(I recommend the bold sections be online-only. Unless there's ample space - CH)
You know what really grinds my gears? As I was watching college and NFL games this weekend, one of the more prevalent of my pet peeves reared its ugly head, again and again and again.
No, not the sportscasters who use "unanswered" as the same thing as "consecutive" – don't get me started on that … too late: when Team A scores after Team B scores three "consecutive" times, that is Team A's "answer;" at that point, Team B's scores are no longer "unanswered," just "consecutive."
But, as one of my favorite college professors said several times every lecture (he was a great storyteller), "I digress."
No, what had me up in arms last week as I watched game after game and flag after flag was the fact that defenses have a far-less-than-fair chance in games these days when it comes to the passing game.
I saw pass interference called when there was no interference (or sometimes even a catchable pass). I saw third-down stops negated because of roughing the passer calls when there wasn't anything rough at all.
I kept thinking to myself, "Man, what a great time to be a quarterback."
Don't get me wrong, I love watching good passing teams, and the downfield throw is one of the most exciting parts of football. Heck, my Falcons were a work of art Monday night, and that was a game featuring possibly the best quarterback – yep, I said it, and it's not too long of a discussion – the NFL has ever seen in Peyton Manning. I have no problem agreeing with officials when there is legitimate p.i. or roughing during a play.
But here's the rub: These days, it seems like you can hardly breathe on the quarterback after he throws the ball – or barely breathe on a receiver when the ball is in the air – without getting a defensive penalty called.
I understand football is now a quarterbacks' game. I understand that the passing game is what the fans want (see above). I understand that you have to protect the players … especially the superstars the game is built around.
But come on, man. You gotta give the "D" a chance.
It's gotten to the point where every incomplete pass results in receivers looking for an official and motioning for him to throw the flag. It's gotten to the point where a defensive lineman has to defy the laws of physics to stop his pass rush or the referee will throw his flag as the quarterback gets hit.
If the powers that be don't want quarterbacks taking hits, fine. Here's my suggestion: take the pads off of them, put them in a red "don't-hit-this-guy" jersey like in practice, and make them stay in the pocket without a pass rush. (Obviously this is a stupid idea, but it would be a lot less frustrating to a defense than getting flagged for roughing the passer ALMOST EVERY TIME the quarterback hits the turf.)
If the powers that be want to give receivers an advantage downfield, fine. Here's a suggestion: Don't let defenders come within 5 yards of the receivers until the pass is actually complete, and then the defenders can make all the contact they want with them. (Again, an obviously stupid idea, but again with the less-frustrated defense thing from the last paragraph, only the flags are for pass interference ALMOST EVERY TIME a downfield pass is incomplete.)
Here's the deal: If a defender takes more than two steps after the ball is thrown and hits the QB, flag him; he should be able to stop his momentum in two steps. If a defender hits the quarterback in the helmet with a forearm shiver, flag him; but just because a raised hand grazes the QB's helmet when a defender is trying to knock down a pass (which he's paid to do), it's not a safety issue for the QB.
Now I know some of you readers are thinking, "Hey dummy, that IS the rule about hitting the QB's helmet." But I have seen time and time again the distinction not even taken into consideration when the flags start flying.
As for the pass interference … let them play! When a receiver initiates contact or is "hand fighting" (I love that term) just as much as the defender, let them play! Just because there's contact while players (from both sides) are trying to catch the ball, it doesn't mean it's "interference" with the pass (or, more accurately, catch).
And now I'll step down off my soapbox … safe with the knowledge that this column right here is sure to make the college and NFL officials (wait, aren't they the same these days?) see the error of their ways.
Missouri at No. 7 South Carolina
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Line: South Carolina by 10
What's up: The Gamecocks have been solid under coach Steve Spurrier, but haven't been able to take that "next step" under the Old Ball Coach – an SEC title and BCS bid. Could this be the year? And how will Mizzou fare in its first SEC road game? Still tough sledding, to answer both questions.
My pick: South Carolina 24-7
Oregon St. at No. 19 UCLA
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Line: UCLA by 7
What's up: Beavers have played only once in first 3 weeks, but it was an impressive win over Wisconsin. While defense ruled that day in Corvallis, UCLA's dynamic offense and pair of Pac-12 (read: not as good as a Big Ten) defenses could mean whoever has the ball last will win.
My pick: UCLA 42-38
No. 2 LSU at Auburn
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
Line: LSU by 20½
What's up: LSU has one of the two best defenses in college football, and now has a downfield-oriented offense to go with a power run game. Auburn is 1-2, and needed two overtimes to beat upstart Louisiana-Monroe last week. One thing's for sure (just like in Week 1): the Tigers will win.
My pick: LSU 27-10
No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Ind.
Line: Notre Dame by 5½
What's up: Wolverines-Irish, in front of Touchdown Jesus. Just like the ND-MSU rivalry, this one has had so many close games come down to the final seconds. And with the way the Irish are playing and Michigan QB Denard Robinson's ability to make things happen (especially against Notre Dame), this could be another classic.
My pick: Notre Dame 21-14
No. 15 Kansas St. at No. 6 Oklahoma
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial, Norman, Okla.
Line: Oklahoma by 14
What's up: The Big 12's biggest bully on the block the past few seasons hosting a team that has pulled its share of conference upsets over the years. The Sooners were lost in the shuffle in early national title talks with resurgence of USC, but could make a statement the week after the Trojans lost to Stanford.
My pick: Oklahoma 38-24
No. 10 Clemson at No. 4 Florida State
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.
Line: Florida State by 14½
What's up: Clemson is the team that's impressed me most so far this year. The Seminoles seem back to their old tricks, with some looking at them as an SEC/USC spoiler in the national title picture. Plenty of speed and athleticism on the field in this highly anticipated duel between two top-10 teams who are frontrunners for the ACC Atlantic title.
My pick: Florida State 35-34
No. 3 Oregon at No. 22 Arizona
When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
Line: Oregon by 22½
What's up: Ducks are now a part of the Pac-12 elite, after a few years of knocking on the door. Is it the Wildcats' turn now? A win over Oregon would rank right up there with Stanford's upset of USC last week, and put the conference race into complete chaos.
My pick: Oregon 52-28