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Thanksgiving and Football

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I know our menu, annually, like the back of my hand. There are more side dishes than there are people, enough dessert alone to feed a family of four, and the whole day surrounds large fowl being the second most carved up thing that day, only out gashed by the Dallas Cowboys secondary.

I also know the day’s schedule, annually, without having to speak with anyone about it. After claiming “we’ll run it this year,” we walk a long Turkey Trot, come home, sit around with coffee and kolaches. As we catch up with the folks who stayed home, we hear a lot about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and watch a bad Detroit team get beat down by half. When that game is officially only interesting enough to be background noise, we eat. With our dessert, we drink more coffee to fight off the tryptophan and hope that the Cowboys keep our spirits high. Usually they don’t, so we replenish those spirits with liquid ones as we watch the night game… What used to be a night of college football rivalries in the cold has shifted to NFL Network and a warm fireplace.

For whatever reason, Turkey Day and the pigskin have become emphatically linked as two uniquely American traditions. That’s not to say other countries don’t do Thanksgiving, or that they don’t have some form of football or a game they treat like it…. But the particular connection is distinctive to the 50 states. Families in every region, state, city, and neighborhood do the day differently, but everyone is also doing things more or less the same. I may enjoy my dark meat Turkey off of the Turkey leg, my neighbor may enjoy a deep fried Turkey breast. I call it dressing, my college teammate from across the country called it stuffing. I cheer for the Cowboys, much of America has a better holiday when they lose… While we may differ in the minutiae, the Sparknotes version of thanksgiving frequently reads the same

So what is the connection to football? Why are there countless college rivalry games the week of Thanksgiving? Why do we slot three pro games on Thanksgiving day? In giving thanks, we ought to be spending time together, enjoying each other, but most families have chosen to do that at, while watching, or while discussing football for what feels like generations. Why is that?

In part, football is a great game for conversation. Structurally, there’s roughly six seconds of action a minute. You can chat for the other :54 without missing much. Thus, when that one Aunt is talking your ear off about how ya just need to meet her young coworker, you don’t miss the action while politely keeping up.

Football is also a weird combination of super easy to understand and super complex. The goal is to move the ball, as a team, into the end zone. You can run it or pass it, and the defense tries to tackle you to the ground and keep you from doing so. This fight for territory is split into 10 yard chunks you need to get at least every four plays before turning it over. That all seems simple, but there are plays every week where veteran NFL officiating crews debate for hours what is or isn’t a catch. So sure, anyone can understand the marching of a football team… But you can also get lost in debating the details. “Do you think he got the first down?” can easily spark a conversation in a quiet room of awkward relatives.

What ties the game of football to Thanksgiving day may be its connection to the fall. The start of school, the cooling of the temperature, and the kick off for everyone’s favorite football team all mark the beginning of autumn. Thanksgiving marks the transition from fall to winter. As the orange and red leaves have all fallen and winter snow is starting, these important rivalry games and traditional games can wrap up the season and shape its memory.

The ties between football in America and Thanksgiving seems both odd and inseparable. But, it may perhaps be a perfect match. What better game to sit and slip into a food induced coma than football? What better game to have playing next to the fireplace than football? We can dissect Christmas and basketball at a later date… but for now, while we give thanks, let’s watch a few kickoffs, touchdowns, and see what happens.  

Let the spirits flow, both into glasses and in orchestrated yells. Are you ready for some football?

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College Football

Oklahoma Beats Baylor in Overtime to Win Fifth-Straight Big 12 Championship

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The Oklahoma Sooners have owned the Big 12 ever since Lincoln Riley took over as the head coach back in 2017.

They came into Saturday as the reigning Big 12 Champions and Riley was able to keep their streak of winning the conference going, leading the Sooners to a victory over the Baylor Bears.

Although Riley has been great with the Sooners, he did inherit a dynasty, as Bob Stoops had led the program to plenty of success across his 17 seasons at the helm, prior to retiring in 2016.

The Sooners were back-to-back Big 12 champions when Riley was hired. They have now won the conference in five-straight years, continuing to add to the legacy of the great program.

While the Sooners ultimately won, the Bears battled them tooth and nail all game long, providing a very compelling championship.

Superstar receiver CeeDee Lamb got the Sooners going early, taking his first catch 71 yards to set up an eventual touchdown.

Lamb made big plays all game long, leading Oklahoma with eight catches for 173 yards.

Still, the Baylor Bears went into the second half with a 13-10 lead, as their defense was able to contain what had been one of the best offense in the nation all year long.

Oklahoma eventually secured the lead in the third quarter, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 23-13 lead over Baylor into the fourth quarter.

Once the Sooners kicked a field goal early in the fourth, Baylor’s head coach Matt Rhule decided to turn to his third-string quarterback to try to spark his stagnant offense.

Jacob Zeno is a redshirt freshman, who had only appeared in one game all year. He was advertised to have a big arm and really was able to showcase that to help the Bears get back into the game.

One 70+ yard completion would have been impressive for Zeno, but two is just ridiculous. Yet that was exactly the case, as Zeno completed a pass out of his own end zone that Chris Platt took 78 yards into field goal range.

Baylor was able to tie up the game and send it into overtime, pushing the Sooners to the brink of a massive upset.

Oklahoma won the coin toss though and was able to score a quick touchdown to take the lead over Baylor once again.

Then when the Bears got the ball back, Zeno’s magical run came to an end, as the Sooners defense finally came through and closed out the game.

Following the game, CeeDee Lamb was named the Big 12 Championship MVP after his amazing performance for Oklahoma. Something that quarterback Jalen Hurts predicted before the game.

When Hurts was asked after the game how he would describe the story of the crazy run of his college career, he responded brilliantly saying, “I hope the story ain’t over.”

Hurts may be right, as the Sooners are now in position to make the College Football Playoff after winning the Big 12 Championship.

Since No. 5 Utah lost last night, No. 6 Oklahoma may be destined for the playoff as long as No. 4 Georgia loses to No. 1 LSU in the SEC Championship.

The Sooners just have to sit back and wait to see what the College Football Playoff committee decides at this point. But they have at least done their part to give themselves a chance.

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College Football

Oregon Shakes Up College Football Playoff, Beating No. 5 Utah to Win Pac-12 Title

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Last night, the Utah Utes essentially had a play-in game to make it into the College Football Playoff for the first time. Utah was ranked No. 5 in the College Football Playoff, with Georgia ranked just ahead of them.

With Georgia set to play LSU in the SEC Championship, a Bulldogs loss, paired with Utah winning the Pac-12 likely would have clinched the Utes spot in the playoff.

Unfortunately for Utah, they were unable to beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, leading to the end of their season.

Utah came into the game with the fourth-ranked defense in the nation, but they surely did not play up to that level in the championship game.

Oregon scored more points (37) and gained more yards (432) then Utah had allowed all season.

The Ducks jumped out to a huge 20-0 lead in the first half, which was the largest deficit that Utah had faced all season long.

There was still hope that the Utes could come back though, as they had outscored their opponents by a whopping margin of 193-61 in the second half of games coming into this matchup.

Utah actually started to get back into the game, as Tyler Huntley threw two touchdown to get his team within a score of Oregon.

In the end though, the eventual Pac-12 Championship MVP would not be denied, as Ducks running back CJ Verdell delivered the dagger that iced the game.

Verdell added another long touchdown run later in the fourth quarter, scoring on a 31-yard run to turn the game back into a blowout.

All told, Verdell finished with over 200 yards and carried his team to a great upset victory.

By beating Utah, Oregon has now clinched their place in a premier bowl game, as the Ducks are now heading to the Rose Bowl.

Meanwhile Utah went from potentially being College Football Playoff bound, to losing their conference in embarrassing fashion.

We will see how the College Football Playoff shapes up from here, but one thing is for sure. The Pac-12 will once again not be represented in the tournament this year.

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College Football

Greg Schiano Returns to Rutgers, to Become New Head Coach

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There are some coaches in College Football that just become synonymous with their program. Nick Saban is that for Alabama and Dabo Swinney is that for Clemson.

Once upon a time, the same could be said for Greg Schiano and Rutgers, as he led the Scarlet Knights for a decade from 2001 through 2011.

Now after a stint in the NFL and as a coach for Ohio State, Schiano has returned to where he made a name for himself, as he has been hired to once again become Rutgers’ head coach.

Schiano originally took over Rutgers back in 2001 and had to completely rebuild the program from scratch. Schiano went 3-20 across his first two seasons and did not have a winning season until 2005.

After losing the Insight Bowl in 2005, Schiano led Rutgers to an incredible season the following year, as the Scarlet Knights finished with an 11-2 record. He won countless coach of the year awards, including the Big East Coach of the Year.

Schiano led Rutgers to their first ever bowl game win in 2006, as Rutgers won the Texas Bowl. Rutgers went on to win five bowl games in six years under Schiano.

Now Schiano returns to Rutgers and gets a heft payday in the process.

Since he last represented the Scarlet Knights, Greg Schiano got the opportunity to coach in the NFL, spending two years as the head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After being fired by the Buccaneers in 2013, Schiano took a hiatus away from coaching at the collegiate or pro level. He then returned and became Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2016.

Now Schiano returns to where it all started, as he tries to resurrect his career as well as the program he once built.

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