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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

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

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

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

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Football Thanks for September 2016 September 28, 2016

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As the month of September draws to a close, I would like to express my thanks, not just once, but many times over, to multiple recipients.  Yes, Thanksgiving is almost two months away, but it’s always a great time to offer gratitude.

Grateful acknowledgement seems particularly in order this month, though.  Most Septembers of college football in recent memory have frankly been mediocre.  Sure, there has always been the occasionally good conference matchup here and there, but so many recent Septembers have been tainted by too many “body bag games.”  By that, I mean games that are grossly mismatched, where, for example, Alabama plays, say, South Alabama.  The talent and coaching levels of such respective teams are not even close, and a boring blowout ensues.  We the fans suffer as a result.

This month, it was different.  The opening weekend alone was arguably the best in the history of the game (certainly within the past 20 years or so).  The matchups were so good, it felt like a mini-bowl season.  So without further ado, I would like to express a great deal of gratitude for that and related things.

I would like to express my thanks to Kansas State and Stanford; to USC and Alabama; to Clemson and Auburn; to Oklahoma and Houston; to LSU and Wisconsin; to UCLA and Texas A&M; to Texas and Notre Dame; to Georgia and North Carolina; also to Ole Miss and Florida State.  On paper, these games were fantastic, and most of them developed that way.  Had USC’s coaching staff gotten themselves better pulled together, they might not have embarrassed themselves as horribly as they did.  But all the other games turned out to be competitive, highly engaging affairs.  As college football fans, we were experiencing nirvana, if only for a weekend.

Nobody made these teams put their records and rankings on the line by playing these challenging, difficult teams.  All of these games were scheduled because both parties agreed to, without coercion on either side.  All these teams deserve our thanks for agreeing to take a risk and open their seasons with tough games, because we the fans benefitted immensely from it, as did the equity of college football as a whole.  Bravo to all coaches and athletics directors of these aforementioned parties concerned for making this happen.

While the following week was not nearly as engaging as the opening week, I would nevertheless like to thank Virginia Tech and Tennessee agreeing to play each other inside the massive Colosseum that is the Bristol Motor Speedway, and setting a football attendance record of 156,990 in so doing.  Grateful acknowledgement of Arkansas venturing to Fort Worth to play TCU is also in order.  Same goes for Arizona State and Texas Tech, and they engaged each other in a shootout that did not disappoint.

Concerning the third week, more thanks are due.  I would like to thank an underrated Cincinnati team for putting up a valiant fight against a surprisingly lethal Houston team.  I would like to thank Alabama and Ole Miss for not wasting any time in playing each other early in the year.  Same thing goes for Louisville and Florida State (hopefully the then-No. 2 Seminoles did not take their butt-whipping personally).  Same sort of thanks go to USC and Stanford; to Oregon and Nebraska; to BYU and UCLA; to Michigan State and Notre Dame; and to Texas and Cal for the same reason.  Even Pitt and Oklahoma State turned out to be a pleasant surprise of a good game, and thus further contributed to another wonderful week of college football.

But most of all, concerning the third week, my deepest thanks are reserved for Oklahoma and Ohio State agreeing to play in a nice, marquee matchup.  Indeed, special thanks should go to Oklahoma for taking huge risks by playing both highly-ranked Houston and juggernaut Ohio State.  They have two losses to prove this amazing strength of schedule that they have boldly built, and should be judged leniently for those two losses come bowl selection time.

Even the last week of the month was peppered with intriguing matchups across the board, such as Nevada at Purdue; Colorado State at Minnesota; Florida State at South Florida; even Central Michigan at Virginia.  These are not nearly as sexy as, say, Ohio State vs. Oklahoma, but the respective talent levels of these teams suggest close, competitive, cross-conference pairings.  Combine that with some great intra-conference games such as No. 11 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Michigan State; No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 23 Ole Miss; No. 17 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Texas A&M; also No. 19 Florida at No. 14 Tennessee.  If that’s not enough, BYU ventured to Morgantown to play West Virginia.

All these pairings add up to one fantastic month for college football, and I thank all of these aforementioned teams for agreeing to take some risk to make it happen.  Many thanks to all!

College Football Week 4 Awards 2016 September 25, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Glad I’m not him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Lucky guy: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA   (Hon. Mention:  Les Miles)

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Houston (defeated Texas State 64-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated UMass 47-35)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (lost to No. 1 Alabama 48-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UMass (lost to Mississippi State 47-35)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Troy (defeated New Mexico State 52-6)

Dang, they’re good: Houston

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Oregon

Can the season end?  USC

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 24 Utah 31, USC 27

Play this again, too:  No. 7 Stanford 22, UCLA 13

Never play this again: Missouri 79, Delaware State 0

What? Purdue 24, Nevada 14

HuhNo. 23 Ole Miss 45, No. 12 Georgia 14

Double-Huh? Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Are you kidding me?  Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

Oh – my – GodNo. 11 Wisconsin 30, No. 8 Michigan State 6

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5) T

icket to die for: No. 3 Louisville @ No. 5 Clemson

Also: No. 8 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Michigan

Keep an eye on this one, too: No. 7 Stanford @ No. 10 Washington

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Memphis @ No. 16 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Air Force; also: South Florida @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: North Carolina @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Oklahoma @ No. 21 TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Iowa

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Chris Petersen of Washington vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Also: Dabo Swinney of Clemson vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville

Who’s bringing the body bags? UConn @ No. 6 Houston

Why are they playing? Alcorn State @ No. 20 Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Kent State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Incarnate Word @ Texas State

Week 4 Take-aways:

A premonition last week gave me that idea that, while many matchups this week did not exactly shine with prestige (or did they?), they were nevertheless competitive and engaging. The examples are rather numerous. The USC-Utah game on Friday was one such example. The Trojans led most of the way, but the Utes triumphed in the end, 31-27. LSU at Auburn developed into a relatively low-scoring affair (plus, no matter the outcome, we were guaranteed that the Tigers would win!). A quirk in clock management led to the War Eagles winning over the Bayou Bengals, and thus brought a sudden end to the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge. Where LSU will go from here is anybody’s guess, but they do now have carte blanche to hire Art Briles, who is currently unemployed.

Tennessee seemed to finally learn to close the deal in a big game. Last year at this time, they gave up some heartbreakers to big-name teams, though they led the majority of those games (namely, Oklahoma and Florida). To make the situation murkier, they played inconsistently in their wins this year prior to yesterday. Even during the first half, they were clearly off rhythm, and the Gators led at the half, 21-3. All that changed in the second half. The Volunteers came out an entirely different team, executing effectively, and scoring, seemingly, at will, while Florida only scored a touchdown for that entire half. Now that the Vols have proven they can “close the deal,” they need to prove they can effectively play a good first half as well as a good second. Once they do, they’ll be one of the best teams in football. As things currently stand, Tennessee seems to have a clear path to the SEC East berth of their conference’s championship game.

That path was opened all the wider after then-No. 12 Georgia embarrassed themselves on the road to then-No. 23 Ole Miss. Sure, the Rebels are a good team, but the Bulldogs made them look like world-beaters. Couple this with the fact that Mark Richt did not leave the team’s talent cupboard bare, and this seriously calls into question the wisdom in hiring Kirby Smart as his replacement.

Speaking of questionable hires, Kentucky won over South Carolina in a contest of ineptitude on both sides of the ball. Mark Stoops’ days are clearly numbered in Lexington, despite all of his hiring hype from a few years ago. But Will Muschamp is the new hire in Columbia. As I have previously inquired, what sense does it make to hire a coach who failed with the talent at Florida, only to bring him into a program with less talent and less of a recruiting pipeline? Indeed, the South Carolina-Georgia border rivalry game might as well be dubbed the clash of the two coaching hire trainwrecks (in the making). But in the meantime, the Bulldogs have no time to lick their wounds, as they play Tennessee next week.

In a good game that was on nobody’s radar screen, Purdue actually beat an opponent with some degree of credibility in Nevada. In what seemed, on paper to be a lop-sided matchup, South Florida acquitted themselves well against Florida State, losing only 55-35.

On the other side of the proverbial coin was Wisconsin at Michigan State. The then-No. 11 Badgers embarrassed the then-No. 8 Spartans, 30-6. Sparty is lucky to remain ranked after such a drubbing, and this loss certainly does not make Notre Dame look any better after the drubbing they suffered at MSU’s hands.

Speaking of Notre Dame, head coach Brian Kelly fired his defensive coordinator after the Fighting Irish lost, at home, to Duke. Yes, Duke. But be not fooled: the Blue Devils are a respectable team, thanks to the patient building of head coach David Cutcliffe. Those “in the know” anticipated a decent game regardless of the outcome.

On the west coast, the competition was more than decent between Stanford and home team UCLA. The Bruins led most of the game. The Cardinal did not score the go-ahead touchdown until fewer than 30 seconds remained in regulation. The last six points to add to their margin came on a fluke. UCLA’s QB attempted a “Hail Mary” pass, but a Stanford defensive linemen forced a fumble instead before successfully running the ball back for another score with 0:00 left on the play clock. Notwithstanding the fluke score, it was a very good game.

Another good game for much of the duration was the Texas A&M vs. Arkansas game. The game was hard-fought on both sides, but as the game progressed, the Aggies played better and better. All this talk about Coach Kevin Sumlin being on the hot seat seem a overblown at least and more than a tad premature at worst, as A&M is now ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll, with more great SEC West matchups remaining.

Two other close, hard-fought games that relatively few people noticed: BYU vs. West Virginia (the Mountaineers won, 35-32) and Pitt vs. North Carolina (the Tarheels won that close one, 37-36). As previously observed, the entire day consisted of close games, top, bottom, and middle.

College Football Week 2 Awards September 15, 2015

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OU_TennStadium2015

The color coordination in the stands at Neyland Stadium, with 102,000+ fans on hand, was amazing to behold. Photo by Jackson Lalzure of Getty Images.

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Clint Bowen, Kansas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 2 TCU (defeated Stephen F. Austin 70-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 6 Auburn (defeated Jacksonville State 27-20 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Idaho (lost to No. 8 USC 59-9)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Akron  (see:  Oh – my – God)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Memphis (defeated Kansas 55-23)

Dang, they’re good: Michigan State

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  South Carolina

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Army

Can the season never endMichigan State

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 19 Oklahoma 31, No. 24 Tennessee 24, 2 OT

Play this again, too:  No. 5 Michigan State 31, No. 7 Oregon 28

Never play this again: No. 2 TCU 70, SFA 7

What? Georgia Southern 43, Western Michigan 17

HuhBYU 35, No. 20 Boise State 24

Are you kidding me?  Houston 34, Louisville 31

Oh – my – GodToledo 16, #18 Arkansas 12

Told you so:  Minnesota 23, Colorado State 20 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)

Ticket to die for:  No. 14 Georgia Tech @ No. 8 Notre Dame (no, really!)

Also:  No. 18 Auburn @ No. 13 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Colorado @ Colorado State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ Bowling Green

Upset alert: No. 19 BYU @ No. 10 UCLA

Must win: No. 15 Ole Miss @ No. 2 Alabama

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ No. 17 Texas A&M

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about:  Pittsburgh @ Iowa

Also:  No. 23 Northwestern @ Duke

Who’s bringing the body bags? Air Force @ No. 4 Michigan State

Why are they playing? UConn @ No. 22 Missouri

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Florida Atlantic

They shoot horses, don’t they?  NC Central @ FIU

Week 2 Take-aways:

The best example of a Pyrrhic victory took place when Notre Dame barely pulled it out over Virginia.  In the process of the game, Coach Brian Kelly likely lost his QB Malik Zaire to a broken ankle and shall likely be out for the rest of the year (he went down late in the 3rd quarter).  ESPN is currently replaying the incident online.  It is not for the faint of heart.

Honestly, even though Ohio State shut out Hawaii 38-0, I thought that they Rainbow Warriors would have lost by at least two more touchdowns.  Perhaps Urban Meyer called off the dogs early in the 3rd quarter in order to save his players from unnecessary wear, tear, and risk.  If so, smart move.  Perhaps Hawaii beat the spread?

Steve Spurrier lost to Kentucky for two consecutive seasons for the first time ever, this time at home.  Last year, we established by November that the Gamecocks were a team that blew 4th Quarter leads.  The Wildcats were one of the teams to whom South Carolina blew one of those leads.  But what about this year?  Perhaps Spurrier is not getting the players anymore.  If so, perhaps at age 70, the Ol’ Ball Coach might want to start planning is exit strategy.  After all, Hatin’-Ass Spurrier only works if he is winning games.  If he loses games, then the trash talking becomes a worthless, annoying schtick.

On the other hand, can Kentucky be THAT good?  They shall have a solid test to show how good they are against a rebuilding Florida under new HC Jim McElwain, a former assistant under Nick Saban at Alabama who got things rolling at Colorado State.

The Volunteers gave a valiant effort at home but in the end could not overcome the defensive halftime adjustments the Sooners made.  But it was a good, exciting, competitive game.  The new uniform designs thanks to Nike was a nice, fitting touch.  But was even more visually stunning was the color-coordinated alternating orange and white checker pattern among the fans throughout the stands – very impressive, despite the loss.

The Oregon @ Michigan State game is certainly a game that lived up to its hype.  The Spartans are stronger than at any year I have watched them in my lifetime (for reference, I am 35).  Not even Nick Saban’s strong MSU squad from the 1999 season seems to be as rough and tough as this bunch.  What Mark Dantonio has built in East Lansing in an era that has favored the warm-weather programs is nothing short of amazing.  Better yet, it is not a fluke, but rather the product of steady building and improvement.  Last season, the Spartans upset Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, and the season before that, they upset a heavily-favored Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.  Again, given the incredibly competitive nature of the game, where most marquee recruits hail from the Sun Belt and prefer to stay in warm-weather environs, the success that Mark Dantonio has reaped at Michigan State is astounding.

The College Football Bowlgame Breakdown for 2014-2015 December 17, 2014

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NewMexicoBowl2012

The 2012 New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada turned out to be a thrilling, high-scoring affair. Let us hope that when the Wildcats line up against Boise State in this upcoming Fiesta Bowl, we the fans will be treated to similar fireworks!

Yes, folks, we are but a few short days away from looking LIVE at a bevy of bowl games.  This plethora of postseason pigskin contests will span two weeks and change, and we will likely be satiated with college football, at least until the Spring games in April.  So, here is a break-down of what not to miss, and a few that you’d like to miss, but will not be able to help yourselves just the same.

Ticket to die for:  Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  Actually the real ticket to die for is the playoff championship game held a week later, but the semifinals must be played first to determine who plays then.  Fair enough, you say, but what about Bama vs. the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl?  That’s a good one, to be sure.  But in the minds of most fans and commentators, the Ducks vs. the Seminoles seems to have just a slightly greater degree of sex appeal, that’s all.

Best non–Power Five vs. Power Five match–up:  Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  For one, this might be the only worthwhile bowl game to watch on the first day of the post–season.  For another, there are actually a few other decent match–ups to keep one’s eye on as said post–season unfolds, namely Illinois (wait, they’re in a bowl this year?) vs. Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and N.C. State vs. Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl (wait, what happened to it being called the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl?), both on Fri., Dec. 26.  Indeed, the latter line–up might be cause to reconsider who merits the “best” distinction. The reason I say that is, with the Rams’ coach having bolted to take the Florida job (who can blame him for taking such a prestigious post?), nobody knows what sort of team will show up to face the Utes.

Then again, this is the mystery that shrouds most bowl game line–ups.

Best non–Power Five match–up:  Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tues., Dec. 23.  So Florida Atlantic is going to host a bowlgame?  Apparently they’re good for something after all. Sorry, Owls, but things haven’t been the same since Coach Schnellenberger retired.  The Huskies won the MAC decisively in Detroit, while Marshall has been a strong non–Power Five team all year long, notwithstanding almost coughing it up to the La. Tech Bulldogs recently.

Upset alert:  Oklahoma vs. Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Mon., Dec. 29.  This is the safest upset to predict because whereas the Tigers are ranked (No. 17), the Sooners are not, and Clemson’s postseason performance is unreliable, right, Dana Holgersen?

Must win:  Ole Miss vs. TCU in the Peach Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  The winner of this game will be the team that is the least disappointed to be there after having much higher aspirations during the regular season.  A win here will also help them salvage some consolation from not having lived up to said aspirations.

Offensive explosion:  Boise State vs. Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  At least, this match-up has a good a chance as any to rack up some points.  The Wildcats and the Broncos both have been fairly adept at that this season, after all.  The bonus in this game is that there is great potential for snazzy colors in the team uniforms on both sides of the ball!

Defensive struggle:  Boston College vs. Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Neither team really lit up the scoreboard this year, did they?  Add cold weather on top of that (it will be played in Yankee Stadium, after all), and that is likely to put a further damper on offensive output.

Great game no one is talking about:  Iowa vs. Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Fri., Jan. 2.  This used to be called the Gator Bowl for the previous 67 years, fyi.  What makes this game so good is that the Hawkeyes have been very quietly winning a critical mass of games this year, while the Volunteers are a year away under Coach Butch Jones before becoming really good.  Translation:  this is a closer match–up than most SEC fans would be willing to acknowledge.

Intriguing coaching match–up:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  This is a no–brainer.  They’re arguably the two best coaches in the business, no what it takes to win, and both of multiple national championships under their belts.  Moreover, the two have gone head–to–head before when Meyer was coaching at Florida.  This oughtta be a good one, folks!

Who’s bringing the body bags?  LSU vs. Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  The only way this game is remotely competitive is if the Tigers just lie down for most of the game, for the Irish have been exposed time and again as overrated frauds late this year.

Why are they playing?  Florida vs. East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, Sat., Jan. 3.  The only reason in any known universe that these two programs would be playing each other in a bowl game is because the Gators are that far down as a program at the moment.

Plenty of good seats remaining:  Western Michigan vs. Air Force in the Idaho Potato Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20. Nothing against Western Michigan and the fine year they have had (by MAC standards, at least).  Nothing against Air Force, because they’re the troops.  But still, it will be in frigid Boise, Idaho.  Unless you’re going there to ski, why bother being anywhere near there this time of year?

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nevada vs. Louisiana–Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  Yes, I know, these past 13 years, the New Orleans Bowl has been the traditional kick-off game for the bowl season, but let us be honest:  this strikes us as only a slightly better–than–average non–Power Five early season match–up.  Do I lie?

That said, an honorable mention for pointless match–up is Toledo vs. Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl (played in Mobile, Ala.) on Sun., Jan. 4.

Red–and–Black Special:  Louisville vs. Georgia in the Belk Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  These two teams seem too good for the Belk Bowl.  Still, the bowl itself has managed to climb its way up the prestige ranks a bit over the course of a decade.  It must be the sponsor:  “Belk Bowl” has far better ring to it than “Continental Tires Bowl”.  Yes, that’s what it used to be called.  Honest!

Most exotic location:  Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Wed., Dec. 24.  Do not adjust your screens, for you read that correctly.  Yes, there is now a bowl game in the Bahamas (Nassau, specifically), an obvious “first”.  Let’s hope the teams have the opportunity to enjoy things and live it up a bit.

Two great programs in a so–so bowl:  Miami vs. South Carolina in the Independence Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Maybe after these two proud programs get down knocking heads, the bowl game will be a bit less so–so, and more reminiscent of recent times when the likes of LSU and Notre Dame slugged it out (1997) or when Mississippi State and then–Big XII rep Texas A&M duked it out in a blizzard (2000).  It already has made us forget the less–than–memorable match–ups of the past few years.

The explosive offense meets the immovable defense:  Baylor vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, Thurs., Jan.1. Plus, there will be lots of green!  Seriously, though, the Bears have put up scorching numbers on offense, but the big knock against them has constantly been, whom have they played this year?  On the other hand, Michigan State has proven themselves to be a force with which to be reckoned after upsetting Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl.  Lesson learned:  Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are not to be taken lightly.

Consolation game:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1.  Similar The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, if Mississippi State wins this, it will be because they overcame their disappointment of not making the Top 4 in the playoffs.  With that said, when was the last time that the Bulldogs have made it to such a prestigious bowl game?  Certainly not in my lifetime!

College Football Week 9 Awards October 27, 2014

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Leonard Fournette

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Lucky guy: Les Miles, LSU

Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Desperately seeking … anything: Brady Hoke, Michigan

 

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Wisconsin (defeated Maryland 52-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: East Carolina (defeated UConn 31-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UAB (lost to Arkansas 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kentucky (lost to Mississippi State 45-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Georgia Tech (defeated Pittsburgh 56-28)

Dang, they’re good: TCU
Dang, they’re bad: Kent State

You know, they’re not so bad: Arkansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Minnesota

Did the season start? BYU
Can the season end? Michigan
Can the season never end? Michigan State

 

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 5 Auburn 42, South Carolina, 35

Play this again, too: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7
Never play this again: No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27

What? Illinois 27, Minnesota 24

Huh? Miami 30, Virginia Tech 6
Are you kidding me? North Carolina 28, Virginia 27

Oh – my – God: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for: No. 4 Auburn @ No. 7 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. Navy

Best non-Power Five matchup: San Diego State @ Nevada

Upset alert: No. 2 Florida State @ Louisville

Must win: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Offensive explosion: No.10 TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Florida vs. No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville
Great game no one is talking about: Kentucky @ Missouri

Intriguing coaching matchup: Rich Rodriguez of Arizona vs. Jim Mora of UCLA

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 12 Baylor

Why are they playing? Old Dominion @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Appalachian State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Cincinnati @ Tulane

 

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

  • There is a reason they call Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. It is the place where dreams go to die – other teams’ dreams that is. Ole Miss was having the most phenomenal season of the program in about 52 years, and seemed to be on a collision course for vying for the national title. After a neat playing at LSU, that is now seriously in doubt. The really interesting aspect of it all? The score: the Tigers triumphed over the Rebels 10-7. Such an old-fashioned score was, ironically, a great nod to the classic rivalry and the memorable games during the Eagle Day and Billy Cannon eras thereof.
  • One cannot recall a more valiant effort given on the part of South Carolina the previous evening. Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier knew going in that he was out-gunned and undermanned going into Jordan-Hare Stadium to face a fearsome Auburn Tigers squad. But the Gamecocks gave it their all, took incredible risks on 4th down throughout the evening – mirabile dictu, they converted more often than not – and almost succeeded in the end. Almost. What ultimately turned out to be South Carolina’s undoing was their quarterback, Dylan Thompson, who had a habit of throwing fade route passes towards the sideline and almost always failing to connect with his receivers, overthrowing them constantly. Granted, over-the-middle passes are always more risky than those thrown towards the sidelines, but Thompson succeeded more often in the middle of the field, and it is a shame that he did not go on that same instinct late in the game. Had he done so, the Gamecocks might have pulled off one of the grandest upsets of the year.
  • Few fans outside of the Pacific Time Zone might have witnessed this, but the No. 19 Utah Utes defeated the No. 20 USC Trojans, 24-21. How fitting a score for two teams ranked literally right next to one-another, with the correct, higher-ranked team, winning? Every now and then, the pollsters literally do get it right!
  • Pride commeth before the fall. Since a Michigan player made a “little brother” comment about their in-state, intra-conference rival Michigan State at a press conference several years ago, Sparty has gone 6-1 in said rivalry. In an established rivalry between two programs, Rule No. 1 is that you show said rival respect. With the Spartans having humiliated the Wolverines yet again, 35-11, we have just witnessed the potential penalty made manifest for violating said rule. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

College Football Week 8 Awards October 19, 2014

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FSU-NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Lucky guy: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Poor guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor
Desperately seeking … anything: Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 8 Michigan State (defeated Indiana 56-17)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated North Carolina State 30-18)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to No. 22 USC 56-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 34-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 7 Alabama (defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: SMU

You know, they’re not so bad: Minnesota
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Baylor

Did the season start? Texas A&M
Can the season end? Georgia State
Can the season never end? Florida State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Florida State 31, No. 5 Notre Dame, 27

Play this again, too: No. 20 Utah 29, Oregon State 23
Never play this again: South Carolina 41, Furman 10

What? Nevada 42, BYU 35

Huh? No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Are you kidding me? No. 7 Alabama 59, No. 21 Texas A&M 0 (the shear blowout)

Oh – my – God: West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 24 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ Central Florida

Upset alert: Texas @ No. 11 Kansas State

Must win: No. 22 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Arizona @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Miami @ Virginia Tech
Great game no one is talking about: BYU @ Boise State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 1 Mississippi State @ Kentucky (also:  UConn @ No. 18 East Carolina)

Why are they playing? UAB @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Florida Atlantic @ No. 23 Marshall

 

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

  • While Michigan State is a solid choice for the “Thought you’d kick butt, you did” weekly award, the truth is, a number of teams ended up kicking butt, that in hindsight made sense that they would. Start with South Carolina (see: last week’s “Why are they playing?” nod), who beat relatively hapless Furman 41-10. In hindsight, a resurgent Ohio State team against a Rutgers team still learning to navigate the terrain of the Big Ten was also a clear would-be drubbing (result: 56-17). Even more obvious was the Colorado @ USC match-up. The Buffaloes still cannot get things together, while Steve Sarkesian is slowly building the Trojans back to national prominence. The 56-28 result, therefore, came as not surprise.
  • While Alabama could not be a more obvious choice for the weekly “Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did” award (59-0 over Texas A&M, their biggest lopsided shutout in 35 years), other games would have been decent choices as well. Start with Marshall’s butt-kicking of Florida International, 45-13. Even more of a surprise, though, was TCU’s drubbing of Oklahoma State, 42-9. On paper, these were closely-matched teams (No. 12 vs. No. 15, respectively). Turns out that in reality, they were not that close in terms of competitive prowess after all. Further down the food chain, Appalachian State – a newcomer to the FCS – beat up on Troy unexpectedly, 53-14. Sounds like the latter is a “Can the season end?” candidate. Stay tuned.
  • Last night’s Notre Dame @ Florida State slugfest is already an instant classic. Clearly one of the biggest, best games of the season thus far, it wins the “Play this again” award hands down. That said, despite some lop-sided victories in football this past weekend, plenty other games merit a second look nevertheless. Start with the late Thursday night game on the West Coast, Utah @ Oregon State. The Utes went into Reser Stadium, took the Beavers into overtime, and walked out victorious. Speaking of the West Coast, take a look at the final score between UCLA @ Cal (spoiler alert: 36-34). Consider that you have the Bruins vs. Golden Bears, and two different shades of blue and gold going head-to-head, in the same conference, no less. With such similarities, such a score result is only fitting. In the Big Ten, one was able to enjoy an interesting matchup between Minnesota and Purdue. On one hand, the Golden Gophers have quietly risen to the top of their division in the conference, while Purdue has quietly improved from their doldrums. Indeed, the Boilers almost won on the road.
  • Notre Dame remains an enigma. After so many close calls against inferior teams, surely they would not have played No. 2 Florida State as closely as they did on the road. Not when having to result to strokes of luck to win against Stanford. Not when allowing Purdue to play them as closely as they did in Indianapolis. Yet on Saturday night, they played in Tallahassee like they deserved to be the 5th-ranked team in the nation. Further monitoring of the team will be in order to make sense of this inconsistent behavior. Fortunately, the schedule is such that it will allow for further clarity to be reached as it plays out. The Fighting Irish journey to Tempe, Ariz., to play Arizona State in three weeks, followed by Northwestern and then Louisville at home. Then, they cap off the season in Los Angeles against USC. One takes any one of those teams lightly at his own peril (translation: if the Irish fail to bring their A-game to any one of these matchups, they’re doomed).
  • As an aside, part of Ole Miss now being taken seriously in the national rankings (No. 3, currently), is that their defense is given plenty of respect with an up-and-coming brand: the “land shark” defense. One must admit, that has a nice ring to it!

College Football Week 3 Awards September 15, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Glad I’m not him: Gary Patterson, TCU

Lucky guy: Todd Graham, Arizona State
Poor guy: Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: George O’Leary, Central Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ron Turner, Florida International
Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Taggert, South Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 10 Florida State (defeated Nevada 62-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 11 Michigan (defeated Akron 28-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 2 Oregon 59-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 21 Notre Dame 31-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  USC (defeated Boston College 35-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Florida International
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Penn State

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  South Florida
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 49, No. 6 Texas A&M 42

Play this again, too:  Oregon State 51, Utah 48
Never play this again: Utah State 70, Weber 6

What? Arizona State 32, No. 20 Wisconsin 30

HuhSouth Alabama 31, Western Kentucky 24
Are you kidding me?  Texas Tech 20, No. 24 TCU 10
Oh – my – GodCentral Florida 34, Penn State 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for:  Tennessee @ No. 19 Florida

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Utah State @ USC

Best non-Big Six matchup: Boise State @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Purdue @ No. 24 Wisconsin

Must win: Kansas State @ Texas

Offensive explosion: Boise State @ Fresno State
Defensive struggle: Hawaii @ Nevada
Great game no one is talking about: Utah @ BYU, or, North Carolina @ Georgia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Brian Kelly of No. 22 Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Florida International @ No. 7 Louisville

Why are they playing? Florida A&M @ No. 4 Ohio State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTSA @ UTEP

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Louisiana-Monroe @ No. 20 Baylor

Week 3 in Review:

The game that has been billed by the media and built up in the minds of many a fan nationwide certainly lived up to its billing/hype yesterday.  No. 1-ranked Alabama is sure to retain atop the mountain of college football rankings after defeating the home team No. 6 Texas A&M in a thriller of a game.  The key to the success of the Crimson Tide was figuring out how to contain the Aggies’ QB Johnny Manziel, by not allowing him sufficient access to the outsides of the hash marks and instead forcing him inside, up the middle (both of running and throwing) as a means of containing the threat of his talents.  In the end, it worked.  Best of all, “Johnny Football” seemed surprisingly humble, contrite, and team-oriented during the postgame press conference. After witnessing all of his antics the previous weeks, this was a rather pleasing development. Time will tell if he truly did learn a lesson or two from this loss, or whether he will devolve back to the cocky, reckless punk he was earlier.

Other random thoughts:

A curious case of both Michigan and Notre Dame arose this past Saturday.  The former team had to struggle at home to beat the Akron Zips, and only doing so in the last minutes of play.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame, an ostensibly revitalized, nationally viable team under head coach Brian Kelly, had to earn – in every sense of the word – a win against a Purdue team whose performance prior to this game was suspect at best.  Perhaps this strange case is a result of a hangover from big game between the two the following week.  Lots of media hype and team energy went into that game, and as anybody who has any real experience in college football can tell you, one of the biggest challenges in the sport is trying to get 19-20 year-olds to play consistently week in and week out.  Or, it could be at both Akron and Purdue are better than we thought they were.  Concerning the latter, it could have been that the Boilers were looking past Indiana State (could you blame them?) and devoted some extra prep time to dealing with the Fighting Irish.  Certainly a plausible scenario, no?  What remains intriguing about this case is that, in all likelihood, Michigan and Notre Dame will be just fine.  But it could also be that Akron and Purdue are on the rise from the doldrums in which both programs have been stuck for the past several years.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, Texas lost another game, this time at home, against a respectable opponent in Ole Miss. The Longhorns were supposed to have gotten things together, so we were told. After all, before last week’s BYU debacle (in which they lost 40-21), they were ranked No. 15 in the nation.  This week, the Rebels came into Austin ranked #25.  Yet the Horns lost again, this time 44-23.  It is conceivable that Texas could turn things around and that the defense could get more settled under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.  Or, it could be that the wheels are coming off the program, and as much as Longhorn Nation likes head coach Mack Brown personally, it is time for a changing of the guard.  Right now, though, things are not looking good on the 40 Acres, and the prognosis for the second Saturday in October is not that rosy, either.

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

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

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

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

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

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

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

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

(Dec. 15-31)

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

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

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

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

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

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

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

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

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

(Dec. 15-31)

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

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

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

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

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

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

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

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

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some thoughts on the Bowls as of Dec. 28 December 29, 2012

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50ccdbbbdef3c.preview-620

From azstarnet.com; try to ignore the Arizona player bumping into the ref and instead, focus on how cool their unis look, along the with the awesome color contrast between Arizona’s and Nevada’s helmets!

The New Mexico Bowl kicked off the season to a surprisingly auspicious beginning.  I say “surprisingly,” because let’s be honest; nobody thought that the first bowl game of the year would be that swell, and moreover,  it seemed as though Nevada had the game well in hand by the end of the 3rd quarter before Arizona managed to make a pretty good game out of things yet and scored 18 unanswered points to pull ahead at the end, 49-48.  And to think that I predicted that the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 would be the bowl season’s “offensive explosion,” yet so far, the results of the New Mexico Bowl have fit that distinction more than any other of the 2012-2013 bowl span.

But wait, there’s more!  As more teams unveil special bowl game helmets (read: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech), the jury will still be out until Jan. 7 to decide this ultimately, but thus far, the Arizona-Nevada matchup is definitely the “most aesthetically pleasing helmet contrast,” with the Wolfpack sporting their dark blue helmets on one side, and the Wildcats sporting their special red domes on the other!

Moreover, it will be very difficult for any other team to top the Wildcats for the “sartorial splendor” award, as they have set a new precedent.  Normally, if a team has dark blue and red for their colors (technically, Cardinal and Navy Blue, as is the case for both Arizona and Ole Miss), the modern precedents have been something along the lines of 1) dark blue helmets, dark blue jerseys, and either white or gray pants, or white helmets, or 2) white helmets and pants with dark blue jerseys, or 3), dark blue helmets, red jerseys, and white or gray pants.  What Arizona did was break through normal precedents and set a whole new one with red helmets, dark blue jerseys, and red pants.  It does not get much better than that!

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of good games, this year’s MAACO Bowl of Las Vegas turned out to be a ‘dandy’ of a game, folks!  There are times when you swear that ESPN does actually have a crystal ball in some secret location on their Bristol, Conn., campus, because they sent their front-line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit to call the game, reflecting on the fact in real time that it was worth tuning in to see!  Either that, or it was an elaborate rouse to get Musburger in touch with Chan Lo and the Chinese Triads to settle his gambling debts:  who knows?  That having been said, what on Earth was Boise State doing wearing those god-awful matte black helmets instead of their pretty metallic blue domes?  Sometimes it pays to leave well enough alone; such is what Washington did with their tasteful combination of metallic gold helms, white jerseys and purple pants.

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Of all places, this pic came from Bengals.com!

The Belk Bowl also exceeded expectations in terms of a competitive, watchable game.  Only two things overshadowed Duke’s first bowl game since the mid-1990s:  1), Cincinnati’s garish, red, carbon fibre-colored helmets, a first in football helmet decor, and 2), the Bearcats ultimately won.  Still, it was nice that the Blue Devils wore their tasteful royal blue helmets instead of their generic-looking white ones, which overall made for a nice helmet contrast between the two teams as they played each other in Charlotte.  Moreover, keep in mind that the Bearcats pulled off the win with basically a five-man coaching staff (for purposes of comparison, college teams usually have about 10 coaches on staff, not including graduate assistants).

Another very interesting teams’ helmets contrast took place on Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, formerly the Champs Sports Bowl, formerly the reincarnated Tangerine Bowl (basically, the other bowl game they play in the Citrus Bowl before the real Citrus Bowl game, which is now called the Capital One Bowl.  Got all that?).  Rutgers put up one heckuva fight against Virginia Tech, but came up a field goal short in overtime of tying the Hokies after the first round in overtime.  But the contrast was nevertheless unique in that the Scarlet Knights had their newly characteristic chrome shells, while the Hokies sported new, matte maroon helmets with an orange decal of a “Hokie,” which, from what us fans can deduce, is basically a turkey bird on a roid rage.  Virginia Tech has undertaken numerous helmet styling experiments during the 2012 season, some kind of interesting, some downright head-scratching.  The white helmets with turkey feet clearly belonged in the latter category!

Oh, and the guys at EDSBS, you boys have some ‘splainin’ to do!  You ranked the Meinecke Car Care Bowl of Texas last among your list of the 35 bowls for this season.  In the words of Musburger, the game turned out to be a real ‘dandy.’  Thanks to the realignment of bowls, this Texas Bowl is about the only B1G vs Big XII matchup we have to look forward to, as the Alamo Bowl no longer affords us that luxury.  The game did not disappoint, as Minnesota and Texas Tech butted heads in dramatic form practically from the whistle giving the green light for kickoff.  The game remained close and competitive for the whole 60 minutes, though a turning point came when a Red Raider receiver pancaked a Golden Gopher defensive back in the end zone and walloped him — right in front of the back judge.  That led to the player, No. 22, to be summarily ejected from the game (and due to an arcane NCAA rule, he shall also have to sit out the opening game next year, too).  LeGarrette Blunt would no doubt be proud.  A third and goal near the one became a third and goal at about the fifteen.  The next play was botched, leading to a field goal.  Minnesota called a timeout just as the ball was snapped, and on the next, true snap, the Gophers blocked the kick!  A sure TD was reduced to, well, nothing.  Yes, in the end, the Red Raiders won on a last-second field goal.  Still, the game was riveting from the opening kickoff to the very last play, and that’s all we fans can ask for in any of these bowl games.

In all frankness and honesty, the 2012-2013 bowl season has been overall underwhelming this far.  The Little Caesars Bowl and the Independence Bowl (oh, my, have the mighty fallen!) have been nothing about which to write home, and similar things can be said for most of the other bowls up to this point.  But having said all that, it is worth pointing out that there have been some high points thus far, and odds are, it can only get better from here.  After all, Ronald Reagan himself was known to joke that if one searches through enough mounds of manure, sooner or later one is bound to find the pony!