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Playoff scenarios based on the latest AP Polls (Week 8, 2018) October 18, 2018

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Week 7 in college football for the 2018 provided considerable thrills – and headaches – for fans, what with upsets abounding, especially near the top of the rankings.  Unranked Tennessee taking down then-No. 17 Auburn, and unranked Virginia beating then-No. 16 Miami (Fla.) are small potatoes compared to upsets elsewhere that week.

Indeed, no fewer than four AP top ten teams went down in defeat in Week 7 of 2018.  For starters, No. 17 Oregon outlasted then-No. 7 Washington, 30-27, in overtime.  Unranked Michigan State toppled No. 8 Penn State on the road, 21-17.  Iowa State leveraged their special night-time atmosphere to help them beat then-undefeated (and then-No. 6) West Virginia 30-14.  Even more significant was No. 13 LSU pommeling then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16.

As a result of these four key upsets, Washington fell from the No. 7 ranking to No. 15.  Penn State fell from No. 8 to No. 18.  West Virginia fell from No. 6 to No. 13, while Georgia fell from No. 2 to No. 8.

Last year, the Bulldogs made it to the national championship game.  Now, the prospect to return is in jeopardy.  At least it’s October and not November, meaning there is still time to recover.

Regardless, the current AP Top Ten now suggests some very intriguing playoff possibilities.  These are important for the health of college football.  An all-southern/all-SEC college football championship game my thrill the faithful in the southeastern region of the country, but it turns off the rest of the country.  That’s bad for business.  If your sport starts to be perceived as regional in its nature, that hurts your national image, and prevents you from engaging the markets you need to be interested in order to ensure its long-term strength and viability.  Alabama vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Georgia thus saw a TV ratings decline, whereas Texas vs. USC (2005-’06) and Ohio State vs. Oregon (2014-’15) where perfect matchups to bring in robust, national audiences.  Ohio State vs. Florida (2006-’07), Ohio State vs. LSU (2007-’08) and especially Ohio State vs. Miami (2002-’03) were decent-to-great matchups as well for this purpose.  Alabama vs. Notre Dame (2012-’13) was good on paper, but the outcome of the game proved that it was a mismatch, with the Irish clearly being overrated at the time.

Start with a basic premise that it’s good for business when traditional powers do well.  If Georgia does well, that engages the Atlanta market, which is pretty big, in case you forgot.  If Notre Dame does well, it engages the Chicago and New York City markets.  If USC does well, it engages the Los Angeles market.  If Ohio State and Michigan do well (either or both), that engages much of the Midwestern markets, as well as the Big Ten alums who have left the Midwest for the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast.  If Texas does well, it engages the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Markets.  You get the picture.

Now, back to the Week 8 Top Ten rankings from the AP poll.  At No. 1 remains Alabama.  Ok, fine.  With Georgia knocked out of the No. 2 spot (but still in the top ten), that allows for Ohio State to take over that position.  This is good for the sport.  Clemson has moved a spot to No. 3, while Notre Dame has quietly moved up to the No. 4 ranking.

Just by looking at these current top four spots, if these remain unchanged and translate directly into playoff rankings, one would have a great playoff scenario to engage a critical mass of the viewing public.  Alabama and Clemson would be there to keep the South’s fever pitch at maximum levels, while Ohio State and Notre Dame enjoy national audiences so as to include enough of the rest of the country as well.  The Fighting Irish’s ranking this time is no wishful thinking.  Thoughtful analysts concur that this 2018 ND team is much stronger and more athletic than its overrated 2012 counterpart.  Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd has gone so far as to observe that this is the best ND team since the Lou Holtz era.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would exclaim, “Yo!”

While there is no west coast team in sight in these current rankings, that is not a deal-breaker, either.  There are enough Big Ten grads on the west coast to keep those markets engaged should Ohio State make it to the playoffs.   The Buckeyes, in this scenario, would represent the West Coast as well as the Midwest.

Naturally, much football remains to be played, and the remainder of the top ten shall make all efforts to crack their way into the playoffs as well.  Of those currently poised for such possibilities, some of them, too, offer intriguing engagement opportunities.  LSU sits at No. 5 after their ripping upset victory over the Bulldogs, and are destined for a major showdown with the Crimson Tide come Nov. 3, in Baton Rouge, no less.  Michigan sits at No. 6 after their big win over Wisconsin last night.  If they maintain their momentum, their Nov. 24 annual grudge match with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor could be epic.

Meanwhile, Texas has survived another test and now sits at No. 7.  If QB Sam Ehlinger stays healthy, who knows how much further the Longhorns could continue to climb?  This is key to note because Texas in the playoffs engages a different market than the Southeast.  The beauty of Texas in the championship game is that they can theoretically engage two markets simultaneously, as a B1G team can do vis-à-vis both the Midwest and other regions.  In Texas’ case, not only can a Longhorn playoff appearance pique the interest of the DFW and Houston metro areas (San Antonio and Austin don’t hurt either, as that is another combined 4 million-plus people in that mini-megalopolis), but the Southeast could vicariously join in, too.

An Oklahoma (currently No. 9)  playoff appearance, while a different region than the Southeast, has a limited upside.  Yes, it engages the central plains, but there is not much major population there).  Best case scenario is that it will interest the OU grad transplants living in the major Texas markets.  The Longhorns, thankfully, have done their part, though, in making the more market-significant team better-poised for a playoff run at this point.

This is not a swipe at the SEC, or the fans therein, for a personally love southern football and identify with the South.  As someone who is concerned about the national and long-term health of college football, however, perspective must be maintained.  Fans in SEC country will watch the playoffs no matter who is playing.  Fans elsewhere, though, will only watch if they feel they have a stake in things; that they are being represented.  We have enjoyed such perfect or near-perfect matchups in the past, such as the aforementioned Texas-USC games and the Ohio State-Oregon games, for example.

Meanwhile, more big games remain, and the way things have gone thus far, more upsets are likely to occur.  Teams currently in the bottom half of the top ten could claw theyr way up with help from such theoretical upsets.  After all, we’re halfway to regular season’s end, and the stakes and urgency only intensify from here.  Let’s enjoy the ride, and cheer on the key wins that would help make for the best playoff matches with optimal, national appeal while we’re at it!

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Teams that hit the wall November 29, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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Ohio U:  The Bobcats were off to a great start under Frank Solich.  They won seven consecutive games, and were even ranked No. 24 going into the Miami (Ohio) game on Oct. 27.  After that game, they were undefeated no more.  The team lost the next four of five games, including their last one to currently No. 18 Kent State.  That loss was understandable, even excusable.  Losing to Ball State the previous week?  Less understood, even less excusable.  But losing to Bowling Green?  No excuse at all.  Perhaps the Bobcats just ran out of energy, which is one form of hitting the proverbial wall.

Correction:  A well-informed, experienced observer brought something else to my attention regarding Ohio U.  The biggest reason they hit the proverbial wall was injuries, especially injuries to their offensive line.  By season’s end, they were playing third-string linemen without any subs — brutal!  Upon further review, that might explain their loss to Bowling Green after all!

Mississippi State:  Poor MSU (the Magnolia State MSU, not the Great Lakes State MSU).  They try so hard, but they try to excel in the most brutal of all college football neighborhoods.  Dan Mullen has done the Yeoman’s work making the Bulldogs more than respectable, and making their fan base believe  in the team’s potential.  Seven consecutive games, seven consecutive wins:  so far, so good.  Then came the game at Alabama:  automatic loss.  Fair enough.  Still ranked No. 16, they were to play Texas A&M at home.  That turned out not so well, either.  The next game was at LSU; care to guess how that turned out?  The thing was, after the big win over Arkansas (45-14), one would think that the worst was behind them.  After all, in the Egg Bowl (their traditional rivalry game against Mississippi), they were favored.  Ole Miss is mediocre, and Mississippi State has had, all things considered, a great season.  But then they inexplicably lost to the Rebels 41-24.  What gives?  They obviously hit the wall, but how?  Was it loss of energy, in clear case of Ohio U, or was it just the more brutal part of their schedule?  The latter cannot explain things alone, since, hello, they lost to Ole Miss, and though the Rebels have improved, they have not improved that much.  The answer might therefore be, a little of both.  Let us hope Dan Mullen can allow for some of the energy in the team to recover for the bowl game.

West Virginia:  The Mountaineers were flying high after their big debut in the Big XII, beating Baylor at home in an offensive explosion for the ages, 70-63.  The following week, they journeyed to Austin to take on then-No. 11 Texas, where they beat the host Longhorns 48-45.  It went downhill for five straight weeks after that, with consecutive losses to Texas Tech (49-14), Kansas State (55-14), TCU (39-38), Oklahoma State (55-34), and Oklahoma (50-49).  Welcome to the Big XII, Dana Holgorsen.  The obvious wall WVU hit was tough schedule, plain and simple.  That said, five tough losses obviously took something out of the Mountaineers as well, since they had to struggle to beat Iowa State this past weekend.  Whether they have recovered any energy at all will be demonstrated when they play Kansas this upcoming week for what should be a fairly easy clean-up win.

Louisville:  So much for running the table for Louisville after losing to Syracuse 45-17 on the road for their tenth game.  To be sure, most of their wins up to that point were a little more than close for comfort, such as beating North Carolina only 39-34, beating Southern Miss 21-17 (the rain notwithstanding), or beating awful South Florida only 27-25.  With such a pattern of wins, one would think an ugly loss would be inevitable, if only to get it out of their system.  Sadly, whatever ailed the Cardinals in Syracuse did not yet pass, for the following game, they coughed up another loss at home to Connecticut in the third overtime.  Worse yet, they only have until this Thursday to bounce back on the road against Rutgers in order to win a BCS bowl berth.  The Scarlet Knights lost badly that same day to Pittsburgh, so both teams are in a must-win situation.  But with the recent pattern of play, the concern remains that U of L might have lost their energy.   Thus, the upcoming proposition is dicey at best.  Charlie Strong might want to go easy on his boys so they can get their energy.

Miami Duke FootballAddendum 12-07-12 — Duke:  Part of me says “poor Duke,” while the other part of me says “hey, all things considered, they’re doing pretty well.”  But nevertheless, they were flying high during the middle of the season, or high by Duke standards at least!  Throught Oct. 6, they were 5-1, with the one loss coming to them on the road against Stanford.  Any reasonable person would quickly excuse that!  Then the next week, they lossed to Virginia Tech, 41-20.  Fair enough.  Moreover, credit goes to this team, as the following week, they rebounded to beat North Carolina 33-30.  Then came four consecutive losses in their last four regular season games, first to Florida State (48-7; imagine that!), then to Clemson (56-20), then to Georgian Tech (42-24 — keep in mind that the Yellow Jackets run out of the flexbone!), and then lossed a shootout to Miami (52-45).  In the first three out of four, they were clearly out-manned.  The last loss could be attributed to having too much stuffing beat out of them by the first three of those four teams, hence having nothing left in the tank against the ‘Canes.  But at least they got a Belk Bowl berth, and have a decent shot at winning it, too, since Cincinnati’s head coach Butch Jones just took the Tennessee job.

Kansas State: Shades of 1998 November 18, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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We’ve seen this before.  This is not the first time that Kansas State’s national championship run was ruined late in the season.  The Wildcats made a similar run in 1998, defeating powerful Nebraska for the first time in 30 years, among other things.  But come the Big XII championship game of that year, K-State overlooked a hungry Texas A&M, who snuck up on them and overtook them towards the end of the game.  Although that bumped the Wildcats down to only no. 4 in the rankings, it was too late to get a decent consolation prize.

Everyone seemed to assume that K-State was a lock on the Fiesta Bowl (where the BCS national championship was to be held), so other teams got “locked-in” to other BCS bowl games (Orange, Sugar and Rose).  With the Wildcats’ unexpected loss, they were left out in the proverbial cold, having to settle for the Alamo Bowl, then given the no. 4 pick for both the Big XII and the Big Ten.  One would imagine that they would not be too happy with having to settle for that lesser prize.  Purdue, their opponent for the 1998 Alamo Bowl, was, conversely, quite happy to make a return appearance in San Antonio (a fun town for a bowl game, fyi.), having won that bowl game the previous year.  Though the Boilers were unranked and Kansas State was still the fourth-highest ranked team in the land, Purdue came in, what made the difference was that Purdue was happy to be there for the Dec. 29 game, K-State not so much.

Despite Coach Bill Snyder’s moderately happy-sounding speech at the kickoff luncheon the day before the game (Dec. 28, 1998) in a convention room of the Marriott Hotel in downtown San Antonio, where he assured both the Wildcat and Boilermaker fans in attendance that “we’re very much looking forward to playing the University of Purdue,” they sure did not give that impression on the field of play in the Alamodome the next evening.  After a scoreless first quarter, Purdue drew (if you’ll pardon the expression) first blood in the second with a Drew Brees touchdown pass to Chris Daniels, and we never let up for the rest of the game.  Only in the last few minutes did K-State manage to inch ahead of us with a touchdown of their own, but Purdue answered on the very next possession, marching right down the field and put it away for good.  The Wildcats did have the last possession of the game, but with only less than a minute or so left in the game, they were unable to muster the necessary score.  We triumphed in the end, 37-34.  It was our biggest win in probably 20 years.

I say “we” because I was but a freshman student manager on the Purdue team during that game, witnessing all of this first-hand.  The point in all of this, given recent developments, is that we’ve seen this scenario with K-State play out before.  The Wildcats seem to be on the same path today.  The only saving grace for K-State today is that this sudden, season-derailing loss from last night came earlier than when the Big XII championship game would be (there is no such game for this season, given the recent changes in conference membership). Hence, there is still time to salvage things with earning a more prestigious bowl berth than the booby prize of the Alamo Bowl from 14 years ago.

Yet another reason for K-State getting, well, hosed that year is a manifestation of certain perpetual handicaps against the program.  Unlike traditional powers including, say, Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, or even Notre Dame, all of whom have strong, national fan bases, Kansas State, although a strong program, lacks that advantage.  Strong fan bases equal strong money and clout, something the Wildcats continue to lack.  Kansas State University is located in Manhattan, Kan., nicknamed “The Little Apple.”  It is in the middle of nowhere, in a state that has the same reputation.  It has no major market to tie itself to, unlike the Longhorns, who can not only claim Austin, but also Dallas and Houston.  The Buckeyes claim Columbus, as well as Cincinnati and Cleveland.  Even Notre Dame can claim Chicago, and to an extent, New York itself.  K-State lacks that major market anchor, and that goes a long way towards its overall lack of relative clout.  Even a team like West Virginia can claim Pittsburgh as its anchor market.  Claiming Kansas City is a stretch for KSU, who must also share the area with the Kansas Jayhawks, along with the Missouri Tigers.  Does that leave KSU Wichita?  Geography has conspired to make the lack of clout an unsolvable problem for the Wildcats, as far as one can foresee.

But another key difference in scenarios today is that, in the wake of K-State being kicked down to the no. 4 bowl pick for the Big XII Conference in 1998 —  much less the overall rankings — shortly thereafter the BCS implemented a rule that a team ranked that highly* would get an automatic berth into one of the BCS “big four,” instead of being relegated to a second or third-tier postseason game.  Perhaps the Fiesta Bowl is not out of the question, boys, but you still must pass through the eye of the needle that is Texas in two weeks’ time.

*Although Kansas State was ranked no. 4 in both the AP and Coaches’ Polls, they were actually ranked no. 3 in the BCS.