Humor, Sports, Uncategorized

THE POTATO: One more game left in college football, but the drama never stops

LSU vs. Clemson in New Orleans for the College Football Playoffs National Championship kicks on January 13. Both teams are nicknamed “Tigers,” and both play in stadiums called “Death Valley.”

This has nothing to do with anything, but it’s a little bit interesting, isn’t it?

How they got to the championship game

Clemson beat Ohio State in a close, exciting, horribly officiated game and LSU beat the ever-loving snot out of Oklahoma, which the past two seasons has puked on its shoes in the playoffs and has yet to play a lick of defense. Hey, man, they lost to Kansas State. Let’s face it. The Big 12 just isn’t worth a damn, generally speaking.

Last year, there was only one week between the semifinals and the national championship game. I don’t know if this is some kind of TV scheduling thing, or if they realized that Clemson played Notre Dame, which would have finished fifth in the SEC and the ACC, so Dabo and his guys could spend about six weeks working on Alabama, whom they clobbered in the title game.

Alabama played Oklahoma, which was close to a real football team that had Kyler Murray at quarterback, so Bama had to spend a little time to watch some film on them.

I have no idea if the committee decided both teams should get a couple of weeks to get ready between the semis and finals so they could put on a better show in the finals, or if the committee even thinks about that kind of thing.

I still think it’s a good idea. And I really wish the NFL would push their playoffs back a week so that the college football national championship game could be played on Saturday, as God intended. It was super great last week when the semifinals were on Saturday. Those two games were The Show all day long. New Year’s Day was on a Wednesday, which turned out to be great, even if some poor bastards had to get up and go back to work on Thursday and Friday. For me, it was a lot of fun to wake up early, eat chicken wings for breakfast and watch football all day long lying on the couch in my bathrobe, which is what I do every Saturday during college football season because it’s the greatest thing in the world.

LSU’s Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy this season. If I had a time machine, I would go back to last year and place a prospect bet on that and LSU winning the national title, and I would be writing this from my new beach house. But he had a hell of a year in that offense that everybody’s talking about, which looks like it pretty much boils down to this: LSU sends one or more of its kick-ass receivers into the vicinity behind the linebackers and in front of the secondary, Joe throws them the ball and there they go.

If you attack at the line, Joe runs around and dodges all the tacklers and throws it to one of his guys who got open, or he gives it to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who ran for 1,200 yards and caught a bunch of passes and just generally wrought havoc on everybody who tried to tackle him. He’s 5-foot-8 and weighs 209 pounds, which is also great, because he’s one of those low-running guys so it’s hard to get low enough to grab a leg, and bigger defenders bounce off him like a pair of wadded-up socks off a rolling bowling ball.

Their defense has been none too impressive, but unlike the Big 12, they do tackle people eventually, usually after a long run or longer pass.

Clemson benefits from being in the ACC, which offers token resistance to the Tigers and to each other while the fan base spends football season putting together their wardrobe and planning road trips for basketball season.

When you are a good football team, and you are beating the wax out of your opponents, you leave the starters in for a while and work on the stuff you’re not very good at – like a scrimmage. So Clemson had 12 chances to do that (North Carolina played them a real football game) before they got to Ohio State.

They also benefited from Justin Fields being hurt and not able to run well enough to be a threat.

But Clemson’s defense did a good job on keeping the Buckeyes out of the end zone in the first half, when they were running up and down the field with abandon, and later in the game when they destroyed everything they tried to do.

Clemson’s got a good defense, which should make the LSU game interesting. They lead the nation in points allowed per game, which is hard to do even against ACC competition. And they did hold Ohio State when the chips were down.

They beat Virginia 62-17, and just shut the Wahoo offense down, which didn’t surprise anybody at the time. Virginia went on to to the Orange bowl and played Florida down to the ground in the Orange Bowl – Florida won 36-28. It means absolutely nothing, but Florida played LSU tough in Death Valley, losing 42-28, but LSU scored a cosmetic touchdown late in the game.

Clemson’s got a great quarterback who has the prettiest hair in American sports. When he goes pro after next season, he could make a fortune doing shampoo commercials. Trevor Lawrence is 6-foot-6, weighs about 220 pounds, has a howitzer on his shoulder and we found out last week against OSU that he can run like a bat out of hell. It was like watching Cam Newton if he had on a shoulder-length blonde wig, which sounds like something Cam would wear to a press conference if it ever occurred to him.

Here’s the thing about Trevor Lawrence. He will beat your ass. Clemson was behind OSU with three minutes left, Clemson had the ball. So Trevor shook back his flowing locks, put on his helmet and said “unh-hunh.” He took his down the field almost too fast, scoring a touchdown just under two minutes left. He’s 25-0 as a starting quarterback, which means either he’s due for a fall or maybe he’ll never lose again.

Running back Travis Etienne is from Louisiana, so of course, crazy LSU fans are sending him hate Tweets threatening to kill him and all things short of that. C’mon, guys. You have a hell of a starting running back from Louisiana – Baton Rouge, for crying out loud – and isn’t that enough? Maybe Travis, who gained 2,500 yards his senior year at Jennings High School was afraid that Clyde, who gained about 500, would beat him out, so he went to Clemson where he’d have a chance to start. Maybe he was the first to see Clyde’s boundless potential.

Anyhow, he’s strong and fast, and yeah, he only got 36 yards against Ohio State, but he was busy blocking and drawing fire for Trevor, who spent 17 plays running for 107 when he happily noted that before him lay huge swaths of green, green grass utterly devoid of Ohio State players.

Sports, Uncategorized

THE POTATO: Football season is over.

That’s the first sentence of Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide note. The man could really write a lede.

The rest of the note was uncharacteristically not very good, which goes to show what happens when writers hit the wall. It reminds me of what Jack Nicklaus said in his late 70s about his golf game. He said he could turn in a great round anytime, but he couldn’t do four in a row anymore.

You can’t get by writing one good sentence followed by a few shitty ones and then another good one. They’ve all got to work together, like a good offensive line. Write like a nickel, not five pennies. Three metaphors already. Close to my quota.

This is Army Navy weekend. The only college game on the air. It’s very patriotic. Every player on the field and all the kids in both student sections are willing to die to defend us – and foreign oil fields in a country that sent a guy over here to train at the Navy base in Pensacola. He got a hunting license, which enabled him, as a foreign visitor, to buy a 17 shot, 9 mm Glock 45. The news is, he got mad because one of his instructors nicknamed him “porn stash” because he had a mustache that resembled one that might be worn by a pornographic actor. He also resembled Pablo Schreiber, who played a prison guard with the same nickname in the Netflix comedy-drama about a women’s prison called “Orange is the new Black.”

The gunman, Mohammed Alshamrani, lacked the necessary acculturation to understand American humor and was clearly an easily threatened paranoid narcissist who had no business being in or around the military, ours or that of his own country, which floats on a sea of oil. I guess we should be thankful that he at least tipped his hand as a murdering psycho before learning how to operate an F/A 18F Super Hornet. Saudi Arabian lunatics flying airplanes really make me uneasy.

Among the slain was Joshua Kaleb Watson, a recent graduate of the Naval Academy and a native of Enterprise, Alabama, which is right down the road from where I live. He was standing guard duty when he was shot, but before he died, he told security where the shooter was.

Cameron Waters, from Effingham, Georgia, was a cheerful, positive guy who always hyped up the people around him to do the best they could, a former commander said. A leader from within.

The third victim was named Mohammad Sameh Haithem, the son of 20-year Navy veteran Evelyn Brady. He probably could have helped Alshamrani with his self-esteem problems if he’d come to talk instead of shoot. Haithem was a track star at his high school in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he stuck up for a freshman classmate who was being bullied by his teammates. Haithem talked to the bullies, and that was that.

He died shielding others from the gunfire.

Go Navy. Go Army. Everybody play your best.

Sports, Uncategorized

THE POTATO: Tua was the best I ever saw; player and person

When Alabama’s Tua Tagavailoa went down and didn’t get up last week my heart sank. Head down, on his hands and knees, he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, obviously in great pain. He was fighting back tears. I was terrified.

I prayed out loud about football for the only time in my life that didn’t involve a game I had money on. Oh, God, don’t let him be dying. That’s how bad it looked.

Full disclosure: I graduated from The University of Alabama and worked for the athletic department when I was in school. I hope I developed a reporter’s professional distance in a long career of being a reporter, but I am still grateful to the University, its athletic department and the people there who helped me grow up – sort of – and are largely responsible for every honest dollar I’ve made in my life, few though they may be.

So when I’m not on the clock, I’m for Alabama. That’s my alma mater. I’d be a disloyal, sorry individual unworthy of anybody’s respect if I were not. That’s how I was raised. That’s the world I live in, and I’ll own it.

I admire athletes who play to win and honor the game, and I like the college game more than the NFL, which lost me several years ago. I like Joe Burrow, I like Bo Nix, and that Trask kid from Florida for stepping in when the starter went down. Justin Fields, at Ohio State, Jalen Hurts, of course, at Oklahoma. I really liked poor, old Johnny Manziel, and hated to see his own demons consume him.

But Tua was special. Not only because he was crazy talented, and not just because he was playing for Alabama, my home state that doesn’t get a lot of good ink for a lot of good reasons.

A kid from Hawaii ended up here and brought the family. It was cool. After the game, when the stands were empty, they all went down to the field and sang hymns together. As somebody who has always related religion to football, I like that.

Tua showed those of us in his adopted state the spirit of Aloha, which means hello and goodbye, of course, but which literally means “divine breath:” love, peace, compassion, kindness.

Never more than when, while he awaited major surgery to fix his mangled hip, a video surfaced of him playing the ukulele and singing. That’s how you do it.

He lives in joy and reminded us that football is, after all, just a game – but sometimes is can be something more. Football was his platform, which he used to demonstrate a really good way to live.

He was a great ambassador for his team, his school, and the college game itself. He was admired by his oft-beaten opponents – when he was carted off the field for the last time, Mississippi State fans stood and gave him the “cowbell salute,” standing up and cheering and clanging those damned bells. I heard they’d never done that for a player not wearing their team’s uniform. That’s a hell of a thing if you think about it.

Tua’s the only person who could make me want to give Nick Saban a hug. The coach, who is, you know, kind of a bastard, was heartbroken and hurting, and said as much in a wavering voice at his Monday news conference.

The bottom line, Tua’s got class, something sorely lacking today in sports and America in general.

He was born to it. He’s a champion, and he shared his gifts gladly to all.

They say he’ll be all right. That he’ll get well, and may be able to play again. Hey, God. Me again… A little help.

Aloha.

Sports, Uncategorized

THE POTATO: College football analysis, Week 12, with all hell broke loose and the Witch of November a howlin’.

The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

November is a witch goddess who in her kindness blesses disciples of college football with the glorious, cold, blue autumn afternoons we all remember when we remember the games of November. We only remember the good stuff: the spice and heat of hot wings and icy bourbon on the tongue, the warm metal of the hood caressing our asses where we sit and take it all in. A parking lot barely in sight of the stadium knowing there’s a long, jostling walk ahead joined with the drunk, the crazy and the screaming, traffic-dodging, slow-moving herd. At last inside the cathedral of pain, soothing with bourbon from the smuggled flask, behold: the warriors arrive, pouring out of the home-side tunnel and onto the field. A hundred thousand voices roar so loudly the 200-member marching band loses, and becomes only a brass pulse in the maelstrom or sound, and look! Up in the sky! Roaring warplanes appear from nowhere in attack formation, screaming 50 feet over the stadium so low the hot wash of air blows your hat off your head.

Damn, it’s exciting. A spectacle seen nowhere but in America that puts all other sports related mayhem to shame: the running of the bulls in Spain is a croquet match by comparison; the drunken thugs of Manchester United rioting in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, the citizens of Rome on their feet as gladiators bleed in the dust of the coliseum, chanting “Nunc autem eum occidere“, echoing in eternity.

But then the damned witch of November rides in cackling on the icy wind, smites your players, who fumble, throw interceptions, miss blocks and tackles and suddenly, all that once was glorious and gold transforms into a flaming pile of shit.

The College Football Playoff Committee tries to make sense of chaos, fails

Like Eric Bana as Hector impaled on the sword of Achilles-playing Brad Pitt before the walls of Troy in a so-so 2004 action movie, old warrior Alabama fell to the ascendant LSU last week. The Crimson Tide, which has been a disorganized mess all season but still did pretty good because the players are all NFL prospects, played its worst first half in modern memory, and LSU struck like a bayou alligator dismantling an unsuspecting family of carefree otters. They turned three unforced Alabama turnovers into 17 points and led 33-13 at the half.

Bama’s offense got it together in the second half and made a run, but the defense continued to mostly look over at the sideline tying to decipher the signals from their frantically gesticulating coaches while LSU snapped the ball and Joe Burrow threw another bullet to another wide-open receiver who had made another member of the Alabama secondary, twist, turn, jump, break-dance and fall down. (Note to Bama coaching staff: Defenses do a lot better when they are facing the other team, not you).

Alabama only lost by 5, which looks better than it was. At no time did Alabama even get possession of the ball when they came within one score of taking the lead. The defense couldn’t get a stop when they had to have one, and barely got any at all.

The resultant rankings for the College Football Playoffs produced great consternation – Alabama fell from No. 3 to No. 5, which the haters felt was not punishment enough. One-loss Oregon, which lost to Auburn on a last-second pass in the first game of the year, is sixth. LSU took over the top spot after Ohio State beat Maryland 73-14. Football karma may catch up to the Buckeye because he went for an onside kick and recovered it leading 52-7, which is just a shitty thing to do.

Clemson can stop whining, now that it’s ranked third the week of the great showdown with Wake Forest, which is probably the third or fourth best team in the egregious ACC and a 34-point underdog.

Georgia is ranked No. 4, that lone fluky loss to South Carolina the only gray mark. This has created the situation where Alabama fans have to cheer for Auburn to upset Georgia, because that’ll move Auburn into the top 10. Alabama has played one ranked team – at home – and bled out under the flashing disco lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium. But the reasoning is, if Alabama can beat Auburn at Auburn – which is anything but a foregone conclusion – it’ll be a win over a semi-decent team, which will improve the optics.

Undefeated Minnesota is ranked 8th and Undefeated Baylor is 13th, proving the little guy gets no love in America, where members of the College Football Playoff Committee and ESPN officials familiar with TV ratings know that a final four of LSU, Clemson, Minnesota and Baylor will attract fewer viewers than “The Beverly Hillbillies – the Missing Episodes” on Roku.

Alabama at Mississippi State, Noon, ESPN

Alabama’s a 21.5 favorite going on the road to Starkville, where Bulldogs Head Coach Joe Moore has put together a 12-10 composite record the last two years and is on thinner ice than usual for a Mississippi State coach. Running back Kylin Hill leads the SEC in rushing with a little more than 1,000 yards and 114 yards per game. Anything good on anybody’s offense presents a true and present danger to Alabama’s defense, which has a lot of talented guys running around like a kicked-open anthill. There’s probably a slightly better chance for me to play quarterback for Alabama than Tua Tungavailoa, whose Heisman hopes are pretty much out the window, even though he’s a really good passer, but always gets hurt before big games.

Nick Saban said he suspended a player for this game for not going to class. Nobody knows who it is. Bama fans have called the prayer chain to ask God not to let it be Najee Harris, the personification of the Alabama running game; after him there is no other.

No. 11 Florida at Missouri, Noon, CBS

The Gators have a slim chance of elbowing their way into the SEC Championship Game if Auburn and Texas A&M beat Georgia the next two weeks. It could happen – but don’t put any money on it. Florida’s a 7-point favorite over Mizzou, which has put together an ugly 5-4 record studded with things like a loss to Wyoming, a 7-point loss to Vandy and a 29-point loss to Kentucky, a convincing 34-14 win over South Carolina, the team that beat Georgia, but a convincing 27-0 loss to Georgia its ownself. At one point in the season I might have thought Florida was flaky enough to lose to Missouri, but I don’t feel that way now. The Gators should win – but should and will are two different things with these guys. Call it a landmine game.

No. 4 Georgia at No. 12 Auburn, 3:30 p.m. CBS

Georgia’s incentive to beat Auburn is clear – best shot at getting in the playoffs with two losses if LSU beats them in the Championship Game. Auburn’s incentive to beat Georgia is more ephemeral – you beat your second-biggest rival raising the hopes of your greatest rival, whom you can then beat at home and crush their souls, fuck up their recruiting and rightfully declare yourself the slayer of the Nick Saban Dynasty. At least until next year.

Georgia’s a three-point favorite, which I guess means somebody thinks Georgia kicker Rodriguez will have a good day. His toe was a killing machine last year, right up to the SEC Championship Game, when he missed a 30-yard field goal that would have given the Dawgs a 17-point lead over Bama, but he shanked it, and the Tide came rolling back to win. He missed an OT field goal against South Carolina, the game Georgia lost this year. He’s not like Alabama’s kickers. He’s not bad. He’s good but sometimes has bad days. He better hope today’s not one of them, because putting up any kind of points against Auburn will be crucial. Auburn’s got a very good defense, and is built to take down an offense like UGA’s.

Georgia’s got a better defense, I beg your pardon. They have not allowed a rushing TD this year. They’ve shut out three teams this year. Georgia is the last team on earth playing God’s football – let the defense beat on the other team’s offense, control the ball on offense, run the clock. The only drawback is that Georgia’s run game has not blossomed the way I thought it would this season. It’s good, but it’s not dominating. D’Andre Swift has great numbers – 921 yards going into today’s game, 6.3 yards per carry, 7 TDs, 15 catches for 170 yards and one TD. He’s the kind of guy, though, who could bust loose late in the season and become America’s hero. So, we’ll see.

No. 2 Ohio State at Rutgers, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Here’s another godawful Big Ten game that will end badly for Rutgers, a hopeless amalgamation of sorrow and futility in shoulderpads and cleats. Rutgers is a 34-point dog, but anything less than 60 should count as a loss for tOSU.

But the Buckeyes’ lazy days are over after this. They close out the season against Penn State and Michigan, both of which suck, but are good in the context of the Big Ten.

Indiana is playing Penn State this week – the Hoosiers are ranked 24th, which is different from the way things usually are. No. 15 Michigan plays Michigan State and should kill them and make barbecue out of them, but don’t bet on it. Michigan is half-assed.

Wake Forest at No. 3 Clemson, 3:30 p.m., FOX

Wake Forest is one of the better teams in the ACC, but they’re still pretty awful. Clemson, at last back in the CFP Top 4 and whine-free, is a 5 touchdown favorite, which sounds about right. The Tigers seem to playing their best ball of the year, and peaking at the right time is something Dabo Swinney teams do real well. But it’s hard to tell, because it seems like a lot of these ACC schools have football because people need something to do until basketball season starts.

No. 8 Minnesota at No. 20 Iowa, 4 p.m., FOX

Minnesota spent a lot of emotional energy taking out Penn State last week. They lit up the Nittany Lions offense in ways somebody not familiar with Big Ten defenses would have thought impossible. The Golden Gophers do pitch the ball around and roll up and down the field. But now they have to go play a pretty decent Iowa team, who has only lost to Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, all closely. So they’re almost as good as those guys, and Minnesota, well, they eked out wins over San Diego State, Fresno State and Georgia Southern to start the year. How good are those GGs? This one will be another indication of their playoff worthiness.

No. 1 LSU at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPN

Well, here’s the thing about Ole Miss. They lose a lot, but have been losing by fewer points than they did earlier in the season. They lost by 11 to Missouri, 7 to Texas A&M and 6 to Auburn. Auburn played LSU close. I guess I’m trying to build up some enthusiasm for this turd, but the fact is, LSU is probably going to stomp them flatter than a runned-over nutria rat on Pontchartrain Drive in Eden Isle.

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 13 Baylor, 7:30 p.m., ABC

Can Oklahoma save the world from an undefeated Baylor waltzing into a semifinal demolition at the hands of Ohio State or LSU? It’s not that done a deal, because the Bears, unlike anybody else in the Big 12, sort of play defense a little bit. That could be enough to be the difference. But win or lose, these two teams could meet again in a few weeks for the Big 12 Championship Game because they have this wonky deal where the top two teams just play each other and the winner gets a trophy.