Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bubble Fans Anonymous

(Who would like to speak this session…someone new perhaps? Todd, how about you?)

Well, okay, I suppose. Hello everyone, my name is Todd Salem.

(Hi Todd)

I am 25 years old and have been a fan of a bubble team for the last eight years now. When I first got hooked, it didn’t seem like being a fan of a bubble team was going to be anything worth worrying about. It would either happen or it wouldn’t. What could I control being on the outside looking in? But then, as the seasons wore on, the months turned to years, I could feel the despair building.

The one year we made it, we actually made the NCAA Tournament, 2007 it was…that just made things worse. Every subsequent failure was more severe, more to the core. It has gotten to the point where a lack of worry and doubt is just as good as success. Looking back, it was almost better to be worse than those bubble teams, not having to sweat through the grief and unknown, living in blissful ignorance.

That’s why I am feeling good this year. Even though it is only mid-December, I already know my team’s chances are slim to none. I won’t have to suffer through the release of the brackets as in past years. The resume just doesn’t hold up this season. We will not even make the bubble talk, and just saying that out loud is exhilarating. It feels good to tell others that my March of 2012 will not be like the others; it will not be stressful.

Everyone always told me, back when I was younger and naïve, that the bubble teams’ failures stemmed from poor showings in your conference. You needed to finish near the top of your conference to get in. That would prove to the panelists that your team was deserving. Now I know better though. Conference success is just a bunch of bologna.

The real killer is out-of-conference strength of schedule and wins and don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

My team, let’s just call them VT, has fallen prey to the lack of out-of-conference wins year after year. Finishing in the top three in their own conference has never been good enough. Beating top teams in the nation from their own conference has done little more than place them squarely on the bubble each and every March. The push over the top, into the Big Dance must come from victories over solid teams from other conferences.

And this is why I have my freedom this season. Our chances at impressive out-of-conference wins to bolster an otherwise weak resume have already come and gone. A win over a top ranked Syracuse team in New York would have been amazing. That alone might have been enough with a strong ACC showing this year, but it was not meant to be. Topping a slightly depleted Minnesota squad would have been tremendous but that also did not come to fruition. The following game, against Kansas State, was a necessity. It would be one of the last out-of-conference matchups that VT would face this season. But again, we fell short.

So here I am, not even at the first of the new year and I am already feeling good…no, good is not the right word.

I am feeling relieved.

I won’t have to sit on the edge of my seat, biting my fingernails this spring. Sure, my team won’t be in contention but don’t you all kind of wish you were in the same boat. Wouldn’t it be nice to be unencumbered by it, just once?

I appreciate everyone listening but I don’t think I will need to come to any more of these meetings. I have gotten what I needed from them. Thanks doc, thank you everyone.

(Okay, Todd, thank you for speaking. Would anyone else like to say a few words tonight?)

(Image courtesy of

Barry Sanders: A Look Back

Montee Ball will presumably break, or at least tie, Barry Sanders NCAA “regular season” touchdown record during Wisconsin’s upcoming BCS bowl. He only needs one more score to do so. Nowadays, stats accumulated in bowl games count towards season totals and career numbers. This was not the case prior to 2002 and that is why taking a look back at Barry Sanders’ 1988 season as an Oklahoma State Cowboy is so fascinating.

Most football fans know Barry as the electric Detroit Lions running back. People are aware of his crazy NFL numbers and his premature retirement in the face of the NFL rushing record. What the casual follower may not be aware of is the Barry Sanders in 1988 was arguably better than any subsequent version in comparison to his peers.

Sanders’ total career NCAA rushing numbers are nothing to write home about. He only really played one full season. Prior to ’88, Barry backed up another future NFL star, Thurman Thomas. Once Thomas left and Sanders took over, he showed what he could do as a junior and then departed for the NFL after the season and winning the Heisman Trophy.

In that 1988 campaign, Barry Sanders broke over 30 NCAA records. He rushed for the most touchdowns in a season, scored the most points, rushed for the most yards, accumulated the most total yardage, etc. For the sake of present day comparisons, let’s include Barry’s bowl game stats as well here in preparation for Montee Ball’s approach of Sanders. Ball is technically one touchdown shy of Sanders’ 39 total touchdowns mark. But if we include the 1988 Holiday Bowl, where Sanders rushed for a staggering FIVE more touchdowns, the record seems quite out of reach. Montee Ball has had a tremendous season, especially down the stretch; he is simply no Barry Sanders.

In ’88, the numbers (including the Holiday Bowl performance) are as such: 12 total games played, 2850 rushing yards, 237.5 rushing yards per game, 42 rushing touchdowns, 44 total touchdowns and 5000 exasperated looks from his opponents (last figure estimated). Barry’s lowest yardage output for any game was 154 rushing yards. That was his “worst” game of the year. He topped 200 yards on the ground seven times, including the bowl game. Four of those contests, he went over 300 yards. No one had ever done that before or since. There wasn’t a single game where he scored fewer than two touchdowns. Barry Sanders circa 1988 was Wilt Chamberlain dominant, standing at just 5’8”.

Sure players today have impressive seasons. Montee Ball’s game log, specifically since November, is something to behold. Trent Richardson and LaMichael James are special talents from the running back position as well. Before we get too excited though about current players, waxing poetic, reaching for unnecessary hyperbole, just remember what Barry Sanders did in 1988 and how no one has ever come close.

(Image courtesy of

The BCS Strikes Again

Those of you expecting to read a bashing of The Rematch have come to the wrong place. LSU and Alabama are clearly the two best teams in the country, having already faced each other or not. In fact, one thing the Bowl Championship Series formula usually does well (critics be damned) is get the title game matchup correct. It is a fairly effective and fine way in determining who deserves to play for the national title.

Yet imagine my surprise coming home from work last Sunday night and reading the other BCS game matchups. As a Virginia Tech fan and alum, after our loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship, I assumed the season was over insofar as we would be relegated to another inconsequential Chick-Fil-A Bowl against some mid-tier SEC foe. Snore. Upon seeing the listings, namely the Sugar Bowl’s choice of competitors, I was stunned; perhaps beyond stunned. I ventured on to Facebook and Twitter, demanding more information, confirming ESPN had not made a mistake. These things happen. It was of course possible one line of editing had shifted my beloved Hokies from irrelevance into the BCS by accident.

Upon further review, it was all true. Virginia Tech will be playing Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.

Beyond the absurdness of this was utter delight. We had, after all, been rewarded by losing our conference championship. Clemson, the team that had destroyed us not once, but twice this season, and won the aforementioned ACC title, would be trotting out to the Orange Bowl against West Virginia. Meanwhile, the team they crushed would be heading to a better bowl game against a better opponent. Whodathunkit? For the uninitiated, an Orange Bowl trip against the Big East champion is usually trouble. It is a lose-lose situation through and through. Win and you were supposed to; lose and be prepared for ridicule and embarrassment. The Orange Bowl is The Cleveland Show of BCS bowl games.

Instead, the Hokies will travel to New Orleans and face a national power returned to glory in the Michigan Wolverines. A win is tremendous, validating a season in which quality wins are few and far between. A loss is not the end of the world as the BCS bowl berth was really the season’s reward anyways.

That gets us back to the Sugar Bowl’s decision. And yes, it is their decision. They chose to pit the 11th ranked team in the country against the 13th. Neither Virginia Tech nor Michigan was in the top 10 in the final rankings. These two teams were chosen because of expected television ratings and fan followings, generating the most revenue for the bowl game.

Sugar Bowl constituents could have chosen Boise State or Kansas State or both to play here instead. Each of these teams finished ahead of each of the two teams actually chosen. But it didn’t and doesn’t come down to that. After the championship matchup and conference title tie-ins are delegated out, it is up to the bowl game itself to choose its desired matchup. It worked in my favor this year but it worked against a few other fan bases. And just imagine my disgust if Michigan had been chosen to play Boise and Tech was left out after having a better year than the Wolverines.

So the BCS, even getting the title game correct (although it was easy this year) still has its problems. Is it right that at-large BCS teams are chosen based on their ability to generate money rather than their season success? No, probably not. Will I complain about it? Not this year. Go Hokies!