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The Final: System of a Down

College football is your life. No, really. Apply our pigskin-inspired theory to find out how your fall semester might play out

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By John Walters

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Ann Arbor
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First-and-10: Ann Arbor in September, when the possibilities are endless.
Todd Rosenberg

Back when he was a wild and crazy guy, comedian Steve Martin did a bit about his star-crossed tenure as an unorthodox high school quarterback. Martin would confess, "I used to like to punt on first down."

Well, of course you cannot do that. Such a strategy misses the point, not only of football but also of the season: Fall is four-down territory.

A football series, after all, is just a microcosm of the fall semester. First down is September.Hey, it's first-and-10, we can do anything we want. You want to throw deep? Go ahead. If it doesn't work, you're only staring at second down. You want to miss two weeks of class to run off and play French horn for The Polyphonic Spree? Grab your robe. Drop that class? No problem. It's only September.

Then comes October. Second down. Maybe you played it prudent on first down, ran off-tackle and gained five yards. Or stayed in to study organic chem instead of blowing your puny checking account on that road trip to Baton Rouge. Now you can afford to try that play-action pass, or road-trip to the Head of the Charles. But if you gambled and lost on first down (who knew The Polyphonic Spree already had a French horn?!), well, things are beginning to get scary. Midterms are bearing down on you as if they were Georgia defensive end David Pollack and you have no blockers. Halloween belongs here.

You get the concept -- November, third down. Everything appears grim, including the weather. Even the leaves have fallen ... down, of course.

"You feel more pressure that you need to make it happen [in November]," says Clemson offensive tackle Cole Downer, who, despite his name, is steadfastly upbeat about third downs, autumn, his Tigers and life in general.

"Sure, in September you take more chances," Downer continues, "but that doesn't mean you're afraid of November. Or third down. That's what makes it exciting."

That pressure is an upper, says Downer. "By the time you hit fourth down [December], you're completely committed."

This "system of a down" theory extends beyond football and the calendar. Take dating, for example. You really need only three dates to decide the status of a relationship. In fact, if you had a dating play-by-play sheet, it might read:

FIRST DOWN: incomplete pass.

SECOND DOWN: incomplete pass.

THIRD DOWN: encroachment, replay down. (Illegal use of hands might be another common infraction.)

THIRD DOWN: end around, breaks one tackle, gain of nine.

After that, you've got a choice to make. First, you buy some time by asking for a measurement (i.e., go out with your buddies). Then, you call your play. You can punt. Or you can commit to the drive, a.k.a. the Settle Down.

Of course, life, and football, is never that simple. You can always fumble the ball.

Issue date: September 9, 2004

SI On Campus: September 9, 2004 issue 
SI ON CAMPUS

Sports Illustrated On Campus, a new magazine covering college sports and collegiate lifestyles, is available as an insert in 72 major college newspapers across the country every Thursday throughout the school year. Click any of the links below to see selected content from the latest issue.

Cover Story: The All O.C. Team
Scorecard: What happened in the off season
Scorecard: What's Hot/Not
Road Trip: University of Oklahoma
The Final: This year's dubious System of a Down
Previous issue: April 29, 2004
 

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