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College Football Week 4 Awards September 29, 2015

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Tennessee lost a heartbreaker to Florida this past Saturday. They shall continue to lost more close games until they learn how to close, so to speak. Photo by John Raoux of the AP.

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


Wish I were him: Jim Mora, UCLA

Glad I’m not him: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Lucky guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

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

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Desperately seeking … anything:  Darrell Hazell, Purdue


Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Baylor (defeated Rice 70-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma State (defeated Texas 30-27)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UMass (lost to No. 6 Notre Dame 62-27(

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Texas (lost to No. 24 Oklahoma State 30-27)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa (defeated North Texas 62-16)

Dang, they’re good: UCLA

Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  BYU

Did the season start? Auburn

Can the season end?  Arkansas State

Can the season never endUtah


Play this again:  No. 3 TCU 55, Texas Tech 52

Play this again, too:  Florida 28, Tennessee 27

Never play this again: No. 4 Baylor 70, Rice 17

What? East Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28

HuhKentucky 21, No. 25 Missouri 13

Are you kidding me?  Michigan 31, No. 22 BYU 0

Oh – my – GodNo. 18 Utah 62, No. 13 Oregon 20

Told you so:  Memphis 53, Cincinnati 46


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

Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Notre Dame @ No. 12 Clemson

Also:  No. 13 Alabama @ No. 8 Georgia

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Miami (Fla.) @ Cincinnati

Best non-Power Five matchup: Air Force @ Navy

Upset alert: No. 24 Oklahoma State @ Texas

Must win: Arkansas @ Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ No. 5 Baylor

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Missouri

Great game no one is talking about:  Louisville @ N.C. State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech vs. Art Briles of Baylor

Also:  Dabo Swinney of Clemson vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

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

Why are they playing? Eastern Michigan @ No. 9 LSU

Plenty of good seats remaining: FIU @ UMass

They shoot horses, don’t they?  San Jose State @ Auburn

Week 4 Take-aways:

Tennessee lost a heartbreaker on the road to Florida, thus continuing a losing streak to the Gators that started in 2005.  Earlier in the season, they lost another heartbreaker at home to Oklahoma.  What is so heartbreaking about both of these losses is that the Volunteers were in the lead for most of the game, until blowing the lead late in both games.  Butch Jones is continuing to improve the program, gradually bringing it back to its blueblood status in the conference.  But they’re clearly not there yet, and shall not be “there” until they learn to “close the deal,” which is to say, they must learn to finish the games strongly.  It is still early in the season, so still time to salvage things.

Speaking of salvaging, Steve Spurrier seemed to have salvaged things reasonably well when his team beat a deceptively good Central Florida squad.  Next week, though, they travel to a Columbia, Mo., to take on a similarly-ailing Missouri Tigers team, in what one can easily surmise is a must-win game for both.

Why are both aforementioned teams ailing?  They both lost to Kentucky, for goodness sake!

Speaking of UK, given that the Wildcats have W’s over both the Gamecocks and the (Mizzou) Tigers, and they face a relative cupcake in the EKU Colonels this Saturday at home (a quasi-body bag game), the possibility that they could become bowl-eligible in the brutal SEC is not a remote one.  Granted, they face a brutal stretch after the EKU game, facing, in order, Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee, then Georgia, but then have a two-week respite with Vanderbilt and then a gimme with Charlotte before concluding the season against improving Louisville.  It could be a 6-6 year, which, for UK, is an improvement.

Utah and Michigan started the season playing each other.  Though the former beat the latter convincingly, both teams are rolling right now.  Funny how that works out.

TCU beat Texas Tech in a high-scoring game that went down to the wire.  The Horned Frogs are supposed to be a top-five team, so how does one account for this narrow victory in a shootout?  Let us not forget that this TCU team also squeaked by Minnesota at the beginning of the season.  Are the Frogs overrated?  The upcoming home game against a gradually-improving Texas team could be a referendum.

The only regretful thing about this delightfully intriguing matchup between Notre Dame and Clemson is that Brent Musburger will not be calling the game!


Nebraska fans are delusional. December 5, 2014

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bo-pelini-450x300In case any reader has missed the news, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has been fired…for going 9-3.  Most fan bases would be happy with their team having such a record.  Of the fan bases that would not, most would at least tolerate it if they sensed that the program was still headed in the right direction.  Of the few remaining fan bases that would not tolerate such a record, let us put them through a litmus test.  Test Item A:  are you an upper-tier program in the Southeastern Conference?  Yes or no?  If no, are you Florida State, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU or Texas?  No?  Then the problem is not with your coach, it’s with you.

Specifically, it is with “you” in two ways:  first and foremost, it is with your school’s geography.  Second, it is with your unreasonable expectations in this new era.  This includes you, Nebraska, and I shall explain. 

First, let us point out the obvious:  gone are the days of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne when the Cornhuskers were regularly competing for the national title.  For, you might acknowledge, but why?  The reason is simple.  Thirty years ago, Nebraska was one of the relatively few teams that regularly got on TV.  Therefore, if a prized high school football player was being recruited nationally, that recruit had a vested interest to play for a Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan or Penn State if he wanted to get national attention.  All that changed when college football television coverage started to expand, as it did in earnest starting 15 years ago.  All of a sudden, top-ranked recruits with options did not need to go to cold, isolated, academically-rigid schools in order to get on television regularly and earn their fame.  Now, with a much-expanded list of school options, they quickly noticed that schools in the Sunbelt did not have the problems of snow drifts in winter, did not have the academic rigidity of most schools up north, and best of all, the co-eds were much prettier.  You’re an 18-year old kid who can run a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, and can pick any school you want.  Are you going to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, where it is cold, is isolated, and you have to deal with snowbanks for four months out of the year, or are you going to pick USC or Texas, where it’s 70 degrees in January, and the girls are [mostly] knock-outs?  These days, it’s a no-brainer.

Second, Nebraska is not exactly the kind of state the produces its own in-state talent.  States that do not are at a structural, geographic disadvantage from those that do.  Usually, they have to go several states away to get the players they need, be it California, Texas, or even New Jersey.  Now that Nebraska is out of the Big XII, their recruiting pipelines to Texas have been largely severed.  Moreover, most 17 and 18-year old kids don’t even know who Tom Osborne is/was (heck, they were toddlers when he retired), let alone give a hoot about the tradition of Nebraska’s team, or even Notre Dame’s for that matter.

Given that the key to success in college football is talent acquisition, when you have a host of schools that can offer more to prize recruits than you can offer, that puts you at certain structural disadvantages.  It is not anybody’s fault per se, but it speaks to the fact that the patterns of life in America themselves have changed.  Sorry, but those are the breaks.

But that is not all.  The other issue is finding good coaches themselves.  It used to be, again, in the days of Daveney and Osborne, that being an assistant coach at Nebraska was a relatively plum job, as far as assistant coaching went.  Not anymore.  To be sure, the Cornhuskers do pay their coaches a bit better than more Big Ten schools (their offensive coordinator, Tim Beck, got a raise in January of 2013 from $365K to $700K), but that’s still chickenfeed compared to what most coaches make in the Southeastern Conference or even at, say, Texas.

Again, you’re a coach with options.  You have a pretty wife and good-looking kids.  Are you going to be able to persuade her to move with you to cold, isolated Lincoln, Neb., when you also have the option of taking her to Tucson to coach for the Arizona Wildcats, to Tempe to coach for the Arizona State Sun Devils, or to Austin to coach for the Texas Longhorns?  It’s a surprisingly easy sell to persuade her to let you take an assistant job at TCU, since that plugs you into the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  If you take a coaching job at Georgia, that puts you within an hour-plus of Atlanta, and in Athens, Georgia, one of the most ‘happening’ college towns in America.  So, wives of assistant coaches, what’s it going to be?  Lincoln, or Tucson?  South Bend, or Austin?  Ames, Iowa, or Atlanta?  State College, Pa., or Los Angeles?  This, my friends, is the “game within the game” that nobody ever mentions, but plays a huge roll inmany a football program’s fortunes, especially in this day and age.

Given all that is working against the Husker Nation’s favor these days, Bo Pelini’s job of going 9-3 is, frankly, miraculous.  This is to say nothing of the job he and his staff have done (remember the aforementioned challenges of putting together a good coaching stuff in the Corn State?) regarding player development, because keep in mind of the other aforementioned challenge of not having the pick of the recruiting litter anymore.

And yet he was fired, for a 9-3 record this year.  Does the deluded fan base of Nebraska think they will be able to do any better than Pelini?  If so, who?  Granted, the man had a rather abrasive personality, and he could thus easily rub lots of people the wrong way.  But behind closed doors, away from the cameras, all coaches can be at least occasionally abrasive.  It goes with the territory.  So I ask again, whom does Nebraska intend to find that will do a better job than Pelini?  The reason I posit this question is, if the Huskers no longer have the first dibs on prize recruits, what makes them think they will be able to attract a prized head coach?

Whither the conferences in major college football? September 8, 2011

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When I teach my course in American government at my community college in Louisville, one thing I have taken to doing early in the course’s term is to hand out a sheet to each student with a list of important rules in physics/economics.  My rationale for this is to get the students thinking about the potential consequences of  certain actions on the part of government.  One such rule I lay out for them is thus:  “Nothing is static.”  Just try to disprove that rule.  After all, nothing is static in the economy, nothing is static in our own interpersonal relationships, the climate is certainly not static — regardless of what the enviro-socialists want us to think — and indeed, nothing is static in the Solar system, not with variations in solar radiation output that have implications for the temperatures on this planet as well as for Mars and the Gallilean satellites around Jupiter.

The recent announcement that Texas A&M will depart the Big XII Conference for the Southeastern Conference come June of next year has reminded me of this rule once again.  Though this is not the first move of a D-1A (pardon me, Football Bowl Subdivision) school to shake things up a bit regarding conference affilition, this one move could open the floodgates for radical conference realignment, the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetime.

Most moves up to this point seemed fairly self-contained.  When the Southwest Conference folded after 1995, the top four teams in that conference joined the Big 8, thus giving birth to the Big XII.  The other four teams disbersed, many initially ending up in Conference USA, which banded together lots of erstwhile mid-majors and independents.  The arrangement within the Big XII was one that on paper made geographic sense, at least longitudinally (much like the erstwhile Pac-10), with Nebraska the anchoring power in the north, and Texas the anchoring power in the south.  Furthermore, should Texas have a down year, Oklahoma was eventually strong enough to fill that power gap on the southern end.

The switch-ups we witnessed earlier last decade did not seem to portend major realignment, either.  The only thing that Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College bolting from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference amounted to was to question whether or not the former still deserved to have a berth in the BCS bowl games.

All that was put in jeopardy with Nebraska bolting for the Big Ten after last season.  Less consequential was Colorado moving to join the Pac-10, now the Pac-12.  As things currently stand, the Big Ten now has 12 teams, and the Big XII has been reduced to nine, or at least will be with the Aggies’ imminent departure.  This current state of affairs raises two simultaneous possibilities.  For one, many thought that even though the Cornhuskers left for the Big Ten, the Big XII could still limp on, possibly even bring in new up-and-coming teams to fill the void left by the Huskers and the Buffaloes.  With A&M soon to leave, the death knell for the Big XII has been all but sounded.  Even though, at this moment, Oklahoma and Texas both remain, and Oklahoma State would add increasing credibility, given their up-and-coming status (thank you, T. Boone Pickens), the gradual disintegration of the conference, first at the northern end and now at the southern end leaves many to conclude that more dominos shall inevitably fall.

One such departure has already pushed Southeastern Conference membership to a future number of 13.  Further speculation has been fueled as to whom else the SEC might court.  Already, conferences such as the Pac-12 have been making major overtures for the Sooners and the Cowboys to join them.  The Longhorns are an even more juicy target for conferences as well, though UT, what with its special brand and its own sports channel in the newly-created Longhorn Network, has the prestige, winning tradition, not to mention geographic advantages to be successful as an independent.  Indeed, what we may be witnessing is Texas becoming the Notre Dame of the 21st Century in terms of athletic prestige, winning tradition, privileged status, and ability to attract top recruits.

But, in returning to the point of the SEC’s burgeoning membership, 13 could be a magic number, magic in the sense that it creates the possibly for that number to grow further, not just for the southeastern juggernaut power, but for conferences elsewhere.  As mentioned earlier, the possibility persists that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could end up in the Pac-12, bumping their lucky number up to fourteen.  Moreover, it is not inconceivable that Texas could join that new mega-conference as well.  USC plus the Sooners plus the Longhorns equals one formidable conference indeed.  Iowa State could end up following suit in a different sense by joining the Big Ten (Nebraska is already there, and in-state rival Iowa has been a long-time member).  Geographically, that theoretical move is quite logical.  Where Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech might end up — again, should the dominoes continue to fall — is anybody’s guess, though the Mizzou Tigers might end up joining the Big Ten as well.  That possibility has been broached several times before, in fact.  My only reservation against that is, can one conference abide three different teams whose colors are (officially) Old Gold & Black?

While there could be a scramble for a would-be disintegrated Big XII’s table scraps, the Southeastern Conference might try to bring in other powers to join their juggernaut league (Florida State and Virginia Tech have been listed as possibilities).  Might such a conference cannibalization prompt the ACC and the Big East to join forces?  Given that Texas A&M has turned its back on its long-time rivals and all-too willingly allowed itself to be used by the SEC, perhaps all of us ought to rethink what is possible.

The bottom line in all of these prognostications is that we could be witnessing a radical realignment of teams into mega-conferences, which in turn will have major implications for bowl game affiliations, and even coveted BCS eligibility.  If the Sooners and Cowboys end up joining the Pac-12 and that move makes no sense to many on a geographic level, just keep in mind that Texas Christian University — the recent Rose Bowl champs — are about to join the Big East.  The new paradigm is that geography is hardly a constraint anymore when it comes to conference affiliation, and it’s all part of the brave new world of NCAA football realignment about to happen before our eyes.  What we fans and observers of big-time college football thought were secure affiliations over the past 15 years have turned out to be anything but.  Once again, the firm rule about nothing being static has held.