Friday, September 22, 2017

College Football Week 3 Thoughts

By Kevin Beane

Over the course of years writing this column, I endeavor to mix up my subject matter as much as possible. The world of sports is so wonderfully expansive that fans that limit themselves to one or two sports are really missing out. Bibliophiles don't limit themselves to one or two authors.

So I am acutely aware that this makes two straight college football grab-bag-type columns. I acknowledge it with a grimace. But dammit, college football is my favorite sport and I have a few things to say. My next edition, I promise, will be about another sport or sports.

Firstly, two point spreads strike me as highly suspect. I used to use this space to give my picks quite frequently. I've cooled down on that, because the bottom-line is, as a capper, I don't know what I'm talking about. I still don't. My analysis is sort of superficial. But still, hear me out.

The first: Houston, at home, is a 6-point favorite over Texas Tech. I think it's more likely that Texas Tech wins outright than loses by 6 or more.

What do we know about Tech? There first game was against Eastern Washington. This game, on paper at least, was ripe for an upset. EWU started last year upsetting Washington State, a team that would go on to spend four weeks in the top 25 after losing to Eastern Washington, and finish 8-5.

Tech, meanwhile, is coming off a 5-7 season, and EWU came to Lubbock ranked 4th in the FCS polls. Based on EWU's recent past, current polling, and Texas Tech's subpar previous season, this should've been a close game. But it wasn't. Tech rocked Eastern Washington 56-10, in a result that I consider far more impressive than the linemakers apparently do.

They followed up that win with a victory over a fellow Power Five team, Arizona State.

But what about Houston? As much hype as they got last year after beating Oklahoma, they still only managed to finish 5-3 in their Group-of-Five conference. Tom Herman is gone. They've had a game cancelled because of Hurricane Harvey. They've had to personally deal with Harvey, in a lot of cases, in addition to adjusting to a new coach. Their road win over Arizona was nice, but they didn't whup up on Rice nearly as bad as a now-suspect Stanford did. So take Tech, all day long.

That Houston is 6-point favorites over Texas Tech seems downright reasonable when compared to USC being 17-point favorites on the road against Cal.

Do we already forget that USC didn't pull away from Western Michigan until midway through the 4th quarter? That they didn't put away a highly suspect Texas until overtime, at home? Their win over Stanford looks a lot less impressive now too, thanks to the Cardinal's loss to San Diego State.

On the other side of the coin, what exactly does Cal have to do to get anyone's respect? They flew across the country to beat a UNC team that went bowling last year at 9 AM body-clock time. Two weeks later, they beat an SEC team at home. They beat a ranked FCS team in between (which, as I tried to establish with Eastern Washington, can no longer be taken for granted).

I can see a hypothetical case for Houston. I can see their win at Arizona trumping Texas Tech's home wins over Arizona State and Eastern Washington, especially as it came on the road. This USC line I can't even devil's-advocate. Please, pound Cal.

Finally, here's a fun little item. In a Division III game, Texas Lutheran lined up for a field goal attempt against Belhaven (Mississippi). The kick was blocked, and while bouncing on the ground, the kicker booted through the uprights. The refs signaled a good kick, and it counted.

As the linked article points out, it should not have. You can't kick a loose ball, and this was clearly a loose ball. Furthermore, as a commenter on the article points out, the rulebook narrowly defines when you CAN kick it: off a tee, as a drop kick, as a punt, or being held by a holder.

I don't expect Division III refs to have the whole rulebook memorized. I am sympathetic to the fact that they had to adjudicate over a play that is without precedent.

But still. How can you possibly, possibly presume that was good? That not only is it permissible to kick a loose ball, but to kick it specifically as an impromptu field goal attempt, and mark the result of that slapdash kick as binding? It boggles my mind. I'm relieved to report that Texas Lutheran won in a blowout anyway, so nothing hinged on the result of this kick.

But in the future, refs: if you're not sure and can't be asked to check the rulebook, at least place the most emphasis on the result that falls most in line with what we know about football, not the sexiest/coolest result. Okay?

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