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College Football Awards Week 12 (2017) November 19, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Frank Solich, Ohio U

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kilane Sitake, BYU

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Syracuse 56-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated Arkansas 28-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Ohio State 52-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (lost to No. 8 Notre Dame 24-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Northwestern (defeated Minnesota 39-0)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa

Did the season start?  Oklahoma State

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Never play this again: Florida State 77, Delaware State 6

What? Akron 37, Ohio U 34

Huh?  Wake Forest 30, No. 19 NC State 24

Are you kidding me??  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Oh – my – GodPurdue 24, Iowa 15

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan  also:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Auburn

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: South Florida @ No. 15 UCF

Upset alert: No. 2 Clemson @ South Carolina  also:  No. 8 Notre Dame @ No. 22 Stanford

Must win: Indiana @ Purdue  also:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan

Offensive explosion: No. 14 Washington State @ No. 18 Washington

Defensive struggle: Florida State @ Florida

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Scott Frost of Central Florida vs Charlie Strong of South Florida

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ No. 12 TCU

Why are they playing? Florida Atlantic @ Charlotte

Plenty of good seats remaining: UConn @ Cincinnati

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

Week 12 Random Thoughts:

Today yielded no earth-shattering upsets.  How could it, with so many highly-ranked teams inexplicably engaged in body bag games so late in the year?  Nevertheless, some interesting upsets did ensue.  Pathetic Akron took down perennial MAC contender Ohio U, for example.  Kansas State defeated Oklahoma State on the road.  Unranked Wake Forest (now 7-4, surprisingly) upset No. 19 NC State, putting a blemish on an otherwise impressive year for the Wolfpack.  Even more amazingly, Purdue went on the road to play Iowa, a game where nobody, least of all yours truly, gave them a chance to win, and yet they did anyhow.  Don’t ask how the same team that embarrassed Ohio State by the worst margin in more than two decades could lose two weeks later at home to a lesser team.  There is no rational explanation.

Texas earned a great win, on the road, over West Virginia.  Two weeks ago, the Longhorns gave a pitiful offensive performance against TCU, and offered only a middling performance in their win over Kansas last week.  Naturally, this turn of events gave the Longhorn faithful cause for concern.  Whether these concerns are no longer valid remains to be seen.  But adjustments were clearly made, to the point where Texas was able to win, convincingly, in a tough environment, against a favored team.  Looks like progress, and the Horns are now bowl-eligible to boot.  Next week they close the regular season at home against Texas Tech, which will be a decent test to see if they can maintain their current level of performance.

Remember my earlier speculation about Purdue’s bowl chances having evaporated?  Wad that thought up and toss it out the window.  Purdue’s surprising upset over Iowa – on the road, no less – has given their season a new life.  Don’t ask how this came to pass.  Be all that as it may, this upcoming week, both Purdue and in-state rival Indiana shall play each other for two things, not just one.  Not only will they play for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy, but also for bowl eligibility.  No telling the last time the stakes were that high for the two teams.

Every season, there is always a surprise or two.  One such this year is Central Florida, who currently undefeated and ranked first in the All-American Conference East Division.  At a current rank of no. 15, head coach Scott Frost seems to know what he is doing.  This is the same Scott Frost who was the capable, tough, dependable quarterback who led Nebraska to a share of the national title with Michigan in the 1997 season.  After several years as a back-up QB in the NFL, he gradually worked his way up the ranks in coaching.  With a relatively easy schedule remaining, the Golden Knights could remain undefeated going into the ultimate conference showdown at season’s end.  Then, they face 9-1 South Florida, led by Coach Charlie Strong.  Surely that is to be one of the most intriguing of coaching matchups of the year!

Shout-out to Notre Dame for wearing very cool-looking, throwback-inspired uniforms during their game against Navy.  I sincerely hope that more teams with gold in their school colors have the good sense to copy those nice-looking gold pants that the Irish wore this week.

Just several weeks earlier, Louisville could not beat Wake Forest or Boston College.  Now, they seem to have turned things around.  Their 56-10 walloping of Syracuse is a sure sign the Cardinals are playing back to form, and are doing so just at the right time, as they take on in-state rival Kentucky this upcoming week.

UCLA just fired Jim Mora, Jr.  Ironically, the Bruins lost last night to cross-town rival USC by a respectable margin, 28-23.  But the powers that be in Westwood clearly did not like the direction the program was headed.  Mora helped create high expectations for the Bruin faithful, but sadly failed to deliver (UCLA is now 5-6).  Then again, the school is only partially committed compared to USC, or to any other program that is determined to compete for a national title.  Firing the current head coach shall thus not solve this systemic problem.

With Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, the Badgers continue their undefeated streak and are on a certain course to represent the Western Division in the Big Ten championship.  All Ohio State has to do is beat Michigan this upcoming week for the rights to butt heads with the Badgers.  My scenario for the best possible playoff scenario thus continues, but more pratfalls remain.

The best game on Thanksgiving is not played in Detroit or Dallas.  No, rather it is usually the “Egg Bowl,” the annual Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State grudge-match that shall once again kickoff on the evening of the fourth Thursday in November.  Let us enjoy it, and God Bless America!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 8 (2017) October 22, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking … anything:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Virginia Tech (defeated North Carolina 59-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Syracuse 27-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 1 Alabama 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 23 West Virginia 38-36)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Missouri (defeated Idaho 68-21)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start?  Michigan

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 35

Play this again, too:  No. 10 Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10

Never play this again: Missouri 68, Idaho 21

What? Rutgers 14, Purdue 12

Huh?  Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 13

Are you kidding me??  Boston College 41, Virginia 10

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Notre Dame 49, No. 11 USC 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Penn State @ No. 6 Ohio State (B1G game of the year?)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Houston @ No. 16 South Florida

Upset alert: No. 14 NC State @ No. 9 Notre Dame

Also:  Florida State @ Boston College

Must win: No. 3 Georgia @ Florida

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Oklahoma State @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: California @ Colorado

Also:  Mississippi State @ Texas A&M

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Also:  Kirk Ferentz of Iowa vs. P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 8 Miami (FL) @ North Carolina

Why are they playing? Austin Peay @ No. 18 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ BYU

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Texas State @ Coastal Carolina

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

Poor Texas. Try as they might with their strong defense, offensively they cannot score enough points to get over the proverbial hump.  Yesterday in Austin, they held No. 10-ranked Oklahoma State, with the most productive offense in the county, to only 13 points.  However, the Longhorns in turn could only score 10 points.  Texas seems to have a capable quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, but he is only a true freshman, and the offense seems to rely too much on his guts and determination alone.  Part of the problem is that many of the offensive players are still young, and shall have to grow in experience, and presumably in capability as well.  The tentative verdict is that it will simply take time for the Horns to return to Top-10 status.  They are close, but not there yet.

Speaking of taking time, Purdue practically controlled their own destiny.  Current trajectories indicated they had a clear path to start a decent winning streak after getting beat up by a couple of conference heavyweights.  Then they lost by two points on the road to Rutgers.  Yes, Rutgers.  What happened?  Most likely, defensive coordinators around the league have taken notice of the tricks that Jeff Brohm has been left no choice but to use on account of the dearth of talent that his predecessor has left him.  Thus, for Purdue to show marked, consistent improvement, things shall take more time.  Basically, Brohm will need to bring in better recruiting classes so as to beat his opponents on the field with talent instead of trickery.  This of course is not to blame the man for what he is doing right now.  If we were in his proverbial shoes, we would likely find ourselves left to resort to the same things.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is officially a dumpster fire.  Sure, we all knew at this rate that Alabama would blast them into defeat, but what none of us anticipated was the lack of dignity on the Vols’ part.  The obscene gesture to Bama’s fans by one of Tennessee’s defensive backs after a pick-six is a black eye to the program, and could only hasten Butch Jones’ eventual departure as head coach.  But that aside, the Volunteers do have talent on their team.  Jones has sadly failed to harness it properly, to say nothing of orchestrating that talent into a cohesive effort at the top level that the SEC demands.

To put it another way with regard to the Vols and their current dumpster-fire status, they are to play Kentucky next week.  Tennessee is currently 3-4, while the Wildcats, who usually only barely belong in the SEC, are 5-2.  Yes, that means the world is officially upside-down.

Meanwhile, it’s always mildly intriguing when two conference foes who are about to butt heads share the same thing in common.  Think:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia, as both are the Bulldogs.  Think also:  LSU vs. Auburn, or Missouri vs. LSU, or Auburn vs. Missouri.  All three are the Tigers.  In the case of Mississippi State and Texas A&M, though, both have the same school colors of maroon and white, and both play each other next week.  What makes things even more intriguing is that both have quietly amassed a respectable 5-2 record in the course of the season.  After that game, those records shall inevitably diverge.

This week was a statistical anomaly, specifically with a cluster of defensive struggles.  Who would have thought that Indiana at Michigan State would have been such a defensive struggle, with a 17-9 outcome in the Spartans’ favor?  Even more to the point was the aforementioned 13-10 outcome at Texas.  That the Horns held the Cowboys’ high-powered offense to just 13 points (including one overtime) must surely cause Mike Gundy to reach for the Rolaids while watching film today.  If that’s not enough, the Purdue-Rutgers affair ended at 14-12 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.  Northwestern and Iowa kept the score low at 17-10.  UConn triumphing over Tulsa 20-14 does not count in past eras, but might as well in a time where the hurry-up, no-huddle offense is de rigueur. Same thing goes for Western Michigan over Eastern Michigan, 20-17…in overtime, no less.

College Football Awards Week 6 (2017) October 9, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

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

Lucky guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Poor guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Norvell, Memphis

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Gary Anderson, Oregon State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 62-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 28-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 65-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wake Forest (lost to No. 2 Clemson 28-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulane (defeated Tulsa 62-28)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rice

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma

Did the season start?  Florida State

Can the season end?  East Carolina

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Play this again, too:  Texas 40, Kansas State 34 (2OT)

This merits a second look, too:  No. 8 TCU 31, No. 23 West Virginia 24

Never play this again: No. 10 Ohio State 62, Maryland 14

What? LSU 17, No. 21 Florida 16

HuhNo. 24 NC State 39, No. 17 Louisville 25

Are you kidding me??  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Oh – my – GodIowa State 38, No. 3 Oklahoma 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 12 Oklahoma vs. Texas in the Red River Shootout

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: BYU @ Mississippi State

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 25 Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Georgia Tech @ No. 11 Miami also:  Utah @ No. 13 USC

Must win: Oregon @ No. 23 Stanford

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Auburn @ LSU

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

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

Why are they playing? Charlotte @ Western Kentucky

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (OH) @ Kent State

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

Week 6 Random Thoughts:

These past couple of weeks, there were not that many upsets.  This week made up for that in quality if not for quantity.  Favored Louisville choked on the road at NC State.  Unranked LSU beat the Gators, in the Swamp, and in a defensive struggle, by a single point.  ACC cellar-dweller Syracuse beat respectable Pitt.  To cap things off, unranked Michigan State defeated Michigan, in a dramatic 14-10 finish (wait, that’s still a thing in 2017?), in the Big House, no less.  What a week.

South Carolina defeated Arkansas in a game that could have gone either way.  The Gamecocks should enjoy the win while it lasts, because the remainder of their schedule is brutal.  In order, they shall play:  Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, Wofford (huh?), and close out the season at home versus Clemson.  Aside from Wofford, the Gamecocks could lose every one of those games.  Yes, that is to say that even Vandy is iffy since they beat Kansas State earlier this year.

Given how hyped Florida State was coming into the season, and the potential regard in which they are still held in the eyes of most fans, is it valid to consider No. 13 Miami’s win in Tallahassee an upset, or simply a comeuppance to an overrated team?

Texas might have turned a corner with a win in double-OT over Kansas State, a team never to be taken lightly and capable of running the tables on the northern schools – what few remain — in the Big XII.  With this key win for the Horns coupled with Oklahoma’s embarrassing upset at home to Iowa State this week, it will make next week’s Red River Shootout Showdown all the more unpredictable.

Maryland has proven that they’re a decent team.  Not great, but decent.  Nevertheless, they came into Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State demolished them, 62-14.  Nothing like a body-bag game (in hindsight) for homecoming.  All kidding aside, could it be that the Buckeyes have solved their identity crisis on offense?  We’ll know for sure by the end of the month when they butt heads with Penn State.

Speaking of whom, Michigan will have ample opportunity for redemption for this week’s upset loss at home when they take on the Nittany Lions on Oct. 21.  It only takes one loss on Penn State’s part for the Big Ten race to become very, very interesting.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Lucky guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Matt Rhule, Baylor

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State

Did the season start?  LSU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endDuke

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

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

Never play this again: Arizona 64, UTEP 16

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

HuhMemphis 48, No. 25 UCLA 45

Double HuhNorthern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

Must win: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ No. 14 Miami

Defensive struggle: Pitt @ Georgia Tech

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

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

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

Why are they playing? UMass @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Rice

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

Week 3 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 12 (2016) November 20, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Houston  Hon. Mention:  Jim McElwain, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jason Candle, Toledo

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Charlie Strong, Texas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  BYU (defeated UMass 51-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Ohio State (defeated Michigan State 17-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Syracuse (lost to No. 17 Florida State 45-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (defeated Texas 24-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Pittsburgh (defeated Duke 56-14)

Dang, they’re good: USC

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Texas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 12 Colorado 38, No. 20 Washington State 24

Play this again, too:  No. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

Never play this again: Army 60, Morgan State 3

Close call:  No. 3 Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16

What? Oregon 30, No. 11 Utah 28

HuhNo. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

Are you kidding me?  Houston 36, No. 3 Louisville 10

Oh – my – GodKansas 24, Texas 21 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13))

Ticket to die for: No. 3 Michigan @ No. 2 Ohio State (game of the year?)

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Rice @ Stanford

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 18 Houston @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 6 Washington @ No. 23 Washington State

Must win: No. 24 Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

Offensive explosion: No. 6 Washington @ No. 23 Washington State (Friday)

Defensive struggle: No. 13 Florida @ No. 15 Florida State

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Utah @ No. 9 Colorado also: Duke @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs Jim Harbaugh of Michigan

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kentucky @ No. 11 Louisville

Why are they playing? No. 19 West Virginia @ Iowa State

Plenty of good seats remaining, B1G Edition: Rutgers @ Maryland

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

Week 12 Take-aways:

The playoff picture is instantly minus one controversy with Louisville’s decisive, almost ignominious defeat on the road against a resurgent Houston squad. In hindsight, the quick turnaround time from Saturday night to Thursday night (from playing fundamentally-sound Wake Forest to the Cougars) was too insurmountable a task for even a formidable team like the Cardinals. Now with extra time to prepare for in-state rival Kentucky, the Cardinals can potentially end the season with a big win (provided they execute properly), and can still aim for a good New Year’s Day bowl game. Before the Playoffs came into being, when a team capped off their season in such a way, that feat was universally hailed as a success.

Meanwhile, Bobby Petrino could learn a thing or two from this defeat and from Florida’s win over favored LSU. For one, recruit better offensive linemen. Houston put real athletes on the defensive line against the Cardinals, and they made Lamar Jackson’s life difficult all night long. For another, recruit more marquee white players, as they will provide more consistency and better discipline to team play. If white defensive linemen can make sizeable contributions for a program such as formidable as Florida, sure they can do the same for Louisville. Obviously, too many whites leads to a deficit of team talent and athleticism. But conversely, an excessive imbalance of black players leads to a break-down in discipline and too inconsistent of a team effort. Think of black players as bricks and white players as mortar. You need both in order to build a strong wall that is your team.

November’s cruelty against Ole Miss sadly continues. As a reminder, they did start off the season ranked No. 11. Now, they just lost to Vanderbilt. Currently 5-6, they must win next week’s game – against in-state rival Mississippi State, no less — just to be bowl eligible.

It appears as though we are back to a version of Texas from earlier in the season, the one where the season was shot. Hindsight continues to change the more the season unfolds, but it remains 20-20 nonetheless. After losing to Oklahoma State unexpectedly, then to Oklahoma, then later to Kansas State, we had given up the Longhorns for dead. Moreover, we were certain that Charlie Strong had signed his own death warrant. Then suddenly, Texas handed Baylor its first loss of the season, and followed that up with a win on the road in a shootout against Texas Tech. Might Strong have righted the ship after all? No reasonable person could have said no, since they lost by only four points on the road to a dangerous West Virginia squad. But losing to Kansas (as in, 2-9* Kansas)? That is the last straw.

*Kansas was 1-9 (0-7 in the Big XII) before this week’s game.

Now at 5-6, the Longhorns face a TCU team that was humiliated at home by Oklahoma State, and will be out for redemption. Translation: bowl prospects remain bleak for the second year in a row. Regardless, major boosters have permanently soured on Charlie Strong, and after Tom Herman’s huge win over Louisville, they are, by that same token, calling for Herman to replace Strong. The writing on the wall could not be bolder or in bigger strokes.

On the west coast, USC may have gotten off to a rough start (namely getting their doors blown off by Alabama during the opening week), but few teams, if any, would want to face the Trojans now. Their win over Washington on the road last week was decisive and dominating. The eyeball test of how they line up against other teams shows that there are “men” on the Trojans’ side of the ball. Granted, Alabama would still beat them if the two played right now, but the score would not be so lopsided as it was week 1. Clay Helton deserves considerable credit for bringing about such an improvement in his team’s performance, though to be sure, his coaching staff talent remains, inexplicably, lackluster. Nevertheless, the record (three losses this year) might not show it, but USC is back.

College Football Awards, Week 8 2016 October 23, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

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

Lucky guy: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Poor guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State  Hon. Mention:  Jim Mora, UCLA

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Seth Littrell, North Texas

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tom Herman, Houston

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Illinois 41-8)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: South Carolina (defeated UMass 34-28)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: SMU (defeated No. 11 Houston 38-16)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Auburn (defeated No. 17 Arkansas 56-3)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Honorable Mention:  Houston

Did the season start?  Arkansas

Can the season end?  Bowling Green

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Penn State 24, No. 2 Ohio State 21

Play this again, too:  No. 16 Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59

Never play this again: No. 7 Louisville 54, NC State 13

Close call:  No. 14 Boise State 28, BYU 27

What? Temple 46, South Florida 30

HuhMiddle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45

Double-Huh? Colorado 10, Stanford 5

Are you kidding me?  SMU 38, No. 11 Houston 16

Oh – my – GodPenn State 24, No. 2 Ohio State 21

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for: No. 7 Nebraska @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Also: No. 3 Clemson @ No. 12 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Army @ Wake Forest

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 22 Navy @ South Florida

Upset alert: No. 15 Auburn @ Ole Miss also: No. 4 Washington @ No. 17 Utah

Must win: No. 25 Virginia Tech @ Pittsburgh (Thurs.)

Offensive explosion: No. 10 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: No. 7 Nebraska @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Great game no one is talking about: Miami @ Notre Dame

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Richt of Miami vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

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

Why are they playing? Samford @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ San Jose State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Kansas @ No. 16 Oklahoma

Week 8 Take-aways:

November maybe for everything, but we do not have to wait for November to know that one is already clear: it’s Alabama and everyone else. The Crimson Tide dominated the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies yesterday, proving yet again why they deserve to be the No. 1 team in the nation.

That’s right folks, this upcoming Saturday, Miami plays Notre Dame: the ol’ “Convicts vs. the Catholics.” This became a very marquee matchup in the 1980s, for that was a time when the Hurricanes were an up-and-coming, championship-contending program, first under Howard Schnellenberger, then continued and expanded under Jimmy Johnson. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish were as strong as ever, continuing to vie for the national title every year, and in fact did so in 1988. The “Convicts vs. Catholics” slugfests of the 1980s would be akin to, say, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team playing Nick Saban’s Alabama squad. Even though both the Canes and the Irish are diminished in talent this year, the matchup is a nice nod to the more storied contests of 25 to 30 years ago.

The loss that Ohio State sustained on the road to Penn State is all the more amazing when one considers that if the Buckeyes had triumphed, it would have been their 20th consecutive road win. Depending on how long Urban Meyer stays at the helm in Columbus, the Buckeyes will no doubt be in a good position to break this record yet again. Nevertheless, the Bucks’ loss is the first signature win for Penn State in the James Franklin era.

Louisville defeating NC State by such an obscene margin (the final score was 54-13) shows how dangerous the Cardinals are when they play up to their potential. Unlike last weekend against Duke, they did not have a bye week to hobble them. Make no mistake about it: the Wolfpack is a good team. The scare they put into Clemson in Death Valley, followed by an upset win over Notre Dame, demonstrates this. The conclusion to which one comes is that, at full-strength, the Cardinals can take almost any team in the nation, save Alabama. Don’t believe me? Here is a thought experiment: would Louisville have offensively stagnated for such stretches as Ohio State did in Happy Valley last night? Food for thought.

Meanwhile, Texas embarrassed themselves yet again on the road. No, the margin of defeat was not great, but the fact of the matter is that this was a winnable [road] game against Kansas State. Yet the Longhorns have squandered numerous opportunities and their defense continues to struggle just as much as they did during week 1. Such a lack of improvement points to deficient coaching.

Lest this be dismissed as a rush to judgment, consider this. If a traditional power (such as Texas) has the right coach in place, the turnaround, manifest by winning games, shall be readily apparent by the second year of the coach’s tenure. Consider Michigan in year two under Jim Harbaugh. Already, the Wolverines are in playoff contention. Consider that Urban Meyer in year two at Ohio State won the national championship. Consider that Nick Saban had Alabama playing back up to specs by year two of his time in Tuscaloosa, and led the Tide to a national championship by year three.

Yet it is now the third year of the Charlie Strong era at Texas, and the program continues to stagnate, if not regress. The best-case scenario is 6-6 for the year, but more realistically, expect a 4-8 record. Such a lack of improvement by now has exhausted everyone’s patience, and it is the consensus conclusion that Coach Strong must go. Sorry, Charlie.

A Possible Replacement for Hazell at Purdue October 17, 2016

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bo-pelini-450x300

Remember me, Big Ten?

Coach Darrell Hazell has been fired at Purdue.  Yes, it was highly commendable how he made lots of friendly gestures in reaching out to the football alums; how well-behaved and polite his kids are; how he preaches morals and good conduct to his players.  As a person, Hazell was a very good man.  As a coach, he was a charlatan.

 

We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after his first horrible season (2013).  The blowout loss at home to then-No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 2 of that year was an affront to the university, to the Purdue program, to say nothing of all the Purdue football alumni forebears who had to watch such a disgraceful showing.  Little did we know that plenty more disgraceful showings were to come in the course of almost four seasons.  Those of us who have followed Purdue football for two decades or more know only too well what a disastrous coach Jim Colletto was, but at least the guy could recruit.  With Hazell, we have lacked even that silver lining.

It turns out that Hazell was former AD Morgan Burke’s parting “Gift.”  The humor is in understanding the double entendre, for the word “Gift” in German – hence the capitalized noun, a constant in that language – means “poison”.  In fact, that disastrous hire has permanently tainted Burke’s legacy as an athletics director.  Rightfully so, too.  This is what happens when you continually hire coaches on the cheap, withhold needed administrative support and resources, then act like you’re going to pay the new head coach real money (actually, not so much, comparatively speaking), only to hire a charlatan who fooled you with one good season at a bottom-feeding MAC program.  We saw this scenario before with Turner Gil having one good season at Buffalo, making the gullible think that he was the next Jack Welch.  How well did that hire work out of you, Kansas?

To put it another way, Purdue paid Darrell Hazell roughly $1 Million more than they paid Danny Hope per year, even though the former finished with a 9-33 record at that school, while Hope went 22-27 with two bowl appearances.  Nothing like paying more for a much worse performance, no?

Thankfully, we now have the prospect of being spared future embarrassments in the seasons to come…provided that new Purdue AD Mike Bobinski makes the right hire.  In the college game, hiring the right coach makes all the difference in the world.  Just look at Michigan.  All of us left that program for dead…or, least for permanent diminished relevance.  Then they hired Jim Harbaugh, and in his second year, they are already a national championship contender.

Granted, Purdue is not Michigan, neither in terms of tradition, resources, or recruiting channels.  But that is not to say that there is potential to hire a good coach to not just give the program the shot in the arm it needs, but also, immediately give the program the electric shock paddles just to get its heart to beat again.

But who?  Several ideas have been tossed out in the comment section of the most recent Hammer and Rails articles.  Many of the faithful, for example, seem fixated on Les Miles.  Honestly, that would be a pleasing hire to me.  He would be effective in shaking up the culture, and would attract lots of eyeballs and thus attract some good recruits.  My purpose is to offer an additional idea; not to say it is THE only idea to be considered, but that it is AN idea to be considered.  Here it is:

Bo Pelini.  There are three major upsides with this possible hire.  For one, he is currently coaching at Youngstown State, which is an FCS school.  That’s right, he’s not even coaching at an FBS school after Nebraska fired him.  It would therefore not be a hard sell for him to come to Purdue for a Power Five FBS job.  Indeed, given his current predicament, a salary just slightly higher than Hazell’s might suffice.

Second, Purdue is a Big Ten team, same as his former team Nebraska, who did him dirty.  Those idiots fired him for going 9-3.  Who in their right mind would do such a thing?  Given his reputation for intensity – something Purdue’s program desperately needs, obviously – it would stand to reason that he would not be a “forgive and forget” type.  Thus, the opportunity for revenge against those in the conference who wronged him would make Pelini coming to Purdue an even easier sell.

Third, he clearly has recruiting contacts.  One would need that in order to be able to win nine games a year in a state that produces zero NFL talent, save for the occasional offensive lineman.  His is clearly a name recognized throughout the conference regardless, and that is the most key item.

Indeed, regardless of who becomes the new coach, it is an absolute requirement that he be a recognizable name.  We cannot roll the dice with a coach from the MAC again.  We already made that mistake.  We need a “big name” to show that we truly are committed to not only righting the ship but making sure that it stays on course for the long haul and does not hit a reef again.  Bo Pelini would be such a name.  If not he, then Les Miles should do just fine, or even Dave Wannstedt, for that matter.  If Notre Dame is foolish enough to fire Brian Kelly this year (don’t put it past such a delusional fan base to call for something that monumentally insane, either), then by all means should Purdue empty the bank for him.  Morevoer, if such a scenario were to take place, by all means, forget Pelini go all-in on Kelly!

If nothing else, Mike Bobinski ought to heed that last bit of advice, as his young legacy as the new AD at Purdue hangs in the balance with this critical decision.  Either Purdue gets a name guy with a proven history, or they will stay in the outhouse forever, reaching for the “flush” handle.

On Morgan Burke and Purdue February 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.