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College Football Awards, Week 1 (2017) September 11, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 1] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Matt Rhule, Baylor

Lucky guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: D.J. Durkin, Maryland

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 14 Stanford (defeated Rice 62-7)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Akron (lost to No. 6 Penn State 52-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Buffalo (lost to Minnesota 17-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Colorado State (defeated Oregon State 58-27)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Akron

Can’t Stand Prosperity: 

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44

Play this again, too:  No. 16 Louisville 35, Purdue 28

Never play this again: No. 14 Stanford 62, Rice 7

Close call:  Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 17

What? Tennessee State 17, Georgia State 10

HuhJames Madison 34, East Carolina 14

Double-Huh? Howard 43, UNLV 40

Are you kidding me??  Maryland 51, No. 23 Texas 41

Oh – my – GodLiberty 48, Baylor 45

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 1, pre-week 2)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Oklahoma @ No. 2 Ohio State

Keep an eye on this one:  No. 15 Georgia @ Notre Dame

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Michigan @ Michigan State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Buffalo @ Army

Upset alert: No. 16 Louisville @ North Carolina

Must win: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 4 USC

Offensive explosion: Nebraska @ Oregon

Defensive struggle: Buffalo @ Army

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ Arkansas

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Gary Patterson of TCU vs. Bret Bielema of Arkansas

Who’s bringing the body bags? Louisiana-Monroe @ Florida State

Why are they playing? San Jose State @ Texas

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

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UAB @ Ball State

Week 1 Take-aways:

What is wrong in Austin?  Tom Herman, supposedly a fine, young offensive mind (and Urban Meyer protégé), has not started off his tenure at Texas well.  The Longhorns lost, at home, to Maryland, 51-41.  The Terps are hardly an offensive juggernaut, either.  The loss frankly stinks.  What accounts for this?  It could be perhaps that Herman has yet to bring in the recruits that he needs to compete at a top-ten level.  But perhaps the most likely reason of all is that the Horns were simply looking past Maryland, devoting all their relatively limited practice and preparation time to USC, a marquee matchup that will take place two weeks from now.  How else to account for such an embarrassing debut?

Let us admit this without hesitation:  notwithstanding their close loss today, Purdue’s turnaround performance is quite impressive.  Jeff Brohm debuted as the Boilermakers’ head coach in a less-than-ideal match for one’s inaugural game.  In this case, it was against a formidable Louisville team, at Lucas Oil Stadium (neutral site) in Indianapolis.  On paper, the Cardinals should have made mincemeat out of a Purdue team that, theoretically, would still be recovering from the Darrell Hazell malaise.  Luckily for Purdue, that was not the case.  The Boilers’ performance has markedly improved on both sides of the ball.  Moreover, they played consistently hard throughout the game, and – with the luck of three turnovers by the Cardinals – kept the game close and interesting throughout regulation.  If this impressive performance is a harbinger of what is to come, then Purdue shall have a comparatively respectable record despite a semi-brutal schedule.

Meanwhile, how rare a treat it is that fans can enjoy a top-five matchup to kick off the season!  That is exactly what we the fans enjoyed when No. 1 Alabama took on No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta (played inside the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, no less).  Speaking of great games, another fine example was No. 11 Michigan playing No. 17 Florida in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.  Once again, we the fans got our money’s worth.  Sure, there were lots of throwaway games today, especially in the Noon Eastern Time slot.  But these two games, along with the Louisville-Purdue game (all three of which were, interestingly, played in NFL stadiums), more than made up for that, and it all adds up to a great start to the 2017-2018 college football season.  Let the games begin, and the good times roll!

Postscript:  Bobby Petrino won an engaging game.  Why is he thus “desperately seeking a wake-up call”?  Simple reason:  his team had three turnovers that game, which were a contributing factor to why the game’s score was so close (seven points difference in the end).  Two of those turnovers are at the goal line.  Mistakes like that will cost the Cardinals dearly as they delve into the conference part of their schedule.  Remember what happened in November of last year?  ‘Tis best to fix and pre-empt those mistakes NOW.

Speaking of wake-up calls, put Texas A&M down for an honorable mention.  There is no excuse to blow a 37-10 lead like that in the second half, with the Aggies allowing the bulk of the scoring in the 4th quarter.  For shame, Aggies.  Yet, at the same time, good on Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora and QB Josh Rosen for engineering such a comeback.

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College Football Week 5 Awards September 29, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 5] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Richt, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Les Miles, LSU

Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tony Levine, Houston

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 15 Miami [FL] (defeated South Florida 49-21)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Tennessee (defeated South Alabama 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to No. 3 Clemson 56-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Troy (lost to Duke 38-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Northern Illinois (defeated Purdue 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana Tech
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma State

Did the season start?  Purdue
Can the season end?  Wake Forest
Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Georgia 44, No. 6 LSU 41

Never play this again: No. 3 Clemson 56, Wake Forest 7

What? Tennessee 31, South Alabama 24

HuhArizona State 62, USC 41

Are you kidding me?  Northern Illinois 55, Purdue 24
Oh – my – GodWest Virginia 30, No. 11 Oklahoma State 21

Told you so:  No. 12 South Carolina 28, Central Florida 25

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 15 Washington @ No. 5 Stanford

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Army @ Boston College

Best non-Big Six matchup: BYU @ Utah State

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 21 Oklahoma State

Must win: No. 10 LSU @ Mississippi State

Offensive explosion: No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 15 Northwestern

Defensive struggle: Air Force @ Navy
Great game no one is talking about: No. 24 Ole Miss @ Auburn

Intriguing coaching matchup: Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 2 Oregon @ Colorado

Why are they playing? Georgia State @ No. 1 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Southern Miss

They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 7 Louisville @ Temple

Week 5 in Review:

Last week had so many horrible, “body bag” matchups that we were all better off just firing that week’s worth of games into the Sun, never to hear from it again, and good riddance! This week was different.  First off, there was one of the games of the year in LSU @ Georgia, which did live up to its billing.  Even the noon games, normally throw-aways, were intriguing. South Carolina v@ UCF was surprisingly competitive.  Ditto with Oklahoma State @ West Virginia, and the results of that game were positively shocking. The evening games were also very entertaining, what with Arkansas giving Texas A&M a solid game, and Wisconsin doing the same at Ohio State.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, a real offensive explosion took place between USC and Arizona State, and ironically, the 62-41 result in favor of the Sun Devils resulted in some much bigger fireworks after the game.  As soon as the Trojans got back to Los Angeles, USC athletics director Pat Haden literally pulled head coach Lane Kiffin aside on the tarmac to inform him that his services will not be needed for the remainder of the season. Yes, Kiffin’s overall record in four seasons was 28-15, which is not terrible, but it’s not up to USC standards, either.  Moreover, he lost 7 of the past 11 games, was 3-2 this year, and lost both of his conference games thus far.  Things clearly were headed in a negative direction.  Yes, the NCAA had unduly hamstrung the Trojans’ program with restricted scholarships all because somebody not affiliated with the program had given Reggie Bush’s parents a sweetheart deal on a house in San Diego.  Still, after four years, one would expect some meaningful progress to be made from the undue setback, and unimaginative offensive play-calling, combined with inept execution is most certainly not a reflection of progress! Ed Orgeron, the defensive coordinator, (and formed Ole Miss head coach) has been named the interim head coach.  Who says the SEC is geographically insular?

ETC.:

West Virginia’s upset win at home over ranked Oklahoma State could probably save Dana Holgersen’s job after his ignominious loss to Maryland the previous week.  Louisville, meanwhile, remains a formidable team, but the only problem is, their temporary conference home (American) is so weak that every other game is a “body-bag” game.  Take the upcoming week’s game at Temple, for example.  South Florida and Memphis do not do the Cardinals’ strength of schedule any favors, either.  On a positive note, the Oct. 18 game against Central Florida could turn out to be a dandy of a game, folks!

College Football Week 2 Awards 2013 September 9, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 2] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Brady Hoke, Michigan

Glad I’m not him: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Lucky guy: Mike Leach, Washington State
Poor guy: Lane Kiffin, USC
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Bowling Green

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything:  Ron Turner, Florida International

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 23 Baylor (defeated Buffalo 70-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Michigan State (defeated South Florida 21-6)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Virginia (lost to Oregon 59-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Michigan State 21-6)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated Miami (OH, 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Sir Charles says “They’re Turrable”:  Buffalo
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Florida
Can the season end?  San Diego State
Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 11 Georgia 41, No. 6 South Carolina 30

Play this again, too:  No. 17 Michigan 41, No. 11 Notre Dame 30
Never play this again: Boise St. 63, Tennessee-Martin 14

What? Illinois 45, Cincinnati 16

HuhMiami (FL) 21, No. 12 Florida 16
Are you kidding me?  Navy 41, Indiana 35
Oh – my – GodBYU 40, No. 15 Texas 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Texas A&M

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Virginia Tech @ East Carolina
Best non-Big Six matchup: Marshall @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Ole Miss @ Texas

Must win: Vanderbilt @ No. 13 South Carolina

Offensive explosion: Fresno State @ Colorado
Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Iowa State
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 UCLA @ No. 23 Nebraska

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gary Patterson of No. 24 TCU vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 21 Notre Dame @ Purdue

Why are they playing? Lamar @ No. 12 Oklahoma State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ South Florida

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nicholls @ Louisiana-Lafayette

Week 2 in Review:

Two really good games followed each other consecutively in South Carolina @ Georgia followed by Notre Dame @ Michigan.  In the case of the former, the Gamecocks’ season is not lost by losing to a tough Bulldogs squad who had their collective backs against the wall after blowing the season opener on the road to perhaps the best Clemson team that school’s history.  Conversely, had Georgia lost two games in a row to start off their season, no matter if they won out for the remaining weeks, the season, by team’s and fans’ standard would have been clearly lost.

In the case of the latter, some degree of poetic justice was achieved in the Wolverine’s victory over the Fighting Irish.  It is understandable why Notre Dame saw fit not to renew the rivalry on their schedule, what with trying to broaden their geographic outreach into the recruiting hotbeds, which, to remind certain fanbases, are NOT in the Midwest anymore (Ohio notwithstanding, to an extent, but Ohio State owns that anyhow, and should). But that does not obfuscate the other understandable situation where the Michigan fanbase feels snubbed by a team that still acts as though it is “above it all.”  Did I say “poetic justice”?  How about vindication?

Meanwhile, going forward, it is worth pointing out that when it comes to the prognostications for the upcoming week, the two most difficult things to predict are the offensive explosion and the defensive struggle.  The Michigan-Notre Dame game certainly did not live up to the latter billing (41-30); neither did the West Virginia-Oklahoma game (16-7).  One should have reversed those two games into opposite categories, and then we would have had something (in 20-20 hindsight, at least)!

Oh, and the latest news has it that Texas’ defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has taken the fall for the Longhorns’ ignominious loss to unranked BYU.  The Horns gave up a school record 550 rushing yards on defense.  This means that even though Texas had some very bad teams in the 1980s and some of the 1990s, even they did not give up that much yardage on the ground in a game.  Something obviously had to be done.  Mack Brown has appointed Greg Robinson (former Syracuse head coach – one of those guys who is better as a vice president than as a chief executive) as the new defensive coordinator, a role that he actually already served in for the team in 2004 (that same team that came back to beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl).  On paper, it is a good hire; time will tell if what is on paper will manifest in reality.  But regardless, it’s still a step up from the inept display the Longhorn Nation had to endure yesterday.

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

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.

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 11 Awards November 12, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* rankings are AP, Week 11

** reflects current, Week 12 AP rankings

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

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

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

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

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

Week 11:  Another Two Bite the Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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