Sorry folks. I posted this as a fanshot yesterday and then braincramped forgetting that not everyone is an ESPNInsider. Bruce Feldman may not always believe in Boise State but he's been pretty good to the Broncos over the years.
Paul Finebaum, the Alabama-based talk show host, wrote a story recently — it was the first thing I read this morning — discussing whether the Cameron Newton story is the biggest story in the entire history of college football.
Here’s a key line : (http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2010/11/finebaum_is_cam_newton_controv.html)
What if Auburn keeps winning and Newton’s status remains unchanged? And what is interesting in the rush to judgment: We haven’t even considered the possible ramifications and repercussions if this story proves to be true and can be confirmed. What does it mean to the reputation of the Southeastern Conference, which is a multi-billion enterprise? What does it mean to Auburn? What does it mean to the sport of college football?
Putting aside Newton for the time being, I asked my Twitter followers — as well as many colleagues — what they think are the biggest college football stories of the last 25 years. Here are the results of the informal survey:
1. The birth of the BCS
Put in place in 1998 to match the two top teams in college football, the BCS has triggered an incredible level of outrage with fans, media and even politicians railing against it. The venom grows by the year, yet whether it’s because of the BCS or in spite of it the popularity of college football has soared, going from being a regional link to a national landscape. In the past dozen years, we’ve seen a connection in which Alabama and Ohio State fans now must keep an eye on what’s going on in Big 12 country or even in Boise, Idaho. Supporters of the BCS say the ensuing debates are good for the sport. That the final score of a Notre Dame-Utah game is relevant or whether Boise State blew out someone by quite enough points or why it was so beneficial for Wisconsin to score over 80 on Indiana shows how fickle and flawed this system is. The formula has been tweaked several times and it only seems to have enraged its playoff-starved opponents that much more.
One of the side effects of the BCS has been that it has literally changed the way fans look at the game, as ESPN’s Joe Tessitore pointed out. The emergence of the BCS changed the way many sports fans look at New Year’s Day, which had been a college football institution.
“Imagine changing Thanksgiving in our country and spreading it over a couple of weekends,” Tessitore said. “Imagine no longer having the Times Square Ball drop on Dec. 31. Imagine Americans no longer having picnics and fireworks on the Fourth of July. A great American tradition which threaded numerous generations was lost forever. It was bigger than just sports. The biggest football games of the year on New Years Day — all day — it was a Norman Rockwell painting. It was as old as time, as accepted as the norm and as American as apple pie. Mothers, grandmothers and nuns even knew it. That was bigger than football. It was a change that affected American culture and tradition.”
2. The Southern Methodist Mustangs death penalty
The Mustangs were a powerhouse in the 1980s. They went undefeated in 1982, but a huge scandal that even included the governor of the state of Texas brought the entire SMU football program to the ground. The NCAA imposed its so-called “death penalty” on the program in 1987. The scandal was chronicled in the 1989 book “A Payroll to Meet: A story of Greed, Corruption and Football at SMU.”
The title of David Whitford’s book comes from the words of Sherwood Blount, an old millionaire booster at SMU who reportedly said that at a 1985 meeting, telling his colleagues that the Mustangs’ gravy train, despite NCAA sanctions, was far from over and that players on the SMU roster still were owed money. “The gold standard of all college corruption scandals,” one colleague wrote.
3. Reggie Bush gives back the Heisman
This story didn’t have quite the legs of the BCS mess, but it felt like it dragged on forever. Things finally came to a head when the NCAA came out with its sanctions for USC. The school sent back Bush’s Heisman that sat in Heritage Hall and made major changes to its athletic department.
4. The rise of the Boise State Broncos
For a program that moved into the major college football ranks 14 years ago, the Broncos sure have made a whole lot of noise. They’ve gone from Dirk Koetter to Dan Hawkins to Chris Petersen and have only gotten better. Their brand has boomed, thanks in part to great coaching, shrewd recruiting and some clever marketing, among other reasons. The program in the past five years has pulled off some major upsets and has emerged as the most polarizing subject in college football. Their season-opening win against Virginia Tech drew the highest overnight TV rating of the season. They can make thousands of college fans in different parts of the country care about a Tuesday night game against a team with a losing record. The Broncos are 48-1 in the past four seasons and 6-1 against ranked opponents. This year there is a real chance the upstart Broncos could make it to the BCS national title game.
5. Urban Meyer steps down
The 45-year-old Florida coach, who had led the Gators to two national titles and is arguably the top coach in the country, stunned the sports world when he said he was stepping down for health reasons and to spend more time with his family, as he detailed to Pete Thamel of the New York Times on a Saturday night last December:
Meyer said in a telephone interview late Saturday that the hospital trip prompted weeks of soul searching that ended on Christmas night, when he told his family he would be leaving his job at Florida. He said that his 18-year-old daughter, Nicki, hugged him and said, “I get my daddy back.”
“I saw it as a sign from God that this was the right thing to do,” Meyer said of his daughter’s reaction. “I was worried about letting people down. I was feeling so awful and concerned about my health. That was among several other signs that said it’s time to back away.”
But then the next day, Meyer said he wasn’t stepping down. He changed his mind. Instead, it was an indefinite leave of absence: (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncf/news/story?id=4774134)
He said being with his players at a “spirited practice” Sunday morning persuaded him not to resign. “I’ve accepted this offer to improve my health,” said Meyer, who refused to elaborate on his health problems and declined to answer when asked if doctors advised him to stop coaching.
Spencer Hall, a Florida grad and the brains behind the blog “Everyday Should be Saturday,” compared the Meyer whirlwind story to driving and the steering wheel coming off. “It was someone having a mid-life crisis before your eyes,” said Hall, adding that it was a huge, weird story in which the instability it caused is “still a story.”
Ultimately, where the Newton story might rank on such a list, if at all, remains to be seen. Obviously, it’s still too early. What you have right now is more firestorm than story. Newton, after all, is eligible.
Think about how the media-coverage game has changed since Maurice Clarett.
I was on Brian Kenny’s radio show last night, and we talked about how much things have changed in the spectacle part of this in the context of the Maurice Clarett story at the start of this decade. The feeding frenzy that we have in this day and age makes almost anything seem spectacular. I don’t know if the rules in such coverage are being trampled on or merely rewritten. To the level of the surreal nature of the Newton situation, my pal, CNBC’s Darren Rovell, made a good point in the Finebaum story today (link is above):
Last Wednesday, a tweet quoted a talk show host in Dallas saying Newton was about to be declared ineligible. It was erroneous, but it didn’t stop the item from being retweeted ad infinitum, perhaps, affecting several sports books to take the Georgia-Auburn game temporarily off the board in Las Vegas.
Right now it has the potential to be the biggest story that’s unfolded since I’ve been covering college football because we’re talking about the best player on a team in the midst of a national title run. There is an open investigation, and this story is spilling out in real-time and will continue to do so for a long time.
Tessitore, ESPN’s resident Heismanologist, raised a lot of noteworthy stories, some I had considered for this list, a few that I hadn’t thought of. Here are Joe’s thoughts:
Conference realignment: The Penn State Nittany Lions went to the Big Ten; a decade later, the Boston College Eagles, Virginia Tech Hokies and Miami (FL) Hurricanes went to the ACC. That changed a lot about the game.
Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne being the last of the “living legend” coaches.
The downfall and perpetual mediocrity of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. It is often said but so true: Those under 25 don’t understand this, they just know them as mediocre and overrated and scratch their head as to why they even get attention.
The U: The polarizing Miami Hurricanes defining an entire era of sports, setting in motion the bad boy era of sports with its effect on culture, race, the sport, society and specifically the 1986 team and the clash of cultures with Penn State at the Fiesta Bowl.
The emergence of online coverage of the sport, specifically recruiting web sites, message boards and chat rooms. Now college football recruiting is arguably a bigger sport than the NHL and some other fringe sports.
TV money trumps all. Conference contracts dictate the sport more and more in the early 2000s.
The arms race of on-campus facilities and stadiums.
The rule of three-years removed from high school to be in the NFL being upheld, thus keeping college football stars in college football, and the downfall of college basketball without this rule.
AROUND COLLEGE FOOTBALL:
• Jim Harbaugh has a losing record against only two current Pac-10 coaches: He’s 1-2 against Cal’s Jeff Tedford and next week’s opponent, Oregon State’s Mike Riley. Jon Wilner wonders if the fiery Stanford coach could possibly be keeping track of that fact:
“I don’t want to get in trouble for saying this,‘’ Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck said with a laugh, "but I think that’s safe to say.’’
Defensive tackle Sione Fua, sitting a few feet from Luck at Monday’s Big Game news conference in San Francisco, smiled and nodded in agreement. They know Harbaugh well. Asked if the head-to-head record against Tedford was on his mind, Harbaugh said: "We’re keeping track, no question about it. I have great respect for Jeff, but we’re adversaries.’’
Of Harbaugh’s 15 league losses during his Stanford tenure, all but one came with the Cardinal as an underdog or slight favorite. The only coach to record a true upset against the Harbaugh-led Cardinal is Tedford. Cal was a seven-point underdog last year at Stanford Stadium and won by six.
• Oklahoma is aware of Baylor’s dynamic QB Robert Griffin III, writes John Shinn:
It’s been a while since OU’s seen that talent first hand. Griffin missed most of last season with a knee injury and wasn’t in the lineup for the Sooners’ 33-7 victory last season. The time off was put to good use by Griffin.
In 2008, he was a great athlete that played quarterback. Most of Baylor’s big plays came when he scrambled. Two years, later he’s become a much better passer and much more comfortable in the pocket. He’s now a good quarterback who is also a great athlete. The current version is much tougher to defend.
“He’s more mature. He knows that offense better. I don’t think he just sat around last year. You can tell he was in that quarterback room learning the system better,” OU LB Travis Lewis said. “He’s a smarter player and making better decisions. He isn’t just a freshman being thrown out there. He’s a veteran now. He doesn’t make many mistakes.”
• Jerrod Johnson said Monday it seems “surreal” that he will watch someone else play the position Saturday during his final home game at Kyle Field, reports Jimmy Burch:
“It didn’t end the way I wanted. This whole situation, if I told you it was easy for me, I’d be lying,” Johnson said Monday in his first interview since his Oct. 30 demotion. “But to see… us finally win in a way we want to win, I can’t sit on the sideline with a sour face when I’m watching all these guys being happy and I know I’m a part of that.”
• Mike Bianchi said Urban Meyer has become “uncertain, shaky, wishy-washy” and now needs to make some tough decisions: (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/college/gators/os-bianchi-urban-meyer-florida-gators20101115,0,6494802.column)
Ten games into the season and a $4 million-a-year coach still doesn’t know if he wants this quarterback … that quarterback .. or maybe that quarterback. Since when did Urban Meyer turn into teen-age girl shopping for shoes?
Meyer was always one of those tough, hard-nosed coaches who talked about three things: Leadership, courage, character. It sure would be nice if he started practicing what he once preached. It’s time for him to show some leadership, have the courage to make tough decisions, have the character to stand behind those decisions. In his six years at Florida, Meyer has never fired an assistant coach or benched a starting quarterback. And now, it appears, he should probably do both. Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and quarterback John Brantley are not getting the job done and changes need to be made.
Except Meyer seems unwilling to make them. He reiterated Monday that Addazio’s job is safe and Brantley will likely start at quarterback again this week. Even if Meyer is going to do nothing, can’t he at least show some passion, act angry and assure his fan base that “nobody’s job is safe!”
I do think there is something to be said for loyalty, although doing what is best for the program obviously is a decision that ultimately matters most for the head coach. Reading this reminded me of a story one veteran assistant coach once told me of a former head coach he worked for. The head coach had a really good run of success and his protégé told me about how if that guy had ever realized he hired an assistant who just couldn’t get the job done, the head man wouldn’t fire him, but basically took it upon himself to do what that assistant couldn’t. It meant more work for the head guy but he figured since he was the one who hired him it was his responsibility to do everything he could so that it worked out.
• Notre Dame’s loss is going to be FSU’s gain. The Noles scooped up former ND commitments Jordan Prestwood, the country’s No. 11 OT prospect, and Aaron Lynch, the No. 7 DE.
“Of the three prospects from Florida that Notre Dame lost, I felt that Lynch was the biggest loss, but he now gives the Seminoles a physical impressive defender who moves well for his size,” ESPN’s Craig Haubert said. “He should fit a little better in a 4-3 defense, and while a little raw in areas he is a kid with good upside physically and as a player. The Seminoles, currently with a top five class, just added two more good prospects led by Lynch, who has the tools to be a very good defender in Tallahassee.”
• Wisconsin’s standout DE J.J. Watt’s little brother, Derek Watt, a three-star outside linebacker from Pewaukee, Wis., has said he’s going to Wisconsin after decommitting from Northwestern. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, the nation’s No. 70 OLB recruit, will be a greyshirt for the Badgers, unless a scholarship opens up late in the process.
• Top RB prospect Isaiah Crowell plans to visit Georgia for the Georgia Tech game, reports Chip Towers: (http://blogs.ajc.com/recruiting/2010/11/16/ten10-5-star-rb-isaiah-crowell-plans-to-visit-uga-for-tech-game/)
Crowell, an AJC Super 11 selection and the top running back prospect in the state, visited Auburn with teammates Gabe Wright and Deoin Bonner this past weekend and “really enjoyed it”. It was thought to be a two-team battle between Alabama and Georgia for Crowell but now he’s also looking hard at the Tigers.
• Things may be heating up a little at Clemson, but Tigers OT Landon Walker is sticking up for Dabo Swinney, writes Travis Sawchik: (http://www.thestate.com/2010/11/16/1563832/walker-sticks-up-for-swinney.html)
“From an outsider’s view, just looking at the record and not seeing what’s going on with the team, you’d say these coaches aren’t getting it done, the players don’t care,” Walker said. “It comes down to the bottom line, which is whether or not we win or lose, we’ve showed up Monday and focused on the next team.”
Walker said Clemson is a better program under Swinney than it was in the later stages under Bowden. When Clemson walked off the field at Wake two years ago, Walker felt the Tigers had not played to their ability.
This season, Walker said, Clemson has competed to the last second of every game. “There’s a lot of accountability” under Swinney, Walker said. “Going into every game, you know you have to do your job. It’s not necessarily done (correctly) all the time & but people show up to do their job. I think he does a good job of portraying the image of what we are doing as a team relates to everyone doing their part. I think everyone feels a need to do their part, and everyone feels a sense of belonging around here.”
• The show Michael Vick and the Eagles put on last night was the most amazing performance I think I’ve ever seen in an NFL game. Vick was spectacular. If you think back 10 years to where Vick was at perception-wise, this was the Vick a lot of folks (myself included) expected to see in the NFL. I understand why many people feel about Vick the way they do, but in terms of playing the game the way he is now, considering all of the time he was away and what he showed last year in limited action, this has been a remarkable turnaround.