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In the strangled moral universe that is college football, it’s come to this — everyone is rooting for Bobby Petrino’s Louisville Cardinals to upset the Florida State Seminoles. That’s a couple of weeks after every college football fan was rooting for Notre Dame to beat FSU. Yep, it’s taken FSU’s moral quagmire to turn Notre Dame into a embraceable team and Bobby Petrino into a saint. Right now there are thousands of you reading this column who swore you would never root for Notre Dame or Bobby Petrino. And now you’re doing both, in the same month. All thanks to Florida State.
You remember Petrino, right? When last we saw him coaching against a top 25 team it was January 1, 2012 and Petrino’s Arkansas Razorbacks were playing Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks won that game, elevating Arkansas to an 11-2 record, their second straight ten win or more season. Then Petrino’s life came undone.
Exactly three months later Petrino went for a motorcycle ride with his mid-20’s mistress — whom he’d hired to work in recruiting at Arkansas –, crashed his motorcycle, appeared in a press conference wearing a neck brace, lied about whether he was riding dirty or not, and was subsequently fired when the police report was released. This was the most SEC scandal possible. I still can’t believe it happened. I mean, Petrino in the neck brace press conference was the stuff of Internet legend. This scandal was so popular on Outkick it put my first kid through college.
Since Petrino’s firing Arkansas football has gone 2-22 in the SEC. (It’s a testament to Petrino’s coaching ability — the Hogs were 12-4 in the brutal SEC West in his final two seasons — that there’s still a substantial segment of the Arkansas fan base that wants him back as coach.) Petrino was castigated, ridiculed, and sent off into the coaching wilderness to pay his penance. The ridicule and scorn heaped upon him is nearly without parallel in college football coaching history. He did an apology interview with ESPN, he underwent counseling to save his marriage, he effectively entered college football rehab. All for sleeping with a woman other than his wife and lying about it. (It’s worth noting that this is exactly what Bill Clinton, the most famous Arkansan in the history of the country, did and he never lost his job and is now the most beloved politician in the country. But I guess our moral standard for football coaches is higher than for Presidents).
Except, Petrino’s gridiron exile didn’t last.
Why? Because Petrino’s talents far exceeded his problems. In America today, so long as your talent exceeds your problems, you’ll never be without work. And Petrino was most definitely talented. Even with the rise of the spread offenses, the pistol, and the read option attacks, Petrino still may be the best offensive mind in college football. (I will guarantee you that his team will score an easy touchdown against the Seminoles on the first or second drive of Thursday night’s game.) Despite never recruiting top talent Petrino has excelled against teams stocked with NFL draft picks. Fast forward 31 months after his firing and here we are, Petrino is now re-employed by Louisville, having rehabilitated his image for a year at Western Kentucky. And every single college football fan who isn’t wearing garnet and gold is rooting for Petrino’s Louisville team to pull off the upset. This will be Petrino’s first chance to coach against a top 25 opponent since that Cotton Bowl game nearly three years ago.
What a long, strange trip it’s been for Petrino from scumbag to hero. Well done Florida State, you’ve turned a pariah into a saint. And while I think Florida State is a total cesspool of a program helmed by the man that every Hollywood talent scout would actually cast to play the role of corrupt Southern football coach, I do have to damn them with faint praise. Isn’t it great to have a team filled with such villains? You’ve got a quarterback who skated on a rape charge thanks to the inability of the Tallahassee police to conduct an adequate investigation. Rather than pay the price for his misdeeds, Winston went on to win the Heisman trophy and then lead his team to the national title. Since that game Winston has gotten paid for autographs — which FSU’s “investigation” has been unable to prove — stolen crab legs from a grocery store — why did he need to steal if he had the autograph money? That’s just shellfish — and been suspended for, of all things, screaming an Internet meme on campus. (FSU has so bungled everything with Jameis that I had to defend him on the Internet meme suspension. I mean THAT’s what it took for him to miss a football game).
In the latest investigatory salvo this week, FSU announced that their star running back, presently involved in a robbery investigation and a public Facebook complaint by his eight month pregnant girlfriend that he assaulted her on multiple occasions, will play on Thursday. Raising the very real possibility that the official scoring report for an FSU touchdown could be rapist thief hands off to wife-beating robber. Which sounds like total satires, but, welcome to Tallahassee. I mean, this is incredible. Short of banning beers at tailgates, what could a college football team do to be more disliked?
Meanwhile Jimbo Fisher, the man leading the Criminoles, has steadfastly refused to recognize that his team has done anything wrong and of late has been lashing out at all sorts of random outside interests, the SEC and ESPN among them, blaming them for the caravan of criminal enterprise undertaken by his team. As if this wasn’t enough you have an outraged segment of the FSU fan base on Twitter that hashtags everything #fsutwitter and marauds from one Twitter target to another, attacking any opposing fan or media member who has the gall to point out that Florida State is pretty much everything the NCAA feared when it created penalties for lack of institutional control. Crazily enough, Florida State doesn’t even represent lack of institutional control, it represents total institutional control. Which is even scarier. Whatever it takes to win a football game, baby.
Which brings us back to Bobby Petrino, college football’s white knight — who used to ride a motorcyle with his blonde mistress on it — is now our last, best hope to slay Florida State’s perfect season. If FSU loses this game, the Seminoles will vanish into ACC oblivion. No one will care about them anymore and Petrino will be a hero. If FSU wins, we’ll all just have to root for them to get mauled in the playoff. (To be entirely honest, FSU continuing to win is going to put my third kid through college).
So what’s it going to be, can Bobby Petrino slay the Jimbo Jameis monster once and for all? Or will FSU continue to live on in our nightmares, the team that didn’t care about moralist and ethics, the villain that wouldn’t die? I can’t wait for Thursday night.
Because as Bobby Petrino well knows, sports can create such strange bedfellows.
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