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College Football Awards, Week 13 (2018) November 25, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Poor guy: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jonathan Smith, Oregon State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Kentucky (defeated Louisville 56-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (defeated Kansas 24-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to Cincinnati 56-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UTSA (lost to North Texas 24-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ohio State (defeated No. 4 Michigan 62-39)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Washington State

Did the season start?  Wisconsin

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Oklahoma 59, No. 13 West Virginia 56

Play this again, too:  No. 22 Texas A&M 74, No. 7 LSU 72, 7OT

Never play this again: Temple 57, UConn 7

What? Minnesota 37, Wisconsin 15

HuhNo. 23 Boise State 33, No. 21 Utah State 24

Double Huh?  No. 16 Washington 28, No. 8 Washington State 15

Are you kidding me??  No. 22 Texas A&M 74, No. 7 LSU 72, 7OT

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Ohio State 62, No. 4 Michigan 39

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 14 Texas vs No. 6 Oklahoma also:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 5 Georgia

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Marshall @ Virginia Tech

Best non-Power Five matchup: UAB @ Middle Tennessee

Upset alert: No. 19 Northwestern vs. No. 10 Ohio State

Must win: Any conference championship game

Offensive explosion: inconclusive

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

Great game no one is talking about: Memphis @ No. 9 UCF

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Who’s bringing the body bags? East Carolina @ NC State

Why are they playing?  Drake @ No. 25 Iowa State

Plenty of good seats remaining: inconclusive

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Akron @ South Carolina

 

 

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College Football Awards, Week 12 (2018) November 18, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Glad I’m not him: Chad Morris, Arkansas

Lucky guy: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Poor guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Frank Solich, Ohio U

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lovie Smith, Illinois

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Mississippi State (defeated Arkansas 52-6)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 52-51 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: New Mexico (lost to No. 25 Boise State 45-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Middle Tennessee (lost to No. 17 Kentucky 34-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ohio U (defeated Buffalo 52-17)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  West Virginia

Did the season start?  Michigan State

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endNotre Dame

GAMES
Play this again: Oklahoma State 45, No. 9 West Virginia 41

Play this again, too:  Wisconsin 47, Purdue 44, 3 OT

Never play this again: Iowa 63, Illinois 0

What? Miami (Ohio) 13, Northern Illinois 7

HuhKansas State 21, Texas Tech 6

Double Huh?  Nebraska 9, Michigan State 6

Are you kidding me??  Florida State 22, No. 20 Boston College 21

Oh – my – GodOklahoma State 45, No. 9 West Virginia 41

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 12)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Michigan @ No. 10 Ohio State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 11 UCF @ South Florida

Honorable mention for above:  UAB @ Middle Tennessee

Upset alert: Auburn @ No. 1 Alabama  also:  Georgia Tech @ No. 5 Georgia

Must win: Purdue @ Indiana

Offensive explosion: No. 6 Oklahoma @ No. 9 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Eastern Michigan @ Kent State

Great game no one is talking about: No. 23 Utah State @ No. 25 Boise State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Chris Petersen of Washington vs Mike Leach of Washington State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 17 Kentucky @ Louisville  Also:  San Jose State @ Fresno State

Why are they playing?  No. 15 Texas @ Kansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: Southern Miss @ UTEP

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Rutgers @ Michigan State

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

 

 

A Tale of Two Teams (for the middle of the 2018 season) October 21, 2018

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Upsets may have abounded last week (week 7), but this [eighth] week gave us one of the biggest upsets of the year thus far in Purdue not only defeating No. 2 Ohio State, but dominating them throughout the game.  At no time did the Buckeyes take the lead throughout the 60 minutes of regulation.  Given the nature of the college game, the win was of the highly emotional nature, and a celebratory crowd gathered on the field of Ross-Ade Stadium immediately afterward not seen in size and magnitude since the Boilers defeated Indiana to earn its Rose Bowl berth almost 18 years ago.

One takeaway from this is that is appears to be a recurring pattern for Ohio State to give us one embarrassing loss per year.  Last year it was Iowa trouncing them in Iowa City, and yesterday it was Purdue trouncing them in West Lafayette.  Such a huge loss last year turned out to be the deciding factor that kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs, much to the detriment of the playoffs in terms of engagement with a national audience.  Does such a loss portend the same thing for Ohio State this season?

Maybe, maybe not.  Last year, Ohio State already had one loss (to Penn State, at home) headed into Iowa before sustaining such a stinging defeat.  This time around, the Bucks were undefeated and ranked No. 2 nationally in the AP Poll.  With Maryland and Nebraska remaining on their schedules, those are two easy wins with which to climb back up the polls.  Michigan State shall be a challenge, however, on Nov. 10, and of course, they cap off the regular season in “The Game” against sworn enemy Michigan, who is also in the top ten.  So, with help and a redoubled effort, there is still hope for Ohio State’s playoff aspirations.  After all, it’s not November yet, when such a wound is non-recoverable.

For Purdue, such a win could be a huge shot in the arm for a season that was already gaining in momentum after an inexplicable 0-3 start.  Since then, the team has shown increased improvement with each passing week.  It is crucial for Purdue that this pattern remains to keep up this newfound momentum.  Normally after highly emotional wins such as this, the victorious team likely comes out flat the following week.  We’re talking about 19 and 20 year-old college kids, after all, not seasoned pros who, through hard work and experience, have inoculated themselves from the emotional roller coaster.  No, college kids are still prone to it, sadly, which means the following week remains a head scratcher as to which team might show up, with some exceptions.

The primary cause for Purdue’s concern right now just so happens to be such an exception in Michigan State.  Mark Dantonio’s squad can be counted on to give a tough, consistent effort against its foes every week, no matter how outmatched the Spartans may be talent-wise.  Factor in further the fact that MSU just came off a tough loss to hated Michigan, and it is quite likely that the Spartans shall show up angry and anxious to take out their disappointment on visiting Purdue next week.

The bottom line for Purdue is that, as great a win as this was, it is still the middle of the season.  They now have to get back to work to ready themselves to take on another dangerous opponent.  If they successfully maintain the momentum they have methodically built up thus far, they could vie for the B1G championship game in early December.  The bottom line for Ohio State is that hope remains for them if they too get back to work and learn to put forth an effort where they more consistently play up to their potential, unlike this past Saturday night.  Should these optimal paths be taken by these respective teams, we could see a [high-stakes] rematch between them six weeks hence in Indianapolis.

 

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Honorable mention:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Poor guy: Tom Allen, Indiana

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Dimel, UTEP

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulsa

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endMichigan

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

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

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

What? Nebraska 53, Minnesota 28

HuhTemple 24, No. 20 Cincinnati 17 (OT)

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Also:  Hawaii @ Fresno State

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

Must win: Purdue @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 7 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ South Carolina

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

Also:  Appalachian State @ Georgia Southern

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

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

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

Why are they playing?  Bethune-Cookman @ Nebraska

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

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

*How often do you get to say that?

Week 8 Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 7 (2018) October 15, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Army (defeated San Jose State 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (defeated Vanderbilt 37-27)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to Army 52-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Minnesota (lost to Ohio State 30-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Illinois 46-7)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Western Kentucky

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Oregon 30, No. 7 Washington 27, OT

Never play this again: Army 52, SJSU 3

What? Virginia 16, No. 16 Miami 13

HuhNo. 17 Oregon 30, No. 7 Washington 27, OT

Double HuhMichigan State 21, No. 8 Penn State 17

Are you kidding me??  Iowa State 30, No. 6 West Virginia 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 LSU 36, No. 2 Georgia 16

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 8)
Game of the week:  No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 5 LSU

Also:  No. 16 NC State @ No. 3 Clemson

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Memphis @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: North Texas @ UAB

Upset alert: No. 16 NC State @ No. 3 Clemson

Must win: No. 6 Michigan @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 12 Oregon @ No. 25 Washington State

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Dave Doeren of NC State vs Dabo Swinney of Clemson

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 10 UCF @ East Carolina

Why are they playing?  UTEP @ Louisiana Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Tulsa @ Arkansas

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

Due to the intriguing complexity of the current situation, no additional thoughts are offered at this time, but shall be forthcoming in a subsequent article later this week.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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

Lucky guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chris Ash, Rutgers

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Duke

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endNotre Dame

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

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

What? Liberty 52, New Mexico 43

HuhFlorida 13, No. 23 Mississippi State 6

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: SMU @ UCF

Upset alert: No. 8 Notre Dame @ Virginia Tech

Must win: Georgia Tech @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: Navy @ Air Force

Great game no one is talking about: Tulane @ Cincinnati

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

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

Why are they playing? North Texas @ UTEP

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

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

Week 5 Thoughts: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

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

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Poor guy: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Nebraska

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endAlabama

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

Play this again, too:  SMU 31, Navy 30

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

What? Purdue 30, No. 23 Boston College 13

HuhTexas Tech 41, No. 15 Oklahoma State 17

Double HuhIllinois State 35, Colorado State 19

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

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

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Texas Tech @ No. 12 West Virginia

Must win: Purdue @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ Fresno State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ No. 23 Mississippi State

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

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

Week 4 Thoughts:

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

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

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

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