Long live the Emory & Henry ...
OK. If you haven't booked your flight to Birmingham for the Papajohns.com Bowl, please go ahead and do it. Waiting until 6:30 p.m. tomorrow could be costly. I booked mine (on the company's dime, of course) back on Wednesday. West Virginia's wild triple-overtime win against Rutgers all but locks it up: just one Big East team in the BCS, so no Texas Bowl for the Bulls.
A quick word about travel: since the late Southwest B'ham-to-Tampa flights on the 23rd were long gone on Wednesday, I'm suggesting an alternate route: Atlanta. Connecting flights from Tampa to Birmingham were upwards of four hours -- I had one that would have left me in Jacksonville for nearly three hours -- and Atlanta is (a) cheaper and (b) an easy two-hour drive from Birmingham. There's a 10:55 p.m. flight on the 23rd that will let you get home for Christmas Eve (technically, an hour into Christmas Eve) and I'll take two hours in a car over two terminally long hours in Terminal C anyday.
Anyway, aside from the insanely remote Notre-Dame-turns-down-the-BCS-madness possibility, USF is a lock for Birmingham. So, of course, is East Carolina, one of only a few I-A schools the Bulls can boast a 3-0 or better record against. And it doesn't take much, but ECU has the early edge in the "Cool Alumni" department. USF, naturally, has Gallagher, and if a tiebreaker is needed, Mark Consuelos. ECU trumps that with the trio of Vince McMahon, Emily Proctor and Sandra Bullock. Hey, they could show!
Man, what a great day for college football. Listened to the SEC title game on the way home from Disney with the family -- watching the highlights, I can't remember a game with better offensive gimmickry. Three touchdown passes by non-QBs, just some great, inventive calls on both sidelines. And if you watched closely in the fourth quarter of Rutgers-West Virginia, you saw the Knights line up in a wild formation Steve Spurrier used to call "Emory & Henry," after the tiny Virginia school that used to run the unique offensive set. It calls for three down linemen in the middle with the quarterback and a running back, with each tackle split out wide, with a tight end out wider and a receiver stacked behind them. You have to see it to believe it, and half the times I've seen it, the defense just freaks and calls time out. Rutgers only got a few yards on a receiver screen, but it took me back to covering Florida, which ran it to success in the 1994 SEC title game. You can read more about the formation, and the school, here. I wrote about it when I was in college -- actually dug up the clip here -- and one of my best friends did a far better job with it here. And how's this for cool: the EA Sports NCAA Football '07 game has E&H in its playbook. You can check it out here, under the South Carolina playbook.
Just to fulfill the news obligation of this blog, I want to mention a possible transfer, as intriguing as it is obscure. Thanks to the brilliance of Google Alerts, I learned this week that a diminutive linebacker named Trent Newton, leading tackler at I-AA Savannah State in Georgia, has decided to transfer after his sophomore season and is considering the Bulls. Newton is just 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, so he's more likely a safety if he were to walk on (or, I suppose, land a scholarship) with the Bulls, but you can't argue with his numbers: 114 tackles, on a team where no other defender had more than 57! SEVENTEEN tackles for loss, along with two picks. He's playing for a terribly bad I-AA program, one that went 2-9 and was outscored 112-12 in the first quarter this year. A story in the Savannah News details all kinds of problems and why four other players reportedly quit along with Newton. Anyway, Newton is from Lakeland Kathleen, so he'd be coming as close to home as he can, and he played two years of youth football with none other than Matt Grothe. Haven't been able to talk with Newton yet, and he also told the News he was considering other I-AA schools, but his story reads a lot like Walt Smith or Devin Gordon or any of these other walk-on success stories: local kid goes far away to play at a small school, plays well in virtual obscurity but decides he wants to come home. You may never hear his name again, but it wouldn't shock me to see him in a Bulls uniform in spring practice.