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Louisville’s End-of-Season Collapse: A Postmortem November 27, 2016

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It’s still too painful to watch.

Without a doubt, Louisville’s upset loss at home to rival Kentucky is the most unsettling thing I have witnessed thus far in this entire college football season.  The Cardinals were rolling for so long, despite a relatively early-season loss to mighty conference foe Clemson.  But even then, that was on the road, in arguably the most hostile, difficult setting in the ACC, under primetime lights, no less.  The Cardinals quickly regrouped, and still managed to mount a plausible playoff campaign.

Until the game at Houston on Nov. 19.  The Cougars started very strongly as well, but then got upset twice, first to Navy, then mysteriously to lowly SMU.  But two Thursdays ago, Houston showed up ready to play, and, in hindsight, hungry for redemption.  It showed.  The Cougars had legitimate athletes on the defensive line that made Louisville QB Lamar Jackson’s life miserable the whole night.  Defensively, Louisville’s defense never could get dialed in.  In the end, Houston, then unranked, walloped Louisville, 36-10.

It did not help the Cardinals that it was a Thursday night game.  They had to make a quick preparation turnaround after facing fundamentally sound Wake Forest the previous Saturday evening.  But still, championship-caliber teams would not rest on that excuse.  They would show up to play, and win.

Such a loss should have been a wake-up call, to both the coaches and the players.  Bobby Petrino should have used this as a teaching tool to his players, to remind them of the need to bring your best game no matter the circumstances, and to not take all teams seriously, no matter how inexplicable their previous losses may have been.  Frankly, how a team like Houston could have lost to either of those other two teams remains the biggest mystery of the season.

Win or lose, Louisville nevertheless had extra time to lick their wounds, recover, and prepare for the season-ending game, at home, to rival Kentucky.  The oddsmakers had Louisville favored by three touchdowns.  Except that Kentucky continued to slug in out in the brutal SEC, against NFL-grade bodies.  In short, the Wildcats were battle-hardened, and like the Cougars before them, they showed up ready to play, even though this time they were the visitors.

What should have, on paper, been a borderline body bag game in favor of the Cardinals quickly turned into a game-spanning grind.  On offense, the Cardinals committed four turnovers, while their defense continued to be as porous as they were against Houston over a week earlier.  A last-minute field goal clinched it for the Wildcats, who took home the Governor’s Cup for the first time since 2010.

A long-time truism said by many a coach is that the team that make the fewest mistakes wins.  Obviously, those four turnovers on the part of Louisville cost them dearly.  One less interception, and the outcome would likely be different.

But even so, systemic problems have developed that have, in hindsight, become evident in the past two debacles of games.  For one, while Petrino has done an outstanding job recruiting skill position players, he seems to have neglected his lines (yes, both of them).  Surely his time in the NFL, brief though it was, would have taught him that one builds a team from the inside out, not vice-versa.  In other words, a wise man/coach builds his team around his offensive and defensive lines.  That deficiency became very glaring during the debacle against Houston, where again, the Cougars had real athletes on their defensive line, and it retarded Louisville’s offensive production accordingly.

Perhaps Petrino did know this vital maxim but delegated the building that part of the team to an assistant coach.  If so, that was an obvious mistake.  If he were not aware, hopefully these last two embarrassments will bring this deficiency to his attention.

Another issue is that the offense seems to have come to rely too heavily on QB Lamar Jackson, making Louisville a one-trick pony.  As insanely, freakishly talented as Lamar is, he relies, at this point, too much on rhythm.  If he is off-rhythm, the whole offense suffers.  The Cardinals have at least two good runningbacks, both productive, and yet they were under-utilized on account of the coaches being seduced by the siren song of creating sexiness and sizzle with Lamar at the expense of wearing down other teams’ defenses with methodically-sustained drives.

But perhaps the biggest problem of all is a chronic deficiency in discipline, which was evident by too many penalties.  These penalties obviously hamstrung the Cardinals during key moments throughout the season.  Any discerning fan or coach would also point out that relying on raw talent to overcome these penalties and mental mistakes is a fool’s errand, for there are teams such as Alabama and Ohio State that are both incredibly talented athletically and for more disciplined.

Yes, Louisville is a very talented team, but obviously they are not exempt from paying a heavy price in the end from such a lack of discipline.  The most effective systemic solution, as politically incorrect as this may sound, is for Petrino to recruit a few more white players.  This is serious.  The comparative analysis of the black player vs white player goes something like this.  With black players, there is the obvious benefit of greater athletic talent, but the drawback is, one cannot count on a consistent performance from many, if not most of them.  Conversely, with white players, the athletic talent/output is usually not as great as it is with most black players, but on the plus side, one can always count on a consistent effort from the whites.

Bottom line:  too many blacks on a team tends to lead to a lack of discipline, and Louisville this year has been a perfect example of this.  On the other hand, having too many whites leads to insufficient athleticism and comparative, well, sluggishness.  Nevertheless, to be a consistently effective team, one needs both.  Think of it as building a wall.  One needs both bricks and mortar.  Think of the black players as bricks.  A wall just of bricks can be well-stacked, yet easily toppled because there is nothing to bind them together.  Conversely, the white players are the mortar.  A wall of just sculpted mortar is theoretically possible, but it’s limited in terms of how one can practically build said wall.  One needs both bricks and mortar in order to build a wall of optimal size and strength, hence optimal effectiveness.  In the same vein, a strong, consistently effective team needs both black players for athletic prowess and white players for consistency and examples of discipline.  A good example of this is Pat Narduzzi’s Pittsburgh team, which clung tenaciously to Clemson for that entire game in Death Valley, and capitalized on the last-second opportunity they earned.

Petrino would thus be well-served to recruit a few more whites.  Doing so will instill much-needed discipline in his team.  That, along with better line play and more of a running game will eliminate the risk of a sudden collapse like this year, and at the same time, put the team in a far better position to make the playoffs next year.  Onward and upward.

Disclaimer:  You self-appointed, politically-correct thought police better sit down and shut up.  We all know how hysterical you are, crying “racism” even more often than the boy who cried wolf.  There are no racist statements here at all regarding the aforementioned observations of black vs. white players.  The more you cry racism when none exists, the more you cheapen it and make normal people all the more apt to ignore it when such an abhorrent thing actually occurs.  Sell your crazy somewhere else.

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College Football Week 10 Awards, 2016 November 7, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Rhule, Temple

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Boston College 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Boise State (defeated San Jose State 45-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Maryland (lost to No. 3 Michigan 59-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Iowa State (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma 34-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  TCU (defeated No. 17 Baylor 62-22)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas A&M

Did the season start?  Baylor

Can the season end?  Notre Dame

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 10, No. 13 LSU 0

Play this again, too:  Texas 45, Texas Tech 37

Never play this again: No. 25 Washington State 69, Arizona 7

Close call:  No. 22 Florida State 24, NC State 20

What? Illinois 31, Michigan State 27

HuhNavy 28, Notre Dame 27

Are you kidding me?  TCU 62, No. 17 Baylor 22

Oh – my – GodMississippi State 35, No. 4 Texas A&M 28.

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11))

Ticket to die for: No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Notre Dame vs. Army in San Antonio

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulsa @ Navy

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: Kentucky @ Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: NC State @ Syracuse

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Richt of Miami vs. Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 6 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Southern Utah @ BYU

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Florida Atlantic

They shoot horses, don’t they? Boston College @ No. 20 Florida State

Week 10 Take-aways:

Is Ohio State that good or is Nebraska that overrated? Or, is the answer the one preferred by Sterling Archer: A little of Column A and a little of Column B? Probably the third option. It’s never wise to bet against Urban Meyer, who has proven to be the best coach in the business over the past decade (though just a hair better than Nick Saban). But the Huskers have given fans in the stands and at home some great games through some great defensive efforts, and perhaps such efforts fooled the voters into thinking they were, hitherto, a No. 6 team. Still, the demotion all the way down to No. 21 seems a bit extreme, too.

The SEC East, this year, is frankly atrocious. Kentucky is always overhyped, South Carolina and Missouri are under-performing (the latter worse than the former), Florida just got shellacked on the road to enigmatic Arkansas, and Tennessee has developed into a collective head case of a team. Kirk Herbstreit expressed it best when he described the SEC Least as “awful,” and that they might as well cancel the SEC Championship game. That game would be a mere formality anyhow, since it has been shown that it’s Alabama followed by everyone else at this rate.

One of the overlooked tragedies this year is that Arizona’s season has already collapsed. Moreover, it seems as though they might now win another game this year (Colorado? Forget it. Oregon State? Not at this rate. Arizona State? Don’t count on it). Rich Rodriguez has put together some good seasons in Tucson, so this painful season has us all scratching our heads.

NC State has to be the best 4-5 team in the country. They defeated Notre Dame in absolutely hurricane-drenched slog. They almost beat Clemson, in Death Valley. They [mysteriously] narrowly lost to cagey Boston College. This weekend, they lost to Florida State by only four points. The Wolfpack’s subsequent opponents will put themselves in danger if they take this team lightly on account of their currently mediocre record. On that same note, Duke must be the best 3-6 team in the country. They are well-coached and will always give you a tough fight. Ask Louisville for reference.

Virginia Tech now controls its own destiny, at least as far as the ACC Coastal division is concerned. Assuming they seize the opportunity of control by winning out (which is doable), they could muster a more-than-credible challenge for seemingly unstoppable Clemson. Such a match-up remains a pleasing prospect indeed!

Once again, we are left to ask ourselves, what are we to make of Texas? Just a couple of weeks ago, the Horns looked completely hopeless against Kansas State. Then, just a week later, they handed Baylor their first loss of the season. This week, they went on the road and bested an evenly-matched (record-wise) Texas Tech squad. Lest we start to think the Horns are turning things around, they do play No. 20 West Virginia next week, and end the season against a TCU team that flat out embarrassed Baylor on the road this week. Translation: much remains to be seen, and a 6-6 record still seems to be the likely outcome.

Much ado has arisen in the wake of the Playoff Committee releasing their first set of rankings. Not the least of the controversies was No. 4 Washington (No. 4, that is the in the AP Poll) being demoted to No. 7 in the Playoff rankings. “How can this be,” ask many observers. Simple: Washington’s dirty little secret is that they’re still rebuilding, and part of the rebuilding process has been a very weak out-of-conference schedule. Let’s face it: a non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State is pretty darn pathetic. If you dial up wins with body-bag games like this, you have no right to complain when your rankings suffer as a result when they count the most. Many other contenders have played tough out-of-conference games this year. If the Huskies truly want to be counted among the big boy contenders, they will have to do the same.

The Peril of Bye-Weeks in College Football October 15, 2016

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Beware of bye-weeks. They can do weird things to college teams. Speaking from experience, during my junior season at Purdue – the 2000 season where we went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 34 years – we had a bye-week coming off an emotional win over a favored Ohio State team. That win allowed for us to “control our own destiny”. After that game, we had a bye-week.  After that bye-week, we went on the road to play Michigan State, who was having a down year after their strong run and Citrus Bowl win (over a favored Florida squad, no less) the prior season.

We were favored in that game, and it would have been an easier win than those over Michigan, the Buckeyes, or even Wisconsin. Only problem was, we failed to bring our “A-game”, and it showed. We embarrassed ourselves, losing 30-10. It left us all scratching our heads. Worse yet, it put our Big Ten championship in peril. Only a loss by Northwestern to Iowa that same day kept us in the money. We closed the deal next week with a blowout win at home over Indiana, but the fact remained that a once-in-a-generation chance to punch our ticket to Pasadena almost evaporated on a cold, gray November afternoon in East Lansing.

I blame the bye-week. As college kids, a bye-week throws you off your rhythm that you set during the playing season. Without the normal routine of a game each week, your preparation routine is thrown off, and it’s easy to get lackadaisical, forgetting how to methodically build up the intensity to the point where you peak on game day. That effect was on display again this Friday night.

Yes, Louisville came off an emotional loss in a high-stakes game in a very hostile environment two weeks ago. The casual observer might think that the bye week would be a good opportunity to recharge the batteries. Think again. Being out of rhythm on account of the open weekend last week, the Cardinals came out less than focused and energized, while at the same time they faced a disciplined, well-coached Duke team. They escaped – barely – with a win, at home.

Speaking of Duke, by season’s end, this victory should nevertheless be a quality win for the Cards by season’s end.  Ironically, it is Duke that now faces a bye-week, and will play a down Georgia Tech squad to close out the month of October.  If they do NOT come out flat against the Yellow Jackets, I would frankly be surprised.

That aside, seeing the way the Blue Devils played in this game, even though they are now 3-4, I have no doubt that they shall give the rest of their opponents all they want. November with be rather brutal for David Cutcliffe’s team, for they play (in order) Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Miami, one after another. Don’t be surprised if they upset one or two of those teams. What have they going for them in this tough stretch? No byes.

 

College Football Week 14 Awards December 1, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking a clue: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tom O’Brien, Penn State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking … anything:  Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ball State (defeated Miami, Ohio 55-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northern Illinois (defeated Western Michigan only 33-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: New Mexico (lost to Boise State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Central Florida 23-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated Texas Tech 41-16)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State

Dang, they’re bad:  Idaho

Did the season start?  Rutgers
Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endAuburn

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

Take a look at this again, while you’re at it:  No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35

Never play this again: Ball State 55, Miami (Ohio) 14

What? San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52

HuhPenn State 37, No. 15 Wisconsin 24

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 South Carolina 31, No. 6 Clemson 17
Oh – my – GodNo. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship game

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)

Best non-Big Six matchup: LA-Lafayette @ South Alabama

Upset alert:  No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the B1G Championship game

Must win: No. 18 Oklahoma @ No. 7 Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: Texas @ No. 9 Baylor (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Memphis @ UConn

Great game no one is talking about: Bowling Green vs. No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, Fri.

Intriguing coaching matchup: George O’Leary of UCF vs. June Jones of SMU

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Memphis @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  South Florida @ Rutgers

Week 14 in review:

Wow.  Many end-of-year (or NEARLY end-of-year) weekends that bill themselves as “Rivalry Week” rarely live up to the hype.  Much of the time, the rivalry games end up as rather one-sided affairs.  Not this time, though.  Take the Ohio State-Michigan game, for example.  On paper, it should not have been anything of a contest at all.  But the Wolverines showed up in this game as they had not done so all year.  Sure, they looked formidable against Notre Dame early in the season, but they brought their game to a whole level above that in giving the Buckeyes the biggest fight of the season.  It was fitting that they saved their best game for their last of the season, and against their sworn enemy from Columbus.  In the end, a one-point margin of victory helped preserve the Buckeyes’ undefeated season and a shot at the BCS title game.

The “Egg Bowl” rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State also lived up to its tradition, in more ways than one.  For starters, it returned to its Thanksgiving Day timeslot for the first time in several years.  For another, the game was close and hard-fought right to the end, with the Bulldogs pulling out the victory they needed to become bowl-eligible.

Duke-North Carolina may be known for its bitter basketball rivalry, but today, the football rivalry was a big deal and a good game.  The Blue Devils ended up winning, narrowly, 27-25, and in so doing they clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game for the first time ever.

Another such game that looked one-sided on paper but in reality was hard-fought to the end was the LSU-Arkansas match-up on Friday.  It seems not to matter how well LSU has done in the year, or how mediocre or play the play of the Razorbacks may be, but the Hogs always seem to bring their “A-game” when they play the Tigers.  Perhaps the trophy for which they play is sufficient motivation, as “The Boot” (it is shaped in the manner of Arkansas and Louisiana together on a map) weighs 175 pounds.

Yes, there were rivalry games that were rather one-sided affairs.  The Florida-Florida State game, usually played in or around the last weekend of the college football season, was almost always the game of the week back in the 1990s.  That started to change a decade ago when FSU’s on-field performance began to deteriorate.  But recently, the Seminoles have made the right moves to return to football factory status, while the Gators’ collective performance has seen much better days.  The outcome of Florida State’s 37-7 win therefore came as no surprise.

Same thing for the Purdue-Indiana game.  While Purdue owns the series by slightly more than a 2-1 margin, today, they did not show it, as the Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 56-36, and four of Purdue’s touchdowns came in the last 20 minutes of the game, leaving the Boiler Faithful to scratch their heads all the more.

Then there was the “Iron Bowl,” that annual storied match-up between Auburn and Alabama, arguably the most intense, heated, and passionate of all the in-state rivalries.  Through much of the season, the game was not on many peoples’ radar screens.  Not after Auburn’s dismal performance last year; not even when the Tigers were slowly getting better and better with each game under new head coach Gus Malzahn.  Yet by game time, they worked their way up to the No. 4 team in the nation, giving the engaged observer pause that this match-up could be one of the most epic in the history of the rivalry.  The game remained close throughout regulation, and technically was tied up at its end, as the last second ticked off during a field goal attempt.  That same attempt came up short; short enough that an Auburn returner was able to field it in the end zone, before promptly running out of it straight up the field.  Wait a minute, the observers were telling themselves, nothing is going to come of this.  Nothing hardly ever does.  Yet the returner kept dodging a few would-be tacklers as he ran along the sideline.  In fact, he continued to run past a few more would-be tacklers before all jerseys of the opposing color were in his proverbial rear view mirror.  Wait, can this actually happen?  OMG, it IS happening!  But this NEVER happens!  And yet it IS!  I am  in shock.

The Iron Bowl, it turned out, was not just an incredible game in this history of this most-storied of rivalries.  THIS was a shot heard ‘round the world, and we are all still in shock from it today.

Still, not a bad turnaround from going winless in the SEC last year to having only one loss this year, even now potentially vying for a shot at the national title.  Guz Malzahn deserves “coach of the year” accolades for that alone.

Oh, and Stanford-Notre Dame turned out to be a very watchable game in its own right.  If that’s not enough, Steve Spurrier proved that he is the man yet again by schooling Dabo Swinney in Columbia, with his South Carolina Gamecocks trouncing the Clemson Tigers 31-17.  Had his squad not blown the game to hot-and-cold Tennessee earlier in the year, they would have punched their ticket to Atlanta to represent the East division in the conference championship game.  Instead, the team that will have that honor will be, inexplicably, Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers.  Such is the world of college football at the end of the 2013 regular season.  What a way to cap things off, and best of all, there is a great after-party next Saturday with more games on the slate!

College Football Opening Weekend 2013: What to watch August 29, 2013

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Georgia-Clemson2013Note:  Rankings are based the ESPN-Coaches Poll, not the AP Poll as is usually the case on this blog.

Though many good games kick off the season on Thursday (hello, North Carolina @ South Carolina!) and Friday, the real action begins, as it always does, on Saturday (Aug. 31, in this case).  Let us cut through the clutter and focus on the good games to watch.

Noon (12:00 PM, EDT):  Let’s face it; in recent years, most noon games have been throw-away games (generally, lots of lower-tier Big Ten, ACC and Big East matchups).  This seems to be mostly the case this time around, too (case in point:  Florida International @ Maryland, which makes Louisiana Tech @ N.C. State look like a marquee game).  Yet one game in this time slot is rather intriguing, that being Purdue @ Cincinnati.  Both programs have new coaches.  Purdue’s Darrell Hazell is working diligently to breathe new life into a program that has underachieved since the 2003-2004 season.  Meanwhile, U-Cincy brought in Tommy Tuberville to provide some stability to a program that lost Brian Kelly to Notre Dame after the 2009 season, and just lost Butch Jones to Tennessee prior to this upcoming one.  From a business managerial standpoint, the two new coaches make for an interesting study in contrast in that Hazell’s role is clearly turnaround CEO, while Tuberville’s role is that of caretaker to a program that Kelly built up quite well and Jones did reasonably well in maintaining.  Talent-wise, it ought not to be close, as odds are the Bearcats could dust the Boilermakers.  Nevertheless, this game is far more interesting than the rest of the game fare offered at noontime, and it goes without saying that this game merits a nod for “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” award.

3:30 PM EDT:  Normally, one can always look forward to at least one strong SEC matchup during this time slot, but there are none to be had on this date.  Syracuse @ Penn State makes for a poor substitute indeed.  BYU @ Virginia is for more intriguing than that.  Still…next!

With that said, a potentially good game that few people are talking about occurs at this same time, that being Mississippi State at Oklahoma State.  The Bulldogs have grown in strength under head coach Dan Mullen, while the Cowboys have also grown in stature under Mike Gundy’s leadership (not to mention T. Boone Pickens’ money).  Seeing these two teams butt heads could be very engaging.

5:30 PM EDT:  Granted, this is not your traditional time slot for a Saturday game, but it’s the opening weekend, so who cares?  If anybody doubts that Atlanta is one of THE epicenters of college football, then they would be well-served to take not that No. 1 Alabama opens the season in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech.  On paper, it’s a decent matchup in that a top-tier SEC team is about to take on an upper-tier ACC team.  But as decent as the Hokies are, the game could very well be a bloodbath, as odds are the Crimson Tide is going to roll.  Still, it’s better than the 3:30 PM options.

7:00 PM EDT:  Washington State @ Auburn — now we’re getting somewhere.  We the fans are not treated to SEC vs Pac-12 matchups enough, in my estimation, so when it happens, it is always something to be relished.  What makes this game especially interesting is that the dread pirate Mike Leach is trying to turn around the Cougars program while Guz Malzahn has just been brought in to revive the Tigers’ very quick fall from grace.  Could be interesting, especially when one considers how a Pac-12 team not named USC can handle a hyper-hostile SEC stadium crowd.

The other interesting game that evening is the Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky game in Nashville, Tenn.  This too merits an “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” nod in that it also pits first-year coaches at both schools, both of whom came there under radically different circumstances.  Mark Stoops took the UK job as a top-rated assistant coach at Florida State, with the mission to turn around a perennially struggling Wildcats squad.  Thus far he has made lots of recruiting hype, but the actual product he can deliver on the field remains to be seen.  On the Hilltoppers’ end is Bobby Petrino, one of the best coaches in the business, but left his CEO job at Arkansas in disgrace and scandal.  The WKU job is a rung or two down the ladder from the jobs he has previously had, thus is objective is twofold:  maintain what predecessor Willie Taggart had already built (something at which he is more than adept), and also rehab his reputation.  Look out for a possible Hilltopper upset over the Wildcats, as it is always dangerous to give Petrino more than a week to prepare for a game.

8:00 PM EDT:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 8 Clemson — easily the biggest game of the day, if not the whole weekend.  Head Coach Mark Richt takes a loaded Bulldogs team led by talented QB Aaron Murray (no relation, sadly) in to Clemson to take on a Tigers program that Dabo Swinney has slowly yet quietly strengthened over the past several years (they did beat a strong LSU team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, after all).  This will be a great opening test for the Bulldogs, who are no doubt looking to eventually unseat Alabama at the number one spot in both the conference and the nation.  Odds also are that you will be “looking LIVE, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.,” as in all likelihood this will be the game that Brent Musburger calls along with Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit, folks!

9:00 PM EDT:  No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU in Dallas (Arlington, Texas, specifically).  Just as Atlanta has its season kickoff Peach Bowl with a SEC-ACC game, over the past few years, Dallas has endeavored to do the same thing with a season kickoff Cotton Bowl of sorts, usually bringing in an SEC and a Big XII team (though there has been the occasional SEC vs Pac-12 game thrown in sometimes, read:  LSU vs. Oregon in 2011) as is the case this time.  Les Miles almost always has the Tigers up for big games, while it will be a quasi-home game for the Horned Frogs as they have but a half-hour drive (at the most) from their home base in Fort Worth.  Moreover, Gary Patterson has built up a strong program over the course of more than a decade, even recently taking TCU to a Rose Bowl just a couple of seasons ago.  Moreover, though the Horned Frogs are ranked lower than the Bayou Bengals, they have the good fortune of playing LSU at the beginning of the season, which is historically when the team is most vulnerable to a loss.

10:30 PM EDT:  No. 22 Northwestern at California.  Normally, the only game one might find on the cable tv guide this late at night is a home game at Hawai’i.  Not this time, though.  This time, head coach Pat Fitzgerald takes his nimble Wildcats westward from Evanston, Ill., to the west coast.  The rankings could be deceiving.  Yes, on paper, Northwestern could possibly crush Cal.  But that could easily be nullified because of geography.  Take a team in the eastern or even central timezone out to the Pacific timezone, and strange things happen to them.  Pro teams do not have this issue (say, the New York Giants journeying out to Seattle to play the Seahawks), because they’re older, more mature, and, well, professionals.  But in the college game, folks*, you’re dealing with 19-20 year-old kids, who are far more apt to be out of their element when traveling such a distance.  Let us also not forget that Northwestern’s internal clock will still be on Chicago time (9:30 PM), not San Francisco time (7:30 PM), which could also make a difference.  One could therefore expect a close, hard-fought game, if not even an upset by the Golden Bears.  That said, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the most underrated coaches in the business, and has proven to be very adept, time and again, at not only recruiting decent players into a school with the most academically-rigid standards in the Big Ten Conference, but also coaching them up to be competitive in that conference and in bowl games, too.  No doubt he’ll have a trick or two up his proverbial sleeve to try to nullify the problems of geography and time discrepancy.  We shall see soon enough, as that is why they line up and play.

* Another Musburger-ism, in case you missed the reference!

You too can put together a Top 25 CFB preseason poll! February 17, 2013

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Ever wanted to make a college football Top-25 preseason ranking but just didn’t know how?  Well, now you do!  Thanks to the hilarious writers at SBNation’s Every Day Should Be Saturday, we now have a guide at our disposal to put such a list together and look like prognostication geniuses in so doing!  I have taken the liberty of quoting the guiding text to give you reference while we play along.  The quoted text from the actual (and funny) guide page is given in italics.

1. Alabama. Look, maybe you have a perfectly strong case for some other school, but if you go off the reservation right away, the readers are going to suspect something is amiss. Stay with the pack here and, if the Tide stumble, you’ll be one of many mistaken scribes, not a distinct and lonesome idiot.

Alabama looks and sounds like a winner to me!

2. Big 12 or Big Ten team. BOOM! Because you started comfortable, those stupid readers didn’t see this knowledge roundhouse coming. Pick a team that didn’t meet expectations in 2012 and talk about how they’ll be “hungry” and “focused” because of it.

Michigan, perhaps?

3. SEC team. Mention how battle tested playing in the conference will leave this team by the end of the season. Then hedge by saying SEC play could eat them alive. SPORTSNIGMA!

Texas A&M; they’re really hot right now.  Seriously, so much for them having to get behind Arkansas like we all predicted last year!

4. Ohio State. Emphasize how good the team looked in the first year of a new system. Ignore that they barely beat Cal, Indiana, and Purdue. Clunky suggestion that Braxton Miller could be the next Tim Tebow. Obliquely suggest Urban Meyer could quit at any week for any reason.

Ohio State, and this is why I didn’t put them at the No. 2 spot like I would have otherwise.

5. Oregon or Stanford. Sh-t, you meant to put one of them higher, but that much backspacing seems like a real pain in the ass. Say something here about how you’re being cautious not to put too much stock into a big bowl performance.

Stanford, for reasons of coaching continuity.

6. Team Coming Off A Big Bowl Performance. Clemson-Louisville national championship game ahoy!

Okay, I’ll bite.  What the heck; let’s put Louisville in there for the fun of it!

7. SEC team. Which one? Any one THAT’S JUST HOW DAMN GOOD THEY ARE MAN. (Seriously, though, not Auburn.)

Seriously; definitely not Auburn!  Already put Texas A&M in there, so let’s have LSU fill this slot, shall we?  Or maybe South Carolina; yeah, definitely the Gamecocks.  They’re doing quite well right now.

8. Notre Dame. Yes, Irish fans are going to be super pissed at the perceived disrespect, but that’d be true even if you ranked ND numbers one, two, and three simultaneously. Don’t fight a losing battle. Just slot them here and suggest that they could be better off without Manti Te’o.

Notre Dame; and they might not miss Manti Te’o that much if their highly-ranked recruiting class has any teeth to it, unlike “highly-ranked” recruiting classes under Charlie Weis.

9. Oregon or Stanford (whoever you didn’t put at 5). Say something about how they’ve lost a lot of key pieces. Is it true? Players graduate, don’t they?

Oregon, for reasons of lack of coaching continuity.

10. ACC team. You’ll need to construct a paper fortune teller and write the names of four plausibly successful teams twice each. Be sure you only do it twice, because if you write out “Georgia Tech” three times on the same piece of paper Paul Johnson appears out of nowhere and insists on rearranging your pantry.

Well, we already put Louisville at No. 6, so we might as well put Florida State into this one.

11. Team that will likely have three losses before Halloween. Your obligation in preparing this ranking is not simply to come up with a sensible accounting of the top 25 teams heading into the season. It’s also to provide us with teams destined to leave unreasonable expectations unfulfilled. Who will be this year’s Arkansas? THE POWER IS YOURS!

Ole Miss, because expectations are high due to their half-way decent team from last year and No. 7-ranked recruiting class this year.

12. Team with the highest ranked recruiting class that you have not yet included. I mean, all that talent wouldn’t be going to a bad team, would it? And I bet half of them start right away! (note: I do not know how recruiting works)

I want to put Florida here, because they’ve got the No. 4-ranked recruiting class, and I’ve got to stick ‘em somewhere!  But, skip down to No 14, and you’ll find out that cannot be done, according to this system.  So, we’ll put in Oklahoma.

13. This is exhausting. You really deserve a lemonade, and maybe even an oatmeal cookie. I mean, people bitch about preseason rankings, but then they lap them right up like hungry dogs. Do they not understand how market forces work? Oh, um, Michigan State. Whatever.

Georgia;  gotta stick ‘em somewhere.

14. Florida. “Will Muschamp is driving a truck with a great engine and no brake pads. Will Muschamp is eating a sandwich with meat and no bread. Will Muschamp is developing a model that explains how light behaves like a particle but not as a wave.” Metaphor them to death in this middle section.

Okay, NOW we’re allowed to put Florida in there.

15. School that was good six years ago and has stunk since. Because these things are cyclical, or something.

USC, anybody?

16. Team stocked with seniors that have mostly underachieved up to this point. They just want it more, man. That’s why they’re fighting in spring practice. Out of love.

Michigan State, perhaps?

17. Big 12 team with a miserably weak non conference schedule. Basically, this is between Texas Tech, West Virginia, Kansas, and Kansas State. Kansas is out for reasons of being Kansas, so just pick one of the other three and feel like a genius up to, but not beyond, Week 5.

West Virginia is the safest pick out of the three, at least through Week 5.  After Week 5, it might be Texas Tech.  Just sayin’.

18. Big East team. Start out by noting that the conference had a better bowl winning percentage last year than the every other AQ conference. Pretend you knew that Memphis was joining this year without looking. Realize that the team you pick could join the ACC before this gets published. Shrug, and continue trying to beat Jetpack Joyride.

Cincinnati, because after U of L, UC is the only Big East team that comes to mind, and goodness knows what could happen with Tommy Tuberville at the helm.

19. Team that was terrible but hired a trendy coach. You’ve already won me over, Cal, in spite of me.

Okay, let’s go with Cal.  Let me waste another space on something ridiculous, why don’t you!

20. School from a non AQ conference. Again, this is mostly an exercise in antagonizing fans, so just find a Mountain West or MAC team that could plausibly win eight games and put them here. Then say something snide about the Big Ten.

Ah, so THIS is where you put in Boise State!

21. Scandium. Don’t think it belongs here? Check your atomic numbers, clown.

Okay, now they’re being downright silly.  Not funny, just silly.  Let’s go with LSU.

22. Team with a coach on the hot seat. If you’re not sure who qualifies, just pick any coach that hasn’t won a conference title in the last two years and say he’s on the hot seat.

Texas, because even though I love Mack Brown as a person, he ought to be on the hot seat after three consecutive seasons of underperformance.

23. Almost there! Pick any team, say this is a make-or-break season for the program, and move forward.

Auburn, because after the horrible year they had last season, we’ll now see how quickly they can bounce back.

24. Duke.

Are you kidding me?  Alright, we’ll play along for the funny hell of it.

25. Team that barely made a bowl last year. “Trial by fire has made them stronger” sounds way more optimistic than “holy sh– they needed a punt return touchdown to beat Sweet Valley High.”

Heck, Purdue barely made it to a bowl game last year, but I’m certainly not putting them at No. 25!  I’d put somebody like Nebraska in there, but I don’t know if it fits the template.  Screw it; I’ll put Nebraska in anyway.

Now, let us see how this ranking plays out, according to the above formula:

  1. Alabama
  2. Michigan
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Ohio State
  5. Stanford
  6. Louisville
  7. South Carolina
  8. Notre Dame
  9. Oregon
  10. Florida State
  11. Ole Miss
  12. Oklahoma
  13. Georgia
  14. Florida
  15. USC
  16. Michigan State
  17. West Virginia
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Cal
  20. Boise State
  21. LSU
  22. Texas
  23. Auburn
  24. Duke (groan!)
  25. Nebraska

I know, I know; LSU is ranked way too low, and it bothers the heck out of me, too.  Just for fun, let us compare this with the current 2013 AP preseason Top 25 poll:

  1. Alabama (no surprise there!)
  2. Oregon
  3. Ohio State
  4. Notre Dame
  5. Texas A&M
  6. Georgia
  7. Stanford
  8. South Carolina
  9. Florida
  10. Florida State
  11. Clemson
  12. Kansas State
  13. Louisville
  14. LSU  (beats not being ranked at all!)
  15. Oklahoma (I knew they were overvalued!)
  16. Utah State (there had better be a darn good reason for this!)
  17. Northwestern (quite plausible, actually)
  18. Boise State (are you sure you want them that high, AP?)
  19. Texas
  20. Oregon State
  21. San Jose State (huh?)
  22. Northern Illinois (I guess they felt compelled to stick a MAC team somewhere)
  23. Vanderbilt (also plausible; have you seen their recruiting class lately?)
  24. Michigan
  25. Nebraska

For starters, I’m really regretting sticking Michigan in that No. 2 slot, but the formula called for a Big Ten team, and Ohio State was already locked in to No. 4; what was I to do?  The Florida State ranking, though, seems pretty spot-on, and many others (Alabama, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Stanford, South Carolina, and Nebraska are within one or two rankings).  Yes, it’s all in fun and jest, to be sure, but it shows that sometimes these whacky formulas work, other times, not so much.  And it still sticks in my craw that it compelled me to under-value the Bayou Bengals, and grossly over-value Michigan.

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Purdue (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

Some thoughts on the Bowls as of Dec. 28 December 29, 2012

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From azstarnet.com; try to ignore the Arizona player bumping into the ref and instead, focus on how cool their unis look, along the with the awesome color contrast between Arizona’s and Nevada’s helmets!

The New Mexico Bowl kicked off the season to a surprisingly auspicious beginning.  I say “surprisingly,” because let’s be honest; nobody thought that the first bowl game of the year would be that swell, and moreover,  it seemed as though Nevada had the game well in hand by the end of the 3rd quarter before Arizona managed to make a pretty good game out of things yet and scored 18 unanswered points to pull ahead at the end, 49-48.  And to think that I predicted that the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 would be the bowl season’s “offensive explosion,” yet so far, the results of the New Mexico Bowl have fit that distinction more than any other of the 2012-2013 bowl span.

But wait, there’s more!  As more teams unveil special bowl game helmets (read: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech), the jury will still be out until Jan. 7 to decide this ultimately, but thus far, the Arizona-Nevada matchup is definitely the “most aesthetically pleasing helmet contrast,” with the Wolfpack sporting their dark blue helmets on one side, and the Wildcats sporting their special red domes on the other!

Moreover, it will be very difficult for any other team to top the Wildcats for the “sartorial splendor” award, as they have set a new precedent.  Normally, if a team has dark blue and red for their colors (technically, Cardinal and Navy Blue, as is the case for both Arizona and Ole Miss), the modern precedents have been something along the lines of 1) dark blue helmets, dark blue jerseys, and either white or gray pants, or white helmets, or 2) white helmets and pants with dark blue jerseys, or 3), dark blue helmets, red jerseys, and white or gray pants.  What Arizona did was break through normal precedents and set a whole new one with red helmets, dark blue jerseys, and red pants.  It does not get much better than that!

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of good games, this year’s MAACO Bowl of Las Vegas turned out to be a ‘dandy’ of a game, folks!  There are times when you swear that ESPN does actually have a crystal ball in some secret location on their Bristol, Conn., campus, because they sent their front-line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit to call the game, reflecting on the fact in real time that it was worth tuning in to see!  Either that, or it was an elaborate rouse to get Musburger in touch with Chan Lo and the Chinese Triads to settle his gambling debts:  who knows?  That having been said, what on Earth was Boise State doing wearing those god-awful matte black helmets instead of their pretty metallic blue domes?  Sometimes it pays to leave well enough alone; such is what Washington did with their tasteful combination of metallic gold helms, white jerseys and purple pants.

A-WLvUxCQAEkjOO.jpg large

Of all places, this pic came from Bengals.com!

The Belk Bowl also exceeded expectations in terms of a competitive, watchable game.  Only two things overshadowed Duke’s first bowl game since the mid-1990s:  1), Cincinnati’s garish, red, carbon fibre-colored helmets, a first in football helmet decor, and 2), the Bearcats ultimately won.  Still, it was nice that the Blue Devils wore their tasteful royal blue helmets instead of their generic-looking white ones, which overall made for a nice helmet contrast between the two teams as they played each other in Charlotte.  Moreover, keep in mind that the Bearcats pulled off the win with basically a five-man coaching staff (for purposes of comparison, college teams usually have about 10 coaches on staff, not including graduate assistants).

Another very interesting teams’ helmets contrast took place on Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, formerly the Champs Sports Bowl, formerly the reincarnated Tangerine Bowl (basically, the other bowl game they play in the Citrus Bowl before the real Citrus Bowl game, which is now called the Capital One Bowl.  Got all that?).  Rutgers put up one heckuva fight against Virginia Tech, but came up a field goal short in overtime of tying the Hokies after the first round in overtime.  But the contrast was nevertheless unique in that the Scarlet Knights had their newly characteristic chrome shells, while the Hokies sported new, matte maroon helmets with an orange decal of a “Hokie,” which, from what us fans can deduce, is basically a turkey bird on a roid rage.  Virginia Tech has undertaken numerous helmet styling experiments during the 2012 season, some kind of interesting, some downright head-scratching.  The white helmets with turkey feet clearly belonged in the latter category!

Oh, and the guys at EDSBS, you boys have some ‘splainin’ to do!  You ranked the Meinecke Car Care Bowl of Texas last among your list of the 35 bowls for this season.  In the words of Musburger, the game turned out to be a real ‘dandy.’  Thanks to the realignment of bowls, this Texas Bowl is about the only B1G vs Big XII matchup we have to look forward to, as the Alamo Bowl no longer affords us that luxury.  The game did not disappoint, as Minnesota and Texas Tech butted heads in dramatic form practically from the whistle giving the green light for kickoff.  The game remained close and competitive for the whole 60 minutes, though a turning point came when a Red Raider receiver pancaked a Golden Gopher defensive back in the end zone and walloped him — right in front of the back judge.  That led to the player, No. 22, to be summarily ejected from the game (and due to an arcane NCAA rule, he shall also have to sit out the opening game next year, too).  LeGarrette Blunt would no doubt be proud.  A third and goal near the one became a third and goal at about the fifteen.  The next play was botched, leading to a field goal.  Minnesota called a timeout just as the ball was snapped, and on the next, true snap, the Gophers blocked the kick!  A sure TD was reduced to, well, nothing.  Yes, in the end, the Red Raiders won on a last-second field goal.  Still, the game was riveting from the opening kickoff to the very last play, and that’s all we fans can ask for in any of these bowl games.

In all frankness and honesty, the 2012-2013 bowl season has been overall underwhelming this far.  The Little Caesars Bowl and the Independence Bowl (oh, my, have the mighty fallen!) have been nothing about which to write home, and similar things can be said for most of the other bowls up to this point.  But having said all that, it is worth pointing out that there have been some high points thus far, and odds are, it can only get better from here.  After all, Ronald Reagan himself was known to joke that if one searches through enough mounds of manure, sooner or later one is bound to find the pony!

2012-2013 Bowl Games of High Interest December 26, 2012

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As mentioned in the previous installments, I have ranked the bowl games by category, with the major criterion being level of desirability to view, partly on my end, partly on the end of the average viewer who is NOT a certifiable college football addict like yours truly!

To find a complete bowl game schedule where each game is found in order of date and time each game is to be played, go here.

This third installment is of bowl games about which I am VERY interested (as usual, all times are Eastern Standard).  Happy Kwanzaa (LMAO!  I’m sorry, I just can’t say that with a straight face!).

Holiday Bowl (San Diego), Thurs., Dec. 27, 9:45 PM EST

Baylor (7-5) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-4)

My [potential] “offensive explosion” bowl game for the 2012-2013 season.  To paraphrase the guys at EDSBS, what’s better in a bowl game than seeing both teams’ offensive coordinators emptying the most shameful corners of their playbook?  Better yet, it pits bears vs. bruins; how often does one see that in a bowl?  Just sayin’!

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio), Sat., Dec. 29, 6:45 PM

No. 23 Texas (8-4) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3)

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased.  After all, I was part of the team that won the 1998 Alamo Bowl, arguably one of the more memorable games in the series.  But that aside, the Alamo Bowl is always a good matchup.  Is it quite as good as when it was Big Ten vs. Big XII?  The realignment to a Pac-12 vs. Big XII matchup has not watered things down any, at least not yet.  Remember last year’s offensive explosion between Baylor and Washington?  That one is not soon to be forgotten, either.  This time, the Longhorns are playing, which automatically makes it good.  Granted, Oregon State is favored on paper, but do not underestimate Texas’ home field advantage, given that their campus is only a little over an hour away.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Atlanta), Mon., Dec., 31, 7:30 PM

No. 8 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)

Nothing like closing out the old year by watching a classic SEC-ACC matchup in Hotlanta!  Of course, there have been plenty of such “classic” matchups on paper over the past several years, but they have usually amounted to rather one-sided affairs in favor of the Southeastern Conference.  You’ll have that.  After all, not all Peach Bowls, er, Chick-Fil-A Bowls can be like the Auburn-North Carolina game back in 2001!  In any event, the funny guys at EDSBS have come up with three possible scenarios of how this one will play out (all with varying degrees of probability – refer to game ranking #6).  I particularly like the “LSU blowout” scenario!

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Mississippi State (8-4) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (9-3)

My “great game that nobody is talking about,” for it pits two scrappy teams struggling for respect in their respective conferences.  Better yet, it’s a very dramatic culture clash within the bowl season, for the only private school in the B1G meets, well, the “clanga-clanga” of cowbells.  It also makes for an intriguing coaching matchup in one coaches favors the pass while the other favors the run.  How can a viewer lose with this whole proposition?

Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 18 Michigan (8-4)

The matchup is intriguing on the surface alone.  ­One side is a traditional blue blood, figuratively and literally.  They won the first ever bowl game and gave birth to the college fight song as we know it today.  Oh well, and Michigan also has the most wins of any football program, ever.  The other side, South Carolina, is something of a late bloomer.  A relatively late joiner of the SEC, for years they had been a conference doormat prior to the Lou Holtz and especially the Steve Spurrier eras.  But this game is where the newcomer will take down the old guard, should everything work out on paper.  Yes, that’s a rather dry way of putting it, but if I made any allusions that the Gamecocks should bury the Wolverines underneath the pavement for some horrified archaeologists to discover a century or two later, well, I might get accused of plagiarism, or something.

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

First of all, let us get this out of the way right now and admit that this game is not quite as interesting as the Outback Bowl, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  If Nebraska had their hands full against a 7-5 Wisconsin team at a neutral site, good Lord, what is the seventh-ranked Georgia squad going to do to them?  Second, what on Earth are the Cornhuskers doing being ranked 16th in the AP after a such can of whoopass had been opened up on them in Indianapolis?  All that being said, the only thing that Nebraska has going for them (and I mean the only thing) is that the Bulldogs are a senior-laden team that was underachieved all season, and be very, very aware of such teams when they show up in bowl games, as they are likely to disappoint.

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.), Tues., Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Stanford

The good news for Wisconsin is that they caught Nebraska off guard during the Big Ten championship game and have earned a third-straight berth to the Granddaddy of Them All.  The bad news for Wisconsin is that they must face a Stanford squad that is arguably more formidable than last year’s Andrew Luck-led team.  The Cardinal can more than match the Badgers in the trenches, and that instantly takes away their competitive advantage.  More bad news:  barring the possibility of Stanford breaking out their black helmets and all-cardinal Nike Pro Combat unis, this bowl  game will be the matchup of the generic uniforms.  The good news for all of us is that we will be “looking live,” as ABC’s front line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit will be calling the game, folks!

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Wed., Jan. 2, 8:30 PM

No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida

Yeah, yeah, I know that I filed this upcoming game under “who’s bringing the body bags?”  That’s my safe prediction.  My less-than safe prediction, shared by others, is that Florida’s occasional quarterbacking ineptitude might align itself with Louisville’s occasionally vulnerable secondary.  Of course, even if both of those things click simultaneously, it’s not that safe of a bet that the same clicking will occur between the Gator’s formidable defense against the Cardinals’ Teddy Bridgewater, as sad as I am to say.  Then again, it is the Big Easy, and the Charlie Strong can always dial up some voodoo magic.

Fiesta Bowl (Mesa, Ariz.), Thurs., Jan. 3, 8:30 PM

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State

When two teams in a bowl game that are very closely ranked square off, it is almost always interesting.  But the game is watchable for other reasons as well, such as the intriguing contrast between the two teams.  In one corner, wearing purple trimmed with white and silver are the Wildcats, with old man Bill Snyder working his magic albeit with a conventional offense.  In the opposing corner, wearing some sort of green trimmed with yellow (we think:  it could be black, silver, or something else, for that matter), is Chip Kelly’s Ducks, along with his progressive, hurry-up, hyper-drive offensive play.  Think of the overall interest amounting to a weird variation on the old saying that “opposites attract.”

Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), Friday, Jan. 4, 8:00 PM

No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

Old conference rivals reunite in a relocated classic bowl game (used to be in, well, the Cotton Bowl, now it’s in Jerryland).  What makes the matchup even more interesting is that the Aggies’ current head coach, Kevin Sumlin, was at one time an assistant under Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops.  That notwithstanding, in all likelihood the pupil will become the teacher.  Oklahoma is another one of those teams about which to beware, that being a team with lots of seniors that has underachieved all year; rarely does a team like that come through victorious during bowl season.  Moreover, during the later part of the regular season, Coach Sumlin was coaching A&M so well that it seemed as though they could beat anybody in the nation.  With that being said, this will be a major test to see whether or not they can beat anyone in the postseason.

BCS National Championship (Miami), Mon., Jan. 7, 8:30 PM

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama

On one hand, it is unlikely that Notre Dame has ever encountered any team with Alabama’s overall athleticism.  On the other hand, Notre Dame has won lots of close games, and there is some skill to that.  Ultimately, the game will come down to one of two things:  will the Irish receivers be too much for the Crimson Tide’s secondary, or will Bama’s offensive line gradually take over in the middle of the third quarter?  The result of the game will hinge on either contingency.

2012-2013 Bowl Games of Moderate Interest (at best) December 14, 2012

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Bowl season is almost upon us once again.  Yes, friends, things kickoff early as usual, just as they have since roughly 2001.  But instead of the New Orleans Bowl doing the honors in getting things started this year, we have the New Mexico Bowl and the Idaho Potatoes Bowl (don’t laugh!) doing said honors this year.  The Big Easy Bowl does not commence until Dec. 22, oddly enough.

In any event, I have ranked the bowl games by category, with the major criterion being level of desirability to view, partly on my end, partly on the end of the average viewer who is NOT a certifiable college football addict like yours truly!

To find a complete bowl game schedule where each game is found in order of date and time each game is to be played, go here.

The first installment is of bowl games about which I am only moderately interested, at best (all times Eastern Standard):

Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise, Id.), Sat., Dec. 15, 4:30 PM EST

Toledo (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah State (10-2)

The de facto WAC champ takes on a respectable MAC team that finished 3rd in the western division.  The only interesting aspect about this game is that it will be an interesting test to see how strong the MAC truly is against the best of what is seen by most as a traditionally weak conference.

Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego) Sat., Dec. 15, 8:00 PM EST

BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)

The Cougars take on the de facto leader of the Mountain West, in what amounts to a glorified home game for the Aztecs.  Despite the numbers not matching, their records have interesting similarities in that both teams lost to at least one Pac-12 team, and both teams also lost to San Jose State (!).

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Fri., Dec. 21, 7:30 PM EST

Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)

Both the Cardinals and the Golden Knights have nearly identical records, with UCF’s extra loss coming to Tulsa in the C-USA championship game.  The only interesting aspect to this game is how a MAC also-ran stacks up against the C-USA runner-up.  Everybody was bullish on the MAC this year for the apparent strength the conference hath shewn; now it is time to put up or shut up.

Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu, Hi.) Dec. 24, 8:00 PM EST

Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6)

This game used to have a little more of a mystique to it when it was called the Aloha Bowl, and was played on Christmas.  Just sayin’!  That said, it least this game is another glorified home game for Hawaii team, like it is half the time.  A Mountain West also-ran vs. a C-USA team barely eligible does seem to be a slight mismatch in the Bulldogs favor.  On the other hand, this will be an interesting homecoming for June Jones, albeit on the Mustangs side this time.

Little Caesars Bowl (Detroit), Wed., Dec. 26, 7:30 PM

Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)

It used to be they would pit a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team against the MAC champ.  Even then, the game was only moderately interesting, and only to the fan bases of the teams that got the bid to the Motor City.  Now, with a Sun Belt Conference also-ran against a plodding MAC team, it is even less interesting.  But credit the guys at EDSBS for reminding us that, given the game is in Detroit, the players, as a bonus, the players might get deeds to abandoned key real estate in their gift bags!

Military Bowl (Washington, D.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 3:00 PM

No. 24 San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)

WAC near-champ vs. MAC also-ran: we know what ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd would say; “not interested!”  Yes, the Trojans (the SJSU kind, not the USC kind) did take the WAC by storm this year, but it’s still the WAC.

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 6:30 PM

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)

A decent Big East team takes on a barely-eligible ACC team.  That alone does not make most folks interested.  So what in addition to that dismal matchup engages anybody?  Answer:  the intrigue.  Who exactly will be coaching the Bearcats, anyhow?  And how will David Cutcliffe prepare the Blue Devils for a bowl game that might actually be winnable for them?

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.), Fri., Dec. 28, 2:00 PM

Ohio U (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)

Something negative, something positive to be said.  The negative is obvious if one knows anything at all about bowl history.  The Independence Bowl used to be one of the best matchups in the bowl lineup, pitting a Big XII team against an SEC team in a fairly even match.  Even before then, the 1995 Michigan State – LSU matchup was memorable, and the 1997 match between the Tigers and Notre Dame was even more so (both ended in the Bayou Bengals’ favor).  Remember the “Blizzard Bowl” between Mississippi State and Texas A&M in late 2000?  ‘Twas yet another great example of this great bowl game.  It is not anymore, though.  Now it pits MAC vs. Sun Belt.  The Cadillac has been reduced to a Chrysler K-car.  Positive:  lookee there, the Bobcats made it to a bowl game after all!

Russell Athletics Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Fri., Dec. 28, 5:30 PM

Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3)

The Hokies have under-performed all the year, and the Scarlet Knights might be a bit demoralized after losing at home to Louisville and losing out on the BCS in so doing.  So which team is going to show up?  Scratch that:  is either team going to show up?

Meinecke Car Care Bowl (Houston), Fri., Dec. 28, 9:00 PM

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Okay, at least it involves a Big Ten vs. Big XII matchup.  The only problem is, one team squeaked by into this game while in a conference that is down this year, and the other is facing leadership turmoil in the wake of Tommy Tuberville’s abrupt departure.  On paper, the Red Raiders are the clear favorite, but don’t underestimate the power of demoralization.

Armed Forces Bowl (Ft. Worth, Texas), Sat., Dec. 29, 11:45 AM

Rice (6-6) vs Air Force (6-6)

Both teams squeaked into a bowl game.  Which one is happier to be there?  The happier team is a bit more focused on preparation, which will make the difference come game time.  Seriously; it should be called the “Ethics Bowl,” and the fact that I imply derision in that observation is a very sad commentary on our society.  On the other hand, Air Force’s triple option ‘grittitude’ is always a pleasure to see for those of us who like real football.

Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.), Mon., Dec. 31, 3:30 PM

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

The Cyclones have had some flashes of brilliance this year.  The question becomes, will this be enough to overcome the C-USA champs?

Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas), Mon., Dec. 31, 2:00 PM

USC (7-5) vs Georgia Tech (6-7)

My bowl pick for “they shoot horses, don’t they?”  Why?  Because it is pointless.  The Trojans come in to El Paso only 7-5 because they have yet to muster up the discipline needed to take things to the next level, while the Yellow Jackets already have a losing season. Still, the offensive contrast should be interesting to watch, if nothing else.

Next installment:  Bowl Games of More Interest