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College Football Awards, Week 14 (2016) December 5, 2016

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We now await the Committee’s verdict.

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

Glad I’m not him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Lucky guy: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Poor guy: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy  Hon. mention:  Kevin Wilson, Indiana; Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Neal Brown, Troy

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Paul Petrino, Idaho

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Gary Patterson, TCU

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  Alabama (defeated No. 15 Florida 54-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Navy (lost to Temple 34-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  ULM (lost to Louisiana-Lafayette 30-3)

 Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Temple (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Washington (defeated No. 9 Colorado 41-10)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Monroe

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Troy

Did the season start?  Baylor Can the season end?  TCU

Can the season never endWestern Michigan   Hon. Mention:  Penn State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

Play this again, too:  No. 3 Clemson 42, No. 23 Virginia Tech 35

Never play this again: No. 4 Washington 41, No. 9 Colorado 10

Close call:  No. 14 West Virginia 24, Baylor 21

What? No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

Oh – my – GodTemple 34, No. 19 Navy 10

NEXT WEEK

Just one game: Army vs. Navy – God bless America!

Week 14 Take-aways:

The conference championships are now concluded, and shall no doubt yield some excellent bowl game matchups come Sunday. Regarding those championship games, everything ended as anticipated, with a mild surprise of Penn State sort-of-upsetting Wisconsin in a hard-fought, close game that surely gave the fans’ their money’s worth. The MAC championship took on an engaging, intriguing aspect of its own, what with a respectable Ohio U team coached by the venerable Frank Solich taking on the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos, coached by the young, energetic P.J. Fleck. On the line was preserving the Broncos’ first undefeated season since 1941 (which again, “yo!”), and a possible Cotton Bowl berth. A manifestation of this MAC championship game meaning something is that it is the most highly attended in the history of that end-of-season matchup.

But anyhow, it’s now time to start talking bowl game matchups, which, as always, shall take up an entire article itself. So, stay tuned.

College Football Awards, Week 12 (2016) November 20, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Houston  Hon. Mention:  Jim McElwain, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jason Candle, Toledo

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Charlie Strong, Texas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  BYU (defeated UMass 51-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Ohio State (defeated Michigan State 17-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Syracuse (lost to No. 17 Florida State 45-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (defeated Texas 24-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Pittsburgh (defeated Duke 56-14)

Dang, they’re good: USC

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Texas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 12 Colorado 38, No. 20 Washington State 24

Play this again, too:  No. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

Never play this again: Army 60, Morgan State 3

Close call:  No. 3 Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16

What? Oregon 30, No. 11 Utah 28

HuhNo. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

Are you kidding me?  Houston 36, No. 3 Louisville 10

Oh – my – GodKansas 24, Texas 21 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13))

Ticket to die for: No. 3 Michigan @ No. 2 Ohio State (game of the year?)

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Rice @ Stanford

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 18 Houston @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 6 Washington @ No. 23 Washington State

Must win: No. 24 Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

Offensive explosion: No. 6 Washington @ No. 23 Washington State (Friday)

Defensive struggle: No. 13 Florida @ No. 15 Florida State

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Utah @ No. 9 Colorado also: Duke @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs Jim Harbaugh of Michigan

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kentucky @ No. 11 Louisville

Why are they playing? No. 19 West Virginia @ Iowa State

Plenty of good seats remaining, B1G Edition: Rutgers @ Maryland

They shoot horses, don’t they? Troy @ Texas State

Week 12 Take-aways:

The playoff picture is instantly minus one controversy with Louisville’s decisive, almost ignominious defeat on the road against a resurgent Houston squad. In hindsight, the quick turnaround time from Saturday night to Thursday night (from playing fundamentally-sound Wake Forest to the Cougars) was too insurmountable a task for even a formidable team like the Cardinals. Now with extra time to prepare for in-state rival Kentucky, the Cardinals can potentially end the season with a big win (provided they execute properly), and can still aim for a good New Year’s Day bowl game. Before the Playoffs came into being, when a team capped off their season in such a way, that feat was universally hailed as a success.

Meanwhile, Bobby Petrino could learn a thing or two from this defeat and from Florida’s win over favored LSU. For one, recruit better offensive linemen. Houston put real athletes on the defensive line against the Cardinals, and they made Lamar Jackson’s life difficult all night long. For another, recruit more marquee white players, as they will provide more consistency and better discipline to team play. If white defensive linemen can make sizeable contributions for a program such as formidable as Florida, sure they can do the same for Louisville. Obviously, too many whites leads to a deficit of team talent and athleticism. But conversely, an excessive imbalance of black players leads to a break-down in discipline and too inconsistent of a team effort. Think of black players as bricks and white players as mortar. You need both in order to build a strong wall that is your team.

November’s cruelty against Ole Miss sadly continues. As a reminder, they did start off the season ranked No. 11. Now, they just lost to Vanderbilt. Currently 5-6, they must win next week’s game – against in-state rival Mississippi State, no less — just to be bowl eligible.

It appears as though we are back to a version of Texas from earlier in the season, the one where the season was shot. Hindsight continues to change the more the season unfolds, but it remains 20-20 nonetheless. After losing to Oklahoma State unexpectedly, then to Oklahoma, then later to Kansas State, we had given up the Longhorns for dead. Moreover, we were certain that Charlie Strong had signed his own death warrant. Then suddenly, Texas handed Baylor its first loss of the season, and followed that up with a win on the road in a shootout against Texas Tech. Might Strong have righted the ship after all? No reasonable person could have said no, since they lost by only four points on the road to a dangerous West Virginia squad. But losing to Kansas (as in, 2-9* Kansas)? That is the last straw.

*Kansas was 1-9 (0-7 in the Big XII) before this week’s game.

Now at 5-6, the Longhorns face a TCU team that was humiliated at home by Oklahoma State, and will be out for redemption. Translation: bowl prospects remain bleak for the second year in a row. Regardless, major boosters have permanently soured on Charlie Strong, and after Tom Herman’s huge win over Louisville, they are, by that same token, calling for Herman to replace Strong. The writing on the wall could not be bolder or in bigger strokes.

On the west coast, USC may have gotten off to a rough start (namely getting their doors blown off by Alabama during the opening week), but few teams, if any, would want to face the Trojans now. Their win over Washington on the road last week was decisive and dominating. The eyeball test of how they line up against other teams shows that there are “men” on the Trojans’ side of the ball. Granted, Alabama would still beat them if the two played right now, but the score would not be so lopsided as it was week 1. Clay Helton deserves considerable credit for bringing about such an improvement in his team’s performance, though to be sure, his coaching staff talent remains, inexplicably, lackluster. Nevertheless, the record (three losses this year) might not show it, but USC is back.

Intriguing Games for Week 11 (2016) November 9, 2016

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DeVon Edwards, Ryan Switzer

Lest we forget, the Duke – North Carolina rivalry is not merely confined to the hardwood.

 

No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke (Thurs., Nov. 10:  ESPN) 

The Tarheels under head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik have proven to be a very efficient team.  Duke, despite being only 3-6, has always been a tough out this year (see:  Louisville, week 7).  Factor in the close geographic proximity and the traditional rivalry between the two, and you have yourself a very, very interesting game.

(All other games are on Saturday, Nov. 12)

No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma (Noon EST, ABC/ESPN 2)

The intrigue of this game is the background.  Baylor has been in a weird, two-game free-fall.  They were undefeated until last month, where they unexpectedly lost to a mediocre Texas Longhorns team, and thus knocked themselves out of playoff contention.  Then, the following week at home, they lost horribly (a 62-22 kind of horribly) to a TCU team that seems to finally have found a pulse.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has quietly crawled their way back into the top ten.  This will be a great game if Baylor gets out of its funk and plays up to its Top Ten potential.

South Carolina @ No. 22 Florida (Noon EST; CBS)

Earlier in the season, this game looked like it would be a snoozer, what with an underperforming South Carolina team losing to both Kentucky and Mississippi State.  Florida, meanwhile, had gradually improved to the point where they were No. 11 as of last week.

The trends now appear to be different.  The Gators were embarrassed on the road against unranked Arkansas last week, 31-10.  Their current problem seems to be a lack of identity on offense.  Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have gradually improved, first with an upset win over Tennessee, and last week with a  confidence-boosting win over Missouri.  If these trends continue, this game will be evenly-matched, thus very competitive.

Kentucky @ Tennessee (Noon EST; SEC Network)

Remember when the Vols were supposed to vie for the playoffs?  That ended when they blew it at Texas A&M.  After not playing with sufficient urgency for an entire game, the whole play-from-behind drama caused Tennessee to come up short against the Aggies.  The next week was Tennessee’s turn in the conference to get drubbed by seemingly invincible Alabama.

Perhaps the heartbreaking loss followed by the aforementioned drubbing took something out of them, because they then laid an egg on the road at South Carolina, thus knocking them out of the rankings.

After leading the SEC East, those three losses made it anyone’s division – even Kentucky, who also has three losses in the conference.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Therefore, this game will help clarify the SEC East race.  Let that sink in as well.

No. 11 West Virginia @ Texas (Noon EST; FS1)

West Virginia was undefeated before suddenly losing to Oklahoma State two weeks ago.  Last week’s win against Kansas was a given, ergo proves nothing.  Meanwhile, Texas has two consecutive upsets under its belt, first against heretofore unbeaten Baylor, next against Texas Tech.  Could the Longhorns score a third consecutive upset?  We’ll find out on Nov. 12.

Tulsa @ Navy (Noon EST; CBSSN)

Here me out.  Tulsa is 7-2, leading the AAC West.  Navy is 6-2, has been in and out of the rankings, and tied with Memphis for first in the AAC West division.  Enough said.

Army @ Notre Dame (3:30 EST; NBC)

Army is currently 5-4.  Notre Dame is in relative free-fall at 3-6, and possibly still smarting from a loss to Navy last week.  One more win, and the Black Knights are bowl-eligible for only the third time since 1996 and the fourth time since 1988.  Could an underperforming Irish squad be that last win Army needs to make to the post-season?

If it is, Notre Dame’s season is worse than over, as their next two games are against No. 18 Virginia Tech, and a suddenly-strong USC.  Talk about a must-win for both teams!

USC @ No. 4 Washington (6:30 EST; FOX)

Washington is not a juggernaut team, but they are still very good (their undefeated season is padded with three out-of-conference body bag games).  USC started the season with some sputters, but has played very strongly as of late.  The opportunity is thus ripe for an upset (or, at least near-upset) in Seattle this Saturday evening.

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.

College Football Awards, Week 9 2016 October 30, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Texas

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggart, South Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Purdue 62-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Virginia 32-25)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to No. 2 Michigan 32-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisiana Tech (defeated Rice 61-16)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Florida Atlantic

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start?  Tennessee

Can the season end?  Missouri

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Washington 31, No. 17 Utah 24

Never play this again: No. 24 Penn State 62, Purdue 24

Close call:  No. 5 Louisville 32, Virginia 24

What? Wyoming 30, No. 13 Boise State 28

HuhNo. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17

Double-Huh? South Carolina 24, No. 18 Tennessee 21

Are you kidding me?  Oklahoma State 37, No. 10 West Virginia 20

Oh – my – GodTexas 35, No. 8 Baylor 34

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10))

Ticket to die for: No. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Also: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Cincinnati

Upset alertIowa @ No. 20 Penn State  also: No. 10 Florida @ Arkansas

Must winNo. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ USC

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ No. 20 Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Ken Niumatalolo of Navy vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 2 Michigan

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? Tennessee Tech @ Tennessee

Week 9 Take-aways:

Yesterday logged a number of major upsets in that four undefeated teams all went down with their first loss of the year. To wit: Baylor, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Boise State (yes, the Broncos were secretly lurking around in the undefeated ranks until yesterday). The only undefeated teams that remain are those that inhabit the top four in the polls; Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington. If these shadows remain unchanged, there are your playoff teams. Then again, November is about to start, so who knows what chaos yet awaits? After all, November is for everything.

It looks as though the SEC is getting their annual late-season body bag game out of the way early for some of their teams. For reference, check out the “Why are they playing?” and the “They shoot horses, don’t they?” slots. Every season, without fail, almost everyone in the conference schedules body bag games late in the season, usually in November. This time, Ole Miss and Tennessee have scheduled theirs the first weekend of November instead of later in the month. After all, the fans of both programs benefit so well from seeing their teams beat up on non-conference mid-majors. Apparently, there is nothing like buying an easy win.

Speaking of the SEC, those who were hollering for Gus Malzahn to get the ax might want to hit the pause button. Those past few weeks, it looks as though the Tigers have found their offense (perhaps it was in an alley behind Jordan-Hare Stadium?), evidenced by their routing of Ole Miss last night, 40-29, on the road, no less. Auburn is now 6-2 (those two losses are to No. 3 Clemson and to No. 7 Texas A&M), is currently ranked No. 11, and they have prospects of winning out until they butt heads with Alabama at season’s end. Experienced observers of college football will point out that some teams take a while to get going. Auburn is one such team.

As the season continues to unfold, every BYU football game thus far has persisted in being interesting. Indeed, this year is by far the most interesting schedule the Cougars have had in a long time, if not in living memory. That should put their current 4-4 record into some perspective, since the wins are well-earned and the losses are without any hint of disgrace.

Some teams, no matter how good, tend not to match up well with others, for whatever odd reason. Witness Virginia vs. Louisville. Charlie Strong had already restored the expected intensity to the program during this tenure there, so the team was already in decent shape when Bobby Petrino returned at the helm, starting in 2014. That year, though, the Cardinals sustained an upset on the road to the Cavaliers. Lo and behold, two years later, a much stronger Louisville squad barely escaped Scott Stadium with a win yesterday. Some teams….

What are we to make of Texas? Last week, their defense embarrassed themselves in yet another unexpected loss, and this week, they contain Baylor’s high-powered offense well enough to win. The Longhorns’ projected best-case scenario for a record this season has thus been upgraded to 8-4, if they win out, though a more realistic “best” scenario, because no way they beat West Virginia at this rate, not even withstanding the Moutaineers’ first loss at home yesterday. Nobody in their right mind would bet Kansas to beat Texas, so it all comes down to how the Horns fare against Texas Tech and TCU. A splitting of that difference would yield a 6-6 record, which, to be sure, would be very short of where the program should/would be had they the right coach in place. Nevertheless, these are merely projections, and further discussions will be in order once the regular season concludes.

College Football Awards, Week 7 2016 October 17, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Dave Doeren, NC State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Norvell, Memphis

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 49-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida State (defeated Wake Forest 17-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kansas (see above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Duke (lost to No. 7 Louisville 24-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  West Virginia (defeated Texas Tech 48-17)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kent State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Georgia

Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 2 Ohio State 30, No.  Wisconsin 23, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Never play this again: Army 62, Lafayette 7

Close call:  No. 7 Louisville 24, Duke 14

What? North Carolina 20, No. 16 Miami 13

HuhNorthwestern 54, Michigan State 40

Double-Huh? Syracuse 31, No. 17 Virginia Tech 17

Are you kidding me?  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Oh – my – GodVanderbilt 17, Georgia 16

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8))

Ticket to die for: No. 6 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama

Also: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State Also: Memphis @ Navy

Upset alert: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State

Must win: NC State @ No. 7 Louisville

Offensive explosion: South Florida @ Temple

Defensive struggle: Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora of UCLA vs. Kyle Whittingham of Utah

Who’s bringing the body bags? Illinois @ No. 4 Michigan

Why are they playing? UMass @ South Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (Ohio) @ Bowling Green

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Week 7 Take-aways:

Louisville barely escaped with a win at home to Duke. As I have said before, beware of bye-weeks, for they can be deceptively perilous to teams.

Who would have thought that the offensive explosion of the week would have been Northwestern vs. Michigan State, much less thinking that the Wildcats – underperforming all season thus far – would win?

The results of the Toilet Bowl, B1G edition, are in, and it’s Rutgers that is at the abyss of that conference, having lost to Illinois, 24-7. Sarcastic congrats to the Scarlet Knights!

Ohio State proved their mettle by defeating what is perhaps the toughest Wisconsin team within my memory. Not only that, but this win was on the road, in the evening. For those “in the know,” it is understood throughout the Big Ten that Camp Randall Stadium is the worst snake pit to play in within the entire conference. It is relatively the loudest, with a compact 80,000 seemingly right on top of the teams. Compound that with the fact that Wisconsin fans enjoy a certain, er, reputation throughout the league. Compound that further with the fact that night games give these already rowdy fans extra hours to get extra inebriated, hence extra loud. A night game in Camp Randall is a baptism by fire for a visiting team. Ohio State proved that they belonged in the No. 2 spot in the rankings by coming from behind, then dominating in overtime.

Yes, Tennessee lost badly to Alabama at home today, 49-10. But are we really surprised? The Volunteers have had one emotional game after another. Sooner or later, after so many games, they would experience an energy nadir as a result. Couple that with that fact that Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide rolling into a juggernaut of a team, and the loss should be seen as a minimal disgrace. As things currently stand, it is not unreasonable for Tennessee to end up 10-2 in the regular season, which is a remarkable turnaround from the doldrums in which the program found itself just a few years ago.

Oh, and it has been established that Florida and LSU will be playing after all. The catch is, they’ll play it at LSU instead, on Nov. 14, and to compensate, the Tigers will face Florida on the road for two consecutive years afterward. This does not even take into consideration that to make the Nov. 14 date work, both teams had to drop would-be body bag games (hello, easy money to the teams they would have played), which is actually a big win for the fans overall.  So, the SEC East will have some clarity after all. Or will it?

College Football Week 6 Awards 2016 October 9, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas

Lucky guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Herman, Houston

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 78-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Kansas 24-23)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Rutgers (see above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Auburn (defeated Mississippi State 38-14)

Dang, they’re good: Washington

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Houston

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endTexas A&M

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 8 Texas A&M 45, No. 9 Tennessee 38

Play this again, too:  No. 23 Florida State 20, No. 10 Miami 19

Never play this again: No. 4 Michigan 78, Rutgers 0

Close call:  TCU 24, Kansas 23

What? BYU 31, Michigan State 14

HuhNo. 23 Florida State 20, No. 10 Miami 19

Double-Huh? Washington State 42, No. 15 Stanford 16

Are you kidding me?  No. 25 Virginia Tech 34, No. 17 North Carolina, 3

Oh – my – GodNavy 46, No. 6 Houston 40

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, week 6 rankings until further notice)

Ticket to die for: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 9 Tennessee

Also: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Mississippi State @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ East Carolina

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 20 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 17 North Carolina @ No. 10 Miami also: Stanford @ Notre Dame

Offensive explosion: UCLA @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Michigan State

Great game no one is talking about: USC @ Arizona

Intriguing coaching matchup: Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss vs. Bret Bielema of Arkansas

Also: Larry Fedora of North Carolina vs. Mark Richt of Miami (FL)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 13 Baylor

Why are they playing?  Lafayette @ Army

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Charlotte

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Louisiana Tech @ UMass

Week 6 Take-aways:

Nothing like the remnants of a hurricane to throw game plans out of whack. In September of 2002, for example, the remnants of a tropical storm descended on Louisville, and a Thursday night game between an unranked Cardinals team and No. 5-ranked Florida State became one to remember. The rain seemed to level the playing field to the point where the underdog Cardinals upset the highly-favored Seminoles in overtime.

This time, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc with records and schedules alike. In the case of the LSU @ Florida game, it has been postponed with no make-up date set as of now. The Georgia @ South Carolina was postponed for just one day. In the state of North Carolina, both games played as scheduled, and with surprising results. The NC State Wolfpack help visiting Notre Dame to just three points (!), allowing their only 10 points to prevail in the game. In nearby Chapel Hill, the No. 17 Tarheels were also held to three points, while the No. 25 Virginia Tech Hokies nevertheless managed to score 34 in the downpour.

Meanwhile, with Texas, it was the same result, different day, this time to their most bitter rival in Oklahoma. The game was high-scoring, 45-40, showing once again that the Longhorns’ defensive issues have yet to be resolved. Indeed, Texas had given up a total of 620 yards (!) of offense in that game. The hotseat upon which Charlie Strong has found himself has just gotten even hotter.

Where has Michigan State’s offense gone? First they score only six points in a debacle against Wisconsin, then they lose on the road to lowly Indiana. Now, they managed to score only two touchdowns at home against BYU. Mark Dantonio seemed to have the program rolling, what with a playoff berth last year. After a team like that, surely some rebuilding would have been in order, to be sure, but this? All of us are left scratching our heads.

Don’t look now, but Stanford is in free-fall.  What I surmise is that injuries have taken their toll.  Unlike other major programs, Stanford lacks the depth of talent in their back-ups that other teams would take for granted.  This is the proverbial gap in the armor of a school where academics are taken as seriously as they are with the Cardinal.  Might it stand to reason that Notre Dame secretly suffers from the same handicap?

Meanwhile, the Toilet Bowl, B1G edition, is fast upon us next week when Rutgers and Illinois butt heads.  How it works with these bottom-of-the barrel matchups is that the loser is branded with the ignominy of being the worst team in the conference for this year.  The winners consolation is that they can point at said loser and say, “See?  At least we’re not as bad as those guys.”  Be quiet, Illinois:  you have no right to complain about this designation.  You lost to Purdue.

As things now stand, Washington is in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North, and Tennessee’s loss to Texas A&M could potentially complicate things in the SEC East.  Meanwhile, Louisville’s strength of schedule could potentially be compromised with Houston’s unexpected loss to Navy.  That said, their big win over Florida State remains of considerable quality with their upset win over host Miami.  Perhaps these two upsets might cancel each other out in that arcane regard.  We shall see, as the stakes increase as the new month of October progresses.

College Football Week 3 Awards (2016) September 19, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Glad I’m not him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Lucky guy: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Poor guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Desperately seeking … anything:  Sean Kugler, UTEP

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated South Carolina State 59-0)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Appalachian State (lost to No. 25 Miami 45-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Ohio U (lost to No. 15 Tennessee 28-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisville (blew out No. 2 Florida State 63-20)

Dang, they’re good: Louisville

Dang, they’re bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Iowa

Can the season end?  Idaho

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  Cal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Play this again, too:  Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

Never play this again: No. 5 Clemson 59, South Carolina State 0

What? Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

HuhCal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 Louisville 63, No. 2 Florida State 20

Oh – my – GodNorth Dakota State 23, No. 13 Iowa 21

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for: No. 11 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Michigan State

Also: No. 12 Georgia @ No. 23 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ West Virginia

Best non-Power Five matchup: Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan

Upset alert: No. 5 Clemson @ Georgia Tech

Must win: No. 19 Florida @ No. 14 Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ Arizona State

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: Oklahoma State @ No. 16 Baylor

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim McElwain of Florida vs. Butch Jones of Tennessee

Also: David Cutcliffe of Duke vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Houston @ Texas State

Why are they playing? Mississippi State @ UMass

Plenty of good seats remaining: North Texas @ Rice

Week 3 Take-aways:

After a lull of marquee match-ups last week, we the fans were treated to more great games this week. Watching two top ten teams in Florida State taking on Louisville is no better way to kick of the week’s massive slate of game. One-sided though the game may have been, it remained engaging in seeing the vaunted Seminoles lose by such a huge margin. Bravo, Cardinals!

Much hype has ensued in the wake of Texas defeating Notre Dame during the opening weekend. “Texas is back” has been an oft-repeated mantra. Their loss on the road to Cal calls said mantra into question. Only in the ensuing weeks, when the Longhorns play more of their respectable opponents, namely, Oklahoma State (whom they play next week), Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU will that mantra be either confirmed or denied.

 

Just to get this off my chest, who would have anticipated that the Kentucky – New Mexico State game would have been the offensive explosion that it turned out to be? An exciting game ensued, to be sure, but allowing a Sunbelt team to score 42 points on them is not the most ringing endorsement of the Wildcats’ defense. If these shadows remain unchanged, this does not bode for when UK enters the conference part of its schedule.

 

But all that aside, there were many sublime matchups this week. Oregon lost on the road to Nebraska in a game that went down to the wire. Texas lost to Cal in the same manner. As mentioned earlier, Louisville vs. Florida State was a marquee, top-ten matchup, until the Cardinals proceeded to obliterate the ‘Noles. The games in the 3:30 (EDT) time slot seemed, on paper, to be a respite before the bigger games ensued in the evening, but even they quickly became intriguing. In addition to the Ducks-Cornhuskers game, an improving Colorado gave Michigan a good fight before the Wolverines finally decided to start playing football. Ole Miss threatened to knock Alabama off its top spot in the polls. The evening time slots treated us fans to Texas-Cal, Michigan State @ Notre Dame, Ohio State @ Oklahoma (it has been a while since those two powerhouses butted heads), and BYU put up a great fight against UCLA. A great day for the game, when one tallies up the results and the moments.

Next week will frankly not measure up compared to this week and to week 1, but one cannot expect every week to deliver matchups like this. That said, some good conference games await us, as well as some tasty pre-conference games from power five teams across the board. Week 4 may not be as strong as week 3, but plenty of interesting games await us in any case!

College Football Week 2 Awards (2016) September 12, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 2] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Glad I’m not him: Kalani Sitake, BYU

Lucky guy: Brett Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggert, South Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking … anything:  Darrell Hazell, Purdue

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 3 Florida State (defeated Charleston Southern 52-8)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 2 Clemson (defeated Troy 30-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Akron (lost to No. 10 Wisconsin 54-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Nicholls (lost to Georgia 26-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Nebraska (defeated Wyoming 52-17)

Dang, they’re good: Michigan

Dang, they’re bad:  Kentucky

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma State

Did the season start?  Northwestern

Can the season end?  Miami, OH

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  Arkansas 41, No. 15 TCU 38

Play this again, too:  Utah 20, BYU 19

Honorable Mention to play again:  South Carolina 13, Vanderbilt 10

Never play this again: No. 20 Texas A&M 67, Prairie View A&M 0

What? East Carolina 33, N.C. State 30

HuhArkansas 41, No. 15 TCU 38

Are you kidding me?  Illinois State 9, Northwestern 7

Oh – my – GodCentral Michigan 30, No. 22 Oklahoma State 27

Told you so:  Arizona State 68, Texas Tech 55

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)

Ticket to die for: No. 2 Florida State @ No. 10 Louisville

Also: No. 3 Ohio State @ No. 14 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:  UCLA @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchupNo. 6 Houston @ Cincinnati (Thurs.)

Upset alert: Auburn @ No. 17 Texas A&M

Must win: Iowa State @ TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Oregon @ Nebraska

Defensive struggle: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 19 Ole Miss

Great game no one is talking about: Pitt @ Oklahoma State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? South Carolina State @ No. 3 Clemson

Why are they playing? Ohio U @ No. 15 Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Monmouth @ Kent State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Georgia State @ No. 9 Wisconsin

Week 2 Take-aways:

After such a spectacular opening week in college football the previous Saturday and surrounding days, this weekend was a considerable let-down. The noon timeslots were mediocre, save for the decent matchup of Penn State vs. Pitt. The 3:30 timeslots were positively atrocious, where the best game was arguably Kentucky vs. Florida, and that game turned out to be a 45-7 blowout in favor of the Gators. All the good games were crammed together in the evening, where I found myself wearing out my TV’s remote by switching around to the games of Arkansas @ TCU, Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (at the Bristol, Tenn. Motor Speedway), BYU @ Utah, and occasionally South Carolina @ Mississippi State.

After this mediocre lineup of games for this week, one thing that has festered for a while has become even more clear. Two teams that continue to suck with overpaid coaches who are out of their depth are both Darrell Hazell of Purdue and Mark Stoops of Kentucky. The latter is another case, apparently, of where the only Stoops brother who has the skill set to be a legit head coach at the big boy level is Bob, not brother Mark. We might recall that the other brother, Mike, flamed out at Arizona. Concerning brother Mark, who apparently has had all these great recruiting classes while at UK, lost to lowly Southern Miss last week and this week was demolished by a recovering Florida, 45-7. His predecessor, Joker Philips, went 13-24 (4-20 SEC) after three seasons. Stoops is currently 12-26 (4-21 SEC) after the second game in his fourth season of tenure at UK. The Kentucky faithful would do well to ask themselves: is this progress?

The former had only one good year at a middling MAC program (Kent State), and the powers that be at Purdue were suckered in by this limited success to offer him the Purdue job, paying him $2.2 Million annually, or about $1 Million more than his predecessor, Coach Danny Hope. Hazell is thus far 7-30 since the 2013 season at Purdue, while Coach Hope went 22-27 in four seasons there. Doing that math, that amounts to paying an addition $4 Million for 15 fewer wins. For an athletics department that ostensibly prides itself on operating in the black, those numbers simply do not add up. Moreover, it makes one wonder how much better Hope would have performed had he been given those extra resources that Hazell currently enjoys (meager as they still are compared to true big boy programs).

Meanwhile, on a totally unrelated note, Mississippi State gave the impression that they have righted the ship after their embarrassing upset at home last week to South Alabama. They defeated South Carolina this week, 27-14. Conversely, the loss on the part of the Gamecocks’ gives those who doubt the wisdom of the hire of head coach Will Muschamp further credibility.

All this aside, there are some outstanding matchups awaiting us this upcoming weekend, namely:

Michigan State @ Notre Dame; Texas A&M @ Auburn; Pittsburgh @ Oklahoma State; Oregon @ Nebraska; Alabama @ Ole Miss; UCLA @ BYU; Houston @ Cincinnati (Thurs. evening); USC @ Stanford; Ohio State @ Oklahoma; and of course, Florida State @ Louisville, which could potentially be the best game of the year thus far. I for one am already chomping at the bit, especially for the latter game!

Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

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 Who wants it more?  More to the point, which team is happier to be there?  That is the most important question in determining the outcomes of the upcoming bowl games.  It is not easy, but it will be the make-or-break factor.  It affects the performance of the team.  If they are not that motivated to be there, but the underdog team is, the actual odds favor the latter.  Therefore, the real question becomes, which team will show up to play?  To create a better understanding of this condition, allow me to offer Exhibit A:

The season was that of 1998.  Kansas State was rising up in the polls throughout the year.  They defeated mighty Nebraska (yes, the Cornhuskers were still very vaunted then) for the first time in three decades.  The Wildcats went undefeated for the regular season, and were poised, at the No. 2 national ranking, to go to the first ever championship game of the Bowl Championship Series, which that year would be the Fiesta Bowl.

Kansas State’s only hurdle to clear to make that coveted berth was the Big XII Championship game, in which they were naturally favored.  Yet underdog Texas A&M had other plans, and managed to upset K-State that game.  Gone were the Wildcats’ national championship hopes, but it was worse than that:  other teams had already secured major bowl slots, so K-State was demoted all the way down to the Alamo Bowl.  Coincidentally, they would play Purdue, which was the team I was on as a freshman staff member.  We were happy to be there:  Kansas State, however, was disappointed to be there.  Come game time (Dec. 29, 1998), it showed.  Even though the Wildcats were still ranked at a feared No. 4 while we were unranked, we nevertheless led them throughout most of the game.  Despite a late 4th-quarter touchdown that put them temporarily in the lead, we answered by marching right down the field for a game-winning score with only about a minute remaining.

On paper, K-State should have beaten us by at least two touchdowns.  But the final, actual score said otherwise.  Why?  Though, the Wildcats were clearly the better team on paper, we wanted to be there more than they did, and by a considerable margin.

Such a scenario has played itself out many times in the years since then (and no doubt in the years before), which is what makes bowl game prognostication for more unpredictable than just comparing regular season records and major stats.  The upcoming line-up of bowl games asks this very question more than a few times.  To wit:

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 3:30 PM EST, ABC

BYU (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah (9-3)

The Utes are the higher-ranked team.  At one point they were ranked as highly as No. 3 in the nation.  Surely they must have had higher bowl aspirations.  On the other hand, the Cougars are dealing with coaching turmoil since their head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, just bolted for the Virginia job.  My conclusion is to therefore not out-think things, and go with the odds, which slightly favor the Utes.

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 26, 2:00 EST, CBS

Miami (FL) (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Beware the deception of identical records.  For whereas the Cougars have had Mike Leach in place for a couple of seasons now, the Hurricanes are going through coaching changes, having fired Al Golden mid-season, leaving assistant coach Larry Scott to serve at the helm in his temporary stead.  Incoming head coach Mark Richt will watch from the stands.  The Miami players claim they’ll show up motivated, but can these kids overcome the coaching transitions while the Washington State players will enjoy stability?

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 26, 9:15 PM EST, ESPN

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)

The Bruins surely had much higher bowl aspirations as the season began, and at one point enjoyed a top-ten ranking.  Getting upset at home to Arizona State did not help their campaign, though, neither did losing to Washington State, either.  The losses to both Stanford and a resurgent USC can be excused.  Be all that as it may, they’re in this particular bowl, which lacks the prestige of bowls in the days that follow.  Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers are one of those lucky dog teams who, at 5-7, are very fortunate just to get a berth.  Why?  Because Big Ten fans travel in DROVES.  Expect a sea of red in Santa Clara, Calif., and a closer game than the records suggest.  You might even take the under on Nebraska.

Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 10 North Carolina (11-2) vs No. 17 Baylor (9-3)

On paper, this is a very marquee matchup between two very good teams.  The problem?  Both teams feel as though they deserved better bowl games.  Last year, the Bears were in the Cotton Bowl, for goodness sake.  Meanwhile, as strong as a team as the Tarheels have been, one would think they would have grabbed a more prestigious berth, too.  What therefore makes this scenario unique is that BOTH teams will likely come in under-motivated (we’re dealing with 19/20 year-old kids, after all).  The question becomes, which team will be less under-motived than the other?  Since UNC started out with lower aspirations, they might end up making this game very, very interesting.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)

Tigers vs. Tigers?  That alone is intriguing.  But the War Eagle variety surely had higher bowl aspirations (they started out the year ranked No. 6) than the variety from Memphis, who turned out to be a surprisingly strong team.  Auburn likely views this bowl berth as both a come-down and a quasi-home game at the same time.  But Memphis might be glad just to make it to a bowl game, since their postseason appearances have been far fewer than those of their opponent.  The Vegas odds favor Auburn by 2.5.  That is enough of a margin of error for Memphis to win by a close one, provided they appear with just enough motivation.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Late enough for you out east?  Regardless, there are varying degrees of motivation with these two teams.  If you’re Wisconsin for example, who would not be happy to spend late December in beautiful San Diego?  If you’re USC, you’ll be glad to be there after all the coaching and leadership turmoil with which you had to contend earlier in the season.  The kicker?  That particular turmoil is now behind the Men of Troy.  New head coach Clay Helton has clearly righted the ship, and the program is headed in the proper direction again.  That’s good.  But, he just fired 4 of his assistant coaches.  That’s bad, especially when the Trojans only have a handful of practices to prepare for a game with a depleted coaching roster (using grad assistants to fill in some of the roles) while Wisconsin lacks this disadvantage.  The Badgers, furthermore, always show up well to bowl games:  they are one of the most reliable programs in that regard.  The odds-makers in Vegas still give USC a 3-point advantage, meaning that there is potential for an upset.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2)

The Seminoles likely see having to play the lowly Cougars, while the latter will likely feel honored to play in such a relatively prestigious bowl game.  Should this scenario play out, the respective motivational levels are to be adjusted accordingly, giving us potential for one of the biggest upsets of this bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game Pres. By Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)

Since when would a team show up to the Rose Bowl under-motivated?  It is the Granddaddy of them all, folks!  But in the case of Stanford, they likely had the goal to make it to the playoffs instead.  Meanwhile, Iowa is going to their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.  To the Hawkeyes, this is a once-in-a-generation Super Bowl.  Granted, Iowa is a good team, but Stanford, on paper, is much better.  Under normal circumstances, Stanford should win by two touchdowns.  But with Iowa being especially focused and disciplined, expect a tough, close game that could go either way.

Taxslayer Bowl, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)

This used to be the Gator Bowl, fyi.  Georgia seems to be the stronger team on paper, but they just lost their head coach and will be coached by assistants in this bowl game, while Penn State has stable leadership in James Franklin.  Expect the Nittany Lions to therefore pull off the upset, unless the interim head coach at Georgia can effectively rally his troops.