Vincent’s ACC Picks: LIGHTNING ROUND

In order to make it through all the conferences in time for the kickoff of the 2013-14 CFB season, Vincent’s playing a game of lightning round with the remaining conferences. Three topics. One post. Ten tired, Asian fingers.

by Vincent Kwan

Today, we’re picking notables out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, maybe the conference I most dreaded writing about aside from the Pac-12. Maybe I’ll turn around on the ACC. After all, the conference’s about to become Notre Dame’s de facto home, and as all good Catholics know, half-in counts, so it’s probably a good time to get used to being in Tobacco Country. Anyway, on to the ACC Lightening Round

Favorite Team: Clemson Tigers

Clemson’s the perfect team to root for from a distance. On an auditory note, I think Clemson has one of the most pleasant sounding college names as well; the way the “m” leans into the “s” is quite nice in my ears. Additionally, I’m a big fan of geographically-ambiguous college names (Bonus points for Clemson because it’s both a public university and not geographically-bound) The Tigers have had a great run of skill position players for the last couple years, transitioning from James Davis/CJ Spiller to this current golden era of Tajh Boyd/Sammy Watkins. CJ Spiller’s 2009 season is about enough to merit Clemson’s spot alone.

If I’m flipping channels and I come across a Clemson game, I’m probably going to settle in. Even Clemson losses have an essence of the spectacular to them. Now, as fine a team as Clemson is for the casual fan, there’s a reason they call inexplicably disappointing performances “Clemsoning.” For the Clemson faithful, this must be heartbreaking. For me, it’s just a reminder that college football is a beast that clings tight to its traditions. How it might try, Clemson will always be Clemson and there’s something I love about that.

Least Favorite Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

Since Michael Vick left town, Virginia Tech probably holds claim as the Boring-Best team in the country. Almost every year, they seem to make noise at season’s end and find themselves in the January bowl contention. Here is a visual guide to how Virginia Tech plays out every season:

Wait until every other team commits some sort of Harikari, and hey, Virginia Tech is in the Sugar Bowl. Because Beamer Ball is a thing, Virginia Tech is damn near unwatchable for the casual fan who isn’t turned on by playing the field position game. One of the funniest things in CFB last year to me was how long Mel Kiper and Todd McShay were adamant about keeping Logan Thomas on top of their draft boards, for no reason other than not wanting to admit that they were wrong. “How the hell are you still here?”, the story of both Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech.

All-Time Skill Position Team (VIDEO EDITION)

QB: Doug Flutie (Boston College)

RB: CJ Spiller (Clemson; SEC SPEED)

WR: Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)

WR: Peter Warrick (Florida State)

TE: G-Reg Olsen (Miami, 7th Floor Crew)

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The Not-So-Odd Couple of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”

EDM and folk music seem to be on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum. So why does Avicii make it all sound the same?

by Vincent Kwan

If I have one cultural crusade in life, it’s to preach the legitimacy of pop music. It really doesn’t bother me that our Top 40 songs are Frankensteins, focus-grouped tested bits and pieces that are sewn together for maximum brain candy appeal. The only thing I ask is that artists put in a little effort to hide the Dr. Luke algorithm that was designed to play to all of my base desires. I imagine the feeling is similar to (HYPOTHETICALLY) picking up a cross-dresser. You know it’s a dude; you already made peace with your god and whatever other qualms you might have had with that fact on the lonely car ride over. That said, presentation is still important. It’s that smear of lipstick and push-up bra that stops you from falling into complete despair. The cheap perfume allows you to stave off self-loathing, if only for a precious few moments.

If Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” was a cross-dresser, it’s hairy chest would be popping out over a tube top, package clearly protruding from a pair of Daisy Dukes. The song’s carefully calculated appeal sits behind glass walls; it’s pretty clear how the pop sausage is made. There’s an oft-circulated story about how Talladega Nights came into being. Reportedly, the pitch was simply “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver” and production was greenlit. “Wake Me Up” feels the same way. GUYS: Mumford & Sons…but for the club. Leave it to Jimmy Clausen lookalike Avicii to man the turntables and Aloe Blacc to lend a voice and prepare to Scrooge McDuck in that money.

The remarkable thing about “Wake Me Up” is not how it brazenly jams together Mumford-folk and stadium EDM, but rather, that it highlights just how damn similar its constituent genres are. The cultural perception of the two genres couldn’t be more different. Read Jessica Pressler’s profile of Avicii and you’ll get an image of the Swedish DJ that’s both unsurprising yet flattering. By virtue of being a (allegedly) fakest button twirler in a genre of button twirlers, Avicii is someone’s not too invested in musical integrity. First and foremost, Avicii is there to make the party bump, and at a jaw-dropping $20M a year, there’s considerable financial encouragement for his aesthetic. Yet, man cannot exist on oontz oontz alone. We scream out in the  electro-wilderness for a taste of something real. And after all, what’s realer than a banjo? For the Mumford set, authenticity is the name of the game. You can’t listen to a Mumford/Of Monsters and Men/Edward Sharpe song without thinking that the fucking merry-go-round is going to break if they strain themselves any harder on the choruses. If the pulsing synths of EDM is all about sex and the groin, folk is for body parts of caring: hearts and hands.

So, one half of “Wake Me Up” is defined by commercial excess and the other is almost a conscious rejection of it. How does “Wake Me Up” work so well? Well, because despite cultural framing that suggests otherwise, pop EDM and folk sound nearly identical. As I was writing this post, I remember an old Steven Hyden column on Mumford and Sons’s Tim Tebow-ness that pretty much makes this point but with far more concision. Hyden highlights the Mumford formula: “quiet verse, roaring sing-along chorus, emotionally overpowering climax.” Listen to “Little Lion Man” and see the formula at play:

The Mumford Formula could just as well be applied to EDM. Remember Avicii’s ubiquitous “Levels”?

With a slight alteration to the form – a “quiet verse,” the Etta James sample, is simply cut of the beginning of the song – the formula applies just the same. When the genres are pressed together in “Wake Me Up,” the result is seamless. The verses are the sort of power folk strum you’ve come to expect of the genre. When the beat drops for the chorus, it’s the EDM earworm we’re accustomed to hearing from Avicii. The forms merge on the bridge and the prechorus. The bass drum quarters are equally prevalent in both genres and the transition is made even smoother by synths that have the twang button TURNT UP. The first couple times I heard “Wake Me Up,” I kept looking at it as some sort of mad scientist creation. But the more I think on it, the more natural, and lucrative, of a pairing it seems. To horrifically paraphrase Gertrude Stein, A pop song is a pop song is a pop song is a pop song. It’s been a while since EDM’s given up its shame to wade in the pools of pop success. It’s time to jump in Mumford Folk, the water feels just fine.

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Vincent’s All-Time Big 12 Skill Position Team

Editor’s Note: AH. Sorry I’m so late. Vincent was out enjoying his time in Big 12 Country (i.e. Austin, TX) where he took in South Commerce and a ton of Torchy’s tacos. Results may be biased toward the Longhorns as a result.

Quarterback: Vince Young (Texas)

Offenses have gotten really crazy|sexy|cool as of late and QB statistics have been a major beneficiary. I’ve always placed Vince Young at the mountain top of Big 12 QBs but a look at QB play since VY reveals stats that don’t dwarf Young’s accomplishments, but pull him back into the pack. As great as VY was, it is his immediate successor, Colt McCoy, who holds the majority of UT’s passing records. Add in Sam Bradford and RGIII’s Heisman winning seasons and you’ve got a crowded race for the best QB in the Big 12. Sometimes, though, statistics take a backseat to impression. Of course, the nature of this column is to pick my favorite QB in the Big 12, not to pick the best QB in the Big 12 according to some quasi-pseudo objective standard. What Vince Young did in the 2006 Rose Bowl still stands, in my mind, as the most dominant performance I’ve ever witnessed. I was kind of a fledgling college football fan in 2005-06 and that game was a major reason why I was reeled in for good.

Running Back: Marcus Dupree

Can hype really destroy an athlete? It’s hard to separate between actual and implied causality when sports media is so eager to make a case for the affirmative. Before Johnny Manziel dealt with the pressures of notoriety, Marcus Dupree was the test tube of pressure. Dupree’s story is captured in both Willie Morris’s The Courting of Marcus Dupree and Jonathon Hock’s 30 for 30 entry The Best that Never Was, both of which shed light on the Wild West days of college recruiting. Dupree’s Fiesta Bowl game, where he showed up overweight and ran for a record 239 yards on 17 carries and still got reamed by Barry Switzer, is one of my favorite stories in sports because it challenges so much of what we think good athletes should be or do. Dupree’s football career sadly unraveled after that game, a unfortunate or poetic circumstance, depending on how you looked at it (I tend to look at the former). But for being, truly, man, myth, and legend, you’ve got a spot on the team, Marcus.

Wide Receiver: Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech)

VY’s Rose Bowl game was a sustained stretch of dominance. If you asked me what the beastliest individual play I had ever seen was though, it was undoubtedly Michael Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown against Texas in 2008. With 8 seconds left on the clock, you might think Crabtree would sprint out of bounds to get another play in. I think the two Longhorn DBs though that too. Instead, Crabtree decided to win the game then and there for the Red Raiders.

Wide Receiver: Jordan Shipley (Texas)

Jordan Shipley had a fantastic career as a Longhorn, but really, the reason why he’s on this list is because of those sweet white arm bands/tourniquets that him and the other Texas receivers wore all the time. I never really understood what they were for but form far surpasses function in this case. So Jordan Shipley, due to your abundance of elbow swag, welcome to the team.

Tight End: Trey Millard (Oklahoma)

Millard, I guess? He’s more of an H-Back, but I’ll put him in the TE spot for my all-time list. Not too many notable TEs in the Big 12; I thought about guys like Jermaine Gresham or Chase Coffman, but honestly, I remember everything else going on in their offense a lot more than their contributions to them. Millard takes the spot thanks to this bad ass jump truck move he sprung on some unsuspecting Texas defenders last year

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Matt’s Favorite of the Big 12: West Virginia

by Matt Waller

WVU

Image courtesy of Flickr user pcscheid

After what I wrote yesterday regarding Kansas State’s inferiority complex and some of its fans’ attempts to deflect negative stereotypes onto West Virginia, it should be no surprise that today I’m picking West Virginia as my favorite team in the Big 12. It’s a no brainer. I grew up in West Virginia during the tail end of the Nehlen era and almost the entirety of the Rich Rod era. It was a solid stretch for the WVU program. After high school, I left West Virginia to attend Notre Dame. Some West Virginians actually consider this an unforgivable breach of loyalty and identity, and I’ve talked to people who’ve told me I can never be considered a “true” WVU fan again. That’s fine, I guess — I’m still allowed to shotgun Natty Lights in the Blue Lot when I make it back to Morgantown, right? Regardless of how I’m viewed by those back home who consider me a traitor, I’ll still be preaching the Gospel According to Dana here in Chicago to anyone who’ll listen.

What’s great about being a WVU fan? First, drinking. That goes without saying and requires no elaboration.

But being a WVU fan and seeing WVU succeed on the field is also something that gives many West Virginians, and I certainly include myself here, an unmatched sense of pride in the state. Sure, the vast majority of the roster is made up of kids from Florida, Texas, and other states (though in the rare cases where a West Virginian plays a notable role on the team, he becomes a veritable folk-hero-Mountaineer-demigod, and rightfully so). But the fact is that these out-of-state players come to WVU and knowingly choose to represent the state of West Virginia (Is it naive of me to think that? Probably, but whatever.); once a player gets to Morgantown, the state considers him a de facto West Virginian, and that’s that. We’re talking instant first-name basis familiarity.  Stedman, Tavon, and Geno may as well have grown up in Parkersburg, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg (rather than Miramar and Baltimore).

It’s odd (and maybe sad, I’m not sure), but the West Virginia athletic program is currently one of the only vehicles through which the state is able to garner positive national attention for itself on a regular basis (though of course, the program gets its fair share of negative attention as well). Ask someone from outside of West Virginia to tell you something positive about the state, and the answer will likely involve Pat White, Steve Slaton, or Major Harris. (The answer is not likely to involve education, median income, or health.) In addition to living with the real shortcomings of the current state of affairs in WV (and they are manifold, to be sure), West Virginians — both current residents and expats — also have to deal with outsiders’ imagined notions of the state. This basically involves having to prove to people  that you still have teeth and that you are able to read, and it often involves saying, “No, I have never met the banjo kid from Deliverance, and did you know that that movie/novel is actually set in Georgia?” That’s what happens when a.) a state has a certain historical reputation, and b.) people have little incentive to visit the state and be proven otherwise. So it goes.

All of that isn’t to say that all West Virginians actually care about outside perceptions; I can assure you that many don’t (this is paradoxically a great strength and a major weakness of the state as a whole). But still, the “backward” image persists and the stereotypes prevail, and autumn Saturdays give West Virginia — and West Virginians — a rare opportunity for superiority on the national stage. West Virginia football brings the state (excepting Marshall fans) together in a way that little else does. Most West Virginians are fiercely independent, skeptical, and even cynical (there’s no sense in trying to romanticize it any other way). But Saturdays in the fall bring everyone from Bluefield to Wheeling together in the hopes that their team will deliver the blows on behalf of a state so used to receiving them.

Oh yeah, there’s also Dana Holgerson and one of the most exciting offenses in college football. There’s also the fact that WVU has won three BCS bowls over major programs (Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson). There’s also the legendary Quincy Wilson touchdown against Miami in 2002 (see below), which is one of my greatest football memories ever. I could go on for a while, but I think I’ll go drink a beer and watch some highlights.

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Vincent’s Favorite in the Big 12: Baylor

by Vincent Kwan

This is nominally a post about Baylor Football, but as you’ll find out as your read on, it’s more accurately a love letter to Baylor head coach Art Briles. Unlike the PAC 12, where I struggled to find teams that I truly liked (or had any strong feelings for), the Big 12 is home to three of my favorite coaching personalities in the college football: Briles, Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury and WVU’s Dana Holgorsen. Being Matt’s team of choice, I’ll leave it to Matt to do more Justice to WVU than I ever could.

That leaves us with Kingsbury and Briles. For the sake of this post, lets imagine these two at a Crossfit gym together. It’s not hard – if you’ve ever been in one, you’ve either got young power yuppies who look like Kingsbury or older dudes like Briles with their old man strength. Holgorsen, for good measure, is outside drinking a pint of Four Roses while doing bicep curls over his Trans Am.

Kingsbury’s eager to please, talking about the additional benefits of his Vibram Five Fingers and preaching the gospel of the Paleo diet. You stare at him from afar, with one part envy, one part sexually confusing attraction, and two parts pure seething hatred. You see him load up another plate on to the bar and think “God, I hope that douchebag falls on his ass,” but he doesn’t, finishing his set with perfect form. Later in the night, he’ll probably scoop in and take the girl you were eyeing at the bar. Initially, you’re angry, but then you realize a simple truth — there are those of us who are blessed with GQSWAGGERHOLLYWOOD status and there are those of us who are not. Who are we to hate on the Heisman-tutelage and Ryan Gosling looks of those more fortunate than us?

While you’ve been working out latent self-esteem issues thinking about Kingsbury, Briles has long finished his workout. As he walks out, he turns your way and says goodbye, pulling out his earbuds and revealing that he’s been listening to Young Jeezy this entire time. Slowly, you turn off your iPod that’s been playing that Ariana Grande song on repeat, hiding your shame. You slowly approach Briles and ask him what the secret to it all is, and he simply says “so what was, ain’t. It’s done.” You’re not entirely sure what transpired here, but next thing you know, you’re wearing green and gold and writing a check for a new Baylor stadium.

Kingsbury’s return to Lubbock echoes Briles’s return to Houston years ago, where he lead his alma mater to renewed relevance largely under the hot hand of Kevin Kolb. Now, the great question facing Kingsbury is whether or not his rising star was propelled solely by the prowess of his prized pupil, Johnny Manizel. When Robert Griffin III left for the NFL, Briles faced the same question and answered brilliantly, using holdover Nick Florence to lead the 11th best offense in the country (only a drop off of 6 spots from the previous, RG III-led year). Football Study Hall committed a two-part series on the Baylor offense, explaining the many ways it can hurt you and offering limited solutions on defense in return. The aerial assault of Briles’ Baylor teams belies the fact that Briles offers more flexibility than you would think. As discussed in Spencer Hall’s interview with Briles, Baylor’s demolishing of UCLA in the Holiday Bowl last season featured only 12 passes from Nick Florence, who had just posted a season of comparable quality to his Heisman predecessor. It makes you think twice about Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk’s boasting about the Heisman – there’s just enough grain of truth there to stop you from betting short on it all the way. Briles is an old hand at swaggerin‘, Kingsbury’s just working his way up to it.

Who knows if Baylor can play enough defense to get out of the Big 12′s middle tier. If they can poach the best talent that the Longhorn state has to offer on both sides of the ball, maybe you might see a more complete Baylor team take the field. But then again, would you complain if you had to watch this again? Art Briles is a craftsman, solely dedicated to building the purest spread. We shouldn’t ask for too much more than that.

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Matt’s Least Favorite of the Big 12: Kansas State

Editor’s Note: Another week, another conference. This time, Matt and Vincent talk about favorites and least favorites in the Big 12.

By Matt Waller

Having grown up in West Virginia and been a lifelong WVU fan, most of my WVU-related hatred (which is different from my ND-related hatred; more on that in the Big 10 week) is reserved for old Big East rivals, namely Pitt and Virginia Tech. But now that WVU is in the Big 12, new rivalries will emerge. Since WVU is so geographically removed from the rest of the conference, its new rivalries will develop based on something other than geographic proximity, unlike what happened in the Big East with the Pitt and VT rivalries. What will spur the new rivalries? And who is emerging as a potential new rival? My vote for the new rival is Kansas State, because I think KSU sees a little too much of itself in the tired stereotypes about WVU and is responding by directing a bunch of hate WVU’s way. Looking at some comments from the KSU fanbase on the fan forum www.goemaw.com (it seems like a real font of wisdom) leading up to last year’s game against WVU (see below: click the image and then enlarge it to make it readable), I’ve gotta say: KSU, thou doth protest too much.

I know it’s rash to generalize about an entire school based on the comments of some select idiot fans in an online forum, but in this case, I couldn’t help it. The comments in the screenshot below have officially made Kansas State my least favorite team in the Big 12. To quickly summarize the comment thread: the original poster wonders if Kansas State traveling to Morgantown to play WVU will irreparably tarnish KSU’s image, now that KSU has “spent far too many years building it up to be in line with the notre dame and alabamas of the world” (I can’t tell if this is a serious comment or not, considering it took Big 12 games being shown on FX to get KSU anything resembling consistent airtime…). What results a pretty massive troll-job involving a series of comments in which KSU fans decry WVU in an attempt to defend their own notions of KSU as an elite program (“I say let’s give them a break. They’ve never played anyone as elite as us before.” Note: In the prior seven seasons, WVU had won three BCS bowls, against Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson.) and elite academic institution. The comments are, of course, full of the usual stereotypes: toothless hillbillies, poor, drug addicted, etc. It’s hard to tell who is being serious and who isn’t being serious in their comments, but it’s pretty absurd nonetheless.

K-State_message_board

Could it be, though, that Kansas State fans realize that their own town/program/fanbase/school have reputations very similar to WVU’s and, correspondingly, they need to deflect those ideas onto someone else? That’d be my guess (this post gives a quick summary of the irony involved in this whole thing). Both KSU and WVU are located in small, out-of-the way towns; neither school is academically remarkable; both programs are fairly new to the “elite” ranks of college football (though WVU, unfortunately, appears to be falling out of that category pretty quickly)  and are concerned with how to project themselves; both too often end up being the butt of jokes. So, perhaps a new rivalry will be defined by a shared loathing arising from each school seeing the worst of itself in the other. I’m sure that, like WVU fans, most KSU fans are decent, respectful people whose reputation gets sullied by the actions of just a few. I’ll also add that I very much respect what Bill Stewart has done to establish KSU as a legit college football program. Either way, unless something changes dramatically, KSU has earned its place as my least favorite team in the Big 12. And I must say, it feels good to have someone to replace Pitt in my ranks of the disliked.

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Vincent’s Least Favorite in the Big 12: Oklahoma

Editor’s Note: Another week, another conference. This time, Matt and Vincent talk about favorites and least favorites in the Big 12.

by Vincent Kwan

Outside of being part of a fanbase that regularly wins National Championships (ROLLTIDEROLL), the best kind of team to cheer for is the one that always overachieves. The stars shine brightly for a constantly overlooked team in a bad market that continually finds itself in a bowl game on or after New Year’s. The fanbases of the Kansas States and Wisconsins of the world are continually appreciative, they’re getting something more beautiful than they could have hoped for.

Oklahoma is on the opposite side of that coin. In the Bob Stoops era, Norman’s been home to two Heisman winners, a national championship, and some of the most dynamic offenses in college football history. When you have that much recent legacy, as a fan base, you’d be right to expect big things every year. But the difficult thing about expectations are that they make success the new normal and leave you more increasingly exposed to disappointment and heartbreak. From an outsider’s perspective, making four national championships in less than 15 years is a dream, but when you have suffer through three national championships losses, that’s a different story. In recent seasons, Oklahoma seems to be defined more by their losses than their accomplishments.

The Sooners suffered two straight National Championship losses in 2003 and 2004 (the 2004 spanking at the hands of USC stands out particularly), but it was 2006 that cemented Oklahoma’s bridesmaid status. Oklahoma played the giant to Boise St.’s David and their Fiesta Bowl loss, one of the most entertaining games in recent memory, ushered in a new era of respect for mid-major football. Adding insult to injury, Oklahoma’s loss to an upstart Boise St. team made them a symbol of the traditional powers loosening their grip, ever slightly, on college football’s pinnacle. The next season would find the Sooners losing to a West Virginia team that had just been unceremoniously abandoned by Rich Rodriguez.

The seasons since for Oklahoma have followed a similar pattern: high expectations met with inopportune losses and unsatisfying results. Oklahoma, like Adam and Eve, have experienced utopia, only exacerbating their pain for having now been cast out of it. Oklahoma fans can often be found glibly describing to others what it was like to feel the providence of God/the BCS, reminding themselves that they, not those football heathens in Manhattan and Ames, have tasted divinity. But in the end, Sooner boasts carry no weight among the philistine ears of the Big 12′s middle tier, only perpetuating the wretchedness that comes with having known glory, only to lose it.

Whatever. Fuck whatever school makes videos like this:

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Vincent’s All-Time Pac 12 Skill Position Team: Meditations on McLeod Bethel-Thompson

I have a feeling my team is going to be a lot more dysfunctional than Matt’s (and leaning more on players’ NFL careers as well). As you’ll see, I’ve placed a big emphasis on players who’ve outperformed expectations both on- and off- the field. As for how they would play together, good god, this team would be a train wreck. But, as the adage goes, you wouldn’t be able to keep yourself from looking at it. Anyway, on to the picks!

Quarterback: McLeod Bethel-Thompson (UCLA)

If you’re reading this blog, you likely remember/experienced/drank and sobbed through the 2007 Notre Dame football season. That 3-9 season was the worst in Notre Dame history, highlighted (lowlighted?) by 0-38 losses to both Michigan and USC and the team losing to Navy for the first time in 44 attempts. The team’s first win of the season was posted against a UCLA team that had their first- and second-string quarterbacks knocked out of action, forcing them to play third string walk-on McLeod Bethel-Thompson, a man whose name befits a law firm more than a football jersey. That game featured 140 total yards from the Fighting Irish (less than half of UCLA’s output) and no touchdowns other than a Jimmy Clausen sneak and a Mo Crum fumble recovery. Bethel-Thompson, seeing his first game action, posted  an inspired12/28 for 139 yards, 0 TDS, 4 INTS, and 1 fumble lost for a touchdown statline in UCLA’s 6-20 loss to the Irish. After that season, Bethel-Thompson transferred to D I-AA Sacramento State where he finished his career with a sub-50% completion rate.

You may have thought the McLeod Bethel-Thompson story came to an end after an uncelebrated stint in D I-AA football. Rational thought would lead you to no other conclusion. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that this man, this third-string walk-on scrub, was currently gainfully employed as a third-string QB for the Minnesota Vikings. I contemplated putting Matt Leinart in this slot; despite his pro failings, he had what was quite possibly the best career of any quarterback in college football history. But Leinart, unlike my man MBT, currently is without an NFL job and is getting shade thrown his way by his college football contemporaries who’ve gone on to bigger and better things. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, for succeeding despite all rational expectations to the contrary, you win the top spot in my All-time Pac 12 team.

Running Back: LenDale White (USC)

With all the “is he/isn’t he fat” discussion over Eddie Lacy, let’s not forget the contributions of unquestionably out-of-shape/shockingly effective LenDale White. White’s reduced to a punchline nowadays but his on-field accomplishments, namely forming college football’s most destructive “Thunder and Lightening” backfield with Reggie Bush  and vulturing double digit touchdowns from Chris Johnson, were nothing to shrug at. The real reason LenDale White holds a permanent place in heart, however, was his claim that he dropped 30 lbs solely by cutting Patron out of his diet. After cutting his tequila weight, White’s productivity took a sharp turn downward (see our first installment of Kwanametrics below), proving the football gods work in bizarre ways:

Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 6.16.52 PM

Kwanametrics: Did cutting Patron help LenDale White?

In his halcyon, Patron-chugging days of 2008, White scored 15 touchdowns. After cutting it out of his diet, his production dropped to 2 touchdowns.

Conclusion: Cutting Patron did not help LenDale White.

Wide Receiver: Mike Williams (USC)

USC receiver Mike Williams had a stellar freshman and sophomore year at USC and then decided to put all his eggs into the Maurice Clarett legal train, believing he could declare for the 2004 NFL draft immediately after his Sophomore year. Silly Mike Williams! After having a positive lower court ruling reversed in the Federal appellate court by panel including none other than future Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor, denying him and Clarett the opportunity to participate in the 2004 NFL Draft, Williams had no choice but to sit out an entire season of football. Despite sitting a year out of football, Williams was still drafted in the first round by the Detroit Lions (as they are wont to do) where he underwhelmed before finding a short-lived career resurrection with Pete Carroll’s Seahawks. Becoming a millionaire (albeit briefly) and having my name tied to a high-profile federal court case are among my life’s goals, and Mike Williams, for having accomplished both of those things, I salute you.

Wide Receiver: Jeff Maehl (Oregon)

Not much to say about Jeff Maehl. Not much he would say about himself. Hard-working. High motor. While Darron Thomas and LaMichael James were scorching the earth and grabbing headlines, Maehl was the gritty, white man hustle glue that quietly put together the best non-Cam Newton college football team of 2010.  Here, enjoy this highlight video of Maehl set to similarly gritty rapper Eminem’s “Cinderalla Man” :

Tight End: Tony Gonzalez (Cal)

Undoubtedly the elder statesman of my All-Pac 12 team, Tony Gonzalez earns the TE spot for helping redefine the position was his versatile play and continually turning back the clock to rack up incredible statistics as he nears 40. A consummate professional, I was happy to see Gonzalez win his first playoff game last year as an Atlanta Falcon. It’s almost a disservice to him to place him on this mostly farcical list, but Tony Gonzalez definitely earns his spot as a member of my All Pac-12 team.

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Matt’s All-Time Pac 12 Skill Position Team: Are You Not Entertained?

For each conference, we’re picking our all-time favorite set of skill position players (1 QB. 1 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE). The purpose of this isn’t to pick the best players of all time, but just to pick and write about our favorites or throw together an interesting group of players and imagine what they would’ve been like on the field together.

If the Pac 12 has had nothing else, it’s had a bunch of colorful characters over the past couple decades, and those guys are the focus of my team. These guys (with one exception) would dominate the headlines for their antics, and they’d also be a pretty damn good team on the field. Here goes.

Quarterback: Ryan Leaf (Washington State)

leafRyan Leaf has become such a caricature that people forget he was actually a great college quarterback: in 1998, he finished third in Heisman voting and led WSU to a Pac-10 championship. But the real reason I picked Ryan Leaf (other than the fact that he, Marshawn Lynch, Keyshawn Johnson, and Gronks would form the Most Interesting Team in the World) is that he’s the most fun Pac 10/12 quarterback to Google. Here are some results on the first few pages of a simple search: “Are the Ryan Leaf Comparisons Fair for Johnny Manziel?”(Bleacher Report), “Why Jimmy Clausen is the Second Coming of Ryan Leaf” (Bleacher Report… Ryan Leaf is basically the human version of Bleacher Report, or vice versa, I think), a few dozen “turning over a new Leaf” puns, and this picture.

Running Back: Marshawn Lynch (Cal)

Beast Mode. Skittles. Grills. It’s only a matter of time before Marshawn Lynch becomes Cal-Berkeley’s 72nd Nobel laureate.

Wide Receiver: Keyshawn Johnson (USC)

C’MON, MAN! After all the USC hating in this blog over the past couple days, I’m picking a USC player? Yep. I actually don’t mind Keyshawn, though that’s probably because I’m too young to remember him playing for USC (though his numbers were ridiculous). He’s a pretty entertaining guy, and he’d fit in perfectly with Leaf, Lynch, and Gronks (though probably not with Mark Bradford: see below) to help make this Pac 12 ensemble one of the most brash and talented groups you could put together.

Wide Receiver: Mark Bradford (Stanford)

Who is Mark Bradford? Yeah, I didn’t know either, until I Googled “guy who scored the game-winning touchdown in Stanford’s huge upset of USC”. Mark Bradford is that guy. If you don’t remember this specific game, it was in 2007, USC was #1 in the Coaches’ Poll, and Stanford was 1-3 and a 41-point underdog. Long story short, Stanford mounted a fourth-quarter comeback that culminated in a game-winning touchdown reception by none other than Mark Bradford. He’s a bit of a misfit on this team of otherwise notably insane individuals, but he’s earned his spot. Though I forgot his name for a while (if I ever knew it), Mark Bradford will always live on as a legend in my books. 

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski (Arizona)

Actually, it might not be a good idea to put Gronks and Ryan Leaf on the same team. I doubt they’d last a full season without at least one of them ending up seriously injured, incarcerated, or both. But Gronks is both a beast (obviously) and just the right amount of crazy to fit into this team. To be honest, I don’t remember him playing in college at all, but that’s on me because his stats are pretty impressive. The combination of talent and entertainment value is too much to pass up here.

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Vincent’s Favorite of the PAC 12: Oregon

I like what Oregon stands for more than I actually like the team itself, but their stamp on the culture of college football, not to mention their sustained success over the past decade, is, to me, significant enough to place the Ducks on top of the Pac-12 mountain.

Oregon’s brand of football is maybe the most viscerally appealing in the sport. If you were trying to convert someone to college football and could only show them one game, one of Oregon’s routine 50+ point showings might be a good choice. Unlike the leaden shoes that much of the SEC can tend to play with, Oregon, much like the Grecian namesake of its corporate benefactor, plays the game on wings, emphasizing speed and space. If you prefer to ignore my overwrought analogies, here, watch De’Anthony Thomas do some crazy shit. Related, and this is a love/hate proposition for most people, but I personally love the Oregon jersey swagger. There are definitely some uni combinations that work better than others for the Ducks but their attitude toward experimentation is a refreshing change of pace from, say, a Notre Dame fan base that can fethisize tradition at times.

Both strategically and sartorially, the Oregon Ducks have drawn the ire of football traditionalists who seem to think their style of play isn’t “normal American football.” Making normative statements on football is a futile exercise, because honestly, the game hasn’t stayed static enough throughout its history to even refer to a normal period. Other detractors cite injury concerns that come from playing an up-tempo spread. If anything, the spread, which privileges lighter, faster athletes and 1-on-1 matchups, seems to be a preferable alternative to the “battering ram” philosophies of offense that contributed to the concussion crisis that currently threatens the future of football. Regardless of whether the spread is actually better than “three yards and a cloud of dust” from an injury standpoint, a lack of hard data to substantiate either point means that the injury scare of the up-tempo offense is just another manifestation of a reactive conservatism that sprung up with the rise of Oregon and its spread brethren.

Oregon is definitely a team with issues to work out. As innovative as the team has been, it still falls prey to the same recruiting scandals that plague the traditional powers. How well its offense performs against dominant defensive teams is an open question; recall Oregon’s performance against Matt’s Pac 12 frenemy Stanford last year to see how hyperspeed matches up against good ol’ fashioned toughness. But in the often stagnant world of college football, Oregon continues to play with a mad scientist irreverence that challenges the way we think about the game and keeps us on our seats wondering what’s coming next.

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