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On the perils of trying to fire one’s way out of “Glen Mason Territory” October 15, 2018

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Last year, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about the perils to which average and above-average football programs expose themselves when they fire a coach who has been winning games, except that now he’s not winning enough games.  He dubbed this situation “Glen Mason Territory”.

What happens is that a team (typically, a 2nd-tier Power Five program) is in the doldrums, suffering from a string of losing seasons.  The university’s AD hires a new coach who then comes in and rights the ship.  Instead of losing season after losing season, the program now enjoys winning seasons.  The team starts going to bowl games, say, five over the course of seven years.  The fans are loving it.  They want more.  The boosters want more.  The athletics director wants more.

Except that the head coach cannot deliver more.  It’s usually not his fault.  There’s often a set of structural limitations in place, and despite the community’s clamoring, the coach, despite all he has done, cannot deliver on the expectations that have been unintentionally raised.  In other words, the coach did raise the bar of performance expectations, which was great for a while.  Now the fans and everyone else take this for grant, and want it raised even further, which is an impossible task.  Instead of accepting this frank fact of life, the fans call for the AD to do the feel-good thing, which is to fire the coach and replace him someone who (they think) deliver on these raised (often, unreasonable) expectations.

Let us briefly consider the namesake of “Glen Mason Territory” for a moment as an example.  Glen Mason was a former Ohio State coordinator who did an impressive salvage job at Kansas in the 1990s.  Minnesota hired him in 1997 for a similar turnaround.  Despite the Golden Gophers’ past tradition (having won multiple national titles in the 1930s and 1940s under Bernie Bierman), the program had been absent from the national conscious since most of the 1960s (having won the whole thing, oddly, in 1960).

Mason started to deliver in 1999, winning eight games that year, including a massive upset over then, No. 2 Penn State.  The following year, they sent Ohio State’s national title aspirations into an early death spiral, in the Horseshoe, no less.  As Bill Connelly tells it further:

“The Gophers would bowl again in 2000 and 2002, then surge in 2003. Behind the punishing combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, they beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to a 9-3 regular season, then Oregon in a Sun Bowl thriller to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1905.

The problem: he never won 10 again. The Gophers started 2004 5-0 and reached 13th before losing five of six down the stretch and needing a bowl win to salvage 7-5. They went 7-5 again in 2005 and were on the doorstep of a third straight seven-win season in 2006 before blowing an enormous Insight Bowl lead to Texas Tech.

A year after a contract extension, Minnesota used the bowl collapse as impetus for panic. Despite seven bowls in eight years — for a program that had been almost absent from college football’s consciousness for nearly four decades — the school pushed Mason out.

The program had grown stale, you see, and needed young energy. “I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm,” said athletic director Joel Maturi.”

The question in the mind of many of the readers by now is, ‘why couldn’t Minnesota “got over the hump”, so to speak?’  One reason, at the time, was facilities.  If a Big Ten recruit went to, say, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State on visits was able to take in the grandeur of their home stadia, they would be most unimpressed by seeing the Metrodome as their potential home stadium if they chose to don the Maroon & Gold.  Having been on the sidelines for a game there once, I personally can vouch for how sterile a place it is.  Despite the university’s best efforts to jazz it up with bunting and national championship banners in the school’s colors all over the place on game day, it remains sterile, even negatively inspiring.  As one of my fellow student managers at the time said so succinctly, “that place just sucks the life force out of you.”

Seeing things along those lines, one can appreciate the difficulties that Mason had to overcome in attaining the success his team enjoyed.  But in the end, it wasn’t good enough.  Why?  Answer: expectations that have been raised beyond reason.

Notice in Connelly’s writing how he cited then-AD Joel Maturi saying the program had “grown stale”.  Such wording is a symptom of the fallacious “this-is-who-we-now-are mentality”, when a program long in the doldrums all of a sudden enjoys a spate of success.  Pretty soon, the fan base starts to take this newfound success for granted, and becomes increasingly restless when the coach fails to deliver even more success, more than the program is structurally built to deliver under modern constraints.

Consider, again, Minnesota.  Sure, the Twin Cities might produce several players talented enough to compete at a high level, but much of the rest of the roster is made up of recruits from Ohio who were passed over by the Buckeyes.  In explicably, you’ll find a few players from Florida and Texas (e.g., Marion Barber III) in there, too.  But the immediate point is, there is not enough local talent from which to draw in order to build up a roster that can consistently vie for the national title.  The only team in such a predicament that has come close to such viability is Oregon (proving that there is always an exception to the rule), with maybe Washington to a lesser extent.

So Mason was already dealing with that structural roadblock to meeting unrealistic expectations, in addition to the stadium, which was a potential turn-off to recruits.  Not until 2009 did they open up TCF Bank Stadium on the school’s main campus.  Had Mason had this shiny new stadium at this disposal then, things might have been a little different (emphasis on ‘might have been’).

Consider weather, too.  Sure, Minnesota is a great school, and the Twin Cities are reasonably happening, but it’s also cold…very cold.  Most recruits might choose to brave the cold winters in Columbus, Ohio, or even State College, Pa., or even Ann Arbor, Mich., but they’ll draw the line at the next-level frigidity of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Can one blame them?

Of course, asking the reasonable thing, which is for the fan base to take these structural obstacles into consideration to damper their unrealistic expectations is apparently too much to ask these days.  These unrealistic expectations lead to impatience, which leads to rash decisions.  So naturally they fired Mason.  They brought in Tim Brewster as his replacement.  Brewster promised to recruit, to be the ‘shot in the arm’ the program needed, etc., and proceeded to go 15-30.  For comparison, Mason went 64-57.  Will the Gopher faithful give charismatic young coach P.J. Fleck the chance to duplicate Mason’s efforts?  That all depends on if they learned anything from this experience.

Other fan bases seem not to be have learned, and have suffered the consequences as a result.  To wit:

Arizona State fired Todd Graham, despite his 7-5 regular season record in 2017.  The program had not been competitive consistently since the Frank Kush years of the 1970s.  Bruce Snyder did the best job in recent years, leading the Sun Devils to almost win the national title in 1996.  Snyder’s leadership proved that the Sun Devils are capable of high ceilings, but brief ones.  Arizona State has hired former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in his stead.  It remains to be seen if this risky hire will pan out, but at least it is an interesting hire.  One thing that ASU does have going for it is that it’s located in a geographical spot with an endless summer, a campus that sports tons of pretty co-eds, and the Phoenix area is a decent hotbed for good recruits.  Theoretically, the right coach could set the entire Pac-12 on notice, as Bruce Snyder did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

But as Bill Connelly wisely points out, schools without such advantages who nevertheless act on the impatience born of unrealistically raised expectations can suffer major consequences.

  • On the heels of 11- and nine-win seasons, Boston College pushed Jeff Jagodzinski out because he deigned to interview for other jobs. They were 2-10 four years later and haven’t reached nine wins since.

  • Ron Zook took Illinois to nine wins and a Rose Bowl in 2007, and after a two-year reset, got them back to 7-6 in both 2010 and 2011. He was fired. Illinois has averaged 3.7 wins per year since.

  • Dan McCarney won at least seven games five times in a six-year span at Iowa State but was let go after a 4-8 downturn in 2006. ISU has not topped seven wins since, though that could change with an upcoming bowl game.

To be sure, current ISU head coach Matt Campbell has made Jack Trice Stadium a perilous place to play for undefeated teams, as top-ten West Virginia just learned last night the hard way.

  • Ralph Friedgen took Maryland to seven bowls in 10 years, and after a two-win collapse in 2009, rebounded to nine wins in 2010. Maryland has averaged 4.7 wins per year since firing him.

  • NC State pushed Tom O’Brien out in 2012 after 24 wins in three years. Their best three-year win total since: 22.*

Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to respectability (and rankings), but it has taken the program several years to return to this spot.

  • David Cutcliffe won seven or more games for five straight years at Ole Miss, peaking with a 10-win campaign in 2003. But after a 4-7 reset in 2004, he was fired. The Rebels would top four wins twice in the next seven years.

  • Pitt pushed Dave Wannstedt out after after 26 wins in three years. The Panthers have averaged 6.6 wins since.

  • Despite seven ranked finishes in 11 years, Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni after he hit a dry spell. He went 4-8 in 2002 then rebounded to only 6-6 in 2003-04. Syracuse went 10-37 under replacement Greg Robinson and has averaged 4.4 wins since Pasqualoni.

Dino Babers has methodically built Syracuse into a better program, but consider that the hiatus between this decent year and Pasqualoni’s last season is 13 years.

  • Phil Fulmer took Tennessee to 15 bowls and five SEC championship games in 16 years. He won the national title in 1998 and won at least eight games 14 times. He fell to 5-6 in 2005 but rebounded back to 10 wins in 2007. After a second five-win reset in 2008, he was fired. The Vols have hit the eight-win mark twice in the nine years since.

But what about Georgia, you ask?  That’s really not an exception to the rule after all.  Mark Richt had been consistently winning at Georgia but failed to bring home a national championship trophy.  Nick Saban and others did have something to do with that, but again, it’s almost too much to expect folks to be reasonable, especially in SEC country, where “it just means…more”.  So, they fired Richt and brought in Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.  And he too, won games, even played his former team for the national title.  And lost, because Nick Saban’s Alabama these days is a consistent juggernaut.  Nevertheless, Smart succeeded where Richt failed.  So firing their way out of Glen Mason Territory has panned out for Georgia thus far, but that’s because they have access to tons of NFL-potential talent in Greater Atlanta, their own backyard.  So there.

The conclusion to which Connelly arrived in his article is that a school cannot simply fire-a-coach its way out of “Glen Mason Territory”.  Why?  Let us consider basic reality.  Football, unlike economics, is a zero-sum game.  When one team wins a game, that means that team’s opponent had to lose that game.  Not all teams can be championship-viable teams all the time.  It is simply impossible.  Furthermore, because of this zero-sum fact of life football (and most other sports), not everybody can be good all the time.  Even traditional powers have had down years (just look at Alabama in between the Mike Dubose and Nick Saban years).

Second, not all teams are built to be national-title contenders.  Again, one key factor is, does your state produce enough local talent to compete nationally?  In states like California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, (borderline case:  Arizona) that is a given.  Even Oklahoma does not produce the players it used to (to be sure, even during the glory days of Bud Wilkinson, OU has had to recruit Texas to be successful).  The only state north of the Sunbelt that can remotely compete on that scale is Ohio.  Everyone else has to recruit from those states just to be in a position to win games, period.

Also, unlike in the pros, where teams choose the players, in college, the players choose the programs.  That means that many blue chip recruits who have options are not going to flock to the Arctic climbs of Minnesota, or the isolated, wind-swept plains of Nebraska if they can land a scholarship at Georgia or LSU or even TCU instead.  Ohio State has managed to stay viable despite its cold winters due to the total commitment of the university, plus the community and state at large, to muster every last resource needed to attract the players necessary to compete at that level.

When a coach raises the bar of performance expectations but cannot raise it further, it’s usually not the coach’s fault.  It’s program history for one.  Georgia, for example, only has two national titles, one from 1942 and from 1980; the former being shared with Ohio State.  As discussed at some length, it’s also infrastructure (e.g., facilities and access to NFL-caliber talent), and program support.  But dealing with these issues ranges from difficult to impossible.  Instead of dealing with these realities like responsible people, too often people take the feel-good way out (in reality, a dead end) and kill the messenger by firing the very coach who improved the team’s standing and situation in the first place.

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College Football Awards, Week 7 (2018) October 15, 2018

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 7] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Seth Littrell, North Texas

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Army (defeated San Jose State 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (defeated Vanderbilt 37-27)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to Army 52-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Minnesota (lost to Ohio State 30-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Illinois 46-7)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Western Kentucky

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Oregon 30, No. 7 Washington 27, OT

Never play this again: Army 52, SJSU 3

What? Virginia 16, No. 16 Miami 13

HuhNo. 17 Oregon 30, No. 7 Washington 27, OT

Double HuhMichigan State 21, No. 8 Penn State 17

Are you kidding me??  Iowa State 30, No. 6 West Virginia 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 LSU 36, No. 2 Georgia 16

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 8)
Game of the week:  No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 5 LSU

Also:  No. 16 NC State @ No. 3 Clemson

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Memphis @ Missouri

Best non-Power Five matchup: North Texas @ UAB

Upset alert: No. 16 NC State @ No. 3 Clemson

Must win: No. 6 Michigan @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 12 Oregon @ No. 25 Washington State

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Dave Doeren of NC State vs Dabo Swinney of Clemson

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 10 UCF @ East Carolina

Why are they playing?  UTEP @ Louisiana Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Tulsa @ Arkansas

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  San Jose State @ San Diego State

Due to the intriguing complexity of the current situation, no additional thoughts are offered at this time, but shall be forthcoming in a subsequent article later this week.

College Football Awards, Week 6 (2018) October 7, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Lucky guy: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Doeren, NC State

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chip Kelly, UCLA

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 63-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: West Virginia (defeated Kansas 38-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Wake Forest (lost to Clemson 63-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to West Virginia 38-22)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia Tech (defeated Louisville 66-31)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Boston College

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endTexas

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 63, Wake Forest 3

What? Utah 40, No. 14 Stanford 21

HuhTexas A&M 20, No. 13 Kentucky 14 (OT)

Double HuhMississippi State 23, No. 8 Auburn 9

Are you kidding me??  No. 19 Texas 48, No. 7 Oklahoma 45

Oh – my – GodNo. 22 Florida 27, No. 5 LSU 19

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Georgia @ No. 5 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 12 UCF @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 9 West Virginia @ Iowa State

Must win: No. 20 Michigan State @ No. 11 Penn State

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Washington @ No. 18 Oregon

Defensive struggle: No. 8 Auburn @ Tennessee

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Kevin Sumlin of Arizona

Who’s bringing the body bags? (inconclusive)

Why are they playing? (inconclusive)

Plenty of good seats remaining: Western Kentucky @ Charlotte

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Alabama State @ South Alabama

Week 6 Thoughts:

 Upsets have abounded this week, with each surprise seeming to supersede the other.  Texas made its presence known by toppling yet another ranked opponent, this time hated rival Oklahoma.  Whereas the Longhorns were ranked a respectable No. 19, the Sooners were top ten at No. 7.  It was almost the upset the never was, as the Sooners’ superior talent almost allowed for a complete comeback during the second half.  Only a last-minute field goal by Texas’ true freshman kicker won the day.

LSU’s occasional woes against Florida continued yesterday.  In 2003, the Gators upset the Tigers badly, almost spoiling their national title campaign.  This time around, the Bayou Bengals came in to the game at No. 5 in the nation, only to be upset by the (No. 22) Gators yet again, this time 27-19.  Time to see if Ed Orgeron’s team can bounce back from this loss and remain strong in the brutally competitive SEC West division.

Mississippi State has been in and out of the rankings, but this time, they played like a legitimately ranked team, toppling top-ten Auburn 23-9.  Perhaps the “clanga-clanga” atmosphere of Scott Field at night had something to do with it?

Speaking of atmospheres and night games, don’t look now, but Kentucky is a legitimately good team.  That said, apparently a night game in the hostile confines of Kyle Field (“Home of the 12th Man”) was too much to maintain their strong winning streak, for the Wildcats lost to the unranked Aggies in overtime, in what was a close, hard-fought game from start to end.

In an interesting night cap game, unranked Utah’s superior quickness gave No. 14 Stanford fits the entire evening.  The Cardinal has a bye-week to lick their wounds, while such a win for the Utes might merit a ranking in the next edition of the polls.

There were other upsets, too, such as Iowa State toppling No. 25 Oklahoma State.  It won’t get any easier for the Cowboys, as their next six games include ranked opponents (Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia), as well as Kansas State and potentially-ranked TCU.

Let us also not overlook another close, hard-fought game between Florida State and Miami.  The Seminoles tenaciously hung tough the entire game and eventually triumphed over the No. 17 Hurricanes 28-27.

In the Big Ten, unranked Northwestern (they actually start off the year ranked No. 15) upset No. 20 Michigan State, on the road, 29-19.  This is a genuine quality win for the Wildcats, as Mark Dantonio has, over the past several years, made his Spartans a tough out even for top-ten teams.  On paper, one would think MSU would have been a tougher out for Northwestern, but just goes to show that nothing is a given in the B1G.

But one of the biggest upsets of the day was also the biggest game of the day, as the Longhorns have won bragging rights over the Sooners for a year until they meet again next year in the Cotton Bowl amidst the annual Texas State Fair.

 

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 5 (2018) September 30, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Lucky guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Poor guy: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville (held over for second week!)

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Jeff Monken, Army

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chris Ash, Rutgers

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (defeated Louisiana 56-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (defeated Tennessee 38-12)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Bowling Green (lost to Georgia Tech 63-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Syracuse (lost to Clemson 27-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Miami (North Carolina 47-10)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Duke

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endNotre Dame

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 4 Ohio State 27, No. 10 Penn State 26

Never play this again: FIU 55, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 9

What? Liberty 52, New Mexico 43

HuhFlorida 13, No. 23 Mississippi State 6

Are you kidding me??  Virginia Tech 31, No. 22 Duke 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 8 Notre Dame 38, No. 7 Stanford 17

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 18 Texas vs. No. 6 Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout (Dallas)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: SMU @ UCF

Upset alert: No. 8 Notre Dame @ Virginia Tech

Must win: Georgia Tech @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: Navy @ Air Force

Great game no one is talking about: Tulane @ Cincinnati

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Justin Wilcox of Cal vs. Kevin Sumlin of Arizona

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

Why are they playing? North Texas @ UTEP

Plenty of good seats remaining: Colorado State @ San Jose State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Illinois @ Rutgers

Week 5 Thoughts: 

This week was one of the most important of the year for this college football season.  Although there were few upsets, and ever fewer of consequence (despite some close calls – looking your way, Michigan and Ohio State), there were still two games of enormous importance.

Let us start with the biggest game of the week, which was Ohio State playing Penn State in Happy Valley.  With a “white-out” at night filling the 107,000-seat stadium, the Nittany Lions played above their No. 10 ranking, almost defeating No. 4 Ohio State.  Almost.  In the end, both teams played up to their high potential, and the slightly-better team on paper turned out to be the slightly better team on the field of play.  The obvious national championship implications of the matchup and outcome is only part of the importance of this game, which shall be explained in further depth in a subsequent article.

The other game of enormous consequence was Stanford at Notre Dame.  This was another top ten matchup with both teams outside of the South, with the victor having further potential to advance in the rankings.  As wonderful as the southern teams are, having a healthy amount of top-ten (or even top-15) teams outside of the Southeast region is good for football because it makes the sport more national and less regional.  This importance shall also be explained further in an article that shall be forthcoming soon.

Oh, and don’t look now, but Texas is on a four-game win streak, and survived a trap game at Kansas State headed into the Red River Shootout, er, Showdown come Oct. 6.

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2018) September 23, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Poor guy: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Illinois 63-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (defeated Army 28-21 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tulane (lost to No. 9 Ohio State 49-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Army (lost to Oklahoma 28-21 in OT)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas Tech (defeated No. 15 Oklahoma State 17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Nebraska

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Stanford 38, No. 20 Oregon 31

Play this again, too:  SMU 31, Navy 30

Never play this again: Appalachian State 72, Gardner-Webb 7

What? Purdue 30, No. 23 Boston College 13

HuhTexas Tech 41, No. 15 Oklahoma State 17

Double HuhIllinois State 35, Colorado State 19

Are you kidding me??  Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7

Oh – my – GodOld Dominion 49, No. 13 Virginia Tech 35

NEXT WEEK (Rankings are current AP, week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 9 Penn State

Also:  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 8 Notre Dame

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Pitt @ UCF

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Texas Tech @ No. 12 West Virginia

Must win: Purdue @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ Fresno State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ No. 23 Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: No.18 Texas @ Kansas State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Tom Herman of Texas

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

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ No. 10 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

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

Week 4 Thoughts:

 Purdue has started the season as a major head-scratcher.  Coming off a surprising winning season after the Hazell-era doldrums, including a bowl win, the Boilermaker faithful had high hopes for the team in 2018.  Thus far, after an understandable, opening-season loss to then-ranked Northwestern, Purdue proceeded to lose squeakers at home to beatable teams, including [shudder], Eastern Michigan – a directional school.  Chalk it up to an undisciplined defense and a lack of a running game.  Regardless, the Boilers have their first win of the year, and, all things considered, it’s a rather big one, handily defeating No. 23 Boston College 30-13.  To be sure, Purdue did step it up on defense, and if they can maintain this newfound intensity on that side of the ball, there’s hope for the season yet.  All that said, sometimes it takes a few weeks for a good team to find its footing and thus to play up to its potential.

The team now becoming an even bigger head-scratcher is Louisville.  Sure, they lost badly to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide is such a juggernaut this year that most winning-season teams will look pathetic against them.  What really raised concerns was having to struggle, at home, to beat Western Kentucky – another directional school!  Let us thus give the Cardinals an ex-post-facto “Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t”.  But now they got embarrassed, on the road to a beatable team in Virginia.  At 27-3, are the Cavaliers that much better than the Cards?  Is their offense that poor that they failed to punch it into the endzone, with only a sad field goal to open the 3rd quarter?  A comparison of recent seasonal performances of both teams would say no, but today’s score would suggest so.  Here is one possible diagnosis of Louisville’s under-performance.  In the last few years (basically since Lamar Jackson was QB), Petrino has been fixated on “skills” players while acting as if he can get any lumbering lummox to block on the line.  So, while he might have NFL-caliber talent on the wings, he has no way of executing plays.  Has the time come to where Petrino would be better off as an offensive coordinator instead of a head coach?  Further observation and analysis of the team’s performance shall tell us yes or no.

What about USC?  Before losing badly on the road to Texas last week, they were ranked and poised to compete for the Pac-12 title again.  But on Friday night, they had to play hard at home to beat unranked Washington State.  One possible explanation:  Sam Darnold’s talent at QB papered over the mediocrity of talent on the coaching staff.  While I’m not a Trojans fan personally, I nevertheless recognize that when a traditional power like USC does well, it’s good for college football (same goes for other traditional powers like Georgia, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Miami (Fla.)).  Conversely, a mediocre Southern Cal team is thus not great for college football.  Let us hope that they can eventually rise back to national title contention to help keep the west coast markets engaged in the game.  After all, it’s never good for a sport to become regional (looking your way, Major League Baseball).

Speaking of Texas, are they “back”?  And why were they ever, well, not back?  This article by Pete Thamel explains the nature of why a national brand and a massively-valued program ever needed turning around in the first place (hint:  turning around an aircraft carrier takes much, much longer than turning around, say, a personal sailboat).  Forget, for a moment, that the program sure did not help anybody, least of all themselves, by laying an egg on the road to Maryland, and then under-performing at home the next week against Tulsa.  The Longhorns’ big win over USC last week might not indicate that the team is “back” as strongly as one would think due to USC’s apparent mediocrity at the moment.  But then again, Texas did follow up with another big win, this time over No. 16 TCU, 31-16.  So the current conclusion is, if they’re not “back” yet, they’re certainly headed in the right direction.  Onward and upward.

College Football Awards, Week 3 (2018) September 22, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

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

Can the season end?  (too early to tell)

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  LSU 22, Auburn 21

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

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

What? Syracuse 30, Florida State 7

HuhNorth Texas 44, Arkansas 17

Double HuhAkron 39, Northwestern 34

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ SMU

Upset alert: Arizona State @ No. 10 Washington

Must win: No. 23 Boston College @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Tennessee

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

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

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

Why are they playing? Army @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ UTEP

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

Week 3 Thoughts: 

(Holding off on those until Week 4 installment.)

College Football Awards Week 13 (2017) November 27, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Richt, Miami  also:  Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Maryland 66-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Baylor 45-22)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to No. 20 Memphis 70-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  San Jose State (defeated Wyoming 20-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Louisville (defeated Kentucky 44-17)

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  East Carolina

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Miami

Did the season start?  Alabama

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

Play this again, too:  Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Never play this again: No. 20 Memphis 70, East Carolina 13

What? Ole Miss 31, No. 14 Mississippi State 28

Huh?  No. 21 Stanford 38, No. 8 Notre Dame 20

Are you kidding me??  Pittsburgh 24, No. 2 Miami 14

Oh – my – GodNo. 6 Auburn 26, No. 1 Alabama 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, post-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Wisconsin in the B1G championship (Indianapolis)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 Memphis @ No. 15 UCF (AAC championship)

Upset alert: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin  Also:  No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 6 Auburn in the SEC championship (Atlanta)

Must win: (any championship game with playoff implications)

Offensive explosion: No. 12 TCU @ No. 4 Oklahoma (Big XII championship)

Defensive struggle: (jury’s still out)

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Stanford vs. No. 11 USC in the Pac-12 championship

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Richt of Miami vs. Dabo Swinney of Clemson

Who’s bringing the body bags? Louisiana-Monroe @ Florida State

Why are they playing? UMass @ FIU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ Coastal Carolina

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Idaho @ Georgia State

Week 13 Random Thoughts:

This weekend was one of reckoning for teams vying for playoff contention.  Some survived, others went down in flames.  One, surprisingly, was Alabama.  In hindsight, the Tide was somewhat fool’s gold.  All their tough conference games were at home.  The season’s opener against Florida State was supposed to be a very marquee matchup, but it quickly became a rout once the Seminoles’ starting quarterback was knocked out of the game (and out for the season), thus sending FSU’s season town the toilet before it truly began.  Last week should have been a greater warning than most of us acknowledged, what with Mississippi State giving the Tide a scare on the road.  They escaped, only to face their first real test of the whole season, ironically at its end.  They failed to step up to the challenge.  Conversely, Auburn has proven they are the real deal, a playoff-worthy contender.

Clemson seems to have bounced back very nicely from the loss of their starting QB.  Having handily defeated a good South Carolina team, they now prepare for this upcoming week’s ACC championship game.  There they face Miami, who surprisingly lost to Pitt in their first loss all year.  The inopportune loss was bad enough, but they looked listless in defeat as well, perhaps convincing a critical mass of voters that the Hurricanes are not the playoff-worthy team we thought they were.  All that said, they still clinched their division for the first time since its inception, and now face the Tigers this upcoming week.  The odds favor the Tigers, but then again, there are compelling reasons why we line ‘em up and play.

Ohio State stated off slowly against Michigan in “The Big House,” allowing the Wolverines to score two touchdowns.  But the Buckeyes eventually got going and eventually rolled to victory.  While Alabama failed to knock Auburn out of contention, Notre Dame’s convincing loss to Stanford and Miami’s sudden loss could nevertheless keep the door open for their playoff hopes.  Next step is to beat Wisconsin the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis this upcoming weekend.

Texas seemed to have rediscovered their offense on the road last week at West Virginia.  This week, they could only muster 23 points, at home, to Texas Tech, who is hardly the defensive juggernaut.  Things have improved this year with the Longhorns compared to the previous few seasons.  Case in point, the Horns remain bowl-eligible.  But much work and improvement clearly remains.  The biggest objective is:  find offensive consistency.

Louisville is finally playing back to form, practically scoring at will over a deceptively formidably Kentucky squad.  Whether Lamar Jackson deserves a return trip to Manhattan for Heisman consideration is neither here nor there, but his team is in a far better position than it was last year, trending the proper direction as they await their bowl bid destination.

Okay, so my “near-perfect playoff scenario” is already compromised.  This is not a huge surprise.  In hindsight, Alabama was not the juggernaut we thought they were, and Miami was not as far along as they seemed earlier this year (but at this rate, Mark Richt will bring them into legit contention).  Perhaps, at this rate, it could be Clemson, Auburn, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.  With that in mind, Auburn is to face Georgia for a rematch, this time in Atlanta.  The Bulldogs shall surely be out for revenge.  The bottom line is, the reckoning is not over yet.  Buckle up.

But seriously, Ohio State, ditch those gray-black uniforms.  They look horrible.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

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

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

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

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards Week 9 (2017) October 30, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: James Franklin, Penn State

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford  also:  Mike Riley, Nebraska

Poor guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: UCF (defeated Austin Peay 73-33)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Stanford (defeated Oregon State 15-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to Texas 38-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 8 Miami 24-19)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Boston College (defeated Florida State 35-3)

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Baylor

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Florida State

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Play this again, too:  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Never play this again: Toledo 58, Ball State 17

What? Houston 28, No. 17 South Florida 24

Huh?  Northwestern 39, No. 18 Michigan State 31, 3OT

Are you kidding me?? No. 6 Ohio State 39, No. 2 Penn State 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 25 Iowa State 14, No. 4 TCU 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 19 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

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

Upset alert: Texas @ TCU also:  No. 18 Stanford @ No. 25 Washington State

Must win: No. 13 Virginia Tech @ No. 9 Miami

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Oklahoma State @ No. 11 Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Missouri

Great game no one is talking about: No. 25 Iowa State @ No. 22 West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Also:  Justin Fuente of Virginia Tech vs. Mark Richt of Miami

Who’s bringing the body bags? UMass @ Mississippi State

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Charlotte @ Old Dominion

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Coastal Carolina @ Arkansas

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

The Ohio State-Penn State game was one that certainly lived up to its hype.  Its implicit billing as the game of the year certainly was that, with stakes no less high than a possible playoff berth on the line.  Buckeyes are now ranked No. 3 and have the opportunity to control their own destiny.  Three out of the four remaining games are going to be challenges, however.  Iowa is up next (remember, they took Penn State down to the wire), followed by Michigan State (a deceptively deadly team as of late), a potential break with Illinois, with Michigan (self-explanatory) to cap off the season.  Urban Meyer needs to keep the team focused these next four weeks for a trip to Indianapolis for the B1G championship.

In the meantime OSU, ditch those grungy-looking all-gray uniforms.  They looked horrible.

Few things are as distasteful as seeing your team blow a 4th-quarter lead.  Purdue did just that at home against Nebraska.  First they embarrassed themselves in a defensive struggle on the road against lowly Rutgers, now this.  This upcoming week’s game against Illinois is surely a winnable one, but then again, that’s what we all thought about Rutgers and Nebraska a couple of weeks ago.  Worse yet, Northwestern has been resurgent as of late, and Iowa is as competitive as ever.  Indiana might still be a winnable game, and thus it is not reasonable for the Boilers to emerge at season’s end 5-7, which is a still a step in the right direction from the disaster that was the Darrell Hazell era.

As predicted, Texas got well on Baylor.  The respite will not last, as next game they face TCU, arguably their toughest opponent of the year, in Fort Worth, no less.  Moreover, the Horned Frogs will be quite angry after just losing – unexpectedly – their first game of the year to newly-ranked Iowa State.

Let us hold our horses about Notre Dame.  Yes, they have only one loss, to current No. 2 Georgia, no less, and their strength of schedule is formidable.  But they’re also enjoying a senior-laden offensive line with a limited offense.  Furthermore, the Irish have yet to face two of their toughest opponents not named Georgia.  In two weeks they face a resurgent Miami Hurricanes, and they close out the season on the road at Stanford.  Eastern Timezone teams tend not to fare very well on the road against West Coast teams.  Just sayin’.  In the meantime, cool the hype on Notre Dame until their season concludes.

Speaking of Georgia, they rose to the occasion yet again this year by handily defeating Florida.  In recent years, the Bulldogs have struggled in their annual rivalry games against the Gators.  This time, the Dawgs kept that unpleasant past in the rearview mirror.  Seemingly treating it like any other game, they went into the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and took care of business, so much so (42-7) that Jim McElwain might be in danger of losing his job.  Now ranked No. 2, they potentially control their own destiny.  But next game up is South Carolina, a potential trap game, as Will Muschamp has coached the Gamecocks to a surprising 6-2 start.  Moreover, the remaining three games after that – in order, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech – each offer their own unique challenges.  If the Bulldogs remain in playoff contention, they shall have to earn it.

Oh, and Tennessee lost…again…this time to another rival of sorts, Kentucky.  As of this writing, officials at the University of Tennessee are contemplating Butch Jones’ tenure.  Many of us are wondering what has taken them this long to get to this point, let alone giving Jones the ax.

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.