Over the past few weeks a college football writer, who I shall not refer to by name, has been vocal to the point of insulting, in his belief that 'mental toughness' of young athletes plays a huge part in inconsistent week-to-week performance, played a huge part in the wave of upsets last weekend, and that 'sandwich', 'trap', 'lookahead', 'hangover', and 'letdown' games are engrainged in college football because of it. We're not sure why he is so angry? I am not sure you would find many football fans who would argue that the emotions and mental toughness of college football players and coaches can, and do, play a huge part in the final outcome (see Bo Pelini last Saturday night). One of the key expectations for any football coach is that they have their players physically and mentally prepared (read: fired up) to play each Saturday. Many teams even employ sports psychologists at enormous salaries. Do teams lose because they get caught 'looking ahead'? Maybe, but it's a myth to think you can distinguish getting outplayed and being'sandwiched', 'trapped', 'hungover', 'letdown' or any other ridiculous adjective you can think of to rationalize an upset.
Claiming to reconcile the level of 'mental toughness' of a group of 60+ college athletes week-to-week based on final scores and what you see on TV is complete bullshit. I am sure some of you believe that the reason Oregon State and RB Jacquizz Rodgers were able to gash USC's porous defense as 25 point home underdogs last Thursday for 186 yards on 37 carries, including 7 or more yards on 8 of his first 11 carries, was because Rey Maualuga and the Trojans 'D' were not 'mentally tough'. If you can prove it with data, I'll buy you lap dances for a week at 20's. What I saw last Thursday night was DLs standing up on running plays, LBs over-running plays, and more ball-tackling in USC's secondary than I saw when Dr. D 'accidentally' wondered into the gay end of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras 2000. Why can't USC get beat by a better team on a given night? Why do we feel the need to marginalize upsets with bullshit claims of 'look ahead' and 'trap' games? Here is what a talented sportswriter, Bruce Felmdan of ESPN the Magazine, had to say about the USC-Oregon State game, which he called the biggest upset of the year:
"Oregon State over USC, 27-21: Sure, the Trojans lost to the Beavers on their last trip up to Corvallis, but this was supposed to be a much better USC team than that bunch two years ago. And these Beavers appeared to be so much worse than the 2006 squad. Heck, they'd already lost to Stanford and got drilled by Penn State, so what could the mighty Trojans do to them? After all, USC had just destroyed Ohio State 35-3. Some were touting this as Pete Carroll's best team ever. The defense, loaded with projected future first-rounders, looked dominant. Vegas made OSU a 25-point underdog. Then 5-foot-6-inch Jacquizz Rodgers, a Texan playing in only his fourth college game, ran all over USC for 186 yards and two touchdowns, as State carved up that vaunted Trojans D, bewildering the USC defensive front. By halftime it was 21-0. It wasn't as shocking as Stanford's win at USC last year, but given how the Beavers just took it to the Trojans on both sides of the ball, it was more impressive. This really wasn't so much a case of USC beating itself; it was Oregon State executing a great scheme and playing its butt off."
Wow, I could not have said it better myself. Bruce, next time you are in the Valley of the Sun, beers are on me.
Let me explain, with data, why NONE of the other Top 10 upsets from last weekend had anything to do with looking ahead, behind, or any other direction. First up is Florida. Some would think Florida lost in a 'letdown' game because of an emotional win at Tennessee the week before. Really? Didn't seem to affect Tennessee nearly as much as they almost won at Auburn (I guess Auburn could have been 'hungover' or 'letdown' from the loss to LSU the week before). However, the true reason why Florida has no excuse is that, much like USC's loss, Florida LOST in Gainsville the last time Mississippi visited in 2003. You wouldn't think you would look past a team that beat you as a 12 point underdog the last time they visited? Surely Urban Meyer reminded his players of that embarrassment and if he didn't have his team mentally prepared to face an improved and talented Rebel squad, then Florida alums should be demanding some explanation.
Next up is Wisconsin. With a 19-0 halftime lead at Michigan last week, there is little chance they came out 'looking ahead' to the Ohio State game this Saturday. This really wasn't that big of an upset either. I mean Phil Steele listed Michigan as his 'Underdog Play of the Week'. Should be no suprise here. Lastly, let's look at Georgia. Do you really think Georgia was in 'hangover' or 'letdown' situation after their big win in Tempe the week before? ESPN Game Day was there, the team wore all black, and it was the first time Sanford Stadium hosted teams ranked this high in 25 years. Georgia was flat-out whipped on both sides of the ball.
Here is what Mark May said of Bama's huge win:
"If you dominate a game up front, you're going to win that game nine times out of 10. Alabama dominated the line of scrimmage, committed just one penalty, didn't turn the ball over and played smart and played hard. That's how you beat the nation's third-ranked team on the road."
I haven't agreed with ESPN like this since they fired Michael Irvin. Georgia head coach Mark Richt said after the game, "We just got whipped, There’s no excuses, and don’t expect any from me.” Touche Coach, touche. Now if only the experts would stop making excuses for you.
However, if you still believe in this 'look ahead' nonsense, then I invite you to call the Malouf brothers and reserve the Rain Man Suite at the Palms this weekend because there are two absolute locks on the schedule (and the talent at the Palms was so strong last Saturday night that I was walking around like Ron Burgundy in the office). Nebraska (+11 vs. Mizzou) and Wisconsin (+3 vs. Ohio State) are simultaneously in 'letdown', 'hangover', 'sandwich', and 'look ahead' games on Saturday and each team only plays once! Nebraska plays at Texas Tech next weekend and surely Wisconsin will be looking ahead to the game against Penn State at home next weekend. Actually, that's just dumb.