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On the perils of trying to fire one’s way out of “Glen Mason Territory” October 15, 2018

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Last year, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about the perils to which average and above-average football programs expose themselves when they fire a coach who has been winning games, except that now he’s not winning enough games.  He dubbed this situation “Glen Mason Territory”.

What happens is that a team (typically, a 2nd-tier Power Five program) is in the doldrums, suffering from a string of losing seasons.  The university’s AD hires a new coach who then comes in and rights the ship.  Instead of losing season after losing season, the program now enjoys winning seasons.  The team starts going to bowl games, say, five over the course of seven years.  The fans are loving it.  They want more.  The boosters want more.  The athletics director wants more.

Except that the head coach cannot deliver more.  It’s usually not his fault.  There’s often a set of structural limitations in place, and despite the community’s clamoring, the coach, despite all he has done, cannot deliver on the expectations that have been unintentionally raised.  In other words, the coach did raise the bar of performance expectations, which was great for a while.  Now the fans and everyone else take this for grant, and want it raised even further, which is an impossible task.  Instead of accepting this frank fact of life, the fans call for the AD to do the feel-good thing, which is to fire the coach and replace him someone who (they think) deliver on these raised (often, unreasonable) expectations.

Let us briefly consider the namesake of “Glen Mason Territory” for a moment as an example.  Glen Mason was a former Ohio State coordinator who did an impressive salvage job at Kansas in the 1990s.  Minnesota hired him in 1997 for a similar turnaround.  Despite the Golden Gophers’ past tradition (having won multiple national titles in the 1930s and 1940s under Bernie Bierman), the program had been absent from the national conscious since most of the 1960s (having won the whole thing, oddly, in 1960).

Mason started to deliver in 1999, winning eight games that year, including a massive upset over then, No. 2 Penn State.  The following year, they sent Ohio State’s national title aspirations into an early death spiral, in the Horseshoe, no less.  As Bill Connelly tells it further:

“The Gophers would bowl again in 2000 and 2002, then surge in 2003. Behind the punishing combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, they beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to a 9-3 regular season, then Oregon in a Sun Bowl thriller to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1905.

The problem: he never won 10 again. The Gophers started 2004 5-0 and reached 13th before losing five of six down the stretch and needing a bowl win to salvage 7-5. They went 7-5 again in 2005 and were on the doorstep of a third straight seven-win season in 2006 before blowing an enormous Insight Bowl lead to Texas Tech.

A year after a contract extension, Minnesota used the bowl collapse as impetus for panic. Despite seven bowls in eight years — for a program that had been almost absent from college football’s consciousness for nearly four decades — the school pushed Mason out.

The program had grown stale, you see, and needed young energy. “I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm,” said athletic director Joel Maturi.”

The question in the mind of many of the readers by now is, ‘why couldn’t Minnesota “got over the hump”, so to speak?’  One reason, at the time, was facilities.  If a Big Ten recruit went to, say, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State on visits was able to take in the grandeur of their home stadia, they would be most unimpressed by seeing the Metrodome as their potential home stadium if they chose to don the Maroon & Gold.  Having been on the sidelines for a game there once, I personally can vouch for how sterile a place it is.  Despite the university’s best efforts to jazz it up with bunting and national championship banners in the school’s colors all over the place on game day, it remains sterile, even negatively inspiring.  As one of my fellow student managers at the time said so succinctly, “that place just sucks the life force out of you.”

Seeing things along those lines, one can appreciate the difficulties that Mason had to overcome in attaining the success his team enjoyed.  But in the end, it wasn’t good enough.  Why?  Answer: expectations that have been raised beyond reason.

Notice in Connelly’s writing how he cited then-AD Joel Maturi saying the program had “grown stale”.  Such wording is a symptom of the fallacious “this-is-who-we-now-are mentality”, when a program long in the doldrums all of a sudden enjoys a spate of success.  Pretty soon, the fan base starts to take this newfound success for granted, and becomes increasingly restless when the coach fails to deliver even more success, more than the program is structurally built to deliver under modern constraints.

Consider, again, Minnesota.  Sure, the Twin Cities might produce several players talented enough to compete at a high level, but much of the rest of the roster is made up of recruits from Ohio who were passed over by the Buckeyes.  In explicably, you’ll find a few players from Florida and Texas (e.g., Marion Barber III) in there, too.  But the immediate point is, there is not enough local talent from which to draw in order to build up a roster that can consistently vie for the national title.  The only team in such a predicament that has come close to such viability is Oregon (proving that there is always an exception to the rule), with maybe Washington to a lesser extent.

So Mason was already dealing with that structural roadblock to meeting unrealistic expectations, in addition to the stadium, which was a potential turn-off to recruits.  Not until 2009 did they open up TCF Bank Stadium on the school’s main campus.  Had Mason had this shiny new stadium at this disposal then, things might have been a little different (emphasis on ‘might have been’).

Consider weather, too.  Sure, Minnesota is a great school, and the Twin Cities are reasonably happening, but it’s also cold…very cold.  Most recruits might choose to brave the cold winters in Columbus, Ohio, or even State College, Pa., or even Ann Arbor, Mich., but they’ll draw the line at the next-level frigidity of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Can one blame them?

Of course, asking the reasonable thing, which is for the fan base to take these structural obstacles into consideration to damper their unrealistic expectations is apparently too much to ask these days.  These unrealistic expectations lead to impatience, which leads to rash decisions.  So naturally they fired Mason.  They brought in Tim Brewster as his replacement.  Brewster promised to recruit, to be the ‘shot in the arm’ the program needed, etc., and proceeded to go 15-30.  For comparison, Mason went 64-57.  Will the Gopher faithful give charismatic young coach P.J. Fleck the chance to duplicate Mason’s efforts?  That all depends on if they learned anything from this experience.

Other fan bases seem not to be have learned, and have suffered the consequences as a result.  To wit:

Arizona State fired Todd Graham, despite his 7-5 regular season record in 2017.  The program had not been competitive consistently since the Frank Kush years of the 1970s.  Bruce Snyder did the best job in recent years, leading the Sun Devils to almost win the national title in 1996.  Snyder’s leadership proved that the Sun Devils are capable of high ceilings, but brief ones.  Arizona State has hired former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in his stead.  It remains to be seen if this risky hire will pan out, but at least it is an interesting hire.  One thing that ASU does have going for it is that it’s located in a geographical spot with an endless summer, a campus that sports tons of pretty co-eds, and the Phoenix area is a decent hotbed for good recruits.  Theoretically, the right coach could set the entire Pac-12 on notice, as Bruce Snyder did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

But as Bill Connelly wisely points out, schools without such advantages who nevertheless act on the impatience born of unrealistically raised expectations can suffer major consequences.

  • On the heels of 11- and nine-win seasons, Boston College pushed Jeff Jagodzinski out because he deigned to interview for other jobs. They were 2-10 four years later and haven’t reached nine wins since.

  • Ron Zook took Illinois to nine wins and a Rose Bowl in 2007, and after a two-year reset, got them back to 7-6 in both 2010 and 2011. He was fired. Illinois has averaged 3.7 wins per year since.

  • Dan McCarney won at least seven games five times in a six-year span at Iowa State but was let go after a 4-8 downturn in 2006. ISU has not topped seven wins since, though that could change with an upcoming bowl game.

To be sure, current ISU head coach Matt Campbell has made Jack Trice Stadium a perilous place to play for undefeated teams, as top-ten West Virginia just learned last night the hard way.

  • Ralph Friedgen took Maryland to seven bowls in 10 years, and after a two-win collapse in 2009, rebounded to nine wins in 2010. Maryland has averaged 4.7 wins per year since firing him.

  • NC State pushed Tom O’Brien out in 2012 after 24 wins in three years. Their best three-year win total since: 22.*

Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to respectability (and rankings), but it has taken the program several years to return to this spot.

  • David Cutcliffe won seven or more games for five straight years at Ole Miss, peaking with a 10-win campaign in 2003. But after a 4-7 reset in 2004, he was fired. The Rebels would top four wins twice in the next seven years.

  • Pitt pushed Dave Wannstedt out after after 26 wins in three years. The Panthers have averaged 6.6 wins since.

  • Despite seven ranked finishes in 11 years, Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni after he hit a dry spell. He went 4-8 in 2002 then rebounded to only 6-6 in 2003-04. Syracuse went 10-37 under replacement Greg Robinson and has averaged 4.4 wins since Pasqualoni.

Dino Babers has methodically built Syracuse into a better program, but consider that the hiatus between this decent year and Pasqualoni’s last season is 13 years.

  • Phil Fulmer took Tennessee to 15 bowls and five SEC championship games in 16 years. He won the national title in 1998 and won at least eight games 14 times. He fell to 5-6 in 2005 but rebounded back to 10 wins in 2007. After a second five-win reset in 2008, he was fired. The Vols have hit the eight-win mark twice in the nine years since.

But what about Georgia, you ask?  That’s really not an exception to the rule after all.  Mark Richt had been consistently winning at Georgia but failed to bring home a national championship trophy.  Nick Saban and others did have something to do with that, but again, it’s almost too much to expect folks to be reasonable, especially in SEC country, where “it just means…more”.  So, they fired Richt and brought in Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.  And he too, won games, even played his former team for the national title.  And lost, because Nick Saban’s Alabama these days is a consistent juggernaut.  Nevertheless, Smart succeeded where Richt failed.  So firing their way out of Glen Mason Territory has panned out for Georgia thus far, but that’s because they have access to tons of NFL-potential talent in Greater Atlanta, their own backyard.  So there.

The conclusion to which Connelly arrived in his article is that a school cannot simply fire-a-coach its way out of “Glen Mason Territory”.  Why?  Let us consider basic reality.  Football, unlike economics, is a zero-sum game.  When one team wins a game, that means that team’s opponent had to lose that game.  Not all teams can be championship-viable teams all the time.  It is simply impossible.  Furthermore, because of this zero-sum fact of life football (and most other sports), not everybody can be good all the time.  Even traditional powers have had down years (just look at Alabama in between the Mike Dubose and Nick Saban years).

Second, not all teams are built to be national-title contenders.  Again, one key factor is, does your state produce enough local talent to compete nationally?  In states like California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, (borderline case:  Arizona) that is a given.  Even Oklahoma does not produce the players it used to (to be sure, even during the glory days of Bud Wilkinson, OU has had to recruit Texas to be successful).  The only state north of the Sunbelt that can remotely compete on that scale is Ohio.  Everyone else has to recruit from those states just to be in a position to win games, period.

Also, unlike in the pros, where teams choose the players, in college, the players choose the programs.  That means that many blue chip recruits who have options are not going to flock to the Arctic climbs of Minnesota, or the isolated, wind-swept plains of Nebraska if they can land a scholarship at Georgia or LSU or even TCU instead.  Ohio State has managed to stay viable despite its cold winters due to the total commitment of the university, plus the community and state at large, to muster every last resource needed to attract the players necessary to compete at that level.

When a coach raises the bar of performance expectations but cannot raise it further, it’s usually not the coach’s fault.  It’s program history for one.  Georgia, for example, only has two national titles, one from 1942 and from 1980; the former being shared with Ohio State.  As discussed at some length, it’s also infrastructure (e.g., facilities and access to NFL-caliber talent), and program support.  But dealing with these issues ranges from difficult to impossible.  Instead of dealing with these realities like responsible people, too often people take the feel-good way out (in reality, a dead end) and kill the messenger by firing the very coach who improved the team’s standing and situation in the first place.

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College Football Awards, Week 3 (2018) September 22, 2018

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As the saying goes, better late than never.  Various other projects took my attention away from blogging, but with college football season in full swing, it was time to come out of hiding.  Inspiration hit me in Week 4 to do a Week 3 retrospective awards, so here goes:

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Kent State 63-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Western Kentucky 20-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to Georgia 49-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Iowa State (lost to Oklahoma 37-27)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kansas (yes, Kansas, who defeated Rutgers   55-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Florida State (honorable mention:  half the Big Ten)

Can the season end?  (too early to tell)

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  LSU 22, Auburn 21

Never play this again: Penn State 63, Kent State 10

That will leave a mark:  Alabama 62, Ole Miss 7

What? Syracuse 30, Florida State 7

HuhNorth Texas 44, Arkansas 17

Double HuhAkron 39, Northwestern 34

Are you kidding me??  Troy 24, Nebraska 19 (in Lincoln, Neb., no less)

Oh – my – GodBYU 24, Wisconsin 21 (in Madison, Wis., no less)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Best game of the week (first choice):  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 20 Oregon

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 17 TCU @ Texas

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Akron @ Iowa State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ SMU

Upset alert: Arizona State @ No. 10 Washington

Must win: No. 23 Boston College @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Chris Petersen of Washington vs. Herm Edwards of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Tulane @ No. 4 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Army @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ UTEP

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  McNeese @ No. 25 BYU

Week 3 Thoughts: 

(Holding off on those until Week 4 installment.)

College Football Awards Week 13 (2017) November 27, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Frank Solich, Ohio U

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Richt, Miami  also:  Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Maryland 66-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Baylor 45-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to No. 20 Memphis 70-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  San Jose State (defeated Wyoming 20-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Louisville (defeated Kentucky 44-17)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  East Carolina

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Miami

Did the season start?  Alabama

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

Play this again, too:  Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Never play this again: No. 20 Memphis 70, East Carolina 13

What? Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Huh?  No. 21 Stanford 38, No. 8 Notre Dame 20

Are you kidding me??  Pittsburgh 24, No. 2 Miami 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, post-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Wisconsin in the B1G championship (Indianapolis)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 Memphis @ No. 15 UCF (AAC championship)

Upset alert: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin  Also:  No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 6 Auburn in the SEC championship (Atlanta)

Must win: (any championship game with playoff implications)

Offensive explosion: No. 12 TCU @ No. 4 Oklahoma (Big XII championship)

Defensive struggle: (jury’s still out)

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Stanford vs. No. 11 USC in the Pac-12 championship

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Richt of Miami vs. Dabo Swinney of Clemson

Who’s bringing the body bags? Louisiana-Monroe @ Florida State

Why are they playing? UMass @ FIU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ Coastal Carolina

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Idaho @ Georgia State

Week 13 Random Thoughts:

This weekend was one of reckoning for teams vying for playoff contention.  Some survived, others went down in flames.  One, surprisingly, was Alabama.  In hindsight, the Tide was somewhat fool’s gold.  All their tough conference games were at home.  The season’s opener against Florida State was supposed to be a very marquee matchup, but it quickly became a rout once the Seminoles’ starting quarterback was knocked out of the game (and out for the season), thus sending FSU’s season town the toilet before it truly began.  Last week should have been a greater warning than most of us acknowledged, what with Mississippi State giving the Tide a scare on the road.  They escaped, only to face their first real test of the whole season, ironically at its end.  They failed to step up to the challenge.  Conversely, Auburn has proven they are the real deal, a playoff-worthy contender.

Clemson seems to have bounced back very nicely from the loss of their starting QB.  Having handily defeated a good South Carolina team, they now prepare for this upcoming week’s ACC championship game.  There they face Miami, who surprisingly lost to Pitt in their first loss all year.  The inopportune loss was bad enough, but they looked listless in defeat as well, perhaps convincing a critical mass of voters that the Hurricanes are not the playoff-worthy team we thought they were.  All that said, they still clinched their division for the first time since its inception, and now face the Tigers this upcoming week.  The odds favor the Tigers, but then again, there are compelling reasons why we line ‘em up and play.

Ohio State stated off slowly against Michigan in “The Big House,” allowing the Wolverines to score two touchdowns.  But the Buckeyes eventually got going and eventually rolled to victory.  While Alabama failed to knock Auburn out of contention, Notre Dame’s convincing loss to Stanford and Miami’s sudden loss could nevertheless keep the door open for their playoff hopes.  Next step is to beat Wisconsin the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis this upcoming weekend.

Texas seemed to have rediscovered their offense on the road last week at West Virginia.  This week, they could only muster 23 points, at home, to Texas Tech, who is hardly the defensive juggernaut.  Things have improved this year with the Longhorns compared to the previous few seasons.  Case in point, the Horns remain bowl-eligible.  But much work and improvement clearly remains.  The biggest objective is:  find offensive consistency.

Louisville is finally playing back to form, practically scoring at will over a deceptively formidably Kentucky squad.  Whether Lamar Jackson deserves a return trip to Manhattan for Heisman consideration is neither here nor there, but his team is in a far better position than it was last year, trending the proper direction as they await their bowl bid destination.

Okay, so my “near-perfect playoff scenario” is already compromised.  This is not a huge surprise.  In hindsight, Alabama was not the juggernaut we thought they were, and Miami was not as far along as they seemed earlier this year (but at this rate, Mark Richt will bring them into legit contention).  Perhaps, at this rate, it could be Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.  With that in mind, Auburn is to face Georgia for a rematch, this time in Atlanta.  The Bulldogs shall surely be out for revenge.  The bottom line is, the reckoning is not over yet.  Buckle up.

But seriously, Ohio State, ditch those gray-black uniforms.  They look horrible.

My Nearly Perfect Playoff Scenario November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berth No. 1 of 4:  Alabama

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

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

Berth No. 2 of 4:  Miami

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

Berth No. 3 of 4:  Oklahoma

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

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

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

Berth No. 4 of 4:  Ohio State

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

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

College Football Awards Week 10 (2017) November 6, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Neal Brown, Troy

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: San Diego State (defeated San Jose State 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Arkansas (defeated Coastal Carolina 39-38)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to San Diego State 52-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UMass (lost to No. 16 Mississippi State 34-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Missouri (defeated Florida 45-16)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 24 Michigan State 27, No. 7 Penn State 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 42, Texas Tech 35

Never play this again: San Diego State 52, San Jose State 7

What? No. 25 Washington State 25, No. 21 Stanford 21

Huh?  West Virginia 20, No. 15 Iowa State 16

Are you kidding me??  No. 24 Michigan State 27, No. 7 Penn State 24

Oh – my – GodIowa 55, No. 6 Ohio State 24

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Notre Dame @ No. 10 Miami  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Louisiana @ Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

Must win: No. 24 Michigan State @ No. 6 Ohio State  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: No. 20 Oklahoma State @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Brian Kelly of Notre Dame vs. Mark Richt of Miami (FL)

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 22 Arizona @ Oregon State

Why are they playing? New Mexico @ Texas A&M

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Maine @ UMass

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

As Bill Connelly reminds this time of the year, November is for everything.  Teams are what they are at this point of the season.  A loss now can sink a team’s season.  With that in mind, let us examine the following:

Just when we thought Ohio State had a shot at the playoffs after a big win over Penn State, this week, the Buckeyes turned right around and spoiled it for all of us.  It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost that’s the true disgrace.

Anyone with any discernment knew that Iowa would be a tough out for any team.  They took Penn State to the very wire, after all.  Perhaps too many on Ohio State’s team thought they were on Easy Street after taking down the Nittany Lions last week.  Guess again, guys. The Buckeyes failed to score in the whole second half until 4:37 remained in regulation.  By then, it was too little, too late.  The Hawkeyes triumphed in dramatic fashion, 55-24, giving the Buckeyes their worst loss since 1994.  Ouch.  Not exactly a playoff-caliber performance, guys.  Speaking of which, kiss those hopes goodbye for the year, and let that be a lesson to all of us to always bring one’s “A” game.

Remember when Texas seemed to have found an offense last week against Baylor?  Yeah, that was a false alarm:  fool’s gold.  The Longhorns only mustered a single touchdown (2nd quarter) the entire game, losing it 24-7.  The Horns’ defense was impressive, all things considered, but their offense is frankly non-existent.  Why?  Much of it revolved around a young offensive line that is still trying to gel.  Even if QB Shane Buechele had time in the pocket, his receivers failed to get separation (some blame the offensive coordinator for failing to scheme properly).  Their own self-inflicted mistakes that translated to penalties obviously did them no favors, either.  It all added up to an incoherent mess on the offensive side of the ball, and the score at game’s end showed it.

This weekend has rightly been dubbed “elimination weekend,” but that could surely apply to other weekends to come this month.  Notre Dame has yet to play resurgent Miami, and after that they must face Stanford:  both are on the road.

Penn State did themselves no favors by losing to Michigan State on the road.  With that loss, their playoff aspirations for the year are over, but in the Nittany Lions’ defense, the game was much closer (21-14) than Ohio State’s disastrous outing at Iowa.  The long rain delay in the middle of the game likely interfered with their rhythms, too.

Speaking again of Ohio State, they have no time to lick their wounds, as the Spartans come calling this upcoming weekend.

South Carolina has quietly become bowl-eligible with six wins, despite their most recent loss, on the road, to border rival Georgia.  To be sure, the Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 2 in the playoffs, so the loss, on paper, was expected.  Now the Gamecocks face a depleted Florida Gators squad, at home, where the odds are likely they can amass win No. 7 for the year.

Georgia, meanwhile, faces a potential pitfall when they venture into No. 14 Auburn to engage in “the oldest rivalry in the South”.

Washington State squeaked by Stanford.  Now they must face Utah, who crushed UCLA, 48-17.  Here is yet another potential upset in the making.  Joel Klatt, are you paying attention yet?

In another window into the current state of Big Ten football, resurgent Purdue is, currently, a slight underdog to Northwestern.  Another potential conference “Toilet Bowl” awaits with Illinois facing Indiana (the latter’s record is deceptive, though).  Also, Iowa now has to face undefeated Wisconsin; not a good time to be on Cloud Nine after taking down the mighty Buckeyes.

College Football Awards Week 9 (2017) October 30, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford  also:  Mike Riley, Nebraska

Poor guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: UCF (defeated Austin Peay 73-33)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Stanford (defeated Oregon State 15-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to Texas 38-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 8 Miami 24-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Boston College (defeated Florida State 35-3)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Baylor

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Florida State

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Play this again, too:  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Never play this again: Toledo 58, Ball State 17

What? Houston 28, No. 17 South Florida 24

Huh?  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Are you kidding me?? No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 25 Iowa State 14, No. 4 TCU 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 19 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 15 UCF @ SMU

Upset alert: Texas @ TCU also:  No. 18 Stanford @ No. 25 Washington State

Must win: No. 13 Virginia Tech @ No. 9 Miami

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 11 Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Missouri

Great game no one is talking about: No. 25 Iowa State @ No. 22 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Also:  Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech vs. Mark Richt of Miami

Who’s bringing the body bags? UMass @ Mississippi State

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Charlotte @ Old Dominion

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Coastal Carolina @ Arkansas

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

The Ohio State-Penn State game was one that certainly lived up to its hype.  Its implicit billing as the game of the year certainly was that, with stakes no less high than a possible playoff berth on the line.  Buckeyes are now ranked No. 3 and have the opportunity to control their own destiny.  Three out of the four remaining games are going to be challenges, however.  Iowa is up next (remember, they took Penn State down to the wire), followed by Michigan State (a deceptively deadly team as of late), a potential break with Illinois, with Michigan (self-explanatory) to cap off the season.  Urban Meyer needs to keep the team focused these next four weeks for a trip to Indianapolis for the B1G championship.

In the meantime OSU, ditch those grungy-looking all-gray uniforms.  They looked horrible.

Few things are as distasteful as seeing your team blow a 4th-quarter lead.  Purdue did just that at home against Nebraska.  First they embarrassed themselves in a defensive struggle on the road against lowly Rutgers, now this.  This upcoming week’s game against Illinois is surely a winnable one, but then again, that’s what we all thought about Rutgers and Nebraska a couple of weeks ago.  Worse yet, Northwestern has been resurgent as of late, and Iowa is as competitive as ever.  Indiana might still be a winnable game, and thus it is not reasonable for the Boilers to emerge at season’s end 5-7, which is a still a step in the right direction from the disaster that was the Darrell Hazell era.

As predicted, Texas got well on Baylor.  The respite will not last, as next game they face TCU, arguably their toughest opponent of the year, in Fort Worth, no less.  Moreover, the Horned Frogs will be quite angry after just losing – unexpectedly – their first game of the year to newly-ranked Iowa State.

Let us hold our horses about Notre Dame.  Yes, they have only one loss, to current No. 2 Georgia, no less, and their strength of schedule is formidable.  But they’re also enjoying a senior-laden offensive line with a limited offense.  Furthermore, the Irish have yet to face two of their toughest opponents not named Georgia.  In two weeks they face a resurgent Miami Hurricanes, and they close out the season on the road at Stanford.  Eastern Timezone teams tend not to fare very well on the road against West Coast teams.  Just sayin’.  In the meantime, cool the hype on Notre Dame until their season concludes.

Speaking of Georgia, they rose to the occasion yet again this year by handily defeating Florida.  In recent years, the Bulldogs have struggled in their annual rivalry games against the Gators.  This time, the Dawgs kept that unpleasant past in the rearview mirror.  Seemingly treating it like any other game, they went into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and took care of business, so much so (42-7) that Jim McElwain might be in danger of losing his job.  Now ranked No. 2, they potentially control their own destiny.  But next game up is South Carolina, a potential trap game, as Will Muschamp has coached the Gamecocks to a surprising 6-2 start.  Moreover, the remaining three games after that – in order, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech – each offer their own unique challenges.  If the Bulldogs remain in playoff contention, they shall have to earn it.

Oh, and Tennessee lost…again…this time to another rival of sorts, Kentucky.  As of this writing, officials at the University of Tennessee are contemplating Butch Jones’ tenure.  Many of us are wondering what has taken them this long to get to this point, let alone giving Jones the ax.

College Football Awards, Week 13 (2016) November 27, 2016

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The Game lived up to The Hype.

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas

Lucky guy: Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Poor guy: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee  also:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  Virginia Tech (defeated Virginia 52-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Louisville (lost to Kentucky 41-38)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Iowa State (lost to No. 19 West Virginia 49-19)

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

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  UTEP (defeated North Texas 52-24)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  New Mexico State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Nebraska

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Texas  also:  Ole Miss, Notre Dame

Can the season never endWestern Michigan

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 2 Ohio State 30, No. 3 Michigan 24

Play this again, too:  Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 27

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 56, South Carolina 7

Close call:  Indiana 26, Purdue 24

What? Vanderbilt 45, No. 24 Tennessee 34

HuhAir Force 27, No. 21 Boise State 20

Double-Huh?  Memphis 48, No. 18 Houston 44

Are you kidding me?  Iowa 40, No. 17 Nebraska 10

Oh – my – GodKentucky 41, No. 11 Louisville 38

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 13, pre-week 14))

Ticket to die for: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Penn State in the B1G Championship

also: No. 11 Oklahoma State @ No. 8 Oklahoma

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Western Michigan vs. Ohio U in the MAC Championship, Friday

Must win: too many to list!

Offensive explosion: No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship

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

Great game no one is talking about: Louisiana Tech @ Western Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup: Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Jim McElwain of Florida

Think there’s enough purple? Kansas State @ TCU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ No. 14 West Virginia

Why are they playing? Wisconsin vs. Penn State in the B1G Championship (ever heard of Ohio State?)

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ South Alabama

They shoot horses, don’t they? Georgia State @ Idaho

Week 13 Take-aways:

Rivalry week has yielded some decent drama, and upsets, as one would expect. Purdue, hapless all year, acquitted themselves well against a far-superior offense in IU. Highly-ranked Louisville gave up the game via four turnovers to in-state rival Kentucky, at home. The collapse of Louisville within the past couple of weeks is the most unsettling thing witnessed in major college football this year.

The annual coaching carousel hath begun its merry ride. Charlie Strong is out at Texas (after much unnecessary vacillation and drama on the part of the Texas Athletics Department), and Tom Herman is in. Such drama sadly bled over to Herman’s Houston team, who clearly was not focused when losing to formidable Memphis on Friday, despite being favored on the road. Meanwhile, Ed Orgeron earned a well-deserved promotion from interim head coach to full-time head coach at LSU. Orgeron is perfect for the role, what with his love for the school, his extensive experience in many big-name programs, his long-time conference presence (he was once the head coach at border rival Ole Miss), to say nothing of his deep Cajun drawl. His performance in the interim job itself was a strong case, as the Tigers went 5-2 under this leadership (one of those losses was to Alabama, where LSU held the Tide to only 10 points). Justice has been met in this special case.

Despite Mississippi State’s disappointing year, Dan Mullen has ended the year well by convincingly beating their main rival, Ole Miss. The Rebels started the year with high rankings and hopes, but injury and other bad luck put the team into a freefall. Losing their starting QB Chad Kelly to season-ending injury obviously contributed to this, to be sure.

In the world of weird football news, Navy beat SMU 75-31 (yes, this was a football game, not a basketball one). What do these two teams have in common? They’re the only two teams that beat Houston this year. That aside, who says the triple option cannot be a high-scoring offense?

More regarding the world of weird football news: Eastern Michigan is, after this week, 7-5, and obviously bowl eligible. Let us all pause as our collective jaw drops to the floor.

Now we await the conference championship games next week, and immediately afterwards, we shall finally ascertain the teams that shall be in the playoffs. One intriguing game is the MAC Championship. Should Western Michigan win and continue their undefeated season, they could qualify for a major bowl game. Might P.J. Fleck be able to lead his team in rowing the proverbial boat all the way, say, the Cotton Bowl? We shall all find out in due time. Let the games begin…and continue!

A Possible Replacement for Hazell at Purdue October 17, 2016

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bo-pelini-450x300

Remember me, Big Ten?

Coach Darrell Hazell has been fired at Purdue.  Yes, it was highly commendable how he made lots of friendly gestures in reaching out to the football alums; how well-behaved and polite his kids are; how he preaches morals and good conduct to his players.  As a person, Hazell was a very good man.  As a coach, he was a charlatan.

 

We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after his first horrible season (2013).  The blowout loss at home to then-No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 2 of that year was an affront to the university, to the Purdue program, to say nothing of all the Purdue football alumni forebears who had to watch such a disgraceful showing.  Little did we know that plenty more disgraceful showings were to come in the course of almost four seasons.  Those of us who have followed Purdue football for two decades or more know only too well what a disastrous coach Jim Colletto was, but at least the guy could recruit.  With Hazell, we have lacked even that silver lining.

It turns out that Hazell was former AD Morgan Burke’s parting “Gift.”  The humor is in understanding the double entendre, for the word “Gift” in German – hence the capitalized noun, a constant in that language – means “poison”.  In fact, that disastrous hire has permanently tainted Burke’s legacy as an athletics director.  Rightfully so, too.  This is what happens when you continually hire coaches on the cheap, withhold needed administrative support and resources, then act like you’re going to pay the new head coach real money (actually, not so much, comparatively speaking), only to hire a charlatan who fooled you with one good season at a bottom-feeding MAC program.  We saw this scenario before with Turner Gil having one good season at Buffalo, making the gullible think that he was the next Jack Welch.  How well did that hire work out of you, Kansas?

To put it another way, Purdue paid Darrell Hazell roughly $1 Million more than they paid Danny Hope per year, even though the former finished with a 9-33 record at that school, while Hope went 22-27 with two bowl appearances.  Nothing like paying more for a much worse performance, no?

Thankfully, we now have the prospect of being spared future embarrassments in the seasons to come…provided that new Purdue AD Mike Bobinski makes the right hire.  In the college game, hiring the right coach makes all the difference in the world.  Just look at Michigan.  All of us left that program for dead…or, least for permanent diminished relevance.  Then they hired Jim Harbaugh, and in his second year, they are already a national championship contender.

Granted, Purdue is not Michigan, neither in terms of tradition, resources, or recruiting channels.  But that is not to say that there is potential to hire a good coach to not just give the program the shot in the arm it needs, but also, immediately give the program the electric shock paddles just to get its heart to beat again.

But who?  Several ideas have been tossed out in the comment section of the most recent Hammer and Rails articles.  Many of the faithful, for example, seem fixated on Les Miles.  Honestly, that would be a pleasing hire to me.  He would be effective in shaking up the culture, and would attract lots of eyeballs and thus attract some good recruits.  My purpose is to offer an additional idea; not to say it is THE only idea to be considered, but that it is AN idea to be considered.  Here it is:

Bo Pelini.  There are three major upsides with this possible hire.  For one, he is currently coaching at Youngstown State, which is an FCS school.  That’s right, he’s not even coaching at an FBS school after Nebraska fired him.  It would therefore not be a hard sell for him to come to Purdue for a Power Five FBS job.  Indeed, given his current predicament, a salary just slightly higher than Hazell’s might suffice.

Second, Purdue is a Big Ten team, same as his former team Nebraska, who did him dirty.  Those idiots fired him for going 9-3.  Who in their right mind would do such a thing?  Given his reputation for intensity – something Purdue’s program desperately needs, obviously – it would stand to reason that he would not be a “forgive and forget” type.  Thus, the opportunity for revenge against those in the conference who wronged him would make Pelini coming to Purdue an even easier sell.

Third, he clearly has recruiting contacts.  One would need that in order to be able to win nine games a year in a state that produces zero NFL talent, save for the occasional offensive lineman.  His is clearly a name recognized throughout the conference regardless, and that is the most key item.

Indeed, regardless of who becomes the new coach, it is an absolute requirement that he be a recognizable name.  We cannot roll the dice with a coach from the MAC again.  We already made that mistake.  We need a “big name” to show that we truly are committed to not only righting the ship but making sure that it stays on course for the long haul and does not hit a reef again.  Bo Pelini would be such a name.  If not he, then Les Miles should do just fine, or even Dave Wannstedt, for that matter.  If Notre Dame is foolish enough to fire Brian Kelly this year (don’t put it past such a delusional fan base to call for something that monumentally insane, either), then by all means should Purdue empty the bank for him.  Morevoer, if such a scenario were to take place, by all means, forget Pelini go all-in on Kelly!

If nothing else, Mike Bobinski ought to heed that last bit of advice, as his young legacy as the new AD at Purdue hangs in the balance with this critical decision.  Either Purdue gets a name guy with a proven history, or they will stay in the outhouse forever, reaching for the “flush” handle.

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?

The Peril of Bye-Weeks in College Football October 15, 2016

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Beware of bye-weeks. They can do weird things to college teams. Speaking from experience, during my junior season at Purdue – the 2000 season where we went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 34 years – we had a bye-week coming off an emotional win over a favored Ohio State team. That win allowed for us to “control our own destiny”. After that game, we had a bye-week.  After that bye-week, we went on the road to play Michigan State, who was having a down year after their strong run and Citrus Bowl win (over a favored Florida squad, no less) the prior season.

We were favored in that game, and it would have been an easier win than those over Michigan, the Buckeyes, or even Wisconsin. Only problem was, we failed to bring our “A-game”, and it showed. We embarrassed ourselves, losing 30-10. It left us all scratching our heads. Worse yet, it put our Big Ten championship in peril. Only a loss by Northwestern to Iowa that same day kept us in the money. We closed the deal next week with a blowout win at home over Indiana, but the fact remained that a once-in-a-generation chance to punch our ticket to Pasadena almost evaporated on a cold, gray November afternoon in East Lansing.

I blame the bye-week. As college kids, a bye-week throws you off your rhythm that you set during the playing season. Without the normal routine of a game each week, your preparation routine is thrown off, and it’s easy to get lackadaisical, forgetting how to methodically build up the intensity to the point where you peak on game day. That effect was on display again this Friday night.

Yes, Louisville came off an emotional loss in a high-stakes game in a very hostile environment two weeks ago. The casual observer might think that the bye week would be a good opportunity to recharge the batteries. Think again. Being out of rhythm on account of the open weekend last week, the Cardinals came out less than focused and energized, while at the same time they faced a disciplined, well-coached Duke team. They escaped – barely – with a win, at home.

Speaking of Duke, by season’s end, this victory should nevertheless be a quality win for the Cards by season’s end.  Ironically, it is Duke that now faces a bye-week, and will play a down Georgia Tech squad to close out the month of October.  If they do NOT come out flat against the Yellow Jackets, I would frankly be surprised.

That aside, seeing the way the Blue Devils played in this game, even though they are now 3-4, I have no doubt that they shall give the rest of their opponents all they want. November with be rather brutal for David Cutcliffe’s team, for they play (in order) Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Miami, one after another. Don’t be surprised if they upset one or two of those teams. What have they going for them in this tough stretch? No byes.