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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.

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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.

College Football Week 12 Awards November 18, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 12, pre-week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Art Briles, Baylor
Glad I’m not him: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Poor guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Desperately seeking a clue:  Jeff Tedford, California
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Desperately seeking … anything:  Derek Dooley, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Western Carolina 49-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Kansas State (see below)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Notre Dame 38-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wofford (lost to No. 13 South Carolina 24-7)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Baylor (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Army (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  UAB

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State (see below)

Did the season start? Michigan State
Can the season end?  Tennessee
Can the season never end?  LSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 8 LSU 41, Ole Miss 35
Never play this again: Temple 63, Army 32
What? Utah State 48, No. 20* Louisiana Tech 41, OT

Huh?  No. 23* Oklahoma State 59, No. 24* Texas Tech 21

Are you kidding me? No. 13* Stanford 17, No. 2* Oregon 14, OT

Oh – my – God:  Baylor 52, No. 1* Kansas State 24

* Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Florida @ No. 10 Florida State (notwithstanding No. 13 South Carolina @ No. 12 Clemson)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: Ohio U @ Kent State
Upset alert: Baylor over Texas Tech in Waco

Must win: No. 1 Notre Dame @ USC
Offensive explosion: No. 24 Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Oklahoma
Defensive struggle: No. 20 Michigan @ No. 4 Ohio State
Great game no one is talking about: No. 5 Oregon @ No. 16 Oregon State

Thanksgiving Day Special:  TCU @ No. 18 Texas

Cloud Nine Bowl:  No. 8 Stanford @ No. 17 UCLA

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mike Riley of Oregon State vs. Chip Kelly of Oregon
Who’s bringing the body bags? Georgia Tech @ No. 3 Georgia (notwithstanding Northern Illinois @ Eastern Michigan, Friday)
Why are they playing? BYU @ New Mexico State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ Hawaii

Plenty of good seats remaining, SEC East edition:  Kentucky @ Tennessee
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Akron @ Toledo (Tuesday night)

Instant BCS Chaos:  In just one night, the BCS standings have turned upside down.  All Kansas State and Oregon had to do was win out, and they would have been matched up in a very intriguing national championship game in Miami.  Scratch that; ain’t gonna happen.  Oregon lost a close, hard-fought game in Eugene, Ore., to a tough Stanford squad.  The game went into OT, and the Duck’s failure to score on their opening possession gave the Cardinal an opportunity to win the game with a field goal, which they did.  Another one bites the dust.

Yet half-way across the country in the heart of Texas (Waco, to be exact), something even more improbable developed.  Kansas State, at that time ranked No. 1 in the land, went down to spectacular defeat at the hands of Art Briles’ Baylor [Baptist] Bears.  The score itself was improbable:  when is the last time any top-ranked team went down to an un-ranked team by a score of 52-24?  Nothing accounts for that.  Credit Briles and Co. with coming up with an amazing game plan that effectively attacked the Wildcats where it hurt them the most, and they never let up the entire night.

Not in five years has there been such BCS standings chaos in one night of regular season football.  Yet things get even more intriguing from this point onward.  For the first time in 19 years, almost to the week, Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the nation.  No doubt plenty of rejoicing erupted in South Bend., Ind., instantly upon Kansas State’s defeat, and no doubt the merriment doubled again in light of Oregon going down at home in OT.  After winning close game after close game, Brian Kelly has brought the Fighting Irish back to national prominence and is in the driver’s seat to punch their ticket to Miami come early January.  Meanwhile, an entire nation will scrutinize Notre Dame to see if they themselves can stand prosperity as they journey to Los Angeles this upcoming weekend to take on traditional rival USC.

And just like that, the SEC is back in the national discussion:  Alabama’s upset at home to Texas A&M last week seemed to wipe out the Crimson Tide’s hopes of repeating as national title contenders.  With last night’s, er, developments, despair has instantly transformed into renewed hope and ambition.  Bama is now second in both the AP and USA Today Polls, and Georgia is no. 3.  Should both those teams win out – extra emphasis on ‘should’ – it will be a very interesting contest in Atlanta for the SEC championship come Dec. 1.

Dooley Fired:  Not only is now-former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley “Desperately seeking…anything.”  Now he’ll be desperately seeking…a job.  The University of Tennessee decided to cut its ties with Dooley after their embarrassing loss in Nashville to up-and-coming, in-state rival Vanderbilt, 41-18.  The firing is effective immediately, as it has been reported on Tennessee’s athletics website that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (with whom I worked while a student manager at Purdue, as he was an assistant under Coach Joe Tiller) will be the interim head coach for the upcoming game against Kentucky.  Evidently, the powers that be are not giving Dooley a couple of curtain calls like those UK’s Joker Phillips has received.

Yesterday’s embarrassing loss to the Commodores was just the last straw in one bad development after another for the program; the final blow to prove to the Volunteer nation that things need to be guided in a newer, better direction. This year alone, the Vols have gone 4-7, and 0-7 in the SEC, something entirely unacceptable to a large, proud fan base, to say nothing of a program with such massive tradition and resources behind it.  In just one game shy of three complete seasons, Dooley is just 15-21 with Tennessee, but worse yet, 4-19 in the SEC, and 0-15 against top-25 opponents.  Let us not forget that his hiring was essentially a stop-gap move in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure for the USC job.  Let us also not forget that under Dooley’s leadership last year, Tennessee lost their annual season-closer to Kentucky for the first time since 1984, and it is not a given that the Vols will Triumph over the Wildcats this year, either.  Come to think of it, has Kentucky ever defeated Tennessee in football for two seasons in a row?

Paging Bobby Petrino…

Heisman talk:  Quarterback Collin Klein of K-State was the Heisman frontrunner, but after his team lost ignominiously, and his performance was mediocre at best (27 for 50, 286 yards, 2 td’s but 3 int’s), could it be that “Johnny Football,” Johnny Manziel, himself of Texas A&M, is the new award frontrunner?  Food for thought, in any case.

College Football Week 11 Awards November 12, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 11, pre-week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Glad I’m not him:  Nick Saban, Alabama
Lucky guy: James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Desperately seeking a clue: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Rocky Long, San Diego State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking … anything:  Mike Leach, Washington State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 4 Georgia (beat Auburn 38-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 3 Notre Dame (beat Boston College 21-6)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Indiana (lost to Wisconsin 62-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Louisiana-Lafayette (lost to No. 7 Florida 27-20)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulsa (beat Houston 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Southern Miss

Ya’ know, they’re not so bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville (see below), notwithstanding Alabama (see below)

Did the season start?  Utah
Can the season end?  Iowa
Can the season never end?  Texas A&M

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9** Texas A&M 29, No. 4**  Alabama 24
Never play this again: Wisconsin 62, Indiana 14

What? No. 6 Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20
Huh? Missouri 51, Tennessee 48, 4OT

Are you kidding me? Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

Oh – my – God:  No. 15* Texas A&M 29, No. 1* Alabama 24
Told you so: Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

* rankings are AP, Week 11

** reflects current, Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 3 Oregon
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Samford @ Kentucky
Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah State @ No. 20 Louisiana Tech

Upset alert: N.C. State @ No. 13 Clemson

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma @ West Virginia
Offensive explosion: No. 19 USC @ No. 18 UCLA
Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ Vanderbilt
Great game no one is talking about: No. 23 Rutgers @ Cincinnati

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora Jr. of UCLA vs. Lane Kiffin of USC
Who’s bringing the body bags? Western Carolina @ No. 4 Alabama
Why are they playing? Jacksonville State @ No. 7 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Southern Miss (notwithstanding Buffalo @ UMass)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Wofford @ No. 8 South Carolina

Week 11:  Another Two Bite the Dust

Two more undefeateds went down this week, one semi-expected, one hardly expected.  Louisville’s first defeat of the season was semi-expected, and for a number of reasons.  For one, most of Louisville’s wins were hardly overwhelming.  Moreover, their defense seemed to be increasingly under-performing during most of the season.  Their average margin of victory has been only 12.8 points, including an early-season blowout over Missouri State (35-7) and last week’s blowout over Temple (45-17).  Add Syracuse’s unpredictable competitiveness at home to the mix (it was their Senior Day, after all), and in the back of my mind, something was about to give.

But all is not lost for the Cardinals.  They are still in the running to win the Big East, and if they are able to defeat Rutgers in Piscataway on Nov. 29, they can clinch the conference total, though it nevertheless remains a relatively tall order.

The same cannot be said for as-of-yesterday No. 1 Alabama going down to surprising, almost shocking defeat (almost!) at home to No. 15 – and climbing! – Texas A&M.  The game already had a special feel to it regardless of the rankings, given that this was the first time the Crimson Tide was to play the Aggies since the 1968 Cotton Bowl.  Even Aggie and Crimson Tide legends showed up for Week 11’s aptly-labeled “ticket to die for”, including John David Crow (the only Bear Bryant-coached Heisman Trophy winner [1957, from A&M]), and Gene Stallings, both of whom were part of Bryant’s 1954 “Junction Boys” at A&M, the latter of whom coached against Bryant in the Cotton Bowl in ’68 (Bryant for Bama, Stallings for A&M), and who later coached Alabama to its last national championship (1992-’93), before Nick Saban’s tenure.

To observe the special meeting between the two teams, they even mimicked the uniform contrast of the opposing sides from roughly 44 years ago.  In the 1968 Cotton Bowl match-up, Alabama showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast against A&M’s maroon helmets and jerseys.  This time it was A&M who showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson helmets and jerseys.

At right shows Alabama vs. Texas A&M in the 1968 Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide showed up in all-white to contrast the Aggies’ traditional maroon uniforms. In a nod to that game from over 44 years ago, this time it was the Aggies that showed in all-white yesterday (left) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson unis. Look carefully, and notice how little the stripes on the teams’ pants have changed in four and a half decades!

The game itself, oddly enough, made things even more memorable.  Before yesterday’s game commenced, Alabama’s defense only allowed an average of six points in the first quarter.  In the first 15 minutes of this game, they allowed three touchdowns.  Such lying down on the job is what made the game more interesting than necessary, and ended up costing Alabama the game, the top-ranking, and likely a shot at the national championship.  One can quibble over whether a lapse of discipline on the part of a defensive player with 40 seconds left in the game cost Alabama just that with an offside penalty, thus giving the Aggies an automatic first down.  But such a penalty would have been moot had Bama’s defense played up to its usual standards in the first half. Credit Kevin Sumlin for putting together a game plan that took the fight to the Tide in their home stadium.

The new championship race:  Some have speculated that Bama’s unexpected loss has, if you’ll pardon the expression, parted the Red Sea in two for Notre Dame to walk into national title discussion.  I might borrow Lee Corso’s famous line of “not so fast my friend” and remind such speculators that both Oregon and Kansas State are ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings, both the AP kind and the BCS kind.  The latter standings are a result of superior strength of schedule on the part of both the Ducks and the Wildcats.  It shall take a loss of one of those teams – not likely, but not impossible – for Notre Dame to be legitimate contenders.  The same will have to be the case for Alabama to work its way back into such discussions, now that they are behind Georgia in the USA Today Poll (@ No.5), though ahead of them in the AP Poll (@ No. 4).  Not an egregious fall, but one that might be just insurmountable enough without a little outside help.  Can we say “Alabama-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl” if these shadows remain unchanged?  If nothing else, it would be another legendary match-up!

Quick uniform note:  TCU once had one of the nicest-looking helmets in college football.  That is, until they temporarily compromised the look by succumbing to the flat, matte helmet epidemic that seems to have gripped a number of teams.  Thankfully, the team has chosen to grant themselves a respite from that visual impairment disease, at least temporarily.  Last night in their valiant loss to Kansas State, the Horned Frogs sported helmets that closely recalled their traditional beautiful purple shells.  Their helmets on TV seemed shinier than ever before; perhaps a special polish was put on the metallic purple, or, even better, they went for a chrome purple look.  Whichever it was, here’s hoping they go forward with keeping this current helmet look and throw the matte shells onto the ash heap of regrettable trends.