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On Morgan Burke and Purdue February 19, 2016

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MJB_Purdue1Morgan J. Burke has been the Athletics Director at Purdue University for more than 20 years.  On Thursday, Feb. 11, he announced that he would retire from this position, effective June of next year.  During his lengthy tenure, he has garnered a reputation amongst his peers as one of the most competent AD’s in major college athletics, especially in terms of finances.  With so many AD’s spending money as if their budgets were bottomless pits, Burke has been very fiscally sound, and has enjoyed the deserved reputation as a prudent business manager as a result.

When he took over as the top athletics administrator in 1993, Purdue had the absolute worst athletics program in the Big Ten.  Hammer and Rails has an article that puts this in perspective, including that fact that the football program only had five (yes, five) bowl appearances total in its history, and was in year eight of a 12-year bowl game drought.  The schools’ baseball, ahem, “stadium” would have been considered poor by high school standards.  The swimming and diving teams’ home pool was in some hidden location underground at Lambert Fieldhouse.  Ross-Ade Stadium was practically falling apart.  In short, the department itself was operating on a shoestring budget with awful facilities and teams badly-performing as a result.

In the span of Burke’s tenure, Ross-Ade received much-needed renovations, including leading the way in building an aircraft carrier-sized press box on the side of one’s football stadium.  The football team has enjoyed 12 bowl appearances between 1997 and 2012, including an elusive and prestigious Rose Bowl berth.  Mackey Arena has also enjoyed major upgrades, along with being home to a men’s team that has delivered four men’s basketball Big Ten titles and a women’s national championship.  For what it’s worth, women’s golf brought home the national title in 2010. A nice, more comprehensive list of all that Burke has done well can be found here.

Moreover, (again, for what it’s worth), women’s soccer, softball, baseball, and tennis all have new facilities.  The new swimming and diving pool, opened up ca. 2000, is considered one of the finest college natatoria in the whole country.  While not exactly on most people’s radar screens, Purdue has become a diving powerhouse (e.g., David Boudia, 2012 Olympic gold medalist).

And yet, to speak with the Purdue University faithful these days, the firm impression is that the athletics department is in an absolute shambles.  Sure, it’s all well and good that the softball, baseball and soccer teams have wonderful facilities, and a fine reflection on the university that the swim teams have a jewel of a pool to call their own.  But there are problems afoot with the two highest-profile programs, those being football and men’s basketball.

The latter has been performing very inconsistently as of late, what with promising recruiting classes that fail to live up to their potential.  But even worse and more urgent is the absolute disgrace of the football team.  Coach Joe Tiller’s teams’ performances started waning during his last few years, especially since the 2005 season.  When former assistant coach to Tiller in Danny Hope took over (he had been the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University from 2003 through 2007), things kept declining further (5-7 in 2009, 4-8 in 2010).  Coach Hope enjoyed only two bowl appearances after going 7-6 in 2011 and 6-6 in 2012.  Ironically, he was fired despite a bowl berth in 2012.

Herein lies a symptom of a systemic problem.  Purdue has been NOTORIOUS for not paying its coaches even average market value.  Coach Tiller was one of the lowest-paid football coaches in the conference for one, and that did not change when the torch was passed to Coach Hope.  In college football, it’s all about the coach and the kind of playing talent that coach is able to recruit.  Just see what Brian Kelly has achieved at Notre Dame, in this era’s Sunbelt-dominated era of college football, or how Jim Harbaugh has been turning things around at Michigan to illustrate this crucial point.

Basically, Burke tried to make things work with Coach Hope while giving him a shoestring budget.  Coach Hope in turn did what he could with such a dearth of resources, but his performance on the field reflected the fact that he was not getting the type of support he needed to compete effectively in major college football.  Firing him became tantamount to killing the messenger.

But there are other dimensions to this problem.  Before and during the Coach Hope era, Purdue’s reputation for under-paying its athletic personnel was well-founded and deserved.  Even competent, ambitious people who worked on the administrative side of the department would leave for better pay at other schools, even to the intra-conference competition.  That especially went for assistant coaches who were worth a thing in the sport; after a few years of building a reputation at Purdue, they would soon leave for greener pastures.  As Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd often reminds us, “[C]oaches do not care about your fight song:  PAY them!”

Burke seemed to have gotten that memo when searching for a new football coach in the wake of Coach Hope’s departure.  He announced that he was raising additional funds to try to attract a better coaching talent.  Eventually, the searched settled on Darrell Hazell, then the head coach at Kent State who had a good year with the Golden Flashes (as an aside, snapping up a MAC coach who has had only one or two good years there into a Power Five Conference team is always a risky roll of the dice).  Case in point:  while Coach Hope’s base salary was $925,000 a year, Coach Hazell’s base salary was $1,750,000.  Better, but still not enough to attract talent on par with, say, James Franklin of Penn State or Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, let alone Urban Meyer or Jim Harbaugh.

Moreover, when the bigger players in the B1G are searching for their new coach, they never seem to have to announce some fundraising effort to be able to offer a big-name, proven winner of a coach a competitive salary.  Yet Purdue had to announce such an effort just to be able to pay its coach $1.75 million, which is still sub-average among the Power Five.

Before drilling even deeper to the root problem, let us keep things in perspective for now.  Burke has been proven that he is among the best AD’s in the country in terms of two things.  One is operations.  Having attended the Big Ten wrestling championships, hosted in Mackey Arena on March 3, 2012, I can personally attest that they were carried out flawlessly.

The other is financials.  The Big Ten is home to some gigantic athletics departments that include both Michigan and Ohio State, both of whom have a figurative license to print money.  Purdue, meanwhile is at a systemic disadvantage in that its athletic department receives ZERO money from the university.  Despite that handicap, Burke has led a very financially-sound department, with each fiscal year ending in the black.

But Burke’s weakness has been talent acquisition, which, frankly, is 90% of his job in the public’s eye.  He lucked out with Coach Tiller, who in hindsight had a limited shelf life of effectiveness without Drew Brees.  He tried going cheap with Coach Hope after Tiller, and that ended up crippling the program.  Although he doubled the head football coach’s salary at Purdue, he has wasted it on Darrell Hazell.  Granted, Hazell is a fine man who has raised outstanding kids and has done everything beyond reproach.  Moreover, he has done wonderful, marvelous things in reaching out to football alums.

Yet despite being a fine gentleman off the field, Coach Hazell’s on-the-field record has been only 6-30 in three seasons.  This dismal performance has led to a damaging effect on Purdue’s athletic and thus academic reputation to average people.  It has in turn led to major frustrations on the part of the Purdue alumni and related faithful.  Since Burke hired Hazell, a good bulk of this frustration has understandably been laid at the feet of the AD.

Thus, the initial reaction to the announcement of Burke’s eventual retirement:  why wait so long when a changing of the guard appears to be in order?  Sixteen months seems like a long time to wait to take the program into a new direction.  More to the point, is the change desperately in order?  Answer:  yes and no.  A two-decade tenure for an athletics director is long enough.  After that lengthy span of time, new blood is needed, with new leadership to take the department in new directions.  Given the current, disgraceful abyss of the football program and the inconsistent performance of men’s basketball, that new direction is obviously, desperately needed.

But will a changing of the guard at AD really help beget that?  After extensive deliberation and searching of perspectives, I am led to conclude that a new AD alone might not help bring about  the change Purdue desperately needs.  Perhaps Burke’s ineptitude at hiring a proven, big-name coach was a symptom of his being hamstrung by the Board of Trustees.

Most universities “get it.”  That is, they understand that college athletics, and football in particular, are front porches to their universities.  Meaning, the trustees of most major universities understand that football is the primary marketing tool, and they thus see the football team as a way of leveraging and building the schools’ entire reputation in the eyes of the general public.  Purdue, in contrast, sees athletics as a secondary mission, and has historically chosen to put academics first.  While this is noble, it is also short-sighted, given the context of today’s society, where we accept the use of a school’s football team as the primary promotion tool as normal and indeed, expected.

When podunk Appalachian State was vying for three consecutive national titles as the FCS level in football last decade, it was a huge shot in the arm for that school.  During a home game in the playoffs in 2007, the university’s president was on the sidelines wearing an ASU football jersey, joyously telling the sideline reporter for ESPN that applications for potential students to attend that university had skyrocketed.  Enough said.

Thus we are led to the core problem at hand:  why do the members of Purdue’s Board of Trustees fail to grasp this?  As long as they fail to understand this basic, modern tenant of university promotion, it might not matter how capable Burke’s replacement at AD will be.

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The End of the Danny Hope Era at Purdue: a postmortem and a forward look November 30, 2012

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Over the past few days, the word about Coach Danny Hope’s firing has spread like wildfire.  In four seasons as Purdue’s head football coach, Hope was 22-27, with no appreciable signs of improvement from when he took over from Coach Joe Tiller at the helm.  This particular development had been, according to rumors, that Athletics Director Morgan J. Burke had actually been planned since Purdue’s blowout loss at home to Wisconsin.  Be that as it may, the development having been brought to fruition has opened a floodgate of after-the-fact criticism against the man, something I flat-out refuse to join.

Say what you want about Coach Hope:  he treated those who played under him as well as those who worked under him more than equitably.  He cared for every one of his players as if they were all his sons.  Coach Hope and I go back about 15 years, when I first met him at Coach Tiller’s summer football camp for high school players.  Starting a year later, I was an aide to him while a student manager on the Purdue team, helping him out on the sidelines during games while he was the offensive line coach under Joe Tiller.  In the subsequent years that followed, he went out of his way to make me feel like part of the football family, be it at Eastern Kentucky University – a long story! – or at Purdue as well.  I have awesome articles of athletic-themed attire that I shall forever treasure wearing – stuff that he personally gave me.

But I am not the only one ever grateful, ever true to the man now stepping down as head man of the Purdue football team.  None other than Drew Brees and Matt Light consider Coach Hope “their coach.”  Drew has been quoted as saying that he would run through a brick wall for Hope.  Matt Light, former all-pro offensive tackle, not to mention the man who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for a solid decade, has credited Coach Hope with molding him into an NFL lineman.

Bear Bryant was known to say “[i]f anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it.
If anything goes real good, you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games.”  With every big win – few as there were – Hope always passed the credit along to his players.  When Purdue won in Michigan Stadium for the first time in over four decades, Coach Hope was almost in tears on account of how proud he was of his boys and how well they played.

Moreover, when Hope’s tenure began, on paper, it was a good hire.  He was the perfect organizational/cultural fit, having served under Coach Tiller all those years.  Moreover, anybody who has met the man could not help but love him, what with his high-energy, high-enthusiasm personality that could brighten up any room.  Better yet, he brought in Gary Nord as offensive coordinator.  Both learned the coaching ropes together under the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, so obviously they had the pedigree.  Between Hope’s high-energy approach towards motivating players and Nord’s abilities with the X’s and O’s, it seemed to be an awesome match.  Sadly, things did not turn out that way, as the results clearly show.

The question becomes, why?  One plausible explanation is that Hope’s under-performance is the symptom of a bigger issue within Purdue’s athletics dept.  One of Purdue’s dirty little secrets is, historically they under-compensate their personnel compared to other Big Ten athletics programs.  Anybody with any ambition at all puts in their time, enhances their resumes, then leave for, er, greener pastures, leaving behind good people that stay out of a combination of loyalty (commendable though that may be) and lack of options.

To put things even more bluntly, Purdue is notoriously cheap when it comes to paying its coaches.  That could explain Coach Hope’s woes, to an extent.  A cursory survey will reveal that Purdue has the lowest football coaches’ salaries of any staff in the B1G.  Not good.  Hope himself was the lowest-paid head coach in the conference, making only $950,000 this year.  Yes, I know, to the vast majority of people, that is a tidy sum.  But when you consider that even Tim Beckman of Illinois makes $1.6 million, or even Kevin Wilson of lowly Indiana makes $1.2 million annually, something is dreadfully wrong in Boilerland.

The same problem applies to underpaying assistant coaches.  Therefore, the head coach does what he can to bring in assistants, but once they build up their resume, they then go somewhere else where they can make more money.  Successful football programs depend in part with coaching continuity.  Don’t believe me?  Look at what happened to mighty Texas when the bulk of their assistants left, or the slump Florida found itself in for a while.  Now imagine the havoc that is wrought on a program like Purdue from lack of such continuity.  To quote ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, coaches do not care about your school’s fight song:  pay them!

That brings us to the another major point.  Morgan Burke right now faces the awesome task of finding a new CEO of the football program to take it in a new, better direction.  Certain names have been tossed around here and there, but no matter whom they hire, if Burke does not take a crowbar to the department’s wallet, Purdue will be in the same situation it is in now in three or four years’ time.

Adam Rittenberg, a blogger of espn.com has reported that Burke is putting together a $4.5 million fund for the next coach.  If that is true, then maybe, after all these years, it has sunk in that he needs to pay his football coaches substantially more than in the past, distant and recent.  Yes, Burke deserves credit for ably managing the athletics department’s bottom line, but that bottom line itself is in jeopardy if the team keeps losing games and the fans vote with their feet in the form of lost ticket revenue.  As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.  Winning games makes money, and to win games, Purdue needs to raise football coaches’ pay (both head coach and assistants) if they want to get anywhere.  Let us hope that the rumored $4.5 million is made available soon for the best coaching talent out there.  But by that same token, assembling those funds should be a sign that Burke et al. have finally figured out that winning in the Big Ten (or any other “Big Six” conference these days) costs money, and they do deserve some credit for figuring that out, even if belatedly.

Another problem for the program was the offensive strategy combined with a stale culture.  Concerning the latter, let us face it:  bringing in Coach Hope to replace Coach Tiller was, in some regards, more of the same.  The head coach is CEO of the football program.  Like a chief executive, his job is to not only set the strategy, but also the culture and tone of the organization.  Bringing in Hope was more of the same in that the Tiller influence was able to linger longer than it should.  Coach Tiller did a wonderful job of bringing Purdue out of the wretched Jim Colletto era doldrums, but after a while, things became stale.  Furthermore, his one-sided “basketball on grass” was becoming less and less effective.  Frankly, Drew Brees and his ability to work the on-field magic that he did made Tiller’s offense look far more effective than it really was.  The best season Purdue had post-Drew was the 2003 season, where we had a tough, veteran defense combined with Coach Tiller “discovering” something called the running game.  Sadly, Coach Tiller never learned from his successes that season, and engaged in a very lengthy panic to where Purdue’s offense continued to dwindle as it became ever-more reliant on the passing game.  The more-of-the-same approach, that which worked before but became less effective as the conference overall changed, in turn caused the organizational culture to go stale as well.

Ultimately, Coach Hope’s on-field woes could most likely be attributed to the ongoing quarterback merry-go-round, combined with a poor choice of offensive strategy that was, again, too reliant on the pass.  In so many games, I observed too many over-engineered plays that were attempted to be executed by under-skilled personnel.  The nature of these plays tended to put the offensive players in too many precarious situations, which could account for why injuries perpetually plagued Hope and his team.

A run-oriented, option-based attack could have rectified this problem.  So many fans argue that the passing game is what puts butts in the seats, but I counter in turn that winning is what truly generates enthusiasm for a program, and thus stimulates greater attendance.  Three yards and a cloud of dust will sell just as well as the passing game, if you win.  The new coach, whoever he may be, will be well-served to heed this advice.  Given our current personnel, we could credibly execute a flexbone option attack much like Georgia Tech and Navy currently use.  It could buy us time until we bring in personnel that could give us more options in a balanced, pro-style attack that is a proven winning approach with teams throughout the country.

But in the meantime, do not pile on Coach Hope.  I will always admire him as a loyal, gracious man.  He stood for everything a place like Purdue should support — values, character, sincerity, and integrity.  The Boiler Nation would be well-served to never forget that.

My Open Letter to Coach Danny Hope November 9, 2012

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Purdue Quarterback Rob Henry (photo by Patrick “Sarge” Murray)

Dear Coach Hope:

Sir:  As a friend and former aide, I have readily come to your defense over the past couple of years as fellow Purdue alums have grumbled at me about Purdue’s lack of progress.  This past week’s result, I imagine, has done nothing to assuage the proverbial natives from becoming even more restless.  You and I both know that whatever is going on right now offensively is not working.  Might I humbly and amicably suggest that the best way to salvage the season is to make a sudden about-face in terms of offensive strategy?

Think about it from a potential opponent’s point of view.  Iowa, Illinois and especially Indiana must be licking their chops right now, drooling over how they are going to shut you guys down.  Surprising them would be a sure ticket to making them eat crow.  The main current problem, I have concluded, is that you have under-skilled personnel trying to execute over-engineered plays.  My idea is to simplify.  Draw up some simpler plays, have your guys attack the defense, and you could potentially win by sheer surprise if nothing else.

 

Moreover, let us look at it another way.  Mack Brown at Texas just announced that the Longhorns will run some of their plays out of the wishbone in tribute to the late, great Darrell K. Royal.  Could we not do something similar as a fitting tribute to the late, innovative coach?  You wouldn’t necessarily have to run out of the wishbone (thought it would be nice!), but you could keep Rob Henry under center and run out of the veer.

What if it does not work, you ask?  I answer with a rhetorical question in turn:  so what?  The current offensive approach is clearly not working.  What have we to lose?  I can see Kirk Ferentz and company completely baffled if you were to come out with a different, simplified scheme.  It will be the talk of the Conference!

Ultimately, though, the long-term solution is a totally new, original, offensive game plan.  You and I both love Purdue, but both of us would acknowledge that this fine school is tougher to recruit than Ohio State, Florida or even Texas Tech.  The relative difficulty in recruiting stems from its spotty-at-best Fall weather and its relatively rigid academic standards.  What you need is a niche offense that nobody else does; a quirky offense that nobody encounters, nor has time to prepare for.  It also has to be a ground-based attack so that you can, as mentioned before, take and maintain control of the game.  My solution, therefore, is to install a triple-option wishbone/flexbone-style attack, not unlike that which they use at Navy or at Georgia Tech.  Such a niche offense would attract niche players who would be overlooked by schools with more conventional offensive packages.

This suggested shift in offensive strategy could be just the key to turnaround and long-term viability for which the Purdue faithful have hungered.  With your unswerving ability to motivate and Coach Nord’s mastery of the X’s and O’s, I have no doubt that the two of you will succeed in implementing this idea not only for a turnaround in the short-run, but better yet for an investment in long-term viability for the program. You can do it — Boiler Up!

your friend,

Sarge

College Football Week 10 Awards November 5, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 10, pre-week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Nick Saban, Alabama
Glad I’m not him: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
Desperately seeking a wake-up call:  Tom O’Brien, N.C. State
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking … anything:  DeWayne Walker, New Mexico State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Stanford (beat Colorado 48-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (beat Missouri 14-7)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Temple (lost to No. 11 Louisville 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Pittsburgh (lost to No. 4 Notre Dame, 29-26, 3 OT)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Vanderbilt (beat Kentucky 40-0)

Dang, they’re good: Texas A&M
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue
Can’t stand prosperity:  Arizona (lost to UCLA 66-10)

Did the season start?  Missouri
Can the season end?  Memphis
Can the season never end?  Louisville

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 21, No. 5 LSU* 17
Never play this again: Northern Illinois 63, UMass 0
What? No. 16 Texas A&M* 38, No. 15 Mississippi State* 13
Huh? No. 23 Texas* 31, No. 18 Texas Tech* 22
Are you kidding me? TCU 39, No. 21 West Virginia* 38, OT
Oh – my – God:  UCLA 66, No. 22 Arizona* 10

* rankings are from Week 10 as opposed to Week 11

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 15 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (no really good match-ups)
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana-Monroe @ Arkansas State
Upset alert: No. 11 Louisville @ Syracuse

Must win: No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 9 LSU
Offensive explosion: Baylor @ No. 14 Oklahoma (or Tulsa @ Houston)
Defensive struggle: Missouri @ Tennessee
Great game no one is talking about: No. 13 Oregon State @ No. 16 Stanford

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of TCU vs.  Bill Snyder of No. 2 Kansas State
Special Election Night Special: Ball State @ Toledo (Red vs. Blue)

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 4 Notre Dame @ Boston College

Why are they playing? Louisiana-Lafayette @ No. 7 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: UMass @ Akron (notwithstanding Tulane @ Memphis)

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Army @ Rutgers

Week 10 in Review:

Bama passes the test:  Last week’s “Ticket to die for” certainly lived up to its billing, as The Crimson Tide duked it out with the Bayou Bengals in Death Valley.  A normally mistake-free Alabama reversed that trend throughout much of the game and started making more mistakes than usual.  Top-notch opponents tend bring out more mistakes than usual, to be sure.  In the end, Bama’s offense finally decided to start executing.  This sudden development clearly caught LSU’s defense off guard, and The Tide easily scored a TD when all they needed was a field goal to tie.  With only a minute to go, LSU failed to score on the second Hail Mary play.  Bama passed the test against what might be its toughest opponent of the entire regular season.

SEC Breathers:  Between this and upcoming Saturday and the one to follow, it seems as though the bulk of the SEC, stud and cellar-dweller alike, will take a breather from beating up on one-another and instead focus their brutal energies on lesser opponents, be they, say, fodder from the Sun Belt Conference (e.g., Louisiana-Lafayette at Florida), or FCS teams.  Case in point:  Samford ventures up to Lexington to play Kentucky in two weeks.  Alabama will no doubt easily dispatch with Western Carolina that same day.  Missouri is somewhat an exception in that they will play middle-of-the-road Big East foe Syracuse.  A curious annual constant is Wofford getting annihilated by South Carolina.  Tennessee already had their little break with Troy.  Vandy will conclude its season by taking its respective break against Wake Forest.  Arkansas barely escaped from their little breather, beating Tulsa only 19-15.  Auburn’s break, though, also comes two Saturdays from now when Alabama A&M comes to the Loveliest Little Village on the Plains.  Even Texas A&M is getting in on the act and playing Sam Houston State on the 17th.  Curiously, no such break comes for Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or LSU.  Still, do the teams that are taking a break, either this week or next, feel that their conference schedule is so brutal that they think they need such breaks before it is time for the ol’ sprint to the finish?  As a suggestion for improvement, surely Notre Dame could be squeezed in to one of these schedules, as the Irish feel they are “back,” and could be given an opportunity to test that idea.  It would give the fans a lot more excitement than Wofford or Sam Houston State, that’s for sure.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Longhorns:  At first, it seemed as though Texas was caught off guard by West Virginia’s high-powered offense and narrowly lost in a high-scoring game.  That idea quickly vanished in Dallas the following week when the Horns got embarrassed by Oklahoma.  Squeaking by Baylor in an even more high-scoring affair than that against the Mountaineers raised further concerns about Texas’ defensive woes (poor fundamentals, inability to make basic tackles, etc.).  Then, inexplicably, they win on the road.  And not just on the road, but in Lubbock, against Texas Tech, which in recent years has been one of the toughest places to play in the Big XII Conference.  Even more inexplicable is, while Texas did have occasional recurring issues with their defense (the same sort that has visibly plagued the Longhorns for the last month), by virtue of holding the Red Raiders to only 22 points, the defense clearly made key stops this time.

Granted, Texas Tech’s offense has been a tad inconsistent this year, scoring 49 points one week then being held to 24 the next, and so on.  Nevertheless, they walloped West Virginia and won in a shootout over TCU, making everyone take notice of their high-powered offense.

The “so-what” in all of this is that one of the hallmarks of a well-coached team is that you know what sort of performance to expect from week to week.  Was the past  month a temporary slump for Texas, or are they to be up for one week, down for the next?  Time will tell if their defeat of Texas Tech has halted the bleeding, or if they will perpetrate the apparent “Jekyll-and-Hyde” mystery with a sub-par performance against Iowa State next week.  Conversely, if they obliterate the Cyclones at home next week, it will bode well for the rest of the season, when they will need it the most against TCU, followed by No. 2 Kansas State.

Quietly undefeated:  The Louisville Cardinals are 9-0 for the first time in program history.  Not even Bobby Petrino managed such a feat when he put the Cards on the map and coached them to their first ever Orange Bowl-berth/victory.  The only team that defeated them in that memorable 2006-2007 season was Rutgers, in Piscataway, N.J.  Interestingly enough, that is where Louisville concludes its regular season this year, potentially for all the marbles in the Big East.  But before the Cards look too far ahead, they need to focus on the next game.  Syracuse is their next opponent, and Louisville takes them on in the Carrier Dome, where they are tough (though not impossible) to beat.  Coach Charlie Strong would be well-served to remind his sophomore-dominated team that this upcoming match-up is a potential trap game, and that they must focus their preparations accordingly.

Another one bites the dust:  The University of Kentucky opened up the floodgates in 1996 for a whole slew of coaching changes at years end when they fired Bill Curry.  Soon after that, the inept Jim Colletto of Purdue resigned, and at season’s end, so did Lou Holtz and Notre Dame and even Gene Stallings at Alabama, just to name a few.  Could UK have started a similar apparent chain reaction in 2012, having just fired Joker Phillips?  Time will tell.  Joker was, by all accounts, an honorable representative of the Wildcats, and A.D. Mitch Barnhart was lavish in his praise of the man in an open letter on UK’s official website.  Ultimately, it was a business decision.  Phillips simply lacked the skill set to effectively lead the largest revenue generating division of UK’s athletic brand (he was 12-23).  At best, only about 10,000 fans showed up at Commonwealth Stadium to see the Wildcats get trounced by traditional conference bottom-feeder Vandy.  Obviously the program has been headed in the wrong direction for the past couple of years, and Mitch Barnhart made a prudent business decision to try to rectify this problem.

College Football Week 9 Awards October 29, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 9, pre-week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Glad I’m not him: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Butch Jones, Cincinnati
Desperately seeking a clue: Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Darrell Hazell, Kent State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Desperately seeking … anything:  Danny Hope, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oregon (beat Colorado 70-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (beat Kansas 21-17)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Auburn (lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 63-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Texas 21-17)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Navy (beat East Carolina 56-28)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  Texas Tech (lost to No. 3 Kansas State 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Kansas State
Dang, they’re bad: Temple
Can’t stand prosperity:  Ohio U.  (lost to Miami [Ohio] 23-20)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Purdue
Can the season never end?  Notre Dame

GAMES
Play this again: No. 7 Georgia 17, No. 8 Florida 9

Never play this again: No. 3 Oregon 70, Colorado 14
What?  Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13, OT
Huh? No. 10 Georgia 7, No. 8 Florida 9

Double Huh?  Washington 20, No. 13 Oregon State 17
Are you kidding me? Kent State 35, Rutgers 23
Oh – my – God:  Arizona 39, No 18 USC 36
Told you so: No. 12 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 30, OT

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 LSU (notwithstanding No. 2 Oregon @ No. 9 USC)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Tulsa @ Arkansas
Best non-Big Six matchup: SMU @ Central Florida
Upset alert: No. 10 Clemson @ Duke

Must win: Texas @ No. 20 Texas Tech
Offensive explosion: Arizona @ UCLA
Defensive struggle: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 Texas A&M @ No. 17 Mississippi State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Dan Mullen of Mississippi State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 15 Stanford
Why are they playing? Troy @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UAB @ Southern Miss
They shoot horses, don’t they?  UMass @ Northern Illinois

Week 9 in Review:  Upsets and Conference Toilet Bowls Abound

The whole purpose of a given “Toilet Bowl” is to pit the two worst teams against each other to find which is, in  fact, the worst of the worst.  Such was determined twice yesterday.  In the Big 10 Toilet Bowl, Indiana trounced Illinois 31-17, in the Fighting Illini’s home stadium, no less.  Illinois, now 2-6, is now the undisputed – though clearly not undefeated – bottom-feeder of the conference for this season.  They are winless in the Big 10, and have no time to lick this very revealing wound, as next week they venture into Columbus, Ohio to take on Ohio State.

Meanwhile, in the Toilet Bowl, SEC Edition, Missouri defeated Kentucky in CoMo (which is what the locals refer to as Columbia, Mo.) by a similar score, 33-10.  Kentucky is in a sadly familiar spot in the most brutal of conferences in college football.  What is even more revealing, though, is UK’s response in the wake of the loss.

“It’s tough, because we knew we were better than those guys,” so said Kentucky tailback Raymond Sanders.  Better than them, even when losing by 23 points?  Such denial of reality is why head coach Joker Phillips has merited the above award for the week (see:  Desperately seeking a clue).

Undefeateds going down:  Fewer teams remain undefeated today than when they woke up to play games yesterday.  Rutgers was the highest-ranked team in the Big East before going down to one-loss Kent State.  Inexplicably, the Golden Flashes’ sole defeat came at the hands of Kentucky.

Mississippi State’s first defeat of the season was the most understandable of all first losses of the year, given that they were going up against No. 1 Alabama, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, no less.  The Bulldogs’ head coach, Dan Mullen, said it best going into the weekend when he pointed out that, “[Y]ou’ve got to try to run the ball (on Alabama) whether you’re having success or not.”  Despite Mississippi State’s best efforts, they were very slowly and methodically ground down by the Crimson Tide, 38-7.

On the West Coast, undefeated Oregon State lost that distinction in their loss to Washington.  Steve Sarkesian’s Huskies have earned the reputation of being a “giant killer” of sorts this year, as they handed previously-undefeated Stanford its first loss of the year as well.  Keep an eye on the program on the rebound in Seattle.

Finally, Florida was another team to bite the proverbial dust and suffer its first loss to Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla.  Though scoring was relatively low (17-9 in favor of the UGA Bulldogs), there were plenty of plays to keep the crowd enthused.  In the end, the old adage of “the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins” rang true yet again, which explains how the Bulldogs reigned victorious.

More chrome:  North Carolina – of all bloody teams! – has jumped on the chrome dome bandwagon, as they sported chrome-silver helmets during their last-minute upset over rival N.C. State.  Moreover, the main decal was an oversized Tarheel logo (the Carolina blue-colored foot with the tar on the heel), in breaking with the traditional “NC” decal they usually display.  On all-dark blue jersey and pants ensemble complimented a very different look for a team normally known for its “Carolina blue” helmets and jerseys.  Oh well:  it beats the trendy “matte” look!

Choke-lahoma:  That moniker was earned/demonstrated yet again last night, as Oklahoma squandered a golden (if you’ll pardon the expression) opportunity to hand Notre Dame its first loss of the year.  Stoops and company have nobody to blame but themselves for deliberately holding themselves back.  They had an offensive line capable of controlling the line of scrimmage, and yet they repeatedly passed up on the opportunity to establish a ground attack.  On the passing side of things, they also held themselves back by concentrating on short-yardage increments that are the bread-and-butter of the one-sided spread offense.  They did this while being thoroughly capable of throwing the ball further down the field, and by not doing this, never forced the Irish secondary to respect either the deep threat or the short yardage attempts.  Head Coach Bob Stoops has proven once again to be something of a schoolyard bully of the coaching ranks; arrogant and blunt with reporters, lots of bluster, but having little to, er, “bring,” when genuinely challenged.

Looking ahead:  some other games to keep an eye on, aside from the upcoming games listed above includes Air Force @ Army in an all-service academies showdown.  Another intriguing matchup is TCU venturing into Morgantown, W.V. to play the Mountaineers.  The big question going in to that game will be, how will West Virginia respond to two consecutive drubbings after being ranked so high in the polls?  Moreover, how the Horned Frogs will handle the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd is a question no doubt in the back of the minds of many a fan and observer.  In the wake of the SEC “Toilet Bowl” 2012, Missouri takes on Florida and Kentucky takes on Vanderbilt, meaning that the respective cellar-dweller status of either team is unlikely to change anytime soon.  After Oklahoma was embarrassed at home to Notre Dame, how will they respond at Iowa State, a team that has shown surprising formidability this year?  Can Duke show that it has staying power by bouncing back after a tough though understandable loss to Florida State in time to put up a good fight against inconsistent Clemson?  More importantly, can USC bounce back from being upset in the desert by Arizona in time for a primetime showdown against Oregon at home?

College Football Week 8 Awards October 22, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 8, pre-week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Glad I’m not him: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a clue:  Charlie Weis, Kansas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kyle Whittingham, Utah

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 10 USC  (beat Colorado 50-6)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 12 Georgia (beat Kentucky 29-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kansas (lost to No. 8 Oklahoma 52-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (beat Indiana 31-30)
Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  No. 17 South Carolina (lost to No. 3 Florida 44-11)

Dang, they’re good: Florida
Dang, they’re bad: Auburn
Did the season start? Iowa
Can the season end?  Boston College

Can the season never end?  Kansas State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 18 Texas Tech 56, TCU 53
Never play this again: No. 2 Oregon 43*, Arizona State 21
What? No. 4 Kansas State 55, No. 25 West Virginia 17
Huh?  Duke 33, North Carolina 30
Are you kidding me? Toledo 29, Cincinnati 23

Oh – my – God:   Navy 31, Indiana 30

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 5 Notre Dame @ No. 8 Oklahoma (notwithstanding Georgia vs. No. 3 Florida in Jacksonville)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Kent State @ No. 18 Rutgers
Best non-Big Six matchup: Navy @ East Carolina
Upset alert: No. 13 Mississippi State @ No. 1 Alabama

Must win: No. 20 Michigan @ Nebraska
Offensive explosion: No. 15 Texas Tech @ No. 4 Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Missouri @ Kentucky
Great game no one is talking about: Cincinnati @ No. 16 Louisville, Friday, 8 PM

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bob Stoops of Oklahoma vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 2 Oregon
Why are they playing? UMass @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Hawaii @ Colorado St.  (notwithstanding Indiana @ Illinois)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 22 Texas A&M @ Auburn

*If Oregon did not call off the dogs at halftime, they could have scored 86 points, not just 43.

Offensive Explosion, C-USA-style:  Who’da thought that the Thursday night Houston-SMU matchup would have led to such offensive fireworks?

Two trends in helmet design:  One of which is the matte epidemic that must be discussed in a future article, having infected teams such as TCU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Baylor (their green helmets in the recent Alamo Bowl), Michigan State (sort of), and a host of others.  But another emergent trend, one more becoming of ultra-modernity, is the “chrome” effect.  Oregon debuted it during the most recent Rose Bowl, where they triumphed over Wisconsin wearing helmets with chrome [duck] wings on a chrome shell.  Recently, they demolished Arkansas State with chrome [duck] wings on a plain yellow shell.  Now, Michigan State has furthered the trend with a special helmet they wore in their narrow loss to rival Michigan, sporting a chrome-green shell with a silver chrome decal.  Not bad!

Will Muschamp seems like “the guy” after all:  “The guy,” meaning the guy who is capable of maintaining the high level of success that Florida fans have come to expect during the tenures of Steve Spurrier, followed indirectly by Urban Meyer.  Having established his credentials as an excellent defensive coach while at Texas, Muschamp has finally carried that over into a smothering defense on the part of his current team.  Indeed, the Gators have held opponents to just an average of roughly 12 points per game, and that includes a lackluster performance on both sides of the ball during their season-opener against Bowling Green.  Offensively, the Gators have shown considerable signs of life, thanks in part to the able QB skills of one Jeff Driskel.  On that side of the ball, Florida has averaged 33 points per game for the past five games.  Fourteen points was enough to overcome LSU’s stingy ‘D,’ while the Gators put up a whopping 44 points on South Carolina’s reputable defense yesterday in The Swamp.

The “So What” for the SEC:  If these shadows remain unchanged, it will be a Battle Royale in Atlanta between Florida and Alabama come early December.  But first, Florida must take care of Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, while Alabama has to contend with undefeated Mississippi State.  Bama also has LSU left on their slate, while the Gators’ only major challenge after the Bulldogs (UGA, not MSU) will be a regular-season closer at rival Florida State (thankfully for the Gators, a non-conference foe).  Stay tuned!

The current race in the Big XII:  Kansas State remains firmly in the driver’s seat after dispatching with yet another viable challenger in West Virginia.  Geno Smith might very well be leading a high-powered offense, but the Mountaineers’ defense is clearly another matter entirely, one that Coach Dana Holgorsen would be well-served to shore up at some point.  The challenge for head coach Bill Snyder and the Wildcats is to turn around after a big win against a formidable team on the road, and be ready for the same level of performance at home, as Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech Red Raiders are about to come calling.  A loss on the part of KSU could make for a very rather muddled race for top spot in the conference.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is determined to maintain its insurgent conference championship run, but a number of potential challenges remain with Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and TCU awaiting their respective confrontations.  Having said that, Bob Stoops & Co. have the opportunity to get back into the national conversation, as No. 5 Notre Dame comes into Norman for the biggest challenge the Irish are likely to face the entire year.  The season for both teams hangs in the balance.

Oregon, meanwhile, keeps motoring along up in the Pacific Northwest.  The Ducks remain undefeated, and their scores have been so high, they have practically required oxygen to read them, averaging 51 points each game thus far.  Their no-huddle offense is so fast-paced that it has caused Nick Saban of seemingly invincible Alabama to grumble.  But it will not be a smooth road to Miami for the Ducks for the BCS title game.  In two weeks, they must face resurgent USC.  Just two weeks after that, Stanford will not be playing dead just because Oregon is, well, Oregon, and they close their regular season with in-state rival Oregon State in the annual match-up known as “The Civil War.”  Given that the Beavers have crept into the No. 8 ranking, the game between these two teams this year could very well live up to such an august game title/nickname.  Moreover, that game this year will be in Corvalis, not Eugene.  If the Ducks end up making it to the Orange Bowl part II, they will certainly have earned it.

College Football Week 7 Awards October 15, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 7, pre-week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Glad I’m not him: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a clue: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Riley, Oregon State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything:  Gene Chizik, Auburn

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Florida State (beat Boston College 51-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (beat Indiana 52-49)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Missouri (lost to No.1 Alabama 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Oklahoma State 20-14)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Arizona State (beat Colorado 51-17)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Illinois
Did the season start? Auburn
Can the season end?  Colorado
Can the season never end? Oregon State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 20 Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57
Never play this again: No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
What? Arizona State 51, Colorado 17

Huh?  No. 7 Ohio State 52, Indiana 49
Are you kidding me? No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
Oh – my – God:  Texas Tech 49, No. 17 West Virginia 14

Told you so:  No. 4 Kansas State 27, Iowa State 21

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 South Carolina @ No. 3 Florida
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Middle Tennessee State @ No. 15 Mississippi State
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana Monroe @ Western Kentucky
Upset alert: No. 2 Oregon @ Arizona State

Must win: Baylor @ Texas
Offensive explosion: No. 4 Kansas State @ No. 17 West Virginia
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Iowa
Great game no one is talking about: Nebraska @ Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of LSU vs. Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M
Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 14 Georgia @ Kentucky

Why are they playing? Pittsburgh @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ Eastern Michigan

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Colorado @ No. 11 USC

Week 7: Thoughts on the week:

Passing the test:  Every good team eventually has to pass a test.  The team can be undefeated, well-ranked, but doubts will still remain, doubts that can be summed up with the partly-rhetorical question, “whom have they played?”  Several teams passed the test today.  No. 16 Louisville passed the test by winning on the road against the toughest team they have played yet in Pittsburgh.  The Notre Dame apologists feel that the Irish have passed a test in squeaking by No. 22 Stanford at home in overtime.  Mike Riley has been quietly winning games at Oregon State this year, and the tests he has already passed were mostly tests in hindsight.  I say “mostly” because the opening game/win was over a Wisconsin team that had understandably high expectations.  Two more victories have come over resurgent programs in UCLA and Arizona, albeit at different stages in that key regard.

But though these teams have passed these tests, more remain.  A much greater trial awaits the Louisville Cardinals when they take on Cincinnati.  The huge tests that await Notre Dame are listed later in this article entry.  Meanwhile, Oregon State’s upcoming tests are exceedingly daunting, what with Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, and finally, Oregon, still remaining on the schedule.

Then there are the teams that failed to pass the test, most notably South Carolina, who lost in a close one to LSU in Death Valley.  A win could have strengthened their bid to lead the SEC East, but the loss means they must now hand Florida its first loss of the season in The Swamp.  Sometimes make-up tests are more difficult – with more on the line – than the original thing.

Red River Rout:  For the third consecutive year, Texas has lost ignominiously to arch-rival Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry game.  Coaches have been known to summarily get the ax on account of not being able to beat their rivals (see: Cooper, John, or Bowden, Bobby [later years]).  Could it be that Mack Brown, as genial a man as there is in the upper echelons of this business, finally be wearing out his welcome in Austin?  Goodness knows he is running out of excuses for his chronic under-performance over the past three years.  In the time since they lost valiantly to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship game, the Horns have failed to be bowl eligible in one of those seasons, and have failed to beat the Sooners in all three.  This is an unacceptable situation given that he coaches the team that is the flagship school in the biggest, best football state in the entire country; a team whose cache helped launch the school’s own ESPN-powered sports network, and a program that has the pick of the litter for top talent in the Lone Star State.  Yet with all of these advantages, combined with much-improved QB play from David Ash, Brown is bereft of playmakers, something for which there is simply no excuse, given the ideal location of the program.  The inescapable conclusion becomes that Brown’s tenure has reached the end of its effectiveness, hence that he must go.  Nothing personal, Mack; it’s just business.

Paging Bobby Petrino:  Okay, so if Texas fires Mack Brown, with whom shall they replace him?  Bobby Petrino seems to be an obvious choice.  Yes, Petrino gives mercenaries a bad name; yes, his system is so seemingly unstable that nobody else can operate it in his absence (see:  Arkansas; see: Louisville, pre-Charlie Strong).  But he wins.  The athletics department at the University of Texas not only has the resources to pay him a handsomely competitive salary, but can supply him with his own young mistresses if he wishes to add that to his contract as a benefit – no need to add them to the team staff payroll on the sly!  More to the point though, a team with the resources and tradition of Texas under the leadership of Bobby Petrino could make Nick Saban’s Alabama team seem almost anemic by comparison, and would give the arrogant Bob Stoops of Oklahoma more than cause for notice.

Who needs Mike Leach?  The Dread Pirate Leach might have put Texas Tech on the map with his spread offense on steroids, but he is hardly missed this weekend in Lubbock.  How could one, what with Tommy Tuberville regenerating excitement for the program with a huge upset win over West Virginia?  Geno Smith and Co. seemed almost invincible going into Week 7’s game, but then they ran into a team with a secondary built to stop the big pass plays that had until yesterday fueled the Mountaineer’s undefeated run.  Funny how things work out like that.  A win of this magnitude (49-15) over a top-ten opponent (WVU was No. 5 going into the game) ought to merit a ranking of some sort for Texas Tech.

Settle down, Notre Dame fan:  Does any reasonably objective individual believe that if Stanford and Notre Dame met on a neutral site, and/or if the game were not soaked by a torrential rain, that the Cardinal would not have triumphed?  As it is, the Fighting Irish had to squeak by in overtime, and only then because Stanford made two consecutive bone-headed calls during their post-regulation possession.  The point in all this is, if Notre Dame has a decent undefeated run, scores of apologists fall all over themselves to overvalue the team with an unduly high ranking.  The team is in for a rude awakening in two weeks when it ventures in to Norman to take on Oklahoma.  An almost-as-rigorous test will come at season’s end in Los Angeles Coliseum against USC.  You ND apologists maybe laughing now, but just you wait.

Ditch those gray camo unis, South Carolina:  I very much appreciate you guys trying to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project or whatever it is you’re into these days.  It is most commendable.  But the effort ought not to obscure your glorious Garnet and Black, one of the best color combos in Big Boy Football these days.  Wear ‘em with pride, boys.  Gray jerseys?  Yuck!  Garnet jerseys?  Sweet.

About the Big XII title:  Since the nominal Big XII has an insufficient amount of members to justify a championship game, Kansas State is currently in the driver’s seat for the championship distinction.  This has become clear after Oklahoma’s loss recent loss to the Wildcats, followed by West Virginia’s defeat at the hands of Texas Tech yesterday.  Plenty of games remain, but Bill Snyder has the program humming well thus far.

College Football Week 6 Awards October 8, 2012

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(NOTE:  all rankings are current AP [post-Week 6, pre-Week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Glad I’m not him: Danny Hope, Purdue
Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Poor guy: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a clue: Gary Pinkel, Missouri
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Butch Jones, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gene Chizik, Auburn
Desperately seeking … anything:  Skip Holtz, South Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Kansas State (beat Kansas 56-16)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida State (lost to N.C. State 17-16)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Miami (Fla.)  (lost to Notre Dame 41-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Indiana (lost to Michigan State 31-27)
Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  Georgia (lost to South Carolina 35-7)

Dang, they’re good: South Carolina
Dang, they’re bad:  Virginia
Did the season start? South Florida
Can the season end?  Southern Miss
Can the season never end? West Virginia

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 5 West Virginia 48, No. 15 Texas 45
Never play this again: UAB 52, SE Louisiana 3
What?  Temple 37, South Florida 28
Huh? Iowa State 37, No. 23* TCU 23

Are you kidding me? Arkansas 24, Auburn 7
Oh – my – God:  N.C. State 17, No. 12 Florida State 16

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Texas vs. No. 17 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Dallas (Notwithstanding No. 3 South Carolina @ No. 9 LSU)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Louisiana Tech vs. Texas A&M
Best non-Big Six matchup: Fresno State @ Boise State
Upset alert: No. 17 Stanford @ No. 7 Notre Dame

Must win: Purdue vs. Wisconsin
Offensive explosion: No. 5 West Virginia @ Texas Tech
Defensive struggle: No. 4 Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Great game no one is talking about: No. 6 Kansas State @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Paul Chryst of Pittsburgh vs. Charlie Strong of No. 18 Louisville
Who’s bringing the body bags? Boston College @ No. 12 Florida State
Why are they playing? Fordham @ No. 21 Cincinnati

Plenty of good seats remaining: SMU @ Tulane
They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 8 Ohio State @ Indiana

*USA Today poll

Week 6:  Some thoughts looking back and going forward:

Do scores like that still exist in football?  Yes, the showdown in The Swamp between LSU and Florida was an obvious defensive slugfest that many could foresee.  But that pales in comparison with the near-baseball score eked out by Utah State at BYU on Friday night.  The Cougars narrowly triumphed over the Aggies by an underwhelming 6-3.  On a cheerier note, the two teams’ respective uniforms were in perfect contrast to one-another.  Utah State sported dark blue helmets, white jerseys and dark blue pants, while BYU had the exact opposite of white helmets, dark blue jerseys and white pants.  One rarely sees such a mirror-opposite contrast these days!

Speaking of defense struggles, though:  The predicted low-scoring affair between the Gators and the Tigers did indeed manifest itself, as Florida triumphed at home only by 14-6.

On the other side of the coin:  Yours truly, well, truly whiffed on predicting the “offensive explosion” game.  Normally, a Pac-12 match-up, or some game including Baylor or West Virginia (or both, in hindsight!) are rather safe bets.  But bets are not guaranteed: case in point, Oregon State defeated Washington State 19-6 in what could only be called a “workmanlike” performance.  What is much more ironic, though, is that the REAL offensive explosion turned out to be Ohio State’s win over Nebraska in a 63-38 shootout.  I know; the terms “Big 10” and “shootout” rarely go together, which is probably why such an offensive explosion possibility was so cavalierly overlooked.

New contender in town:  West Virginia has made an impressive debut in the Big XII thus far.  They first drew notice by winning their inaugural conference matchup at home in thrilling fashion over Baylor last week.  Now, they have proven that the previous week’s victory was no fluke by winning a hard-fought game over the Texas Longhorns in Austin.  Whether or not the Mountaineers are here and here to stay as a force to be reckoned with in their new home conference is a matter for continued discussion.  Do they have just the right amount of key players with an exceptional quarterback in Geno Smith, or has Dana Holgorsen put something together that can sustain WVU as a perennial top-ten program?  Time will tell, and while the Mountaineers are on a roll, plenty of tests remain.

Wanted:  Rapid Recovery:  Too many fans assume that college football teams can play on an even keel.  That might be remotely, sporadically possible if you are coached by someone whose first name is Nick and whose last name is Saban.  Aside from that, too many fans forget that we’re dealing with 19 year-olds, and as such, they are prone to the emotional roller coaster, and their collective performance periodically thus dips.  An emotional win at home can temporarily drain your incentive to focus in practice the following week, and so seven days after that big win, you can come out flat on the road.  It happens all the time.

The reason this is brought up is because Texas just lost a hard-fought game at home.  Mack Brown shall surely prove what he is made of as he and his staff diligently try to rally the troops as they prepare to take on arch-rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, which is easily one of the biggest games of the year, period.

Meanwhile, in the SEC:  Georgia may be good, but South Carolina is clearly better.  What on paper had to have been a knock-down, drag-out match-up turned out to be a rout in favor of the Gamecocks, who have just advanced from No. 6 to No. 3 in the AP ranks in the wake of LSU’s loss to Florida and Florida State’s surprising upset at North Carolina State.  But it does not get any easier for Steve Spurrier’s squad, as they now have to take on Les Miles’ Bayou Bengals in Baton Rouge this upcoming weekend, before having to go to The Swamp to take on Will Muschamp’s resurgent Florida Gators the week after that.  Translation:  great win, guys.  No we have to do it all over again.  And again.

With that in mind, make no mistake about it:  Spurrier has built a juggernaut in Columbia.  They are physically impressive, and currently, effective, on both sides of the ball.  As a cautionary note, though, do not be surprised if the Gamecocks emerge from the next two engagements 1-1.

Speaking of LSU:  As much as it pains me to say this, we ought to acknowledge that perhaps LSU is a tad overrated.  The reasons are simple:  the Tigers struggled to move the ball at home against Towson (!), beat a mediocre Auburn by only two points, stagnated for a half against Idaho, and got only seven first downs against Florida.

College Football Week 5 Awards October 1, 2012

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COACHES
Wish I were him:  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Glad I’m not him: Derek Dooley, Tennessee
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tim Beckman, Illinois
Desperately seeking … anything: Kevin Wilson, Indiana

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: North Carolina (defeated Idaho 66-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: LSU (defeated Towson 38-22)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to UCLA 42-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Marshall (lost to Purdue 51-41)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Penn State (beat Illinois 35-7)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State
Dang, they’re bad:  Army
Did the season start? Virginia Tech
Can the season end?  Indiana
Can the season never end?  Oregon

GAMES
Play this again: West Virginia 70, Baylor 63
Never play this again: Louisiana Monroe 63, Tulane 10
What? Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24
Huh? Stony Brook 23, Army 3
Are you kidding me? Penn State 35 – Illinois 7

Oh – my – God:  Middle Tennessee State 49, Georgia Tech 28

Told you so: No.5 Georgia 51, Tennessee 44

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: No. 5 Georgia @ No. 6 South Carolina
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Miami (Fla.) @ No. 9 Notre Dame (assuming one were to count Independents as “non-Big Six, otherwise, it would be Miami (Ohio) @ Cincinnati.
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana Monroe @ Middle Tennessee State
Upset alert: No. 8 West Virginia @ No. 11 Texas

Must win: No. 17 Oklahoma @ Texas Tech
Get-well opportunity:  No. 20 Michigan State @ Indiana

Offensive explosion: Washington State @ No. 18 Oregon State
Defensive struggle: No. 4 LSU @ No. 10 Florida
Great game no one is talking about: Michigan @ Purdue

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. Bo Pelini of Nebraska
Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 7 Kansas State
Why are they playing? No. 24 Boise State @ Southern Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Boston College @ Army (or, New Mexico State @ Idaho, take your pick)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Arkansas @ Auburn

What we have learned after Week 5:

Remember last week’s predicted “Offensive Explosion”?  Scratch that.  Yes, hindsight is indeed 20-20, but West Virginia’s Big XII debut against Baylor was far more than an “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” between the Mountaineers’ Dana Holgorsen and the Bears’ Art Briles.  The score of the game was so high, in what has become to be a seemingly typical Baylor fashion these days, that one needed oxygen to read the numbers.  The Mountaineers made a very splashy conference debut, winning at home 70-63.

Also, remember last week’s predicted “Defensive Struggle”?  Scratch that one, too.  Penn State defeated Illinois in the Fighting Illini’s home stadium, 35-7.  That cannot be attributed alone to the Illini wearing dark blue helmets for the first time since, well, pretty much ever.  The available evidence on hand indicates that Illinois has worn orange helmets since at least 1945, if not earlier.  I cannot find any photographic record yet of them ever wearing blue helmets, but the search shall continue.  Just don’t hold your breath in the meantime.  That aside, has Penn State found some offense, or is Illinois that horrible?  The Nittany Lions have sputtered offensively practically the whole season until yesterday, while the Fighting Illini were 2-2 going into that game.

The Purdue-Marshall match-up in West Lafayette, Ind., was tagged for this past week’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” slot.  The selection was by default, since the odds of a major blowout anywhere else aside from other chosen games seemed much higher.  But while the Boilermakers were making gamey mincemeat out of the Thundering Herd in the first half, they let off the gas too soon in the second half.  A clearly visible epidemic of dropped passes in the third quarter especially raised concerns for Purdue’s prospects in the Big Ten.  Until now, plenty of talk has abounded regarding the Boilers having a very attainable shot at representing the Leaders division of the Big 10 in the championship game in Indianapolis.  After this game, some doubts will no doubt linger.  Much work is to be done if Purdue is to triumph at home next week against Michigan, and quell the justifiable newfound doubts in so doing.  Get it together, Boilers.

The LSU-Towson matchup was to be, on paper, a slaughter so massive as to border on a war crime.  Most fans could not even point Towson’s location out on a map (hint:  it is a very nice suburb in the northern part of Baltimore).  The only factor one can attribute to LSU’s inexplicably close margin of victory (38-22) is that the Bayou Bengals must have kept the playbook very, very limited so as to avoid divulging any trade secrets as they prepare to take on a quietly improving Florida team next week.

The Upset Alert prediction of last week (South Carolina @ Kentucky) seemed to almost come to fruition, as the Gamecocks wasted an entire half, trailing the Wildcats in Commonwealth Stadium by more than a touchdown.  Only after they made the proper halftime adjustments did they assert themselves like a top-ten team should, and pulled themselves out of an unnecessary hole with a modest score of 38-17.  South Carolina will not have such a luxury of using an entire half of a football game as their learning curve next week, when they will take on cross-border, arch-rival Georgia in what will without a doubt be the game of the week.

Awesome unis:

The Wisconsin-Nebraska game was not only a great game to watch from a purely game-play standpoint, with great execution on both sides of the ball.  It was also a feast for the eyes from two teams who historically where rather stodgy uniforms.  Both teams had sick-looking alternate, quasi-throwback unis (and we mean “sick” in the hip, with-it, good way!).  The Badgers’ red helmets and red shoulders on white jerseys was a feast alone for the eyes, to say nothing of Huskers’ red jersey-pants combo with tasteful black trim, along with the first black helmets the team as ever donned – EVER.  The proverbial icing on the cake was the large school letters worn on the front of both teams’ jerseys.  All in all, a nice combination of throwback elements from the 1920s, 1940s, and 1950s!  Speaking of which, did anybody notice the nice late ‘50s-style numbers on Wisconsin’s jerseys?  One word: neato!

While we’re on the awesome uniform topic, it was nice to see LSU where purple jerseys again, as they have been known to do once in a blue moon.  Moreover, I am prepared to designate Ole Miss’ road uniforms as the nicest away unis in the SEC.  The all-gray is a unique touch, but the red-on-navy blue trim is an unbeatable combination, especially as it scrolls over the shoulders.  On the other side of the continent, what is up with Oregon wearing gray pants?  This thought especially came to mind as I watched them play Washington State in Pullman, Wash.  Did the Ducks not know full-well that the Cougars were wearing gray pants at home?  Would it have been too much trouble to wear green pants instead to provide a better contrast on the field?  Sheesh.

About the Author July 18, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in About the Author.
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My name is Patrick Murray, though many of my friends from college know me as “Sarge”.*   This website that I maintain is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and insight, specializing in the virtues of limited government, as well as of scientific, historical, and pop cultural insights, plus the occasional sports commentary for fun.

I was born in Louisville, Ky., on March 2, 1980.  I graduated from high school in Madison, Ind., where I lettered for three seasons in football and track.  My undergraduate years were spent at Purdue University, where I majored in Mass Communications with a minor in History (honestly, I felt more like a science and history student masquerading as a comm student!).  On the side, I took some courses in German, Latin, Entomology, Oceanography and Paleontology — in other words, fun stuff!

Outside of the classroom at Purdue, I served for three seasons as a student manager on the Purdue football team.  That job allowed for me to see almost every stadium in the Big Ten (except for Iowa and Illinois), to say nothing of making some special life-long friends.  I have a number of friends who play in the NFL — including Drew Brees, with whom I celebrated my 19th, 20th, and 21st birthday — and I remain an avid football fan to this day.  As a manager, I worked directly under Coach Joe Tiller, and during the games, I helped out then-O-line Coach Danny Hope, who later became the current head coach from 2009 thought 2012.  I also worked with Coach Kevin Sumlin, who was then the receivers coach (he played at linebacker for Purdue), before going on to give the Houston Cougars program a shot in the arm and then leading the Texas A&M Aggies to become the hot program it is today.

My services with the team also allowed for me to travel to special away games, including a season opener in Los Angeles Coliseum against USC (before the Pete Carroll era, to be sure!) in 1998, and in the Citrus Bowl against Central Florida in 1999.  The three bowl games I was a small part of were the 1998 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, the 2000 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and of course, the 2001 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.  Those were memorable times.

After I graduated from Purdue, I went straight into business graduate school at the University of Louisville, where I earned my MBA.  The next few years found me knocking around in the customer service sector until I just happened to find a teaching opportunity as an adjunct faculty member at the Louisville campus of National College.  Finally I was able to find a job more commensurate with my education and talents.  At that school, I have taught a number of different business courses, including Intro to Business, Principles of Management, Small Business Management, Operations Management, Purchasing & Materials Management, and, my favorite, Strategic Management.  In addition to all of those, I have taught a number of general education courses, such as Public Speaking, Georgraphy, American History (both 1896-1945 and 1945-2000), Political Science, and American Government (needless to say, another one of my favorites to teach!).  Starting in the late Spring of 2013, I have also taught computer skills courses (Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.).

In more recent years, I have elected to fulfill a very latent goal of mine, and that is to become a mechanical draftsman (sometimes known as a CAD operator), if not an outright engineer.  I have a design internship under my belt at a materials handling system manufacturer in Jeffersonville, Ind., and worked as a design engineer for a conveyor systems manufacturer on the southern edge of Louisville.  In April of 2014, I accepted a position as an on-site project manager for a conveyor systems integrator, and have helped build sorter systems at FedEx Ground facilities in Fort Wayne, Ind., Indianapolis, New Castle, Del., Philadelphia, and Santa Fe Springs, Calif.  This job has allowed for me to travel extensively and to engage in extensive learning in so doing.

Assuming that I have failed to establish my renaissance man credentials yet, it is also worth noting that I have given a couple of education seminars on insects to the docents at the Louisville Zoo — an occasion that allowed for me to show my rather extensive exotic insect collection.  I also am an avid photographer (I use a Canon 7D), where I specialize in macro nature (particularly insects), aquarium fish, classic cars, and some sports.  In addition, I have been a guest on a friend’s radio show on multiple occasions, discussing the Constitution and our Founding Fathers.

* The “Sarge” cognomen started back in June of 1997 — right before my senior year of high school — and was attending football camp at Purdue.  The era of Coach Tiller was about to begin, and this camp gave me the opportunity to get to know all the coaches.  Part of the camp’s curriculum was for the campers to coalesce into passing league teams, where we had such games for three consecutive nights, four games a night.  My team’s coach was Coach Gary Emanuel, Purdue’s once and again current D-line coach.  He did not know my name, but noticed I took a rather militaristic approach towards addressing my superiors (e.g., “yessir,” “no, sir.”).  Such is the way I was raised.  Noticing this, Coach Emanuel started calling me “Sarge,” and the name stuck.  When I got on with the team as a manager, all the coaches remembered me, and soon the players too, started calling me by the same cognomen.  It was only a matter of time before the cognomen in question spilled out beyond the gridiron to the greater campus.