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WHAT THE HECK?! MASCOT AND COACH PROBLEMS
September 23, 2010

SCS.com Somehow even when I "take a week off" to go watch some college football apart from my writing duties, I still manage to end up seeing one of the most compelling stories of the season in person. Just going to be that kind of year, folks. My family and I went up to the Horseshoe on Saturday afternoon and walked into the stadium right as the Buckeyes walked onto the field. Then the infamous Bobcat Attack was on! As Ohio State's football team was led onto the field by a couple of cheerleaders and Brutus Buckeye carrying the biggest OSU flag you will ever see, when Rufus the Bobcat, Ohio University's mascot, sideswiped Brutus in an attempt to tackle him. Brutus and the cheerleaders all but dropped the flag, but were able to continue to the endzone as Rufus readjusted his head. But he had figurateively lost his head as he tracked Brutus to the endzone and jumped on his back, taking him down and punching him repeatedly. Brutus eventually got Rufus to roll off him and the fight split up when security stepped in and told Rufus to back off. If you have not seen the video and you read this article, count me astounded. And go watch it, right now.

However, the plot thickened considerably when the man in the Rufus suit, Brandon Hanning (a former OU student who now attends nearby Hocking College) explained that the incident was planned for over a year, indeed was the only reason he suited up. Apparently Brandon was pissed about OU being narrowly defeated by the Buckeyes a couple years ago, and decided this would be the funniest or best way to get back at Ohio State, without getting in "serious" trouble other than losing his job and being blacklisted at OU athletic events. He was so single-minded on this goal that he actually staged a fight last season with the Buffalo mascot by bringing a red cape and taunting the Bull mascot before taking him to the ground and pounding on him. At least that incident was partially incited by the Bull as well. The attack on Brutus Buckeye was completely a surprise, a sneak attack of sorts. The bottom line is...this attack crosses the line from fun mascot fighting to classless assault and battery. Brandon wanted to make Brutus look stupid, but I think the only person who looked stupid in the aftermath is Brandon himself.

While Ohio University did all they could to Brandon by removing him from his duties and basically uninviting him from anything he would care to do on the Athens, Ohio campus, I think it would be sweet justice if shooting off his mouth ended up shooting him in the foot. There's no legal queston whatsoever that Brandon committed a battery (an unwanted touch or force applied to another) on the person in the Brutus Buckeye suit, and his admission that this was an intentional malicious plot pretty much removes any defense he might have in a court of law. While I do not condone a criminal suit in a case like this with a 19-year old kid, a civil suit and a monetary penalty would definitely teach Brandon a lesson he likely will not forget. This behavior reflects so poorly on the university he was paid to represent that there may be irreparable damage done, a critical dagger for a school that depends on Ohio State to bring them in every few seasons to get a big paycheck and balance the athletic department budget. I believe it would only be fair for Brandon to see the error of his ways by paying a true price for his ridiculous plot, just like Ohio University may pay for years to come on his behalf.

This interesting incident leads to two other related unexpected recent subplots: classy fans and mascot issues. Being a mascot is perhaps one of the highest honors a university can bestow other than being a star on the football team itself, and there's a lot of hard work to attain those positions. Yet it seems like more and more, the persons behind the funny suits cannot seem to understand the role of university ambassador they take on. Playful fighting on the sideline with a rival mascot is perfectly fun, but on and off the field, these mascots are going wild. At Penn State, the 2008 mascot missed the 2009 Rose Bowl after a DUI and the current holder of the role was suspended for the first month of the season for an underage drinking run-in with the police. Minnesota's Golden Gopher mascot was publicly reprimanded for mocking a Penn State player while he prayed at a football game. And back in 2007, the Oregon Duck mascot instigated a full-on brawl with the Houston Cougar mascot in the season opener. These events and other off-the-field incidents seem to happen more and more, which begs the question: what in the world is going on with these mascot people? When your mascot has a bigger ego or a better tackle than your football team, you have a serious problem. Universities need to do a better job of keeping their ambassadors in line, or finding a way to screen out the psychopaths like the man who tackled Brutus this Saturday.

The other issue bubbling up under the surface is fan conduct. While we have no recorded incidents this year so far that have hit the national radar, I've been able to see firsthand just how toxic some fans are acting in certain midwestern fanbases. For example, on my way to South Bend a week and a half ago, I'm getting passed by a car from Kentucky when I realize the car is running past me and pulling back repeatedly. I look over and there's a Notre Dame jersey in the windshield, followed by a pair of middle fingers. You see, I had a sweater on from my alma mater, Ohio State. I was not wearing the jersey of a rival team, or even the day's opponent for the Irish (that would be Michigan), but apparently that's not good enough to be classy. This phenomenon of classless fans grows and grows, and I've seen everything from footballs and beers thrown on opposing fans to verbal insults that would make a sailor blush. There's not much the universities can do about this problem, but I urge you to police your own fan bases, and make your campus a fun place for opposing fans to come visit instead of a shop of horrors. Trust me, it will benefit you in the long run to be the bigger person.

The other story of the week looked like it would be on-the-field, but ended up being off-the-field of play as well. Michigan State battled hard with Notre Dame and ended up with the second possession in overtime. Notre Dame had kicked a field goal to put some pressure on Michigan State, but the opportunity was there for the Spartans to win it. However, it looked like a second overtime was in order when MSU lined up for a 30-yard field goal. But then Mark Dantonio showed he's not just another Jim Tressel by risking it all on a play called Little Giants, a fake field goal pass for the end zone. In fact, the former high school quarterback and holder for the Spartans Aaron Bates found his first option totally covered by the Irish. However, Charlie Gantt rushed straight down the field and was option number two, wide open for the touchdown pass delivered true by Bates. And just like that, Notre Dame fell to perhaps the best 1-2 record in the country while Michigan State grabbed a legendary finish for the record books. So what did Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio do to celebrate his ballsy all-or-nothing winning gamble?

He had a minor heart attack. While Dantonio is out of the hospital and doing fine as of writing this article, this is yet another relatively young coach whose health almost caused a moment of triumph to become a moment of tragedy. This has uncanny similarity to the Urban Meyer health scare last December after the SEC Championship Game. Meyer even stepped down temporarily before finding out what medical problems ailed him (and got medication to treat his symptoms). However, this makes an interesting contrast between young coaches who are having life-threatening conditions brought on by stress while two old crumudgeons Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden seemingly have no problems 40 years into coaching careers (or more). College football coaching is a year-round stress-fest these days, but something is terribly wrong if the Dantonios and Meyers of the world are going to the end that they almost kill themselves pursuing national championships and conference championships. Perhaps it would behoove these gentlemen to turn to their rival schools' elder statesmen and ask them for some advice on obtaining stress relief or work-life balance. Coaches should not need to kill themselves for a crystal football, and hopefully we learn this lesson before somebody is not as lucky as Urban and Mark have been. That being said, best wishes to the Dantonio family and be patient Spartans fans, even if this season takes a slight detour in these tough times.

Looking back at the first three weeks of the season, three teams stand out for having three totally dominating and consistent performances, including one against a reasonably tough opponent. If early struggles are an omen of problems to come, then Alabama, Ohio State, and Nebraska would be your early favorites for the BCS Championship. Furthermore, each of these teams has plenty of monster games left in the top three conferences in the country (Alabama vs. Florida, Arkansas; Ohio State vs. Iowa, Wisconsin; Nebraska vs. Texas, and Texas or Oklahoma in the conference championship). With no offense to the also respectable starts by TCU and Boise State, these three teams have already done enough to vault above those two into the national championship game, let alone if they run the table against wicked schedules. Good teams find a way to win on their bad days, while elite teams find a way to dominate consistently so that there is only one or two games at most that even come into question. Look for the Crimson Tide, Buckeyes, and Cornhuskers to continue the drive towards Glendale if the first quarter of the season is any indication.

The first game of the week is West Virginia at LSU. The Mountaineers have watched the Big East absolutely open up for them with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati struggling, but an undefeated season will only happen if this tough roadtrip goes better than their first to Marshall did. The Mountaineers have found one of the more prolific offenses in college football thus far, as defenses focus on Noel Devine and the running game and get burned by QB Geno Smith and three talented receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Jock Sanders. The Mountaineers are passing for nearly 300 yards per game, and LSU has some serious questions in the defensive backfield. However, look for the Tigers to be the first defense to bottle up Devine and hold him below 100 yards. When LSU has the ball, look for Jordan Jefferson to try and get the passing game going after struggling in his first three starts of his junior year. RB Stevan Ridley has over 300 yards this far, but LSU will need more than the decent running game to keep up with WVU. The one intangible in this battle is the homefield, where LSU has not lost a non-conference game in a decade. This is not an easy roadtrip and WVU cannot come out flat again if they hope to win this game. The Mountaineers will not come out poorly, but LSU and the Mad Hatter find a way to win at home once again. LSU by 3.

The second game of the week is Oregon State traveling to Boise State to play on the blue turf. Speaking of massive home field advantages, LSU is one of the only teams nationwide that can compete with Boise in the dominance department, as the Broncos have not lost on the blue turf in 9 years in the regular season. Boise State rolled last weekend to an impressive victory over Wyoming and Kellen Moore has not missed a beat from last year. Moore continues to exploit the talents of Titus Young and Austin Pettis, while RB Doug Martin has quietly racked up decent yardage in two games. The Beavers defense had some serious issues in stopping Louisville last weekend after playing fairly well against Andy Dalton and TCU in week 1. The Beavers have not seen anything as good as the Bronco offense though. The Beavers offense has foudn some early success with new starting QB Ryan Katz managing the passing game and relying on the Rodgers brothers to carry the day. Jacquizz Rodgers will need to play keep away and push boise's offense to the sideline to keep this game close. Oregon State has learned from their loss to TCU and their trip to Boise four seasons ago, but that will not be quite enough with this Broncos team, which will make a bold statement again for a national title appearance with a 17 point win.

The third and top game of the week is a top ten showdown as Alabama hits the road to face Arkansas. Conference play always brings a whole new level of challenge, and for the defending national champion, it does not get much tougher than an opening trio of games against Arkansas, Florida, and South Carolina. While nearly every team in America would blanch at that schedule, the Crimson Tide may just step up and roll through the next three weeks if the dual-attack of Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram continue as they have in the first three weeks. The best way to shut down a good opposing offense is to take the ball away, and the Arkansas defense will need to step up with a couple of turnovers to keep the home crowd fired up in this one. The Razorbacks really shut down Mark Ingram a season ago, but Greg Mcelroy passed all over the field on them for their trouble. That cannot happen again. When Arkansas has the ball, the story will obviously be whether Ryan Mallett can withstand the pass rush and the heavy coverages from the young Alabama defense. Losing the lead last week against Georgia may look troubling for the Razorbacks, but that may have battle-hardened them where Alabama has not played a close game since the middle of last season. RB Broderick Green has to keep the Alabama defensive front off of Mallett's back or else Arkansas will disappoint their home fans very early in this one. While road games are a whole different animal in the SEC, Alabama needs a week of two of SEC "seasoning" before they are ready to be defeated. Crimson Tide by 7.

The Remainder of the Weekend - Week 3

(2) Ohio State defeats Eastern Michigan
(4) TCU defeats SMU
(5) Oregon defeats Arizona state
(6) Nebraska defeats South Dakota State
(7) Texas defeats UCLA
(8) Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati - withheld until full preview
(9) Florida defeats Kentucky
(11) Wisconsin defeats Austin Peay
(12) South Carolina defeats (17) Auburn
(13) Utah defeats San Jose State
(14) Arizona defeats California
(16) Stanford defeats Notre Dame
(18) Iowa defeats Ball State
Pittsburgh defeats (19) Miami
(20) USC defeats Washington State
(21) Michigan defeats Bowling Green
(23) Penn State defeats Temple
(25) Michigan State defeats North Colorado

2010 GOTW Record: 7-2
Last Week: 2-1
2010 Overall Top 25 Record: 59-7
Last Week: 20-3

Fitz Top 10 - Week 3

1. Ohio State (3-0)
2. Alabama (3-0)
3. Boise State (2-0)
4. Oregon (3-0)
5. TCU (3-0)
6. Nebraska (3-0)
7. Oklahoma (3-0)
8. Texas (3-0)
9. Arkansas (3-0)
10. South Carolina (3-0)

Just Missed: Utah, Florida, Auburn, Arizona, Wisconsin

This week you will find me in my own backyard of Cincinnati, taking in the Bearcats and the Sooners. While that game looks like a mismatch after three weeks of the season, this is Oklahoma's first roadtrip and I'll have a preview article going more in-depth on what will happen this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium. While last weekend was a lull, the storm of conference play is upon us in selected places and the heat will be on contenders every week now as even the poor teams know the top teams inside and out. Upsets will become more plentiful now. Even for teams off to a bad start, hope springs eternal at the beginning of October. See you later in the week, and until next time, keep your mascots in line and your coaches in good health!

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