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College Football 2015 Week 1 Awards September 9, 2015

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South Carolina's Deebo Samuel (1) reaches for a pass as North Carolina's Des Lawrence (2) defends in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. The pass was incomplete. South Carolina won 17-13. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The battle for Carolina in Charlotte started the 2015 college football season well.  It was very aesthically pleasing to see North Carolina and South Carolina both wear their home colors, too!(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 1] unless otherwise noted.)

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

Glad I’m not him: David Shaw, Stanford

Lucky guy: Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

Poor guy: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Monken, Army

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 9 Georgia (defeated LA-Monroe 51-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 22 Arizona (defeated UTSA 42-32)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Texas State (lost to No. 10 Florida State 59-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Central Michigan (lost to Oklahoma State 24-13).

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  No. 11 Notre Dame (defeated Texas 38-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulane

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Stanford

Did the season start?  Texas (Honorable Mention:  Penn State)

Can the season end?  Tulane

Can the season never endNotre Dame

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 6 Auburn 31, Louisville 24

Play this again, too:  No. 2 TCU 23, Minnesota 17

Honorable Mention to play again:  South Carolina 17, North Carolina 13

Never play this again: No. 17 Ole Miss 76, Tennessee-Martin 3

Say what? BYU 33, Nebraska 28

WHAT? FIU 15, UCF 14

HuhNorthwestern 16, No. 21 Stanford 6

Are you kidding me?  Texas A&M 38, No. 15 Arizona State 17

Oh – my – GodTemple 27, Penn State 10

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 1, pre-week 2)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Oregon @ No. 5 Michigan State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Houston @ Louisville; also:  Minnesota @ Colorado State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Marshall @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 19 Oklahoma @ No. 25 Tennessee

Must win: Kentucky @ South Carolina

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Arizona @ Nevada

Defensive struggle: No. 14 LSU @ No. 25 Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: Minnesota @ Colorado State; also:  No. 20 Boise State @ BYU

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Stoops of Kentucky vs. Steve Spurrier of South Carolina

Who’s bringing the body bags? Hawaii @ No. 1 Ohio State

Why are they playing? South Alabama @ Nebraska

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  NC Central @ Duke

Week 1 Take-aways:

  • Ohio State seems to have not skipped a beat during the offseason.  After the occasional hiccup in the second quarter, they made every halftime adjustment one could think of and demonstrated why they deserve to retain the top ranking.
  • Had Louisville not made mistake after mistake, the results of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff game would surely have been considerably different.  That said, Auburn is not a team with which to be trifled.
  • Evidence of the Big Ten gaining strength compared to, say, seasons 2005-2013, could not be further on display, and not just with the top dog Ohio State.  Mighty Stanford travelled eastward to take on Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.  They did not return to the West Coast victorious.  Few pigskin prognosticators saw THAT coming.
  • Arizona State has potential to be a tough team.  Dropping the ball – figuratively — to Texas A&M did not help their case.  Either the Sun Devils were highly overrated going into the game, or they picked a horrible time to take the night off.
  • Either South Carolina is starting to struggle a bit as a program, or North Carolina has greatly improved.  At this point, I suspect the latter.  Larry Fedora has proven to be a capable coach, and Gene Chizik’s influence on the Tarheel’s defense quickly showed itself.
  • Jim Harbaugh shall no doubt make Michigan into a respected power again.  Their loss to Utah in Salt Lake City seemed to be a speedbump towards that goal.  The immediate discernment is that the Utes are becomingly an increasingly respected program in the post-Urban Meyer era.  In the meantime, signs that Harbaugh is shaking things up in Ann Arbor is already readily apparent.  For one, their legendary helmet design now has metal flake in the both the yellow and blue parts of the distinct pattern – a first for the program.  Moreover, they were wearing [gasp!] white pants with traditional stripes, which is a far cry from the plain yellow pants they have worn for decades.  That last item alone is proof that Hades has officially frozen over!

Such is the ‘rousing start to the 2015 college football season.  One more week of an excess of body bag games to go, and things ought to be even more interesting!

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College Football Week 4 Awards September 22, 2014

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Indiana Missouri Football2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 4] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Les Miles, LSU
Lucky guy: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Poor guy: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ruffin McNeil, East Carolina

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Desperately seeking … anything: Bob Diaco, UConn

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 11 Michigan State (defeated Eastern Michigan 73-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Central Michigan (lost to Kansas 24-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Troy (lost to No. 13 Georgia 66-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Texas State (lost to Illinois 42-35)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: East Carolina (defeated North Carolina 70-41)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: Hawaii

You know, they’re not so bad: Arkansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity: LSU

Did the season start? Virginia Tech
Can the season end? Eastern Michigan
Can the season never end? East Carolina

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Florida State 23, No. 22 Clemson 17
Never play this again: North Texas 77, Nichols 3

What? East Carolina 70, North Carolina 41

Huh? Georgia Tech 27, Virginia Tech 24
Are you kidding me? Indiana 31, No. 18 Missouri 27
Oh – my – God: Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Ticket to die for: Arkansas @ No. 6 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ No. 22 Ohio State
Best non-Power Five matchup: Central Michigan @ Toledo

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 12 Georgia

Must win: Missouri @ No. 13 South Carolina

Offensive explosion: North Carolina @ Clemson

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Purdue
Great game no one is talking about: Texas Tech @ No. 24 Oklahoma State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora of UCLA vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Wyoming @ No. 9 Michigan State

Why are they playing? New Mexico State @ No. 17 LSU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo

They shoot horses, don’t they?  UTEP @ No. 25 Kansas State

 

Week 4 Random Thoughts:

  • This week, the Big Ten acquitted themselves rather well. After three weeks of disaster, along with nearly everyone in America paying attention to the college football scene about to write the one-great conference’s epitaph, the B1G appeared to have reminded folks that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. To wit:
  • Maryland upset Syracuse. The Orange, who were 2-0 going into the game, seemed to be the favored team (especially since they were playing at home in the Carrier Dome). But the Terps showed up, and won 34-20, on the road.
  • Yes, even Purdue won, even though they had to defeat an FCS team in order to do so, beating the Southern Illinois Salukis only 35-14. Just one more touchdown would have made the win semi-convincing.
  • Iowa won on the road, defeating a respectable Pitt team, 24-20, in the last minutes of the game, no less.
  • Think Purdue’s win was less-than-convincing? Check out Northwestern: they beat Western Illinois 24-7. Still, a win is a win – at least, in this case.
  • Michigan State, without any surprise, thrashed their directional neighbor Eastern Michigan 73-14, in what amounted to be one of the biggest “body bag games” of the week.
  • Even though Illinois had to struggle to do so, they pulled in out in the end over Texas State, 42-35.
  • Granted, there was a rather ignominious loss concerning Michigan. To be sure, Utah is not a horrible team, but they’re not great either. Moreover, this was a home game for the Wolverines, who failed to even reach the red zone. In the Big House.
  • Wisconsin’s blowout win over Bowling Green at home, 68-17, came as little surprise. And I must say, the Badgers’ red helmets look very nice indeed!
  • Minnesota beat San Jose State 24-7.
  • Let us not forget Nebraska’s win at home over Miami (Fla.), 41-31.
  • Rutgers did beat Navy, 31-24, and the Midshipmen are never to be taken lightly.
  • That said, Indiana (yes, that Indiana) represented the entire conference well by beating a more-than-respectable Missouri Tigers squad on the road. If these shadows remained unchanged, the Hoosiers could take the conference by storm this year (notwithstanding Michigan State or Ohio State, who both happen to inhabit the same division as IU).
  • So, 12-1 for the conference is not bad considering the previous two weeks. Were it not been for Ohio State’s bye week, it might have been 13-1.
  • In other news, while I hate to see LSU take it on the chin, it is very nice indeed to see Dan Mullen and Mississippi State get a nice, signature win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama looks and sounds like a winner to me!

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

Michigan, perhaps?

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford, for reasons of coaching continuity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon, for reasons of lack of coaching continuity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia;  gotta stick ‘em somewhere.

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

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

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

USC, anybody?

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

Michigan State, perhaps?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Duke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

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

A-WLvUxCQAEkjOO.jpg large

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

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

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

Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Stanford

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

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

No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida

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

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

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State

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

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

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

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

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

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next installment:  Bowl Games of More Interest

College Football Week 14 Awards December 3, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are week 14 AP polls unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were himNick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Mark Richt, Georgia
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Desperately seeking a clue: Charlie Weis, Kansas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Desperately seeking … anything:  Mack Brown, Texas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oregon State (beat Nicholls 77-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Stanford (beat UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 championship)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kansas (lost to West Virginia 59-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Georgia Tech (lost to Florida State in the ACC championship)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas State (beat New Mexico State 66-28)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Nebraska

Did the season start? Rutgers

Can the season end?  South Florida
Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Alabama 32, No. 3 Georgia 28
Never play this again: No. 15 Oregon State 77, Nicholls 3
What? No. 8 Stanford 27, No. 16 UCLA 24
Huh? Louisville 20, Rutgers 17
Are you kidding me? No. 21 Northern Illinois 44, No. 17 Kent State 37
Oh – my – God: Wisconsin 70, No. 12 Nebraska 31
Told you so: Baylor 41, Oklahoma State 34

NEXT WEEK

Only one regular season game is to be played next week, which is the annual Army-Navy game:  a cherished American tradition.  Go Armed Forces – God bless our troops!

The End of the Danny Hope Era at Purdue: a postmortem and a forward look November 30, 2012

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Over the past few days, the word about Coach Danny Hope’s firing has spread like wildfire.  In four seasons as Purdue’s head football coach, Hope was 22-27, with no appreciable signs of improvement from when he took over from Coach Joe Tiller at the helm.  This particular development had been, according to rumors, that Athletics Director Morgan J. Burke had actually been planned since Purdue’s blowout loss at home to Wisconsin.  Be that as it may, the development having been brought to fruition has opened a floodgate of after-the-fact criticism against the man, something I flat-out refuse to join.

Say what you want about Coach Hope:  he treated those who played under him as well as those who worked under him more than equitably.  He cared for every one of his players as if they were all his sons.  Coach Hope and I go back about 15 years, when I first met him at Coach Tiller’s summer football camp for high school players.  Starting a year later, I was an aide to him while a student manager on the Purdue team, helping him out on the sidelines during games while he was the offensive line coach under Joe Tiller.  In the subsequent years that followed, he went out of his way to make me feel like part of the football family, be it at Eastern Kentucky University – a long story! – or at Purdue as well.  I have awesome articles of athletic-themed attire that I shall forever treasure wearing – stuff that he personally gave me.

But I am not the only one ever grateful, ever true to the man now stepping down as head man of the Purdue football team.  None other than Drew Brees and Matt Light consider Coach Hope “their coach.”  Drew has been quoted as saying that he would run through a brick wall for Hope.  Matt Light, former all-pro offensive tackle, not to mention the man who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for a solid decade, has credited Coach Hope with molding him into an NFL lineman.

Bear Bryant was known to say “[i]f anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it.
If anything goes real good, you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.”  With every big win – few as there were – Hope always passed the credit along to his players.  When Purdue won in Michigan Stadium for the first time in over four decades, Coach Hope was almost in tears on account of how proud he was of his boys and how well they played.

Moreover, when Hope’s tenure began, on paper, it was a good hire.  He was the perfect organizational/cultural fit, having served under Coach Tiller all those years.  Moreover, anybody who has met the man could not help but love him, what with his high-energy, high-enthusiasm personality that could brighten up any room.  Better yet, he brought in Gary Nord as offensive coordinator.  Both learned the coaching ropes together under the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, so obviously they had the pedigree.  Between Hope’s high-energy approach towards motivating players and Nord’s abilities with the X’s and O’s, it seemed to be an awesome match.  Sadly, things did not turn out that way, as the results clearly show.

The question becomes, why?  One plausible explanation is that Hope’s under-performance is the symptom of a bigger issue within Purdue’s athletics dept.  One of Purdue’s dirty little secrets is, historically they under-compensate their personnel compared to other Big Ten athletics programs.  Anybody with any ambition at all puts in their time, enhances their resumes, then leave for, er, greener pastures, leaving behind good people that stay out of a combination of loyalty (commendable though that may be) and lack of options.

To put things even more bluntly, Purdue is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying its coaches.  That could explain Coach Hope’s woes, to an extent.  A cursory survey will reveal that Purdue has the lowest football coaches’ salaries of any staff in the B1G.  Not good.  Hope himself was the lowest-paid head coach in the conference, making only $950,000 this year.  Yes, I know, to the vast majority of people, that is a tidy sum.  But when you consider that even Tim Beckman of Illinois makes $1.6 million, or even Kevin Wilson of lowly Indiana makes $1.2 million annually, something is dreadfully wrong in Boilerland.

The same problem applies to underpaying assistant coaches.  Therefore, the head coach does what he can to bring in assistants, but once they build up their resume, they then go somewhere else where they can make more money.  Successful football programs depend in part with coaching continuity.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what happened to mighty Texas when the bulk of their assistants left, or the slump Florida found itself in for a while.  Now imagine the havoc that is wrought on a program like Purdue from lack of such continuity.  To quote ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, coaches do not care about your school’s fight song:  pay them!

That brings us to the another major point.  Morgan Burke right now faces the awesome task of finding a new CEO of the football program to take it in a new, better direction.  Certain names have been tossed around here and there, but no matter whom they hire, if Burke does not take a crowbar to the department’s wallet, Purdue will be in the same situation it is in now in three or four years’ time.

Adam Rittenberg, a blogger of espn.com has reported that Burke is putting together a $4.5 million fund for the next coach.  If that is true, then maybe, after all these years, it has sunk in that he needs to pay his football coaches substantially more than in the past, distant and recent.  Yes, Burke deserves credit for ably managing the athletics department’s bottom line, but that bottom line itself is in jeopardy if the team keeps losing games and the fans vote with their feet in the form of lost ticket revenue.  As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.  Winning games makes money, and to win games, Purdue needs to raise football coaches’ pay (both head coach and assistants) if they want to get anywhere.  Let us hope that the rumored $4.5 million is made available soon for the best coaching talent out there.  But by that same token, assembling those funds should be a sign that Burke et al. have finally figured out that winning in the Big Ten (or any other “Big Six” conference these days) costs money, and they do deserve some credit for figuring that out, even if belatedly.

Another problem for the program was the offensive strategy combined with a stale culture.  Concerning the latter, let us face it:  bringing in Coach Hope to replace Coach Tiller was, in some regards, more of the same.  The head coach is CEO of the football program.  Like a chief executive, his job is to not only set the strategy, but also the culture and tone of the organization.  Bringing in Hope was more of the same in that the Tiller influence was able to linger longer than it should.  Coach Tiller did a wonderful job of bringing Purdue out of the wretched Jim Colletto era doldrums, but after a while, things became stale.  Furthermore, his one-sided “basketball on grass” was becoming less and less effective.  Frankly, Drew Brees and his ability to work the on-field magic that he did made Tiller’s offense look far more effective than it really was.  The best season Purdue had post-Drew was the 2003 season, where we had a tough, veteran defense combined with Coach Tiller “discovering” something called the running game.  Sadly, Coach Tiller never learned from his successes that season, and engaged in a very lengthy panic to where Purdue’s offense continued to dwindle as it became ever-more reliant on the passing game.  The more-of-the-same approach, that which worked before but became less effective as the conference overall changed, in turn caused the organizational culture to go stale as well.

Ultimately, Coach Hope’s on-field woes could most likely be attributed to the ongoing quarterback merry-go-round, combined with a poor choice of offensive strategy that was, again, too reliant on the pass.  In so many games, I observed too many over-engineered plays that were attempted to be executed by under-skilled personnel.  The nature of these plays tended to put the offensive players in too many precarious situations, which could account for why injuries perpetually plagued Hope and his team.

A run-oriented, option-based attack could have rectified this problem.  So many fans argue that the passing game is what puts butts in the seats, but I counter in turn that winning is what truly generates enthusiasm for a program, and thus stimulates greater attendance.  Three yards and a cloud of dust will sell just as well as the passing game, if you win.  The new coach, whoever he may be, will be well-served to heed this advice.  Given our current personnel, we could credibly execute a flexbone option attack much like Georgia Tech and Navy currently use.  It could buy us time until we bring in personnel that could give us more options in a balanced, pro-style attack that is a proven winning approach with teams throughout the country.

But in the meantime, do not pile on Coach Hope.  I will always admire him as a loyal, gracious man.  He stood for everything a place like Purdue should support — values, character, sincerity, and integrity.  The Boiler Nation would be well-served to never forget that.

College Football Week 13 Awards November 25, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 13, pre-week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were himWill Muschamp, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Mack Brown, Texas
Glad it’s finally over:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a clue: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Desperately seeking … anything:  Ron English, Eastern Michigan

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Auburn 49-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (beat Iowa 13-7)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Georgia Tech (lost to No. 3 Georgia 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Washington State (beat Washington 31-28, OT)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ole Miss (beat Mississippi State 41-24)

Dang, they’re good: Stanford
Dang, they’re bad:  South Florida
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Arizona (lost to Arizona State 41-34)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12* South Carolina 27, No. 11* Clemson 17 (notwithstanding Baylor 52, Texas Tech 45, OT)
Never play this again: Fresno State 48, Air Force 15
What?  TCU 20, No. 15* Texas 13

Huh? UConn 23, No. 20* Louisville 20, 3OT
Are you kidding me? Pittsburgh 27, No. 18* Rutgers 6
Oh – my – God:  Ole Miss 41, Mississippi State 24
Told you so: No. 13* Oklahoma 51, No. 21* Oklahoma State 48, OT

*Week 13 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Alabama vs. No .3 Georgia in Atlanta
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: No. 19 Northern Illinois @ No. 18 Kent State (MAC Championship, Friday night)
Upset alert: No. 7 Kansas State @ No. 23 Texas

Must win: Alabama vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship game (notwithstanding Louisville @ Rutgers)
Offensive explosion: Baylor @ Oklahoma State
Defensive struggle: Cincinnati @ UConn
Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Rutgers, Thursday

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mack Brown of Texas vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Nicholls @ No. 16 Oregon State
Why are they playing? South Alabama @ Hawaii

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ Texas State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Kansas @ West Virginia

Rivalry Week in Review:

Give Urban Meyer a ton of credit:  Ohio State had nothing to play for this year.  Nothing.  No matter how well they played this regular season, they were ineligible for any sort of bowl game or any other post-season play, not even the Big 10 Conference championship game.  That is too bad, because they currently, er, lead the Leaders division of the conference by a virtual mile (two games, to be exact).  Moreover, the team they lead is Penn State, who is ineligible for a much longer stretch of time, sadly, and for even more bizarre reasons.  The Buckeyes’ current lead in the conference is three games ahead of the actual eligible member of the Leaders division, that being Wisconsin, whom Ohio State defeated in Madison, Wis., in overtime.  As stated earlier, the Buckeyes had nothing to play for this year, and as such could have just lied down and given up early on.  Yet Coach Meyer has kept his team focused and hungry every week.  Best of all, they capped off an undefeated season by beating arch-rival Michigan 26-21.  If these shadows remain unchanged, then the future in Columbus, Ohio is very bright indeed.

Yes, Florida won:  But give Jimbo Fisher a ton of credit.  He has brought Florida State back to near-football factory status, which has, in turn, brought the Sunshine State Rivalry back to prominence, which is good for football.  The Seminoles put up on heckuva fight against the Gators in Tallahassee, but in the end, the latter’s defense proved too much for the former, as Florida triumphed in the end, 37-26.  Yet to put things in perspective, this “rivalry” had been rather one-sided since 2004, be it in recent wins on the part of the ‘Noles (31-7 in 2010, 21-7 in 2011), or in consecutive wins (the Gators won all matchups with FSU from 2004 to 2009).  The level of play, the overall excitement, and reasonably close score indicate that the one-sidedness has come to an end, at least temporarily.  Expect this rivalry to retain its regained intensity in the future years to come!

Speaking of Florida, it looks like Muschamp is “the guy” after all.  Folks had left him for dead at the end of last year after he went only 7-6 in his first season as head coach of the Gators.  Yet this year, he has lost only one game, has just defeated his No. 10-ranked, in-state rival, and his team is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation.  The Gators look to be in good hands after all.

Is the USC-Notre Dame rivalry back?  Could be. Brian Kelly has put enough pieces together at Notre Dame to make the team recall the physical squads that made the Irish top contenders for years on end.  Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin has gradually been putting pieces back together at USC after years of probation.  Notre Dame was downright dormant as a former national power for a decade and a half.  Meanwhile, USC was severely weakened by scholarship reductions due to probation, which they have now survived, and are looking to get back to where they were under Pete Carroll’s tenure.  Going in to the most recent game, this rivalry, like the previous one mentioned, was also one-sided over the past decade.  The Trojans won all but one of these games since 2002, and embarrassed the Irish in South Bend last year, 31-17.  This year, Notre Dame stepped up and won in Los Angeles, 22-13, against a Trojan team with a back-up redshirt freshman and a team that has yet to find itself in terms of a necessary level of discipline and consistency.  Regardless, though, the game was competitive, and we look forward to more of it in the coming years.

Speaking of one-sided rivalries:  The South Carolina-Clemson game is one that has overall been in the latter’s favor, as the Tigers led the rivalry 65-41-4.  Nevertheless, with the Gamecocks’ recent win, they have now won the last four games between them and the Tigers.  This is the first time South Carolina has repeated this streak since from 1951-1954, and it ties the record for their longest win streak against their upstate rival.  Moreover, South Carolina has won five out of the last seven of such games.

Is it too early to say that this is the greatest Vanderbilt team of modern times, if not of all time?  Don’t laugh.  When is the last time you saw the Commodores go 8-4?  In recent memory, Vandy teams showed some signs of brilliance (the Jay Cutler-led squads, for example), but even they struggled to win six games, most of the time falling short of that mark.  This team not only surpassed that mark for bowl eligibility, it blew passed it completely.  Along the way, they blew out Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest.  Not the most impressive opponents, to be sure, but the fact that they were able to hold off a rapidly-improving Ole Miss should count for something.  To be sure, they have proven not to be able to handle the true heavyweights of the conference, losing badly to both Georgia (48-3) and Florida (31-17), and lost the season opener at home to South Carolina (17-13).  Still, despite these weaknesses, the ‘Dores are bowl eligible for the second season in a row, something unprecedented in the history of the program.  If that is not enough, the team reached other key milestones as well.  The evidence speaks for itself.  That said, if any doubts remain, last year, Vandy went only 6-6 before losing to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.  This year, they are a stronger team, and are 8-4; a bowl win should quell any doubt that they are the greatest Commodore squad of modern times, if not since the program’s inception in 1890.

Here’s something to blow you mind:  Iowa and Kentucky, both cellar-dwellers in their respective conference divisions, are the only reasons why there is not some undefeated MAC team out there threatening to crash the BCS.  Check it out.  Iowa beat Northern Illinois by one point in the season opener, and Kentucky beat Kent State 47-14 in week 2.  Want to make things even more interesting?  Ask yourself the following question:  would either of these “Big Six” teams beat any one of those two MAC teams at this stage of the season?

Oh yeah, and Notre Dame will be playing for the national championship for the first time in 24 years.  Yay.