Lang’s World: Giving Thanks for College Football

It is that time of year again, when we gather with our friends and families and break out thick sweaters and instead of fretting over what we do not have, we can instead hopefully be thankful for everything we do have. This is something my Mom used to force us to do each Thanksgiving, although now it is something I relish the chance to do. And as yet another college football season winds to an end, it’s time for a tradition unlike any other. As I do each year, I thought it only right to give thanks for some of the things that make college football so great…

I am thankful for Jake Fromm, college football’s checkdown king, who never attempts to take what isn’t there. This also means he often does not take what might be there. It can be frustrating to watch, but Fromm is the perfect conservative QB for Kirby Smart’s conservative system at UGA. You might tear your hair out when Fromm throws a four-yard out on third-and-ten, but here’s the thing about Fromm: He’s been good enough to get UGA into the SEC Championship game each season he’s been at the helm, which is better than anyone who ever came before him.

I am thankful for Mike Norvell, who has managed to not only maintain but also expand upon what Justin Fuente built before him here in the 901. Tiger football is not only arguably the best Group of Five team in college football, they also might be the best Group of Five program in the country (by which I mean the total package of talent, recruiting, fanbase engagement and facilities). Norvell’s name is increasingly linked to Power Five job openings, understandably, and as much as it stinks to consider, Norvell’s eventual departure for more money and a chance to actually compete for a National Championship kinda feels inexorable. Which is sad, but it is what it is. And right now, at least, it is a lot of fun.

I am thankful for second chances and coaches like Ed Orgeron, who was not good when he was the head man at Ole Miss, but somehow got another chance at LSU and has pushed every correct button since getting the gig. He’s recruited the heck out of the South, and through scheme and development helped transform Joe Burrow into the best college quarterback in the country. Meanwhile, Coach O remains the most entertaining coach in the SEC, even if his accent is about as impenetrable as LSU’s offensive line.

I am thankful for Alabama football fans and their unwavering belief in Crimson Tide exceptionalism. Tua Tagovailoa just suffered a severe injury that will likely end his college career, and despite winning a title in 2017 and setting several FBS career passing records, I’m guessing there will be Bama fans who believe Tua didn’t do enough. And let’s be real: Alabama has been awesome for so long, having a season like this one where there are so many injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, can be understood, if not exactly tolerated. No matter the circumstances, even a one-loss Bama team raises eyebrows in the South.

I am thankful for Brad Nessler, who has quietly picked up where Verne Lundquist left off on the SEC on CBS. I still miss Uncle Verne’s steadying presence, particularly at times when Gary Danielson goes completely off script, like two weeks ago when a student photographer got knocked out on the sideline of the UGA/Auburn game and Danielson kept cracking jokes as trainers tended to the unconscious girl on the sideline. (Danielson apologized during this week’s game for not fully understanding the seriousness of the situation.) Either way, Nessler provides an authoritative voice each week. It’s never about him or trying to work in memorable catch phrases, it’s always about the game.

I’m thankful for Jeremy Pruitt, who unbelievably rode out the Titanic-esque early season in Knoxville and now, incredibly, has the Vols bowl eligible. And they play Vandy this weekend, which should be another W. I’ve been a fan of Pruitt all season, mostly for the wrong reasons, but as I wrote a few months ago, pulling the plug on Pruitt was never the right move. I’m still not convinced Jim Chaney is the right man to be calling plays, but at the very least Pruitt has bought himself some time. Tennessee should be good enough to stay above .500 in the SEC East for a few years. I’m not sure how much time Pruitt has bought, but he ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I am thankful for Joe Moorhead and Matt Luke, who have kept SEC football in Mississippi just mediocre enough the last few seasons that I haven’t really had to devote all that much attention to keeping tabs on it.

I am thankful for players such as Brian Herrien, a senior backup running back at UGA, who has quietly done his job week after week for the last four years. Running behind guys like D’Andre Swift, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Herrien has been so solid, all substance and no flash. He will be missed more than people realize next season. (And with his durability, blocking ability and pass-catching skills, it says here that Herrien is going to be a great NFL running back.)

I’m thankful that crazy things that still seem to regularly happen in college football, such as last weekend when the mighty Miami Hurricanes lost to 20-point underdogs Florida International University. I know upsets regularly occur in other sports, but nothing is funnier than a big college program losing to a team they have no business losing against. I’m also looking at you, Tennessee.

I am thankful for Paul Johnson, who ran the option for many years at Georgia Tech and kept them good enough to be relevant, even if it did appear they were stuck in the 1950’s. Now he’s gone and Tech is once again trying to compete with the big dogs (and Dawgs) by beating them at their own games. Good luck with that, Jackets.

I’m thankful for Derek Mason and the waves in Nashville. Wait, what? Take it away, Coach Mason: “Vanderbilt is always going to go on waves. It just is. There’s going to be cycles of bowl teams and opportunities. It’s not going to be an every year opportunity unless these guys get it young and we hit it hot. I mean, there’s going to be waves and cycles in this deal, and I’m just in a wave right now, just a wave and cycle where we’re not where we wanna be. We’ve just got to continue to keep pushing.” Waves and cycles, y’all!

Finally, I’m thankful for college football. Professional sports is in many ways cheering for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, but college football is usually rooted in something bigger — the schools we attended or where our parents or grandparents spent time, or the towns where we grew up. It’s a little hokey, I know, but as the saying goes in the SEC, college football can just mean more. Also, in a world where pro athletes change teams from year to year, for the most part college athletes stick around for a few seasons, and I love getting to know the stories behind the players, like this one about LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who hyphenated his last name for a great reason…

Enjoy your turkey, y’all.

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