Russell Shepard, LSU
(This article is the fourth of the "Quiet Guy in the Sports Bar" historical-fiction-as-it-happens series. The "Quiet Guy" manages a college football poll from his perch at a local sports bar, working with and commenting on the reality of the day in the universe of the college game.)
Timeline of a coaching career at West Virginia University in 100 words or less:
Vini: Bill ‘Luther’ Stewart takes over as interim head coach after the evil Rich Rodriguez, just a fortnight before the Fiesta Bowl, abdicates the throne.
Vidi: Luther saw Sooner red at the Fiesta Bowl.
Vici: Luther kicked butt, took names, and had a successful audition.
Anti mortem: Called sportswriters to dig up dirt on Dana the Party Lad, sealing Luther’s fate.
Dana Holgorsen: Et tu, Stew?
There. Submitted. I have finally reached the end of my rope on this. Nothing remains to be said in my blog.
Tempus fugit, dudes.
According to West Virginia law, beer doesn’t flow from the taps at Two Dozen Plus One on Sundays until 1:00 pm. One hour after that and my sports buddies Gus and Wally are on the approach to the spouse-induced limit of four each.
Four? How many Marshall fans can those two insult in the time it takes to down four beers? Generous, trusting women, they are.
GQ enters. “Hey, Sag!” Gus hollers, a truncated syllable representing ‘Jeff Sagarin,’ pollster extraordinaire, and Gus’ nickname for GQ, possibly the ersatz college football expert. Third derivative nicknames. GQ. Sagarin. Sag. Only a man clueless about his lack of creativity can coin them.
GQ glances at me, then to Gus.
“Gus, is it?” GQ says.
“Yep," Gus says. "Quick, GQ, in order, what’s your Unlucky 13?” He's taunting GQ, the jerk.
“Texas Christian, Boise State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Stanford, Florida State, Nebraska, Louisiana State. Alabama, and Texas are the first ten. Closing out the next three are Penn State, Florida, and Wisconsin.” GQ finishes with confidence.
“Wisconsin? Mountaineers were thirteenth. What happened to the Mountaineers?” asks Wally.
GQ gave my friends a deadpan stare.
“It’s Dana’s team now. All Dana, all the time," says Wally. "He’s going to do here what he did at Houston and Oklahoma State. Top five offense, baby, here we come.”
“True, GQ,” says Gus. “So, what does WVU have to do to get back into the Unlucky 13 and make your poll the Lucky 13?”
“First,” I say, finally interjecting, rescuing GQ, “and despite writing on my blog this morning that I’m done with this West Virginia tripe, Dana has to lead them to a big win over Randy Edsall’s Maryland in College Park. Next, Dana has to get his Air Raid flying and bombing against LSU and their reloaded defense of athletes. True, the game is in Morgantown, but Les Miles regularly goes to deafeningly loud Southeastern Conference venues that make Mountaineer Field sound like 8:00 mass So, after a 4-0 September, and only after a 4-0 September, WVU fans can consider their team out of the hole.”
“After a 4-0 September,” says Wally, “you can’t keep them out of your top ten, can you, Sag?”
Wally’s question format puts him there with almost all the faithful of West Virginia. No one is sure. False bravado reigns.
GQ looks at Wally as if he hates the moniker ‘Sag.’ Don’t much blame him. “Actually, gentlemen, and call me GQ, I like that name, there are five teams not ranked that are, if you will, ‘On Deck,’ ready to slide into the Lucky 13 at the first chance.”
“I gotta hear this,” says Gus.
He’s brought his papers and his iPhone, but I can see that GQ will do this from memory.
“In alphabetical order,” he begins, “Arkansas. The Razorbacks have a tremendous opportunity early in the season with two high-octane road games back-to-back. On September 24, Bobby Petrino’s formidable attack goes to Tuscaloosa to face the punishing running game of Alabama. Then, on October 1, before their gear dries from the Deep South sweat, Arkansas packs up for Cowboy Stadium to exchange salvos with Texas A & M’s AggieBall. If Petrino gets those two, the Hogs are stampeding to the second half of their season and could do considerable damage.”
Gus and Wally both look stymied. GQ, smiling, senses this. “Georgia,” he continues. “The ‘Dogs can prove they could be for real by upsetting Boise State, my Lucky 13 number two, in Atlanta, of all places. Furthering their cause would be a win over South Carolina in Athens seven days later, which could set head coach Mark Richt in the driver’s seat to take the Southeastern Conference East division. And, with Richt’s superb SEC athletes on offense as well as the kicking game, they should at last always be within reach every weekend.”
GQ pauses to open the floor for questions.
“Four Stellas,” says Gus to the cute young woman waitress walking by. Or, co-ed waitress She was one of my Comp II students last spring. Forgot her name. Good writer.
“Continue,” says Wally. “This is interesting.”
“Miami Hurricanes,” GQ says with pride. “Some luster has been taken off the September 17 game with Ohio State at Sun Life, but I think the Buckeyes will at least have a defense by Week 3. However, the big one is in Blacksburg on October 8. The ‘Canes, deep into their difficult schedule, could ambush Virginia Tech in their own backyard. Miami is the Hokies’ first tough Coastal test after four éclairs and interdivisional Clemson. I think the Hurricanes are back quickly, and a victory over Vah Tech would definitely be a significant signature road win for Al Golden."
We're silent. I'm thinking GQ could be a bona fide expert. Sure sounds like it.
“The last two teams must be considered," says GQ, "but, we won’t know. That’s why I call them ‘We Won’t Know ‘Tils,' and I've already mentioned them. First is Ohio State, and the beach scow full of drama they bring to the 2011 season. The Buckeyes host Akron and Toledo early, but we won’t know how well they’ve recovered ‘til they mix it up with Miami in sunny south Florida. With a win, the Buckeyes can then call the October 8 road game with Nebraska the Leaders division versus Legends division semi-finals for the championship game. By the way, I hope the Big Ten brass changes those ridiculous division names and soon.”
We laugh. Leaders. Legends. Sounds like Smith’s Hardware versus Opie’s Country Kitchen.
“The other one is Virginia Tech," GQ says. "also mentioned earlier. Interestingly, Miami is again the culprit here. The Hokies ‘face,’ as it were, Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State, and Marshall before Clemson comes to town to warm up Virginia Tech for the ‘Canes. True to form, Frank Beamer will once again field a strong defense, and that's entirely necessary Tech/Miami is a classic Coastal Division matchup, but all the BeamerBall the coach can muster in the first five games won’t do any good unless they beat the Hurricanes in the sixth.”
The Stellas arrive. Mary. Mary’s her name. The grade was a B, a strong B.
“Thank you, Dr. Bricker,” Mary says to me with a smile as she turns to walk away. I know Wally and Gus are dying to say something salacious. The three of us have discussed this over and over: If she's a student, it doesn't matter if she’s as hot as Katy Perry wearing only an acoustic guitar, don’t say anything.
“Let’s drink to GQ,” I say to the men. We raise our pint glasses and down a gulp.
“Speech!” Gus says to GQ.
“Merci, gentlemen,” GQ says. “I’m receiving accolades, and I haven’t even explained how I came up with the Lucky 13.”
“Later,” Wally says. “Every pollster worth his weight has a secret favorite. Let us in on your really big secret, GQ. Of all the teams you’ve mentioned, which school is the best long shot bet?”
“Easy. Louisiana State," GQ says. "The Tigers' most difficult schedule will please the computers, and they have good enough athletes on both sides of the ball, like the all-purpose Russell Shepard. I think the Bayou Bengals will pull off some big wins. In fact, many of the Tigers’ wins will be big because we’re looking at Oregon, Lucky number 4, at Cowboys Stadium, then West Virginia in Morgantown, then Lucky number 12 Florida, Lucky number 9 Alabama on the road, and Arkansas in the On Deck circle. It's brutal in Baton Rouge.”
“Why,” I ask, “do you have LSU eighth?”
"The Lucky 13 is not where the teams will be in December. The ranking is where they begin."
“Funny you said West Virginia,” Gus says. "I thought you hated West Virginia."
GQ just smiles. Hard to figure this guy out. He enjoys the challenge, obviously. It seems he's done this before.
I have to search the Lucky 13 on the Internet. Why it took me the Ph. D. so long to arrive at that conclusion is a mystery, but I have to do it.
Just who is this GQ guy?