There is little doubt that making accurate, intelligent college football preseason predictions is one of the hardest things to do in all of sports punditry; in fact, a number of notable media members have called for the end of preseason polls in light of how wrong they were after an exciting and tumultuous opening weekend of games. However, now that Week 1 is officially in the books, fans and analysts alike have a handful of new data points with which to make declarations that will undoubtedly be proven wrong over the upcoming weeks.
However, unlike the professional talking head community, most college football fans didn’t spend every spare summer second breaking down the All-22 from Purdue’s Spring Game; instead, they were binge-watching the best that TV and streaming services had to offer in a disappointingly underwhelming summer at the movie theater.
So, now that we have a week of games under our belts, let’s break down some of the biggest storylines for Ohio State, the Big Ten, and college football in general, in a way that even the least engaged football fan will understand; through pop culture.
Ohio State is HBO’s “The Night Of”
In the fall of 2012, HBO announced that they had picked up a pilot option for the British drama “Criminal Justice,” and that James Gandolfini would star. The former “Sopranos” don filmed a pilot for the show, now called “The Night Of,” before he passed away unexpectedly during the summer of 2013.
Robert De Niro was then tapped to take his place on the show, but had to withdraw due to scheduling conflicts, and finally John Turturro was cast as John Stone, a low-level defense attorney with a debilitating case of foot eczema.
Now, if that doesn’t scream Ohio State Football, I don’t know what does!
Granted the murder trial of a Pakistani-American college basketball manager bears little resemblance to the Buckeyes’ 77-10 drubbing of the Bowling Green Falcons, but think about it, how many shows could have lost acting all-timers like Gandolfini and De Niro, and still have turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the season? Not to mention the fact that it is now nearly impossible to imagine anyone, no offense to the dearly departed, who could have played that role better than Turturro.
Likewise, Ohio State is coming off of a 12-1 season and have to replace some of the biggest names in program history; Braxton Miller, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliot to name a few; and yet in their opener, they set a school record with 776 yards of total offense, and put up the most points since 1950.
Other than Turturro, who is one of the most successful and recognizable character actors in the business, you would have been hard pressed to come up with the names of any of the show’s actors early in the season. Yes, Michael Kenneth Williams played Omar on “The Wire,” and you might have recognized Bill Camp and Glenne Headly from their decades-long careers, but I would bet dollars to Buckeye Donuts that you wouldn’t have actually known their names.
Similarly, Ohio State’s 2016 squad is one of the least experienced teams in college football this year, returning only six starters. However, given a favorable schedule, an old friend’s blueprint to victory in Norman, and a record-setting Week 1, the always sky-high expectations in Columbus have somehow risen exponentially.
Despite being a far from a perfect series, for my money, “The Night Of” was the most compelling, interesting, and thought-provoking piece of pop culture this summer; and while the team down in Tuscaloosa might eventually have something to say about it, Ohio State has given fans every indication that they could be in for an Emmy-winning level season as well.
Michigan is Netflix’s “Stranger Things”
There is no program in all of college sports that enjoys touting its historical achievements more than Michigan Football. Granted, they do have the most wins in college football history with 926, but over 40% of those wins came before the end of World War II.
It’s been two decades since their last national title, and a dozen years since they last claimed the Big Ten crown, however, everyone in the college football universe regularly repeats the well-worn phrase that the sport is better “when Michigan is competing for championships.”
Because of that desire to catapult Michigan back into the upper-echelon of the sport, whether they are ready or not, the program has a history of rising to the top of the rankings early in the season, especially against out-of-conference cupcakes, before returning to Earth as the goings get tough.
Over the summer, Netflix released the eight-episode first season of their new supernatural series “Stranger Things,” which, believe it or not, reminded me an awful lot of That Team Up North.
Helmed by the writer/director combo collectively known as The Duffer Brothers (not to be confused with The Harbaugh Brothers), the early-80s throwback was all the rage this summer, spawning overly fawning think-pieces and countless title card memes.
Without a doubt, “Stranger Things” was a quality, enjoyable series that paid tribute to the works of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Stephen King, and more. In the show, a group of young boys fight an evil monster with the help of a strange girl with telekinetic powers in order to save their presumed dead friend lost in a parallel universe called “The Upside-Down.”
As exciting as the season was, it was far from high-art or cutting-edge, and benefited significantly from an unusually slow summer on screens large and small. Much like an admittedly improved Wolverine squad looking dominant over Hawaii, the second-worst team in the FBS, “Stranger Things” benefited from slim pop-cultural pickings this summer.
Despite incredible performances from the show’s pint-sized cast, especially Millie Bobby Brown as the extra-special Eleven, much of the affection showed to the series centered around nostalgia for the bygone era of “The Goonies,” “Stand by Me,” and “Poltergeist;” the fact that Winona Ryder co-starred didn’t hurt either.
Similarly, Michigan started the season ranked seventh and the pick of many pundits to make the College Football Playoff, despite the fact that they finished third in the Big Ten’s Eastern Division last year, and are little more than a year into Jim Harbaugh’s reign.
So, is the desire to return the once-vaunted Maize and Blue to the top level of College Football’s elites really because of the perceived strength of Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, and Jake Butt? Or, is it tied to the nostalgia for the eras when Bo Schembechler roamed the sidelines in Ann Arbor, Tim Biakabutuka broke Buckeyes’ hearts, and Desmond Howard struck his infamous pose?
Time will tell, but for now, I will take the substance and depth of “The Night Of” over the sentimentality of “Stranger Things.”
LSU is FX’s “American Horror Story”
On Sunday, September 18, the Television Academy will present the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, and for some reason, FX’s “American Horror Story” will have eight different nominees, despite the fact that after one and a half strong, early seasons, the show has objectively digressed to garbage levels in recent years.
Over it’s five-year run, the horror series has inexplicably netted 78 Emmy nominations and 13 wins, while hitting a ratings-low last fall.
The “Murder House” season, which starred Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton back in 2011, was exciting, thrilling TV that captivated the public and literally changed the way that we have watched television ever since. However, today many viewers simply tune in to see what trainwreck levels of schlock Ryan Murphy and company can throw at the latest season.
Despite the creative bankruptcy that the series now finds itself in, lazy critics and nominating committees continue to heap accolades on it under the assumption that since they are familiar with the name of the program, and many of the individuals involved are exceptionally talented, that “AHS” has to eventually be able to right the ship and reclaim the promise of its former greatness.
Thus is the case in Baton Rouge. Fairly early in the Les Miles Era, the Bayou Bengals won the 2007 National Title (we won’t discuss that game any further), and that seems to have sustained them for over a decade. Since that season, they have won only one SEC Championship, before losing a rematch with Alabama in the National Title game.
Yet, every year, pundits rally around LSU, proclaiming that this is their season to wrestle SEC supremacy away from Bama; 2016 is no exception. The Tigers began the season ranked fifth in the country and many people (myself included) thought that behind Leonard Fournette, this could be the year that The Mad Hatter got out of his own way and let his talented team achieve its potential.
After one week, that does not appear to be the case, as the team fell to previously unranked Wisconsin 16-14 at Lambeau Field on Saturday. Despite having arguably the best running back in the country, disappointing coaching and shoddy quarterback play has once again seemingly doomed LSU to a season of “what could have been.”
With a rotating cast that boasts the collective talents of Oscar-winners Jessica Lange and Cathy Bates, nominee Angela Bassett, not to mention Sarah Paulson, Denis O’Hare, Lily Rabe, and more, there is no reason that “American Horror Story” should continually underachieve as much as it does. However, underachieving is not exclusively a Ryan Murphy issue, now is it Les?