I learned the first, and maybe most valuable, lesson of my football life as a third-string offensive lineman on my freshman football team.
It sounded, frankly, like something my mom would say: “Stay on schedule.”
See, my high school ran the Delaware Wing-T, an offense that could — when it wasn’t putting opponents to sleep — do some major damage.
The key to success was staying on schedule — that is, gaining enough on first and second downs that third down became manageable. It was simple, but devastatingly effective.
Think about it: Teams that stay on schedule take fewer risks, make fewer mistakes, and play only to their strengths. One needs only to watch Alabama and Stanford, two plodders in the lightning-fast world of college football, to see just how effective it can be.
I’m putting my high school coaches’ theory to the test in this year’s holiday bowl challenge. I have picked the winners in all of this year’s bowl games based on a stat — third-down conversion rate — that typically separates the teams that stay on schedule from the ones that are, well, habitually facing third-and-Florence or fourth-and-Tubac.
On the surface, actually, the stat is a pretty good indicator of success.
LSU (58.6 percent), Louisville (55.9 percent) and Florida State (55.2 percent) lead the nation in it. Stanford, Washington, UCLA and, yes, Arizona all rank in the nation’s top 25.
OK, so Marshall’s fifth, East Carolina’s sixth and Navy is 10th — no system’s perfect.
Think your system’s better? Log on to azstarnet.com/bowls before the start of Saturday’s games and pick the winners of each bowl. You can even create your own group and mini-contest for fun.
Follow your progress throughout the bowl season on StarNet. The winner of this year’s contest will receive a write-up in the Star following the national championship game, a prize and their place in history. Since 2006, the bowl challenge has made champions out of football-crazed fans and — more often than not — an idiot out of your humble reporter.
So bring it on, but be warned: This time, I have a system.
Here’s a look at my picks, with the winners in bold:
New Mexico: Colorado St. (7-6) vs. Washington St. (6-6)
Las Vegas: Fresno St. (11-1) vs. USC (9-4)
Famous Idaho Potato: Buffalo (8-4) vs. San Diego St. (7-5)
New Orleans: Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4) vs. Tulane (7-5)
Beef O’Brady’s: East Carolina (9-3) vs. Ohio (7-5)
Hawaii: Boise State (8-4) vs. Oregon State (6-6)
Little Caesars Pizza: Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
Poinsettia: Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. Utah St.
Military: Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Texas: Minnesota (8-4) vs. Syracuse (6-6)
Fight Hunger: BYU (8-4) vs. Washington (8-4)
Pinstripe: Notre Dame (8-4) vs. Rutgers (6-6)
Belk: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6)
Russell Athletic: Louisville (11-1) vs. Miami (9-3)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Michigan (7-5) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
Armed Forces: Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (7-4)
Music City: Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Mississippi (7-5)
Alamo: Oregon (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4)
Holiday: Arizona St. (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)
AdvoCare V100: Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)
Sun: UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)
Liberty: Rice (10-3) vs. Mississippi St. (6-6)
Chick-fil-A: Duke (10-3) vs. Texas A&M (8-4)
Gator: Georgia (8-4) vs. Nebraska (8-4)
Heart of Dallas: North Texas (8-4) vs. UNLV (7-5)
Capital One: South Carolina (10-2) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)
Outback: LSU (9-3) vs. Iowa (8-4)
Rose: Michigan St. (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2)
Fiesta: Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1)
Sugar: Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2)
Orange: Ohio St. (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2)
Cotton: Missouri (11-2) vs. Oklahoma St. (10-2)
BBVA Compass: Houston (8-4) vs. Vanderbilt
GoDaddy.com: Arkansas St. (7-5) vs. Ball St.
BCS Championship Game: Florida St. (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1)