An email from an angry fan (Matt from LSU) got us thinking (always a dangerous thing) :
Can you please explain to me how LSU can hand a conference opponent their worst loss at home in 40 years (beat Ole Miss 40-7), and Penn State can struggle to beat a poor Michigan State team, YET the pollsters still decrease the LSU lead over Penn State?
Can you please explain how LSU can win a game while Penn State doesn't play, yet LSU loses ground yet again in the polls?
Can you please explain why Texas doesn't earn more first place votes when USC struggles to beat a WAC team who lost to Nevada?
Only one of these questions has an easy answer: USC held the votes because they still haven't lost and Reggie Bush is having one of those seasons that forces sportswriters into increasingly ludicrous territory attempting to describe just how...deflaculent his gameplay has been this year. (See? Deflaculent isn't even a word, we just had to pull it out of our ass in a vain attempt to approximate what Reggie Bush does on the field. Hyperbole doesn't cover it, so tubby journalists the nation round are banging away on laptops tossing in nonsense words like "scrotufulactic" and "obstraspectaculiferous" while their editors slam coffee cups to the floor in frustration. Fortunately for us, we have no such journalistic integrity, and can label Bush's alien level of agility as "deflaculent" without flinching.)
Reggie Bush: straight nasty deflaculence.
The other questions center on another important trend in national coverage of what is basically a regional sport: narrative. The primer on this was written by Gunslingers--a piece on par with Martin Luther's 95 theses, Newton's Principia Mathematica, and Hobbes' Leviathan for its sheer cromulence in its field--who lays out with well-chosen examples the formation and dynamics of a national narrative as dictated by Papa E in Bristol. LSU, like other teams in other ways, is a victim of this narrative, a story shaped by profit motive, population dynamics, and most importantly, a human weakness for easy storylines and pat finishes.
First of all, let's clear this up, though: LSU is NOT getting screwed.
The bowl tie-in with the Sugar Bowl is the SEC prize provided you AREN'T undefeated and racing toward the 1 versus 2 title game. So the BCS rankings, irksome as they are to Tiger fans, really don't mean shit as long as time traveling mischief makers from the future don't muck around and force a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game stopping a Vol comeback and preserving LSU's undefeated season. That loss, which in retrospect was one of immense impact on the national scene, won't vanish from the rolls anytime soon.
Scratch all of this if faultlines rupture, the rivers run red with blood, and a rain of locusts pelts the fields where USC and Texas lose next week and send the BCS to hell in a flash of chattering pundits and scuttling bowl officials in funny-colored coats. Barring that, though, the one-two matchup maximizing ratings and national hubbub goes down: a West-Coast dynamo with a photogenic, starlet-humping qb and a meth-fast dervish of a running back matchup plays the Southern/Sunbelt demo-covering Texas Longhorns. A pretty nifty pitch for the networks, who need only a prominent star from the New York area and a half-naked woman on the screen every other shot to have their ideal college football package up and running.
Musberger:...And safety Gino DiBruglia, Brooklyn's finest, drops back in coverage for the Longhorns, makes the pick, and returns the ball 76 yards for a td before leaping into the arms of...EVA LONGORIA!!! And every redblooded American male just wished they had a scholarship to that school in Austin, Gary! Not a bad gig if you can get it, now down to Jackarooooo on the sidelines for the whole story, Jack--
If only ABC could work Eva in, it would be perfect.
The narrative consists of two principal parts right now:
1. USC--this year's Greatest College Team Ever--is on an unstoppable roll to a matchup with Texas. Substories to be exploited are:
a. Mack Brown's quest for the unattainable national championship.
b. Matt Leinart's life-better than yours ever thought about being.
c. Reggie Bush, Heisman winner, showing off the goods for the scouts in said national championship game.
The last point is especially precious to ESPN right now, especially with the latest Gameday commercials. The announcer guy intones:"...and we'll bring you the latest on the Heisman race from our experts." This is followed by the disembodied head of Kirk Herbstreit looking smack in the camera and announcing "It's unfair right now to compare anyone to Reggie Bush." Never mind that Texas has one more game for Vince Young to shine in and that Leinart and Bush may still split the West Coast votes leaving Young with a plurality and the Heisman. Narrative has its demands.
2. Joe Pa has a happy comeback at Penn State and will get national pub. Why? Because it's a great story and it never hurts to have one loss on the season in December. Not to mention Penn State's foothold in the nearly college football-proof Northeastern demographic, which makes all those lengthy broadcast blocks easier to pitch to advertisers wary of blowing money on a what is a slippery demographic. Wanna argue the point? Name another sport where you'll see mutual fund ads bumping up against spots for Yamaha ATVs and the Marines. Evidently, we're somewhere between cow-turd burning Appalachian trash and Dockers-wearing middle-aged investor class. Wait, that is pretty damn accurate, actually...
3. Notre Dame, after a long Time of Troubles, is back. (Storyline only available on NBC.)
Is that the whole narrative? Of course not. The lost storylines, or at least those lost to the hyper-focuses lens of the ABC/ESPN/Disney Brahmins:
1. LSU. Our perceptive reader, Matt, is perhaps a bit sensitive to this being an LSU fan in a season that's been as good as any in recent memory for the Tigers--but he's right. LSU, since the Katrina debacle, has gotten little if any pub for ripping through a triumphant season despite the obstacles presented by the largest natural disaster in the nation's history, a head coaching change, and a first year starter at qb. Respek needed, but the ADD of the media will prevent it from happening barring a slaughter of Georgia in the SEC game followed up by a pounding of equivalent magnitude for their opponent in the Sugar Bowl.
2. The comeback coaches. Coaches previously thought to be on the ropes or making high-pressure debuts made nice comebacks to finish their seasons in several locales. Bill Callahan, who had Nebraska fans pining for Frank Solich a year ago, came back to finish 8-4 in a 30-3 pounding of Colorado. Urban Meyer, whose weeping had the jackals drooling a few weeks ago, gave the entire Gator Nation a happy ending on Saturday with a 34-7 gotterdamerung defeat for the disintegrating Seminole Empire, bringing his first season tally to 8-3 with the wind at his back going into recruiting and the bowl season. The cuddly Mark Mangino, college football's only perfectly spherical head coach, went 6-0 at home, had one of the most underrated defenses in the whole nation, and beat more ranked teams than--Mother Mary forgive us--Notre Dame did in their renaissance season. Mike Shula proved to be more than just a genetic lottery winner by rolling a punchless Crimson Tide team to a 9-2 record despite giving up on the whole "scoring points" thing for the better part of five games. O'Leary at UCF, Price at UTEP, Spurrier at SC--those stories are on the national radar, but they're just the beginning of the long list of coaches who pulled themselves and their teams through nightmarish adversity this season.
3. Oregon. The Ducks need to reserve a spot on the perpetually underpubbed list, but not for lack of trying, what with Phil Knight throwing them out their in uniforms straight from the U of O's freshman "Russian Constructivist Design 101" class. The Ducks only lose to USC, blow doors on the rest of their slate, and completely revamp their moribund offense in a single year...to the sound of crickets from the national media. They won't get the bowl they deserve--the Fiesta--and could fall into the same trap Cal fell in last year against Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, mailing in a half-assed performance in a consolation game. Hopefully they won't spoil the redemption of both Mike Bellotti, who's dispelled some of the common wisdom that the spark of the program packed its bags a few years ago and went to Berkeley, and for Gary Crowton, who just a year ago was busy running BYU into the ground (pun intended). He's single-handedly turned Kellen Clemens into the best full-time student qb on the West Coast.
Long live the Glorious People's Ugly Jersey Collective!
4. The effects of conference realignment. Watching Florida State wobble into the third quarter of the Florida game Saturday brought this point home in dramatic fashion: realignment has forever altered the program dynamics of the ACC and the Big East. Florida State will never be as dominant as they once were now that they play in a conference with Virginia Tech and Miami lurking in the ledgers. The Big East, the conference closest to flatline in terms of national prominence, made a fantastic leap towards respectability by nabbing the USF Bulls, Louisville, and UConn. As far as growth potential, no conference has more room to grow or more incentive to do so and do it quickly--their automatic BCS bid expires in 2006, and with major conference at-large bids already crowding the upper reaches of desired bowl slots, the memory of Pitt's embarrassing caning by Utah last year coupled with a potentially lopsided WVU matchup with LSU in the Sugar Bowl means one thing: play hard now or be relegated to Conference USA status fast.