Thursday, November 20, 2014

NFL Picks Week Twelve: On what it means to win in South Bend

On Oct. 2, 2004, I was a sophomore in college going on a jog along Northwestern University's Lakefill when at the north end I came across an enormous gathering of Ohio State fans tailgating on the shores of Lake Michigan. On this night Northwestern would be playing Ohio State in front of a national TV audience looking for its first win against the Buckeyes in 33 years. Campus was alive with anticipation for reasons no one really knows. I remember walking along Sherman and Simpson and seeing students tailgating and playing beer pong in their backyards, almost as if it was a real college. For myself and a group of friends from freshman year, our preparation of choice was a power hour at our friend Sparky's apartment on Simpson St.

We got drunk, we had a blast and on Noah Herron's 33rd carry of the night we beat Ohio State in an overtime thriller. To that point, and I say this without irony, it was the greatest night of my life.

When you went to a school that has framed itself as a perpetual underdog thanks to its remarkable history of football ineptitude, moments when you are pitted against a legendary nationally-recognized program and somehow seize them are particularly special. Experiencing those moments when you are young, dumb and, well, you know, have a special kind of youthful optimism about them. You don't know what tough turns life can take in your 20s in terms of a career, family, friends or romance because you're a college kid, and all that matters right now is you can rush the field and there's beer to drink.

I still get the opportunity to celebrate sports victories that carry a special brand of surprise or joy, but it is rare that I get to experience the kind of fresh-faced child-like exuberance that comes with an upset victory in college sports. I do not live on a college campus anymore, though I suppose one could argue New York City provides access to the same kinds of vices, and so the magic of a football upset, while still invigorating, does not always carry similar heft.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

NFL Picks Week Eleven: Three years of waiting to see our lady

Last weekend, Northwestern played Michigan in what can only be referred to in the loosest of terms as a "college football game." I say without hyperbole that this was probably the worst-played football game I have ever seen in my life between any two teams at any level relative to the (theoretical) amount of talent on the field. In what was ultimately a 10-9 defeat for my Wildcats against that bitterest of bitter foes, the game was so inexplicably discombobulated that it very nearly verged into the territory of "fun bad" as we all drank in the local alumni bar and watched the mediocrity (and that's being generous) ensue.

To wit, this clash of cretins featured the following incidents and factoids:

-- Northwestern finished with -9 yards rushing due to quarterback Trevor Simien taking multiple sacks.
-- NU at one point started a drive at Michigan's 15-yardline and came away with no points.
-- Michigan had an averaging starting field position of its own 42 and somehow scored merely 10 points.
-- Punting on 4th and 26, NU's punter bungled the snap and kicked it with his left foot for 20 yards.
-- Michigan fumbled at one point after snapping the ball into a man in motion in the backfield.
-- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner missed a handoff because he tripped... on nothing.
-- Northwestern missed a 36-yard field goal.
-- NU had no plays over 20 yards and its longest rush of the game went for a whopping six.
-- Michigan converted just one of its 12 third down opportunities.
-- Michigan and Northwestern combined for six turnovers including four very bad interceptions.
-- Gardner finished the game with a QBR of 5.2. Simien wasn't much better at 38.9.
-- NU did not score on its first 12 drives. In the second half, three of those drives began in Michigan territory.
-- Somehow NU strung together a 95-yard drive that ended in a field goal to end the shutout.
-- The game ended when NU scored a touchdown with three seconds to go, but opted for a game-winning two-point conversion on which Simien was quickly sacked rather than overtime despite having out-gained Michigan by a significant margin in the fourth quarter.
-- Michigan knew the exact play that was coming on the two-point conversion.

This was, in no uncertain terms, a tremendously bad football game, that part way through brought comparisons to an epic encounter in 1939 between Texas Tech and Centenary College in which driving rains made offense nearly impossible and the teams resorted to punting a total of 77 times in hopes of recovering a weather-driven muff at the other end of the field. A whopping 67 of those punts occurred on first downs, including 22 of them on consecutive plays in the second half. I would say that game was equally as bad as Northwestern-Michigan was, but at least that one had a coherent strategy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

NFL Picks Week Ten: Look, I forgot, ok?

Hey, let's not waste time talking about who did what and who hit whom and who hit that and who slept with whom and who extorted what.

Things happen, ok?

In this case, the thing that happened was I was too busy to come up with anything particularly clever to write about this week, and while seeing all of the terrible America-themed Veterans Day unis that are sprouting up across the college football universe today (like Purdue's) are giving me fodder, it's probably best that I just call it quits and show you my NFL picks for these week even though one of those games was already played.

Whatever. I picked it wrong anyway. Shit happens. I think you'll all find a way to survive, and if you're having trouble thinking of the positives with me not writing anything interesting this week, just think about how Southampton is still No. 2 in the BPL table after Shane Long's two-goal second half against Leicester City this morning.

See? That fixed the problem. Ok, on with the incorrect weekly picks.