TCFA

Posted Jan. 8, 2015

Nov 4, 2011

Dying Dreams, the Loss of Hope, and Metaphorical Kicks in the Teeth

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Not to bum you out or anything, but the fun is over.

The glory, the optimism, the sense that anything is possible—well, all of that stuff was left for dead back in October, back when the college football year was young, back in the halcyon days of this season’s proverbial adolescence.

In college football, of course, October is the month of belief. The month of dreams. The month when Our Great Game shines the brightest, the month when the tailgates are at their most perfect, the month when the Autumn weather oh-so-briefly offers us a small hint of what we shall enjoy in heaven. It is the month when the games are the most colorful and most beautiful, and the month when even heartbreaking losses seem to be not so awful, if only because there is so much more college football—so much more season—to come.

And then there is November.

Yes, November.

It is the month when hope vanishes and dreams die.

It is the month when belief gives way to "settling," when optimism gives way to reality, when the cold creeps in and the skies go grey and the vast majority of us here in College Football Nation realize that, well, anything really isn’t possible.

It is the month that tells us, all at once, who is for real and who isn't.

It is, quite simply, the month of reckoning.

So, again, apologies for bumming you out. But here's the deal: The end is nigh.

***

This is not to say, of course, that November is all bad.

It is, after all, A Month of College Football. Which makes it quite automatically a better and more important month than any month that is not A Month of College Football. It is also better than December, and better than January, if only because winter is cold and evil and Satan's Own Creation.

November can still boast of belonging to Autumn, preferred season of The Thinking Man. November can still boast of being home to Thanksgiving, preferred holiday of The Thinking Man. And November can still, of course, offer us some truly fantastic college football—college football of the highest caliber, actually. Indeed, history tells us that The Month of Reckoning has provided time and place for some of the most important college football games ever played: Army vs. Notre Dame in 1946. Notre Dame vs. Michigan State in 1966, USC vs. UCLA in 1967, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in 1971, Florida State vs. Notre Dame in 1993, Ohio State vs. Michigan in 2006 and countless others.

And so, of course, it would be dishonest of me to even suggest that college football in the month of November is anything but massively important, anything but intense beyond all measures of intensity, anything but breathtaking, anything but stomach-churning, anything but heartbreaking, anything but damn near sporting perfection. Because the reality is, college football in November is all of those things. Always has been. Always wil bel.

But there's one thing college football is November isn’t. And that is this: Beautiful.

The reason is simple. By the time November rolls around, we are long past the days of dreaming. We are long past the days of over-exuberant optimism. We are long past the days where we could oh-so-easily fantasize about What Might Be for our college football teams of choice.

Because by November, we arrive at the the point where, well, we know What Actually Is.

And that, my friends, makes a big difference.

Which brings us to this season, and this November, and the grueling, grinding weeks to come.

For fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide and fans of the LSU Tigers, for fans of the Stanford Cardinal and fans of the Clemson Tigers, for fans of the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Ohio State Badgers, the Boise State Broncos and so many others, there is no point in wasting time on dreams. Indeed, what these teams and what these fans have so long dreamed about—what they have worked for the past freaking 11 months—is now there for the taking, there to be claimed, there to be seized, there to be made reality.

What these teams and these fans long to achieve really can be achieved; more the point, these teams and these fans know precisely how they can achieve it.

They mystery, in other words, is gone.

The gauntlet has been laid down.

All that remains is the fight to the end. The bloody, brutal fight to the end.

***

On Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, the LSU Tigers of Les Miles will clash will go to college football war with the Alabama Crimson Tide of one Nick Saban. It is, if we are being completely honest (and, yes, I'm looking even at you, Emperor Jim Delany), the game that College Football Nation has been waiting for since, well, August.

Physically, athletically, psychologically—these two teams quite obviously stand apart from the rest. The coaching is superb and accomplished and big-game tested. The playmakers are of the finest vintage. The defenses are relentless. I mean, these teams are good, fantastically good even, and one could hardly argue, based on what we've seen so far, that either of them are not national-title caliber.

Unfortunately, by early Sunday morning, only one of these two teams will be left standing. Only one of them will still have a shot to win the only thing they care to win. Only one of them will emerge from Bryant-Denny with their dreams intact, because it is November, and the end is nigh, and a loss here—this late, on this stage, in this particular case—will not be forgiven, or recovered from. A loss here, in essence, will signal The End. The end for Alabama, or the end for LSU.

And so it shall continue on through the rest of The Month of Reckoning. Dreams dying every single week. Hope vanishing every single week. Seasons ending every single week.

With each passing November Saturday, and with the conclusion of each bloody November battle, at least one team in This Great Nation will have What Might Be stolen from them. With each passing Saturday, at least one fan base will suffer the metaphorical college football kick in the teeth. With each passing November Saturday, some of us will be told, in ever so blunt terms, “You were not good enough.”

Because it is November, you see. And November offers no quarter—no shelter from reality.

Yes, folks, November—the dreaded Month of Reckoning—is upon us. The games will be brutal and bloody and black and blue. Legends will be born. We will see the amazing, the astounding, the earthshaking. We will witness celebrations of titanic proportions. We will witness massive upsets. We will witness comebacks. We will witness somebody staking claim to the Greatest Trophy in American sport.

It will be spectacular. It will be chilling. It may even be a whole lot of fun.

But it will not be beautiful.

Because the days of beauty have passed.

And the days of pain are upon us.

miscellany: notes from the college football fringes

♦ OK, I’ve been awfully hard on Ohio State pretend interim coach Luke Fickell. And because I’ve been so hard on the guy, I felt obligated at this time to give him credit for what he’s accomplished over his last two games. Which is this: Win, and in so doing, save his team’s season. I also give him credit for not gloating about it. Asked this week if he believes more Buckeye fans will now be on his “bandwagon” because of the upset win over Wisconsin, Fickell replied as follows: “I don't know about any bandwagon. I see my four kids and my wife, we see the guys over at the facility and they've always been on my bandwagon. So those are the people that ultimately you stick close to."

♦ Hey, I have four kids, too. Luke, Perhaps we could hang out some time.

If you read one thing (besides TCFA) all week, read this amazing story, from Tim Layden, in this week's Sports Illustrated. Wonderful piece about a long-forgotten hero of Williams College football.

♦ Last week, as you very likely recall, I wrote an outrageously long column detailing the disturbing number of empty seats cropping up at college football stadiums all over This Great Nation. Well, a couple days back, the Allentown Morning Call followed my lead, taking an admittedly more scientific look at the situation up at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions are drawing fewer fans than they have in any season since Beaver Stadium was expanded in 2001. Writes the Morning Call: "With one home game remaining in 2011, Penn State is on pace for its lowest attendance total at Beaver Stadium since the facility's most recent expansion 10 years ago. Even with a sellout crowd for the Nov. 12 game against Nebraska, Penn State might not reach the 710,000 threshold for total home attendance. That total would be about 20,000 fewer than last year and about 50,000 fewer than 2007, when Penn State set a single-season record of 762,419 for a seven-game home schedule. In 2011, Penn State has seen its smallest homecoming crowd (100,820 against Purdue) and smallest overall crowd (95,636 against Eastern Michigan) since the 2001 expansion. The paid attendance announced for the Illinois game was 97,828, about 8,700 below capacity." That's bad, right?

♦ Well, apparently, no, it's not bad. And here's why: As I suggested last week, the powers-that-be at Penn State (and, let's face it, elsewhere) don't really care about empty seats. What they do care about is money. And though the dreaded Penn State "STEP" plan—i.e., the university's PSL scheme—has indeed driven some fans away, it has also driven profits. In fact, Penn State says the plan has generated between $4 million and $6 million more this year than would have been possible without it. And that'd despite the no-shows. Said athletic director/banker Tim Curley: "We knew with the program in place that people would reduce their number of tickets or say, it's time to give them up. It was hard to tell what kind of attrition we'd have at the end of the day, but it worked out the way we thought. We've had a lot of positive comments about many aspects of [STEP]. Certainly, some people weren't in favor of it, and we understand that. But the program was a real success." As I wrote last week, folks, the deal is this: Pay up. Or stay home. Either way, they don't really care.

♦ On Thursday night, Boston College got crushed 38-7 by Florida State. The loss dropped the Eagles to 2-7 on the year. And this morning, one of the bloggers for ESPN Boston wrote a piece that carried the following headline: "Sloppy Eagles don't deserve bowl game." Ladies and gentlemen, that sums up Boston's collective college football IQ.

♦ So Boise State has been given the green light by the powers-that-be in Idaho to join the Big East. I am assuming this means Boise State will therefore join the Big East. But here's a question: Does anybody really think it's a good idea for Boise State to join the Big East?

♦ Looking for picks, in which Your Editor attempts to make amends for his podcast-related losing streak? Well, click here.

♦ Looking for the latest TCFA Podcast, in which Tim and Mike chat about National College Football Day, LSU-Alabama, Penn State’s 8-1 start, the good and bad about Ohio State and more? Well, click here.

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