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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 6 (2018) October 7, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Lucky guy: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Doeren, NC State

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chip Kelly, UCLA

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 63-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: West Virginia (defeated Kansas 38-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Clemson 63-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to West Virginia 38-22)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia Tech (defeated Louisville 66-31)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Boston College

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endTexas

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 63, Wake Forest 3

What? Utah 40, No. 14 Stanford 21

HuhTexas A&M 20, No. 13 Kentucky 14 (OT)

Double HuhMississippi State 23, No. 8 Auburn 9

Are you kidding me??  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Oh – my – GodNo. 22 Florida 27, No. 5 LSU 19

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Georgia @ No. 5 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 12 UCF @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 9 West Virginia @ Iowa State

Must win: No. 20 Michigan State @ No. 11 Penn State

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Washington @ No. 18 Oregon

Defensive struggle: No. 8 Auburn @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Georgia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Kevin Sumlin of Arizona

Who’s bringing the body bags? (inconclusive)

Why are they playing? (inconclusive)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Western Kentucky @ Charlotte

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Alabama State @ South Alabama

Week 6 Thoughts:

 Upsets have abounded this week, with each surprise seeming to supersede the other.  Texas made its presence known by toppling yet another ranked opponent, this time hated rival Oklahoma.  Whereas the Longhorns were ranked a respectable No. 19, the Sooners were top ten at No. 7.  It was almost the upset the never was, as the Sooners’ superior talent almost allowed for a complete comeback during the second half.  Only a last-minute field goal by Texas’ true freshman kicker won the day.

LSU’s occasional woes against Florida continued yesterday.  In 2003, the Gators upset the Tigers badly, almost spoiling their national title campaign.  This time around, the Bayou Bengals came in to the game at No. 5 in the nation, only to be upset by the (No. 22) Gators yet again, this time 27-19.  Time to see if Ed Orgeron’s team can bounce back from this loss and remain strong in the brutally competitive SEC West division.

Mississippi State has been in and out of the rankings, but this time, they played like a legitimately ranked team, toppling top-ten Auburn 23-9.  Perhaps the “clanga-clanga” atmosphere of Scott Field at night had something to do with it?

Speaking of atmospheres and night games, don’t look now, but Kentucky is a legitimately good team.  That said, apparently a night game in the hostile confines of Kyle Field (“Home of the 12th Man”) was too much to maintain their strong winning streak, for the Wildcats lost to the unranked Aggies in overtime, in what was a close, hard-fought game from start to end.

In an interesting night cap game, unranked Utah’s superior quickness gave No. 14 Stanford fits the entire evening.  The Cardinal has a bye-week to lick their wounds, while such a win for the Utes might merit a ranking in the next edition of the polls.

There were other upsets, too, such as Iowa State toppling No. 25 Oklahoma State.  It won’t get any easier for the Cowboys, as their next six games include ranked opponents (Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia), as well as Kansas State and potentially-ranked TCU.

Let us also not overlook another close, hard-fought game between Florida State and Miami.  The Seminoles tenaciously hung tough the entire game and eventually triumphed over the No. 17 Hurricanes 28-27.

In the Big Ten, unranked Northwestern (they actually start off the year ranked No. 15) upset No. 20 Michigan State, on the road, 29-19.  This is a genuine quality win for the Wildcats, as Mark Dantonio has, over the past several years, made his Spartans a tough out even for top-ten teams.  On paper, one would think MSU would have been a tougher out for Northwestern, but just goes to show that nothing is a given in the B1G.

But one of the biggest upsets of the day was also the biggest game of the day, as the Longhorns have won bragging rights over the Sooners for a year until they meet again next year in the Cotton Bowl amidst the annual Texas State Fair.

 

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2018) September 23, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

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

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Poor guy: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Illinois 63-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (defeated Army 28-21 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tulane (lost to No. 9 Ohio State 49-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Army (lost to Oklahoma 28-21 in OT)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas Tech (defeated No. 15 Oklahoma State 17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Nebraska

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Stanford 38, No. 20 Oregon 31

Play this again, too:  SMU 31, Navy 30

Never play this again: Appalachian State 72, Gardner-Webb 7

What? Purdue 30, No. 23 Boston College 13

HuhTexas Tech 41, No. 15 Oklahoma State 17

Double HuhIllinois State 35, Colorado State 19

Are you kidding me??  Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7

Oh – my – GodOld Dominion 49, No. 13 Virginia Tech 35

NEXT WEEK (Rankings are current AP, week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 9 Penn State

Also:  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 8 Notre Dame

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Texas Tech @ No. 12 West Virginia

Must win: Purdue @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ Fresno State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ No. 23 Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: No.18 Texas @ Kansas State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Tom Herman of Texas

Who’s bringing the body bags? Louisiana @ No. 1 Alabama

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ No. 10 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Tennessee State @ Vanderbilt

Week 4 Thoughts:

 Purdue has started the season as a major head-scratcher.  Coming off a surprising winning season after the Hazell-era doldrums, including a bowl win, the Boilermaker faithful had high hopes for the team in 2018.  Thus far, after an understandable, opening-season loss to then-ranked Northwestern, Purdue proceeded to lose squeakers at home to beatable teams, including [shudder], Eastern Michigan – a directional school.  Chalk it up to an undisciplined defense and a lack of a running game.  Regardless, the Boilers have their first win of the year, and, all things considered, it’s a rather big one, handily defeating No. 23 Boston College 30-13.  To be sure, Purdue did step it up on defense, and if they can maintain this newfound intensity on that side of the ball, there’s hope for the season yet.  All that said, sometimes it takes a few weeks for a good team to find its footing and thus to play up to its potential.

The team now becoming an even bigger head-scratcher is Louisville.  Sure, they lost badly to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide is such a juggernaut this year that most winning-season teams will look pathetic against them.  What really raised concerns was having to struggle, at home, to beat Western Kentucky – another directional school!  Let us thus give the Cardinals an ex-post-facto “Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t”.  But now they got embarrassed, on the road to a beatable team in Virginia.  At 27-3, are the Cavaliers that much better than the Cards?  Is their offense that poor that they failed to punch it into the endzone, with only a sad field goal to open the 3rd quarter?  A comparison of recent seasonal performances of both teams would say no, but today’s score would suggest so.  Here is one possible diagnosis of Louisville’s under-performance.  In the last few years (basically since Lamar Jackson was QB), Petrino has been fixated on “skills” players while acting as if he can get any lumbering lummox to block on the line.  So, while he might have NFL-caliber talent on the wings, he has no way of executing plays.  Has the time come to where Petrino would be better off as an offensive coordinator instead of a head coach?  Further observation and analysis of the team’s performance shall tell us yes or no.

What about USC?  Before losing badly on the road to Texas last week, they were ranked and poised to compete for the Pac-12 title again.  But on Friday night, they had to play hard at home to beat unranked Washington State.  One possible explanation:  Sam Darnold’s talent at QB papered over the mediocrity of talent on the coaching staff.  While I’m not a Trojans fan personally, I nevertheless recognize that when a traditional power like USC does well, it’s good for college football (same goes for other traditional powers like Georgia, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Miami (Fla.)).  Conversely, a mediocre Southern Cal team is thus not great for college football.  Let us hope that they can eventually rise back to national title contention to help keep the west coast markets engaged in the game.  After all, it’s never good for a sport to become regional (looking your way, Major League Baseball).

Speaking of Texas, are they “back”?  And why were they ever, well, not back?  This article by Pete Thamel explains the nature of why a national brand and a massively-valued program ever needed turning around in the first place (hint:  turning around an aircraft carrier takes much, much longer than turning around, say, a personal sailboat).  Forget, for a moment, that the program sure did not help anybody, least of all themselves, by laying an egg on the road to Maryland, and then under-performing at home the next week against Tulsa.  The Longhorns’ big win over USC last week might not indicate that the team is “back” as strongly as one would think due to USC’s apparent mediocrity at the moment.  But then again, Texas did follow up with another big win, this time over No. 16 TCU, 31-16.  So the current conclusion is, if they’re not “back” yet, they’re certainly headed in the right direction.  Onward and upward.

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 12 (2017) November 19, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kilane Sitake, BYU

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Syracuse 56-10)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Ohio State 52-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (lost to No. 8 Notre Dame 24-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Northwestern (defeated Minnesota 39-0)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa

Did the season start?  Oklahoma State

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Never play this again: Florida State 77, Delaware State 6

What? Akron 37, Ohio U 34

Huh?  Wake Forest 30, No. 19 NC State 24

Are you kidding me??  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Oh – my – GodPurdue 24, Iowa 15

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan  also:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Auburn

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

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

Upset alert: No. 2 Clemson @ South Carolina  also:  No. 8 Notre Dame @ No. 22 Stanford

Must win: Indiana @ Purdue  also:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan

Offensive explosion: No. 14 Washington State @ No. 18 Washington

Defensive struggle: Florida State @ Florida

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Scott Frost of Central Florida vs Charlie Strong of South Florida

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ No. 12 TCU

Why are they playing? Florida Atlantic @ Charlotte

Plenty of good seats remaining: UConn @ Cincinnati

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Vanderbilt @ Tennessee

Week 12 Random Thoughts:

Today yielded no earth-shattering upsets.  How could it, with so many highly-ranked teams inexplicably engaged in body bag games so late in the year?  Nevertheless, some interesting upsets did ensue.  Pathetic Akron took down perennial MAC contender Ohio U, for example.  Kansas State defeated Oklahoma State on the road.  Unranked Wake Forest (now 7-4, surprisingly) upset No. 19 NC State, putting a blemish on an otherwise impressive year for the Wolfpack.  Even more amazingly, Purdue went on the road to play Iowa, a game where nobody, least of all yours truly, gave them a chance to win, and yet they did anyhow.  Don’t ask how the same team that embarrassed Ohio State by the worst margin in more than two decades could lose two weeks later at home to a lesser team.  There is no rational explanation.

Texas earned a great win, on the road, over West Virginia.  Two weeks ago, the Longhorns gave a pitiful offensive performance against TCU, and offered only a middling performance in their win over Kansas last week.  Naturally, this turn of events gave the Longhorn faithful cause for concern.  Whether these concerns are no longer valid remains to be seen.  But adjustments were clearly made, to the point where Texas was able to win, convincingly, in a tough environment, against a favored team.  Looks like progress, and the Horns are now bowl-eligible to boot.  Next week they close the regular season at home against Texas Tech, which will be a decent test to see if they can maintain their current level of performance.

Remember my earlier speculation about Purdue’s bowl chances having evaporated?  Wad that thought up and toss it out the window.  Purdue’s surprising upset over Iowa – on the road, no less – has given their season a new life.  Don’t ask how this came to pass.  Be all that as it may, this upcoming week, both Purdue and in-state rival Indiana shall play each other for two things, not just one.  Not only will they play for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy, but also for bowl eligibility.  No telling the last time the stakes were that high for the two teams.

Every season, there is always a surprise or two.  One such this year is Central Florida, who currently undefeated and ranked first in the All-American Conference East Division.  At a current rank of no. 15, head coach Scott Frost seems to know what he is doing.  This is the same Scott Frost who was the capable, tough, dependable quarterback who led Nebraska to a share of the national title with Michigan in the 1997 season.  After several years as a back-up QB in the NFL, he gradually worked his way up the ranks in coaching.  With a relatively easy schedule remaining, the Golden Knights could remain undefeated going into the ultimate conference showdown at season’s end.  Then, they face 9-1 South Florida, led by Coach Charlie Strong.  Surely that is to be one of the most intriguing of coaching matchups of the year!

Shout-out to Notre Dame for wearing very cool-looking, throwback-inspired uniforms during their game against Navy.  I sincerely hope that more teams with gold in their school colors have the good sense to copy those nice-looking gold pants that the Irish wore this week.

Just several weeks earlier, Louisville could not beat Wake Forest or Boston College.  Now, they seem to have turned things around.  Their 56-10 walloping of Syracuse is a sure sign the Cardinals are playing back to form, and are doing so just at the right time, as they take on in-state rival Kentucky this upcoming week.

UCLA just fired Jim Mora, Jr.  Ironically, the Bruins lost last night to cross-town rival USC by a respectable margin, 28-23.  But the powers that be in Westwood clearly did not like the direction the program was headed.  Mora helped create high expectations for the Bruin faithful, but sadly failed to deliver (UCLA is now 5-6).  Then again, the school is only partially committed compared to USC, or to any other program that is determined to compete for a national title.  Firing the current head coach shall thus not solve this systemic problem.

With Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, the Badgers continue their undefeated streak and are on a certain course to represent the Western Division in the Big Ten championship.  All Ohio State has to do is beat Michigan this upcoming week for the rights to butt heads with the Badgers.  My scenario for the best possible playoff scenario thus continues, but more pratfalls remain.

The best game on Thanksgiving is not played in Detroit or Dallas.  No, rather it is usually the “Egg Bowl,” the annual Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State grudge-match that shall once again kickoff on the evening of the fourth Thursday in November.  Let us enjoy it, and God Bless America!

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 8 (2017) October 22, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking … anything:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Virginia Tech (defeated North Carolina 59-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Syracuse 27-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 1 Alabama 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 23 West Virginia 38-36)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Missouri (defeated Idaho 68-21)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start?  Michigan

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 35

Play this again, too:  No. 10 Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10

Never play this again: Missouri 68, Idaho 21

What? Rutgers 14, Purdue 12

Huh?  Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 13

Are you kidding me??  Boston College 41, Virginia 10

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Notre Dame 49, No. 11 USC 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Penn State @ No. 6 Ohio State (B1G game of the year?)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Houston @ No. 16 South Florida

Upset alert: No. 14 NC State @ No. 9 Notre Dame

Also:  Florida State @ Boston College

Must win: No. 3 Georgia @ Florida

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Oklahoma State @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: California @ Colorado

Also:  Mississippi State @ Texas A&M

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

Also:  Kirk Ferentz of Iowa vs. P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 8 Miami (FL) @ North Carolina

Why are they playing? Austin Peay @ No. 18 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ BYU

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Texas State @ Coastal Carolina

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

Poor Texas. Try as they might with their strong defense, offensively they cannot score enough points to get over the proverbial hump.  Yesterday in Austin, they held No. 10-ranked Oklahoma State, with the most productive offense in the county, to only 13 points.  However, the Longhorns in turn could only score 10 points.  Texas seems to have a capable quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, but he is only a true freshman, and the offense seems to rely too much on his guts and determination alone.  Part of the problem is that many of the offensive players are still young, and shall have to grow in experience, and presumably in capability as well.  The tentative verdict is that it will simply take time for the Horns to return to Top-10 status.  They are close, but not there yet.

Speaking of taking time, Purdue practically controlled their own destiny.  Current trajectories indicated they had a clear path to start a decent winning streak after getting beat up by a couple of conference heavyweights.  Then they lost by two points on the road to Rutgers.  Yes, Rutgers.  What happened?  Most likely, defensive coordinators around the league have taken notice of the tricks that Jeff Brohm has been left no choice but to use on account of the dearth of talent that his predecessor has left him.  Thus, for Purdue to show marked, consistent improvement, things shall take more time.  Basically, Brohm will need to bring in better recruiting classes so as to beat his opponents on the field with talent instead of trickery.  This of course is not to blame the man for what he is doing right now.  If we were in his proverbial shoes, we would likely find ourselves left to resort to the same things.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is officially a dumpster fire.  Sure, we all knew at this rate that Alabama would blast them into defeat, but what none of us anticipated was the lack of dignity on the Vols’ part.  The obscene gesture to Bama’s fans by one of Tennessee’s defensive backs after a pick-six is a black eye to the program, and could only hasten Butch Jones’ eventual departure as head coach.  But that aside, the Volunteers do have talent on their team.  Jones has sadly failed to harness it properly, to say nothing of orchestrating that talent into a cohesive effort at the top level that the SEC demands.

To put it another way with regard to the Vols and their current dumpster-fire status, they are to play Kentucky next week.  Tennessee is currently 3-4, while the Wildcats, who usually only barely belong in the SEC, are 5-2.  Yes, that means the world is officially upside-down.

Meanwhile, it’s always mildly intriguing when two conference foes who are about to butt heads share the same thing in common.  Think:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia, as both are the Bulldogs.  Think also:  LSU vs. Auburn, or Missouri vs. LSU, or Auburn vs. Missouri.  All three are the Tigers.  In the case of Mississippi State and Texas A&M, though, both have the same school colors of maroon and white, and both play each other next week.  What makes things even more intriguing is that both have quietly amassed a respectable 5-2 record in the course of the season.  After that game, those records shall inevitably diverge.

This week was a statistical anomaly, specifically with a cluster of defensive struggles.  Who would have thought that Indiana at Michigan State would have been such a defensive struggle, with a 17-9 outcome in the Spartans’ favor?  Even more to the point was the aforementioned 13-10 outcome at Texas.  That the Horns held the Cowboys’ high-powered offense to just 13 points (including one overtime) must surely cause Mike Gundy to reach for the Rolaids while watching film today.  If that’s not enough, the Purdue-Rutgers affair ended at 14-12 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.  Northwestern and Iowa kept the score low at 17-10.  UConn triumphing over Tulsa 20-14 does not count in past eras, but might as well in a time where the hurry-up, no-huddle offense is de rigueur. Same thing goes for Western Michigan over Eastern Michigan, 20-17…in overtime, no less.

College Football Awards Week 7 (2017) October 15, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Lucky guy: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Poor guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Baylor 59-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (lost to Syracuse 27-24))

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma State 59-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 17-9)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Cal (defeated No. 8 Washington State 37-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Washington State

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  North Carolina

Can the season never endGeorgia  also:  Alabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12 Oklahoma 29, Texas 24

Play this again, too:  Texas A&M 19, Florida 17

Never play this again: Arkansas State 51, Coastal Carolina 17

WhatWest Virginia 46, No. 24 Texas Tech 35

Huh?  LSU 27, No. 10 Auburn 23

Double HuhArizona State 13, No. 5 Washington 7

Are you kidding me??  Cal 37, No. 8 Washington State 3

Oh – my – GodSyracuse 27, No. 2 Clemson 24

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Ticket to die for:  No. 19 Michigan @ No. 2 Penn State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Idaho @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 UCF @ No. Navy

Upset alert: No. 19 Michigan @ No. 3 Penn State also:  Kansas State @ No. 10 Oklahoma

Must win: Louisville @ Florida State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ UCLA

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Northwestern

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 4 TCU

Why are they playing? Idaho @ Missouri

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UAB @ Charlotte

Week 7 Random Thoughts:

The Red River Shootout Showdown did not disappoint.  In recent years, the matchup has often turned into a lopsided affair in favor of Oklahoma.  Not this time.  The unranked Longhorns held their own against the Sooners this time, with a game full of excitement and drama (see the game summary at the top of the page).  The main takeaways are that Oklahoma is still strong enough to be a legitimate top-10 team, while the Longhorns have proven that their dramatic win over Kansas State last week was no fluke.  Indeed, they keep improving, which is a sign of a well-coached team.

Speaking of well-coached teams, the opposite can sadly be said for Louisville.  The Cardinals were stronger earlier in the year than they are now, having just lost in a shootout, at home, to lowly Boston College.  Bobby Petrino has done nothing to address his team’s deficiencies from last year.  His skill position personnel are still young, and he has not done a thing to address his weak offensive line play.  Depending on your star quarterback to carry the team in every phase of the game is no way to go through life, sir.  Nor is it recommended to try to mold said star quarterback into another Aaron Rogers when he is clearly Michael Vick 2.0 instead.

Poor BYU.  They’ve had such a rough year.  At 1-6, perhaps they could catch a break this upcoming week when they play 1-6 East Carolina.  Then again, the Pirates might be thinking the same thing.

Meanwhile, where did Michigan State come from all of a sudden?  They had a few lackluster wins earlier in the season, and lost rather badly to Notre Dame (who, in the Spartans’ defense, was ranked at the time), 38-18.  But then they turned around and beat top-10 Michigan, in the Big House, no less, and now win convincingly, on the road, in inclement weather, at Minnesota.  How can Mark Dantonio not be considered one of the best coaches in the business?  These past several years, he has consistently done more with less.  Moreover, the team is clearly better now than they were earlier in the season, which again, is one sign of a well-coached team.  Part of the secret to his success?  The Spartans have this new thing called a running game, which so many teams these days sorely lack.

This upcoming week, the moments we have all waited for are about to commence with Michigan about to take on Penn State.  Yes, it will be one of the key clashes of Big Ten Titans, and two things shall be ascertained.  One is whether or not Michigan can bounce back from losing the Paul Bunyan Trophy to Michigan State.  The other is whether or not Penn State belongs in the top five nationally.  It will also be a nice warmup for an even more enticing matchup (Ohio State vs. Penn State) later this month.

Speaking of teams that keep improving as the season progresses, Purdue deserves a mention.  Yes, they lost, but it was on the road, at Wisconsin, ranked 7th nationally.  The loss was quite respectable, only 17-9.  One would think that the formidable Badgers would have defeated the unranked Boilermakers by at least two touchdowns, but Purdue fought hard to ensure that did not happen.  Now the Boilers enter the easy part of their schedule.  To wit, they have yet to play, in order:  Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana, all of which are winnable to varying degrees.  Indeed, the biggest question mark that remains on the schedule is Iowa (they did take Penn State to the wire, after all), but aside from that, they could theoretically win out.  Time will tell, but focus and consistent effort on their part shall make it so.

Remember last week about South Carolina entering the brutal part of their schedule?  So far they have handled it with aplomb, upsetting Tennessee, in Knoxville, in a low-scoring affair, 15-9.  Next week they face Vanderbilt at home, at game that appears increasingly winnable as time progresses (could it be that the Commodores defeating Kansas State earlier this year was just some weird fluke?).  Forget Georgia, however, as they remain as strong as ever, continuing to roll their opponents.  But Florida is something of a question mark.  Yes, they have been good enough to win most of their games thus far, but this time, they were not quite good enough to win at home, narrowly losing to Texas A&M.  Maybe it was those god-awful uniforms that cursed them.  Maybe the Gators deserved to be cursed for wearing them.  Oh, and forget South Carolina beating Clemson.  Not happening; not at this rate, even after the Tigers lost at Syracuse (which, again, OMG).  All that aside, the Gamecocks could theoretically finish the season at 7-5, if not 8-4.  Perhaps I misjudged Will Muschamp’s ability to coach after all.  Perhaps I should at least reserve judgement until the regular season concludes.

Speaking of Tennessee, after losing at home to South Carolina, it’s a safe bet that Butch Jones’ hot seat just got hotter.  No time to lick their wounds, either, as the Volunteers take on hated Alabama next week.  At this rate of Tennessee’s spotty [at best] performance, beating Kentucky at month’s end is not a given.  LSU won’t play dead for them come mid-November either.  In short, Tennessee has talent, but they’re a mess, and Jones has proved incapable of cleaning up after himself.  A 6-6 finish could be enough to turn Jones’ hot seat into an ejection seat.

College Football Week 10 Awards, 2016 November 7, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim McElwain, Florida

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Boston College 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Boise State (defeated San Jose State 45-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Maryland (lost to No. 3 Michigan 59-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Iowa State (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma 34-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  TCU (defeated No. 17 Baylor 62-22)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas A&M

Did the season start?  Baylor

Can the season end?  Notre Dame

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 10, No. 13 LSU 0

Play this again, too:  Texas 45, Texas Tech 37

Never play this again: No. 25 Washington State 69, Arizona 7

Close call:  No. 22 Florida State 24, NC State 20

What? Illinois 31, Michigan State 27

HuhNavy 28, Notre Dame 27

Are you kidding me?  TCU 62, No. 17 Baylor 22

Oh – my – GodMississippi State 35, No. 4 Texas A&M 28.

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11))

Ticket to die for: No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Notre Dame vs. Army in San Antonio

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulsa @ Navy

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: Kentucky @ Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: NC State @ Syracuse

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Richt of Miami vs. Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 6 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Southern Utah @ BYU

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Florida Atlantic

They shoot horses, don’t they? Boston College @ No. 20 Florida State

Week 10 Take-aways:

Is Ohio State that good or is Nebraska that overrated? Or, is the answer the one preferred by Sterling Archer: A little of Column A and a little of Column B? Probably the third option. It’s never wise to bet against Urban Meyer, who has proven to be the best coach in the business over the past decade (though just a hair better than Nick Saban). But the Huskers have given fans in the stands and at home some great games through some great defensive efforts, and perhaps such efforts fooled the voters into thinking they were, hitherto, a No. 6 team. Still, the demotion all the way down to No. 21 seems a bit extreme, too.

The SEC East, this year, is frankly atrocious. Kentucky is always overhyped, South Carolina and Missouri are under-performing (the latter worse than the former), Florida just got shellacked on the road to enigmatic Arkansas, and Tennessee has developed into a collective head case of a team. Kirk Herbstreit expressed it best when he described the SEC Least as “awful,” and that they might as well cancel the SEC Championship game. That game would be a mere formality anyhow, since it has been shown that it’s Alabama followed by everyone else at this rate.

One of the overlooked tragedies this year is that Arizona’s season has already collapsed. Moreover, it seems as though they might now win another game this year (Colorado? Forget it. Oregon State? Not at this rate. Arizona State? Don’t count on it). Rich Rodriguez has put together some good seasons in Tucson, so this painful season has us all scratching our heads.

NC State has to be the best 4-5 team in the country. They defeated Notre Dame in absolutely hurricane-drenched slog. They almost beat Clemson, in Death Valley. They [mysteriously] narrowly lost to cagey Boston College. This weekend, they lost to Florida State by only four points. The Wolfpack’s subsequent opponents will put themselves in danger if they take this team lightly on account of their currently mediocre record. On that same note, Duke must be the best 3-6 team in the country. They are well-coached and will always give you a tough fight. Ask Louisville for reference.

Virginia Tech now controls its own destiny, at least as far as the ACC Coastal division is concerned. Assuming they seize the opportunity of control by winning out (which is doable), they could muster a more-than-credible challenge for seemingly unstoppable Clemson. Such a match-up remains a pleasing prospect indeed!

Once again, we are left to ask ourselves, what are we to make of Texas? Just a couple of weeks ago, the Horns looked completely hopeless against Kansas State. Then, just a week later, they handed Baylor their first loss of the season. This week, they went on the road and bested an evenly-matched (record-wise) Texas Tech squad. Lest we start to think the Horns are turning things around, they do play No. 20 West Virginia next week, and end the season against a TCU team that flat out embarrassed Baylor on the road this week. Translation: much remains to be seen, and a 6-6 record still seems to be the likely outcome.

Much ado has arisen in the wake of the Playoff Committee releasing their first set of rankings. Not the least of the controversies was No. 4 Washington (No. 4, that is the in the AP Poll) being demoted to No. 7 in the Playoff rankings. “How can this be,” ask many observers. Simple: Washington’s dirty little secret is that they’re still rebuilding, and part of the rebuilding process has been a very weak out-of-conference schedule. Let’s face it: a non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State is pretty darn pathetic. If you dial up wins with body-bag games like this, you have no right to complain when your rankings suffer as a result when they count the most. Many other contenders have played tough out-of-conference games this year. If the Huskies truly want to be counted among the big boy contenders, they will have to do the same.

College Football Week 11 Awards: the Night of the Living Upsets Edition November 16, 2015

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Oregon-Stanford2015

The Oregon-Stanford game was a classic matchup of speed vs. power. In the end, Stanford ruined their chances of a playoff berth with two 4th-quarter fumbles. This was but one of many upsets that night which could lead to considerable chaos in the rankings. (AP photo/Tony Avelar)

(Note:  All rankings are current CFP [week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Glad I’m not him: Art Briles, Baylor

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy:  David Shaw, Stanford

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles, LSU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kyle Flood, Rutgers

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (defeated Western Carolina 42-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 15 TCU (defeated Kansas 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Miami (lost to No. 23 North Carolina 59-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 18 Northwestern 21-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Southern Miss (defeated Rice 65-10)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  SMU

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start? LSU

Can the season end?  Miami (FL)

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES

Play this again:  Oregon 36, No. 7 Stanford 34

Play this again, too:  No. 14 Michigan 48, Indiana 41

Never play this again: Marshall 52, FIU 0

What? South Florida 44, No. 22 Temple 23

Huh?  Arizona 37, No. 10 Utah 30, 2OT

Double-HuhOregon 36, No. 7 Stanford 34

Are you kidding me?  No. 12 Oklahoma 44, No. 6 Baylor 34

Oh – my – GodArkansas 31, No. 9 LSU 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are week 11 CFP as of right now)

Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Baylor @ No. 8 Oklahoma State

Also:  No. 13 Michigan State @ No. 3 Ohio State

Honorable mention:  USC @ Oregon

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Georgia Southern @ Georgia

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 Memphis @ No. 22 Temple

Upset alert: Boston College vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Must win: UCLA @ Utah

Also:  No. 12 Oklahoma @ No. 15 TCU

Offensive explosion: Baylor @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle:  No. 17 Mississippi State @ Arkansas

Great game no one is talking about:  Louisville @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Dantonio of MSU vs. Urban Meyer of OSU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charleston Southern @ No. 2 Alabama

Why are they playing? Idaho @ Auburn

Ditto:  Florida Atlantic @ No. 11 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: Rice @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Charlotte @ Kentucky

Week 11 Take-aways:

Henceforth let this day, the 14th of November in the Year of Our Lord 2015, be known as the Night of the Living Upsets.  The daylight hours proceeded with each favored team either comfortably sailing by, or at least no worse than slipping away from the occasional close shave.  Then the evening hours descended, and everything seemed to be suddenly turned on its ear.

To wit:

Nobody thought that Arkansas had a chance against LSU.  After all, the Razorbacks were having a mediocre-at-best season, sub-par in any case.  Moreover, Arkansas had only defeated LSU in Baton Rogue just once in the past 20 years.  On the other side of the coin, the Tigers – the Bayou Bengal variety – have been playing very strongly, despite a drubbing to an increasingly dominating Alabama squad.  Yet the Hogs took it to the Tigers, in Death Valley, and did so in dramatic fashion, winning 31-14.  As an aside, the Hogs now have their fourth straight win, having started the season 2-4.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, a marquee matchup in the Pac-12 took place in Stanford, where the Oregon Ducks took on the Cardinal – formerly the Indians – in a classic match of contrasts, speed vs. power.  Speed ended up winning by default in the end, narrowly, 38-36.  Ironically, it was not Oregon’s speed that killed Stanford as it was the Cardinal’s two inopportune fumbles late in the fourth quarter.  Otherwise, they surely would have won the contest.

In the heart of Texas, Oklahoma came in to Waco to take on Baylor in a rain-soaked showdown.  To the surprise of many, the Bears’ high-powered offense was kept in check the entire game.  Not coincidentally, the Sooners actually played real defense, unlike all the Bears’ previous opponents, but it was still a tough fight throughout the game.  The triumph was nevertheless that of the Sooners, 44-34.

Elsewhere in the southwest, the high-flying Utah squad ventured to Tucson, Ariz., to take on the Arizona Wildcats.  Rich Rodriguez must have been ready for the Utes’ arrival.  His team was surely hungry for a big win, for they, muck like Arkansas in the SEC, have had a mediocre season at best.  In the end, the Wildcats triumphed over the Utes in 2OT, 37-30.

A near-upset occurred, as Houston barely survived Memphis, 35-34.  Those Tigers (as opposed to the LSU, Auburn, or Clemson ones) were in the lead most of the game.  The Cougars very gradually gnawed away at the lead in the second half to eventually snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Even then it took a missed field goal on the part of Memphis to finalize the outcome.

Yet another near-upset occurred in Bloomington, Ind., as the Indiana Hoosiers almost knocked off Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.  Only a couple of freak big plays towards the end of regulation in Michigan’s favor saved Harbaugh’s bacon that game, as it put the game in OT where the better talent was able to prevail (which it did, 48-41).

An under-the-radar upset came in the form of South Florida – a nobody the entire season – up-ending No. 22 Temple, 44-23.  Remember, this is the same Temple team that played fourth-ranked Notre Dame tough the entire length of that contest.  Indeed, they almost upset the Irish.  Now the Bulls have decisively beaten/upset the deceptively tough Owls.  Oh my.

Another overlooked upset was New Mexico upsetting Boise State in Boise, Idaho, no less, 31-24.  It took a stop just four years shy of the goal line on the part of the Lobos, with 0:00 on the clock, to ensure the outcome.

Yet another under-the-radar upset was so only because it was out on the west coast, and very late at night, even by Central Time standards.  Unranked Washington State defeated No. 19 UCLA, 31-27, in Pasadena, no less.  The win came on a Hail Mary pass that was completed in the end zone in the final seconds, giving an incredible night full of drama one incredible exclamation mark.

Those of who paid attention to the team schedules knew that this November would be a month of separation.  What we did NOT anticipate was that so much, er, separation, would occur so soon in the month, and on one night alone.  The real kicker?  At only halfway through November, more separation (chaos?) is yet to come!