College Football Notes & Quotes: Regular Season Finale

Jonathan Schopp

Spartan fans have a lot to stand and celebrate in 2010!  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.
Spartan fans have a lot to stand and celebrate in 2010! Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Preseason Predictions Revisited

Way back on September 2, predictions for the 2010 Big 10 season were laid out in this column. As expected, the conference had a second straight strong season. Hopefully between now and early January, the league will have another successful Bowl campaign to jump start the new era set to begin in 2011. Let’s briefly look back and read the report card.

Predicted Final StandingsActual Standings

Ohio St.                11-1              11-1                The Bucks could beat Auburn or Oregon

Iowa                     9-3                7-5                  Probably better than their record

MSU                     9-3              11-1                Special Spartans, special season

Wisconsin            9-3                11-1                Capitalized on the big break versus OSU

Penn St.                8-4               7-5                  Too young and too injured for more

Purdue                 7-5              4-8                  Way too thin to handle all those injuries

Northwestern     7-5               7-5                  Ready for Bowl redemption

Notre Dame        7-5              7-5                  Off field issues were the big story

Michigan             5-7               7-5                  Not much more than 1/3 of a team

Illinois                  5-7              6-6                The Michigan loss killed their mojo

Minnesota          4-8              3-9                  Did that Glenn Mason firing work out?

Indiana                4-8              5-7                  Lynch needed only a new Defense

P.A.T. (Perhaps Another Thought…)

For the final commentary of the season, we’re going to do things a little bit different. Before this week’s PATs, you’ll find reprinted below each of the season’s prior 2010 PATs, from start to finish. I wanted to reprint these so they would all be in one spot for your review, and for my accountability.

So many of you, from all corners of the Football universe, have read and responded to them throughout the season. Some of you have agreed with me emphatically. Others have disagreed strongly, with well reasoned and thought out opinions. I appreciate all of your time in reading and responding, and look forward to doing it again in 2011 as part of next year’s “College Football Notes & Quotes.”

Week 1

  1. The NCAA should reform Overtime. After a coin flip at the 50 to determine the initial possession, the first team to score 6 points should be ruled the winner. The NFL should also adopt such a simple but compelling approach.
  2. The out of bounds rules in football should be the same for all 60 minutes. It hurts the integrity of the game to have one set of rules for 56 minutes (starting the clock upon an Official’s whistle after the ball has been reset at the line of scrimmage), and a different set for the final 2 minutes of each half (starting the clock only after the following play has been snapped). We don’t need an extra effort to manufacture drama at the close of a half, the game’s already good enough.
  3. The UFL (United Football League) is a fine idea. It’s a professional league that showcases players and coaches who still want to play, and are hoping for a look from the NFL. But playing a season during the College and NFL schedules is ridiculous. Someone tell the UFL that Americans can’t get enough football, and could use a little injection in the spring. How about playing the UFL season from May until the latter part of June. If you play it, we will watch.

Week 2

  1. Featuring College Football on Labor Day weekend (for five straight days before the NFL regular season begins) provides a big jump start for the sport. Such a boost would not exist, however, if there weren’t enough compelling and competitive matchups for fans to enjoy. Credit College Football for putting together a handful of intriguing games for the weekend, but hopefully they’ll work to guarantee at least one “must see” game for each day of the featured weekend.
  2. The SEC took a firm credibility hit this weekend as Vanderbilt was beaten at home by Northwestern, LSU barely hung on to beat about two-thirds of the North Carolina Tar Heels, and Ole Miss came all the way from 18 points ahead to lose to Division 1-AA Jacksonville St., at home Â The Four Letter Network (ESPN) has yet to really comment.
  3. The Heisman Trophy is the most overrated award in sports. Have you ever encountered anyone outside of the media who actually wants to talk about the race? The only people really “talking Heisman” anymore are the media, amongst themselves. I understand there was a time when the trophy was quite relevant, but there was also a time when the NBA was great, car phones were soooo money, and dial-up internet was king. It’s time for those over at the Four Letter, and the relatively few others who live to keep the Heisman in the conversation, to accept that the award’s time and relevance has long past…just like two of its recent winners out of Southern Cal.

Week 3

  1. Calvin Johnson scored late a TD Sunday. The football I know rules a pass complete when both feet are down in bounds and the ball is secured by the receiver. Johnson caught the ball in the end zone, got both feet grounded, and had total control of the ball. That was it, play over. If a player is diving or falling to the ground as the catch is made, then and only then should continued control be a factor in ruling a play a catch.
  2. It can be a big mistake to judge a team by how they look in winning early, non-competitive matchups. Remember how good some of the “quick flash” JLS teams looked at times? How many late season games did they play that even mattered? What matters most is how well you play in the games that matter most. For Michigan St., those games are Notre Dame, Michigan, Bowl Games, and later season matchups (like Iowa ’09) with Championship implications. The next 4 weeks will tell us how good these 2010 Spartans are. The first two weeks should be in the rearview mirror already, it’s Notre Dame week.
  3. Baker, Bell, & Caper = The BBC

Week 4

  1. Michigan State should no longer invite visiting bands to play during games at Spartan Stadium.  It’s Spartan Stadium, not a neutral site.  The Notre Dame band was way too big, too loud, overcrowded the sideline, and interfered with Spartan fans’ game day experience.  Why would you want to take away from your home field advantage against arguably your biggest National rival?
  2. Based on a comparison of the Spartans Saturday night and past rivalry games (ND, UM, etc.), the upperclassmen need to take an even stronger leadership role on this team.  Some of the players’ demeanor and attitude was not quite where it needed to be, well into the 4th Quarter.  This was arguably the Spartans’ biggest rival, on National TV, in possibly the biggest game of the Head Coach’s career.  If you can’t bring it all then, when can you bring it?  If this team wants to compete for Championships, they must become tougher mentally and play with more passion and focus throughout all 60 minutes of each game.  Urgency should not be an issue with this football team.  After Northern Colorado, the pre-season laughers will be over.  If the 2010 Spartans think they can simply “turn it on,” they can just as easily stumble to win 6 or 7 games.  The Spartan Nation has already seen that movie many times in the last 25 years, we don’t really need to see it again.
  3. Last week reminded us once again that if nothing else, things around Michigan State Athletics always seem to have a flare for the dramatic.

Week 5

  1. The NFL should change its scheduling policy to be more like the NCAA’s Big Dance by having games end throughout the day Sunday. NFL games should start games at 1:00 and 4:00 local time, based on the time zone, instead of universally kicking off at 1:00 and 4:00 Eastern, no matter what the time zone. Instead of the day’s early and late games all going at the essentially the exact same time, games should start and end at different times throughout the afternoon. Remember how the first weekend of the Big Dance seems like it features dramatic ending after dramatic ending? That’s not totally by accident. It’s also by design, with the varied tip off times. The NFL should not fear the different mainland time zones, but rather embrace them to build an even better and more accessible product for their fans.
  2. The NFL should reform their Pass Interference (PI) rule. Instead of Pass Interference penalties always being spotted at the point of the foul, the NFL should categorize the infraction to make things a bit fairer to the Defense. If the line of scrimmage is on the Offense’s side of the 50, any PI penalty should be 15 yards and an automatic 1st down only, essentially mirroring the NCAA rule. But if a PI call is made with the line of scrimmage past the 50 (on the Defense’s side of the field), the penalty should remain “at the spot of the foul.” This would discourage the outrageous 50+ yard PI penalty, and encourage a Defense to play more aggressive without the overwhelming fear that they’re always on the edge of a game changing penalty.

Week 6

  1. Michigan’s Denard Robinson is the closest thing we’ve seen to Michael Vick since he left Virginia Tech nearly 10 years ago. Robinson’s clearly superior running ability from the Quarterback position, and Vick like physical stature, make the comparison natural. Whether or not Robinson becomes a completely dominant College Football player like Vick can only be truly evaluated after a couple complete seasons. But Robinson has shown dramatic improvement in a short period of time as both a runner and a passer. If he plays 10 or more games this year at the pace he’s already set, there’s no reason to even bring a couple other College players to New York for the overhyped statue ceremony.
  2. Credit the NCAA, for a change, for taking some of overly narcissistic behavior out of the College game. Their decision to eliminate personal writing from the “eye black” area (think area codes, zip codes, biblical passages, ATM codes, inside jokes, etc.) and clearly over the top end zone celebrations have actually helped College Football. Might a few of their early rulings have gone overboard? Yes, but as time has gone on, Officials have managed things better. Enough fun has been left in the game, and a better dose of humility has been applied to a sport that was starting to encroach on the irritating behavior too often seen in the NFL.

Week 7

Mike Hart never got it in the first place. If you listen to Hart’s original “little brother” quote, he essentially said that the Spartans saw themselves as Michigan’s “little brother,” so that’s why he tagged them as such. Someone gave Hart the wrong information. No one I’ve ever been around at MSU, since the late 90s, has seen it that way. Hart sounds like he’s read a few too many stories from the stale Detroit media. Those people don’t get it. They all too often recycle the same outdated and lazy material they’ve used for more than 20 years now. And they wonder why people have stopped reading their papers!

MSU isn’t the same place it was when Magic Johnson was in school, more than 30 years ago now, or even the same as it was during the early 90s. No one in Green who arrived on campus after somewhere around 1995 thinks they’re any kid of “little brother” to Michigan. A lot Spartans in this “modern era” chose to go to Michigan St. instead of Michigan. We see the University of Michigan as a relatively equal and complementary sibling rival. Now of late, if anything, big time Spartans athletics have made Michigan look a lot more like an over matched “little sister” than any kind of “older brother.” Wouldn’t you say, Mike?

Week 8

  1. The Big Ten Network’s “Icons” series is a great idea, but airing the shows during Football season is a pretty bad one.  Who has time to watch those shows during the fall and winter sports season?  If you’re like me, you’ve got more things to do and more things you’d like to watch than time to enjoy them.  I sure hope the BTN re-airs the “Icons” shows in something like June when more Big Ten fans will have the time to give the series its due, and should be looking for something solid to watch.  And oh yea, who put Jack Nicklaus 18th?  Whoops!
  2. MSU needs to improve its bye week scheduling moving forward. I realize that seasons’ schedules are made years in advance, and that there have been some difficulties adapting to the now 12 game regular season schedule. But the Spartans must assure their bye week falls somewhere sensible, like maybe between weeks 5 and 7, to gain the best competitive advantage. I realize that in 2008, the Spartans had their bye week right before playing Penn St. for a Big Ten Championship, but that was clearly an aberration. We’ll see how the Spartans hold up here in weeks 8 and 9, before the bye finally arrives.  If they begin to look a bit tired and worn, it wouldn’t be a total surprise at this point. Factor in camp, and the team has now been going at it hard for more than ten weeks straight.

Week 9

  1. The Pittsburgh Steelers now without question, America’s team. They have been for probably 5 years or so. No matter how loud or how often Jerry Jones tries to tout his Cowboys as still holding that title, the reality is now become undeniable. Go anywhere in the US, and you’ll see Steeler fan, loudest and proudest. Whether it was Sunday in Miami, in the Dolphins’ home stadium, on the Southern California coast, or at a Wal-Mart in the middle of one of our Dakotas, Steeler Nation is all over. There really is no comparison right now, Jerry, so stop beating a drum you no longer have. Give it up, Jerry.
  2. Nick Saban should be the next Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Come on, wouldn’t that be fun!
  3. Between this year and last, the Big Ten is as strong as it’s been in a decade or so. Meanwhile, the SEC is trending slightly down, and is probably as weak in 2010 as it’s been in years. The true National Title Game this year will not be like the last two, which were played in Atlanta as the SEC Title Game between Florida and Alabama.

Week 10

1.

The BCS standings should have nothing to do with deciding who goes to the Rose Bowl. We’ve been reminded for years now that the BCS is designed for one purpose: to identify the top two teams to play in the manufactured BCS Championship game. That’s it. It was not designed to decide conference title tie breakers, or who should play in a conference title game.

It was a horrendous idea in the first place, and could become a nightmare in reality for a certain Big Ten school. How in the world could the Big Ten athletic directors agree to use that as a potential tie breaker, even for one season, after the debacle of the Big 12 a couple years ago? To invite that kind of mess to play itself out in the best conference in the history of College Athletics was beyond a bad idea at the time, and now stands a pretty decent bet that it could ruin someone’s 2011 New Year’s celebration.   Now that deserves an honorary thud, Jud.

2.

Minnesota should hire a Head Coach to run the “Option Offense.” You’re Minnesota, know your limitations. At best, you’re going to pull a “top half” recruiting class in the Big Ten. Usually, it will be quite average, which opens the door to play a unique “system.” You’re not going to out Ohio State, Ohio State. So play smart, and play to your strengths. Don’t compete where you cannot succeed.

Don’t try the “Spread” up there again, it’s bound to fail. But bring in the “Option,” and watch how quickly you’ll cause problems for other Big Ten teams. Watch how soon you’ll be back to Bowl Games. And watch as you might even be able to compete for the Big Ten title on an occasional basis, all the way into November, when your Non-Weis “schematic advantage” would truly then shine through. But you’re not going to get the best “Option Coach,” Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, but you could score one of his top disciples, or another competent “Option” leader. Think about it, Goldy. And then send me a big check for the consultation when it works.

Week 11

Michigan State should rethink the seating method used in its Student Section. There was a time when “Student” seats had actual rows and numbers printed on them, which were largely ignored. Yet, I don’t recall many people bothering to complain. Those who had seniority seemed to have better seats, which were logically enforceable. The rest of us were widely left to our own devices to pick where we wanted to sit, based on the game, our arrival time, and what angles wanted to view from. It seemed to change each week, which wasn’t a bad thing.

But I was also around when the dreaded “voucher” system came into play. That complicated things instantly, and also turned the process of getting into the games into quite the slog. It simply takes too long for students to get in through the gates, gives them too little control over where they sit, and makes the Student Section look way to empty, way too often. It’s become the worst eyesore in Spartan Stadium.

How about merging the original idea with the cumbersome modern approach? If MSU clearly outlined the Student Section and told students to go sit anywhere inside the area, without overly clogging up the rows or creating a safety hazard, the Student Section would never again look so empty.

Those who wanted to arrive early and sit down low in the corner, could. And those who wanted to arrive early and sit a bit higher up, closer to mid-field, could arguably score the best angle available to view the field. This does not seem to me like that difficult a concept, yet it troubles me why, nearly a decade later, we still have essentially the same cumbersome and inefficient Student seating system.

By letting Students spread out across the section, Spartan Stadium wouldn’t consistently feature an ugly blemish of grey on TV whenever a camera pans across the Student Section. If you let Students choose where they want to sit, they’ll be more likely to buy tickets to come to the game. If you let them sell their general admission tickets when they can’t make the game, to another student, they’ll be more likely to buy tickets. And if you let them enter the stadium without it taking forever to get to their seat, they might actually want to come back more often, instead of swearing that they’d rather avoid the experience for all but the year’s biggest of home games.

Week 12

1.

Does the BCS really need the Big East and the ACC? Those two football conferences annually seem to come up short when compared with the other four “power” leagues. Is there reason to believe that for the long term, they will compete on a similar level with those other leagues? Recently, the disparity has only become more glaring. Maybe the BCS is simply too big at 6 conferences. Maybe it needs to shrink to four, and also lose the so-called “non qualifiers” until they join a “real” conference, and play a “real” schedule. Super Conferences?…anyone?

2.

If Cam Newton is found to be ineligible, and Auburn knew or should have reasonably known that he would be found ineligible before deciding to play him in the 2010 regular season, they deserve the “SMU death penalty.” After coming down hard on USC, the NCAA seemed to whiff on the Michigan decision, with relatively weak penalties for “major violations.” But if the Newton saga continues on the track it appears to be headed, the NCAA enforcement arm should make powerful comeback. Why not penalize a school with a real deterrent for others to appreciate? The time to act with such a fury is before the sport loses itself any further into the shadows of dwindling integrity.

Week 13

1.

When it comes to Bowl Games, it’s the Rose Bowl, and then everything else.

To me, there’s no real difference between the Sugar Bowl, Outback Bowl, Citrus Capitol Our House Tim Horton’s Bowl, and the rest. There just isn’t. The category of “BCS Bowl” on its own does absolutely nothing for me. Only the Rose Bowl and National Title game do.

In fact, if the Spartans can’t make the Rose Bowl this year, I’d like to see them play in the Bowl Game that gives State the best chance to win, not necessarily the best “matchup.” While Alabama would be more than personal for Spartan Nation, they’re already on the schedule five years or so down the road, so I see no need to rush into that matchup.

After 2008, the Spartans traveled to Orlando to play the most talented team of that year in the Georgia Bulldogs. Those Bulldogs lacked the upper-class leadership and season-long team health necessary to win the National Championship they had been pre-season favorites to capture. And if you recall, MSU lost that game more than they were beaten by the Bulldogs. Did the Spartans get much credit for playing Georgia tough? No. Especially when you compare it with the reaction to Iowa’s New Year’s Bowl that year.

The Hawks played a team far inferior to Georgia, The Ole’ Ball Coach’s Gamecocks, and beat them rather handily (31-10) if memory serves me correct. Going into the off season, Iowa was suddenly a team on the rise, and already set up for a terrific 2009. Yet, MSU did not enjoy a similar off season buzz and bump due to their “woulda-coulda-shoulda” loss with Georgia. Had the roles been reversed, the Hawks would’ve lost to Georgia, and MSU would’ve probably rolled over Southern Carolina and gained much more momentum moving ahead.

So unless MSU can make the Rose Bowl, gimme the Bowl Game that the Spartans are most likely to win, and let’s build off of that for challenging 2011 season ahead.

2.

If it’s so bad for Big Ten football to play the week of Turkey day, the Big Ten should institute a Conference wide “Bye Week” during the week of Thanksgiving, or start the season one week earlier. Coaches have mostly griped about this change to Big Ten tradition, so why not start a new one. A universal bye would say a lot about the traditional values of Big Ten institutions, and would not take away that much from the end of the regular season. Some might counter that it would leave a number of “lame duck” contests to finish out the year, but I don’t see how that would be that much different from any other year. And starting the season one week earlier wouldn’t seem to cause that much harm. Perhaps better yet, it would leave the holiday week as a “bye” for the two teams set to play in the Big Ten Championship game. So how about it, Big Ten brass, go back to not playing during Turkey Week, if it’s that big a deal.

Week 14: Regular Season Finale

1.

Oregon has the better team, Auburn has the better (though should be ineligible) player. As football is the ultimate “team” game, I’d look for Oregon to win this one. Fortunately for the Ducks, they didn’t have to play Ohio St. again. If they were facing OSU for the rematch of last year’s Rose Bowl, they would likely be embarrassed by the Buckeyes for the second straight year.

2.

How classy of Donald Trump to allow his letter endorsing the candidacy of Mike Leach to become the Head Coach at the University of Miami (FL) to be published. Trump reminded Miami President Donna Shalala that they “made big mistake when (they) did not take (his) advice” to hire Leach four years ago. Gee Donald, tell us more about hiring college football coaches, since you know everything…about everything.

3.

Contrary to some media perception, Spartan Nation is hardly bitter about playing Alabama on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl. Next to the National Title game, Michigan St.-Alabama is probably a more compelling matchup than any other in the entire Bowl lineup. Just because something has the title of a “BCS Bowl” doesn’t mean it’s actually a marquee matchup (see: ACC and Big East participants).

Just look at this year’s clunkers. The matchups look a little weak across the board.  MSU-Alabama is clearly stronger, and the most intriguing game of the slate. Consider the unique intangibles between the Spartans and Crimson Tide that no other big time Bowl game has had in recent memory. They can be summed up with one word: Saban.

Ever wanted a shot to stick it to the girl/boy friend that left you cold and unappreciative? Well for Michigan St., here’s there first, and possibly only shot, at Nick Saban. Ever want a shot to stick it to the girl/boy friend who brought you down and pretty much destroyed your life for a good long while? Well, here’s MSU’s shot at Bobby Williams, they guy who said he’d protect the “wood shed,” and instead saw the entire MSU Football program implode under his watch.

Spartan Nation should hardly feel bummed about playing Alabama on College Football’s New Year’s stage. In fact, it’s probably the best alternative to the Rose Bowl or National Championship that Spartan Nation could possibly dream of.

*Interact with Jonathan on Twitter @JPSpartan or inside the Phalanx Forum

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