Friday, September 26

She Caged Him Up With a Cyclone Fence

Being out of the country certainly has its demerits. You have to learn a whole new system for everything. From getting to work to buying groceries to getting a drink at a bar. Even though I'm in a place where nobody gives a damn about college football, I've been able to follow things pretty closely. But with nobody else here the least bit interested in the game, sometimes things are going to slip through the cracks. I knew that the top 25 schedule seemed a bit light this Saturday, but somehow totally forgot that USC had a game last night. Maybe they forgot, too. At least until the second half, but by then it was too late. What the hell happened in Corvalis last night? This was a team that lost to Stanford and lost 45-14 to Penn State. They had no business hanging with USC, let alone beating them, right?

I had planned to write a post today talking about how the season had been unbearably predictable and rant for a while about the crappy non-conference scheduling taking all the fun out of the game. Those problems are all still relevant and will continue to haunt the game until the NCAA decides that health is more important than wealth. I'm not holding my breath on that one, and may pop off again soon, but in the aftermath of the biggest upset of the season, it seems an odd time to complain about ennui.

SEC fans must be ecstatic. Their two least favorite teams have already screwed the pooch, and thanks to their survival of their usual slate of non-conference cupcakes (Arizona State & Clemson not withstanding), they have half their teams ranked - even Vanderbilt. The odds of an SEC team making the title game are extremely high. Who knows, maybe they'll face someone from the Mountain West.

Maybe this season will turn out more interesting after all. Perhaps even this week. Can TCU beat Oklahoma? Can Michigan upend Wisconsin? And just how good are those Nittany Lions? Someone's due for a fall. Here's hoping I can see it through the blurry broadcast at El Alamo. See you there.

Tuesday, September 16

Worse Than It Looked

I remember I once lauded the Michigan Notre Dame rivalry as one of the nation's greatest because no matter how good the two teams were, the game was always a close one. Games that should have been blowouts were competitive, if not nailbiters. Then 2003 happened. #5 Michigan walloped the #15 Irish squad, 38-0. Ever since, the close games have been full of mistakes and the rest have been embarrassments for one team or the other, deserving of all the yakety-sax derision heaped upon them. Michigan's seven fumbles and two interceptions are all you need to know to determine which category this game belonged to. Though somehow, Notre Dame let the Wolverines hang around for nearly the entire contest.

Back to the game at hand. Friends who have seen other Michigan games this year claim that this was our strongest outing yet, and I believe them because they're honest, thinkin' folks. Plus, they seem to agree with MGoBlog's take. Still, that was pretty excruciating, not to mention disconcerting. What I once held up as one of the true pinnacles of college football is now a dead rivalry because one of the two teams is certifiably dead. And that team won the game. Because if Notre Dame couldn't dominate this Michigan team, especially when gifted six turnovers, the Fighting Irish are officially down for the count. After the game, Charlie Weis said, "We definitely showed up against a good opponent and it’s sweet." I can count at least three incorrect aspects to that sentence and one resides in a gray area. As I said last week, Notre Dame desperately needed to win this game. But to win it like this is almost worst. Had they lost - lost to the worst Michigan team since 1968 - they could have cut bait, thrown Charlie Weis and his bumb knee overboard and went about hiring a real head coach. This win is a reprieve of Weis and a reason not to eat his bloated contract at the end of the season. There is still a chance that such a thing happens, but Weis has now proven his hiring a failure. That's why, even though they won, Notre Dame lost. They won't be playing like champions any day soon, and I honestly feel badly for them. Heck. I feel badly for the game of college football. It never should have come to this.

At least I was finally able to watch some college football here in Buenos Aires. I found a bar here that was loaded with fans from all over - Texas A+M, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State (yikes!), USC, Auburn, UCLA (double yikes!), and a gigantic contingent from Georgia. It would have been a great time if it weren't for those damn fumbles. Heck, it was a great time anyway. I got to hear from fans of the Big 12, Pac Ten, and SEC how awful the Big Ten is. What fun! How peeved are they going to be when either Wisconsin or Penn State runs the table and ends up in Miami? Really peeved, that's how peeved! And I'll be at "El Alamo" with them to hear further grievances. The .500 bowl record versus the SEC is my lone trump card - a weak one at that, but I plan to continue playing it as long as I can (likely termination date - January 1st, 2009). The real test is if I come back next week when Michigan has a bye. We'll see.

Thursday, September 11

One for the History Books

It was late April, 2006. I remember my upstairs neighbor, a proud Notre Dame graduate, glowingly asking me, "Did you hear we got our quarterback?" In a similar tone, I replied, "Yep. Did you hear we got ours?" My how things have changed.

When I started my trip last year, I chose Notre Dame for three reasons. 1) They had one of only two compelling home games across the nation to start their season. 2) It was close to home, so last-minute arrangements would be easy. 3) I had a feeling they were in for a down year, and I wanted to catch them when things were still cheery. But I don't think I or anyone else believed that the wheels would fall off quite so dramatically. Every week. In the weeks leading up to the debacle versus Georgia Tech, Domers were cheery as anyone. At the tailgates, they were all certain of victory, and to a man, they all had immense faith in Charlie Weis. I can't imagine that South Bend will be quite so sunny this Saturday morning. The cloud now looming is not merely threatening; it is dark enough to block one of the most successful programs in history from view completely.

Michigan, on the other hand, was to accomplish great things last season. We all know what happened starting that very day. Let's not dwell on it, OK? After all the events of last season, the approach for Michigan fans is an new and bewildering one. Nobody was very surprised when we lost to Utah. We're clinging to hopes of making a bowl game to keep the streak alive, and have real fears that we're going to suffer the same fate as the Irish last season. And our Golden Boy tasked with taking the program into the next era skipped town. (The saga of Ryan Mallet isn't the only reason I removed myself from the yearly recruiting chatter, but it certainly played a role.)

Hardly the clash of titans we expect when the two winningest programs in college football face off, the game is being openly derided in the media. Perhaps it should. Certainly, neither of these teams is going to win the national championship this season. However, in the context of college football, this game is immensely important. If Notre Dame loses this game, their situation becomes quite hopeless. Despite his outrageous contract extension, Weis has to be fired. Retaining him essentially proves the accusations of racism levied at the school, regardless of Willingham's failures at U-Dub. After a 3-9 season, if he can't beat this Michigan team, what possible argument can he make to continue as head coach?

Michigan, on the other hand, is staring that 3-9 possibility in the face. Excuses abound. No offensive linemen, no quarterback, and a new regime are all somewhat fair reasons for failure. To lose this game is somewhat expected. But winning this game will give the team the same boost Notre Dame got in 2005. That game is probably the biggest reason that the school and its fans showed such confidence in Weis. It was a sign that brighter days were ahead. That the sign turned out to be connivingly false shouldn't bother Michigan at all if we pull this game out. What a boost it would be for the rest of the season.

I find myself in a weird position this time around. I grew up despising Notre Dame, and attending Michigan only steeled my hatred. I've long said that the world of college football is a better place when the Irish are doing well, even though I had no love for them. But a funny thing happend to me last year. I spent enough time with the Domers that I began to understand them a bit. Even worse, I realized I actually liked them. I know. Gross, right? It was a bit like making out with your sister. It affected me to the point that when Michigan won last year's battle of 0-2 juggernauts 38-0, I really felt sorry for the folks in South Bend.

So what of this week's game? I have my viewing location staked out in Buenos Aires. They promise me the game will be on. Does my soft heart coupled with the fact that Notre Dame needs this game so much more than we do affect my mindset at all? Of course not. I hope we win 39-0! That is wholly impossible, and I will take a win under any circumstances. At this point, I'd still take some solace in being called tallest midget as opposed to the dumbest imbecile. In the long run, it might actually matter a lot.

Tuesday, September 2

A Work In Progress

Sometimes the parallels are too easy. This Argentina thing is a major change for me. I'm approaching life in an entirely different way. How can I not? I struggle to speak the language and have only a handful of friends here. It goes without saying, they're not college football fans. But I was still pumped up for the start of the season. I didn't have Monday off of work, but I still knew it was time to watch the greatest sport on the planet.

So I began my quest to track down a broadcast. My hotel TV has 80 channels, with seven of them devoted full-time to sports, three flying the ESPN banner. Yet no mention of the season's kickoff could be found; and later, no scores reported. Coworkers and hotel staff provided no promising leads, but my Buenos Aires guidebook did have one that seemed promising. Surely the World Sports Cafe & Restaurant would be my salvation. I mean, of all the Saturday sports out there in the world, NCAA football must make the cut, right?

Well, I'll never know if I could have found the Michigan game - or any others - because when I arrived at the World Sports Cafe & Restaurant, here is what the site had to offer:Apparently World Sports haven't been bringing in the business. Much like my team, I'm starting over. Brian referred to the situation as being under construction. Just like the World Sports Cafe & Restaurant and my viewing plan of attack. The Slingbox is hooked up in Chicago now. Unfortunately, it's not playing nice with my laptop yet. Breath is held and fingers are crossed for this weekend.

But the games were still played without me. Since I've seen none of them, it's like I'm telling second-hand stories. As bad as Michigan's day reportedly was, at least we didn't have any problems with our weekly conference call. And at least we're not Texas A+M. But there seems to be a strange acceptance of mediocrity after the first game. We all knew this was coming. And we're stung after the '05 and '07 seasons, so we know it can get worse. WLA seems to have a "the outcomes don't really matter, so let's reminisce about the bad-old times" mentality, while Johnny feels calmly disconnected from this year's team. I'm like them, but one step farther removed. I knew there would be various challenges with this move, but after such an incredible ride last year, and really the last fifteen, I'm not about to step aside. Like the Wolverines, I think I can find a way to figure this stuff out.

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