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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.

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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!

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Purdue (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

2012-2013 Bowl Games of High Interest December 26, 2012

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As mentioned in the previous installments, I have ranked the bowl games by category, with the major criterion being level of desirability to view, partly on my end, partly on the end of the average viewer who is NOT a certifiable college football addict like yours truly!

To find a complete bowl game schedule where each game is found in order of date and time each game is to be played, go here.

This third installment is of bowl games about which I am VERY interested (as usual, all times are Eastern Standard).  Happy Kwanzaa (LMAO!  I’m sorry, I just can’t say that with a straight face!).

Holiday Bowl (San Diego), Thurs., Dec. 27, 9:45 PM EST

Baylor (7-5) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-4)

My [potential] “offensive explosion” bowl game for the 2012-2013 season.  To paraphrase the guys at EDSBS, what’s better in a bowl game than seeing both teams’ offensive coordinators emptying the most shameful corners of their playbook?  Better yet, it pits bears vs. bruins; how often does one see that in a bowl?  Just sayin’!

Alamo Bowl (San Antonio), Sat., Dec. 29, 6:45 PM

No. 23 Texas (8-4) vs. No. 13 Oregon State (9-3)

Yes, I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased.  After all, I was part of the team that won the 1998 Alamo Bowl, arguably one of the more memorable games in the series.  But that aside, the Alamo Bowl is always a good matchup.  Is it quite as good as when it was Big Ten vs. Big XII?  The realignment to a Pac-12 vs. Big XII matchup has not watered things down any, at least not yet.  Remember last year’s offensive explosion between Baylor and Washington?  That one is not soon to be forgotten, either.  This time, the Longhorns are playing, which automatically makes it good.  Granted, Oregon State is favored on paper, but do not underestimate Texas’ home field advantage, given that their campus is only a little over an hour away.

Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Atlanta), Mon., Dec., 31, 7:30 PM

No. 8 LSU (10-2) vs. No. 14 Clemson (10-2)

Nothing like closing out the old year by watching a classic SEC-ACC matchup in Hotlanta!  Of course, there have been plenty of such “classic” matchups on paper over the past several years, but they have usually amounted to rather one-sided affairs in favor of the Southeastern Conference.  You’ll have that.  After all, not all Peach Bowls, er, Chick-Fil-A Bowls can be like the Auburn-North Carolina game back in 2001!  In any event, the funny guys at EDSBS have come up with three possible scenarios of how this one will play out (all with varying degrees of probability – refer to game ranking #6).  I particularly like the “LSU blowout” scenario!

Gator Bowl (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Mississippi State (8-4) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (9-3)

My “great game that nobody is talking about,” for it pits two scrappy teams struggling for respect in their respective conferences.  Better yet, it’s a very dramatic culture clash within the bowl season, for the only private school in the B1G meets, well, the “clanga-clanga” of cowbells.  It also makes for an intriguing coaching matchup in one coaches favors the pass while the other favors the run.  How can a viewer lose with this whole proposition?

Outback Bowl (Tampa, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 10 South Carolina (10-2) vs. No. 18 Michigan (8-4)

The matchup is intriguing on the surface alone.  ­One side is a traditional blue blood, figuratively and literally.  They won the first ever bowl game and gave birth to the college fight song as we know it today.  Oh well, and Michigan also has the most wins of any football program, ever.  The other side, South Carolina, is something of a late bloomer.  A relatively late joiner of the SEC, for years they had been a conference doormat prior to the Lou Holtz and especially the Steve Spurrier eras.  But this game is where the newcomer will take down the old guard, should everything work out on paper.  Yes, that’s a rather dry way of putting it, but if I made any allusions that the Gamecocks should bury the Wolverines underneath the pavement for some horrified archaeologists to discover a century or two later, well, I might get accused of plagiarism, or something.

Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Tues., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

First of all, let us get this out of the way right now and admit that this game is not quite as interesting as the Outback Bowl, but it’s interesting nonetheless.  If Nebraska had their hands full against a 7-5 Wisconsin team at a neutral site, good Lord, what is the seventh-ranked Georgia squad going to do to them?  Second, what on Earth are the Cornhuskers doing being ranked 16th in the AP after a such can of whoopass had been opened up on them in Indianapolis?  All that being said, the only thing that Nebraska has going for them (and I mean the only thing) is that the Bulldogs are a senior-laden team that was underachieved all season, and be very, very aware of such teams when they show up in bowl games, as they are likely to disappoint.

Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.), Tues., Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Stanford

The good news for Wisconsin is that they caught Nebraska off guard during the Big Ten championship game and have earned a third-straight berth to the Granddaddy of Them All.  The bad news for Wisconsin is that they must face a Stanford squad that is arguably more formidable than last year’s Andrew Luck-led team.  The Cardinal can more than match the Badgers in the trenches, and that instantly takes away their competitive advantage.  More bad news:  barring the possibility of Stanford breaking out their black helmets and all-cardinal Nike Pro Combat unis, this bowl  game will be the matchup of the generic uniforms.  The good news for all of us is that we will be “looking live,” as ABC’s front line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit will be calling the game, folks!

Sugar Bowl (New Orleans), Wed., Jan. 2, 8:30 PM

No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida

Yeah, yeah, I know that I filed this upcoming game under “who’s bringing the body bags?”  That’s my safe prediction.  My less-than safe prediction, shared by others, is that Florida’s occasional quarterbacking ineptitude might align itself with Louisville’s occasionally vulnerable secondary.  Of course, even if both of those things click simultaneously, it’s not that safe of a bet that the same clicking will occur between the Gator’s formidable defense against the Cardinals’ Teddy Bridgewater, as sad as I am to say.  Then again, it is the Big Easy, and the Charlie Strong can always dial up some voodoo magic.

Fiesta Bowl (Mesa, Ariz.), Thurs., Jan. 3, 8:30 PM

No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 5 Kansas State

When two teams in a bowl game that are very closely ranked square off, it is almost always interesting.  But the game is watchable for other reasons as well, such as the intriguing contrast between the two teams.  In one corner, wearing purple trimmed with white and silver are the Wildcats, with old man Bill Snyder working his magic albeit with a conventional offense.  In the opposing corner, wearing some sort of green trimmed with yellow (we think:  it could be black, silver, or something else, for that matter), is Chip Kelly’s Ducks, along with his progressive, hurry-up, hyper-drive offensive play.  Think of the overall interest amounting to a weird variation on the old saying that “opposites attract.”

Cotton Bowl (Arlington, Texas), Friday, Jan. 4, 8:00 PM

No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma

Old conference rivals reunite in a relocated classic bowl game (used to be in, well, the Cotton Bowl, now it’s in Jerryland).  What makes the matchup even more interesting is that the Aggies’ current head coach, Kevin Sumlin, was at one time an assistant under Sooners’ head coach Bob Stoops.  That notwithstanding, in all likelihood the pupil will become the teacher.  Oklahoma is another one of those teams about which to beware, that being a team with lots of seniors that has underachieved all year; rarely does a team like that come through victorious during bowl season.  Moreover, during the later part of the regular season, Coach Sumlin was coaching A&M so well that it seemed as though they could beat anybody in the nation.  With that being said, this will be a major test to see whether or not they can beat anyone in the postseason.

BCS National Championship (Miami), Mon., Jan. 7, 8:30 PM

No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama

On one hand, it is unlikely that Notre Dame has ever encountered any team with Alabama’s overall athleticism.  On the other hand, Notre Dame has won lots of close games, and there is some skill to that.  Ultimately, the game will come down to one of two things:  will the Irish receivers be too much for the Crimson Tide’s secondary, or will Bama’s offensive line gradually take over in the middle of the third quarter?  The result of the game will hinge on either contingency.