One of the biggest Saturdays of the college football season is about to sneak up on us. It doesn't feature the bubbling anticipation of opening weekend, nor is it cloaked in the mystique of rivalry week, but when the dust settles on this college football season and BCS bowl bids are being handed out, we might look back on Saturday, September 16th as the most critical day of the season.
Coinciding with a slate of huge games this weekend is the release of The Black Dahlia, the crime thriller from Brian De Palma based on the fabulous novel by James Ellroy. In honor of this highly anticipated film (which inexplicably stars Josh Hartnett, by the way), I am choosing seven De Palma films to represent the seven games taking place between ranked teams this Saturday. After all, why write a sports column if you can't incorporate a cheap pop-culture gimmick?
Carlito's Way: #17 Miami at #12 Louisville. I was tempted to put Scarface here for the obvious Miami connection, but I had to save that little nugget for later. Luckily, Carlito's Way fills in nicely and not just because they both star Al Pacino.
In the movie, Pacino's Carlito gets out of jail and seeks to make a new life for himself as he dreams of a move to the Bahamas where he can open his own rental car business (hey, don't we all). And in the corresponding game we've got Louisville trying to get into the national title picture, as they dream of playing in a BCS bowl and boasting a Heisman Trophy finalist (quarterback Brian Brohm). Unfortunately for Carlito, he has shady friends that pull him back into his old life (the famous quote used to open Jay-Z's In My Lifetime Vol. 1 says it all: "Somebody's pulling me close to the ground.").
In the case of Louisville, they lost their star running back Michael Bush and could slip back to the pack if they can't get by the Canes and their stifling defense. Plus, for all the recent hand-wringing in Coral Gables, Miami has a certain aura that can be tough to overcome, especially for teams trying to break through. Essentially, Louisville is trying to become what Miami has been for years and years, but to do so, they have to beat the 'Canes on Saturday. Of course, Carlito's Way has another perfect quote for that dynamic: "You think you like me? You ain't like me [profanity]. I've been with made people, connected people. Who've you been with?" Exactly.
Snake Eyes: #24 Texas Tech at #20 TCU. Brian De Palma has made some good movies, he's arguably made a few great movies, and he's made some absolutely awful movies. Snake Eyes is a fabulously awful movie made purely for entertainment purposes (at least, I hope so). That's why it is perfect for this game.
Texas Tech has a high octane offense that routinely throws up 400 passing yards in a game no matter who stands under center (or, more accurately, stands a few yards behind the center in the shotgun formation) and TCU is a conference-hopping running back factory that currently owns the longest winning streak in the nation. The chances of either of these teams landing a BCS bid are slim, but it should make for some nice, mind-numbing entertainment.
Carrie: #15 Oklahoma at #
15 18 Oregon. In 2004, the Sooners knocked off Oregon 31-7 in Norman. In 2005, the two teams met again in the Holiday Bowl when a Ducks squad angry over a BCS snub blew a tire and lost to Oklahoma once again. Needless to say, the men in the strange green uniforms have had this date circled for quite some time.
And what better movie to represent Oregon's quest than Carrie, the ultimate horror tale of teenage revenge? It is also an apt comparison in that the Ducks' Nike uniforms are often a horror show in their own right. (Okay, okay, enough about the uniforms.) This battle between OU and U of O features the best high school running back from 2003 in Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson taking on the best high school running back from 2004 in Oregon's Jonathan Stewart. It pits two of the finest coaches in the nation against each other in Mike Bellotti and Bob Stoops. And for all that, it will probably come down to a battle of athletic quarterbacks that weren't supposed to be here. Most people in Eugene figured Brady Leaf to be the Ducks' starting quarterback, and certainly nobody in Norman expected Rhett Bomar to get kicked off the team just weeks before the opener. Yet here are Dennis Dixon and Paul Thompson, squaring off with a potential (if distant) BCS bid hanging in the balance.
The Bonfire of the Vanities: #7 Florida at #13 Tennessee. By all accounts (including my own), this was a horrendous movie. Pacing issues galore, egregious narration from Bruce Willis, and overacting across the board. That said, this poor adaptation of the brilliant Tom Wolfe novel sort of tells the Tennessee story of the past few years. A "Master of the Universe" (as Tom Hanks' Sherman McCoy character refers to himself) is on top of Wall Street/college football, raking in the money/recruits, and generally getting the best of everything. Then, suddenly, it all slips away. For McCoy, he partakes in an illicit affair with a Southern Belle (see, this movie fits the matchup perfectly), gets involved in a hit-and-run in the Bronx, and then is trotted out to a salivating public demanding The Park Avenue Defendant.
It is quite a tale and it isn't far from the downfall that Tennessee experienced last year when they started the season #3 in the Associated Press' preseason poll and finished 5-6. This year the Vols have throttled Cal and fended off Air Force to start 2-0 and reemerge as a relevant force in the SEC. I guess it is ironic that they seek to continue their Sherman McCoy-like escape from the depths (in the movie he wiretaps his mistress, entraps her in a lie in the courtroom, and manages to avoid certain prison time, then disappears into the ether as — we are led to believe — a free man with a new perspective) in an epic home game against Florida. You see, the Gators are just two years removed from The Ron Zook Era, which was a bit of mess in its own right. However, under Urban Meyer they are now moving back to the forefront of college football. Despite the falls from grace these two powers have experienced recently, it is safe to say that the only bonfires occurring this weekend will be at the pep rallies on Friday night.
Mission: Impossible: #11 Michigan at #2 Notre Dame. I'm not saying that it is impossible to go into South Bend and beat Notre Dame (although Penn State would argue that it is), but when you look at Michigan's recent history, things don't look good. Lloyd Carr is 0-3 lifetime in South Bend, Michigan hasn't won a road opener in six years, and the Wolverines are coming off a very disappointing 7-5 season in 2005. So let's call it Mission: Extremely Difficult.
The good news for Michigan is that they have a ferocious ground game featuring stud junior Mike Hart (not to mention talented backups Kevin Grady and Brandon Minor) running behind a fantastic offensive line. They also have a passing game led by Chad Henne and Steve Breaston that is dying to show what it can do. The Wolverines have more than enough ammunition to take down the Irish. The question is whether they choose to accept their mission (actually the question is which team executes, but that didn't make for a very good ending). Cue the theme music!
The Untouchables: #19 Nebraska at #4 USC. As depicted in the movie (that I suspect was good in its day but really doesn't hold up very well), Eliot Ness' "Untouchables" were a group of incorruptible lawmen that spent their days battling the likes of Al Capone and other mobsters in Chicago during the 1930's. Today, that tag could describe the offense that USC has been trotting out the last four years.
Beginning with Carson Palmer and Mike Williams, cresting during the Leinart/Bush/White era, and now the transition to John David Booty and a host of talented backs, receivers, and tight ends, the Trojans have become the most feared offensive juggernaut in college football. Can Nebraska stop them? For that to happen we are going to have to see a sudden and dramatic return to the "Black Shirts" days for the Cornhuskers defense. The other option, of course, is to try to outscore USC. While this is no easy task — especially against So Cal's improved defense — Nebraska might be one of the few teams up to the task.
Behind Bill Callahan's explosive offensive scheme and Zac Taylor's (no relation to our 12th President) strong right arm, the 'Huskers might have the right formula to get the job done. (Note: Between Callahan and Pete Carroll, this might be one the better all-time "guys that weren't so good in the NFL but are great college head coaches" matchups. If only we could get Steve Spurrier involved in some way.)
Scarface: #6 LSU at #3 Auburn. Scarface was a bloody masterpiece. I don't mean "bloody" in the way British use the word, but rather in the literal sense … it is probably the best movie ever made to rely solely on visceral violence. That gore factor alone is perfect for a game that should rank among the hardest-hitting contests of the year, but the "coming up against all odds" element fits as well. In Scarface, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) fights to gain respect and move to the top of Miami's criminal underworld, which is fitting, because both LSU and Auburn have been fighting for respect and a place at the top of the college football world for the last couple of years, cresting with Auburn's exclusion from the BCS title game in 2004 (you know, the year they were drilling people by 40 every game and featuring like eight NFL first round picks, but couldn't get past a wildly overrated Oklahoma team in the old computer rankings).
It is a shame that one of these teams will have a loss so early in the year, but the winner becomes one of the favorites to win it all. Perhaps Thunderdome is a better reference ("Two men enter — one man leave"). Too bad De Palma didn't direct that one.
Auburn continues to win with defense and a relentless ground game and only puts the ball in quarterback Brandon Cox's hands when the defense overloads the box. As for LSU, they have been arguably the most impressive defensive team in the country through two weeks and feature an extremely talented but inconsistent quarterback in JaMarcus Russell, a monster athlete with perhaps the best arm in all of football (including the pros). LSU asks its quarterback to make plays early and often while mixing in a running game by committee (spearheaded by Justin Vincent and Alley Broussard). It says here that the most physical (we'll bail out of the Scarface comparison long enough to avoid the term "violent") team wins.
It should be a fantastic weekend of college football – probably the best one of the entire season. Now I just hope De Palma's latest film holds up its end of the bargain.