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Joseph: Swings in emotion boost NCAA football

Allan Joseph | Sunday, October 30, 2011

Maybe you’ve spent a week preparing for your biggest rivalry game in primetime on national television. Maybe you’ve spent that week gearing up to take down a previously undefeated team, assuming the role of David to your opponent’s Goliath. Maybe you’ve spent that week preparing to face a scrappy underdog hungry for nothing more than a win.

Then you take the field. The fight songs play, the crowd cheers and the game comes down to the very end. You fight, you scrap and emotion pours out of your body with every bead of sweat.

You might triumph against all odds, vanquishing your once-proud opponent. You might fall on the last play of the game. Whatever the outcome, you finally go to the locker room and take your pads off, exhausted and spent.

And that’s when it hits you you’ve got a game next week.

College football is an emotional game. Teams can ride the emotion of a raucous home crowd to an improbable victory. Others thrive on silencing a hostile environment. Nowhere are the thrill of victory and agony of defeat more on display than at the end of a rollicking contest decided at the very end.

We saw that last week when Texas Tech took down mighty Oklahoma, when USC took down Notre Dame and when Wisconsin dramatically fell to Michigan State. Emotion was on full display, and fans nationwide enjoyed a classic weekend of college football.

But emotion has a dark side. It’s exhilarating, but it’s exhausting. It can give a team energy, but it can take it away just as quickly afterwards. Perhaps the greatest challenge in coaching is getting a team to refresh, refocus and respond for the next game on the schedule.

Some coaches have found a way. This past weekend, Notre Dame smacked Navy while Oklahoma pounded a previously-undefeated Kansas State squad. Brian Kelly and Bob Stoops found ways to motivate their players after stinging losses.

But sometimes, teams simply cannot shift their focus to the future. The lingering feelings of joy stick around into preparation for next week. Michigan State and Texas Tech both lost handily after knocking down undefeated teams. It was clear that the players had spent too much reveling in the previous success of the previous Saturday and too little working toward continuing that success.

Then there’s USC. The Trojans clearly shifted their focus to Stanford and gave the highly talented Cardinal all they could handle. USC fought tooth and nail to keep the game tight and made some timely plays along the way to put a triple-overtime scare into Heisman frontrunner Andrew Luck.

But by the end of the game, the Trojans were beyond tired. Coming off an intense battle with Notre Dame in an electric environment, USC simply did not have enough gas in the tank to keep up with the physical Stanford squad for more than four quarters. Despite their best efforts, the previous week just took too much out of the Trojans for them to beat the talented Cardinal.

It’s part of what makes college football so great. Every weekend, there’s a game that leaves fans with sweaty palms and racing hearts. But in the big picture, it’s the game after the thriller that matters more to a team’s season.

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu