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College Football Awards Week 9 (2017) October 30, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: James Franklin, Penn State

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford  also:  Mike Riley, Nebraska

Poor guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: UCF (defeated Austin Peay 73-33)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Stanford (defeated Oregon State 15-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to Texas 38-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 8 Miami 24-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Boston College (defeated Florida State 35-3)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Baylor

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Florida State

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Play this again, too:  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Never play this again: Toledo 58, Ball State 17

What? Houston 28, No. 17 South Florida 24

Huh?  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Are you kidding me?? No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 25 Iowa State 14, No. 4 TCU 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 19 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 15 UCF @ SMU

Upset alert: Texas @ TCU also:  No. 18 Stanford @ No. 25 Washington State

Must win: No. 13 Virginia Tech @ No. 9 Miami

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 11 Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Missouri

Great game no one is talking about: No. 25 Iowa State @ No. 22 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Also:  Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech vs. Mark Richt of Miami

Who’s bringing the body bags? UMass @ Mississippi State

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Charlotte @ Old Dominion

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Coastal Carolina @ Arkansas

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

The Ohio State-Penn State game was one that certainly lived up to its hype.  Its implicit billing as the game of the year certainly was that, with stakes no less high than a possible playoff berth on the line.  Buckeyes are now ranked No. 3 and have the opportunity to control their own destiny.  Three out of the four remaining games are going to be challenges, however.  Iowa is up next (remember, they took Penn State down to the wire), followed by Michigan State (a deceptively deadly team as of late), a potential break with Illinois, with Michigan (self-explanatory) to cap off the season.  Urban Meyer needs to keep the team focused these next four weeks for a trip to Indianapolis for the B1G championship.

In the meantime OSU, ditch those grungy-looking all-gray uniforms.  They looked horrible.

Few things are as distasteful as seeing your team blow a 4th-quarter lead.  Purdue did just that at home against Nebraska.  First they embarrassed themselves in a defensive struggle on the road against lowly Rutgers, now this.  This upcoming week’s game against Illinois is surely a winnable one, but then again, that’s what we all thought about Rutgers and Nebraska a couple of weeks ago.  Worse yet, Northwestern has been resurgent as of late, and Iowa is as competitive as ever.  Indiana might still be a winnable game, and thus it is not reasonable for the Boilers to emerge at season’s end 5-7, which is a still a step in the right direction from the disaster that was the Darrell Hazell era.

As predicted, Texas got well on Baylor.  The respite will not last, as next game they face TCU, arguably their toughest opponent of the year, in Fort Worth, no less.  Moreover, the Horned Frogs will be quite angry after just losing – unexpectedly – their first game of the year to newly-ranked Iowa State.

Let us hold our horses about Notre Dame.  Yes, they have only one loss, to current No. 2 Georgia, no less, and their strength of schedule is formidable.  But they’re also enjoying a senior-laden offensive line with a limited offense.  Furthermore, the Irish have yet to face two of their toughest opponents not named Georgia.  In two weeks they face a resurgent Miami Hurricanes, and they close out the season on the road at Stanford.  Eastern Timezone teams tend not to fare very well on the road against West Coast teams.  Just sayin’.  In the meantime, cool the hype on Notre Dame until their season concludes.

Speaking of Georgia, they rose to the occasion yet again this year by handily defeating Florida.  In recent years, the Bulldogs have struggled in their annual rivalry games against the Gators.  This time, the Dawgs kept that unpleasant past in the rearview mirror.  Seemingly treating it like any other game, they went into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and took care of business, so much so (42-7) that Jim McElwain might be in danger of losing his job.  Now ranked No. 2, they potentially control their own destiny.  But next game up is South Carolina, a potential trap game, as Will Muschamp has coached the Gamecocks to a surprising 6-2 start.  Moreover, the remaining three games after that – in order, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech – each offer their own unique challenges.  If the Bulldogs remain in playoff contention, they shall have to earn it.

Oh, and Tennessee lost…again…this time to another rival of sorts, Kentucky.  As of this writing, officials at the University of Tennessee are contemplating Butch Jones’ tenure.  Many of us are wondering what has taken them this long to get to this point, let alone giving Jones the ax.

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Where Joel Klatt is right and wrong about Notre Dame October 28, 2017

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Joel Klatt is a rising star in college football broadcasting, and rightfully so.  His analysis during the games he helps broadcast of FOX is very insightful.  His talent makes him the perfect up-and-coming asset that an up-and-coming network like FS1 needs right now.  Klatt’s sit-down interviews with regular TV show hosts on FS1 are just as informative, and his input always makes for great conversation.  Any engaged listener can always walk away from listening to such interviews thinking that their understanding of the college game has deepened.

On the matter of the state of highly-ranked academic powerhouse schools in the “Power Five” of college football, however, the veracity of his analysis is mixed.  It all centers around his understanding of the current state of Notre Dame football.

As Colin Cowherd of FS1 has noted for years, Notre Dame flourished at a time when it was one of the very few programs that was reliably put on national TV every week of the season.  All that changed when sports networks decided to start broadcasting more teams consistently in the 1990s.  With that, Notre Dame’s monopoly on national attention soon evaporated.  Soon, ND had to compete with schools whose campuses offered warmer winters and prettier coeds, institutions such as Texas, Florida, USC, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, and the like.  None of these schools had the same level of academic requirements as ND, either, meaning it is much easier to admit recruits there as well.

None of this is to say that cold-weather schools cannot do well at the highest level, and Klatt quickly points this out.  On the contrary, in the 2014-2015 playoffs, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team beat out a tough Alabama squad to play for the national title.  Indeed, the Buckeyes handily defeated Oregon to win it.  Moreover, Michigan has been considerably on the rebound since they hired Jim Harbaugh, and Penn State has returned to national power status under recruiting wizard James Franklin.

Even ND hired a highly-capable coach in Brian Kelly in December of 2009.  By the 2012 season, he took Notre Dame to a national title game.  To be sure, they got crushed my Alabama, 42-14, and in highsight, much of ND’s high ranking was a product of wishful thinking.  This season (2017) they are currently top-ten in the rankings (No. 9 as of Oct. 27), but they have reached their ceiling with a senior-dominated team, and even they lost at home to an even better team in Georgia.

Moreover, other academically-rigid schools have been winning games (e.g., Stanford), and in some cases, have started to win more than they have in a long time (e.g., Duke).  So clearly schools with high academic standards can win some games.  So why is Notre Dame still limited in this day at age?

It turns out that a school with cold weather and high academic standards does not automatically mean that the football team will be a conference/Power Five doormat, provided that you have the right coach.  Northwestern seems to have that, for example, in Pat Fitzgerald.  In the Wildcats’ case, it helps that the campus in is the vibrant, urban setting of Evanston, Ill., right on the edge of Chicago proper and a half-hour commuter train ride into downtown and all the scads of action that huge city has to offer.

In the case of Duke, they are in Durham, N.C., part of the “Research Triangle”, an area with much growth and dynamism as of late.  Plus, the winters are much milder there than they are in the Rustbelt.  It also helps that Duke found a capable coach in David Cutcliffe.

In the case of Stanford, which is even more academically stringent than Notre Dame, it enjoys the advantage of the idyllic beauty of Silicon Valley.  Temperatures in December can sometimes peak in the lower 70s.  Stanford University is one of the most architecturally amazing college campuses in the world.  Even with the extra recruiting hurdle of having to admit each player to the school as a student before they can sing a letter of intent to join the team, David Shaw still manages to make them competitive in the Pac-12 north division, sometimes winning the division outright.

In addition to Notre Dame’s cold weather setting and academic rigidity, two other factors hinder the program today.  One is the religious overtones (a turn-off to recruits who have far more options today, both in the Big Ten and also the warm-weather schools).  The other is that its relatively isolated.  It takes almost two hours to drive to the heart of Chicago.  The next-closest spot of major population is Fort Wayne, Ind., followed by Toledo, Ohio.  Neither Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, or even Vanderbilt have to contend with those two recruiting hindrances.

These factors, all combined, have hurt Notre Dame’s brand in the eyes of many coveted recruits today.  Joel Klatt acknowledges the earlier-mentioned factors (cold weather and academics), but has ignored these latter items, which combine to make a considerable difference.

To be sure, there are schools even more isolated than ND.  Nebraska is geographically worse off, as is Penn State.  The latter is back in contention, again, thanks to the recruiting prowess of James Franklin (it helps that PSU is arguably the most amazing campus in the B1G, and Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the country by capacity).

Is Klatt correct in that Notre Dame is still a strong brand?  Yes, but only for legacy/tradition reasons.  Because of their past success, they are still a legitimate “traditional power”, but that legacy has increasingly less cache to marquee recruits who might look askance at Michiana’s dreary winters, the school’s religious overtones, etc.

The real take-away from this discussion is how insane ND fans are who call for Brian Kelly’s ouster.  Without him, the team would be lucky to go 7-5 this season, as opposed to the top-ten rankings the team currently enjoys.  Just to observe, the Irish will be lucky to win two of their next four games.  But that aside, the fan base’s insanity is a function of unrealistic expectations that need to be tempered in a day and age where the Rustbelt is no longer the heart of the American economy and talented football players have far more options of where to play than they did during the days of Ara Parseghian.

In conclusion, can Notre Dame still win games?  Absolutely.  As Fitzerald, Shaw, Cutcliffe, Harbaugh, and Franklin have demonstrated, the right coach at the right place proves that winning football games in a prestigious academic setting is indeed possible.  Brian Kelly is surely the optimal coach for Notre Dame, and his accomplishments are nearly miraculous in the context of his strategic difficulties.  Given the aforementioned problems hindering Notre Dame, the program is at best an eight-win program.  To win any more than eight ought to exceed expectations if those, too, are properly tempered in the context of the current age.

Fats Domino, New Orleans’ Founder of Rock, dies at 89 October 28, 2017

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fats domino1Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino, one of the last surviving “Founding Fathers” of Rock n’ Roll, has died at the age of 89.  According to the Jefferson Parish Medical Examiner’s office, Domino died of natural causes.  A life-long resident of the New Orleans area, he gave the city a rock music vibe to complement its status as the birthplace of jazz.  Young and old alike easily recognize his signature vocalization of the famous lyrics “I’ve found my thrill…on Blueberry Hill…”, a recording 61 years young.

Domino helped usher in rock n’ roll with his boogie-woogie piano played in his signature style, and did so thoroughly.  Not only did he have hits at the dawn of rock’s explosion (1955) and for the rest of that decade, but he had R&B hits that helped firmly plant rock’s roots prior to then.

From the start of the 1950s through the early ‘60s, we sold 65 million singles and had 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis as the strongest commercial force at the dawn of the genre.

To add depth to the legend, his image and persona were unforgettable.  He stood at 5 feet, 5 inches tall (joking that he was as rotund as he was tall), and sported a big, infectious grin.  During performances, he exhibited a fondness for the bling in the form of jewel-encrusted rings that he wore on most of his fingers – again, he wore these while playing the piano.  His easy-going demeanor surely helped his public persona as well.

As each of Rock’s founding fathers contributed their own style to the genre, Domino was no exception, he having brought New Orleans parade rhythms to the proverbial party.

Domino was born on Feb. 26, 1928, the youngest of nine children.  He grew up in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, and spent most of his life there.  His life changed forever when his family inherited a piano when he was ten.  His brother-in-law was a jazz musician who wrote down the notes for young Antoine, and taught the boy some basic chords.

He threw himself fully into learning to play the piano, becoming almost entirely self-taught.  Part of the self-teaching included playing records from noted boogie-woogie artists, including Amos Milburn, who would later have a slew of R&B hits in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

At this same time, he dropped out of the fourth grade so he could take a job as an iceman’s helper.  He supplemented his piano practicing by playing pianos for customers in their homes while making deliveries.  Later in his teens, he started working at a club called The Hideaway with a band led by a bassist named Billy Diamond, who first dubbed him “Fats”.  It did not take long for Domino to become the face of the band and a huge local draw.

A songwriter, arranger, and producer named David Bartholomew took notice of this strong, local draw, and realized he found a special artist in Domino.  By 1949, Bartholomew brought over the owner of Imperial Records, Lew Chudd, to The Hideaway in New Orleans to see Fats Domino in person and the amazing effects he had on the club’s patrons.  As he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in a 2010 interview, “Everyone was having a good time. When you saw Fats Domino, it was ‘Let’s have a party!’ ”

Together with Mr. Bartholomew, Fats Domino established his boogie-woogie style of piano playing early on with his first record, “The Fat Man,” an instant R&B hit when it charted in 1950 on the Imperial label.  The song title would give him a stage persona for the rest of his career, and he would stay with that label for over a decade, churning out hits that helped define the 1950s.  Another trait he established with his first record was his mastery of the non-word lyrics, namely the “wah-wah” sound that soon evolved into “woo-woo”.

Indeed, those very sounds added much to the character of another early 1950s R&B hit from 1953, “Please Don’t Leave Me”.  A close listen indicates that, from the opening bars of that record, he already had honed his signature style of rapid piano triplets.

His most solid contribution to someone else’s record came in 1952, when he just so happned to visit a New Orleans studio.  He was asked to help a nervous teenaged singer named Lloyd Price.  Domino not only obliged, but came up with another memorable piano riff at the beginning of the track that set the tone for the entire song, “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”.  The R&B record proceeded to become one of the first to cross over to the pop audience.

His style continued to gradually evolve to the right point at the right time when he had a hit that helped trigger the Rock n’ Roll explosion of 1955 with “Ain’t That A Shame”.  But that was only a warm-up for what he was to record for the following year.  People of all ages to this day can easily recognize his version of “Blueberry Hill” from its semi-staccato piano opening.

As a preschooler, it was within a handful of the first of popular tunes I recall hearing.  At that time, the recording was not even 30 years old.  The almost plaintive-sounding response/reactions of the horn section to Domino’s vocals are unlike anything recorded before or since, and undoubtedly contributed to the legendary status of the record.  Those strains have certainly remained with me all these years.

The irony of “Blueberry Hill” is that, unlike, say, “The Fat Man”, it was not a Domino original, but a long-standing cover.  The song originated in Big Band Era, with Gene Autry actually cutting the first know version in 1940.  Glenn Miller followed suit on May 13 the same year (with Ray Eberle on vocals).  Other bands and notable singers contributed their own “take” on it in the early half of the 1940s, including Kay Kyser, Russ Morgan, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, and Connie Boswell.  Glenn Miller’s version actually made it to No. 1 on the pop charts in 1940.  Louis Armstrong would later cut a version with Gordon Jenkins’ band in 1949.  But 16 years after the song’s introduction, Fats Domino truly made it into his own, so much so that it now comes as a surprise to many that earlier versions of it by other artists even exist.

Although Domino already had such a legendary record to his credit by 1956, he did not cease to cut great, memorable tunes.  That same year, he produced some other notable tunes such as his version of “My Blue Heaven” and “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” (also holdovers from the Big Band Era).  With both, Domino offered refreshing takes, particularly the latter.  Also in Domino’s 1956 vintage is “I’m In Love Again”.

At the end of 1956, he churned yet another of his most memorable tunes, “Blue Monday”.  Who can forget the quasi-chorus “Saturday mornin’…..Oh, Saturday morning…..all my tiredness have gone away….”?  Clearly grammar was not the Fat Man’s strong point – no doubt a product of his aforementioned truncated education — but the tune was great anyhow, bluesy yet upbeat at the same time.  As kid in junior high, I learned how to play the brief sax solo in the middle of the record in question.

His most notable track from 1957 was “I’m Walkin’”, another uptempo tune that has found its way into movie soundtracks and commercials over the years.  Who can forget the sequence in “Blues Brothers” (1980) when the protagonist duo trapse all over Chicagoland announcing the Blues Brothers Showband and Revue?

Whole Lotta Loving” is the stand-out tune in Domino’s discography from 1958, and he closed out the Fifties strongly with “I’m Ready”, “I Want to Walk You Home” and “Be My Guest” in 1959, all having different tempos.  The first of the aforementioned three is particularly catchy.  Its energy would make one think as though it was recorded closer to the rock explosion period of 1955-’57.

Even the early 1960s were a rather fecund period for Domino, having a hit in 1960 with “Walking to New Orleans”, a track played ad nauseam on the SiriusXM 50s on 5 channel.  Other tracks from this period included Hank Williams covers (“Jambalaya”, “You Win Again”), originals such as “Let the Four Winds Blow”, and other covers such as “I Hear You Knocking” (Smiley Lewis’ hit from 1954) and “You Always Hurt the One You Love” (A Mills Brothers hit from 1944).

By 1963, his record sales were lagging considerably, and a switch to ABC-Paramount did little to revive them.  But he remained a popular live act throughout the 1960s, touring Europe for the first time in 1962, and met the Beatles in Liverpool during that tour – before they became huge stars.  By the mid-1960s, he appeared in Las Vegas for 10 months a year making live performances.

He quit touring for good in the 1980s, and settled back down in his hometown of New Orleans.  Part of the reason for staying in his native city was that, according to him, it was the only place where he liked the food.  Lucky for those in attendance, he was a regular performer at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Still alive and well when Hurricane Katrina hit his native city on Aug. 29, 2005, he refused to leave his home in the Lower Ninth Ward even as it was flooding.  Eventually he was rescued by helicopter on Sept. 1, and evacuated to Baton Rouge, La., where for a couple of days he stayed in then-LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s apartment until taking up shelter elsewhere pending the receding of the floodwaters.  The flood in the hurricane’s wake caused major damage to his home, having risen up 20 feet on the house, but it was fully rebuilt by 2007.

The timelessness of Domino’s music was discerned by some even when it was new.  Jerry Wexler, the legendary producer at Atlantic Records, made a prediction as early as 1953, stating “Can’t you envision a collector in 1993 discovering a Fats Domino record in a Salvation Army depot and rushing home to put it on the turntable?” he wrote. “We can. It’s good blues, it’s good jazz, and it’s the kind of good that never wears out.”  The fact that “Blueberry Hill” and other riffs from his other records remain recognizable today prove just how thoroughly that prognostication has come to pass.

College Football Awards, Week 8 (2017) October 22, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking … anything:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Virginia Tech (defeated North Carolina 59-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Syracuse 27-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 1 Alabama 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 23 West Virginia 38-36)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Missouri (defeated Idaho 68-21)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start?  Michigan

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 35

Play this again, too:  No. 10 Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10

Never play this again: Missouri 68, Idaho 21

What? Rutgers 14, Purdue 12

Huh?  Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 13

Are you kidding me??  Boston College 41, Virginia 10

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Notre Dame 49, No. 11 USC 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Penn State @ No. 6 Ohio State (B1G game of the year?)

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: (none)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Houston @ No. 16 South Florida

Upset alert: No. 14 NC State @ No. 9 Notre Dame

Also:  Florida State @ Boston College

Must win: No. 3 Georgia @ Florida

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Oklahoma State @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: California @ Colorado

Also:  Mississippi State @ Texas A&M

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Also:  Kirk Ferentz of Iowa vs. P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 8 Miami (FL) @ North Carolina

Why are they playing? Austin Peay @ No. 18 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ BYU

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Texas State @ Coastal Carolina

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

Poor Texas. Try as they might with their strong defense, offensively they cannot score enough points to get over the proverbial hump.  Yesterday in Austin, they held No. 10-ranked Oklahoma State, with the most productive offense in the county, to only 13 points.  However, the Longhorns in turn could only score 10 points.  Texas seems to have a capable quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, but he is only a true freshman, and the offense seems to rely too much on his guts and determination alone.  Part of the problem is that many of the offensive players are still young, and shall have to grow in experience, and presumably in capability as well.  The tentative verdict is that it will simply take time for the Horns to return to Top-10 status.  They are close, but not there yet.

Speaking of taking time, Purdue practically controlled their own destiny.  Current trajectories indicated they had a clear path to start a decent winning streak after getting beat up by a couple of conference heavyweights.  Then they lost by two points on the road to Rutgers.  Yes, Rutgers.  What happened?  Most likely, defensive coordinators around the league have taken notice of the tricks that Jeff Brohm has been left no choice but to use on account of the dearth of talent that his predecessor has left him.  Thus, for Purdue to show marked, consistent improvement, things shall take more time.  Basically, Brohm will need to bring in better recruiting classes so as to beat his opponents on the field with talent instead of trickery.  This of course is not to blame the man for what he is doing right now.  If we were in his proverbial shoes, we would likely find ourselves left to resort to the same things.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is officially a dumpster fire.  Sure, we all knew at this rate that Alabama would blast them into defeat, but what none of us anticipated was the lack of dignity on the Vols’ part.  The obscene gesture to Bama’s fans by one of Tennessee’s defensive backs after a pick-six is a black eye to the program, and could only hasten Butch Jones’ eventual departure as head coach.  But that aside, the Volunteers do have talent on their team.  Jones has sadly failed to harness it properly, to say nothing of orchestrating that talent into a cohesive effort at the top level that the SEC demands.

To put it another way with regard to the Vols and their current dumpster-fire status, they are to play Kentucky next week.  Tennessee is currently 3-4, while the Wildcats, who usually only barely belong in the SEC, are 5-2.  Yes, that means the world is officially upside-down.

Meanwhile, it’s always mildly intriguing when two conference foes who are about to butt heads share the same thing in common.  Think:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia, as both are the Bulldogs.  Think also:  LSU vs. Auburn, or Missouri vs. LSU, or Auburn vs. Missouri.  All three are the Tigers.  In the case of Mississippi State and Texas A&M, though, both have the same school colors of maroon and white, and both play each other next week.  What makes things even more intriguing is that both have quietly amassed a respectable 5-2 record in the course of the season.  After that game, those records shall inevitably diverge.

This week was a statistical anomaly, specifically with a cluster of defensive struggles.  Who would have thought that Indiana at Michigan State would have been such a defensive struggle, with a 17-9 outcome in the Spartans’ favor?  Even more to the point was the aforementioned 13-10 outcome at Texas.  That the Horns held the Cowboys’ high-powered offense to just 13 points (including one overtime) must surely cause Mike Gundy to reach for the Rolaids while watching film today.  If that’s not enough, the Purdue-Rutgers affair ended at 14-12 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.  Northwestern and Iowa kept the score low at 17-10.  UConn triumphing over Tulsa 20-14 does not count in past eras, but might as well in a time where the hurry-up, no-huddle offense is de rigueur. Same thing goes for Western Michigan over Eastern Michigan, 20-17…in overtime, no less.

College Football Awards Week 7 (2017) October 15, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Lucky guy: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Poor guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Baylor 59-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (lost to Syracuse 27-24))

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma State 59-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 17-9)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Cal (defeated No. 8 Washington State 37-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Washington State

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  North Carolina

Can the season never endGeorgia  also:  Alabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12 Oklahoma 29, Texas 24

Play this again, too:  Texas A&M 19, Florida 17

Never play this again: Arkansas State 51, Coastal Carolina 17

WhatWest Virginia 46, No. 24 Texas Tech 35

Huh?  LSU 27, No. 10 Auburn 23

Double HuhArizona State 13, No. 5 Washington 7

Are you kidding me??  Cal 37, No. 8 Washington State 3

Oh – my – GodSyracuse 27, No. 2 Clemson 24

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Ticket to die for:  No. 19 Michigan @ No. 2 Penn State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Idaho @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 UCF @ No. Navy

Upset alert: No. 19 Michigan @ No. 3 Penn State also:  Kansas State @ No. 10 Oklahoma

Must win: Louisville @ Florida State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ UCLA

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Northwestern

Great game no one is talking about: Kentucky @ Mississippi State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 4 TCU

Why are they playing? Idaho @ Missouri

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UAB @ Charlotte

Week 7 Random Thoughts:

The Red River Shootout Showdown did not disappoint.  In recent years, the matchup has often turned into a lopsided affair in favor of Oklahoma.  Not this time.  The unranked Longhorns held their own against the Sooners this time, with a game full of excitement and drama (see the game summary at the top of the page).  The main takeaways are that Oklahoma is still strong enough to be a legitimate top-10 team, while the Longhorns have proven that their dramatic win over Kansas State last week was no fluke.  Indeed, they keep improving, which is a sign of a well-coached team.

Speaking of well-coached teams, the opposite can sadly be said for Louisville.  The Cardinals were stronger earlier in the year than they are now, having just lost in a shootout, at home, to lowly Boston College.  Bobby Petrino has done nothing to address his team’s deficiencies from last year.  His skill position personnel are still young, and he has not done a thing to address his weak offensive line play.  Depending on your star quarterback to carry the team in every phase of the game is no way to go through life, sir.  Nor is it recommended to try to mold said star quarterback into another Aaron Rogers when he is clearly Michael Vick 2.0 instead.

Poor BYU.  They’ve had such a rough year.  At 1-6, perhaps they could catch a break this upcoming week when they play 1-6 East Carolina.  Then again, the Pirates might be thinking the same thing.

Meanwhile, where did Michigan State come from all of a sudden?  They had a few lackluster wins earlier in the season, and lost rather badly to Notre Dame (who, in the Spartans’ defense, was ranked at the time), 38-18.  But then they turned around and beat top-10 Michigan, in the Big House, no less, and now win convincingly, on the road, in inclement weather, at Minnesota.  How can Mark Dantonio not be considered one of the best coaches in the business?  These past several years, he has consistently done more with less.  Moreover, the team is clearly better now than they were earlier in the season, which again, is one sign of a well-coached team.  Part of the secret to his success?  The Spartans have this new thing called a running game, which so many teams these days sorely lack.

This upcoming week, the moments we have all waited for are about to commence with Michigan about to take on Penn State.  Yes, it will be one of the key clashes of Big Ten Titans, and two things shall be ascertained.  One is whether or not Michigan can bounce back from losing the Paul Bunyan Trophy to Michigan State.  The other is whether or not Penn State belongs in the top five nationally.  It will also be a nice warmup for an even more enticing matchup (Ohio State vs. Penn State) later this month.

Speaking of teams that keep improving as the season progresses, Purdue deserves a mention.  Yes, they lost, but it was on the road, at Wisconsin, ranked 7th nationally.  The loss was quite respectable, only 17-9.  One would think that the formidable Badgers would have defeated the unranked Boilermakers by at least two touchdowns, but Purdue fought hard to ensure that did not happen.  Now the Boilers enter the easy part of their schedule.  To wit, they have yet to play, in order:  Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana, all of which are winnable to varying degrees.  Indeed, the biggest question mark that remains on the schedule is Iowa (they did take Penn State to the wire, after all), but aside from that, they could theoretically win out.  Time will tell, but focus and consistent effort on their part shall make it so.

Remember last week about South Carolina entering the brutal part of their schedule?  So far they have handled it with aplomb, upsetting Tennessee, in Knoxville, in a low-scoring affair, 15-9.  Next week they face Vanderbilt at home, at game that appears increasingly winnable as time progresses (could it be that the Commodores defeating Kansas State earlier this year was just some weird fluke?).  Forget Georgia, however, as they remain as strong as ever, continuing to roll their opponents.  But Florida is something of a question mark.  Yes, they have been good enough to win most of their games thus far, but this time, they were not quite good enough to win at home, narrowly losing to Texas A&M.  Maybe it was those god-awful uniforms that cursed them.  Maybe the Gators deserved to be cursed for wearing them.  Oh, and forget South Carolina beating Clemson.  Not happening; not at this rate, even after the Tigers lost at Syracuse (which, again, OMG).  All that aside, the Gamecocks could theoretically finish the season at 7-5, if not 8-4.  Perhaps I misjudged Will Muschamp’s ability to coach after all.  Perhaps I should at least reserve judgement until the regular season concludes.

Speaking of Tennessee, after losing at home to South Carolina, it’s a safe bet that Butch Jones’ hot seat just got hotter.  No time to lick their wounds, either, as the Volunteers take on hated Alabama next week.  At this rate of Tennessee’s spotty [at best] performance, beating Kentucky at month’s end is not a given.  LSU won’t play dead for them come mid-November either.  In short, Tennessee has talent, but they’re a mess, and Jones has proved incapable of cleaning up after himself.  A 6-6 finish could be enough to turn Jones’ hot seat into an ejection seat.

College Football Awards Week 6 (2017) October 9, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Lucky guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Poor guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Norvell, Memphis

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Gary Anderson, Oregon State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 62-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 28-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 65-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wake Forest (lost to No. 2 Clemson 28-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulane (defeated Tulsa 62-28)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rice

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma

Did the season start?  Florida State

Can the season end?  East Carolina

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Play this again, too:  Texas 40, Kansas State 34 (2OT)

This merits a second look, too:  No. 8 TCU 31, No. 23 West Virginia 24

Never play this again: No. 10 Ohio State 62, Maryland 14

What? LSU 17, No. 21 Florida 16

HuhNo. 24 NC State 39, No. 17 Louisville 25

Are you kidding me??  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Oh – my – GodIowa State 38, No. 3 Oklahoma 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 12 Oklahoma vs. Texas in the Red River Shootout

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: BYU @ Mississippi State

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 25 Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Georgia Tech @ No. 11 Miami also:  Utah @ No. 13 USC

Must win: Oregon @ No. 23 Stanford

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Auburn @ LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Florida State @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Missouri @ No. 4 Georgia

Why are they playing? Charlotte @ Western Kentucky

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (OH) @ Kent State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Old Dominion @ Marshall

Week 6 Random Thoughts:

These past couple of weeks, there were not that many upsets.  This week made up for that in quality if not for quantity.  Favored Louisville choked on the road at NC State.  Unranked LSU beat the Gators, in the Swamp, and in a defensive struggle, by a single point.  ACC cellar-dweller Syracuse beat respectable Pitt.  To cap things off, unranked Michigan State defeated Michigan, in a dramatic 14-10 finish (wait, that’s still a thing in 2017?), in the Big House, no less.  What a week.

South Carolina defeated Arkansas in a game that could have gone either way.  The Gamecocks should enjoy the win while it lasts, because the remainder of their schedule is brutal.  In order, they shall play:  Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, Wofford (huh?), and close out the season at home versus Clemson.  Aside from Wofford, the Gamecocks could lose every one of those games.  Yes, that is to say that even Vandy is iffy since they beat Kansas State earlier this year.

Given how hyped Florida State was coming into the season, and the potential regard in which they are still held in the eyes of most fans, is it valid to consider No. 13 Miami’s win in Tallahassee an upset, or simply a comeuppance to an overrated team?

Texas might have turned a corner with a win in double-OT over Kansas State, a team never to be taken lightly and capable of running the tables on the northern schools – what few remain — in the Big XII.  With this key win for the Horns coupled with Oklahoma’s embarrassing upset at home to Iowa State this week, it will make next week’s Red River Shootout Showdown all the more unpredictable.

Maryland has proven that they’re a decent team.  Not great, but decent.  Nevertheless, they came into Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State demolished them, 62-14.  Nothing like a body-bag game (in hindsight) for homecoming.  All kidding aside, could it be that the Buckeyes have solved their identity crisis on offense?  We’ll know for sure by the end of the month when they butt heads with Penn State.

Speaking of whom, Michigan will have ample opportunity for redemption for this week’s upset loss at home when they take on the Nittany Lions on Oct. 21.  It only takes one loss on Penn State’s part for the Big Ten race to become very, very interesting.

College Football Awards Week 5 (2017) October 2, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 5] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Poor guy: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Bobo, Colorado State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Murray State 55-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida State (defeated Wake Forest 26-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Miami (OH) (lost to No. 22 Notre Dame 52-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wake Forest (lost to Florida State 26-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia (defeated Tennessee 45-0)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  San Jose State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start?  North Carolina

Can the season end?  Bowling Green

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 16 Washington State 30, No. 5 USC 27

Play this again, too:  UCLA 27, Colorado 23

Never play this again: No. 11 Ohio State 56, Rutgers 0

What? Utah State 40, BYU 24

HuhNew Mexico 49, Air Force 38

Are you kidding me??  Troy 24, No. 25 LSU 21

Oh – my – GodNo. 16 Washington State 30, No. 5 USC 27

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 23 West Virginia @ No. 8 TCU: either that, or No. 1 Alabama @ Texas A&M?

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Eastern Michigan @ Kentucky

Best non-Power Five matchup: Colorado State @ Utah State

Upset alert: No. 5 Georgia @ Vanderbilt  also:  Maryland @ No. 10 Ohio State

Must win: No. 17 Louisville @ No. 24 NC State

Offensive explosion: No. 23 West Virginia @ No. 8 TCU

Defensive struggle: LSU @ No. 21 Florida

Great game no one is talking about: Arkansas @ South Carolina  also:  Duke @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jeff Brohm of Purdue vs. P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 19 San Diego State @ UNLV

Why are they playing? Charleston Southern @ Indiana

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Coastal Carolina

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Missouri @ Kentucky

Week 5 Take-aways:

There were so few upsets this week that I had to scape near the bottom of the barrel in order to fill in all four degrees of upset slot, and even then I barely made it.  However, similar to last week, there were lots of near-misses.  Unlike last week, however, there were few near-misses of major consequences.  Nevertheless, to wit:

Northwestern has unexpectedly struggled this year, yet for a good portion of the game actually led formidable Wisconsin, before the Badgers eventually came back and beat the Wildcats, 33-24.  Still, given how weak the Wildcats have seemed up until now, such a loss to such a strong team is hardly disgraceful.

Florida State had to struggle to beat lowly Wake Forest 26-19, much like Louisville had to do last year to beat the Demon Deacons.  Thus, Wake Forest remains one of the most enigmatic of teams.  Kentucky, who has proven to be a decent team, only beat Eastern Michigan 24-20.  To be sure, part of the reason is that the Eagles are no longer a gutter team.  In case you forgot, they were actually a bowl-bound team last year.  No, that was not a dream.

Lowly Charlotte almost earned their first “W” of the year (of the program?) before just missing out at the end to gradually-improving Florida International.  In case you have forgotten, Butch Davis is now the Panthers’ head coach, so that would explain the improvement.  Meanwhile, it has been established that Ohio U is a decent team.  Under Frank Solich’s leadership, they contend perennially for the MAC title.  How then does one explain THIS?  By “this,” I mean A) beating UMass by only eight points, and B), allowing the Minutemen to score 50 points on the Bobcats.  Yes, the score was 58-50.  Try not to overthink this, or you too will be sucked into a quandary vortex.

One of the most interesting studies in uniform contrast was the Oklahoma State at Texas Tech game.  The Cowboys wore matte-black helmets with chrome-silver grilles, along with trendy, gray pants.  Meanwhile, the Red Raiders, who have been associated with black helmets for 15+ years, wore white helmets with a plain-looking “TT” logo, red jerseys, and white pants with traditional red-black striping.  The contrast was thus the trendy vs. traditional look, which was all the more intriguing since, from what I surmise after looking over things on The Helmet Project, Texas Tech chose this evening, for some reason, to wear throwback unis from ca. 1974:  weird.

Speaking of weird, “body bag games,” so-called because of the gross mis-matches on paper, are supposed to be ‘gimme’ games for the heavily favored team.  Apparently Troy never got that memo when they ventured into Baton Rouge to take on the Bayou Bengals.  That’s right, the Trojans upset the Tigers – again, in Death Valley – 24-21.  Coach Orgeron’s backside, meet chair that overnight just got really hot.

Speaking of hot seats, after Tennessee’s historically embarrassing loss to Georgia at home, Butch Jones’ hot seat has reached the most extreme of levels of hot, colloquially known as the “ejection seat”.  We all know that at this rate, it’s just a matter of time, folks.