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College Football Awards, Week 8 (2018) October 21, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Honorable mention:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Poor guy: Tom Allen, Indiana

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dino Babers, Syracuse

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Dimel, UTEP

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (defeated Tenessee 58-21)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northwestern (defeated Rutgers 18-15)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Wisconsin 49-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (lost to Kentucky 14-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Clemson (defeated NC State 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulsa

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

Play this again, too:  No. 5 LSU 19, No. 22 Mississippi State 3

Never play this again: No. 1 Alabama 58, Tennessee 21

What? Nebraska 53, Minnesota 28

HuhTemple 24, No. 20 Cincinnati 17 (OT)

Are you kidding me??  No. 25 Washington State 34, No. 12 Oregon 20

Oh – my – GodPurdue 49, No. 2 Ohio State 20

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 8)
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Florida vs. No. 8 Georgia in Jacksonville

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 South Florida @ Houston

Also:  Hawaii @ Fresno State

Upset alert: No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 17 Texas A&M

Must win: Purdue @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 7 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 NC State @ Syracuse

Also:  Appalachian State @ Georgia Southern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jeff Brohm  of Purdue vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Also:  Mike Leach of Washington State vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? North Texas @ Rice  also: UAB @ UTEP*

Why are they playing?  Bethune-Cookman @ Nebraska

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

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UNLV @ San Jose State

*How often do you get to say that?

Week 8 Thoughts:

The upsets were fewer than last week, but what lacked in quantity compensated in quality with a massive upset of Purdue defeating Ohio State in convincing fashion.  A subsequent article shall further discuss its implications.  One thing of note is that some key teams and others of potential interest were off this week.  Two top-ten teams in Texas and Georgia shall resume plays this week, with key tests for both, respectively.  Other teams were off this week as well, ready to resume play the next.  The head-scratcher of Louisville, in apparent and inexplicable free-fall, could pick up an increasingly rare win against Wake Forest.  Meanwhile, is there further potential in South Carolina, or have they plateaued already?  In the upcoming Week 9, they take on ever-sleeping giant Tennessee, who is coming off an embarrassing blowout loss to hated rival Alabama.  Could the Volunteers’ ire at such a loss combined with the Gamecock’s time to recharge their batteries amount to a strong, engaging matchup?  We shall know in six days.

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Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 9 Awards November 2, 2015

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duke_miami_gms_20151031

One of a few missed calls during the hap-hazard, yet incredible, 8-lateral kickoff return finish my Miami in yesterday’s game. Paging Cal-Stanford 1982: you now have competition.

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Jim McElwain, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mike Riley, Nebraska

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma (defeated Kansas 62-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas A&M (defeated South Carolina 35-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Vanderbilt (lost to No. 18 Houston 34-0)

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

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tennessee (defeated Kentucky 52-21)

Dang, they’re good: Florida

Dang, they’re bad:  UMass

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Pitt

Did the season start? Arizona

Can the season end?  UCF

Can the season never endHouston

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 9 Notre Dame 24, No. 21 Temple 20

Play this again, too:  Oregon 61, Arizona State 55 (3OT)

Never play this again: Arkansas 63, UT-Martin 28

What? North Carolina 26, No. 23 Pittsburgh 19

HuhMiami 30, No. 22 Duke 27

Are you kidding me?  Purdue 55, Nebraska 45

Oh – my – GodIowa State 24, Texas 0

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for:  No. 4 LSU @ No. 7 Alabama

Also:  No. 5 TCU @ No. 12 Oklahoma State

Make it a Trifecta:  No. 17 Florida State @ No. 3 Clemson

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ No. 16 Memphis

Upset alert: No. 13 Utah @ Washington

Must win: Duke @ No. 21 North Carolina

Offensive explosion: Cincinnati @ No. 18 Houston (also TCU @ OKST)

Defensive struggle: Syracuse @ Louisville

Great game no one is talking about:  Penn State @ Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Todd Graham of ASU vs. Mike Leach of WSU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Vanderbilt @ No. 11 Florida

Why are they playing? BYU @ San Jose State (Friday)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Hawaii @ UNLV

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Kansas @ Texas

Week 9 Take-aways:

First it was Michigan State’s blocked punt that they recovered and ran back for a score with 0:00 left on the clock to beat rival Michigan in the Big House (they were behind prior to said score).  Last week was followed up by Georgia Tech’s fantastic finish, whereby they blocked a Florida State field goal attempt at home, ran it back for a score and thus broke the tie as time expired.  This week, the Miami Hurricanes – fresh from both a devastating home loss to Clemson and the subsequent firing of head coach Al Golden – made an eight-lateral play on a kickoff return that harkens directly back to Cal-Stanford 1982, for the game-winning touchdown, over then-ranked Duke, on the road.  Three weeks in a row, three fantastic, historic finishes.

Well, sort of.  There were tons of blown calls on that play, including an illegal block in the back (or two), and at one point, one of the lateralling players for Miami had his knee already down before he tossed the ball sideways.  The overlooked calls were so blatant that the ACC suspended the officiating crew the following day.  Could it be that the game result itself be overturned?  We shall all have to stay tuned.

Bobby Petrino must be beside himself.  Despite his able coaching, his players made mistake after mistake on the road against Wake Forest.  Yet somehow they managed to barely win.  Despite consecutive wins, this performance is not a sustainable path.  Something must be done for the team to improve so as to win sustainably.  An infusion of discipline would be both a quick and effective remedy.

Poor Mark Richt.  Despite all the success he has had at Georgia, he just cannot get over the hump.  A statistic during the debacle of a game against Florida (the Gators thumped the rival Bulldogs 27-3 at this year’s World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville) showed that Richt is 5-15 against ranked opponents during his tenure at UGA.  Moreover, he is 5-9 against Florida, despite being 141-51 overall.  The first stat alone indicates that he has peaked during his tenure at Georgia, that he has gone as far as he can with that program.  Some new, dynamic blood in Athens, Ga., would perhaps finally help get the Bulldogs to consistent dominance of the SEC East, while Miami, Richt’s alma mater, has a head coach opening just waiting for a rock-solid fellow such as he.  If such a scenario were to play out, it could benefit both parties concerned, the latter particularly, with a fresh start.

What on Earth has happened to Arizona?  Early in the season, we anticipated they would be a factor in the Pac-12.  Last night, they embarrassed themselves on the road at Washington, after coughing up the game to Wazzu the previous week.  The Wildcats will not have much time to lick their wounds, either, as next week they take on USC, followed by Utah the week after, and the week after that they close the regular season against rival Arizona State, possibly with a 5-7 at this rate (they are current 5-4, and 2-4 in the conference).

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.

College Football Opening Weekend 2013: What to watch August 29, 2013

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Georgia-Clemson2013Note:  Rankings are based the ESPN-Coaches Poll, not the AP Poll as is usually the case on this blog.

Though many good games kick off the season on Thursday (hello, North Carolina @ South Carolina!) and Friday, the real action begins, as it always does, on Saturday (Aug. 31, in this case).  Let us cut through the clutter and focus on the good games to watch.

Noon (12:00 PM, EDT):  Let’s face it; in recent years, most noon games have been throw-away games (generally, lots of lower-tier Big Ten, ACC and Big East matchups).  This seems to be mostly the case this time around, too (case in point:  Florida International @ Maryland, which makes Louisiana Tech @ N.C. State look like a marquee game).  Yet one game in this time slot is rather intriguing, that being Purdue @ Cincinnati.  Both programs have new coaches.  Purdue’s Darrell Hazell is working diligently to breathe new life into a program that has underachieved since the 2003-2004 season.  Meanwhile, U-Cincy brought in Tommy Tuberville to provide some stability to a program that lost Brian Kelly to Notre Dame after the 2009 season, and just lost Butch Jones to Tennessee prior to this upcoming one.  From a business managerial standpoint, the two new coaches make for an interesting study in contrast in that Hazell’s role is clearly turnaround CEO, while Tuberville’s role is that of caretaker to a program that Kelly built up quite well and Jones did reasonably well in maintaining.  Talent-wise, it ought not to be close, as odds are the Bearcats could dust the Boilermakers.  Nevertheless, this game is far more interesting than the rest of the game fare offered at noontime, and it goes without saying that this game merits a nod for “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” award.

3:30 PM EDT:  Normally, one can always look forward to at least one strong SEC matchup during this time slot, but there are none to be had on this date.  Syracuse @ Penn State makes for a poor substitute indeed.  BYU @ Virginia is for more intriguing than that.  Still…next!

With that said, a potentially good game that few people are talking about occurs at this same time, that being Mississippi State at Oklahoma State.  The Bulldogs have grown in strength under head coach Dan Mullen, while the Cowboys have also grown in stature under Mike Gundy’s leadership (not to mention T. Boone Pickens’ money).  Seeing these two teams butt heads could be very engaging.

5:30 PM EDT:  Granted, this is not your traditional time slot for a Saturday game, but it’s the opening weekend, so who cares?  If anybody doubts that Atlanta is one of THE epicenters of college football, then they would be well-served to take not that No. 1 Alabama opens the season in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech.  On paper, it’s a decent matchup in that a top-tier SEC team is about to take on an upper-tier ACC team.  But as decent as the Hokies are, the game could very well be a bloodbath, as odds are the Crimson Tide is going to roll.  Still, it’s better than the 3:30 PM options.

7:00 PM EDT:  Washington State @ Auburn — now we’re getting somewhere.  We the fans are not treated to SEC vs Pac-12 matchups enough, in my estimation, so when it happens, it is always something to be relished.  What makes this game especially interesting is that the dread pirate Mike Leach is trying to turn around the Cougars program while Guz Malzahn has just been brought in to revive the Tigers’ very quick fall from grace.  Could be interesting, especially when one considers how a Pac-12 team not named USC can handle a hyper-hostile SEC stadium crowd.

The other interesting game that evening is the Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky game in Nashville, Tenn.  This too merits an “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” nod in that it also pits first-year coaches at both schools, both of whom came there under radically different circumstances.  Mark Stoops took the UK job as a top-rated assistant coach at Florida State, with the mission to turn around a perennially struggling Wildcats squad.  Thus far he has made lots of recruiting hype, but the actual product he can deliver on the field remains to be seen.  On the Hilltoppers’ end is Bobby Petrino, one of the best coaches in the business, but left his CEO job at Arkansas in disgrace and scandal.  The WKU job is a rung or two down the ladder from the jobs he has previously had, thus is objective is twofold:  maintain what predecessor Willie Taggart had already built (something at which he is more than adept), and also rehab his reputation.  Look out for a possible Hilltopper upset over the Wildcats, as it is always dangerous to give Petrino more than a week to prepare for a game.

8:00 PM EDT:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 8 Clemson — easily the biggest game of the day, if not the whole weekend.  Head Coach Mark Richt takes a loaded Bulldogs team led by talented QB Aaron Murray (no relation, sadly) in to Clemson to take on a Tigers program that Dabo Swinney has slowly yet quietly strengthened over the past several years (they did beat a strong LSU team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, after all).  This will be a great opening test for the Bulldogs, who are no doubt looking to eventually unseat Alabama at the number one spot in both the conference and the nation.  Odds also are that you will be “looking LIVE, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.,” as in all likelihood this will be the game that Brent Musburger calls along with Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit, folks!

9:00 PM EDT:  No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU in Dallas (Arlington, Texas, specifically).  Just as Atlanta has its season kickoff Peach Bowl with a SEC-ACC game, over the past few years, Dallas has endeavored to do the same thing with a season kickoff Cotton Bowl of sorts, usually bringing in an SEC and a Big XII team (though there has been the occasional SEC vs Pac-12 game thrown in sometimes, read:  LSU vs. Oregon in 2011) as is the case this time.  Les Miles almost always has the Tigers up for big games, while it will be a quasi-home game for the Horned Frogs as they have but a half-hour drive (at the most) from their home base in Fort Worth.  Moreover, Gary Patterson has built up a strong program over the course of more than a decade, even recently taking TCU to a Rose Bowl just a couple of seasons ago.  Moreover, though the Horned Frogs are ranked lower than the Bayou Bengals, they have the good fortune of playing LSU at the beginning of the season, which is historically when the team is most vulnerable to a loss.

10:30 PM EDT:  No. 22 Northwestern at California.  Normally, the only game one might find on the cable tv guide this late at night is a home game at Hawai’i.  Not this time, though.  This time, head coach Pat Fitzgerald takes his nimble Wildcats westward from Evanston, Ill., to the west coast.  The rankings could be deceiving.  Yes, on paper, Northwestern could possibly crush Cal.  But that could easily be nullified because of geography.  Take a team in the eastern or even central timezone out to the Pacific timezone, and strange things happen to them.  Pro teams do not have this issue (say, the New York Giants journeying out to Seattle to play the Seahawks), because they’re older, more mature, and, well, professionals.  But in the college game, folks*, you’re dealing with 19-20 year-old kids, who are far more apt to be out of their element when traveling such a distance.  Let us also not forget that Northwestern’s internal clock will still be on Chicago time (9:30 PM), not San Francisco time (7:30 PM), which could also make a difference.  One could therefore expect a close, hard-fought game, if not even an upset by the Golden Bears.  That said, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the most underrated coaches in the business, and has proven to be very adept, time and again, at not only recruiting decent players into a school with the most academically-rigid standards in the Big Ten Conference, but also coaching them up to be competitive in that conference and in bowl games, too.  No doubt he’ll have a trick or two up his proverbial sleeve to try to nullify the problems of geography and time discrepancy.  We shall see soon enough, as that is why they line up and play.

* Another Musburger-ism, in case you missed the reference!

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.

College Football Week 7 Awards October 15, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 7, pre-week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Glad I’m not him: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a clue: Danny Hope, Purdue
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Riley, Oregon State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything:  Gene Chizik, Auburn

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Florida State (beat Boston College 51-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (beat Indiana 52-49)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Missouri (lost to No.1 Alabama 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Oklahoma State 20-14)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Arizona State (beat Colorado 51-17)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Illinois
Did the season start? Auburn
Can the season end?  Colorado
Can the season never end? Oregon State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 20 Texas A&M 59, Louisiana Tech 57
Never play this again: No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
What? Arizona State 51, Colorado 17

Huh?  No. 7 Ohio State 52, Indiana 49
Are you kidding me? No. 10 Oklahoma 63, Texas 21
Oh – my – God:  Texas Tech 49, No. 17 West Virginia 14

Told you so:  No. 4 Kansas State 27, Iowa State 21

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 South Carolina @ No. 3 Florida
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Middle Tennessee State @ No. 15 Mississippi State
Best non-Big Six matchup: Louisiana Monroe @ Western Kentucky
Upset alert: No. 2 Oregon @ Arizona State

Must win: Baylor @ Texas
Offensive explosion: No. 4 Kansas State @ No. 17 West Virginia
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Iowa
Great game no one is talking about: Nebraska @ Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of LSU vs. Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M
Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 14 Georgia @ Kentucky

Why are they playing? Pittsburgh @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ Eastern Michigan

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Colorado @ No. 11 USC

Week 7: Thoughts on the week:

Passing the test:  Every good team eventually has to pass a test.  The team can be undefeated, well-ranked, but doubts will still remain, doubts that can be summed up with the partly-rhetorical question, “whom have they played?”  Several teams passed the test today.  No. 16 Louisville passed the test by winning on the road against the toughest team they have played yet in Pittsburgh.  The Notre Dame apologists feel that the Irish have passed a test in squeaking by No. 22 Stanford at home in overtime.  Mike Riley has been quietly winning games at Oregon State this year, and the tests he has already passed were mostly tests in hindsight.  I say “mostly” because the opening game/win was over a Wisconsin team that had understandably high expectations.  Two more victories have come over resurgent programs in UCLA and Arizona, albeit at different stages in that key regard.

But though these teams have passed these tests, more remain.  A much greater trial awaits the Louisville Cardinals when they take on Cincinnati.  The huge tests that await Notre Dame are listed later in this article entry.  Meanwhile, Oregon State’s upcoming tests are exceedingly daunting, what with Washington, Arizona State, Stanford, and finally, Oregon, still remaining on the schedule.

Then there are the teams that failed to pass the test, most notably South Carolina, who lost in a close one to LSU in Death Valley.  A win could have strengthened their bid to lead the SEC East, but the loss means they must now hand Florida its first loss of the season in The Swamp.  Sometimes make-up tests are more difficult – with more on the line – than the original thing.

Red River Rout:  For the third consecutive year, Texas has lost ignominiously to arch-rival Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry game.  Coaches have been known to summarily get the ax on account of not being able to beat their rivals (see: Cooper, John, or Bowden, Bobby [later years]).  Could it be that Mack Brown, as genial a man as there is in the upper echelons of this business, finally be wearing out his welcome in Austin?  Goodness knows he is running out of excuses for his chronic under-performance over the past three years.  In the time since they lost valiantly to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship game, the Horns have failed to be bowl eligible in one of those seasons, and have failed to beat the Sooners in all three.  This is an unacceptable situation given that he coaches the team that is the flagship school in the biggest, best football state in the entire country; a team whose cache helped launch the school’s own ESPN-powered sports network, and a program that has the pick of the litter for top talent in the Lone Star State.  Yet with all of these advantages, combined with much-improved QB play from David Ash, Brown is bereft of playmakers, something for which there is simply no excuse, given the ideal location of the program.  The inescapable conclusion becomes that Brown’s tenure has reached the end of its effectiveness, hence that he must go.  Nothing personal, Mack; it’s just business.

Paging Bobby Petrino:  Okay, so if Texas fires Mack Brown, with whom shall they replace him?  Bobby Petrino seems to be an obvious choice.  Yes, Petrino gives mercenaries a bad name; yes, his system is so seemingly unstable that nobody else can operate it in his absence (see:  Arkansas; see: Louisville, pre-Charlie Strong).  But he wins.  The athletics department at the University of Texas not only has the resources to pay him a handsomely competitive salary, but can supply him with his own young mistresses if he wishes to add that to his contract as a benefit – no need to add them to the team staff payroll on the sly!  More to the point though, a team with the resources and tradition of Texas under the leadership of Bobby Petrino could make Nick Saban’s Alabama team seem almost anemic by comparison, and would give the arrogant Bob Stoops of Oklahoma more than cause for notice.

Who needs Mike Leach?  The Dread Pirate Leach might have put Texas Tech on the map with his spread offense on steroids, but he is hardly missed this weekend in Lubbock.  How could one, what with Tommy Tuberville regenerating excitement for the program with a huge upset win over West Virginia?  Geno Smith and Co. seemed almost invincible going into Week 7’s game, but then they ran into a team with a secondary built to stop the big pass plays that had until yesterday fueled the Mountaineer’s undefeated run.  Funny how things work out like that.  A win of this magnitude (49-15) over a top-ten opponent (WVU was No. 5 going into the game) ought to merit a ranking of some sort for Texas Tech.

Settle down, Notre Dame fan:  Does any reasonably objective individual believe that if Stanford and Notre Dame met on a neutral site, and/or if the game were not soaked by a torrential rain, that the Cardinal would not have triumphed?  As it is, the Fighting Irish had to squeak by in overtime, and only then because Stanford made two consecutive bone-headed calls during their post-regulation possession.  The point in all this is, if Notre Dame has a decent undefeated run, scores of apologists fall all over themselves to overvalue the team with an unduly high ranking.  The team is in for a rude awakening in two weeks when it ventures in to Norman to take on Oklahoma.  An almost-as-rigorous test will come at season’s end in Los Angeles Coliseum against USC.  You ND apologists maybe laughing now, but just you wait.

Ditch those gray camo unis, South Carolina:  I very much appreciate you guys trying to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project or whatever it is you’re into these days.  It is most commendable.  But the effort ought not to obscure your glorious Garnet and Black, one of the best color combos in Big Boy Football these days.  Wear ‘em with pride, boys.  Gray jerseys?  Yuck!  Garnet jerseys?  Sweet.

About the Big XII title:  Since the nominal Big XII has an insufficient amount of members to justify a championship game, Kansas State is currently in the driver’s seat for the championship distinction.  This has become clear after Oklahoma’s loss recent loss to the Wildcats, followed by West Virginia’s defeat at the hands of Texas Tech yesterday.  Plenty of games remain, but Bill Snyder has the program humming well thus far.