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College Football Awards, Week 5 (2019) September 29, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated North Carolina 21-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to No. 14 Iowa 48-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 1 Clemson 21-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  SMU (defeated USF 48-21)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Cal

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Clemson 21, North Carolina 20

Play this again, too:  No. 23 Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27

Never play this again: No. 12 Penn State 59, Maryland 0

What? Temple 24, Georgia Tech 2

HuhOklahoma State 26, No. 24 Kansas State 13

Are you kidding me??  Toledo 28, BYU 21

Oh – my – GodArizona State 24, No. 15 Cal 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Auburn @ No. 10 Florida

 (Possible second choice):  No. 14 Iowa @ No. 19 Michigan

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Utah State @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Army

Upset alert: Michigan @ Iowa (also:  No. 15 Washington @ Stanford)

Must win: Boston College @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 13 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Nebraska

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Justin Wilcox of Cal vs Mario Cristobal of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags? Purdue @ No. 12 Penn State

Why are they playing? Bowling Green @ No. 10 Notre Dame

Plenty of good seats remaining: Oregon State @ UCLA

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Kent State @ No. 8 Wisconsin

Week 5 Thoughts:

North Carolina vs Clemson

Mack Brown remains full of surprises.  Not the least of which was the stunning near-upset over previously-No. 1 Clemson, in which the Tigers escaped the Tarheels by only a point.  A botched [surprise] two-point attempt on the part of UNC allowed the escape.  Had such an attempt been successful, it would have set the college football rankings on fire.  As it is, nobody in their right mind should protest Brown’s surprise move at the end.  If they went for the tie with an extra point, then the game would have gone into overtime, where Clemson would quite likely have outlasted North Carolina.  The two-point attempt thus, after further analysis, remained the Tarheels’ best bet.

Time will tell if this valiant performance on North Carolina’s part is a harbinger of better football to come from this team.

Nebraska vs Ohio State

Ohio State drubbed Nebraska 48-7 in Lincoln.  It could have been even worse.  All but 10 of those 48 points were scored in the first half (meaning, the Buckeyes put in lots of backups in the second half).  This game and its outcome are a tale of two teams in two different directions.

For Ohio State, this is another key test the Buckeyes have passed in their assertion that they belong in the national conversation.  Indeed, this performance helped them supplant LSU as the No. 4 team in the nation, currently.  That has typically been good enough to make the playoffs, should such shadows remain unchanged.Will such shadows change?  After all, nothing is a given in the Big Ten.  Such was the case in its late-1990s glory days, and such is the case since roughly 2014 as well.  Next week the Buckeyes face an arguably tougher test when Michigan State comes to Columbus.  But the ultimate showdown in the conference is still likely when Wisconsin take on the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26 in what could be one of the games of the year.  Why this fixation on OSU’s fortunes?  Because the more teams from more regions outside of the Southeast contend for the national title, the better it is for college football.

On the other side of the coin is Nebraska.  Head coach Scott Frost, one might recall, left a Central Florida program that he had built into arguably the strongest non-Power Five team in the land so he could coach his alma mater.  Last year’s campaign only resulted in a 4-8 finish.  Currently the Huskers stand at 3-2, and even some of those wins were struggles over South Alabama and Illinois.  What gives?

No, it would stand to reason that Frost has not forgotten how to coach.  Rather, the systemic problem of geography has come into play.  Frost had the advantage of being right in the middle of [embarrassingly] talent-rich Florida when he built up the UCF program.  Nebraska does not produce any top-caliber players, save for the possible offensive lineman or two.  Much of Nebraska’s unstoppable linemen during theTom Osborne (especially the latter era) came from much more lax standards  and screening mechanisms for steroid use.  Those days are now gone.

Also gone are the days of Prop-48 players, which gave Nebraska an easy pipeline to high-caliber talent without the normal barrier of NCAA eligibility standards found elsewhere.  Perhaps even more devastating, though, is that Nebraska prospered in the days when only a relative handful of teams were consistently on national television.  This made the program in Lincoln an attractive destination for top recruits despite its cold weather and geographic isolation.  That advantage, too, was nullified when cable channels greatly expanded college football coverage in the 2000s, giving prized recruits many more options than in earlier times.  Given this current environment, how is one to attract top recruits to this cold, isolated place?  Scott Frost has his work cut out for him.

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On Gulf Coast Toads and the Changing of the Geni September 23, 2019

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IMG_4117_1

A Gulf Coast Toad hangs out on a rock in Fort Worth (photo by author).  Commonly found in a large part of Texas, it is emblematic of major taxonomical changes in the iconic toad family of Bufonidae.

On my bookshelf is a copy of the venerable Aububon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians (11th Printing, 1992).  I have had this copy since I was in junior high.  That was slightly more than a quarter-century ago.  Upon recently thumbing through the toad section, I found the photo entry for the Gulf Coast Toad.

My interest in this species was piqued because several weeks ago, I found the first one along my home here in the DFW Metroplex.  Last summer was the first time I had found (and photographed) one in the [sort-of] wild, having found one at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.  Naturally, I consider these “firsts” all kinds of cool, since this is a totally different species from the toads I grew up finding in southern Indiana.  There, the options were Fowler’s Toads and American Toads, mostly the former.  It’s a sign of finding different fauna in a different part of the country, which is something I find rather exhilarating.

Back to the Gulf Coast Toad entry in the Audubon Society Field Guide (entry 246):  on the explanatory pages (397-398), the species is listed as Bufo valliceps.  At this same time, the Fowler’s Toad was listed as B. fowleri, and the American Toad was B. americanus.  Indeed, the very genus of Bufo has been synonymous with toads themselves.

Not anymore.  The Bufo genus over the years had become a very cosmopolitan genus for toads.  Apparently, to a critical mass of taxonomists, the genus had become a little too cosmopolitan, and some species formerly within said genus have been spun off into their own geni.  For example, the Fowler’s and American Toads are now Anaxyrus fowleri and Anaxyrus americanus, respectively.  The Gulf Coast Toad now belongs to genus Incilius instead of Anaxyrus.  Since the species listed in the old Audubon field guide was B. valliceps, it would now logically be Incilius valliceps.

Except that it is not.  As it turns out, there are two types of Gulf Coast Toad:  to be more precise, two species that represent two different geographical populations.  I. valliceps, the ostensible representative of the Texas and Louisiana population (the northern population), is actually the species for the Mesoamerican population (that is, the southern population).  The Gulf Coast Toads found here in Texas are actually I. nebulifer.

All of this is a fairly recent development.  The northern population of Gulf Coast Toads went from Bufo valliceps to Incilius nebulifer in just 15 years.  Yes, many other toads found in North and Central America have also been reclassified into either Anaxyrus or Incilius.

Not to fret, though, Bufo fans:  the genus is still alive and well, and still represents 150 species within family Bufonidae.  The geni Anaxyrus and Incilius still belong to family Bufonidae as well.  Bufo also remains the genus for the largest known species of toad, the Marine Toad, a.k.a., the Cane Toad (B. marinus), which has become an invasive species in Florida (also found in extreme south Texas:  think McAllen and Brownsville).

In any case, it remains amazing to see how a species commonly found in much of Texas has had such a journey through taxonomical placement.  But the implications of these recent developments are potentially profound, for they serve as a reminder to all of us how nothing is static, and how little of science is actually “settled” science.

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2019) September 23, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Willie Taggert, Florida State

Poor guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mack Brown, North Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Fritz, Tulane

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Holgorsen, Houston

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Miami, Ohio 76-5)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (defeated Notre Dame 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Charlotte (lost to Clemson 52-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  SMU (defeated TCU 41-38)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kent State (defeated Bowling Green 62-20)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endIowa State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Georgia 23, No. 7 Notre Dame 17

Play this again, too:  No. 12 Texas 36, Oklahoma State 30

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 76, Miami, Ohio 5

That will leave a mark:  Iowa State 72, Louisiana-Monroe 20

What? Appalachian State 34, North Carolina 31

HuhSan Jose State 31, Arkansas 24

Double HuhUSC 30, No. 10 Utah 23

Are you kidding me??  SMU 41, No. 25 TCU 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Wisconsin 35, No. 11 Michigan 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Possible best game of the week:  No. 18 Virginia @ No. 10 Notre Dame

 (Possible second choice):  Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Northern Illinois @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Maryland @ No. 13 Penn State

Must win: UCLA @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: Washington State @ No. 19 Utah

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ Oklahoma State (also:  Iowa State @ Baylor)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of Kansas vs. Gary Patterson of TCU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Towson @ No. 9 Florida

Why are they playing? Delaware @ Pitt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Middle Tennessee @ No. 18 Iowa

Week 4 Thoughts:

Week 4 has been arguably the best week for college football thus far in the 2019 season.  Friday started off the weekend with a bang with an engaging matchup between USC and Utah.  The following first time slot of Saturday (noon EDT) was great, at least on paper.  Michigan faced Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, and left the game exposed for having severe weaknesses on offense that must be addressed or Jim Harbaugh’s future with his alma mater may be in doubt.

That said, two key games in the following time slot (Louisville at Florida State and Auburn at Texas A&M) lived up to their billing.  Louisville is clearly headed in the right direction as a program, but much improvement remains.  Perhaps it is unreasonable for Scott Satterfield to turn things around so quickly, given the mess that Bobby Petrino left in his wake.  Meanwhile, the Aggies fought the good fight at home, but came up short against a gradually but steadily ascendant Auburn.  Both were good game, regardless.

The evening time slot proved that the best was yet to come that day.  Oklahoma State came calling at Texas, for one.  The Longhorns had failed to beat the Cowboys the previous five seasons, so the urgency was clearly there to get that proverbial monkey off the Horns’ collective back.

Then, a half-hour later, the “ticket to die for” lived up to its billing as Notre Dame put up a strong fight against Georgia in Sanford Stadium.  The game was a close defensive struggle for three and a half quarters before the Bulldogs finally asserted themselves in accordance with their full potential.  In other words, in the latter half of the fourth quarter, the cream finally rose to the top.

With so much great football having been played on Sept. 21 from noon through 11 PM Eastern, such will be a very tough act for Week 5 to follow.  Case in point:  no game for Week 5 offers a “ticket to die for”, which is more the pity.

Bad Start for College Football in 2019 (And What to do About It) September 19, 2019

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While there have been several great matchups these past few weeks (e.g., Auburn vs. Oregon, LSU @ Texas, and this upcoming weekend, Notre Dame @ Georgia), there have been lots of dud contests.  Simply put, it is difficult to recall in recent memory where so many pointless “body bag” games have been scheduled.

The first week began with such dreck games as UCF playing Florida A&M; Arizona State played Kent State; Maryland played Howard; Nebraska played South Alabama; Temple played Bucknell; Penn State played Idaho; Tennessee played Georgia State…and lost…at home!  Moreover, Texas Tech played Montana State; Kansas State played Nicholls; Washington State played New Mexico State, and TCU played Arkansas Pine Bluff.

The only really good matchup for week 1 was Auburn playing Oregon.

Week 2 was better, but not by much.  Horrid matchups still prevailed with Arizona State playing Sacramento State; Kansas State played Bowling Green; South Carolina played Charleston Southern; Indiana played Eastern Illinois; Georgia played Murray State, while Alabama played New Mexico State; Oklahoma played South Dakota; Auburn played Tulane; you get the picture.

Ironically, what was a bad matchup on paper turned out to be a nail-biter, as Michigan had to struggle to beat Army.  That said, Texas A&M put up a strong, valiant fight against No. 1 Clemson, and LSU @ Texas proved to be the best game of the year thus far.  Though the Longhorns lost, they acquitted themselves in that they demonstrated that they’re still a legit top-10 team.  LSU, on the other hand, has a real quarterback and probably the most potent office since at least the 2007 team, if not since the 2003 team under Nick Saban.  Watch out, SEC; the Bayou Bengals are deadly this year.

Even in week 3, it did college football no service to put on body bag games like Miami (Fla.) playing Bethune-Cookman, Tennessee playing Chattanooga, or Texas A&M playing Lamar.  The majority of the games thus far have demonstrated the need for a college football commissioner like no other season beginning in memory.  Such a commissioner’s main job would be to ensure that good and decent teams played each other in the regular season to keep college football both interesting and engaging.  As Alabama has learned the hard way, even a team with devoted as fans as those of The Tide will be loathe to attend such boring games when they know that their team will walk away winning by at least four touchdowns.  If head coaches and their respective athletics directors are too timid to risk a loss by playing good teams, thus making for good, interesting games, then a college football commissioner shall have to force the issue for them.

No sport can flourish with hard-core fans along, (see:  Soccer, Major League).  Conversely, one of the biggest reasons why the NFL is the most popular sport league in America by far is because, in addition to its legions of hard-core fans, it’s practically everyone else’s second-favorite sport.

Over the past 25 years, we college football fans have witnessed dramatic growth in the game we love.  That prosperity is now potentially in peril when so many teams schedule boring, pointless, body bag games.  Want to slowly wither away into relative obscurity?  Start by turning off the casual fans with insufficiently engaging games.  The three stellar games I have already mentioned in this article are not enough to maintain that.

Yes, week 4 shall be an improvement, but much work needs to be done to prevent such a spate of pointless games from showing up on major teams’ schedules.  A commissioner of college football would be the quickest, most efficient, and most decisive instrument to ensure a critical mass of engaging matchups throughout the season.

To keep the game we love from dwindling into irrelevancy, more people in the sport need to be willing to take these necessary risks.  Lest we have to hold our collective breath before enough coaches and AD’s wise up to this, a college football commissioner could wise up for them and compel enough, er, compelling games to take place.  The question thus becomes, do the powers that be in the NCAA HQ recognize such urgency, and if not, why not?

 

College Football Awards, Week 3 (2019) September 19, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Clay Helton, USC

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Florida

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated New Mexico 66-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Virginia Tech (defeated Furman 24-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas State (lost to Georgia 55-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Temple (defeated No. 21 Maryland 20-17)

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

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama (honorable mention: Indiana)

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Maryland

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Florida 29, Kentucky 21

Play this again, too:  No. 18 Iowa 18, Iowa State 17

Never play this again: Louisiana 77, Texas Southern 6

That will leave a mark:  Miami 63, Bethune-Cookman 0

What? Kansas State 31, Mississippi State 24

HuhTemple 20, No. 17 Maryland 17

Double HuhCitadel 27, Georgia Tech 24

Are you kidding me??  BYU 30, No. 24 USC 27

Oh – my – GodArizona State 10, No. 18 Michigan State 7

NEXT WEEK                                                                                                                             (rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Notre Dame @ No. 3 Georgia

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 8 Auburn @ No. 16 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Air Force @ No. 22 Boise State

Upset alert: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Must win: No. 10 Michigan @ No. 14 Wisconsin

Offensive explosion: Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Texas

Defensive struggle: Boston College @ Rutgers

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mario Cristobal of Oregon vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charlotte @ No. 1 Clemson

Why are they playing? San Jose State @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ New Mexico

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Southern Illinois @ Arkansas State

Week 3 Thoughts:

Too many body-bag games to in the first three weeks for college football in 2019.  At least next week starts with a bang with Michigan vs. Wisconsin in the noon time slot, and we are treated to an early Big XII quasi-rivalry with Texas vs. Oklahoma State in the evening, which will be an intriguing distraction from the game of the week, in which the Notre Dame Fighting Irish venture down to Athens, Ga., to take on the Bulldogs “between the hedges”.  Oh, and Auburn plays Texas A&M in the 3:30 EDT time slot, so prepare for an engaging Saturday come the 21st!

Also, belated shout-out to an incredible game the previous week with LSU at Texas.  Had the Horns done a slightly better job of stopping the Tiger’s passing game, they might have triumphed.  As it is, LSU seems to be a top-flight QB this season, and, based on their stellar performance in Austin, could end up vying for the SEC West divisional title.  Mark you calendars for November 9 now.