Wild Weekends: It's Time for Football Once Again

By Phil Clark

August into September is a time of change. The daylight, the weather, and the sports. Football’s return highlights this time of the year and while some games on this first weekend never match the hype they’re given, the feeling is still magic. For many, life revolves around this game, whether playing the game or just watching it. It is a game of passion with the hard hits and extreme feelings of joy & anger to go with such passion.

It is a yearly reminder that absence does make the heart grow fonder. Regardless of what other sports are on the tube or whatever else there is to do during the spring and summer, there is also that yearning for football. It always lasts from February until late-August no matter what. There’s March Madness, almost the entire MLB season, the NBA & NHL playoffs, the NFL draft, and all the other practices and dramas that lead to this time of the year, but that slightly empty feel amongst football fans cannot go away until that first weekend comes along. For those first few days, everything is new again. And then once week two comes along everything seems normal: injuries, upsets (with an exception here and there), and all of the X’s and O’s from game-to-game.

That’s what makes the first weekend of college football so much fun: what is normal feels new, if even for a brief moment. Not only that, but because it’s the opening act, the upsets (if any) are generally bigger in terms of who upset who than what we get even in the month of craziness we know of as November.

Take what was nearly a great example from this past weekend: the Oklahoma Sooners nearly being upset by the UTEP Miners. Sure, the Miners weren’t the worst team to nearly upset a ranked opponent this weekend, but they were the closest to legitimately doing it. There was no comeback that made things close or no key turnover that turned the game around for the ranked team. In fact, most of the near-upsets this past weekend were evenly played games with the smaller or lower-ranked opponents falling thanks to a late stop or a key turnover or two or there simply not being enough time for one last drive.

With UTEP, they were in control for much of the game and it was their mistakes that were solely to blame for them not pulling the upset. The Miners missed field-goals in each of the first three quarters of the game; the first miss came on the Miners’ first possession, the second came in a 7-7 game in the second quarter, and the final miss would’ve tied the game at ten in the third quarter. The Sooners defense was in good form in this outing, as evidenced by the fact that the Miners didn’t score a single point on offense with their only points coming on a blocked punt return for a touchdown early in the opening quarter. Other than that, it was a defensive struggle and the Miners’ defense held Heisman hopeful Landry Jones and the rest of the Sonners’ offense in check for the first three quarters.

It was in the fourth that the Miners’ defense finally cracked under the weight of being solely responsible (by that point) for creating a potential major upset. And after Jones finally found his groove it was all over and the Sooners dodged a very close bullet.

College football on Labor Day has been about the ACC in recent years and this year featured two of the conference’s most consistent winners as well as two of their most inconsistently entertaining teams: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Virginia Tech Hokies. These have been the only two teams to represent the ACC’s Coastal division in the conference’s title game since the conference went to a title. The fact that the winner of the Yellow Jackets/Hokies game have always ended up winning the Coastal division was the hook for this game.

Unfortunately, the game ended up being another example of why these two teams aren’t the most compelling to watch. There were plenty of mistakes, but that can be said about most games. More than just the mistakes, there were plenty of missed opportunities from both teams as well as poor & ugly play from both for basically the entirety of regulation. The positive to come from all of this is that the game was close as those final minutes came around, and even the most boring games have an opportunity to redeem themselves late if the game is close.

This was the case on Labor Day with the Yellow Jackets showing a rare glimpse of a passing game during a last-minute drive down the field. All of the key plays, including the drive ending go-ahead touchdown, were through the air and brought some excitement to an otherwise unexciting game. But the Hokies had 44 seconds to tie the game with a field-goal. In recent years, this has been where the Hokies would fail and suffer defeat, but not this year. Not only did the Hokies get down the field in such a short amount of time and send the game into overtime, but they collectively ended the night with a victory.

In overtime, Yellow Jacket quarterback Tevin Washington erased all the heroics of his fourth quarter drive by avoiding a sack by throwing up a pass on third down that he didn’t have to. The Yellow Jackets were already in field-goal range and Washington could’ve simply taken the sack. Instead, the pass was intercepted and the Hokies’ offense moved the ball almost into the end-zone before kicker Cody Journell finished the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history with a win for the Hokies. This win likely means they will be representing the Coastal conference in the ACC title game this December.

As a young man who has grown up watching this game through times of change & scandal, this feeling of glee never escapes me in late-August. The wait is over. Anticipation is replaced with reality. All talk has commenced. Over one-hundred teams start with a dream, though many are simply fooling themselves, but that is why the games are played after all. It’s a sigh of relief for fans and followers having to watch the game suffer through a painful off-season of turmoil, scandal, controversy, and the uncovering of morally reprehensible behavior that shocked cynics of all kinds.

Now comes the time when all who love the game can begin to heal: when all who play the game step back onto the playing field. It’s now about the many different subplots that paint a football season. It’s about my favorites, the Michigan Wolverines, continuing their recovery with a man named Shoelace leading the way, though Saturday showed that recovery is still a work in progress. It’s about my home-state Wisconsin Badgers making one more charge at a national title game berth, though Saturday gave many reason to believe that the charge will fall short once again. It’s about the SEC‘s dominance over the national championship being tested once again, and if this will be the year that some team comes from somewhere, anywhere, to take the title back for the rest of the field. And it’s about the weeding out process of another deep Heisman Trophy race. Most of all, it’s about football, lots and lots of football. And like I say every year, “it’s about time.”

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