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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.

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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 3 (2018) September 22, 2018

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As the saying goes, better late than never.  Various other projects took my attention away from blogging, but with college football season in full swing, it was time to come out of hiding.  Inspiration hit me in Week 4 to do a Week 3 retrospective awards, so here goes:

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Kent State 63-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Western Kentucky 20-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to Georgia 49-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Iowa State (lost to Oklahoma 37-27)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kansas (yes, Kansas, who defeated Rutgers   55-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Florida State (honorable mention:  half the Big Ten)

Can the season end?  (too early to tell)

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  LSU 22, Auburn 21

Never play this again: Penn State 63, Kent State 10

That will leave a mark:  Alabama 62, Ole Miss 7

What? Syracuse 30, Florida State 7

HuhNorth Texas 44, Arkansas 17

Double HuhAkron 39, Northwestern 34

Are you kidding me??  Troy 24, Nebraska 19 (in Lincoln, Neb., no less)

Oh – my – GodBYU 24, Wisconsin 21 (in Madison, Wis., no less)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Best game of the week (first choice):  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 20 Oregon

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 17 TCU @ Texas

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Akron @ Iowa State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ SMU

Upset alert: Arizona State @ No. 10 Washington

Must win: No. 23 Boston College @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Chris Petersen of Washington vs. Herm Edwards of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Tulane @ No. 4 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Army @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ UTEP

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  McNeese @ No. 25 BYU

Week 3 Thoughts: 

(Holding off on those until Week 4 installment.)

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.

College Football Awards Week 12 (2017) November 19, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kilane Sitake, BYU

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

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated Arkansas 28-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Ohio State 52-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (lost to No. 8 Notre Dame 24-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Northwestern (defeated Minnesota 39-0)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa

Did the season start?  Oklahoma State

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Never play this again: Florida State 77, Delaware State 6

What? Akron 37, Ohio U 34

Huh?  Wake Forest 30, No. 19 NC State 24

Are you kidding me??  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Oh – my – GodPurdue 24, Iowa 15

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan  also:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Auburn

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: South Florida @ No. 15 UCF

Upset alert: No. 2 Clemson @ South Carolina  also:  No. 8 Notre Dame @ No. 22 Stanford

Must win: Indiana @ Purdue  also:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan

Offensive explosion: No. 14 Washington State @ No. 18 Washington

Defensive struggle: Florida State @ Florida

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Scott Frost of Central Florida vs Charlie Strong of South Florida

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

Why are they playing? Florida Atlantic @ Charlotte

Plenty of good seats remaining: UConn @ Cincinnati

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

Week 12 Random Thoughts:

Today yielded no earth-shattering upsets.  How could it, with so many highly-ranked teams inexplicably engaged in body bag games so late in the year?  Nevertheless, some interesting upsets did ensue.  Pathetic Akron took down perennial MAC contender Ohio U, for example.  Kansas State defeated Oklahoma State on the road.  Unranked Wake Forest (now 7-4, surprisingly) upset No. 19 NC State, putting a blemish on an otherwise impressive year for the Wolfpack.  Even more amazingly, Purdue went on the road to play Iowa, a game where nobody, least of all yours truly, gave them a chance to win, and yet they did anyhow.  Don’t ask how the same team that embarrassed Ohio State by the worst margin in more than two decades could lose two weeks later at home to a lesser team.  There is no rational explanation.

Texas earned a great win, on the road, over West Virginia.  Two weeks ago, the Longhorns gave a pitiful offensive performance against TCU, and offered only a middling performance in their win over Kansas last week.  Naturally, this turn of events gave the Longhorn faithful cause for concern.  Whether these concerns are no longer valid remains to be seen.  But adjustments were clearly made, to the point where Texas was able to win, convincingly, in a tough environment, against a favored team.  Looks like progress, and the Horns are now bowl-eligible to boot.  Next week they close the regular season at home against Texas Tech, which will be a decent test to see if they can maintain their current level of performance.

Remember my earlier speculation about Purdue’s bowl chances having evaporated?  Wad that thought up and toss it out the window.  Purdue’s surprising upset over Iowa – on the road, no less – has given their season a new life.  Don’t ask how this came to pass.  Be all that as it may, this upcoming week, both Purdue and in-state rival Indiana shall play each other for two things, not just one.  Not only will they play for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy, but also for bowl eligibility.  No telling the last time the stakes were that high for the two teams.

Every season, there is always a surprise or two.  One such this year is Central Florida, who currently undefeated and ranked first in the All-American Conference East Division.  At a current rank of no. 15, head coach Scott Frost seems to know what he is doing.  This is the same Scott Frost who was the capable, tough, dependable quarterback who led Nebraska to a share of the national title with Michigan in the 1997 season.  After several years as a back-up QB in the NFL, he gradually worked his way up the ranks in coaching.  With a relatively easy schedule remaining, the Golden Knights could remain undefeated going into the ultimate conference showdown at season’s end.  Then, they face 9-1 South Florida, led by Coach Charlie Strong.  Surely that is to be one of the most intriguing of coaching matchups of the year!

Shout-out to Notre Dame for wearing very cool-looking, throwback-inspired uniforms during their game against Navy.  I sincerely hope that more teams with gold in their school colors have the good sense to copy those nice-looking gold pants that the Irish wore this week.

Just several weeks earlier, Louisville could not beat Wake Forest or Boston College.  Now, they seem to have turned things around.  Their 56-10 walloping of Syracuse is a sure sign the Cardinals are playing back to form, and are doing so just at the right time, as they take on in-state rival Kentucky this upcoming week.

UCLA just fired Jim Mora, Jr.  Ironically, the Bruins lost last night to cross-town rival USC by a respectable margin, 28-23.  But the powers that be in Westwood clearly did not like the direction the program was headed.  Mora helped create high expectations for the Bruin faithful, but sadly failed to deliver (UCLA is now 5-6).  Then again, the school is only partially committed compared to USC, or to any other program that is determined to compete for a national title.  Firing the current head coach shall thus not solve this systemic problem.

With Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, the Badgers continue their undefeated streak and are on a certain course to represent the Western Division in the Big Ten championship.  All Ohio State has to do is beat Michigan this upcoming week for the rights to butt heads with the Badgers.  My scenario for the best possible playoff scenario thus continues, but more pratfalls remain.

The best game on Thanksgiving is not played in Detroit or Dallas.  No, rather it is usually the “Egg Bowl,” the annual Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State grudge-match that shall once again kickoff on the evening of the fourth Thursday in November.  Let us enjoy it, and God Bless America!

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

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

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

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

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards, Week 2 (2017) September 11, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

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

Lucky guy: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Desperately seeking … anything:  Matt Rhule, Baylor

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 19 Kansas State (defeated Charlotte 55-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Kentucky (defeated Eastern Kentucky 27-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to Texas 56-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Nicholls (lost to Texas A&M 24-14)

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

Dang, they’re good: USC

Dang, they’re bad:  Baylor

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Texas A&M

Can the season end?  New Mexico

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 15 Georgia 20, No. 24 Notre Dame 19

Play this again, too:  Utah 19, BYU 13

Never play this again: Utah State 51, Idaho State 13

Close call:  No. 3 Clemson 14, No. 13 Auburn 6

What? Middle Tennessee 30, Syracuse 23

HuhNew Hampshire 22, Georgia Southern 12

Are you kidding me??  Eastern Michigan 16, Rutgers 13

Oh – my – GodNo. 5 Oklahoma 31, No. 2 Ohio State 16

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for:  No. 3 Clemson @ No. 14 Louisville

Also:  Texas @ No. 4 USC

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Oregon @ Wyoming

Best non-Power Five matchup: Utah State @ Wake Forest

Upset alert: No. 10 Wisconsin @ BYU

Must win: No. 23 Tennessee @ No. 24 Florida

Offensive explosion: Tulsa @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: No. 12 LSU @ Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: Purdue @ Missouri

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bobby Petrino of Louisville vs. Dabo Swinney of Clemson

Also:  Randy Edsall of UConn vs. Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia

Who’s bringing the body bags? Georgia State @ No. 4 Penn State

Why are they playing? Mercer @ No. 15 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: North Carolina A&T @ Charlotte

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

Week 1 Take-aways:

This week leaves us with more questions than answers.  For one, Louisville had fewer penalties against North Carolina than they did against Purdue.  All well and good, but is that enough improvement at this rate to be ready for Clemson at home next week?  Regarding the TCU-Arkansas game, are the No. 23 Horned Frogs that good, or are the Razorbacks that mediocre?  The Auburn-Clemson game was a surprising defensive struggle.  What was the bigger surprise:  that Auburn’s defense held the Tigers to only two touchdowns, or that Auburn’s offense – supposedly a specialty under head coach Gus Malzahn – could only muster a measly six points?  Moreover, what does this portend for Auburn’s offense during the rest of the season?

The shocker of the week was Oklahoma’s upset over Ohio State in Columbus.  The question becomes, are the Sooners that good, or are the Buckeyes overrated?  Ohio State has plenty of NFL-potential bodies on both sides of the ball.  What accounts for their lackluster offense this game, and their defensive collapse in the 4th quarter?  Actually, there is an answer.  The Buckeyes are currently experiencing an identity crisis on offense.  Until they get that cleared up, they’ll continue to fail to play up to their potential this season, and that will be a genuine shame.

Questions aside, let us take a glance at the Big XII Conference.  Simply put, they’re looking good right now.  The Sooners are rolling after their huge win over the Buckeyes.  Oklahoma State has two wins with impressive margins.  TCU embarrassed Arkansas on the road today.  Kansas State won convincingly, even though it was a body bag game.  West Virginia is playing quite strongly right now, though a body bag game against Delaware State next week will obviously be meaningless.  It all adds up to a conference that is playing well and giving the rest of college football cause for notice.  The ironic weak links are Baylor and Texas.  Concerning the Bears, it would only stand to reason that Matt Rhule has not forgotten how to coach.  The turmoil surrounding the player sexual assault scandals, the sudden firing of Art Briles, and the havoc wrought by Hurricane Harvey have all combined to take a serious toll on the program.  Baylor looks shell-shocked right now, and it will be interesting to see if Rhule, who brought Temple to respectability, can keep things afloat at a program with greater potential but higher expectations, too.

Speaking of Hurricane Harvey, that might also account for Texas A&M has not been playing up to their potential, as well as for Texas’ gigantic miscue against Maryland last week.  After all, many players for these two programs, as well as for Baylor, have come out of the Houston area, which is still reeling in the wake of the hurricane damage and the residual flooding damage.  The latter of which alone has for longer-lasting implications than the former.  Let us all pray for those who have been afflicted by that terrible storm, as well as for those who are being afflicted by Hurricane Irma in Florida.  As the floodwaters recede and the area rebuilds and moves forward in general, perhaps the morale of the aforementioned Texas teams shall improve, along with their performances.

Speaking of Hurricane Irma, that storm shall leave implications long into the season, given all the games that have already been postponed.  One notable example is No. 16 Miami vs. No. 10 Florida State.  That game would have been one of the best of the upcoming week.  Little doubt lingers that they’ll find a time to reschedule such a matchup that is A) a heated, in-state rivalry, and B) a game with conference standing implications.  If both teams keep playing to their potential, perhaps both will be ranked even MORE highly by the time they finally butt heads.  Let us stay tuned the rescheduling on Oct. 7!

One final note about an overlooked game for the upcoming week:  Ole Miss at Cal, which kicks off at 10:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time.  While both teams are currently unranked, it does not matter, for it’s always a treat to watch SEC vs. Pac-12 matchups!

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

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The Game lived up to The Hype.

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas

Lucky guy: Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Poor guy: Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  New Mexico State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Nebraska

Did the season start?  Louisville

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

Can the season never endWestern Michigan

GAMES

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

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

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

Close call:  Indiana 26, Purdue 24

What? Vanderbilt 45, No. 24 Tennessee 34

HuhAir Force 27, No. 21 Boise State 20

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

Must win: too many to list!

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

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

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

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

Think there’s enough purple? Kansas State @ TCU

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

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

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

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

Week 13 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES

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

Glad I’m not him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Charlie Strong, Texas

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: USC

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Texas

Can the season never endFlorida

GAMES

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

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

Never play this again: Army 60, Morgan State 3

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

What? Oregon 30, No. 11 Utah 28

HuhNo. 21 Florida 16, No. 16 LSU 10

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

Oh – my – GodKansas 24, Texas 21 (OT)

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

Must win: No. 24 Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 12 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES

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

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney , Clemson

Lucky guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas A&M

Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

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

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

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

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

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

HuhGeorgia 13, No. 9 Auburn 7

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ Cincinnati

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

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

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

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

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Pittsburgh

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

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

Week 11 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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