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Intriguing Games for Week 11 (2016) November 9, 2016

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DeVon Edwards, Ryan Switzer

Lest we forget, the Duke – North Carolina rivalry is not merely confined to the hardwood.

 

No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke (Thurs., Nov. 10:  ESPN) 

The Tarheels under head coach Larry Fedora and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik have proven to be a very efficient team.  Duke, despite being only 3-6, has always been a tough out this year (see:  Louisville, week 7).  Factor in the close geographic proximity and the traditional rivalry between the two, and you have yourself a very, very interesting game.

(All other games are on Saturday, Nov. 12)

No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma (Noon EST, ABC/ESPN 2)

The intrigue of this game is the background.  Baylor has been in a weird, two-game free-fall.  They were undefeated until last month, where they unexpectedly lost to a mediocre Texas Longhorns team, and thus knocked themselves out of playoff contention.  Then, the following week at home, they lost horribly (a 62-22 kind of horribly) to a TCU team that seems to finally have found a pulse.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma has quietly crawled their way back into the top ten.  This will be a great game if Baylor gets out of its funk and plays up to its Top Ten potential.

South Carolina @ No. 22 Florida (Noon EST; CBS)

Earlier in the season, this game looked like it would be a snoozer, what with an underperforming South Carolina team losing to both Kentucky and Mississippi State.  Florida, meanwhile, had gradually improved to the point where they were No. 11 as of last week.

The trends now appear to be different.  The Gators were embarrassed on the road against unranked Arkansas last week, 31-10.  Their current problem seems to be a lack of identity on offense.  Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have gradually improved, first with an upset win over Tennessee, and last week with a  confidence-boosting win over Missouri.  If these trends continue, this game will be evenly-matched, thus very competitive.

Kentucky @ Tennessee (Noon EST; SEC Network)

Remember when the Vols were supposed to vie for the playoffs?  That ended when they blew it at Texas A&M.  After not playing with sufficient urgency for an entire game, the whole play-from-behind drama caused Tennessee to come up short against the Aggies.  The next week was Tennessee’s turn in the conference to get drubbed by seemingly invincible Alabama.

Perhaps the heartbreaking loss followed by the aforementioned drubbing took something out of them, because they then laid an egg on the road at South Carolina, thus knocking them out of the rankings.

After leading the SEC East, those three losses made it anyone’s division – even Kentucky, who also has three losses in the conference.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Therefore, this game will help clarify the SEC East race.  Let that sink in as well.

No. 11 West Virginia @ Texas (Noon EST; FS1)

West Virginia was undefeated before suddenly losing to Oklahoma State two weeks ago.  Last week’s win against Kansas was a given, ergo proves nothing.  Meanwhile, Texas has two consecutive upsets under its belt, first against heretofore unbeaten Baylor, next against Texas Tech.  Could the Longhorns score a third consecutive upset?  We’ll find out on Nov. 12.

Tulsa @ Navy (Noon EST; CBSSN)

Here me out.  Tulsa is 7-2, leading the AAC West.  Navy is 6-2, has been in and out of the rankings, and tied with Memphis for first in the AAC West division.  Enough said.

Army @ Notre Dame (3:30 EST; NBC)

Army is currently 5-4.  Notre Dame is in relative free-fall at 3-6, and possibly still smarting from a loss to Navy last week.  One more win, and the Black Knights are bowl-eligible for only the third time since 1996 and the fourth time since 1988.  Could an underperforming Irish squad be that last win Army needs to make to the post-season?

If it is, Notre Dame’s season is worse than over, as their next two games are against No. 18 Virginia Tech, and a suddenly-strong USC.  Talk about a must-win for both teams!

USC @ No. 4 Washington (6:30 EST; FOX)

Washington is not a juggernaut team, but they are still very good (their undefeated season is padded with three out-of-conference body bag games).  USC started the season with some sputters, but has played very strongly as of late.  The opportunity is thus ripe for an upset (or, at least near-upset) in Seattle this Saturday evening.

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College Football Week 6 Awards 2016 October 9, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas

Lucky guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 78-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: TCU (defeated Kansas 24-23)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Rutgers (see above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (see above)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Auburn (defeated Mississippi State 38-14)

Dang, they’re good: Washington

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Houston

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endTexas A&M

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 8 Texas A&M 45, No. 9 Tennessee 38

Play this again, too:  No. 23 Florida State 20, No. 10 Miami 19

Never play this again: No. 4 Michigan 78, Rutgers 0

Close call:  TCU 24, Kansas 23

What? BYU 31, Michigan State 14

HuhNo. 23 Florida State 20, No. 10 Miami 19

Double-Huh? Washington State 42, No. 15 Stanford 16

Are you kidding me?  No. 25 Virginia Tech 34, No. 17 North Carolina, 3

Oh – my – GodNavy 46, No. 6 Houston 40

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, week 6 rankings until further notice)

Ticket to die for: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 9 Tennessee

Also: No. 2 Ohio State @ No. 11 Wisconsin

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ East Carolina

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 20 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 17 North Carolina @ No. 10 Miami also: Stanford @ Notre Dame

Offensive explosion: UCLA @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Michigan State

Great game no one is talking about: USC @ Arizona

Intriguing coaching matchup: Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss vs. Bret Bielema of Arkansas

Also: Larry Fedora of North Carolina vs. Mark Richt of Miami (FL)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 13 Baylor

Why are they playing?  Lafayette @ Army

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Charlotte

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Louisiana Tech @ UMass

Week 6 Take-aways:

Nothing like the remnants of a hurricane to throw game plans out of whack. In September of 2002, for example, the remnants of a tropical storm descended on Louisville, and a Thursday night game between an unranked Cardinals team and No. 5-ranked Florida State became one to remember. The rain seemed to level the playing field to the point where the underdog Cardinals upset the highly-favored Seminoles in overtime.

This time, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc with records and schedules alike. In the case of the LSU @ Florida game, it has been postponed with no make-up date set as of now. The Georgia @ South Carolina was postponed for just one day. In the state of North Carolina, both games played as scheduled, and with surprising results. The NC State Wolfpack help visiting Notre Dame to just three points (!), allowing their only 10 points to prevail in the game. In nearby Chapel Hill, the No. 17 Tarheels were also held to three points, while the No. 25 Virginia Tech Hokies nevertheless managed to score 34 in the downpour.

Meanwhile, with Texas, it was the same result, different day, this time to their most bitter rival in Oklahoma. The game was high-scoring, 45-40, showing once again that the Longhorns’ defensive issues have yet to be resolved. Indeed, Texas had given up a total of 620 yards (!) of offense in that game. The hotseat upon which Charlie Strong has found himself has just gotten even hotter.

Where has Michigan State’s offense gone? First they score only six points in a debacle against Wisconsin, then they lose on the road to lowly Indiana. Now, they managed to score only two touchdowns at home against BYU. Mark Dantonio seemed to have the program rolling, what with a playoff berth last year. After a team like that, surely some rebuilding would have been in order, to be sure, but this? All of us are left scratching our heads.

Don’t look now, but Stanford is in free-fall.  What I surmise is that injuries have taken their toll.  Unlike other major programs, Stanford lacks the depth of talent in their back-ups that other teams would take for granted.  This is the proverbial gap in the armor of a school where academics are taken as seriously as they are with the Cardinal.  Might it stand to reason that Notre Dame secretly suffers from the same handicap?

Meanwhile, the Toilet Bowl, B1G edition, is fast upon us next week when Rutgers and Illinois butt heads.  How it works with these bottom-of-the barrel matchups is that the loser is branded with the ignominy of being the worst team in the conference for this year.  The winners consolation is that they can point at said loser and say, “See?  At least we’re not as bad as those guys.”  Be quiet, Illinois:  you have no right to complain about this designation.  You lost to Purdue.

As things now stand, Washington is in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North, and Tennessee’s loss to Texas A&M could potentially complicate things in the SEC East.  Meanwhile, Louisville’s strength of schedule could potentially be compromised with Houston’s unexpected loss to Navy.  That said, their big win over Florida State remains of considerable quality with their upset win over host Miami.  Perhaps these two upsets might cancel each other out in that arcane regard.  We shall see, as the stakes increase as the new month of October progresses.

College Football Week 4 Awards 2016 September 25, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Glad I’m not him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Lucky guy: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA   (Hon. Mention:  Les Miles)

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Houston (defeated Texas State 64-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated UMass 47-35)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (lost to No. 1 Alabama 48-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  UMass (lost to Mississippi State 47-35)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Troy (defeated New Mexico State 52-6)

Dang, they’re good: Houston

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Oregon

Can the season end?  USC

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 24 Utah 31, USC 27

Play this again, too:  No. 7 Stanford 22, UCLA 13

Never play this again: Missouri 79, Delaware State 0

What? Purdue 24, Nevada 14

HuhNo. 23 Ole Miss 45, No. 12 Georgia 14

Double-Huh? Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Are you kidding me?  Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

Oh – my – GodNo. 11 Wisconsin 30, No. 8 Michigan State 6

NEXT WEEK

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

icket to die for: No. 3 Louisville @ No. 5 Clemson

Also: No. 8 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Michigan

Keep an eye on this one, too: No. 7 Stanford @ No. 10 Washington

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Memphis @ No. 16 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Air Force; also: South Florida @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: North Carolina @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Oklahoma @ No. 21 TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Iowa

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Chris Petersen of Washington vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Also: Dabo Swinney of Clemson vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville

Who’s bringing the body bags? UConn @ No. 6 Houston

Why are they playing? Alcorn State @ No. 20 Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Kent State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Incarnate Word @ Texas State

Week 4 Take-aways:

A premonition last week gave me that idea that, while many matchups this week did not exactly shine with prestige (or did they?), they were nevertheless competitive and engaging. The examples are rather numerous. The USC-Utah game on Friday was one such example. The Trojans led most of the way, but the Utes triumphed in the end, 31-27. LSU at Auburn developed into a relatively low-scoring affair (plus, no matter the outcome, we were guaranteed that the Tigers would win!). A quirk in clock management led to the War Eagles winning over the Bayou Bengals, and thus brought a sudden end to the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge. Where LSU will go from here is anybody’s guess, but they do now have carte blanche to hire Art Briles, who is currently unemployed.

Tennessee seemed to finally learn to close the deal in a big game. Last year at this time, they gave up some heartbreakers to big-name teams, though they led the majority of those games (namely, Oklahoma and Florida). To make the situation murkier, they played inconsistently in their wins this year prior to yesterday. Even during the first half, they were clearly off rhythm, and the Gators led at the half, 21-3. All that changed in the second half. The Volunteers came out an entirely different team, executing effectively, and scoring, seemingly, at will, while Florida only scored a touchdown for that entire half. Now that the Vols have proven they can “close the deal,” they need to prove they can effectively play a good first half as well as a good second. Once they do, they’ll be one of the best teams in football. As things currently stand, Tennessee seems to have a clear path to the SEC East berth of their conference’s championship game.

That path was opened all the wider after then-No. 12 Georgia embarrassed themselves on the road to then-No. 23 Ole Miss. Sure, the Rebels are a good team, but the Bulldogs made them look like world-beaters. Couple this with the fact that Mark Richt did not leave the team’s talent cupboard bare, and this seriously calls into question the wisdom in hiring Kirby Smart as his replacement.

Speaking of questionable hires, Kentucky won over South Carolina in a contest of ineptitude on both sides of the ball. Mark Stoops’ days are clearly numbered in Lexington, despite all of his hiring hype from a few years ago. But Will Muschamp is the new hire in Columbia. As I have previously inquired, what sense does it make to hire a coach who failed with the talent at Florida, only to bring him into a program with less talent and less of a recruiting pipeline? Indeed, the South Carolina-Georgia border rivalry game might as well be dubbed the clash of the two coaching hire trainwrecks (in the making). But in the meantime, the Bulldogs have no time to lick their wounds, as they play Tennessee next week.

In a good game that was on nobody’s radar screen, Purdue actually beat an opponent with some degree of credibility in Nevada. In what seemed, on paper to be a lop-sided matchup, South Florida acquitted themselves well against Florida State, losing only 55-35.

On the other side of the proverbial coin was Wisconsin at Michigan State. The then-No. 11 Badgers embarrassed the then-No. 8 Spartans, 30-6. Sparty is lucky to remain ranked after such a drubbing, and this loss certainly does not make Notre Dame look any better after the drubbing they suffered at MSU’s hands.

Speaking of Notre Dame, head coach Brian Kelly fired his defensive coordinator after the Fighting Irish lost, at home, to Duke. Yes, Duke. But be not fooled: the Blue Devils are a respectable team, thanks to the patient building of head coach David Cutcliffe. Those “in the know” anticipated a decent game regardless of the outcome.

On the west coast, the competition was more than decent between Stanford and home team UCLA. The Bruins led most of the game. The Cardinal did not score the go-ahead touchdown until fewer than 30 seconds remained in regulation. The last six points to add to their margin came on a fluke. UCLA’s QB attempted a “Hail Mary” pass, but a Stanford defensive linemen forced a fumble instead before successfully running the ball back for another score with 0:00 left on the play clock. Notwithstanding the fluke score, it was a very good game.

Another good game for much of the duration was the Texas A&M vs. Arkansas game. The game was hard-fought on both sides, but as the game progressed, the Aggies played better and better. All this talk about Coach Kevin Sumlin being on the hot seat seem a overblown at least and more than a tad premature at worst, as A&M is now ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll, with more great SEC West matchups remaining.

Two other close, hard-fought games that relatively few people noticed: BYU vs. West Virginia (the Mountaineers won, 35-32) and Pitt vs. North Carolina (the Tarheels won that close one, 37-36). As previously observed, the entire day consisted of close games, top, bottom, and middle.

Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

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 Who wants it more?  More to the point, which team is happier to be there?  That is the most important question in determining the outcomes of the upcoming bowl games.  It is not easy, but it will be the make-or-break factor.  It affects the performance of the team.  If they are not that motivated to be there, but the underdog team is, the actual odds favor the latter.  Therefore, the real question becomes, which team will show up to play?  To create a better understanding of this condition, allow me to offer Exhibit A:

The season was that of 1998.  Kansas State was rising up in the polls throughout the year.  They defeated mighty Nebraska (yes, the Cornhuskers were still very vaunted then) for the first time in three decades.  The Wildcats went undefeated for the regular season, and were poised, at the No. 2 national ranking, to go to the first ever championship game of the Bowl Championship Series, which that year would be the Fiesta Bowl.

Kansas State’s only hurdle to clear to make that coveted berth was the Big XII Championship game, in which they were naturally favored.  Yet underdog Texas A&M had other plans, and managed to upset K-State that game.  Gone were the Wildcats’ national championship hopes, but it was worse than that:  other teams had already secured major bowl slots, so K-State was demoted all the way down to the Alamo Bowl.  Coincidentally, they would play Purdue, which was the team I was on as a freshman staff member.  We were happy to be there:  Kansas State, however, was disappointed to be there.  Come game time (Dec. 29, 1998), it showed.  Even though the Wildcats were still ranked at a feared No. 4 while we were unranked, we nevertheless led them throughout most of the game.  Despite a late 4th-quarter touchdown that put them temporarily in the lead, we answered by marching right down the field for a game-winning score with only about a minute remaining.

On paper, K-State should have beaten us by at least two touchdowns.  But the final, actual score said otherwise.  Why?  Though, the Wildcats were clearly the better team on paper, we wanted to be there more than they did, and by a considerable margin.

Such a scenario has played itself out many times in the years since then (and no doubt in the years before), which is what makes bowl game prognostication for more unpredictable than just comparing regular season records and major stats.  The upcoming line-up of bowl games asks this very question more than a few times.  To wit:

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 19, 3:30 PM EST, ABC

BYU (9-3) vs. No. 22 Utah (9-3)

The Utes are the higher-ranked team.  At one point they were ranked as highly as No. 3 in the nation.  Surely they must have had higher bowl aspirations.  On the other hand, the Cougars are dealing with coaching turmoil since their head coach, Bronco Mendenhall, just bolted for the Virginia job.  My conclusion is to therefore not out-think things, and go with the odds, which slightly favor the Utes.

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 26, 2:00 EST, CBS

Miami (FL) (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Beware the deception of identical records.  For whereas the Cougars have had Mike Leach in place for a couple of seasons now, the Hurricanes are going through coaching changes, having fired Al Golden mid-season, leaving assistant coach Larry Scott to serve at the helm in his temporary stead.  Incoming head coach Mark Richt will watch from the stands.  The Miami players claim they’ll show up motivated, but can these kids overcome the coaching transitions while the Washington State players will enjoy stability?

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 26, 9:15 PM EST, ESPN

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7)

The Bruins surely had much higher bowl aspirations as the season began, and at one point enjoyed a top-ten ranking.  Getting upset at home to Arizona State did not help their campaign, though, neither did losing to Washington State, either.  The losses to both Stanford and a resurgent USC can be excused.  Be all that as it may, they’re in this particular bowl, which lacks the prestige of bowls in the days that follow.  Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers are one of those lucky dog teams who, at 5-7, are very fortunate just to get a berth.  Why?  Because Big Ten fans travel in DROVES.  Expect a sea of red in Santa Clara, Calif., and a closer game than the records suggest.  You might even take the under on Nebraska.

Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 10 North Carolina (11-2) vs No. 17 Baylor (9-3)

On paper, this is a very marquee matchup between two very good teams.  The problem?  Both teams feel as though they deserved better bowl games.  Last year, the Bears were in the Cotton Bowl, for goodness sake.  Meanwhile, as strong as a team as the Tarheels have been, one would think they would have grabbed a more prestigious berth, too.  What therefore makes this scenario unique is that BOTH teams will likely come in under-motivated (we’re dealing with 19/20 year-old kids, after all).  The question becomes, which team will be less under-motived than the other?  Since UNC started out with lower aspirations, they might end up making this game very, very interesting.

Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3)

Tigers vs. Tigers?  That alone is intriguing.  But the War Eagle variety surely had higher bowl aspirations (they started out the year ranked No. 6) than the variety from Memphis, who turned out to be a surprisingly strong team.  Auburn likely views this bowl berth as both a come-down and a quasi-home game at the same time.  But Memphis might be glad just to make it to a bowl game, since their postseason appearances have been far fewer than those of their opponent.  The Vegas odds favor Auburn by 2.5.  That is enough of a margin of error for Memphis to win by a close one, provided they appear with just enough motivation.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30, 10:30 PM EST, ESPN

No. 25 USC (8-5) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Late enough for you out east?  Regardless, there are varying degrees of motivation with these two teams.  If you’re Wisconsin for example, who would not be happy to spend late December in beautiful San Diego?  If you’re USC, you’ll be glad to be there after all the coaching and leadership turmoil with which you had to contend earlier in the season.  The kicker?  That particular turmoil is now behind the Men of Troy.  New head coach Clay Helton has clearly righted the ship, and the program is headed in the proper direction again.  That’s good.  But, he just fired 4 of his assistant coaches.  That’s bad, especially when the Trojans only have a handful of practices to prepare for a game with a depleted coaching roster (using grad assistants to fill in some of the roles) while Wisconsin lacks this disadvantage.  The Badgers, furthermore, always show up well to bowl games:  they are one of the most reliable programs in that regard.  The odds-makers in Vegas still give USC a 3-point advantage, meaning that there is potential for an upset.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2)

The Seminoles likely see having to play the lowly Cougars, while the latter will likely feel honored to play in such a relatively prestigious bowl game.  Should this scenario play out, the respective motivational levels are to be adjusted accordingly, giving us potential for one of the biggest upsets of this bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game Pres. By Northwestern Mutual, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM EST, ESPN

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1)

Since when would a team show up to the Rose Bowl under-motivated?  It is the Granddaddy of them all, folks!  But in the case of Stanford, they likely had the goal to make it to the playoffs instead.  Meanwhile, Iowa is going to their first Rose Bowl in 25 years.  To the Hawkeyes, this is a once-in-a-generation Super Bowl.  Granted, Iowa is a good team, but Stanford, on paper, is much better.  Under normal circumstances, Stanford should win by two touchdowns.  But with Iowa being especially focused and disciplined, expect a tough, close game that could go either way.

Taxslayer Bowl, Jan. 2, 12:00 PM EST, ESPN

Penn State (7-5) vs. Georgia (9-3)

This used to be the Gator Bowl, fyi.  Georgia seems to be the stronger team on paper, but they just lost their head coach and will be coached by assistants in this bowl game, while Penn State has stable leadership in James Franklin.  Expect the Nittany Lions to therefore pull off the upset, unless the interim head coach at Georgia can effectively rally his troops.

College Football Week 14 Awards December 7, 2015

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MSU-Iowa_B1Gchamp2015

A game where Michigan State was favored turned into a low-scoring, high-drama nail-biter that the Spartans had to win to earn their spot in the Playoffs.  (Photo:  Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports)

(Note:  All rankings are current CFP [week 14] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES

Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Rod Carey, Northern Illinois

Lucky guy: Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Poor guy:  Art Briles, Baylor

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dennis Franchione, Texas State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Troy (defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 41-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Baylor (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Texas State (lost to Arkansas State 55-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Texas (see below)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Georgia State (defeated Georgia Southern 34-7)

Dang, they’re good: Stanford

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start? Baylor

Can the season end?  Texas State

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 5 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13

Play this again, too:  No. 1 Clemson 45, No. 10 North Carolina 37

Never play this again: Troy 41, UL-Lafayette 17

What? Georgia State 34, Georgia Southern 7

Huh?  Kansas State 24, West Virgina 23

Are you kidding me?  No. 4 Michigan State 16, No. 4 Iowa 13

Oh – my – GodTexas 23, No. 12 Baylor 17

NEXT WEEK

Only one game, and it is the annual Army vs. Navy game. God Bless America!

Week 14 Random Thoughts:

Order seems to have triumphed over chaos this week.

Exhibit A: Michigan State vs. Iowa. What should have been a fete accompli for the Spartans turned out to be a knock-down, drag-out, high-drama affair. While that might not have been good for Sparty Nation’s collective ticker, it was certainly great for TV and for fan of good football nationwide. Plus, in the end, Michigan State triumphed, as well they should have, and have now earned their rightful place in the CFB Playoffs.

Exhibit B: Top-ranked Clemson had to work very hard to fend off a hungry, formidable North Carolina squad (no, really!). Despite the Tarheels threatening to win the contest at different points throughout the game, in the end, the Tigers triumphed by the equivalent of a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The Tigers are no in position to win their first national championship since 1981, when Danny Ford was the head coach.*

*But first, they must win their playoff semi-final game. Still, they’re in the Playoffs.

Exhibit C: Despite USC’s strong performance in recent weeks with new coach Clay Helton at the helm, Stanford played to form and potential, and won strongly over the recently formidable Trojans.

Exhibit D: The AAC championship game between Houston and Temple was poised to be one for the ages, at least within the context of the conference. The Owls, historically a gutter program, have become a respected team under head coach Matt Rhule. Let us not forget that they took Notre Dame to the wire this year. In the other corner was Houston, who became surprisingly formidable this year under head coach Tom Herman. While it was certainly a possibility that the No. 22-ranked Owls could have won the game, the No. 19-ranked Houston reigned victoriously in the end, 24-13, in a score somewhat commensurate with the respective rankings, if not a little biased towards the Cougars’ side.

Exhibit E: Given recent team performances over the past, say, three years, one would think that the SEC Championship game between Alabama and Florida would have been a rout in favor for the Crimson Tide. But first-year coach Jim McElwain has turned the Gators around to respectability already, allowing many to believe that the Tide’s triumph was not necessary a given. But was good as No. 15 Florida was, and as valiant as the team’s effort was, No. 2 Alabama won in convincing fashion, 29-15.

The verdict:  With no major upsets for the top-ranked teams, no major chaos ensured for the CFP selection committee. Clemson, Alabama, and Michigan State all passed their tests, and now — along with Big XII champ Oklahoma — they will proceed to the playoffs, where they shall truly play for keeps.

College Football Week 9 Awards October 29, 2012

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [post-week 9, pre-week 10] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Glad I’m not him: Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Louisville
Poor guy: Butch Jones, Cincinnati
Desperately seeking a clue: Joker Phillips, Kentucky
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Darrell Hazell, Kent State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Desperately seeking … anything:  Danny Hope, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oregon (beat Colorado 70-14)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (beat Kansas 21-17)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Auburn (lost to No. 16 Texas A&M 63-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Kansas (lost to Texas 21-17)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Navy (beat East Carolina 56-28)

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did:  Texas Tech (lost to No. 3 Kansas State 55-24)

Dang, they’re good: Kansas State
Dang, they’re bad: Temple
Can’t stand prosperity:  Ohio U.  (lost to Miami [Ohio] 23-20)

Did the season start? Texas
Can the season end?  Purdue
Can the season never end?  Notre Dame

GAMES
Play this again: No. 7 Georgia 17, No. 8 Florida 9

Never play this again: No. 3 Oregon 70, Colorado 14
What?  Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13, OT
Huh? No. 10 Georgia 7, No. 8 Florida 9

Double Huh?  Washington 20, No. 13 Oregon State 17
Are you kidding me? Kent State 35, Rutgers 23
Oh – my – God:  Arizona 39, No 18 USC 36
Told you so: No. 12 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 30, OT

NEXT WEEK
Ticket to die for:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 LSU (notwithstanding No. 2 Oregon @ No. 9 USC)
Best non-Big Six vs. Big Six matchup:  Tulsa @ Arkansas
Best non-Big Six matchup: SMU @ Central Florida
Upset alert: No. 10 Clemson @ Duke

Must win: Texas @ No. 20 Texas Tech
Offensive explosion: Arizona @ UCLA
Defensive struggle: Miami (Ohio) @ Buffalo
Great game no one is talking about: No. 16 Texas A&M @ No. 17 Mississippi State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Dan Mullen of Mississippi State
Who’s bringing the body bags? Colorado @ No. 15 Stanford
Why are they playing? Troy @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UAB @ Southern Miss
They shoot horses, don’t they?  UMass @ Northern Illinois

Week 9 in Review:  Upsets and Conference Toilet Bowls Abound

The whole purpose of a given “Toilet Bowl” is to pit the two worst teams against each other to find which is, in  fact, the worst of the worst.  Such was determined twice yesterday.  In the Big 10 Toilet Bowl, Indiana trounced Illinois 31-17, in the Fighting Illini’s home stadium, no less.  Illinois, now 2-6, is now the undisputed – though clearly not undefeated – bottom-feeder of the conference for this season.  They are winless in the Big 10, and have no time to lick this very revealing wound, as next week they venture into Columbus, Ohio to take on Ohio State.

Meanwhile, in the Toilet Bowl, SEC Edition, Missouri defeated Kentucky in CoMo (which is what the locals refer to as Columbia, Mo.) by a similar score, 33-10.  Kentucky is in a sadly familiar spot in the most brutal of conferences in college football.  What is even more revealing, though, is UK’s response in the wake of the loss.

“It’s tough, because we knew we were better than those guys,” so said Kentucky tailback Raymond Sanders.  Better than them, even when losing by 23 points?  Such denial of reality is why head coach Joker Phillips has merited the above award for the week (see:  Desperately seeking a clue).

Undefeateds going down:  Fewer teams remain undefeated today than when they woke up to play games yesterday.  Rutgers was the highest-ranked team in the Big East before going down to one-loss Kent State.  Inexplicably, the Golden Flashes’ sole defeat came at the hands of Kentucky.

Mississippi State’s first defeat of the season was the most understandable of all first losses of the year, given that they were going up against No. 1 Alabama, in Bryant-Denny Stadium, no less.  The Bulldogs’ head coach, Dan Mullen, said it best going into the weekend when he pointed out that, “[Y]ou’ve got to try to run the ball (on Alabama) whether you’re having success or not.”  Despite Mississippi State’s best efforts, they were very slowly and methodically ground down by the Crimson Tide, 38-7.

On the West Coast, undefeated Oregon State lost that distinction in their loss to Washington.  Steve Sarkesian’s Huskies have earned the reputation of being a “giant killer” of sorts this year, as they handed previously-undefeated Stanford its first loss of the year as well.  Keep an eye on the program on the rebound in Seattle.

Finally, Florida was another team to bite the proverbial dust and suffer its first loss to Georgia in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, Fla.  Though scoring was relatively low (17-9 in favor of the UGA Bulldogs), there were plenty of plays to keep the crowd enthused.  In the end, the old adage of “the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins” rang true yet again, which explains how the Bulldogs reigned victorious.

More chrome:  North Carolina – of all bloody teams! – has jumped on the chrome dome bandwagon, as they sported chrome-silver helmets during their last-minute upset over rival N.C. State.  Moreover, the main decal was an oversized Tarheel logo (the Carolina blue-colored foot with the tar on the heel), in breaking with the traditional “NC” decal they usually display.  On all-dark blue jersey and pants ensemble complimented a very different look for a team normally known for its “Carolina blue” helmets and jerseys.  Oh well:  it beats the trendy “matte” look!

Choke-lahoma:  That moniker was earned/demonstrated yet again last night, as Oklahoma squandered a golden (if you’ll pardon the expression) opportunity to hand Notre Dame its first loss of the year.  Stoops and company have nobody to blame but themselves for deliberately holding themselves back.  They had an offensive line capable of controlling the line of scrimmage, and yet they repeatedly passed up on the opportunity to establish a ground attack.  On the passing side of things, they also held themselves back by concentrating on short-yardage increments that are the bread-and-butter of the one-sided spread offense.  They did this while being thoroughly capable of throwing the ball further down the field, and by not doing this, never forced the Irish secondary to respect either the deep threat or the short yardage attempts.  Head Coach Bob Stoops has proven once again to be something of a schoolyard bully of the coaching ranks; arrogant and blunt with reporters, lots of bluster, but having little to, er, “bring,” when genuinely challenged.

Looking ahead:  some other games to keep an eye on, aside from the upcoming games listed above includes Air Force @ Army in an all-service academies showdown.  Another intriguing matchup is TCU venturing into Morgantown, W.V. to play the Mountaineers.  The big question going in to that game will be, how will West Virginia respond to two consecutive drubbings after being ranked so high in the polls?  Moreover, how the Horned Frogs will handle the Milan Puskar Stadium crowd is a question no doubt in the back of the minds of many a fan and observer.  In the wake of the SEC “Toilet Bowl” 2012, Missouri takes on Florida and Kentucky takes on Vanderbilt, meaning that the respective cellar-dweller status of either team is unlikely to change anytime soon.  After Oklahoma was embarrassed at home to Notre Dame, how will they respond at Iowa State, a team that has shown surprising formidability this year?  Can Duke show that it has staying power by bouncing back after a tough though understandable loss to Florida State in time to put up a good fight against inconsistent Clemson?  More importantly, can USC bounce back from being upset in the desert by Arizona in time for a primetime showdown against Oregon at home?