Thursday, August 29, 2019

College Football, A Primer: A Notional Game

We're almost to the end of our college football primer. See here, here, here, here, here, and here for earlier posts.

Today, we'll talk about a notional game.

A Notional Partial Game

The home team, the Walla Walla Wolves (a fictional team), won the toss and elected to defer. So they will kick off the ball to start the game. The kicker kicks the ball and it goes into the end zone and out the back of the end zone. This is a "touch back." Play starts on the 25 yard line. It's 1st and 10. The Pasco Ponies (another fictional team) lines up behind the line of scrimmage. The center snaps the ball to the quarterback, he drops back and throws a long "bomb" to a wide receiver down the field. But the receiver can't catch the ball.  It's 2nd and ten. The Ponies line up again. This time the quarterback hands it off to a running back who gets seven yards past the line of scrimmage before he's tackled. It's 3rd and 3. The Ponies again line up. And again, the running back gets the ball. He runs four yards past the scrimmage line before he's brought down. It's now 1st and 10 on the 34 yard line.

The Ponies get ready to play again, lining up behind the line of scrimmage. But before they get the play off, an official throws a flag. Because of crowd noise, the Ponies were "off sides." They get a five yard penalty. Now it's 1st and 15 at the 29 yard line. The ball is snapped again and the quarterback hands it to a running back. But he's tackled at the 28 yard line. It's now 2nd and 16. The next play the Ponies try a pass, but the defensive players make it to the quarterback and "sack" him on the 25 yard line. It's now 3rd and 19. Wanting to be conservative and not risk an interception, the Ponies run the ball again and the running back gets a good eleven yards before he's tackled. But it's now 4th and 8 on the 34. So the Ponies punt.

The ball goes to the 5 yard line on the opposite side of the field and is "downed" by a Ponies player. That means he stops it from going farther. He will only do this if he's worried it'll go into the end zone and cause a "touch back."

So the Wolves are on their own 5 yard line and it's 1st and 10. The first play they try a long pass. And it's caught on the 15 yard line and the wide receiver gets four more yards before he's tackled. It's 1st and 10 again (they got their 10 yards and more on the first play). This was also considered a risky play because it's close to the Wolves' end zone and if it were intercepted it would be easy for the defense to get a touchdown. But, instead, it's 1st and 10 on the 19 yard line.

The Wolves run another play, this time they "run the ball" and the running back gets tackled three yards past the line of scrimmage. It's 2nd and 7 on the 22 yard line. Again the Wolves throw the ball and the receiver catches it and runs toward the end zone. He's forced out of bounds at the 45 yard line (the Wolves' 45 yard line, the one between the 50 yard line and their end zone, which remember, is behind them). It's 1st and 10 again.

Again the Wolves run the ball, and the running back makes it to the 45 yard line on the other side of the 50 yard line. This is called "being in Ponies territory." It's 1st and 10 again. Another run but this time there's a flag. A Wolves player is called for holding. The player protests but it does no good and the Wolves are knocked back 10 yards to the 45 yard line on their side of the 50 yard line. It's 1st and 20 now.

The Wolves pass the ball and the wide receiver catches it. He's tackled at the 46 on the Ponies side of the 50. So it's 2nd and 11. Again, the Wolves throw the ball, this time the receiver is "wide open" and he catches the ball and runs to the ten yard line before he's brought down. It's 1st and goal at the 10. Two more plays and the Wolves get the ball into the end zone and score six points. Their point after touchdown (PAT) attempt is good. The score is 7-0.


This should be enough information to get you started watching college football. Once you start watching, you'll realize the power and grace of it.  Pick a team to root for and it's a lot more fun. Or frustrating (I wouldn't pick Oregon State). And college football is so much more fun to watch than baseball, any day. I can't wait for the season to begin this weekend. (Technically, the season began on the 24th with two FBS games: Florida vs. Miami of Florida* and Arizona vs. Hawaii. That was called "week zero." There are also games tonight.)

The University of Washington Huskies of the Pac 12 conference, the team I follow, play at noon PDT on Saturday against Eastern Washington. Eastern isn't going to be a push-over even if they are an FCS team. They were almost the FCS champions last year. It will be shown on the Pac-12 Network.

*There's a Miami of Ohio so you have to distinguish between the two.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Football Last Night

Last night there was both college football and NFL football that I watched.

First there was the "Camping World Kickoff Game" between #8 Florida* and Miami (FL)**. And it was almost an upset. I didn't see the end of the game because of the Seahawks game, but while I was watching (up until the third quarter) the lead went back and forth. If Miami had gotten a couple of lucky breaks, they might have won.

I wonder if when the AP Top 25 Week 1 poll comes out on September 3rd if Florida will drop a bit.

Then I watched the Seattle Seahawks play the Los Angeles Chargers in a pre-season game. Not much excitement there. The Seahawks won. The Chargers tried to make a comeback in the fourth quarter and made the score closer, but they were playing second and third string Seahawks. The Hawks finally won 23-15 but the score was 23-3 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Then I turned to watch the Arizona at Hawaii game. Hawaii has never been considered a good team and Arizona has usually be pretty good. I stopped watched at the end of the third quarter because I was falling asleep. But this morning I learned that Hawaii won, 38-45. That's pretty much an upset and will reduce Arizona's chances, if they had any, of being the Pac-12 South champion.

But I really looking forward to Saturday at noon with my beloved University of Washington Huskies play the Eastern Washington Eagles in non-conference play. Go Dawgs!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

College Football, A Primer: Details Details

Today we continue with our primer on college football. See here, here, here, here, and here for previous posts. Today we'll cover details you need to know.

Details, Details

Some little things you need to know:

The "sticks" (also called "the chain").

On the sidelines are the sticks. They are about six-feet tall and each is held by a man. One is placed where the ball is downed at a first down. At the top of this one they will display which down it is. The other stick is ten yards away. There is a ten-yard-long chain between them. Sometimes this is used to measure for a first down. They actually bring the sticks and chain onto the field. On first downs you'll hear the announcer say (sometimes) "They moved the sticks" or "they moved the chain."

Red Shirts

No, these aren't guys who beam down with Captain Kirk and fail to return to the ship. Every player has four years of college "eligibility." That means they can play college ball for four years and only four years. So, if a team wants to keep a player but not play the player (give him a year to get better), they can "red shirt" him. He doesn't play and he keeps his four years of eligibility. It used to be they couldn't play in any games. But in 2018, that was changed to where they can play in up to four games and still be considered a red shirt. I think this is a good change.

Because of this you'll hear the expression "red shirt freshman" for a player that was red-shirted for a year. He's probably academically a sophomore, but in football he's a freshman. You'll also hear "true freshman" for a player that is right out of high school and playing in the game.

Crowd Noise

Football is one of the few games I know of where crowd noise is a factor (basketball is, too). When the visiting team has the ball, the crowd will try to make a lot of noise to disorient the players. Perhaps they won't hear the quarterback's signals and move late. Or they might move early, earning a "false start" penalty. The higher the down, the more noise the crowd will make. This is true in both college and pro football. Century Link Field, where the Seahawks play, is known for being the loudest stadium in the NFL. Husky Stadium, where the University of Washington Huskies play, is also known for being loud.

Sometimes a visiting team can "take the crowd out of the game" by playing well and discouraging the fans. But when 50,000 people are screaming at you, it can be unsettling.


The officials are human and they make mistakes. That's why there is replay review. But still, some subjectivity comes in. Was that holding or just aggressive blocking? Was it pass interference or just a good job keeping the ball out of the receiver's hands? And where they place the ball at the end of a play can be subjective. It's supposed to be where the ball is when the player is down. But sometimes it gets moved a few inches in either direction. Sometimes this results in a first down when it should have not been. Or a team doesn't get a first down then they should have. Remember, football is a game of inches.

Time Outs

Each team is given six time outs: three in the first half and three in the second half. This is when they can stop play for a period. How long seems to be about a minute or sometimes only 30 seconds. I don't know what determines that. Time outs stop the clock which toward the end of a game may be a necessary strategy. If a team doesn't use all three of its first-half time outs, it still only gets three for the second half.


"Depth" or "depth chart" is how many players a team has to play at a certain position. The more the better. If you have only a starting quarterback and one back-up quarterback, you don't have much "depth" at the quarterback position. If you have five back-up quarterbacks and they are all pretty good players, you are said to have "good depth" at quarterback. A team with good depth (or a good depth chart) at its key positions can deal with injuries causing players to not be able to play much better than a team without good depth.


College football wouldn't be college football without rivalries. Rivalries are part of what makes college football so fun. A rivalry is when two teams especially dislike each other. And while they want to win every game, beating a rival is especially sweet. Most rivalries are based on geography (Washington/Washington State, Florida/Florida State). Some are based on past actions. The Washington/Oregon rivalry is such a case. It was caused by some boorish actions by, unfortunately, Washington players after a victory and then Oregon being insufferable when they started beating Washington in the early 2000s.

Probably the most famous rivalry is Ohio State and Michigan. I'm not sure what started it.

Monday, August 19, 2019

AP College Football Top 25

The AP Top 25 college football poll came out today at noon Eastern time (9:00 AM my time).

My beloved University of Washington Huskies were #13. Same as they were at the end of last season. The loathed (by me and most Husky fans) Oregon Ducks are at #11.

Other Pac12 teams in the Top 25 are Utah at #14, Washington State at 23, and Stanford at 25.

At the top of the poll, Clemson is #1 and Alabama is #2. No surprises there. But #3 is Georgia, a big jump for them. Ohio State fell to #5 from the #3 spot.

College football starts next weekend (some call it "week zero") with two games. It starts in earnest August 31st.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

College Football, A Primer: The Rules

Today we continue our primer of college football. See here, here, here, and here for previous posts.

 And we'll go over some of the rules of college football.

The Downs

Now we get into the rules and playing of football. There are some differences between college rules and professional football (NFL). The biggest one is that in college, if you catch a ball near the out-of-bounds marker, you only have to get one foot in bounds for it to be considered "in bounds." In the NFL, you have to get two feet down in bounds.

Football is all about downs. A team on offense (with the ball) has four tries, or downs, to get the ball ten yards forward (toward the end zone). Practically, that's three tries, or downs, because the last, or fourth, down the team will often punt the ball or, if close enough, try a field goal.

Sometimes a team will use the fourth down to try to move the ball. This is called "going for it on fourth down." Teams will try this if the distance they have to go is short and they aren't too close to the end zone the opposite team is trying to get into. If they don't make it then, the team that was on defense gets the ball. This is "giving it up on downs."

A punt happens on a fourth down. The offense will kick the ball (punt it) as far down the field as possible to get the other team far away from the end zone they are headed for. But you don't want it to go you the end zone you're kicking toward because then the other team starts on the 25 yard line. The perfect punt stops behind the 5-year line, meaning the other team is more than 95 yards from the end zone they are heading for. The punting team's players can touch the ball. If the receiving team touches it, it becomes a "live ball" and any team that ends up with the ball will get the ball.

Also, on fourth downs, if they are close enough to the end zone, the team may try a field goal instead of punting. In the pros, this is almost possible from the 40 yard line (40 yards from the end zone). In college, it's more likely if they are past the 30 yard line.

The Officials

The officials are the guys wearing black and white striped shirts. They aren't all referees. The head official is the referee. Each one has a title (such as back judge and linesman, and even umpire) and a job to do. If you want to learn more, go here.

The referee is the one who announces what penalties are (see Penalties) over the PA system and on television. You'll often see him confirming with other officials to determine what penalty there is. When an official sees a penalty, he throws a yellow "flag" (cloth) onto the field to signal to the referee (and everyone else) that there was a penalty.


There are a lot of penalties in football. A penalty is when a player or team breaks a rule. The "punishment" is moving the ball either closer to the end zone (if the defense makes the penalty) or farther from the end zone (if the offense makes the penalty). The distance depends on the severity of the penalty, usually 5, 10, or 15 yards.

Here are some of the common penalties:

Holding: probably called the most. It's when a player holds a player of the opposite team. Both offense and defense can be called for this. This is a 10 yard penalty.

Off Sides: When a defensive player moves forward before the ball is snapped by the center. (All defensive players can move before the ball is snapped, as long as they don't move forward). This is a 5 yard penalty.

False Start: When an offensive player moves before the ball is snapped. (Again, some offensive players are allowed to move behind the front line). This is a 5 yard penalty.

Delay of Game: When the offense doesn't get the ball snapped before the play clock runs out. This is a 5 yard penalty.

Pass Interference: This is when a player prevents an opposing team play from catching the ball by too much grabbing and holding him. Both offense and defense can be called for this. This is a 15 yard penalty and an automatic first down, unless the offense is guilty, then it's just a 15-yard penalty.

Targeting: This is when a player making a tackle leads with his helmet instead of his shoulder. Especially if he hits the other player's helmet. This is a 15 yard penalty, automatic first down, and the player is ejected from the game.

There are lots of other penalties I haven't mentioned. The best way to learn them is to watch the game.

Kickoffs and Punts

Every game starts with a "kickoff." That is when a team kicks the ball down the field to the other team to start the play. Kickoffs also happen after scores and to start the second half. On a kickoff, the ball is placed on a "Tee" and is kicked from that.

A punt is done on a 4th down to get the ball down the field as far as possible. A punt is an offensive play and the defense will attempt to block it. The ball is snapped to the punter who then drop kicks it. The receiving team will try to catch the ball. If they don't, the kicking team will try to "down" the ball as close to the end zone as possible.

Next week we'll go over some details you'll need to know.

Monday, August 12, 2019

1,000 Posts

This is my 1,000th post on this blog going back to September 19, 2012. So it's taken me just under six years to reach this milestone.

That's 2,525 days. Or an average of a blog post every 2.5 days.

The most common "label" is Random Thoughts at 258 posts (some posts have more than one label).

The next most common is Speculative Fiction Cantina at 176 posts. That was the internet radio show I hosted for about three years. And, apparently, 176 or so episodes.

The third most common label is Writing at 145. You'd think as a writer that would be higher

I try to blog at least once per week, usually on a Thursday (somebody told me that's the best day to post a blog). When college football season is on, I often post more with game previews, game analysis, and just general thoughts. If you've been following this blog you know I'm a huge fan of the University of Washington Huskies.

So, here's to another 1,000 posts. We'll see how long it takes me to reach that point.

Friday, August 9, 2019


This weekend I will be at SpoCon in Spokane, Washington. It is being held at the historic Davenport Hotel. It's going to be a fun time. Come check it out.

Also, here's my schedule:

Saturday 2:00 PM: Reading in the "State B" room.

Sunday 10:00 AM: When Bad People Make Good Art, in the "State A" room.

Sunday 1:00 PM: Impostor Syndrome, also in the "State A" room.

Both those rooms are on the second floor in the northwest corner (if I'm not mistaken on my directions).

I'll be there in my white fedora. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

College Football, A Primer: More Information

Today we continue our college football primer. For previous posts see here, here, and here.

The Football Field

The standard football field is 100 yards long with end zones at each end. It is 160 feet wide (53 1/3 yards). The end zones are ten yards long and as wide as the field.

The 50-yard line is the middle of the field. From there the yard numbers get lower as they measure the distance in yards to the nearest end zone.  If a team starts on the 25 yard line, they are 75 yards from the end zone they need to get the ball into (their opponent's end zone). As they move forward, the numbers will get bigger until they pass the 50 yard line, then they will get smaller. A team's end zone is the one behind their backs, whether they are play offense or defense. This changes every quarter. This is so there's no advantage in going one way. Say the wind is blowing making passes longer in one direction. Then each team gets to use that advantage.

There are in college and pro football arrows pointing toward the nearest end zone by the numbers.

The Lines

There are two imaginary lines in football that you have to know about. One is the "line of scrimmage." This runs from sideline to sideline where the ball is placed. The offense (with the ball) lines up behind the line of scrimmage facing the defense. On television, a computer is used to project a dark (usually black or blue) line across the field at the line of scrimmage.

The second line is the "first down line." This is an imaginary line that runs from sideline to sideline that a player has to cross with the ball to get his team a first down. On television it is usually yellow except on CBS where it's kind of orange.

The Players

There are eleven men on the field for each team. One team will be playing offense (have the ball) and the other defense. (Kickoffs and punts are slightly different.)

Each person on the field has a job and a title such as "quarterback" or "running back" or "nose tackle." But a lot of those titles you don't have to worry about. I'll go over some of the ones you do have to worry about here.

The Offense

The center holds the ball until the quarterback signals he wants it. Lately that's been done a lot by clapping at the college level. Then the center "snaps" the ball to the quarterback. The center is in the middle of the front line, thus his title.

The quarterback either hands the ball off to a running back or throws the ball to a wide receiver or a running back. Or he might run with the ball himself but this is rare.

A running back, as the name implies, runs with the ball.

A wide receiver runs forward and catches the pass thrown by the quarterback. Or, is supposed to. He doesn't always achieve that.

The front line (how many varies) of the offense has the job of protecting the quarterback as he prepares to hand off or throw the ball, or open up holes in the defense's front line to let running back squirt through.

Other players try to protect the running backs from the defensive players. This is called "blocking."

The Defense

On the defense is the front line. Their job is to try to get to the quarterback or tackle whoever has the ball. If they tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, that's a "sack."

Safeties try to stop the wide receivers from catching the ball. They are limited in what they can do by the rules.

Everyone else tries to tackle the guy with the ball (pretty much).

Special Teams

Special teams are groups of players who don't play offense or defense. Some of the members might play offense or defense, and also play on special teams. For example, a running back that plays on the offensive squad might also be on the punt-returning or kick-off returning unit because he can run well with the ball.

 Special teams include:

The "punting unit" who punt the ball.
The "punt-returning unit" who try to catch the punted ball and return it for as many yards as possible.
The "field goal unit" who try to kick field goals.
The "kickoff unit" who kick off the ball for a kickoff.
The "kickoff-returning unit" who try to catch the kicked ball and return it for as many yards as possible.

The Clocks

There are two clocks in college (and pro) football.  One is the game clock. This clock count downs how much time is left in a quarter. There are 15 minutes to a quarter, but the clock will often stop so a "one hour" game lasts about three hours. At the end of the first quarter, the teams switch end zones (and thus the direction they face) and keep playing. At the end of the second quarter, it's halftime and play stops for 20 minutes (12 in the NFL). The end of the third quarter is just like the end of the first quarter. And when the fourth quarter ends, the game is over, unless the score is tied.

The other clock is the play clock. This clock counts down how long until the offense has to make a play. It is usually 25 or 40 seconds depending on what happened before. If the game close stopped before the play, it is 25 seconds. If the game clock is still running, it's 40 seconds. If the offense doesn't start the play before the play clock hits zero, they get a "delay of game" penalty (see Penalties which will be posted next week). Play starts when the center gives the ball to the quarterback ("snaps" the ball).


There are a lot of ways to score points in football.

The main two are touchdowns and field goals.

A "touchdown" is when a player on your team crossed the plane extending up from the goal line with the ball under his control. He can run the ball in or catch it in the end zone. But the ball has to be under his control. This is worth six points.

A "field goal" is kicking the football through the goal posts. This is usually done because the team can't get into the end zone. It is worth three points. If the team misses the field goal, the other team gets the ball from where the other team had it (the line of scrimmage). See The Downs (coming later).

An "extra point" is kicked after a touchdown. It is a lot like a field goal only is from a set distance (which is more in the NFL than in college) and is worth one point. These are rarely missed. This is also called a PAT (point after touchdown).

A "two-point conversion" is after a touchdown, also. From a set point, the offense tries to get the ball into the end zone like a touchdown. This is harder than a point after touchdown attempt. But it's worth two points.

And finally, a "safety" is when a player is tackled in their own end zone. This doesn't happen often but it does, sometimes. It’s worth two points, too.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Movie Review: Free Solo

Last night I watched the documentary Free Solo. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.

Free Solo tells the story of the man, Alex Honnold, who, in 2017, first free climbed El Capitan's 900-meter (2,950 foot) vertical rock face at Yosemite National Park.

In climber parlance, "free climbing" means without ropes or any safety gear. And "solo" of course means by himself.

Honnold didn't walk up to El Capitan and start climbing. No, he climbed it several times before with ropes to make sure he knew how to climb the mountain. And if he made a mistake, the ropes would save him. He paid particular attention to spots that were difficult to climb and practiced them to get it right.

But even with all the preparation he did, free climbing is a case of "one mistake and you're dead." Literally. He had to concentrate only on the climb and do everything perfectly or he would die. And that was true from probably one hundred feet off the ground to the top.

Alex's strength was amazing. At one point they show him doing pull ups. And you think "okay, he's doing pull ups." Then they show that he's lifting himself by his fingers using a "pull up board" like the one here.

But there are times during the climb he is relying on his fingers to hold his body weight.

He tried to climb the mountain in November of 2016, which required him to start in the pre-dawn darkness so that the sun was in the right position when he got to a particular section so it was light correctly for him to see what he was doing. But he "bailed" after a few hundred feet. He tried again in June of 2017 and that's when he managed to do the climb.

I told my wife it reminded me a bit of driving on the racetrack. It took concentration and if you screwed up there was a chance of death or injury. But usually you just lost time and didn't do a perfect lap.

Free Solo is an intense and exhilarating movie and I recommend it.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

College Football, a Primer: The Conference System

Today we continue our primer of college football. For previous posts see here and here.

Today we'll discuss the Conference System.

The Conference System

College football is football played by universities. I presume at the lower levels there might be some colleges playing college football.

There are three divisions in the National College Athletic Conference (NCAA): Division I, Division II, and Division III. Which division a college is in depends on the size (student population) of your university/college with Division I being the biggest schools.

Division I is further broken down into Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) for the largest schools and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) for the smaller schools that aren't small enough to be Division II. FBS is the series that you mostly see on television and gets the most attention. As the name implies, they play in the bowl games in December and early January. FCS games are rarely televised. Sometimes an FCS team will play an FBS team, usually so the FBS team can have an easy game to warm up for the beginning of the season.

In Division I FBS there are ten conferences. These are usually geographically based, such as the South East Conference (SEC) or the Pacific 12 (Pac-12) on the west coast (mostly). Of these ten conferences, there are five called the "Power Five" and these are the ones that get the most attention from television and other sports media. Those conferences are: the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), The Big Ten (which has 14 teams), the Big 12, the Pac-12, and the SEC. These are the conferences considered to have the best teams.

Some universities are "independent" and not in a conference. That includes Notre Dame, BYU, and Army. I'm not sure why they would want to not be in a conference.

Some teams are in one conference for football, and another conference for other sports. There are more basketball conferences than football conferences because there are more teams playing basketball.

There are 129 FBS teams divided among the ten conferences. Those numbers are fluid. For example, Idaho dropped out of the FBS recently to play in the FCS.

Teams usually play three "non-conference" games in a season. That might include playing an FCS team or a team from one of the less regarded conferences. Then they will play nine in-conference games for a 12-game season. That means year after year you're playing the same teams in the regular season. The only time you play teams outside your conference is non-conference play and bowl games.

This was a problem for Boise State University. They are in the Mountain West conference. And they were in the 2000s often undefeated. But they were always playing other teams in the Mountain West conference. They rarely got to play teams from the Power Five Conferences to see how good they actually were.

This is why I'd like to see an actual playoff system for FBS teams. There are 78 bowl games (too many in my opinion) and if we couldn't turn that into a playoff system, that's stupid. The FCS teams do a playoff, why can't the FBS.