In the many years that I've spent watching college football, I have been sold on several principles:
1. If you can run the ball, you will win most of the time.
2. If you can stop the other team from running the ball, you will win most of the time.
3. Referees are old men with slow reflexes who push pencils or sell insurance during the other eight months of the year. Additionally, 100% of them have corrective vision.
4. There has been holding on every single play in the history of football, in varying degrees of severity. There is a complicated logarithm that determines the arbitrary nature of when they actually call it, and only NASA can explain it.
5. Crying about the shortcomings of your team is a healthy and acceptable byproduct of being a fan.
6. Crying about the bad officiating is like the Democrats protesting the rules of the Electoral College in the 2000 election: It has been this way for a long time and it has never made any sense, but you had to know this was the case long before you got emotionally invested; so just shut the hell up.
These principles, which I've accepted as fact, keep me healthy when watching the Buckeyes. When Ohio State tries repeatedly to run the ball even when painfully unsuccessful, I understand why they coaches are bent on establishing the rush (though I still don't understand why the OSU running play catalog is only one page long). When OSU stacks the line and puts repeat burn victims on the corners to stop the passing game, I rest assured knowing that the coaches are bent on forcing the quarterback to beat them through the air. I believe in it, and I'm at peace with it.
However, when people perpetually complain about officiating – and I am known to gripe about the zebras during the heat of the battle – it's a sign of desperation. For example, Will Smith is totally unblockable. He is held for the majority of every football game the Buckeyes play. Sometimes, like in the Penn State game on one play where OSU was called for pass interference, it is horribly obvious, and uncalled. It doesn't only happen to Will Smith either. Next to pulling up his pants after every play, there is one OSU offensive lineman whose signature move is holding. It happens against your team and it happens for your team. Sometimes they call it more on the other guys; sometimes they call it more on your guys. This was the case before the more recent game started – doesn't make it right…but it doesn't make it personal either.
The fuss made over the ball that Ben Hartsock absolutely did drop on a critical third down, but was ruled a catch, made me wonder – exactly what game were the complaining fans watching? The Buckeyes were still closer to midfield at that point than they were the red zone. Why blame the outcome of the entire game on that missed call?
Last week at Indiana, on one play Ohio State blitzed and knocked the ball out of Matt LoVecchio's hands, and recovered it, but the referees ruled that he was "in the grasp" and the play was blown dead. It was a terrible call – he was in the grasp for about 1/32 of a second. One week later, Bobby Carpenter has Zach Mills in the grasp for what seems like an eternity, yet Mills is allowed to throw the ball away and avoid a huge loss. Penn State scores on the next play. Last week the grasp rule was used incorrectly, this week it wasn't used at all, with the same conference's referees. (Dramatic pause, begin sarcastic tone): FORTUNATELY OHIO STATE DID WHAT WAS NEEDED TO STILL WIN THE GAME.
For people hung up on bad officiating, let me make your fandom a more pleasant experience: It's always going to be bad – just assume the worst as you sit down with your three hot dogs and smuggled flask of rum. The next time you want to blame your team's loss on a bad call that occurred at midfield, consider looking at your team's rushing statistics (27 yards on 33 rushes) or at you opposition's rushing statistics (a lot more than that) for some clarity. Great teams – the ones with more than two losses this year, anyway – win despite adversity.
Scattered thoughts from Saturday:
1. Virginia Tech was waxed by West Virginia. Miami escaped West Virginia, then was waxed by Virginia Tech. USC lost to California, whose upcoming invitation to a December bowl game will be a great moment in that program's history. Wisconsin beat West Virginia, as well as Ohio State in a monsoon. So someone explain to me why Ohio State – ugly as their wins are – is ranked behind Virginia Tech, Miami and USC with three times the schedule strength of any of them, and only getting stronger.
2. If you didn't switch over to the seven-overtime game between Kentucky and Ole Miss Saturday night, you probably were sadistically watching Miami get treated like an armless waiter at happy hour by Virginia Tech. Then you saw what happens to Miami players when Miami gets beat, rare as it is: They start doing things on the football field that make Robert Reynolds and Jim Sorgi look like squaredance partners. Short of pulling guns out of their pants, the Canes seemed intent on starting a streetfight as the Hokies built a lead that looked like a misprint. If you missed it, it was the football equivalent of the spoiled child not getting his way.
3. One of the teasers on the new ESPN the Magazine is "Kellen Winslow II Grows Up". One of the tabloids at the grocery store checkout had "Ellen Degeneres Gives Birth to Alien Baby Twins". I cannot figure out which headline is funnier, but I can figure out which is more likely to actually be true.
4. Despite losing to California, USC and Oklahoma look like #1 and #2 in the country. USC looks great – when they're not losing games – so they are the popular choice for number two. Last year, even though they lost twice, they were the popular choice for number two between the two meathead, mongrel idiots that sit to the left of Rece Davis on ESPN. See, when you look good in victory, you're allowed a few mulligans. This is exactly why always winning ugly forfeits you the benefit of the doubt, even when you're winning 22 of 23 games.
5. Michigan State receivers dropped eleven passes against Michigan. Naturally, they'll be making miraculous one-handed catches this weekend in Columbus. Get ready to blame the refs…
6. Nate Salley has made more plays of consequence this year than his free safety predecessor made in the three seasons before combined. Additionally, there is no drop-off from Mike Doss to Will Allen. Actually, it's dangerously close to being an upgrade.
7. Steve Spurrier will be available to coach in college soon, and the job at his alma mater is already taken. If Vanderbilt, Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi State or Baylor are at all serious about their football programs, they will try to do whatever it takes to get him on board. Spurrier proved he could win in Florida, and is steadily proving what the football world knew – that he belongs coaching college kids. He could have the opportunity to make champions out of crap at any of those schools.
8. A huge thumbs-up for Penn State's scoreboard crew – in the past, they've been ridiculed for playing a taped recording of a lion roaring, which is brings with it the intimidation factor of one Teddy Ruxpin. On Saturday, they used their multi-million dollar scoreboard to show a questionable replay. Meanwhile, at Ohio Stadium, the multi-million dollar scoreboard hasn't ever shown a replay of consequence in its short history. If there's a close play that might have been a blown call, there's no chance it will be shown by OSU Inc. However, they've gone to great lengths to make sure that none of its paying customers will ever leave a football game wondering, "hey, I wonder what the women's field hockey team did last Thursday!"
9. I'm wondering if there's a switch on Maurice Hall that is in the wrong position, because – his inability to ever break a tackle aside – he seems to run away from where he should run…every single time he ever touches the ball. Whoever fixed that switch on Lydell Ross (very impressively, by the way) needs to do that to #28 as well. Ross is starting to look like a less durable version of Jonathan Wells circa 2001. Hall has the right jersey number to also become a Wells clone and give the Buckeyes a sweet one-two punch through next year. Unfortunately, all four scholarship quarterbacks have demonstrated better running vision than he has.
10. I can't emphasize enough how unhealthy it is to blame the referees for a loss. At the same time, it's even less healthy wondering what this team would be like with a sane Maurice Clarett in the backfield. Sorry I brought it up.
Hating the significance of the upcoming weekend's five-year anniversary at firstname.lastname@example.org