Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Experience: Thoughts from 2,000 miles away

Chris Nickson threw four interceptions on Saturday, including this one in the end zone. Photo by Tennessean.
As some of you may know, I’ve been off the blog these past two weeks while moving from Nashville to San Diego.

For me, one of the biggest transitions will be the transformation of Vanderbilt football (and basketball and baseball) from experiences to television shows. I came to Nashville in 2002, the same year as Bobby J (and Tim Corbin and Melanie Balcomb for that matter), and in the past six seasons have missed only one home football game. On top of that, I've had the pleasure of following the Dores to Atlanta, Oxford, Lexington, Fayetteville, Athens, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Starkville, and Columbia. Vanderbilt football is an experience for me, with a unique community and camaraderie, as much as it is a game. I will definitely miss that.

During the Eastern Michigan game, I was making the lonely drive from Van Horn, Texas to Yuma, Arizona and didn't even have Joe Fischer’s narrative to keep me company. (Of course, as an XM subscriber, I was able to follow every other team in the SEC). Reading the box score and the recap makes everything seem so distant – how can I be frustrated with Chris Nickson’s picks when I didn’t see them happen? We won the game, right?

It will be better for me next weekend with the game on TV, but I can't recreate the unique feel of those 'lesser' non-conference games (especially with large Parents' Weekend crowds). Some other thoughts from the weekend:

Nickson and Mackenzi. Last season, there seemed to be a discernible undercurrent of support for Mackenzi Adams to take Chris Nickson's spot as the starting QB. Part of that came from Nickson's early turnover struggles while part (most?) came from the bias that successful quarterbacks should look more like Peyton Manning than Tee Martin. Regardless, Nickson's great stretch to finish the year and a growing acknowledgment that the game of college football is changing (spread options, etc.) have helped solidify support for Nickson.

And then Chris throws four picks and everyone freaks out again. Remember the Ole Miss game? A banged-up Nickson was magnificent in leading Vandy's high-powered attack while a healthy Adams looked incompetent. The best contrast was seen through the first three drives of the game. First drive, Nickson goes 7 plays, 55 yards, and a TD. Second drive, Adams goes 3 plays, -9 yards, and a punt. Third drive, Nickson goes 10 plays, 80 yards, and a TD. I realize that I didn't see the EMU game, but I have a hard time believing that Chris doesn't give Vandy its best chance of winning.

Imbalance of Power. The SEC East is now 6-3 against the West. Overall (and this can be misleading because it includes intra-division games as both a win and a loss) the West is 16-12; the East is 22-6.

Sometimes the best way to celebrate is with a flip into the endzone. Tre Smith flipped after returning a blocked punt for a TD during Auburn's defeat of #2 Florida in 2006. Photo by ESPN.
DJ Moore Flips.It may be just me, but I love that Reggie Bush flip into the endzone that DJ Moore emulated on Saturday. It is decidedly unsportsmanlike, but still – I think it's a neat way to celebrate a score. I tend to avoid having 'favorite players', but I'm thinking of making an exception for DJ Moore. What a playmaker

Kentucky Kool-Aid. On ESPN College Football Final, both Desmond Howard and Lou Holtz argued that Kentucky was in their Top Five. The AP Poll today put them at #8. Seriously, nothing makes writers overreact like high powered offenses – just look at Louisville or West Virginia or Michigan. I would wager that Kentucky loses at least two of their next three games against teams that can play defense: Carolina, LSU, and Florida. And if they win all three, we can put them in the Top Five.

Upset Saturday? If five teams out of the top ten lose in the same weekend, does that say more about crazy upsets or more about the inability of pollsters to identify the top ten teams? As much as everyone hates the BCS and Harris Poll, they are right about not releasing their rankings until October.

I can't make the trip, but that doesn't mean I'm not psyched for this Saturday's game on the plains. It's not the same experience, but it's still a darn good TV show (even if it does start at 9:30 am).

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

RE: UK

If they win their next 3, they should not merely be top 5, but should be number 1.

PhilipVU94 said...

Mark,

Great article. First of all, you're absolutely right about the experience versus the TV show. I'm going through the opposite transition to you, and this has been the first time in over ten (!) years that I've made it to a football game, let alone all the home games. For that reason even if we lose out 2007 will still be very important to me.

And I chose XM too so I get a lot of non-VU SEC games. :)

"the bias that successful quarterbacks should look more like Peyton Manning than Tee Martin." -- I applaud you for not pulling punches if you believe that race (or I guess, to be charitable, one could say playing style) really is part of the issue there. I don't know if it is or isn't.

Regarding Kentucky, I agree 100%. They've played a worse schedule than we have! If they go 2-1 I'll be duly impressed, and "anonymous" is right, 3-0 would make them serious NC contenders. Conversely, 0-3 is within the realm of possibility, and wouldn't even indicate that they're any worse than about 6th in the league. It's probably unfortunate for them that they're not sneaking up on people.

And you're right about the bias toward offenses too. But UK's fortune has been more that of beating Louisville at a time when people still thought UL was pretty good, which put them in the right position to move up quickly when all those upsets happened. We don't need another exhibit for why polls are silly, but the impact of timing on a ranking like UK's makes the argument for me.

"If five teams out of the top ten lose in the same weekend, does that say more about crazy upsets or more about the inability of pollsters to identify the top ten teams?" That's a false choice, really. It says that a lot of teams are evenly bunched between, say, 4 or 5 and 30 or lower. Candidly, there may be less difference this season between 30 and 4 than 4 and 1. But even then, the top two have their holes too.

When I try to suspend disbelief and pretend that cfb is a wild crazy game where anyone can win on any given Saturday, weeks like this help me preserve the illusion. When do we get ours?