in history and stands as the benchmark for future offensive shootouts that we are likely to see this year in a very different SEC. Despite things being so different in the SEC compared to other years, one of the things that best describes SEC football probably more than any other conference still seems to be alive and well: hard hitting football on every play. Ryan Mallett didn’t even get a chance to carve out a career performance as he was knocked silly in the second quarter and didn’t return. There were plenty of other big hits along the way, but the craziness of the fourth quarter and the non-stop offensive barrage that this game ended up being overshadowed all the helmet pops.

And speaking of helmet pops, the NFL finally cracked and decided that a simple fifteen yard penalty and maybe a fine for a helmet-to-helmet hit wasn’t enough, and are instituting a policy where players will be fined and suspended for such hits. The call to action came on the heels of a Sunday crammed with hard head shots with the most noteworthy being Brandon Meriweather’s cheap shot to Todd Heap, James Harrison taking out Josh Cribbs & Mohamed Massaquoi, and DeSean Jackson and Dunta Robinson being laid out by a hit that saw Robinson lead with his head. Myself, I believe this should’ve been instituted years ago, and am actually a bit peeved that the headbutt that Jeremy Jarmon gave to Aaron Rodgers in overtime of the Packers/Redskins game last weekend not only wasn’t called, but didn’t incite any kind of outrage. It wasn’t as big a cheap shot as Meriweather’s hit, but I know a headbutt when I see one. Moving on, the policy itself is a good thing, but the reporting on this—specifically on ESPN—did show in a subtle way how the NFL is once again attempting to pat itself on the back for something they don’t deserve to pat themselves on the back for. First of all, player safety isn’t something you get to make into an accomplishment, it’s something that is necessary and something you’re supposed to do; if you’re in charge of a pro sports league then you have an automatic responsibility to make sure your employees are safe while bashing each other into mush. Second—and this gets more into how ESPN covered things—it sends a very creepy message to talk about and show clips of different coaches, executives, and people involved in the NFL talking about player safety being top priority, and in the next minute talking about how the proposed 18-game schedule is a good thing and probably will go through. In terms of player safety, an 18-game schedule does nothing to help it and everything to hurt it because it is (duh!) two extra games for these guys to go out there and potentially get hurt. Again I love the policy, but please shut up Roger Goodell and please shut up Ray Anderson.

Sunday also marked the unveiling of the first BCS standings and there was a big surprise in this year’s first weekly computer produced rankings. For many posers who hopped on the bandwagon after the Virginia Tech game, Boise St. was not number one as many expected. What was more shocking to me was that Oregon is now the new #1 in both AP and Coach’s polls, but is not number one in the BCS, that honor goes to Oklahoma. Yes the Sooners have been that recognizable college football team that has snuck under the radar during this first month and a half. Because there’s still so much time left in the season, I could really care less who starts number one in the BCS rankings, but I think a lot of people are dismissing Oklahoma as some shock number one, and that simply isn’t true. The Sooners likely got the higher ranking because their out of conference games against Florida St. and Air Force trump Oregon’s games against New Mexico and Portland St. Oregon has already faced formidable opponents in conference play with Arizona St. and Stanford while Oklahoma has had the Red River Shootout with Texas and that’s about it. For both, the real competitive part of their conference schedule begins this week with Oklahoma facing also unbeaten Missouri and the Ducks looking at UCLA before finishing the year with USC, Washington, Arizona, and Oregon St. in the next six weeks. Boise didn’t deserve to be number one because (once again) they play in one of the worst conferences in college football and 59-0 wins against that isn’t going to amount to as much as, say, Oregon’s big win against Stanford or Oklahoma’s stomping of Florida St. back in September.

At the end of the day, this is just the starting line as November is looming and that means that upsets and chaos are coming in a neatly wrapped package that is going to burst into all of our faces like a gag can of beer nuts. Get ready because it’s coming.

Note: for the rest of the season when I give the ranking for a team it will be their BCS ranking and not the Coach’s ranking as the BCS poll decides who plays for the national title

CURRENT BCS STANDINGS (released October 17)

1. Oklahoma

2. Oregon

3. Boise St.

4. Auburn

5. TCU

6. LSU

7. Michigan St.

8. Alabama

9. Utah

10. Ohio St.

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