It was Karl Marx who coined the term “opiate of the people” back in 1843 as a slight against organized religion. But the father of socialism could have just as easily spun the term to describe college football in the modern day.
You ever look at a heroin junkie or a methhead and wonder what the hell is wrong with them? Well, college football addict, look in the mirror and follow along as we bring you up to speed on the events of this oh-sowild off-season.
It started with Harvey Updyke, who took Alabama’s 2010 Iron Bowl meltdown a little too seriously. In the days following the game, this modern-day Lorax allegedly infected Auburn’s famed Toomer’s Oaks with the tree-equivalent of smallpox, then called The Paul Finebaum Radio Show to brag about it. After a statewide manhunt, a tearful Auburn press conference, a one-in-a-million mugshot and an alleged gas station mugging, Updyke is out on bail and currently awaiting trial for herbicide.
Ohio State fired head coach Jim Tressel after it was found out that he had foreknowledge of his players trading championship rings, jerseys and other cherished footballrelated swag for free tattoos. That’s right, free tattoos.
The Fiesta Bowl, part of the outrageously unfair BCS cabal, fired it’s CEO after it was discovered that the bowl was throwing money around in all sorts of unsavory ways in an attempt to peddle influence within the sport and in the political arena.
Documents reveal the Oregon Ducks, the BCS runners-up in 2010, paid a shady recruiting service $25,000 for essentially worthless information on second-rate high school prospects. It is alleged that the money was actually laundered through the service in order to buy a couple of running backs (LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk) from the shadier Willie Lyles. What’s worse is that emails from head coach Chip Kelly imply that he was buddy-buddy with Lyles.
Yahoo!Sports released an intricately detailed report on the relationship that existed between more than 70 University of Miami athletes and coaches and a booster named Nevin Shapiro. Shapiro, who is in prison on charges related to a Ponzi scheme he cooked up, claims to have provided hookers, abortions, engagement rings and other outrageous perks to current and former Miami players. Several of the players who are on the current roster have been ruled ineligible for the 2011 season, and, if the stories are valid, it’s entirely possible that the Miami football program could be shut down by the NCAA for at least a season.
Back in the metro area, a Tuscaloosa men’s clothier run by an Alabama football booster made the news when it was discovered that his store was displaying more Tide memorabilia than the local Bama Fever store. The university disassociated Tom Albetar, the owner of the store, amid the implication that some of the items (which included signed jerseys, etc., from current Tide players) may have been traded for illegal benefits.
And finally, USA Today sports analyst and college football handicapper Danny Sheridan took to the aforementioned Finebaum show to allege that he had insider information on whom the “bagman” was in the Cam Newton pay-for-play scandal that has albatrossed itself around the Auburn program for nearly a year now.
In case you forgot, we found out that Cecil Newton (Cam’s father) allegedly asked Mississippi State for money in exchange for his son’s quarterback services. Newton, a preacherman, was apparently rebuffed by the Bulldogs, and Cam ended up enrolling at Auburn. It has been speculated the Cecil made the same overtures to Auburn and, since Cam played there last season, that some money must have changed hands. However, no one has been able to prove it, despite an ongoing NCAA investigation.
Sheridan claims that he has an NCAA source who has divulged the identity of the person who paid Cecil money on behalf of Auburn University in exchange for Cam’s enrollment. He teased the Finebaum audience for two weeks, saying that he may reveal the name of the so-called “bagman” on air, but after much bluster and grandstanding, he demurred and hid behind the protection of his source’s identity.
So, despite all of that, we’re just as excited about college football as we ever were.
They say that only addicts would put up with such abuse from their drug. Well, I guess we are hooked like catfish, aren’t we?
You’d think there was little chance that the regular season could live up to the excitement and drama we’ve become accustomed to over the summer, but 2011 could be a special year for a couple of in-state programs.
It doesn’t look like Auburn will be one of those programs. It would be understating things a bit to say that the defending national champs will have to endure difficulties on the way to defending that championship.
The aforementioned Newton clan has moved on to the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, leaving a vacancy under center to be filled by former Briarwood Christian alum Barrett Trotter. Also gone is defensive force Nick Fairley, as well as a slew of other talented contributors on both sides of the football, leading many to assume that the Tigers will probably be lucky to reach the bowl-eligible threshold of six wins.
When examining the schedule, you assume that four wins are a given (Utah State, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss and Samford), two losses are a given (Arkansas and LSU), three losses are implied (Florida, Georgia and Alabama) and the rest is a toss-up. I figure the Tigers will probably finish in the 6-6 or 7-5 range, perhaps giving Birmingham’s own BBVA Compass Bowl a little something to cheer about come January.
In Tuscaloosa, if scandal hasn’t overwhelmed the Tide program, the misery index has. The aftermath of the April 27 tornadoes and the untimely death of offensive lineman Aaron Douglas have forced many Alabama athletes to divert their attention away from the game we’re all hooked on and onto some heavy reality. Off-season distractions be damned, things look pretty good for the Tide on the field this year, despite the subtraction of quarterback Greg McElroy, running back Mark Ingram and wideout Julio Jones.
Bama isn’t scared about breaking in a new offense in 2011, since the team’s defense is likely to be as good as defense can get. The schedule offers six given victories (Kent State, North Texas, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Georgia Southern), three assumed victories (Penn State, Mississippi State and Auburn) and three swing games (Arkansas, Florida and LSU). I hate picking an SEC team to run the table (even though it has happened with some regularity over the past several years) and instead will claim that Alabama finishes 11-1 in the regular-season. But 12-0 is certainly not out of the question, especially if the offense comes around in time for the team’s dreadful October slate.
Finally, at UAB, things are looking up, as long as injuries don’t start piling up before the season has a chance to begin. Elliott Henigan and Pat Shed, defensive and offensive standouts respectively, might be out for the first game of the season—a road tilt against the Florida Gators. For reasons that should be obvious, that isn’t good news.
Aside from what should be a guaranteed loss in the Swamp, UAB figures to make this season a memorable one, considering the hype generated by the hiring of new defensive coordinator Tommy West. West brings considerable football knowledge to the staff and will work to shore up a defense that has consistently frustrated Blazer fans for the past few seasons.
If the defense can finally work to complement the offense (led by Shed and quarterback Bryan Ellis), then UAB just might make their second bowl run in team history. The schedule suggests three given victories (Tulane, Memphis and Florida Atlantic), three given losses (Florida, Mississippi State and Tulsa) and six toss-ups. Given the Blazers’ penchant for heartbreak, I’m reticent to split the difference, but indications are that the defense will be much improved and Ellis will build on his breakout season from 2010. Give UAB a 6-6 record and send them bowling.
But, honestly, what do I know? Don’t get me wrong, I know football. I’ve worked for two college athletic departments and one pro-football front office in my career, but no one can really predict this stuff. Trent Richardson snaps a leg bone against Kent State? Bama’s in a downward spiral. Barrett Trotter becomes the Andrew Luck of the east? Auburn’s back in the BCS mix. UAB keeps racking up injuries? They’ll be home for Christmas.
In that case, I suppose college football really is the ultimate drug. Your experience will be unpredictable, at times exhilarating, at times excruciating, all the time exciting. It will drain your wallet, soak up all your free time and strain your relationships with loved ones. Maybe this year you will be rewarded for your allegiance. Maybe this year you will be punished. But right now, everyone is jonesing all the same.
Thank God, everyone gets a hit this weekend.
Matt Hooper writes the weekly “PolySigh” column for Birmingham Weekly. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.