Sports Nut

Slate’s College Football Preview

No players; just stereotypes.

Our editors have requested that we preview the college football season. At first we objected, on the grounds that we have not actively scouted every team in the country. But then we reasoned that none of the other college football previews have, either. In fact, most simply rely upon deeply rooted stereotypical conceptions of the college football landscape. Since college football changes little from year to year, this means that they will be mostly right. But it also means that any deviation from the pattern—such as Oklahoma’s dominance last year or Alabama’s 3-8 disaster—will catch everybody by surprise.

Thus, we have decided to save ourselves vast amounts of time and effort by not pretending to scout every team in the country, or even any of them, and instead admit forthrightly that our preview is based entirely on stereotypical preconceptions. We promise not to gain any advantage over other, already-published previews by taking account of last week’s games. In fact, we will not use any specific information that pertains to the upcoming season. While our approach will not give you some of the information that can be found in a traditional preview—say, the names of any players on any team—it has one unique advantage: it can be used as a guide for any season in the next decade (or, for viewers of ESPN Classic, in the last decade.) So, the Non-Year-Specific Top Five:

1.Nebraska. The Huskers will rely upon a huge, powerful offensive line to open up holes for its shifty quarterback and talented I-backs, who have prepared for the season with a rigorous training regimen of beating up female members of the volleyball team. After bludgeoning Kansas State into a gory pulp, Nebraska’s title hopes will hinge upon its crucial matchup with Oklahoma/Colorado, depending on which is on the schedule.

2.FloridaState. Although many of last year’s stars have gone on to greater fortunes in the NFL/Cali Drug Cartel, FSU will contend once again, thanks to having the fastest team in college football. During spring practice, the Seminoles’ starting flanker clocked a blistering 4.16 seconds in the 40-yard dash, every lineman on the roster broke 4.5 seconds, and even coach Bobby Bowden managed a respectable 4.7. Bowden sums up his team’s chances with an indecipherable regional aphorism featuring the word “dadgum.”

3.Florida. Evil genius Steve Spurrier is cocky about his team’s prospects despite his own contention that his players are all lazy and worthless. The big issue is Spurrier’s controversial plan to rotate his quarterbacks/berate his quarterbacks/flog his quarterbacks in public/replace his quarterbacks with a cloned, miniature version of himself.

4. Obligatory Pac-10 Team. Since our wives generally forbid us from watching college football on Saturday nights, we have little first-hand knowledge of this conference. But we did catch Oregon/Washington/Arizona win its bowl game impressively. So, we have decided that this team will be ludicrously overrated in this year’s poll while all the other Pac-10 teams will be ludicrously underrated.

5. Notre Dame. Despite getting annihilated in/failing to qualify for a bowl game last season, hopes are sky-high in South Bend. Several years of highly touted recruiting classes have left the cupboard full, and the quarterback is drawing comparisons to Joe Montana. This year, the fans are certain, the Irish won’t end their season in humiliation.

Absurd Lee Corso-ism of the Week:
It’s important to keep in mind that ESPN analyst Lee Corso exists mainly for the purpose of self-parody. Nonetheless, he has brief interludes of earnestness, in which the resulting comedy is unintentional. One such moment occurred last Thursday, when Corso fretted at length over the possibility of a tie in the Bowl Championship Series standings and proposed that the tiebreaker be the team with more wins over top-15 opponents. How silly is this? Let us count the ways. First, Corso’s mechanism—more wins over top-15 opponents—is already part of the BCS formula. Second, it’s a terrible way to break a tie, since the No. 2 and No. 3 teams are quite likely to tie in this category as well. Finally, the BCS already has a tiebreaker: a vote by conference commissioners. For future columns, we invite readers to nominate other unintentionally absurd Corso utterances.

Boneheaded Coaching Move of the Week:
With a 24-22 lead over Colorado, Fresno State has the ball at midfield with less than 1:30 left in the game. It’s third down. Colorado is out of timeouts. If Fresno stays on the ground, it can punt away and give Colorado the ball with some 45 seconds remaining. Instead, Fresno decides to pass. Result: The receiver isn’t open, and the quarterback, obviously not having been instructed to keep the ball and stay in bounds under such circumstances, throws his pass out of bounds, giving Colorado time to get in position for a game-winning field goal.

Fortunately for Fresno State, this was immediately followed by the Boneheaded Player Move of the Week: On the subsequent punt, Colorado’s returner catches the ball on the 1-yard line, retreats into the end zone, and manages to make it out to the 5-yard line, crushing the Buffaloes’ brief comeback hopes. Which of the two moves is more boneheaded? Answer: Premeditated stupidity by a middle-aged coach is always worse than heat-of-the-moment stupidity by a college kid.