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The Longhorns-Red Raiders Rivalry in Microcosm November 11, 2018

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One of the many things to look forward to at the beginning of each November is Bill Connelly’s annually-updated article from SB Nation entitled “November is here.  Now college football season has really begun.”  One key mantra he hammers home:  November is for everything.  Read the article, you’ll understand for yourself.

Of the many cool things to pour over in this article, one is that he gives each calendar date of November its due by pointing to them as college football dates in history.  For example, Nov. 23 is the anniversary of Doug Flutie’s legendary Hail Mary TD pass that beat Miami.  Nov. 20 is when Boston College beat No. 1 Notre Dame on a last-second field goal in 1993.  All these dates are listed chronologically, of course.

And Nov. 1?  No doubt a date that shall live in Longhorn Nation infamy.  For one that day in 2008, Michael Crabtree slipped into the end zone for a touchdown that would defeat undefeated Texas, thus ultimately derailing its national title hopes that year.  Such a win for Texas Tech still sticks in the collective craw of Texas fans to this day, ten years later.

At any rate, ten years and nine days later, Texas exacted a small amount of revenge in Lubbock by scoring a touchdown within the last minute of the game that would seal the deal for the Longhorns.  Lil’Jordan Humphrey (yes, that is his name) even extended himself over the goal line in a similar fashion to what TTU’s Crabtree did a decade earlier.

What is it about Texas Tech that gives a much stronger, much more resource-laden program such fits in the first place?  Perhaps it is a David vs. Goliath complex on the part of the Red Raiders that gets them emotionally pumped to take on the flagship program of the Lone Star State.  Or, maybe Tech’s well-established, high-octane spread offense is one that gives the Horns’ defense fits for whatever reason.  In other words, on paper, Texas should crush Tech most years.  But over the past 10-15 years, this is one of those crazy matchups that gives fans plenty of drama, ergo excitement (not to mention heart palpitations that come with it), as these two games a decade apart attest.  Whatever the reason, we the college football fans are all the more engaged, entertained, and possibly satisfied as a result.

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College Football Awards, Week 10 (2018) November 4, 2018

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: James Franklin, Penn State

Lucky guy: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Wells, Utah State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard:  Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brett Brennan, San Jose State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Louisville 77-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (defeated Nebraska 36-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Louisville (lost to Clemson 77-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Charlotte (to Tennessee 14-3)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (defeated No. 14 Penn State 42-7)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  San Jose State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Florida

Did the season start?  Miami

Can the season end?  Louisville

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 13 West Virginia 42, No. 17 Texas 41

Play this again, too:  Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36

Never play this again: No. 2 Clemson 77, Louisville 16

What? Baylor 35, Oklahoma State 31

HuhPitt 23, No. 25 Virginia 13

Double Huh?  Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36

Are you kidding me??  Arizona State 38, No. 15 Utah 20

Oh – my – GodMissouri 38, No. 11 Florida 17

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 10)
Best game of the week:  (lots of decent games, but nothing spectacular)

One good game to see:  Auburn @ No. 6 Georgia

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: USF @ Cincinnati  also:  Fresno State @ Boise State

Upset alert: Michigan State @ No. 10 Ohio State

Must win: South Carolina @ No. 11 Florida

Offensive explosion: Texas @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: Kansas @ Kansas State

Great game no one is talking about: No. 8 Washington State @ Colorado

Also:  Wisconsin @ Penn State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Tom Herman of Texas vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? Utah State @ San Jose State

Why are they playing?  Navy @ No. 12 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: East Carolina @ Tulane

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Georgia State @ Louisiana

 

 

Playoff scenarios based on the latest AP Polls (Week 8, 2018) October 18, 2018

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Week 7 in college football for the 2018 provided considerable thrills – and headaches – for fans, what with upsets abounding, especially near the top of the rankings.  Unranked Tennessee taking down then-No. 17 Auburn, and unranked Virginia beating then-No. 16 Miami (Fla.) are small potatoes compared to upsets elsewhere that week.

Indeed, no fewer than four AP top ten teams went down in defeat in Week 7 of 2018.  For starters, No. 17 Oregon outlasted then-No. 7 Washington, 30-27, in overtime.  Unranked Michigan State toppled No. 8 Penn State on the road, 21-17.  Iowa State leveraged their special night-time atmosphere to help them beat then-undefeated (and then-No. 6) West Virginia 30-14.  Even more significant was No. 13 LSU pommeling then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16.

As a result of these four key upsets, Washington fell from the No. 7 ranking to No. 15.  Penn State fell from No. 8 to No. 18.  West Virginia fell from No. 6 to No. 13, while Georgia fell from No. 2 to No. 8.

Last year, the Bulldogs made it to the national championship game.  Now, the prospect to return is in jeopardy.  At least it’s October and not November, meaning there is still time to recover.

Regardless, the current AP Top Ten now suggests some very intriguing playoff possibilities.  These are important for the health of college football.  An all-southern/all-SEC college football championship game my thrill the faithful in the southeastern region of the country, but it turns off the rest of the country.  That’s bad for business.  If your sport starts to be perceived as regional in its nature, that hurts your national image, and prevents you from engaging the markets you need to be interested in order to ensure its long-term strength and viability.  Alabama vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Georgia thus saw a TV ratings decline, whereas Texas vs. USC (2005-’06) and Ohio State vs. Oregon (2014-’15) where perfect matchups to bring in robust, national audiences.  Ohio State vs. Florida (2006-’07), Ohio State vs. LSU (2007-’08) and especially Ohio State vs. Miami (2002-’03) were decent-to-great matchups as well for this purpose.  Alabama vs. Notre Dame (2012-’13) was good on paper, but the outcome of the game proved that it was a mismatch, with the Irish clearly being overrated at the time.

Start with a basic premise that it’s good for business when traditional powers do well.  If Georgia does well, that engages the Atlanta market, which is pretty big, in case you forgot.  If Notre Dame does well, it engages the Chicago and New York City markets.  If USC does well, it engages the Los Angeles market.  If Ohio State and Michigan do well (either or both), that engages much of the Midwestern markets, as well as the Big Ten alums who have left the Midwest for the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast.  If Texas does well, it engages the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Markets.  You get the picture.

Now, back to the Week 8 Top Ten rankings from the AP poll.  At No. 1 remains Alabama.  Ok, fine.  With Georgia knocked out of the No. 2 spot (but still in the top ten), that allows for Ohio State to take over that position.  This is good for the sport.  Clemson has moved a spot to No. 3, while Notre Dame has quietly moved up to the No. 4 ranking.

Just by looking at these current top four spots, if these remain unchanged and translate directly into playoff rankings, one would have a great playoff scenario to engage a critical mass of the viewing public.  Alabama and Clemson would be there to keep the South’s fever pitch at maximum levels, while Ohio State and Notre Dame enjoy national audiences so as to include enough of the rest of the country as well.  The Fighting Irish’s ranking this time is no wishful thinking.  Thoughtful analysts concur that this 2018 ND team is much stronger and more athletic than its overrated 2012 counterpart.  Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd has gone so far as to observe that this is the best ND team since the Lou Holtz era.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would exclaim, “Yo!”

While there is no west coast team in sight in these current rankings, that is not a deal-breaker, either.  There are enough Big Ten grads on the west coast to keep those markets engaged should Ohio State make it to the playoffs.   The Buckeyes, in this scenario, would represent the West Coast as well as the Midwest.

Naturally, much football remains to be played, and the remainder of the top ten shall make all efforts to crack their way into the playoffs as well.  Of those currently poised for such possibilities, some of them, too, offer intriguing engagement opportunities.  LSU sits at No. 5 after their ripping upset victory over the Bulldogs, and are destined for a major showdown with the Crimson Tide come Nov. 3, in Baton Rouge, no less.  Michigan sits at No. 6 after their big win over Wisconsin last night.  If they maintain their momentum, their Nov. 24 annual grudge match with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor could be epic.

Meanwhile, Texas has survived another test and now sits at No. 7.  If QB Sam Ehlinger stays healthy, who knows how much further the Longhorns could continue to climb?  This is key to note because Texas in the playoffs engages a different market than the Southeast.  The beauty of Texas in the championship game is that they can theoretically engage two markets simultaneously, as a B1G team can do vis-à-vis both the Midwest and other regions.  In Texas’ case, not only can a Longhorn playoff appearance pique the interest of the DFW and Houston metro areas (San Antonio and Austin don’t hurt either, as that is another combined 4 million-plus people in that mini-megalopolis), but the Southeast could vicariously join in, too.

An Oklahoma (currently No. 9)  playoff appearance, while a different region than the Southeast, has a limited upside.  Yes, it engages the central plains, but there is not much major population there).  Best case scenario is that it will interest the OU grad transplants living in the major Texas markets.  The Longhorns, thankfully, have done their part, though, in making the more market-significant team better-poised for a playoff run at this point.

This is not a swipe at the SEC, or the fans therein, for a personally love southern football and identify with the South.  As someone who is concerned about the national and long-term health of college football, however, perspective must be maintained.  Fans in SEC country will watch the playoffs no matter who is playing.  Fans elsewhere, though, will only watch if they feel they have a stake in things; that they are being represented.  We have enjoyed such perfect or near-perfect matchups in the past, such as the aforementioned Texas-USC games and the Ohio State-Oregon games, for example.

Meanwhile, more big games remain, and the way things have gone thus far, more upsets are likely to occur.  Teams currently in the bottom half of the top ten could claw theyr way up with help from such theoretical upsets.  After all, we’re halfway to regular season’s end, and the stakes and urgency only intensify from here.  Let’s enjoy the ride, and cheer on the key wins that would help make for the best playoff matches with optimal, national appeal while we’re at it!

College Football Awards, Week 6 (2018) October 7, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Lucky guy: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Doeren, NC State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chip Kelly, UCLA

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 63-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: West Virginia (defeated Kansas 38-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Clemson 63-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to West Virginia 38-22)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia Tech (defeated Louisville 66-31)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Boston College

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endTexas

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 63, Wake Forest 3

What? Utah 40, No. 14 Stanford 21

HuhTexas A&M 20, No. 13 Kentucky 14 (OT)

Double HuhMississippi State 23, No. 8 Auburn 9

Are you kidding me??  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Oh – my – GodNo. 22 Florida 27, No. 5 LSU 19

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Georgia @ No. 5 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 12 UCF @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 9 West Virginia @ Iowa State

Must win: No. 20 Michigan State @ No. 11 Penn State

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Washington @ No. 18 Oregon

Defensive struggle: No. 8 Auburn @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Georgia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Kevin Sumlin of Arizona

Who’s bringing the body bags? (inconclusive)

Why are they playing? (inconclusive)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Western Kentucky @ Charlotte

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Alabama State @ South Alabama

Week 6 Thoughts:

 Upsets have abounded this week, with each surprise seeming to supersede the other.  Texas made its presence known by toppling yet another ranked opponent, this time hated rival Oklahoma.  Whereas the Longhorns were ranked a respectable No. 19, the Sooners were top ten at No. 7.  It was almost the upset the never was, as the Sooners’ superior talent almost allowed for a complete comeback during the second half.  Only a last-minute field goal by Texas’ true freshman kicker won the day.

LSU’s occasional woes against Florida continued yesterday.  In 2003, the Gators upset the Tigers badly, almost spoiling their national title campaign.  This time around, the Bayou Bengals came in to the game at No. 5 in the nation, only to be upset by the (No. 22) Gators yet again, this time 27-19.  Time to see if Ed Orgeron’s team can bounce back from this loss and remain strong in the brutally competitive SEC West division.

Mississippi State has been in and out of the rankings, but this time, they played like a legitimately ranked team, toppling top-ten Auburn 23-9.  Perhaps the “clanga-clanga” atmosphere of Scott Field at night had something to do with it?

Speaking of atmospheres and night games, don’t look now, but Kentucky is a legitimately good team.  That said, apparently a night game in the hostile confines of Kyle Field (“Home of the 12th Man”) was too much to maintain their strong winning streak, for the Wildcats lost to the unranked Aggies in overtime, in what was a close, hard-fought game from start to end.

In an interesting night cap game, unranked Utah’s superior quickness gave No. 14 Stanford fits the entire evening.  The Cardinal has a bye-week to lick their wounds, while such a win for the Utes might merit a ranking in the next edition of the polls.

There were other upsets, too, such as Iowa State toppling No. 25 Oklahoma State.  It won’t get any easier for the Cowboys, as their next six games include ranked opponents (Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia), as well as Kansas State and potentially-ranked TCU.

Let us also not overlook another close, hard-fought game between Florida State and Miami.  The Seminoles tenaciously hung tough the entire game and eventually triumphed over the No. 17 Hurricanes 28-27.

In the Big Ten, unranked Northwestern (they actually start off the year ranked No. 15) upset No. 20 Michigan State, on the road, 29-19.  This is a genuine quality win for the Wildcats, as Mark Dantonio has, over the past several years, made his Spartans a tough out even for top-ten teams.  On paper, one would think MSU would have been a tougher out for Northwestern, but just goes to show that nothing is a given in the B1G.

But one of the biggest upsets of the day was also the biggest game of the day, as the Longhorns have won bragging rights over the Sooners for a year until they meet again next year in the Cotton Bowl amidst the annual Texas State Fair.

 

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 5 (2018) September 30, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Lucky guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville (held over for second week!)

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Monken, Army

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chris Ash, Rutgers

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

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (defeated Tennessee 38-12)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Bowling Green (lost to Georgia Tech 63-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Syracuse (lost to Clemson 27-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Miami (North Carolina 47-10)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Duke

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endNotre Dame

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 4 Ohio State 27, No. 10 Penn State 26

Never play this again: FIU 55, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 9

What? Liberty 52, New Mexico 43

HuhFlorida 13, No. 23 Mississippi State 6

Are you kidding me??  Virginia Tech 31, No. 22 Duke 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 8 Notre Dame 38, No. 7 Stanford 17

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 18 Texas vs. No. 6 Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout (Dallas)

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Louisiana-Monroe @ Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: SMU @ UCF

Upset alert: No. 8 Notre Dame @ Virginia Tech

Must win: Georgia Tech @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: Navy @ Air Force

Great game no one is talking about: Tulane @ Cincinnati

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Justin Wilcox of Cal vs. Kevin Sumlin of Arizona

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

Why are they playing? North Texas @ UTEP

Plenty of good seats remaining: Colorado State @ San Jose State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Illinois @ Rutgers

Week 5 Thoughts: 

This week was one of the most important of the year for this college football season.  Although there were few upsets, and ever fewer of consequence (despite some close calls – looking your way, Michigan and Ohio State), there were still two games of enormous importance.

Let us start with the biggest game of the week, which was Ohio State playing Penn State in Happy Valley.  With a “white-out” at night filling the 107,000-seat stadium, the Nittany Lions played above their No. 10 ranking, almost defeating No. 4 Ohio State.  Almost.  In the end, both teams played up to their high potential, and the slightly-better team on paper turned out to be the slightly better team on the field of play.  The obvious national championship implications of the matchup and outcome is only part of the importance of this game, which shall be explained in further depth in a subsequent article.

The other game of enormous consequence was Stanford at Notre Dame.  This was another top ten matchup with both teams outside of the South, with the victor having further potential to advance in the rankings.  As wonderful as the southern teams are, having a healthy amount of top-ten (or even top-15) teams outside of the Southeast region is good for football because it makes the sport more national and less regional.  This importance shall also be explained further in an article that shall be forthcoming soon.

Oh, and don’t look now, but Texas is on a four-game win streak, and survived a trap game at Kansas State headed into the Red River Shootout, er, Showdown come Oct. 6.

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2018) September 23, 2018

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 4] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Poor guy: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Illinois 63-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (defeated Army 28-21 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tulane (lost to No. 9 Ohio State 49-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Army (lost to Oklahoma 28-21 in OT)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas Tech (defeated No. 15 Oklahoma State 17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Nebraska

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Stanford 38, No. 20 Oregon 31

Play this again, too:  SMU 31, Navy 30

Never play this again: Appalachian State 72, Gardner-Webb 7

What? Purdue 30, No. 23 Boston College 13

HuhTexas Tech 41, No. 15 Oklahoma State 17

Double HuhIllinois State 35, Colorado State 19

Are you kidding me??  Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7

Oh – my – GodOld Dominion 49, No. 13 Virginia Tech 35

NEXT WEEK (Rankings are current AP, week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 9 Penn State

Also:  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 8 Notre Dame

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Texas Tech @ No. 12 West Virginia

Must win: Purdue @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ Fresno State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ No. 23 Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: No.18 Texas @ Kansas State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Tom Herman of Texas

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

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ No. 10 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

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

Week 4 Thoughts:

 Purdue has started the season as a major head-scratcher.  Coming off a surprising winning season after the Hazell-era doldrums, including a bowl win, the Boilermaker faithful had high hopes for the team in 2018.  Thus far, after an understandable, opening-season loss to then-ranked Northwestern, Purdue proceeded to lose squeakers at home to beatable teams, including [shudder], Eastern Michigan – a directional school.  Chalk it up to an undisciplined defense and a lack of a running game.  Regardless, the Boilers have their first win of the year, and, all things considered, it’s a rather big one, handily defeating No. 23 Boston College 30-13.  To be sure, Purdue did step it up on defense, and if they can maintain this newfound intensity on that side of the ball, there’s hope for the season yet.  All that said, sometimes it takes a few weeks for a good team to find its footing and thus to play up to its potential.

The team now becoming an even bigger head-scratcher is Louisville.  Sure, they lost badly to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide is such a juggernaut this year that most winning-season teams will look pathetic against them.  What really raised concerns was having to struggle, at home, to beat Western Kentucky – another directional school!  Let us thus give the Cardinals an ex-post-facto “Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t”.  But now they got embarrassed, on the road to a beatable team in Virginia.  At 27-3, are the Cavaliers that much better than the Cards?  Is their offense that poor that they failed to punch it into the endzone, with only a sad field goal to open the 3rd quarter?  A comparison of recent seasonal performances of both teams would say no, but today’s score would suggest so.  Here is one possible diagnosis of Louisville’s under-performance.  In the last few years (basically since Lamar Jackson was QB), Petrino has been fixated on “skills” players while acting as if he can get any lumbering lummox to block on the line.  So, while he might have NFL-caliber talent on the wings, he has no way of executing plays.  Has the time come to where Petrino would be better off as an offensive coordinator instead of a head coach?  Further observation and analysis of the team’s performance shall tell us yes or no.

What about USC?  Before losing badly on the road to Texas last week, they were ranked and poised to compete for the Pac-12 title again.  But on Friday night, they had to play hard at home to beat unranked Washington State.  One possible explanation:  Sam Darnold’s talent at QB papered over the mediocrity of talent on the coaching staff.  While I’m not a Trojans fan personally, I nevertheless recognize that when a traditional power like USC does well, it’s good for college football (same goes for other traditional powers like Georgia, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Miami (Fla.)).  Conversely, a mediocre Southern Cal team is thus not great for college football.  Let us hope that they can eventually rise back to national title contention to help keep the west coast markets engaged in the game.  After all, it’s never good for a sport to become regional (looking your way, Major League Baseball).

Speaking of Texas, are they “back”?  And why were they ever, well, not back?  This article by Pete Thamel explains the nature of why a national brand and a massively-valued program ever needed turning around in the first place (hint:  turning around an aircraft carrier takes much, much longer than turning around, say, a personal sailboat).  Forget, for a moment, that the program sure did not help anybody, least of all themselves, by laying an egg on the road to Maryland, and then under-performing at home the next week against Tulsa.  The Longhorns’ big win over USC last week might not indicate that the team is “back” as strongly as one would think due to USC’s apparent mediocrity at the moment.  But then again, Texas did follow up with another big win, this time over No. 16 TCU, 31-16.  So the current conclusion is, if they’re not “back” yet, they’re certainly headed in the right direction.  Onward and upward.

College Football Awards Week 13 (2017) November 27, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Richt, Miami  also:  Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Maryland 66-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Baylor 45-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to No. 20 Memphis 70-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  San Jose State (defeated Wyoming 20-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Louisville (defeated Kentucky 44-17)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  East Carolina

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Miami

Did the season start?  Alabama

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

Play this again, too:  Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Never play this again: No. 20 Memphis 70, East Carolina 13

What? Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Huh?  No. 21 Stanford 38, No. 8 Notre Dame 20

Are you kidding me??  Pittsburgh 24, No. 2 Miami 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, post-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Wisconsin in the B1G championship (Indianapolis)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 Memphis @ No. 15 UCF (AAC championship)

Upset alert: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin  Also:  No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 6 Auburn in the SEC championship (Atlanta)

Must win: (any championship game with playoff implications)

Offensive explosion: No. 12 TCU @ No. 4 Oklahoma (Big XII championship)

Defensive struggle: (jury’s still out)

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Stanford vs. No. 11 USC in the Pac-12 championship

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Richt of Miami vs. Dabo Swinney of Clemson

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

Why are they playing? UMass @ FIU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ Coastal Carolina

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Idaho @ Georgia State

Week 13 Random Thoughts:

This weekend was one of reckoning for teams vying for playoff contention.  Some survived, others went down in flames.  One, surprisingly, was Alabama.  In hindsight, the Tide was somewhat fool’s gold.  All their tough conference games were at home.  The season’s opener against Florida State was supposed to be a very marquee matchup, but it quickly became a rout once the Seminoles’ starting quarterback was knocked out of the game (and out for the season), thus sending FSU’s season town the toilet before it truly began.  Last week should have been a greater warning than most of us acknowledged, what with Mississippi State giving the Tide a scare on the road.  They escaped, only to face their first real test of the whole season, ironically at its end.  They failed to step up to the challenge.  Conversely, Auburn has proven they are the real deal, a playoff-worthy contender.

Clemson seems to have bounced back very nicely from the loss of their starting QB.  Having handily defeated a good South Carolina team, they now prepare for this upcoming week’s ACC championship game.  There they face Miami, who surprisingly lost to Pitt in their first loss all year.  The inopportune loss was bad enough, but they looked listless in defeat as well, perhaps convincing a critical mass of voters that the Hurricanes are not the playoff-worthy team we thought they were.  All that said, they still clinched their division for the first time since its inception, and now face the Tigers this upcoming week.  The odds favor the Tigers, but then again, there are compelling reasons why we line ‘em up and play.

Ohio State stated off slowly against Michigan in “The Big House,” allowing the Wolverines to score two touchdowns.  But the Buckeyes eventually got going and eventually rolled to victory.  While Alabama failed to knock Auburn out of contention, Notre Dame’s convincing loss to Stanford and Miami’s sudden loss could nevertheless keep the door open for their playoff hopes.  Next step is to beat Wisconsin the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis this upcoming weekend.

Texas seemed to have rediscovered their offense on the road last week at West Virginia.  This week, they could only muster 23 points, at home, to Texas Tech, who is hardly the defensive juggernaut.  Things have improved this year with the Longhorns compared to the previous few seasons.  Case in point, the Horns remain bowl-eligible.  But much work and improvement clearly remains.  The biggest objective is:  find offensive consistency.

Louisville is finally playing back to form, practically scoring at will over a deceptively formidably Kentucky squad.  Whether Lamar Jackson deserves a return trip to Manhattan for Heisman consideration is neither here nor there, but his team is in a far better position than it was last year, trending the proper direction as they await their bowl bid destination.

Okay, so my “near-perfect playoff scenario” is already compromised.  This is not a huge surprise.  In hindsight, Alabama was not the juggernaut we thought they were, and Miami was not as far along as they seemed earlier this year (but at this rate, Mark Richt will bring them into legit contention).  Perhaps, at this rate, it could be Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.  With that in mind, Auburn is to face Georgia for a rematch, this time in Atlanta.  The Bulldogs shall surely be out for revenge.  The bottom line is, the reckoning is not over yet.  Buckle up.

But seriously, Ohio State, ditch those gray-black uniforms.  They look horrible.

My Nearly Perfect Playoff Scenario November 16, 2017

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The developments in this past week of college football have shaken up the polls yet again, thus further modifying the playoff projections.  Given the current state of affairs, if the new AP poll is of any indication, here’s how I think things could play out.

The current top eight in the AP poll is as follows:

  1. Alabama
  2. Miami
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Clemson
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio State

So, based on current polling and whom the teams have yet to play, who goes into the final four of the playoffs?  My scenario could lead to near-perfection.

Let’s start with Alabama.  Mississippi State almost beat them at home.  So, the Crimson Tide is vulnerable.  Nevertheless, they’ll get an easy win over a cupcake in Mercer this Saturday.  That leaves us with Auburn at No. 6.  Strange things happen in rivalry games.  Even stranger things happen in the Iron Bowl, arguably the most heated, bitter rivalry in college sports.  Bama thought they would be playing for the national title until the famous “kick-six” incident of 2013, for example.  Nevertheless, let us say for the sake of argument that Bama beats Auburn.  On paper, this is entirely possible.  Auburn will thus have three losses, and be eliminated from playoff consideration.

The Tide remains undefeated, and goes onto the SEC championship game in Atlanta.  There, they play Georgia, who was briefly No. 1 before getting their asses handed to them by Auburn.  Now at No. 7, they’ll still give Alabama a good challenge in Atlanta.  But on paper, the odds still favor The Tide.  Let us thus accept the law of averages and say Bama wins.  Again.  Having knocked out both Auburn AND Georgia, Bama as undefeated AND SEC champs, also ranked No. 1, instantly clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 1 of 4:  Alabama

Next up is Miami.  After tearing Notre Dame a new one in Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes now sit at No. 2 in the AP.  They have also clinched the Atlantic Division of the ACC for the first time since the conference split into those two divisions.  To remain undefeated in the regular season, they need to take out Virginia (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road).  Both are doable, obviously, though keep an eye out for the Canes having to deal with cold Pittsburgh weather in late November.

At any rate, the Hurricanes are now slated to play Clemson, currently No. 4 in the AP, for the ACC Championship.  That game will be in Charlotte in early December, effectively a home game for the Tigers.  IF the Hurricanes can overcome this huge challenge and triumph over Clemson, they shall be undefeated, ACC champs, and shall have clinched the second spot in the playoffs.  This could actually be the most tenuous of contingencies.  Nevertheless…

Berth No. 2 of 4:  Miami

Oklahoma currently sits at No. 3.  Aside from Iowa State, the Sooners have risen to the occasion each game, recently beating a tough TCU squad.  OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is a more mature version of Johnny Manziel:  someone capable of making special things happen.  Despite legit challenges from strong teams within the conference, nobody can credibly take the Sooners down this year.  If these shadows remain unchanged, they’ll surely clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 3 of 4:  Oklahoma

That leaves us with the last spot.  In this scenario, three out of the eight are already in.  Three of the remaining five are out.  That leaves us with the remaining two:  Wisconsin and Ohio State.  “But wait,” you protest, “Ohio State already has two losses, one a both recent AND embarrassing one to Iowa.”  A valid point you would raise, to be sure.  But here’s the deal.  The Buckeyes’ schedule is still much stronger than Wisconsin’s, for one.  Whereas OSU had the guts to play a tough OU squad that, as already mentioned, shall surely be playoff-bound, Wisconsin padded their schedule with Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and a weak (for this year) BYU.

Moreover, IF Ohio State shows up ready to play, they can beat anybody.  Would you want to coach head-to-head against Urban Meyer?  I didn’t think so.

Finally, both Wisconsin and Ohio State, if both win out, are destined to butt heads in the Big Ten Championship game.  They both need to beat Michigan to guarantee this scenario.  Should they play each other for the B1G title, and should Ohio State actually triumph, Wisconsin shall be effectively eliminated.  Why?  Again, their relatively weak schedule without winning their own conference.  Meanwhile, Ohio State will be the last team standing in the top eight in the current AP poll.  Could winning the B1G over an undefeated team be enough to get them back into playoff contention?  I would wager “yes.”

Berth No. 4 of 4:  Ohio State

Yes, this scenario is contingent on many factors.  Change one major factor (Bama loses to Auburn, for example), and it all falls apart.  Wisconsin and Ohio State’s viabilities depend on both beating Michigan.  Miami still needs to face Pittsburgh in the cold of late November at Heinz Field.  After that, they must face down Clemson.  Obviously, that’s a tall order.

If, however, all these things come to pass, it would be a nearly geographically-perfect playoff line-up.  Alabama would represent the south.  Miami could represent urban, coastal fans of the game.  Ohio State could represent the Midwest, the Big Ten, and its demographic TV-viewing juggernaut along with it.  Finally, Oklahoma could represent other parts of Middle America.  Indeed, the only problem with this scenario is that it lacks a Pac-12 team.  If it did, we would have perfection.  Too bad the Pac-12 teams ended up cannibalizing themselves this year, but that could be the case with the B1G, too, depending on how things truly do come to pass.  The only way we’ll know one way or the other is to keep lining them up and playing.

College Football Awards Week 11 (2017) November 13, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Richt, Miami

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Nick Saban, Alabama

Poor guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Monken, Army

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (defeated New Mexico 55-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Alabama (defeated No. 16 Mississippi State 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to Missouri 50-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Mississippi State (lost to No. 2 Alabama 31-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Ohio State (defeated No. 12 Michigan State 48-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia

Did the season start?  Virginia Tech

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMiami

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Alabama 31, No. 16 Mississippi State 24

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Oklahoma State 49, No. 21 Iowa State 42

Never play this again: Northern Illinois 63, Ball State 17

What? Georgia Tech 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 22

Huh?  Stanford 30, No. 9 Washington 22

Are you kidding me??  No. 7 Miami 41, No. 3 Notre Dame 8

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Auburn 40, No. 1 Georgia 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for:  None, except maybe Michigan @ No. 8 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Carolina @ North Carolina

Best non-Power Five matchup: Fresno State @ Wyoming  also:  Army @ North Texas

Upset alert: Utah @ No. 9 Washington

Must win: Texas @ West Virginia  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Offensive explosion: SMU @ No. 18 Memphis

Defensive struggle: No. 21 LSU @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: Arizona @ Oregon

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. Paul Chryst of Wisconsin

Who’s bringing the body bags? Citadel @ No. 4 Clemson

Why are they playing? Wofford @ South Carolina  also:  Mercer @ No. 1 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Coastal Carolina @ Idaho

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Louisiana-Monroe @ No. 10 Auburn

Week 11 Random Thoughts:

Is it safe to say that Miami (Fla.) is back as a top-tier program?  Already ranked No. 7 going into this weekend’s game, they crushed No. 3 Notre Dame at home, 41-8.  They remain undefeated in one of the toughest conferences in football, now at the No. 2 spot in the AP Poll (Clemson is now at No. 3).  If these shadows remain unchanged, they could face Clemson in the ACC Championship game early next month (ticket-to-die-for in the making?).  If they win that, it would be close to certain that the Hurricanes would be in the playoffs, and rightly so.  So yeah, sure looks that way.

It’s a good thing I listed Butch Jones as “Desperately seeking…anything” because as of today (Nov. 12), he got the ax at Tennessee.  This became an increasingly urgent necessity as the season progressed.  Despite the solid recruiting classes Jones brought in at Tennessee, he was unable to translate the talent into wins on the field.  Barely winning over lousy UMass was cause for concern.  Losing a squeaker to a mediocre Florida was bad enough.  Losing to Georgia in a blowout – one of the worst in recent program history – was a major embarrassment.  Losing to Kentucky – something the Volunteers very rarely do – was obviously unacceptable.  Getting crushed by hated Alabama became inevitable – which didn’t make it any less unpalatable to the Tennessee faithful.  The final nail in Jones’ coffin was a blowout loss to Missouri, of all teams.  So, Jones is now out at Tennessee.  Time for the replacement coaching search games to begin!

While this was a great weekend for college football (despite some unexpectedly one-sided outcomes – looking your way, Georgia and Notre Dame), next week shall be something of a let-down.  The only game resembling a marquee matchup is No. 19 Michigan vs No. 5 Wisconsin.  Half of the SEC is wasting the upcoming weekend with body bag games.  To wit:  Mercer plays at Alabama; Wofford plays South Carolina in an annual late-season affair (why??); Auburn dialed up a “w” with Louisiana-Monroe.  Florida would also be included, except for the fact that UAB has a much better record (7-3) than the Gators (3-6).  Not to be outdone, Clemson had to get in on the act by playing the Citadel.

At least the other half of the conference was exercising some degree of sense by scheduling real games.  Kentucky plays at Georgia.  LSU plays at Tennessee, which will no doubt further contribute to the Volunteers’ collective misery.  Texas A&M plays at Ole Miss in what should be a good game.  Missouri, surprisingly offensively spry, plays at Vanderbilt.

Purdue’s bowl eligibility hopes for the year are quickly dwindling.  They currently stand at 4-6, and have to win out over both Iowa and Indiana.  Whereas the latter seems winnable, the former, not so much.  The Boilers did themselves no favors by losing on the road to conference cellar-dweller Rutgers, then blowing a 4th-quarter lead at home to Nebraska.  The good news is that if Purdue ends up at 5-7, they’ll still have won more games than the entire Hazell era combined.

All that said, there are some decent games that might not be of huge consequence.  Syracuse plays Louisville, for example, and Kansas State plays Oklahoma State.  Arizona at Oregon is also a good match-up, and Utah has the potential to upset Washington.  So there are enjoyable games this weekend, we’ll just have to search more diligently than usual for them.

College Football Awards Week 10 (2017) November 6, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Neal Brown, Troy

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: San Diego State (defeated San Jose State 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Arkansas (defeated Coastal Carolina 39-38)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to San Diego State 52-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UMass (lost to No. 16 Mississippi State 34-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Missouri (defeated Florida 45-16)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 24 Michigan State 27, No. 7 Penn State 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 42, Texas Tech 35

Never play this again: San Diego State 52, San Jose State 7

What? No. 25 Washington State 25, No. 21 Stanford 21

Huh?  West Virginia 20, No. 15 Iowa State 16

Are you kidding me??  No. 24 Michigan State 27, No. 7 Penn State 24

Oh – my – GodIowa 55, No. 6 Ohio State 24

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Notre Dame @ No. 10 Miami  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Louisiana @ Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

Must win: No. 24 Michigan State @ No. 6 Ohio State  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: No. 20 Oklahoma State @ Iowa State

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

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 22 Arizona @ Oregon State

Why are they playing? New Mexico @ Texas A&M

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Maine @ UMass

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

As Bill Connelly reminds this time of the year, November is for everything.  Teams are what they are at this point of the season.  A loss now can sink a team’s season.  With that in mind, let us examine the following:

Just when we thought Ohio State had a shot at the playoffs after a big win over Penn State, this week, the Buckeyes turned right around and spoiled it for all of us.  It’s not that they lost, it’s how they lost that’s the true disgrace.

Anyone with any discernment knew that Iowa would be a tough out for any team.  They took Penn State to the very wire, after all.  Perhaps too many on Ohio State’s team thought they were on Easy Street after taking down the Nittany Lions last week.  Guess again, guys. The Buckeyes failed to score in the whole second half until 4:37 remained in regulation.  By then, it was too little, too late.  The Hawkeyes triumphed in dramatic fashion, 55-24, giving the Buckeyes their worst loss since 1994.  Ouch.  Not exactly a playoff-caliber performance, guys.  Speaking of which, kiss those hopes goodbye for the year, and let that be a lesson to all of us to always bring one’s “A” game.

Remember when Texas seemed to have found an offense last week against Baylor?  Yeah, that was a false alarm:  fool’s gold.  The Longhorns only mustered a single touchdown (2nd quarter) the entire game, losing it 24-7.  The Horns’ defense was impressive, all things considered, but their offense is frankly non-existent.  Why?  Much of it revolved around a young offensive line that is still trying to gel.  Even if QB Shane Buechele had time in the pocket, his receivers failed to get separation (some blame the offensive coordinator for failing to scheme properly).  Their own self-inflicted mistakes that translated to penalties obviously did them no favors, either.  It all added up to an incoherent mess on the offensive side of the ball, and the score at game’s end showed it.

This weekend has rightly been dubbed “elimination weekend,” but that could surely apply to other weekends to come this month.  Notre Dame has yet to play resurgent Miami, and after that they must face Stanford:  both are on the road.

Penn State did themselves no favors by losing to Michigan State on the road.  With that loss, their playoff aspirations for the year are over, but in the Nittany Lions’ defense, the game was much closer (21-14) than Ohio State’s disastrous outing at Iowa.  The long rain delay in the middle of the game likely interfered with their rhythms, too.

Speaking again of Ohio State, they have no time to lick their wounds, as the Spartans come calling this upcoming weekend.

South Carolina has quietly become bowl-eligible with six wins, despite their most recent loss, on the road, to border rival Georgia.  To be sure, the Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 2 in the playoffs, so the loss, on paper, was expected.  Now the Gamecocks face a depleted Florida Gators squad, at home, where the odds are likely they can amass win No. 7 for the year.

Georgia, meanwhile, faces a potential pitfall when they venture into No. 14 Auburn to engage in “the oldest rivalry in the South”.

Washington State squeaked by Stanford.  Now they must face Utah, who crushed UCLA, 48-17.  Here is yet another potential upset in the making.  Joel Klatt, are you paying attention yet?

In another window into the current state of Big Ten football, resurgent Purdue is, currently, a slight underdog to Northwestern.  Another potential conference “Toilet Bowl” awaits with Illinois facing Indiana (the latter’s record is deceptive, though).  Also, Iowa now has to face undefeated Wisconsin; not a good time to be on Cloud Nine after taking down the mighty Buckeyes.