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Twenty five hundred years ago, well before1 Europeans voyaged long distances away from shore, the Polynesian people began dispersing across a series of far-flung island complexes in the Pacific Ocean, such as Tahiti, New Zealand, and Hawaii2.
If you don't have a mental map of the Pacific, just know that these places are very far away from one another. For example, 4,000 miles, or about a ten-hour direct flight, separate Auckland, New Zealand, and Honolulu, a route that only one U.S. carrier (Hawaiian Airlines) offers today.
But the Polynesian people couldn't wait thousands of years for Dr. Hans von Ohain and/or Sir Frank Whittle to invent the jet engine. They needed more resources, more food, and more flat, open space for football fields3. Plus, the bag fees would have been ridiculous.
Thus4 a population of people speaking some variant of an Austronesian language began to slowly spread from Taiwan into the islands of Southeast Asia starting around 2,000 BCE.
The native tongue of these people, or groups of people, was probably the common ancestor of what came to be the Oceanic languages spoken across Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.
As one generation after another sailed over the horizon in dual-hulled canoes5, this common proto-Oceanic tongue morphed into the 450 or so different Oceanic languages known today, many of which became mutually unintelligible.
Imagine the difficulty, then, when thousands of years later the first offensive coordinator of the Pan-Polynesia football team struggled with the hundreds of variants for "button hook," "hitch-and-go," "toss sweep" and "flea flicker"6.
So how is it today that the coaches of the 124 island nation-states that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision of college football can transmit dramatic changes to vocabulary in mere weeks?
It's as if the aliʻi ʻaimoku7 at the head of each insular society shares a secret lexicon with his compatriots despite the tenuous connections that tie him to his neighbors.
The schools are only held together in loose affiliations with little incentive for sharing secrets and, in some cases, bitter rivalries (Alabama and Auburn, Idaho and Washington State8, etc.) exist within their respective archipelagoes.
Further, the distance between members of the same federation often spans hundreds of leagues: Razorbacks and Gators, 282; Huskies and Buffaloes, 3789.
Yet, somehow this season, over the course of mere weeks, a new term sprouted and grew like a weed in the lingua franca of college football.
The phrase seemed innocent enough at first. After a victory over Vanderbilt on September 22, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones assessed the Bulldogs' win in a post-game interview. Jones was pleased with the team's performance, commenting that he felt Georgia had "played well on all three sides of the ball."
Out of the mouths of babes10. Possibly Jones simply misspoke or he may have had an epiphany that "three sides of the ball" would be a clever thing to say, or he may have picked it up somewhere, but if he did, we can't tell where although the words are obviously contagious. Downright radioactive, in fact.
We assume, largely based on context, that the three sides in question are offense (side one), defense (two), and special teams (three). Or maybe it's a triangular ball and some parts are longer than others, in which case it might be offense (a), defense (b), and special teams (c), so that if you squared offense and defense they would add up to special teams, squared. Which doesn't really make sense, because as we all know defense wins football games.
Regardless, three parts are involved. If you are struggling how to fit three sides onto a spherical object (or oblongical11, in the case of a football), don't trouble yourself. Jones only added one side - footballs have had two sides for a long time.
Take this example from 2001: Rick Neuheisel, then the coach of the Washington Huskies, bemoaned his team's lackluster execution on "both sides of the ball" after a blowout loss to the Miami Hurricanes.
At one time, the two-sided ball must have been a novel concept but the expression has been firmly rooted in coachspeak for so long, we have learned to ignore it.
But this third side idea may have gained traction faster than any other sports cliche in history.
The week following the Georgia-Vanderbilt game, the East Carolina Pirates handed the UTEP Miners a 28-18 loss in Greenville, NC12 much to the delight of ECU coach Ruffin McNeill who praised his team's play "on all three sides of the ball."
The next week, on October 2, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke about the University of Texas in his weekly press conference leading up to the October 6 game in Austin. (West Virginia won in a shootout, 48-45.) Holgorsen commended UT for being "good on all three sides of the ball." Three sides.
And so as we voyage into the uncharted waters of Week Nine, the crew of the College Football Report will keep our eyes on the horizon as we guide you, dear reader, into the unknown.
The Free Range Chicken Gambling Report
Game: Kent State (+13.5) at #15 Rutgers
Comment: The Golden Flashes will have to execute on both the inside and outside of the ball to pull off the upset.
Game: #6 Oregon State (-3) at Washington
Comment: The undefeated Beavers look to take their season into the fifth dimension and challenge Oregon for the top spot in the Pac-12 North.
The Beachwood Sports Seal Gambling Report
The Sports Seal expects the University of Kentucky Wildcats to return to their losing (straight up and against the spread) ways versus Missouri on Saturday.
The Wildcats beat the number for the first time in six games last Saturday in a loss to Georgia, raising UK's ATS record to 2-6.
The Tigers haven't impressed any backers to date either, posting a meager 1-4 result ATS, but the Wildcats are the perfect opponent for any team looking to notch a win in the record books and at the window.
2. Or Hawai'i, if you prefer.
3. This is a gross oversimplification and the archaeological evidence does not support the "football fields" theory. But there is plenty of time. Remember, archaeology is a marathon, not a sprint. It also looks mind-numbingly tedious and not at all like Indiana Jones. Which is probably good, because otherwise we'd all be archaeologists and nothing would ever get done because everyone would be too busy with Nazis, hijinks, and mouthy short Asian sidekicks. Moving on.
4. Nearly everything that follows is cribbed from Wikipedia.
5. Yes, in canoes. And as if that wasn't hard enough, some navigated by memorizing jumbles of sticks that represented tides, winds, ocean swells and islands. We can't drive across town without a GPS.
6. We made that up, although a Pan-Polynesia football team would be pretty cool.
7. Hawaiian "high chief."
8. The two teams have met 91 times in the "Battle of the Palouse," with Washington State owning an overall series lead of 70-18-3.
9. Those numbers are in leagues. Get it, leagues.
10. Matthew 21:16 and/or Psalms 8:2. Matthew outranked Psalms on the Google search results, so we'll go with him.
11. That's probably not a word.
12. Yes, East Carolina plays in North Carolina.
Mike Luce is our man on campus. He welcomes your comments.