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College Football Awards, Week 6 (2019) October 7, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Poor guy: Steve Addazio, Boston College

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated Bowling Green 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (defeated Northwestern 13-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Utah State (lost to No. 5 LSU 42-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Tulsa (lost to SMU 43-37)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa State (defeated TCU 49-24)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Bowling Green

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Auburn

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UCLA

Can the season never endSMU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

Never play this again: No. 9 Notre Dame 52, Bowling Green 0

What? No. 19 Michigan 10, No. 14 Iowa 3

Huh?  Texas Tech 45, No. 21 Oklahoma State 35

Double-Huh?  Cincinnati 27, No. 18 UCF 24

Are you kidding me??  Stanford 23, No. 15 Washington 13

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas in the Red River Shootout

 (Possible second choice):  No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: UNLV @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Houston (also:  Hawaii @ No. 16 Boise State)

Upset alert: No. 25 Michigan State @ No. 8 Wisconsin (also:  Florida @ LSU)

Must win: No. 15 Washington @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ No. 22 Wake Forest  (also:  Penn State @ Iowa)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs Scott Frost of Nebraska

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 17 Utah @ Oregon State

Why are they playing? Rhode Island @ Virginia Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Kent State @ Akron

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UConn @ Tulane

Week 6 Thoughts:

Michigan vs. Iowa

Iowa came into the Big House ranked No. 14 to home team Michigan’s No. 19 ranking.  The game was a close one from start to finish, and in the end, Michigan triumphed in a defensive struggle, 10-3.  Under normal circumstances, when a team, ranked or otherwise, defeats a higher-ranked team, that is a good day, that is a good day for the lower-ranked team.

So why do I get the feeling that this win will not slake the bloodthirst of Jim Harbaugh’s critics?  I can think of two reasons.  The most obvious is that Michigan scored only 10 lousy points.  At home.  Granted, it was against Iowa, which is always a deceptively tough out, but in the end, scoring only 10 points borders on disturbing.

Keep in mind that Wisconsin is, theoretically, an even stronger defense, yet the Wolverines scored two touchdowns on them in a losing effort on the road.  Should such an abysmal offensive performance persist later in the season, how does one think that Michigan is to fare against, say, Penn State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, or even [shudder] archrival Ohio State?

The reason this win does not assuage concerns about Michigan’s direction was Iowa’s performance.  That the Hawkeyes’ offense kept sputtering when it reached the Wolverines’ 40 yard line is what saved the latter’s bacon.  To be sure, that is also a tribute to the Wolverines’ tough D.  Still, can one count on such defensive shut-downs against even more formidable opponents?  Most likely, not.

Bottom line:  Harbaugh needs to re-shuffle the proverbial deck for his offense, and do so right now.

SMU vs Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane played the Mustangs tough for the entire game, but a last-minute touchdown put SMU ahead of Tulsa for good.  The Mustangs are now undefeated at 6-0 for the first time since 1982 (back when Craig James was still playing for them).  Let that sink in for a moment.

Ohio State vs Michigan State

Speaking of stronger defenses than that of Iowa, Michigan State gave a maximum effort against Ohio State.  Even then, the Buckeyes still won, 34-10.  The Spartans’ aforementioned max effort from their own strong D was all that kept the game from becoming a blowout.

Can anyone in the conference take Ohio State?  It certainly does not seem so at this rate.  All that said, Oct. 26 could give us a preview of coming Big Ten Championship attractions when the Buckeyes play Wisconsin at home.  Once again, the Buckeyes are playing like a solid national championship contender.

Florida vs Auburn

Either Auburn is not quite as good as we thought they were (at No. 7), or Florida is better than we thought they were (at No. 10).  Whatever the case may be, if the Gators keep up these strong performances, it shall shape up to be a memorable matchup against Georgia in Jacksonville later this month.

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

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Cal

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma

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

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

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

What? Temple 24, Georgia Tech 2

HuhOklahoma State 26, No. 24 Kansas State 13

Are you kidding me??  Toledo 28, BYU 21

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Army

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

Must win: Boston College @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 13 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Nebraska

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: Oregon State @ UCLA

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

Week 5 Thoughts:

North Carolina vs Clemson

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

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

Nebraska vs Ohio State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Willie Taggert, Florida State

Poor guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Holgorsen, Houston

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endIowa State

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

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

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

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

What? Appalachian State 34, North Carolina 31

HuhSan Jose State 31, Arkansas 24

Double HuhUSC 30, No. 10 Utah 23

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Maryland @ No. 13 Penn State

Must win: UCLA @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: Washington State @ No. 19 Utah

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

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

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

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

Why are they playing? Delaware @ Pitt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ UMass

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

Week 4 Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

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

Lucky guy: Mike Stoops, Kentucky

Poor guy: Mike Helton, USC

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Bobby Petrino, Louisville

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisville

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas

Did the season start?  Washington

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endNotre Dame

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

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

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

What? Arizona 44, No. 19 Oregon 15

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

Double Huh?  Cal 12, No. 15 Washington 10

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

Oh – my – GodKansas 27, TCU 26

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Utah State @ Hawaii

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

Must win: Purdue @ No. 18 Iowa

Offensive explosion: No. 8 Oklahoma @ Texas Tech

Defensive struggle: inconclusive

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

Also:  Purdue @ No. 18 Iowa

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

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

Why are they playing?  Charlotte @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

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

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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Honorable mention:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

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

Lucky guy: James Franklin, Penn State

Poor guy: Tom Allen, Indiana

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Dimel, UTEP

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulsa

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Ohio State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UTEP

Can the season never endMichigan

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

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

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

What? Nebraska 53, Minnesota 28

HuhTemple 24, No. 20 Cincinnati 17 (OT)

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

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

Also:  Hawaii @ Fresno State

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

Must win: Purdue @ No. 24 Michigan State

Offensive explosion: No. 7 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Tennessee @ South Carolina

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

Also:  Appalachian State @ Georgia Southern

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

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

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

Why are they playing?  Bethune-Cookman @ Nebraska

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

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

*How often do you get to say that?

Week 8 Thoughts:

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

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.

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.