Let's not beat around the bush -- right now, if there were a championship of Texas, could the Dallas Cowboys defeat the Baylor Bears?
Rarely has an NFL division leader looked as awful as the Boys looked against New Orleans on Sunday night. One reason was the Saints played well, and another reason was Dallas has numerous injuries. But a lot of pro teams play well, and in the NFL everybody has injuries. The Boys looked uniquely bad.
Dallas played so poorly, at times the Cowboys looked like a short-handed hockey team. Dallas allowed 625 offensive yards, 49 points and an NFL-record 40 first downs. Texas is the center of America's football culture, yet its highest-profile team plays like a group of high schoolers on defense. New Orleans leading 21-10, the Saints were on the Dallas 28 with 13 seconds remaining before intermission, holding one timeout. Since New Orleans is already in field goal range, the Saints are close to certain to try for the end zone. Yet Dallas lined up with nine of its 11 defenders on or close to the line of scrimmage. Darren Sproles took a simple screen pass and, behind downfield blocks by Jahri Evans and Brian De La Puente, legged out a touchdown. The Dallas defense allowed an easy six with the clock nearly expired -- not the first time this season that's happened.
Maybe it was running up the score for Drew Brees to throw deep at the start of the fourth quarter, his team already leading 35-17. But Jerry Jones and his players boast so much, then play so poorly, it's impossible to feel sympathy. For the game's final 13 minutes, the Saints did not attempt a forward pass. This did not matter: The Boys allowed a 78-yard touchdown drive consisting entirely of plain-vanilla running plays. Dallas is on a pace to allow 7,037 yards, which would be the second-worst performance ever by an NFL defense.
The Boys' offense, which had been carrying the team, on Sunday looked awful, too. Just nine first downs -- Dallas tied an NFL record by allowing 31 more first downs than it gained. Tony Romo, paid about as much as Super Bowl winners Tom Brady and Joe Flacco, does hit lots of passes but often vanishes in the clutch. The Boys were 0-for-9 on third downs. Ye gods.
Many teams experience ups and downs -- just ask the Falcons or Giants. But there's something uniquely nutty about the Cowboys' situation. Jason Garrett, the head coach, is a Princeton graduate, so why is the Cowboys' football IQ so low? Owner Jerry Jones spends money lavishly, seemingly always in salary-cap trouble, so why don't the Boys have depth? With injuries inevitable, winning teams must have depth. The Cowboys remain tied for first in the NFC East, but only because no club in that weak division has a winning record. Spending right up to the cap limit, the Cowboys of 2013 are 0-4 against winning teams.
And then there was the sight of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan on the New Orleans sideline. He was sent packing by Jones after last season, scapegoated for another year of the Boys not making the playoffs. Sunday, he outcoached the team that dismissed him. Ryan was tossed overboard so that Dallas could hire Monte Kiffin; since Kiffin's arrival, the Cowboys' defense has dropped from 19th in 2012 to dead last. And it hasn't been a banner year for the Kiffin bloodline: USC is 4-1 since Lane Kiffin was given the ejection-seat treatment.
Say this for the Dallas Cowboys, they can always be relied on for entertainment -- either winning big or melting down in spectacular fashion. Here's a disturbing thought: Since three of the Boys' remaining games are against NFC East foes who are themselves struggling, could the Cowboys of 2013 become the worst team ever to win its division?
In other football news, Cincinnati, visiting Baltimore, tried on fourth-and-1 during regulation, then again on fourth-and-2 in overtime at the Baltimore 33. Neither attempt succeeded. (See more on fourth-down stats below.) Yet the Bengals' Marvin Lewis did not try on the best fourth-down situation in football -- going for two to win with the clock expired.
Trailing 17-10 on the final snap of regulation, Cincinnati launched an improbable Hail Mary that was caught for a touchdown that made it 17-16 with the clock expired. Line up for a PAT kick, then fake it and go for two! Succeed, and the game ends with Cincinnati victorious. Kick the singleton and go to overtime, where the chance is 50-50.
Are the odds of a deuce better than 50-50? Historically, half of NFL deuce tries succeed -- last season it was 47 percent. But that stat mainly reflects expected tries. Surprise deuce attempts from kicking formation almost always succeed. After Cincinnati's Hail Mary was caught, Baltimore was reeling. The perfect time for a surprise try for two! Tuesday Morning Quarterback's impression is that NFL coaches are so programmed to send in the kick unit, they barely seem aware that you can fake it and go for two. The Bengals needed 2 yards to win and wouldn't go for it. Then in overtime, needing 2 yards merely to sustain a possession, they did.
In a season of Xbox offense, occasionally old-fashioned defense rises to the top. The Panthers took their winning streak over second-echelon clubs to San Francisco and held the NFC's defending title team to 9 points, as well as to 46 net passing yards. The 49ers never crossed midfield in the fourth quarter, at one juncture facing fourth-and-29. This week Carolina and Baylor showed they are for real. Next Sunday at Denver, we'll find out if Kansas City is for real.
As for the NFC's defending champs, San Francisco has failed to score 10 points on three occasions. Nobody's falling for the zone-read play-fake anymore: Colin Kaepernick looks panicky in the pocket. If the quarterback thing doesn't work out for him, he can always fall back on nude modeling.
Stats of the Week No. 1: The Steelers allowed 45 fewer points than in their previous game.
Stats of the Week No. 2: Jacksonville is on a 2-0 streak against Tennessee and an 0-20 streak against all other teams.
Stats of the Week No. 3: Stretching back to halftime of their playoff meeting, the Seahawks have outscored the Falcons 61-20 in their past six quarters.
Stats of the Week No. 4: Nick Foles has 16 touchdown passes versus no interceptions.
Stats of the Week No. 5: Buccaneers offensive tackle Donald Penn caught his second career touchdown pass.
Stats of the Week No. 6: Andy Dalton followed a streak of 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions with a streak of two touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Stats of the Week No. 7: Stretching back to the beginning of the 2012 season, Houston has followed an 11-1 streak with a 4-11 streak.
Stats of the Week No. 8: In the month of November, Joe Flacco is 18-6.
Stats of the Week No. 9: New England will enter its meeting with red-hot Carolina on a 10-1 streak on "Monday Night Football."
Stats of the Week No. 10: The Giants are 3-6, have committed a league-worst 28 turnovers and are a game and a half out of first.
Denver's Own Personal Stats Item: Denver is on a pace to score 660 points; the NFL record is 589 points. Peyton Manning is on a pace to throw 59 touchdown passes; the NFL record is 50. The Broncos' 219 points in the second half exceed the total points scored in all quarters by 17 teams.
Sweet Play of the Week: The favored Colts boomed a punt headed toward the St. Louis coffin corner. Les Mouflons return man Tavon Austin stepped away from the bouncing ball, making the baseball "safe" signal, which football teams use to mean, "Teammates, do not touch the kick." Then the Colts' gunner slapped at the ball, trying to keep it from rolling into the end zone. Immediately, Austin grabbed the football, running 98 yards for a touchdown. The run was sweet, but sweeter was Austin's understanding of the rule. Once the punting team touches a punt that has crossed the line of scrimmage, the return team takes no risk by handling the ball, because the return team has the option of result of the play or possession at the point of the kickers' first touching.
Other sweet special teams plays included Jersey/A sending eight men against an Oakland punt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Leading 10-3, Pittsburgh lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-3. No quarterback on the field, the holder barked a hard count; Buffalo jumped offside, first down and a touchdown soon made the lead 17-3. When Carolina, leading 10-9 at San Francisco, punted on fourth-and-2 on the Niners 41 with five minutes remaining, it seemed the visitors were tempting fate. But the Panthers downed the ball at the 1. Soon the favorites were facing fourth-and-long, backs to their own end zone.
Sweet Play No. 2: Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons leading 27-14 in the third quarter, Minnesota had first-and-10 on the Persons' 28. The Vikes came out in a power set with six offensive linemen and two tight ends. Christian Ponder play-faked and bootlegged left. Safeties saw only one player, the sole wide receiver, out in a pattern. Backup tight end John Carlson blocked for a count of "one-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three" -- a long time by NFL standards -- before sneaking through the mass of bodies on the line of scrimmage and running a drag route in front of Ponder. Usually on a bootleg where the tight end pretends to block, he pretends only for an instant. By design or accident, Carlson waited so long that when he headed downfield, he was entirely ignored, 28-yard touchdown. Sweet. Carlson came into the contest with 61 receiving yards on the season and caught for 98 yards.
Sweet Play No. 3: Denver leading 21-6, the Broncos lined up in the trendy pistol look, with a tailback and receiver Demaryius Thomas around Peyton Manning. Thomas went in motion left, forming a trips left. Manning faked a handoff right, then very quickly threw a bubble screen left to Thomas, who went 34 yards for an untouched touchdown with offensive linemen Chris Clark, Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez all more than 10 yards downfield.
Sour Play of the Week: A week ago, Bills coaches staged the Single Worst Play of the Season So Far: Facing third-and-goal on the Kansas City 1, with a fourth-stringer at quarterback but a top-rated running attack, Buffalo coaches called a pass that was intercepted and returned the length of the field for a touchdown.
Now it's Buffalo at Pittsburgh, Bills again facing third-and-goal on the 1. This time the quarterback is oft-injured E.J. Manuel, who hadn't played in a month. Rather than run and run again if unsuccessful, Bills coaches called a pass, incomplete, then sent in the field goal unit. The coaches' saying is: Sometimes it's OK to make a mistake; it's never OK to repeat a mistake.
Just to prove it was no fluke, trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, fourth-and-5 on the Pittsburgh 36, Bills coach Doug Marrone sent in the punt unit. Punting in opposition territory down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter! Perhaps there is a reason the Bills have eight consecutive losing seasons and are working on the ninth. It took Pittsburgh just four snaps to pass the spot where the ball would have been had Buffalo gone and failed. Bills coaches followed the Single Worst Play of the Season So Far with the worst Preposterous Punt of 2013.
Sweet 'N' Sour Play: Baltimore leading 17-10, Cincinnati lined up for a Hail Mary from midfield with two seconds showing. The clock expired as the ball was in flight. Fourth down, knock it down -- defenders should never try to catch a fourth-down pass, let alone a game-ending heave-ho. Baltimore's James Ihedigbo, in position to spike the ball to the ground and end the contest, inexplicably flipped it into the air, keeping the pass alive. A.J. Green caught it for the Bengals' touchdown. Sweet for the visitors, very sour for the defending Super Bowl champions.
News from Space No. 1: Your columnist sometimes takes a break from sports to do highbrow writing, including this 2008 Atlantic Monthly cover story asserting the asteroid threat to Earth isn't science fiction. The main contention of that article was that new research would upend the notion that space strikes were a phenomenon of the far past -- rather would show the sky above us is full of rocks, with the solar system "a far more dangerous place than was previously believed."
Last week the new research, from a team led by Peter Brown of the University of Western Ontario, was released. It shows near-Earth objects are far more numerous than once assumed, as well as more likely to be dangerous. The Chelyabinsk rock that fell on Russia last February exploded with about 30 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. Humanity's luck was good: The blast was high in the sky and widely distributed. The new research projects that a Chelyabinsk-class rock might fall every one or two decades. Probably several have fallen in the past century but unobserved over an ocean. If humanity's luck turns bad and a space rock hits a city, the world's ongoing failure to prepare any defense against space rocks will be seen as the greatest error of human history.
TMQ in the News: Here I am as subject of an hour-long interview by Brian Lamb on CSPAN.
The Titans Remember! T.C. Williams High, of Alexandria, Va., subject of the loosely-based-on-reality movie "Remember the Titans," had not made the postseason since the 2000 release of that film. This though the very liberal Virginia playoff system annually invites about half the state's high schools: 10 teams with losing records just made the Virginia playoffs, including Lee High School of Springfield at 2-8.
Drum roll please -- T.C. Williams made the 2013 Virginia state playoffs, first appearance for the Titans since the movie hit theaters. Let's hope Williams wins a game on a length-of-the-field fumble return on the final snap, as happened in the flick, though not to the actual Titans.
Keep Your Hand on Your Wallet: This column contends that corruption in government is a larger problem than commonly understood -- that a reason expenditures at the federal, state and local levels keep smashing records, yet schools and bridges don't get built, is that a significant fraction of what government spends is not just wasted, it is stolen.
Last week's news that two senior admirals have been placed on leave on suspicion of corruption, while two Navy commanders and a senior official of the actual NCIS, not the TV show, have been arrested and charged with corruption, might be just the tip of an iceberg, to employ a nautical metaphor. Here's a quick tour of recent corruption charges:
In federal government, a top EPA official stole nearly $900,000 from the agency, including through his expense account and by not reporting to work for months at a time yet receiving full pay. Absurdly, he was believed at the EPA when he claimed to be on assignment for the CIA. If the CIA needed an environmental specialist, there is a system by which one would be "detailed," and the EPA would know.
Recently, an Army contractor was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing about $30 million using false invoices. Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. recently was sentenced to prison for embezzling from campaign funds; his wife was sentenced for income-tax evasion. (The campaign embezzlement did not cost taxpayers anything, the tax evasion did.)
In state government, the Securities Exchange Commission has accused the state of Illinois of pension bond fraud. The S.E.C. has charged the former head of the California state pension fund with fraud. Members of the New York Senate have been arrested on bribery charges. The lieutenant governor of Florida resigned over involvement with a fake charity.
In local government, the former mayor of Detroit just went to prison for corruption. Several members of the Washington, D.C., city council have been jailed or indicted for corruption, including one in jail for stealing from a youth-sports fund. A former California mayor just pleaded no contest to corruption charges. A former Chicago alderman just pleaded guilty in a corruption case. Chicago might be "the most corrupt city in the country," with kickbacks and embezzlement costing Chicago taxpayers $500 million per year, a rate that works to $185 annually stolen from each resident.
One of the 35 defendants in the Atlanta public school cheating scandal has been acquitted, the rest await trial. At heart this is a corruption scandal, the accusation being that public school educators changed grades to qualify for bonuses they did not earn. The principal of a Washington, D.C., charter school recently was accused of approximately the same.
If it's any consolation, government hanky-panky is international. There is a corruption scandal in Canada, hard as the phrase "Canadian scandal" seems to be to write. In France, the budget minister -- whose job is to manage public accounts -- recently confessed to being a tax dodger. The former prime minister of the Czech Republic faces prosecution for stealing public funds; he made his reputation by promising to clean up government. A stunning 53 public officials in Spain were just convicted of corruption.
In a big, complicated world, there will always be some who steal. Most public officials are honest and work hard to administer public funds properly. But we tend to think of theft in government as a problem of bygone days of bosses in smoke-filled rooms. With evermore money flowing into government, evermore corruption might be one result.
"Monday Night Football" Analysis: The City of Tampa barely avoided going a full year without a home victory, leaving that distinction to the Eagles, a team that has not won at home since September 2012.
Who would have guessed, as recently as a few months ago, that an NFL franchise would be reeling from a locker-room bullying scandal? Such was Miami, Buccaneers' opponent. With offensive line problems before the controversy began, the Dolphins faced the added loss of starters Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. On the safety that was among the most dramatic two-point plays in the sport's annals -- runner tackled 5 yards deep in the end zone, almost as he was receiving the handoff -- emergency guard Nate Garner did not block anyone. Garner simply stood up and looked bewildered as Tampa linebacker Lavonte David crashed untouched through the center of the Dolphins' offensive line.
The Bucs opened the scoring with one of the sweetest plays of the year, a third-and-goal touchdown pass to offensive tackle Donald Penn. Fielding six offensive linemen for a power-rush play is a football meme started three years ago at Stanford; many NFL teams now use this alignment. For the third-and-goal, out came an extra offensive tackle. The Bucs lined up unbalanced right, with the extra lineman right of the center. That left Penn exactly where he would normally be, at the left tackle spot. Except he wasn't the left tackle, he was the left end! Tampa's seven on the line of scrimmage looked like this:
To the defenders, it seemed Penn was what he always was, and they ignored the umpire's declaration that No. 70 reported eligible, since on goal-line plays the extra offensive lineman often reports eligible. Unbalancing the line distracted defenders from realizing Penn had become a tight end. (The center does not have to be in the center, that's only a custom -- the ball may be snapped by anyone on the line of scrimmage.) The Bucs faked a power rush to the right, while the formation's lone wide receiver cut to the left corner, dragging away the safety on that side. Penn faked a block for one second, stepped across the goal line and turned around, uncovered. Sweet! And he's TMQ's kinda guy, an undrafted free agent who has made the Pro Bowl.
College Game You're Sorry You Missed: The annual Colby at Bowdoin game tied at 20, the clock ticked toward all-naughts, ball at midfield, Bowdoin's Hail Mary bounced into the hands of a Polar Bear, touchdown with three ticks showing. Bowdoin leads 26-20. The PAT attempt was blocked and returned by Colby for a defensive deuce, making the score 26-22. Though Colby had just scored, Bowdoin kicked off. The Mules attempted a Stanford Band return. The clock expired, but the play remained live. After several laterals, a Bowdoin player scooped up a Colby fumble and ran for a touchdown. Final: Bowdoin 32, Colby 22.
Because the first touchdown occurred with three seconds remaining, the PAT return was on an untimed play and the final touchdown occurred untimed -- that's three scoring plays in three seconds! Also, 156 yards gained in three seconds.
Adventures in Officiating: Officials called pass interference against St. Louis, and the call looked correct; the defender wasn't playing through to the ball, simply tackled the Indianapolis receiver before the pass arrived. Then zebras conferred and picked up the flag. Huh? The next snap was the Indianapolis punt returned for a touchdown.
Early in the Oklahoma at Baylor contest, the Bears' K.J. Morton put a vicious hit on a defenseless receiver, was flagged for targeting and was ejected from the game. The Baylor home crowd booed loudly as the Oklahoma player lay motionless surrounded by doctors and trainers. Baylor fans need to take a look in the mirror -- booing when a player might be severely harmed.
Officials watched the replay and, as has happened many times this year in college play, reversed the ejection though let the personal foul stand. Technically the reversal was correct -- Morton had not targeted the Oklahoma player's helmet. What he did do was slam his forearm into the Oklahoma player's neck: he should have been ejected for that! Later, Baylor's Demetri Goodson laid a vicious hit on an Oklahoma receiver long after the pass had fallen incomplete. Goodson was flagged for a personal foul -- but should have been ejected.
This is the first season of the NCAA's targeting rule, and so far enforcement leaves much to be desired. Officials seem now to think that only deliberate helmet-to-helmet contact should lead to ejection: everything else is OK. Morton and Goodson both should have been tossed for vicious late hits, regardless of the point of contact. It's unnecessary roughness in any form that ought to be the leading concern.
For their parts, Fox Sports 1 announcers Justin Kutcher and Joel Klatt shied away from mentioning safety on both downs. "That was an ill-advised play for Baylor," Klatt declared of the Goodson penalty -- meaning because it cost the Bears 15 yards, not because it was dangerous. Announcers of all networks that broadcast football still have a long way to go in learning that safety should not be a forbidden topic on-air.
Last week I proposed that the goal-line rule for touchdowns versus safeties is confusing -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was confused about that rule after his charges lost to Miami on a safety in overtime. Going into the end zone for a touchdown the ball need only be above any part of the white line; coming out, to prevent a safety the entire ball must be across the white line.
Readers including Walter Megger of Timonium, Md., countered that there is an easy way to understand the difference. The white goal line is not the boundary of the end zone, it is part of the end zone. Going toward the end zone, any part of the ball above the white line is a touchdown because the white line is part of the end zone. Going away from the end zone, the entire ball must be beyond the white line -- otherwise it's in the end zone, safety.
Limited-Edition Temporary Revival of the Christmas Creep Item: Reader Luis Murray of Mexico City reports that on Nov. 4, standing before a Christmas tree and nativity scene, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro declared "early Christmas," announcing two-thirds of the country's traditional year-end bonus to workers would be paid in mid-November. In Venezuela, Christmas Creep is official government policy! The declaration came a short time after Maduro announced the creation of a government-run Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness.
The Official Wife of TMQ was traveling in Africa on business last week and on Nov. 4, took the accompanying photo at the central shopping mall in Windhoek, Namibia. On the way home, flying Delta from Johannesburg to Atlanta, she was handed a snack bag brightly labeled ALMONDS AND CASHEW NUTS. In tiny letters was -- you have already guessed -- "Warning: Contains Nuts."
The Author Was a Mercenary All Right: Simon & Schuster has withdrawn "The Embassy House," the book claiming to be an insider's account of the Benghazi consulate attack. If you bought a copy, S&S will issue a refund. Presumably the author, who claimed to have rushed into the consulate like James Bond, went unexposed so long because it's hard to confirm anything about what happened that night.
As this column has noted before of literary hoaxes, though books are seen as the ultimate carriers of truth, books are not fact-checked. Magazine and newspaper articles usually are fact-checked: in most cases, book publishers require only that the author sign a statement attesting factual claims to be true. Most authors are honest, so usually this is sufficient. But for the author running a hoax, there is little cross-check.
What jumped out at me when I read initial news accounts of the book was the author's claim that immediately after arriving at the consulate, he beat a terrorist to death with the butt of his rifle. This is the sort of thing that might be said by someone who's trying to fabricate. If a bad guy is standing in front of you, it makes a lot more sense to use the rifle to shoot him than use it to hit him. Modern infantry rifles have composite stocks designed to keep down weight. They don't make good clubs: they're not supposed to.
But in movies, the manly man brings down enemies without bullets. Check the ending of the 1955 flick "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier." In the final scene at the Alamo, Fess Parker kills Mexican after Mexican by striking them with the butt of his rifle as the movie fades out. "Davy, Davy Crockett, the man who knows no fear."
Fourth-Down Courage Outbreak?: Suddenly it seems that fourth-down resolve is all around us. Cincinnati goes on fourth down in overtime. Against LSU, Alabama goes on fourth down in its own territory. In the Chicago-Detroit game, the opponents went on fourth down on back-to-back possessions. Thursday night, top-ranked teams Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon and Stanford combined for 11 fourth-down tries. A week ago on Monday Night Football, the Bears went on fourth down in their own territory. "I'm seeing a lot more aggressive calls" this season, Jon Gruden commented.
Sure seems as though there is a sudden outburst of fourth-down resolve! But stats show there is not.
So far this season, NFL teams have gone on fourth down 250 times. At the same juncture last season, there had been 240 fourth-down attempts. At the same juncture a decade ago, there had been 261 fourth-down tries.
In college football, FBS schools are averaging 1.6 fourth-down tries per contest. At this juncture last season, the average was also 1.6 tries per game. A decade ago, FBS schools averaged 1.4 fourth-down tries.
Fourth-down tries are down slightly in the pros, up slightly in big-college games -- but neither level of football shows a dramatic trend. If it seems fourth-down resolve is increasing, the likely explanation is high-profile tries in nationally televised games. Overall, not much has changed -- which causes Tuesday Morning Quarterback to wonder anew, why don't football coaches go for it more often?
The Biggest Problem Faced by the USPS Is the USPS: In a few days, the United States Postal Service will announce its fiscal year-end result, and as the Federal Times put it, "The only suspense will lie in the exact amount of red ink."
But isn't the USPS trying to become user-friendly? That's certainly what it says. Now you can pay for and print mailing labels yourself, slap them on a flat-rate box and hand them to a carrier or drop them off at a post office, skipping the line. Sounds great!
So I printed a label myself and slapped it on a medium flat-rate box. I drove to a nearby post office, listed as having a lobby open until midnight. The lobby was indeed open -- and the package drop slots would not accept the box, which was an inch too large. The USPS is distributing a box that won't fit in its own slots.
So the next day I put a prominent note on my mailbox asking the carrier to pick up the package. It was Saturday, I was raking leaves and observed him pull up, read the note and drive away. I chased him with the box. First he told me he couldn't accept it because "you have to call it in." Then he told me he couldn't accept it because it weighed more than 2 pounds. It weighed less, but that didn't matter because it was a flat-rate box with flat-rate postage. He took the box only after considerable lobbying on my part, pretty much growling at me for the sin of trying to take my business to the USPS.
Only a government-protected monopoly can behave in this manner. The USPS should lose its monopoly, and learn to compete. Companies that compete make their boxes fit their slots, and don't drive away from business.
Buck-Buck-Brawkkkkkk: As Florida boomed a punt in Vanderbilt territory, reader Laura Ammons of Jacksonville, Fla., tweeted, "Sounds like it'll be Florida's first lost to Vandy in 22 years." And yea, verily, this came to pass. Who cares if it was fourth-and-31 from the Vanderbilt 38? Florida was behind, be a man! Needless to say the football gods caused the punt to roll into the end zone for a touchback.
Later on ESPN, the college football A-team of Rece Davis, Mark May and Lou Holtz was discussing Florida's 4-5 record as if it were some kind of national calamity. Can't we at least pretend Florida's players are students first? In every game, somebody has to lose. Part of the calamity claim was empty seats at Florida's stadium by the third quarter, though the house was packed at kickoff. The University of Miami entered its home game the same day in the top 10, and drew only 49,267 in a stadium that seats 75,000. Declining attendance at college football games has more to do with high-def flat screens and games shown on tablets than lack of enthusiasm for the sport. At any rate, can't we at least pretend that the players at Florida, and at other football factory schools, are there first to learn, only second to win games?
Wacky Aristocrats of the Week: Why the Brits retain their peerage system is anyone's guess. Reader Andrew Bernard of Hanover, N.H., noted that Mervyn King, former head of the Bank of England, has just received a lifetime peerage. The gentleman is now addressed "Lord King." Too bad Handel isn't around to write an oratorio about him.
And don't get me started on the United Kingdom still calling the people who run its navy the Sea Lords. The Royal Navy is down to fewer than 100 ships, with no fleet-class aircraft carrier -- the United States has 10 in commission plus two under construction -- and only a handful of vessels that could be characterized as capital ships. Yet the Royal Navy still has Sea Lords: a First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord and so on. If any reader knows the Royal Navy's current ratio of admirals to ships, please report it to me @EasterbrookG.
News from Space No. 2: No distant Earthlike world has been discovered, but as this column annually notes, it seems nearly certain a distant Earthlike world will be found during our lifetimes. This new research paper estimates there are huge numbers of Earthlike worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone. How many? NBC News said 8.8 billion. Looking at the same study, the Washington Post said 25 billion and the New York Times said 40 billion. That's a fairly large range of estimates -- but the study is based on estimates, not actual observation of a distant Earthlike world.
Another world similar to ours will be found. And if it's "close" in galactic terms -- not close enough to send probes, it is many centuries of flight time to the nearest star at imaginable velocities, but close enough to study with visual and radio telescopes -- there will be substantial excitement.
Best CFB Thursday Night Ever: Last Thursday night offered a big-college football doubleheader of undefeated Oregon at 7-1 Stanford plus 7-1 Oklahoma at undefeated Baylor. In the NFL, the choice was 3-5 Washington at 1-7 Minnesota. Let's see now, which sounds better?
Pro football ratings are fantastic but have been flat for several years, while college football ratings continue to climb, and may pass NFL numbers. One reason is that offense is entertaining: the scoreboard-spinning tactics that have taken over college play consistently put more points on the board than NFL tactics. Purists may prefer a 20-17 NFL contest; audiences are voting with their remotes for 45-42 games. But another reason is the simple size of college football.
With 125 universities playing at the big-deal FBS level, each week of the college season offers lots of pairings between winning teams. With 32 clubs in the NFL, winner-versus-winner pairings are much more rare. In Week 9, Chicago at Green Bay was the sole pairing of NFL teams with winning records. This week, three of the 14 contests were winner-versus-winner pairings. Three of 14 is pretty good by NFL standards, and might be about the same as the winner-versus-winner likelihood in college. But because of its size, the FBS generates more winner-versus-winner events, allowing CBS, Fox and ESPN to present full slates of important games, while many NFL pairings are woofers. As football games spread from TV to laptops, tablets and Google glasses, that's a factor that should help college ratings.
Baylor Rules! Two weeks ago this column questioned whether Baylor's football squad would hold up against a power opponent. The answer is yes. Against Oklahoma, the speed guys on offense weren't the story, the front seven was. Is there some chain of events in which Baylor meets Stanford for the BCS title? That's a game I would watch, and would pit a great football graduation rate (93 percent at Stanford) against a good one (67 percent at Baylor).
Oregon at Stanford was the tortoise versus the hare. The Cardinal slowed the pace as much as possible, snapping with a few seconds on the play clock while Oregon snapped as fast as it could. The results were Stanford possessions of 8:26, 7:59 and 7:33. These long drives had two effects -- they got the Oregon offense frustrated so it pressed when on the field, and they prevented the Oregon offense from getting the Stanford defense gasping for air. Getting the opposition gasping for air is essential to the Oregon strategy, and never happened either in this game or last season's Stanford win.
Last season and this, the Cardinal knew the key to disrupting the Blur Offense is to take away the inside runs that chew up yardage in chunks. Most teams that face Oregon seem concerned with stopping the long bomb. Stanford has shown that stopping the up-the-middle rush is the first concern. Most of the game, Stanford ran a 3-3-5 with the three linebackers having responsibilities mainly for their gaps, not for pass coverage. One of the three always rushed, but in zone-blitz style, so the Oregon line would never know which; often the rush linebacker ran a loop. On the third-quarter sack/fumble that was the beginning of the end for Oregon, two linebackers rushed, both looping, and the Oregon offensive line had no idea what hit it. Since the start of the 2012 season, Oregon has averaged 17 points against Stanford and 54 points against all other schools.
There Are No Secret Investing Formulas! Renowned for outsized returns on its endowment, Yale is smarting from this James B. Stewart column showing that in recent years, the endowments of Abilene Christian University and Spalding University have posted better returns. "A spokesman for Yale noted that its endowment had a strong 12.5 percent return for the most recent fiscal year, which ended on June 30," Stewart reports. But from June 2012 to June 2013, the S&P 500 rose 20 percent, meaning Yale's endowment fared worse than if someone from New Haven, Conn., had simply called the 800 number of any retail S&P 500 index fund.
Endowment management for elite colleges can seem awfully like a hustle. A few years ago the endowment manager for Dartmouth paid himself about $1 million for a year of dramatic losses; huge bonuses to endowment managers are common at elite schools. Yet how often are results notably better than (or less worse than, depending on the year) results at 800-number index funds? When returns are strong -- during the current Wall Street boom, strong returns have been hard to avoid -- endowment managers declare themselves geniuses and take big bonuses. When returns are weak, endowment managers blame market forces and take big bonuses.
Good Economic News Disappoints the Experts: Two months ago, your columnist noted that despite politicians and "experts" predicting doom to be triggered by the federal spending sequester, since the sequester began last winter, all leading indicators have been positive. Now comes news that third-quarter economic growth hit 2.8 percent, a strong number.
Repeating my comment of two months ago: "One can debate whether the White House, the House Republicans or general economic conditions deserve the most credit for this progress. The key point is -- it's progress. The nation is getting its fiscal affairs in order, while GDP growth is happening. A new spending binge would be a blunder, but there's no reason to fear raising the debt ceiling."
Be Kind, Rewind Time to 1994: If you've got a Blockbuster tape you never returned, looks like you are off the hook: the last remnants of the chain are closing. The first Blockbuster opened in 1985 in Dallas, when VCR machines were exotic. A rapidly-expanding Blockbuster brand was sold to Viacom in 1994 for $12 billion in today's money. With Netflix by mail having arrived, digital streaming on the horizon and VCR machines viewed as antiques, Blockbuster was spun off back into a private firm in 2004, repaying Viacom $900 million in today's money, or about 13 cents on the dollar of Viacom's investment. In 2011, Dish Network spent $245 million to acquire the chain, 27 cents on the dollar of Blockbuster's 2004 estimation of its own worth. Now Blockbuster is history: it stayed in business 28 years, a long time by the standards of the digital economy.
The 500 Club: Visiting Mass Maritime, Plymouth State gained 518 yards, and lost. Visiting Texas A&M, Mississippi State gained 556 yards, was plus-two in turnovers, dominated time of possession, and trailed by 24 points on the way to a loss. Hosting Old Dominion, Idaho gained 505 yards, and lost by 21 points. Hosting Saint Anselm, Pace gained 548 yards, did not punt, and lost by 30 points. Pace University teams are the Setters -- perhaps fans chant, "Here boy!" (Check the angry puppy logo.) Visiting Pikeville, Belhaven gained 547 yards, and lost. Hosting Boston College, New Mexico State gained 539 yards, won the turnover battle, won time of possession, was 9-for-18 on third downs, and lost.
Honorary members: Hosting USC, Cal gained 483 yards, and lost by 34 points. Cal is averaging 465 yards of offense, and is 1-9. Visiting Ashland, Tiffin gained 499 yards, and lost by 19 points. Visiting MIT, Maine Maritime gained 497 yards, and lost by 20 points.
The 600 Club: Visiting Mercer, Jacksonville gained 629 yards, and lost. Visiting Cortland State, Morrisville State gained 622 yards, scored seven touchdowns, and lost by 13 points. Visiting Indiana, Illinois gained 612 yards, and lost by 17 points.
Another NFL Coach Receives the Kiss of Death: Mike Smith is "not going anywhere," the Falcons general manager says. So Smith is finished. Though, the statement could prove literally true if Smith is fired and receives no other offer.
Obscure College Score: Baker 40, Graceland 16. With campuses in Iowa and Missouri, Graceland University has nothing to do with Elvis Presley. The school is growing its own vegetables.
Next Week: Could there be four scoring plays in three seconds?
In addition to writing Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook is the author of "The King of Sports" and eight other books, and is a contributing editor of The Atlantic. His website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here. Every Tuesday during the football season, at 3 p.m. Eastern, he will answer questions on Twitter about that day's column.