Well, as with all things during the Trump administration here we are, only week 2 of college football and it seems like we’ve been doing this forever. A fraction of this is a good thing. You and I jumped bettors in showing mid-season form and came away with a few nice wins week one to show for it. On the flip side of that, I’m seeing an actively polarized nation—even when it comes to college football—heretofore one of our only distinct unifiers where school colors overrode all other loyalties with the exception of one: to country.
I don’t think the era we currently live in is defined by what so many people call “politics.” Politics, in a liberal or democratic society, means everyone debates small theories after signing on to a social contract that says we will look out for and take care of one another, we will keep our borders and minds open, we will set out to understand and be patient with all races, cultures, religions and backgrounds and we will try to act with empathy, kindness and purpose all of our living days. Our neighbors are our brothers and sisters and we have tolerance for all—a rising tide floats all ships.
That, at least, was the pretext for the American life for almost two and a half centuries and politics fit well into that context. We could agree, disagree or agree to disagree, but in the end we could all embrace across the aisle, go get drinks together and check the scores. We were, after all, all on the same team.
No longer. Now, as all societies eventually do, we seem to be on the downhill slide, or at least some of us are picking through the rubble of these ideals, exchanged for macabre versions of our darkest selves—the side that gives in to hatred, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny, ignorance, greed and vacuous sloganeering. The side that doesn’t want to read, digest or understand as much as it wants that next quick fix. We are all addicts, myself included. I would be lying if I weren’t ready to admit that watching this Trump trainwreck, daily, and finding some perverse type of entertainment in his inchoate smashing of all our societal norms in the name of some kind of racketeering and hatred-inducing mass rallying of and giving agency to literally the worst, most entitled, most ugly on the outside and inside people on earth. It is awful and it is impossible not to look at, disgusting as it may seem.
And sometimes, they even get a reaction.
Kyle and intrepid readers of this space know all about my three-year love affair with Josh Rosen. As much as he’s merely a 19-year-old son of a surgeon from the tony part of Los Angeles doing his best to be the best, he is outspoken and glorious. A Manziel for the West Coast. A golden arm in a blue uniform that makes the kids in Hebrew class from Breed Street Shul stand up and cheer during Seder in a way not seen in greater LA since Koufax. A quick audit of Josh Rosen (who was trending) on Twitter during the first half of UCLA’s anemic start against Texas A&M at home, showed Trumpites pouring on the racism, the Antisemitism, the out-and-out lies and hatred that have become so signature to their cause. Geez folks, he’s only a college athlete, not a mega-church charlatan who wouldn’t open his doors during a flood. Some of the tweets have since been deleted, others are too devoid of logic and reason to post. But, here I’ll submit a typical bit of vile spew (along with my response posted just after the final whistle).
Eventually, the good guys win over hatred, racism, misogyny, ignorance, intolerance and a porous secondary. Scoreboard.
— ajp (@andrewjpridgen) September 4, 2017
Granted, tiny Twitter scuffles are not going to fix the problem, in fact, they pretty much add to it. But at the same time, when someone deserves to be trolled, they deserve to be trolled.
I used to think that we weren’t so far apart as Americans. That people who post stuff on social media, if they had to get together in a room and say that same stuff to one another’s faces, it would be nothing like this. Maybe we just need to do that, put the devices down and face one another, see each other as people again, not avatars.
Then again, so many folks have lost the plot entirely. Every time someone (myself included) tries to preach the kind of patience and tolerance and forbearance to all in the same way, say, a Dwight D. Eisenhower or a Ronald Reagan would (sometimes using those men’s very words) I’m often shouted down as a liberal/snowflake, tear-filled whiny, gelded pussy. It truly is disheartening, folks have been turned on to and by evil and, unfortunately, it has corrupted our society to the point where sport can’t even be enjoyed without someone trying to ruin it with their hate.
…OK, the soapbox is completely hollowed out. So, am teasing to Oregon v. Nebraska and UCLA v. Hawaii at the turn Kyle.
Oh, wait, before I forget—this question for you: Heard you’re climbing to such great heights with a klatch of adopted hipsters this coming weekend. Please tell me about the outdoor challenge volunteer work you’re doing with the dispossessed generation in their early 20s who can program a website but not a VCR.
You heard right. I’m part of a group of San Diegans (only two of whom grew up here, because that’s how San Diego works) headed up Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in California and the entirety of the Lower 48. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be taking in views from the roof of the Sierra Nevada around the time our games kick off on Saturday.
Here’s a list of stuff I’ve learned when planning an expedition (even of this pedestrian a level—one overnight out of backpacks, the rest will be within a 15-minute drive of a Wendy’s) for eight people:
- Expedition leaders come by their dickish, power-tripper personalities honestly. I put a Google doc packing list together three months ago and have teammates just checking it now, roughly 63 hours ahead of when we leave. I can see why Maurice Herzog comes across as a totalitarian douche in Annapurna and you end up hating almost every guide who’s ever offered up his sunburnt face for a TV interview about Everest. You have to be a little dictatorial to have people put their comfort and safety in your hands only to have them somewhat ignore your every plea and directive. If we all summit, I’m thinking of getting my likeness carved on horseback.
- The most important preparation people need to make—getting in shape—is the one you can’t control. I’m blessed to have a team of great athletes taking the trip with me—yours truly is likely the slowest/weakest per-pound. We had to adjust our roster after one guy realized he wasn’t cut out for altitude and the grind of a long-ass hike on a practice run last week up Mt. San Jacinto in Palm Springs. I’d never go on a trip without shaking-out everybody’s legs ahead of time in the future.
- Planning a backpacking trip is the only thing people have as many opinions on as parenting. From what sort of beanies your team should wear to peer-reviewed psychological treatises on risk-management and ‘when to call it,’ everybody who has ever organized a nature hike for middle schoolers is ready to tell you how to lead people on a trip. For every story that makes you feel like a dick for not parade-drilling your team up progressive altitude-training hikes in the days leading up to your ‘summit assault’ there are smooth operators who roll up to the top with little more than a windbreaker, bag of baby carrots, Snickers bars and half a bottle of water.
So, to keep my mind off the anxiety I have building over whether or not to pack microspikes, let’s dive into some football, shall we AJ? I’ve got picks in Georgia-Notre Dame, Western Michigan-Michigan State, Auburn-Clemson, and Oklahoma-Ohio State when the see-saw sits back down.
I love your ability to see things from the other side as a mountain guide, part Sherpa, part soccer mom, part rememberer of what you learned when you audited that EMT class, part guidance counselor, part JV cheerleader and part everyone’s responsible sober driver dad. Godspeed up that mountain this weekend, no 14er is a joke nor should be taken lightly but as one experienced mountaineer once told me, “When in doubt punch through, you’ll get there faster.” Hope that helps. Also, in light of your revelation, still trying to figure out where River Guide Guy Attitude comes from.
Guess that’s a topic for another day.
(Also, please dear God no on the microspikes.)
Onto the picks:
Oregon -9 vs. Nebraska
My alma mater comes out and shakes down Southern Utah 77-21 at Autzen and all of a sudden, it’s 2007 again for the more-downs-than-ups Ducks of the last couple seasons? Hmmm. While I do think new HC Willie Taggart brought more than mojo back to Autzen last spring upon his hiring—he says the right things, speaks the players’ language and has a recruiting vein to the southeast that the Ducks have never enjoyed—a wind up toy Puddles would have been an improvement.
After the robust failure that was the end of the Mark Helfrich administration, which began to crumble in earnest during a historic collapse to TCU on Jan. 2, 2016, it was time for Phil Knight and his concerned boosters to sponsor a HC from outside the Oregon rank and file for the first time in almost three decades. That kind of desperation move is what happens after the Huskies outscore you 70-21 at home… (with the majority of their starters pulled in the second half.) For Helf, a crack offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, it was crippling loss after loss which showed that not only did he have a tough time closing, but he looked less ready for the limelight than a third-grade understudy for the role of Randy in a community production of A Christmas Story.
Taggart did have a decent albeit truncated recruiting season, pulling a handful of four-star commits including guys who didn’t have Oregon on their radar till Helfrich left. The top of the marquee is four-star safety Jevon Holland from Oakland who did an about face from the Bay Area schools. And if you’re the kind of d-bag who reads Rivals, similar four- and five-star seniors are similarly giving Eugene a look for next spring as well.
But before we get to a rebuild, there is a matter of this season and the fate of senior running back Royce Freeman. Freeman, who has been a projected first rounder for the past two seasons, returned only after he found Taggart was going to be under the headset. The team’s sage will share carries with Kari Benoit and Kenny Bassett coming out from behind the division’s most experienced offensive line led by Tyrell Crosby who is back after missing all but two games last season due to injury.
Sophomore Justin Herbert, a Eugene native, is Oregon’s first (literal) homegrown recruit under center in a half-decade and has shown since last spring that he’s the guy, inching out talent-laden freshman Braxton Burmeister, another four-star recruit. Burmeister, from La Jolla, looked to figure into UCLA, Cal or USC’s future plans before Taggart came online. Three seemed to be a crowd for fleet afoot backup sophomore Travis Johnson as he transferred in January to a community college in Riverside in hopes to sign with another major program next spring.
Oregon’s maligned secondary, which suffered, mightily, under Helfrich, looks to be back in business under DC Jim Leavitt, who similarly turned things around in 2015 for the Colorado Buffaloes in that role. Taggart, who falls from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree (RB coach at Stanford in 2008), is in good hands with Leavitt, Oregon’s best in that position since the long-suffering Nick Aliotti retired in 2013. Good things too, since Taggart is offensive-minded and his ability to execute Oregon’s running-first approach, something Ducks fans haven’t seen since the early days of Mike Bellotti, is implicit. Oregon still offers no huddle and spread options, key markers of the program’s rise to success, but Taggart’s philosophy brings the program back to its roots in physical play that defined the modern-era rise starting in 1994.
I have a hard time taking the Ducks at anything more than a touchdown vs. the Huskers, as the Southern Utah blowout was more of a scrimmage than a barometer. Nebraska, however, is showing it may be a program on the fade. They had a difficult time sneaking by Arkansas State last Saturday 43-36, and while much of their 2016 offensive line remains in tact, it’s defense was rebuilt and still relatively unknown and untested. Coach Mike Riley’s defensive line was playing a step behind and secondary was devoid of energy in the second half of their opener and I don’t think midweek tweaks fix all that.
On offense, Husker QB Tanner Lee can throw a longball and has two receivers and one tight end that can make Oregon, still not shored up at safety, play from their heels during the opening half.
Both teams can score seemingly at will and an ash-laden sky with post-apocalyptic air quality at Autzen may prove challenging to teams used to playing up-tempo. The game will amount to the equivalent of hucking the football around a subway tube in the middle of July (air quality was just upgraded to Unhealthful). In other words, hell.
In the end, I really believe Taggart’s Ducks believe and the Huskers won’t be able to game plan and execute like they did vs. Helf. I hate saying things like this, but in this case it applies: It’s going to be a physical game in the trenches and by the third quarter the Ducks should exhaust the Huskies defensive front to the point where Herbert can get a second or two extra in the pocket, which is when all six-foot-six of him gets dangerous. Take the first half under (I think it’s around 38) and look for Oregon to open up the scoring in the early minutes of the fourth.
Hawaii +21 @ UCLA
If Hawaii’s HC Nick Rolovich can continue to recruit and perform at this high level (the Warriors are 2-0 with a pair of convincing wins out of Mountain West conference play), he may be packing his bags back to the mainland as soon as next season. In the interim, the spirit of Aloha comes to Pasadena to square off this weekend against a UCLA team that played what may be remembered as the most off-key first half of college football this season, followed by the most passion-, luck- and glee-filled second half. In the end, UCLA ended up with its first W after mounting a 34-point comeback at home vs. Texas A&M on Sunday.
Emotional lows and highs combined with a short week i think play into the hands of Rolovich who has had this game circled for 18 months. Hawaii has scored a total of 79 points in their first two games showing flashes with both the run and the pass. Quarterback Dru Brown keys an uptempo offensive that tallies up 478.0 yards per game; Brown himself is in mid-season stat form with 545 yards and five touchdowns already. (Not to take anything away, but Josh Rosen is just 9 yards short of 500… after one game.)
One factor for the Warriors may be the absence of leading wideout John Ursua who is nursing a foot injury. In his stead Warrior running back Diocemy Saint Juste, who ran for 202 yards and a touchdown last week and had a whopping 181 of those yards in the first half, will have to up even his mega-production.
If UCLA can be exploited anywhere, it’s defending the run. And this is where Rolovich figures to key in early. Texas A&M practically threw a scouting report at Rolo in that showing ball control and physical play up front in the first half can basically own the Bruins (why they went away from that in the second half? …oh, wait, they were up 34, nevermind.)
I think the Warriors can trade blows for a solid three quarters, but in the end when the traditionally slow-starting Bruins shake off the hangover rust and Rosen gets his groove on, the powder blue and gold should top the Warriors by low double digits, 10 sounds about right.
OK Kyle, I have bonus Stanford at USC for the kicker. What say you before you run up that hill?
Kyle you there?
Hey AJ, I’m at Whitney base camp. We are go for ascend. Repeat. We are go. …Oh, and here are my picks:
Clemson -4.5 vs. Auburn
Oklahoma +7 vs. OSU
ND vs. UGA +4.5
MSU -7 vs WMU
Nice form. Never realized we could just shorten this whole thing down to Tweet-size. With your record over the last two seasons and the one so far, I’m sure a more digestible format that would suck in the reader even more.
In that spirit of brevity, I’ll be ending with a quick summary of:
Stanford +4 @ USC
Stanford comes off a bye week after having traveled to Australia to hand Rice a 62-7 defeat in an early season warm up the last weekend of August. During that game, The Tree proved it likely has the best secondary in their conference (perhaps tied with U-Dub) and the biggest, most formidable defensive line.
With Keller Chryst under center running David Shaw’s no-frills offense, Bryce Love getting the lion share of carries filling in Christian McCaffrey’s playmaking shoes and Stanford’s offensive line, again, stacked with cerebral giants who have nice footwork during pass protection to boot, there seem to be all the ingredients in place to be an early season Trojan-buster (sorry.)
USC hasn’t shown the extent of the offensive damage it can do when Sam Darnold pitches a complete game, and I expect the Trojans to start slow at home week two much in the same way they did vs. WMU last Saturday. Quizzically, the line has moved a point in USC’s favor which may have something to do with USC middle linebacker Cameron Smith shoring up the Trojans’ defense and re-establishing it as the college football program of record for making tackles in the backfield. If Smith and co. can uphold their end of the bargain and Darnold gives them enough time to replenish, it could lead to a photo finish.
Any USC/Stanford spread over five automatically should go to the dog because these teams traditionally play each other closer than any other rivalry in the Pac-12. Eight of the last 11 square-offs have been decided by eight points or fewer, one exception being Stanford’s 27-10 victory in Palo Alto last season. Look for USC to get back in the win column, but not by more than a field goal.
…Before I sign off I’d like to say good luck to Kyle on leading your exhibition. We make light here, but leading a pack of (eight!) first-timers up Mount Whitney is no slam dunk (22 miles r/t and about 6,100’ elevation gain), so be safe and stay dry and hydrated out there.
And to our readers and friends in Florida, we know you’re too often the butt of our jokes (it’s from a place of love, sorta) and because we’re more of a donation site than a #thoughtsandprayers operation, proceeds from my Week 2 will go towards your relief efforts. Be careful, stay safe and look out for one another.
Kyle: 2 and 2
AJ: 1 and 1
Oregon -9 vs. Nebraska
Hawaii +21 @ UCLA
Stanford +4 @ USC
Clemson -4.5 vs. Auburn
Oklahoma +7 vs. OSU
ND vs. UGA +4.5
MSU -7 vs. WMU