There is one word you’ve been hearing a lot lately to describe the best college football teams in the country. It is a strange word for a sport of violence. It is an odd way to describe our modern gladiators.
That word is “smart.”
After Notre Dame’s victory over USC last weekend, Trojans Coach Lane Kiffin said, “That’s a really smart team over there.”
Before Stanford’s win over UCLA, Bruins Coach Jim Mora said, “They’ve got some smart kids, and they can handle a lot.”
Smart will be leading the Fighting Irish into the national championship game. Smart will be carrying the Cardinal into the Pac-12 title game. Smart is beating people’s brains out everywhere, from nine-win Northwestern to eight-win Vanderbilt to the entirely decent likes of Rice and Duke.
Those six schools, the only BCS members ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 national universities, have a combined record of 51-21 and will be playing in bowls this winter in the same season for the first time in history.
Talk about revenge of the nerds.
It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening finally, the college football culture witnessing the protracted, painful death of the dumb jock.
“I’ve always thought it’s a cop-out when schools say they have to recruit lower-academic kids,” said David Ridpath, an Ohio University assistant professor and member of the academic-athletic watchdog the Drake Group. “This clearly shows that’s not the only way to win.”
In recent years, former Irish stars Paul Hornung and Allen Pinkett have both said that Notre Dame needed to “lower its standards” or admit “bad citizens” to win. By all accounts, the Irish have done neither, and yet they are America’s only unbeaten bowl-eligible team.