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Time to Re-think “6 AM’s” March 1, 2017

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There is an oft-overlooked part to college football that has gotten out of control.  As a former Big Ten football team staff member, I had to endure what are, in the industry, known as “6 AM’s”.  The simple definition/description is that they are winter conditioning sessions for college football players, usually starting in late January and lasting until Spring Practices begin.

They are also a royal pain in the backside.  College kids have a hard time getting enough sleep as it is.  Now imagine having to get up no later than 5 in the morning and trudge yourself into the football facilities.  Show up for work all dressed in normal practice garb no later than 5:30 in the morning so you can set up the equipment for these early morning conditioning sessions.

At least we did not have to run through all those grueling drills:  that was for the players to do.  Good luck being able to maintain consciousness in your classrooms for the rest of the day.  If you miss class because you are too tired, coaches typically cook up special penalties, such as more running.  At Purdue during the Joe Tiller era, the penalty was for players who missed class to start running at 5:30 – meaning we would have to get things set up prior to that time – after which they had to join the rest of their teammates for the 6 AM B.S.

As bad as they have been, coaches have gone too far with these “6 AM’s”.  One recent example is of several Oregon football players needing hospitalization during such a session, which included an hour of push-ups and “up-downs.”  An hour, seriously?  Some of these hospitalized players were diagnosed with Rhabdomyolysis, which basically involves the soft muscle tissue breaking down, then leaking into your blood stream.

But that was just earlier this year.  Back in 2011, 13 Iowa football players were hospitalized for the same problems following one of their winter conditioning sessions.

It is perfectly reasonable for coaches needing their players to be in shape.  Moreover, it make sense that they already be in shape for spring practices, so that the coaches can properly ascertain what sort of talent they have to work with for the upcoming fall season that year.  But treating these winter conditioning session as “gut checks” is horribly antiquated, and arguably abusive.

The problem is that coaches too often use these “6 AM” drills (some coaches smartly schedule them in the afternoon, but not enough of them do) as a symbolic gesture to remind players that they are under said coaches’ thumbs, so to speak.  Coaches also too often use these drills as an excuse to put them through “gut-checks”, testing their manhood so as to earn the coaches’ respect and earn their right to stay on the team.  Again, this is not always the case, but incidents like those mentioned above give that impression.

By all means, have conditioning sessions, but coaches, be both sensible and reasonable and have them in the afternoon…like sane people.  There is nothing holding coaches back from implementing these sensible solutions:  only ego and antiquated thinking.  It’s just a matter of coaches having the good sense to be practical and realize that they can get their players in good enough shape without sleep-depriving them, ruining their entire days of class, and fatiguing them to the point of needing hospitalization.  This is not the Marines, let alone the French Foreign Legion.

Give the players a break, schedule the conditioning sessions in the afternoon, and focus on getting them in shape without having to put them through daily gut-checks.  After all, they should have earned your respect by their willingness to show up in the winter to go through such hell before even putting on helmets and pads later in the springtime.  For those coaches who already honor this ethic, kudos.

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 9 2016 October 30, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Texas

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggart, South Florida

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Purdue 62-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Virginia 32-25)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to No. 2 Michigan 32-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisiana Tech (defeated Rice 61-16)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Florida Atlantic

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start?  Tennessee

Can the season end?  Missouri

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Washington 31, No. 17 Utah 24

Never play this again: No. 24 Penn State 62, Purdue 24

Close call:  No. 5 Louisville 32, Virginia 24

What? Wyoming 30, No. 13 Boise State 28

HuhNo. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17

Double-Huh? South Carolina 24, No. 18 Tennessee 21

Are you kidding me?  Oklahoma State 37, No. 10 West Virginia 20

Oh – my – GodTexas 35, No. 8 Baylor 34

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10))

Ticket to die for: No. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Also: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Cincinnati

Upset alertIowa @ No. 20 Penn State  also: No. 10 Florida @ Arkansas

Must winNo. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ USC

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ No. 20 Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Ken Niumatalolo of Navy vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 2 Michigan

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? Tennessee Tech @ Tennessee

Week 9 Take-aways:

Yesterday logged a number of major upsets in that four undefeated teams all went down with their first loss of the year. To wit: Baylor, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Boise State (yes, the Broncos were secretly lurking around in the undefeated ranks until yesterday). The only undefeated teams that remain are those that inhabit the top four in the polls; Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington. If these shadows remain unchanged, there are your playoff teams. Then again, November is about to start, so who knows what chaos yet awaits? After all, November is for everything.

It looks as though the SEC is getting their annual late-season body bag game out of the way early for some of their teams. For reference, check out the “Why are they playing?” and the “They shoot horses, don’t they?” slots. Every season, without fail, almost everyone in the conference schedules body bag games late in the season, usually in November. This time, Ole Miss and Tennessee have scheduled theirs the first weekend of November instead of later in the month. After all, the fans of both programs benefit so well from seeing their teams beat up on non-conference mid-majors. Apparently, there is nothing like buying an easy win.

Speaking of the SEC, those who were hollering for Gus Malzahn to get the ax might want to hit the pause button. Those past few weeks, it looks as though the Tigers have found their offense (perhaps it was in an alley behind Jordan-Hare Stadium?), evidenced by their routing of Ole Miss last night, 40-29, on the road, no less. Auburn is now 6-2 (those two losses are to No. 3 Clemson and to No. 7 Texas A&M), is currently ranked No. 11, and they have prospects of winning out until they butt heads with Alabama at season’s end. Experienced observers of college football will point out that some teams take a while to get going. Auburn is one such team.

As the season continues to unfold, every BYU football game thus far has persisted in being interesting. Indeed, this year is by far the most interesting schedule the Cougars have had in a long time, if not in living memory. That should put their current 4-4 record into some perspective, since the wins are well-earned and the losses are without any hint of disgrace.

Some teams, no matter how good, tend not to match up well with others, for whatever odd reason. Witness Virginia vs. Louisville. Charlie Strong had already restored the expected intensity to the program during this tenure there, so the team was already in decent shape when Bobby Petrino returned at the helm, starting in 2014. That year, though, the Cardinals sustained an upset on the road to the Cavaliers. Lo and behold, two years later, a much stronger Louisville squad barely escaped Scott Stadium with a win yesterday. Some teams….

What are we to make of Texas? Last week, their defense embarrassed themselves in yet another unexpected loss, and this week, they contain Baylor’s high-powered offense well enough to win. The Longhorns’ projected best-case scenario for a record this season has thus been upgraded to 8-4, if they win out, though a more realistic “best” scenario, because no way they beat West Virginia at this rate, not even withstanding the Moutaineers’ first loss at home yesterday. Nobody in their right mind would bet Kansas to beat Texas, so it all comes down to how the Horns fare against Texas Tech and TCU. A splitting of that difference would yield a 6-6 record, which, to be sure, would be very short of where the program should/would be had they the right coach in place. Nevertheless, these are merely projections, and further discussions will be in order once the regular season concludes.

College Football Week 5 Awards 2016 October 2, 2016

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Chris Petersen, Washington

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

Lucky guy: Butch Jones

Poor guy: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: D.J. Durkin, Maryland

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: David Shaw, Stanford

Desperately seeking … anything:  Charlie Strong, Texas

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Rutgers 58-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (defeated Vanderbilt 13-6) T

hought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Louisiana-Monroe (lost to Auburn 56-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (lost to Florida 13-6)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Maryland (defeated Purdue 50-7)

Dang, they’re good: Washington

Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Stanford

Did the season start?  Michigan State

Can the season end?  Georgia State

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES Play this again:  No. 5 Clemson 42, No. 3 Louisville 36

Play this again, too:  No. 11 Tennessee 34, No. 25 Georgia 31

Never play this again: No. 20 Arkansas 52, Alcorn State 10

Close call:  No.13 Baylor 45, Iowa State 42

What? Virginia 34, Duke 20

HuhCal 28, No. 18 Utah 24

Double-Huh? Indiana 24, No. 17 Michigan State 21

Are you kidding me?  North Carolina 37, No. 12 Florida State 35

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Washington 44, No. 6 Stanford 6

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)

Ticket to die for: No. 9 Tennessee @ No. 8 Texas A&M

Also: No. 23 Florida State @ No. 10 Miami

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ Michigan State

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

Upset alert: No. 5 Washington @ Oregon

Must win: Texas vs. No. 20 Oklahoma also: No. 25 Virginia Tech @ No. 17 North Carolina

Offensive explosion: No. 21 Colorado @ USC

Defensive struggle: LSU @ No. 18 Florida

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

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jimbo Fisher of Florida State vs. Mark Richt of Miami

Also: Rich Rodriguez of Arizona vs. Kyle Whittingham of Utah

Who’s bringing the body bags? TCU @ Kansas

Why are they playing? No. 4 Michigan @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (the SEC Toilet Bowl)

Also: Florida International @ UTEP

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? No. 19 Boise State @ New Mexico

Week 5 Take-aways:

So much for “Texas is back”. After losing on the road to California and now losing on the road to an unranked Oklahoma State, something is wrong. The rot in Denmark is all the more apparent when one considers that A) defense was supposed to be Charlie Strong’s specialty, and yet B), the Longhorns lost to both respective teams 50-43 and 49-31. Notre Dame, it turns out, was highly overrated going into the season. That became rather obvious after getting embarrassed by Michigan State and then laying an egg at home to Duke. Oh, and overrated as the Fighting Irish are, they still scored 47 points on the Horns, in Austin. Let all this sink in for a moment. Once it has sunk in, the logical conclusion is that Strong’s seat cannot get hot enough.

But don’t take my word for it.

In any case, so far what we have seen is that Tennessee is capable of coming back strongly to dominate a rising Florida Gators team. Last year, their problem was that they had to learn to “close the deal,” which they eventually did, but not before losing to both Florida and Oklahoma.

This time, their problem is reversed. Instead of needing to “close the deal” – something they demonstrated in abundance last week – they need to learn to play four full quarters of football. Case in point: during the game at Georgia, they slacked off for the entire first half, save for the last drive of the second quarter. In so doing, they spotted the Bulldogs 17 points before they finally decided to start playing with appropriate urgency.

That urgency could not have been more palpable than in the final seconds of the game, whereby it took a Hail Mary pass that was actually completed in the end zone (!) for the Vols to come away with the win. Tennessee has no time to take a breather, though, as they face undefeated Texas A&M next weekend.

In other news, Michigan beat Wisconsin in a 14-7 slugfest, where both teams kept the ball mostly between the tackles. Both Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were nodding approvingly. Interestingly, this was the Wolverines’ first win over a top ten team since 2008.

But let none of this obscure the showdown of the week in Clemson’s Death Valley with visitor Louisville. This “ticket to die for” certainly lived up to its hype, with high drama and a back-and-forth score. The Tigers triumphed in the end, 42-36, largely due to the fact that the Cardinals took too long to get going and also because Clemson refused to fold. The fact that the referees did not call Clemson’s subtle holds on receivers at all certainly did not hurt, though it certainly does call Dabo Swinney’s coaching ethics into question. That aside, the Tigers have a clear path to the playoffs, to say nothing of an ACC championship. The Cardinals, meanwhile, still have an 11-1 season for which to play, which would still command a premium bowl berth. Indeed, Kirk Herbstreit insisted that the Cards’ playoff hopes are not dead yet. He may very well be correct. After all, Houston still lurks on their schedule.

With all the excitement going on, one is apt to overlook that Colorado is now ranked again (No. 21); they have made the polls for the first time in roughly 15 years. Nice going, Coach Mike MacIntyre!

College football in October has started off with a huge bang, for this was one fantastic week for the sport. Next week entails a number of solid matchups (I honestly had to reach for both “Why are they playing” and “They shoot horses, don’t they”, which rarely happens), but they do not add up to anything as exciting as that which we enjoyed this time. Then again, they cannot all be this exciting all the time. As far as let-downs go, next week will be just fine, especially with the Red River Shootout awaiting in first shift.

College Football Thanks for September 2016 September 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 4 Awards 2016 September 25, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

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

Lucky guy: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

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

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Houston

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Oregon

Can the season end?  USC

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES

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

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

Never play this again: Missouri 79, Delaware State 0

What? Purdue 24, Nevada 14

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

Double-Huh? Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Are you kidding me?  Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Also: No. 8 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Michigan

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

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

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

Upset alert: North Carolina @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Oklahoma @ No. 21 TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Kent State

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

Week 4 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 3 Awards (2016) September 19, 2016

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Glad I’m not him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Lucky guy: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Poor guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Sean Kugler, UTEP

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated South Carolina State 59-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Wisconsin (defeated Georgia State 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Appalachian State (lost to No. 25 Miami 45-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Ohio U (lost to No. 15 Tennessee 28-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisville (blew out No. 2 Florida State 63-20)

Dang, they’re good: Louisville

Dang, they’re bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Iowa

Can the season end?  Idaho

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES

Play this again:  Cal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Play this again, too:  Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

Never play this again: No. 5 Clemson 59, South Carolina State 0

What? Nebraska 35, No 22 Oregon 32

HuhCal 50, No. 11 Texas 43

Are you kidding me?  No. 10 Louisville 63, No. 2 Florida State 20

Oh – my – GodNorth Dakota State 23, No. 13 Iowa 21

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)

Ticket to die for: No. 11 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Michigan State

Also: No. 12 Georgia @ No. 23 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ West Virginia

Best non-Power Five matchup: Georgia Southern @ Western Michigan

Upset alert: No. 5 Clemson @ Georgia Tech

Must win: No. 19 Florida @ No. 14 Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ Arizona State

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about: Oklahoma State @ No. 16 Baylor

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim McElwain of Florida vs. Butch Jones of Tennessee

Also: David Cutcliffe of Duke vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

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

Why are they playing? Mississippi State @ UMass

Plenty of good seats remaining: North Texas @ Rice

Week 3 Take-aways:

After a lull of marquee match-ups last week, we the fans were treated to more great games this week. Watching two top ten teams in Florida State taking on Louisville is no better way to kick of the week’s massive slate of game. One-sided though the game may have been, it remained engaging in seeing the vaunted Seminoles lose by such a huge margin. Bravo, Cardinals!

Much hype has ensued in the wake of Texas defeating Notre Dame during the opening weekend. “Texas is back” has been an oft-repeated mantra. Their loss on the road to Cal calls said mantra into question. Only in the ensuing weeks, when the Longhorns play more of their respectable opponents, namely, Oklahoma State (whom they play next week), Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU will that mantra be either confirmed or denied.

 

Just to get this off my chest, who would have anticipated that the Kentucky – New Mexico State game would have been the offensive explosion that it turned out to be? An exciting game ensued, to be sure, but allowing a Sunbelt team to score 42 points on them is not the most ringing endorsement of the Wildcats’ defense. If these shadows remain unchanged, this does not bode for when UK enters the conference part of its schedule.

 

But all that aside, there were many sublime matchups this week. Oregon lost on the road to Nebraska in a game that went down to the wire. Texas lost to Cal in the same manner. As mentioned earlier, Louisville vs. Florida State was a marquee, top-ten matchup, until the Cardinals proceeded to obliterate the ‘Noles. The games in the 3:30 (EDT) time slot seemed, on paper, to be a respite before the bigger games ensued in the evening, but even they quickly became intriguing. In addition to the Ducks-Cornhuskers game, an improving Colorado gave Michigan a good fight before the Wolverines finally decided to start playing football. Ole Miss threatened to knock Alabama off its top spot in the polls. The evening time slots treated us fans to Texas-Cal, Michigan State @ Notre Dame, Ohio State @ Oklahoma (it has been a while since those two powerhouses butted heads), and BYU put up a great fight against UCLA. A great day for the game, when one tallies up the results and the moments.

Next week will frankly not measure up compared to this week and to week 1, but one cannot expect every week to deliver matchups like this. That said, some good conference games await us, as well as some tasty pre-conference games from power five teams across the board. Week 4 may not be as strong as week 3, but plenty of interesting games await us in any case!

College Football Week 2 Awards (2016) September 12, 2016

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Glad I’m not him: Kalani Sitake, BYU

Lucky guy: Brett Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: Gary Patterson, TCU

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggert, South Florida

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking … anything:  Darrell Hazell, Purdue

TEAMS Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 3 Florida State (defeated Charleston Southern 52-8)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 2 Clemson (defeated Troy 30-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Akron (lost to No. 10 Wisconsin 54-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Nicholls (lost to Georgia 26-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Nebraska (defeated Wyoming 52-17)

Dang, they’re good: Michigan

Dang, they’re bad:  Kentucky

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma State

Did the season start?  Northwestern

Can the season end?  Miami, OH

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  Arkansas 41, No. 15 TCU 38

Play this again, too:  Utah 20, BYU 19

Honorable Mention to play again:  South Carolina 13, Vanderbilt 10

Never play this again: No. 20 Texas A&M 67, Prairie View A&M 0

What? East Carolina 33, N.C. State 30

HuhArkansas 41, No. 15 TCU 38

Are you kidding me?  Illinois State 9, Northwestern 7

Oh – my – GodCentral Michigan 30, No. 22 Oklahoma State 27

Told you so:  Arizona State 68, Texas Tech 55

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for: No. 2 Florida State @ No. 10 Louisville

Also: No. 3 Ohio State @ No. 14 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:  UCLA @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchupNo. 6 Houston @ Cincinnati (Thurs.)

Upset alert: Auburn @ No. 17 Texas A&M

Must win: Iowa State @ TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Oregon @ Nebraska

Defensive struggle: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 19 Ole Miss

Great game no one is talking about: Pitt @ Oklahoma State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

Who’s bringing the body bags? South Carolina State @ No. 3 Clemson

Why are they playing? Ohio U @ No. 15 Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Monmouth @ Kent State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Georgia State @ No. 9 Wisconsin

Week 2 Take-aways:

After such a spectacular opening week in college football the previous Saturday and surrounding days, this weekend was a considerable let-down. The noon timeslots were mediocre, save for the decent matchup of Penn State vs. Pitt. The 3:30 timeslots were positively atrocious, where the best game was arguably Kentucky vs. Florida, and that game turned out to be a 45-7 blowout in favor of the Gators. All the good games were crammed together in the evening, where I found myself wearing out my TV’s remote by switching around to the games of Arkansas @ TCU, Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (at the Bristol, Tenn. Motor Speedway), BYU @ Utah, and occasionally South Carolina @ Mississippi State.

After this mediocre lineup of games for this week, one thing that has festered for a while has become even more clear. Two teams that continue to suck with overpaid coaches who are out of their depth are both Darrell Hazell of Purdue and Mark Stoops of Kentucky. The latter is another case, apparently, of where the only Stoops brother who has the skill set to be a legit head coach at the big boy level is Bob, not brother Mark. We might recall that the other brother, Mike, flamed out at Arizona. Concerning brother Mark, who apparently has had all these great recruiting classes while at UK, lost to lowly Southern Miss last week and this week was demolished by a recovering Florida, 45-7. His predecessor, Joker Philips, went 13-24 (4-20 SEC) after three seasons. Stoops is currently 12-26 (4-21 SEC) after the second game in his fourth season of tenure at UK. The Kentucky faithful would do well to ask themselves: is this progress?

The former had only one good year at a middling MAC program (Kent State), and the powers that be at Purdue were suckered in by this limited success to offer him the Purdue job, paying him $2.2 Million annually, or about $1 Million more than his predecessor, Coach Danny Hope. Hazell is thus far 7-30 since the 2013 season at Purdue, while Coach Hope went 22-27 in four seasons there. Doing that math, that amounts to paying an addition $4 Million for 15 fewer wins. For an athletics department that ostensibly prides itself on operating in the black, those numbers simply do not add up. Moreover, it makes one wonder how much better Hope would have performed had he been given those extra resources that Hazell currently enjoys (meager as they still are compared to true big boy programs).

Meanwhile, on a totally unrelated note, Mississippi State gave the impression that they have righted the ship after their embarrassing upset at home last week to South Alabama. They defeated South Carolina this week, 27-14. Conversely, the loss on the part of the Gamecocks’ gives those who doubt the wisdom of the hire of head coach Will Muschamp further credibility.

All this aside, there are some outstanding matchups awaiting us this upcoming weekend, namely:

Michigan State @ Notre Dame; Texas A&M @ Auburn; Pittsburgh @ Oklahoma State; Oregon @ Nebraska; Alabama @ Ole Miss; UCLA @ BYU; Houston @ Cincinnati (Thurs. evening); USC @ Stanford; Ohio State @ Oklahoma; and of course, Florida State @ Louisville, which could potentially be the best game of the year thus far. I for one am already chomping at the bit, especially for the latter game!

College Football Week 1 Awards (2016) September 6, 2016

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texas-nd2016

Texas defeated visiting No. 10 Notre Dame in a wild game, 50-47.  The game was one of many excellent games to kickoff the 2016 college football season (photo by Getty Images)

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 1] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Houston

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Lucky guy: Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Poor guy: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

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

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Fritz, Tulane

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 19 Louisville (defeated Charlotte 70-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 13 TCU (defeated South Dakota State 38-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Hawaii (lost to No. 7 Michigan 63-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Appalachian State (lost to Tennessee 20-13).

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Western Kentucky (defeated Rice 46-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulane

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  LSU

Did the season start?  Oklahoma (also:  Mississippi State)

Can the season end?  Hawaii Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Wisconsin 16, No. LSU 14

Play this again, too:  Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47

Honorable Mention to play again:  South Carolina 13, Vanderbilt 10 Never play this again: No. 7 Michigan 63, Hawaii 3

Say what? Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35

WHAT? Texas A&M 31, No. 16 UCLA 24

HuhNo. 15 Houston 33, No. 3 Oklahoma 23

Double-huh?  Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47, 2OT

Are you kidding me?  South Alabama 21, Mississippi State 20 Oh – my – GodWisconsin 16, No. 5 LSU 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 1, pre-week 2) Ticket to die for: Arkansas @ No. 12 TCU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ Utah

Best non-Power Five matchup: Northern Illinois @ South Florida

Upset alert: Virginia Tech @ No. 14 Tennessee

Must win: (take your pick)

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ Arizona State

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: Penn State @ Pitt

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia vs. Mark Helfrich of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags? Troy @ No. 2 Clemson

Why are they playing? Nicholls State @ No. 9 Georgia

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Wofford @ No. 18 Ole Miss

Week 1 Take-aways:

What a fantastic opening week for college football. It was billed going in as the greatest opening week in the history of the game, and the games themselves did not disappoint. Two Top Five teams went down to defeat, the most teams where that has happened at the season’s onset since 1972.

On paper alone the matchups were very intriguing. To wit: No. 15 Houston played No. 3 Oklahoma at home – in NRG Stadium, no less. No. 22 North Carolina played No. 18 Georgia in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (Peach Bowl preview, anyone?). No. 16 UCLA journeyed to Texas A&M to play the Aggies. No. 5 LSU made the trek up to Wisconsin to play the Badgers – in historic Lambeau Field. Indeed, this was the first time his legendary venue hosted a college game. Later in the day, No. 1 Alabama faced off against No. 20 USC in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Later still, No. 2 Clemson came to Auburn to throw down with the [War Eagle] Tigers. While those two big game were going on, out west, BYU journeyed down to Glendale, Ariz., to play a neighbor to the south in Arizona.

On Sunday, Notre Dame played the Texas Longhorns, in Austin (nominally ACC vs Big XII), and on Monday, No. 11 Ole Miss played No. 4 Florida State (SEC vs ACC), thus adding two more highly marquee matchups two an incredible, extended opening weekend.

If that’s not enough, the previous week, Hawaii played Cal…in Sydney, Australia. The venue for this game was ANZ Stadium, the new name of the stadium used to host the opening/closing ceremonies and the track and field events for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Whom do we have to thank for this magnificent opening to the 2016 season of college football? Most likely we have the Playoff Committee to thank. They re-worked the formula for selecting teams. The BCS formula left teams way too cautious. One loss likely meant being out of the hunt for a national title. Better therefore to pad the record with an easy win. We the fans suffered with lousy non-conference matchups as a result. When the switch was made from a BCS selection to a four-team playoff, the formula was modified to the point where one loss would not mean the end of the season for those who were in the national title hunt. Conversely, the new formula put a stronger emphasis on strength of schedule. It was a win-win-win. The first “win” is in the form of teams being more free to schedule good games before the conference portion of their season than during the BCS era. The fans reap the second win with great games (see: this weekend). The third win is, as mentioned before, if you have a tough, strong schedule, one loss will not necessarily dash your season’s aspirations.

Good thing, too, because many commentators have dubbed this Saturday the “Day of the Dog”…the underdog, that is. Texas A&M knocked off No. 16 UCLA in overtime at home. Fifteenth-ranked Houston beat No. 3 Oklahoma by 10 points. Even more stunning was Mississippi State missing a last-minute field goal…at home…to lowly South Alabama. Of course, the unranked Wisconsin Badgers upset the No. 5 LSU Tigers in a close game, 16-14. The following evening, the unranked Longhorns knocked off the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish at home, 50-57, in a second overtime, no less.

Apropos of nothing, here is a philosophical question for you: which is more pathetic; that Tulane could only score seven points on Wake Forest, or that Wake Forest could score only seven points on Tulane?

Regardless, what a stupendous weekend for college football. Fans should treasure it for a long time to come!

2015-2016 Bowl Games Preview December 15, 2015

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What used to be the “most wonderful week of the year” has become the most wonderful two weeks of the year.  The bowl game lineup has reach an all-time high of 40.  Diminishing returns, anyone?

But that aside, here are some upcoming highlights and low-lights (note that all times are EASTERN time):

Tickets to Die For:

No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0) in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 31, 4:00 PM

The Tigers are the No. 1 team, while the Sooners are the hottest of the four teams in the playoffs.  More intriguingly, this will be a rematch from the Russell Athletic Bowl of last year.

No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dec. 31, 8 PM

The Crimson Tide has the postseason experience, but the Spartans have passed every major test over the past three years.  Moreover, the two teams are practically a mirror-image of each other.

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) in the Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM

Auburn needs this win to validate their lousy season.  Memphis needs this win to validate the best season arguably in the history of the program.  Thus, this also doubles as a Must-Win.

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might via the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.  Thus, this also doubles as an Upset Alert.

Best non-Power Five matchups:

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5) in the Hawai’i Bowl, Dec. 24, 8:00 PM

Rocky Long has continued the deceptive strong program built by Brady Hoke in San Diego, while Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats are never to be underestimated.

Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4) in the Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21, 2:30 PM

The Hilltoppers have proven to be strong all year, while the Bulls have performed very strongly as of late.  The record comparison may look lop-sided, but let not that fool us, for it shall be a close game.

Intriguing Coaching Match-ups:

Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville in the Music City Bowl.

One leads one of the most progressive offenses in the SEC.  The other is one of the best offensive minds in the game.  The irony?  Do not expect an offensive explosion.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Nick Saban of Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

As mentioned previously, the two teams are practically mirror-images of the other.

Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Fri., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

Two of THE best coaches in the game, going head-to-head?  Yes, please!

Larry Fedora of No. 10 North Carolina vs. Art Briles of No. 17 Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM

Potentially THE most underrated bowl game of the postseason, provided that both teams show up.

Rumble in the Phone Booth:

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1) in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Both teams have great running games, meaning that this should be a dream for fans of old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.  The question becomes, will we be “looking LIVE in Pasadena, Calif., folks”?

Rematches, Anyone?

No. 13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-4) in the Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Recall the 1997 Citrus Bowl?

No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Mississippi (9-3) in the Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM

Recall the 2004 Cotton Bowl?  This time, the results could be reversed.

Upset Alerts:

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might view the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.

Offensive Explosion:

No. 15 Oregon (9-3) vs. No. 11 TCU (10-2) in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Jan. 2, 6:45 pm

Ah, Alamo Bowl, you never fail to entertain!

Defensive Struggle:

No. 14 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (10-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

The Citrus Bowl came back!  That aside, the Gators have excelled at making games low-scoring, win or lose.  Regardless, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be prepared, and should end up victorious in the end.  Also, the matchup of first-year coaches Harbaugh and Jim McElwain is intriguing unto itself.

Great Games No One Is Talking About:

Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, 5:30 PM

They play this in Montgomery, Ala., in case you were wondering.  The Mountaineers are making their FBS bowl debut against a decent Bobcats team.

No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, 7:00 PM

The Owls have proven to be a good team, while the Rockets did beat Arkansas.  It’s not a wash, but it should be a close game.

Not Sure What to Make of This One:

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7) in the Foster Farms Bowl, 9:15 PM

The Cornhuskers are the second team listed here with a 5-7 record.  That said, they are better than their record suggests, and, more importantly as far as the bowl committee is concerned, their fans will TRAVEL.

Think there is enough dark blue and gold?

Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. No. 21 Navy (10-2) in the Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 2:30 PM

Why Are They Playing?

Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3) in the St. Petersburg Bowl, Sat., Dec. 26, 11:00 AM

UConn is bowl eligible?  That alone is an insult to Marshall, which is actually a decent team.

Plenty of Good Seats Remaining:

San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6) in the Cure Bowl, Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00 PM

As if Orlando, Fla., did not have enough bowl games, they came up with this one.  The Spartans are one of three teams with a 5-7 record but are still going bowling.  Meanwhile, the Panthers are only 6-6, meaning that this is a classic example of a garbage bowl game.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7) in the Quick Lane Bowl, Mon., Dec. 28, 5:00 PM

This is the latest iteration of what used to be the Little Caesars Bowl (still at Ford Field in Detroit).  The Golden Gophers are the third team that is 5-7 and yet still bowl eligible.  I can hear Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd mocking this bowl matchup right now.