Should the “Death Penalty” be in the cards for Baylor football?

Going as far back as two years ago, we were hearing stories about Baylor football taking cases of potential sexual assault by its players – ahem! – lightly. 10 days ago, the biggest bombshell of them all dropped, and it confirmed that our worst possible apprehensions couldn’t begin to cover the horror happening at BU.

When former Baylor assistant coach Colin Shillinglaw was fired along with head coach Art Briles, he sued the school for wrongful termination. In response, the university regents have essentially decided to chop off the arm to save the body, because the information they released makes everyone associated with Baylor look bad. Indeed, three Baylor regents released a series of rather embarrassing text messages between Briles, staff members and even then-athletic director Ian McCaw that show Baylor football had become a cesspool of crime, cheating and complete absence of accountability.

You can get all the damning details in this excellent story by Deadspin’s Patrick Redford. Suffice it to say that Baylor, a desperately terrible program before Briles’ arrival, was so starved for success that it not only allowed bums and criminals to enroll at the university and play on its team, but covered up their transgressions to keep them on the roster.

Remember when the college football world was glorifying defensive end Shawn Oakman? You know, this fuckin’ dude?

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He’s a guy whom Baylor took on after he was kicked off Penn State’s team by Bill O’Brien because he was being charged with theft and disorderly conduct. Redemption stories are great, until they turn into that same guy, all 6-7 and 280 pounds of him, shoving a Baylor student into a wall, then slamming her face into her bed, calling her a “slut” and a “whore.” They become worse when word breaks out that she went to Baylor athletics to tell her story and they chose to sit on the information.

This is just a sample. On the topic of sexual assault alone, the allegation is that as many as 31 Baylor football players committed as many as 52 acts of rape and that, for all intents and purposes, Baylor football went out of its way to cover many if not all of them up.

I find myself wishing, above all, that those who have committed these acts, and those who helped cover them up, get what is coming to them from the criminal justice system. We can talk as much we like about what the NCAA will do (or won’t) about this, but I want to see the guilty parties get the criminal sanctions they deserve.

Should Baylor get the “Death Penalty?” 

For all those unfamiliar with the concept, the “Death Penalty”, or the “Repeat-Violator Legislation,” to call it by its actual name, consists in shutting down an NCAA athletic program for at least a year. Its effects on said programs are, to put it mildly, devastating. It has only been handed down five times by the NCAA, the most famous of instance of this being SMU football. SMU were shut down in 1987 by the NCAA for systemic and recurrent violations of NCAA recruiting rules, and the mandatory year of inactivity was accompanied by loss of scholarships as well as by bowl game bans. Since SMU football, whose case had no precedent in modern college football when it got the Death Penalty, still has not recovered from the sanctions imposed on it, the NCAA has been loath to administer it again.

But should they do it to Baylor?

It would seem that, as far as cases for the Death Penalty go, this one would be as compelling as it gets. SMU is child’s play compared to this. The NCAA has often sanctioned teams for failing to exercise “institutional control.” Well, in Baylor’s case, it’s an actual refusal to exercise institutional control. We may smirk at the maxim that says “with great power comes great responsibility” because most of us have heard it in Spiderman. Yet, it remains true. And not only were Briles’ players not taught to use the power that comes with being big, strong, athletic and notorious responsibly, they were pretty much being told that being big, strong, athletic or notorious enough can actually allow them to escape responsibility for their actions. There is no denying that what took place within Baylor’s football team was an absolute calamity.

As for the question of whether Baylor should get the Death Penalty, however, I must admit to being a little torn, because I like neither the thought of giving it nor the thought of not giving it.

On the one hand, I hate the idea of punishing people for the deeds of others, and that’s what would be happening here should the NCAA administer Baylor football the Death Penalty. New coach Matt Rhule and his staff, new athletic director Mack Rhoades, and all the players in this year’s recruiting class, none of them played any part in the “disciplinary black hole” that Briles and his staff established. I’m not fond of punishing them for something they didn’t do.

As far as the players go, they would obviously be given the right to transfer without losing a year of eligibility, as ordinary transfer rules would require. However, let’s not kid ourselves, this is still punishment. Beyond having to pick a different college than the one they wanted, they also would have to fit into a team that has recruited past them after they committed to Baylor. And before somebody makes the argument, we cannot pretend this year’s class of freshmen were seduced by Briles’ show-’em-a-good-time tactics, another illegal and unethical trademark of the previous regime. Of the 27 commitments in Baylor’s 2017 recruiting class, only one (!!!) had pledged to Baylor before Rhule was hired less than two months before signing day. (If Rhule decides to leave, and he probably should, this recruiting tour-de-force should serve as further evidence that the athletic director who ends up hiring him will have made a shrewd move indeed.) Rhule and his staff have done nothing to deserve this either, except agree to coach at Baylor.

It should be said that things do not look good, given that the NCAA web site already has a built-in response to my “don’t punish the innocent” argument:

The simple fact is that the punitive nature of NCAA-imposed sanctions make it unavoidable that the penalties imposed on institutions as a result of their involvement in major infractions will have some negative effect on innocent student-athletes.

Obviously, should we get any evidence that what happened under Briles is still happening, I would be quick to revisit my position on this front. As things stand, however, I’m not fond of handing down such heavy sanctions on people who have done nothing to deserve them. It’s why I argued against imposing it on Penn State five years ago, and it’s why I’m queasy about handing it to Baylor now.

But then, there is the matter of the message you’re sending if you don’t hand it down.

There is a significant difference between the cases of Penn State (which I did not want to see get the Death Penalty) and Baylor. The disgraceful pedophile Jerry Sandusky coached at Penn State from the late 60s to 1999. Next to nothing of what Penn State was in the Sandusky years remained the same, except for president Graham Spanier and football head coach Joe Paterno, both of whom were fired when news of Sandusky’s sexual assaults on children, and of the two men’s knowledge of them, became public just about 12 years after the disgraced defensive coordinator’s departure. When university officials learned of what Sandusky had done, and of Spanier and Paterno’s cover-up, they reacted the only way that they could by firing everyone involved.

In Baylor’s case, this has happened in the past five years, and Briles was fired just last year. The administration is still intact, apart from Briles and former athletic director Ian McCaw*. Therefore, the message that such things can happen under a university’s roof, and yet that all will be forgiven provided the administration cleans house when the staff’s transgressions become public is a very dangerous one to send. Several athletic departments with struggling football teams, much like Baylor was when it hired Briles, would hear this message, as they say, loud and clear. And who knows? Such a desperate school might bet that it can weather the inevitable PR shitstorm that would come with hiring an Art Briles by posting a few 10-win seasons.

I can’t give this piece’s title an answer. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of administering the Death Penalty to Baylor, but the arguments for it are as strong as they’ll ever be. If Baylor football doesn’t get it for Briles et al. molding it into the debauched universe it has now become, I can’t think of a program that will.

 

McCaw has since been hired by the disgraceful establishment Liberty University, which is of course presided by  Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the religious nutbag and Liberty founder Reverend Jerry Falwell. Here is what Falwell Jr. had to say about his latest hiring: “Ian’s success really speaks for itself,” Falwell said. “You look at what Baylor was able to do during his tenure, it fits perfectly with where we see our sports programs going. This is an exciting time for us.” So yes, just in case you’re questioning your own brain, Falwell Jr. said this of a man who had just resigned from Baylor because it was clear the entire situation with Briles was about to blow up in his face. Such a statement would be irregular from anyone not named Falwell, which is why it was so ironic to hear Outside The Lines’ Tom Ley  emphasize how surprised he was that the Baylor incidents happened at a faith-based institution. Given all three monotheisms’ troubled history with sexual assault, that this would happen at a faith-based university rather than at a secular one strikes me as likelier, not less likely. 

 

 

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Chip Kelly’s firing: lessons from a gutsy experiment

I was surprised by Chip Kelly’s firing from his twin post of head coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, but I cannot say I was shocked. My surprise came from the fact that the team’s decision to sack him went against everything we were hearing in the days that preceded it. And while even his most energetic defenders (of which I am one) wouldn’t dare say the firing was unjustified, hence the absence of shock, his firing, much like his hiring, carries the potential of league-wide ramifications. Knee-jerk reactions were legion, but it matters for the NFL that its notoriously conservative boys’ club of coaches draw the right lessons from his firing.

One rather large problem for both Kelly and any team thinking of hiring him is that there are very few organizations for which the former Oregon prodigy coach is actually a fit. One of the reasons why this is the case is because it is rather necessary that he be hired as a head coach. Allow me to explain. Some people have suggested that an NFL team should hire Kelly as an offensive coordinator. In abstracto, this makes sense. After all, why not limit him to a role that more rarely demands the leader-of-men qualities Kelly so obviously failed to display as a head coach in Philadelphia? Upon further scrutiny, however, this idea carries its share of potential pitfalls.

The most obvious one is the following: if Kelly is not the head coach, then the team’s entire coaching staff must be unequivocally on board with the changes that Kelly’s hurry-up, no-huddle offence entails. You see, I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a mere hurry-up offence; there are only hurry-up TEAMS. Having the hurry-up as your base offensive M.O. forces coaches on both sides of the ball to alter their coaching methods to the extent that anyone who has coached in a more traditional setting will find themselves profoundly challenged by this new format. The odds are that, while some coaches may embrace the opportunity to innovate, most will not. The way hurry-up college teams practice would be heresy to many seasoned NFL coaches. A few years ago, I had the privilege of coaching a football camp with former Montreal Alouettes receiver Shaun Diner, who played for Kelly at New Hampshire. At the time, Kelly was starting to become a household name at Oregon, and Diner told me the biggest thing for Kelly was always that everyone buy into what the team was doing. Nothing kills the hurry-up, no-huddle’s chances of success faster than coaches and/or players who let their skepticism affect their preparation. If Kelly is the head coach, then he gets to pick assistants who believe the system can work. If he’s not, he has to win over a staff he hasn’t chosen, in which case his odds of stumbling into colleagues who are refractory to his methods increase dramatically.

There is more. Within the NFL community, two highly problematic viewpoints about Kelly’s system appear to persist:

  1. The system has become so intimately associated with Kelly himself. Is it possible that Kelly simply lacks the man-management skills required to connect with the group of narcissistic and capricious millionaires known as NFL players? Of course. However, it would be both dangerous and intellectually inept for the larger football community (Yes, I’m looking at you, media!!) to create an amalgam between the system he brought to the league and the way he interacted with players as well as with his unequivocally disastrous decisions as personnel director. Whatever one thinks of Kelly’s system, though, it would be hasty to condemn it along with the coach himself given that so many other factors went into the Eagles’ struggles this year. If the NFL community refrains from hiring a coach who runs a similar offence just because Kelly “failed” in Philadelphia, then his firing will be a tremendous setback for the mere idea of offensive innovation in the NFL. (P.S.: So two 10-win seasons and a playoff berth in three years is failing in the NFL, now? I’m sure the likes of Ron Rivera, Jason Garrett, and John Fox are glad they weren’t held to that same lofty standard. Makes you wonder why, though.)
  2. It’s still often associated with the expression “The Spread”, and with option quarterbacks. Coming into the NFL, Kelly had enjoyed plenty of success spreading the field, and combining his hurry-up, no-huddle with a lethal read-option game at Oregon. Unfortunately, though, it seems that seeing so much option coupled with spread formations, the hurry-up, and the no-huddle has convinced many people, including several journalists that all these things go together and cannot be dissociated from each other. Without getting into the tactical minutiae of why this idea is problematic, let’s just quickly separate these notions from one another. Not all spread attacks carry pure run-run option plays (in fact, on aggregate, few of them do). Moreover, we really have to rethink of what we include in the definition of the  “option” play, because to think of it as strictly a running play that puts the quarterback in jeopardy, nowadays, is inadequate; the run-pass option, which usually keeps the quarterback in the pocket as a passer, is such a huge part of college football now that many offences use it as the foundation of what they do. Also, just because the quarterback is in the shotgun doesn’t mean his team runs a spread offence, nor does his being under-centre prevent the offence from being a spread (to the latter’s effect, the system Drew Brees ran at Purdue comes to the mind). Even if your quarterback is in the gun, if the rest of your personnel includes a fullback, a tailback and a tight end, you’re not in a spread alignment. Too many people who comment on the NFL have internalized these amalgams (along with the idea that spread offences can’t work in the NFL though they have now become the norm in the league today), and it’s a problem.

Looking at things as they stand today, it seems obvious that many people around the NFL are delighted that Kelly has “failed.” Unfortunately for those of us who badly want to see his brand of offence succeed in the pros, his detractors have on their side a few undeniable points:

  • The fact that, for the reasons we’ve just covered at length, he HAS to be head coach if you’re going to hire him. 
  • Making his offence work is going to be a high-maintenance balancing act from a personnel perspective: If the player personnel director isn’t on the absolute same page as Kelly, the organization risks assembling a team of square pegs for round holes. Therefore, the easiest thing would be to put Kelly in charge of personnel… except the Eagles tried that, and the results were nothing short of atrocious. In the span of what amounts to a year-and-a-half, he managed to a) cut two key starting offensive linemen and replace them with scrubs; b) get some players to state publicly that he can’t relate to stars, and that he doesn’t like black players (the latter is most likely untrue, but the damage is done); c) make other really, really puzzling roster moves – i.e. 1) let Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson go, but re-signed Riley Cooper, 2) traded Brandon Boykin for what amounts to Big Mac leftovers, 3) spent a first-round pick on the invisible Marcus Smith, 4) spent big money on free agent bust Byron Maxwell, a press corner who, from the very beginning, might as well have come from Seattle with the expression “product of the system” tattooed on his forehead, and then played him at free safety, where he’ll never get to press, 5) signed BOTH DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews to play running back, neither of whom were really going to work because the O-Line was neglected, and Murray flopped badly; d) replaced Nick Foles (not a great fit for Kelly’s offence) with Sam Bradford (an even worse fit for his offence). The condensed version of this train crash? Kelly has proven himself unworthy of controlling personnel.
  • The offence may be a tough sell for many NFL veterans. We’ve blamed Kelly, the person, for many of his Eagles’ struggles. Journalists have speculated ad nauseam about whether his way of handling players might only be suited for the college game. However, the system does require an unusual level of commitment from players, especially when it comes to the way they practice. I want to blame Kelly’s failings on his inability to be the diva whisperer most pro coaches have to be and on his blunders as a GM. Still, we have to account, at this point, for the possibility that the system itself might be as tough to accept for players as Kelly’s personality. I hope it’s not true, and I don’t think it is. But we can’t rule it out.

That said, NFL GMs and owners would also do well to contemplate the following facts, which show Kelly in a more favourable light:

  • The notion that his system has proven itself fundamentally unsound for the NFL is a misconception: No, it didn’t look pretty this year with the wrong personnel, and yes, it does put pressure on the defence when they fail to at least gain a few first downs. Yet, Kelly himself will have to wonder not only what possessed himself to make all these reprehensibly dumb personnel decisions, but also why he so bastardized the offence that worked so well in his first year. In fact, one could make the argument that he coached against ghosts, and anticipated that opposing coaches would “figure it out” instead of testing whatever so-called solutions DCs would have for it. He was roasting the NFL with his run-pass option plays his first year. Why did he get away from that? What would happen if a coach, Kelly or someone else, stuck to that gameplan and combined it with Kelly’s trademark tempo? Take the read option, for example. Tune in to the NFL Network, and you won’t have to wait long to hear some meat-head ex-player triumphantly claim that NFL coaches have figured the read option out. No, they haven’t! There is no “figuring it out.” You either ask one guy to play both potential ball carriers, or you assign a player for each one. Both ways have their strengths and weaknesses but, in the end, it’s a sound football play that carries its share of counters depending on how the defence plays it. And in any case, athletes will make plays on it, or they won’t; just as is the case with any other play, really. Kelly’s tempo just makes it harder for defensive players to muster the concentration required to defend it properly.
  • If it’s not Kelly, it’ll have to be someone else because… at all other levels of football, neither the spread nor the option are going away, people. Used to be, high school teams would take their best athlete and put him at running back, because if you’re running a pro-style offence, it’s the best way to get him a higher number of touches. But with the spread came the realization that while putting the great athlete at running back meant he touched the ball a lot, putting him at quarterback means he touches the ball every single play. It’s simply too advantageous a proposition to pass up. And since spread systems with lots of run-pass options (which mean lots of short throws to left-alone receivers) are now the norm in the NCAA as well, several players who would have played receiver or running back in the past because of their marginal passing skills now play quarterback despite the fact that they can’t make every throw because they’ll still be dynamite as dual-threat guys. Before Marcus Mariota, a legitimate first-round NFL prospect, those are the kind of guys (Dennis Dixon, Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas) Kelly turned into college superstars. And no, none of Mariota’s predecessors would have been suitable starters for the NFL, but that’s the nature of the beast; some spread option products will be good enough for the NFL, and most won’t be. Yet, how is that any different from products of NCAA pro-style offences? Need we really reminisce about the likes of Jimmy Clausen, John David Booty, Jordan Palmer (Carson’s brother), Matt Leinart, or the immortal Mark Sanchez? In any case, spread passers outnumber the Andrew Lucks of the world by a stronger ratio every year, even now. UCLA has a dynamite pro-style prospect, Josh Rosen, who played the 2015 season for the Bruins as a true freshman. What did he run at UCLA this year? All run-pass option stuff. It baffles how quick we are to dismiss the likes of Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin as being finished as NFL starters because they don’t work when handcuffed in a traditional offence. Yet, we seem to think it’s OK that thoroughly limited players like Andy Dalton, don’t-give-a-shit-itis sufferers like Jay Cutler, and good-stats-on-a-bad-team guys like Matthew Stafford are on $100-million contracts, holding their teams hostage because said teams don’t want to risk “winding up in quarterbacking hell.” Instead, these teams are stuck in QB purgatory, and I hope for their sake that their fans learn to enjoy it, because that’s where they’ll remain as long as these mediocre passers remain on their roster, eating up cap space like offensive linemen eat up carbs at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Something’s gotta give, so unless the NFL is willing to start its own minor league system, the league’s largely inflexible coaches will need to start doing a better job of tailoring their offence to the abilities of dual-threat quarterbacks.

Moreover, there is another reason to want Chip Kelly, and his brand of offence, to succeed: the sheer spectacle of it. Watch Oregon games from Kelly’s time there, or even the very first game he coached for the Eagles. It is fun, man! College football has spoiled us in terms of system diversity to the extent that I often find it tedious to watch 32 teams run variations of the exact same offence. Seriously, I watch NFL offences play, and most of the time, the only thing that allows me to tell them apart is their teams’ uniforms. Potentially, Chip Kelly could change that. There were even times in Kelly’s three years in Philadelphia when it looked as though he just might have pulled it off. For the sake of the “watchability” of its offensive football, the NFL needs Kelly, or someone else like him, to succeed. Since Kelly is already here, the NFL might as well give him a real go. Lots of things have to be in place within a team’s infrastructure for it to work, and for goodness’ sake, Kelly mustn’t be put in charge of personnel. None of it, however, alters the fact that the main thing I hope to learn about the Kelly experiment in the NFL is that it isn’t over.

 

 

Florida State’s statement

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston took the shotgun snap. As was the case most of the night, he had a clean pocket. He found his receiver Rashad Greene on a little eight-yard hook. “Good work,” I’m thinking. “Get your first down.”

Clemson safety Bashaud Breeland dropped his head trying to make the receiver pay, and Greene made him miss. Then, defensive tackle Kevin Dodd valiantly tried a shoestring tackle, but couldn’t make it. Greene accelerated into the now-open field. It was a footrace. Cornerback Darius Robinson looked like he had the angle, but Greene was going to gain quite a few yards before anyone tackled him.

10, 15, 20 yards. And I’m thinking, “wait a tick… Robinson’s not closing the distance… Holy shit! That’s a touchdown!” This was the first time it occurred me that the two teams on that field in Clemson were not on the same level this Saturday. At that point, it was 24-7 for FSU.

Sure, Clemson had lost a fumble on their first offensive play of the game. Sure, Winston’s first pass of the game was a touchdown to mammoth receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who looks like a faster version of Plaxico Burress. Sure, cornerback LaMarcus Joyner sacked Clemson QB Tajh Boyd and forced a fumble which was recovered and brought back for a touchdown by FSU’s Mario Edwards. Up until Greene’s touchdown, it was already clear FSU were playing better than Clemson.

But the Tigers were showing signs of fighting back. Boyd did find that filthy traitor receiver Sammy Watkins for a touchdown. The defence did intercept Winston as FSU was threatening to score again. I was expecting a back-and-forth affair much like last year’s 41-37 classic. With Clemson trailing by ten but threatening to trim the lead to three, it was looking that way.

But when Greene pulled away from the Clemson defence, all of a sudden, the vibe was different. It wasn’t momentum. It was superiority. When Tajh Boyd, who had himself one miserable night, threw an interception to FSU’s Joyner though the ‘Noles had only 10 men on the field, it dawned upon me FSU might not so much beat Clemson as they might maul them. In typical nervous-fan fashion, I didn’t believe it until Clemson started coming apart at the seams in the third quarter, taking stupid unnecessary roughness penalties and seemingly having every nice offensive play called back for holding. One of their defensive backs was ejected for targeting. It was as if the Tigers were coming to terms with the fact that they were not ready for what the Seminoles had in store for them today. It just wasn’t going to happen for them.

After the game, the only word ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit could muster was “Wow!” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, classy in defeat, observed that “Florida State might be the best team in the nation. You just don’t have a lot of room for error against a team like that.” What was clear, though, was that no one, not Herbstreit, not Swinney, and certainly not me, saw this beatdown coming. No one except, it would seem, Jameis Winston.

Much was said about Winston finally looking like a freshman. This game would have been a logical time for it to happen. Big stage; hostile atmosphere; best conference opponent; third-ranked team vs fifth-ranked team: this is the type of stage where inexperienced youngsters usually fail. Winston, however, is clearly not just any freshman.

If you haven’t seen the highlights from the game, watch them here. Beyond any individual moment (though Benjamin’s touchdown catch is far from banal), what struck me is Winston’s speech to his teammates in the locker room before the game. It shows you what Winston is, in a nutshell. “My brothers,” he says. “Put a smile on your face.” Had I been Dabo Swinney and seen this before the game, I would have been terrified. Winston was sincere. This was not a kid pretending not to be scared. This kid was not scared, period.

“It” factor

One of the usual clichés in sports, especially at the quarterback position, is the so-called “it” factor. WInston is not a walking human highlight reel like Johnny Manziel. There isn’t one ball that had me go “Oh, wow!” Not every throw is spot on target; his mechanics still need work. The kid, it seems, just manages the game, but next thing you know, he’s thrown for 444 yards, three touchdowns and has run for another one. By all accounts, he’s now played himself into the Heisman race.

Another beautiful moment tonight was when he was asked about Heisman consideration and his first, completely spontaneous answer was “it’s all down to my teammates.” And it is.

Even during FSU’s dark period between 2003 (or so) and last year, Florida State always had impressive-looking athletes. They always looked great coming out of the bus. Except unlike some of the overhyped cream puffs with whom FSU embarrassed itself during the final years of Bobby Bowden’s career, this group of guys can really play.

FSU’s dynamic trio of receivers (Benjamin, Greene and Kenny Shaw) chipped away at Clemson’s secondary all day. Tight end, Nick O’Leary, who reminds me of Dallas Clark, except he blocks better, led the team in receiving, including a 94-yarder when Clemson forgot about him on a play action fake. The running game, strangely ineffective in the first two quarters, became a factor in the second half when FSU started running the outside zone play from the gun split formation.

And that defence swarms like that of the FSU of old. 3-technique Timmy Jernigan ought to be a first-round pick, and the front doesn’t appear to suffer too much from losing three ends to the NFL draft. LaMarcus Joyner is a great leader in the secondary, and he had his greatest game as a Seminole when it counted most. And linebacker Telvin Smith is a special player.

Last but not least, offensive line coach Rick Trickett continues to take high school linemen nobody knows about and turn them into zone blocking monsters. I don’t know of anyone who coaches the position better in college ball than Trickett.

But to come back to Winston, it’s not the tangibles that make him great but the intangibles. His personality could not be more conducive to success as a quarterback, but we were waiting to see it on the big stage. There was a blip when he completed 24 of 26 passes against Pittsburgh, but that was the one time. He deep-fried Wake Forest and Maryland, but they’re Wake Forest and Maryland. The Clemson game, however, seems to leave very little doubt as to Winston’s legitimacy. The “it” factor is one of those things that can’t be described; you just know it when you see it. And Winston has it.

The long road back 

I’m sorry for going on and on about this, but you have to understand how emotional this game is for me as an FSU fan. The years of misery I had to go through while the program basically went through seven years of irrelevancy weighed on me.

Years of crappy quarterbacking from Chris Rix, Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee. Years of inept offensive line play, of failing overrated skill position players, of defensive mediocrity. And, of course, enough frustrating games to send me into depression. Between the 30-0 loss to Wake Forest at home in 2006, to the two losses at home to Russell Wilson’s NC State, to four years of not belonging on the same field as Tebow’s Gators, to several upset losses to pedestrian opponents like Boston College and Virginia, I had to watch teams like Clemson and North Carolina out-recruit the Noles in Florida and assume the kind of identity my Noles once had. That Miami took a similar downturn was of no consolation whatsoever.

Things got slightly better with Christian Ponder at quarterback, but the Noles were still a shadow of their former selves. And as I told anybody who would listen last year, FSU were much better under EJ Manuel, but they weren’t quite there yet.

A few years ago, there was a trend of naming “coaches-in-waiting.” Just about everybody hated it; it vanished very quickly. However, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has to be the most successful test subject of this M.O. The job he has done at FSU is remarkable, the culminating point of which (so far) was this drubbing of Clemson. Don’t let the score fool you, they might be overrated, but Clemson is one talented team, and yet they could seemingly do nothing right against the Seminoles tonight.

FSU might lose a trap game to a team like NC State or the scary fast Miami Hurricanes, but this type of outclassing of a quality opponent is something I hadn’t seen from FSU for a very long time. The lesser Seminole teams found ways to be a tease every once in a while, but they never did anything like this. And so, finally, I think I’m on fairly safe ground when I say it.

The Florida State Seminoles are back.

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I have to mention another game which made me extremely happy today, which was the victory of my alma mater, les Spartiates du Vieux Montréal, over the hated Vanier Cheetahs. This was Vieux’s second convincing win over “VC” this season. Of course, it won’t mean much if they don’t wrap their great season with a championship, but since the Bol d’Or final is not today, I’m taking a moment to enjoy it.

Between Vieux’s and FSU’s big wins. I don’t want this day to end.

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