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College Football Awards Week 13 (2021) December 3, 2021

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COACHES
Wish I were him:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Glad I’m not him: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Lucky guy: Nick Saban, Alabama

Poor guy: Bryan Harsin, Auburn

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Monken, Army

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jeff Traylor, UTSA

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Allen, Indiana

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Houston (defeated UConn 45-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Baylor (defeated Texas Tech 27-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Georgia Tech (lost to Georgia 45-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Auburn (lost to Alabama 24-22, 4OT)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated Louisville 52-21)  

Dang, they’re good:  Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  Colorado State

Another one bites the dust:  UTSA

Did the season start?  Wisconsin
Can the season end?  Indiana

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again: No. 5 Michigan 42, No. 2 Ohio State 27

Play this again, too:  No. 3 Alabama 24, Auburn 22 (4OT)

Never play this again: Nevada 52, Colorado State 10

What?  North Texas 45, No. 22 UTSA 23

HuhLSU 27, No. 15 Texas A&M 24

Are you kidding me??  Minnesota 23, No. 14 Wisconsin 13

Oh – my – GodNo. 5 Michigan 42, No. 2 Ohio State 27

NEXT WEEK

rankings are current AP (week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 3 Alabama 

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 24 Houston vs. No. 4 Cincinnati

Upset alert: No. 19 Utah vs. No. 11 Oregon

Must win: No. 5 Michigan vs. No. 16 Iowa

They have the same record?  USC @ California

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Baylor vs. No. 7 Oklahoma State also:  Kent State vs Northern Illinois

Defensive struggle: (none)

Great game no one is talking about: No. 17 Pitt vs. No. 18 Wake Forest

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Luke Fickell of Cincinnati vs. Dana Holgorsen of Houston

Week 13 Thoughts:

Rivalry week did not disappoint.  Sure, there was the occasional lop-sided outcome (looking your way, IU-Purdue and Kentucky-Louisville, and others, too.), but so many matchups produced so many great games.  The Ole Miss-Mississippi State game (the “Egg Bowl”, named after the golden football trophy that has long been dubbed “the golden egg”) on Thanksgiving started things off with a bang.  Then on Friday, unranked Nebraska had a chance to knock No. 16 Iowa out of B1G West contention, and came up shy by only a touchdown.  Coastal Carolina had to hold off lowly South Alabama:  the Chanticleers defeated the Jaguars by only seven points.

On Saturday, even greater action took place.  Neither Florida nor Florida State has had much of a season, but they certainly gave fans a good fight in The Swamp, with the Gators winning, 24-21.

But The Game itself delivered.  Michigan finally got a major monkey off its back in beating Ohio State for the first time since 2011.  With such a rivalry and a game of such high stakes (a conference championship berth and also a potential playoff bid on the line), there was plenty of drama to go around, and all the while, Michigan Stadium was rocking, both during, and very much after the game.  The crowd of fans gathered around the FOX crew outside of the stadium post-game rivaled that of crowds at ESPN’s College Gameday, pre-game.

Speaking of the B1G and conference championship berths on the line, Wisconsin had the chance to win Paul Bunyan’s Ax and also to lock up the B1G West by beating Minnesota.  PJ Fleck and the boys had other plans.  The Golden Gophers won the day, 23-13, and the Ax along with it.  That upset made Iowa’s win the previous day all the more significant, as now they’ll represent the B1G West in Indianapolis next weekend.

In a quasi-rivalry game, Michigan State and Penn State duked it out in the snow in a high-scoring slugfest, with the Spartans winning closely, 30-27.

If we are to be reminded of anything, it’s that the Iron Bowl is always a great game, no matter how much one team may struggle and no matter how high the other may be currently flying.  Case in point:  this year’s Iron Bowl looked like it might have been a lop-sided affair, what with Alabama’s top-five ranking and Auburn not even ranked.  But crazy things have happened against the Crimson Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium.  Last night’s game was one of them.  Auburn led most of the game in a defensive struggle.  Going into the 4th quarter, it was 10-0 in favor of the Tigers.  The Tide managed to score 10 points that quarter to tie things up at the end of regulation.  It took four overtimes to finally decide the game, with Alabama triumphing in the end.  Ironically, it took a hobbled back QB’s understandably limited performance for Alabama to have even a shot at winning this game.

Speaking of getting monkeys off one’s back, Oklahoma State certainly came through against Oklahoma in last night’s edition of the Bedlam Series.  In what was a back-and-forth shootout for much of the game, the Cowboys held the Sooners scoreless in the 4th quarter (a considerable stepping up of OK State’s defense), while they themselves scored 14 points to triumph, 37-33.

Other great games took place elsewhere, and it all amounted to a wonderful Rivalry Week that shall no about long be remembered.  But now, it is time to look ahead.

Looking ahead to Week 14:

Michigan vs. Iowa in the B1G Championship game (Indianapolis)

This will be a different Big Ten championship game from what we are used to.  Reason being, Wisconsin is not in it.  Kidding aside, neither is Ohio State or Michigan State.  Nope, Michigan crashes the party for the first time, ever, too.  I wonder how Iowa’s and Michigan’s bands will sound like when they play the Star Spangled Banner together.  It will be a beautiful sound to hear and a sight to behold in any case.

Oh, and all Michigan needs to do is close the deal, and they could make it to the playoffs.  No pressure.

Georgia vs. Alabama in the SEC Championship game (Atlanta)

This is Georgia’s opportunity to remind everyone that they are the legit No. 1 team.  Conversely, if Alabama has any hopes of crashing the playoffs, they need to get through the Bulldogs in order to attain that prize.  Needless to say, that’s a huge ask. 

Questions also abound:  was the Crimson Tide looking ahead to Georgia, and thus were caught off-guard by sputtering Auburn?  Or did Alabama arrive in The Plains with the War Eagle fully on their minds, only to come out flat anyhow, and lucky to escape back to Tuscaloosa with a win?  If their underperformance yesterday is any indication, they could wind up as cannon fodder for the Bulldogs.

Conversely, Georgia would be wise to prepare as if they shall be in the fight of their lives, because, well, because Alabama, that’s why.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State in the Big XII Championship game (Arlington, Texas)

Credit the Big XII with two things:  one, they get it right by selecting the contestants for their conference championship game.  Forget these silly divisions:  simply select the top two best teams, and let them slug it out.  Okay, “slug” might be too strong a word since this is the Big XII, which defensively is almost a pillow-fight of a conference (Oklahoma notwithstanding).  Nevertheless, the Bears vs. the Cowboys should be a marvelous matchup.

The other thing that the Big XII gets right is selecting the best possible location within their geographic footprint in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  To be sure, the B1G and SEC have gotten it right, respectively, for a long time in that same regard, with the former playing in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy (which is perfect for the B1G), and now Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC in Atlanta (before then, they played in the Georgia Dome: perfect in either case).

Houston vs. Cincinnati in the AAC championship game

When was the last time we all looked forward to the AAC championship game?  Perhaps starting now.  If you’re not, you should.  Cincinnati is undefeated and could earn a coveted playoff berth if they win out.  Meanwhile, Houston has but one loss, has played very strongly as of late, and could be a likely spoiler.

No neutral site here:  the two teams shall be duking it out in the Bearcats’ home field of Nippert Stadium.  As an undefeated team, UC has earned this advantage.

Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest in the ACC championship game (Charlotte)

What, no Clemson?  Correct, no Tigers in this ACC championship.  Nevertheless, we ought not to overlook this game, as it too could be a great one, pitting (if you’ll pardon the pun) two teams that are focused and tenacious.  Yes, bring out the popcorn for this one, too!

College Football Week 11 Awards (2021) November 14, 2021

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COACHES
Wish I were him:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

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

Lucky guy: Sonny Cumbie, Texas Tech

Poor guy: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Shane Beamer, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dana Holgorsen, Houston

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bryan Harsin, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Sarkesian, Texas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (defeated New Mexico State 59-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (defeated Samford 70-52)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UConn (lost to Clemson 44-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (defeated Texas 57-56)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisville (defeated Syracuse 41-3)  

Dang, they’re good:  Ohio State
Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Another one bites the dust:  Oklahoma

Did the season start?  Florida
Can the season end?  Indiana  (also: Texas)

Can the season never endBaylor

GAMES
Play this again: No. 6 Michigan 21, Penn State 17

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Ole Miss 29, No. 11 Texas A&M 19

Never play this again: No. 2 Alabama 59, New Mexico State 3

What?  Mississippi State 43, No. 17 Auburn 34

HuhNo. 15 Ole Miss 29, No. 11 Texas A&M 19

Are you kidding me??  No. 13 Baylor 27, No. 8 Oklahoma 14

Oh – my – GodKansas 57, Texas 56 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

rankings are current AP (week 12)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 4 Ohio State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: SMU @ No. 5 Cincinnati; also:  Louisiana @ Liberty

Upset alert: Nebraska @ No. 18 Wisconsin; also:  No. 3 Oregon @ No. 24 Utah

Must win: No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 4 Ohio State; also:  Texas @ West Virginia

They have the same record?  Florida @ Missouri

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Oklahoma State @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: Illinois @ No. 20 Iowa

Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ No. 21 Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Luke Fickell of Cincinnati vs Sonny Dykes of SMU

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Charleston Southern @ No. 1 Georgia

Why are they playing? Prairie View A&M @ No. 11 Texas A&M

Plenty of good seats remaining: Southern Miss @ Louisiana Tech

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  New Mexico State @ Kentucky; also:  Wofford @ North Carolina

Week 11 Thoughts:

Lots of great games and lots of head-scratchers for week 11.  On one hand, we were treated to great games such as Michigan @ Penn State, then Texas A&M @ Ole Miss in the evening.  But we also saw a number of games that left us scratching our heads.  Not the least of the latter was Texas’ shocking loss to Kansas, at home.  Apparently, the defense decided to take the night off, allowing the Jayhawks to score a total of 57 points in the game, and to snap Kansas road losing streak in the conference that began back in 2008.  No, really.  Even Steve Sarkesian acknowledged that the Longhorns played a bad first half of football, spotting KU three touchdowns before they decided to start playing in earnest.  It is quite clear where he needs to make adjustments both now and in the offseason.

That aside, Michigan is playing incredibly well right now:  this is easily their best team since 2016.  Ohio State is also playing up to their potential.  No “Spoilermakers” for Purdue yesterday, but in all fairness, it was too much to ask them to pull off two massive upsets in back-to-back weeks.  Moreover, the talent gap was too much to overcome for Purdue, as the Buckeyes were firing on all eight cylinders and demonstrated that they belong in the playoff discussion.

As for the No. 1 team, Georgia demonstrated their continued worthiness of their current top ranking by beating – in methodical yet convincing fashion – an increasingly formidable Tennessee squad.

Looking ahead to Week 12:

It’s the time of year again.  This time around, week 13 will be Rivalry Week.  That means that the week before then, week 12, will have lots of games that, frankly, should not even be on the schedule.  The SEC is the worst offender at this, scheduling body bag games that are ludicrous on the very surface of things.  To be sure, some already had their easy-gimmies this week, and they have seized the opportunity to play more worthy opponents.  Case in point, Alabama plays No. 25 Arkansas, in what could amount to a decent game.  Also, and oddly, Missouri and Florida, who unbelievably have identical records at 5-5, play each other this weekend in what could be a competitive game, even though, on paper, it shouldn’t be.  South Carolina might be a relatively weak team in the conference, but at least they are playing Auburn.

But then there are the clear mismatches.  The wrinkle this year is that some look even on paper because of similar records, but the reality is, the talents gaps are a mile wide.  This includes by Louisiana-Monroe playing LSU, and South Alabama playing Tennessee, and Prairie View A&M plays Texas A&M.  Tennessee State plays Mississippi State as well.  In each of these cases, the question “why are they playing” practically screams in our minds.  If that is not enough, New Mexico State, at 1-9, plays Kentucky, in what is perhaps the most lop-sided matchup of all that week, save for Charleston Southern – of all teams – playing No. 1 Georgia.  If they Bulldogs are serious about remaining at the top of the heap, perhaps they could do better than schedule a cupcake team so late in the year.  Indeed, much of the SEC could do better in that regard, and should.

Meanwhile, the B1G gets a pass.  No body bag game for those teams, they keep playing other teams within their conference.  Purdue plays Northwestern; Rutgers plays Penn State; Illinois plays Iowa; Michigan plays Maryland; Minnesota plays Indiana; Nebraska plays Wisconsin.  Best of all, Michigan State plays at Ohio State in what is clearly the game of the week.

Similar credit is due to the Big XII teams that are playing each other this upcoming week, as well as to the Pac-12, American Conference, C-USA, Mountain West, and Sunbelt teams who do the same, respectively.  The ACC teams also deserve credit for keeping up the conference schedule, save for one or two (looking your way North Carolina:  you can do better than play Wofford).

College Football Awards, Week 14 (2019) December 1, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himRyan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama (hon. mention:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan)

Lucky guy: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Poor guy: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, South Florida

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Arth, Akron

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Georgia (defeated Georgia Tech 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Penn State (defeated Rutgers 27-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to No. 9 Baylor 61-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Maryland (lost to Michigan State 19-16)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated Louisville 45-13)

Dang, they’re good: Utah

Dang, they’re bad:  Akron

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Alabama

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 15 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45

Never play this again: No. 9 Baylor 61, Kansas 6

What?  Virginia 39, No. 24 Virginia Tech 30

HuhKansas State 27, No. 23 Iowa State 17

Are you kidding me??  No. 12 Wisconsin 38, No. 8 Minnesota 17

Oh – my – GodNo. 15 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Georgia vs No. 1 LSU (SEC Championship)

Nest-best game of the week:  No. 2 Ohio State vs No. 10 Wisconsin (B1G Championship)

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 Cincinnati @ No. 16 Memphis (AAC Champ game/rematch)

Upset alert: No. 13 Oregon vs No. 5 Utah (Pac-12 Championship)

Must win: B1G Championship game to ensure OSU goes to playoffs

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Baylor vs No. 6 Oklahoma (Big XII Championship)

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

Great game no one is talking about: UAB @ Florida Atlantic

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs Mario Cristobal of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Virginia @ No. 3 Clemson  (ACC Championship)

Week 14 Thoughts:

Michigan vs Ohio State

This was supposed to be Harbaugh’s year in beating Ohio State, right?  Turns out, not so much.  Not while Ohio State is still chock-full of Urban Meyer’s players.  That is part of the Buckeyes’ success this year.  The other part is taking those talent players and making them more relaxed and less uptight than when Meyer himself was coaching them (enter Ryan Day).  Can he himself bring in the same caliber of players?  If not, then this high-flying success obviously has a limited shelf life.

As for Michigan, they are still a very good team.  A 9-3 record is commensurate with most of the better years of this proud program.  Also, those three losses came to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State, all of which are running at peak strength.  Moreover, an academic powerhouse in a cold-weather setting like Michigan is at a systemic disadvantage from recruiting the same caliber of athletes as consistently as football-first Ohio State.  Simple as that.  Michigan, Harbaugh is likely as well as you are going to do. Make the most of it, and enjoy your 9-10 win seasons.

Auburn vs Alabama

Rivalry weekend did not disappoint across the boards (for the most part), starting at the top.  Yesterday’s Iron Bowl was the highest-scoring affair in the history of this bitterest of rivalries.  For Auburn, this ought to quell any doubts about Gus Malzahn’s tenure.  For Alabama fans, this obviously raises questions.  Can they still sustain a championship drive after so many playoff appearances and wins?  Has Nick Saban peaked, only now for us to witness a slow, steady decline?  Is it a good idea for Saban to retire now, while he’s still on top (barely)?  The sooner these questions are addressed, the better.

Kentucky vs Louisville

The Wildcats’ lopsided win over the Cardinals show that even a low-level SEC team usually beats a middling ACC team.  The real shock of this game was how Louisville’s defense quit, and against their biggest rival, no less.  This shows that, while Coach Scott Satterfield is ahead of schedule in implementing his sound team culture (seven wins is a huge turnaround from last year’s debacle, after all), there are still some remnants of the Bobby Petrino fallout/poison that still need to be exorcised.

Purdue vs Indiana

On paper, the Hoosiers were the favored team.  Based on their performance this year, they should have won.  And win they did, but not without an intense fight.  This was a very competitive, very dramatic, thus very engaging matchup for the Old Oaken Bucket.  For Purdue, the big mistake came in overtime, where the better team typically wins.  Purdue answered IU’s score with a TD of their own.  They tied it up with an extra point.  That as a mistake.  With current momentum on their side, they should have gone for two.  Giving the better team more chances to score points turns out to be suicide, and that played out exactly in the Hoosiers’ favor.  Let us hope that Coach Jeff Brohm learned this lesson, among other lessons of less hype, more humility, and more concentration on fundamentals and finishing a game.

All that said, Indiana celebrates its first eight-win season since the early 1990s and the days of Coach Bill Mallory.  Way to go, Hoosiers.

 

 

My Nearly Perfect Playoff Scenario November 16, 2017

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The developments in this past week of college football have shaken up the polls yet again, thus further modifying the playoff projections.  Given the current state of affairs, if the new AP poll is of any indication, here’s how I think things could play out.

The current top eight in the AP poll is as follows:

  1. Alabama
  2. Miami
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Clemson
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio State

So, based on current polling and whom the teams have yet to play, who goes into the final four of the playoffs?  My scenario could lead to near-perfection.

Let’s start with Alabama.  Mississippi State almost beat them at home.  So, the Crimson Tide is vulnerable.  Nevertheless, they’ll get an easy win over a cupcake in Mercer this Saturday.  That leaves us with Auburn at No. 6.  Strange things happen in rivalry games.  Even stranger things happen in the Iron Bowl, arguably the most heated, bitter rivalry in college sports.  Bama thought they would be playing for the national title until the famous “kick-six” incident of 2013, for example.  Nevertheless, let us say for the sake of argument that Bama beats Auburn.  On paper, this is entirely possible.  Auburn will thus have three losses, and be eliminated from playoff consideration.

The Tide remains undefeated, and goes onto the SEC championship game in Atlanta.  There, they play Georgia, who was briefly No. 1 before getting their asses handed to them by Auburn.  Now at No. 7, they’ll still give Alabama a good challenge in Atlanta.  But on paper, the odds still favor The Tide.  Let us thus accept the law of averages and say Bama wins.  Again.  Having knocked out both Auburn AND Georgia, Bama as undefeated AND SEC champs, also ranked No. 1, instantly clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 1 of 4:  Alabama

Next up is Miami.  After tearing Notre Dame a new one in Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes now sit at No. 2 in the AP.  They have also clinched the Atlantic Division of the ACC for the first time since the conference split into those two divisions.  To remain undefeated in the regular season, they need to take out Virginia (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road).  Both are doable, obviously, though keep an eye out for the Canes having to deal with cold Pittsburgh weather in late November.

At any rate, the Hurricanes are now slated to play Clemson, currently No. 4 in the AP, for the ACC Championship.  That game will be in Charlotte in early December, effectively a home game for the Tigers.  IF the Hurricanes can overcome this huge challenge and triumph over Clemson, they shall be undefeated, ACC champs, and shall have clinched the second spot in the playoffs.  This could actually be the most tenuous of contingencies.  Nevertheless…

Berth No. 2 of 4:  Miami

Oklahoma currently sits at No. 3.  Aside from Iowa State, the Sooners have risen to the occasion each game, recently beating a tough TCU squad.  OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is a more mature version of Johnny Manziel:  someone capable of making special things happen.  Despite legit challenges from strong teams within the conference, nobody can credibly take the Sooners down this year.  If these shadows remain unchanged, they’ll surely clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 3 of 4:  Oklahoma

That leaves us with the last spot.  In this scenario, three out of the eight are already in.  Three of the remaining five are out.  That leaves us with the remaining two:  Wisconsin and Ohio State.  “But wait,” you protest, “Ohio State already has two losses, one a both recent AND embarrassing one to Iowa.”  A valid point you would raise, to be sure.  But here’s the deal.  The Buckeyes’ schedule is still much stronger than Wisconsin’s, for one.  Whereas OSU had the guts to play a tough OU squad that, as already mentioned, shall surely be playoff-bound, Wisconsin padded their schedule with Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and a weak (for this year) BYU.

Moreover, IF Ohio State shows up ready to play, they can beat anybody.  Would you want to coach head-to-head against Urban Meyer?  I didn’t think so.

Finally, both Wisconsin and Ohio State, if both win out, are destined to butt heads in the Big Ten Championship game.  They both need to beat Michigan to guarantee this scenario.  Should they play each other for the B1G title, and should Ohio State actually triumph, Wisconsin shall be effectively eliminated.  Why?  Again, their relatively weak schedule without winning their own conference.  Meanwhile, Ohio State will be the last team standing in the top eight in the current AP poll.  Could winning the B1G over an undefeated team be enough to get them back into playoff contention?  I would wager “yes.”

Berth No. 4 of 4:  Ohio State

Yes, this scenario is contingent on many factors.  Change one major factor (Bama loses to Auburn, for example), and it all falls apart.  Wisconsin and Ohio State’s viabilities depend on both beating Michigan.  Miami still needs to face Pittsburgh in the cold of late November at Heinz Field.  After that, they must face down Clemson.  Obviously, that’s a tall order.

If, however, all these things come to pass, it would be a nearly geographically-perfect playoff line-up.  Alabama would represent the south.  Miami could represent urban, coastal fans of the game.  Ohio State could represent the Midwest, the Big Ten, and its demographic TV-viewing juggernaut along with it.  Finally, Oklahoma could represent other parts of Middle America.  Indeed, the only problem with this scenario is that it lacks a Pac-12 team.  If it did, we would have perfection.  Too bad the Pac-12 teams ended up cannibalizing themselves this year, but that could be the case with the B1G, too, depending on how things truly do come to pass.  The only way we’ll know one way or the other is to keep lining them up and playing.

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.

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.