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College Football Week 7 Awards (2021) October 17, 2021

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COACHES
Wish I were him:  Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Herm Edwards, Arizona State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Pat Narduzzi, Pitt

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Desperately seeking … anything:  Greg Schiano, Rutgers

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (defeated Mississippi State 49-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oregon (defeated Cal 24-17)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Rice (lost to UTSA 45-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (defeated No. 2 Iowa 24-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Colorado (Arizona 34-0)  

Dang, they’re good:  Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa

Did the season start?  Arizona State
Can the season end?  Southern Miss

Can the season never endCincinnati

GAMES
Play this again: No. 13 Ole Miss 31, Tennessee 26

Play this again, too:  No. 12 Oklahoma State 32, No. 25 Texas 24

Never play this again: Virginia 48, Duke 0

What?  LSU 49, No. 20 Florida 42

HuhUtah 35, No. 18 Arizona State 21

Are you kidding me??  Aurburn 38, No. 17 Arkansas 23

Oh – my – GodPurdue 24, No. 2 Iowa 7

NEXT WEEK

rankings are current AP (week 8)
Ticket to die for:  LSU @ No. 13 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: BYU @ Washington State; also, No. 16 Wake Forest @ Army

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 15 Coastal Carolina vs. Appalachian State; also, No. 22 San Diego State @ Air Force

Upset alert: UCLA @ No. 10 Oregon

Must win: Wisconsin @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: Syracuse @ Virginia Tech

Great game no one is talking about: Clemson @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs Josh Heupel of Tennessee

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Kansas @ No. 4 Oklahoma

Why are they playing? UMass @ Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Washington @ Arizona

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ Arkansas

Week 7 Thoughts:

Oklahoma State vs Texas

For the second week in row, Texas has blown a 4th-quarter lead to a ranked opponent.  Here’s a fairly disturbing stat to back up this observation.  In the 4th quarters of games against Oklahoma and then Oklahoma State, the Longhorns have been outscored 41-7.  Head coach Steve Sarkesian clearly has his work cut out for him on that side of the ball.  On the other side, it wouldn’t hurt to work on his offense’s performance, either, as scoring only 7 points in those two quarters combined is clearly unacceptable.

Purdue vs Iowa

File this under “Boy, did we get that one wrong/Boy, we didn’t see that one coming”.  In what could have potentially been a “body bag” game for Iowa, given Purdue lackluster performance against Minnesota two weeks earlier, the Boilermakers actually showed up to play, and both thrilled their faithful fans and stunned the college football world in the process. 

There are many layers one can slice-and-dice this game and the surrounding conditions that came with it.  Start with the premise of Iowa’s No. 2 ranking prior to said game.  Yes, they were undefeated, but that alone came about under questionable circumstances.  In the prior game against Penn State, the Hawkeyes were being outclassed by the Nittany Lions for more than half the game, before the latter’s quarterback was out of the game’s remainder due to injury.

Even had that injury to Penn State’s QB not occurred, and somehow Iowa would have righted the ship anyhow, I nevertheless must propose a thought experiment.  If an undefeated Iowa team (that of this season) were to go head-to-head against a one-loss Alabama team (likewise the current team of this season), which squad do think would emerge victorious?  Answering ‘Alabama’ would be a no-brainer.  Would it not thus be logical that the Crimson Tide be ranked ahead of the Hawkeyes, not withstanding the teams’ respective records, going into this week?

All that aside, the sad fact of the matter is that the Hawkeyes failed to live up to the prestigious ranking that had attained.  To close out the broadcast coverage, one of the commentators for ABC observed that “Purdue out-Iowa’d Iowa”.  Say what you will about head coach Jeff Brohm, but he put the extra week that he had with last week’s bye to very good use in preparing to take on this strong foe.

Going forward, it shall be very interesting to see how each of the two teams react to this big upset.  This time, the Hawkeyes have the bye, with their next game after that being a surprisingly winnable one against Wisconsin.  Indeed, the remainder of their schedule is all winnable.  Can they bounce back to seize such a opportunity, and to make a great season out of things regardless?  Last I checked, 11-1 for a program like Iowa is a great achievement.

For Purdue, can they stop celebrating long enough to re-focus and properly prepare for what lies ahead?  Many treacherous teams await the Boilers, starting with Wisconsin next week. 

Kentucky vs Georgia

Kentucky is a great team, but face it:  Georgia is that much greater.  This was plainly discernable going into the game, and the outcome therefore surprised no reasonable party.  That said, the Wildcats acquitted themselves well by covering the spread in the last minutes of the game.

Ole Miss vs Tennessee

For the first time in a long time, it felt as though Tennessee was returning to its glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s.  Neyland Stadium was positively electric last night when Ole Miss came calling.  They put up a valiant effort against a loaded Rebels team headed by their own former head coach, Lane Kiffin.  Despite being outmanned, in the end, they were only several yards shy of the opportunity to tie the game at the end of regulation.  It’s never a disgrace to lose to a better team, and, moreover, if the players continue to buy in to Josh Heupel’s vision, and the latter can bring in another good recruiting class or two, the Volunteers could continue to be on the upswing and legitimately bring back their glory days.

All that said, shame on the Tennessee fans who threw everything from water bottles to golf balls onto the field near the end of the game.  That is very classless; it reflects poorly on the fan base, and on many southern fans at large; the perpetrators of such a classless act need to see the error of their ways, and if some degree of ostracization to help guide them to the light is what is necessary to do so, then so be it.  Tennessee fans, do better and be better, so as to be worthy of such aforementioned glory days, should they return.

Looking ahead:  Oklahoma State @ Iowa State

Can the Cowboys now handle their own prosperity?  They are currently undefeated, ranked No. 8, and now head up to Ames, Iowa, where lately many ranked teams have gone to die.  The Cyclones are never to be taken lightly under head coach Matt Campbell.  Can he prepare his already-strong team to take down an undefeated foe?  Can Oklahoma State’s head coach Mike Gundy prepare his squad to be ready to face proven giant-killers?  We’ll find out shortly.

Clemson @ Pittsburgh

Queue the theme music from “The Twilight Zone”.  In this upcoming matchup, the Pitt Panthers are ranked (No. 23), whereas the Clemson Tigers are not.  It should thus be a very interesting matchup at Heinz Field.

Tennessee @ Alabama

No time for the Volunteers to lick their wounds after a close, emotional loss to Ole Miss.  Now they must travel to Tuscaloosa to take on their traditionally most-hated rival.  Such is life in the SEC.

LSU @ Ole Miss

Speaking of hated rvials, there is never any love lost between these two.  While recently this rivalry has been a bit one-sided in LSU’s favor, the Rebels are now the favored team, and could make this season full of questions for LSU and their head coach Ed Orgeron (who was previously the head coach at Ole Miss) all the more painful.  Then again, the Tigers pulled off a mild upset win over Florida, which leads many discerning fans to believe that this game could be a reasonably even, tough matchup on paper after all.

Final thought:  can we bring back the “Twlight Zone” theme music for a second?  Because Cincinnati is now the No. 2-ranked team in the country.  Ponder that for what it is worth.

College Football Awards Week 6 (2021) October 11, 2021

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COACHES
Wish I were him:  Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

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

Lucky guy: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Poor guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisivlle

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mack Brown, North Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Aranda, Baylor

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kalani Sitake, BYU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Ed Orgeron, LSU

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Cincinnati (defeated Temple 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Wake Forest (defeated Syracuse 40-37 in OT)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Maryland (lost to No. 7 Ohio State 66-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  FIU (lost to Charlotte 45-33)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated LSU 42-21)  

Dang, they’re good:  Cincinnati
Dang, they’re bad:  Vanderbilt

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  BYU

Did the season start?  North Carolina
Can the season end?  UConn

Can the season never endIowa

GAMES
Play this again: Texas A&M 41, No. 1 Alabama 38

Play this again, too:  No. 6 Oklahoma 55, No. 21 Texas 48

Never play this again: No. 7 Ohio State 66, Maryland 17

What?  Florida State 35, North Carolina 25

HuhNo. 17 Ole Miss 52, No. 13 Arkansas 51

Are you kidding me??  Boise State 26, No. 10 BYU 17

Oh – my – GodTexas A&M 41, No. 1 Alabama 38

NEXT WEEK

rankings are current AP (week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Kentucky @ No. 1 Georgia

Next-best game of the week:  No. 18 Auburn @ No. 13 Arkansas

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: No. 19 BYU @ Baylor

Best non-Power Five matchup: UCF @ No. 3 Cincinnati

Upset alert: No. 10 Michigan State @ Indiana; also, No. 13 Ole Miss @ Tennessee

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma State @ No. 25 Texas

Offensive explosion: Oklahoma State @ Texas

Defensive struggle: Nebraska @ Minnesota

Great game no one is talking about: No. 22 NC State @ Boston College

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs Mike Leach of Mississippi State

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Purdue @ No. 2 Iowa

Why are they playing? Army @ Wisconsin

Plenty of good seats remaining: Arizona @ Colorado

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Yale @ UConn

Week 6 Thoughts:

Iowa vs. Penn State

This week provided some incredible games, one of which was an unusual clash of titans (No’s. 3 and 4, respectively) during the second time slot of the day, in Iowa City.  For the first 25 minutes of the game, Iowa was being outclassed by Penn State, and the score showed it at 17-3.  Then the Nittany Lion’s starting quarterback, Sean Clifford, went down with an injury, either to back or the ribs.  Penn State was not the same with their backup QB in place.  The offense only managed a field goal after that, while the Hawkeyes gradually clawed their way back, eventually winning, 23-20.  Let us hope that Clifford’s injury does not derail the rest of the Nittany Lions’ season.  Still, it was a thrilling comeback for the Hawkeye faithful to witness.

Oklahoma vs Texas

In yet another exciting edition of the Red River Showdown, Oklahoma bested Texas yet again.  This time it was full of twists and turns.  The Longhorns scored quickly on the Sooners, tallying 38 points in their favor by halftime.  A new, major wrinkle occurred when Lincoln Riley benched QB Spencer Rattler after two turnovers and replaced him with Caleb Williams.  In hindsight, Texas coach Steve Sarkesian had no gameplan for this wrinkle, and it showed with his lack of answers for this more-capable replacement.  The Longhorns also failed to established a running game, despite having Heisman candidate Bijan Robinson in their backfield.  On the other side of the ball, they hardly mounted any decent pass rush against Williams, giving him time to complete one inexplicable pass after another.  In the end, the Sooners triumphed in an admittedly thrilling game, 55-48.  The main takeaway for Oklahoma is that they could best either Iowa or Penn State, both of whom, on that day, were ranked ahead of the Sooners.

One takeaway for Texas is the Sark must shore up his defense.  Another is that he must work on better establishing the running game.  A third is that freshman receiver Xavier Worthy holds much promise as a playmaker, but the Horns cannot win games on long bombs to him alone.  Texas might not be “back” yet, but they could be soon with a couple of key adjustments and another good recruiting class from Sark.  In the meantime, he did not see this game’s outcome as a devastating loss, but rather, something to make the team hungrier for potentially bigger things to come.  “Ultimately, you know my mindset is I’d love to get another crack at these guys hopefully in December, so that’s that,” he said.

Texas A&M vs Alabama

Think about this for a second:  the last regular season game that Alabama lost was on Nov. 30, 2019, to Auburn (hey, it’s the Iron Bowl, where crazy things happen.  Anyone remember the “Kick Six”?).  Since then, the Crimson Tide has remained undefeated, with another national title under their collective belt, until last night.  Last night, Texas A&M ended that streak in front of the second-largest crowd at Kyle Field (106,815).  Moreover, this marks Alabama’s first loss to an unranked team since 2007 (!).  The Aggies maintained a lead for most of the game, until the Tide tied the score in the 4th quarter.  A key stop late in the game gave Texas A&M the ball back, allowing them to kick a winning field goal at a comfortable distance for one incredible night to remember in College Station for a long time to come.  All that said, if the familiar pattern of Nick Saban’s dynasty in Tuscaloosa holds, Alabama shall refocus and redouble its efforts, and continue to perform at the highest of levels in the college game.  Nevertheless, this is the first time a former assistant (Jimbo Fisher) has bested him.  We shall now see if Fisher can maintain his team’s focus.  Immediately, that might not be too difficult a task, as they face Missouri next week, followed by South Carolina thereafter.  But come the first week of November, they face a dangerous Auburn team, wherein another key test awaits.

Kentucky vs. LSU

Last week, I noted that Mark Stoops needed to refocus his team after a huge win over Florida.  Well, he succeeded in spades, this time triumphing over LSU, in convincing fashion, 42-21.  Granted, the Bayou Bengals are not quite what they were when they caught lighting in a bottle with QB Joe Burrow and a coaching lineup of young, talented coordinators, which generated a wave that they rode all the way to another national championship.  Since then, those assistants have left for other things, and Orgeron has been struggling to keep LSU a contender in the admittedly brutal SEC West.  On the other side of the proverbial coin, everything seems to have come into place for Mark Stoops and Kentucky.  The Wildcats are 6-0 for only the first time since 1950, when Bear Bryant was their head coach (they went on to defeat national champion Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl that season).  Put as many asterisks on this win as some critics may, but for two consecutive weeks, Stoops and the Big Blue Nation have turned Commonwealth Stadium into a top-tier SEC environment.  That might not last forever, but it’s quite the achievement to behold regardless.  But now is the time to refocus the team’s efforts yet again, this time for the Wildcats’ toughest opponent to date.

Looking ahead:  Kentucky @ Georgia

That aforementioned toughest opponent to date for Kentucky is now-No. 1 Georgia.  Furthermore, unlike facing Florida and LSU in the friendly home environs, this time they travel to face the Bulldogs “between the hedges”.  Even though both teams come into this game at 6-0, Kentucky’s magical run thus far might come to a temporary halt, for Georgia, along with Alabama, is clearly well above the rest of the competition for now.  The reasonable hope is that the Wildcats keep the game respectable.  That will be something to build upon as they could then continue their incredibly strong run of a season.  That season will continue to get more interesting, as afterwards, they face Mike Leach’s cagey Mississippi State team (one Bulldog team after another!), followed by Josh Heupel’s quietly, gradually resurgent Tennessee squad.  So it goes in the SEC, where there’s never any rest for the wicked.

Ole Miss @ Tennessee

Speaking of the Volunteers, they face Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss Rebels, along with their high-powered offense that he has put together.  This game shall be a key test for both teams.  For Ole Miss, can they maintain their level of intensity after winning a shootout at home over a suddenly resurgent Arkansas?  Speaking of resurgent teams, Tennessee has regained in strength under lots of peoples’ radars (easy to do, given that the Volunteers have struggled since the waning days of Phil Fulmer’s coaching regime).  Now that the players seem to be buying into Josh Heupel’s potentially winning vision, they have a chance to show how far along they have come in a short time if they can pull off the upset at home over the Rebels.  This test could be a good one to watch.

Texas vs Oklahoma State

The Longhorns just lost another close one to their hated rival Oklahoma.  Now, without time to lick their wounds (mostly to their pride), they have to turn around to face the Cowboys at home.  Oklahoma State has quietly risen up the ranks to No. 12.  As the rankings (barely) held in Dallas this past Saturday, now we shall see if they continue to hold in Austin.  If Steve Sarkesian can make a defensive adjustment or two and work to establish the run more effectively, this time, it might not.

College Football Awards, Week 14 (2019) December 1, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himRyan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama (hon. mention:  Jim Harbaugh, Michigan)

Lucky guy: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Poor guy: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, South Florida

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Arth, Akron

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Georgia (defeated Georgia Tech 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Penn State (defeated Rutgers 27-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to No. 9 Baylor 61-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Maryland (lost to Michigan State 19-16)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kentucky (defeated Louisville 45-13)

Dang, they’re good: Utah

Dang, they’re bad:  Akron

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Alabama

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 15 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45

Never play this again: No. 9 Baylor 61, Kansas 6

What?  Virginia 39, No. 24 Virginia Tech 30

HuhKansas State 27, No. 23 Iowa State 17

Are you kidding me??  No. 12 Wisconsin 38, No. 8 Minnesota 17

Oh – my – GodNo. 15 Auburn 48, No. 5 Alabama 45

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Georgia vs No. 1 LSU (SEC Championship)

Nest-best game of the week:  No. 2 Ohio State vs No. 10 Wisconsin (B1G Championship)

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 Cincinnati @ No. 16 Memphis (AAC Champ game/rematch)

Upset alert: No. 13 Oregon vs No. 5 Utah (Pac-12 Championship)

Must win: B1G Championship game to ensure OSU goes to playoffs

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Baylor vs No. 6 Oklahoma (Big XII Championship)

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

Great game no one is talking about: UAB @ Florida Atlantic

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs Mario Cristobal of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Virginia @ No. 3 Clemson  (ACC Championship)

Week 14 Thoughts:

Michigan vs Ohio State

This was supposed to be Harbaugh’s year in beating Ohio State, right?  Turns out, not so much.  Not while Ohio State is still chock-full of Urban Meyer’s players.  That is part of the Buckeyes’ success this year.  The other part is taking those talent players and making them more relaxed and less uptight than when Meyer himself was coaching them (enter Ryan Day).  Can he himself bring in the same caliber of players?  If not, then this high-flying success obviously has a limited shelf life.

As for Michigan, they are still a very good team.  A 9-3 record is commensurate with most of the better years of this proud program.  Also, those three losses came to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State, all of which are running at peak strength.  Moreover, an academic powerhouse in a cold-weather setting like Michigan is at a systemic disadvantage from recruiting the same caliber of athletes as consistently as football-first Ohio State.  Simple as that.  Michigan, Harbaugh is likely as well as you are going to do. Make the most of it, and enjoy your 9-10 win seasons.

Auburn vs Alabama

Rivalry weekend did not disappoint across the boards (for the most part), starting at the top.  Yesterday’s Iron Bowl was the highest-scoring affair in the history of this bitterest of rivalries.  For Auburn, this ought to quell any doubts about Gus Malzahn’s tenure.  For Alabama fans, this obviously raises questions.  Can they still sustain a championship drive after so many playoff appearances and wins?  Has Nick Saban peaked, only now for us to witness a slow, steady decline?  Is it a good idea for Saban to retire now, while he’s still on top (barely)?  The sooner these questions are addressed, the better.

Kentucky vs Louisville

The Wildcats’ lopsided win over the Cardinals show that even a low-level SEC team usually beats a middling ACC team.  The real shock of this game was how Louisville’s defense quit, and against their biggest rival, no less.  This shows that, while Coach Scott Satterfield is ahead of schedule in implementing his sound team culture (seven wins is a huge turnaround from last year’s debacle, after all), there are still some remnants of the Bobby Petrino fallout/poison that still need to be exorcised.

Purdue vs Indiana

On paper, the Hoosiers were the favored team.  Based on their performance this year, they should have won.  And win they did, but not without an intense fight.  This was a very competitive, very dramatic, thus very engaging matchup for the Old Oaken Bucket.  For Purdue, the big mistake came in overtime, where the better team typically wins.  Purdue answered IU’s score with a TD of their own.  They tied it up with an extra point.  That as a mistake.  With current momentum on their side, they should have gone for two.  Giving the better team more chances to score points turns out to be suicide, and that played out exactly in the Hoosiers’ favor.  Let us hope that Coach Jeff Brohm learned this lesson, among other lessons of less hype, more humility, and more concentration on fundamentals and finishing a game.

All that said, Indiana celebrates its first eight-win season since the early 1990s and the days of Coach Bill Mallory.  Way to go, Hoosiers.

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 12 (2019) November 18, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himKirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Matt Rhule, Baylor

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jason Candle, Toledo

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Walt Bell, UMass

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: BYU (defeated Idaho State 42-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (defeated Missouri 23-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Rutgers (lost to No. 2 Ohio State 56-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Syracuse (defeated Duke 49-6)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  USC (defeated Cal 41-17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Minnesota

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Oklahoma 34, No. 13 Baylor 31

Never play this again: No. 3 Clemson 52, Wake Forest 3

What?  Oregon State 35, Arizona State 34

HuhWest Virginia  24, No. 24 Kansas State 20

Are you kidding me??  No. 20 Iowa 23, No. 8 Minnesota 19

Oh – my – GodIowa State 23, No. 19 Texas 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Penn State @ No. 2 Ohio State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Liberty @ Virginia

Best non-Power Five matchup: SMU @ Navy (hon. mention:  SDSU @ Hawaii)

Upset alert: Syracuse @ Louisville

Must win: Texas @ No. 13 Baylor

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ Missouri

Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh @ Virginia Tech

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mario Cristobal of Oregon vs Herm Edwards of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags?  Samford @ No. 16 Auburn

Why are they playing? Western Carolina @ No. 5 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Old Dominion @ Middle Tennessee

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

Week 12 Thoughts:

Iowa vs Minnesota

This had to have been one of the biggest face-offs for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy in recent memory.  Funny things happen in rivalry games such as this, and a few small errors ended up making the difference in the Hawkeyes’ favor.  The Golden Gophers have an easy outing against Northwestern. Such should be a tune-up game for the following week, when Wisconsin comes calling and the berth for representing the Western Division in the B1G title game hangs in the balance.

Iowa State vs Texas

Despite the Longhorns’ offense inexplicably sputtering most of the game, Texas could have won the game after Iowa State missed a field goal with two minutes left in the game.  Instead, Texas got an offsides penalty at the worst possible time.  It allowed for the Cyclones to get further downfield, kill the clock, and kick the game-winning field goal at the buzzer.  No excuses, Tom Herman.  Do better.

Looking ahead:

Shoutouts to Texas A&M, Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee:  they are the only SEC teams who had the guts to play real games this upcoming week.  While the rest of their fellow SEC members are wasting everybody’s time with pointless body bag games (e.g., Western Carolina @ Bama; Abilene Christian @ Mississippi State), The Aggies, the Georgia Bulldogs, the Mizzou Tigers, and the Volunteers will give us real games this week.  Technically, the same should go for LSU and Arkansas.  While on paper it’s a glorified body bag game, at least those two teams are keeping it in-conference.  To the rest of you in the SEC:  get it together.  Step up and play real games.

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 11 (2019) November 11, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himEd Orgeron, LSU (hon. mention:  P.J. Fleck, Minnesota)

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chad Morris, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 73-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to Illinois 37-34)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Vanderbilt (lost to No. 10 Florida 50-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Oregon State (lost to Washington 19-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Western Kentucky (defeated Arkansas 45-19)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  UMass

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Penn State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Northwestern

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Minnesota 31, No. 4 Penn State 26

Never play this again: No. 1 Ohio State, Maryland 14

What?  Tulsa 34, UCF 31

HuhTexas 27, No. 16 Kansas State 24

Are you kidding me??  No. 2 LSU 46, No. 3 Alabama 41

Oh – my – GodNo. 17 Minnesota 31, No. 4 Penn State 26

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 13 Auburn

Next-best game of the week:  No. 24 Indiana @ No. 11 Penn State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Temple

Upset alert: UCLA @ No. 8 Utah

Must win: No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 10 Baylor

Offensive explosion: No. 18 Memphis @ Houston

Defensive struggle: Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Great game no one is talking about: Texas @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of Kansas vs Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State

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

Why are they playing? Alabama State @ Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UMass @ Northwestern

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UIW @ New Mexico State

Week 11 Thoughts:

Alabama vs LSU

What more can be said about this dramatic and incredibly consequential game?  On paper, was it LSU’s victory really an upset?  They were ranked No. 2 in the polls ahead of Alabama at No. 3, after all.  So what made the Tigers’ win an upset?  Call it a mental block.  Call it a [proverbial] monkey on LSU’s back.  They had, after all, lost to the Crimson Tide eight straight times, often with national championship aspirations on the line.  This time, they finally won, and now, the Tigers control their own destiny to Atlanta and to the Playoffs as well.

Minnesota vs Penn State

The Golden Gophers have earned their biggest win in more than a decade.  They currently lead the Western Division of the Big Ten.  While they control their own destiny to the conference championship, they have a challenging road ahead if they want to make it to Indianapolis.  Their next game is at No. 18 Iowa, a border rivalry where they play for one of the most prominent trophies in college football, the Floyd of Rosedale.  After a respite against a down Northwestern, they close out the regular season at home against Wisconsin.  The Badgers alone are a tough out, and they usually are the perennial Western representative in the B1G championship.  Factor in the border rivalry and the fact that both teams play for the Paul Bunyan Axe (have you seen the size of that thing?), and one is apt to anticipate a high-stakes, high-drame showdown in Minneapolis come Nov. 30.  But first, the Gophers have to win their other remaining games, starting with Iowa, which is never easy these days, Floyd or no Floyd.

Florida vs Vanderbilt

This blowout only merits mention because the Commodores attempted a “sad field goal” and failed.  The definition of a “sad field goal” is if your team is down by more than two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and yet you go for a field goal anyhow.  That sounds sad just saying it, does it not?  Well, Vandy attempted the saddest of field goals as they were down 49-0 to Florida in The Swamp late in the 4th quarter.  Instead of going for it with nothing to lose, they attempted a sad field goal, which went wide left.  Like a train wreck, you can’t not watch.

Looking ahead:  Indiana at Penn State

When was the last time that Indiana was ranked in football?  Give up?  It was 1994.  Bill Mallory was the head coach at that time.  He built a decent program, too, winning the 1991 Copper Bowl.  But his labors went unnoticed because IU was more basketball-obsessed than it is today, which saying something.  Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope for the Hoosiers, but if they put up a fight against wounded Penn State, it should be an entertaining game.

 

 

Bad Start for College Football in 2019 (And What to do About It) September 19, 2019

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While there have been several great matchups these past few weeks (e.g., Auburn vs. Oregon, LSU @ Texas, and this upcoming weekend, Notre Dame @ Georgia), there have been lots of dud contests.  Simply put, it is difficult to recall in recent memory where so many pointless “body bag” games have been scheduled.

The first week began with such dreck games as UCF playing Florida A&M; Arizona State played Kent State; Maryland played Howard; Nebraska played South Alabama; Temple played Bucknell; Penn State played Idaho; Tennessee played Georgia State…and lost…at home!  Moreover, Texas Tech played Montana State; Kansas State played Nicholls; Washington State played New Mexico State, and TCU played Arkansas Pine Bluff.

The only really good matchup for week 1 was Auburn playing Oregon.

Week 2 was better, but not by much.  Horrid matchups still prevailed with Arizona State playing Sacramento State; Kansas State played Bowling Green; South Carolina played Charleston Southern; Indiana played Eastern Illinois; Georgia played Murray State, while Alabama played New Mexico State; Oklahoma played South Dakota; Auburn played Tulane; you get the picture.

Ironically, what was a bad matchup on paper turned out to be a nail-biter, as Michigan had to struggle to beat Army.  That said, Texas A&M put up a strong, valiant fight against No. 1 Clemson, and LSU @ Texas proved to be the best game of the year thus far.  Though the Longhorns lost, they acquitted themselves in that they demonstrated that they’re still a legit top-10 team.  LSU, on the other hand, has a real quarterback and probably the most potent office since at least the 2007 team, if not since the 2003 team under Nick Saban.  Watch out, SEC; the Bayou Bengals are deadly this year.

Even in week 3, it did college football no service to put on body bag games like Miami (Fla.) playing Bethune-Cookman, Tennessee playing Chattanooga, or Texas A&M playing Lamar.  The majority of the games thus far have demonstrated the need for a college football commissioner like no other season beginning in memory.  Such a commissioner’s main job would be to ensure that good and decent teams played each other in the regular season to keep college football both interesting and engaging.  As Alabama has learned the hard way, even a team with devoted as fans as those of The Tide will be loathe to attend such boring games when they know that their team will walk away winning by at least four touchdowns.  If head coaches and their respective athletics directors are too timid to risk a loss by playing good teams, thus making for good, interesting games, then a college football commissioner shall have to force the issue for them.

No sport can flourish with hard-core fans along, (see:  Soccer, Major League).  Conversely, one of the biggest reasons why the NFL is the most popular sport league in America by far is because, in addition to its legions of hard-core fans, it’s practically everyone else’s second-favorite sport.

Over the past 25 years, we college football fans have witnessed dramatic growth in the game we love.  That prosperity is now potentially in peril when so many teams schedule boring, pointless, body bag games.  Want to slowly wither away into relative obscurity?  Start by turning off the casual fans with insufficiently engaging games.  The three stellar games I have already mentioned in this article are not enough to maintain that.

Yes, week 4 shall be an improvement, but much work needs to be done to prevent such a spate of pointless games from showing up on major teams’ schedules.  A commissioner of college football would be the quickest, most efficient, and most decisive instrument to ensure a critical mass of engaging matchups throughout the season.

To keep the game we love from dwindling into irrelevancy, more people in the sport need to be willing to take these necessary risks.  Lest we have to hold our collective breath before enough coaches and AD’s wise up to this, a college football commissioner could wise up for them and compel enough, er, compelling games to take place.  The question thus becomes, do the powers that be in the NCAA HQ recognize such urgency, and if not, why not?

 

On Changes in SEC Competition February 8, 2019

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They say that a college football team’s potential for high rankings and even playoff contention is predicated on the ranking of its recruiting classes.  Alabama’s persistently top-ranked recruiting classes seem to demonstrate this.  Yet while some things remain the same, others seem to be changing.

For several years, the SEC appeared to consist of Alabama and everybody else.  The Crimson Tide had Nick Saban, who has proven to be the best college head coach in the business, while almost all other programs in the conference – with some exceptions – having been led by glorified gym teachers.

That now seems to be changing.  Kirby Smart at Georgia, for example, has proven to be a most capable Saban protégé.  He learned Saban’s modus operandi while defensive coordinator at Alabama, and the Bulldogs’ performance for the past two seasons shows that he has successfully transplanted a critical percentage of this erstwhile master’s methodologies into Athens.  Indeed, the 2017-2018 season culminated with Georgia playing Alabama for the national title.  At the send of the 2018 season, the Bulldogs once again played the Tide down to the wire during the SEC championship game.

While Georgia has emerged as Alabama’s toughest competition for conference supremacy, other intra-conference competition now gradually emerges, too.  Take Florida, for example.  Dan Mullen is such a skillful coach that his previous program, Mississippi State, was briefly the number one team in the country back in 2014 (Dak Prescott sure helped with that, to be sure).  Now, with far more resources at his disposal, he has brought the Gators back to strength.  Their 41-15 trouncing of a solid, Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan team in the Peach Bowl has demonstrated this.  Both Georgia and Alabama ought to be on notice that there is a new up-and-comer on the block.

As things currently stand, Alabama has the top-ranked freshman recruiting class for 2019, and Georgia is right behind them at No. 2.  But Florida is now at No. 9 (up from No. 17 the previous year), and their on-the-field improvement was clearly noticeable in the aforementioned Peach Bowl.  With such a bump in the recruiting rankings, one can only imagine how highly their team rankings could improve come the Fall.

While Georgia needs to start looking over its shoulder at SEC East and border rival Florida, in the west, the competitive pressure is intensifies for Saban and Bama.  Texas A&M caught lightning in a bottle with Johnny Manziel under the leadership of Kevin Sumlin (who went 51-26, not bad for an overall average program).  While it remains my contention that Aggie Nation was a collective fool in jettisoning Coach Sumlin just a few years post-Manziel, they nevertheless seem to have upgraded with Jimbo Fisher, who previously had revived Florida State.  Fisher did not disappoint in his first year (2018), going 9-4, winning the Gator Bowl (52-13 over NC State…ouch!), and finishing the year at No. 16.

Further improvement for the Aggies seems imminent.  Last year, they finished at No. 16 in the recruiting rankings, but this year have risen to No. 4.  Nick Saban’s dominance of the SEC West is about to become considerably more difficult.

It gets no easier from there.  Just behind A&M (who, again, is No. 4) in the recruiting rankings at No. 5 is SEC West rival LSU.  All head coach Ed Orgeron needs is a more creative offense, and they could very well contend with the Tide for divisional supremacy.  Until he does, Orgeron might still merit the “gym teacher” category placement.

One other proven coach of note is Mark Stoops at Kentucky.  A program at considerable disadvantages compared to other SEC programs not named Missouri, Stoops has built the Wildcats up to their strongest level since the Fran Curci era.  Barring some major scandal, he shall have done so through considerably more ethical means at that!  His 2018 recruiting class was only at No. 30, and this year at No. 34.  Yet the Wildcats finished the 2018 season at 10-3, including a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, and with a ranking at No. 11.  Mark Stoops thus deserves a serious award for the SEC coach to have done the most with the least.

Yes, the SEC still has its fair share of “gym teachers”, but there are others who are clearly talented and have what it takes to seriously threaten Saban’s legendary dynasty.

Look out for Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and possibly LSU as they look to start campaigns that should make for a very interesting 2019 season in SEC football.

 

 

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

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

Lucky guy: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brett Brennan, San Jose State

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  San Jose State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Florida

Did the season start?  Miami

Can the season end?  Louisville

Can the season never endMichigan

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

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

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

What? Baylor 35, Oklahoma State 31

HuhPitt 23, No. 25 Virginia 13

Double Huh?  Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

Upset alert: Michigan State @ No. 10 Ohio State

Must win: South Carolina @ No. 11 Florida

Offensive explosion: Texas @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: Kansas @ Kansas State

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

Also:  Wisconsin @ Penn State

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

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

Why are they playing?  Navy @ No. 12 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: East Carolina @ Tulane

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

 

 

On the perils of trying to fire one’s way out of “Glen Mason Territory” October 15, 2018

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Last year, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about the perils to which average and above-average football programs expose themselves when they fire a coach who has been winning games, except that now he’s not winning enough games.  He dubbed this situation “Glen Mason Territory”.

What happens is that a team (typically, a 2nd-tier Power Five program) is in the doldrums, suffering from a string of losing seasons.  The university’s AD hires a new coach who then comes in and rights the ship.  Instead of losing season after losing season, the program now enjoys winning seasons.  The team starts going to bowl games, say, five over the course of seven years.  The fans are loving it.  They want more.  The boosters want more.  The athletics director wants more.

Except that the head coach cannot deliver more.  It’s usually not his fault.  There’s often a set of structural limitations in place, and despite the community’s clamoring, the coach, despite all he has done, cannot deliver on the expectations that have been unintentionally raised.  In other words, the coach did raise the bar of performance expectations, which was great for a while.  Now the fans and everyone else take this for grant, and want it raised even further, which is an impossible task.  Instead of accepting this frank fact of life, the fans call for the AD to do the feel-good thing, which is to fire the coach and replace him someone who (they think) deliver on these raised (often, unreasonable) expectations.

Let us briefly consider the namesake of “Glen Mason Territory” for a moment as an example.  Glen Mason was a former Ohio State coordinator who did an impressive salvage job at Kansas in the 1990s.  Minnesota hired him in 1997 for a similar turnaround.  Despite the Golden Gophers’ past tradition (having won multiple national titles in the 1930s and 1940s under Bernie Bierman), the program had been absent from the national conscious since most of the 1960s (having won the whole thing, oddly, in 1960).

Mason started to deliver in 1999, winning eight games that year, including a massive upset over then, No. 2 Penn State.  The following year, they sent Ohio State’s national title aspirations into an early death spiral, in the Horseshoe, no less.  As Bill Connelly tells it further:

“The Gophers would bowl again in 2000 and 2002, then surge in 2003. Behind the punishing combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, they beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to a 9-3 regular season, then Oregon in a Sun Bowl thriller to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1905.

The problem: he never won 10 again. The Gophers started 2004 5-0 and reached 13th before losing five of six down the stretch and needing a bowl win to salvage 7-5. They went 7-5 again in 2005 and were on the doorstep of a third straight seven-win season in 2006 before blowing an enormous Insight Bowl lead to Texas Tech.

A year after a contract extension, Minnesota used the bowl collapse as impetus for panic. Despite seven bowls in eight years — for a program that had been almost absent from college football’s consciousness for nearly four decades — the school pushed Mason out.

The program had grown stale, you see, and needed young energy. “I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm,” said athletic director Joel Maturi.”

The question in the mind of many of the readers by now is, ‘why couldn’t Minnesota “got over the hump”, so to speak?’  One reason, at the time, was facilities.  If a Big Ten recruit went to, say, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State on visits was able to take in the grandeur of their home stadia, they would be most unimpressed by seeing the Metrodome as their potential home stadium if they chose to don the Maroon & Gold.  Having been on the sidelines for a game there once, I personally can vouch for how sterile a place it is.  Despite the university’s best efforts to jazz it up with bunting and national championship banners in the school’s colors all over the place on game day, it remains sterile, even negatively inspiring.  As one of my fellow student managers at the time said so succinctly, “that place just sucks the life force out of you.”

Seeing things along those lines, one can appreciate the difficulties that Mason had to overcome in attaining the success his team enjoyed.  But in the end, it wasn’t good enough.  Why?  Answer: expectations that have been raised beyond reason.

Notice in Connelly’s writing how he cited then-AD Joel Maturi saying the program had “grown stale”.  Such wording is a symptom of the fallacious “this-is-who-we-now-are mentality”, when a program long in the doldrums all of a sudden enjoys a spate of success.  Pretty soon, the fan base starts to take this newfound success for granted, and becomes increasingly restless when the coach fails to deliver even more success, more than the program is structurally built to deliver under modern constraints.

Consider, again, Minnesota.  Sure, the Twin Cities might produce several players talented enough to compete at a high level, but much of the rest of the roster is made up of recruits from Ohio who were passed over by the Buckeyes.  In explicably, you’ll find a few players from Florida and Texas (e.g., Marion Barber III) in there, too.  But the immediate point is, there is not enough local talent from which to draw in order to build up a roster that can consistently vie for the national title.  The only team in such a predicament that has come close to such viability is Oregon (proving that there is always an exception to the rule), with maybe Washington to a lesser extent.

So Mason was already dealing with that structural roadblock to meeting unrealistic expectations, in addition to the stadium, which was a potential turn-off to recruits.  Not until 2009 did they open up TCF Bank Stadium on the school’s main campus.  Had Mason had this shiny new stadium at this disposal then, things might have been a little different (emphasis on ‘might have been’).

Consider weather, too.  Sure, Minnesota is a great school, and the Twin Cities are reasonably happening, but it’s also cold…very cold.  Most recruits might choose to brave the cold winters in Columbus, Ohio, or even State College, Pa., or even Ann Arbor, Mich., but they’ll draw the line at the next-level frigidity of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Can one blame them?

Of course, asking the reasonable thing, which is for the fan base to take these structural obstacles into consideration to damper their unrealistic expectations is apparently too much to ask these days.  These unrealistic expectations lead to impatience, which leads to rash decisions.  So naturally they fired Mason.  They brought in Tim Brewster as his replacement.  Brewster promised to recruit, to be the ‘shot in the arm’ the program needed, etc., and proceeded to go 15-30.  For comparison, Mason went 64-57.  Will the Gopher faithful give charismatic young coach P.J. Fleck the chance to duplicate Mason’s efforts?  That all depends on if they learned anything from this experience.

Other fan bases seem not to be have learned, and have suffered the consequences as a result.  To wit:

Arizona State fired Todd Graham, despite his 7-5 regular season record in 2017.  The program had not been competitive consistently since the Frank Kush years of the 1970s.  Bruce Snyder did the best job in recent years, leading the Sun Devils to almost win the national title in 1996.  Snyder’s leadership proved that the Sun Devils are capable of high ceilings, but brief ones.  Arizona State has hired former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in his stead.  It remains to be seen if this risky hire will pan out, but at least it is an interesting hire.  One thing that ASU does have going for it is that it’s located in a geographical spot with an endless summer, a campus that sports tons of pretty co-eds, and the Phoenix area is a decent hotbed for good recruits.  Theoretically, the right coach could set the entire Pac-12 on notice, as Bruce Snyder did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

But as Bill Connelly wisely points out, schools without such advantages who nevertheless act on the impatience born of unrealistically raised expectations can suffer major consequences.

  • On the heels of 11- and nine-win seasons, Boston College pushed Jeff Jagodzinski out because he deigned to interview for other jobs. They were 2-10 four years later and haven’t reached nine wins since.

  • Ron Zook took Illinois to nine wins and a Rose Bowl in 2007, and after a two-year reset, got them back to 7-6 in both 2010 and 2011. He was fired. Illinois has averaged 3.7 wins per year since.

  • Dan McCarney won at least seven games five times in a six-year span at Iowa State but was let go after a 4-8 downturn in 2006. ISU has not topped seven wins since, though that could change with an upcoming bowl game.

To be sure, current ISU head coach Matt Campbell has made Jack Trice Stadium a perilous place to play for undefeated teams, as top-ten West Virginia just learned last night the hard way.

  • Ralph Friedgen took Maryland to seven bowls in 10 years, and after a two-win collapse in 2009, rebounded to nine wins in 2010. Maryland has averaged 4.7 wins per year since firing him.

  • NC State pushed Tom O’Brien out in 2012 after 24 wins in three years. Their best three-year win total since: 22.*

Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to respectability (and rankings), but it has taken the program several years to return to this spot.

  • David Cutcliffe won seven or more games for five straight years at Ole Miss, peaking with a 10-win campaign in 2003. But after a 4-7 reset in 2004, he was fired. The Rebels would top four wins twice in the next seven years.

  • Pitt pushed Dave Wannstedt out after after 26 wins in three years. The Panthers have averaged 6.6 wins since.

  • Despite seven ranked finishes in 11 years, Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni after he hit a dry spell. He went 4-8 in 2002 then rebounded to only 6-6 in 2003-04. Syracuse went 10-37 under replacement Greg Robinson and has averaged 4.4 wins since Pasqualoni.

Dino Babers has methodically built Syracuse into a better program, but consider that the hiatus between this decent year and Pasqualoni’s last season is 13 years.

  • Phil Fulmer took Tennessee to 15 bowls and five SEC championship games in 16 years. He won the national title in 1998 and won at least eight games 14 times. He fell to 5-6 in 2005 but rebounded back to 10 wins in 2007. After a second five-win reset in 2008, he was fired. The Vols have hit the eight-win mark twice in the nine years since.

But what about Georgia, you ask?  That’s really not an exception to the rule after all.  Mark Richt had been consistently winning at Georgia but failed to bring home a national championship trophy.  Nick Saban and others did have something to do with that, but again, it’s almost too much to expect folks to be reasonable, especially in SEC country, where “it just means…more”.  So, they fired Richt and brought in Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.  And he too, won games, even played his former team for the national title.  And lost, because Nick Saban’s Alabama these days is a consistent juggernaut.  Nevertheless, Smart succeeded where Richt failed.  So firing their way out of Glen Mason Territory has panned out for Georgia thus far, but that’s because they have access to tons of NFL-potential talent in Greater Atlanta, their own backyard.  So there.

The conclusion to which Connelly arrived in his article is that a school cannot simply fire-a-coach its way out of “Glen Mason Territory”.  Why?  Let us consider basic reality.  Football, unlike economics, is a zero-sum game.  When one team wins a game, that means that team’s opponent had to lose that game.  Not all teams can be championship-viable teams all the time.  It is simply impossible.  Furthermore, because of this zero-sum fact of life football (and most other sports), not everybody can be good all the time.  Even traditional powers have had down years (just look at Alabama in between the Mike Dubose and Nick Saban years).

Second, not all teams are built to be national-title contenders.  Again, one key factor is, does your state produce enough local talent to compete nationally?  In states like California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, (borderline case:  Arizona) that is a given.  Even Oklahoma does not produce the players it used to (to be sure, even during the glory days of Bud Wilkinson, OU has had to recruit Texas to be successful).  The only state north of the Sunbelt that can remotely compete on that scale is Ohio.  Everyone else has to recruit from those states just to be in a position to win games, period.

Also, unlike in the pros, where teams choose the players, in college, the players choose the programs.  That means that many blue chip recruits who have options are not going to flock to the Arctic climbs of Minnesota, or the isolated, wind-swept plains of Nebraska if they can land a scholarship at Georgia or LSU or even TCU instead.  Ohio State has managed to stay viable despite its cold winters due to the total commitment of the university, plus the community and state at large, to muster every last resource needed to attract the players necessary to compete at that level.

When a coach raises the bar of performance expectations but cannot raise it further, it’s usually not the coach’s fault.  It’s program history for one.  Georgia, for example, only has two national titles, one from 1942 and from 1980; the former being shared with Ohio State.  As discussed at some length, it’s also infrastructure (e.g., facilities and access to NFL-caliber talent), and program support.  But dealing with these issues ranges from difficult to impossible.  Instead of dealing with these realities like responsible people, too often people take the feel-good way out (in reality, a dead end) and kill the messenger by firing the very coach who improved the team’s standing and situation in the first place.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  East Carolina

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Miami

Did the season start?  Alabama

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

Must win: (any championship game with playoff implications)

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

Defensive struggle: (jury’s still out)

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

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

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

Why are they playing? UMass @ FIU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ Coastal Carolina

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

Week 13 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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