Posts Tagged '#fortyacres'

The Top-100 College Football Teams of All-Time (allegedly)

One of The Beverage’s favorite sites, Football Outsiders, has now finished a month-long series listing the purported Top-100 College Football Teams of All-Time. If you aren’t familiar with Football Outsiders, the site is about math applied to football, and it is always good to provoke a thought or two. This Top-100 list is no exception. In order from 1-100 (installments of 20), you can read the whole list here, here, here, here and here and see what thoughts it provokes for you.

Sadly, Princeton and Rutgers did not make the list.

Here are my four observations:

First, this is obviously arbitrary, as acknowledged in the intro to the first installment with the disclaimer that “with just a tweak of the formula here and there, virtually any team that has finished in the Top 100 could have ended up in the Top 10.” So Vince Young’s 2005 Texas team could easily have been at the top, instead of at No. 92, presumably if the formula were tweaked to give slightly more weight to “Awesomeness.”

In actuality, the Football Outsiders formula uses total points scored for and against (the only quasi-fungible stats available across the decades) and strength of schedule derived from same. There is also apparently some math included to account for standard deviation in different eras, giving teams more credit for being dominant in an era of great parity.

The results are not perfect, but they are interesting. For my money the 2001 Miami team, which appears at No. 6 on this list, is for sure the best I’ve ever seen. This is the legendary squad of Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Najeh Davenport, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, Philip Buchanon, D.J. WIlliams, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and Kellen Winslow, many of whom didn’t even play. In back-to-back games in November, the Hurricanes beat No. 14 Syracuse 59-0 and No. 12 Washington 65-7, then went on to beat Michael Vick in Blacksburg and Heisman-winner Eric Crouch in the championship game for good measure. Nothing else compares to that level of talent and domination.

Second, this is not just your typical list, but a mini college football history lesson. The author, Bill Connelly, has really done his work, and the five part series includes multi-paragraph entries for each team, describing forgotten personalities and big games of yore in new and interesting detail. As much as we love college football, its history is not as well known as that of, say, baseball, where the Ken Burns treatment has raised Joe DiMaggio and his ilk to secular gods. Most of us may know the recent past reasonably well (The Beverage’s mental archive begins with Craig James, Eric Dickerson and Doug Flutie) and have some sense of the not-too-distant history of our personal favorite teams, but this feature will offer something fun from the vault for almost anyone interested in college football, even ignoring the all-time ratings hook.

When you view college football from this long-lens perspective, some things really jump out. At the risk of going all-Beano Cook on you, one of the things that jumps out is that the November 1946 game at Yankee Stadium between Notre Dame and Army (Nos. 10 and 11 on the list) is pretty close to obviously the coolest sporting event ever played. This game finished in a 0-0 tie, with the opposing defenses shutting down otherwise potent offenses featuring three eventual Heisman trophy winners (Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside of Army and the Irish’s Johnny Lujack). Remember that they were literally shutting each other down, as guys played both ways back then. Notre Dame quarterback Lujack actually made the tie-saving tackle of Doc Blanchard late in the game. Can you imagine the buzz in Yankee Stadium that day with a New York crowd that had just survived World War II and the Great Depression? This is absolutely my “if-I-could-go-back-in-a-time-machine-for-any-single-game” game. What’s yours?

Speaking of (national treasure) Beano Cook, the piece de resistance appears in the top-100 redux column, which features a 45 min. podcast interview with Beano himself breaking down the best teams of all-time (and becoming outraged when informed of the alleged No. 1 team of all-time). Which brings us to…

Third, in the final tally SEC boosters will be pleased, as the Best Conference in College Football is well represented in the top half of the list, particularly from the late-50s through the 60s and 70s. The purported No. 1 team of all-time is from the SEC, but it was neither undefeated nor a national champion, facts that seemingly caused Beano Cook to have a mild stroke. That 1959 Ole Miss team wasn’t undefeated because it lost on Halloween night to Billy Cannon and No. 28 all-time LSU, on the supposed greatest punt return of all time, which honestly doesn’t look all that great, even after you factor in that the only other touchdowns Ole Miss surrendered that season were in garbage time of blowout wins. Note: If you want to see what these white guys looked like in color, you can watch Everybody’s All-American, even though Frank Deford swears the story has nothing to do with Billy Cannon, despite the fact that it obviously does.

Ole Miss went on to avenge that loss to LSU with a 21-0 triumph two months later in the 1960 Sugar Bowl, and the Syracuse team that won the 1959 national championship is only listed as No. 55 all-time. Which leads me to observe…

Fourth, how different would this list look if there had been a college football playoff? Would Beano Cook become outraged that the 1959 Ole Miss squad appears by some math to have been the best team of all-time if they had beaten LSU and Syracuse in a four-team playoff to win the official NCAA National Championship?

We will inevitably take this up again in November, but, for the record, The Beverage opposes a college football playoff. Why? There are a few reasons, none sufficient on its own, but together enough for me to argue for the status quo.

One, the status quo mostly works. As Football Outsiders notes, after Notre Dame and Army met at Yankee Stadium in 1946, there wouldn’t be another No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash in college football until 1963. The two best teams of the 1990s, according to the list, were the 1991 Miami and Washington powerhouses that both finished undefeated and split the national championship. That doesn’t happen anymore. What happens now is that a third team – which might be as good or better than the other two – doesn’t get to play, which is not ideal, but somehow unavoidable when only two teams can get on the field at once.

Two, having a playoff would trade the possibility of a handful of very-interesting games for the certainty of dozens of often-interesting games. Say what you will, but the Texas-Oklahoma game (or fill-in-the-blank with your favorite perennial regular season clash) would not be as interesting if it didn’t matter so much. These games are great because the loser is often done for the season, in October. You think we get a great Super Bowl every year because of the magic of a single-elimination playoff?

Which brings me to the final reason. Philosophically, I’m against a playoff because it reflects a sort of laziness, a desire to be told in advance when the most important game of the year will take place so that we can be sure not to miss it and can make sufficient guacamole. College football is great partly because it hits the ground running from the very first weekend. Nearly every season features inter-sectional games in September that impact the national championship. You don’t know which one it will be, so you have to watch them all!

For all the talk about the Sisters-of-the-Poor and Directional-U mismatches, there are big games on the schedule almost every week. I wouldn’t trade that for the possibility of two or three more pre-arranged meaningful games in January, especially if they intend to play them on Wednesday nights like the BCS title game (don’t get me started).

This is getting me excited. I need to relax for a bit now. Is the Women’s British Open on yet?

August can’t go by fast enough.

Five Great Football Books to Get You Through the Official Slowest Week in Sports

This is officially the worst sports week of the year. Some people refer to the second week of April or thereabouts – the time between the end of March Madness and the beginning of NBA and NHL playoffs – as the “sports doldrums,” but it really can’t compare to the last week in July.

Unlike some folks, I love summer sports. July is one of my favorite months on the sports calendar. I love the British Open, Wimbledon and the Tour de France – the old world trifecta of summer sports. Since before the Wright brothers, men have been vying for those three trophies over much the same ground that they are still contested today. You need look no further than Tom Watson last year at at Turnberry or John Isner this year at Wimbledon to know that the grand old dames of individual sporting events still have what it takes to tingle.

I also love this stuff because it comes on TV early in the morning. You can watch all the golf or tennis or bicycling you want, while many have barely risen, and still spend your summer afternoons doing summer afternoon things. Most summers there is also a good international soccer tournament to round out the sports offerings, not to mention the steady drumbeat of the MLB season grinding along.

Nevertheless, all but baseball finally came to a shuddering halt on Monday, and we are apparently left with nothing to ponder except which unfortunate team will find itself desperately needing the services of one Terrell Owens, a.k.a. “The Player” to Bill Parcells.  (Note: It is hard to believe, but Parcells really did this. He routinely refused to identify one of his own players by name, and he is still permitted to run an entire football team virtually unsupervised.)

When you look at the sports calendar, the last week of July puts the early-April sports doldrums to shame. In the days between now and the full-throated beginning of college and pro football training camps, we will be treated to several indoor tennis tournaments, the water polo world cup and the European track and field championships. As hard as it may be to believe, The Beverage just can’t get fired up for any of that.

But have no fear. When it gets so hot outside that it feels like a bus exhaust on your face, you know that pointy football is just around the corner. The assorted preview magazines are here to get you by until they line it up for real, but you know where to find that stuff if you want it, and I’ve never really enjoyed reading about how many special teams starters are returning at Purdue. That is the stuff we read because there isn’t anything else.

Don’t settle for the fantasy football guide. There are plenty of good gridiron books out there to combine your late-summer vacation reading with your fall football preparation. Here are five recommendations, with links to Amazon (where all five are available for immediate download to your Kindle for $10 or less):

Next Man Up John Feinstein. If you really want to know what the player personnel business looks like in big-time pro football, this is the book for you. Truth is, you may not want to know, and you may enjoy it a bit less once you do. Life for an elite football player is nasty, brutish and short, and if you’ve bought into the NFL Films mythology of the noble warrior athlete with stirring orchestral music accompanying his every stride, Feinstein may burst your bubble. The cruel calculus wielded by front office men like Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens – the book’s ultimate focus – renders human beings in the prime of life down to a commodity, bought and sold if not at auction then something like it. Newsome’s motto, “Right player, Right price”, sums it all up nicely. The average length of an NFL career is something like four years, and this book makes even that seem like a long time. (Note: You should follow the link for a cool Sporting News list of the 120 best numbers in sports. My favorite is the 259 pitches that Nolan Ryan supposedly tossed over 12 innings in a 1974 game.)

Friday Night Lights H.G. Bissinger. Still the best football book out there, and the perfect counterpoint to Next Man Up. Before the movie, and the TV show, there was the real deal. Just Odessa Permian Panther football. Mojo power. I remember it from real life as a vague legend of the high plains. Before cellphone video, Sports Center and the Internet, you never really saw things like 1980s Odessa Permian football. You just heard tell of them, through rumor and reference, stories in print and maybe a static, black-and-white photo. Buzz Bissinger’s classic book makes it all technicolor and real. Bissinger has lately become something of a weirdo, but Friday Night Lights perfectly captures the essence of why most of us ever played football and what we loved and hated about it when we did. In the process, he also tells the remarkable and often overlooked tale of the 1988 Dallas Carter football team, the arch-evil opponent at the end of the Permian story. The details of the Carter plot element were largely lost in transition to the screen, but it is a compelling story, especially if you harbor any half-rememberence of the real-life events, as most Texans of a certain age and inclination will.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Warren St. John. I am not really that fond of ‘Bama Fan. Long before the “Crimson Tide” speared Colt McCoy’s throwing shoulder to win the national championship, ‘Bama Fan had already risen fairly high on my mental list of the 10 Most Objectionable People at Disney World. Since then, it has reached new heights. As annoying as Gator Fan was in pre-annointing Tebow the Heisman winner last year, ‘Bama Fan is now ten times worse. They are justifiably very proud of the fact that they won the national championship, and there is nothing that they won’t do with puffy paint and glitter to make sure you know about it. However, ‘Bama Fan offers a unique opportunity to study the rabid fan in the wild, and this book is as pure an explication of devotion to team in American sport as you will find. If you want to read about some people who are definitely more fired up for the start of football season than you are, this is the place to start.

Dixieland Delight Clay Travis. Travis does basically the same thing that St. John does in Rammer Jammer, only he expands the palate to the entire Southeastern Conference, the self-proclaimed (perhaps accurately) Best Conference in College Football. This is decidedly low-middlebrow stuff, and it includes a section on “Women of the SEC” and faux-lurid stories about frat parties. Travis is something of a poor-man’s Sports Guy, and this book is a fun page turner that reads like the episodic series of columns that it is. You could probably read it cover-to-cover on a long plane ride and end the trip mildly amused and more ready for football season, and isn’t that really the point of life?

Twelve Mighty Orphans Jim Dent. Think Hoosiers meets Seabiscuit (I am summarizing the back cover so as to spare you reading Vern Lundquist’s quote). This Depression-era true story of the Mighty Mites of Masonic Home is written for a broad audience, and it hits its mark as true four-quadrant fare. It seems certain to eventually find its way to the silver screen, though not likely in the hands of these people. Read the book so that you can say you knew the Mighty Mites before they were famous.

Hope you enjoy one or more of these books and make the most of the last fleeting bits of summer. In a few weeks, it will be hard to remember when there wasn’t any football to watch.

Reign over Spain

Ed note: Originally published on Facebook 6/24/09

Hard to overstate this win over Spain.

But first, two important things to keep in mind about the two lopsided losses to start this Confederations Cup adventure:

(1) we played two world cup qualifiers and then flew half way around the world, into the winter, to play two of the best teams on earth, and

(2) we played half of the total time in those two matches with 10 men.

I blame the proliferation of red cards – including the one today – on Bush. The reputation for cowboy aggression we so scrupulously cultivated for 8 years bears its fruit in the minds of the global officiate

We go hard after a 50/50 ball; we get sent off.

Even though they were shorthanded, we beat the snot out of Egypt, who are really the class of Africa these days, and who had taken care of Italy just a couple of days before.

The Brazil/Italy result was, of course, a fluke.  But these things happen, and we drew the break this time around.

And, boy, did we make the most of it.

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