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College Football Awards, Week 13 (2019) November 25, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himRyan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: James Franklin, Penn State

Lucky guy: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Herman, Texas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Auburn (defeated Samford 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (defeated Texas A&M 19-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Maryland (lost to Nebraska 54-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  TCU (lost to No. 9 Oklahoma 28-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  USC (defeated UCLA 52-35)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Troy

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oregon

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  UMass

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  Arizona State 31, No. 6 Oregon 28

Never play this again: No. 5 Alabama 66, Western Carolina 3

What?  Colorado 20, Washington 14

HuhHawaii 14, San Diego State 11

Are you kidding me??  Navy 35, No. 25 SMU 28

Oh – my – GodArizona State 31, No. 6 Oregon 28

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 14)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 13 Michigan

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 19 Cincinnati @ No. 18 Memphis (Friday, Nov. 29)

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 22 Iowa State (hon. mention:  No. 5 Alabama @ No. 15 Auburn)

Must win: No. 12 Wisconsin @ No. 10 Minnesota

Offensive explosion: No. 9 Oklahoma @ No. 21 Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

Great game no one is talking about: Wyoming @ Air Force

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kevin Sumlin of Arizona vs Herm Edwards of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 4 Georgia @ Georgia Tech

Why are they playing? Rutgers @ No. 8 Penn State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Texas State @ Coastal Carolina (dishon. mention:  Rice @ UTEP)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Charlotte @ Old Dominion

Week 13 Thoughts:

Baylor vs Texas

Once again the Longhorns disgraced themselves with tepid outputs on both offense and defense.  The Longhorns had such high expectations going into the season.  Now, they sit at 6-5.  What happened?  For starters, they graduated lots of experienced players after their Suger Bowl win.  This year, they have a young team, made younger with lots of injuries on defense and at running back.  For that, they need time for the injuries to heal.  Much more systemic are the questions of Texas’ identity on offense.  For that, they cannot excuse injuries.  Nor can they excuse their lack of player development despite good recruiting classes during Tom Herman’s tenure.  So how can they do better?  Three things:  develop an offensive identity; do better at developing your players; also, learn to get out of your own way.  Oklahoma and A&M have figured out how to do so:  what is Texas’ excuse?

Ohio State vs Penn State

The game was a good game, and it should not have been as good as it was.  Some key mistakes, namely turnovers in the 3rd quarter, allowed for Penn State to come within less than a touchdown of the Buckeyes.  Ohio State will have to button things up better if they expect to defeat their bitter rival up north come rivalry weekend.  Such urgency for discipline is even greater for the B1G championship game in Indianapolis, be it Wisconsin or Minnesota.  This is a reminder that the road to the playoffs still has a critical amount of potholes that only vigilance shall help avoid.

All that said, on to Rivalry Weekend!

College Football Awards, Week 10 (2019) November 4, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Dan Mullen, Florida

Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Poor guy: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tom Allen, Indiana

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Wofford 59-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (defeated Ole Miss 20-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UTSA (lost to Texas A&M 45-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Georgia Tech (lost to Pittsburgh 20-10)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Liberty (defeated UMass 63-21)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  SMU

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endOregon

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 8 Georgia 24, No. 6 Florida 17

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 59, Wofford 14

What?  Georgia Southern 24, No. 20 Appalachian State 21

HuhPurdue 31, Nebraska 27

Are you kidding me??  No. 8 Georgia 24, No. 6 Florida 17

Oh – my – GodNo. 24 Memphis 54, No. 15 SMU 48

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 LSU @ No. 2 Alabama

Next-best game of the week:  No. 5 Penn State @ No. 13 Minnesota

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Appalachian State @ South Carolina

Best non-Power Five matchup: Wyoming @ No. 21 Boise State

Upset alert: Iowa State @ No. 9 Oklahoma (hon. mention:  Virginia Tech @ No. 22 Wake Forest)

Must win: No. 20 Kansas State @ Texas

Offensive explosion: Kansas State @ Texas

Defensive struggle: No. 18 Iowa @ No. 16 Wisconsin

Great game no one is talking about: Ball State @ Western Michigan

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 3 Ohio State

Why are they playing? New Mexico State @ Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: South Alabama @ Texas State (dishonorable mention: Purdue @ Northwestern)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Vanderbilt @ No. 6 Florida

Week 10 Thoughts:

Again, am I the only one who has noticed that waaaaay too many teams have bye-weeks for upcoming week 10?

Notre Dame vs Virginia Tech

Earlier in the awards list, I listed Justin Fuente as the “Poor Guy” of the week.  Really, though, I should have created a special, one-off category for him this week called “Stupid Guy” instead.  His Virginia Tech team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the last few minutes of the game by persistently playing a “prevent” defense (specifically, rushing only three and dropping back the remaining eight) that allowed for Notre Dame to pick the Hokies’ secondary apart in the final minutes, play by play.  Not once did Virginia Tech mount anything resembling a pass rush, and the Irish made them pay dearly for not doing so.  All it would have taken would be to rush a couple of extra men, as one or two sacks in the process would have ruined Notre Dame’s day.  But no.  Once again, we are reminded that the only thing the prevent defense prevents is the implementer of said defense from winning the game.  Period.

Georgia vs Florida

Can anybody recall, within recent memory, a Georgia-Florida game with as much drama, excitement, and close play as this week’s matchup?  Neither can I.

SMU vs Memphis

Another undefeated bites the dust.  May your undefeated season rest in peace, SMU.  Still, what a game, and what a moment.  ESPN’s College Gameday crew visited Memphis for the first time, and the fans came out in droves to celebrate the arrival and to show their support for their Memphis Tigers.  The latter point is especially worth noting.  U-Memphis has historically been known as a basketball school.  Yet an ESPN-televised game at night, in front of a sellout crowd in the Liberty Bowl stadium, with ranked Memphis taking on then-undefeated SMU shows that UM’s football prowess is on the rise, and that is always a wonderful thing, notwithstanding the unfortunate side-effect of SMU’s undefeated season going by the boards.

Utah vs Washington

Utah needed to bring their A-game to Seattle, since the Huskies can be unpredictable at times.  Eventually, the Utes did just that.  Combine their win at Washington with USC’s crushing loss at home to No. 7 Oregon, and Utah controls their own destiny regarding clinching a Pac-12 South berth for the conference championship game.

College Football Awards, Week 8 (2019) October 21, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Poor guy: Les Miles, Kansas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Herman, Texas

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Arth, Akron

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Northwestern 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (defeated Kansas 50-48)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas (lost to Auburn 51-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Illinois (defeated Wisconsin 24-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ball State (defeated Toledo 52-14)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Washington

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Penn State 28, No. 16 Michigan 20

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Texas 50, Kansas 48

Never play this again: No. 4 Ohio State 52, Northwestern 3

What?  Ball State 52, Toledo 14

HuhGeorgia Tech 28, Miami (Fla.) 21, OT

Double-Huh?  Vanderbilt 21, No. 22 Missouri 14

Are you kidding me??  BYU 28, No. 14 Boise State 25

Oh – my – GodIllinois 24, No. 6 Wisconsin 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 3 Ohio State

Next-best game of the week:  No. 9 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Liberty @ Rutgers

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Navy

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 11 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Texas @ TCU  (hon. mention:  WSU @ No. 11 Oregon)

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Cal @ No. 12 Utah

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

(honorable mention:  Herm Edwards of Arizona State vs Chip Kelly of UCLA)

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

Why are they playing? Liberty @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Northern Illinois

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Maryland @ No. 17 Minnesota

Week 8 Thoughts:

Two more undefeated teams bite the dust.  First No. 6 Wisconsin in the noon time slot, who went down to defeat at lowly Illinois on a last-second field goal.  Then, late at night, the second undefeated team lost today when No. 14 Boise State lost on the road to BYU.  The latter, however, is not nearly as massive as the former.

The shame of such an upset is that it takes some of the [proverbial] starch and the all-too-real excitement out of next week’s upcoming matchup between the Badgers and the Buckeyes.  But it will still be a great game.

Texas vs. Kansas

Texas had to score 50 points to beat Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  Granted, Les Miles has the Jayhawks continually improving.  Still, this does not bode well for the Longhorns.  Clearly, injuries have depleted their defense, especially their secondary.  Any team with a good quarterback can thus score points on them.  The question becomes, can the Horns still stop the run?  Assuming they can, then they stand a chance yet against TCU next week.

College Football Awards, Week 7 (2019) October 14, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma  (hon. mention:  Ed Orgeron, LSU)

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Poor guy: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Utah (defeated Oregon State 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (lost to South Carolina 20-17 in 2OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UConn (lost to Tulane 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Arkansas (lost to Kentucky 24-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Maryland 40-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia

Did the season start?  Washington State

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma  (honorable mention:  LSU)

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Oklahoma 34, No. 11 Texas 27

Play this again, too:  No. 5 LSU 42, No. 7 Florida 28.

Never play this again: Louisiana Tech 69, UMass 21

What?  Bowling Green 20, Toledo 7

HuhTemple 30, No. 23 Memphis 28

Double-Huh?  Miami 17, No. 20 Virginia 9

Are you kidding me??  Louisville 62, No. 19 Wake Forest 59

Oh – my – GodSouth Carolina 20, No. 3 Georgia 17, 2OT

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Best game of the week:  No. 16 Michigan @ No. 7 Penn State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ No. 19 SMU

Upset alert: No. 5 Oklahoma @ West Virginia

Must win: No. 17 Arizona State @ No. 13 Utah

Offensive explosion: No. 25 Washington @ No.12 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Michigan @ Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Herm Edwards of ASU

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 Ohio State @ Northwestern

Why are they playing? Minnesota @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Akron

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

Week 7 Thoughts:

Oklahoma vs Texas

Rivalries are a funny thing.  On paper, the Sooners should have defeated the Longhorns by at least two touchdowns, given the disparity in ranking (No. 6 vs. No. 11).  Yet the Horns’ defense stepped up in a huge way, was able, at least some of the time to, to contain Jalen Hurts and the OU offense.

Louisville @ Wake Forest

Great win/upset for Louisville.  Yet the score concluded at 61 to 52.  Ever heard of defense, guys?

Florida @ LSU

The other game of the week (outside of the Red River Shootout in Dallas) was resurgent Florida @ LSU.  This game as well lived up to its hype, with big plays on both sides, and in the end, the Bayou Bengals triumphed over the Gators, 42-28.  In light of the massive development in Athens, Ga. (see below), expect LSU to move up a notch in the rankings.

Possible playoff scenario

Georgia lost in shocking fashion to rival South Carolina, at home, in double-overtime, 20-17.  In light of this huge development, here is a new, possible playoff scenario, should other current shadows remain unchanged:  Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU/Alabama, and Clemson.  The latter two are plausible placeholders for the perennial southern/southeastern representatives that have come to dominate the playoffs as of late.  But with the Buckeyes and the Sooners both in the picture, that would bring in a larger national audience, what with representation both from the Plains and, more importantly, the Midwest.  As a not-so-distant aside, Ohio State and Oklahoma alone would be a game we would all love to see, playoffs or no playoffs.

College Football Awards, Week 6 (2019) October 7, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Poor guy: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated Bowling Green 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (defeated Northwestern 13-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Utah State (lost to No. 5 LSU 42-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Tulsa (lost to SMU 43-37)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa State (defeated TCU 49-24)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Bowling Green

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Auburn

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UCLA

Can the season never endSMU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

Never play this again: No. 9 Notre Dame 52, Bowling Green 0

What? No. 19 Michigan 10, No. 14 Iowa 3

Huh?  Texas Tech 45, No. 21 Oklahoma State 35

Double-Huh?  Cincinnati 27, No. 18 UCF 24

Are you kidding me??  Stanford 23, No. 15 Washington 13

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas in the Red River Shootout

 (Possible second choice):  No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: UNLV @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Houston (also:  Hawaii @ No. 16 Boise State)

Upset alert: No. 25 Michigan State @ No. 8 Wisconsin (also:  Florida @ LSU)

Must win: No. 15 Washington @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ No. 22 Wake Forest  (also:  Penn State @ Iowa)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs Scott Frost of Nebraska

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 17 Utah @ Oregon State

Why are they playing? Rhode Island @ Virginia Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Kent State @ Akron

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UConn @ Tulane

Week 6 Thoughts:

Michigan vs. Iowa

Iowa came into the Big House ranked No. 14 to home team Michigan’s No. 19 ranking.  The game was a close one from start to finish, and in the end, Michigan triumphed in a defensive struggle, 10-3.  Under normal circumstances, when a team, ranked or otherwise, defeats a higher-ranked team, that is a good day, that is a good day for the lower-ranked team.

So why do I get the feeling that this win will not slake the bloodthirst of Jim Harbaugh’s critics?  I can think of two reasons.  The most obvious is that Michigan scored only 10 lousy points.  At home.  Granted, it was against Iowa, which is always a deceptively tough out, but in the end, scoring only 10 points borders on disturbing.

Keep in mind that Wisconsin is, theoretically, an even stronger defense, yet the Wolverines scored two touchdowns on them in a losing effort on the road.  Should such an abysmal offensive performance persist later in the season, how does one think that Michigan is to fare against, say, Penn State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, or even [shudder] archrival Ohio State?

The reason this win does not assuage concerns about Michigan’s direction was Iowa’s performance.  That the Hawkeyes’ offense kept sputtering when it reached the Wolverines’ 40 yard line is what saved the latter’s bacon.  To be sure, that is also a tribute to the Wolverines’ tough D.  Still, can one count on such defensive shut-downs against even more formidable opponents?  Most likely, not.

Bottom line:  Harbaugh needs to re-shuffle the proverbial deck for his offense, and do so right now.

SMU vs Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane played the Mustangs tough for the entire game, but a last-minute touchdown put SMU ahead of Tulsa for good.  The Mustangs are now undefeated at 6-0 for the first time since 1982 (back when Craig James was still playing for them).  Let that sink in for a moment.

Ohio State vs Michigan State

Speaking of stronger defenses than that of Iowa, Michigan State gave a maximum effort against Ohio State.  Even then, the Buckeyes still won, 34-10.  The Spartans’ aforementioned max effort from their own strong D was all that kept the game from becoming a blowout.

Can anyone in the conference take Ohio State?  It certainly does not seem so at this rate.  All that said, Oct. 26 could give us a preview of coming Big Ten Championship attractions when the Buckeyes play Wisconsin at home.  Once again, the Buckeyes are playing like a solid national championship contender.

Florida vs Auburn

Either Auburn is not quite as good as we thought they were (at No. 7), or Florida is better than we thought they were (at No. 10).  Whatever the case may be, if the Gators keep up these strong performances, it shall shape up to be a memorable matchup against Georgia in Jacksonville later this month.

Bad Start for College Football in 2019 (And What to do About It) September 19, 2019

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While there have been several great matchups these past few weeks (e.g., Auburn vs. Oregon, LSU @ Texas, and this upcoming weekend, Notre Dame @ Georgia), there have been lots of dud contests.  Simply put, it is difficult to recall in recent memory where so many pointless “body bag” games have been scheduled.

The first week began with such dreck games as UCF playing Florida A&M; Arizona State played Kent State; Maryland played Howard; Nebraska played South Alabama; Temple played Bucknell; Penn State played Idaho; Tennessee played Georgia State…and lost…at home!  Moreover, Texas Tech played Montana State; Kansas State played Nicholls; Washington State played New Mexico State, and TCU played Arkansas Pine Bluff.

The only really good matchup for week 1 was Auburn playing Oregon.

Week 2 was better, but not by much.  Horrid matchups still prevailed with Arizona State playing Sacramento State; Kansas State played Bowling Green; South Carolina played Charleston Southern; Indiana played Eastern Illinois; Georgia played Murray State, while Alabama played New Mexico State; Oklahoma played South Dakota; Auburn played Tulane; you get the picture.

Ironically, what was a bad matchup on paper turned out to be a nail-biter, as Michigan had to struggle to beat Army.  That said, Texas A&M put up a strong, valiant fight against No. 1 Clemson, and LSU @ Texas proved to be the best game of the year thus far.  Though the Longhorns lost, they acquitted themselves in that they demonstrated that they’re still a legit top-10 team.  LSU, on the other hand, has a real quarterback and probably the most potent office since at least the 2007 team, if not since the 2003 team under Nick Saban.  Watch out, SEC; the Bayou Bengals are deadly this year.

Even in week 3, it did college football no service to put on body bag games like Miami (Fla.) playing Bethune-Cookman, Tennessee playing Chattanooga, or Texas A&M playing Lamar.  The majority of the games thus far have demonstrated the need for a college football commissioner like no other season beginning in memory.  Such a commissioner’s main job would be to ensure that good and decent teams played each other in the regular season to keep college football both interesting and engaging.  As Alabama has learned the hard way, even a team with devoted as fans as those of The Tide will be loathe to attend such boring games when they know that their team will walk away winning by at least four touchdowns.  If head coaches and their respective athletics directors are too timid to risk a loss by playing good teams, thus making for good, interesting games, then a college football commissioner shall have to force the issue for them.

No sport can flourish with hard-core fans along, (see:  Soccer, Major League).  Conversely, one of the biggest reasons why the NFL is the most popular sport league in America by far is because, in addition to its legions of hard-core fans, it’s practically everyone else’s second-favorite sport.

Over the past 25 years, we college football fans have witnessed dramatic growth in the game we love.  That prosperity is now potentially in peril when so many teams schedule boring, pointless, body bag games.  Want to slowly wither away into relative obscurity?  Start by turning off the casual fans with insufficiently engaging games.  The three stellar games I have already mentioned in this article are not enough to maintain that.

Yes, week 4 shall be an improvement, but much work needs to be done to prevent such a spate of pointless games from showing up on major teams’ schedules.  A commissioner of college football would be the quickest, most efficient, and most decisive instrument to ensure a critical mass of engaging matchups throughout the season.

To keep the game we love from dwindling into irrelevancy, more people in the sport need to be willing to take these necessary risks.  Lest we have to hold our collective breath before enough coaches and AD’s wise up to this, a college football commissioner could wise up for them and compel enough, er, compelling games to take place.  The question thus becomes, do the powers that be in the NCAA HQ recognize such urgency, and if not, why not?

 

College Football Awards, Week 3 (2019) September 19, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Clay Helton, USC

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Florida

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated New Mexico 66-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Virginia Tech (defeated Furman 24-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas State (lost to Georgia 55-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Temple (defeated No. 21 Maryland 20-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tennessee (defeated Chattanooga 45-0)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama (honorable mention: Indiana)

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Maryland

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Florida 29, Kentucky 21

Play this again, too:  No. 18 Iowa 18, Iowa State 17

Never play this again: Louisiana 77, Texas Southern 6

That will leave a mark:  Miami 63, Bethune-Cookman 0

What? Kansas State 31, Mississippi State 24

HuhTemple 20, No. 17 Maryland 17

Double HuhCitadel 27, Georgia Tech 24

Are you kidding me??  BYU 30, No. 24 USC 27

Oh – my – GodArizona State 10, No. 18 Michigan State 7

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

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Notre Dame @ No. 3 Georgia

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 8 Auburn @ No. 16 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Air Force @ No. 22 Boise State

Upset alert: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Must win: No. 10 Michigan @ No. 14 Wisconsin

Offensive explosion: Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Texas

Defensive struggle: Boston College @ Rutgers

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Florida State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mario Cristobal of Oregon vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charlotte @ No. 1 Clemson

Why are they playing? San Jose State @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ New Mexico

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Southern Illinois @ Arkansas State

Week 3 Thoughts:

Too many body-bag games to in the first three weeks for college football in 2019.  At least next week starts with a bang with Michigan vs. Wisconsin in the noon time slot, and we are treated to an early Big XII quasi-rivalry with Texas vs. Oklahoma State in the evening, which will be an intriguing distraction from the game of the week, in which the Notre Dame Fighting Irish venture down to Athens, Ga., to take on the Bulldogs “between the hedges”.  Oh, and Auburn plays Texas A&M in the 3:30 EDT time slot, so prepare for an engaging Saturday come the 21st!

Also, belated shout-out to an incredible game the previous week with LSU at Texas.  Had the Horns done a slightly better job of stopping the Tiger’s passing game, they might have triumphed.  As it is, LSU seems to be a top-flight QB this season, and, based on their stellar performance in Austin, could end up vying for the SEC West divisional title.  Mark you calendars for November 9 now.

An Open Letter to Coach Patric Morrison of Madison, Indiana, (and all other parties concerned) May 23, 2019

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Dear Coach Morrison and hiring committee:

                As a Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School football alumnus (Class of 1998), allow me to congratulate you on your recent promotion to associate athletics director.  I also wish to extend congratulations on a job well done as head football coach, within the context of that with which you and the community have had to contend.  You have shown good vision in your player development; you have demonstrated that you deeply cared for your players; you were also forward-thinking in your team-building measures, too.  In my day, for example, it would have been unheard of for a head coach at Madison or some place similar to take his team all the way up to Canton, Ohio to engage in some team-building/skills-building drills.  It remains a surprise to me that such creative measures did not translate better into the wins column come that season.

Be all that as it may, I have observed the progress from afar of Madison football off and on as any concerned alumnus would for his former team.  During my college years, I served for three seasons as a staff member on the Purdue football team, and I learned through working with Coach Joe Tiller and his able assistant coaches about what it takes to build a winning program.  Over time I have come to some conclusions with regard to the challenges the program continues to face and what sort of coach it would take to effectively address them.  This is to build on the firm foundation you, Coach Morrison, have diligently set in place.

As most of us are aware, Madison faces one systemic challenge of being the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference.  Moreover, while some rival schools are in conferences with growing, more dynamic populations (e.g., Floyd Central and Jeffersonville), the town (pardon me, “city”) of Madison’s population has been stagnant, if not gradually declining, for the past two decades.  Bottom line:  our pool for talent is already limited compared to the competition.  Other environmental factors – too many, too complex to list for now — on top of that stack the proverbial deck even further against us.  Can we even win at all in such a situation?  I believe we still can.  Here’s what we need:

As is the case in college football, it all starts with the coach.  In the high school and college games, the coach plays an outsized role in program success compared to his factoring into success in the NFL (though the head coach is still vitally important there, too).  At those levels, players first have to want to play for the coach (indeed, in college, the players literally choose to play for him and his assistants).  Moreover, at the high school level (and yes, college, too), the coach, in addition to being sufficiently adept at the X’s and O’s, also needs to be the team’s spiritual leader, for lack of a better term.  That is, he must be ever-vigilant in keeping the team motivated and keeping its morale high.  Superior morale is an absolute must-have for Madison football.  The boys need to be amped-up and excited to take the field more so than the other team.  It is one of the few advantages they can leverage.

That means a coach capable of lighting a huge fire under the team’s collective arse.  It means giving extra-rousing motivational speeches in the locker room before kick-off and at the end of half-time.  That also means a coach who will encourage the guys on the team to celebrate on the sidelines during a successful series.  Not only will such things sustain good morale, but it will create a fun environment that everyone can see – including able-bodied male students in the stands who would come to realize they want to be a part of that, and contribute to the team in so doing.

MadisonFootballLogo

This logo, only several years old, is one befitting a good high school program.  What Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School needs to do is find a coach to match; one who is sufficiently dynamic and has a singular vision to create a winning culture.

Snazzy uniforms also help for good morale at that level.  To that end, I must once again commend Coach Morrison, this time for the neat-looking uniform image he has crafted during his tenure (they’re light years better than the generic rags my teammates and I had to play in).  His successor must keep this good look going, and the only changes he should be making there, if any, should take things even further, provided they do not exceed the bounds of good taste (no need for the Oregon unis of 2007 with the anti-skid patterns on the knees and shoulders, please!).  Yes, that means it is important to press candidates on their uniform-styling philosophy.  If the potential new hire confesses in the interview that he is a “Penn State uniforms kind of guy”, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.  He’s gone; next candidate.  Period.  Why?  Because a predilection for such generic uniforms shows that he is unimaginative and rigid against change.  What we need is a coach who is the exact opposite – very imaginative and willing to pivot on a dime in terms of offensive or defensive strategy.  I know this from experience.  We failed to win a single game my junior-year season (1996) because the head coach and his staff were too inflexible to make changes that desperately needed to be made.  Such changes ranging from re-shuffling the offensive line to strategic offensive changes that would have played to the strengths that we had at the time would have minimized our weaknesses and actually would have put us in the position to win games, which is a coach’s number one job, lest we forget.

These two things would be a solid start.  But what about the deficit of talent?  With limited practice time, talent on the field often becomes the deciding factor, after all.  Herein thus lies the core challenge.  In addition to being good and keeping up team morale in all its facets, the next head coach at MCHS must have a combination of boundless energy and a Messianic complex where he is bent, in part, on maximizing the turnout within the school.  To accomplish this, he’ll need to win over the support of the community – not an easy task for a town susceptible to complacency.  He’ll have to attend every community function, every community festival (e.g., Old Court Days, the county fair, the Madison Regatta, etc.), every local church cookout, and spread the word about the new mission of the team.  He’ll have to kiss a hundred babies and shake thousands of hands as if he were running for high state-wide office.  In this process, he will have to sell as many folks as possible on his new, winning vision for the program, and how this new, winning vision will help put the town on the map.  Such is what it will take to win over supporters within the community and thus build up the support infrastructure – support that in turn will encourage an improvement, and ultimately, a maximization of turnout that the team desperately needs.

This aforementioned Messianic complex will also be necessary to withstand blowback from parents who might be incensed that their son would be utilized less or in a different way.  If you have to replace a drop-back QB for an option QB, for example, because therein lies the opportunity to start winning games, you’ll have to brush aside the ruckus raised by parents as so much background noise irrelevant to keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize of winning games.  Vince Lombardi was right:  winning isn’t everything, but it is the only thing.  Otherwise, why put in all the effort?  Yes, a more detailed exploration of this side-issue merits another article for another time.

The next step after that would be to continue the change in organizational culture.  All currently-available evidence shows that Coach Morrison made great strides in changing the team culture towards a supportive one.  The next head coach needs to take that and translate it into a winning one.  This is arguably the toughest challenge of them all – changing an organizational culture from a losing one to a winning one.  Where to begin?  Those in charge of hiring need to look at coaches who have turned around organizational cultures in the past.  A great example is what Barry Alvarez did at Wisconsin.  For years, they were a doormat of the Big Ten Conference.  Nowadays, they are perennial conference contenders and routinely win bowl games.  You and the hiring committee need to study what he did, then ask your coaching candidates if they would enact similar things.  You could also provide necessary guidance-as-support to ensure that you are on the same page and are pursuing the same goals together.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that if you are truly committed to building a winning program at MCHS, you must consider what you need to do attract such a candidate, and make any accommodation necessary to bring him in. Given the unique dynamism that a head coach will have to exhibit at MCHS to build a winning culture, is the hiring committee willing to make the necessary accommodations to attract such a leader that the football program needs?  Are you willing to pay a little extra?  Are you willing to clear whatever path is necessary with regard to his teaching skill sets?  Are you willing to create an environment at school that gives the new head coach ample opportunity to interact with this players/students?  Shoving him off to the side as a junior high study hall monitor like you did with Coach Getts back 2001 is not going to cut it.

That might mean twisting a few arms and cajoling a few members of the school board to see it your way.  But this might be the only way to bring in the coach you need who will reliably win games.  This will take political competence and the power of persuasion on your part to accomplish, but it’s also important that you do so.  Sell them on the idea of this being the opportunity we’ve been looking for to put Madison “on the map”.  The last thing we need is for some narrow-minded warm body to foul things up because they cannot see past their own complacency.

                To summarize, here are the bottom-line guiding suggestions for Coach Morrison and all others who have a say in the hiring decision of his successor:

  1. Ensure the coach is proven to boost and maintain high morale on the team, within all facets of the game, from game-time celebrations to sufficiently-stylish uniforms (the latter of which is already headed in the right direction, and good on Coach Morrison for this).  Can he light a fire under the team and keep it lit all season-long?
  2. Ensure the coach is both imaginative and flexible.  Is he willing to change offensive strategies mid-season if that’s what it takes to win games?  Is he willing to think creatively in what that new offensive strategy might entail?
  3. Does the coach have the necessary tunnel vision to withstand or brush aside blowback and keep his, and the team’s, eyes on the proverbial prize?
  4. Gauge the level of the coach’s energy.  He will need maximum energy to campaign as if he is running for political office so as to maximize the team’s turnout.  Once hired, guide him on all possible opportunities in the community to spread his message and thus his vision.
  5. How good is the coach at changing organizational cultures?  More than anything, this could help him build a lasting legacy of program success.  Can he cite examples he knows of regarding what other coaches have done to convert losing cultures into winning ones (see:  Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin).
  6. Lastly, are you and the powers that be willing to do your parts in creating the environment the head coach needs to succeed in his mission?

Does this all sound like a tall order?  Initially, yes.  But the further one implements this list, the more doable it shall appear.  All of this is necessary to overcome the systemic challenges that Madison football faces.  If the hiring committee is not committed to the last point, then then they will fail in passing muster with the previous five points, for it shall prevent the attraction of the uniquely dynamic coach you need to properly build on what Coach Morrison has already put in place.  Either you are committed to doing what it takes to bring in this sort of head coach, or you’ll end up settling for some guy who seems nice enough and enjoy being a whipping boy of the HHC on a weekly basis in the fall.  The choice is yours.  Let’s choose to build on Coach Morrison’s supportive legacy and do what it takes to create a wining culture.

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.

Time to Re-think “6 AM’s” March 1, 2017

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There is an oft-overlooked part to college football that has gotten out of control.  As a former Big Ten football team staff member, I had to endure what are, in the industry, known as “6 AM’s”.  The simple definition/description is that they are winter conditioning sessions for college football players, usually starting in late January and lasting until Spring Practices begin.

They are also a royal pain in the backside.  College kids have a hard time getting enough sleep as it is.  Now imagine having to get up no later than 5 in the morning and trudge yourself into the football facilities.  Show up for work all dressed in normal practice garb no later than 5:30 in the morning so you can set up the equipment for these early morning conditioning sessions.

At least we did not have to run through all those grueling drills:  that was for the players to do.  Good luck being able to maintain consciousness in your classrooms for the rest of the day.  If you miss class because you are too tired, coaches typically cook up special penalties, such as more running.  At Purdue during the Joe Tiller era, the penalty was for players who missed class to start running at 5:30 – meaning we would have to get things set up prior to that time – after which they had to join the rest of their teammates for the 6 AM B.S.

As bad as they have been, coaches have gone too far with these “6 AM’s”.  One recent example is of several Oregon football players needing hospitalization during such a session, which included an hour of push-ups and “up-downs.”  An hour, seriously?  Some of these hospitalized players were diagnosed with Rhabdomyolysis, which basically involves the soft muscle tissue breaking down, then leaking into your blood stream.

But that was just earlier this year.  Back in 2011, 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized for the same problems following one of their winter conditioning sessions.

It is perfectly reasonable for coaches needing their players to be in shape.  Moreover, it make sense that they already be in shape for spring practices, so that the coaches can properly ascertain what sort of talent they have to work with for the upcoming fall season that year.  But treating these winter conditioning session as “gut checks” is horribly antiquated, and arguably abusive.

The problem is that coaches too often use these “6 AM” drills (some coaches smartly schedule them in the afternoon, but not enough of them do) as a symbolic gesture to remind players that they are under said coaches’ thumbs, so to speak.  Coaches also too often use these drills as an excuse to put them through “gut-checks”, testing their manhood so as to earn the coaches’ respect and earn their right to stay on the team.  Again, this is not always the case, but incidents like those mentioned above give that impression.

By all means, have conditioning sessions, but coaches, be both sensible and reasonable and have them in the afternoon…like sane people.  There is nothing holding coaches back from implementing these sensible solutions:  only ego and antiquated thinking.  It’s just a matter of coaches having the good sense to be practical and realize that they can get their players in good enough shape without sleep-depriving them, ruining their entire days of class, and fatiguing them to the point of needing hospitalization.  This is not the Marines, let alone the French Foreign Legion.

Give the players a break, schedule the conditioning sessions in the afternoon, and focus on getting them in shape without having to put them through daily gut-checks.  After all, they should have earned your respect by their willingness to show up in the winter to go through such hell before even putting on helmets and pads later in the springtime.  For those coaches who already honor this ethic, kudos.