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College Football Awards, Week 8 (2019) October 21, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Poor guy: Les Miles, Kansas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Rhule, Baylor

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Arth, Akron

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Northwestern 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (defeated Kansas 50-48)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas (lost to Auburn 51-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Illinois (defeated Wisconsin 24-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ball State (defeated Toledo 52-14)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Washington

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Penn State 28, No. 16 Michigan 20

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Texas 50, Kansas 48

Never play this again: No. 4 Ohio State 52, Northwestern 3

What?  Ball State 52, Toledo 14

HuhGeorgia Tech 28, Miami (Fla.) 21, OT

Double-Huh?  Vanderbilt 21, No. 22 Missouri 14

Are you kidding me??  BYU 28, No. 14 Boise State 25

Oh – my – GodIllinois 24, No. 6 Wisconsin 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 3 Ohio State

Next-best game of the week:  No. 9 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Liberty @ Rutgers

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Navy

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 11 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Texas @ TCU  (hon. mention:  WSU @ No. 11 Oregon)

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Cal @ No. 12 Utah

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

(honorable mention:  Herm Edwards of Arizona State vs Chip Kelly of UCLA)

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

Why are they playing? Liberty @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Northern Illinois

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Maryland @ No. 17 Minnesota

Week 8 Thoughts:

Two more undefeated teams bite the dust.  First No. 6 Wisconsin in the noon time slot, who went down to defeat at lowly Illinois on a last-second field goal.  Then, late at night, the second undefeated team lost today when No. 14 Boise State lost on the road to BYU.  The latter, however, is not nearly as massive as the former.

The shame of such an upset is that it takes some of the [proverbial] starch and the all-too-real excitement out of next week’s upcoming matchup between the Badgers and the Buckeyes.  But it will still be a great game.

Texas vs. Kansas

Texas had to score 50 points to beat Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  Granted, Les Miles has the Jayhawks continually improving.  Still, this does not bode well for the Longhorns.  Clearly, injuries have depleted their defense, especially their secondary.  Any team with a good quarterback can thus score points on them.  The question becomes, can the Horns still stop the run?  Assuming they can, then they stand a chance yet against TCU next week.

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College Football Awards, Week 7 (2019) October 14, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma  (hon. mention:  Ed Orgeron, LSU)

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Poor guy: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Utah (defeated Oregon State 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (lost to South Carolina 20-17 in 2OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UConn (lost to Tulane 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Arkansas (lost to Kentucky 24-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Maryland 40-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia

Did the season start?  Washington State

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma  (honorable mention:  LSU)

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Oklahoma 34, No. 11 Texas 27

Play this again, too:  No. 5 LSU 42, No. 7 Florida 28.

Never play this again: Louisiana Tech 69, UMass 21

What?  Bowling Green 20, Toledo 7

HuhTemple 30, No. 23 Memphis 28

Double-Huh?  Miami 17, No. 20 Virginia 9

Are you kidding me??  Louisville 62, No. 19 Wake Forest 59

Oh – my – GodSouth Carolina 20, No. 3 Georgia 17, 2OT

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Best game of the week:  No. 16 Michigan @ No. 7 Penn State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ No. 19 SMU

Upset alert: No. 5 Oklahoma @ West Virginia

Must win: No. 17 Arizona State @ No. 13 Utah

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

Defensive struggle: Michigan @ Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Herm Edwards of ASU

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 Ohio State @ Northwestern

Why are they playing? Minnesota @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Akron

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

Week 7 Thoughts:

Oklahoma vs Texas

Rivalries are a funny thing.  On paper, the Sooners should have defeated the Longhorns by at least two touchdowns, given the disparity in ranking (No. 6 vs. No. 11).  Yet the Horns’ defense stepped up in a huge way, was able, at least some of the time to, to contain Jalen Hurts and the OU offense.

Louisville @ Wake Forest

Great win/upset for Louisville.  Yet the score concluded at 61 to 52.  Ever heard of defense, guys?

Florida @ LSU

The other game of the week (outside of the Red River Shootout in Dallas) was resurgent Florida @ LSU.  This game as well lived up to its hype, with big plays on both sides, and in the end, the Bayou Bengals triumphed over the Gators, 42-28.  In light of the massive development in Athens, Ga. (see below), expect LSU to move up a notch in the rankings.

Possible playoff scenario

Georgia lost in shocking fashion to rival South Carolina, at home, in double-overtime, 20-17.  In light of this huge development, here is a new, possible playoff scenario, should other current shadows remain unchanged:  Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU/Alabama, and Clemson.  The latter two are plausible placeholders for the perennial southern/southeastern representatives that have come to dominate the playoffs as of late.  But with the Buckeyes and the Sooners both in the picture, that would bring in a larger national audience, what with representation both from the Plains and, more importantly, the Midwest.  As a not-so-distant aside, Ohio State and Oklahoma alone would be a game we would all love to see, playoffs or no playoffs.

College Football Awards, Week 5 (2019) September 29, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated North Carolina 21-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to No. 14 Iowa 48-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 1 Clemson 21-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  SMU (defeated USF 48-21)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Cal

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Clemson 21, North Carolina 20

Play this again, too:  No. 23 Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27

Never play this again: No. 12 Penn State 59, Maryland 0

What? Temple 24, Georgia Tech 2

HuhOklahoma State 26, No. 24 Kansas State 13

Are you kidding me??  Toledo 28, BYU 21

Oh – my – GodArizona State 24, No. 15 Cal 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Auburn @ No. 10 Florida

 (Possible second choice):  No. 14 Iowa @ No. 19 Michigan

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Utah State @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Army

Upset alert: Michigan @ Iowa (also:  No. 15 Washington @ Stanford)

Must win: Boston College @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 13 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Nebraska

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Justin Wilcox of Cal vs Mario Cristobal of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags? Purdue @ No. 12 Penn State

Why are they playing? Bowling Green @ No. 10 Notre Dame

Plenty of good seats remaining: Oregon State @ UCLA

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Kent State @ No. 8 Wisconsin

Week 5 Thoughts:

North Carolina vs Clemson

Mack Brown remains full of surprises.  Not the least of which was the stunning near-upset over previously-No. 1 Clemson, in which the Tigers escaped the Tarheels by only a point.  A botched [surprise] two-point attempt on the part of UNC allowed the escape.  Had such an attempt been successful, it would have set the college football rankings on fire.  As it is, nobody in their right mind should protest Brown’s surprise move at the end.  If they went for the tie with an extra point, then the game would have gone into overtime, where Clemson would quite likely have outlasted North Carolina.  The two-point attempt thus, after further analysis, remained the Tarheels’ best bet.

Time will tell if this valiant performance on North Carolina’s part is a harbinger of better football to come from this team.

Nebraska vs Ohio State

Ohio State drubbed Nebraska 48-7 in Lincoln.  It could have been even worse.  All but 10 of those 48 points were scored in the first half (meaning, the Buckeyes put in lots of backups in the second half).  This game and its outcome are a tale of two teams in two different directions.

For Ohio State, this is another key test the Buckeyes have passed in their assertion that they belong in the national conversation.  Indeed, this performance helped them supplant LSU as the No. 4 team in the nation, currently.  That has typically been good enough to make the playoffs, should such shadows remain unchanged.Will such shadows change?  After all, nothing is a given in the Big Ten.  Such was the case in its late-1990s glory days, and such is the case since roughly 2014 as well.  Next week the Buckeyes face an arguably tougher test when Michigan State comes to Columbus.  But the ultimate showdown in the conference is still likely when Wisconsin take on the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26 in what could be one of the games of the year.  Why this fixation on OSU’s fortunes?  Because the more teams from more regions outside of the Southeast contend for the national title, the better it is for college football.

On the other side of the coin is Nebraska.  Head coach Scott Frost, one might recall, left a Central Florida program that he had built into arguably the strongest non-Power Five team in the land so he could coach his alma mater.  Last year’s campaign only resulted in a 4-8 finish.  Currently the Huskers stand at 3-2, and even some of those wins were struggles over South Alabama and Illinois.  What gives?

No, it would stand to reason that Frost has not forgotten how to coach.  Rather, the systemic problem of geography has come into play.  Frost had the advantage of being right in the middle of [embarrassingly] talent-rich Florida when he built up the UCF program.  Nebraska does not produce any top-caliber players, save for the possible offensive lineman or two.  Much of Nebraska’s unstoppable linemen during theTom Osborne (especially the latter era) came from much more lax standards  and screening mechanisms for steroid use.  Those days are now gone.

Also gone are the days of Prop-48 players, which gave Nebraska an easy pipeline to high-caliber talent without the normal barrier of NCAA eligibility standards found elsewhere.  Perhaps even more devastating, though, is that Nebraska prospered in the days when only a relative handful of teams were consistently on national television.  This made the program in Lincoln an attractive destination for top recruits despite its cold weather and geographic isolation.  That advantage, too, was nullified when cable channels greatly expanded college football coverage in the 2000s, giving prized recruits many more options than in earlier times.  Given this current environment, how is one to attract top recruits to this cold, isolated place?  Scott Frost has his work cut out for him.

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2019) September 23, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Willie Taggert, Florida State

Poor guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mack Brown, North Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Fritz, Tulane

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Holgorsen, Houston

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Miami, Ohio 76-5)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Charlotte (lost to Clemson 52-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  SMU (defeated TCU 41-38)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kent State (defeated Bowling Green 62-20)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endIowa State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Georgia 23, No. 7 Notre Dame 17

Play this again, too:  No. 12 Texas 36, Oklahoma State 30

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 76, Miami, Ohio 5

That will leave a mark:  Iowa State 72, Louisiana-Monroe 20

What? Appalachian State 34, North Carolina 31

HuhSan Jose State 31, Arkansas 24

Double HuhUSC 30, No. 10 Utah 23

Are you kidding me??  SMU 41, No. 25 TCU 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Wisconsin 35, No. 11 Michigan 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Possible best game of the week:  No. 18 Virginia @ No. 10 Notre Dame

 (Possible second choice):  Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Northern Illinois @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Maryland @ No. 13 Penn State

Must win: UCLA @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: Washington State @ No. 19 Utah

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ Oklahoma State (also:  Iowa State @ Baylor)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of Kansas vs. Gary Patterson of TCU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Towson @ No. 9 Florida

Why are they playing? Delaware @ Pitt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Middle Tennessee @ No. 18 Iowa

Week 4 Thoughts:

Week 4 has been arguably the best week for college football thus far in the 2019 season.  Friday started off the weekend with a bang with an engaging matchup between USC and Utah.  The following first time slot of Saturday (noon EDT) was great, at least on paper.  Michigan faced Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, and left the game exposed for having severe weaknesses on offense that must be addressed or Jim Harbaugh’s future with his alma mater may be in doubt.

That said, two key games in the following time slot (Louisville at Florida State and Auburn at Texas A&M) lived up to their billing.  Louisville is clearly headed in the right direction as a program, but much improvement remains.  Perhaps it is unreasonable for Scott Satterfield to turn things around so quickly, given the mess that Bobby Petrino left in his wake.  Meanwhile, the Aggies fought the good fight at home, but came up short against a gradually but steadily ascendant Auburn.  Both were good game, regardless.

The evening time slot proved that the best was yet to come that day.  Oklahoma State came calling at Texas, for one.  The Longhorns had failed to beat the Cowboys the previous five seasons, so the urgency was clearly there to get that proverbial monkey off the Horns’ collective back.

Then, a half-hour later, the “ticket to die for” lived up to its billing as Notre Dame put up a strong fight against Georgia in Sanford Stadium.  The game was a close defensive struggle for three and a half quarters before the Bulldogs finally asserted themselves in accordance with their full potential.  In other words, in the latter half of the fourth quarter, the cream finally rose to the top.

With so much great football having been played on Sept. 21 from noon through 11 PM Eastern, such will be a very tough act for Week 5 to follow.  Case in point:  no game for Week 5 offers a “ticket to die for”, which is more the pity.

On Changes in SEC Competition February 8, 2019

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They say that a college football team’s potential for high rankings and even playoff contention is predicated on the ranking of its recruiting classes.  Alabama’s persistently top-ranked recruiting classes seem to demonstrate this.  Yet while some things remain the same, others seem to be changing.

For several years, the SEC appeared to consist of Alabama and everybody else.  The Crimson Tide had Nick Saban, who has proven to be the best college head coach in the business, while almost all other programs in the conference – with some exceptions – having been led by glorified gym teachers.

That now seems to be changing.  Kirby Smart at Georgia, for example, has proven to be a most capable Saban protégé.  He learned Saban’s modus operandi while defensive coordinator at Alabama, and the Bulldogs’ performance for the past two seasons shows that he has successfully transplanted a critical percentage of this erstwhile master’s methodologies into Athens.  Indeed, the 2017-2018 season culminated with Georgia playing Alabama for the national title.  At the send of the 2018 season, the Bulldogs once again played the Tide down to the wire during the SEC championship game.

While Georgia has emerged as Alabama’s toughest competition for conference supremacy, other intra-conference competition now gradually emerges, too.  Take Florida, for example.  Dan Mullen is such a skillful coach that his previous program, Mississippi State, was briefly the number one team in the country back in 2014 (Dak Prescott sure helped with that, to be sure).  Now, with far more resources at his disposal, he has brought the Gators back to strength.  Their 41-15 trouncing of a solid, Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan team in the Peach Bowl has demonstrated this.  Both Georgia and Alabama ought to be on notice that there is a new up-and-comer on the block.

As things currently stand, Alabama has the top-ranked freshman recruiting class for 2019, and Georgia is right behind them at No. 2.  But Florida is now at No. 9 (up from No. 17 the previous year), and their on-the-field improvement was clearly noticeable in the aforementioned Peach Bowl.  With such a bump in the recruiting rankings, one can only imagine how highly their team rankings could improve come the Fall.

While Georgia needs to start looking over its shoulder at SEC East and border rival Florida, in the west, the competitive pressure is intensifies for Saban and Bama.  Texas A&M caught lightning in a bottle with Johnny Manziel under the leadership of Kevin Sumlin (who went 51-26, not bad for an overall average program).  While it remains my contention that Aggie Nation was a collective fool in jettisoning Coach Sumlin just a few years post-Manziel, they nevertheless seem to have upgraded with Jimbo Fisher, who previously had revived Florida State.  Fisher did not disappoint in his first year (2018), going 9-4, winning the Gator Bowl (52-13 over NC State…ouch!), and finishing the year at No. 16.

Further improvement for the Aggies seems imminent.  Last year, they finished at No. 16 in the recruiting rankings, but this year have risen to No. 4.  Nick Saban’s dominance of the SEC West is about to become considerably more difficult.

It gets no easier from there.  Just behind A&M (who, again, is No. 4) in the recruiting rankings at No. 5 is SEC West rival LSU.  All head coach Ed Orgeron needs is a more creative offense, and they could very well contend with the Tide for divisional supremacy.  Until he does, Orgeron might still merit the “gym teacher” category placement.

One other proven coach of note is Mark Stoops at Kentucky.  A program at considerable disadvantages compared to other SEC programs not named Missouri, Stoops has built the Wildcats up to their strongest level since the Fran Curci era.  Barring some major scandal, he shall have done so through considerably more ethical means at that!  His 2018 recruiting class was only at No. 30, and this year at No. 34.  Yet the Wildcats finished the 2018 season at 10-3, including a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl, and with a ranking at No. 11.  Mark Stoops thus deserves a serious award for the SEC coach to have done the most with the least.

Yes, the SEC still has its fair share of “gym teachers”, but there are others who are clearly talented and have what it takes to seriously threaten Saban’s legendary dynasty.

Look out for Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and possibly LSU as they look to start campaigns that should make for a very interesting 2019 season in SEC football.

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 10 (2018) November 4, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

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

Lucky guy: Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Wells, Utah State

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brett Brennan, San Jose State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Clemson (defeated Louisville 77-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Ohio State (defeated Nebraska 36-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Louisville (lost to Clemson 77-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Charlotte (to Tennessee 14-3)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (defeated No. 14 Penn State 42-7)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  San Jose State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Florida

Did the season start?  Miami

Can the season end?  Louisville

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 13 West Virginia 42, No. 17 Texas 41

Play this again, too:  Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36

Never play this again: No. 2 Clemson 77, Louisville 16

What? Baylor 35, Oklahoma State 31

HuhPitt 23, No. 25 Virginia 13

Double Huh?  Purdue 38, No. 16 Iowa 36

Are you kidding me??  Arizona State 38, No. 15 Utah 20

Oh – my – GodMissouri 38, No. 11 Florida 17

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 10)
Best game of the week:  (lots of decent games, but nothing spectacular)

One good game to see:  Auburn @ No. 6 Georgia

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: USF @ Cincinnati  also:  Fresno State @ Boise State

Upset alert: Michigan State @ No. 10 Ohio State

Must win: South Carolina @ No. 11 Florida

Offensive explosion: Texas @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: Kansas @ Kansas State

Great game no one is talking about: No. 8 Washington State @ Colorado

Also:  Wisconsin @ Penn State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Tom Herman of Texas vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? Utah State @ San Jose State

Why are they playing?  Navy @ No. 12 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: East Carolina @ Tulane

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

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 9 (2018) October 28, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Willie Taggert, Florida State

Lucky guy: Mike Stoops, Kentucky

Poor guy: Mike Helton, USC

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Clark, UAB

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bobby Petrino, Louisville

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Nebraska (defeated Bethune-Cookman 45-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (lost to Kansas 27-26)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Florida State (lost to Clemson 59-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (defeated TCU 27-26)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Wake Forest (defeated Louisville 56-35)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Washington

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endNotre Dame

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Penn State 30, No. 18 Iowa 24

Play this again, too:  Oklahoma State 38, No. 6 Texas 35

Never play this again: No. 2 Clemson 59, Florida State 10

What? Arizona 44, No. 19 Oregon 15

HuhMissisippi State 28, No. 16 Texas A&M 13

Double Huh?  Cal 12, No. 15 Washington 10

Are you kidding me??  Oklahoma State 38, No. 6 Texas 35

Oh – my – GodKansas 27, TCU 26

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 4 LSU

Another key game to see:  No. 7 Georgia @ No. 12 Kentucky

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Louisiana Tech @ Mississippi State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Utah State @ Hawaii

Upset alert: No. 13 West Virginia @ No. 6 Texas

Must win: Purdue @ No. 18 Iowa

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Oklahoma @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

Great game no one is talking about: No. 3 Notre Dame @ Northwestern

Also:  Purdue @ No. 18 Iowa

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs. Jim Harbaugh of Michigan

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

Why are they playing?  Charlotte @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Alcorn State @ New Mexico State

College Football Awards, Week 8 (2018) October 21, 2018

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Honorable mention:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Poor guy: Tom Allen, Indiana

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Dimel, UTEP

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Alabama (defeated Tenessee 58-21)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Northwestern (defeated Rutgers 18-15)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Wisconsin 49-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (lost to Kentucky 14-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Clemson (defeated NC State 41-7)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulsa

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Michigan 21, Michigan State 7

Play this again, too:  No. 5 LSU 19, No. 22 Mississippi State 3

Never play this again: No. 1 Alabama 58, Tennessee 21

What? Nebraska 53, Minnesota 28

HuhTemple 24, No. 20 Cincinnati 17 (OT)

Are you kidding me??  No. 25 Washington State 34, No. 12 Oregon 20

Oh – my – GodPurdue 49, No. 2 Ohio State 20

NEXT WEEK

Rankings are current AP (week 8)
Ticket to die for:  No. 11 Florida vs. No. 8 Georgia in Jacksonville

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 South Florida @ Houston

Also:  Hawaii @ Fresno State

Upset alert: No. 22 Mississippi State @ No. 17 Texas A&M

Must win: Purdue @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 7 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 NC State @ Syracuse

Also:  Appalachian State @ Georgia Southern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jeff Brohm  of Purdue vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Also:  Mike Leach of Washington State vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? North Texas @ Rice  also: UAB @ UTEP*

Why are they playing?  Bethune-Cookman @ Nebraska

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ Texas State

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

*How often do you get to say that?

Week 8 Thoughts:

The upsets were fewer than last week, but what lacked in quantity compensated in quality with a massive upset of Purdue defeating Ohio State in convincing fashion.  A subsequent article shall further discuss its implications.  One thing of note is that some key teams and others of potential interest were off this week.  Two top-ten teams in Texas and Georgia shall resume plays this week, with key tests for both, respectively.  Other teams were off this week as well, ready to resume play the next.  The head-scratcher of Louisville, in apparent and inexplicable free-fall, could pick up an increasingly rare win against Wake Forest.  Meanwhile, is there further potential in South Carolina, or have they plateaued already?  In the upcoming Week 9, they take on ever-sleeping giant Tennessee, who is coming off an embarrassing blowout loss to hated rival Alabama.  Could the Volunteers’ ire at such a loss combined with the Gamecock’s time to recharge their batteries amount to a strong, engaging matchup?  We shall know in six days.

Playoff scenarios based on the latest AP Polls (Week 8, 2018) October 18, 2018

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Week 7 in college football for the 2018 provided considerable thrills – and headaches – for fans, what with upsets abounding, especially near the top of the rankings.  Unranked Tennessee taking down then-No. 17 Auburn, and unranked Virginia beating then-No. 16 Miami (Fla.) are small potatoes compared to upsets elsewhere that week.

Indeed, no fewer than four AP top ten teams went down in defeat in Week 7 of 2018.  For starters, No. 17 Oregon outlasted then-No. 7 Washington, 30-27, in overtime.  Unranked Michigan State toppled No. 8 Penn State on the road, 21-17.  Iowa State leveraged their special night-time atmosphere to help them beat then-undefeated (and then-No. 6) West Virginia 30-14.  Even more significant was No. 13 LSU pommeling then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16.

As a result of these four key upsets, Washington fell from the No. 7 ranking to No. 15.  Penn State fell from No. 8 to No. 18.  West Virginia fell from No. 6 to No. 13, while Georgia fell from No. 2 to No. 8.

Last year, the Bulldogs made it to the national championship game.  Now, the prospect to return is in jeopardy.  At least it’s October and not November, meaning there is still time to recover.

Regardless, the current AP Top Ten now suggests some very intriguing playoff possibilities.  These are important for the health of college football.  An all-southern/all-SEC college football championship game my thrill the faithful in the southeastern region of the country, but it turns off the rest of the country.  That’s bad for business.  If your sport starts to be perceived as regional in its nature, that hurts your national image, and prevents you from engaging the markets you need to be interested in order to ensure its long-term strength and viability.  Alabama vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Georgia thus saw a TV ratings decline, whereas Texas vs. USC (2005-’06) and Ohio State vs. Oregon (2014-’15) where perfect matchups to bring in robust, national audiences.  Ohio State vs. Florida (2006-’07), Ohio State vs. LSU (2007-’08) and especially Ohio State vs. Miami (2002-’03) were decent-to-great matchups as well for this purpose.  Alabama vs. Notre Dame (2012-’13) was good on paper, but the outcome of the game proved that it was a mismatch, with the Irish clearly being overrated at the time.

Start with a basic premise that it’s good for business when traditional powers do well.  If Georgia does well, that engages the Atlanta market, which is pretty big, in case you forgot.  If Notre Dame does well, it engages the Chicago and New York City markets.  If USC does well, it engages the Los Angeles market.  If Ohio State and Michigan do well (either or both), that engages much of the Midwestern markets, as well as the Big Ten alums who have left the Midwest for the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast.  If Texas does well, it engages the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Markets.  You get the picture.

Now, back to the Week 8 Top Ten rankings from the AP poll.  At No. 1 remains Alabama.  Ok, fine.  With Georgia knocked out of the No. 2 spot (but still in the top ten), that allows for Ohio State to take over that position.  This is good for the sport.  Clemson has moved a spot to No. 3, while Notre Dame has quietly moved up to the No. 4 ranking.

Just by looking at these current top four spots, if these remain unchanged and translate directly into playoff rankings, one would have a great playoff scenario to engage a critical mass of the viewing public.  Alabama and Clemson would be there to keep the South’s fever pitch at maximum levels, while Ohio State and Notre Dame enjoy national audiences so as to include enough of the rest of the country as well.  The Fighting Irish’s ranking this time is no wishful thinking.  Thoughtful analysts concur that this 2018 ND team is much stronger and more athletic than its overrated 2012 counterpart.  Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd has gone so far as to observe that this is the best ND team since the Lou Holtz era.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would exclaim, “Yo!”

While there is no west coast team in sight in these current rankings, that is not a deal-breaker, either.  There are enough Big Ten grads on the west coast to keep those markets engaged should Ohio State make it to the playoffs.   The Buckeyes, in this scenario, would represent the West Coast as well as the Midwest.

Naturally, much football remains to be played, and the remainder of the top ten shall make all efforts to crack their way into the playoffs as well.  Of those currently poised for such possibilities, some of them, too, offer intriguing engagement opportunities.  LSU sits at No. 5 after their ripping upset victory over the Bulldogs, and are destined for a major showdown with the Crimson Tide come Nov. 3, in Baton Rouge, no less.  Michigan sits at No. 6 after their big win over Wisconsin last night.  If they maintain their momentum, their Nov. 24 annual grudge match with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor could be epic.

Meanwhile, Texas has survived another test and now sits at No. 7.  If QB Sam Ehlinger stays healthy, who knows how much further the Longhorns could continue to climb?  This is key to note because Texas in the playoffs engages a different market than the Southeast.  The beauty of Texas in the championship game is that they can theoretically engage two markets simultaneously, as a B1G team can do vis-à-vis both the Midwest and other regions.  In Texas’ case, not only can a Longhorn playoff appearance pique the interest of the DFW and Houston metro areas (San Antonio and Austin don’t hurt either, as that is another combined 4 million-plus people in that mini-megalopolis), but the Southeast could vicariously join in, too.

An Oklahoma (currently No. 9)  playoff appearance, while a different region than the Southeast, has a limited upside.  Yes, it engages the central plains, but there is not much major population there).  Best case scenario is that it will interest the OU grad transplants living in the major Texas markets.  The Longhorns, thankfully, have done their part, though, in making the more market-significant team better-poised for a playoff run at this point.

This is not a swipe at the SEC, or the fans therein, for a personally love southern football and identify with the South.  As someone who is concerned about the national and long-term health of college football, however, perspective must be maintained.  Fans in SEC country will watch the playoffs no matter who is playing.  Fans elsewhere, though, will only watch if they feel they have a stake in things; that they are being represented.  We have enjoyed such perfect or near-perfect matchups in the past, such as the aforementioned Texas-USC games and the Ohio State-Oregon games, for example.

Meanwhile, more big games remain, and the way things have gone thus far, more upsets are likely to occur.  Teams currently in the bottom half of the top ten could claw theyr way up with help from such theoretical upsets.  After all, we’re halfway to regular season’s end, and the stakes and urgency only intensify from here.  Let’s enjoy the ride, and cheer on the key wins that would help make for the best playoff matches with optimal, national appeal while we’re at it!

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.