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College Football Week 11 Awards November 12, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 11, pre-week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Glad I’m not him:  Nick Saban, Alabama
Lucky guy: James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Desperately seeking a clue: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Rocky Long, San Diego State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking … anything:  Mike Leach, Washington State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 4 Georgia (beat Auburn 38-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 3 Notre Dame (beat Boston College 21-6)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Indiana (lost to Wisconsin 62-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Louisiana-Lafayette (lost to No. 7 Florida 27-20)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulsa (beat Houston 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Southern Miss

Ya’ know, they’re not so bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville (see below), notwithstanding Alabama (see below)

Did the season start?  Utah
Can the season end?  Iowa
Can the season never end?  Texas A&M

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9** Texas A&M 29, No. 4**  Alabama 24
Never play this again: Wisconsin 62, Indiana 14

What? No. 6 Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20
Huh? Missouri 51, Tennessee 48, 4OT

Are you kidding me? Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

Oh – my – God:  No. 15* Texas A&M 29, No. 1* Alabama 24
Told you so: Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

* rankings are AP, Week 11

** reflects current, Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 3 Oregon
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Samford @ Kentucky
Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah State @ No. 20 Louisiana Tech

Upset alert: N.C. State @ No. 13 Clemson

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma @ West Virginia
Offensive explosion: No. 19 USC @ No. 18 UCLA
Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ Vanderbilt
Great game no one is talking about: No. 23 Rutgers @ Cincinnati

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora Jr. of UCLA vs. Lane Kiffin of USC
Who’s bringing the body bags? Western Carolina @ No. 4 Alabama
Why are they playing? Jacksonville State @ No. 7 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Southern Miss (notwithstanding Buffalo @ UMass)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Wofford @ No. 8 South Carolina

Week 11:  Another Two Bite the Dust

Two more undefeateds went down this week, one semi-expected, one hardly expected.  Louisville’s first defeat of the season was semi-expected, and for a number of reasons.  For one, most of Louisville’s wins were hardly overwhelming.  Moreover, their defense seemed to be increasingly under-performing during most of the season.  Their average margin of victory has been only 12.8 points, including an early-season blowout over Missouri State (35-7) and last week’s blowout over Temple (45-17).  Add Syracuse’s unpredictable competitiveness at home to the mix (it was their Senior Day, after all), and in the back of my mind, something was about to give.

But all is not lost for the Cardinals.  They are still in the running to win the Big East, and if they are able to defeat Rutgers in Piscataway on Nov. 29, they can clinch the conference total, though it nevertheless remains a relatively tall order.

The same cannot be said for as-of-yesterday No. 1 Alabama going down to surprising, almost shocking defeat (almost!) at home to No. 15 – and climbing! – Texas A&M.  The game already had a special feel to it regardless of the rankings, given that this was the first time the Crimson Tide was to play the Aggies since the 1968 Cotton Bowl.  Even Aggie and Crimson Tide legends showed up for Week 11’s aptly-labeled “ticket to die for”, including John David Crow (the only Bear Bryant-coached Heisman Trophy winner [1957, from A&M]), and Gene Stallings, both of whom were part of Bryant’s 1954 “Junction Boys” at A&M, the latter of whom coached against Bryant in the Cotton Bowl in ’68 (Bryant for Bama, Stallings for A&M), and who later coached Alabama to its last national championship (1992-’93), before Nick Saban’s tenure.

To observe the special meeting between the two teams, they even mimicked the uniform contrast of the opposing sides from roughly 44 years ago.  In the 1968 Cotton Bowl match-up, Alabama showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast against A&M’s maroon helmets and jerseys.  This time it was A&M who showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson helmets and jerseys.

At right shows Alabama vs. Texas A&M in the 1968 Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide showed up in all-white to contrast the Aggies’ traditional maroon uniforms. In a nod to that game from over 44 years ago, this time it was the Aggies that showed in all-white yesterday (left) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson unis. Look carefully, and notice how little the stripes on the teams’ pants have changed in four and a half decades!

The game itself, oddly enough, made things even more memorable.  Before yesterday’s game commenced, Alabama’s defense only allowed an average of six points in the first quarter.  In the first 15 minutes of this game, they allowed three touchdowns.  Such lying down on the job is what made the game more interesting than necessary, and ended up costing Alabama the game, the top-ranking, and likely a shot at the national championship.  One can quibble over whether a lapse of discipline on the part of a defensive player with 40 seconds left in the game cost Alabama just that with an offside penalty, thus giving the Aggies an automatic first down.  But such a penalty would have been moot had Bama’s defense played up to its usual standards in the first half. Credit Kevin Sumlin for putting together a game plan that took the fight to the Tide in their home stadium.

The new championship race:  Some have speculated that Bama’s unexpected loss has, if you’ll pardon the expression, parted the Red Sea in two for Notre Dame to walk into national title discussion.  I might borrow Lee Corso’s famous line of “not so fast my friend” and remind such speculators that both Oregon and Kansas State are ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings, both the AP kind and the BCS kind.  The latter standings are a result of superior strength of schedule on the part of both the Ducks and the Wildcats.  It shall take a loss of one of those teams – not likely, but not impossible – for Notre Dame to be legitimate contenders.  The same will have to be the case for Alabama to work its way back into such discussions, now that they are behind Georgia in the USA Today Poll (@ No.5), though ahead of them in the AP Poll (@ No. 4).  Not an egregious fall, but one that might be just insurmountable enough without a little outside help.  Can we say “Alabama-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl” if these shadows remain unchanged?  If nothing else, it would be another legendary match-up!

Quick uniform note:  TCU once had one of the nicest-looking helmets in college football.  That is, until they temporarily compromised the look by succumbing to the flat, matte helmet epidemic that seems to have gripped a number of teams.  Thankfully, the team has chosen to grant themselves a respite from that visual impairment disease, at least temporarily.  Last night in their valiant loss to Kansas State, the Horned Frogs sported helmets that closely recalled their traditional beautiful purple shells.  Their helmets on TV seemed shinier than ever before; perhaps a special polish was put on the metallic purple, or, even better, they went for a chrome purple look.  Whichever it was, here’s hoping they go forward with keeping this current helmet look and throw the matte shells onto the ash heap of regrettable trends.

College Football Week 10 Awards November 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* rankings are from Week 10 as opposed to Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 10 in Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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