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Postseason College Football Awards 2019-2020 January 20, 2020

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson (Fiesta Bowl) (hon. mention:  Mario Cristobal, Oregon)

Poor guy: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated Iowa State 33-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (lost to No. 18 Minnesota 31-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Temple (lost to North Carolina 55-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 5 Georgia 26-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated No. 11 Utah 38-10)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Miami, FL

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Utah

Can the season end?  Miami, FL

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Clemson 29, No. 2 Ohio State 23 (Fiesta)

Play this again, too:  No. 6 Oregon 28, No. 8 Wisconsin 27 (Rose)

Never play this again: No. 1 LSU 63, No. 4 Oklahoma 28 (Peach)

What?  No. 3 Clemson, No. 2 Ohio State 23 (Fiesta)

HuhLouisiana Tech 14, Miami (FL) 0 (Independence)

Are you kidding me??  Texas 38, No. 11 Utah 10 (Alamo)

Oh – my – GodNo. 18 Minnesota 31, No. 12 Auburn 24 (Outback)

Random Bowl Game Thoughts:

Fiesta Bowl:

What a game.  Too bad one of the teams had to lose.  Having said that, two thoughts come to mind.  One, if Ohio State and Clemson played each other 10 times, the series would likely by evenly split, 5-5.  Second, Ohio State should blame themselves.  They left lots of “money on the table”, so to speak, by not capitalizing on deep red zone advances in the first half.  Second, they gave up on what helped get them ahead initially, which was a fast-paced hurry up offense.

Outback Bowl:

On paper, Auburn should have crushed Minnesota.  Not to detract anything from the Gophers, for they are a good team in any case.  But Minnesota’s win over a superiorly-athletic team in Auburn is huge.  What’s one sign of a well-coached team?  That the team shows gradual improvement as the season progresses.  That the Gophers have done, in spades.  To offer further perspective, bowl games are funny like that.  In many cases, it is impossible to determine who will win and lose if there is a motivation mismatch (a team that really wants to be there versus a better team that is not that thrilled about being there).  Such a situation gives the underdog a golden opportunity for a huge upset, and we witnessed a sterling example of this in Tampa.

Peach Bowl:

In case the reader missed it, LSU gave Oklahoma an old-fashioned butt whipping (seriously, how else to describe it?), 63-28.  Throughout the regular season, the Sooners looked like they are a legit playoff contender.  Why the lopsided result against them?  The frank answer is that it’s a systemic problem with the Big XII, a conference built on speed, not power, and the former, not the latter, wins games in that conference.  The problem comes when they have to face stronger athletes over all against half the SEC, against Ohio State, or Clemson.  Then, this glaring weakness gets exposed.

Music City Bowl:

Louisville’s win over Mississippi State is nothing at which to sneeze, for a number of reasons.  The most basic reason is that an ACC team triumphed over an SEC team, the latter usually having stronger athletes.  For another, this was something of a revenge game for the Cardinals, since they lost the Gator Bowl to the Bulldogs just two years earlier.  Indeed, they are probably a stronger team even then under then-head coach Bobby Petrino.  Third, speaking of Petrino, one of his historic drawbacks is that his teams disintegrate after he leaves them (see:  Louisville starting in 2007, or Arkansas starting in 2012).  Something about his coaching style combined with the caliber of player he usually recruited required him to be present to keep a tight lid on Pandora’s Box.  Once he would leave, Pandora’s Box would open, and chaos would ensue.  Not so this time.  Scott Satterfield has done the Yeoman’s work in keeping the team together, to say nothing of turning around the team’s performance.  From going 1-11 the previous season, the Cardinals capped off the year with a bowl win to finish 8-5 for the year.  While more improvement remains necessary, this has been quite the turnaround indeed.

Alamo Bowl:

Texas, under head coach Tom Herman, has become something of an enigma.  Their 38-10 over formidable No. 11 Utah was impressive, even if it were a glorified home game (the Alamodome in San Antonio is only an hour-and-15-minute drive from the UT campus up I-35 in Austin).  After all, Utah was a Pac-12 championship win away for qualifying for the playoffs.  As it turned out prior to kickoff, the Utes we still respectfully ranked, whereas the Horns were unranked.  Moreover, Texas performance was all over the proverbial map.  They played like a legitimate top-10 team against eventual playoff teams LSU and Oklahoma, but then had to struggle to beat Kansas and even coughed it up on the road to under-performing TCU.  Yes, injuries took a huge toll for the Longhorns this year, especially and runningback and worse yet, on defense.  Perhaps the time off leading up to the Alamo Bowl allowed for Texas to heal up, regroup, and regain focus so as to get dialed in for [again] what amounted to an extended home game, and thus live up their true potential against a reasonably formidable opponent.

Gator Bowl:

Tennessee defeated Indiana 23-22.  So why would Jeremy Pruitt be “desperately seeking anything”?  Because their play was as erratic as it was inconsistent throughout the game.  Pruitt [thought he] had to suddenly switch quarterbacks in the middle game, for goodness sake.  Probably with good reason, for the initial starter kept missing the mark.  In the first three quarters, the Volunteers could only muster three field goals.  Only with the Tennessee defense stepping up in the 4th quarter with some key sacks, with their offense starting to complete some key passes, to say nothing of a decent running attack were the Volunteers able to finally score and thus come back.

The problem with Tennessee was not a lack of focus.  Both teams seemed equally glad/motivated to be there.  Rather, the problem was lousy coaching.  On paper, Tennessee should have shellacked IU.  Their talent supremacy over Indiana is greater in ratio than that of Auburn over Minnesota.  But in football, talent is only part of the equation when it comes to winning games.  The other part of said equation is coaching.  The coach has to know what to do with that talent, and Jeremy Pruitt seems to be at a loss.  The Volunteers were thus very lucky to walk away with a “W” in Jacksonville.

The Championship Game:

LSU knocked off undefeated and defending national title holder Clemson 42-25.  It was a convincing victory over a strong team.  The Bayou Bengals have now earned their fourth national championship in football, and college football fans can breathe a sigh of relief at the champion is somebody not named Clemson or Alabama.  Not so fast, however:  Clemson is not likely to go away anytime soon.  The Tigers return a ton of starters for next year, including QB Trevor Lawrence, who, as talented as he clearly is, has even further growth to demonstrate.  Still, what a great night for the LSU team and faithful.  The fact that it was in the Superdome was the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake.

CFB Recruiting Class Random Observations for 2019 February 8, 2019

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In the previous article, I made observations on the potentially changing competitive landscape in the SEC based on the recruiting class rankings this year.  But those observations in no way cover the entire intrigue that these recruiting class rankings offer to college football fans.

For example, it’s quite clear that the SEC teams have dominated these rankings.  But other teams merit attention, too.  Take Michigan, for example.  They are the lone Big Ten representative in the top ten of said rankings, at No. 8 this year, interestingly one ranking position ahead of Florida (No. 9), who, er, chomped the Wolverines 41-15 in the recent Peach Bowl.  Meanwhile, Ohio State, who have been the most dominant force in the conference during Urban Meyer’s six-season tenure, only made it to No. 14 in the rankings this year (down from No. 2 last year).  Certain programs have proven they can do more with less (Kentucky under Mark Stoops is a wonderful example of this).  New Buckeye head coach Ryan Day will be put to the test to see if he can do the same thing and continue to contend for the national title.

That said, defending national champion Clemson’s recruiting class is at No. 10 (their 2018 class was No. 8).  Yet they have a young quarterback with a transcendent talent that is sure to lead the Tigers to the Promised Land this year as well, so their king-of-the-hill status remains unthreatened, for now.

One of the most-improved recruiting classes is Purdue.  Ranked only No. 49 in 2018, they have jumped to the No. 25 class for 2019.  Perhaps this could portend further improvement in their performance, allowing Coach Jeff Brohm to do more than just employ smoke-and-mirrors, as he had no choice but to do with such a bare cupboard his first two years in West Lafayette.

An intriguing stat to share:  Purdue’s recruiting class for 2019, at No. 25, ranks ahead of Wisconsin (No. 27), Michigan State (No. 30), Indiana (No. 38), Iowa (No. 40), Minnesota (No. 42), and Northwestern (No. 50).  That said, do not underestimate Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (especially Fitzgerald!) or even Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck in their abilities to develop players.

Another interesting improvement in recruiting rankings is that of Oregon.  At a respectable No. 13 last year, this year’s recruiting class has merited a No. 7 ranking.  Meanwhile, Washington at No. 17 is clearly not going anywhere.  A reasonable prediction from these figures is that an interesting border rivalry between the Huskies and Ducks could quickly emerge.  Add a steadily-performing Stanford to the mix, and on can easily foresee an increasingly competitive Pac-12 North division.

Rounding out the top ten in recruiting rankings are two Big XII teams; Oklahoma at No. 6, and Texas at No. 3.  The latter is coming off huge momentum with their dominating upset over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  Their quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, combines talent and grit for a winning synergy that could potentially help the Longhorns contend for the playoffs this upcoming season.  This No. 3 recruiting class certainly cannot hurt the Horns in this endeavor, and surely enforces the mantra that “Texas is back.”

Again, player development can sometimes compensate for lack of ranking in player recruitment.  Just ask Northwestern.  But also ask Alabama for Georgia (No’s 1 and 2, respectively) how their perennial top recruiting rankings work out for them to see the potential significance of said recruiting class rankings.  Such is the biggest reason why it’s so easy for college football fans to geek out about this subject!  It should add up to a more interesting college football season for 2019 compared to the one just concluded.

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!