A Stroke Of Football Luck
By Steve Barnes
My best friend suffered a stroke recently. The good news is that he has since been discharged from the hospital and entered a rehabilitation facility where he continues to improve dramatically.
His wife stays with him during the day, and I show up in his room to spend the night. These have been some of the coolest nights I can remember.
We have been best friends for more than three decades, and for the first time, we have an entire weekend of football planned.
Together, we have seen a lot of college football in our day. He was the quarterback of Key West High School in Florida in the early '80s, when he used to hand off to Robert "Speedy" Neal, who went on to play for the University of Miami's first national title team. That made my friend a Hurricanes fan, but he has since been reformed.
He was at my house when Boston College's Doug Flutie threw the Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan to beat the Canes. He visited me at Ole Miss for a Georgia game, and we were together at Legion Field to watch Auburn's Bo Jackson go over the top to beat Alabama, 23-22, in 1982.
We will see some more football this weekend.
It began Thursday night, when we watched Oregon-Stanford, with a dash of Baylor-Oklahoma thrown in while keeping up with his beloved Minnesota Vikings online. Our long football weekend will continue Friday straight through Monday night.
Watching games with my best friend again — what a stroke of luck for me, pun intended.
Could He Have To Face The Spear Again?: With Oregon now out of the way for the BCS title game, it appears the Big Three will be Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State competing for the top two BCS spots.
Consider this: Should Alabama lose to LSU, Auburn or in the SEC Championship Game, the national title could come down to Florida State-Ohio State. How weird would it be that Urban Meyer would have to go through his old arch-rival Seminoles in order to get the Buckeyes a national title?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, however, don't forget about Baylor. The Bears have the kind of team that can beat anyone anytime anywhere.
The Newest Hot Seat?: Virginia Tech leaves the chill of Blacksburg, Va., this weekend for the sunny warmth of Dade County to take on Miami. South Beach, however, doesn't have the only heat that Hokies head coach Frank Beamer is feeling these days. Currently the longest-tenured head coach in the nation, Beamer needs a win over the Hurricanes in the worst way. Virginia Tech's season started with a 25-point loss to Alabama that could now be somewhat discounted, considering the Tide's stellar season. But Beamer's teams have always hung their hat on being great on special teams, and Bama had two returns for touchdowns. Ouch.
Add to that a Hokies' home loss to Duke. Double ouch.
A loss — especially a bad one — to Miami will make the Tech natives restless. Ironically, this game is in Florida, once the site of another iconic coach's unceremonious ouster. If if can happen to Bobby Bowden at Florida State, it can happen to anyone.
Better Get This One Back: Texas makes the long flight from Austin to Morgantown, W.Va., to find the Mountaineers waiting. Actually, this is a pretty good match in the Big 12 and should be entertaining. It certainly will be for the fans, but there is going to be some pressure on Longhorns coach Mack Brown. He needs this win because it might be his last best-chance to get one this season.
The final three games of the year amount to a murderer's row for the Horns with their last three opponents all nationally ranked. At least Texas gets Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home before ending the season at Baylor and that circus offense.
Good luck, Mack.
Heisman Pose And Posers: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota should be the next subject for an Oliver Stone movie. On Thursday, it seemed there was a conspiracy to not only knock Oregon out of the national title hunt, but to also seriously damage Mariota's Heisman Trophy campaign.
Stanford did its part by holding onto the ball for almost three quarters. When the Ducks did get possession, they were pounded by Cardinal jerseys. After scoring more than Charlie Sheen in the 1990s, Oregon did not get on the scoreboard for the first 50 minutes in Palo Alto, Calif. Adding injury to insult, Mariota got banged up on a play in which he fumbled away the ball.
Perhaps the worst thing for Mariota on Thursday night was that the game was on national TV. He had the undivided attention of Heisman Trophy voters, and his performance was as ugly as "Any Given Sunday." Sorry, I had to make one more Stone reference.
That leaves Florida State's Jameis Winston as the Heisman front-runner. The redshirt freshman has beaten Clemson and Miami and looked good doing it. He is also saying all the right things and showing the charisma that voters like. If Winston doesn't have a drop-off against Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho or Florida, we could be looking at back-to-back freshman winners of the Heisman Trophy.
Speaking of which, don't forget about last year's winner —Johnny Manziel. The Texas A&M quarterback is still in the hunt to be the next Archie Griffin, the last player to win back-to-back Heismans in 1974-75. Circle the final two games of the season for Texas A&M as Johnny Football's make-or-break scenario. If he looks good in winning at LSU and Missouri, we could see a repeat winner.
Lost In The Shuffle: The game of the day in the SEC on Saturday will obviously be LSU at Alabama. But there are a couple of other games in the conference that are not too shabby either, beginning with Arkansas at Ole Miss. These two always play great games, going back to the days when the Hogs were in the old Southwest Conference. A win for the Rebels makes them bowl eligible. A win for the Razorbacks will give head coach Bret Bielema a signature moment to build upon.
The other intriguing game is Florida at Vanderbilt. Each team went into the season with lofty expectations, but injuries have deflated the hopes of both. There is an old saying that a wounded animal is dangerous. These two are wounded alright, and the winner might be the one who comes out less wounded in Nashville, Tenn.
My Favorites This Weekend: There will be no way that I can pull for New Mexico on Friday. Likewise Western Kentucky and Hawaii on Saturday. I have nothing personal against any of those teams, but their opponents are definitely the good guys this weekend. Air Force, Army and Navy are all playing at home and they all deserve our support.
After all, this football weekend ends on Monday — Veterans' Day.