I have been reading through the Undercover Brothers series in order, for reasons I’m beginning to think include secret masochism. When I read Hurricane Joe (#11), I didn’t think there would be any of the books with such a great ignorance of its topic. I mean, it’s hard to top hurricanes that bring in clouds in the morning, winds and rain in the afternoon, and a gradual clearing overnight, combined with people who evacuate on the say-so of a local TV station that has already wrongly predicted a hurricane.
Hard, yes. But it isn’t impossible. I present to you: Foul Play (#19).
Franklin W. Dixon (whoever he or she is) betrays an appalling ignorance of college football. (Also: The title would be more appropriate for a baseball book than football. The only foul anyone talks about in football is a personal foul, a penalty of various severities.)
First of all, the college Frank and Joe investigate — Pinnacle College — is said to be dominating the “Mountain Division.” I’m not sure what this means; the four college football divisions are Division I (Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A), Division I (Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA), Division II, and Division III. As you can see, “Mountain Division” sounds like none of these. It sounds like a conference. Perhaps Dixon meant conference instead of division?
No, no. Because undefeated Pinnacle State is going to play in the divisional championship, and that will end their season. If “Mountain Division” is a conference of Bowl Subdivision teams, their season will continue in a bowl game afterwards. If they are in one of the other three divisions, they’ll go to the playoffs.
The quarterback agrees to fix the championship game because he’ll use the payoff to bribe someone to make him the #1 pick in the NFL draft. Given that the NFL doesn’t choose who will be #1, he won’t even know which team to bribe until January. It’s asinine to think a team will base a multimillion dollar decision on a bribe considerably less than that, and if bribing one person is enough to get him the top pick, then other people probably already thought he would make a good #1 pick and the bribe is just to make sure nothing happens. (Being a possible #1 pick is a pretty good sign that Pinnacle is in the Bowl Subdivision.)
The real idiocy doesn’t come until the big game. In no particular order:
— Joe, a high school junior, kicks a field goal. Given that Joe can’t meet NCAA eligibility requirements (he doesn’t attend Pinnacle), his scoring is definite grounds for forfeiture of the game.
— Another kicker is sent out to try a field goal on first down with time running out at the end of the first quarter. There’s no reason to beat the clock at the end of the first quarter; when time runs out, the teams simply switch ends. Whoever has possession retains possession at the start of the second quarter, with the ball just as close to the opponent’s goal line.
— In the second quarter, Joe is sent out to kick a field goal on third down because it will give the team two tries. This is sort of correct; if the hold or snap is botched and Joe didn’t actually kick it, they could try again. If he actually kicks it, that’s the only chance he gets.
— Miller State has 24 points by midway through the second quarter. Joe says the defense is “stepping up.” They are, in actuality, getting burned so badly their defense should all have the same name on the back of their jersey: “Toast.”
— In an offensive huddle, Joe, who is impersonating a kicker, is included. Kickers are special teams, not offense.
— During a passing play, the ball is lobbed to a wide receiver being covered by linebackers. One of the linebackers shoves the receiver to the ground, while another intercepts the ball. There are two errors here: shoving the receiver to the ground before he touches the ball is blatant pass interference, and if you have linebackers covering a top wide receiver, your defense has already screwed up. A great linebacker will not be able to cover a top wide receiver for long; finding multiple linebackers who can do it is impossible.
— On an extra point, two Pinnacle defenders “take down” the Miller State kicker. This is known as roughing the kicker, and it would allow Miller State to kick the extra point again if they missed. Instead, Dixon has the blocked kick stand. When Joe makes his kick, Joe is grabbed and hurled to the ground. This is also roughing the kicker, and Miller State would be penalized on the ensuing kickoff.
— Idiocy in consecutive sentences: “Miller State’s kick was pretty good. We only managed to get to their forty on the return.” A good kick might be returned to the opponent’s 40, but no one would say “only.” That is very good field position. Either the kick was bad, the tackling was awful, or Pinnacle’s blocking was excellent.
— On his field goal kick, Joe says his offensive line runs forward. They do not. The offensive line runs forward usually only on running plays, but not on passing plays or kicks. On the same play, Joe says Miller State’s “huge guards” were “sprinting” toward him. The only guards on defense are nose guards, and they would be in the middle of the line, in the big pile up, rather than on the outside, where the sprints come from. (If they’re huge, they probably don’t have the speed to run around the blockers and get to the kick.) Blocking would have to be horrible to allow two defenders to run straight through the line.
— When Joe tackles a teammate on the sideline, he says, “I never played kicker before. I’m really a tackle.” Tackles don’t actually tackle people. They block defenders to keep them from the ball carrier. I refuse to believe Joe would say this just as a stupid pun because he’s surrounded by football players, whose first thoughts would be exactly what I pointed out.
— When Pinnacle wins in overtime (Sorry! SPOILER!), one of the players says, “One score … that’s all it took!” In college football, each team gets the ball at least once in overtime. So technically, it took one score and a stop of the other team. (This could be a player glorifying the offense and overlooking the defense and not, technically, an error.)
That’s just what I noticed. There probably were more mistakes — I didn’t include the transparent point fixing scheme. Because of these mistakes, this book is probably the worst of the Undercover Brothers I have read so far.
I really, really hope it doesn’t get worse. There’s only six more to go until I’m caught up.