Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Week 7 College Football Picks: Is Being Tired Now a Football Injury?

What happens when the hurry up offense works too well?

We found out Saturday night in Palo Alto and the results were not pretty. Stanford DE Ben Gardner and LB Shayne Skov both went out – very, very briefly – with injuries during a fourth-quarter Washington drive. The drive was an epic masterpiece of hurry up football.

While most think of the spread and the hurry up as a souped-up version of the Run and Shoot, there was little to no passing on the drive. It was handoff after handoff to Washington’s all-world RB Bishop Sankey. It was flares to the flat. It was wheel routes. The ball never went out of bounds. The clock never stopped. It was devastating.

The goal of the hurry up is to tire out the defense. Washington did that. But what happens when the defensive player is too tired to continue?

It’s not like players don’t get tired playing football. We see it all the time, although we may not realize it. Anytime a player taps his helmet and jogs to the sideline in between plays while teams are huddling – that guy is tired. The game doesn’t stop. He doesn’t lie down. He simply gets off the field.

On Saturday night, Ben Gardner could not get off the field. Wearing #49, he was on camera during his entire “injury” and anyone with two eyes and a brain – so of course, no sportswriter picked up on this – could see what was going on. Here’s the video – Gardner’s “injury” comes first.



Gardner was slow to get up. He was all fours and looked up. He got up to one knee, saw that Washington was already at the line scrimmage and promptly decided to roll over. When the Stanford training staff ran out, I initially thought something was terribly wrong because a trainer put their hand inside the jersey, presumably to feel for his heartbeat.

After a minute or so, Gardner hopped up and jogged off the field. He was back playing shortly. Ben Gardner just needed a breather.

That’s where the rhetoric comes in. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian accused Stanford of faking injuries. David Shaw fired back that the only coach in the Pac-12 found to tell players to fake injuries is now a member of the Washington staff. He flatly denied the accusations.

Here’s the thing – they’re both right. And Nick Saban was right. There is now an undefined gray area.

You may remember back in the summer, when we dreamed of football games and wrote about predictions, Saban said that the hurry up offense may be unsafe for players and it may be time for it to be studied. Anyone who watched “League of Denial” on PBS would agree that player safety is important.

uw stanford 2013 football
But this being football, and sportswriters being sportswriters, the common take was – “Alabama lost to Texas A&M and doesn’t want to play hurry up, spread teams.” That’s pretty stupid, but par for the course these days. Nick Saban isn’t afraid of hurry up offenses, just ask Ole Miss. He had a legitimate concern that played itself out on Saturday night.

What is Ben Gardner to do? If Washington huddles, he makes it to the sidelines, takes a knee and gathers his breath. If it’s a 2-minute drill, he gets back to the line of scrimmage and just stands there – the time ticking away is more important than giving the other team a free timeout.

This is in the middle of the fourth quarter – the notion of giving Washington a free timeout is not a bad one. But in the traditional sense, Ben Gardner is faking an injury – he is not hurt, he is tired. This is why Washington is not huddling. This is why they are moving this fast. They want to tire out the opponent.

What are we supposed to do? Do we penalize the guy who is too tired to keep playing? This is football – there are breaks between every play – why is it his fault Washington is going too fast?

Or do we penalize the offense who has been so successful that the opponents can literally not keep up?

This is the conundrum that college football faces moving forward. This is not a situation where a guy is walking around and then blatantly fakes a knee injury. The Stanford players were tired. They tried to play. They couldn’t.

Is being tired now a football injury? I don’t know the right answer. But we need to figure it out.

Picks to Date: 36-28-2
Best Bet: 1-5
Upset Special: 5-1

I went 3-8 last week. A disaster all around. I apologize.

Rutgers (+19) over LOUISVILLE
Hi Louisville fans. Remember me? I’m the idiot who said Louisville would lose 4 games. I said they’d lose to Kentucky, because I’m an idiot. I said they’d lose to Rutgers because, well, I actually still think that. I think the game will be close going into the fourth quarter and Rutgers will at least cover.

Rutgers is not a bad football team. Their lone loss came on the road to Fresno State in the opener when Kyle Flood decided to go for 2 in the first overtime. At the time, I agreed with the decision because it was 3 o’clock in the freakin’ morning and I wanted to go to sleep. More importantly, that decision made sense because Fresno’s offense was unstoppable and Rutgers was very tired – see the 1,000 words I wrote above. If they succeed, Rutgers is 5-0 and this is a Top 20 matchup. Does one missed 2-pointer mean Rutgers is not Top 25 material?

Let’s not forget the motivation here. Rutgers blew the Big East title game last year, at home, on a Thursday night, to Louisville. They enter the Big Ten next year so this is their last hope at making a BCS bowl for the next 50 years unless Ohio State and Michigan drop football at the same time. It is almost impossible to overstate how big this game is for Rutgers. This is their Super Bowl, Orange Bowl and Big East Title Game all rolled up into one.

For Louisville? It’s just another game. No matter what anyone says, I find it hard to believe Louisville is going to be as jacked up as Rutgers when they are a) three-touchdown favorites and b) already expected to win every game. Louisville is probably too good to lose this game. As Lee Corso would say, “Ahhh, fuck it.”
I think Rutgers wins.

VIRGINIA TECH (-9) over Pittsburgh
This has to be the strangest revenge game in college football history. Last year, Pitt beat Virginia Tech after losing to an FCS team. They played in different conferences. This year, the game will likely identify who is the top challenger to Miami in the ACC Coastal Division – and yes, ACC office, I had to Google that, so please move to a North/South split and be done with it. Even the Big Ten figured that out.

Anyway, Virginia Tech might be really good. Their only loss is to Alabama. They snuck past the likely Conference USA champions in East Carolina. They demoralized Georgia Tech. They embarrassed North Carolina. It appears Miami is the only obstacle between them and an 11-1 regular season before facing Clemson or Florida State in the ACC Title Game.

Pittsburgh gave up 55 points to Duke.

GEORGIA (-8) over Missouri
It never stops for my preseason National Championship pick, does it? 3 top 10 games in September followed by a trip to a fired-up Neyland Stadium with everyone getting hurt. Their reward is yet another ranked opponent in the form of undefeated Missouri. Let’s me just point out how lucky Georgia is to have this game at home. With a healthy James Franklin at QB, Missouri is a really good football team.

They could beat Georgia at home. They can’t beat Georgia on the road. And all the beatdown of Vanderbilt did was get Georgia’s attention.

Oklahoma (-14) over Texas
Lol Texas. Just remember Mack Brown haters, it could always be worse:

fire mack brown, hire this guy

CLEMSON (-24.5) over Boston College
Clemson is determined to ensure no announcer or blogger utters the word “Clemsoning” ever again. Even though it is apparently in ESPN’s ACC contract to bring up the term as Clemson is slaughtering a poor, hapless foe like Wake Forest or Syracuse.

The past two weeks, Clemson has covered by halftime. Why would you expect anything different this week? Boston College is decent and may win 7 games this year. They ain’t beating Clemson. And the clock starts ticking to Clemson/Florida State next week.

Northwestern (+10.5) over WISCONSIN *Upset Special*
This wins for strangest line of the week. Is the Wisconsin homefield advantage really that pronounced? Because the last game for both teams was against Ohio State. Northwestern was technically playing a home game, but it was mostly Ohio State fans. So they both played “road” games against Ohio State last time out. Wisconsin didn’t have a chance of winning. Northwestern should’ve won.

The season for both teams is on the line Saturday with regards to Rose Bowl hopes, though you’d have to believe Wisconsin is already done since Ohio State isn’t losing twice. Northwestern has everything in front of them for a rematch with Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. I like Northwestern to win straight up – but I really, really like them to cover.

Oregon (-14.5) over WASHINGTON
Much like Clemson, bet against Oregon at your own risk. The argument against Oregon is that they really haven’t played anybody. The argument for Oregon is that it doesn’t matter and one of those supposed “bad” teams in Tennessee just took Georgia to the limit.

Ultimately, this pick is made based on my gut feeling that Washington is devastated from last week. If they had pulled out the victory over Stanford, the momentum and euphoria could carry them another week. But how do they get back up after last week’s loss? They had a top five team on the ropes, on the road, and they feel like it was stolen from them by terrible Pac-12 refs. They left it all on the field last Saturday night and came away empty. Now you’re asking them to do it again against a team that is even better? That feels like too big an ask.

UTAH (+9) over Stanford
Utah played the end of game scenario against UCLA perfect last week – down by 10, kick the field goal and go for the onside kick. It frustrates me to no end when teams go for the touchdown first and eat up all the time. Or even worse, go for it on 4th down instead of kicking. The downside? Utah were 5-point underdogs and the decision kept me from a cover. Although, when your QB throws 6 INTs and you almost win…that has to be a good thing, right?

What I wrote about Washington above also applies to Stanford – they exerted a lot of energy last week to repel Washington. Utah is a really, really good football team that cannot seem to get over the hump in Pac-12 play, with two heartbreaking losses to two excellent teams in UCLA and Oregon State. I don’t think any home crowd in the country has been treated to better games than the Utah faithful – and I think they’re in for another good one this week.

BYU (-7) over Georgia Tech
My favorite type of pick – when you get to pick against a team that sucks. Georgia Tech sucks. They should be 14+ point underdogs in this game. BYU probably thinks it should be undefeated – losing a tough game to Utah and an absolute head-scratcher to Virginia that gets harder to comprehend by the week.

Georgia Tech is an option team that can’t run the option. BYU has Kyle Van Noy and an excellent defense. Good luck with that, Paul Johnson.

johnny football awesome
Texas A&M (-6) over OLE MISS *Best Bet*
Ole Miss got a lot of national publicity for squeaking by Vanderbilt in week 1. Missouri just pounded that same team by 23 points. Ole Miss got a lot of love for beating Texas. Which Iowa State should’ve done last week. Maybe Ole Miss isn’t really that good?

As for A&M, we know they are good. As in, “if Alabama didn’t exist, they’d cruise to the SEC Title Game” good. This line makes no sense to me – of course, that usually means Vegas knows something I don’t. Whatever, Johnny Football isn’t losing to Ole Miss. ESPN, primetime, with no other quality games going on? That’s Showtime, baby.

Oregon State (+1) over WASHINGTON STATE
Oregon State does not lose to Washington State.

The Oregon State loss to Eastern Washington is shockingly similar to the 2007 Michigan loss to Appalachian State or the 2010 Virginia Tech loss to James Madison. All 3 were ranked teams that took an FCS opponent way too lightly, got burned and rebounded very nicely. Michigan ended the year on New Year’s Day by beating Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Virginia Tech won the ACC in 2010 and played in the Orange Bowl.

Time will tell for Oregon State – the Pac-12 North is absolutely loaded – but they are still a Top 20 team, even if the loss to Eastern Washington remains burned in voters’ memories.

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