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College Football 2015 Quick Preview September 3, 2015

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AubLou_GeorgiaDome2015

Atlanta bolsters its stature as one of the epicenters of college football by being the host city for arguably the best game of Week 1. Photo by Paul Abell, USA Today Sports.

Another glorious season of college football is about to commence.  Come the evening of Thurs., Sept. 3, teams will have kicked off the most exciting three months in all of sports (four if you count the bowl game postseason), and come late Monday evening, the fans, analysts and pundits alike shall have had a look at whether or not the preseason rankings are worth any count.

What is particularly attractive about this particular opening weekend is that, unlike in some years past, there is a critical mass of high-stakes games from the beginning.  Sure, the body-bag games abound as they usually do during Week One.  However, there are many high-ranked teams that are about to butt heads with other ranked teams, or teams that are near-ranked and hungry for respect from the voters.

From the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta, to an incredibly delectable home opener for Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., to a Carolina border war Thursday evening, to a revenge game for Urban Meyer & Co. in Blacksburg, Va., on Labor Day evening, this weekend has it all.  Below is thus faithfully submitted a list highlight and lowlight games on which to keep a fan’s eye.  Enjoy, and God Bless America!

Ticket to die for Auburn vs. Louisville in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta; possible Texas @ Notre Dame, too.

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: UNL @ Northern Illinois; Ohio U @ Idaho

Upset alert: Texas @ Notre Dame; TCU @ Minnesota (don’t laugh);

Must win: Ohio State @ Virginia Tech; Purdue @ Marshall

Offensive explosion: Arizona State @ Texas A&M

Defensive struggle: BYU @ Nebraska

Great game no one is talking about: South Carolina vs. North Carolina in Charlotte; Michigan @ Utah; Washington @ Boise State; Stanford @ Northwestern

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Gus Malzahn of Auburn vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville and Paul Chryst of Wisconsin vs. Nick Saban of Alabama; Todd Graham of Arizona State vs. Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ SMU; Akron @ Oklahoma; Mississippi State @ Southern Miss; UTSA @ Arizona; Michigan State @ Western Michigan; Texas State @ Florida State; Wofford @ Clemson; LA Monroe @ Georgia – and that’s the short list!

 Why are they playing? Savannah State @ Colorado State; Oklahoma State @ Central Michigan; Norfolk State @ Rutgers; Arkansas State @ USC

Plenty of good seats remaining: Villanova @ UConn; also, Presbyterian @ Miami (Ohio); also Old Dominion @ Eastern Michigan;

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Bethune-Cookman @ Miami (Fla.); Georgia Southern @ West Virginia; Tennessee Tech @ Houston; Elon @ Wake Forest

The College Football Bowlgame Breakdown for 2014-2015 December 17, 2014

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NewMexicoBowl2012

The 2012 New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada turned out to be a thrilling, high-scoring affair. Let us hope that when the Wildcats line up against Boise State in this upcoming Fiesta Bowl, we the fans will be treated to similar fireworks!

Yes, folks, we are but a few short days away from looking LIVE at a bevy of bowl games.  This plethora of postseason pigskin contests will span two weeks and change, and we will likely be satiated with college football, at least until the Spring games in April.  So, here is a break-down of what not to miss, and a few that you’d like to miss, but will not be able to help yourselves just the same.

Ticket to die for:  Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  Actually the real ticket to die for is the playoff championship game held a week later, but the semifinals must be played first to determine who plays then.  Fair enough, you say, but what about Bama vs. the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl?  That’s a good one, to be sure.  But in the minds of most fans and commentators, the Ducks vs. the Seminoles seems to have just a slightly greater degree of sex appeal, that’s all.

Best non–Power Five vs. Power Five match–up:  Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  For one, this might be the only worthwhile bowl game to watch on the first day of the post–season.  For another, there are actually a few other decent match–ups to keep one’s eye on as said post–season unfolds, namely Illinois (wait, they’re in a bowl this year?) vs. Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and N.C. State vs. Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl (wait, what happened to it being called the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl?), both on Fri., Dec. 26.  Indeed, the latter line–up might be cause to reconsider who merits the “best” distinction. The reason I say that is, with the Rams’ coach having bolted to take the Florida job (who can blame him for taking such a prestigious post?), nobody knows what sort of team will show up to face the Utes.

Then again, this is the mystery that shrouds most bowl game line–ups.

Best non–Power Five match–up:  Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tues., Dec. 23.  So Florida Atlantic is going to host a bowlgame?  Apparently they’re good for something after all. Sorry, Owls, but things haven’t been the same since Coach Schnellenberger retired.  The Huskies won the MAC decisively in Detroit, while Marshall has been a strong non–Power Five team all year long, notwithstanding almost coughing it up to the La. Tech Bulldogs recently.

Upset alert:  Oklahoma vs. Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Mon., Dec. 29.  This is the safest upset to predict because whereas the Tigers are ranked (No. 17), the Sooners are not, and Clemson’s postseason performance is unreliable, right, Dana Holgersen?

Must win:  Ole Miss vs. TCU in the Peach Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  The winner of this game will be the team that is the least disappointed to be there after having much higher aspirations during the regular season.  A win here will also help them salvage some consolation from not having lived up to said aspirations.

Offensive explosion:  Boise State vs. Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  At least, this match-up has a good a chance as any to rack up some points.  The Wildcats and the Broncos both have been fairly adept at that this season, after all.  The bonus in this game is that there is great potential for snazzy colors in the team uniforms on both sides of the ball!

Defensive struggle:  Boston College vs. Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Neither team really lit up the scoreboard this year, did they?  Add cold weather on top of that (it will be played in Yankee Stadium, after all), and that is likely to put a further damper on offensive output.

Great game no one is talking about:  Iowa vs. Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Fri., Jan. 2.  This used to be called the Gator Bowl for the previous 67 years, fyi.  What makes this game so good is that the Hawkeyes have been very quietly winning a critical mass of games this year, while the Volunteers are a year away under Coach Butch Jones before becoming really good.  Translation:  this is a closer match–up than most SEC fans would be willing to acknowledge.

Intriguing coaching match–up:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  This is a no–brainer.  They’re arguably the two best coaches in the business, no what it takes to win, and both of multiple national championships under their belts.  Moreover, the two have gone head–to–head before when Meyer was coaching at Florida.  This oughtta be a good one, folks!

Who’s bringing the body bags?  LSU vs. Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  The only way this game is remotely competitive is if the Tigers just lie down for most of the game, for the Irish have been exposed time and again as overrated frauds late this year.

Why are they playing?  Florida vs. East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, Sat., Jan. 3.  The only reason in any known universe that these two programs would be playing each other in a bowl game is because the Gators are that far down as a program at the moment.

Plenty of good seats remaining:  Western Michigan vs. Air Force in the Idaho Potato Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20. Nothing against Western Michigan and the fine year they have had (by MAC standards, at least).  Nothing against Air Force, because they’re the troops.  But still, it will be in frigid Boise, Idaho.  Unless you’re going there to ski, why bother being anywhere near there this time of year?

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nevada vs. Louisiana–Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  Yes, I know, these past 13 years, the New Orleans Bowl has been the traditional kick-off game for the bowl season, but let us be honest:  this strikes us as only a slightly better–than–average non–Power Five early season match–up.  Do I lie?

That said, an honorable mention for pointless match–up is Toledo vs. Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl (played in Mobile, Ala.) on Sun., Jan. 4.

Red–and–Black Special:  Louisville vs. Georgia in the Belk Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  These two teams seem too good for the Belk Bowl.  Still, the bowl itself has managed to climb its way up the prestige ranks a bit over the course of a decade.  It must be the sponsor:  “Belk Bowl” has far better ring to it than “Continental Tires Bowl”.  Yes, that’s what it used to be called.  Honest!

Most exotic location:  Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Wed., Dec. 24.  Do not adjust your screens, for you read that correctly.  Yes, there is now a bowl game in the Bahamas (Nassau, specifically), an obvious “first”.  Let’s hope the teams have the opportunity to enjoy things and live it up a bit.

Two great programs in a so–so bowl:  Miami vs. South Carolina in the Independence Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Maybe after these two proud programs get down knocking heads, the bowl game will be a bit less so–so, and more reminiscent of recent times when the likes of LSU and Notre Dame slugged it out (1997) or when Mississippi State and then–Big XII rep Texas A&M duked it out in a blizzard (2000).  It already has made us forget the less–than–memorable match–ups of the past few years.

The explosive offense meets the immovable defense:  Baylor vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, Thurs., Jan.1. Plus, there will be lots of green!  Seriously, though, the Bears have put up scorching numbers on offense, but the big knock against them has constantly been, whom have they played this year?  On the other hand, Michigan State has proven themselves to be a force with which to be reckoned after upsetting Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl.  Lesson learned:  Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are not to be taken lightly.

Consolation game:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1.  Similar The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, if Mississippi State wins this, it will be because they overcame their disappointment of not making the Top 4 in the playoffs.  With that said, when was the last time that the Bulldogs have made it to such a prestigious bowl game?  Certainly not in my lifetime!

The potentially existential problem at the University of Texas February 10, 2013

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UTcampus1On the surface, it seems there has never been a better time to be a part of a major university, particularly the state-funded type.  Education remains in high demand, after all, and those working as full-time academics (extra emphasis on “full-time”) make good money.  Individual states take pride in their flagship schools as being centers for world-class research, that some of the most cutting-edge, world-changing advances in technology, from electronics to engineering to chemistry to medicine, have come out of these sorts of universities.  Note that I said “some” research, for just as many cutting-edge discoveries have come out of R&D departments in General Electric, General Motors, DuPont, 3M, Magnum Research, Lockheed-Martin, and the like (note that they are all for-profit companies in the private sector!).

But that stipulation aside, these flagship schools are often viewed with some degree of prestige.  Pennsylvania, for example, rightly takes pride in the academic excellence at Penn State, as it is regarded as a “public Ivy.”  Ditto for the University of Michigan in the Great Lakes State, or for both Indiana and Purdue Universities in the neighboring Hoosier State.  The Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota are also known for quality, world-class research and are thus a source of pride for their respective states.  Same can be said for Cal-Berkeley and UCLA in the once-Golden State or for the University of Washington in the Evergreen State.  Even the SEC, not necessarily known for its academic prowess overall compared to the Big Ten or even the Pac-12, nevertheless has a good example of a big, state flagship school with good academics (though a recent development, to be sure) in the University of Florida.  And yes, the adjective “state” also means “public,” with college tuition being more affordable for in-state students than if said students were to attend private schools for their higher education instead.

So what is the problem?  Well, the issue has two large, important dimensions.  At the heart of said issue is an existential crisis that seems to be gripping the University of Texas, another great example of a state flagship school that has good academics both at the undergrad level as well as the graduate one.  This existential, if not outright identity, crisis is the result of something of a culture clash within the vaunted institution.  USA Today reports that opposing factions within the school have very different visions for the direction and purpose of the UT.  The conflict basically goes this way:  do we focus on the prestigious aspects of the school, or do we make it more accessible?  It’s basically a Cadillac vs. Chevy argument.  Cadillacs are much nicer and classier, but Chevys will still get you where you need to go without breaking the bank in the process.  Both arguments have merit, but which way should the university go?

The prestige/class argument certainly has its place, but has severe limitations.  Undergrads usually choose their school based on its academic reputation, yet said reputation comes from research done by faculty and doctoral students.  Just because a professor is a leading researcher in his field does not necessarily mean he will be effectively imparting that insight to the undergrads.  In fact, in all likelihood, he might farm out that teaching to his teacher’s assistants, themselves concentrating on establishing their own reputations in academia.  The only way an undergraduate student would have a course taught be one of these hypothetical leading professors is if they take an arcane course that is directly within the narrow scope of the professor’s arcane research, as Dr. Thomas Sowell points out.  Such is often the case at Harvard and the other Ivy League schools, but less so at certain places like Purdue.

This leads us even further into the problem with “prestige.”  While some research is very useful in the real world, other research, not so much.  If the cutting-edge research is within the fields of engineering, medicine, food science, agriculture, chemistry, computers/electronics, or even business management to an extent, then all those things can translate to useful applications to advance our standard of living in the real world.  But if a professor is a leading researcher in sociology, communication, “women’s studies,” or “critical theory” (i.e., Marxism), so what?  How does a degree in a field of that sort of related study translate into marketable skills, which, now more than ever, are key to getting a job in a tough economy?

Long gone are the days when just having any old degree will get you a decent-paying job.  Employers look for specific skills to make specific contributions to their companies’ productivity.  Therefore, if major universities wish to remain relevant, the other argument goes, then they must adapt their teaching curricula to meet these more basic student needs so that said students, once they graduate, can be productive elements of society, and thus truly get their money’s worth.

Specifically, employers are looking for – depending on your industry, and yes, I’m generalizing here – nurses, engineers, chemists (to an extent), I.T. professionals/computer engineers/programmers, and accountants, not to mention HVAC technicians, plumbers, the latter two do not even require a four-year degree insomuch as a vocational certification.  Getting a degree in sociology will not help fulfill employers’ needs.

I for one lean towards the latter camp, but coming from an academically-oriented family myself, I fully sympathize with the other side’s point of view.  Where I part company with the other side is the blind eye they turn to, if not outright abet, all the side-effects that come with the purely theoretical, no-real-world-application side of academia.  To put it bluntly, one does not hear a peep of Marxism, or any other permutation of Leftist philosophy from engineering or medical schools.  Perhaps many a chemistry professor might vote for all the local, state and national Democrat lefties du jour, but one hardly hears any of their ideology trickle down into the classroom.  Ditto for engineering professors, or even math professors, though one is likely to find some conservatives in those camps and others where part of their profession is making sure that the numbers actually, you know, add up.

That can hardly be said for many courses in communications, English, sociology, “critical theory/studies,” any ethnic study one cares to choose, or even many – though thankfully not all – history courses and pretty else everywhere else within the purview of liberal arts, sadly.

The irony in the existential debate surrounding the University of Texas is that it has the resources to do a mix of both.  It has the resources to offer trade-oriented education to the majority of its would-be undergrads, while at the same time offer English, History, Foreign Languages, Math and Science courses to the kids who want to teach in those disciplines at the secondary (i.e., high school level).  If kids within the latter category want to continue their studies as actual scholars in those fields, UT ought to have the resources to accommodate that to an extent, as well as continue in the world class research in which the former camp takes so much pride.

A potential problem with this approach is that, yes, it can muddle the brand, and would run the risk trying to make the University of Texas all things to all people, which hardly anybody outside of G.E. and Carrier/United Technologies are capable of doing. Muddying the brand is problematic enough.  Packard tried that in the 1930s in order to survive the Great Depression.  Rival Cadillac already had the luxury of having the low-priced Chevrolet brand within the larger General Motors conglomerate.  As an independent, though, Packard reasoned that it needed to make low-priced models just to survive, but in doing so, it compromised the prestige of the brand.  As any marketing professor worth his or her salt will tell you, though, the solution would have been for Packard to come with its own low-priced flanker brand so as to not compromise the brand equity of its famous luxury marque.

Sounds simple in theory, but for higher education, it is not.  If UT were to adopt this idea, how could the ‘man on the street’ differentiate the practical vocation-oriented training from the prestigious research that is normally associated with such an institution?  Ultimately, it should come down to individual employers’ ability to be able to see how employment candidates from that school can translate the practical knowledge they have learned into applied abilities to benefit the companies, without regard to prestigious research done elsewhere at such a huge school.

This brief exploration of the opposing issues by no means will settle this huge argument in Austin.  But approaching market forces might compel the university to adapt some version of this proposed hybrid model, prestige or no prestige.  This discussion is surely to be continued.