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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.

College Football Awards, Week 11 (2016) November 13, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Clay Helton, USC  Hon. Mention:  Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney , Clemson

Lucky guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Marylad 62-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (lost to Georgia 13-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Illinois (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 48-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Georgia (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Notre Dame (defeated Army 44-6)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas A&M

Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Play this again, too:  Pittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 62, Maryland 3

Close call:  No. 13 Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 44

What? Georgia Tech 30, No. 14 Virginia Tech 20

HuhGeorgia 13, No. 9 Auburn 7

Double-Huh?  No. 20 USC 26, No. 4 Washington 13

Are you kidding me?  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Oh – my – GodPittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12))

Ticket to die for: No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 10 West Virginia

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Louisville @ Houston

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mike MacIntyre of Colorado vs. Mike Leach of Washington State

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

Why are they playing? Alabama A&M @ No. 18 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? The Citadel @ North Carolina

Week 11 Take-aways:

Remember how November was for everything? Next year, Bill Connelly surely will add this day of the month in 2016 along with the other legendary dates in college football. Three – count ‘em, three — Top-Five teams went down to defeat tonight, and a total of five – Top Ten teams succumbed to defeat, two of whom were undefeated.

A championship-contender team can withstand a loss in September or even October and still claw its way back to playoff consideration by November – witness Oklahoma in 2008 (they lost to Texas in the Red River Shootout that year, and still managed to play Florida for the BCS Championship).

But November is for everything, remember? That same year, Texas got upset by Texas Tech early that month, and in the end, that made the difference between Oklahoma – whom the Horns defeated – going to the BCS and the Horns settling for the Fiesta Bowl.

The bottom line is, if you lose in November, your playoff hopes are likely dashed. Such might be the case with both Clemson and Michigan. Both looked unstoppable, and both lost on Saturday, in different ways. The former lost at home to a tenacious Pittsburgh squad who managed to hang with the Tigers the entire game until they were in the position to win by a field goal with several seconds left on the clock. The latter lost on the road, at night, to a feisty yet methodical Iowa team that somehow held the explosive Wolverine offense to only 13 points (!) and managed to hang on the end to successfully kick a field goal as the last second ticked off the clock.

Out on the west coast, undefeated, 4th-ranked Washington also tasted defeat for the first time all year. They too were making an obviously serious bid for the playoffs, and were playing USC at home. But the Trojans seemed to have learned to play well enough together as a team to where their talent potential has started to shine through. Such talent certainly shined Saturday night in a win that will surely be one major building block as the program slowly returns to its traditional strength.

The other losses suffered by the other two Top-Ten teams are just as intriguing. All of us were convinced that Auburn had finally found its offensive legs, and that Georgia, who had been grossly underperforming all year, did not stand a chance. All that turned on a dime this Saturday “between the hedges,” as the Bulldogs held Gus Malzahn’s newly-recharged offense to just one touchdown for the entire game. That meant Georgia’s measly 13 points were more than enough for the win, in a defensive struggle that will leave us scratching our heads for a long time to come. What happened to Auburn’s offense that looked as though it had finally tuned up to optimal performance? Where was this strong defensive showing by Georgia for the first ten weeks of the year? Has this win awakened a sleeping giant of a team in Athens?

 

Finally, lost in all of this plate tectonic-shifting shuffle is the fact that Texas A&M, at the No. 10 ranking, narrowly lost to [currently] unranked Ole Miss. Remember them? The Rebels started the season ranked No. 11 only to lose to then-No. 4 Florida State in the opening weekend. Losing to No. 1 Alabama was also an understandable defeat, but getting upset by then-No. 22 Arkansas in their sixth game set a downward spiral in motion just as they began a brutal three-game stretch that included an LSU team finding its second wind and then an Auburn team that seemed, at the time, to be finding its offense. If that’s not enough, in the process, they lost their star quarterback for the rest of the season to a knee injury. At 4-5, everyone had left the Rebels for dead, particularly against No. 10 Texas A&M this week. But remember, the Aggies had lost their QB last week to a shoulder injury, so the two talented teams were on equal footing after all. In the Battle of the Backup QBs, the Rebels triumphed in a close upset, 29-28. In college football, November can be a very cruel month regardless.

Still, Ole Miss now has the opportunity to salvage something of a disappointing season full of what-ifs. It is not inconceivable for them to win out and go 7-5 for the year. We must not lose sight of the fact that each of their losses came to ranked teams, either currently, or when the games themselves were played.

All this aside, with three undefeated, Top Five teams upset this week, it would seem as though the Red Sea has parted for both Louisville and Ohio State to fill the [potential] playoff berth void. No doubt the playoff committee will be burning the midnight oil trying to sort out this sudden mess. Once the new playoff rankings are released, no doubt new controversies will ensue. Let the games begin.

College Football Awards, Week 9 2016 October 30, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Texas

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggart, South Florida

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Purdue 62-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Virginia 32-25)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to No. 2 Michigan 32-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisiana Tech (defeated Rice 61-16)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Florida Atlantic

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start?  Tennessee

Can the season end?  Missouri

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Washington 31, No. 17 Utah 24

Never play this again: No. 24 Penn State 62, Purdue 24

Close call:  No. 5 Louisville 32, Virginia 24

What? Wyoming 30, No. 13 Boise State 28

HuhNo. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17

Double-Huh? South Carolina 24, No. 18 Tennessee 21

Are you kidding me?  Oklahoma State 37, No. 10 West Virginia 20

Oh – my – GodTexas 35, No. 8 Baylor 34

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10))

Ticket to die for: No. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Also: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Cincinnati

Upset alertIowa @ No. 20 Penn State  also: No. 10 Florida @ Arkansas

Must winNo. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ USC

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ No. 20 Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Ken Niumatalolo of Navy vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 2 Michigan

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? Tennessee Tech @ Tennessee

Week 9 Take-aways:

Yesterday logged a number of major upsets in that four undefeated teams all went down with their first loss of the year. To wit: Baylor, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Boise State (yes, the Broncos were secretly lurking around in the undefeated ranks until yesterday). The only undefeated teams that remain are those that inhabit the top four in the polls; Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington. If these shadows remain unchanged, there are your playoff teams. Then again, November is about to start, so who knows what chaos yet awaits? After all, November is for everything.

It looks as though the SEC is getting their annual late-season body bag game out of the way early for some of their teams. For reference, check out the “Why are they playing?” and the “They shoot horses, don’t they?” slots. Every season, without fail, almost everyone in the conference schedules body bag games late in the season, usually in November. This time, Ole Miss and Tennessee have scheduled theirs the first weekend of November instead of later in the month. After all, the fans of both programs benefit so well from seeing their teams beat up on non-conference mid-majors. Apparently, there is nothing like buying an easy win.

Speaking of the SEC, those who were hollering for Gus Malzahn to get the ax might want to hit the pause button. Those past few weeks, it looks as though the Tigers have found their offense (perhaps it was in an alley behind Jordan-Hare Stadium?), evidenced by their routing of Ole Miss last night, 40-29, on the road, no less. Auburn is now 6-2 (those two losses are to No. 3 Clemson and to No. 7 Texas A&M), is currently ranked No. 11, and they have prospects of winning out until they butt heads with Alabama at season’s end. Experienced observers of college football will point out that some teams take a while to get going. Auburn is one such team.

As the season continues to unfold, every BYU football game thus far has persisted in being interesting. Indeed, this year is by far the most interesting schedule the Cougars have had in a long time, if not in living memory. That should put their current 4-4 record into some perspective, since the wins are well-earned and the losses are without any hint of disgrace.

Some teams, no matter how good, tend not to match up well with others, for whatever odd reason. Witness Virginia vs. Louisville. Charlie Strong had already restored the expected intensity to the program during this tenure there, so the team was already in decent shape when Bobby Petrino returned at the helm, starting in 2014. That year, though, the Cardinals sustained an upset on the road to the Cavaliers. Lo and behold, two years later, a much stronger Louisville squad barely escaped Scott Stadium with a win yesterday. Some teams….

What are we to make of Texas? Last week, their defense embarrassed themselves in yet another unexpected loss, and this week, they contain Baylor’s high-powered offense well enough to win. The Longhorns’ projected best-case scenario for a record this season has thus been upgraded to 8-4, if they win out, though a more realistic “best” scenario, because no way they beat West Virginia at this rate, not even withstanding the Moutaineers’ first loss at home yesterday. Nobody in their right mind would bet Kansas to beat Texas, so it all comes down to how the Horns fare against Texas Tech and TCU. A splitting of that difference would yield a 6-6 record, which, to be sure, would be very short of where the program should/would be had they the right coach in place. Nevertheless, these are merely projections, and further discussions will be in order once the regular season concludes.

The Peril of Bye-Weeks in College Football October 15, 2016

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Beware of bye-weeks. They can do weird things to college teams. Speaking from experience, during my junior season at Purdue – the 2000 season where we went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 34 years – we had a bye-week coming off an emotional win over a favored Ohio State team. That win allowed for us to “control our own destiny”. After that game, we had a bye-week.  After that bye-week, we went on the road to play Michigan State, who was having a down year after their strong run and Citrus Bowl win (over a favored Florida squad, no less) the prior season.

We were favored in that game, and it would have been an easier win than those over Michigan, the Buckeyes, or even Wisconsin. Only problem was, we failed to bring our “A-game”, and it showed. We embarrassed ourselves, losing 30-10. It left us all scratching our heads. Worse yet, it put our Big Ten championship in peril. Only a loss by Northwestern to Iowa that same day kept us in the money. We closed the deal next week with a blowout win at home over Indiana, but the fact remained that a once-in-a-generation chance to punch our ticket to Pasadena almost evaporated on a cold, gray November afternoon in East Lansing.

I blame the bye-week. As college kids, a bye-week throws you off your rhythm that you set during the playing season. Without the normal routine of a game each week, your preparation routine is thrown off, and it’s easy to get lackadaisical, forgetting how to methodically build up the intensity to the point where you peak on game day. That effect was on display again this Friday night.

Yes, Louisville came off an emotional loss in a high-stakes game in a very hostile environment two weeks ago. The casual observer might think that the bye week would be a good opportunity to recharge the batteries. Think again. Being out of rhythm on account of the open weekend last week, the Cardinals came out less than focused and energized, while at the same time they faced a disciplined, well-coached Duke team. They escaped – barely – with a win, at home.

Speaking of Duke, by season’s end, this victory should nevertheless be a quality win for the Cards by season’s end.  Ironically, it is Duke that now faces a bye-week, and will play a down Georgia Tech squad to close out the month of October.  If they do NOT come out flat against the Yellow Jackets, I would frankly be surprised.

That aside, seeing the way the Blue Devils played in this game, even though they are now 3-4, I have no doubt that they shall give the rest of their opponents all they want. November with be rather brutal for David Cutcliffe’s team, for they play (in order) Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Miami, one after another. Don’t be surprised if they upset one or two of those teams. What have they going for them in this tough stretch? No byes.

 

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!

Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

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 Who wants it more?  More to the point, which team is happier to be there?  That is the most important question in determining the outcomes of the upcoming bowl games.  It is not easy, but it will be the make-or-break factor.  It affects the performance of the team.  If they are not that motivated to be there, but the underdog team is, the actual odds favor the latter.  Therefore, the real question becomes, which team will show up to play?  To create a better understanding of this condition, allow me to offer Exhibit A:

The season was that of 1998.  Kansas State was rising up in the polls throughout the year.  They defeated mighty Nebraska (yes, the Cornhuskers were still very vaunted then) for the first time in three decades.  The Wildcats went undefeated for the regular season, and were poised, at the No. 2 national ranking, to go to the first ever championship game of the Bowl Championship Series, which that year would be the Fiesta Bowl.

Kansas State’s only hurdle to clear to make that coveted berth was the Big XII Championship game, in which they were naturally favored.  Yet underdog Texas A&M had other plans, and managed to upset K-State that game.  Gone were the Wildcats’ national championship hopes, but it was worse than that:  other teams had already secured major bowl slots, so K-State was demoted all the way down to the Alamo Bowl.  Coincidentally, they would play Purdue, which was the team I was on as a freshman staff member.  We were happy to be there:  Kansas State, however, was disappointed to be there.  Come game time (Dec. 29, 1998), it showed.  Even though the Wildcats were still ranked at a feared No. 4 while we were unranked, we nevertheless led them throughout most of the game.  Despite a late 4th-quarter touchdown that put them temporarily in the lead, we answered by marching right down the field for a game-winning score with only about a minute remaining.

On paper, K-State should have beaten us by at least two touchdowns.  But the final, actual score said otherwise.  Why?  Though, the Wildcats were clearly the better team on paper, we wanted to be there more than they did, and by a considerable margin.

Such a scenario has played itself out many times in the years since then (and no doubt in the years before), which is what makes bowl game prognostication for more unpredictable than just comparing regular season records and major stats.  The upcoming line-up of bowl games asks this very question more than a few times.  To wit:

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 3:30 PM EST, ABC

BYU (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah (9-3)

The Utes are the higher-ranked team.  At one point they were ranked as highly as No. 3 in the nation.  Surely they must have had higher bowl aspirations.  On the other hand, the Cougars are dealing with coaching turmoil since their head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, just bolted for the Virginia job.  My conclusion is to therefore not out-think things, and go with the odds, which slightly favor the Utes.

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 26, 2:00 EST, CBS

Miami (FL) (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Beware the deception of identical records.  For whereas the Cougars have had Mike Leach in place for a couple of seasons now, the Hurricanes are going through coaching changes, having fired Al Golden mid-season, leaving assistant coach Larry Scott to serve at the helm in his temporary stead.  Incoming head coach Mark Richt will watch from the stands.  The Miami players claim they’ll show up motivated, but can these kids overcome the coaching transitions while the Washington State players will enjoy stability?

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 26, 9:15 PM EST, ESPN

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)

The Bruins surely had much higher bowl aspirations as the season began, and at one point enjoyed a top-ten ranking.  Getting upset at home to Arizona State did not help their campaign, though, neither did losing to Washington State, either.  The losses to both Stanford and a resurgent USC can be excused.  Be all that as it may, they’re in this particular bowl, which lacks the prestige of bowls in the days that follow.  Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers are one of those lucky dog teams who, at 5-7, are very fortunate just to get a berth.  Why?  Because Big Ten fans travel in DROVES.  Expect a sea of red in Santa Clara, Calif., and a closer game than the records suggest.  You might even take the under on Nebraska.

Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 10 North Carolina (11-2) vs No. 17 Baylor (9-3)

On paper, this is a very marquee matchup between two very good teams.  The problem?  Both teams feel as though they deserved better bowl games.  Last year, the Bears were in the Cotton Bowl, for goodness sake.  Meanwhile, as strong as a team as the Tarheels have been, one would think they would have grabbed a more prestigious berth, too.  What therefore makes this scenario unique is that BOTH teams will likely come in under-motivated (we’re dealing with 19/20 year-old kids, after all).  The question becomes, which team will be less under-motived than the other?  Since UNC started out with lower aspirations, they might end up making this game very, very interesting.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)

Tigers vs. Tigers?  That alone is intriguing.  But the War Eagle variety surely had higher bowl aspirations (they started out the year ranked No. 6) than the variety from Memphis, who turned out to be a surprisingly strong team.  Auburn likely views this bowl berth as both a come-down and a quasi-home game at the same time.  But Memphis might be glad just to make it to a bowl game, since their postseason appearances have been far fewer than those of their opponent.  The Vegas odds favor Auburn by 2.5.  That is enough of a margin of error for Memphis to win by a close one, provided they appear with just enough motivation.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Late enough for you out east?  Regardless, there are varying degrees of motivation with these two teams.  If you’re Wisconsin for example, who would not be happy to spend late December in beautiful San Diego?  If you’re USC, you’ll be glad to be there after all the coaching and leadership turmoil with which you had to contend earlier in the season.  The kicker?  That particular turmoil is now behind the Men of Troy.  New head coach Clay Helton has clearly righted the ship, and the program is headed in the proper direction again.  That’s good.  But, he just fired 4 of his assistant coaches.  That’s bad, especially when the Trojans only have a handful of practices to prepare for a game with a depleted coaching roster (using grad assistants to fill in some of the roles) while Wisconsin lacks this disadvantage.  The Badgers, furthermore, always show up well to bowl games:  they are one of the most reliable programs in that regard.  The odds-makers in Vegas still give USC a 3-point advantage, meaning that there is potential for an upset.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2)

The Seminoles likely see having to play the lowly Cougars, while the latter will likely feel honored to play in such a relatively prestigious bowl game.  Should this scenario play out, the respective motivational levels are to be adjusted accordingly, giving us potential for one of the biggest upsets of this bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game Pres. By Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)

Since when would a team show up to the Rose Bowl under-motivated?  It is the Granddaddy of them all, folks!  But in the case of Stanford, they likely had the goal to make it to the playoffs instead.  Meanwhile, Iowa is going to their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.  To the Hawkeyes, this is a once-in-a-generation Super Bowl.  Granted, Iowa is a good team, but Stanford, on paper, is much better.  Under normal circumstances, Stanford should win by two touchdowns.  But with Iowa being especially focused and disciplined, expect a tough, close game that could go either way.

Taxslayer Bowl, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)

This used to be the Gator Bowl, fyi.  Georgia seems to be the stronger team on paper, but they just lost their head coach and will be coached by assistants in this bowl game, while Penn State has stable leadership in James Franklin.  Expect the Nittany Lions to therefore pull off the upset, unless the interim head coach at Georgia can effectively rally his troops.

2015-2016 Bowl Games Preview December 15, 2015

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What used to be the “most wonderful week of the year” has become the most wonderful two weeks of the year.  The bowl game lineup has reach an all-time high of 40.  Diminishing returns, anyone?

But that aside, here are some upcoming highlights and low-lights (note that all times are EASTERN time):

Tickets to Die For:

No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0) in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 31, 4:00 PM

The Tigers are the No. 1 team, while the Sooners are the hottest of the four teams in the playoffs.  More intriguingly, this will be a rematch from the Russell Athletic Bowl of last year.

No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dec. 31, 8 PM

The Crimson Tide has the postseason experience, but the Spartans have passed every major test over the past three years.  Moreover, the two teams are practically a mirror-image of each other.

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) in the Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM

Auburn needs this win to validate their lousy season.  Memphis needs this win to validate the best season arguably in the history of the program.  Thus, this also doubles as a Must-Win.

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might via the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.  Thus, this also doubles as an Upset Alert.

Best non-Power Five matchups:

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5) in the Hawai’i Bowl, Dec. 24, 8:00 PM

Rocky Long has continued the deceptive strong program built by Brady Hoke in San Diego, while Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats are never to be underestimated.

Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4) in the Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21, 2:30 PM

The Hilltoppers have proven to be strong all year, while the Bulls have performed very strongly as of late.  The record comparison may look lop-sided, but let not that fool us, for it shall be a close game.

Intriguing Coaching Match-ups:

Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville in the Music City Bowl.

One leads one of the most progressive offenses in the SEC.  The other is one of the best offensive minds in the game.  The irony?  Do not expect an offensive explosion.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Nick Saban of Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

As mentioned previously, the two teams are practically mirror-images of the other.

Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Fri., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

Two of THE best coaches in the game, going head-to-head?  Yes, please!

Larry Fedora of No. 10 North Carolina vs. Art Briles of No. 17 Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM

Potentially THE most underrated bowl game of the postseason, provided that both teams show up.

Rumble in the Phone Booth:

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1) in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Both teams have great running games, meaning that this should be a dream for fans of old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.  The question becomes, will we be “looking LIVE in Pasadena, Calif., folks”?

Rematches, Anyone?

No. 13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-4) in the Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Recall the 1997 Citrus Bowl?

No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Mississippi (9-3) in the Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM

Recall the 2004 Cotton Bowl?  This time, the results could be reversed.

Upset Alerts:

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might view the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.

Offensive Explosion:

No. 15 Oregon (9-3) vs. No. 11 TCU (10-2) in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Jan. 2, 6:45 pm

Ah, Alamo Bowl, you never fail to entertain!

Defensive Struggle:

No. 14 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (10-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

The Citrus Bowl came back!  That aside, the Gators have excelled at making games low-scoring, win or lose.  Regardless, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be prepared, and should end up victorious in the end.  Also, the matchup of first-year coaches Harbaugh and Jim McElwain is intriguing unto itself.

Great Games No One Is Talking About:

Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, 5:30 PM

They play this in Montgomery, Ala., in case you were wondering.  The Mountaineers are making their FBS bowl debut against a decent Bobcats team.

No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, 7:00 PM

The Owls have proven to be a good team, while the Rockets did beat Arkansas.  It’s not a wash, but it should be a close game.

Not Sure What to Make of This One:

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7) in the Foster Farms Bowl, 9:15 PM

The Cornhuskers are the second team listed here with a 5-7 record.  That said, they are better than their record suggests, and, more importantly as far as the bowl committee is concerned, their fans will TRAVEL.

Think there is enough dark blue and gold?

Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. No. 21 Navy (10-2) in the Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 2:30 PM

Why Are They Playing?

Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3) in the St. Petersburg Bowl, Sat., Dec. 26, 11:00 AM

UConn is bowl eligible?  That alone is an insult to Marshall, which is actually a decent team.

Plenty of Good Seats Remaining:

San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6) in the Cure Bowl, Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00 PM

As if Orlando, Fla., did not have enough bowl games, they came up with this one.  The Spartans are one of three teams with a 5-7 record but are still going bowling.  Meanwhile, the Panthers are only 6-6, meaning that this is a classic example of a garbage bowl game.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7) in the Quick Lane Bowl, Mon., Dec. 28, 5:00 PM

This is the latest iteration of what used to be the Little Caesars Bowl (still at Ford Field in Detroit).  The Golden Gophers are the third team that is 5-7 and yet still bowl eligible.  I can hear Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd mocking this bowl matchup right now.

College Football Week 14 Awards December 7, 2015

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MSU-Iowa_B1Gchamp2015

A game where Michigan State was favored turned into a low-scoring, high-drama nail-biter that the Spartans had to win to earn their spot in the Playoffs.  (Photo:  Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports)

(Note:  All rankings are current CFP [week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES

Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

Lucky guy: Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Poor guy:  Art Briles, Baylor

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dennis Franchione, Texas State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Troy (defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 41-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Baylor (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Texas State (lost to Arkansas State 55-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Texas (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia State (defeated Georgia Southern 34-7)

Dang, they’re good: Stanford

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start? Baylor

Can the season end?  Texas State

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 5 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13

Play this again, too:  No. 1 Clemson 45, No. 10 North Carolina 37

Never play this again: Troy 41, UL-Lafayette 17

What? Georgia State 34, Georgia Southern 7

Huh?  Kansas State 24, West Virgina 23

Are you kidding me?  No. 4 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13

Oh – my – GodTexas 23, No. 12 Baylor 17

NEXT WEEK

Only one game, and it is the annual Army vs. Navy game. God Bless America!

Week 14 Random Thoughts:

Order seems to have triumphed over chaos this week.

Exhibit A: Michigan State vs. Iowa. What should have been a fete accompli for the Spartans turned out to be a knock-down, drag-out, high-drama affair. While that might not have been good for Sparty Nation’s collective ticker, it was certainly great for TV and for fan of good football nationwide. Plus, in the end, Michigan State triumphed, as well they should have, and have now earned their rightful place in the CFB Playoffs.

Exhibit B: Top-ranked Clemson had to work very hard to fend off a hungry, formidable North Carolina squad (no, really!). Despite the Tarheels threatening to win the contest at different points throughout the game, in the end, the Tigers triumphed by the equivalent of a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The Tigers are no in position to win their first national championship since 1981, when Danny Ford was the head coach.*

*But first, they must win their playoff semi-final game. Still, they’re in the Playoffs.

Exhibit C: Despite USC’s strong performance in recent weeks with new coach Clay Helton at the helm, Stanford played to form and potential, and won strongly over the recently formidable Trojans.

Exhibit D: The AAC championship game between Houston and Temple was poised to be one for the ages, at least within the context of the conference. The Owls, historically a gutter program, have become a respected team under head coach Matt Rhule. Let us not forget that they took Notre Dame to the wire this year. In the other corner was Houston, who became surprisingly formidable this year under head coach Tom Herman. While it was certainly a possibility that the No. 22-ranked Owls could have won the game, the No. 19-ranked Houston reigned victoriously in the end, 24-13, in a score somewhat commensurate with the respective rankings, if not a little biased towards the Cougars’ side.

Exhibit E: Given recent team performances over the past, say, three years, one would think that the SEC Championship game between Alabama and Florida would have been a rout in favor for the Crimson Tide. But first-year coach Jim McElwain has turned the Gators around to respectability already, allowing many to believe that the Tide’s triumph was not necessary a given. But was good as No. 15 Florida was, and as valiant as the team’s effort was, No. 2 Alabama won in convincing fashion, 29-15.

The verdict:  With no major upsets for the top-ranked teams, no major chaos ensured for the CFP selection committee. Clemson, Alabama, and Michigan State all passed their tests, and now — along with Big XII champ Oklahoma — they will proceed to the playoffs, where they shall truly play for keeps.

College Football Week 8 Awards October 27, 2015

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GT-FSU2015

Georgia Tech blocked a last-second field goal attempt by Florida State, and returned said blocked kick for a game-winning touchdown in one of the most fantastic finishes of the season.

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Clay Helton, USC

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Poor guy: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Al Golden, Miami

Desperately seeking … anything:  George O’Leary, UCF

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Kansas 58-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Pitt (defeated Syracuse 23-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Rutgers (lost to No. 1 Ohio State 49-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Maryland (lost to Penn State 31-30)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Mississippi State (defeated Kentucky 42-16)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  UCF

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Utah

Did the season start? Arizona

Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 8 Alabama 19, Tennessee 14

Play this again, too:  Arkansas 54, Auburn 46 (4OT)

Never play this again: No. 6 Clemson 55, Miami 0

What? UCLA 40, No. 20 Cal 24

HuhNo. 24 Ole Miss 23, No. 15 Texas A&M 3

Are you kidding me?  Georgia Tech 22, No. 9 Florida State 16

Oh – my – GodUSC 42, No. 3 Utah 24

Told you so:  Vanderbilt 10, Missouri 3

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)

Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Florida @ Georgia in Jacksonville

Also:  USC @ No. Cal

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 11 Notre Dame @ No. 22 Temple

Best non-Power Five matchup: Louisiana Tech @ Rice

Upset alert: Tennessee @ Kentucky

Must win: Arizona @ Washington

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Stanford @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Maryland @ No. 12 Iowa

Great game no one is talking about:  North Carolina @ No. 25 Pitt

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Helfrich of Oregon vs. Todd Graham of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 17 Oklahoma @ Kansas

Why are they playing? Tennessee-Martin @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho @ New Mexico State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  UTSA @ North Texas

Week 8 Take-aways:

And to think that everyone thought it would be a down week for football.  That was before Texas won a ground-and-pound game at home, in the rainy remnants over Hurricane Patricia, over Kansas State.  That was also before Georgia Tech, who has had a down year compared to the previous season, recreated Michigan State’s improbably win from last week by A) blocking a field goal, B) against No. 9 Florida State, and C) ran it in for a game-winning touchdown as the final seconds ticked off the clock, in one of the greatest fantastic finishes of the season, if not the decade.  This of course, is NOT to discount Michigan State’s fantastic finish from the previous week!

In the SEC, a noticeable upset occurred in the evening when Ole Miss held Texas A&M to only a field goal for the entire game.  Speaking of the SEC, Tennessee apparently continues to improve, as their annual rivalry game between Alabama lived up to said rivalry’s prestige, for the Vols played the highly ranked Tide as if they themselves were also a top-ten team.  Though Tennessee ultimately lost, it ought to be considered a moral victory, and foreseeably, teams will take the Vols lightly at their own peril.

Then to cap things off for the day, USC upset No. 3-ranked Utah at home, 42-24.  It was more than a defeat, it was a demolition.  Apparently nothing galvanizes a team with good talent like their coach being let go mid-season under unconventional circumstances and then being left for dead by everybody who pays attention to their sport.  Such a win no doubt generates some degree of momentum, but can the Men of Troy maintain it and salvage their season in so doing?  They shall have a solid test to prove that they can against insurgent Cal next week.  Fight on?

Apropos of nothing, who could have guessed at the beginning of the season that Auburn, who started off ranked no. 6 in the nation, would be 4-3 and 1-3 in the SEC by the end of eighth week?

College Football Awards Week 6 October 13, 2015

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CharlieStrongRRS2015

Texas head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with his team after their incredible upset over rival Oklahoma. Judging by the photo, it seems as though he might have won back the locker room. Photo from the Dallas Morning News.

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Glad I’m not him: Steve Sarkesian, USC

Lucky guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell of Toledo

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 66-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Troy (lost to Mississippi State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Texas (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Baylor

Dang, they’re bad:  Miami, Ohio

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start? Miami, Fla.

Can the season end?  South Carolina

Can the season never endUtah

GAMES

Play this again:  Texas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

Play this again, too:  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Never play this again: No. 3 Baylor 66, Kansas 7

What? No. 18 Michigan 38, No. 13 Northwestern 0

HuhWashington 17, No. 17 USC 12

Are you kidding me?  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Oh – my – GodTexas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 12 Michigan

Also:  No. 10 Alabama @ No. 9 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 13 Ole Miss @ Memphis

Best non-Power Five matchup: Akron @ Bowling Green

Upset alert: Louisville @ No. 11 Florida State

Must win: USC @ No. 14 Notre Dame

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ No. 2 Baylor

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about:  No. 17 Iowa @ No. 20 Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Mora of UCLA vs David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 TCU @ Iowa State

Why are they playing? Louisiana Tech @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Ball State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Troy @ Mississippi State

Week 5 Take-aways:

What a weekend of upsets and near-upsets.  One obvious near-miss:  Gary Patterson’s TCU almost got upset on the road to Bill Snyder’s Kansas State.  You just know that the old man was not going to roll over for the vaunted Horned Frogs.  In the end, the near-miss cost the Frogs one spot in the rankings, as they are down to No. 3 from the No. 2 spot.

Similarly, Alabama took a while to get going at home against Arkansas.  Eventually the Tide decided to start playing football, but they were down to the under-performing Hogs for too long of a time in regulation to be taken seriously as a contending team.

Now the upsets:  we all knew that Northwestern was a legitimate team.  Most of us thought that the Wildcats playing the Michigan Wolverines would be the game of the week.  That turned out, in the end, not to be the case.  Jim Harbaugh seems to be building the Wolverrines to become stronger by the week.

Then there was the upset of the USC Trojans, at home, against Chris Petersen’s scrappy Washington Huskies.  We were all hoping for a good game, but certainly did not foresee the the embarrassment at home for the Men of Troy – though the subsequent news of Steve Sarkesian’s major alcohol problem certainly explains USC’s volatile performance this season.  Let us all wish a complete, sober recover for Sark as he embarks on a rehab program.

Or what about Tennessee?  The poor Vols were unable to “close the deal,” blowing leads to both Oklahoma and to Florida, leading to heartbreaking losses in so doing.  This time around, however, they had to play from behind, and upset the heavily-favored Georgia Bulldogs in so doing.  So much for Georgia’s national championship hopes this year.

But let us not fool ourselves.  The biggest upset of the week came in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  All of us, even the team’s fans, had given the Texas Longhorns up for dead, especially after the devastating loss to TCU the previous week.  Coach Charlie Strong seemed to have lost the locker room, and he was strategically flailing in terms of not having an offensive or defensive identity.

Perhaps the rival Oklahoma Sooners were just naïve enough to take the bait.  The Horns looked like an entirely different team this past Saturday than they did for the entire season leading up to this fateful day.  Texas drew first blood late in the first quarter, and, mirabile dictu, did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.  Moreover, Strong somehow regained his identity, effectively playing a run-oriented, ball-control offense that left OU’s defense sucking wind by late in the 4th quarter.  It was just enough to hold on and to upset their heavily-favored rival.  It also likely saved Coach Strong’s bacon for the rest of the year.  Hook ‘em!