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Choose Wisely Where to Campaign, Sen. Cruz March 10, 2016

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Cruz-TrumpThere is an old saying of “choose your hill to die on”.  The meaning behind the saying is that nobody has unlimited resources/energy.  Therefore, one must pick one’s proverbial battles judiciously if that person has any hope of succeeding in his/her endeavor.

The overall message of the Tuesday, March 8 Republican primaries is that they are anything but settled.  As Michael Barone points out, a Donald Trump delegate majority is anything but inevitable.  The key to ensuring the prevention of Trump ruining the party is, at this immediate point, to vote tactically, not strategically.  Ohio and Florida are both winner-take-all primaries.  With four candidates remaining in the race, that means a win on plurality instead of majority is a foregone conclusion.

Both the aforementioned states off lots of delegates.  The ideal tactical votes right now is for Ohio GOP voters to give the delegates to Gov. John Kasich.  Likewise, the ideal tactical vote in Florida is for Senator Marco Rubio to win.  Both of these candidates are the most viable alternatives to Trump in these respective states.

Enter Cruz, who seems to have no concept of these important tactics.  He has been going after Rubio in Florida and going after Kasich in Ohio.  This is madness.  Undermining both of these candidates in these respective states can only help Trump.  Extra votes to Cruz in both of these states are unlikely to be detracted from The Donald, but are very likely to hurt the respective viable alternatives to Trump.

Cruz has thus become a very frustrating candidate to follow.  His energy is admirable, but he has proven to not have an eye for these important tactics, and that could be potentially hazardous to us all.  For if Trump wins the GOP nomination, the party faithful are essentially doomed to a Bataan Death March of a political campaign, slowly and agonizingly dragging into early November.  Moreover, those of us who care about the Constitutional limits on governmental scope and power shall be particularly scorned, as neither nominee of the two major parties will, in this scenario, have any respect for America’s founding document.

The irony in all of this is that Cruz bills himself as a Constitutional standard-bearer.  Yet his lack of tactical sense in this crucial primary could very well undermine his most cherished selling point by not understanding which states he can credibly win and which states he ought to let other anti-Trump nominees win to make sure The Donald does not gain further strength.

Be wise, Senator Cruz:  leave Florida to Rubio and Ohio to Kasich, and by all means, concentrate your energy in the other states still in play.  Otherwise, you might ruin things for all us, in some way for a generation to come.  Should the unthinkable come to pass, how then will you be of any benefit to those of us who share your ideology?  Sharing our values is all well and good, but if you lack the discipline to effectively advance these values, you become a liability and thus an unaware tool for those who are hostile to that which the Constitution stands.

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College Football Awards Week 6 October 13, 2015

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CharlieStrongRRS2015

Texas head coach Charlie Strong celebrates with his team after their incredible upset over rival Oklahoma. Judging by the photo, it seems as though he might have won back the locker room. Photo from the Dallas Morning News.

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 6] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Glad I’m not him: Steve Sarkesian, USC

Lucky guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell of Toledo

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Kansas 66-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Troy (lost to Mississippi State 45-17)

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

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Baylor

Dang, they’re bad:  Miami, Ohio

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start? Miami, Fla.

Can the season end?  South Carolina

Can the season never endUtah

GAMES

Play this again:  Texas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

Play this again, too:  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Never play this again: No. 3 Baylor 66, Kansas 7

What? No. 18 Michigan 38, No. 13 Northwestern 0

HuhWashington 17, No. 17 USC 12

Are you kidding me?  Tennessee 38, No. 19 Georgia 31

Oh – my – GodTexas 24, No. 10 Oklahoma 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Michigan State @ No. 12 Michigan

Also:  No. 10 Alabama @ No. 9 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 13 Ole Miss @ Memphis

Best non-Power Five matchup: Akron @ Bowling Green

Upset alert: Louisville @ No. 11 Florida State

Must win: USC @ No. 14 Notre Dame

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ No. 2 Baylor

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about:  No. 17 Iowa @ No. 20 Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Mora of UCLA vs David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 TCU @ Iowa State

Why are they playing? Louisiana Tech @ Mississippi State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Ball State

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

Week 5 Take-aways:

What a weekend of upsets and near-upsets.  One obvious near-miss:  Gary Patterson’s TCU almost got upset on the road to Bill Snyder’s Kansas State.  You just know that the old man was not going to roll over for the vaunted Horned Frogs.  In the end, the near-miss cost the Frogs one spot in the rankings, as they are down to No. 3 from the No. 2 spot.

Similarly, Alabama took a while to get going at home against Arkansas.  Eventually the Tide decided to start playing football, but they were down to the under-performing Hogs for too long of a time in regulation to be taken seriously as a contending team.

Now the upsets:  we all knew that Northwestern was a legitimate team.  Most of us thought that the Wildcats playing the Michigan Wolverines would be the game of the week.  That turned out, in the end, not to be the case.  Jim Harbaugh seems to be building the Wolverrines to become stronger by the week.

Then there was the upset of the USC Trojans, at home, against Chris Petersen’s scrappy Washington Huskies.  We were all hoping for a good game, but certainly did not foresee the the embarrassment at home for the Men of Troy – though the subsequent news of Steve Sarkesian’s major alcohol problem certainly explains USC’s volatile performance this season.  Let us all wish a complete, sober recover for Sark as he embarks on a rehab program.

Or what about Tennessee?  The poor Vols were unable to “close the deal,” blowing leads to both Oklahoma and to Florida, leading to heartbreaking losses in so doing.  This time around, however, they had to play from behind, and upset the heavily-favored Georgia Bulldogs in so doing.  So much for Georgia’s national championship hopes this year.

But let us not fool ourselves.  The biggest upset of the week came in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.  All of us, even the team’s fans, had given the Texas Longhorns up for dead, especially after the devastating loss to TCU the previous week.  Coach Charlie Strong seemed to have lost the locker room, and he was strategically flailing in terms of not having an offensive or defensive identity.

Perhaps the rival Oklahoma Sooners were just naïve enough to take the bait.  The Horns looked like an entirely different team this past Saturday than they did for the entire season leading up to this fateful day.  Texas drew first blood late in the first quarter, and, mirabile dictu, did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.  Moreover, Strong somehow regained his identity, effectively playing a run-oriented, ball-control offense that left OU’s defense sucking wind by late in the 4th quarter.  It was just enough to hold on and to upset their heavily-favored rival.  It also likely saved Coach Strong’s bacon for the rest of the year.  Hook ‘em!

College Football Week 14 Awards December 1, 2013

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking a clue: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tom O’Brien, Penn State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking … anything:  Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ball State (defeated Miami, Ohio 55-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northern Illinois (defeated Western Michigan only 33-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: New Mexico (lost to Boise State 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  South Florida (lost to Central Florida 23-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated Texas Tech 41-16)

Dang, they’re good: Florida State

Dang, they’re bad:  Idaho

Did the season start?  Rutgers
Can the season end?  Purdue

Can the season never endAuburn

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

Take a look at this again, while you’re at it:  No. 13 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35

Never play this again: Ball State 55, Miami (Ohio) 14

What? San Jose State 62, No. 16 Fresno State 52

HuhPenn State 37, No. 15 Wisconsin 24

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 South Carolina 31, No. 6 Clemson 17
Oh – my – GodNo. 4 Auburn 34, No. 1 Alabama 28

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 14, pre-week 15)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship game

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)

Best non-Big Six matchup: LA-Lafayette @ South Alabama

Upset alert:  No. 10 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Ohio State in the B1G Championship game

Must win: No. 18 Oklahoma @ No. 7 Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: Texas @ No. 9 Baylor (Thurs.)

Defensive struggle: Memphis @ UConn

Great game no one is talking about: Bowling Green vs. No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship game, Fri.

Intriguing coaching matchup: George O’Leary of UCF vs. June Jones of SMU

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 20 Duke vs. No. 1 Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: Memphis @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  South Florida @ Rutgers

Week 14 in review:

Wow.  Many end-of-year (or NEARLY end-of-year) weekends that bill themselves as “Rivalry Week” rarely live up to the hype.  Much of the time, the rivalry games end up as rather one-sided affairs.  Not this time, though.  Take the Ohio State-Michigan game, for example.  On paper, it should not have been anything of a contest at all.  But the Wolverines showed up in this game as they had not done so all year.  Sure, they looked formidable against Notre Dame early in the season, but they brought their game to a whole level above that in giving the Buckeyes the biggest fight of the season.  It was fitting that they saved their best game for their last of the season, and against their sworn enemy from Columbus.  In the end, a one-point margin of victory helped preserve the Buckeyes’ undefeated season and a shot at the BCS title game.

The “Egg Bowl” rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State also lived up to its tradition, in more ways than one.  For starters, it returned to its Thanksgiving Day timeslot for the first time in several years.  For another, the game was close and hard-fought right to the end, with the Bulldogs pulling out the victory they needed to become bowl-eligible.

Duke-North Carolina may be known for its bitter basketball rivalry, but today, the football rivalry was a big deal and a good game.  The Blue Devils ended up winning, narrowly, 27-25, and in so doing they clinched a spot in the ACC Championship game for the first time ever.

Another such game that looked one-sided on paper but in reality was hard-fought to the end was the LSU-Arkansas match-up on Friday.  It seems not to matter how well LSU has done in the year, or how mediocre or play the play of the Razorbacks may be, but the Hogs always seem to bring their “A-game” when they play the Tigers.  Perhaps the trophy for which they play is sufficient motivation, as “The Boot” (it is shaped in the manner of Arkansas and Louisiana together on a map) weighs 175 pounds.

Yes, there were rivalry games that were rather one-sided affairs.  The Florida-Florida State game, usually played in or around the last weekend of the college football season, was almost always the game of the week back in the 1990s.  That started to change a decade ago when FSU’s on-field performance began to deteriorate.  But recently, the Seminoles have made the right moves to return to football factory status, while the Gators’ collective performance has seen much better days.  The outcome of Florida State’s 37-7 win therefore came as no surprise.

Same thing for the Purdue-Indiana game.  While Purdue owns the series by slightly more than a 2-1 margin, today, they did not show it, as the Hoosiers beat the Boilermakers 56-36, and four of Purdue’s touchdowns came in the last 20 minutes of the game, leaving the Boiler Faithful to scratch their heads all the more.

Then there was the “Iron Bowl,” that annual storied match-up between Auburn and Alabama, arguably the most intense, heated, and passionate of all the in-state rivalries.  Through much of the season, the game was not on many peoples’ radar screens.  Not after Auburn’s dismal performance last year; not even when the Tigers were slowly getting better and better with each game under new head coach Gus Malzahn.  Yet by game time, they worked their way up to the No. 4 team in the nation, giving the engaged observer pause that this match-up could be one of the most epic in the history of the rivalry.  The game remained close throughout regulation, and technically was tied up at its end, as the last second ticked off during a field goal attempt.  That same attempt came up short; short enough that an Auburn returner was able to field it in the end zone, before promptly running out of it straight up the field.  Wait a minute, the observers were telling themselves, nothing is going to come of this.  Nothing hardly ever does.  Yet the returner kept dodging a few would-be tacklers as he ran along the sideline.  In fact, he continued to run past a few more would-be tacklers before all jerseys of the opposing color were in his proverbial rear view mirror.  Wait, can this actually happen?  OMG, it IS happening!  But this NEVER happens!  And yet it IS!  I am  in shock.

The Iron Bowl, it turned out, was not just an incredible game in this history of this most-storied of rivalries.  THIS was a shot heard ‘round the world, and we are all still in shock from it today.

Still, not a bad turnaround from going winless in the SEC last year to having only one loss this year, even now potentially vying for a shot at the national title.  Guz Malzahn deserves “coach of the year” accolades for that alone.

Oh, and Stanford-Notre Dame turned out to be a very watchable game in its own right.  If that’s not enough, Steve Spurrier proved that he is the man yet again by schooling Dabo Swinney in Columbia, with his South Carolina Gamecocks trouncing the Clemson Tigers 31-17.  Had his squad not blown the game to hot-and-cold Tennessee earlier in the year, they would have punched their ticket to Atlanta to represent the East division in the conference championship game.  Instead, the team that will have that honor will be, inexplicably, Gary Pinkel and the Missouri Tigers.  Such is the world of college football at the end of the 2013 regular season.  What a way to cap things off, and best of all, there is a great after-party next Saturday with more games on the slate!

College Football Week 12 Awards November 18, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 12, pre-week 13] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Art Briles, Baylor
Glad I’m not him: Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Poor guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Desperately seeking a clue:  Jeff Tedford, California
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
Desperately seeking … anything:  Derek Dooley, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (beat Western Carolina 49-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Kansas State (see below)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Notre Dame 38-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wofford (lost to No. 13 South Carolina 24-7)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Baylor (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Army (see below)

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

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State (see below)

Did the season start? Michigan State
Can the season end?  Tennessee
Can the season never end?  LSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 8 LSU 41, Ole Miss 35
Never play this again: Temple 63, Army 32
What? Utah State 48, No. 20* Louisiana Tech 41, OT

Huh?  No. 23* Oklahoma State 59, No. 24* Texas Tech 21

Are you kidding me? No. 13* Stanford 17, No. 2* Oregon 14, OT

Oh – my – God:  Baylor 52, No. 1* Kansas State 24

* Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Florida @ No. 10 Florida State (notwithstanding No. 13 South Carolina @ No. 12 Clemson)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (none)
Best non-Big Six matchup: Ohio U @ Kent State
Upset alert: Baylor over Texas Tech in Waco

Must win: No. 1 Notre Dame @ USC
Offensive explosion: No. 24 Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Oklahoma
Defensive struggle: No. 20 Michigan @ No. 4 Ohio State
Great game no one is talking about: No. 5 Oregon @ No. 16 Oregon State

Thanksgiving Day Special:  TCU @ No. 18 Texas

Cloud Nine Bowl:  No. 8 Stanford @ No. 17 UCLA

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mike Riley of Oregon State vs. Chip Kelly of Oregon
Who’s bringing the body bags? Georgia Tech @ No. 3 Georgia (notwithstanding Northern Illinois @ Eastern Michigan, Friday)
Why are they playing? BYU @ New Mexico State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UNLV @ Hawaii

Plenty of good seats remaining, SEC East edition:  Kentucky @ Tennessee
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Akron @ Toledo (Tuesday night)

Instant BCS Chaos:  In just one night, the BCS standings have turned upside down.  All Kansas State and Oregon had to do was win out, and they would have been matched up in a very intriguing national championship game in Miami.  Scratch that; ain’t gonna happen.  Oregon lost a close, hard-fought game in Eugene, Ore., to a tough Stanford squad.  The game went into OT, and the Duck’s failure to score on their opening possession gave the Cardinal an opportunity to win the game with a field goal, which they did.  Another one bites the dust.

Yet half-way across the country in the heart of Texas (Waco, to be exact), something even more improbable developed.  Kansas State, at that time ranked No. 1 in the land, went down to spectacular defeat at the hands of Art Briles’ Baylor [Baptist] Bears.  The score itself was improbable:  when is the last time any top-ranked team went down to an un-ranked team by a score of 52-24?  Nothing accounts for that.  Credit Briles and Co. with coming up with an amazing game plan that effectively attacked the Wildcats where it hurt them the most, and they never let up the entire night.

Not in five years has there been such BCS standings chaos in one night of regular season football.  Yet things get even more intriguing from this point onward.  For the first time in 19 years, almost to the week, Notre Dame is the No. 1 team in the nation.  No doubt plenty of rejoicing erupted in South Bend., Ind., instantly upon Kansas State’s defeat, and no doubt the merriment doubled again in light of Oregon going down at home in OT.  After winning close game after close game, Brian Kelly has brought the Fighting Irish back to national prominence and is in the driver’s seat to punch their ticket to Miami come early January.  Meanwhile, an entire nation will scrutinize Notre Dame to see if they themselves can stand prosperity as they journey to Los Angeles this upcoming weekend to take on traditional rival USC.

And just like that, the SEC is back in the national discussion:  Alabama’s upset at home to Texas A&M last week seemed to wipe out the Crimson Tide’s hopes of repeating as national title contenders.  With last night’s, er, developments, despair has instantly transformed into renewed hope and ambition.  Bama is now second in both the AP and USA Today Polls, and Georgia is no. 3.  Should both those teams win out – extra emphasis on ‘should’ – it will be a very interesting contest in Atlanta for the SEC championship come Dec. 1.

Dooley Fired:  Not only is now-former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley “Desperately seeking…anything.”  Now he’ll be desperately seeking…a job.  The University of Tennessee decided to cut its ties with Dooley after their embarrassing loss in Nashville to up-and-coming, in-state rival Vanderbilt, 41-18.  The firing is effective immediately, as it has been reported on Tennessee’s athletics website that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney (with whom I worked while a student manager at Purdue, as he was an assistant under Coach Joe Tiller) will be the interim head coach for the upcoming game against Kentucky.  Evidently, the powers that be are not giving Dooley a couple of curtain calls like those UK’s Joker Phillips has received.

Yesterday’s embarrassing loss to the Commodores was just the last straw in one bad development after another for the program; the final blow to prove to the Volunteer nation that things need to be guided in a newer, better direction. This year alone, the Vols have gone 4-7, and 0-7 in the SEC, something entirely unacceptable to a large, proud fan base, to say nothing of a program with such massive tradition and resources behind it.  In just one game shy of three complete seasons, Dooley is just 15-21 with Tennessee, but worse yet, 4-19 in the SEC, and 0-15 against top-25 opponents.  Let us not forget that his hiring was essentially a stop-gap move in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure for the USC job.  Let us also not forget that under Dooley’s leadership last year, Tennessee lost their annual season-closer to Kentucky for the first time since 1984, and it is not a given that the Vols will Triumph over the Wildcats this year, either.  Come to think of it, has Kentucky ever defeated Tennessee in football for two seasons in a row?

Paging Bobby Petrino…

Heisman talk:  Quarterback Collin Klein of K-State was the Heisman frontrunner, but after his team lost ignominiously, and his performance was mediocre at best (27 for 50, 286 yards, 2 td’s but 3 int’s), could it be that “Johnny Football,” Johnny Manziel, himself of Texas A&M, is the new award frontrunner?  Food for thought, in any case.

College Football Week 9 Awards October 29, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 9, pre-week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Glad I’m not him: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Butch Jones, Cincinnati
Desperately seeking a clue: Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Darrell Hazell, Kent State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Desperately seeking … anything:  Danny Hope, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oregon (beat Colorado 70-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (beat Kansas 21-17)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Auburn (lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 63-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Texas 21-17)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Navy (beat East Carolina 56-28)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  Texas Tech (lost to No. 3 Kansas State 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Kansas State
Dang, they’re bad: Temple
Can’t stand prosperity:  Ohio U.  (lost to Miami [Ohio] 23-20)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Purdue
Can the season never end?  Notre Dame

GAMES
Play this again: No. 7 Georgia 17, No. 8 Florida 9

Never play this again: No. 3 Oregon 70, Colorado 14
What?  Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13, OT
Huh? No. 10 Georgia 7, No. 8 Florida 9

Double Huh?  Washington 20, No. 13 Oregon State 17
Are you kidding me? Kent State 35, Rutgers 23
Oh – my – God:  Arizona 39, No 18 USC 36
Told you so: No. 12 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 30, OT

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 LSU (notwithstanding No. 2 Oregon @ No. 9 USC)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Tulsa @ Arkansas
Best non-Big Six matchup: SMU @ Central Florida
Upset alert: No. 10 Clemson @ Duke

Must win: Texas @ No. 20 Texas Tech
Offensive explosion: Arizona @ UCLA
Defensive struggle: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 Texas A&M @ No. 17 Mississippi State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Dan Mullen of Mississippi State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 15 Stanford
Why are they playing? Troy @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UAB @ Southern Miss
They shoot horses, don’t they?  UMass @ Northern Illinois

Week 9 in Review:  Upsets and Conference Toilet Bowls Abound

The whole purpose of a given “Toilet Bowl” is to pit the two worst teams against each other to find which is, in  fact, the worst of the worst.  Such was determined twice yesterday.  In the Big 10 Toilet Bowl, Indiana trounced Illinois 31-17, in the Fighting Illini’s home stadium, no less.  Illinois, now 2-6, is now the undisputed – though clearly not undefeated – bottom-feeder of the conference for this season.  They are winless in the Big 10, and have no time to lick this very revealing wound, as next week they venture into Columbus, Ohio to take on Ohio State.

Meanwhile, in the Toilet Bowl, SEC Edition, Missouri defeated Kentucky in CoMo (which is what the locals refer to as Columbia, Mo.) by a similar score, 33-10.  Kentucky is in a sadly familiar spot in the most brutal of conferences in college football.  What is even more revealing, though, is UK’s response in the wake of the loss.

“It’s tough, because we knew we were better than those guys,” so said Kentucky tailback Raymond Sanders.  Better than them, even when losing by 23 points?  Such denial of reality is why head coach Joker Phillips has merited the above award for the week (see:  Desperately seeking a clue).

Undefeateds going down:  Fewer teams remain undefeated today than when they woke up to play games yesterday.  Rutgers was the highest-ranked team in the Big East before going down to one-loss Kent State.  Inexplicably, the Golden Flashes’ sole defeat came at the hands of Kentucky.

Mississippi State’s first defeat of the season was the most understandable of all first losses of the year, given that they were going up against No. 1 Alabama, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, no less.  The Bulldogs’ head coach, Dan Mullen, said it best going into the weekend when he pointed out that, “[Y]ou’ve got to try to run the ball (on Alabama) whether you’re having success or not.”  Despite Mississippi State’s best efforts, they were very slowly and methodically ground down by the Crimson Tide, 38-7.

On the West Coast, undefeated Oregon State lost that distinction in their loss to Washington.  Steve Sarkesian’s Huskies have earned the reputation of being a “giant killer” of sorts this year, as they handed previously-undefeated Stanford its first loss of the year as well.  Keep an eye on the program on the rebound in Seattle.

Finally, Florida was another team to bite the proverbial dust and suffer its first loss to Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla.  Though scoring was relatively low (17-9 in favor of the UGA Bulldogs), there were plenty of plays to keep the crowd enthused.  In the end, the old adage of “the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins” rang true yet again, which explains how the Bulldogs reigned victorious.

More chrome:  North Carolina – of all bloody teams! – has jumped on the chrome dome bandwagon, as they sported chrome-silver helmets during their last-minute upset over rival N.C. State.  Moreover, the main decal was an oversized Tarheel logo (the Carolina blue-colored foot with the tar on the heel), in breaking with the traditional “NC” decal they usually display.  On all-dark blue jersey and pants ensemble complimented a very different look for a team normally known for its “Carolina blue” helmets and jerseys.  Oh well:  it beats the trendy “matte” look!

Choke-lahoma:  That moniker was earned/demonstrated yet again last night, as Oklahoma squandered a golden (if you’ll pardon the expression) opportunity to hand Notre Dame its first loss of the year.  Stoops and company have nobody to blame but themselves for deliberately holding themselves back.  They had an offensive line capable of controlling the line of scrimmage, and yet they repeatedly passed up on the opportunity to establish a ground attack.  On the passing side of things, they also held themselves back by concentrating on short-yardage increments that are the bread-and-butter of the one-sided spread offense.  They did this while being thoroughly capable of throwing the ball further down the field, and by not doing this, never forced the Irish secondary to respect either the deep threat or the short yardage attempts.  Head Coach Bob Stoops has proven once again to be something of a schoolyard bully of the coaching ranks; arrogant and blunt with reporters, lots of bluster, but having little to, er, “bring,” when genuinely challenged.

Looking ahead:  some other games to keep an eye on, aside from the upcoming games listed above includes Air Force @ Army in an all-service academies showdown.  Another intriguing matchup is TCU venturing into Morgantown, W.V. to play the Mountaineers.  The big question going in to that game will be, how will West Virginia respond to two consecutive drubbings after being ranked so high in the polls?  Moreover, how the Horned Frogs will handle the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd is a question no doubt in the back of the minds of many a fan and observer.  In the wake of the SEC “Toilet Bowl” 2012, Missouri takes on Florida and Kentucky takes on Vanderbilt, meaning that the respective cellar-dweller status of either team is unlikely to change anytime soon.  After Oklahoma was embarrassed at home to Notre Dame, how will they respond at Iowa State, a team that has shown surprising formidability this year?  Can Duke show that it has staying power by bouncing back after a tough though understandable loss to Florida State in time to put up a good fight against inconsistent Clemson?  More importantly, can USC bounce back from being upset in the desert by Arizona in time for a primetime showdown against Oregon at home?