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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Western Kentucky

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endMichigan

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

Never play this again: Army 52, SJSU 3

What? Virginia 16, No. 16 Miami 13

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

Double HuhMichigan State 21, No. 8 Penn State 17

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: North Texas @ UAB

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

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

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

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ Duke

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

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

Why are they playing?  UTEP @ Louisiana Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Tulsa @ Arkansas

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

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

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

Can the season end?  (too early to tell)

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  LSU 22, Auburn 21

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

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

What? Syracuse 30, Florida State 7

HuhNorth Texas 44, Arkansas 17

Double HuhAkron 39, Northwestern 34

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ SMU

Upset alert: Arizona State @ No. 10 Washington

Must win: No. 23 Boston College @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Tennessee

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

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

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

Why are they playing? Army @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ UTEP

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

Week 3 Thoughts: 

(Holding off on those until Week 4 installment.)

College Football Awards, Week 14 (2017) December 7, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Clay Helton, USC

Poor guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bryan Harsin, Boise State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gary Patterson, TCU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Florida State (defeated Louisiana-Monroe 42-10)

Thought you’d put up a fight, you did: Stanford (lost to No. 10 USC 31-28)

Thought you’d put up a fight, you didn’t: Miami (lost to No. 1 Clemson 38-3)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Oklahoma (defeated TCU 41-17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Georgia Southern

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 8 Ohio State 27, No. 4 Wisconsin 21

Play this again, too:  No. 10 USC 31, No. 12 Stanford 28

Never play this again: Appalachian State 63, Louisiana 14

What? Boise State 17, No. 25 Fresno State 14

Are you kidding me??  No. 8 Ohio State 27, No. 4 Wisconsin 21

Oh – my – GodNo. 6 Georgia 27, No. 2 Auburn 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP, post-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  none.  The only game next week is the annual Army-Navy game.  Enjoy, and God Bless America!

Week 14 Random Thoughts:

Not bad for Florida State salvaging bowl eligibility, even if it meant resorting to resuming a postponed body bag game in order to do so.  More importantly, though, it boggles the mind why Jimbo Fisher up and left the FSU gig for the Texas A&M job.  One would think that would be a come-down in occupations.  The Seminoles have multiple national titles to their name, while the Aggies have but one, and that was way back in 1939.  Good luck living up to Aggie nation’s insane expectations, Coach Fisher.

Meanwhile, there has been much controversy surrounding the fourth team selected into the Playoffs.  Many contend that Ohio State should have gotten in instead of Alabama.  It would certainly be better for business if we had a traditional power representing the Midwest instead of all four teams being from the Sunbelt.  But consider this:  scouts who have watched all top teams play live say that they were disappointed in how Ohio State struggled to put away Wisconsin, a team with far few NFL-caliber bodies than the top three SEC teams, Bama included.

In hindsight, it ought not to be a surprise how the SEC championship resulted.  Auburn was banged up after playing two massive games in a row against top-ranked teams.  The Tigers simply had nothing left in the tank come this past weekend.

Yes, the Miami Hurricane’s performance was disappointing against Clemson, but their high ranking earlier this season was a reflection on the fact that they were playing ahead of their stage of development.  Come next year, they should be more formidable, and thus a more legit contender for the playoffs.

One of my favorite conference championship game traditions is the two Big Ten team bands getting together on the field pre-game to play the national anthem together.  It’s not only a wonderful sight to behold, but musically it’s spot-on, too, as we can always count those bands to deliver a rousing rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner!

Now that the bowl games are lined up, an article on them shall be forthcoming.  Until then, let us enjoy the Army-Navy game!

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bret Bielema, Arkansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Auburn

Dang, they’re bad:  East Carolina

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Miami

Did the season start?  Alabama

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

Must win: (any championship game with playoff implications)

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

Defensive struggle: (jury’s still out)

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

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

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

Why are they playing? UMass @ FIU

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ Coastal Carolina

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

Week 13 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Awards Week 12 (2017) November 19, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 12] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Poor guy: Matt Luke, Ole Miss

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dave Clawson, Wake Forest

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferenz, Iowa

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kilane Sitake, BYU

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Syracuse 56-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Mississippi State (defeated Arkansas 28-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Illinois (lost to Ohio State 52-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Navy (lost to No. 8 Notre Dame 24-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Northwestern (defeated Minnesota 39-0)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa

Did the season start?  Oklahoma State

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  Texas A&M 31, Ole Miss 24

Play this again, too:  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Never play this again: Florida State 77, Delaware State 6

What? Akron 37, Ohio U 34

Huh?  Wake Forest 30, No. 19 NC State 24

Are you kidding me??  Kansas State 45, No. 13 Oklahoma State 40

Oh – my – GodPurdue 24, Iowa 15

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 12, pre-week 13)
Ticket to die for:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan  also:  No. 1 Alabama @ No. 6 Auburn

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

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

Upset alert: No. 2 Clemson @ South Carolina  also:  No. 8 Notre Dame @ No. 22 Stanford

Must win: Indiana @ Purdue  also:  No. 9 Ohio State @ Michigan

Offensive explosion: No. 14 Washington State @ No. 18 Washington

Defensive struggle: Florida State @ Florida

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Scott Frost of Central Florida vs Charlie Strong of South Florida

Who’s bringing the body bags? Baylor @ No. 12 TCU

Why are they playing? Florida Atlantic @ Charlotte

Plenty of good seats remaining: UConn @ Cincinnati

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

Week 12 Random Thoughts:

Today yielded no earth-shattering upsets.  How could it, with so many highly-ranked teams inexplicably engaged in body bag games so late in the year?  Nevertheless, some interesting upsets did ensue.  Pathetic Akron took down perennial MAC contender Ohio U, for example.  Kansas State defeated Oklahoma State on the road.  Unranked Wake Forest (now 7-4, surprisingly) upset No. 19 NC State, putting a blemish on an otherwise impressive year for the Wolfpack.  Even more amazingly, Purdue went on the road to play Iowa, a game where nobody, least of all yours truly, gave them a chance to win, and yet they did anyhow.  Don’t ask how the same team that embarrassed Ohio State by the worst margin in more than two decades could lose two weeks later at home to a lesser team.  There is no rational explanation.

Texas earned a great win, on the road, over West Virginia.  Two weeks ago, the Longhorns gave a pitiful offensive performance against TCU, and offered only a middling performance in their win over Kansas last week.  Naturally, this turn of events gave the Longhorn faithful cause for concern.  Whether these concerns are no longer valid remains to be seen.  But adjustments were clearly made, to the point where Texas was able to win, convincingly, in a tough environment, against a favored team.  Looks like progress, and the Horns are now bowl-eligible to boot.  Next week they close the regular season at home against Texas Tech, which will be a decent test to see if they can maintain their current level of performance.

Remember my earlier speculation about Purdue’s bowl chances having evaporated?  Wad that thought up and toss it out the window.  Purdue’s surprising upset over Iowa – on the road, no less – has given their season a new life.  Don’t ask how this came to pass.  Be all that as it may, this upcoming week, both Purdue and in-state rival Indiana shall play each other for two things, not just one.  Not only will they play for the Old Oaken Bucket trophy, but also for bowl eligibility.  No telling the last time the stakes were that high for the two teams.

Every season, there is always a surprise or two.  One such this year is Central Florida, who currently undefeated and ranked first in the All-American Conference East Division.  At a current rank of no. 15, head coach Scott Frost seems to know what he is doing.  This is the same Scott Frost who was the capable, tough, dependable quarterback who led Nebraska to a share of the national title with Michigan in the 1997 season.  After several years as a back-up QB in the NFL, he gradually worked his way up the ranks in coaching.  With a relatively easy schedule remaining, the Golden Knights could remain undefeated going into the ultimate conference showdown at season’s end.  Then, they face 9-1 South Florida, led by Coach Charlie Strong.  Surely that is to be one of the most intriguing of coaching matchups of the year!

Shout-out to Notre Dame for wearing very cool-looking, throwback-inspired uniforms during their game against Navy.  I sincerely hope that more teams with gold in their school colors have the good sense to copy those nice-looking gold pants that the Irish wore this week.

Just several weeks earlier, Louisville could not beat Wake Forest or Boston College.  Now, they seem to have turned things around.  Their 56-10 walloping of Syracuse is a sure sign the Cardinals are playing back to form, and are doing so just at the right time, as they take on in-state rival Kentucky this upcoming week.

UCLA just fired Jim Mora, Jr.  Ironically, the Bruins lost last night to cross-town rival USC by a respectable margin, 28-23.  But the powers that be in Westwood clearly did not like the direction the program was headed.  Mora helped create high expectations for the Bruin faithful, but sadly failed to deliver (UCLA is now 5-6).  Then again, the school is only partially committed compared to USC, or to any other program that is determined to compete for a national title.  Firing the current head coach shall thus not solve this systemic problem.

With Wisconsin’s win over Michigan, the Badgers continue their undefeated streak and are on a certain course to represent the Western Division in the Big Ten championship.  All Ohio State has to do is beat Michigan this upcoming week for the rights to butt heads with the Badgers.  My scenario for the best possible playoff scenario thus continues, but more pratfalls remain.

The best game on Thanksgiving is not played in Detroit or Dallas.  No, rather it is usually the “Egg Bowl,” the annual Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State grudge-match that shall once again kickoff on the evening of the fourth Thursday in November.  Let us enjoy it, and God Bless America!

My Nearly Perfect Playoff Scenario November 16, 2017

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The developments in this past week of college football have shaken up the polls yet again, thus further modifying the playoff projections.  Given the current state of affairs, if the new AP poll is of any indication, here’s how I think things could play out.

The current top eight in the AP poll is as follows:

  1. Alabama
  2. Miami
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Clemson
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio State

So, based on current polling and whom the teams have yet to play, who goes into the final four of the playoffs?  My scenario could lead to near-perfection.

Let’s start with Alabama.  Mississippi State almost beat them at home.  So, the Crimson Tide is vulnerable.  Nevertheless, they’ll get an easy win over a cupcake in Mercer this Saturday.  That leaves us with Auburn at No. 6.  Strange things happen in rivalry games.  Even stranger things happen in the Iron Bowl, arguably the most heated, bitter rivalry in college sports.  Bama thought they would be playing for the national title until the famous “kick-six” incident of 2013, for example.  Nevertheless, let us say for the sake of argument that Bama beats Auburn.  On paper, this is entirely possible.  Auburn will thus have three losses, and be eliminated from playoff consideration.

The Tide remains undefeated, and goes onto the SEC championship game in Atlanta.  There, they play Georgia, who was briefly No. 1 before getting their asses handed to them by Auburn.  Now at No. 7, they’ll still give Alabama a good challenge in Atlanta.  But on paper, the odds still favor The Tide.  Let us thus accept the law of averages and say Bama wins.  Again.  Having knocked out both Auburn AND Georgia, Bama as undefeated AND SEC champs, also ranked No. 1, instantly clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 1 of 4:  Alabama

Next up is Miami.  After tearing Notre Dame a new one in Hard Rock Stadium, the Hurricanes now sit at No. 2 in the AP.  They have also clinched the Atlantic Division of the ACC for the first time since the conference split into those two divisions.  To remain undefeated in the regular season, they need to take out Virginia (at home) and Pittsburgh (on the road).  Both are doable, obviously, though keep an eye out for the Canes having to deal with cold Pittsburgh weather in late November.

At any rate, the Hurricanes are now slated to play Clemson, currently No. 4 in the AP, for the ACC Championship.  That game will be in Charlotte in early December, effectively a home game for the Tigers.  IF the Hurricanes can overcome this huge challenge and triumph over Clemson, they shall be undefeated, ACC champs, and shall have clinched the second spot in the playoffs.  This could actually be the most tenuous of contingencies.  Nevertheless…

Berth No. 2 of 4:  Miami

Oklahoma currently sits at No. 3.  Aside from Iowa State, the Sooners have risen to the occasion each game, recently beating a tough TCU squad.  OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is a more mature version of Johnny Manziel:  someone capable of making special things happen.  Despite legit challenges from strong teams within the conference, nobody can credibly take the Sooners down this year.  If these shadows remain unchanged, they’ll surely clinch a playoff berth.

Berth No. 3 of 4:  Oklahoma

That leaves us with the last spot.  In this scenario, three out of the eight are already in.  Three of the remaining five are out.  That leaves us with the remaining two:  Wisconsin and Ohio State.  “But wait,” you protest, “Ohio State already has two losses, one a both recent AND embarrassing one to Iowa.”  A valid point you would raise, to be sure.  But here’s the deal.  The Buckeyes’ schedule is still much stronger than Wisconsin’s, for one.  Whereas OSU had the guts to play a tough OU squad that, as already mentioned, shall surely be playoff-bound, Wisconsin padded their schedule with Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and a weak (for this year) BYU.

Moreover, IF Ohio State shows up ready to play, they can beat anybody.  Would you want to coach head-to-head against Urban Meyer?  I didn’t think so.

Finally, both Wisconsin and Ohio State, if both win out, are destined to butt heads in the Big Ten Championship game.  They both need to beat Michigan to guarantee this scenario.  Should they play each other for the B1G title, and should Ohio State actually triumph, Wisconsin shall be effectively eliminated.  Why?  Again, their relatively weak schedule without winning their own conference.  Meanwhile, Ohio State will be the last team standing in the top eight in the current AP poll.  Could winning the B1G over an undefeated team be enough to get them back into playoff contention?  I would wager “yes.”

Berth No. 4 of 4:  Ohio State

Yes, this scenario is contingent on many factors.  Change one major factor (Bama loses to Auburn, for example), and it all falls apart.  Wisconsin and Ohio State’s viabilities depend on both beating Michigan.  Miami still needs to face Pittsburgh in the cold of late November at Heinz Field.  After that, they must face down Clemson.  Obviously, that’s a tall order.

If, however, all these things come to pass, it would be a nearly geographically-perfect playoff line-up.  Alabama would represent the south.  Miami could represent urban, coastal fans of the game.  Ohio State could represent the Midwest, the Big Ten, and its demographic TV-viewing juggernaut along with it.  Finally, Oklahoma could represent other parts of Middle America.  Indeed, the only problem with this scenario is that it lacks a Pac-12 team.  If it did, we would have perfection.  Too bad the Pac-12 teams ended up cannibalizing themselves this year, but that could be the case with the B1G, too, depending on how things truly do come to pass.  The only way we’ll know one way or the other is to keep lining them up and playing.

College Football Awards Week 11 (2017) November 13, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 11] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Richt, Miami

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Nick Saban, Alabama

Poor guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (defeated New Mexico 55-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Alabama (defeated No. 16 Mississippi State 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to Missouri 50-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Mississippi State (lost to No. 2 Alabama 31-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:   Ohio State (defeated No. 12 Michigan State 48-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Georgia

Did the season start?  Virginia Tech

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMiami

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Alabama 31, No. 16 Mississippi State 24

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Oklahoma State 49, No. 21 Iowa State 42

Never play this again: Northern Illinois 63, Ball State 17

What? Georgia Tech 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 22

Huh?  Stanford 30, No. 9 Washington 22

Are you kidding me??  No. 7 Miami 41, No. 3 Notre Dame 8

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Auburn 40, No. 1 Georgia 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for:  None, except maybe Michigan @ No. 8 Wisconsin

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Western Carolina @ North Carolina

Best non-Power Five matchup: Fresno State @ Wyoming  also:  Army @ North Texas

Upset alert: Utah @ No. 9 Washington

Must win: Texas @ West Virginia  also:  No. 8 TCU @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Offensive explosion: SMU @ No. 18 Memphis

Defensive struggle: No. 21 LSU @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: Arizona @ Oregon

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. Paul Chryst of Wisconsin

Who’s bringing the body bags? Citadel @ No. 4 Clemson

Why are they playing? Wofford @ South Carolina  also:  Mercer @ No. 1 Alabama

Plenty of good seats remaining: Coastal Carolina @ Idaho

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Louisiana-Monroe @ No. 10 Auburn

Week 11 Random Thoughts:

Is it safe to say that Miami (Fla.) is back as a top-tier program?  Already ranked No. 7 going into this weekend’s game, they crushed No. 3 Notre Dame at home, 41-8.  They remain undefeated in one of the toughest conferences in football, now at the No. 2 spot in the AP Poll (Clemson is now at No. 3).  If these shadows remain unchanged, they could face Clemson in the ACC Championship game early next month (ticket-to-die-for in the making?).  If they win that, it would be close to certain that the Hurricanes would be in the playoffs, and rightly so.  So yeah, sure looks that way.

It’s a good thing I listed Butch Jones as “Desperately seeking…anything” because as of today (Nov. 12), he got the ax at Tennessee.  This became an increasingly urgent necessity as the season progressed.  Despite the solid recruiting classes Jones brought in at Tennessee, he was unable to translate the talent into wins on the field.  Barely winning over lousy UMass was cause for concern.  Losing a squeaker to a mediocre Florida was bad enough.  Losing to Georgia in a blowout – one of the worst in recent program history – was a major embarrassment.  Losing to Kentucky – something the Volunteers very rarely do – was obviously unacceptable.  Getting crushed by hated Alabama became inevitable – which didn’t make it any less unpalatable to the Tennessee faithful.  The final nail in Jones’ coffin was a blowout loss to Missouri, of all teams.  So, Jones is now out at Tennessee.  Time for the replacement coaching search games to begin!

While this was a great weekend for college football (despite some unexpectedly one-sided outcomes – looking your way, Georgia and Notre Dame), next week shall be something of a let-down.  The only game resembling a marquee matchup is No. 19 Michigan vs No. 5 Wisconsin.  Half of the SEC is wasting the upcoming weekend with body bag games.  To wit:  Mercer plays at Alabama; Wofford plays South Carolina in an annual late-season affair (why??); Auburn dialed up a “w” with Louisiana-Monroe.  Florida would also be included, except for the fact that UAB has a much better record (7-3) than the Gators (3-6).  Not to be outdone, Clemson had to get in on the act by playing the Citadel.

At least the other half of the conference was exercising some degree of sense by scheduling real games.  Kentucky plays at Georgia.  LSU plays at Tennessee, which will no doubt further contribute to the Volunteers’ collective misery.  Texas A&M plays at Ole Miss in what should be a good game.  Missouri, surprisingly offensively spry, plays at Vanderbilt.

Purdue’s bowl eligibility hopes for the year are quickly dwindling.  They currently stand at 4-6, and have to win out over both Iowa and Indiana.  Whereas the latter seems winnable, the former, not so much.  The Boilers did themselves no favors by losing on the road to conference cellar-dweller Rutgers, then blowing a 4th-quarter lead at home to Nebraska.  The good news is that if Purdue ends up at 5-7, they’ll still have won more games than the entire Hazell era combined.

All that said, there are some decent games that might not be of huge consequence.  Syracuse plays Louisville, for example, and Kansas State plays Oklahoma State.  Arizona at Oregon is also a good match-up, and Utah has the potential to upset Washington.  So there are enjoyable games this weekend, we’ll just have to search more diligently than usual for them.

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

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

Lucky guy: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Poor guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: (none)

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Florida

Can the season never endMichigan State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Ohio U

Upset alert: No. 25 Washington State @ Utah

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

Offensive explosion: West Virginia @ Kansas State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ Nevada

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

Week 10 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

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

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

Poor guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Georgia

Dang, they’re bad:  Baylor

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  Florida State

Can the season never endOhio State

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

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

Never play this again: Toledo 58, Ball State 17

What? Houston 28, No. 17 South Florida 24

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Missouri

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

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

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

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

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Charlotte @ Old Dominion

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

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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