What, pray tell, is the “Boomerang Club?”
Is it a group of all the people who have been hit by a boomerang on a Foster’s beer commercial?
Is it a special cheering section at an Australian Rules Football contest, or perhaps a restaurant not too far from an AFL venue? (Said in a whispery voice: Maybe these things do exist, but I haven’t asked any of the Australian tweeps I follow on Twitter as a result of my passion for tennis, which very much includes the Australian Open each January.)
No, the “Boomerang Club” is that group of teams or athletes who become conspicuously fortunate in a given season or span of time… and then watch the reality of competition boomerang the other way, smacking them in the face.
This dynamic isn’t limited to college football.
In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games. To put that feat in a larger historical perspective, no team since the nineties — NO, NOT THE 1990s, BUT THE 1890s! — had forged as high a winning percentage in one-run games, and that was in a smaller batch of games than Baltimore’s 38. The Orioles simply pulled almost every close game out of the fire.
The next year, Baltimore lost more one-run games by late June than it had in all of 2012. The Orioles weren’t a bad team (85-77), but they didn’t make the playoffs. Fortune boomeranged on a larger scale.
You get the picture.
In college football, three schools stand above others as members of the Boomerang Club. Two of them had secured membership status this season (defined by losing at least twice before the midpoint of the season).
The other one joined them late Saturday night in Palo Alto, Calif.
BYU needed Hail Marys in consecutive games to move to 2-0 on the season. The win over Nebraska doesn’t look as good as it did at the time, but the win over Boise State looks a lot better on the first Sunday of October. Nevertheless, needing one of football’s most improbable plays — in consecutive weeks — to secure victories is obviously not sustainable.
That lack of sustainability has… well… boomeranged back and hit the Cougars in recent weeks. That they struggled to put away Connecticut at home this past Friday does not support the notion they can run the table and go 10-2. (However, the performances of Cincinnati and Missouri this season DO lend credence to that idea.) The Cougars currently look like a team which needed an assist or two along the way. Top-tier teams might — on rare occasions — spend a whole season tip-toeing through a field of landmines. Think of 2014 Florida State or 2002 Ohio State. For most residents of the FBS, however, you need to flex your muscles on a few occasions, because you’re probably not going to win every close game every year.
Auburn is another team which fits neatly into the Boomerang Club. One jarring stat about Gus Malzahn is mentioned in this column written about a number of coaches in tenuous positions. Malzahn is a talented coach, but it’s true that he bundled a lot of good (close-game) fortune into one season. The Tigers’ utter inability to replicate that magic in subsequent seasons, tumbling far down the ladder in the SEC West, is a classic Boomerang Club membership trait.
Now, the Arizona Wildcats have managed to join BYU and Auburn in this wholly (unsatisfying) trinity.
It’s true that without Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright, the Wildcats can’t be judged entirely on merit, entirely for what they can be when their best players are on the field. That said, Solomon is a 19-year-old sophomore. He is conspicuously gifted, and there’s a reason he piloted this offense as a freshman last season. Yet, shouldn’t a number-two quarterback be ready in case the 19-year-old sophomore encounters difficulties of some kind?
Oregon won on Saturday at Colorado — eventually finding form and functionality on offense — with third-string quarterback Taylor Alie, who relieved number-two man Jeff Lockie, who was playing in place of the injured Vernon Adams. Arizona met Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game last December. Oregon certainly has a lot of flaws in the present tense, but the Ducks showed what a top-tier program looks like in terms of finding adequate depth (and performance) at an essential position on the field. Arizona utterly lacked that kind of resourcefulness in its blowout loss at Stanford.
Indeed, what’s worth criticizing about Arizona’s loss is not the loss itself, but the severity of it. That the defense would disappear for a second straight week has to concern Rich Rodriguez more than anything else. As valuable as Scooby Wright in fact is, there are 10 other spots on a field, 10 other position players asked to hold down the fort in a teammate’s absence. That these other 10 players have had absolutely no answers over the past two weeks — as a point of comparison, archrival Arizona State got off the deck after an ugly blowout loss at home — shows how far Arizona has fallen since last season.
It’s as though the Wildcats were the beneficiaries of some really big breaks in 2014, en route to the Pac-12 South championship. It’s as though Arizona would have been considered an ordinary team last year had it not completed a Hail Mary pass to finish off a 36-point fourth-quarter rally against California, and then benefited from a Joe Pisarcik-style fumble by the Washington Huskies, who failed to take a knee in Tucson.
BYU. Auburn. Now, Arizona.
The Boomerang Club reminds us that if you’re going to be lucky in one season or one cluster of games, you will generally need to become a lot better in the near future. When fortune smiles on you, the lesson is to realize that playing with a small margin for error can only last so long.
Improving performance — to reduce luck’s centrality in game outcomes, whether by products of injuries or the bounce of the ball — is how you stay away from this not-so-happy club in college football.