I’m thrilled to report that chaos, sweet chaos, officially is mucking up the 2013 college football season. What else would you expect, in the final season of the Bowl Championship Series, but the perfect storm for the most imperfect system known to sportingkind? Before the BCS suffers a long-overdue death, it must once again trigger a national debate on whether Florida State — which, in my book, now should be favored to win the national title AND the Heisman Trophy — ultimately will be worthier than Baylor as Alabama’s opponent in the Jan. 6 championship game.
Unless, of course, Alabama loses in the interim, which then would leave a bigger mess than Katherine Webb’s Carl’s Jr. ad and usher FSU and Baylor to Pasadena to play a 64-58 sort of game. Unless, of course, the BCS computers and pollsters chug and whir and spit out the name Ohio State instead of Baylor.
For this disarray, applaud Stanford. It wasn’t long ago when the school best known for Tiger Woods, a tree mascot and a band that marched in marijuana-leaf-shaped formations just assumed it never could have an elite football program, based on academic standards too lofty to allow jock riff-raff. That notion ended when Jim Harbaugh showed up and proved eggheads also could be champions. And it continued when Harbaugh left for the NFL and handed the coaching reins to David Shaw, who’ll soon be in the NFL himself but not before performing the unthinkable in the college game: twice slowing down the supersonic Oregon spread offense and preventing Phil Knight U. from winning national titles in back-to-back seasons.
The school that thinks deeper than most of us — and the school that is firmly standing by its embattled alumnus, Jonathan Martin, in his legal warfare against a Jersey thug — used simple brainpower in quieting the Ducks again. Know how to stop an offense that was averaging 55.6 points, 632 yards and 78 snaps a game? Know how to drop Marcus Mariota behind Jameis Winston in the Heisman race and slow an attack that was averaging 8.1 yards per play and popping a mind-blowing 71 plays for 20 yards or more?
Play keep-away. When the game is 60 minutes and Stanford kept the ball for 42 1/2 minutes, it doesnt take a Linear Algebra major to realize you’re limiting Oregon’s opportunities. Once again, power football and boring uniforms trumped speed and Nike outer-space apparel, with Tyler Gaffney leading a bulldozing attack that rushed for 274 yards on 66 carries and beat up the Ducks. If Martin is as “soft” in the trenches as Richie Incognito and various Miami Dolphins players have expressed, he would be proud that the offensive line — loading up in some cases with nine men up front — dominated the game and lifted the Cardinal to a 26-20 victory.
“If you control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball you can beat these guys,” said Shaw, making the biggest statement of the college season to date. “We’re a big, physical football team that plays well together.”
While dumping Oregon from the ranks of the unbeaten, Stanford did a major favor for the charismatic Winston as he tries to win the Heisman in his first season as FSU’s quarterback. Mariota struggled throughout, while playing on a sore left knee, and didn’t put the Ducks on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter. “It is tough and it is hard because a lot of these guys have really worked hard,” Mariota said. “It ain’t over. It happens. We’re going to come back stronger than ever and we’re just going to take it in stride.”
It is over, Marcus. Winston has five golden opportunities to pile up numbers and victories — Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, four-loss Florida and Miami in the ACC title game — and very little chance of losing a game. “We don’t hold the cards anymore,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who looked overmatched in his first major headline game as Chip Kelly’s successor. The only question is whether Baylor, which started slowly against Oklahoma but ended up flexing both offensive and defensive muscle in a 41-12 romp, possibly could end up with a title-game argument if it finishes unbeaten. The Bears have a much tougher upcoming schedule than Florida State — No. 25 Texas Tech, No. 15 Oklahoma State and a Texas team unbeaten in the Big 12 — and are gaining traction. Ohio State fans also will be kicking and screaming, but the Big 10 is a weakling by comparison, and the Buckeyes likely will slide behind Baylor in due time in the BCS standings.
“We’re just talented, man. We’re committed. I think that’s all you can say about it,” said Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, himself a Heisman candidate after throwing for three touchdown passes and rushing for two. “This is a very special team.”
It’s a team coached by Art Briles, a football lifer who might be regaeded as the father of the spread offense — the current rage in the sport. Baylor was a rock-bottom program that had suffered 12 straight losing seasons when he took over. Since then, he has given us Robert Griffin III and a current team that would be a hoot against Alabama or Florida State in the title game. This is a group that feels it had an off night offensively against Oklahoma, having entered the game averaging 64 points and 718 yards.
“We’re ready and willing and anxious to get into the grind time,” Briles said. “Get into where we’re fighting and scraping for every single thing that’s out there.”
Including the national championship.
Stanford, no doubt, would be a worthy title-game participant had it not lost to Utah last month. This is not your typical powerhouse in the sport. Unlike Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Florida State and the other elites, Stanford doesn’t have whopping revenues from ticket and merchandising sales. So how does the Cardinal compete in the elite? Private donations that feed unique endowments. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Shaw’s job is endowed. All 85 scholarship players are endowed. The offensive coordinator is described as the Andrew Luck Director of Offense when a donor — maybe Luck himself, maybe Jonathan Martin, maybe Woods, maybe John Elway — provided a gift for that position.
It will be viewed as one more reason to bash Stanford in the Miami Dolphins’ locker room. But it works.
So now, we see if Alabama can survive LSU on Saturday, then a very interesting game at ranked Auburn, then either South Carolina or Missouri in the SEC title game. Suddenly, the path to Pasadena looks easy for Florida State and do-able for Baylor.
Chaos. I’m actually gonna miss it.
Nah, not really.