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Where Joel Klatt is right and wrong about Notre Dame October 28, 2017

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Joel Klatt is a rising star in college football broadcasting, and rightfully so.  His analysis during the games he helps broadcast of FOX is very insightful.  His talent makes him the perfect up-and-coming asset that an up-and-coming network like FS1 needs right now.  Klatt’s sit-down interviews with regular TV show hosts on FS1 are just as informative, and his input always makes for great conversation.  Any engaged listener can always walk away from listening to such interviews thinking that their understanding of the college game has deepened.

On the matter of the state of highly-ranked academic powerhouse schools in the “Power Five” of college football, however, the veracity of his analysis is mixed.  It all centers around his understanding of the current state of Notre Dame football.

As Colin Cowherd of FS1 has noted for years, Notre Dame flourished at a time when it was one of the very few programs that was reliably put on national TV every week of the season.  All that changed when sports networks decided to start broadcasting more teams consistently in the 1990s.  With that, Notre Dame’s monopoly on national attention soon evaporated.  Soon, ND had to compete with schools whose campuses offered warmer winters and prettier coeds, institutions such as Texas, Florida, USC, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, and the like.  None of these schools had the same level of academic requirements as ND, either, meaning it is much easier to admit recruits there as well.

None of this is to say that cold-weather schools cannot do well at the highest level, and Klatt quickly points this out.  On the contrary, in the 2014-2015 playoffs, Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team beat out a tough Alabama squad to play for the national title.  Indeed, the Buckeyes handily defeated Oregon to win it.  Moreover, Michigan has been considerably on the rebound since they hired Jim Harbaugh, and Penn State has returned to national power status under recruiting wizard James Franklin.

Even ND hired a highly-capable coach in Brian Kelly in December of 2009.  By the 2012 season, he took Notre Dame to a national title game.  To be sure, they got crushed my Alabama, 42-14, and in highsight, much of ND’s high ranking was a product of wishful thinking.  This season (2017) they are currently top-ten in the rankings (No. 9 as of Oct. 27), but they have reached their ceiling with a senior-dominated team, and even they lost at home to an even better team in Georgia.

Moreover, other academically-rigid schools have been winning games (e.g., Stanford), and in some cases, have started to win more than they have in a long time (e.g., Duke).  So clearly schools with high academic standards can win some games.  So why is Notre Dame still limited in this day at age?

It turns out that a school with cold weather and high academic standards does not automatically mean that the football team will be a conference/Power Five doormat, provided that you have the right coach.  Northwestern seems to have that, for example, in Pat Fitzgerald.  In the Wildcats’ case, it helps that the campus in is the vibrant, urban setting of Evanston, Ill., right on the edge of Chicago proper and a half-hour commuter train ride into downtown and all the scads of action that huge city has to offer.

In the case of Duke, they are in Durham, N.C., part of the “Research Triangle”, an area with much growth and dynamism as of late.  Plus, the winters are much milder there than they are in the Rustbelt.  It also helps that Duke found a capable coach in David Cutcliffe.

In the case of Stanford, which is even more academically stringent than Notre Dame, it enjoys the advantage of the idyllic beauty of Silicon Valley.  Temperatures in December can sometimes peak in the lower 70s.  Stanford University is one of the most architecturally amazing college campuses in the world.  Even with the extra recruiting hurdle of having to admit each player to the school as a student before they can sing a letter of intent to join the team, David Shaw still manages to make them competitive in the Pac-12 north division, sometimes winning the division outright.

In addition to Notre Dame’s cold weather setting and academic rigidity, two other factors hinder the program today.  One is the religious overtones (a turn-off to recruits who have far more options today, both in the Big Ten and also the warm-weather schools).  The other is that its relatively isolated.  It takes almost two hours to drive to the heart of Chicago.  The next-closest spot of major population is Fort Wayne, Ind., followed by Toledo, Ohio.  Neither Northwestern, Duke, Stanford, or even Vanderbilt have to contend with those two recruiting hindrances.

These factors, all combined, have hurt Notre Dame’s brand in the eyes of many coveted recruits today.  Joel Klatt acknowledges the earlier-mentioned factors (cold weather and academics), but has ignored these latter items, which combine to make a considerable difference.

To be sure, there are schools even more isolated than ND.  Nebraska is geographically worse off, as is Penn State.  The latter is back in contention, again, thanks to the recruiting prowess of James Franklin (it helps that PSU is arguably the most amazing campus in the B1G, and Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the country by capacity).

Is Klatt correct in that Notre Dame is still a strong brand?  Yes, but only for legacy/tradition reasons.  Because of their past success, they are still a legitimate “traditional power”, but that legacy has increasingly less cache to marquee recruits who might look askance at Michiana’s dreary winters, the school’s religious overtones, etc.

The real take-away from this discussion is how insane ND fans are who call for Brian Kelly’s ouster.  Without him, the team would be lucky to go 7-5 this season, as opposed to the top-ten rankings the team currently enjoys.  Just to observe, the Irish will be lucky to win two of their next four games.  But that aside, the fan base’s insanity is a function of unrealistic expectations that need to be tempered in a day and age where the Rustbelt is no longer the heart of the American economy and talented football players have far more options of where to play than they did during the days of Ara Parseghian.

In conclusion, can Notre Dame still win games?  Absolutely.  As Fitzerald, Shaw, Cutcliffe, Harbaugh, and Franklin have demonstrated, the right coach at the right place proves that winning football games in a prestigious academic setting is indeed possible.  Brian Kelly is surely the optimal coach for Notre Dame, and his accomplishments are nearly miraculous in the context of his strategic difficulties.  Given the aforementioned problems hindering Notre Dame, the program is at best an eight-win program.  To win any more than eight ought to exceed expectations if those, too, are properly tempered in the context of the current age.

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College Football Week 3 Awards September 24, 2015

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

Poor guy: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Steve Sarkesian, USC

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 12 Oregon (defeated Georgia State 61-28)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 4 Michigan State (defeated Air Force 35-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Idaho State (lost to Boise State 52-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UConn (lost to Missouri 9-6)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  North Carolina (defeated Illinois 48-14)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia Tech

Did the season start? Arkansas

Can the season end?  Idaho State

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES Play this again:  No. 10 UCLA 24, No. 19 BYU 23

Play this again, too:  Cal 45, Texas 44

Never play this again: Arkansas State 70, Missouri State 7

What? Colorado 27, Colorado State 24 (OT)

HuhTexas Tech 35, Arkansas 24

Are you kidding me?  No. 15 Ole Miss 43, No. 2 Alabama 37

Oh – my – GodStanford 41, No. 6 USC 32

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for:  No. 9 UCLA @ No. 16 Arizona

Also:  Tennessee @ Florida

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Boise State @ Virginia (Fri.)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 24 Oklahoma State @ Texas

Must win: UCF @ South Carolina

Offensive explosion: No. 3 TCU @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: No. 25 Missouri @ Kentucky

Great game no one is talking about:  No. 18 Utah @ No. 13 Oregon

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bronco Mendenhall of BYU vs. Jim Harbaugh of Michigan

Who’s bringing the body bags? Southern @ No. 7 Georgia

Why are they playing? La. Monroe @ No. 12 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Charlotte

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Kansas @ Rutgers

Week 3 Take-aways:

I thought that Notre Dame was supposed to lose to Georgia Tech after the Irish lost their starting QB last week.

Louisville is, without a doubt, the best 0-3 team in college football by far.

Last week, I noted about Steve Spurrier is on thin ice.  After losing so horribly to Georgia (as good as the Bulldogs are), it has become clear that he and the Gamecocks have no quarterback play, and recruiting seems down overall.  If he is wise, he shall start planning his exit strategy.  Now.  Moreover, the South Carolina administration needs to start finding a good replacement coach after season’s end.  Now.

Who would have thought that Florida vs. Kentucky would be a defensive struggle?  This guy did, but this this guy is still in disbelief that it was.  That said, the true surprise defensive struggle was Mizzou vs. UConn.  The Tigers must have decided to take a week off.

The game of college football has changed so quickly that it is starting to marginalize defensive-minded coaches.  This is the biggest reason that the Alabama Dynasty has some to an end.  It is not anybody’s fault per se, it is simply that the current rules and the trends have combined in a way to render defensive-minded coaches at a disadvantage.  That being said, Nick Saban does himself zero favors by not attracting a good enough quarterback on account of his refusal to modernize his offense.  The Tide’s other skill personnel are exemplary, to be sure.  They are just pedestrian – at best – at the most important position on the field.

College Football Week 12 Awards November 18, 2014

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USP NCAA FOOTBALL: NORTHWESTERN AT NOTRE DAME S FBC USA IN(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Bret Bielema, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Lucky guy: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Poor guy: Al Golden, Miami
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Todd Graham, Arizona State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Desperately seeking … anything: Curtis Johnson, Tulane

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Tennessee (beat Kentucky 50-16)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Kansas 34-30)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kentucky (lost to Tennessee 50-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (lost to No. 4 TCU 34-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Wisconsin (defeated No. 16 Nebraska 59-24)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: Tulane

You know, they’re not so bad: Iowa
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Arizona State

Did the season start? Notre Dame

Can the season end? Eastern Michigan
Can the season never end? Wisconsin

GAMES
Play this again:  Northwestern 43, No. 18 Notre Dame 40

Play this again, too: South Carolina 23, Florida 20
Never play this again: Western Michigan 51, Eastern Michigan 7

What? No. 5 Alabama 25, No. 1 Mississippi State 20

Huh? No. 15 Georgia 34, No. 9 Auburn 7
Are you kidding me? No. 20 Wisconsin 59, No. 16 Nebraska 24

Oh – my – God: Northwestern 43, No. 18 Notre Dame 40

Told you so: Arkansas 17, No. 17 LSU 0

NEXT WEEK

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

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: South Alabama @ South Carolina

Best non-Power Five matchup: Western Michigan @ Central Michigan

Upset alert: Louisville @ No. 18 Notre Dame

Must win: South Carolina @ Florida

Offensive explosion: North Carolina @ No. 21 Duke

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Ole Miss @ Arkansas

Great game no one is talking about: Northwestern @ Purdue

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jerry Kill of Minnesota vs. Bo Pelini of Nebraska (also:  Bobby Petrino of Louisville vs Brian Kelly of Notre Dame)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charleston Southern @ No. 15 Georgia

Why are they playing? Western Carolina @ Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ North Texas

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Savanna State @ BYU

Week 12 Random Thoughts:

  • Forget Notre Dame being overrated. They are frauds. Allowing Purdue to be competitive against them early in the season was one thing. Struggling against mediocre North Carolina and Navy teams raised an eyebrow or two. Getting embarrassed in the desert completely exposed the flaws in the façade. But losing at home to one of the worst Northwestern teams in Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure? Inexcusable, whether you are an Irish fan or foe.  Look for Bobby Petrino and his Louisville Cardinals to come into South Bend and make like hard for ND.

 

 

College Football Awards Week 11 November 11, 2014

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ASU_NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Todd Graham, Arizona State

Glad I’m not him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (hon. mention: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame)
Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tony Levine, Houston

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Desperately seeking … anything: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 11 Ole Miss (defeated Presbyterian 48-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Penn State (defeated Indiana 13-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kentucky (lost to No. 20 Georgia 63-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Wake Forest (lost to No. 21 Clemson 34-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Marshall (defeated Southern Miss 63-17)

Dang, they’re good: TCU
Dang, they’re bad: Iowa State

You know, they’re not so bad: Louisville
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Michigan State

Did the season start? West Virginia

Can the season end? Buffalo
Can the season never end? Ohio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Auburn 35, No. 3 Ole Miss 31

Play this again, too: No. 24 Duke 51, Pittsburgh 48
Never play this again: Marshall 63, Southern Miss 17

What? Texas 33, No. 23 West Virginia 16

Huh? No. 9 Arizona State 55, No. 10 Notre Dame 31
Are you kidding me? No. 14 Ohio State 49, No. 8 Michigan State 37

Oh – my – God: Texas A&M 41, No. 3 Auburn 38

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for: No. 1 Mississippi State @ No. 5 Alabama

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Temple @ Penn State

Best non-Power Five matchup: East Carolina @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: No. 16 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: South Carolina @ Florida

Offensive explosion: Missouri @ Texas A&M

Defensive struggle: Virginia Tech @ No. 22 Duke

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Ohio State @ Minnesota

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Stoops of Kentucky vs. Butch Jones of Tennessee

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 TCU @ Kansas

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Navy

Plenty of good seats remaining: Troy @ Idaho

They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 12 Michigan State @ Maryland

 

Week 11 Random Thoughts:

  • So many good games took place from 19:00 or later on the 8th of November. Start with Louisville at Boston College, which should not have been interesting on paper, but was, unfortunately, due to the Cardinals’ inability to get it together for the first half (they did in the second). Then again, the Cards have always had their troubles with BC!  But then came TCU vs. Kansas State. Bill Snyder has put together an excellent team for this year, and the Wildcats being well-coached shows on the field (especially against Auburn early on in the season). But even a good time like KSU was no match for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs, who are making every statement they can in order to vie for the playoffs.

Or, look at Ohio State vs. Michigan State. After the Buckeyes laid an egg at home to a mediocre Virginia Tech squad, everybody was skeptical as to how good a team they truly were. Leave it to Urban Meyer to coach his talented bunch up to be more than a match for Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.

But it turned out the most important game, and the one with the biggest national title implications was the Alabama-LSU game. In typical fashion, it was a defensive struggle, and just to make things even more exciting / to heighten the already high degree of urgency even further, the game went into overtime. The Crimson Tide still have a brutal slate of games ahead, but their win is certain a step in the right direction for them

  • As I have noted before, Notre Dame is overrated. To be sure, I also noted (in other article) that they are enigmatic. But the overrated question mark remained; lurking, hidden, just waiting for the right opportunity to emerge. Thanks be to Todd Graham and the Arizona State Sun Devils to confirm that which us skeptics felt all along. After all, to have the Irish be among the final four, thus displacing a far-more deserving second SEC team in the process, would have been a travesty beyond words: a travesty, thankfully, that will be pre-empted before it even began.

College Football Week 9 Awards October 27, 2013

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Glad I’m not him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Desperately seeking … anything:  Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Iowa State 58-27)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Wake Forest 24-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to Baylor 59-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Duke (defeated Virginia Tech 13-10)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan State (defeated Illinois 42-3)

Should have kicked even more butt than you did:  Auburn (defeated Florida Atlantic 45-10)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon

Dang, they’re bad:  Illinois
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Missouri

Did the season start?  Boise State
Can the season end?  Northwestern

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 20 South Carolina 27, No. 5 Missouri 24

Play this again, too:  Middle Tennessee State 51, Marshall 49 (Thurs.)

Never play this again: No. 23 UCF 62, UConn 17

What? Iowa 17, Northwestern 10

HuhNo. 20 South Carolina 27, No. 5 Missouri 24

Are you kidding me?  Duke 13, No. 14 Virginia Tech 10
Oh – my – GodMinnesota 34, No. 25 Nebraska 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Miami @ No. 3 Florida State

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: (only two such match-ups, and they are both horrible)

Best non-Big Six matchup: Rice @ North Texas

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 10 Missouri

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma State @ No. 15 Texas Tech

Offensive explosion: Arizona State @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 24 Michigan @ Michigan State

Great game no one is talking about: West Virginia @ TCU, also Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

Intriguing coaching matchup: Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern vs. Bo Pelini of Nebraska

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

Why are they playing? Alabama State @ Kentucky

Plenty of good seats remaining: Kent State @ Akron

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Hawaii @ Utah State, or, UTEP @ No. 14 Texas A&M

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

At this rate, Purdue vs. Illinois is shaping into one heckuva Big Ten “Toilet Bowl” come Nov. 23.  For the entire season up to this point, the Boilermakers were the undisputed leaders of suck in the B1G.  Yet despite being shut out on the road to Michigan State last week, they acquitted themselves rather well in that they allowed the Spartans to score only 14 points.  Contrast that with Illinois’ performance against MSU this week, where the Illini only managed a “sad field goal” – at home, no less — against the Spartans’ D, and on the other side of the coin, Sparty scored seven TD’s.  Perhaps Purdue is not the gutter team of the conference after all.

***********

Give Missouri credit:  being undefeated in only their second season as a member of the SEC up through seven games is a decent feat.  Knocking off two traditional powers in two consecutive games is the feat worthy of a traditional power.  That being said, both Georgia and Florida were severely weakened, albeit in different ways, when playing the Tigers.  It was only a matter of time for the magic to run out.  That time manifested itself in a surprising way.

The normal rule of thumb is that when a non-traditional power (Mizzou, in this case) upsets a traditional one (Florida, in this case), the non-traditional power always comes out flat in the following game.  Yet they did not come out flat against South Carolina.  If anything, the Gamecocks tried to give away the game to the Tigers in the first half.  But they did not give the whole game away, for they won the second half, sent the game into overtime, then ended up winning unexpectedly when Mizzou botched a field goal attempt that would have otherwise sent things into triple-OT.  Even Steve Spurrier himself recognized how lucky his team was to sneak out of Columbia, Mo., with a win.

Mark May of ESPN hit the proverbial nail on the head when he pointed out that the Ol’ Ball Coach out-coached Gary Pinkel in the fourth quarter.

***********

As outrageous and “out-there” as Oregon’s uniforms sometimes look, they looked their best all season in their belated rout of formidable UCLA.  Part of the reason is that they actually wore a substantial amount of green for once.

College Football Week 5 Awards September 29, 2013

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Richt, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Les Miles, LSU

Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Tony Levine, Houston

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 15 Miami [FL] (defeated South Florida 49-21)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Tennessee (defeated South Alabama 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to No. 3 Clemson 56-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Troy (lost to Duke 38-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Northern Illinois (defeated Purdue 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia
Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana Tech
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma State

Did the season start?  Purdue
Can the season end?  Wake Forest
Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Georgia 44, No. 6 LSU 41

Never play this again: No. 3 Clemson 56, Wake Forest 7

What? Tennessee 31, South Alabama 24

HuhArizona State 62, USC 41

Are you kidding me?  Northern Illinois 55, Purdue 24
Oh – my – GodWest Virginia 30, No. 11 Oklahoma State 21

Told you so:  No. 12 South Carolina 28, Central Florida 25

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 15 Washington @ No. 5 Stanford

Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Army @ Boston College

Best non-Big Six matchup: BYU @ Utah State

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 21 Oklahoma State

Must win: No. 10 LSU @ Mississippi State

Offensive explosion: No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 15 Northwestern

Defensive struggle: Air Force @ Navy
Great game no one is talking about: No. 24 Ole Miss @ Auburn

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

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 2 Oregon @ Colorado

Why are they playing? Georgia State @ No. 1 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Southern Miss

They shoot horses, don’t they?  No. 7 Louisville @ Temple

Week 5 in Review:

Last week had so many horrible, “body bag” matchups that we were all better off just firing that week’s worth of games into the Sun, never to hear from it again, and good riddance! This week was different.  First off, there was one of the games of the year in LSU @ Georgia, which did live up to its billing.  Even the noon games, normally throw-aways, were intriguing. South Carolina v@ UCF was surprisingly competitive.  Ditto with Oklahoma State @ West Virginia, and the results of that game were positively shocking. The evening games were also very entertaining, what with Arkansas giving Texas A&M a solid game, and Wisconsin doing the same at Ohio State.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, a real offensive explosion took place between USC and Arizona State, and ironically, the 62-41 result in favor of the Sun Devils resulted in some much bigger fireworks after the game.  As soon as the Trojans got back to Los Angeles, USC athletics director Pat Haden literally pulled head coach Lane Kiffin aside on the tarmac to inform him that his services will not be needed for the remainder of the season. Yes, Kiffin’s overall record in four seasons was 28-15, which is not terrible, but it’s not up to USC standards, either.  Moreover, he lost 7 of the past 11 games, was 3-2 this year, and lost both of his conference games thus far.  Things clearly were headed in a negative direction.  Yes, the NCAA had unduly hamstrung the Trojans’ program with restricted scholarships all because somebody not affiliated with the program had given Reggie Bush’s parents a sweetheart deal on a house in San Diego.  Still, after four years, one would expect some meaningful progress to be made from the undue setback, and unimaginative offensive play-calling, combined with inept execution is most certainly not a reflection of progress! Ed Orgeron, the defensive coordinator, (and formed Ole Miss head coach) has been named the interim head coach.  Who says the SEC is geographically insular?

ETC.:

West Virginia’s upset win at home over ranked Oklahoma State could probably save Dana Holgersen’s job after his ignominious loss to Maryland the previous week.  Louisville, meanwhile, remains a formidable team, but the only problem is, their temporary conference home (American) is so weak that every other game is a “body-bag” game.  Take the upcoming week’s game at Temple, for example.  South Florida and Memphis do not do the Cardinals’ strength of schedule any favors, either.  On a positive note, the Oct. 18 game against Central Florida could turn out to be a dandy of a game, folks!

College Football Opening Weekend 2013: What to watch August 29, 2013

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Georgia-Clemson2013Note:  Rankings are based the ESPN-Coaches Poll, not the AP Poll as is usually the case on this blog.

Though many good games kick off the season on Thursday (hello, North Carolina @ South Carolina!) and Friday, the real action begins, as it always does, on Saturday (Aug. 31, in this case).  Let us cut through the clutter and focus on the good games to watch.

Noon (12:00 PM, EDT):  Let’s face it; in recent years, most noon games have been throw-away games (generally, lots of lower-tier Big Ten, ACC and Big East matchups).  This seems to be mostly the case this time around, too (case in point:  Florida International @ Maryland, which makes Louisiana Tech @ N.C. State look like a marquee game).  Yet one game in this time slot is rather intriguing, that being Purdue @ Cincinnati.  Both programs have new coaches.  Purdue’s Darrell Hazell is working diligently to breathe new life into a program that has underachieved since the 2003-2004 season.  Meanwhile, U-Cincy brought in Tommy Tuberville to provide some stability to a program that lost Brian Kelly to Notre Dame after the 2009 season, and just lost Butch Jones to Tennessee prior to this upcoming one.  From a business managerial standpoint, the two new coaches make for an interesting study in contrast in that Hazell’s role is clearly turnaround CEO, while Tuberville’s role is that of caretaker to a program that Kelly built up quite well and Jones did reasonably well in maintaining.  Talent-wise, it ought not to be close, as odds are the Bearcats could dust the Boilermakers.  Nevertheless, this game is far more interesting than the rest of the game fare offered at noontime, and it goes without saying that this game merits a nod for “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” award.

3:30 PM EDT:  Normally, one can always look forward to at least one strong SEC matchup during this time slot, but there are none to be had on this date.  Syracuse @ Penn State makes for a poor substitute indeed.  BYU @ Virginia is for more intriguing than that.  Still…next!

With that said, a potentially good game that few people are talking about occurs at this same time, that being Mississippi State at Oklahoma State.  The Bulldogs have grown in strength under head coach Dan Mullen, while the Cowboys have also grown in stature under Mike Gundy’s leadership (not to mention T. Boone Pickens’ money).  Seeing these two teams butt heads could be very engaging.

5:30 PM EDT:  Granted, this is not your traditional time slot for a Saturday game, but it’s the opening weekend, so who cares?  If anybody doubts that Atlanta is one of THE epicenters of college football, then they would be well-served to take not that No. 1 Alabama opens the season in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech.  On paper, it’s a decent matchup in that a top-tier SEC team is about to take on an upper-tier ACC team.  But as decent as the Hokies are, the game could very well be a bloodbath, as odds are the Crimson Tide is going to roll.  Still, it’s better than the 3:30 PM options.

7:00 PM EDT:  Washington State @ Auburn — now we’re getting somewhere.  We the fans are not treated to SEC vs Pac-12 matchups enough, in my estimation, so when it happens, it is always something to be relished.  What makes this game especially interesting is that the dread pirate Mike Leach is trying to turn around the Cougars program while Guz Malzahn has just been brought in to revive the Tigers’ very quick fall from grace.  Could be interesting, especially when one considers how a Pac-12 team not named USC can handle a hyper-hostile SEC stadium crowd.

The other interesting game that evening is the Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky game in Nashville, Tenn.  This too merits an “Intriguing Coaching Matchup” nod in that it also pits first-year coaches at both schools, both of whom came there under radically different circumstances.  Mark Stoops took the UK job as a top-rated assistant coach at Florida State, with the mission to turn around a perennially struggling Wildcats squad.  Thus far he has made lots of recruiting hype, but the actual product he can deliver on the field remains to be seen.  On the Hilltoppers’ end is Bobby Petrino, one of the best coaches in the business, but left his CEO job at Arkansas in disgrace and scandal.  The WKU job is a rung or two down the ladder from the jobs he has previously had, thus is objective is twofold:  maintain what predecessor Willie Taggart had already built (something at which he is more than adept), and also rehab his reputation.  Look out for a possible Hilltopper upset over the Wildcats, as it is always dangerous to give Petrino more than a week to prepare for a game.

8:00 PM EDT:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 8 Clemson — easily the biggest game of the day, if not the whole weekend.  Head Coach Mark Richt takes a loaded Bulldogs team led by talented QB Aaron Murray (no relation, sadly) in to Clemson to take on a Tigers program that Dabo Swinney has slowly yet quietly strengthened over the past several years (they did beat a strong LSU team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, after all).  This will be a great opening test for the Bulldogs, who are no doubt looking to eventually unseat Alabama at the number one spot in both the conference and the nation.  Odds also are that you will be “looking LIVE, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C.,” as in all likelihood this will be the game that Brent Musburger calls along with Kirk “Herbie” Herbstreit, folks!

9:00 PM EDT:  No. 12 LSU vs. No. 20 TCU in Dallas (Arlington, Texas, specifically).  Just as Atlanta has its season kickoff Peach Bowl with a SEC-ACC game, over the past few years, Dallas has endeavored to do the same thing with a season kickoff Cotton Bowl of sorts, usually bringing in an SEC and a Big XII team (though there has been the occasional SEC vs Pac-12 game thrown in sometimes, read:  LSU vs. Oregon in 2011) as is the case this time.  Les Miles almost always has the Tigers up for big games, while it will be a quasi-home game for the Horned Frogs as they have but a half-hour drive (at the most) from their home base in Fort Worth.  Moreover, Gary Patterson has built up a strong program over the course of more than a decade, even recently taking TCU to a Rose Bowl just a couple of seasons ago.  Moreover, though the Horned Frogs are ranked lower than the Bayou Bengals, they have the good fortune of playing LSU at the beginning of the season, which is historically when the team is most vulnerable to a loss.

10:30 PM EDT:  No. 22 Northwestern at California.  Normally, the only game one might find on the cable tv guide this late at night is a home game at Hawai’i.  Not this time, though.  This time, head coach Pat Fitzgerald takes his nimble Wildcats westward from Evanston, Ill., to the west coast.  The rankings could be deceiving.  Yes, on paper, Northwestern could possibly crush Cal.  But that could easily be nullified because of geography.  Take a team in the eastern or even central timezone out to the Pacific timezone, and strange things happen to them.  Pro teams do not have this issue (say, the New York Giants journeying out to Seattle to play the Seahawks), because they’re older, more mature, and, well, professionals.  But in the college game, folks*, you’re dealing with 19-20 year-old kids, who are far more apt to be out of their element when traveling such a distance.  Let us also not forget that Northwestern’s internal clock will still be on Chicago time (9:30 PM), not San Francisco time (7:30 PM), which could also make a difference.  One could therefore expect a close, hard-fought game, if not even an upset by the Golden Bears.  That said, Pat Fitzgerald is one of the most underrated coaches in the business, and has proven to be very adept, time and again, at not only recruiting decent players into a school with the most academically-rigid standards in the Big Ten Conference, but also coaching them up to be competitive in that conference and in bowl games, too.  No doubt he’ll have a trick or two up his proverbial sleeve to try to nullify the problems of geography and time discrepancy.  We shall see soon enough, as that is why they line up and play.

* Another Musburger-ism, in case you missed the reference!

College Football Week 11 Awards November 12, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 11, pre-week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Glad I’m not him:  Nick Saban, Alabama
Lucky guy: James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Desperately seeking a clue: Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking … anything:  Mike Leach, Washington State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 4 Georgia (beat Auburn 38-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 3 Notre Dame (beat Boston College 21-6)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Indiana (lost to Wisconsin 62-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Louisiana-Lafayette (lost to No. 7 Florida 27-20)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulsa (beat Houston 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Oregon
Dang, they’re bad:  Southern Miss

Ya’ know, they’re not so bad:  Virginia

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Louisville (see below), notwithstanding Alabama (see below)

Did the season start?  Utah
Can the season end?  Iowa
Can the season never end?  Texas A&M

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9** Texas A&M 29, No. 4**  Alabama 24
Never play this again: Wisconsin 62, Indiana 14

What? No. 6 Florida 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 20
Huh? Missouri 51, Tennessee 48, 4OT

Are you kidding me? Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

Oh – my – God:  No. 15* Texas A&M 29, No. 1* Alabama 24
Told you so: Syracuse 45, No. 9* Louisville 26

* rankings are AP, Week 11

** reflects current, Week 12 AP rankings

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for: No. 14 Stanford @ No. 3 Oregon
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup: Samford @ Kentucky
Best non-Big Six matchup: Utah State @ No. 20 Louisiana Tech

Upset alert: N.C. State @ No. 13 Clemson

Must win: No. 12 Oklahoma @ West Virginia
Offensive explosion: No. 19 USC @ No. 18 UCLA
Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ Vanderbilt
Great game no one is talking about: No. 23 Rutgers @ Cincinnati

Intriguing coaching matchup: Jim Mora Jr. of UCLA vs. Lane Kiffin of USC
Who’s bringing the body bags? Western Carolina @ No. 4 Alabama
Why are they playing? Jacksonville State @ No. 7 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Southern Miss (notwithstanding Buffalo @ UMass)
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Wofford @ No. 8 South Carolina

Week 11:  Another Two Bite the Dust

Two more undefeateds went down this week, one semi-expected, one hardly expected.  Louisville’s first defeat of the season was semi-expected, and for a number of reasons.  For one, most of Louisville’s wins were hardly overwhelming.  Moreover, their defense seemed to be increasingly under-performing during most of the season.  Their average margin of victory has been only 12.8 points, including an early-season blowout over Missouri State (35-7) and last week’s blowout over Temple (45-17).  Add Syracuse’s unpredictable competitiveness at home to the mix (it was their Senior Day, after all), and in the back of my mind, something was about to give.

But all is not lost for the Cardinals.  They are still in the running to win the Big East, and if they are able to defeat Rutgers in Piscataway on Nov. 29, they can clinch the conference total, though it nevertheless remains a relatively tall order.

The same cannot be said for as-of-yesterday No. 1 Alabama going down to surprising, almost shocking defeat (almost!) at home to No. 15 – and climbing! – Texas A&M.  The game already had a special feel to it regardless of the rankings, given that this was the first time the Crimson Tide was to play the Aggies since the 1968 Cotton Bowl.  Even Aggie and Crimson Tide legends showed up for Week 11’s aptly-labeled “ticket to die for”, including John David Crow (the only Bear Bryant-coached Heisman Trophy winner [1957, from A&M]), and Gene Stallings, both of whom were part of Bryant’s 1954 “Junction Boys” at A&M, the latter of whom coached against Bryant in the Cotton Bowl in ’68 (Bryant for Bama, Stallings for A&M), and who later coached Alabama to its last national championship (1992-’93), before Nick Saban’s tenure.

To observe the special meeting between the two teams, they even mimicked the uniform contrast of the opposing sides from roughly 44 years ago.  In the 1968 Cotton Bowl match-up, Alabama showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast against A&M’s maroon helmets and jerseys.  This time it was A&M who showed up in all-white (helmets included) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson helmets and jerseys.

At right shows Alabama vs. Texas A&M in the 1968 Cotton Bowl. The Crimson Tide showed up in all-white to contrast the Aggies’ traditional maroon uniforms. In a nod to that game from over 44 years ago, this time it was the Aggies that showed in all-white yesterday (left) to contrast Bama’s traditional crimson unis. Look carefully, and notice how little the stripes on the teams’ pants have changed in four and a half decades!

The game itself, oddly enough, made things even more memorable.  Before yesterday’s game commenced, Alabama’s defense only allowed an average of six points in the first quarter.  In the first 15 minutes of this game, they allowed three touchdowns.  Such lying down on the job is what made the game more interesting than necessary, and ended up costing Alabama the game, the top-ranking, and likely a shot at the national championship.  One can quibble over whether a lapse of discipline on the part of a defensive player with 40 seconds left in the game cost Alabama just that with an offside penalty, thus giving the Aggies an automatic first down.  But such a penalty would have been moot had Bama’s defense played up to its usual standards in the first half. Credit Kevin Sumlin for putting together a game plan that took the fight to the Tide in their home stadium.

The new championship race:  Some have speculated that Bama’s unexpected loss has, if you’ll pardon the expression, parted the Red Sea in two for Notre Dame to walk into national title discussion.  I might borrow Lee Corso’s famous line of “not so fast my friend” and remind such speculators that both Oregon and Kansas State are ahead of Notre Dame in the rankings, both the AP kind and the BCS kind.  The latter standings are a result of superior strength of schedule on the part of both the Ducks and the Wildcats.  It shall take a loss of one of those teams – not likely, but not impossible – for Notre Dame to be legitimate contenders.  The same will have to be the case for Alabama to work its way back into such discussions, now that they are behind Georgia in the USA Today Poll (@ No.5), though ahead of them in the AP Poll (@ No. 4).  Not an egregious fall, but one that might be just insurmountable enough without a little outside help.  Can we say “Alabama-Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl” if these shadows remain unchanged?  If nothing else, it would be another legendary match-up!

Quick uniform note:  TCU once had one of the nicest-looking helmets in college football.  That is, until they temporarily compromised the look by succumbing to the flat, matte helmet epidemic that seems to have gripped a number of teams.  Thankfully, the team has chosen to grant themselves a respite from that visual impairment disease, at least temporarily.  Last night in their valiant loss to Kansas State, the Horned Frogs sported helmets that closely recalled their traditional beautiful purple shells.  Their helmets on TV seemed shinier than ever before; perhaps a special polish was put on the metallic purple, or, even better, they went for a chrome purple look.  Whichever it was, here’s hoping they go forward with keeping this current helmet look and throw the matte shells onto the ash heap of regrettable trends.

College Football Week 3 Awards September 17, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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It was so much fun.  Every Sunday afternoon in the Fall of very recent years, we looked forward to the sportswriters of Rivals/Yahoo.com giving us their take on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the college football games and teams from the previous day.  Their awards were very informal yet well to the point, and never failed to produce a number of chuckles and at times a few belly laughs.  Those days seem to be gone.  Yahoo!’s online sports section has been given a sleek makeover, but in this new format, the weekly awards seem to have been lost by the wayside.  Maybe one could account for this because one of their main writers, Tom Dienhart, now blogs for the Big Ten Network.  Who knows?  The bottom line is, despite my best efforts, I cannot find it anymore.  What website that is worth its weight in attracting eyeballs would make such an enjoyable weekly post so hard to find?

With all of this in mind, inspiration hit me last night to take it upon myself to dole out the awards instead.  Afterall, I’m an alumnus of a Big Ten program, and have worked with coaches now on a number of “Big-Six” conference teams.  It may not be Rivals/Yahoo!, but if you love college football, you might be apt to find this to be the next best thing.  I have tweaked some of the awards to suit the unique situations that arise from week to week, but for the most part, the awards are the same.  Therefore, I offer the awards for the third week of major college football, and aim to continue to do so until the able writers at Yahoo! ‘get it together’ and resume their Sunday duties.

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Mack Brown, Texas
Glad I’m not him:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Lucky guy:  Gene Chizik, Auburn
Poor guy:  Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
Desperately seeking a wake-up call:   Charlie Strong, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man:  Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard:  Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking … anything:  John L. Smith, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did:  Purdue  (beat Eastern Michigan 54-16)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t:  Mississippi State (beat Troy 30-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:   Idaho (lost to LSU 63-14)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:   Pittsburgh (beat Virginia Tech 35-17)
Thought you’d reach a turning point, you didn’t:  Tennessee (lost to Florida 37-20)
Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: Colorado (or Kentucky:  take your pick!)
Ya’ know, they’re not so bad:  Cal
Did the season start?  Penn State
Can the season end?  Navy
Can the season never end?  Stanford

GAMES
Play this again:  Stanford 21, USC 14
Never play this again: Fresno State 69, Colorado 14
Unbelieveable Irony:  Connecticut 24, Maryland 21
What? Ball State 41, Indiana 39
Huh? Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3
Are you kidding me? Pittsburgh 35, Virginia Tech 17
Oh – my – God: Western Kentucky 31, Kentucky 30
Told you so: Louisville 39, North Carolina 34

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Clemson @ No. 5 Florida State
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Florida International vs. Louisville
Best non-Big Six matchup:  BYU @ Boise State
Upset alert:  Kansas State @ Oklahoma
Must win:  USC vs. California
Offensive explosion:  Arizona @ Oregon
Defensive struggle:  Temple @ Penn State
Great game no one is talking about:  Missouri @ South Carolina
Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Richt of Georgia vs. James Franklin of Vanderbilt
Who’s bringing the body bags?  Florida Atlantic @ Alabama
Why are they playing?  UAB @ Ohio State
Plenty of good seats remaining:  Memphis @ Duke
They shoot horses, don’t they?  Maryland @ West Virginia
What are your thoughts, dear readers?  Comments are welcome!