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College Football Week 13 Awards November 25, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 13, pre-week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were himWill Muschamp, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Mack Brown, Texas
Glad it’s finally over:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a clue: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Desperately seeking … anything:  Ron English, Eastern Michigan

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Auburn 49-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (beat Iowa 13-7)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Georgia Tech (lost to No. 3 Georgia 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Washington State (beat Washington 31-28, OT)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ole Miss (beat Mississippi State 41-24)

Dang, they’re good: Stanford
Dang, they’re bad:  South Florida
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Arizona (lost to Arizona State 41-34)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12* South Carolina 27, No. 11* Clemson 17 (notwithstanding Baylor 52, Texas Tech 45, OT)
Never play this again: Fresno State 48, Air Force 15
What?  TCU 20, No. 15* Texas 13

Huh? UConn 23, No. 20* Louisville 20, 3OT
Are you kidding me? Pittsburgh 27, No. 18* Rutgers 6
Oh – my – God:  Ole Miss 41, Mississippi State 24
Told you so: No. 13* Oklahoma 51, No. 21* Oklahoma State 48, OT

*Week 13 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Alabama vs. No .3 Georgia in Atlanta
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: No. 19 Northern Illinois @ No. 18 Kent State (MAC Championship, Friday night)
Upset alert: No. 7 Kansas State @ No. 23 Texas

Must win: Alabama vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship game (notwithstanding Louisville @ Rutgers)
Offensive explosion: Baylor @ Oklahoma State
Defensive struggle: Cincinnati @ UConn
Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Rutgers, Thursday

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mack Brown of Texas vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Nicholls @ No. 16 Oregon State
Why are they playing? South Alabama @ Hawaii

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

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Kansas @ West Virginia

Rivalry Week in Review:

Give Urban Meyer a ton of credit:  Ohio State had nothing to play for this year.  Nothing.  No matter how well they played this regular season, they were ineligible for any sort of bowl game or any other post-season play, not even the Big 10 Conference championship game.  That is too bad, because they currently, er, lead the Leaders division of the conference by a virtual mile (two games, to be exact).  Moreover, the team they lead is Penn State, who is ineligible for a much longer stretch of time, sadly, and for even more bizarre reasons.  The Buckeyes’ current lead in the conference is three games ahead of the actual eligible member of the Leaders division, that being Wisconsin, whom Ohio State defeated in Madison, Wis., in overtime.  As stated earlier, the Buckeyes had nothing to play for this year, and as such could have just lied down and given up early on.  Yet Coach Meyer has kept his team focused and hungry every week.  Best of all, they capped off an undefeated season by beating arch-rival Michigan 26-21.  If these shadows remain unchanged, then the future in Columbus, Ohio is very bright indeed.

Yes, Florida won:  But give Jimbo Fisher a ton of credit.  He has brought Florida State back to near-football factory status, which has, in turn, brought the Sunshine State Rivalry back to prominence, which is good for football.  The Seminoles put up on heckuva fight against the Gators in Tallahassee, but in the end, the latter’s defense proved too much for the former, as Florida triumphed in the end, 37-26.  Yet to put things in perspective, this “rivalry” had been rather one-sided since 2004, be it in recent wins on the part of the ‘Noles (31-7 in 2010, 21-7 in 2011), or in consecutive wins (the Gators won all matchups with FSU from 2004 to 2009).  The level of play, the overall excitement, and reasonably close score indicate that the one-sidedness has come to an end, at least temporarily.  Expect this rivalry to retain its regained intensity in the future years to come!

Speaking of Florida, it looks like Muschamp is “the guy” after all.  Folks had left him for dead at the end of last year after he went only 7-6 in his first season as head coach of the Gators.  Yet this year, he has lost only one game, has just defeated his No. 10-ranked, in-state rival, and his team is currently ranked No. 4 in the nation.  The Gators look to be in good hands after all.

Is the USC-Notre Dame rivalry back?  Could be. Brian Kelly has put enough pieces together at Notre Dame to make the team recall the physical squads that made the Irish top contenders for years on end.  Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin has gradually been putting pieces back together at USC after years of probation.  Notre Dame was downright dormant as a former national power for a decade and a half.  Meanwhile, USC was severely weakened by scholarship reductions due to probation, which they have now survived, and are looking to get back to where they were under Pete Carroll’s tenure.  Going in to the most recent game, this rivalry, like the previous one mentioned, was also one-sided over the past decade.  The Trojans won all but one of these games since 2002, and embarrassed the Irish in South Bend last year, 31-17.  This year, Notre Dame stepped up and won in Los Angeles, 22-13, against a Trojan team with a back-up redshirt freshman and a team that has yet to find itself in terms of a necessary level of discipline and consistency.  Regardless, though, the game was competitive, and we look forward to more of it in the coming years.

Speaking of one-sided rivalries:  The South Carolina-Clemson game is one that has overall been in the latter’s favor, as the Tigers led the rivalry 65-41-4.  Nevertheless, with the Gamecocks’ recent win, they have now won the last four games between them and the Tigers.  This is the first time South Carolina has repeated this streak since from 1951-1954, and it ties the record for their longest win streak against their upstate rival.  Moreover, South Carolina has won five out of the last seven of such games.

Is it too early to say that this is the greatest Vanderbilt team of modern times, if not of all time?  Don’t laugh.  When is the last time you saw the Commodores go 8-4?  In recent memory, Vandy teams showed some signs of brilliance (the Jay Cutler-led squads, for example), but even they struggled to win six games, most of the time falling short of that mark.  This team not only surpassed that mark for bowl eligibility, it blew passed it completely.  Along the way, they blew out Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wake Forest.  Not the most impressive opponents, to be sure, but the fact that they were able to hold off a rapidly-improving Ole Miss should count for something.  To be sure, they have proven not to be able to handle the true heavyweights of the conference, losing badly to both Georgia (48-3) and Florida (31-17), and lost the season opener at home to South Carolina (17-13).  Still, despite these weaknesses, the ‘Dores are bowl eligible for the second season in a row, something unprecedented in the history of the program.  If that is not enough, the team reached other key milestones as well.  The evidence speaks for itself.  That said, if any doubts remain, last year, Vandy went only 6-6 before losing to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.  This year, they are a stronger team, and are 8-4; a bowl win should quell any doubt that they are the greatest Commodore squad of modern times, if not since the program’s inception in 1890.

Here’s something to blow you mind:  Iowa and Kentucky, both cellar-dwellers in their respective conference divisions, are the only reasons why there is not some undefeated MAC team out there threatening to crash the BCS.  Check it out.  Iowa beat Northern Illinois by one point in the season opener, and Kentucky beat Kent State 47-14 in week 2.  Want to make things even more interesting?  Ask yourself the following question:  would either of these “Big Six” teams beat any one of those two MAC teams at this stage of the season?

Oh yeah, and Notre Dame will be playing for the national championship for the first time in 24 years.  Yay.

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College Football Week 12 Awards November 18, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 12, pre-week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Art Briles, Baylor
Glad I’m not him: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Poor guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Desperately seeking a clue:  Jeff Tedford, California
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Desperately seeking … anything:  Derek Dooley, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Western Carolina 49-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Kansas State (see below)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Notre Dame 38-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wofford (lost to No. 13 South Carolina 24-7)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Baylor (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Army (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  UAB

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State (see below)

Did the season start? Michigan State
Can the season end?  Tennessee
Can the season never end?  LSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 8 LSU 41, Ole Miss 35
Never play this again: Temple 63, Army 32
What? Utah State 48, No. 20* Louisiana Tech 41, OT

Huh?  No. 23* Oklahoma State 59, No. 24* Texas Tech 21

Are you kidding me? No. 13* Stanford 17, No. 2* Oregon 14, OT

Oh – my – God:  Baylor 52, No. 1* Kansas State 24

* Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Florida @ No. 10 Florida State (notwithstanding No. 13 South Carolina @ No. 12 Clemson)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: Ohio U @ Kent State
Upset alert: Baylor over Texas Tech in Waco

Must win: No. 1 Notre Dame @ USC
Offensive explosion: No. 24 Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Oklahoma
Defensive struggle: No. 20 Michigan @ No. 4 Ohio State
Great game no one is talking about: No. 5 Oregon @ No. 16 Oregon State

Thanksgiving Day Special:  TCU @ No. 18 Texas

Cloud Nine Bowl:  No. 8 Stanford @ No. 17 UCLA

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mike Riley of Oregon State vs. Chip Kelly of Oregon
Who’s bringing the body bags? Georgia Tech @ No. 3 Georgia (notwithstanding Northern Illinois @ Eastern Michigan, Friday)
Why are they playing? BYU @ New Mexico State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ Hawaii

Plenty of good seats remaining, SEC East edition:  Kentucky @ Tennessee
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Akron @ Toledo (Tuesday night)

Instant BCS Chaos:  In just one night, the BCS standings have turned upside down.  All Kansas State and Oregon had to do was win out, and they would have been matched up in a very intriguing national championship game in Miami.  Scratch that; ain’t gonna happen.  Oregon lost a close, hard-fought game in Eugene, Ore., to a tough Stanford squad.  The game went into OT, and the Duck’s failure to score on their opening possession gave the Cardinal an opportunity to win the game with a field goal, which they did.  Another one bites the dust.

Yet half-way across the country in the heart of Texas (Waco, to be exact), something even more improbable developed.  Kansas State, at that time ranked No. 1 in the land, went down to spectacular defeat at the hands of Art Briles’ Baylor [Baptist] Bears.  The score itself was improbable:  when is the last time any top-ranked team went down to an un-ranked team by a score of 52-24?  Nothing accounts for that.  Credit Briles and Co. with coming up with an amazing game plan that effectively attacked the Wildcats where it hurt them the most, and they never let up the entire night.

Not in five years has there been such BCS standings chaos in one night of regular season football.  Yet things get even more intriguing from this point onward.  For the first time in 19 years, almost to the week, Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the nation.  No doubt plenty of rejoicing erupted in South Bend., Ind., instantly upon Kansas State’s defeat, and no doubt the merriment doubled again in light of Oregon going down at home in OT.  After winning close game after close game, Brian Kelly has brought the Fighting Irish back to national prominence and is in the driver’s seat to punch their ticket to Miami come early January.  Meanwhile, an entire nation will scrutinize Notre Dame to see if they themselves can stand prosperity as they journey to Los Angeles this upcoming weekend to take on traditional rival USC.

And just like that, the SEC is back in the national discussion:  Alabama’s upset at home to Texas A&M last week seemed to wipe out the Crimson Tide’s hopes of repeating as national title contenders.  With last night’s, er, developments, despair has instantly transformed into renewed hope and ambition.  Bama is now second in both the AP and USA Today Polls, and Georgia is no. 3.  Should both those teams win out – extra emphasis on ‘should’ – it will be a very interesting contest in Atlanta for the SEC championship come Dec. 1.

Dooley Fired:  Not only is now-former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley “Desperately seeking…anything.”  Now he’ll be desperately seeking…a job.  The University of Tennessee decided to cut its ties with Dooley after their embarrassing loss in Nashville to up-and-coming, in-state rival Vanderbilt, 41-18.  The firing is effective immediately, as it has been reported on Tennessee’s athletics website that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (with whom I worked while a student manager at Purdue, as he was an assistant under Coach Joe Tiller) will be the interim head coach for the upcoming game against Kentucky.  Evidently, the powers that be are not giving Dooley a couple of curtain calls like those UK’s Joker Phillips has received.

Yesterday’s embarrassing loss to the Commodores was just the last straw in one bad development after another for the program; the final blow to prove to the Volunteer nation that things need to be guided in a newer, better direction. This year alone, the Vols have gone 4-7, and 0-7 in the SEC, something entirely unacceptable to a large, proud fan base, to say nothing of a program with such massive tradition and resources behind it.  In just one game shy of three complete seasons, Dooley is just 15-21 with Tennessee, but worse yet, 4-19 in the SEC, and 0-15 against top-25 opponents.  Let us not forget that his hiring was essentially a stop-gap move in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure for the USC job.  Let us also not forget that under Dooley’s leadership last year, Tennessee lost their annual season-closer to Kentucky for the first time since 1984, and it is not a given that the Vols will Triumph over the Wildcats this year, either.  Come to think of it, has Kentucky ever defeated Tennessee in football for two seasons in a row?

Paging Bobby Petrino…

Heisman talk:  Quarterback Collin Klein of K-State was the Heisman frontrunner, but after his team lost ignominiously, and his performance was mediocre at best (27 for 50, 286 yards, 2 td’s but 3 int’s), could it be that “Johnny Football,” Johnny Manziel, himself of Texas A&M, is the new award frontrunner?  Food for thought, in any case.

College Football Week 10 Awards November 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* rankings are from Week 10 as opposed to Week 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 10 in Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 9 Awards October 29, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 9, pre-week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Glad I’m not him: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Butch Jones, Cincinnati
Desperately seeking a clue: Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Darrell Hazell, Kent State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Desperately seeking … anything:  Danny Hope, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oregon (beat Colorado 70-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (beat Kansas 21-17)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Auburn (lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 63-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Texas 21-17)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Navy (beat East Carolina 56-28)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  Texas Tech (lost to No. 3 Kansas State 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Kansas State
Dang, they’re bad: Temple
Can’t stand prosperity:  Ohio U.  (lost to Miami [Ohio] 23-20)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Purdue
Can the season never end?  Notre Dame

GAMES
Play this again: No. 7 Georgia 17, No. 8 Florida 9

Never play this again: No. 3 Oregon 70, Colorado 14
What?  Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13, OT
Huh? No. 10 Georgia 7, No. 8 Florida 9

Double Huh?  Washington 20, No. 13 Oregon State 17
Are you kidding me? Kent State 35, Rutgers 23
Oh – my – God:  Arizona 39, No 18 USC 36
Told you so: No. 12 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 30, OT

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 LSU (notwithstanding No. 2 Oregon @ No. 9 USC)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Tulsa @ Arkansas
Best non-Big Six matchup: SMU @ Central Florida
Upset alert: No. 10 Clemson @ Duke

Must win: Texas @ No. 20 Texas Tech
Offensive explosion: Arizona @ UCLA
Defensive struggle: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 Texas A&M @ No. 17 Mississippi State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Dan Mullen of Mississippi State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 15 Stanford
Why are they playing? Troy @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UAB @ Southern Miss
They shoot horses, don’t they?  UMass @ Northern Illinois

Week 9 in Review:  Upsets and Conference Toilet Bowls Abound

The whole purpose of a given “Toilet Bowl” is to pit the two worst teams against each other to find which is, in  fact, the worst of the worst.  Such was determined twice yesterday.  In the Big 10 Toilet Bowl, Indiana trounced Illinois 31-17, in the Fighting Illini’s home stadium, no less.  Illinois, now 2-6, is now the undisputed – though clearly not undefeated – bottom-feeder of the conference for this season.  They are winless in the Big 10, and have no time to lick this very revealing wound, as next week they venture into Columbus, Ohio to take on Ohio State.

Meanwhile, in the Toilet Bowl, SEC Edition, Missouri defeated Kentucky in CoMo (which is what the locals refer to as Columbia, Mo.) by a similar score, 33-10.  Kentucky is in a sadly familiar spot in the most brutal of conferences in college football.  What is even more revealing, though, is UK’s response in the wake of the loss.

“It’s tough, because we knew we were better than those guys,” so said Kentucky tailback Raymond Sanders.  Better than them, even when losing by 23 points?  Such denial of reality is why head coach Joker Phillips has merited the above award for the week (see:  Desperately seeking a clue).

Undefeateds going down:  Fewer teams remain undefeated today than when they woke up to play games yesterday.  Rutgers was the highest-ranked team in the Big East before going down to one-loss Kent State.  Inexplicably, the Golden Flashes’ sole defeat came at the hands of Kentucky.

Mississippi State’s first defeat of the season was the most understandable of all first losses of the year, given that they were going up against No. 1 Alabama, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, no less.  The Bulldogs’ head coach, Dan Mullen, said it best going into the weekend when he pointed out that, “[Y]ou’ve got to try to run the ball (on Alabama) whether you’re having success or not.”  Despite Mississippi State’s best efforts, they were very slowly and methodically ground down by the Crimson Tide, 38-7.

On the West Coast, undefeated Oregon State lost that distinction in their loss to Washington.  Steve Sarkesian’s Huskies have earned the reputation of being a “giant killer” of sorts this year, as they handed previously-undefeated Stanford its first loss of the year as well.  Keep an eye on the program on the rebound in Seattle.

Finally, Florida was another team to bite the proverbial dust and suffer its first loss to Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla.  Though scoring was relatively low (17-9 in favor of the UGA Bulldogs), there were plenty of plays to keep the crowd enthused.  In the end, the old adage of “the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins” rang true yet again, which explains how the Bulldogs reigned victorious.

More chrome:  North Carolina – of all bloody teams! – has jumped on the chrome dome bandwagon, as they sported chrome-silver helmets during their last-minute upset over rival N.C. State.  Moreover, the main decal was an oversized Tarheel logo (the Carolina blue-colored foot with the tar on the heel), in breaking with the traditional “NC” decal they usually display.  On all-dark blue jersey and pants ensemble complimented a very different look for a team normally known for its “Carolina blue” helmets and jerseys.  Oh well:  it beats the trendy “matte” look!

Choke-lahoma:  That moniker was earned/demonstrated yet again last night, as Oklahoma squandered a golden (if you’ll pardon the expression) opportunity to hand Notre Dame its first loss of the year.  Stoops and company have nobody to blame but themselves for deliberately holding themselves back.  They had an offensive line capable of controlling the line of scrimmage, and yet they repeatedly passed up on the opportunity to establish a ground attack.  On the passing side of things, they also held themselves back by concentrating on short-yardage increments that are the bread-and-butter of the one-sided spread offense.  They did this while being thoroughly capable of throwing the ball further down the field, and by not doing this, never forced the Irish secondary to respect either the deep threat or the short yardage attempts.  Head Coach Bob Stoops has proven once again to be something of a schoolyard bully of the coaching ranks; arrogant and blunt with reporters, lots of bluster, but having little to, er, “bring,” when genuinely challenged.

Looking ahead:  some other games to keep an eye on, aside from the upcoming games listed above includes Air Force @ Army in an all-service academies showdown.  Another intriguing matchup is TCU venturing into Morgantown, W.V. to play the Mountaineers.  The big question going in to that game will be, how will West Virginia respond to two consecutive drubbings after being ranked so high in the polls?  Moreover, how the Horned Frogs will handle the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd is a question no doubt in the back of the minds of many a fan and observer.  In the wake of the SEC “Toilet Bowl” 2012, Missouri takes on Florida and Kentucky takes on Vanderbilt, meaning that the respective cellar-dweller status of either team is unlikely to change anytime soon.  After Oklahoma was embarrassed at home to Notre Dame, how will they respond at Iowa State, a team that has shown surprising formidability this year?  Can Duke show that it has staying power by bouncing back after a tough though understandable loss to Florida State in time to put up a good fight against inconsistent Clemson?  More importantly, can USC bounce back from being upset in the desert by Arizona in time for a primetime showdown against Oregon at home?

Bobby Petrino’s Potential Next Job(s) October 19, 2012

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The approximate half-way point in the college football regular season is upon us, and while many surprises and other developments surely await us fans, some coaches are already feeling the heat…the heat of the hotseat, that is!  Deny it as they might, certain fanbases are restless, and already talking about who might replace their failing current head coach.  One candidate that keeps emerging in water cooler conversation is none other than Bobby Petrino.

Yes, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, he is so mercenary as a coach that he gives other mercenaries a bad name, to borrow a line from Paul Freeman’s character in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But he wins, and has proven to do so at Louisville (taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2006 season), and at Arkansas, making the program so strong as to merit a preseason top-ten ranking in the eyes of the voters.  Had he not exhibited a horrible lapse in judgment in putting his mistress on the department payroll – to say nothing of having a mistress in the first place while being a married man – there is no telling what sort of memorable season the Razorbacks would be having right now.

A coach that can win like that, despite his baggage and his less-than-loyal track record, will surely have offers by season’s end.  The teams that will likely extend that offer – the likelihood being of a considerable varying degree from team to team – are listed and explained as follows:

Kentucky:  Despite his denials at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – denials of him “not feeling any heat” — Joker Phillips, as decent a man as he may be, is clearly in over his head as the coach of Kentucky’s program.  Rich Brooks left the program in decent shape (actually, in very good shape by Kentucky’s standards), but Joker is a reminder of the inevitable program decay that follows when one promotes the long-time loyal assistant to the head man role instead of an ambitious outsider.  In two-and-a-half seasons as head coach, Phillips has only managed to go 12-20.  Given his geographical disadvantages (it is Kentucky, after all), and that UK plays in the SEC, any coach faces an uphill challenge.  But the fans nevertheless have been understandably grumbling, as the empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium attest.  Could Petrino be brought in to turn things around?

It’s Possible:  Given how mercenary Petrino is, he could very well coach against Louisville.  In a weird way, it would be somewhat fitting, given that his recruiting techniques were pioneered by Fran Curci, the head coach back in the late 1970s.  Petrino himself perfected the recruiting technique (recruiting talented athletes that are potentially, er, troubled) by adding a new layer to the approach with his own, patented system of keeping the potential troublemakers in line and on  a short leash.

It’s Impossible:  Joker’s current salary is $1.7 million a year.  Not bad, but Petrino would expect a lot more to make up for the fact that his team will take a back seat to basketball team due to the UK faithful’s perpetually misplaced priorities.  The bigger problem, though, is in Petrino’s skill set.  The program will be in something of a mess.  Some head coaches are skilled at being turnaround CEOs (think:  Steve Spurrier, or, more to the point, Howard Schnellenberger; in the pros, think:  Bill Parcells).  But turnaround CEOs do not always do well long-term because their skillset is turning a struggling program around into a respectable one, in good working order.  Petrino’s skillset is that of a caretaker CEO; taking programs that are already in decent working order and tweak them slightly to gradually make them better and better.  It is not proven that he can take a program struggling as badly as Kentucky is and take them to where Arkansas was prior to his sudden ouster.

Alabama:  Try not to laugh.  Yes, Nick Saban continues to solidify his bona fides as one of the best coaches in the business while the Crimson Tide is on course to vie for yet another national title.  But there is a potential drawback in this.  Saban is so good in part because he is highly aspirational, and highly aspirational people get bored very easily.  One more national championship, and it is quite likely that Saban will be looking for a new challenge, either another program to rehab, or a franchise if he chose to go back to the pros.  Keep in mind that he built his reputation as a capable coach under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, before he left the defensive coordinator job there to become the new head coach of Michigan State back in 1995.  Not only might he get bored after winning yet another national title, but he could also be sick of dealing with the insane fans and boosters, having to recruit all the time, and not being able to go to the grocery store for fear of getting mobbed by a fanbase that has been known to love its program to death.  All these things ought to be kept in mind.

It Could Happen:  Timing, in this case, is everything.  If Saban leaves after this year, and Petrino does not have many more appealing choices, this could work.  Alabama has demonstrated they are willing to pay top dollar for the best coaching talent and will commit whatever resources the circumstances require to be a perennial championship contender.  It could work, if certain potential developments first occur.

It Ain’t Gonna Happen:  As ambitious as Petrino is, does he really want to coach in what has been acknowledged to be the biggest pressure cooker in all of football, college or pro?  His ambition would surely be put to the test with such a job.  Aside from that, the timing could be bad.  Saban might not leave for newer challenges after this year, assuming he does so at all any time soon.  Petrino is not going to hold his breath while other programs might come calling.

Auburn:  Don’t laugh.  Sure, Gene Chizik is only two seasons removed from winning the BCS national championship in a thrilling game against Oregon.  But he is only 1-5 thus far this season.  Football fans in the Yellowhammer State, either pro-Tide or pro-Tiger, will not stand for such a disgrace.  As Doug Gillett of EDSBS reminds us, Winston Churchill, one of history’s greatest statesmen, was given the pink slip by British voters just 58 days after the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.  Auburn already courted Petrino on the sly before while the mercenary coach did his stint at Louisville.  He was the offensive coordinator before deciding to lead the Cardinals starting in 2003.  His ties to the loveliest little village on the Plains is thus well-established.

It’s Possible:  Only if Chizik sets a new record for the quickest time a coach is fired after winning a national championship.  He already has been [ahem] ‘awarded’ as “Desperately seeking….ANYTHING” in the CFB Week 7 Awards.  The upcoming Vandy game is, at this rate, a toss-up, and Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule.  Will the War Eagle faithful countenance a potential 4-8 year?  If not, guess whom they might call.

It’s not Possible:  Only if the above scenario of ousting Chizik after only two years when we won the whole darn thing does not come to fruition, and be mindful that it would set a new record/precedent if it did.

Texas:  Let’s face it; Mack Brown’s record against hated rival Oklahoma is spotty at best.  The Sooners have to recruit Texas in order to be successful.  This template dates back to the days of Bud Wilkinson (!).  The Longhorns have the built-in advantage of, well, already being there.  The University of Texas is THE flagship school/program of the biggest, best football state in the entire U.S. of A.  They have the pick of the litter; first dibs on the cream of the crop.  Yet they were given a 63-21 butt-whipping at the hand of Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad in the Cotton Bowl this past week.  Losing to a high-powered West Virginia team was one thing, but losing this badly to Oklahoma is too bitter a pill to swallow for the Texas fans, as thoroughly decent and gracious a man as he may be (indeed, on that front, one of the classiest acts in the business.)

It Could Happen:  If enough movers and shakers in Longhorn Nation think that the game has passed Mack Brown by, a vacancy will open.  If enough of said movers and shakers are committed to the idea of never allowing such a loss to Oklahoma to happen on their watch, guess whom they might call.  If they do, the potential upside is tremendous.  As things currently stand, the team is not a mess, just short on playmakers.  With Petrino at the helm, the Horns could become an overnight juggernaut that would give Stoops and Co. in Norman, Okla., more than cause for notice.

It Couldn’t Happen:  There is a great duality to Longhorns fans.  Yes, they care very, very deeply, but unlike the Alabama faithful, they have something called “lives.”  This gives them perspective on things that other devoted fans sometimes lack, and might not call for Mack Brown’s gentle ouster until things could get worse.  Again, as mentioned before, Petrino is not exactly a man to hold his breath, even for the best job in all of college football (along with USC).
(Addendum 10-21-21) Tennessee:  One reader very simply commented, “Tennessee?”  Such an obvious suggestion, and it makes me kick myself in the pants for not adding this [theoretical] possibility to the list in the first place.   So what about it?  The Volunteers are current 3-4, having just lost to Alabama, arguably their most hated rival in a conference that is certainly full of them, to varying degrees.  Earlier in the year, the Vols blew the game against Florida, seemingly a winnable contest at the time.  The loss to Georgia may be understandable, but losing to Mississippi State is still a hard one to swallow, no matter how much improved the Bulldogs are.  To say that Derek Dooley is on the hot seat is therefore an understatement, and it will not get any easier next week, as they must a South Carolina team looking to get well on them — in Columbia, no less!  Make no mistake about it, the Volunteer Nation is grumbling, and a potential 7-5 year will not necessarily pacify them.

It might happen:  Already plenty of Tennessee fans are calling for Dooley’s head on a plate, and let us not forget that he was essentially a stop-gap/default hire after Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure.  Of all the coaches in the SEC, Dooley might be on just as thin ice as Joker Phillips at Kentucky.  If the ice were to break, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination as to whom AD Dave Hart might call.  Tennessee has the resources to pay Petrino a competitive salary; the tradition, fan base, and resources are there to make it a “destination job,” and he would no doubt get the administrative support he would need.

It might not happen:  Only if the fan base and administration are happy with another [potential] 7-5 season and a  mediocre-to-lower tier bowl game.

Other (very) longshots:  Forget Arkansas; no way they will re-hire someone whom they fired for egregious indiscretions in the first place.  Florida might have been on people’s radar screens as a potential job opening, as the fans and media alike were not, for a while, sold on Will Muschamp as their guy.  But he seems to have righted the ship this year with a very stingy defense and improved QB play, meaning that he could be Gator Nation’s guy after all.  Organizationally, Petrino would be a good fit for Florida, and would kick butt like nobody’s business, but things are currently going fine in Gainesville, at least for this year.  If any of you dear readers would like to speculate on where else BP could end up, please offer your thoughts in the comment section!

College Football Week 4 Awards September 24, 2012

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In just our second week of picking up where the good sportswriters at Yahoo ! left off, here are the week 4 awards for college football teams and coaches – enjoy!

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (notwithstanding his son’s illness)
Glad I’m not him: Brady Hoke, Michigan
Lucky guy: Al Golden, Miami (Fla.)
Poor guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Mora, UCLA
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Kyle Flood, Rutgers

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tim Beckman, Illinois
Desperately seeking … anything:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: West Virginia (defeated Maryland 31-21)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Kentucky (lost to Florida 38-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UAB (lost to Ohio State 29-15)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisiana Tech (defeated Illinois 52-24)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas
Did the season start? Michigan
Can the season end?  Kentucky
Can the season never end? Florida State

GAMES
Play this again:  Marshall 54, Rice 51, 2OT
Never play this again: Nebraska 73, Idaho St. 7
What? Rutgers 35, Arkansas 26
Huh? Oregon St. 27, No. 19 UCLA 20
Are you kidding me? Colorado 35, Washington State 34
Oh – my – God: Central Michigan 32, Iowa 31
Told you so: No. 15 Kansas State 24, No. 6 Oklahoma 19

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: No. 12 Texas @ Oklahoma State (or Tennessee @ No. 5 Georgia)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Louisville @ Southern Miss
Best non-Big Six matchup: Central Michigan @ Northern Illinois
Upset alert: No. 7 South Carolina @ Kentucky

Must win: No. 21 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Ohio State
Offensive explosion: Oregon @ Washington State
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Illinois
Great game no one is talking about: No. 9 Stanford @ Washington, Thurs., 9 PM EDT

Intriguing coaching matchup: Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia vs. Art Briles of Baylor
Who’s bringing the body bags? Towson @ LSU
Why are they playing? Idaho @ North Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Connecticut
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Marshall @ Purdue

College Football Week 3 Awards September 17, 2012

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It was so much fun.  Every Sunday afternoon in the Fall of very recent years, we looked forward to the sportswriters of Rivals/Yahoo.com giving us their take on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the college football games and teams from the previous day.  Their awards were very informal yet well to the point, and never failed to produce a number of chuckles and at times a few belly laughs.  Those days seem to be gone.  Yahoo!’s online sports section has been given a sleek makeover, but in this new format, the weekly awards seem to have been lost by the wayside.  Maybe one could account for this because one of their main writers, Tom Dienhart, now blogs for the Big Ten Network.  Who knows?  The bottom line is, despite my best efforts, I cannot find it anymore.  What website that is worth its weight in attracting eyeballs would make such an enjoyable weekly post so hard to find?

With all of this in mind, inspiration hit me last night to take it upon myself to dole out the awards instead.  Afterall, I’m an alumnus of a Big Ten program, and have worked with coaches now on a number of “Big-Six” conference teams.  It may not be Rivals/Yahoo!, but if you love college football, you might be apt to find this to be the next best thing.  I have tweaked some of the awards to suit the unique situations that arise from week to week, but for the most part, the awards are the same.  Therefore, I offer the awards for the third week of major college football, and aim to continue to do so until the able writers at Yahoo! ‘get it together’ and resume their Sunday duties.

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Mack Brown, Texas
Glad I’m not him:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Lucky guy:  Gene Chizik, Auburn
Poor guy:  Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
Desperately seeking a wake-up call:   Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man:  Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking … anything:  John L. Smith, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  Purdue  (beat Eastern Michigan 54-16)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Mississippi State (beat Troy 30-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:   Idaho (lost to LSU 63-14)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:   Pittsburgh (beat Virginia Tech 35-17)
Thought you’d reach a turning point, you didn’t:  Tennessee (lost to Florida 37-20)
Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: Colorado (or Kentucky:  take your pick!)
Ya’ know, they’re not so bad:  Cal
Did the season start?  Penn State
Can the season end?  Navy
Can the season never end?  Stanford

GAMES
Play this again:  Stanford 21, USC 14
Never play this again: Fresno State 69, Colorado 14
Unbelieveable Irony:  Connecticut 24, Maryland 21
What? Ball State 41, Indiana 39
Huh? Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3
Are you kidding me? Pittsburgh 35, Virginia Tech 17
Oh – my – God: Western Kentucky 31, Kentucky 30
Told you so: Louisville 39, North Carolina 34

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Clemson @ No. 5 Florida State
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Florida International vs. Louisville
Best non-Big Six matchup:  BYU @ Boise State
Upset alert:  Kansas State @ Oklahoma
Must win:  USC vs. California
Offensive explosion:  Arizona @ Oregon
Defensive struggle:  Temple @ Penn State
Great game no one is talking about:  Missouri @ South Carolina
Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Richt of Georgia vs. James Franklin of Vanderbilt
Who’s bringing the body bags?  Florida Atlantic @ Alabama
Why are they playing?  UAB @ Ohio State
Plenty of good seats remaining:  Memphis @ Duke
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Maryland @ West Virginia
What are your thoughts, dear readers?  Comments are welcome!