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Boys and girls, we have entered very strange air as of late. The mid-term elections are over. The dumpster fire that was the 113th Congress is pretty much finished. And, as 2014 fades into 2015, the first presidential rumblings for 2016 are making themselves heard—reverberating across the vast American punditry as a self-perpetuating ball of sound and fury, signifying nothing but hot air and free press for book tours. For the next 9 months, we will be subjected to thousands of statements from candidates everyone already knows are running, talking about forming exploratory committees and being on some hopefully metaphorical fences regarding their presidential aspirations. It will be exhausting and it will be enervating, but it will also provide some of us with a much needed comic distraction from the injustices and sorrows of the world around us. Right now, I could talk at length about the tragic massacre of the 132 children and 9 adults in Peshawar who were brutally gunned down by members of the Taliban or the continued havoc being wrought by Ebola in Sierra Leone, but I—like many of us—need a break.
So, in the interest of writing some lighter fare, I’ve decided to bring back a column idea I tried 3 years ago that tries to wed an impending presidential primary with college football bowl season by matching each potential candidate up with the school/team that best represents them. We’re crossing over into George F. Will’s Sports Machine territory here: that rare and unsettling conflagration of politics and sport where Dennis Miller once lived, making Al Michaels wish he was still covering arm wrestling on the Wide World of Sports and cracking jokes about the Marquis de Sade and Sylvia Plath(1). This is the bizarre pocket of American history where Dick Nixon considered naming Vince Lombardi his running matein 1968 until doing a background check and finding out he was a staunch Democrat. It is where a young Ronald Reagan honed his ability to bullshit by broadcasting Chicago Cubs games over the airwaves without ever seeing a single play. This is not a place for timorous beasties whose faces turn to ash at the mention of George W. Bush in a cardigan, cheering on the Fighting Eli’s with a bullhorn. This is Gerald Ford country.
Now, a few ground rules before we start: First, no possible presidential candidate can represent a university which they themselves would have been unable to get into or would have never attended. For example, Mike Huckabee received his undergrad education at Ouachita Baptist University, which would disqualify him from being represented by schools such as Stanford or Duke that have high academic standards. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, went to Wellesley and Yale Law, so it wouldn’t make much sense to have her college football embodiment be the University of Texas-El Paso. Another rule is that the size of the campaign must reflect the size of the school athletic program that represents it. Mitt Romney’s behemoth campaign budget and experience as the 2012 Republican nominee makes it absurd to use a university like San Diego State to represent him. And the final rule is that the candidate’s representative school can’t be in a city that said candidate would have absolutely no chance of winning. So, since Joe Biden doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of carrying Oxford, Mississippi, we’re not going to let him be paired up with Ole Miss. Let’s roll…
Scott Walker – Marshall University: Rest assured Badger Nation. After a 59-0 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game and the unceremonious departure of Head Coach Gary Anderson for Oregon State, I wouldn’t dare stick my thumb in your wound by having the University of Wisconsin be sullied by association with Scott Walker. The fine folks up in Madison have to deal with enough of his autocratic, labor-hating bullshit on a daily basis and, besides, Walker’s style and (lack of) substance are a better suit for Marshall. Like Walker’s unmet jobs pledges and boasts about underperforming employment and wage growth, Marshall University has done absolutely nothing this year that would suggest that they’re a quality football team. On the surface, Marshall’s 12-1 regular season record seems impressive, but when you look harder at it, you see that they played some pretty anemic competition, which helps to explain why a 1-loss team is playing Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl. Scott Walker can beat the Northern Illinois’s of the political world up in Madison, but put him with the Florida State’s and Alabama’s in a presidential race and he’ll get crushed.
Joe Biden – Arizona State: Democrats love them some Joe Biden, but not in the way you need to be loved to become President of the United States. Biden’s like everyone’s favorite uncle who tells bawdy stories, is great with the young ‘uns and always ties on a few too many at family functions. Folks want to hang out with him, but no one turns to him first in a crisis…unless it’s a crisis involving slip-n-slides or Pontiac Trans-Ams. It’s for this reason that Arizona State is the perfect match for Uncle Joe. Having a reputation as one of the biggest party schools in the country, ASU is the perfect place for Biden to unwind after 8 years in The White House. The school’s football team is ranked a very respectable 15th in the nation, but, like Biden, has never been considered in the hunt for the nation’s top spot.
Ted Cruz – Fresno State: On the surface, America’s most asinine senator and a public university situated at the base of the Sierra Nevadas seem to have little in common. Cruz, a Canadian-born adopted Texan and world-class elitist prick who, as a student at Harvard Law, refused to study with anyone who hadn’t attended undergrad at Princeton, Harvard or Yale, would never in a million years associate himself with a state university, much less one in the liberal elbow of America(2). However, what really weds Cruz and Fresno State together—for this year at least—is the Bulldogs abysmal performance on the field. Entering the postseason with 6 wins and 7 losses, Fresno State has the ignominious distinction of being the only team in the NCAA heading to a bowl with a losing record. Amazingly, Fresno State’s players have been rewarded for their relative incompetence by being slotted into the Hawaii Bowl against Rice and will be spending Christmas in Honolulu this year. Much like Fresno State, Cruz has absolutely no business pretending to be presidential/championship material and his inevitable inclusion in the endless parade of pointless primary debates over the next 18 months will do nothing but undermine the legitimacy of the entire process.
Bernie Sanders – Boise State: As the lone independent candidate with a legitimate, if long, shot at The White House in 2016, Senator Sanders matches up perfectly with the boys from Boise. After shocking the world with their electric, Statue of Liberty and Hook and Ladder laden victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State has been the unofficial David of the college football landscape, acting as a perpetual thorn in the side of all the Goliaths that just want to get through their non-conference schedules without embarrassment. Add Boise’s distinctive, near-blinding neon Smurf Turfand you’ve got everyone’s favorite underdog—a title that could just as easily be applied to the junior senator from Vermont. Sanders is about as anti-establishment as they come in Washington and his staunch support of universal health care and against Wall Street friendly bailouts and tax policies has shown that he is truly the people’s candidate for President. Boise State’s going back to the Fiesta Bowl again this year to play Arizona and, while they won’t be playing for a National Title, they still have a damn good chance of winning what they can and reasserting their relevance to the college football world. Likewise, Bernie Sanders doesn’t have much more than a puncher’s chance of winning the Democratic nomination (should he take that route), but he will still fight to push the Democratic party platform to the left and make his presence felt in 2016.
Rand Paul – Texas Christian University: For both Rand Paul and TCU, Rodney Dangerfield’s old refrain about never getting any respect rings uncomfortably true. Unlike his pops, Rand has spent much of his time in Congress trying to close the gap between some of his outside-the-mold Libertarian tendencies and the GOP’s rank and file. From the moment he came to Washington, it was clear that Rand was out to finish what his father had started and win the party’s nomination. Similarly, Texas Christian University has spent the last few years staking their claim to national legitimacy, jumping ship from the Mountain West Conference the more prestigious Big 12 in an effort to sway voters and give off the air of a big time program. However, their efforts have yet to pay off and, despite posting an 11-1 record and being a co-champion of the Big 12, they find themselves relegated to a spot at the Peach Bowl. Paul stands a very good chance of finding himself in similar circumstances as he still doesn’t have the support of the party machinery he would need to make me confident in projecting him as the GOP frontrunner.
Elizabeth Warren – Ohio State: Frankly, this comparison is a bit of a stretch, but there just weren’t many teams out their that mirrored Senator Warren’s fiery, anti-establishment, trust busting fervor. Warren, who is now the de facto spokesperson for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, is firmly in the hunt the for the nomination in 2016, but is next to no one’s favorite to get it. Similarly, OSU is the lowest ranked of the 4 teams in college football’s inaugural playoff and, while many pundits praise the team’s heart and ability to win with a 3rd string quarterback under center, few are giving coach Urban Meyer’s boys a legitimate chance to win the title. The Buckeyes, like Warren, have the talent and drive to win, but will need every bounce to go their way if they want to come out on top.
Jeb Bush – Notre Dame: One of these two things is an overrated, underwhelming shell of its former self that has only remained relevant by dint of name recognition and association with past glories. The other one is the University of Notre Dame.
Hillary Clinton – Oregon: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That has been the story of Oregon football for each of the previous 4 seasons. From 2010 to 2013, Oregon’s impeccably dressed teams managed to climb their way into the top 3 of the AP rankings—twice making it to #1—before stumbling over their cleats and falling just short of a national title. But 2014 is going to be different, they assure us. They have the nation’s latest Heisman winner, Marcus Mariota, standing under center, leading another dynamic, fast-paced offense that has been coupled with an uncharacteristically stout defense. Alabama is having a down year. Florida State looks weak and wobbly. This should be their year. And yet, despite the hundreds of millions in corporate cash that is pumped into the program from Nike CEO & Super Booster Phil Knight, doubts linger. Stop me if you’ve heard this before with another perpetual would-be champion. Clinton has already been anointed by the barons of Wall Street and the Democratic establishment as the party’s next nominee for President, but those things were also true back in 2008. With President Obama and a sizable chunk of the Democratic Party giving their support to the Cromnibus bill—and by extension the neutering of Dodd-Frank and campaign finance reform—and having to deal with a GOP led Congress for the next 2 years, Hillary’s calculated brand of insider centrism may start to fall on deaf ears. Luckily for her, Hillary still has another couple of months to game plan. Oregon has to face Florida State in the Rose Bowl in 2 weeks.
(1) Seriously… it was that bad. Check out this website that provides annotations to all of Miller’s esoteric Monday Night Football references. My personal favorite is when a Miami Dolphins defensive tackle picked up a personal foul for roughing the passer and Miller exclaimed, “that hit was later than Godot.”
(2) With that being said, Fresno County is one of the more conservative counties in California, with 3 of the 4 House districts located in the county being controlled by the GOP and fewer than 5,000 votes separating Obama and Romney in the 2012 presidential election.