It’s Power Poll time, sports fans! This week we we’re dissecting all the great aphorisms of the College Football Universe® and ranking the top excuses, lies, and outright bullshit we fans use to explain away defeat and kindle the fires of hope.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes - “Refs!”
The Grand-Daddy of ‘Em All. Like sand through the hourglass, excuses come and go as the game evolves—Free Shoes, Cam Newton’s dad’s church, the birth of the forward pass, etc. Yet one remains fixed and inviolable against the ravages of time. Whether you’re a PSU fan still claiming that overrated hack Mauti was held, or literally anyone who lost to Michigan when Dave Witvoet was in the same time zone, “Refs!” is the gift that keeps on giving. Like a popcorn ceiling, it conveniently masks all sorts of ineptitude on your behalf. Offense couldn’t convert a third and inches all night? Sure, that’s not good. But it was that goddam bullshit ineligible receiver downfield call in the Third that GOT US INTO THIS MESS!
2. Penn State Nittany Lions - “Essentially won...”
The perfect choice for second place. If you can’t lean on the refs, lean on a good old-fashioned moral victory. Real victories are fine and dandy if you’re one of those “blue blood” programs who cares about silly trappings like trophies and national titles and bowl wins and not crying into your Stroh’s on a Saturday night. A real B1G fan knows that it’s just nice to play a good, tough game. Success with honor, if you will. Sometimes it’s more than enough to simply overcome expectations by adding a fifth quarter to your eventual soul-rending loss—a loss that was really sort of a win, when you think about it. The road to redemption starts with a stumble.
3. Wisconsin Badgers - “Academic restrictions”
The diehards love to trot this one out as a reason their program can’t get over the hump, or misses out on recruits, or dies on a near-annual basis in LucasOil Stadium in the most crushing of fashions (let us pause for a moment while Melvin Gordon sets suplexed for 2-yard loss). The horrors of recruiting for the Harvard of the Midwest notwithstanding, no one whose name isn’t jNW can lay claim to this case with any semblance of a straight face. Which is a shame, since Paul Chryst only has a straight face. He smiled once in 1998 and decided it just wasn’t for him.
4. Michigan Wolverines - “Michigan Man”
Why? Well, because THIS IS MICHIGAN FERGODSAKES! Noted cannibal and erstwhile Head Donut Distributor Brady Hoke underscored just how important it is to hire a Michigan Man to restore the honor and glory of 1930-something to Michigan football. Someday they can hire an Ohio State man again, like Bo. I bet he never slept in some recruit’s sister’s Hello Kitty bed. Times, they are a-changin’...
5. Michigan State Spartans - Adding $ to the name of a school who lands your recruit.
Thi$ one need$ no explanation. Really the only down$ide of this one is that Michigan lack$ the appropriate letter$ to really capitalize on it. Then again, there’$ no real appropriate and succinct financial $ymbol to denote “$leepover.”
6. Maryland Terrapins - “The best fans in college football.”
Well that’s just a goddam lie now isn’t it? Your fans are like everyone else’s fans: mostly normal, occasionally terrible, and capable of burning down their corner of the internet when the team lays an egg to the University of Central Somewhere. Unless you’re Maryland, in which case the internet is safe because empty yellow seats can’t type.
7. Iowa Hawkeyes - “Control our own destiny.”
This one is occasionally true, but it’s also dumb because every team controls their own destiny. People only stop saying this once their team has driven their own destiny into a ditch and therefore needs someone else to hit the guardrail, flip over and burn. Granted, when you’re down this far on the list, it’s quite possible that the steering wheel you have your hands on is purely ornamental, like the reins on a carousel horse. Maybe in B1G West, destiny controls you.
8. Purdue Boilermakers - “Wait til he gets his guys in”
The hopeful version of number three. Often reserved for those fans who know in their heart of hearts that the water diviner in the AD’s chair managed to tap into the Hazell aquifer but who still want believe that a fresh cup of Urban Meyer is just a season or four away. Not limited to the following: Chris Ash, every post-Ozzy Nebraska coach through 2035, PJ Fleck in his brand name form (PJ Fleck) and his store-brand form (Brock Spack). It’s like the bare cupboard approach, but a shade more desperate.
9. Nebraska - “Football is a religion here”
Said everywhere where football is generally popular, this is only really true in Texas (listen quietly for heads exploding in Alabama). Fans love this one, because it combines the joyful gatekeeping of blue blood status with the smug superiority of being part of the “real America,” where education is a vehicle for sports and mild traumatic brain injury makes a man out of you. The problem is that even when football is a religion wherever you hang your hat, that fact does nothing to keep you from doing really dumb stuff, like hiring a 9-win coach to fix a 9-win coach problem.
10. Minnesota Gophers - “This is the year...”
The fans believe it, right down to the overtaxed cores of their wheezing little hearts. The team should be in the mix for the title every year, and quite obviously win a few of them along the way. But they don’t, and that’s the problem. They’ve got all those sexy pieces...recruits, huge apparel contract, new headline coach, great stadium, maybe Dave Witvoet on retainer. And somehow, they just translate into mid-pack finishes (or worse) for a decade and longing looks at an axe.. As Bill O’Reilly would say, “you can’t explain that.”
11. Northwestern - “Students do homework/read books in the stands.”
NO THEY DO NOT. Stop it with this. You stop it right now. This is the dumbest thing that ostensibly smart people say about their school’s fanbase, and it’s always in the form of a poorly executed humblebrag. Why is this even supposed to be some badge of honor? Kids doing homework en masse in the stands are basically a human tarp, with a lower ROI thanks to their insistence on an English Lit degree.
12. Indiana - “The next Percy Harvin”
The hallmark of fans who adorn with Chrysler Town & Country cheerio-dumps with symmetrical window flags, this one screams “I only know offensive starters’ names, except for three to five guys I can’t name at all.” This trope tends to be used in equal measure by fans of teams who actually run an endless conveyor of top-tier football talent and by fans of the “also rans” who always promise to have found the next hidden gem the big boys overlooked. The idea stems from misplaced faith in MAC coaches and the foolishly optimistic projections of the enslaved writers at the SBN team sites.
13. Illinois Fighting Whatevers - “Cupboard was bare...”
New coach sucking wind like a fat dad on the stairmaster? Not his fault! Turns out the last guy didn’t leave a single capable player behind. True story! He purposely stopped recruiting three years ago to make sure the guy who would eventually replace him would have to field a traffic cone and two sacks of millet on the offensive line. And that’s to say nothing of the defense. Ho ho, the defense! That last guy literally sold a player to Canada just so he couldn’t mature into a high motor, coach-on-the-field type.
14. Rutger - “Sleeping Giant.”
The football equivalent of “Wait’ll I get my money right.” It’s not happening, Kanye. Throw some cosmoline in that cannon and stow it for the foreseeable future. The giant won’t be stirring anytime soon.