Tuesday May 26th, 2015

While college football shouldn’t follow the NFL’s lead on every issue, the professionals who pay their players over the table did embrace an intriguing idea earlier this month. It sounded odd at first, but the more time it has had to marinate, the better this plan sounds. In fact, it sounds so interesting that maybe college coaches and administrators should stop arguing about satellite camps and cost of attendance stipends and discuss an issue that will affect the game on the field.

The NFL has taken steps to liven up its most boring play, and college football should do the same. Last week NFL owners voted 30-2 in favor of a one-year trial in which Point After Touchdown tries will be snapped from the 15-yard line. The two-point conversion line of scrimmage will remain at the two-yard line, thereby incentivizing the riskier but far more interesting play. By taking a humdrum play and injecting some uncertainty into it, the league can jazz up the post-touchdown, pre-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence and make America’s most popular game more fun. College football should not attempt to emulate the NFL in every way. That league can keep its narrow, offense-homogenizing hashmarks. But just this once the college game should investigate making a similar change.

Moving the PAT line from the three-yard line to the 15—where it would set up a 32-yard kick instead of a 20-yarder—would make every touchdown in college football an adventure. Why? College kickers, man.

With New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick leading the charge, the NFL changed a play that had become virtually automatic. In the past three years, NFL teams had missed 18 PATs on 3,709 tries. That’s a 99.5% success rate. The success rate isn’t as high in college. Over the past 10 seasons, college teams have converted 96.2% of their PAT tries. Still, it’s too high to be interesting. For good teams, PATs are close enough to automatic that iconic Tennessee play-by-play man John Ward’s signature call should be updated to Give … Him … Seven.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. College football could incentivize the two-point conversion the same way the NFL has. The only thing stopping it is tradition and a reflexive nature to want things to be exactly the way they were during one’s formative years. But take it from someone who spent part of his formative years listening to the Quad City DJs’ debut album on repeat: Not everything is a work of genius just because it was the prevailing idea when you were 17. The age of the gimme PAT has come and gone. It’s time to embrace a little chaos.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, the chair of the new NCAA Football Oversight Committee, said the PAT idea has not come up in his group’s earliest meetings. But Bowlsby concedes watching the NFL’s 2015 experiment may spark discussion. He just isn’t sure how that discussion would go. “Some of the pro guys, they’re not happy if they don’t drill it through the middle two feet of the center of the goalpost,” he said with a laugh. “In college, some of those PATs barely make it through.”

But the kickers do make it enough to make things boring. So, the leaders of the game should choose to make things interesting.

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Over the past 10 seasons, the success rate for college football field goal attempts between 30-39 yards is 73.6%. The 32-yarder probably trends a little higher, but remember, this is a self-selecting sample. If a team’s kicker stinks, it likely is not attempting field goals in that range. Last year, only nine teams made fewer than half their attempts from that distance because coaches aren’t going to call for a kick they don’t think their guy can make. (National champ Ohio State was the only team in the FBS that attempted zero kicks from that distance. But the Buckeyes did attempt 10 in the 40-49 range.) Still, using that number, let’s assume a team going for a PAT from the 15-yard line can expect to score .736 points per attempt.

At that point, the two-point conversion becomes a better statistical play. In the past 10 seasons, FBS teams have converted 40.6% of their two-point attempts. That means coaches can expect to score .812 points per two-point conversion attempt. The numbers are close enough that a coach could make informed decisions based on the quality of his kicker. For example, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher would take one look at Roberto Aguayo and choose to take the sure point every time. Ohio State’s Urban Meyer felt the back end of the red zone was four-down territory last season, and in a similar situation (average kicking, great offensive line, great quarterback play) he likely would choose to go for two.

I asked Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze how he would handle such a situation. He answered the way I suspect every coach would. “Depends on how good my kicker is,” Freeze wrote in a text message. In other words, the most predictable play in football would become decidedly unpredictable. That would be fun, and isn’t that the entire point of this enterprise?

Georgia’s Mark Richt, the only coach on the Football Oversight Committee, knows one group that would be thrilled if this rule were put into place in college. “If I was a kicker, I’d be excited about it,” Richt said. “There would be a lot more kickers on scholarship out of high school.” In fact, the premium placed on quality kicking could change how coaches do scholarship math. Currently, coaches tend to keep one placekicker and one punter on scholarship and fill out their depth with walk-ons. That might not be the norm if the PAT were tougher to make. But that assumes the kick would be the obvious choice. Richt said a year with the alternate distance may radically reshape coaching philosophy. “Sometimes you think it through and it all makes sense,” he said. “Then you start living it out, and you say, ‘You know what? Maybe we should go for two every time.’ I don’t know what would happen.”

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​One thing is certain: Excitement would happen. The trick in this case would be to get the decision-makers in charge of the sport to remember that they are in the entertainment business. They talk a big game about being molders of men, and while plenty of man-molding does go on, big-time college football programs generate much of their income now by being cable television programmers—or at least cable television programming partners. Plus, the financial incentive to keep the crowd interested isn’t exactly new. Long before the first conference commissioner worried about monthly subscriber fees, athletic directors were trying to put (and keep) butts in the seats.

So, why not make the game more exciting with a simple rule tweak that wouldn’t harm anything except possibly viewers with weak hearts? In the NFL, there is a legitimate safety concern because linemen barely tried on PAT attempts. Now, teams will attempt to block PATs, and players will be subjected to more collisions on the two-point attempt. But in college, teams already regularly try to block the PAT (because college kickers), so linemen face the same collisions on a PAT attempt that they would on a two-point conversion attempt. The only difference is that these collisions could result in more momentum swings and more fun.

“It would make coaches crazy,” Bowlsby said.

All the more reason to do it.

A random ranking

In the First-and-10 section, I have an item that involves The Price Is Right. Here are the show's top five pricing games.

1. Plinko. No other game stood a chance.

2. Cliff Hangers. Yodel along, everybody!

3. Golden Road. Especially when a Porsche is at the end ...

4. Dice Game. Watch Lena escort a Ford Escort home.

5. Punch a Bunch. Contestants win the right to put their fist through a board and pull out a slip of paper that corresponds to a quantity of straight cash.

[pagebreak]

Tony Gutierrez/AP

First-and-10

1. Bowlsby was well aware of the comments Wisconsin athletic director—and College Football Playoff selection committee member—Barry Alvarez made last week about the final selection committee rankings. Bowlsby believes that his revelation probably erased any lingering doubt among Big 12 coaches and ADs about whether they chose correctly earlier this month when they established tiebreaker rules to declare a single champion in football.

“… if you don't have a conference champion, obviously that doesn't bode well for you,” Alvarez told CBSSports.com at the Big Ten’s spring meetings. You have to have a conference champion. If you’re not a conference champion, that hurts you in the evaluation, much like strength of schedule.” Last year the Big 12 declared Baylor and TCU co-champions after each finished 8-1 in league play. The Bears and Horned Frogs finished just outside the playoff at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively.

​Bowlsby said that while changing the rules to declare one champion may have seemed like a no-brainer from the outside, there was initial consternation within the league. (After all, coaches and ADs have contractual bonuses tied to league titles, and more champs means more bonuses.) “There was real mixed emotion among our football coaches and ADs about that,” Bowlsby said. “I think they knew we had to take that step because we didn’t want to be different in two ways. … We felt all along that was the right thing to do even though we had to swallow hard to do it.”

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The 10-team Big 12 still lacks a title game—the other difference—but it can’t do anything about that until the NCAA deregulates the games. The current rule requires a format with at least 12 teams split into two divisions, but FBS administrators are expected to scrap it based on a request from the Big 12 and the ACC. “We still think we may have a short stick in our hand relative to the 12 data points relative to 13,” Bowlsby said, “but we’ll deal with that as we have the opportunity.”

Bowlsby is using the royal “we” there, but his constituents don’t necessarily agree on the “short stick” philosophy. The Big 12 was the only conference that entered Championship Saturday with a chance to get two teams into the playoff. That it got shut out might have stemmed from the absence of a title game, or it might have stemmed from garden-variety bad luck. It will likely take a few more years before we can figure out which was the case. “One year doesn’t make a trend,” Bowlsby said. “We’ll see how it goes.”



2. One of those teams that got left at the doorstep of the playoff is getting a new quarterback. Former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, to whom we tried to hand the Heisman Trophy after one game against what turned out to be a porous South Carolina defense, is headed to TCU. Hill won the starting job coming out of fall camp, but he was suspended for two games in November and lost his place atop the depth chart to Kyle Allen. Hill, the son of former MLB pitcher Ken Hill, must sit out this year and will have two seasons to play in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs are set at quarterback this season. After a breakout year in 2014, senior Trevone Boykin is a preseason Heisman favorite, and the numbers explain why.

ELLIS: Trevone Boykin leads Heisman Watch after 2015 spring practice

As Hill moves from the SEC to the Big 12, another player is moving in the opposite direction. Former Oklahoma tailback Keith Ford is headed to Texas A&M. Ford, who grew up in the Houston suburb of Cypress, Texas, averaged 5.9 yards a carry for the Sooners in 2014. He will become the second Oklahoma running back in three years to transfer to the Aggies. Brandon Williams made the Norman-to-College Station move in ’12.  



3. By the time Hill becomes eligible to play for TCU, he won’t have to worry about Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman, whose final year of eligibility will come in 2015. This is probably for the best. Why yes, those are 70-pound dumbbells in the hands of the 6’9”, 280-pound Oakman as he attempts a 40-inch box jump.

4. Syracuse officials made an excellent decision last week to un-retire the No. 44 and award it to a deserving player in very special cases. Former Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb criticized the move, but the iconic number will do more good for the program being worn in games than it will hanging on a wall.

If No. 44 were associated with only one player, leaving it retired might make sense. But three of the most important players in the program’s history—Ernie Davis, Jim Brown and Floyd Little—all wore it. Imagine the pride a team captain might take in donning that number now. Imagine how much easier it’ll be for Orange coaches to help their players appreciate the history of the program if they know they’re striving to wear No. 44. Michigan does an excellent job of using its iconic jersey numbers to help current players and students understand the program’s history. It’s good to see another school doing the same with one of the all-time great college jerseys.

5. Do not play “Sweet Home Alabama” near a Tennessee practice. Butch Jones—or one of his many minions—will find you.

6. Some of college football’s loveliest locks have left their original owner for a good cause. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard cut his flowing blond mane last week and donated the hair to Wigs for Kids, which provides wigs for children undergoing cancer treatments.

7. Minnesota State-Mankato defensive lineman Jeffrey Raymond used the jersey number of former teammate Isaac Kolstad—who sustained severe injuries in a fight last year and is finally back walking and talking again—to make his guess during the Showcase Showdown segment of an episode of The Price Is Right that was taped during Raymond’s spring break and aired this month.

Raymond and some teammates attended the taping, and Raymond was selected to participate. After getting on stage, he won a home theater set-up by playing the Range Game. Then he won the spinning wheel and advanced to the Showcase Showdown, where he used Kolstad’s number to help win a trip to Paris.

8. Class of 2017 defensive back Marco Wilson of American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., went viral with this catch last week. Wilson, the younger brother of Florida safety Quincy Wilson, was already well known among the college coaches who recruit South Florida. Now you know why.

9. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh met last week with a group of students who were offended that he was offended that the school’s Center For Campus Involvement responded to protests by cancelling a showing of American Sniper in April. The cancellation prompted Harbaugh to tweet that he would show the movie to his team, and the cycle of getting offended began anew.

Now let’s all read this from The Onion.

10. Remember, kids, Urban Meyer is always watching …

What's eating Andy?

Pro tip: Before leaving for a five-hour drive, first check your pockets. You may have your wife's keys in there. She may need them to get home. You may get an hour down the road before realizing said keys are in your pocket and not in her purse. Congratulations, your five-hour drive is now a seven-hour drive.

What's Andy eating?

Pork ribs, pineapple, almonds and raisins. That looks like a shopping list, not a stew recipe. But at Rosie’s in New York City’s East Village neighborhood, those ingredients share the same bowl. Others may disagree, but sometimes seemingly disparate ingredients mingle to create magic. Fat from the ribs gives the guiso de puerco some heft—thankfully, Rosie’s doesn't insult customers by calling this a “broth bowl”—while the fruit flavors lift it out of heavy, rib-sticking territory. It tastes like a stew people would eat in a place where it’s hot all the time. Like Mexico.

As someone who lives in a place where it stays hot most of the time, a soup or stew that can be served through a yearlong summer is a godsend. I would fill a pool with the stock from this dish and dive in*. We don’t have to steel ourselves against the cold in Florida, but we also enjoy stew like everyone else. Rosie’s likely won’t sell much guiso de puerco in the winter, but come summer, when the warm breeze wafts through the place’s wide-open layout, it should fly out of the kitchen.

*But first, I would eat some of Rosie’s Tacos Al Pastor. Order twice as many of these and zero of the Carne Asada, which aren’t worth your taste buds’ time. Also, follow your swim through the guiso de puerco with chile chocolate ice cream.

Andy Staples

Another night in New York brought another unexpected combination of ingredients. At Paulie Gee’s, a wood-oven pizza joint in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, the most popular pie is the Hellboy. Like many of the spicy pies at most of the wood-oven places in the city, the heat comes from Sopressata. Unlike the other places, additional heat comes from honey. Yes, honey.

Paulie Gee’s drizzles Mike’s Hot Honey on each pie. This combination of extreme sweetness and spice shouldn’t work, but it does. While the crust doesn’t quite match the crust at Motorino in Greenwich Village or Antico in Atlanta, the heat of the meat and the chiles in the honey mix with the honey’s natural sweetness to create a wave of contrasting flavors that leaves everyone at the table craving more. Which is why when three of us polished off a Hellboy and two other pies (the Hometown Brisket and the Greenpointer with prosciutto) that didn’t hold a candle to the Hellboy, we ordered another Hellboy. We should have just ordered four Hellboys from the start.

Andy Staples

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