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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.

 

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College Football Week 14 Awards December 1, 2013

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking a clue: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tom O’Brien, Penn State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking … anything:  Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ball State (defeated Miami, Ohio 55-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northern Illinois (defeated Western Michigan only 33-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: New Mexico (lost to Boise State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Central Florida 23-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated Texas Tech 41-16)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State

Dang, they’re bad:  Idaho

Did the season start?  Rutgers
Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endAuburn

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

Take a look at this again, while you’re at it:  No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35

Never play this again: Ball State 55, Miami (Ohio) 14

What? San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52

HuhPenn State 37, No. 15 Wisconsin 24

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 South Carolina 31, No. 6 Clemson 17
Oh – my – GodNo. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship game

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)

Best non-Big Six matchup: LA-Lafayette @ South Alabama

Upset alert:  No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the B1G Championship game

Must win: No. 18 Oklahoma @ No. 7 Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: Texas @ No. 9 Baylor (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Memphis @ UConn

Great game no one is talking about: Bowling Green vs. No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, Fri.

Intriguing coaching matchup: George O’Leary of UCF vs. June Jones of SMU

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Memphis @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  South Florida @ Rutgers

Week 14 in review:

Wow.  Many end-of-year (or NEARLY end-of-year) weekends that bill themselves as “Rivalry Week” rarely live up to the hype.  Much of the time, the rivalry games end up as rather one-sided affairs.  Not this time, though.  Take the Ohio State-Michigan game, for example.  On paper, it should not have been anything of a contest at all.  But the Wolverines showed up in this game as they had not done so all year.  Sure, they looked formidable against Notre Dame early in the season, but they brought their game to a whole level above that in giving the Buckeyes the biggest fight of the season.  It was fitting that they saved their best game for their last of the season, and against their sworn enemy from Columbus.  In the end, a one-point margin of victory helped preserve the Buckeyes’ undefeated season and a shot at the BCS title game.

The “Egg Bowl” rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State also lived up to its tradition, in more ways than one.  For starters, it returned to its Thanksgiving Day timeslot for the first time in several years.  For another, the game was close and hard-fought right to the end, with the Bulldogs pulling out the victory they needed to become bowl-eligible.

Duke-North Carolina may be known for its bitter basketball rivalry, but today, the football rivalry was a big deal and a good game.  The Blue Devils ended up winning, narrowly, 27-25, and in so doing they clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game for the first time ever.

Another such game that looked one-sided on paper but in reality was hard-fought to the end was the LSU-Arkansas match-up on Friday.  It seems not to matter how well LSU has done in the year, or how mediocre or play the play of the Razorbacks may be, but the Hogs always seem to bring their “A-game” when they play the Tigers.  Perhaps the trophy for which they play is sufficient motivation, as “The Boot” (it is shaped in the manner of Arkansas and Louisiana together on a map) weighs 175 pounds.

Yes, there were rivalry games that were rather one-sided affairs.  The Florida-Florida State game, usually played in or around the last weekend of the college football season, was almost always the game of the week back in the 1990s.  That started to change a decade ago when FSU’s on-field performance began to deteriorate.  But recently, the Seminoles have made the right moves to return to football factory status, while the Gators’ collective performance has seen much better days.  The outcome of Florida State’s 37-7 win therefore came as no surprise.

Same thing for the Purdue-Indiana game.  While Purdue owns the series by slightly more than a 2-1 margin, today, they did not show it, as the Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 56-36, and four of Purdue’s touchdowns came in the last 20 minutes of the game, leaving the Boiler Faithful to scratch their heads all the more.

Then there was the “Iron Bowl,” that annual storied match-up between Auburn and Alabama, arguably the most intense, heated, and passionate of all the in-state rivalries.  Through much of the season, the game was not on many peoples’ radar screens.  Not after Auburn’s dismal performance last year; not even when the Tigers were slowly getting better and better with each game under new head coach Gus Malzahn.  Yet by game time, they worked their way up to the No. 4 team in the nation, giving the engaged observer pause that this match-up could be one of the most epic in the history of the rivalry.  The game remained close throughout regulation, and technically was tied up at its end, as the last second ticked off during a field goal attempt.  That same attempt came up short; short enough that an Auburn returner was able to field it in the end zone, before promptly running out of it straight up the field.  Wait a minute, the observers were telling themselves, nothing is going to come of this.  Nothing hardly ever does.  Yet the returner kept dodging a few would-be tacklers as he ran along the sideline.  In fact, he continued to run past a few more would-be tacklers before all jerseys of the opposing color were in his proverbial rear view mirror.  Wait, can this actually happen?  OMG, it IS happening!  But this NEVER happens!  And yet it IS!  I am  in shock.

The Iron Bowl, it turned out, was not just an incredible game in this history of this most-storied of rivalries.  THIS was a shot heard ‘round the world, and we are all still in shock from it today.

Still, not a bad turnaround from going winless in the SEC last year to having only one loss this year, even now potentially vying for a shot at the national title.  Guz Malzahn deserves “coach of the year” accolades for that alone.

Oh, and Stanford-Notre Dame turned out to be a very watchable game in its own right.  If that’s not enough, Steve Spurrier proved that he is the man yet again by schooling Dabo Swinney in Columbia, with his South Carolina Gamecocks trouncing the Clemson Tigers 31-17.  Had his squad not blown the game to hot-and-cold Tennessee earlier in the year, they would have punched their ticket to Atlanta to represent the East division in the conference championship game.  Instead, the team that will have that honor will be, inexplicably, Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers.  Such is the world of college football at the end of the 2013 regular season.  What a way to cap things off, and best of all, there is a great after-party next Saturday with more games on the slate!

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.

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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 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