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A Tale of Two Miami

It was the best of games, it was the worst of games a game that could have been better.  It was once an introduction to the wisdom of small-time Jim Tressel in the desert, and it was Urban Meyer losing his first BCS Bowl as a head coach in the proximity of South Beach, thus completing the epilogue to the foolishness of the man who wore a sweater vest in Columbus.  Everything in between was a chapter in that book, everything that happens from here on out is a new book.

That January 3rd was a Friday, too.  It was 11 years ago, but I remember it quite well.  This time around, Ohio State was just a part of my night.  Back then, it was my entire night, my entire January, and my entire 2003; in fact, it came close to being the defining moment of the “aughts” decade for me.

The moments from that year remain fresh on my mind.  The expectations are never rock-bottom for Ohio State, but they were coming off another Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, despite Jim Tressel making good on his plan to make the student body proud of what they’d do in Ann Arbor 310 days after taking the job.  Only, this time around, the what-Miami or “The U” became the where-the location in South Florida.  I honestly don’t remember what was anticipated of them, but a date with Miami in Tempe on a Friday night in January was far from everyone’s mind, I’m sure.  This season, the sky was the limit, and also the only acceptable destination. They were looking at a schedule that lacked a significant challenge; no eventual Pac-12 Champion, no Big XII opponent, and no in-state road game.

Photo credit: simononsports.blogspot.com

What both seasons offered was a running back, one surrounded by controversy at one point or another, that put the team on his back and just refused to lose.  In 2002, you remember where you were when for the moments; at The Vine on Apache and Rural when Will Allen saved the day with a game-ending pick in Cincinnati, at the local bar watching the corner TV when Chris Gamble scored the only Ohio State touchdown of the day on a pick-six against Penn State at The Shoe, taking in “Holy Buckeye” from my couch after a late Friday night showing of 8 Mile, and the nervousness of overtime in Champaign with the Phoenix chapter of the Ohio State Alumni Club with Dave and my Pops.  A week later, Dave and I were back at that same dive on Camelback and 7th Street, but my father had returned to Ohio, so I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed an Ohio State win over Michigan in his company.

When I first moved to the Valley of the Sun, I didn’t have much going on, but I always had Dave.  He was from Ohio, I was from Ohio, and we both liked Ohio State football, so that was enough.  Every Monday, we spoke of the weekend’s game, and he’d pass along his Buckeye Sports Bulletin whenever possible.  This wasn’t the most joyous practice in 2001, conversations about Booker Stanley and a quarterback controversy that involved the names Krenzel and McMullen come to mind.  Flash forward to the following year, as one second was all that stood between that Ohio State team and a 13-0 season that would earn them a trip to the desert, and only John “The Statue” Navarre could tempt fate.  It might have been a few too many Bud Lights, but I couldn’t figure out the math, was Dave old enough to remember 1968?  He was 38, and he’d be able to enjoy a title this time around, much more than when he was 3.

I still watch the games, but they aren’t appointment viewing for me, by any means, these days.  Dave and I still chat and exchange emails about the game ahead and what we took away from the previous Saturday’s game, but there’s no mystery to it; in most weeks, they’re going to win, everyone expects it, and no one respects it.  After the 2002 win, Craig Krenzel had beaten rival Michigan in consecutive seasons.  No Ohio State quarterback had ever done that in my lifetime, but Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor have both done it since, provided you aren’t going to be a jerk about the vacated 2010 season.  Winning that game at the end of the year just doesn’t mean that much, either because Ohio State has graduated on to bigger goals or because Michigan isn’t up to the task anymore.  In 2002, beating Michigan was almost enough for the fans, but by 2013, it was barely enough and perhaps inadequate, standing on its own.

There was no obstacle between Michigan and the bowl game, just Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.  Michigan State proved to be a difficult road block for Urban Meyer this time around.  Jim Tressel didn’t even have to see Michigan State in a 14 game season, or Iowa, who finished undefeated in Big Ten play that year.  The Pac-10 was too much for the other Big 10 rep in a BCS Bowl that year, as Ohio State fans felt conflicted watching the Trojans handle the Hawkeyes in Miami on January 2nd, the night before their Friday night date with juggernaut.  Clemson didn’t quite earn themselves a juggernaut label this year, but Ohio State fans have resorted to openly rooting for their Big Ten rivals, as if they’re obligated to do so in the present tense.  The conference allegiance held strong on New Years Day in Pasadena, where Michigan State handled Stanford in the 100th Granddaddy of Them All.  Michigan State’s Head Coach was calling the game of his life, as Tressel’s defensive coordinator, in Tempe, 11 years ago this day.

There was orange to be seen on January 3rd, then and now, and I’m not just talking about the trophy, the color of the seats, or the Discover Card sponsored logo.  Miami wore green jerseys, but orange was arguably still their primary color.  Clemson wore white on Friday night, and there’s little debate that they’re the orange team.  The Buckeyes were a well-documented 13-point underdog, in the days and weeks leading up to that game designated as a championship.  In this crazy new world we live in, a few weeks without a game sent Ohio State from the favorites column to the underdog one, an 8-point swing from what I saw.  A few fans were willing to admit that beating Miami that night would be a tall order, but there was no consensus going into this one.  In the interest of full disclosure, my predictions were a loss for the Scarlet and Gray both times.  I remember discussing it with the designated driver on the eve of the game in 2003, while everyone else was liquored up enough to prognosticate with their hearts instead of their heads, and good for them for enjoying life.

Despite what I believed to be a morose inevitability for that night to be all about The U, you couldn’t accuse me of not enjoying life in my first 72 hours of 2003.  We rode down Mill Avenue in an RV, singing “Hang On Sloopy” at the top of our lungs, and when we crossed Rio Salado, we took the bridge over Tempe Town Lake, went around the block to University and Mill, started the track over, and did the same thing over and over.  We found older adults to assume the role of parents to our underage friends, so they could enter a 21 & over bar, exploiting the loophole that allowed minors to enter with “guardian”.  There were stories of paid entertainers doing inappropriate things with Buckeye necklaces in lieu of beads, but to elaborate would put this network’s PG-13 status in jeopardy.

brax

In contrast, on this eve of the Orange Bowl, my wife and I rented a movie, then watched the 4th quarter of the Sugar Bowl.  On gameday, I worked a full day, like a normal human being, then met my parents for dinner.  We couldn’t even get a table in the bar/lounge area, and were stuck on the family side of the joint, which fortunately had TVs.

On the day of the Championship, and granted, it was in town that year, I attempted to work.  Around lunch time, my boss granted me parole, and the tailgating began just a short walk from Sun Devil Stadium.  By the way, I didn’t get a ticket for the game, because I was waiting for a connection that fell through.  I even turned down a friend of a friend, who was seeking $300 for a single.  In comparison, $2000 wasn’t enough for two tickets to a BCS Championship game across town 4 years later.

Then and now, there were concerns about the defense being able to stop their opponent’s explosive offense, but that turned out not to be a legitimate fear in 2003.  In 2014, it was a very real combination of inept defense meeting explosive offense, but that great Miami team didn’t have anyone dominate quite the way Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins did on Friday night.  Willis McGahee might have, but his night was cut short by injury.  Injury to a star offensive player may have influenced the outcome again, on the same day, 11 years later.

“Whoa Nelly” had been replaced with “Buckaroo”, and it was Braxton Miller being too beat up to carry Ohio State across the finish line in a 40-35 loss.  Back then, it was Miami’s Ken Dorsey, who had been knocked silly and unable to extend the game.  We witnessed that again on Friday, on Braxton Miller’s final interception of the night, a pass that might have given the Buckeyes a 41-40 lead with the appropriate amount of touch.

A lot of people felt the Big XII officials gave them a reprieve in 2003, when Miami’s Glen Sharpe was called for pass interference on what would have been the game’s final play on a would-be failed 4th down play, but the truth is that Ohio State should have never been in that situation.  While I don’t expect an overwhelming amount of talk to linger about it, a case could be made against full possession of that final interception, but it should have never come to overtime for Ohio State and Miami and Clemson should not have needed another stop.

Miami sent the 2003 game to OT on a Todd Sievers field goal that was set up by a long punt return, on the third down play that was allegedly not converted and preceded the punt, a case could be made for a bad no-call or a bad ruling of an incomplete pass.  A victory in either case meant Miami never saw the ball and never forced the extension of the game.  An inexplixable throw from Clemson’s Tajh Boyd to Ohio State’s CJ Barnett could have drawn comparisons to Brian Sipe’s wounded duck in the 1980 playoffs, commonly known by Cleveland Browns fans as Red Right 88.  His defensive teammates bailed him out on Miller’s errant throw.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gylc-sBL48k

I thought back to Ohio State’s last BCS bowl, whether it was vacated or not, where the Buckeyes caught a major break in the end.  Solomon Thomas, one of the lesser known names in the Tattoo scandal, intercepted Ryan Mallett to ice the game for Jim Tressel in his last game as a head coach, to temporarily get in the win column against the Southeastern Conference with a win over Arkansas.  On Friday, they played a team that they hadn’t seen since Woody Hayes last game as Ohio State’s head coach in 1978.  There were quite a few parallels to be drawn between the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and 2014 Orange Bowl, even if the former was much more crisp.  I’d compare the biggest play of that game, Maurice Clarett’s strip of Sean Taylor after an interception to the biggest Ohio State defensive play against Clemson, which was Vonn Bell’s miraculous effort to keep Clemson from going up 21-9 in the second quarter with an interception of Boyd’s attempt to get six with the flick of a wrist.  Actually, it didn’t matter; the Bucks stalled on offense, and the Tigers scored on their next possesion, making it 20-9.  In defeat, I got in the car and conversed with my wife on the way home.  In victory, I showed up at a neighbors house, with no voice, whispering at the top of my lungs, that they did it, and also that I hadn’t been to bed yet; it was 1:00 on Saturday afternoon.

On the surface, it was a disappointing loss for Ohio State and a signature win for Clemson.  This is the high point for Dabo Swinney’s team, but another disappointment for Urban Meyer and a major disappointment for his fans, who want to celebrate more often than once a decade.  Things worked out well when Miami had to come to them, but when forced to visit Miami in a “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad then Muhammad must go to the mountain” situation, a team from a Valley called Death made things less well in the end.

What a difference 11 years can make.

The Final Weekend

I might as well just get it out of the way; I’m tired of seeing the SEC. I’m tired of seeing them in that pedestal, both figuratively and literally. I’m tired of the talk about how seven or eight teams in the conference are better than the best team from any other. That’s how I feel, and now that it’s out in the open, how I feel doesn’t make me unable to formulate a rational opinion about things, even amidst the personal discontent.
Before I get into that, I want to back up. Friday night, the Mid-American Conference took center stage, and Northern Illinois had one more pit stop on the way to another BCS game, the Fiesta Bowl, aka the game that would be “stuck” with them. With household ties to the MAC school in DeKalb, and a close proximity to University of Phoenix Stadium, the prospect of seeing the Huskies in Glendale was intriguing in a personal level, to say the least. Bowling Green showed up, and while I don’t want to say hat Northern Illinois did not, I’ll just state, Bowling Green was certainly the better team on Friday in Detroit.
NIU was handed it’s first lost, so now the Fiesta Bowl is just “stuck” with Central Florida. Must it always be a directional school?
Central Florida is in, because the committee didn’t know what to do with the birth of the American Athletic Conference, aka The American, so the hodge-podge of Conference USA and orphaned Big East programs were kind of grandfathered into the Big East. Once upon a time, the Big East did include Miami and Virginia Tech, who did play for BCS titles. The Knights of UCF knew they have this one shot at an automatic bid, and once they clipped Louisville, it became a very likely thing.
They’re not a bad team, just three points vs South Carolina from being unbeaten, but no one cares. They had to survive at Temple a few weeks ago, and nothing was impressive today at a very empty venue at Southern Methodist on Saturday. It wouldn’t have mattered; they’ve been slated for the Sugar Bowl for months, and fell to the Fiesta Bowl on Friday night, thanks to Northern Illinois or should I say Bowling Green? Coincidentally, it was UCF’s inability to be ranked above NIU, and Fresno State, prior to them screwing their own pooch in the Mountain West, that allowed the mid-majors to be a real part if the conversation.
There are ten teams in the Big XII, so they just play a nine game slate in lieu of a conference championship, but they had two games that affected the league’s automatic bid on this final Saturday of the season. Oklahoma State had the clearest path back to the Fiesta Bowl, win and they were in. When Oklahoma pulled the upset in Stillwater, it made the Texas-Baylor game into a de facto conference championship game. It was a good story, Texas being in the hunt at the end, considering their poor start and speculation of a coaching change on the horizon, but Baylor rebounded from from their follies in the house that T. Boone built and the Sooners did them a favor at Bedlam. Art Briles and Bryce Petty deserve this chance, and you can’t help but notice how far that program has come on recent years.
The main event offered no promises to its winner. Brando sold it from the CBS remote studio at the Georgia Dome. Gary and Verne sold it in the intro. Nick Saban even went to Indianapolis in December, just to tell ESPN that his league ought not be left out. Buyer beware; undefeated meant more in reality than a single loss of the highest quality to 1 of the nation’s 14 finest teams, God’s gift to football, if you ask anyone south of the Ohio River. Auburn and Missouri scored a boatload of points, but it was Auburn rooting for Michigan State or possibly Duke with their SEC trophy on Saturday evening.
Duke was a fun story, but a 38-point loss to Florida State and Florida State’s presumed berth in the National Championship weren’t exactly unexpected results. Next weekend, Jameis Winston will be awarded the Heisman Trophy, and the Seminoles will a ttempt to end the SEC’s run on January 6th in Pasadena. The ACC has an automatic tie to the Orange Bowl, so the Miami game will get the first chance to fill the void left by Florida State qualifying for the big game.
Ohio State is supposed to be that team, because Ohio State fans ooze cash when they travel. They find themselves in Florida, not California, thanks to Michigan State’s effort in Indianapolis on Saturday. Michigan State is that 1-loss team that gets no respect. Ohio State becomes that 1-loss team that no one wants to care about, but everyone will talk about them, me for no good reason. Thanks to Auburn, Ohio State had a chance to officially end the SEC streak in early December, but they did Auburn the biggest favor of the season with the dude they offered on Championship Saturday.
Is that what Ohio State is? Are they one-dimensional on offense and a sieve on defense, when matched up with balanced run/pass teams or dual-threat quarterbacks? How can you defend the perception on Sunday morning? It may be incorrect, but there won’t be many, if any, accepted rebuttal to Ohio State being fraudulent. They haven’t played anyone in two years, and they lost to the first team that was ever worth a damn. If I were an Ohio State fan, I wouldn’t give a damn or seek the approval from Mark May, Matt Hayes, or Clay Travis. I assume the majority do not.
On the other hand, Michigan State is in the Rose Bowl. I have often seen them close to achieving the feat, but this is actual. One loss is one loss, but because the Spartans wear that Big Ten patch in the jersey, their one loss makes them so easily forgettable, whereas in a certain conference whose geography is south and east of Columbus, Ohio, that one loss is never mentioned and quickly dismissed from relevance. Michigan State will represent the Midwest well against the PAC-12 champion.
As Oregon and Stanford both stumbled to the finish line, an unlikely venue ended up playing host to the PAC-12 Championship, but it worked out for me to take in the action live from Tempe on Saturday night. Stanford was just in the Rose Bowl last year, but they’ve been a fixture in the BCS of late. Arizona State has never participated in a BCS bowl, and their last Rose Bowl was in 1997, two years before the commencement of the Bowl Championship Series. It’s hard to show too much respect for a team that lost to Utah, but they were as dominant against the Sun Devils on December 7th as they were on as September 21st. They play big boy football, and their January 1st tilt with Sparty (by the way, I’m told Michigan State people despise being referred to by the name if their mascot) should be a treat, if you’re a fan if 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
So, all those Spartan-fans-for-a-day got exactly what they wanted. They got the SEC into the title game; I’m not sure it ever mattered which one it was, since all 14 are elite. Florida State stands in the way, Ohio State does not. Alabama won’t have a say either, but Auburn vs Florida State is the right pairing for the title game. I don’t think even the most shrewd gardener could plant that seed of doubt right now, even though someone should speak up for Michigan State…you know, just to mention them.
Our undercard games in Miami and New Orleans will involve Ohio State and Alabama, so those games will have the curb appeal that comes with putting either program on a stadium marquee. You may it like the Fiesta Bowl, but three out of four consolation games promise story-lines and the Championship game is top-notch, if only for the simple fact that an undefeated team has a chance to cure folks like me, those suffering from the worst cases of SEC fatigue.
May the best team win. They all won this weekend, when it counted the most.

Jameis Winston Situation is About Much More Than Football

by Ryan Isley

Sometimes, things that involve football players can have an impact on the football team, but an even bigger impact on real life. The recent situation with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is one of those times.

Before I go any further, let me make this 100 percent clear: I am not an attorney nor am I in law enforcement, nor do I pretend to play one or the other on More Than A Fan or on Twitter or Facebook.

As most of you (or possibly all of you) know by now, Winston has been accused of sexual assault stemming from an encounter on December 7, 2012. The incident was “investigated” by the Tallahassee Police Department and then put on the back burner without authorities questioning Winston or even collecting his DNA for comparison with that found in the sexual assault kit that was performed.

The Florida state attorney’s office obtained the case last week and within 10 days, they had more information and had made more progress on the case than the Tallahassee Police had in 11 months. In that time, they determined that the DNA on the sexual assault kit was a match to Winston and have interviewed the accuser. Winston’s attorney has also said that they expected the match and that Winston and the girl had consensual sex on the day in question.

Unlike previous cases in college football, whether it be Cam Newton allegedly being paid to play at Auburn, the Ohio State tattoo scandal or the Johnny Manziel autograph situation, this case is about more than football in the long run. Newton, Manziel and the Ohio State players never faced jail time, just the possibility of having their eligibility stripped. Those cases involved alleged transgressions against the NCAA rule book, while this one involves actual laws possibly being broken.

In this particular case, should Winston be charged, he would likely be charged with a second-degree felony count of sexual battery. In the state of Florida, that could carry a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

While this is still a fluid case and the state attorney’s office is still collecting information and doing their due diligence in determining whether the sex between Winston and the accuser was consensual or indeed was a case of sexual assault, there are real lives being affected. And no matter the outcome, there will be a real victim.

Should these allegations be true, the victim is obviously the accuser – she would have been violated and had her entire world changed. It may even be worse now that she has had to wait this long for the truth to come out if in fact the allegations are proven correct. If the reports that she was “encouraged” not to pursue the charges by the Tallahassee Police Department, she would not only be a victim to Winston, but a victim of the system as well.

However, should these allegations be proven false, the victim would be Winston. He has had his name muddied these past couple of weeks and this case will not be forgotten even if he is cleared of any wrongdoing. He wouldn’t be the first player from Florida State that would have had to deal with such an issue, as former Seminole Travis Johnson went through a similar ordeal in 2003.

The people involved in this case are dealing with real-life issues and consequences.

This brings me to football.

If something would happen and Winston were to be suspended or miss any time in the Florida State season, it would undoubtedly have an impact on the 2013 college football season. At this time, the Seminoles are 10-0 and ranked No.2 in the BCS and would seemingly play for the national championship should they beat Idaho and Florida to finish the regular season and then win the ACC Championship Game. Their chances of doing this are infinitely more possible with Winston at quarterback. Should the Seminoles fall, Ohio State, Baylor, Oregon, Auburn and others are there to move up and take Florida State out of contention for that elusive national title.

Winston has also been one of the best players in all of college football tonight and is on track to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, if not the favorite to win it before this all came out.

But guess what? You can forget those previous two paragraphs. None of that really matters in the grand scheme of things in this situation. It mattered with Cam Newton. It mattered with Ohio State. It mattered with Johnny Manziel. It doesn’t matter here. What matters is making sure this case gets the attention it deserves from those who are investigating and defending it.

If Winston is charged in this case, the voters in the Harris poll won’t matter. The coaches who contribute to the coaches poll won’t matter. The people who will matter are the judge, the district attorney prosecuting the case, the defense attorney defending Winston and the people who are selected to sit on that jury. That’s a vote that will be way more important for Winston than any he will encounter in college football.

There are days when real life is more important that sports. For Jameis Winston and Florida State, that time is now. And nobody should think otherwise.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Nothing Too Fancy – ACC Week 3 Review

You ever have one of those weeks that just was?  Nothing too exciting, nothing too challenging.  Just another week among the other 51 of the year.  Well it was that kind of week for the ACC.  With Clemson and Miami having a bye week, the only marquee name to take the field on Saturday were the Florida State Seminoles.  The Seminoles struggled to find their groove against Nevada after having last week off.  The Noles stumbled to a 17-7 lead at halftime, but once the 3rd quarter kicked off there was no looking back at they scored 45 unanswered points on there way to 62-7 thumping.  Led yet again by redshirt freshmen sensation, Jameis Winston.

The only other matchup featuring an ACC squad that had the potential for much media hubub was Boston College making the voyage across the nation to take on the USC Trojans, who were trying to recover from a major setback against Washington State.  Unfortunately, the Eagles of Chestnut Hill seemed to be suffering from extreme jet lag as USC cruised to a much needed 35-7 victory. Thankfully for Lane Kiffin, Mack Brown has continued to completely nose dive towards earth and shift a little more of the attention towards Austin, Texas, at least for a week.

What could be seen as a black-eye for the ACC was Wake Forest’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe. A program that once showed a flash of brilliance and potential to be a constant thorn in the side of many of the top ACC teams, Wake Forest has slowly slipped back into football obscurity, where it shall settle for the foreseeable future.  Other games of note were Georgia Tech over Duke 38-14, PITT over New Mexico 49-27, and VT continuing to show they are nowhere near the program they once were as they slipped past East Carolina 15-10.

Week 4 continues the trend of a lot of nothing as teams continue to pack in the lesser opponents before the conference schedules look to heat up in the heart of the season.  One game that poses the possibility to turn necks happens Thursday evening as Clemson crosses the Carolina border to take on the pesky(at least to FSU fans) NC State Wolfpack.  There’s just something about the ACC Thursday night games, and highly ranked teams that produce the same results as a gas can and matches, everyone is left standing around asking themselves “What in the hell just happened?”.  Technically it is way too early in the season for a true Clemsoning, but with the hype surrounding the Tiger program, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility an early season spontaneous combustion in Clemson, South Carolina.

ACC! ACC! ACC!

It may not have been pretty and it felt like the game lasted 9 hours, but the ACC knocked off another highly ranked SEC team.  That’s three wins over top 15 SEC teams for the dainty ACC in the first two weeks of the college football season.  Should Florida have been ranked in the top 15? I’m not so sure, but they were, they lost, and we’ll take it.  Neither team looked stellar or dominated on either side of the ball, Miami just made fewer mistakes.  What is for sure is the Florida offense has some soul searching to do after that loss.  With Duke Johnson only rushing for 59 yards and Stephen Morris tossing for 162 yards, Miami far from dominated the game.  There were plenty of opportunities for Florida to capitalize, but unfortunately their quarterback, Jeff Driskel, hasn’t mastered the art of the forward pass.

I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say the Hurricanes victory over the Gators is the biggest in Al Golden’s career at Miami.  Since the hire of Golden in Coral Gables it hasn’t been the smoothest of rides.  He was greeted with the Nevin Shapiro bomb, which left a large hole in the center of the Miami football program and all he was given was a shovel to dig his way out.  For what could be the last time Miami and UF meet in a regular season game for a long time, this was a must needed victory for a storied program that was grasping for air over the past few years.

As for the rest of the ACC, they had a rather respectable weekend suffering only two out of conference loses as Syracuse dropped one at (19) Northwestern and Virginia falling at home to (2) Oregon.  Still, the top of the league with Clemson, Florida State, and maybe Miami can arguably say they can compete with the top programs of any other conference, especially the SEC.  Even though Alabama is still big and bad, they did lose a game last year and I’m not sure they are as dominant of a team as they were a season ago.

Week 3 doesn’t offer much in the lineup in terms of marquee games in the ACC. The biggest name is USC hosting Boston College, which could be interesting to watch after USC’s anemic display of offense this past weekend in their upset loss to Washington State.  FSU hosts Nevada at 3:30pm, so you won’t even have to bother watching that snoozer of an SEC game between those two teams ESPN never talks about.

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2013 ACC Preview

What a difference a year makes.  Last summer heading into the 2012 season the only headlines regarding the ACC were centered around whether there were greener pastures for the money makers, Florida State and Clemson, and if the ACC was on it’s way to becoming the new resting place of the fallen Big East.  Now that we know the ACC is here to stay after adding some valuable pieces to the conference, we can finally focus on the season at hand.

No longer should the ACC be considered a “basketball conference”, even though they will gladly whoop you in that too.  With teams like Florida State making their way back to yearly contenders under the guidance of Jimbo Fisher, and Clemson competing at a high level in spite of Dabo Swinney, this conference is ready to compete.  There’s even rumors that Miami still has a football team and they may possibly make some waves on the field for the first time in what feels like a decade.  Forget that, they really haven’t been relevant in at least a decade.

Courtesy of @jmquinn
Courtesy of @jmquinn

The ACC is in a bit of a transition period right now with Maryland jumping to an easier conference and the ACC welcoming newcomers Pitt, Syracuse, part-timers Notre Dame (only playing 5 league members), and Louisville jumping into the mix for next years football season (2014).

How they stack up….

First let’s start with the Coastal Division:

The Coastal Division may have the most competitive balance in the league and choosing a winner from this side, in my opinion, is truly a pick’em. This could finally be the year Miami makes it to the ACC championship game since joining the conference, which seems like eons ago when the ACC brass figured they and FSU would go at it on a regular basis in the championship game. Miami hasn’t lived up to that pipe dream, yet.

Teams like Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech can also find themselves in the mix come December.  Not much separates these teams on paper.  Georgia Tech brought along defensive coordinator Ted Roof to hopefully instill some life in a defense that has struggled to have any identity over the past few seasons.  Virginia Tech is trying to prove that their 2012 season, their worst in over two decades, was nothing but a fluke and that “Enter Sandman” will actually intimidate foes entering Lane Stadium, because last year there was anything but energy in that stadium.  North Carolina along with Miami, is hoping to remove itself from the shadow of NCAA allegations and infractions and play some meaningful football.  The Coastal is up for grabs, with Pitt, Syracuse and Duke playing for scraps from the big boy table and hoping to make it to postseason play.

Now to the Atlantic division of the ACC, the only division that truly has national and BCS implications.  There are two clear cut leaders in this division, with the rest of the schools playing for third place and bowl eligibility.  Those two teams are Clemson and Florida State.  Clemson seems to be the sexy pick with national sports media to be the dark horse to make a run for the BCS crown.  I wish I could say they are wrong, but this team can score with the rest of them.  With the return of  Heisman hopeful Tahj Boyd back behind center and speedster Sammy Watkins doing a little bit of everything, the offense seems poised to throw up big numbers.  Of course the Tigers definitely have a few questions to answer and some giant hurdles to clear throughout the season.

First, who is the answer at running back after the departure of Andre Ellington? Also, can the defense compliment their big play offense and get a few more stops than last season where they were vulnerable to multiple big plays a game.  In addition to a few questions on the field, the schedule sets up to be quite a challenge as well.  The Clemson Tigers start the season as they welcome the #5 Georgia Bulldogs to Death Valley, which is as good of a measuring stick you can have to start the season.  Then in October they will host division rivals, Florida State Seminoles, and end their season at in-state rival, South Carolina Gamecocks.

In order for Clemson to take the next step as a program, winning their SEC match-ups are key, but most importantly is the task of dethroning the recently resurgent Florida State Seminoles.  Florida State had a decent amount of turnover in the off-season both on the roster and on the coaching staff.  The upside, the talent returning is top notch and ready to roll thanks to Jimbo’s top ranked recruiting classes over the past few years.  Also, there’s a little hype for redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who many think will actually make the FSU offense more dynamic and explosive than it was under 1st round draft pick E.J. Manuel.

Regardless of the potential and talent at Clemson there is always the annual “Clemsoning” which fans of the ACC are more than familiar with and anticipate with much delight and joy.  It’s like Christmas, except we don’t know which day of the season it will happen.  In addition to the giant turds wrapped in pretty ribbons that Clemson is known for leaving on the field, there is also this guy, Clemson Tom.  Just one watch of any of his videos and you get a pretty good picture of their fanbase and immediately can’t wait for your annual Clemsoning surprise!

In my heart I see FSU having a memorable season under the guidance of Jameis Winston, but my head tells me maybe this really is Clemson’s year.  For everyone’s sake, let’s just hope I’m Clemsoning this entire post and my Noles can take care of business and bring home a second straight conference crown and BCS victory.

Courtesy of @jmquinn
Courtesy of @jmquinn

A Call to ACCtion

As many sports media and fans across the nation are starting to take notice, the ACC is a hot bed of great football, and some pretty not so good football as well. So, the wise guys at MTAF reached out to me to be their go-to guy to give you fine folks of Big Ten country the pulse of the wine and cheese crowd of the ACC.

As big of a mistake as this is for the guys at MTAF to have me aboard, I am excited to bring to you my completely FSU slanted view of the ACC and college sports in general. I especially look forward to not so subtle digs at OSU, and the occasional ND bashing just because it feels good.

For those of you unfamiliar with me, I’m Stephen Garvin, born and mostly raised here in the mediocre city of Cleveland. I lived in Sarasota, FL til the age of 8, which explains the reasoning behind my love for FSU. I graduated from Orange High School in 2002. After graduating high school, for some weird reason I decided to go to college where it is always sunny and the beautiful women outnumber the men by a very substantial amount, Florida State University. Nowadays I’m an intervention specialist in Cleveland, OH at a non-profit for children that are emotionally disturbed and behaviorally defiant. On my downtime I post a myriad of ramblings on twitter under the handle @CleveNole.

A little background on my journey of sports fandom….

Since the day I was born I was doomed, born in Cleveland to an Italian family that loved their sports. Unfortunately, for me that meant I was destined to a life of loving miserable sports teams and continuously subjecting myself to extreme lows and very infrequent highs. Whether it be the Browns, Indians, or Cavs, they all have taken turns stomping on my heart and laughing in my face. Thankfully I spent the first 8 years of my life in Sarasota, Fl, which led me to my obsession of the Florida State Seminoles from an early age.

Until the age of 24, I let my emotions hang on every win and loss of each team I adored. At this crucial time in my sports life the Indians were on the verge of beating the Red Sox and making a very favorable trip to the World Series to face the Rockies. As we all know, things went very wrong, very fast for the Indians in that ALCS. At the conclusion of that series I let the outcome of something I had no control of affect my mood. This made me take a step back and realize how sad it was that I let something I had zero involvement with have any control of me.

From that point on, I realized there was much more in my life that I should care about half as much as I did my sports teams. No longer would I let a team or player have any bearing on my mental state. I came to a point where I realized sports was just an outlet and an escape from everyday life. I somehow did a 180 on my perspective of sports and my allegiances to the teams. Better yet the delusional allegiances I somehow thought the teams had to me.

Which brings us to the fan I am today. I watch all the games and then make fun of the negative overreactions of the fans that take these GAMES far too seriously. I basically make fun of the old me, because I’m ashamed of what I used to be. I’m like the reborn again Christian who lived a life of sin preaching about being moral, or the ex-smoker that now annoys smokers to quit, which I do now that I have quit. I’m the absolute worst, but at least I’m aware of it.

I hate the headline obsessed, “reality show” infatuated world that has become standard entertainment and leaked it’s poison into the sports world. I could care less what a player says, or does off of the field or court. I care solely about their production as an athlete. I don’t need to know of their indiscretions, their shortcomings, or their horribly immature decisions. Because at the end of the day most people forget that a majority of these athletes are young men, who are nowhere near mature enough to handle the celebrity coupled with their new found fortune.

So from here on out I plan to write weekly on the goings-on in ACC country. I look forward toward your hate and ridicule, considering that’s all the internet is good for. Right? Until next Monday…

[tl;dr] ACC’s Grant of Rights Agreement Effectively Halts Conference Realignment

tl; dr is a tech nerd term for too long; didn’t read. the purpose of these posts is to provide a quick summary and analysis of something interesting in the sports world.

Yesterday, ACC presidents approved a grant of rights deal that will essentially halt any plans the Big Ten has for current expansion. Grant of rights means that any television revenue generated by a school who then decides to leave the conference will guarantee that revenue will stay with the conference. In layman’s terms, if Duke leaves the ACC for the Big Ten its television revenues from all sports will be spread among the remaining members of the ACC and or Duke for the duration of the GOR agreement.

The Southeastern remains the only conference that doesn’t have a grant of rights deal, but honestly who is leaving the SEC at this point?

It is widely believe the Big Ten has been interested in adding UNC or Georgia Tech to its membership, and many think Florida State has been hoping either the Big Ten or SEC would approach them about membership. With this agreement, neither will happen until at least 2025.

This is good for the fans of college sports who are sick and tired of the constant change in conference membership. Hopefully the carousel will stop now that all the big conferences other than the SEC have a form of grant of rights agreement.

The school this has the greatest impact on is Florida State, which is widely believed to be the ACC’s most valuable property. Many suggest the Seminoles were looking to leave for either the Big Ten or Big XII, but at this point that seems impossible.

I asked Stephen (@CleveNole) and this, and he said Florida State has been working on getting its Association of American Universities (AAU) certification hoping that would bolster its academic appearance to the Big Ten.

I’m guessing that even with the AAU certification FSU’s academics and Big Ten’s academic standards were too far apart. As far as the Big XII goes, I wonder if its membership is happy to be at 10? They have no incentive to bring in one or two more schools and make their revenue pie smaller. Who’s to say their media partners would give them more money for the likes of Florida State and an unknown 12th school?

Each Big 12 school receives about $15 million per year, while Big Ten schools receive nearly $21 million. Both are expected to renegotiate their television contracts soon.


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The Big Ten is Basketball’s Version of The SEC

 

Traditionally when people think of football power conferences we think of the Big 12 and the Big Ten, in the past ten or so seasons that’s obviously changed with the focus squarely on the Southeastern Conference. The SEC having won eight of 15 BCS titles, don’t forget Tennessee won the first one (Rocky Top!), is are clearly the best conference over the past decade, even if the conference is very top heavy. The Big Ten on the other hand has largely been a disappointment over the same period save a few spots with Ohio State and Michigan.

When it comes to basketball though the two conferences couldn’t be more opposite. This year, the SEC was only able to get three teams into the tournament, and only Ole Miss (!!!) is representing the SEC in the Sweet 16. The Big Ten had seven teams selected and has Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State playing in the round of 16. Compare that to football where the Big Ten had no teams in the top ten of the final BCS standings and the SEC had six in those same standings.

As good as the Big Ten is in basketball it could not be any worse in football. In a hypothetical world with Penn State and Ohio State being eligible last year one can assume that at least Ohio State would have been in the National Championship conversation and Penn State likely plays in the Rose Bowl. Outside of those two teams, was any other team worthy of being on the same practice field as the top six SEC teams? Didn’t think so, but that’s alright because even though the Big Ten was able to get seven of its teams in the men’s tournament I’m confident any Big Ten team could beat any SEC team in basketball.

Are you able to say the same thing about the Big Ten football schools versus SEC football school? No, and if you try and tell me any Big Ten team can beat any SEC team you should be drug tested, twice.

This isn’t an indictment on the Big Ten as a whole, but consider that a conference that was once great at football is now great at basketball and average at football. Things change, and so will the Big Ten, and in a few years it will probably be good again in football.

This past season the Big Ten was atrocious in football because half of the conference had new head coaches, half had new offensive coordinators and half had new defensive coordinators. The Big Ten can go a long way to improving its football credibility by stabilizing the conference in hiring better coaches and recruiting better.

These are known facts, but the conference also needs to schedule better, something that I’ve written about before. As bad as the conference is, its intra-conference play isn’t actually the worst on the planet, but its non-conference schedule is embarrassing. Ohio State has taken the lead by scheduling tougher opponents, but the conference as a whole needs to step its game up.

In basketball, the conference faces some of the best opponents across Division I, and it shows. Big Ten teams’ RPIs are consistently higher year after year. The conferences biggest basketball spending school, Michigan State, is also its most successful and most profitable and that’s because the school has made a commitment to Tom Izzo the same way Alabama has made a commitment to Nick Saban, the same way it appears Ohio State will commit to Urban Meyer.

All are important, but the most important is that nationally the Big Ten has become a much better basketball conference than football conference. That isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t what Big Then traditionalists want, but no one in the ACC complains about how they’re more known for basketball over football.

This weekend the Big Ten has a chance to fill each of the Final Four spots with each of its teams. Anything less than two teams in the Final Four is an abject failure for this conference that is college basketball’s version of the SEC.