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So I'm a big fan of college football, if only because I actually see more of it on a weekly basis than I do the NFL, which I'm paid to follow. It's a quirk of the profession, really, but because of the totally consuming nature of covering a typical NFL game, I miss all but the tiniest bits and pieces of Sunday's action in real time. (And then I write through the Sunday-night game with the sound muted, for any number of reasons.)
But with so many free Saturdays, I consume plenty of college footie. Which is why I'm particularly disappointed (re: *$&%^#(#!@*! irate) with the NCAA at the moment, in ways macro- and microcosmic:
I've read many quotes from Big 12 Conference chairman and BCS (insert joke here) commissioner Kevin Weiberg lately, who is despairing over Division I's impending postseason crisis, in which the regular season will probably end with three undefeated teams (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn) but only two spots in the "national championship game." To paraphrase his comments: Try as we might, we don't have a system to deal with the coming reality.
Actually, Kev, you do. It's called a playoff -- the system that every other NCAA sport, in every other NCAA division, uses to crown a champion. You could make it a four-teamer, or a six-teamer (with two byes), or if you really want my 99 cents, an eight-team gig. Use the four big bowls (Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar) as the first round, pair the four winners, etc. I realize that mine is yet another voice screaming into the witless hurricane that is the NCAA brain trust. But you can't tell me, Kev, that the best you geniuses can do is trust in a system based on the hope -- the blind, pathetic, knock-wood, cross-your-fingers, sacrifice-a-rooster hope -- that the college football season will end with two undefeateds. Not one, and not three, four, etc. Just two. Or bust.
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Given that, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by the recently released seedings for the D-I men's soccer playoffs. For where the NCAA goes, ineptitude is lurking nearby. (I said "college football," people, so bear with me -- it'll be quick.) As my three regular readers know, I'm a very proud graduate of the idyllic University of California-Santa Barbara. While life as a Gaucho is near-perfect, it has, for the last quarter-century, lacked one vital bit of the consummate collegiate experience: a Division I national championship. But the men's soccer team -- top-ranked almost all season, a 17-2-1 group of studs led by 'keeper Dan Kennedy, scoring machine Drew McAthy, Kiwi standout Neil Jones and wunderkind coach Tim Vom Steeg -- seemed on the verge of ending the drought. Sitting atop three of the four major polls, the 'Chos were poised to receive their rightful spoils: the all-important home advantage through to the Final Four, to be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. After all, they'd earned that much.
So imagine the Gauchos' surprise when the pairings were released Monday, and they saw that they'd been seeded ... ninth. The No. 1 team in the country. Ninth. They played one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules, going on the road to beat national powers UConn, Seton Hall, and defending champion Indiana (the No. 6 seed). UCSB stayed in the top 5 following a tough two-game winless streak, and reclaimed the top spot weeks ago with a string of dominant performances. There is nothing more the 'Chos could've done. And the NCAA geniuses seeded them ... ninth. Ninth. (!(&#*$#&^W^#*&$^$#*%$#&%$*#$&!*)
Bottom line: My boys were royally, inarguably, completely rhymes-with-stewed. After all, imagine the outrage come March if, say, a top-ranked Duke was a No. 5 seed. (Talk about Madness.) Or, worse yet, imagine the sheer, unadulterated absurdity if, say, an undefeated team from a major conference in the NCAA's signature sport couldn't compete for the national championship ... oh.
NFL'S TOP FIVE (OR SIX) TEAMS, BECAUSE I SAID SO
1. Pittsburgh (8-1): I like that the Steelers waxed the Browns in Cleveland, on a day when they weren't at their best. (Thank you for the motivational speech, William Green.) This team looks 14-2-ish, if you ask me.
2. New England (8-1): Just another smooth win from a super-smooth team.
3. Philadelphia (8-1): A second quarter for the ages. Say what you will about T.O. off the field -- and Lord knows I have -- but on it, he's thisclose to being my MVP.
4. San Diego (6-3): I repeat: Just go on the road and look halfway as dominant as you have of late, and I'm a believer. Drew Brees was the midseason MVP, the defense remains ferocious, and L.T. has yet to ignite. Scary ...
5. Atlanta (7-2): Yes, I know the Falcons already beat the Bolts 21-20 this year. But the game was in the A-T-L, and I think S.D. would repay the favor if the teams played today. Instead, the Birds will make their inaugural week in the rankings a good one with a trouncing of the N.Y. Elis. (This one's for you, Ricky Roberts.)
6. Indianapolis (6-3), Denver (6-3), TIE: Give me something to work with, people ...
DROPPED OUT: Seattle (5-4): That's it, boys -- I just can't defend you anymore. Shaun Alexander had the most inconsequential 173-yard rushing day in NFL history. You should've beaten St. Louis handily.
THREE SPORTING THOUGHTS (MNF "Towelgate" edition)
1. I'm not surprised that ABC -- an entertainment entity, after all -- tried whatever it could to boost the ratings of an ascendant show and a descendant franchise. But the NFL -- which pulled a serious Pontius Pilate in washing its hands of any responsibility, claiming ignorance (insert spit-take here) and disappointment (insert wink-nudge here) in the face of all reason, and only after waiting most of Tuesday -- should be ashamed. Following the league's iron-fisted reaction to the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl fiasco, such tawdry, inappropriate displays weren't supposed to happen. Oh, wait, I forgot: the league had no idea about the opening of its signature television property, starring its highest-profile player wearing his official uniform. Riiiiiiiiight ...
2. The Eagles' official response claimed that they were "disappointed with the final product." Hmmm. I wonder: Did that disappointment fester as team representatives watched the promo being filmed in its entirety? Riiiiiiiight.
3. Who's watching Desperate Housewives for the first time this Sunday?
AND FINALLY ...
It's 2:08 a.m., and I'm tired after a night out with the lads, and in a few hours I'll rise and drive to the Meadowlands, to grab a minute with the Giants' new starting quarterback, Eli Manning. Ever heard of him?