Remember when the 2009 college football season was supposed to be one of the most exciting ever?
- A trio of potentially all-time great quarterbacks – Sam Bradford of the Oklahoma Sooners, Colt McCoy of the Texas Longhorns and Tim Tebow of the Florida Gators – returned to pilot national championship contenders.
- Going for a second consecutive national championship with Tebow and an incredible defense returning almost entirely intact, Florida had the look of a pantheon-caliber team.
- Ohio State had a chance to make a big leap under phenom QB Terrelle Pryor, while Big 10 rival Penn State appeared ready to create an exciting Big 10 race.
- The animosity between Texas and Oklahoma seemed to have hit an all-time high.
- A host of strong challengers looked like they could push USC for the conference title in the Pac-10.
- And on and on and on.
It all sounded so promising in August. Now, in the cold light of October, reality has set in.
College football in 2009 is an ugly, boring disappointment.
Granted, it still remains the best sport around. And much of Homerism's discontent may stem from the fact that his beloved Sooners have stumbled so spectacularly to start the year.
I don't think it's just me, though. Even the most hardcore fans I know seem to agree 2009 is missing that special something.
So why does this season feel so lackluster? A few theories:
I'm not talking about blown calls and phantom penalties, easily one of the most annoying mid-season storylines that surfaces year after year.
No, I'm talking about the refereeing equivalent of judicial activism. I believe an epidemic of whistle-happiness is sweeping the college football landscape.
So far this season, the median amount of penalty yardage assessed to a team is 54.1 yards per game. That constitutes an increase of nearly 10 percent from the 2008 mark of 49.5. Likewise, the median number of penalties assessed per team has climbed from 5.8 per game in '08 to 6.5 per game in '09.
What's behind the growth in infractions? I have no idea, although it may have something to do with the recent emphasis on curbing dangerously physical play. It also could indicate an ever so slight decline in the quality of the product.
Whatever the reasons may be, the overall trend certainly detracts from the general aesthetics of the game.
*Ugly Is In
Rocket-fueled offenses were the story in college football last season, as wide-open spread attacks put up prodigious point totals. As the season wore on, it became clear that teams couldn't just beat their opponents. Style points counted.
Who could have predicted the pendulum would swing so quickly?
This season, the top three teams in the BCS rankings – Florida, Alabama and Texas – rely on unyielding defenses and count on the O just to get the job done. The Longhorns, for instance, have seen their average gain per offensive play fall nearly a full yard this year, down from 6.5 in '08 to 5.6 in '09. Texas followed up last season's 45-35 Red River Shootout victory against Oklahoma with a brutal 16-13 win indicative of the new vanguard.
I'll leave it to the purists to debate which is the purer form of the sport. All I know is that games this season have been infinitely more painful to sit through.
No single player in the history of college football entered a season with more fanfare than Tebow. Between his on-field accomplishments and off-field missionary work, the hype surrounding the Tebow phenomenon reached critical mass within minutes after the BCS title game in January. With a loaded squad around him returning to defend the Gators' national championship, this was supposed to be the year Tebow staked his claim as The Best Ever.
Well, we're halfway through Tebow IV, and it feels like we're watching Rocky V.
Florida has run its record to 7-0, but it hasn't made much of a statement. The Gators have pasted a few patsies and scraped by opponents with a pulse.
For his part, Number 15 has already equaled his 2008 interception total. Tebow's measly eight touchdown passes this year have him tied for 72nd nationally, and four of those came in a 56-6 blowout win over Troy. It has gotten so frustrating that the usually media-friendly quarterback blew off reporters after throwing two pick-sixes in an underwhelming win over Mississippi State last weekend.
Yet, week after week, we're still subjected to a steady diet of Sports Illustrated covers and GameDay features on the player who now seems like a better candidate for most overblown than most valuable.
Normally, I'd feel bad for a kid dealing with such overwhelming media exposure, but Tebow has gladly courted the spotlight.
So, sorry, Tim, but this season's suckage is your cross to bear.