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College Football Awards Week 4 (2017) September 24, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gary Patterson, TCU

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

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Poor guy: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated UNLV 54-21)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Tennessee (defeated UMass 17-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (lost to No. 9 Louisville 42-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Louisiana Tech (lost to South Carolina 17-16)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Utah State (defeated San Jose State 61-10)

Dang, they’re good: Michigan

Dang, they’re bad:  San Jose State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Florida State

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  Texas A&M 50, Arkansas 43, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Penn State 21, Iowa 19

Never play this again: Utah State 61, San Jose State 10

What? Miami (OH) 31, Central Michigan 14

HuhArizona State 37, No. 24 Oregon 35

Are you kidding me??  No. 16 TCU 44, No. 6 Oklahoma State 31

Oh – my – GodNC State 27, No. 12 Florida State 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Clemson @ No. 13 Virginia Tech

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Eastern Michigan @ Kentucky

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ UCF

Upset alert: Vanderbilt @ No. 21 Florida

Must win: No. 11 Georgia @ Tennessee

Offensive explosion: No 5 USC @ No. 16 Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 24 Mississippi State @ No. 13 Auburn

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Miami @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Todd Graham of Arizona State vs David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 11 Ohio State @ Rutgers

Why are they playing? Troy @ No. 25 LSU

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ UNLV

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  New Mexico State @ Arkansas

Week 4 Take-aways:

One conclusion after today:  Michigan is good, and while Purdue is both exciting and improving, they are still not strong or far along enough in Coach Jeff Brohm’s turnaround campaign for the Boilermakers to be able to effectively take down the heavyweights of the conference.  Purdue was continually outmanned on both sides of the line of scrimmage due to the Wolverines’ obviously superior talent.  That said, at this rate, Purdue will eventually get to the point where they can upset if not defeat Michigan and the like.  Just not today.

This week has been characterized not so much by surprises or upsets as it has by narrow escapes.  That is to say, teams that were favored almost getting upset by underdogs, only to narrowly escape in the end.  To wit:  Tennessee only managed to eke out a 17-13 win over lowly UMass, at home.  South Carolina defeated struggling Louisiana Tech by only one point, 17-16.  After a dismal start to the season, under-performing Baylor briefly led No. 3 Oklahoma in the second half before eventually losing by only eight points, 49-41.

Oh, but it gets better.  No. 4 Penn State had to score a touchdown in literally the last second of the game to triumph over Iowa, 21-19.  Then, unranked Kentucky was leading No. 20 Florida throughout a good chunk of the game, but gradually gave up the lead to the Gators in the 4th quarter, allowing the Gators to win, 28-27.  Let’s face it:  if you’re Kentucky, you blow 4th quarter leads to Florida.  It’s what you do.

Last note:  how on Earth did Stanford lose to San Diego State last week?  Yes, SDSU is currently ranked No. 22, but Stanford would have been ranked higher than that had they not allowed that notch in the “L” column.  Did losing to USC take that much out of the Cardinal?  Speaking of SDSU and narrow escapes, the Aztecs did beat unranked Air Force today, but only by four points.  But that might be more of a commentary on the Falcon’s ball-control, option-oriented offense and less on possible consistencies on the part of the former team.

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College Football Awards, Week 3 (2017) September 17, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Lucky guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Matt Rhule, Baylor

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma (defeated Tulane 56-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (defeated Mercer 24-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to No. 16 Virginia Tech 64-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (defeated No. 18 Kansas State 14-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Missouri 35-3)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State

Did the season start?  LSU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endDuke

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 4 USC 27, Texas 24

Play this again, too:  No. 24 Florida 26, No. 23 Tennessee 20

Never play this again: Arizona 64, UTEP 16

What? No. 24 Florida 26, No. 23 Tennessee 20

HuhMemphis 48, No. 25 UCLA 45

Double HuhNorthern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

Are you kidding me??  Vanderbilt 14, No. 18 Kansas State 7

Oh – my – GodMississippi State 37, No. 12 LSU 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for:  No. 16 TCU @ No. 6 Oklahoma State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: UCF @ Maryland

Best non-Power Five matchup: Ohio U @ Eastern Michigan

Upset alert: No. 17 Mississippi State @ No. 11 Georgia

Must win: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ No. 14 Miami

Defensive struggle: Pitt @ Georgia Tech

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ North Carolina

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. Jeff Brohm of Purdue

Who’s bringing the body bags? UNLV @ No. 10 Ohio State

Why are they playing? UMass @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Rice

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Georgia Southern @ Indiana

Week 3 Take-aways:

The Clemson-at-Louisville game was the game of the week, and on paper, such a designation was obvious.  But sometimes these “games of the week” become lopsided affairs.  This was sadly such a game, whereby the Tigers triumphed over the host Cardinals, 41-27.  Did the game’s outcome have to weigh so heavily in favor or Clemson?  No.  The problem for Louisville was a combination of a few things.  For one, the Tigers’ offense had incredible speed in their skill positions that kept Louisville’s secondary on their toes the whole night.  The second was their powerful offensive line opened up huge gaps up the middle, allowing their runningback to gain lots of yardage between the tackles.  Much of that could have been cancelled out had Louisville’s offense been allowed to fire on all proverbial cylinders.  Why the hindrance?  Because head coach Bobby Petrino seemed bent on trying to mold Heisman winner Lamar Jackson into another Aaron Rogers, when he is clearly another Michael Vick instead.  Petrino is apparently so bent on micro-managing his quarterback that he has forgotten that an artist needs to be allowed to be, well, an artist.  Let Jackson play to his strengths, and Louisville’s offense shall rise to the level of its potential.  But as long as Petrino continues to micromanage the offense the way he currently is, the Cardinals’ offense shall continue to stagnate.  The choice is that simple.

Meanwhile, what a game in Los Angeles.  The 2005-2006 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was the greatest college football game of my lifetime.  This was the first time Texas and USC had played each other since, and like the previous game, it did not disappoint, with plenty of drama and big plays on both sides.  Despite the unranked Horns’ eventual loss, the moral victory is theirs in that they took the No. 4-ranked Trojans into overtime and only lost by a field goal.  For the first time this year, Texas finally played up to its potential.  Even though moral victories are not counted in any statistic or record book, this is one that Coach Tom Herman can build upon if he is smart about it.

That said, the moral victory for Texas might have been an actual one had it not been for the Longhorns’ four turnovers that game.

Meanwhile, what a difference an offseason and change of coaches can make.  Purdue was a gutter team last year.  Then, out with previous head coach Darrell Hazell, in with new head coach Jeff Brohm, and the difference in team performance is as stark as night and day.  The Boilermakers have grown into a team not to be taken lightly.  Their only loss was to a strong Louisville team.  The following week they won, handily, over Ohio U, one of the best teams in the MAC.  This week, they journeyed to Missouri to take on the Tigers, whom the Boilermakers rolled, 35-3.  This upcoming weekend, they play No. 8 Michigan.  On paper, the odds heavily favor the Wolverines, but do not be surprised if Purdue takes Michigan to the wire just like Texas did with USC this week.

As an aside, Kentucky has beaten South Carolina for the fourth straight time.  The past two times, Will Muschamp has been at the helm of the Gamecocks.  How many more times are the fans going to tolerate such an embarrassing loss to a team that barely belongs in their conference before they run Muschamp out of town on a rail?

College Football Awards, Week 1 (2017) September 11, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Matt Rhule, Baylor

Lucky guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: D.J. Durkin, Maryland

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 14 Stanford (defeated Rice 62-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Pitt (defeated Youngstown State 28-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Akron (lost to No. 6 Penn State 52-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Buffalo (lost to Minnesota 17-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Colorado State (defeated Oregon State 58-27)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Akron

Can’t Stand Prosperity: 

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44

Play this again, too:  No. 16 Louisville 35, Purdue 28

Never play this again: No. 14 Stanford 62, Rice 7

Close call:  Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 17

What? Tennessee State 17, Georgia State 10

HuhJames Madison 34, East Carolina 14

Double-Huh? Howard 43, UNLV 40

Are you kidding me??  Maryland 51, No. 23 Texas 41

Oh – my – GodLiberty 48, Baylor 45

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 1, pre-week 2)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Oklahoma @ No. 2 Ohio State

Keep an eye on this one:  No. 15 Georgia @ Notre Dame

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Michigan @ Michigan State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Buffalo @ Army

Upset alert: No. 16 Louisville @ North Carolina

Must win: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 4 USC

Offensive explosion: Nebraska @ Oregon

Defensive struggle: Buffalo @ Army

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ Arkansas

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Gary Patterson of TCU vs. Bret Bielema of Arkansas

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

Why are they playing? San Jose State @ Texas

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

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UAB @ Ball State

Week 1 Take-aways:

What is wrong in Austin?  Tom Herman, supposedly a fine, young offensive mind (and Urban Meyer protégé), has not started off his tenure at Texas well.  The Longhorns lost, at home, to Maryland, 51-41.  The Terps are hardly an offensive juggernaut, either.  The loss frankly stinks.  What accounts for this?  It could be perhaps that Herman has yet to bring in the recruits that he needs to compete at a top-ten level.  But perhaps the most likely reason of all is that the Horns were simply looking past Maryland, devoting all their relatively limited practice and preparation time to USC, a marquee matchup that will take place two weeks from now.  How else to account for such an embarrassing debut?

Let us admit this without hesitation:  notwithstanding their close loss today, Purdue’s turnaround performance is quite impressive.  Jeff Brohm debuted as the Boilermakers’ head coach in a less-than-ideal match for one’s inaugural game.  In this case, it was against a formidable Louisville team, at Lucas Oil Stadium (neutral site) in Indianapolis.  On paper, the Cardinals should have made mincemeat out of a Purdue team that, theoretically, would still be recovering from the Darrell Hazell malaise.  Luckily for Purdue, that was not the case.  The Boilers’ performance has markedly improved on both sides of the ball.  Moreover, they played consistently hard throughout the game, and – with the luck of three turnovers by the Cardinals – kept the game close and interesting throughout regulation.  If this impressive performance is a harbinger of what is to come, then Purdue shall have a comparatively respectable record despite a semi-brutal schedule.

Meanwhile, how rare a treat it is that fans can enjoy a top-five matchup to kick off the season!  That is exactly what we the fans enjoyed when No. 1 Alabama took on No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta (played inside the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, no less).  Speaking of great games, another fine example was No. 11 Michigan playing No. 17 Florida in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  Once again, we the fans got our money’s worth.  Sure, there were lots of throwaway games today, especially in the Noon Eastern Time slot.  But these two games, along with the Louisville-Purdue game (all three of which were, interestingly, played in NFL stadiums), more than made up for that, and it all adds up to a great start to the 2017-2018 college football season.  Let the games begin, and the good times roll!

Postscript:  Bobby Petrino won an engaging game.  Why is he thus “desperately seeking a wake-up call”?  Simple reason:  his team had three turnovers that game, which were a contributing factor to why the game’s score was so close (seven points difference in the end).  Two of those turnovers are at the goal line.  Mistakes like that will cost the Cardinals dearly as they delve into the conference part of their schedule.  Remember what happened in November of last year?  ‘Tis best to fix and pre-empt those mistakes NOW.

Speaking of wake-up calls, put Texas A&M down for an honorable mention.  There is no excuse to blow a 37-10 lead like that in the second half, with the Aggies allowing the bulk of the scoring in the 4th quarter.  For shame, Aggies.  Yet, at the same time, good on Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora and QB Josh Rosen for engineering such a comeback.

College Football Awards Week 5 October 4, 2015

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ClemsonND2015

Clemson triumphed over Notre Dame in what was perhaps the most thrilling game of the season thus far. Mandatory photo credit: Joshua S. Kelly of USA TODAY Sports

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 5] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Al Golden, Miami

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Mora, UCLA

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Rhule, Temple

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: TCU (defeated Texas 50-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Michigan State (defeated Purdue 24-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Texas (lost to No. 4 TCU 50-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 2 Michigan State 24-21) T

hought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa (defeated North Texas 62-16)

Dang, they’re good: TCU

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ole Miss

Did the season start? Georgia Tech

Can the season end?  Wyoming

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 12 Clemson 24, No. 6 Notre Dame 22

Play this again, too:  Arkansas 24, Tennessee 20

Never play this again: No. 4 TCU 50, Texas 7

What? Tulane 45, UCF 31

HuhIowa 10, #19 Wisconsin 6

Are you kidding me?  No. 12 Clemson 24, No. 6 Notre Dame 22

Oh – my – GodArizona State 38, No. 7 UCLA 23

Told you so:  Louisville 20, N.C. State 13

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)

Ticket to die for:  No. 10 Oklahoma vs. Texas in the Cotton Bowl

Also:  No. 13 Northwestern @ No. 18 Michigan

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Syracuse @ South Florida

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 25 Boise State @ Colorado State

Upset alert: Miami (Fla.) @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Wisconsin @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: No. 23 Cal @ No. 5 Utah

Defensive struggle: Illinois @ No. 22 Iowa

Great game no one is talking about:  No. 21 Oklahoma State @ West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Jim Harbaugh of Michigan

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 Baylor @ Kansas

Why are they playing? New Mexico State @ No. 14 Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Portland State @ North Texas

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

Week 5 Take-aways:

What a weekend for college football!  The grand irony is that this week left more questions than answers.

What a game it was in Clemson, S.C.  Notre Dame came to town ranked No. 6 in the nation.  The Tigers were ranked twelfth.  ESPN’s Gameday crew was there.  A massive rainstorm persisted throughout the day and night.  Fans watching on national TV witnessed the team descend the hill in “Death Valley” to take on the highly-ranked Fighting Irish.  Mistakes were made on both sides:  typical ups-and-downs of a thrilling contest between highly-ranked teams.  In the end, the Tigers triumphed.

But all of this ought not to obfuscate that Brian Kelly has built a strong program in South Bend.  Were they overrated at No. 6?  Definitely.  Are they still a tough team?  Definitely.

Tennessee lost yet another heartbreaker, this time to Arkansas.  It was a close contest throughout the game, but the same problem continues to plague the Vols:  they have yet to learn how to close a game, which is to say, they need to learn to stop blowing leads late in games.

Steve Spurrier dropped yet another game to a low-standing team in the SEC.  Is it too early to say that the wheels might be coming off the program?  Will Spurrier eventually have the fortitude to fall on his sword and thus clear the path for the program to be lead in a new direction?

Worse yet is the condition of the Texas Longhorns, who just got drubbed by TCU in Fort Worth, 50-7.  Yes, Coach Gary Patterson has gradually built up a super-strong program over the years, but is the lack of quarterback play on the part of the Longhorns the only thing that explains such a debacle, or is it something more systemic than who is the head coach?

Oh, and this slump could not come at a worse time, as Texas takes on Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl next week.

The Cincinnati Bearcats have given us two good Thursday night games in a row, and in the process, have walked away with two wins.  The most recent one was home over the Miami Hurricanes.  There has already been grumbling around Coral Gables that Al Golden has not brought the Canes back to the level of prominence that the faithful would like to see.  Is losing to UC a fireable offense, in culmination of this lack of expected progress?

How does one explain Michigan State’s lackluster performance at home against weak Purdue?  The Boilermakers were just a field goal away late in the 4th quarter from tying the game in regulation.  Have the Boilers improved that much in just one week since losing a near-gimme game the previous contest?  Regardless, it will be very interesting to see if Purdue can sustain any sort of improvement as the season progresses.

Ole Miss was rolling after defeating then-No. 3 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.  The Rebels thus proved that they were both a tough team to reckon with and a team that could win on the road in a hostile environment.  And yet, when they ventured into The Swamp to play Florida, they laid an egg.  Yes, the Gators are improving week-by-week under the able leadership of Jim McElwain, but this alone cannot explain such an embarrassing defeat.  Perhaps Coach Freeze did not have his men fully prepared, or, a critical mass of the team decided to take the game off, thinking it would not be as challenging as playing Bama.  Such are the vicissitudes of college football, where 19 and 20-year olds are susceptible to such emotional roller coasters week to week that can negatively affect their level of play.  It is a problem that coaches do not have to deal with in the pros, thankfully.

On a bright note, Bobby Petrino has his Louisville Cardinals slowly improving.  Yes, they got their first win in a body bag game at home against Samford, but then they won, on the road, against a decent NC State team, in the rain.  If that is not improvement, can somebody tell me what is?

College Football Week 8 Awards October 19, 2014

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FSU-NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Lucky guy: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Poor guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor
Desperately seeking … anything: Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 8 Michigan State (defeated Indiana 56-17)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated North Carolina State 30-18)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to No. 22 USC 56-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 34-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 7 Alabama (defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0)

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

You know, they’re not so bad: Minnesota
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Baylor

Did the season start? Texas A&M
Can the season end? Georgia State
Can the season never end? Florida State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Florida State 31, No. 5 Notre Dame, 27

Play this again, too: No. 20 Utah 29, Oregon State 23
Never play this again: South Carolina 41, Furman 10

What? Nevada 42, BYU 35

Huh? No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Are you kidding me? No. 7 Alabama 59, No. 21 Texas A&M 0 (the shear blowout)

Oh – my – God: West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 24 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ Central Florida

Upset alert: Texas @ No. 11 Kansas State

Must win: No. 22 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Arizona @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Miami @ Virginia Tech
Great game no one is talking about: BYU @ Boise State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 1 Mississippi State @ Kentucky (also:  UConn @ No. 18 East Carolina)

Why are they playing? UAB @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Florida Atlantic @ No. 23 Marshall

 

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

  • While Michigan State is a solid choice for the “Thought you’d kick butt, you did” weekly award, the truth is, a number of teams ended up kicking butt, that in hindsight made sense that they would. Start with South Carolina (see: last week’s “Why are they playing?” nod), who beat relatively hapless Furman 41-10. In hindsight, a resurgent Ohio State team against a Rutgers team still learning to navigate the terrain of the Big Ten was also a clear would-be drubbing (result: 56-17). Even more obvious was the Colorado @ USC match-up. The Buffaloes still cannot get things together, while Steve Sarkesian is slowly building the Trojans back to national prominence. The 56-28 result, therefore, came as not surprise.
  • While Alabama could not be a more obvious choice for the weekly “Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did” award (59-0 over Texas A&M, their biggest lopsided shutout in 35 years), other games would have been decent choices as well. Start with Marshall’s butt-kicking of Florida International, 45-13. Even more of a surprise, though, was TCU’s drubbing of Oklahoma State, 42-9. On paper, these were closely-matched teams (No. 12 vs. No. 15, respectively). Turns out that in reality, they were not that close in terms of competitive prowess after all. Further down the food chain, Appalachian State – a newcomer to the FCS – beat up on Troy unexpectedly, 53-14. Sounds like the latter is a “Can the season end?” candidate. Stay tuned.
  • Last night’s Notre Dame @ Florida State slugfest is already an instant classic. Clearly one of the biggest, best games of the season thus far, it wins the “Play this again” award hands down. That said, despite some lop-sided victories in football this past weekend, plenty other games merit a second look nevertheless. Start with the late Thursday night game on the West Coast, Utah @ Oregon State. The Utes went into Reser Stadium, took the Beavers into overtime, and walked out victorious. Speaking of the West Coast, take a look at the final score between UCLA @ Cal (spoiler alert: 36-34). Consider that you have the Bruins vs. Golden Bears, and two different shades of blue and gold going head-to-head, in the same conference, no less. With such similarities, such a score result is only fitting. In the Big Ten, one was able to enjoy an interesting matchup between Minnesota and Purdue. On one hand, the Golden Gophers have quietly risen to the top of their division in the conference, while Purdue has quietly improved from their doldrums. Indeed, the Boilers almost won on the road.
  • Notre Dame remains an enigma. After so many close calls against inferior teams, surely they would not have played No. 2 Florida State as closely as they did on the road. Not when having to result to strokes of luck to win against Stanford. Not when allowing Purdue to play them as closely as they did in Indianapolis. Yet on Saturday night, they played in Tallahassee like they deserved to be the 5th-ranked team in the nation. Further monitoring of the team will be in order to make sense of this inconsistent behavior. Fortunately, the schedule is such that it will allow for further clarity to be reached as it plays out. The Fighting Irish journey to Tempe, Ariz., to play Arizona State in three weeks, followed by Northwestern and then Louisville at home. Then, they cap off the season in Los Angeles against USC. One takes any one of those teams lightly at his own peril (translation: if the Irish fail to bring their A-game to any one of these matchups, they’re doomed).
  • As an aside, part of Ole Miss now being taken seriously in the national rankings (No. 3, currently), is that their defense is given plenty of respect with an up-and-coming brand: the “land shark” defense. One must admit, that has a nice ring to it!

College Football Week 7 Awards October 13, 2014

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(MissSt_Auburn2014 Note: All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Wish I were him, too: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Lucky guy: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Charlie Strong, Texas
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim McElwain, Colorado State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Desperately seeking … anything: Paul Petrino, Idaho

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Tennessee (beat Chattanooga 45-10)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 6 Notre Dame (beat North Carolina 50-43)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Chattanooga (lost to Tennessee 45-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Purdue (lost to No. 8 Michigan State 45-31)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 13 Georgia (defeated No. 23 Missouri 34-0)

Dang, they’re good: Mississippi State (and Ole Miss)
Dang, they’re bad: UConn

You know, they’re not so bad: Central Florida
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Missouri

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end? Idaho
Can the season never end? Ole Miss and Mississippi State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Baylor 58, No. 9 TCU 61

Play this again, too: LSU 30, Florida 27
Never play this again: Arkansas State 52, Georgia State 10

What? Iowa 45, Indiana 21

Huh? USC 28, No. 10 Arizona 26
Are you kidding me? Duke 31, No. 22 Georgia Tech 25

Oh – my – God: No. 3 Mississippi State 38, No. 2 Auburn 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Ticket to die for: No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 2 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Fresno State @ Boise State

Upset alert: No. 10 Georgia @ Arkansas

Must win: No. 21 Texas A&M @ No. 7 Alabama

Offensive explosion: No. 4 Baylor @ West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Kentucky @ LSU
Great game no one is talking about: Utah State @ Colorado State

Intriguing coaching matchup: David Shaw of Stanford vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State (also, Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 22 USC

Why are they playing? Furman @ South Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ Idaho

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Southern Miss @ North Texas

Week 7 Random Thoughts:

  • This weekend was almost as epic as the previous one. True, there were the amount of upsets to match last week, but there were great matchups and key tests therein. Both flagship schools from the Magnolia State proved that they not only could stand prosperity, but that last week’s wins proved to be no flukes. Indeed, Ole Miss went in to College Station, Texas, in front of the largest crowd ever to assemble for a football game in the Lone Star State (106,000 fans), and beat the Aggies in convincing fashion, 35-20. Meanwhile, Mississippi State had just as huge a challenge as they had the previous week, if not even more so in a cagey Auburn squad. The fact that they beat the Tigers/War Eagles at home shows that the Bulldogs are for real, and that their No. 1 ranking is no happenstance.
  • Last week I observed of the inconclusiveness of Purdue’s win over Illinois. The unanswered question at the time was, had the Boilermakers improved that much from their inept showing against Iowa the previous week, or were the Illini just that bad? After their respectable showing against a very tough Michigan State squad, I am compelled to conclude that they have, in fact, improved: clearly a positive trend.

Josiah Price, Ja'Whan Bentley

  • So what was up with those God-awful, all-white uniforms that Purdue wore at home? It turns out that they intended to use neon-yellow trim on their uniforms for some sort of breast cancer awareness gesture. For some inexplicable reason, Nike refused to make a black jersey for them in that sort of trim, so the Boilers went all-white instead. Sounds like the Boilers should switch to Under Armor, for such a refusal for a team is most unbecoming. Seeing things another way, would Nike have a refused such a thing to, say, Oregon?
  • They say that the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. The Longhorns demonstrated that in spades against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Statistically, they dominated the Sooners, but too many miscues, penalties and turnovers caused them to give up the game. Even more ironic was that the Sooners were ranked ahead of Texas anyhow. Now we know why. Charlie Strong has his work cut out for him in terms of stemming such mistakes in the near future.

Week 6 College Football Awards October 6, 2014

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OleMissvBama2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Wish I were him, too: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Glad I’m not him: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Lucky guy: Will Muschamp, Florida

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jim McElwain, Colorado State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles, LSU
Desperately seeking … anything: Brady Hoke, Michigan

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 1 Florida State  (beat Wake Forest 43-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 1 Florida State (defeated NC State 56-41)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Maryland (lost to No. 20 Ohio State 52-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Northwestern (defeated No. 17 Wisconsin 20-14)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 5 Auburn (defeated No. 18 LSU 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn
Dang, they’re bad: Florida Atlantic

You know, they’re not so bad: Utah
Can’t Stand Prosperity: UCLA

Did the season start? Tennessee
Can the season end? Michigan
Can the season never end? Ole Miss and Mississippi State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 1 Alabama 17

Play this again, too: Utah 30, No. 8 UCLA 28
Never play this again: Clemson 41, NC State 0

What? No. 12 Mississippi State 48, No. 6 Texas A&M 31

Huh? No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33
Are you kidding me? Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24
Oh – my – God: No. 11 Ole Miss 23, No. 3 Alabama 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for: No. 2 Auburn @ No. 3 Mississippi State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Miami
Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Central Florida

Upset alert: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 12 Texas A&M

Must win: Texas vs. No. 11 Oklahoma in Dallas

Offensive explosion: Washington @ California

Defensive struggle: LSU @ Florida
Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Clemson

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of TCU vs. Art Briles of Baylor

Who’s bringing the body bags? Chattanooga @ Tennessee (also, No. 9 Michigan State @ Purdue)

Why are they playing? Charleston Southern @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Eastern Michigan

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Louisiana-Monroe @ Kentucky

 

Week 6 Random Thoughts:

  • In all the years I have followed college football closely (two decades and counting), I honestly cannot recall a weekend where the top-ten rankings were turned upside-down with upsets. Indeed, upsets abounded all over the place. To wit, Thursday night, Arizona went into noisy Autzen Stadium and upset the No. 2 Oregon Ducks. Friday night, Utah State beat deceptively-tough No. 18 BYU. Then on Saturday during the noon timeslot, Mississippi State finally earned a big win over a top-ten opponent in Texas A&M. Following that, Ole Miss beat No. 3 Alabama. The last time the Rebels went 5-0, John F. Kennedy was in the White House. If that is not enough, TCU went into Norman, Okla., and upset the Sooners. Let us not forget that out on the West Coast, unranked Utah upset No. 8 UCLA out in the Rose Bowl. So, just so everybody is up to speed, the No. 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8-ranked teams all went down.
  • Regarding Purdue’s win on the road at Illinois, it remains inconclusive as to whether or not the Boilermakers have improved that much since stinking out the joint against Iowa on homecoming weekend, or if the Illini are even more inept than Purdue.
  • So with all the top-ten teams going down to defeat this past Saturday, how come No. 1 Florida State escaped unscathed? That would not have anything to do with the fact that they played Wake Forest, would it?
  • With all the top-ten teams upset, it might have escaped the notice of many fans that unranked Northwestern also pulled off an upset over the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers. Given the Wildcats’ mediocre performances thus far, none of us saw that one coming.
  • I cannot help but surmise that the only thing the saved Notre Dame’s bacon at home against Stanford was the positively nasty weather that no doubt threw the Cardinal a bit off their game. Otherwise, the Irish might have (indeed should have) been exposed.
  • For those of us who are waiting for the opportunity for Notre Dame to be exposed as the truly overrated team they are, mark your calendars for Nov. 8, when they play Florida State, followed by Nov. 22. On that date, they play the Louisville Cardinals. Just sayin’.

Week 3 College Football Awards September 16, 2014

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

Purdue v Notre DameCOACHES
Wish I were him: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas
Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ruffin McNeil, East Carolina

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Steve Sarkisian, USC
Desperately seeking … anything:  Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 22 Ohio State (defeated Kent State 66-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Vanderbilt (defeated UMass 34-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (see first line above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Colorado (lost to No. 16 Arizona State 38-24)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Syracuse (defeated Central Michigan 40-3)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  Eastern Michigan
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42

Play this again, too:  Middle Tennessee 50, Western Kentucky 47
Never play this again: No. 8 Baylor 63, Buffalo 21

Told you so:  Penn State 13, Rutgers 10

What? Virginia 23, No. 21 Louisville 21

HuhNo. 24 South Carolina 38, No. 6 Georgia 35

Are you kidding meEast Carolina 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 21

Oh – my – GodBoston College 38, No. 9 USC 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for (sort of):  No. 22 Clemson @ No. 1 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: North Carolina @ East Carolina
Best non-Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Memphis

Upset alert: Miami (Fla.) @ No. 24 Nebraska

Must win: Southern Illinois @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: No. 2 Oregon @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ No. 21 BYU

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gus Malzahn of Auburn vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Texas A&M @ SMU

Why are they playing? Troy @ No. 13 Georgia

Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho @ Ohio U

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Eastern Michigan @ No. 11 Michigan State

Week 3 Random Thoughts:

–  Just when you think that Louisville is rolling again under second, non-consecutive term head coach Bobby Petrino (paging Grover Cleveland), the Cards lay an egg on the road.  Virginia is not that bad of a team, but that is still no excuse for all the quarterback miscues that seemed to plague U of L throughout the game, leading to the disappointing result.  Perhaps Petrino should consider playing the freshman QB?

–  Virginia Tech seems nothing if not consistent when it comes to losing games the week after winning a big one.

–  They say that football can be a game of inches.  In the case of South Carolina upsetting intra-conference and border rival Georgia, it was a game of one inch.  Period.  Well, that and a good (favorable?) spotting of the ball by the refs after 4th and one inch.

–  Perhaps Oregon might have been saving a little energy for future endeavors later this season.  How else might one explain a win over Wyoming by a score of only 48-12?  Given how well the Ducks have played thus far, you’d think the Cowboys got off easy.

–  Did Purdue acquit themselves against No. 11 Notre Dame, or are the Fighting Irish that mediocre?  In the wake of the Boilermakers embarrassing themselves at home last week to Central Michigan, coupled with ND demolishing Michigan, one would have thought that the annual in-state rivalry game would have meant utter demolition for Purdue.  Instead, the Boilers ended up leading, however briefly, in the first half, scoring two touchdowns on the Irish.  Such an effort compelled Notre Dame to increase their efforts, allowing them to gradually win over the course of the second half, 30-14.  The reason that so many people naturally incline towards the former answer is that they want to believe the Notre Dame hype (it sells, after all!).  But what we keep learning, and continue to have to keep learning over the past 10-15 years, is that Notre Dame is once again overrated.  The real question, therefore, to consider is, how bad is Michigan?

–  That being said, Notre Dame’s helmets for that game did look rather neat.  It is a long time coming that they incorporated a blue “ND” logo on to their gold shells.  The single, blue center stripe was a nice touch, too.  The jury is still out on the latitude-longitude, “globe lines” effect, though.  Moreover, I can do without that weird brocade effect on the shoulders of the jerseys.

–  Is Texas in trouble?  First, they lost ignominiously at home to BYU last week.  Then, they lose to an increasingly good UCLA team, ostensibly at a neutral site, though hardly anybody could consider the Horns playing in Dallas as playing on neutral turf, be it the Cotton Bowl or AT&T Stadium.  Yes, Jim Mora has truly breathed intensity into the Bruins program at Westwood, Calif., but there is still no excuse for such a proud, tradition-and-resource laden program as Texas to suffer two such consecutive losses.  Is Coach Strong in over his head at Austin?  It would be a very painful thing to acknowledge, to be sure.  The wise thing, at this point, is to allow the rest of the season (and how it plays out) to answer that question.

–  If we were to apply the law of transitive properties, just how badly would Syracuse beat Purdue if the two played each other right about now?

College Football Week 2 Awards September 8, 2014

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Yes, we’re back.  After having missed handing out last week’s awards due to travels abroad (having visited two, count ’em, TWO different continents in the Eastern Hemisphere!), we’re back, and as Little Richard would say, we’re ready-ready-ready to rock n’ roll!

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

 

COACHES
Wish I were him: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dan Enos, Central Michigan

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything: Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 9 Texas A&M (defeated Lamar 73-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 19 Nebraska (defeated McNeese State 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to No. 5 Auburn 59-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Memphis (lost to No. 11 UCLA 42-35)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 15 Ole Miss (defeated Vanderbilt, 41-3)

Dang, they’re good: Texas A&M
Dang, they’re bad: SMU
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Texas

Did the season start? Ohio State
Can the season end? Miami (Ohio)
Can the season never end? Oregon

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 14 USC 13, No. 13 Stanford 10
Never play this again: No. 23 Clemson 73, South Carolina State 7

What? Eastern Kentucky 17, Miami (Ohio) 10

Huh? No. 16 Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
Are you kidding me? Virginia Tech 35, No. 8 Ohio State 21
Oh – my – God: BYU 41, Texas 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for: No. 6 Georgia @ No. 21 South Carolina

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Nebraska @ Fresno State
Best non-Power Five matchup: New Mexico State @ UTEP

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 4 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 12 UCLA vs Texas

Offensive explosion: Louisiana Tech @ North Texas
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Louisville @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bret Bielema of Arkansas vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? Wyoming @ No. 2 Oregon

Why are they playing? No. 8 Baylor @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Eastern Michigan @ Old Dominion

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Boise State @ UConn

 

Week 2 Take-aways:

This week’s results do NOT bode well for the Big Ten! Where to begin?

  • For starters, Illinois had to squeak by Western Kentucky, 42-34.
  • Then there was Nebraska having to score a last-minute touchdown to beat lowly McNeese State at home, 31-24. Way to live up to that No. 19 ranking, Cornhuskers!
  • Cracks in the proverbial damn truly became evident with Purdue’s ignominious loss at home to Central Michigan – a team that the Boilermakers have historically owned – 38-17.
  • Of course, Wisconsin was supposed to make mincemeat of Western Illinois, so nothing to see there: moving on.
  • Iowa slowly plodded to victory over Ball State, 17-13; hardly an impressive win.
  • Penn State seemed to allow Akron to make a game of it, 21-3.
  • Middle Tennessee seemed to provide some challenge to Minnesota, losing to the Golden Gophers only 35-24.
  • Northern Illinois actually did beat a well-coached Northwestern team, 23-15.

The best part (“best” being used facetiously) was that it got worse as the day progressed.

  • In the evening, Notre Dame undressed Michigan, 31-0
  • Then-unranked Virginia Tech came into the Horseshoe to upset then-No 8 Ohio State in a very embarrassing way, 35-21. Are the Buckeyes that crippled without Braxton Miller?
  • At least then-No. 7 Michigan State had a valid excuse, losing late in the game, on the road, (heck, on the West Coast) to current-No. 2 Oregon. Moreover, in further defense of the Spartans, they made a good game of it for more than half of the match-up. Still, a loss is a loss.

Yes, this will really bolster the conference’s credibility with the selection committee come season’s end.

In other news, it appears as though Charlie Strong truly does have his work cut out for him at Texas. The problem with the flagship program of the Lone Star State was that it lost its intensity, that things had become both stale and too synthetic under previous head coach Mack Brown. Strong had proven that he could restore the intensity of one program already at the University of Louisville: the powers started to think that he could do the same thing at Texas. Well, evidently he has not restored enough intensity to that program. Either that, or BYU just has the Longhorns’ number, but I doubt it.

American Pride Sliding Down the Track at Sochi February 16, 2014

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IMG_1743

The author with the United States bobsled team after they won the 4-man world championship at Lake Placid in 2012. I was so elated to have my picture taken with these fine fellows, my grin distorted my smile! L-R: Steve Holcomb, Steve Langton, Patrick Murray, Justin Olsen, and Curt Tomasevicz.

With a full week of the Winter Olympic Games at Sochi now in the books, it is finally time for my personal favorite winter sport to commence, that of bobsled (“bobsleigh” being the preferred international, i.e., non-American term).  With recent success in the sport over the past 12 years, surely the bobsled events are to gather some decent attention here in the United States, and with good reason.  We stand good chances of winning medals in all three events (2-man, women’s, and 4-man), but more importantly, we have great athletes who are also outstanding individuals representing the U.S.A.

When I first started watching the Olympics in earnest as a youngster (Calgary 1988 to be exact), I’ll never forget the first time I saw a sled fly down the track on TV.  I thought to myself, “Oh my, that was so cool!  What is that?”  Needless to say, I got hooked on bobsledding, and eagerly anticipated watching those events above all others during every Winter Olympics cycle.

If you are a football and track & field guy like I am, this is the winter sport for you.  It combines the strength, speed and power aspects of football and track, as well as the team coordination of football.  Make no mistake about it; bobsledders are the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in all of the Winter Olympic events.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at how Johnny Quinn (a pusher for USA-2) managed to escape being trapped inside a bathroom.

Plus, it’s racing on ice, and in a country that enjoys auto racing as much as we do, that should seriously count for something as well.  And yes, our 4-man sleds are built with NASCAR technology, which is why they’re the best!

In any event, the Games in 1992, 1994, and 1998 all ticked by, and every time I watched in frustration as a medal in the sport continued to elude us.  It therefore goes without saying that one of my favorite moments of the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake was witnessing on TV USA-2 break a 46-year* medal drought by winning a bronze medal in the 4-man event, only to be bolstered further by USA-1 winning the silver.  America was “back” in the sport, and it felt great.  The fact that women’s bobsled was introduced as an Olympic event that year, with America winning the gold, was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Several years later, I started following the US bobsled team during the regular seasons (yes, there are such things in these relatively obscure Olympic sports), and started to learn the names of the fine fellows pushing and driving our American-designed and built sleds, courtesy of a project spearheaded by NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine.  The 2008-2009 season particularly grabbed my attention, as I found ways to watch the races online, and pay close attention to the news of Team USA winning the 2009 World Championship, the first time America won such a distinction in literally 50 years (1959).  The following year, we won the gold medal in the Vancouver Winter Games, the first time we achieved that since 1948 at St. Moritz.

IMG_1357

With my good friend and fellow Purdue Boilermaker Doug Sharp, who was part of the USA-2 4-man team that ended America’s 46-year medal drought in bobsled by winning the bronze at Salt Lake in 2002. Behind us is the “NightTrain” sled that our American boys used to win the gold medal at Vancouver in 2010.

I had the blessed opportunity to travel up to Lake Placid, New York (as in, the holy grail of Winter Olympics in the Western Hemisphere) to photograph the 4-man world championships there in late Feb. of 2012 (photography being my main hobby these days).  There, I met up with a friend of mine and fellow Purdue Boilermaker, Doug Sharp, who was on the USA-2 team that won bronze at Salt Lake in ’02.  During the races, I managed to take some decent sports shots, despite my learning curve.  In between the races, though, my friend Doug introduced me to a number of bobsledders, both past and present.

After runs 1 and 2, for example, I was invited into the team garage — it was like being in the dugout with the Yankees!   There, I was able to meet John Napier, a fine younger driver who was at the time the driver for USA-2.  I also met Chris Fogt, who earned a spot on the USA-1 team at the start of this season.  Moreover, I met both Adam Clark and Dallas Robinson, both from the Louisville, Ky., area (my native city and still current area of residence).  Robinson, interestingly enough, is now the brakeman for USA-2 at Sochi, both 2-man and 4-man.

During the VIP luncheon, I had the opportunity to thank a number of ladies and gentlemen for representing America so well with their accomplishments over the decade, but even after the part was over – several hours later – and the sun had already gone done, the day was not over yet.

When we left the track that evening, Doug took me over to the Olympic Training Center, where, in a most unexpected turn of events, I was able to meet three of the four current men of Team NightTrain** (such is the nickname for the USA-1 crew; they dubbed their sled “The NightTrain” during the 2008-’09 season for its fearsome black color scheme).  They were polishing their sled’s runners for runs three and four the next morning, and at this surprising opportunity, I once again was able to relay by heartfelt thanks for their efforts and for honoring our great nation in winning gold.

TeamNightTrain2012

USA-1 as they race down the track at Lake Placid, N.Y., during second of four runs, and en route to winning the 2012 4-Man Bobsled World Championship. Photo taken by the author.

Meeting and befriending these fine fellows was truly a pleasure.  Unlike the prominent athletes in major professional sports here in America (say, the NFL, MLB or NBA), these guys don’t get much attention for what they do.  In countries like Germany, or especially Switzerland, bobsled drivers garner as much fame as quarterbacks do here in the NFL.  How many people here in the States, who don’t follow the Olympics, know who Steve Holcomb is, let alone his push athlete teammates?

In addition to meeting Holcomb that evening, I was also able to meet Justin Olsen, who was part of the team that won gold in Vancouver.  Steve Langton took over for Steve Mesler after the latter retired, and the former is considered one of the finest push athletes in the world.  Watch for Langton as the brakeman for Holcomb in the 2-man event.  Nick Cunningham was also on hand to polish the runners for his sled.  Watch for him as the driver for USA-2 in both the 2-man and 4-man events.

They hail from all over this great land.  Holcomb comes from Park City, Utah, and was originally an alpine skier before taking up bobsled (interestingly enough, the legendary Italian driver Eugenio Monti was first a skier before he himself took up bobsleigh).  Nick Cunningham is from Monterey, Calif., home to one of the finest public aquariums in the world.  Justin Olsen is from San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the beacon of liberty that it represents to Texans and many Americans elsewhere.  Steve Langton is from the Boston area (and was a track star for Northeastern University).  The brakeman for Team NightTrain, Curt Tomasevicz – who will reportedly retire at the conclusion of these Games – hails from a small town in Nebraska, and was a linebacker for the Cornhuskers before taking up this sport.  Honestly, part of the fun of getting to know these guys was just talking to them about their native towns.

Suffice it to say these guys did not get into the sport for the fame, for there is relatively little (that is, on this side of the Atlantic, at least).  These guys compete for love of the sport and love of country.  In fact, many of these men support themselves as part of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, and have been, or still are, active in the National Guard.  Chris Fogt even served a tour of duty in Iraq.

But one thing that really struck me positively as I got to know these outstanding fellows is how much they appreciate their fans.  Many prominent professional athletes seem to wall themselves off from the majority of fans – given all the crazies out there, one can surely sympathize – and hard-core fans to them are a turn-off (here’s a tip:  want to ingratiate yourself to prominent professional athletes?  Be a fan who has perspective).  But to our American bobsledders, passionate fans are not a turn-off; in fact, they feed off their energy.

For the record, the ladies who represent America in the women’s bobsled events are no less gracious or appreciative of their fans as well.  Like their gentlemen counterparts, they are educated, industrious, dedicated, and down-to-earth.  In other words, they are every bit the embodiment of how we would ideally envision an Olympic athlete to be.

They, both the men and women, are also incredibly approachable.  They put on no airs of being “above it all,” and are always glad to meet new fans and supporters.  The fact that fans here in the States are relatively few and far between compared to the big money sports might be a factor in this, but that does not detract one iota from this positive trait.

What is even more amazing about what these talented, dedicated men and women achieve is that they do so on a relative shoestring budget compared to prominent programs in other countries.  Germany, Switzerland, and recently, Russia, lavish massive funds on their respective programs, albeit with mixed results.  Germany is never to be counted out, and the Swiss have performed decently in the 2-man as of late, having to earn back their dominant spot that they kept throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.  Russia is a constant threat to medal in the 4-man as well (Canada’s not too shabby either, fyi).  But this season, Team USA has been in contention to win almost the entire time, winning enough races for USA-1 to win the overall World Cup trophy in the 2-man event and finish second overall in the 4-man (the latter alone is impressive when you consider the crash they had at Winterberg, Germany in early January).  When one considers that these good fellows of ours achieve this with far less funding than other countries’ programs, it makes this momentous feat all the more incredible.

In short, the dedicated men and women that make up the U.S. Bobsled Team embody everything that we as fans ought to admire in world-class athletes.  You could not ask for more outstanding individuals representing the United States of America, and I for one cannot wait to cheer on my friends as they race down the ice at the Sanki Sliding Centre.  Go Team USA!

*Prior to 2002, the last time that the USA won a medal in bobsled was bronze in the 4-man event at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo.  Moreover, we have not won the gold in the 2-man event since 1936 (!) and have not medaled at all in it since 1952.  That could very well change come Monday.

**USA-1 won the 2009 World Championship, the gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the 2012 World Championship (all in 4-man) using the NightTrain sled.  Geoff Bodine’s “BoDyn” program soon designed a new sled for USA-1, which they immediately dubbed “NightTrain²”, and is the sled they have been using for the entire 2013-2014 season, the Sochi Games included.  USA-2 has thus inherited the original “NightTrain,” so both sleds will be put to good use!