Welcome back to Three Downs and Punt, where we're relieved that the Big 12 finally figured out their 2011 schedule so we can start mapping out road trips.
Before we get started, a quick 'hi' to reader Lucy T. from Tennessee.
"Ryan, I know you are a Tennessee grad and I know that shouldn't have an effect on your work, but can you tell me something that will make me feel better about Tyler Bray's 5-for-30 performance in the Orange and White game?"
No, Lucy, my class ring has no influence on what I write.
No, Lucy, I have nothing to say that will make you feel better.
To the plays!
First Down: Russell Wilson roulette
Speaking of SEC quarterbacks, the most talked-about QB in America's biggest powerhouse conference isn't even an SEC quarterback. Yet. In fact, he's not playing quarterback anywhere. He's the second baseman for the Class A Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League.
On Tuesday night I traveled to upstate South Carolina to see Russell Wilson's Tourists take on the Greenville Drive. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. The last time I'd seen him on the field it was the last Thursday of October at the North Carolina State Wolfpack's Carter-Finley Stadium.
That night he looked tired because he'd rushed for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth in an overtime win against the Florida State Seminoles. On Tuesday, he just looked tired.
"It's been a difficult few days," he admitted. "It's hard to escape all the talk about it."
"It" refers to NC State coach Tom O'Brien's decision to release Wilson from the football team and reiterate his earlier declaration that Mike Glennon will be his starting quarterback in 2011. There had been speculation that Wilson would come back this fall. O'Brien had grown tired of that speculation, ultimately fearing that it might cost him Glennon, who will graduate soon and gain the ability to transfer out of Raleigh hassle-free. Facing a potential future with either two unhappy quarterbacks or no quarterbacks at all, O'Brien cut Wilson loose.
Within the state of North Carolina the debate continues to rage over how Wilson's released was handled and how Wilson has handled the news (trust me on this, I fielded two hours of Charlotte sports talk radio callers Thursday morning). It has been particularly hard for Wilson in Asheville, which has always been an NC State-leaning city.
It got no easier in Greenville this week. Why? Because the stands of Fluor Field were packed with fans wearing South Carolina Gamecocks gear. "If you see someone in a South Carolina T-shirt tonight, they are here for one of two reasons," said Wilson's teammate, former Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker. "They're either here to boo me or to ask Russell if he's going to transfer to South Carolina."
The terms of Wilson's release say that he can play somewhere else immediately, as long as it isn't an ACC school or one of the Wolfpack's 2011 out-of-conference opponents. Just this week a source close to Wilson told Joe Schad that he was "95 percent certain" he would play another year of football. That has created an Internet feeding frenzy, with supporters of schools desperate for a signal-caller wondering aloud if the guy who led the ACC in total offense (3,563 yards passing, 435 rushing) would be a good fit for them. ESPN SEC blogger Edward Aschoff wondered aloud if he would be the right replacement for Cam Newton with the Auburn Tigers.
But on the heels of the Stephen Garcia mess, most of the "Where will he go?" talk has centered around Columbia. When I heard the news of his release my immediate reaction was to jokingly tweet that Steve Spurrier was looking into buying Greenville Drive season tickets to check out a certain Asheville Tourists infielder.
However, a deeper look says that Wilson-to-Columbia doesn't add up. First, the OBC has never been a big believer in transfers, which is to say he hates dealing with them. Second, the Colorado Rockies, parent club of the Tourists, have never expected Wilson to do anything other than fulfill his obligation to them. If he were to play out the year with Asheville, as his employers expect him to, that would have him hanging up his glove on Monday, Sept. 5. The Gamecocks will have already opened their season against the East Carolina Pirates at that point.
There is no way that Spurrier lets Wilson come in after that. Someone else, maybe, but not likely.
"It's so hard," Wilson said on Tuesday. His eyes ached like a man who doesn't want to let football go. Unfortunately, it appears that it has let him go.
Second Down: The potential power of the DoJ's letter to the NCAA
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice made public a letter sent to the NCAA with questions about the Bowl Championship Series, specifically speaking to antitrust concerns of college football's current postseason format. It asks president Mark Emmert to lay out the reasons why the NCAA doesn't employ a playoff system at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and wants to know what steps the it has or has not taken to create a playoff system.
You can read the letter in its entirety here.
Not surprisingly, the immediate reaction from fans and media alike has fallen into two groups.
The first is screaming, "The government is finally going after the NCAA! They must be shaking in their boots in Indianapolis!"
The second is saying, "Goodness gracious, with all that's going on in the world right now, it seems like a waste of taxpayers' money to have the government looking into how college football games are played."
But the fact of the matter is that the second declaration is more telling than the first. In fact, that's a direct quote from BCS executive director Bill Hancock. It doesn't take a bloodhound to smell a little fear in those words.
The reality is that, while no one likes to receive a letter from the most powerful cops in the land, the NCAA likely isn't as upset about it as people might think. In fact, there are some within its walls who are likely dancing a happy jig.
The greatest misperception about the BCS is that the NCAA runs it. The truth of the matter is that the governing body has little or nothing to do with it and holds no governing power over it. To many who work for the NCAA, the formation of the BCS has always been viewed a collegiate coup d'etat, a breakaway nation of conferences anxious to thumb their noses and steal the family jewels. Since its inception there has been a very real fear that the BCS was merely a first step toward an entirely new collegiate coalition.
Yes, the NCAA sanctions the bowl games that make up the BCS. But it does not run the title game. Yes, it polices the schools and conferences that participate in the BCS. But it does not determine who or who is not in the club.
In every other sport and at every other level, the NCAA runs the show, from painting the lines on the field to handing out the trophies. Whether you're at the Final Four, Frozen Four, or even the Division II cross country championships, you will see NCAA employees running around with walkie-talkies, frantically working to keep everything in order.
At the BCS Championship Game you will see those same folks simply sitting and watching the game, if they are there at all. And they do not like that. During one of my annual trips to the College World Series, I had a member of the office that operates football and baseball say to me, "If the BCS was out of the way, we could have a football tournament up and running in no time flat. We do this all the time."
That's why the DoJ letter is so intriguing. If you really read it, the tone is far from angry and its words are light years away from a warning. It reads like exactly what it is, a request for help, if not an invitation into an anti-BCS alliance. "Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS," antitrust chief Christine Varney writes to Emmert. "Serious questions continue to arise suggesting the current Bowl Championship Series system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws."
Emmert, who took office in October, has never shied away from the idea of a playoff. His chosen words when the topic arises are always variations of: "If the leadership of those [BCS] universities want to move in that direction, then the NCAA knows how to run championships and would be happy to help." As a former president and chancellor at BCS members Washington and LSU, it is a not-so-subtle message to his friends who ultimately make their schools' biggest decisions. Add to that the revelation that the NCAA is expanding its bowl-governing powers and it all starts to feel like a "let's ditch the BCS and create a playoff" type of equation.
The NCAA has always lacked enough real power to make that move. This week it found a potentially serious piece of leverage sitting in the mailbox.
Third Down: Cam kicks away the haters
Last Saturday, less than 48 hours after becoming the first pick of the NFL draft, Cam Newton took a giant step toward winning over Charlotte, a city split down the middle with those who wanted him to become the future of the Carolina Panthers and those who wanted him to go somewhere -- anywhere -- else.
He did it by showing up at an annual kickball game hosted by Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Jordan Gross, an event used to raise money for the fight against cystic fibrosis.
The game was held barely a mile from my house in Charlotte, so I drove over. I'll be honest, I went with the expectation that Newton wouldn't be there. And in the days leading up to the event, a few of the Heisman Trophy winner's new teammates had confided in me that they didn't expect him to show up, either.
But there he was, smiling, signing autographs and yucking it up with the likes of DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith. He only played one inning (including one very nice defensive play at third) but no one there was disappointed with his abbreviated participation. After all, he was in dress shoes and khakis.
"None of us had ever met the guy," Williams said after Newton had bolted to catch a flight. "So we knew and read the same things all the fans and the media knew and read. But all I know is that if he hadn't shown up, I don't think anyone would have blamed him. They got him running around all over the place. But he did show up. It's early yet, but that's already a pretty good sign that all the stuff you hear about him is B.S."
Punt: Special teams pep talk
Last weekend we received a lesson in the importance of the U.S. Military's Special Forces units. Last fall NCAA Division III powerhouse Linfield College got that same lesson from former Army Ranger and intelligence specialist B.Z. Brown, a close friend of the head coach, before a game against 15th-ranked Williamete. You can see the pregame speech, which compares life on the field to life in the Special Forces, here.
Not surprisingly, the Wildcats won 35-7.