Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Twinkie Day isn't healthy for college football

Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 6:50 PM
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 1:32 AM
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ATHENS, Ga. - One of the great elements of college football is the so-called "12th man."

The same can’t be said for the 12th week.

Thanks to the infinite wisdom of the collegiate leaders who preached about protecting its student-athletes against the horrors of a playoff yet couldn’t vote fast enough to approve adding a meaningless 12th game to the regular season in 2006, the mighty Southeastern Conference presented us with Twinkie Day on Saturday.

Conference ding-dongs obviously had no idea that their collective slate of relative cupcakes would fall just a day after the announced demise of the cherished Hostess brand that specialized in tasty treats for more than a century. But it was a fitting placement for the lineup of late-season exhibitions Saturday.

Georgia and South Carolina both wrestled with Southern Conference elite programs for awhile on Saturday before pulling away to the victories that everybody knew would be the ultimate outcomes.

But the SEC didn’t stop there trotting its six-pack of top-10 BCS teams in must-not-see contests.

Alabama vs. Western Carolina. Florida against Jacksonville State. Texas A&M battling Sam Houston State. Louisiana State University vs. Ole Miss … wait, that one technically doesn’t fit the profile.

This is what the superfluous week of football brought us – mismatches in front of more empty seats than typical. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier even had to challenge his fans this week not to walk out early to resume tailgates – a cause he aided by keeping South Carolina in a real dogfight until finally pulling away from a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter.

“It was a little quiet,” said Georgia receiver Tavarres King of the more subdued than usual atmosphere in front of at least 5,000 more empty seats at Sanford Stadium. “That’s expected. The student body is off on break.”

All South Carolina and Georgia really learned from Saturday is when scheduling Division I-AA opponents, beware the triple-option programs.

For the Bulldogs, what they really got out of Saturday’s 45-14 victory over Georgia Southern was the best scout performance it could possibly practice against leading into its annual rivalry game with Georgia Tech. The Eagles’ option offense leads Division I-AA in rushing yardage, and they were illustrating why with some effective gouging runs against the Bulldogs for 30 minutes.

In fact, the Eagles were on the brink of taking a 14-10 lead in the final minute of the first half before a tragically timed chop-block penalty after converting fourth down to the Georgia 2. Backed up and forced to try a 38-yard field goal instead, Georgia Southern missed and the illusion of peer competitiveness unraveled.

The Bulldogs took 59 seconds to go 78 yards with no timeouts, taking a 17-7 lead with four ticks left in the half when Aaron Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell for a 24-yard touchdown .

“That was a huge turn of events,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said.

Georgia’s defense forced a couple of three-and-outs and its offense scored passing touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter to break this affair wide open and keep its BCS hopes going for another week. Win over Georgia Tech next week and again in the Georgia Dome a week later against Alabama and the Bulldogs just might get a chance to play in a BCS title game with real national appeal.

But this extra week of unstimulating football in mid-November does nothing to further college football except feed the bottom line of the insatiable budget.

That is not to say that Georgia shouldn’t face Georgia Southern, South Carolina Wofford or Clemson Furman. Lower-Division I programs deserve at least one game a season on the non-conference schedules of in-state flagship programs like Georgia, South Carolina, Clemson and Georgia Tech.

If nothing else, Saturday’s game produced one great moment that will live forever in somebody’s memory (and it wasn’t Todd Gurley joining Herschel Walker as the only true freshmen to gain 1,000 rushing yards in a season for Georgia.)

It came in the fourth quarter and the outcome already decided. On third-and-2, former Augusta Christian player William Banks burst for 22 yards. Five plays later, Georgia Southern scored its final touchdown.

For the rest of his life, Banks – a fourth-year walk-on not even in the team’s media guide who started the season on the scout squad – can talk about the time he busted a 22-yarder against the No. 5 Bulldogs between the hedges.

That poignant moment aside and the obvious nod to in-state commerce and camaraderie, the extra game has only added an overdose of mismatches. Did Bulldogs fans really need Buffalo and Florida Atlantic this season as well? Gamecocks boosters Alabama-Birmingham? Tigers faithful Ball State?

The answer is no. All major college programs did with the bonus week of regular season games was pad the home slate with another ticket obligation and day of concession sales. If they had used it instead to add more inter-regional showdowns against other peer programs, it would have been worth all the effort expended by the players.

“I would love to see that happen in college football,” said King of sexier non-conference matchups. “I don’t think it happens enough. People want to go against the best and see how they measure up.”

He didn’t mean measuring up against the best team in Division I-AA. With few exceptions in history, that’s never really much of a contest and ultimately as unhealthy as a Twinkie.

The 12th man deserves better.

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gargoyle
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gargoyle 11/18/12 - 01:22 pm
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The only upside I've seen is

The only upside I've seen is the better paychecks for small schools . The split from the big houses help fund all of their athletic programs.

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