College Football Losers – Reading Between the Lines For 2009

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What will happen when the 2009 college football season rolls around? The grass will be cut, lines painted and fields marked off. The Gatorade will be deposited in the cooler and the beer will be chilling! (They occasionally mix up the two in Lincoln.) Hope will flourish on football fields across this great land – just waiting for the downpour of reality to swamp the optimism of late summer. This is the time for fans and alumni to start believing that this is their year – the year their school sheds the embarrassment of losing in the NCAA’s top football division.

Some of the downtrodden would settle for a single win against a decent opponent. Some would no doubt enjoy a win of any variety – including beating the Northern Idaho Drum and Bugle Corps (Iowa State is trying to squeeze in NIDBC between early season dates with Kent State and South Dakota State).

There are several non-decent opponents willing to send out a team for a price. Witness Western Kentucky taking on the Florida Gators to open the season a couple of years ago, and Appalachian State was granted the honor of being utterly whacked silly by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor to open the Maize and Blue’s season. Unfortunately for Big Blue, Appalachian actually showed up and put the Wolverines into a two year skid into the mud and muck of bowl ineligibility.

Will this year be a drive to a championship? Or will it be a “rebuilding” year. A ‘rebuilding year’ is a term used by college coaches who don’t want to get fired. Coaches and alumni are very careful in the words they choose, so this week’s public service is to provide a watch list of key words and phrases that identify the losers in our midst.

‘Rebuilding year’
‘We are a young team’
‘This team has lots of talent’
‘Not playing as a team’

The key to a rebuilding year begins with scheduling. As noted, poor Iowa State is kicking off its rebuilding year with games against Kent State and South Dakota State. Army is also visiting Ames this year, but at some point, the Cyclones are going to smack the concrete wall of reality and have to play the conference schedule. Rebuilding involves giving a team some confidence. Unfortunately, the Cyclones are going to lose most of what they gain in the early season when they take on Oklahoma State and other Big 12 notables.

Rebuilding presumes that your team is building faster and better than the opposition. A new coach can do a decent job of rebuilding, but if you are trying to compete against Oklahoma, you better do some serious bribing.

The best schools are constantly “rebuilding.” The key to winning then is to rebuild faster than the Floridas or OUs of the country. If your coach uses this phrase “we are in a rebuilding year” good luck. You’ll need it.

Use of this word implies that the team actually expected to win. This is a joke in itself and is a cry for help on behalf of the coach that uses it. This term will be frequently used this year by coaches who know they are outclassed on the field, but need to keep the paychecks coming.

We are a young team
There shouldn’t be anyone much over 21 or 22 on any of these teams, so yes.. they all are young. Can they block and tackle and can they pass the entrance exam? Can your star recruit spell his name? Use of this phrase identifies a coach or alum attempting to reign in expectations while still appearing confident in the team he puts on the field. When you hear this from your coach, your team’s program is headed for the tank – at least this year.

College football has a built in excuse for lowering expectations – graduation. ‘Graduation’ is a loosely used term for players whose eligibility has expired. The fact is that fewer and fewer of these guys actually hear ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ live. Some make it to the professional football ranks, but most players really need something called a diploma. And without a fundamental understanding of addition, subtraction and finance, the ones that are successful earning money in the professional ranks, risk blowing their millions on swamp land.

The folks in the Poli Sci department can spin it any way they like, but, not everyone can be a winner. If the opposition puts up more points than you… yours is the loser. Being reminded that yours is “a young team” indicates that the program is headed for the dumper.

This team has lots of talent
So where was it on Saturday? The reason that scores are kept is to determine which team is better. When used as part of a coach’s losing speech early in the season, one can expect to hear it used much more frequently over the course of the autumn. This statement is a real minefield. To say that a team has talent and still loses is a laudable effort to boost the confidence of the remaining players. It also invites the business school graduates to demand that the coach figure out a way to use that talent to produce a win.

Not playing as a team
This is the Sage’s personal favorite reason for losing. Does the school provide matching uniforms? Can the team hear the snap count? Failing to ‘play as a team’ is a hugely overrated reason thrown out for losing. You make your blocks or you don’t. If you can’t cover deep, you wind up with your own goal post smacking you in the head as you try to cover a fly route. This has nothing to do with playing as a team.

Granted, a player needs a rough idea of what to do once the play starts and possess enough strength and speed to carry out the assignment. You need 11 of these on the field at the same time. The ones that block for a screen left on a deep QB drop don’t have a problem playing as a team. They may have experienced a hearing loss in the huddle, or needed quite a bit of help on their SATs, but they don’t have problems playing as a team.

So… as we prepare for the 2009 season, the Sage is looking forward to the games as well as the post game press conferences to see what new and creative phrases are used to describe the losses. The Sage can’t cover every game, so send in your observations. Unique losing phrases from 2008 would be welcome!



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