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Les Miles is best known for his surgically attached ball cap and meandering digressions; his madcap clock management and ruminant behavior. (In a tight spot the LSU coach has been known to ... eat stadium grass.) But as he proved in the month leading up to the start of this college football season, Miles is also a superb crisis manager—an invaluable trait in the game these days, when a coach never knows what ill tidings the next e-mail, text or phone conversation might bring:
Let me get this straight—they signed merchandise in exchange for tattoos?
Who the hell knew a Nissan Altima could do 118 miles per hour?
You're saying he would bring the hookers onto the yacht?
This moment could not come soon enough. That was the consensus across the college football cosmos. Kick it off already! Let the healing—or at least the forgetting—begin!
But the malfeasance of the off-season just passed is too tawdry and far-reaching to be swept away by a batch of highlights from the game's opening weekend. Those transgressions included, but were not limited to, the clouds hovering over the Cowboys Classic between the fourth-ranked Tigers and No. 3 Oregon, a.k.a. the Willie Lyles Bowl, so nicknamed for the shady transactions between alleged Houston-based "street agent" Willie Lyles and two of his most prominent clients. The NCAA is currently investigating his relationship with both schools.
About a week before kickoff, Miles lost starting wideout Russell Shepard, who'd violated school and NCAA rules, and suspended starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, who'd been arrested on a count of second-degree battery for his alleged involvement in a brawl at a Baton Rouge nightspot called Shady's. (Like Jefferson, backup linebacker Josh Johns was charged with the same felony and suspended.) Jefferson stands accused of kicking a 21-year-old Marine in the face. Before arresting Jefferson, police searched his off-campus apartment, seizing 49 pairs of shoes, including the kicks he was wearing when he did the alleged kicking. (The lawyers for both Jefferson and Johns say their clients are innocent.) While the majority of Tigers fans in Arlington, Texas, who bothered to make signs went with some variation on ducks as prey or food—DUCK GUMBO, ROAST DUCK, DUCK SEASON STARTS EARLY—one purple-shirted fortysomething brandished a sign with a slightly more sinister legend: WELCOME TO SHADY'S WEST.
We salute both the Cowboys Classic, now in its third year, and its actual host. If it weren't for Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner at whose behest this $1.2 billion, flying-saucer-like venue was erected, this matchup of Top 5 teams would not have taken place. College football would be the poorer. While there were a handful of meaningful games across the republic in Week 1, most Top 25 teams engaged in the pigskin equivalent of picking the wings off flies. (Felicitations, Nebraska, on your 33-point triumph over Chattanooga. Congrats, Alabama, on your 48--7 win over Kent State.)
What Jones envisioned as a showcase between national title contenders, however, was defined as much by the players who weren't on the field as it was by those who were. It turned into a competition to see which team could better withstand the epic screwups of its marquee player(s).
Not making the trip to Texas from the Ducks' side was cornerback and punt returner Cliff Harris, a preseason All-America with outrageous talent—as a sophomore last season he intercepted six passes and returned four punts for touchdowns—and a whimsical air. It was Harris who stood up as a freshman at his first team meeting and declared, "My name is Cliff Harris, and I'm here to lock s--- down." Harris also once famously described himself as "the cheese on top of the nachos." But that light personality is accompanied by a correspondingly heavy foot. He was cited in June for driving 118 miles per hour on a suspended license, in a Nissan Altima rented by a woman in Oregon's business affairs office. Video shot from the police car shows the officer leaning into the window and asking, "Who's got the marijuana in the car?"