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Playoff scenarios based on the latest AP Polls (Week 8, 2018) October 18, 2018

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Week 7 in college football for the 2018 provided considerable thrills – and headaches – for fans, what with upsets abounding, especially near the top of the rankings.  Unranked Tennessee taking down then-No. 17 Auburn, and unranked Virginia beating then-No. 16 Miami (Fla.) are small potatoes compared to upsets elsewhere that week.

Indeed, no fewer than four AP top ten teams went down in defeat in Week 7 of 2018.  For starters, No. 17 Oregon outlasted then-No. 7 Washington, 30-27, in overtime.  Unranked Michigan State toppled No. 8 Penn State on the road, 21-17.  Iowa State leveraged their special night-time atmosphere to help them beat then-undefeated (and then-No. 6) West Virginia 30-14.  Even more significant was No. 13 LSU pommeling then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16.

As a result of these four key upsets, Washington fell from the No. 7 ranking to No. 15.  Penn State fell from No. 8 to No. 18.  West Virginia fell from No. 6 to No. 13, while Georgia fell from No. 2 to No. 8.

Last year, the Bulldogs made it to the national championship game.  Now, the prospect to return is in jeopardy.  At least it’s October and not November, meaning there is still time to recover.

Regardless, the current AP Top Ten now suggests some very intriguing playoff possibilities.  These are important for the health of college football.  An all-southern/all-SEC college football championship game my thrill the faithful in the southeastern region of the country, but it turns off the rest of the country.  That’s bad for business.  If your sport starts to be perceived as regional in its nature, that hurts your national image, and prevents you from engaging the markets you need to be interested in order to ensure its long-term strength and viability.  Alabama vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Georgia thus saw a TV ratings decline, whereas Texas vs. USC (2005-’06) and Ohio State vs. Oregon (2014-’15) where perfect matchups to bring in robust, national audiences.  Ohio State vs. Florida (2006-’07), Ohio State vs. LSU (2007-’08) and especially Ohio State vs. Miami (2002-’03) were decent-to-great matchups as well for this purpose.  Alabama vs. Notre Dame (2012-’13) was good on paper, but the outcome of the game proved that it was a mismatch, with the Irish clearly being overrated at the time.

Start with a basic premise that it’s good for business when traditional powers do well.  If Georgia does well, that engages the Atlanta market, which is pretty big, in case you forgot.  If Notre Dame does well, it engages the Chicago and New York City markets.  If USC does well, it engages the Los Angeles market.  If Ohio State and Michigan do well (either or both), that engages much of the Midwestern markets, as well as the Big Ten alums who have left the Midwest for the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast.  If Texas does well, it engages the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Markets.  You get the picture.

Now, back to the Week 8 Top Ten rankings from the AP poll.  At No. 1 remains Alabama.  Ok, fine.  With Georgia knocked out of the No. 2 spot (but still in the top ten), that allows for Ohio State to take over that position.  This is good for the sport.  Clemson has moved a spot to No. 3, while Notre Dame has quietly moved up to the No. 4 ranking.

Just by looking at these current top four spots, if these remain unchanged and translate directly into playoff rankings, one would have a great playoff scenario to engage a critical mass of the viewing public.  Alabama and Clemson would be there to keep the South’s fever pitch at maximum levels, while Ohio State and Notre Dame enjoy national audiences so as to include enough of the rest of the country as well.  The Fighting Irish’s ranking this time is no wishful thinking.  Thoughtful analysts concur that this 2018 ND team is much stronger and more athletic than its overrated 2012 counterpart.  Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd has gone so far as to observe that this is the best ND team since the Lou Holtz era.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would exclaim, “Yo!”

While there is no west coast team in sight in these current rankings, that is not a deal-breaker, either.  There are enough Big Ten grads on the west coast to keep those markets engaged should Ohio State make it to the playoffs.   The Buckeyes, in this scenario, would represent the West Coast as well as the Midwest.

Naturally, much football remains to be played, and the remainder of the top ten shall make all efforts to crack their way into the playoffs as well.  Of those currently poised for such possibilities, some of them, too, offer intriguing engagement opportunities.  LSU sits at No. 5 after their ripping upset victory over the Bulldogs, and are destined for a major showdown with the Crimson Tide come Nov. 3, in Baton Rouge, no less.  Michigan sits at No. 6 after their big win over Wisconsin last night.  If they maintain their momentum, their Nov. 24 annual grudge match with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor could be epic.

Meanwhile, Texas has survived another test and now sits at No. 7.  If QB Sam Ehlinger stays healthy, who knows how much further the Longhorns could continue to climb?  This is key to note because Texas in the playoffs engages a different market than the Southeast.  The beauty of Texas in the championship game is that they can theoretically engage two markets simultaneously, as a B1G team can do vis-à-vis both the Midwest and other regions.  In Texas’ case, not only can a Longhorn playoff appearance pique the interest of the DFW and Houston metro areas (San Antonio and Austin don’t hurt either, as that is another combined 4 million-plus people in that mini-megalopolis), but the Southeast could vicariously join in, too.

An Oklahoma (currently No. 9)  playoff appearance, while a different region than the Southeast, has a limited upside.  Yes, it engages the central plains, but there is not much major population there).  Best case scenario is that it will interest the OU grad transplants living in the major Texas markets.  The Longhorns, thankfully, have done their part, though, in making the more market-significant team better-poised for a playoff run at this point.

This is not a swipe at the SEC, or the fans therein, for a personally love southern football and identify with the South.  As someone who is concerned about the national and long-term health of college football, however, perspective must be maintained.  Fans in SEC country will watch the playoffs no matter who is playing.  Fans elsewhere, though, will only watch if they feel they have a stake in things; that they are being represented.  We have enjoyed such perfect or near-perfect matchups in the past, such as the aforementioned Texas-USC games and the Ohio State-Oregon games, for example.

Meanwhile, more big games remain, and the way things have gone thus far, more upsets are likely to occur.  Teams currently in the bottom half of the top ten could claw theyr way up with help from such theoretical upsets.  After all, we’re halfway to regular season’s end, and the stakes and urgency only intensify from here.  Let’s enjoy the ride, and cheer on the key wins that would help make for the best playoff matches with optimal, national appeal while we’re at it!

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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.

My Nearly Perfect Playoff Scenario November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berth No. 1 of 4:  Alabama

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

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

Berth No. 2 of 4:  Miami

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

Berth No. 3 of 4:  Oklahoma

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

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

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

Berth No. 4 of 4:  Ohio State

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 8 2016 October 23, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Lucky guy: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Poor guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State  Hon. Mention:  Jim Mora, UCLA

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Seth Littrell, North Texas

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Illinois 41-8)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: South Carolina (defeated UMass 34-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Illinois (see above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: SMU (defeated No. 11 Houston 38-16)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Auburn (defeated No. 17 Arkansas 56-3)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Honorable Mention:  Houston

Did the season start?  Arkansas

Can the season end?  Bowling Green

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Penn State 24, No. 2 Ohio State 21

Play this again, too:  No. 16 Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59

Never play this again: No. 7 Louisville 54, NC State 13

Close call:  No. 14 Boise State 28, BYU 27

What? Temple 46, South Florida 30

HuhMiddle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45

Double-Huh? Colorado 10, Stanford 5

Are you kidding me?  SMU 38, No. 11 Houston 16

Oh – my – GodPenn State 24, No. 2 Ohio State 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9))

Ticket to die for: No. 7 Nebraska @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Also: No. 3 Clemson @ No. 12 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Army @ Wake Forest

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 22 Navy @ South Florida

Upset alert: No. 15 Auburn @ Ole Miss also: No. 4 Washington @ No. 17 Utah

Must win: No. 25 Virginia Tech @ Pittsburgh (Thurs.)

Offensive explosion: No. 10 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: No. 7 Nebraska @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Great game no one is talking about: Miami @ Notre Dame

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

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 2 Michigan @ Michigan State

Why are they playing? Samford @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ San Jose State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Kansas @ No. 16 Oklahoma

Week 8 Take-aways:

November maybe for everything, but we do not have to wait for November to know that one is already clear: it’s Alabama and everyone else. The Crimson Tide dominated the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies yesterday, proving yet again why they deserve to be the No. 1 team in the nation.

That’s right folks, this upcoming Saturday, Miami plays Notre Dame: the ol’ “Convicts vs. the Catholics.” This became a very marquee matchup in the 1980s, for that was a time when the Hurricanes were an up-and-coming, championship-contending program, first under Howard Schnellenberger, then continued and expanded under Jimmy Johnson. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish were as strong as ever, continuing to vie for the national title every year, and in fact did so in 1988. The “Convicts vs. Catholics” slugfests of the 1980s would be akin to, say, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team playing Nick Saban’s Alabama squad. Even though both the Canes and the Irish are diminished in talent this year, the matchup is a nice nod to the more storied contests of 25 to 30 years ago.

The loss that Ohio State sustained on the road to Penn State is all the more amazing when one considers that if the Buckeyes had triumphed, it would have been their 20th consecutive road win. Depending on how long Urban Meyer stays at the helm in Columbus, the Buckeyes will no doubt be in a good position to break this record yet again. Nevertheless, the Bucks’ loss is the first signature win for Penn State in the James Franklin era.

Louisville defeating NC State by such an obscene margin (the final score was 54-13) shows how dangerous the Cardinals are when they play up to their potential. Unlike last weekend against Duke, they did not have a bye week to hobble them. Make no mistake about it: the Wolfpack is a good team. The scare they put into Clemson in Death Valley, followed by an upset win over Notre Dame, demonstrates this. The conclusion to which one comes is that, at full-strength, the Cardinals can take almost any team in the nation, save Alabama. Don’t believe me? Here is a thought experiment: would Louisville have offensively stagnated for such stretches as Ohio State did in Happy Valley last night? Food for thought.

Meanwhile, Texas embarrassed themselves yet again on the road. No, the margin of defeat was not great, but the fact of the matter is that this was a winnable [road] game against Kansas State. Yet the Longhorns have squandered numerous opportunities and their defense continues to struggle just as much as they did during week 1. Such a lack of improvement points to deficient coaching.

Lest this be dismissed as a rush to judgment, consider this. If a traditional power (such as Texas) has the right coach in place, the turnaround, manifest by winning games, shall be readily apparent by the second year of the coach’s tenure. Consider Michigan in year two under Jim Harbaugh. Already, the Wolverines are in playoff contention. Consider that Urban Meyer in year two at Ohio State won the national championship. Consider that Nick Saban had Alabama playing back up to specs by year two of his time in Tuscaloosa, and led the Tide to a national championship by year three.

Yet it is now the third year of the Charlie Strong era at Texas, and the program continues to stagnate, if not regress. The best-case scenario is 6-6 for the year, but more realistically, expect a 4-8 record. Such a lack of improvement by now has exhausted everyone’s patience, and it is the consensus conclusion that Coach Strong must go. Sorry, Charlie.

College Football Awards, Week 7 2016 October 17, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Dave Doeren, NC State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Norvell, Memphis

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 49-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida State (defeated Wake Forest 17-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kansas (see above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Duke (lost to No. 7 Louisville 24-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  West Virginia (defeated Texas Tech 48-17)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kent State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Georgia

Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 2 Ohio State 30, No.  Wisconsin 23, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Never play this again: Army 62, Lafayette 7

Close call:  No. 7 Louisville 24, Duke 14

What? North Carolina 20, No. 16 Miami 13

HuhNorthwestern 54, Michigan State 40

Double-Huh? Syracuse 31, No. 17 Virginia Tech 17

Are you kidding me?  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Oh – my – GodVanderbilt 17, Georgia 16

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8))

Ticket to die for: No. 6 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama

Also: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State Also: Memphis @ Navy

Upset alert: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State

Must win: NC State @ No. 7 Louisville

Offensive explosion: South Florida @ Temple

Defensive struggle: Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora of UCLA vs. Kyle Whittingham of Utah

Who’s bringing the body bags? Illinois @ No. 4 Michigan

Why are they playing? UMass @ South Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (Ohio) @ Bowling Green

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Week 7 Take-aways:

Louisville barely escaped with a win at home to Duke. As I have said before, beware of bye-weeks, for they can be deceptively perilous to teams.

Who would have thought that the offensive explosion of the week would have been Northwestern vs. Michigan State, much less thinking that the Wildcats – underperforming all season thus far – would win?

The results of the Toilet Bowl, B1G edition, are in, and it’s Rutgers that is at the abyss of that conference, having lost to Illinois, 24-7. Sarcastic congrats to the Scarlet Knights!

Ohio State proved their mettle by defeating what is perhaps the toughest Wisconsin team within my memory. Not only that, but this win was on the road, in the evening. For those “in the know,” it is understood throughout the Big Ten that Camp Randall Stadium is the worst snake pit to play in within the entire conference. It is relatively the loudest, with a compact 80,000 seemingly right on top of the teams. Compound that with the fact that Wisconsin fans enjoy a certain, er, reputation throughout the league. Compound that further with the fact that night games give these already rowdy fans extra hours to get extra inebriated, hence extra loud. A night game in Camp Randall is a baptism by fire for a visiting team. Ohio State proved that they belonged in the No. 2 spot in the rankings by coming from behind, then dominating in overtime.

Yes, Tennessee lost badly to Alabama at home today, 49-10. But are we really surprised? The Volunteers have had one emotional game after another. Sooner or later, after so many games, they would experience an energy nadir as a result. Couple that with that fact that Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide rolling into a juggernaut of a team, and the loss should be seen as a minimal disgrace. As things currently stand, it is not unreasonable for Tennessee to end up 10-2 in the regular season, which is a remarkable turnaround from the doldrums in which the program found itself just a few years ago.

Oh, and it has been established that Florida and LSU will be playing after all. The catch is, they’ll play it at LSU instead, on Nov. 14, and to compensate, the Tigers will face Florida on the road for two consecutive years afterward. This does not even take into consideration that to make the Nov. 14 date work, both teams had to drop would-be body bag games (hello, easy money to the teams they would have played), which is actually a big win for the fans overall.  So, the SEC East will have some clarity after all. Or will it?

College Football Awards Week 6 October 13, 2015

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CharlieStrongRRS2015

Texas head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with his team after their incredible upset over rival Oklahoma. Judging by the photo, it seems as though he might have won back the locker room. Photo from the Dallas Morning News.

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Glad I’m not him: Steve Sarkesian, USC

Lucky guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell of Toledo

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 66-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Troy (lost to Mississippi State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Texas (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Baylor

Dang, they’re bad:  Miami, Ohio

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start? Miami, Fla.

Can the season end?  South Carolina

Can the season never endUtah

GAMES

Play this again:  Texas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

Play this again, too:  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Never play this again: No. 3 Baylor 66, Kansas 7

What? No. 18 Michigan 38, No. 13 Northwestern 0

HuhWashington 17, No. 17 USC 12

Are you kidding me?  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Oh – my – GodTexas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 12 Michigan

Also:  No. 10 Alabama @ No. 9 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 13 Ole Miss @ Memphis

Best non-Power Five matchup: Akron @ Bowling Green

Upset alert: Louisville @ No. 11 Florida State

Must win: USC @ No. 14 Notre Dame

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ No. 2 Baylor

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about:  No. 17 Iowa @ No. 20 Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Mora of UCLA vs David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 TCU @ Iowa State

Why are they playing? Louisiana Tech @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Ball State

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

Week 5 Take-aways:

What a weekend of upsets and near-upsets.  One obvious near-miss:  Gary Patterson’s TCU almost got upset on the road to Bill Snyder’s Kansas State.  You just know that the old man was not going to roll over for the vaunted Horned Frogs.  In the end, the near-miss cost the Frogs one spot in the rankings, as they are down to No. 3 from the No. 2 spot.

Similarly, Alabama took a while to get going at home against Arkansas.  Eventually the Tide decided to start playing football, but they were down to the under-performing Hogs for too long of a time in regulation to be taken seriously as a contending team.

Now the upsets:  we all knew that Northwestern was a legitimate team.  Most of us thought that the Wildcats playing the Michigan Wolverines would be the game of the week.  That turned out, in the end, not to be the case.  Jim Harbaugh seems to be building the Wolverrines to become stronger by the week.

Then there was the upset of the USC Trojans, at home, against Chris Petersen’s scrappy Washington Huskies.  We were all hoping for a good game, but certainly did not foresee the the embarrassment at home for the Men of Troy – though the subsequent news of Steve Sarkesian’s major alcohol problem certainly explains USC’s volatile performance this season.  Let us all wish a complete, sober recover for Sark as he embarks on a rehab program.

Or what about Tennessee?  The poor Vols were unable to “close the deal,” blowing leads to both Oklahoma and to Florida, leading to heartbreaking losses in so doing.  This time around, however, they had to play from behind, and upset the heavily-favored Georgia Bulldogs in so doing.  So much for Georgia’s national championship hopes this year.

But let us not fool ourselves.  The biggest upset of the week came in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  All of us, even the team’s fans, had given the Texas Longhorns up for dead, especially after the devastating loss to TCU the previous week.  Coach Charlie Strong seemed to have lost the locker room, and he was strategically flailing in terms of not having an offensive or defensive identity.

Perhaps the rival Oklahoma Sooners were just naïve enough to take the bait.  The Horns looked like an entirely different team this past Saturday than they did for the entire season leading up to this fateful day.  Texas drew first blood late in the first quarter, and, mirabile dictu, did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.  Moreover, Strong somehow regained his identity, effectively playing a run-oriented, ball-control offense that left OU’s defense sucking wind by late in the 4th quarter.  It was just enough to hold on and to upset their heavily-favored rival.  It also likely saved Coach Strong’s bacon for the rest of the year.  Hook ‘em!

College Football Awards Week 11 November 11, 2014

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ASU_NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Todd Graham, Arizona State

Glad I’m not him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (hon. mention: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame)
Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tony Levine, Houston

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Desperately seeking … anything: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 11 Ole Miss (defeated Presbyterian 48-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Penn State (defeated Indiana 13-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kentucky (lost to No. 20 Georgia 63-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Wake Forest (lost to No. 21 Clemson 34-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Marshall (defeated Southern Miss 63-17)

Dang, they’re good: TCU
Dang, they’re bad: Iowa State

You know, they’re not so bad: Louisville
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Michigan State

Did the season start? West Virginia

Can the season end? Buffalo
Can the season never end? Ohio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Auburn 35, No. 3 Ole Miss 31

Play this again, too: No. 24 Duke 51, Pittsburgh 48
Never play this again: Marshall 63, Southern Miss 17

What? Texas 33, No. 23 West Virginia 16

Huh? No. 9 Arizona State 55, No. 10 Notre Dame 31
Are you kidding me? No. 14 Ohio State 49, No. 8 Michigan State 37

Oh – my – God: Texas A&M 41, No. 3 Auburn 38

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for: No. 1 Mississippi State @ No. 5 Alabama

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Temple @ Penn State

Best non-Power Five matchup: East Carolina @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: No. 16 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: South Carolina @ Florida

Offensive explosion: Missouri @ Texas A&M

Defensive struggle: Virginia Tech @ No. 22 Duke

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Ohio State @ Minnesota

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Stoops of Kentucky vs. Butch Jones of Tennessee

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 TCU @ Kansas

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Navy

Plenty of good seats remaining: Troy @ Idaho

They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 12 Michigan State @ Maryland

 

Week 11 Random Thoughts:

  • So many good games took place from 19:00 or later on the 8th of November. Start with Louisville at Boston College, which should not have been interesting on paper, but was, unfortunately, due to the Cardinals’ inability to get it together for the first half (they did in the second). Then again, the Cards have always had their troubles with BC!  But then came TCU vs. Kansas State. Bill Snyder has put together an excellent team for this year, and the Wildcats being well-coached shows on the field (especially against Auburn early on in the season). But even a good time like KSU was no match for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs, who are making every statement they can in order to vie for the playoffs.

Or, look at Ohio State vs. Michigan State. After the Buckeyes laid an egg at home to a mediocre Virginia Tech squad, everybody was skeptical as to how good a team they truly were. Leave it to Urban Meyer to coach his talented bunch up to be more than a match for Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.

But it turned out the most important game, and the one with the biggest national title implications was the Alabama-LSU game. In typical fashion, it was a defensive struggle, and just to make things even more exciting / to heighten the already high degree of urgency even further, the game went into overtime. The Crimson Tide still have a brutal slate of games ahead, but their win is certain a step in the right direction for them

  • As I have noted before, Notre Dame is overrated. To be sure, I also noted (in other article) that they are enigmatic. But the overrated question mark remained; lurking, hidden, just waiting for the right opportunity to emerge. Thanks be to Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils to confirm that which us skeptics felt all along. After all, to have the Irish be among the final four, thus displacing a far-more deserving second SEC team in the process, would have been a travesty beyond words: a travesty, thankfully, that will be pre-empted before it even began.

Mack Brown’s Possible Replacements November 25, 2013

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texas_coach_mack_brown1Allow me to preface this article in that writing this brings me no joy at all.  For the majority of Mack Brown’s tenure at the University of Texas, he proved to be the perfect organizational fit for the program and the university.  Moreover, he is demonstrably among the most adept coaches in college football at the ‘people’ side of the business.  One can clearly see this in how we carries himself during the impromptu halftime interviews before he heads into the locker room to make halftime adjustments with his team.  Anybody who has observed him during these interviews can vouch that he comes across as a happy gentleman to the sideline reporter for that given game, and he treats said reporter as if he or she is certainly worth his time, despite the more pressing matters that surely weigh on his mind at those given moments.  Reportedly, he treats people with the same class and dignity behind the scenes/off-camera as well.

The problem, however, is that since the 2010 season, the program has clearly headed in the wrong direction.  The mediocre season of 2006 was excusable, given the drop-off a defending national champion normally experiences (Alabama being an exception to the rule).  The fact that they were able to return to the national title game just four years after winning their most recent one showed that the program was still among the strongest nationally.  Yet starting in 2010, a precipitous drop-off in performance occurred, one that made the 2006 season look phenomenal by comparison.

Granted, not all of this is Mack Brown’s fault.  The downside to being one of the sexiest programs in all of college football is that you are constantly a prime target for other programs to lure away your best assistant coaches, either for lateral moves with even higher pay, or for head coaching gigs of their own, such as Bryan Harsin (erstwhile offensive coordinator, now head coach at Arkansas State) or Will Muschamp (formerly defensive coordinator, currently embattled Florida head coach).  This creates a major problem of coaching continuity.  How this translates into the program suffering is simple:  instead of concentrating all of his off-the-field attention on recruiting, Brown and Co. have to divert part of that time and energy into hunting for suitable replacement personnel.  This reduced time for recruiting analysis in turn leads to whiffing on key recruits, which partially explains the Horns’ mediocre-to-weak performances in most of its big games since 2010.

Another issue is institutional arrogance, something Mack Brown could help curtail, but hasn’t.  He once bragged that if he were head coach at Texas in 1997, he would not have overlooked Drew Brees as possible QB for the Horns.  Yet despite this boast, he clearly overlooked Johnny Manziel, and when Texas tried to recruit Robert Griffin III, they tried to recruit him as a defensive back.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Such institutional arrogance can most effectively be curtailed by the head coach himself, and yet the problem has yet to be addressed.

After a couple of embarrassing losses earlier in the year (one to BYU, the other to Ole Miss), we all left the program for dead.  Then the unexpected happened in that instead of getting blown out by Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout (like in 2012), we had our way with the Sooners instead.  Needless to say, this took us all by surprise, albeit pleasantly.  We quickly got the impression that perhaps things had quickly turned out, that all it took was the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replacing him with the more capable Greg Robinson.  More wins over TCU and Kansas soon followed.  We initially chalked up having to go into OT to beat West Virginia to simple things such as, A) it was on the road, and B) it was West Virginia, and team very unpredictable in terms of whether they will come out flat or with their hair on fire.

But after the undressing the Longhorns had at the hands of Oklahoma State last week, we were all shocked back into reality.  There are still systemic problems in the program that have remained unaddressed.  The positively embarrassing loss to Oklahoma last year left many fans grumbling that it was time for a changing of the guard, including the thoughtful writers at Barking Carnival.  Even after a face-saving win over the Sooners this year, the loss to the Cowboys reminded us that glaring issues remain unaddressed, issues that will only be resolved by a change in direction of the program, which is best accomplished with a new CEO of the company.

So who are the viable replacements?  In truth, more than a few names are bandied about, but for the sake of cutting through the clutter, let us reduce that relatively lengthy list to a couple of already-mentioned names, plus one or two more than people have not mentioned or are reticent to for whatever reason.

I agree with Big(g) Ern at Barking Carnival.  New Texas athletics director Steve Patterson should at least ask Nick Saban and Urban Meyer if they are interested.  Neither are likely to be, given their current situations, but there is no harm in asking, and confirmed “no’s” from both men will put meaningless speculation from fans to rest once and for all, save for the most delusional of meatballs.

Besides, it is unlikely that Saban would leave Alabama for Texas, no matter how much money you offer him.  He is 62 years old, already has a palace of a house, and is not someone who uses all that money to buy expensive toys.  The reason being, he has no interest in expensive toys;  he’s a workaholic, and workaholics are driven by the job, not by toys.  Besides, he has built an almost-bulletproof dynasty at one of the most storied programs in all of college football; how does one top that?

So who could it be?  Let us start with the most obvious of names:

Mike Gundy:  This could work.  He’s one of those coaches who is highly effective if he has tons of resources at his disposal.  That might not be the most flattering of commentaries, but given that he has been back up with T. Boone Pickens’ money, he has managed to do great things at Oklahoma State.  Imagine what he could accomplish with the unlimited monetary back of Texas’ boosters?  If such possibilities stand to reason, it would be enough for us to divert our attention from his teenage-like hairline, despite being a man of 46.

Chris Petersen:  This also could work.  It is at this juncture that I part company with the thoughtful fellows at Barking Carnival.  They seem to think that because the luster of the Boise State program is fading, that Petersen himself is by consequence a less viable candidate for the position.  But the diminished national prestige of the program is not Petersen’s fault.  It is just that the Broncos’ stock has peaked in value.  Boise State has become a victim of its own success.  Given that Idaho is hardly hotbed for top-tier college talent, they have to look elsewhere (mostly California) for good players.  The highest-profile recruits in that region will usually choose USC, UCLA, Oregon or Arizona State over Boise State, so they have to devise a system to root out guys with enough talent to compete, but at the same time, find guys who are “tweeners” that are usually overlooked by the big boys.  Then, Boise State needs to  devise and offensive and defensive system that plays to the strengths of these “tweener” recruits.

At this, they have been remarkably successful until recently.  What has happened is that they have become a victim of their own success.  No team that is viable on a national scale wants to play Boise State anymore because they – the Broncos — could upset them, thus ruining a potential run at a national title.  Worse yet, there is little incentive to play Boise State in their home stadium, since the university has done nothing to expand the stadium’s capacity from its paltry 37,000 despite a solid 8 or 9-year run of success.  A good deal of the team’s recent success was at the hands of Chris Petersen, who would be wise to take a more prestigious job while he can before staying at BSU too long with cause his stock to irreparably dip.  Petersen has proven to be a very adept caretaker CEO, and the Texas program is not in shambles – yet.  Texas has good talent pieces in place, they just lack the coaching – and the A+ QB that would be becoming of such a program – to allow for the team to truly play up to its potential.

Who is a coach that has not been mentioned but has potential?  One name this is always possible – though few seem to want to admit it – Bobby Petrino.

Try not to laugh.  Yes, his, ahem, swordplay at Arkansas was a major black mark (or, er, scarlet letter) on his career and indeed, life, resume, but let that not obfuscate a simple fact.  The guy can coach.  He can also recruit, too.  Yes, much like Urban Meyer at Florida, his Louisville team bordered on an inmate colony, but part of his untouchable skill set was his ability to be a captain running a tightly-run ship, not allowing any sort of wiggle room for would-be thugs to run amok.  An advantage of recruiting in Texas, for Texas, is that he could bring in the highest-caliber of athletes in-state without have to run the degree of risk of bringing in potential off-the-field liabilities like he did at Louisville and at Arkansas.

But again, he can coach.  Few coaches in the business seem to have the keen sense of knowing when it is the right time to pass and when it is the right time to run the ball like Petrino.  Between his ability to acquire talent, manage personnel, and call plays makes him one of the most dangerous coaches in the business.  Placing him with the unlimited resources of the Texas Longhorns program could potentially create a juggernaut that would rival the current dynasty of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Yes, he is currently in his first year at Western Kentucky, but he is also incredibly mercenary.  His loyalty does seem to go to the highest bidder, but by that same token, can anybody think of a better job than the Texas job?  College coaches around the country recognize it without hesitation as one of the three best jobs in the nation.  Translation:  assuming he A) were offered the Texas job, and B) took the Texas job, what could lure him away from it?  As smart as he is, he would surely have the sense to avoid the, er, swordplay that ended the good thing he had going at Arkansas.

So, in summation, Chris Petersen would be my second choice to replace Mack Brown at Texas, but Petrino would be my first.  The program is not exactly down the drain yet, so a turnaround CEO might not be needed, at least not yet.  If brought in soon enough, a good caretaker CEO could still bring the Horns to the level of performance fans rightfully expect.

Addendum, 12-06-13:  Chris Petersen, mentioned as a potential replacement for Mack Brown earlier in this article, has since taken the Washington Huskies job vacated by Steve Sarkisian.  The news was announced this morning.  In truth, he is a good fit for that program.  He loves the Pacific Northwest, has recruited in the Seattle area before, and is a good caretaker CEO.  Sarkisian already turned the Huskies around into a well-function, 9-win-a-year organization; Petersen can now come in and keep the good thing going, just as he did after Dan Hawkins left Boise State for Colorado.  In summation, this is a good hire for the Huskies.

College Football Week 3 Awards September 15, 2013

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Glad I’m not him: Gary Patterson, TCU

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: George O’Leary, Central Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ron Turner, Florida International
Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Taggert, South Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 10 Florida State (defeated Nevada 62-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 11 Michigan (defeated Akron 28-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 2 Oregon 59-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 21 Notre Dame 31-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  USC (defeated Boston College 35-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Florida International
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Penn State

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  South Florida
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 49, No. 6 Texas A&M 42

Play this again, too:  Oregon State 51, Utah 48
Never play this again: Utah State 70, Weber 6

What? Arizona State 32, No. 20 Wisconsin 30

HuhSouth Alabama 31, Western Kentucky 24
Are you kidding me?  Texas Tech 20, No. 24 TCU 10
Oh – my – GodCentral Florida 34, Penn State 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for:  Tennessee @ No. 19 Florida

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Utah State @ USC

Best non-Big Six matchup: Boise State @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Purdue @ No. 24 Wisconsin

Must win: Kansas State @ Texas

Offensive explosion: Boise State @ Fresno State
Defensive struggle: Hawaii @ Nevada
Great game no one is talking about: Utah @ BYU, or, North Carolina @ Georgia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Brian Kelly of No. 22 Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Florida International @ No. 7 Louisville

Why are they playing? Florida A&M @ No. 4 Ohio State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTSA @ UTEP

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Louisiana-Monroe @ No. 20 Baylor

Week 3 in Review:

The game that has been billed by the media and built up in the minds of many a fan nationwide certainly lived up to its billing/hype yesterday.  No. 1-ranked Alabama is sure to retain atop the mountain of college football rankings after defeating the home team No. 6 Texas A&M in a thriller of a game.  The key to the success of the Crimson Tide was figuring out how to contain the Aggies’ QB Johnny Manziel, by not allowing him sufficient access to the outsides of the hash marks and instead forcing him inside, up the middle (both of running and throwing) as a means of containing the threat of his talents.  In the end, it worked.  Best of all, “Johnny Football” seemed surprisingly humble, contrite, and team-oriented during the postgame press conference. After witnessing all of his antics the previous weeks, this was a rather pleasing development. Time will tell if he truly did learn a lesson or two from this loss, or whether he will devolve back to the cocky, reckless punk he was earlier.

Other random thoughts:

A curious case of both Michigan and Notre Dame arose this past Saturday.  The former team had to struggle at home to beat the Akron Zips, and only doing so in the last minutes of play.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame, an ostensibly revitalized, nationally viable team under head coach Brian Kelly, had to earn – in every sense of the word – a win against a Purdue team whose performance prior to this game was suspect at best.  Perhaps this strange case is a result of a hangover from big game between the two the following week.  Lots of media hype and team energy went into that game, and as anybody who has any real experience in college football can tell you, one of the biggest challenges in the sport is trying to get 19-20 year-olds to play consistently week in and week out.  Or, it could be at both Akron and Purdue are better than we thought they were.  Concerning the latter, it could have been that the Boilers were looking past Indiana State (could you blame them?) and devoted some extra prep time to dealing with the Fighting Irish.  Certainly a plausible scenario, no?  What remains intriguing about this case is that, in all likelihood, Michigan and Notre Dame will be just fine.  But it could also be that Akron and Purdue are on the rise from the doldrums in which both programs have been stuck for the past several years.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Texas lost another game, this time at home, against a respectable opponent in Ole Miss. The Longhorns were supposed to have gotten things together, so we were told. After all, before last week’s BYU debacle (in which they lost 40-21), they were ranked No. 15 in the nation.  This week, the Rebels came into Austin ranked #25.  Yet the Horns lost again, this time 44-23.  It is conceivable that Texas could turn things around and that the defense could get more settled under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.  Or, it could be that the wheels are coming off the program, and as much as Longhorn Nation likes head coach Mack Brown personally, it is time for a changing of the guard.  Right now, though, things are not looking good on the 40 Acres, and the prognosis for the second Saturday in October is not that rosy, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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