“Gus,” says Wally, “please read the Week 4 Top 19 college football teams as ranked by, well, us, the law firm of Martin and Malone.”
“And,” says Gus, “they are: 1. Oklahoma, 2. Louisiana State, 3. Alabama, 4. Boise State, 5. Stanford, 6. Nebraska, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Oklahoma State, 9. Florida State, 10. Texas A & M, 11. Arkansas, 12. Florida, 13. West Virginia, 14. Virginia Tech, 15. South Florida, 16. South Carolina, 17. Texas, 18. Michigan and 19. Clemson.”
Gus prepares to continue. “Teams advancing into the Top 19 are Michigan and Clemson. Teams falling from the Top 19 are Ohio State and Arizona State.”
“Wally,” says Gus, “bring it home.” Gus hands the legal document to Wally.
“The 10 Teams On Deck,” says Wally, “waiting for their big win or a big upset of a Top 19 team are, in alphabetical order, Arizona State, Baylor, Iowa State, Miami Fla., Michigan State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon and Texas Christian.”
“And I concur,” I say.
The three of us faux college football experts sit in our corner of the Two Dozen Plus One tavern, commonly called The 25, the top sports bar in all of West Virginia. We have staked our claims on the two sofas and one love seat. The bar patrons have conceded the furniture to us, as if we are Phoebe, Chandler and Joey. And we do spend more money on cold legal beverages at The 25 than anyone else in the Kanawha River valley.
“So,” I say, “Louisiana State hopped over their friends at Alabama. So much for The Tide’s superior strength of schedule.”
“What do you mean?” says Wally. “Saban’s Southeastern Conference with an SEC schedule. An SEC West schedule!”
“I mean, it’s the comparison between ‘Bama’s North Texas and LSU’s early road trip to Mississippi State. It’s the difference between the Tigers’ huge competitive game with Oregon at JerryWorld and the Crimson Tide’s at Penn State. Alabama’s schedule looks good against many other big programs. But, the LSU athletic director this season set up a bear of a non-con September slate. Absolutely no Tide pun intended with that ‘bear’ remark,” I say as I conclude my statements.
In quick retrospect, I probably sounded too smug, like Barack Obama teaching constitutional law.
“Speaking of hops,” says Gus, “or falls, Florida State didn’t drop that far in our Top 19 after bowing out to top-ranked Oklahoma in Tallahassee. And the Seminoles can climb back. There’s a lot of football yet to be played. Look at the teams who took the leap over Florida State with regard to getting a berth in BCS national championship game. There are teams like No. 5 Stanford, with a C-minus schedule." "
"As with No. 4 Boise State, the Cardinal is a one-and-done, with Oregon being the only one tough test for Stanford one and Texas Christian looking like they’re going to rally to be the only one big game for the Broncos. Then, Nebraska and Wisconsin, respectively No. 6 and No. 7, each has two chances to take one or the other out, with the inter-divisional game in two weeks and the Big Ten championship game the first week of December.”
“Do not say Leaders and Legends,” I say.
Gus spits a laugh. Wally nods in agreement. “I won’t, but Whisky’s schedule is most weak among the automatic qualifiers,” says Wally, “and the ‘Huskers’ aren’t that hot, either. That spells one-and-done drama in the Big Ten Plus Two. And, Ohio State just may get angry at themselves and take it out on everybody.”
“No scorn like that of an embarrassed Buckeye,” Gus says.
“So,” I say, “looking at Florida State at No. 9, the only other school ahead of them is No. 8 Oklahoma State. T. Boone Pickens’ favorite Cowboys sport an exigent list of games, including the gauntlet formed by No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 10 Texas A & M, No. 17 Texas, the always-tough Missouri and the surprising Iowa State. The Sooners have a lock-down hold on the top spot. But, even if the recent juggernaut that is Oklahoma is indeed unstoppable—regular season only, of course—those games could still go either way.”
“No one gets out of the Big Twelve alive,” Wally says.
“Good point,” I say.
Gus Martin and Wally Malone are longtime friends of mine. We’re talking West Virginia University sophomores longtime, like their Mountaineer J.D.s in 1981. That’s a long time. They’re the personification of Martin and Malone, attorneys-at-law, an established practice specializing in helping married couples end the blessed union without too much bodily harm.
Now in its thirty-first year of donning tailored suits, 24-karat cuff links and $200 neckties, the law firm of Martin and Malone is the first phone call you make, and you’d better be the first to make it.
If you’re from Almost Heaven and you’ve been through a divorce anytime since the early 1990s and have a ton of money, you gave a quarter-ton to Gus or Wally. As it turns out, you happily wrote that quarter-ton check because Martin and Malone, attorneys-at-law, saved you an additional half-ton. That’s how good they are.
It’s interesting to me that Gus and Wally each have the ability to referee the impassioned, punitive rows associated with their callings, and do so without anyone questioning the quarter-ton. I’d be wound tight as a banjo with a drinking problem.
“Look at the big games for this Week 4 of the college football season,” I say.
“Oh, yeah!” says Wally, smiling big. “Such as—“
“Save it for last, man!” Gus exclaims with a grin. “Give it its due!”
“Okay, then,” I say. “How about SEC East’s Vanderbilt versus No. 16 South Carolina in Columbia? The Gamecocks barely handled Navy on South Carolina turf. And, East Carolina? Georgia? Steve Spurrier could easily be 0-3. But, look at Vandy, 3-0 for the first time in a while. Connecticut, Mississippi. Anchors aweigh, baby!”
“Could be the Marcus Lattimore Show,” Gus says. “But the Commodores’ opportunistic defense may send Steve Spurrier in at the half for aroma therapy.
“Still a long shot,” says Wally.
“Not if they factor in SAT scores,” I say.
My name is Mason Bricker. It’s Dr. Mason Bricker, with a Ph. D. in writing from Duquesne. I love it when you call me Doctor, but don’t expect me to resuscitate a human. I’m a full professor with the English department at Charleston College, a private liberal arts school here in Charleston, West Virginia. This is my thirty-first year on the same campus in the same creaky, ancient, charming classroom building. Count ‘em. Thirty-one years, but I’m fresh, enjoying it as if I were in my mid-twenties at a new job.
Better offers from top schools appear regularly, and are summarily, kindly rejected. Charleston College has always attracted a special kind of freshmen who appeal to my sense of challenge. Year in, year out, CC gets its share of three hundred kids from three hundred wealthy families, three hundred wealthy families that produce three hundred kids with SAT scores just a gnat’s wing too low for the Ivies, Cal, and Stanford.
They show up here in early September with a bogus confidence that boils my blood, as if the next four years will be a stroll. It soothes my soul showing that particular brand of arrogant college freshmen they can’t write worth a rip. I’m the lucky one who gets to break them down, then teach them how.
“Florida State gets back on the national title track at Clemson. Lots of action in the Palmetto State this weekend,” says a familiar voice from the right of us. We turn, and there he is. Our friend, GQ.
“Hey, man,” I say, extending a hand. “Where you been?”
“Saving Greece,” he says, returning the gesture.
“You’re kidding,” Wally says.
We pause, silent. “I’m going to let that one steep a while,” Gus says.
“Yeah,” GQ says with a laugh.
I met him in May at The 25, sitting with his papers and magazines on his usual bar stool before the 54-inch flatscreen and the twenty five polished stainless steel beer taps. He didn’t say much, not much at all. The attorneys dubbed him "The Quiet Guy in the Sports Bar."
It took about a month for The True Quiet Guy to open up to the corner crew. Somewhere in the discourse, with The Quiet Guy waxing spiritually and psychologically about the firings of Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and West Virginia’s Bill Stewart, we dropped The Quiet Guy. He didn’t offer any other suggestions, so he became GQ, an appropriate moniker for a man who can handle himself in verbal jousting with élan.
Now the fourth of The 25 corner crew, we’ve found GQ to possess opinions that stem from the quantitative sector of college football analysis. He’s impressed us with an ability to take fanatical 18-to-22-year-olds with so much speed and strength they don’t know what they can do and titrate the numbers down to the essence.
"Does he have a job?" we have asked. Now, it’s "Is he with the European Union?" Maybe, and this Greece comment is the only clue he has given us.
“I see you Top 19ers have brought Clemson into the fold at No. 19,” GQ says.
“Yeah,” Gus says.
“It’s looking good for the home team,” I say.
“You bet. The Seminoles are injured and hurting,” says Gus. “Clemson is a machine, cranking out big yardage versus Auburn.”
“Don’t ignore Florida State’s defense,” says Wally. “FSU made mistakes galore against Oklahoma and still kept the Sooners from blowing the roof off Tallahassee. You have to consider that.”
“Who has the advantage here?” asks GQ.
“Tossup,” we say in unison.
“We have to mention Southern Cal taking on Arizona State in Tempe,” GQ says. “With USC paying the price for mortal sins, the Sun Devils are ipso facto Pac 12 South leaders for that division’s slot in the conference title game.”
“That makes the Trojans the sentimental favorite,” Gus says.
“What?” we ask in unison.
“In America’s eyes, the compassionate eyes, the USC program has served its time in embarrassment and is now oppressed,” says Gus.
“That’s crazy!” says Wally.
“Besides,” replies Gus, “Matt Barkley is on a mission from the football gods and Arizona State’s quarterback Brock Osweiler is struggling. Advantage: the absolutely cranked USC. Cue the horse.”
“Even though your Enormous Game of the Week is just up Interstate 79,” says GQ with a grin, “you have to look at the big one in the Big Twelve, No. 8 Oklahoma State at No. 10 Texas A & M in College Station.”
“Rare meeting between the schools with both teams in the Top Ten,” Wally says. “That’s AP, I think, and it’s also our Top 19.”
“How about them Cowboys!” says Gus, borrowing the line from ex-Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson.
“Yep,” I say. “The signal man Brandon Weeden is glowing cherry-red with his nation-leading total passing yards. Obviously, Mike Gundy has scanned ex-OC Dana Holgorsen’s playbook.”
“Okay, but there’s a big D out of Texas, and it’s not burnt orange,” says Gus.
“The Aggies’ have 11 sacks on the season,” GQ says. “I don’t like saying it, but that’s substantial, no matter the lack of competition.”
“Aggies’ offensive line?” Wally says. “Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not bit the turf.”
“C’mon, men,” I say. “I reference Phil Steele for the schedules. SMU. Idaho. Louisiana-Lafayette. Tulsa. Even Arizona. Now, Weeden, Joseph Randle, Tannehill, Cyrus Gray. Eleven sacks, no sacks. It’s Texas A & M/Oklahoma State and they’re officially and effectively 0-0. Everything before Saturday is like Dancing With The Stars. It doesn’t work for me.”
The corner crew grows silent.
“You have lettuce or something on your teeth,” Gus says to me. I pick it out with a fingernail.
“No. 11 Arkansas at No. 3 Alabama?” GQ says, laughing. “There’s your Southeastern Conference game of the week, especially when you consider how wild the game got in Hog country last year.”
“It’s like what Green Teeth said about A & M/Oklahoma State,” Wally says. “They’re 0-0.”
“Yeah. ‘Bama has a breakaway running game and looks like their quarterback question has been answered, but that’s against Kent State and Penn State and North Texas State,” Gus says.
“And, Missouri State, New Mexico, even Troy?” I say. “Everyone has played no one.”
“Well, Alabama is a legit No. 3, no matter what you hear out of the surrounding SEC country,” GQ says. “But, gentlemen, you’re going to see Arkansas roll into Tuscaloosa with a good quarterback and experienced wideouts and they will have a tree trunk of a chip on their broad shoulders. It’s going to be a street fight.”
“Granted, GQ,” Gus says, “But it’s not Lee Corso and Erin Andrews!”
“Insane!” Wally replies. “It’s going to be insane! We’re going to make good with the nation for blowing it against 2007 Pittsburgh.”
“Do not even refer to that game!” Gus says.
“It’s not 2007 Pitt,” I say, “It’s over, Wally, Gus. BCS national title berth on the line and 28 point favorites and WVU lost to 4-7 Pitt. That’s a five-hundred year flood. LSU is now and is for real. They have a fast, physical defense, a rushing game with hard-running backs and quarterback Jarrett Lee has lost his shakes and is playing like a champ.”
“They’re No. 2,” GQ says, “and West Virginia is simply a nuisance on their way to slap around Alabama and Oklahoma.”
“Therein lies the opportunity,” Gus says.
“Yes,” answers Wally.
“Most everyone has neglected to remember,” I say. “West Virginia coach Dana Holgorson was an offensive coordinator in the Big Twelve, where defensive speed can just about match the SEC.”
“You’ve flipped,” says Wally.
“Work with me. Holgorsen knows how to prepare his receivers and Geno Smith for that kind of swarming defense. Here’s what has to happen: Mountaineer fans will emotionally leave the game if LSU rolls and smokes the WVU offense.”
“Leave it!” I exclaim. “So, West Virginia’s passing game has to score three touchdowns in the first three quarters and take 21 points into the fourth. That will keep the crowd hostile. Even if it’s tied at 21 at the beginning of the fourth, it will be a 15 minute game, 60,000 fans will be unhinged and anything can happen.”
The corner crew grows silent.
“You know what?” GQ asks.
“What?” I reply.
“No one’s ordered a beer,” he says.
“How’d that happen?” I ask.
“That’s it,” Gus says. “It’s Week 4, the most exciting week of the season and we’ve lost our minds.”