I don't think there's a more exciting time on a college campus than the week of a big football game. Whether its Homecoming week, playing the big rival, trying to make it into the postseason or the home opener, the surrounding area just seems a little more alive.
Living in the Dallas area, we are fortunate to experience this to various degrees throughout the year. The CJ Wilson/Yu Darvish matchup between the Angels and Rangers had the town buzzing. A Monday Night Football Cowboy home game (like the Bears game in a few weeks) will have people talking all week prior as the anticipation builds. A Mavericks playoff series dominates the local news. SMU and TCU charges up local alumni from both sides. Heck, I'm fairly certain most of the high schools around here have one or two matchups a year that seem like do or die to their respective fanbases.
This week, Alabama and Michigan are facing off in Cowboy Stadium. The past few years, Jerry Jones has put together a marquee matchup in the first week of the season, but this one seems special. No disrespect to LSU/Oregon last year or BYU/Oklahoma and TCU/Oregon State of previous years, but this years Cowboys Classic seems to have extra oomph. Alabama has the second most national championships and is the current reigning champ. Michigan is tied for third on the "total national championships" list and is college football winningest program all time. Bo and the Bear, Shoelace versus the vaunted Alabama defense, maize and crimson...it's all some people want to talk about it. This matchup of top ten teams will have my full attention this Saturday night.
Other games of note: South Carolina at Vanderbilt (first ESPN game of the season)
Texas A&M at Louisiana Tech (a rebuilding A&M team against an often overlooked Ragin' Cajun squad)
Boise State vs Michigan State (can Boise shock another marquee program?)
North Texas at LSU/Hawaii at USC (who will win by more, the Tigers or the Trojans?)
SMU at Baylor (can Baylor rebuild after losing RG3?)
26 days....less than four weeks and then college football starts the 2012 season. College football is far and away my favorite sport. I love the early season heavyweight matchups, I love rivalry games, I love bowl week, I love the sense of community at tailgates across the country, I love it all. Personally, I can't wait
This season brings lots of questions regarding several of our "local" teams and I'm very curious to see them answered. Texas A&M has another new coach and is moving to a new conference. Will last season's struggles follow them to the SEC or will Kevin Sumlin and a ton of new starters be able to right the ship? Baylor is coming off the best season in their long history, will the departure of Heisman winning RG3 bring them back to the middle of the pack in the Big XII or will head coach Art Briles keep them humming along? Mack Brown has put together another stellar recruiting class but will UT get enough from the quarterback position to return them to the college football elite? Or will that stout defense and, perhaps, the best stable of running backs be wasted this year? Speaking of UT quarterbacks...former 5 star recruit and longhorn qb Garrett Gilbert is enrolled at SMU. Will the promise he showed during the national championship game return under coach June Jones? Or will he be prone to turnovers, like he was at the University of Texas? And can June Jones get SMU to a 4th straight bowl game? Across the metroplex, TCU will finally get the chance to see what they can do week in and week out against BCS conference teams. Will the frogs continue their winning ways? Or will they be exposed as a team that can dominate the inferior Mountain West Conference, but not play with the Big XII teams?
Across the country, one has to wonder will the SEC add to their six consecutive national titles? Will USC and Oregon bring national championship contenders back tot he PAC 12? How will Mike Leach fare at Washington State? How will Penn State fare in general? Is Michigan back? Is Urban Meyer the right coach at Ohio State? Will Notre Dame regain its relevance on a national level? Does the Big East matter anymore? Did the ACC drop football entirely and decided to focus solely on basketball (I kid, I kid)?
All of these answers will eventually be answered to some degree or another. All I know is that I can't wait.
Only 26 days...
I was asked recently to speak at an SMU J-Term luncheon. They wanted me to give a mini-ad for the store, but I was more interested in encouraging students to take advantage of what's available to them while at SMU. After all, we wouldn't be near as successful as a store without the support of the local alumni groups and SMU supporters!
What was supposed to be a brief two-minute store promotion turned into a five-minute lecture on attending football games. The statement "Put down your beer and go to the game" might have been made. But what is true is that you can't sit in your student section and get away with being that outrageous and spirited forever. That guy is so annoying sitting with the grown ups on the other side of the stadium. I know. I was chastised for holding a sign at a game. It annoyed those around me. But the apathy of the alumni side of SMU's stadium is an entirely different post.
Truly - what I said to those 200 J-Term students is true. This is such an amazing time in your life to be a student. You don't get it back. I went to nearly every game in the Cotton Bowl, sat with the Kappa Sigma's and cheered my heart out. I may or may not have attended my first game in khaki shorts, an SMU tee and ball cap from the bookstore. But that, my friends, is part of why I now own the store. I promise to be your sporty personal shopper and you can not only cheer for SMU, but look good doing it. And that does mean wearing something other than the standard issue uniform of short dress and cowboy boots. You can keep the boots. They're cute, but I've got quite a few other fun things for you.
As I step off my soapbox, please hear me: Be stylish, be cute, flirt with a boy or girl, but go to the game! You only get a few of them in your life as a student and there's truly nothing like being a part of the crowd.
With all the unrest in the NFL right now, it's nice to see all the focus shifting to the 2011 NFL Draft for a minute. I was worried there was a time when it might not even happen! But it will happen and everyone involved is geared up and ready. Kiper and McShay have their boards ready. The Twittersphere is lit up about Cam Newton. Will he or won't he go #1? Will he be the most amazing quarterback or a total bust? Cha-os.
My personal love of the Draft is the chaos. I was fortunate to be in the middle of the 2006 NFL Draft. I grabbed dinner with friends at Rosa Mexicana, among them Sean Salisbury, one of the main broadcasters covering the draft, and then headed to the official party at Marquee. On our way to dinner, the chaos began and the night was fantastic from there. Salsibury could barely keep up with the phone calls and eventually cut out early to head back to hotel headquarters to figure out what was going on the next morning. It all surrounded the potential #1.
Matt Leinert was the man that year. He was going #1 and everyone knew it. But then the swapping and switching began and before we'd had our first bite of dinner, Mario Williams was selected by the Houston Texans as #1. He was followed by Reggie Bush and then Vince Young. If you remember, the 2005 National Championship was USC and Texas at the 2006 Rose Bowl. Leinart famously stood on the sidelines following their loss claiming to still be the better team. It was sheer brilliance to see Young go before him. As news broke of the change from what everyone expected to the completely unexpected, Leinart avoided everyone at the party, hiding out in the VIP section and leaving early. Meanwhile, all other players relished the attention, the champagne and the moment of what was happening around them. Chaos.
I can't help but share this video from what I still think was the best Championship Game yet.
This year, I believe, is no different. Add to it the court case, judge ruling, subsequent appeals, broken down arbitration and you have a serious NFL circus. Thankfully, the players still get their moment. What happens from there? Who knows? Will they choose loyalty with their new Owners? Scab out right away from the Players? Or choose loyalty with the rest of the Players - and who knows how long they'll all, new and old, stand as a 'Band of Brothers.'
I'll be enjoying this years' 2011 NFL Draft in my Pro Owner shirt. Where do you think the newly drafter players should side? They were just selected by the Owners to stand side by side with Players. What side are you on? And the biggest question of all - are you ready for the Chaos?
SMU football is on the rise. Whether you like the Mustangs or not, you should take notice of the energy building around the team. They're 7-5 in the regular season two years in a row following a 2008, 1-11 record, with a 6-2 in-conference record this past season. They've been invited to two bowl games in a row after a 25 year drought. Scout.com ranked the Mustangs incoming class at No.1 among all non-BCS AQ schools. And Rivals.com ranked SMU’s recruiting class no. 50 overall. This is the highest ranked class for SMU in three decades.
Following a Young Alumni breakfast at the Crescent Club last week, I have no doubt the reason behind all this success and excitement is Coach June Jones. To say Coach Jones is humble is an understatement. He lives his life by faith and constantly strives to better the lives of those around him. He acts as mentor and coach to his team, earning their respect through giving it. And over coffee first thing in the morning, he shared with us his principles for his team, and his life.
I didn't find him the most eloquent speaker, but rather one of the most inspiring. Whether you're a Mustang fan, a football fan or even a sports fan, I hope you'll gain as much from his points as I did.
- There is no complaining and no whining. The team knows that they're there to work hard and that it is, in fact, hard work. But everyone is working hard at something and the ones that make it to the top do so without complaining. Be positive. There will be no lying, no cheating and no stealing - not on his team - which in and of itself is an accomplishment in this day and age of college football players arrests and shenanigans.
- You must be willing to be your best self. Live at the highest level of your values. Live with honor and integrity.
- Help others. You must have a willingness to see the world beyond yourself.
- Every day should be a masterpiece and truly be your best day. You will never get these moments back, so live them magnificently. (This one truly spoke to me. As a small business owner, I can get bogged down in stress and daily details. But how could I dream of letting myself miss these moments? Or not fully live them as the masterpiece that they are?)
- Read. Drink deeply from words, all words. But especially read from the Bible daily.
- Make friendship an art. Become close to a circle of friends. You'll need those friends more than you know at some point in your life and simultaneously, you'll be the friend someone needs, even if you never truly realize it. In the valley's of life, you will need the shelter and protection of friends. When you make friendship an art, it benefits everything: that person and yourself.
- Pray for guidance every day. This may seem simple or less important, but he shared his faith - a strong faith. Through prayer every day he's thanked God for his blessings and sought guidance in his valley's.
Coach Jones is a truly spiritual man. He is a truly inspirational man. His players look up to him and he loves them. That relationship has created the success the team has on and off the field, which has in turn created success within the University and spread to the Alumni. SMU is in the 2nd largest turn-around in college football history, with Hawaii under Coach Jones the number one turn-around.
He encouraged us to live by the principles he gives his players. Play the game at the highest level. Be the best you can be. Be consistent in your life. If you repeat these behaviors and daily live by these principles, it will become an unconscious competence. You will be your most successful self unconsciously.
He closed with a quote he recited from memory:
"We must manage our behavior to meet the objective. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act it is a habit." - Aristotle
I am now a bigger proponent of a playoff system in college football than ever. I just finished the book, Death to the BCS, www.deathtothebcs.com. It's an extensive and intense review of who, why and what the BCS is and it really opens your eyes. Basically, few people currently control the existing college bowl structure and the system is broken. Very few schools make money in the current situation.
Mark Cuban made headlines because he is reading the same book, and I have to say, I really agree with it. His proposal includes a "pot" for the championship bowl participants to overcome one of the super secrets of the BCS society. The most amazing thing to me is the financial impact of a bowl; much hype is made regarding the amount of money made. Most bowl participants lose money for three main reasons: travel, bonuses and ticket allotments. Allowances given to schools barely cover any of these expenses.
I've heard many excuses for no playoff is the travel expense. It costs a lot of money to send the band, players and other executives to the bowl game. Last year SMU took two mascots to Hawaii. I would hate to see how much that cost. Most bowls give a small allowance to cover these costs, but most of the time it barely covers the football team transportation.
Current salary structure of major college head coaches include bonuses for bowl games. These can be substantial and represent a large expense to the university. Most bowl game allowances don't come close to covering these bonuses. Athletic department financial statements are hardly ever looked at by the every day public, yet I'm starting to see why. They are bleeding red all over. At one time, I thought it was great advertising; however, after reading the book I'm not so sure with the current bowl format.
Ticket allotments are something I never realized. When a school is invited to a bowl, the payouts are listed and everyone is excited. Little do we realize the excitement wears off pretty quick as evidenced by poor ticket sales by schools. When you watch ESPN and their bowl games this year, realize the school is given an allotment of tickets, any of these tickets not sold have to be purchased by the school. In essence, the school underwrites their own team. If a team doesn't traditionally travel well, such as this year's example of UConn, this can be a huge expense the school has to pay. The current structure doesn't bode well for most teams.
The current system of college football is going to have to change. The book has tremendous ideas and I encourage you to read it.
This weekend is Heisman weekend and it happens to coincide with the premiere of the 30 for 30 "Pony Excess". I've seen the flick and it's awesome! I'm sure ESPN put the 30 for 30 directly after the Heisman because of Cam Newton. I don' t think this is a coincidence.
One of the biggest problems I have right now is everyone is focusing on Cam Newton himself. Why isn't more attention paid to the Auburn program? If Cecil Newton shopped his kid around and steered him to Auburn, they have to be paying him in some sort of manner. Isn't this illegal by the program. The NCAA found Cam Newton didn't know his father was shopping him around, yet he steered him to Auburn.
In 5 years, I expect Cam Newton will no longer be a Heisman winner, the National Championship is forfeited and we won't see Auburn for 2 years in a bowl game. Is it fair? In my eyes no, but I suspect it's a financial decision by the NCAA and Auburn. College football is a huge business and decisions seem to point to the money all the way around.