Of all the great traditions in college football, few are as cherished as September games featuring 35-0 halftime scores, perhaps topped only by September games featuring 42-0 halftime scores. They serve as healthy reminders that big programs need frosted pastries to boost their self-esteem, and small programs need dough to buy locker room towels and shampoo.
But can we be honest here, just for a paragraph or two? These cross-class clashes can get a little tedious. Most people prefer the drama of an overhyped ranked team having its season “ruined” by another overhyped ranked team, right?
Instead, we get all these inflated, pre-determined outcomes. Sheesh, look at some of the ridiculous halftime scores just last week.
Alabama 40, Arkansas State 0.
Ohio State 35, Rutgers 0.
Michigan 35, Western Michigan 0.
Auburn 42, Alabama State 2.
Virginia Tech 38, William and Mary combined 7.
Michigan State 3, Arizona State 0.
Such carnage may be financially necessary, but it’s unseemly. And we expect more of the same when Michigan hosts SMU Saturday, unless the Wolverines mistake SMU for MSU and revert to a nervous shell. While blowouts are fine for Old Blues with 4:30 p.m. dinner reservations, they can cause hard feelings.
For instance, you might recall a little team named Appalachian State, which recently took Penn State to overtime before losing. That came exactly 11 years after Appy State ruthlessly stunned Michigan, then had to wait weeks for the angry Wolverines to send the game check, according to my imaginary sources. This past week, Western Michigan left Ann Arbor with $1.2 million and memories that should last a lifetime, or until the bruises heal.
Then there’s Purdue, which coughed up $550,000 for the right to lose at home to Eastern Michigan, 20-19. The Eagles are a nice story at 2-0, and surely enjoyed the minivan trip and fine dining at West Lafayette’s renowned Steak ‘n Shakes. But if they’re not careful, they won’t get invited back to a Power Five conference campus anytime soon.
Same thing with Michigan State, which was treated to all sorts of hospitality in the form of 110-degree heat, and still had the gall to lead Arizona State 13-3 into the fourth quarter. The Spartans then politely stopped blocking and the Sun Devils accepted the 16-13 win. It was quite a blow for Michigan State, whose biggest victory this season remains Notre Dame over Michigan.
The lopsided scores might be fun for tailgaters who don’t want to feel guilty when they pass out. But college football needs to keep its fans engaged, and that includes the students. Studies show students skip home games for the following reasons: Studying (0.9 percent), hung over (31.5 percent), playing “Fortnite” (67.6 percent).
Listen, college football remains a very popular sport, despite the scandals, the presence of Rutgers, and the goofy rivalry trophies such as the little-known Rabid Possum Statue awarded somewhere in West Virginia. Or maybe Ohio.
Michigan will draw 100,000 fans for the 280th consecutive time, not including games late in the Brady Hoke era when fans weighing more than 235 pounds were counted twice. But according to actual NCAA statistics, overall college football attendance dropped by three percent last season, and has fallen four consecutive years for the first time in history.
We can just say it’s all the Millennials’ fault, and it probably is. Those lazy entitled brats have no desire to arise at a decent hour Saturday mornings and trudge a mile through a drunken mob to sit on an 11-inch wide seat on a creaky old bench to watch a team take a 35-0 halftime lead. Also, because of technological overkill, way too many people now can purchase 92-inch TVs for about $85 and watch at home with no line to the potty.
So, this is either a problem for college football, or simply a sign of the times in America. I prefer to blame it on the SEC, and specifically, Nick Saban. To rest up for rivalry games, Alabama’s November opponents in recent years have included Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer and The Sisters of Mercy, and I only made up one of those.
Now, we’re faced with the real possibility of three SEC teams in the playoff — Alabama, Georgia, Auburn — assuming Auburn survives its Nov. 17 clash against Liberty. One solution: Require Power Five programs to play 10 conference games, and if you’re lame like the smaller Big 12, play somebody twice. You get one cupcake, and then you have to face Appalachian State or Eastern Michigan in the other non-conference game.
An easy fix, even though people only pretend they want it. I mean, if Michigan hadn’t lost to Notre Dame, do you know how many radio and newspaper outlets would’ve gone bankrupt without being able to complain about Jim Harbaugh? Deep down, power programs like it the way it is, although Michigan fans might shout for something different: Less ND, more WMU! Less MSU, more SMU! Arrive late, leave early!
Pick: Michigan 35-7 at halftime
■ Michigan State versus Bye: After escaping the desert heat, the Spartans plan to spend the off-week hooked up to IVs with cold washcloths pressed to their foreheads. At least Michigan State reaffirmed its status as a true Big Ten power by blowing a game out West and generating handy excuses. It was too hot! What about the stinkin’ penalties?! Nobody told us about the time change! Pick: No thank you.
■ Ohio State vs. TCU: As part of his “severe” punishment, Urban Meyer has been forced to watch the Buckeyes average 64.5 points under interim Ryan “Night and” Day. To keep Meyer from pouting too much, the school did allow him to run practices and use his cell phone again, although with parental controls. He returns next week unless, you know, the Buckeyes don’t need him. Pick: Ohio State 31-13
■ Alabama at Mississippi: The Crimson Tide had better be careful because Ole Miss can’t go to a bowl and is in a cantankerous mood. I’m not saying Alabama is gonna lose. I’m just saying Saban better not let the fellas look ahead to the Nov. 17 showdown against The Citadel. Pick: Alabama 20-10 at halftime
■ Eastern Michigan at Buffalo: The good news for the Eagles is, they could be 3-0 for the first time since 1989. The bad news is, these are not the Buffalo Bills, and Nathan Peterman is not walking through that tunnel to play quarterback. Pick: Buffalo 23-17