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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.

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Time to Re-think “6 AM’s” March 1, 2017

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There is an oft-overlooked part to college football that has gotten out of control.  As a former Big Ten football team staff member, I had to endure what are, in the industry, known as “6 AM’s”.  The simple definition/description is that they are winter conditioning sessions for college football players, usually starting in late January and lasting until Spring Practices begin.

They are also a royal pain in the backside.  College kids have a hard time getting enough sleep as it is.  Now imagine having to get up no later than 5 in the morning and trudge yourself into the football facilities.  Show up for work all dressed in normal practice garb no later than 5:30 in the morning so you can set up the equipment for these early morning conditioning sessions.

At least we did not have to run through all those grueling drills:  that was for the players to do.  Good luck being able to maintain consciousness in your classrooms for the rest of the day.  If you miss class because you are too tired, coaches typically cook up special penalties, such as more running.  At Purdue during the Joe Tiller era, the penalty was for players who missed class to start running at 5:30 – meaning we would have to get things set up prior to that time – after which they had to join the rest of their teammates for the 6 AM B.S.

As bad as they have been, coaches have gone too far with these “6 AM’s”.  One recent example is of several Oregon football players needing hospitalization during such a session, which included an hour of push-ups and “up-downs.”  An hour, seriously?  Some of these hospitalized players were diagnosed with Rhabdomyolysis, which basically involves the soft muscle tissue breaking down, then leaking into your blood stream.

But that was just earlier this year.  Back in 2011, 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized for the same problems following one of their winter conditioning sessions.

It is perfectly reasonable for coaches needing their players to be in shape.  Moreover, it make sense that they already be in shape for spring practices, so that the coaches can properly ascertain what sort of talent they have to work with for the upcoming fall season that year.  But treating these winter conditioning session as “gut checks” is horribly antiquated, and arguably abusive.

The problem is that coaches too often use these “6 AM” drills (some coaches smartly schedule them in the afternoon, but not enough of them do) as a symbolic gesture to remind players that they are under said coaches’ thumbs, so to speak.  Coaches also too often use these drills as an excuse to put them through “gut-checks”, testing their manhood so as to earn the coaches’ respect and earn their right to stay on the team.  Again, this is not always the case, but incidents like those mentioned above give that impression.

By all means, have conditioning sessions, but coaches, be both sensible and reasonable and have them in the afternoon…like sane people.  There is nothing holding coaches back from implementing these sensible solutions:  only ego and antiquated thinking.  It’s just a matter of coaches having the good sense to be practical and realize that they can get their players in good enough shape without sleep-depriving them, ruining their entire days of class, and fatiguing them to the point of needing hospitalization.  This is not the Marines, let alone the French Foreign Legion.

Give the players a break, schedule the conditioning sessions in the afternoon, and focus on getting them in shape without having to put them through daily gut-checks.  After all, they should have earned your respect by their willingness to show up in the winter to go through such hell before even putting on helmets and pads later in the springtime.  For those coaches who already honor this ethic, kudos.

College Football Awards, Week 13 (2016) November 27, 2016

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The Game lived up to The Hype.

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas

Lucky guy: Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Poor guy: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee  also:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  Virginia Tech (defeated Virginia 52-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Louisville (lost to Kentucky 41-38)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Iowa State (lost to No. 19 West Virginia 49-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kentucky (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  UTEP (defeated North Texas 52-24)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  New Mexico State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Nebraska

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Texas  also:  Ole Miss, Notre Dame

Can the season never endWestern Michigan

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 2 Ohio State 30, No. 3 Michigan 24

Play this again, too:  Georgia Tech 28, Georgia 27

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 56, South Carolina 7

Close call:  Indiana 26, Purdue 24

What? Vanderbilt 45, No. 24 Tennessee 34

HuhAir Force 27, No. 21 Boise State 20

Double-Huh?  Memphis 48, No. 18 Houston 44

Are you kidding me?  Iowa 40, No. 17 Nebraska 10

Oh – my – GodKentucky 41, No. 11 Louisville 38

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 13, pre-week 14))

Ticket to die for: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Penn State in the B1G Championship

also: No. 11 Oklahoma State @ No. 8 Oklahoma

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Western Michigan vs. Ohio U in the MAC Championship, Friday

Must win: too many to list!

Offensive explosion: No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship

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

Great game no one is talking about: Louisiana Tech @ Western Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup: Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Jim McElwain of Florida

Think there’s enough purple? Kansas State @ TCU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ No. 14 West Virginia

Why are they playing? Wisconsin vs. Penn State in the B1G Championship (ever heard of Ohio State?)

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

They shoot horses, don’t they? Georgia State @ Idaho

Week 13 Take-aways:

Rivalry week has yielded some decent drama, and upsets, as one would expect. Purdue, hapless all year, acquitted themselves well against a far-superior offense in IU. Highly-ranked Louisville gave up the game via four turnovers to in-state rival Kentucky, at home. The collapse of Louisville within the past couple of weeks is the most unsettling thing witnessed in major college football this year.

The annual coaching carousel hath begun its merry ride. Charlie Strong is out at Texas (after much unnecessary vacillation and drama on the part of the Texas Athletics Department), and Tom Herman is in. Such drama sadly bled over to Herman’s Houston team, who clearly was not focused when losing to formidable Memphis on Friday, despite being favored on the road. Meanwhile, Ed Orgeron earned a well-deserved promotion from interim head coach to full-time head coach at LSU. Orgeron is perfect for the role, what with his love for the school, his extensive experience in many big-name programs, his long-time conference presence (he was once the head coach at border rival Ole Miss), to say nothing of his deep Cajun drawl. His performance in the interim job itself was a strong case, as the Tigers went 5-2 under this leadership (one of those losses was to Alabama, where LSU held the Tide to only 10 points). Justice has been met in this special case.

Despite Mississippi State’s disappointing year, Dan Mullen has ended the year well by convincingly beating their main rival, Ole Miss. The Rebels started the year with high rankings and hopes, but injury and other bad luck put the team into a freefall. Losing their starting QB Chad Kelly to season-ending injury obviously contributed to this, to be sure.

In the world of weird football news, Navy beat SMU 75-31 (yes, this was a football game, not a basketball one). What do these two teams have in common? They’re the only two teams that beat Houston this year. That aside, who says the triple option cannot be a high-scoring offense?

More regarding the world of weird football news: Eastern Michigan is, after this week, 7-5, and obviously bowl eligible. Let us all pause as our collective jaw drops to the floor.

Now we await the conference championship games next week, and immediately afterwards, we shall finally ascertain the teams that shall be in the playoffs. One intriguing game is the MAC Championship. Should Western Michigan win and continue their undefeated season, they could qualify for a major bowl game. Might P.J. Fleck be able to lead his team in rowing the proverbial boat all the way, say, the Cotton Bowl? We shall all find out in due time. Let the games begin…and continue!

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

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

COACHES

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

Glad I’m not him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Charlie Strong, Texas

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: USC

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Texas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES

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

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

Never play this again: Army 60, Morgan State 3

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

What? Oregon 30, No. 11 Utah 28

HuhNo. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

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

Oh – my – GodKansas 24, Texas 21 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

Must win: No. 24 Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 12 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 11 (2016) November 13, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Clay Helton, USC  Hon. Mention:  Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney , Clemson

Lucky guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Marylad 62-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (lost to Georgia 13-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Illinois (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 48-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Georgia (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Notre Dame (defeated Army 44-6)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas A&M

Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Play this again, too:  Pittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 62, Maryland 3

Close call:  No. 13 Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 44

What? Georgia Tech 30, No. 14 Virginia Tech 20

HuhGeorgia 13, No. 9 Auburn 7

Double-Huh?  No. 20 USC 26, No. 4 Washington 13

Are you kidding me?  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Oh – my – GodPittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12))

Ticket to die for: No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 10 West Virginia

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Louisville @ Houston

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mike MacIntyre of Colorado vs. Mike Leach of Washington State

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

Why are they playing? Alabama A&M @ No. 18 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? The Citadel @ North Carolina

Week 11 Take-aways:

Remember how November was for everything? Next year, Bill Connelly surely will add this day of the month in 2016 along with the other legendary dates in college football. Three – count ‘em, three — Top-Five teams went down to defeat tonight, and a total of five – Top Ten teams succumbed to defeat, two of whom were undefeated.

A championship-contender team can withstand a loss in September or even October and still claw its way back to playoff consideration by November – witness Oklahoma in 2008 (they lost to Texas in the Red River Shootout that year, and still managed to play Florida for the BCS Championship).

But November is for everything, remember? That same year, Texas got upset by Texas Tech early that month, and in the end, that made the difference between Oklahoma – whom the Horns defeated – going to the BCS and the Horns settling for the Fiesta Bowl.

The bottom line is, if you lose in November, your playoff hopes are likely dashed. Such might be the case with both Clemson and Michigan. Both looked unstoppable, and both lost on Saturday, in different ways. The former lost at home to a tenacious Pittsburgh squad who managed to hang with the Tigers the entire game until they were in the position to win by a field goal with several seconds left on the clock. The latter lost on the road, at night, to a feisty yet methodical Iowa team that somehow held the explosive Wolverine offense to only 13 points (!) and managed to hang on the end to successfully kick a field goal as the last second ticked off the clock.

Out on the west coast, undefeated, 4th-ranked Washington also tasted defeat for the first time all year. They too were making an obviously serious bid for the playoffs, and were playing USC at home. But the Trojans seemed to have learned to play well enough together as a team to where their talent potential has started to shine through. Such talent certainly shined Saturday night in a win that will surely be one major building block as the program slowly returns to its traditional strength.

The other losses suffered by the other two Top-Ten teams are just as intriguing. All of us were convinced that Auburn had finally found its offensive legs, and that Georgia, who had been grossly underperforming all year, did not stand a chance. All that turned on a dime this Saturday “between the hedges,” as the Bulldogs held Gus Malzahn’s newly-recharged offense to just one touchdown for the entire game. That meant Georgia’s measly 13 points were more than enough for the win, in a defensive struggle that will leave us scratching our heads for a long time to come. What happened to Auburn’s offense that looked as though it had finally tuned up to optimal performance? Where was this strong defensive showing by Georgia for the first ten weeks of the year? Has this win awakened a sleeping giant of a team in Athens?

 

Finally, lost in all of this plate tectonic-shifting shuffle is the fact that Texas A&M, at the No. 10 ranking, narrowly lost to [currently] unranked Ole Miss. Remember them? The Rebels started the season ranked No. 11 only to lose to then-No. 4 Florida State in the opening weekend. Losing to No. 1 Alabama was also an understandable defeat, but getting upset by then-No. 22 Arkansas in their sixth game set a downward spiral in motion just as they began a brutal three-game stretch that included an LSU team finding its second wind and then an Auburn team that seemed, at the time, to be finding its offense. If that’s not enough, in the process, they lost their star quarterback for the rest of the season to a knee injury. At 4-5, everyone had left the Rebels for dead, particularly against No. 10 Texas A&M this week. But remember, the Aggies had lost their QB last week to a shoulder injury, so the two talented teams were on equal footing after all. In the Battle of the Backup QBs, the Rebels triumphed in a close upset, 29-28. In college football, November can be a very cruel month regardless.

Still, Ole Miss now has the opportunity to salvage something of a disappointing season full of what-ifs. It is not inconceivable for them to win out and go 7-5 for the year. We must not lose sight of the fact that each of their losses came to ranked teams, either currently, or when the games themselves were played.

All this aside, with three undefeated, Top Five teams upset this week, it would seem as though the Red Sea has parted for both Louisville and Ohio State to fill the [potential] playoff berth void. No doubt the playoff committee will be burning the midnight oil trying to sort out this sudden mess. Once the new playoff rankings are released, no doubt new controversies will ensue. Let the games begin.

Intriguing Games for Week 11 (2016) November 9, 2016

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DeVon Edwards, Ryan Switzer

Lest we forget, the Duke – North Carolina rivalry is not merely confined to the hardwood.

 

No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke (Thurs., Nov. 10:  ESPN) 

The Tarheels under head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik have proven to be a very efficient team.  Duke, despite being only 3-6, has always been a tough out this year (see:  Louisville, week 7).  Factor in the close geographic proximity and the traditional rivalry between the two, and you have yourself a very, very interesting game.

(All other games are on Saturday, Nov. 12)

No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma (Noon EST, ABC/ESPN 2)

The intrigue of this game is the background.  Baylor has been in a weird, two-game free-fall.  They were undefeated until last month, where they unexpectedly lost to a mediocre Texas Longhorns team, and thus knocked themselves out of playoff contention.  Then, the following week at home, they lost horribly (a 62-22 kind of horribly) to a TCU team that seems to finally have found a pulse.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has quietly crawled their way back into the top ten.  This will be a great game if Baylor gets out of its funk and plays up to its Top Ten potential.

South Carolina @ No. 22 Florida (Noon EST; CBS)

Earlier in the season, this game looked like it would be a snoozer, what with an underperforming South Carolina team losing to both Kentucky and Mississippi State.  Florida, meanwhile, had gradually improved to the point where they were No. 11 as of last week.

The trends now appear to be different.  The Gators were embarrassed on the road against unranked Arkansas last week, 31-10.  Their current problem seems to be a lack of identity on offense.  Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have gradually improved, first with an upset win over Tennessee, and last week with a  confidence-boosting win over Missouri.  If these trends continue, this game will be evenly-matched, thus very competitive.

Kentucky @ Tennessee (Noon EST; SEC Network)

Remember when the Vols were supposed to vie for the playoffs?  That ended when they blew it at Texas A&M.  After not playing with sufficient urgency for an entire game, the whole play-from-behind drama caused Tennessee to come up short against the Aggies.  The next week was Tennessee’s turn in the conference to get drubbed by seemingly invincible Alabama.

Perhaps the heartbreaking loss followed by the aforementioned drubbing took something out of them, because they then laid an egg on the road at South Carolina, thus knocking them out of the rankings.

After leading the SEC East, those three losses made it anyone’s division – even Kentucky, who also has three losses in the conference.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Therefore, this game will help clarify the SEC East race.  Let that sink in as well.

No. 11 West Virginia @ Texas (Noon EST; FS1)

West Virginia was undefeated before suddenly losing to Oklahoma State two weeks ago.  Last week’s win against Kansas was a given, ergo proves nothing.  Meanwhile, Texas has two consecutive upsets under its belt, first against heretofore unbeaten Baylor, next against Texas Tech.  Could the Longhorns score a third consecutive upset?  We’ll find out on Nov. 12.

Tulsa @ Navy (Noon EST; CBSSN)

Here me out.  Tulsa is 7-2, leading the AAC West.  Navy is 6-2, has been in and out of the rankings, and tied with Memphis for first in the AAC West division.  Enough said.

Army @ Notre Dame (3:30 EST; NBC)

Army is currently 5-4.  Notre Dame is in relative free-fall at 3-6, and possibly still smarting from a loss to Navy last week.  One more win, and the Black Knights are bowl-eligible for only the third time since 1996 and the fourth time since 1988.  Could an underperforming Irish squad be that last win Army needs to make to the post-season?

If it is, Notre Dame’s season is worse than over, as their next two games are against No. 18 Virginia Tech, and a suddenly-strong USC.  Talk about a must-win for both teams!

USC @ No. 4 Washington (6:30 EST; FOX)

Washington is not a juggernaut team, but they are still very good (their undefeated season is padded with three out-of-conference body bag games).  USC started the season with some sputters, but has played very strongly as of late.  The opportunity is thus ripe for an upset (or, at least near-upset) in Seattle this Saturday evening.

College Football Awards, Week 8 2016 October 23, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

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

Lucky guy: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

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

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Honorable Mention:  Houston

Did the season start?  Arkansas

Can the season end?  Bowling Green

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

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

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

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

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

What? Temple 46, South Florida 30

HuhMiddle Tennessee 51, Missouri 45

Double-Huh? Colorado 10, Stanford 5

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive explosion: No. 10 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

Why are they playing? Samford @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ San Jose State

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

Week 8 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Possible Replacement for Hazell at Purdue October 17, 2016

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bo-pelini-450x300

Remember me, Big Ten?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 7 2016 October 17, 2016

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Dave Doeren, NC State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 49-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida State (defeated Wake Forest 17-6)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Duke (lost to No. 7 Louisville 24-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  West Virginia (defeated Texas Tech 48-17)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kent State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Georgia

Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 2 Ohio State 30, No.  Wisconsin 23, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Never play this again: Army 62, Lafayette 7

Close call:  No. 7 Louisville 24, Duke 14

What? North Carolina 20, No. 16 Miami 13

HuhNorthwestern 54, Michigan State 40

Double-Huh? Syracuse 31, No. 17 Virginia Tech 17

Are you kidding me?  No. 22 Arkansas 34, No. 12 Ole Miss 30

Oh – my – GodVanderbilt 17, Georgia 16

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8))

Ticket to die for: No. 6 Texas A&M @ No. 1 Alabama

Also: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 11 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State Also: Memphis @ Navy

Upset alert: BYU @ No. 15 Boise State

Must win: NC State @ No. 7 Louisville

Offensive explosion: South Florida @ Temple

Defensive struggle: Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora of UCLA vs. Kyle Whittingham of Utah

Who’s bringing the body bags? Illinois @ No. 4 Michigan

Why are they playing? UMass @ South Carolina

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (Ohio) @ Bowling Green

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Middle Tennessee @ Missouri

Week 7 Take-aways:

Louisville barely escaped with a win at home to Duke. As I have said before, beware of bye-weeks, for they can be deceptively perilous to teams.

Who would have thought that the offensive explosion of the week would have been Northwestern vs. Michigan State, much less thinking that the Wildcats – underperforming all season thus far – would win?

The results of the Toilet Bowl, B1G edition, are in, and it’s Rutgers that is at the abyss of that conference, having lost to Illinois, 24-7. Sarcastic congrats to the Scarlet Knights!

Ohio State proved their mettle by defeating what is perhaps the toughest Wisconsin team within my memory. Not only that, but this win was on the road, in the evening. For those “in the know,” it is understood throughout the Big Ten that Camp Randall Stadium is the worst snake pit to play in within the entire conference. It is relatively the loudest, with a compact 80,000 seemingly right on top of the teams. Compound that with the fact that Wisconsin fans enjoy a certain, er, reputation throughout the league. Compound that further with the fact that night games give these already rowdy fans extra hours to get extra inebriated, hence extra loud. A night game in Camp Randall is a baptism by fire for a visiting team. Ohio State proved that they belonged in the No. 2 spot in the rankings by coming from behind, then dominating in overtime.

Yes, Tennessee lost badly to Alabama at home today, 49-10. But are we really surprised? The Volunteers have had one emotional game after another. Sooner or later, after so many games, they would experience an energy nadir as a result. Couple that with that fact that Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide rolling into a juggernaut of a team, and the loss should be seen as a minimal disgrace. As things currently stand, it is not unreasonable for Tennessee to end up 10-2 in the regular season, which is a remarkable turnaround from the doldrums in which the program found itself just a few years ago.

Oh, and it has been established that Florida and LSU will be playing after all. The catch is, they’ll play it at LSU instead, on Nov. 14, and to compensate, the Tigers will face Florida on the road for two consecutive years afterward. This does not even take into consideration that to make the Nov. 14 date work, both teams had to drop would-be body bag games (hello, easy money to the teams they would have played), which is actually a big win for the fans overall.  So, the SEC East will have some clarity after all. Or will it?

The Peril of Bye-Weeks in College Football October 15, 2016

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Beware of bye-weeks. They can do weird things to college teams. Speaking from experience, during my junior season at Purdue – the 2000 season where we went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 34 years – we had a bye-week coming off an emotional win over a favored Ohio State team. That win allowed for us to “control our own destiny”. After that game, we had a bye-week.  After that bye-week, we went on the road to play Michigan State, who was having a down year after their strong run and Citrus Bowl win (over a favored Florida squad, no less) the prior season.

We were favored in that game, and it would have been an easier win than those over Michigan, the Buckeyes, or even Wisconsin. Only problem was, we failed to bring our “A-game”, and it showed. We embarrassed ourselves, losing 30-10. It left us all scratching our heads. Worse yet, it put our Big Ten championship in peril. Only a loss by Northwestern to Iowa that same day kept us in the money. We closed the deal next week with a blowout win at home over Indiana, but the fact remained that a once-in-a-generation chance to punch our ticket to Pasadena almost evaporated on a cold, gray November afternoon in East Lansing.

I blame the bye-week. As college kids, a bye-week throws you off your rhythm that you set during the playing season. Without the normal routine of a game each week, your preparation routine is thrown off, and it’s easy to get lackadaisical, forgetting how to methodically build up the intensity to the point where you peak on game day. That effect was on display again this Friday night.

Yes, Louisville came off an emotional loss in a high-stakes game in a very hostile environment two weeks ago. The casual observer might think that the bye week would be a good opportunity to recharge the batteries. Think again. Being out of rhythm on account of the open weekend last week, the Cardinals came out less than focused and energized, while at the same time they faced a disciplined, well-coached Duke team. They escaped – barely – with a win, at home.

Speaking of Duke, by season’s end, this victory should nevertheless be a quality win for the Cards by season’s end.  Ironically, it is Duke that now faces a bye-week, and will play a down Georgia Tech squad to close out the month of October.  If they do NOT come out flat against the Yellow Jackets, I would frankly be surprised.

That aside, seeing the way the Blue Devils played in this game, even though they are now 3-4, I have no doubt that they shall give the rest of their opponents all they want. November with be rather brutal for David Cutcliffe’s team, for they play (in order) Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Miami, one after another. Don’t be surprised if they upset one or two of those teams. What have they going for them in this tough stretch? No byes.