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On the perils of trying to fire one’s way out of “Glen Mason Territory” October 15, 2018

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Last year, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about the perils to which average and above-average football programs expose themselves when they fire a coach who has been winning games, except that now he’s not winning enough games.  He dubbed this situation “Glen Mason Territory”.

What happens is that a team (typically, a 2nd-tier Power Five program) is in the doldrums, suffering from a string of losing seasons.  The university’s AD hires a new coach who then comes in and rights the ship.  Instead of losing season after losing season, the program now enjoys winning seasons.  The team starts going to bowl games, say, five over the course of seven years.  The fans are loving it.  They want more.  The boosters want more.  The athletics director wants more.

Except that the head coach cannot deliver more.  It’s usually not his fault.  There’s often a set of structural limitations in place, and despite the community’s clamoring, the coach, despite all he has done, cannot deliver on the expectations that have been unintentionally raised.  In other words, the coach did raise the bar of performance expectations, which was great for a while.  Now the fans and everyone else take this for grant, and want it raised even further, which is an impossible task.  Instead of accepting this frank fact of life, the fans call for the AD to do the feel-good thing, which is to fire the coach and replace him someone who (they think) deliver on these raised (often, unreasonable) expectations.

Let us briefly consider the namesake of “Glen Mason Territory” for a moment as an example.  Glen Mason was a former Ohio State coordinator who did an impressive salvage job at Kansas in the 1990s.  Minnesota hired him in 1997 for a similar turnaround.  Despite the Golden Gophers’ past tradition (having won multiple national titles in the 1930s and 1940s under Bernie Bierman), the program had been absent from the national conscious since most of the 1960s (having won the whole thing, oddly, in 1960).

Mason started to deliver in 1999, winning eight games that year, including a massive upset over then, No. 2 Penn State.  The following year, they sent Ohio State’s national title aspirations into an early death spiral, in the Horseshoe, no less.  As Bill Connelly tells it further:

“The Gophers would bowl again in 2000 and 2002, then surge in 2003. Behind the punishing combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, they beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to a 9-3 regular season, then Oregon in a Sun Bowl thriller to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1905.

The problem: he never won 10 again. The Gophers started 2004 5-0 and reached 13th before losing five of six down the stretch and needing a bowl win to salvage 7-5. They went 7-5 again in 2005 and were on the doorstep of a third straight seven-win season in 2006 before blowing an enormous Insight Bowl lead to Texas Tech.

A year after a contract extension, Minnesota used the bowl collapse as impetus for panic. Despite seven bowls in eight years — for a program that had been almost absent from college football’s consciousness for nearly four decades — the school pushed Mason out.

The program had grown stale, you see, and needed young energy. “I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm,” said athletic director Joel Maturi.”

The question in the mind of many of the readers by now is, ‘why couldn’t Minnesota “got over the hump”, so to speak?’  One reason, at the time, was facilities.  If a Big Ten recruit went to, say, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State on visits was able to take in the grandeur of their home stadia, they would be most unimpressed by seeing the Metrodome as their potential home stadium if they chose to don the Maroon & Gold.  Having been on the sidelines for a game there once, I personally can vouch for how sterile a place it is.  Despite the university’s best efforts to jazz it up with bunting and national championship banners in the school’s colors all over the place on game day, it remains sterile, even negatively inspiring.  As one of my fellow student managers at the time said so succinctly, “that place just sucks the life force out of you.”

Seeing things along those lines, one can appreciate the difficulties that Mason had to overcome in attaining the success his team enjoyed.  But in the end, it wasn’t good enough.  Why?  Answer: expectations that have been raised beyond reason.

Notice in Connelly’s writing how he cited then-AD Joel Maturi saying the program had “grown stale”.  Such wording is a symptom of the fallacious “this-is-who-we-now-are mentality”, when a program long in the doldrums all of a sudden enjoys a spate of success.  Pretty soon, the fan base starts to take this newfound success for granted, and becomes increasingly restless when the coach fails to deliver even more success, more than the program is structurally built to deliver under modern constraints.

Consider, again, Minnesota.  Sure, the Twin Cities might produce several players talented enough to compete at a high level, but much of the rest of the roster is made up of recruits from Ohio who were passed over by the Buckeyes.  In explicably, you’ll find a few players from Florida and Texas (e.g., Marion Barber III) in there, too.  But the immediate point is, there is not enough local talent from which to draw in order to build up a roster that can consistently vie for the national title.  The only team in such a predicament that has come close to such viability is Oregon (proving that there is always an exception to the rule), with maybe Washington to a lesser extent.

So Mason was already dealing with that structural roadblock to meeting unrealistic expectations, in addition to the stadium, which was a potential turn-off to recruits.  Not until 2009 did they open up TCF Bank Stadium on the school’s main campus.  Had Mason had this shiny new stadium at this disposal then, things might have been a little different (emphasis on ‘might have been’).

Consider weather, too.  Sure, Minnesota is a great school, and the Twin Cities are reasonably happening, but it’s also cold…very cold.  Most recruits might choose to brave the cold winters in Columbus, Ohio, or even State College, Pa., or even Ann Arbor, Mich., but they’ll draw the line at the next-level frigidity of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Can one blame them?

Of course, asking the reasonable thing, which is for the fan base to take these structural obstacles into consideration to damper their unrealistic expectations is apparently too much to ask these days.  These unrealistic expectations lead to impatience, which leads to rash decisions.  So naturally they fired Mason.  They brought in Tim Brewster as his replacement.  Brewster promised to recruit, to be the ‘shot in the arm’ the program needed, etc., and proceeded to go 15-30.  For comparison, Mason went 64-57.  Will the Gopher faithful give charismatic young coach P.J. Fleck the chance to duplicate Mason’s efforts?  That all depends on if they learned anything from this experience.

Other fan bases seem not to be have learned, and have suffered the consequences as a result.  To wit:

Arizona State fired Todd Graham, despite his 7-5 regular season record in 2017.  The program had not been competitive consistently since the Frank Kush years of the 1970s.  Bruce Snyder did the best job in recent years, leading the Sun Devils to almost win the national title in 1996.  Snyder’s leadership proved that the Sun Devils are capable of high ceilings, but brief ones.  Arizona State has hired former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in his stead.  It remains to be seen if this risky hire will pan out, but at least it is an interesting hire.  One thing that ASU does have going for it is that it’s located in a geographical spot with an endless summer, a campus that sports tons of pretty co-eds, and the Phoenix area is a decent hotbed for good recruits.  Theoretically, the right coach could set the entire Pac-12 on notice, as Bruce Snyder did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

But as Bill Connelly wisely points out, schools without such advantages who nevertheless act on the impatience born of unrealistically raised expectations can suffer major consequences.

  • On the heels of 11- and nine-win seasons, Boston College pushed Jeff Jagodzinski out because he deigned to interview for other jobs. They were 2-10 four years later and haven’t reached nine wins since.

  • Ron Zook took Illinois to nine wins and a Rose Bowl in 2007, and after a two-year reset, got them back to 7-6 in both 2010 and 2011. He was fired. Illinois has averaged 3.7 wins per year since.

  • Dan McCarney won at least seven games five times in a six-year span at Iowa State but was let go after a 4-8 downturn in 2006. ISU has not topped seven wins since, though that could change with an upcoming bowl game.

To be sure, current ISU head coach Matt Campbell has made Jack Trice Stadium a perilous place to play for undefeated teams, as top-ten West Virginia just learned last night the hard way.

  • Ralph Friedgen took Maryland to seven bowls in 10 years, and after a two-win collapse in 2009, rebounded to nine wins in 2010. Maryland has averaged 4.7 wins per year since firing him.

  • NC State pushed Tom O’Brien out in 2012 after 24 wins in three years. Their best three-year win total since: 22.*

Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to respectability (and rankings), but it has taken the program several years to return to this spot.

  • David Cutcliffe won seven or more games for five straight years at Ole Miss, peaking with a 10-win campaign in 2003. But after a 4-7 reset in 2004, he was fired. The Rebels would top four wins twice in the next seven years.

  • Pitt pushed Dave Wannstedt out after after 26 wins in three years. The Panthers have averaged 6.6 wins since.

  • Despite seven ranked finishes in 11 years, Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni after he hit a dry spell. He went 4-8 in 2002 then rebounded to only 6-6 in 2003-04. Syracuse went 10-37 under replacement Greg Robinson and has averaged 4.4 wins since Pasqualoni.

Dino Babers has methodically built Syracuse into a better program, but consider that the hiatus between this decent year and Pasqualoni’s last season is 13 years.

  • Phil Fulmer took Tennessee to 15 bowls and five SEC championship games in 16 years. He won the national title in 1998 and won at least eight games 14 times. He fell to 5-6 in 2005 but rebounded back to 10 wins in 2007. After a second five-win reset in 2008, he was fired. The Vols have hit the eight-win mark twice in the nine years since.

But what about Georgia, you ask?  That’s really not an exception to the rule after all.  Mark Richt had been consistently winning at Georgia but failed to bring home a national championship trophy.  Nick Saban and others did have something to do with that, but again, it’s almost too much to expect folks to be reasonable, especially in SEC country, where “it just means…more”.  So, they fired Richt and brought in Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.  And he too, won games, even played his former team for the national title.  And lost, because Nick Saban’s Alabama these days is a consistent juggernaut.  Nevertheless, Smart succeeded where Richt failed.  So firing their way out of Glen Mason Territory has panned out for Georgia thus far, but that’s because they have access to tons of NFL-potential talent in Greater Atlanta, their own backyard.  So there.

The conclusion to which Connelly arrived in his article is that a school cannot simply fire-a-coach its way out of “Glen Mason Territory”.  Why?  Let us consider basic reality.  Football, unlike economics, is a zero-sum game.  When one team wins a game, that means that team’s opponent had to lose that game.  Not all teams can be championship-viable teams all the time.  It is simply impossible.  Furthermore, because of this zero-sum fact of life football (and most other sports), not everybody can be good all the time.  Even traditional powers have had down years (just look at Alabama in between the Mike Dubose and Nick Saban years).

Second, not all teams are built to be national-title contenders.  Again, one key factor is, does your state produce enough local talent to compete nationally?  In states like California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, (borderline case:  Arizona) that is a given.  Even Oklahoma does not produce the players it used to (to be sure, even during the glory days of Bud Wilkinson, OU has had to recruit Texas to be successful).  The only state north of the Sunbelt that can remotely compete on that scale is Ohio.  Everyone else has to recruit from those states just to be in a position to win games, period.

Also, unlike in the pros, where teams choose the players, in college, the players choose the programs.  That means that many blue chip recruits who have options are not going to flock to the Arctic climbs of Minnesota, or the isolated, wind-swept plains of Nebraska if they can land a scholarship at Georgia or LSU or even TCU instead.  Ohio State has managed to stay viable despite its cold winters due to the total commitment of the university, plus the community and state at large, to muster every last resource needed to attract the players necessary to compete at that level.

When a coach raises the bar of performance expectations but cannot raise it further, it’s usually not the coach’s fault.  It’s program history for one.  Georgia, for example, only has two national titles, one from 1942 and from 1980; the former being shared with Ohio State.  As discussed at some length, it’s also infrastructure (e.g., facilities and access to NFL-caliber talent), and program support.  But dealing with these issues ranges from difficult to impossible.  Instead of dealing with these realities like responsible people, too often people take the feel-good way out (in reality, a dead end) and kill the messenger by firing the very coach who improved the team’s standing and situation in the first place.

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Where Joel Klatt is right and wrong about Notre Dame October 28, 2017

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Joel Klatt is a rising star in college football broadcasting, and rightfully so.  His analysis during the games he helps broadcast of FOX is very insightful.  His talent makes him the perfect up-and-coming asset that an up-and-coming network like FS1 needs right now.  Klatt’s sit-down interviews with regular TV show hosts on FS1 are just as informative, and his input always makes for great conversation.  Any engaged listener can always walk away from listening to such interviews thinking that their understanding of the college game has deepened.

On the matter of the state of highly-ranked academic powerhouse schools in the “Power Five” of college football, however, the veracity of his analysis is mixed.  It all centers around his understanding of the current state of Notre Dame football.

As Colin Cowherd of FS1 has noted for years, Notre Dame flourished at a time when it was one of the very few programs that was reliably put on national TV every week of the season.  All that changed when sports networks decided to start broadcasting more teams consistently in the 1990s.  With that, Notre Dame’s monopoly on national attention soon evaporated.  Soon, ND had to compete with schools whose campuses offered warmer winters and prettier coeds, institutions such as Texas, Florida, USC, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, and the like.  None of these schools had the same level of academic requirements as ND, either, meaning it is much easier to admit recruits there as well.

None of this is to say that cold-weather schools cannot do well at the highest level, and Klatt quickly points this out.  On the contrary, in the 2014-2015 playoffs, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team beat out a tough Alabama squad to play for the national title.  Indeed, the Buckeyes handily defeated Oregon to win it.  Moreover, Michigan has been considerably on the rebound since they hired Jim Harbaugh, and Penn State has returned to national power status under recruiting wizard James Franklin.

Even ND hired a highly-capable coach in Brian Kelly in December of 2009.  By the 2012 season, he took Notre Dame to a national title game.  To be sure, they got crushed my Alabama, 42-14, and in highsight, much of ND’s high ranking was a product of wishful thinking.  This season (2017) they are currently top-ten in the rankings (No. 9 as of Oct. 27), but they have reached their ceiling with a senior-dominated team, and even they lost at home to an even better team in Georgia.

Moreover, other academically-rigid schools have been winning games (e.g., Stanford), and in some cases, have started to win more than they have in a long time (e.g., Duke).  So clearly schools with high academic standards can win some games.  So why is Notre Dame still limited in this day at age?

It turns out that a school with cold weather and high academic standards does not automatically mean that the football team will be a conference/Power Five doormat, provided that you have the right coach.  Northwestern seems to have that, for example, in Pat Fitzgerald.  In the Wildcats’ case, it helps that the campus in is the vibrant, urban setting of Evanston, Ill., right on the edge of Chicago proper and a half-hour commuter train ride into downtown and all the scads of action that huge city has to offer.

In the case of Duke, they are in Durham, N.C., part of the “Research Triangle”, an area with much growth and dynamism as of late.  Plus, the winters are much milder there than they are in the Rustbelt.  It also helps that Duke found a capable coach in David Cutcliffe.

In the case of Stanford, which is even more academically stringent than Notre Dame, it enjoys the advantage of the idyllic beauty of Silicon Valley.  Temperatures in December can sometimes peak in the lower 70s.  Stanford University is one of the most architecturally amazing college campuses in the world.  Even with the extra recruiting hurdle of having to admit each player to the school as a student before they can sing a letter of intent to join the team, David Shaw still manages to make them competitive in the Pac-12 north division, sometimes winning the division outright.

In addition to Notre Dame’s cold weather setting and academic rigidity, two other factors hinder the program today.  One is the religious overtones (a turn-off to recruits who have far more options today, both in the Big Ten and also the warm-weather schools).  The other is that its relatively isolated.  It takes almost two hours to drive to the heart of Chicago.  The next-closest spot of major population is Fort Wayne, Ind., followed by Toledo, Ohio.  Neither Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, or even Vanderbilt have to contend with those two recruiting hindrances.

These factors, all combined, have hurt Notre Dame’s brand in the eyes of many coveted recruits today.  Joel Klatt acknowledges the earlier-mentioned factors (cold weather and academics), but has ignored these latter items, which combine to make a considerable difference.

To be sure, there are schools even more isolated than ND.  Nebraska is geographically worse off, as is Penn State.  The latter is back in contention, again, thanks to the recruiting prowess of James Franklin (it helps that PSU is arguably the most amazing campus in the B1G, and Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the country by capacity).

Is Klatt correct in that Notre Dame is still a strong brand?  Yes, but only for legacy/tradition reasons.  Because of their past success, they are still a legitimate “traditional power”, but that legacy has increasingly less cache to marquee recruits who might look askance at Michiana’s dreary winters, the school’s religious overtones, etc.

The real take-away from this discussion is how insane ND fans are who call for Brian Kelly’s ouster.  Without him, the team would be lucky to go 7-5 this season, as opposed to the top-ten rankings the team currently enjoys.  Just to observe, the Irish will be lucky to win two of their next four games.  But that aside, the fan base’s insanity is a function of unrealistic expectations that need to be tempered in a day and age where the Rustbelt is no longer the heart of the American economy and talented football players have far more options of where to play than they did during the days of Ara Parseghian.

In conclusion, can Notre Dame still win games?  Absolutely.  As Fitzerald, Shaw, Cutcliffe, Harbaugh, and Franklin have demonstrated, the right coach at the right place proves that winning football games in a prestigious academic setting is indeed possible.  Brian Kelly is surely the optimal coach for Notre Dame, and his accomplishments are nearly miraculous in the context of his strategic difficulties.  Given the aforementioned problems hindering Notre Dame, the program is at best an eight-win program.  To win any more than eight ought to exceed expectations if those, too, are properly tempered in the context of the current age.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Lucky guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Matt Rhule, Baylor

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State

Did the season start?  LSU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endDuke

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

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

Never play this again: Arizona 64, UTEP 16

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

HuhMemphis 48, No. 25 UCLA 45

Double HuhNorthern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

Must win: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ No. 14 Miami

Defensive struggle: Pitt @ Georgia Tech

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

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

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

Why are they playing? UMass @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Rice

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

Week 3 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 4 Awards 2016 September 25, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Glad I’m not him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Lucky guy: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA   (Hon. Mention:  Les Miles)

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Houston (defeated Texas State 64-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated UMass 47-35)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (lost to No. 1 Alabama 48-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UMass (lost to Mississippi State 47-35)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Troy (defeated New Mexico State 52-6)

Dang, they’re good: Houston

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Oregon

Can the season end?  USC

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 24 Utah 31, USC 27

Play this again, too:  No. 7 Stanford 22, UCLA 13

Never play this again: Missouri 79, Delaware State 0

What? Purdue 24, Nevada 14

HuhNo. 23 Ole Miss 45, No. 12 Georgia 14

Double-Huh? Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Are you kidding me?  Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

Oh – my – GodNo. 11 Wisconsin 30, No. 8 Michigan State 6

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5) T

icket to die for: No. 3 Louisville @ No. 5 Clemson

Also: No. 8 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Michigan

Keep an eye on this one, too: No. 7 Stanford @ No. 10 Washington

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Memphis @ No. 16 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Air Force; also: South Florida @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: North Carolina @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Oklahoma @ No. 21 TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Iowa

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Chris Petersen of Washington vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Also: Dabo Swinney of Clemson vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville

Who’s bringing the body bags? UConn @ No. 6 Houston

Why are they playing? Alcorn State @ No. 20 Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Kent State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Incarnate Word @ Texas State

Week 4 Take-aways:

A premonition last week gave me that idea that, while many matchups this week did not exactly shine with prestige (or did they?), they were nevertheless competitive and engaging. The examples are rather numerous. The USC-Utah game on Friday was one such example. The Trojans led most of the way, but the Utes triumphed in the end, 31-27. LSU at Auburn developed into a relatively low-scoring affair (plus, no matter the outcome, we were guaranteed that the Tigers would win!). A quirk in clock management led to the War Eagles winning over the Bayou Bengals, and thus brought a sudden end to the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge. Where LSU will go from here is anybody’s guess, but they do now have carte blanche to hire Art Briles, who is currently unemployed.

Tennessee seemed to finally learn to close the deal in a big game. Last year at this time, they gave up some heartbreakers to big-name teams, though they led the majority of those games (namely, Oklahoma and Florida). To make the situation murkier, they played inconsistently in their wins this year prior to yesterday. Even during the first half, they were clearly off rhythm, and the Gators led at the half, 21-3. All that changed in the second half. The Volunteers came out an entirely different team, executing effectively, and scoring, seemingly, at will, while Florida only scored a touchdown for that entire half. Now that the Vols have proven they can “close the deal,” they need to prove they can effectively play a good first half as well as a good second. Once they do, they’ll be one of the best teams in football. As things currently stand, Tennessee seems to have a clear path to the SEC East berth of their conference’s championship game.

That path was opened all the wider after then-No. 12 Georgia embarrassed themselves on the road to then-No. 23 Ole Miss. Sure, the Rebels are a good team, but the Bulldogs made them look like world-beaters. Couple this with the fact that Mark Richt did not leave the team’s talent cupboard bare, and this seriously calls into question the wisdom in hiring Kirby Smart as his replacement.

Speaking of questionable hires, Kentucky won over South Carolina in a contest of ineptitude on both sides of the ball. Mark Stoops’ days are clearly numbered in Lexington, despite all of his hiring hype from a few years ago. But Will Muschamp is the new hire in Columbia. As I have previously inquired, what sense does it make to hire a coach who failed with the talent at Florida, only to bring him into a program with less talent and less of a recruiting pipeline? Indeed, the South Carolina-Georgia border rivalry game might as well be dubbed the clash of the two coaching hire trainwrecks (in the making). But in the meantime, the Bulldogs have no time to lick their wounds, as they play Tennessee next week.

In a good game that was on nobody’s radar screen, Purdue actually beat an opponent with some degree of credibility in Nevada. In what seemed, on paper to be a lop-sided matchup, South Florida acquitted themselves well against Florida State, losing only 55-35.

On the other side of the proverbial coin was Wisconsin at Michigan State. The then-No. 11 Badgers embarrassed the then-No. 8 Spartans, 30-6. Sparty is lucky to remain ranked after such a drubbing, and this loss certainly does not make Notre Dame look any better after the drubbing they suffered at MSU’s hands.

Speaking of Notre Dame, head coach Brian Kelly fired his defensive coordinator after the Fighting Irish lost, at home, to Duke. Yes, Duke. But be not fooled: the Blue Devils are a respectable team, thanks to the patient building of head coach David Cutcliffe. Those “in the know” anticipated a decent game regardless of the outcome.

On the west coast, the competition was more than decent between Stanford and home team UCLA. The Bruins led most of the game. The Cardinal did not score the go-ahead touchdown until fewer than 30 seconds remained in regulation. The last six points to add to their margin came on a fluke. UCLA’s QB attempted a “Hail Mary” pass, but a Stanford defensive linemen forced a fumble instead before successfully running the ball back for another score with 0:00 left on the play clock. Notwithstanding the fluke score, it was a very good game.

Another good game for much of the duration was the Texas A&M vs. Arkansas game. The game was hard-fought on both sides, but as the game progressed, the Aggies played better and better. All this talk about Coach Kevin Sumlin being on the hot seat seem a overblown at least and more than a tad premature at worst, as A&M is now ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll, with more great SEC West matchups remaining.

Two other close, hard-fought games that relatively few people noticed: BYU vs. West Virginia (the Mountaineers won, 35-32) and Pitt vs. North Carolina (the Tarheels won that close one, 37-36). As previously observed, the entire day consisted of close games, top, bottom, and middle.

College Football Week 3 Awards (2016) September 19, 2016

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Glad I’m not him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Lucky guy: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Poor guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Sean Kugler, UTEP

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated South Carolina State 59-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Wisconsin (defeated Georgia State 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Appalachian State (lost to No. 25 Miami 45-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Ohio U (lost to No. 15 Tennessee 28-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisville (blew out No. 2 Florida State 63-20)

Dang, they’re good: Louisville

Dang, they’re bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Iowa

Can the season end?  Idaho

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  Cal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Play this again, too:  Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

Never play this again: No. 5 Clemson 59, South Carolina State 0

What? Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

HuhCal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 Louisville 63, No. 2 Florida State 20

Oh – my – GodNorth Dakota State 23, No. 13 Iowa 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)

Ticket to die for: No. 11 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Michigan State

Also: No. 12 Georgia @ No. 23 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ West Virginia

Best non-Power Five matchup: Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan

Upset alert: No. 5 Clemson @ Georgia Tech

Must win: No. 19 Florida @ No. 14 Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ Arizona State

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: Oklahoma State @ No. 16 Baylor

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim McElwain of Florida vs. Butch Jones of Tennessee

Also: David Cutcliffe of Duke vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Houston @ Texas State

Why are they playing? Mississippi State @ UMass

Plenty of good seats remaining: North Texas @ Rice

Week 3 Take-aways:

After a lull of marquee match-ups last week, we the fans were treated to more great games this week. Watching two top ten teams in Florida State taking on Louisville is no better way to kick of the week’s massive slate of game. One-sided though the game may have been, it remained engaging in seeing the vaunted Seminoles lose by such a huge margin. Bravo, Cardinals!

Much hype has ensued in the wake of Texas defeating Notre Dame during the opening weekend. “Texas is back” has been an oft-repeated mantra. Their loss on the road to Cal calls said mantra into question. Only in the ensuing weeks, when the Longhorns play more of their respectable opponents, namely, Oklahoma State (whom they play next week), Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU will that mantra be either confirmed or denied.

 

Just to get this off my chest, who would have anticipated that the Kentucky – New Mexico State game would have been the offensive explosion that it turned out to be? An exciting game ensued, to be sure, but allowing a Sunbelt team to score 42 points on them is not the most ringing endorsement of the Wildcats’ defense. If these shadows remain unchanged, this does not bode for when UK enters the conference part of its schedule.

 

But all that aside, there were many sublime matchups this week. Oregon lost on the road to Nebraska in a game that went down to the wire. Texas lost to Cal in the same manner. As mentioned earlier, Louisville vs. Florida State was a marquee, top-ten matchup, until the Cardinals proceeded to obliterate the ‘Noles. The games in the 3:30 (EDT) time slot seemed, on paper, to be a respite before the bigger games ensued in the evening, but even they quickly became intriguing. In addition to the Ducks-Cornhuskers game, an improving Colorado gave Michigan a good fight before the Wolverines finally decided to start playing football. Ole Miss threatened to knock Alabama off its top spot in the polls. The evening time slots treated us fans to Texas-Cal, Michigan State @ Notre Dame, Ohio State @ Oklahoma (it has been a while since those two powerhouses butted heads), and BYU put up a great fight against UCLA. A great day for the game, when one tallies up the results and the moments.

Next week will frankly not measure up compared to this week and to week 1, but one cannot expect every week to deliver matchups like this. That said, some good conference games await us, as well as some tasty pre-conference games from power five teams across the board. Week 4 may not be as strong as week 3, but plenty of interesting games await us in any case!

College Football Week 9 Awards October 27, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 9] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Glad I’m not him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Desperately seeking … anything:  Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Iowa State 58-27)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Wake Forest 24-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to Baylor 59-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Duke (defeated Virginia Tech 13-10)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan State (defeated Illinois 42-3)

Should have kicked even more butt than you did:  Auburn (defeated Florida Atlantic 45-10)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon

Dang, they’re bad:  Illinois
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Missouri

Did the season start?  Boise State
Can the season end?  Northwestern

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 20 South Carolina 27, No. 5 Missouri 24

Play this again, too:  Middle Tennessee State 51, Marshall 49 (Thurs.)

Never play this again: No. 23 UCF 62, UConn 17

What? Iowa 17, Northwestern 10

HuhNo. 20 South Carolina 27, No. 5 Missouri 24

Are you kidding me?  Duke 13, No. 14 Virginia Tech 10
Oh – my – GodMinnesota 34, No. 25 Nebraska 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Miami @ No. 3 Florida State

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (only two such match-ups, and they are both horrible)

Best non-Big Six matchup: Rice @ North Texas

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 10 Missouri

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma State @ No. 15 Texas Tech

Offensive explosion: Arizona State @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 24 Michigan @ Michigan State

Great game no one is talking about: West Virginia @ TCU, also Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

Intriguing coaching matchup: Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Bo Pelini of Nebraska

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 4 Ohio State @ Purdue

Why are they playing? Alabama State @ Kentucky

Plenty of good seats remaining: Kent State @ Akron

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Hawaii @ Utah State, or, UTEP @ No. 14 Texas A&M

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

At this rate, Purdue vs. Illinois is shaping into one heckuva Big Ten “Toilet Bowl” come Nov. 23.  For the entire season up to this point, the Boilermakers were the undisputed leaders of suck in the B1G.  Yet despite being shut out on the road to Michigan State last week, they acquitted themselves rather well in that they allowed the Spartans to score only 14 points.  Contrast that with Illinois’ performance against MSU this week, where the Illini only managed a “sad field goal” – at home, no less — against the Spartans’ D, and on the other side of the coin, Sparty scored seven TD’s.  Perhaps Purdue is not the gutter team of the conference after all.

***********

Give Missouri credit:  being undefeated in only their second season as a member of the SEC up through seven games is a decent feat.  Knocking off two traditional powers in two consecutive games is the feat worthy of a traditional power.  That being said, both Georgia and Florida were severely weakened, albeit in different ways, when playing the Tigers.  It was only a matter of time for the magic to run out.  That time manifested itself in a surprising way.

The normal rule of thumb is that when a non-traditional power (Mizzou, in this case) upsets a traditional one (Florida, in this case), the non-traditional power always comes out flat in the following game.  Yet they did not come out flat against South Carolina.  If anything, the Gamecocks tried to give away the game to the Tigers in the first half.  But they did not give the whole game away, for they won the second half, sent the game into overtime, then ended up winning unexpectedly when Mizzou botched a field goal attempt that would have otherwise sent things into triple-OT.  Even Steve Spurrier himself recognized how lucky his team was to sneak out of Columbia, Mo., with a win.

Mark May of ESPN hit the proverbial nail on the head when he pointed out that the Ol’ Ball Coach out-coached Gary Pinkel in the fourth quarter.

***********

As outrageous and “out-there” as Oregon’s uniforms sometimes look, they looked their best all season in their belated rout of formidable UCLA.  Part of the reason is that they actually wore a substantial amount of green for once.

2012-2013 Bowl Games of Moderate Interest (at best) December 14, 2012

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Bowl season is almost upon us once again.  Yes, friends, things kickoff early as usual, just as they have since roughly 2001.  But instead of the New Orleans Bowl doing the honors in getting things started this year, we have the New Mexico Bowl and the Idaho Potatoes Bowl (don’t laugh!) doing said honors this year.  The Big Easy Bowl does not commence until Dec. 22, oddly enough.

In any event, 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.

The first installment is of bowl games about which I am only moderately interested, at best (all times Eastern Standard):

Idaho Potato Bowl (Boise, Id.), Sat., Dec. 15, 4:30 PM EST

Toledo (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah State (10-2)

The de facto WAC champ takes on a respectable MAC team that finished 3rd in the western division.  The only interesting aspect about this game is that it will be an interesting test to see how strong the MAC truly is against the best of what is seen by most as a traditionally weak conference.

Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego) Sat., Dec. 15, 8:00 PM EST

BYU (7-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)

The Cougars take on the de facto leader of the Mountain West, in what amounts to a glorified home game for the Aztecs.  Despite the numbers not matching, their records have interesting similarities in that both teams lost to at least one Pac-12 team, and both teams also lost to San Jose State (!).

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Fri., Dec. 21, 7:30 PM EST

Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)

Both the Cardinals and the Golden Knights have nearly identical records, with UCF’s extra loss coming to Tulsa in the C-USA championship game.  The only interesting aspect to this game is how a MAC also-ran stacks up against the C-USA runner-up.  Everybody was bullish on the MAC this year for the apparent strength the conference hath shewn; now it is time to put up or shut up.

Hawaii Bowl (Honolulu, Hi.) Dec. 24, 8:00 PM EST

Fresno State (9-3) vs. SMU (6-6)

This game used to have a little more of a mystique to it when it was called the Aloha Bowl, and was played on Christmas.  Just sayin’!  That said, it least this game is another glorified home game for Hawaii team, like it is half the time.  A Mountain West also-ran vs. a C-USA team barely eligible does seem to be a slight mismatch in the Bulldogs favor.  On the other hand, this will be an interesting homecoming for June Jones, albeit on the Mustangs side this time.

Little Caesars Bowl (Detroit), Wed., Dec. 26, 7:30 PM

Western Kentucky (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (6-6)

It used to be they would pit a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team against the MAC champ.  Even then, the game was only moderately interesting, and only to the fan bases of the teams that got the bid to the Motor City.  Now, with a Sun Belt Conference also-ran against a plodding MAC team, it is even less interesting.  But credit the guys at EDSBS for reminding us that, given the game is in Detroit, the players, as a bonus, the players might get deeds to abandoned key real estate in their gift bags!

Military Bowl (Washington, D.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 3:00 PM

No. 24 San Jose State (10-2) vs. Bowling Green (8-4)

WAC near-champ vs. MAC also-ran: we know what ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd would say; “not interested!”  Yes, the Trojans (the SJSU kind, not the USC kind) did take the WAC by storm this year, but it’s still the WAC.

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.), Thurs., Dec. 27, 6:30 PM

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Duke (6-6)

A decent Big East team takes on a barely-eligible ACC team.  That alone does not make most folks interested.  So what in addition to that dismal matchup engages anybody?  Answer:  the intrigue.  Who exactly will be coaching the Bearcats, anyhow?  And how will David Cutcliffe prepare the Blue Devils for a bowl game that might actually be winnable for them?

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.), Fri., Dec. 28, 2:00 PM

Ohio U (8-4) vs. Louisiana-Monroe (8-4)

Something negative, something positive to be said.  The negative is obvious if one knows anything at all about bowl history.  The Independence Bowl used to be one of the best matchups in the bowl lineup, pitting a Big XII team against an SEC team in a fairly even match.  Even before then, the 1995 Michigan State – LSU matchup was memorable, and the 1997 match between the Tigers and Notre Dame was even more so (both ended in the Bayou Bengals’ favor).  Remember the “Blizzard Bowl” between Mississippi State and Texas A&M in late 2000?  ‘Twas yet another great example of this great bowl game.  It is not anymore, though.  Now it pits MAC vs. Sun Belt.  The Cadillac has been reduced to a Chrysler K-car.  Positive:  lookee there, the Bobcats made it to a bowl game after all!

Russell Athletics Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Fri., Dec. 28, 5:30 PM

Virginia Tech (6-6) vs. Rutgers (9-3)

The Hokies have under-performed all the year, and the Scarlet Knights might be a bit demoralized after losing at home to Louisville and losing out on the BCS in so doing.  So which team is going to show up?  Scratch that:  is either team going to show up?

Meinecke Car Care Bowl (Houston), Fri., Dec. 28, 9:00 PM

Minnesota (6-6) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Okay, at least it involves a Big Ten vs. Big XII matchup.  The only problem is, one team squeaked by into this game while in a conference that is down this year, and the other is facing leadership turmoil in the wake of Tommy Tuberville’s abrupt departure.  On paper, the Red Raiders are the clear favorite, but don’t underestimate the power of demoralization.

Armed Forces Bowl (Ft. Worth, Texas), Sat., Dec. 29, 11:45 AM

Rice (6-6) vs Air Force (6-6)

Both teams squeaked into a bowl game.  Which one is happier to be there?  The happier team is a bit more focused on preparation, which will make the difference come game time.  Seriously; it should be called the “Ethics Bowl,” and the fact that I imply derision in that observation is a very sad commentary on our society.  On the other hand, Air Force’s triple option ‘grittitude’ is always a pleasure to see for those of us who like real football.

Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.), Mon., Dec. 31, 3:30 PM

Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

The Cyclones have had some flashes of brilliance this year.  The question becomes, will this be enough to overcome the C-USA champs?

Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas), Mon., Dec. 31, 2:00 PM

USC (7-5) vs Georgia Tech (6-7)

My bowl pick for “they shoot horses, don’t they?”  Why?  Because it is pointless.  The Trojans come in to El Paso only 7-5 because they have yet to muster up the discipline needed to take things to the next level, while the Yellow Jackets already have a losing season. Still, the offensive contrast should be interesting to watch, if nothing else.

Next installment:  Bowl Games of More Interest

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.