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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 4 (2018) September 23, 2018

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Texas

Glad I’m not him: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Lucky guy: David Shaw, Stanford

Poor guy: Mario Cristobal, Oregon

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Illinois 63-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Oklahoma (defeated Army 28-21 in OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tulane (lost to No. 9 Ohio State 49-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Army (lost to Oklahoma 28-21 in OT)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas Tech (defeated No. 15 Oklahoma State 17)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Nebraska

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endAlabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 7 Stanford 38, No. 20 Oregon 31

Play this again, too:  SMU 31, Navy 30

Never play this again: Appalachian State 72, Gardner-Webb 7

What? Purdue 30, No. 23 Boston College 13

HuhTexas Tech 41, No. 15 Oklahoma State 17

Double HuhIllinois State 35, Colorado State 19

Are you kidding me??  Kentucky 28, No. 14 Mississippi State 7

Oh – my – GodOld Dominion 49, No. 13 Virginia Tech 35

NEXT WEEK (Rankings are current AP, week 5)
Ticket to die for:  No. 4 Ohio State @ No. 9 Penn State

Also:  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 8 Notre Dame

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Pitt @ UCF

Best non-Power Five matchup: Toledo @ Fresno State

Upset alert: Texas Tech @ No. 12 West Virginia

Must win: Purdue @ Nebraska

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ Fresno State

Defensive struggle: Florida @ No. 23 Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: No.18 Texas @ Kansas State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Bill Snyder of Kansas State vs. Tom Herman of Texas

Who’s bringing the body bags? Louisiana @ No. 1 Alabama

Why are they playing? Southern Miss @ No. 10 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

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

Week 4 Thoughts:

 Purdue has started the season as a major head-scratcher.  Coming off a surprising winning season after the Hazell-era doldrums, including a bowl win, the Boilermaker faithful had high hopes for the team in 2018.  Thus far, after an understandable, opening-season loss to then-ranked Northwestern, Purdue proceeded to lose squeakers at home to beatable teams, including [shudder], Eastern Michigan – a directional school.  Chalk it up to an undisciplined defense and a lack of a running game.  Regardless, the Boilers have their first win of the year, and, all things considered, it’s a rather big one, handily defeating No. 23 Boston College 30-13.  To be sure, Purdue did step it up on defense, and if they can maintain this newfound intensity on that side of the ball, there’s hope for the season yet.  All that said, sometimes it takes a few weeks for a good team to find its footing and thus to play up to its potential.

The team now becoming an even bigger head-scratcher is Louisville.  Sure, they lost badly to Alabama, but the Crimson Tide is such a juggernaut this year that most winning-season teams will look pathetic against them.  What really raised concerns was having to struggle, at home, to beat Western Kentucky – another directional school!  Let us thus give the Cardinals an ex-post-facto “Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t”.  But now they got embarrassed, on the road to a beatable team in Virginia.  At 27-3, are the Cavaliers that much better than the Cards?  Is their offense that poor that they failed to punch it into the endzone, with only a sad field goal to open the 3rd quarter?  A comparison of recent seasonal performances of both teams would say no, but today’s score would suggest so.  Here is one possible diagnosis of Louisville’s under-performance.  In the last few years (basically since Lamar Jackson was QB), Petrino has been fixated on “skills” players while acting as if he can get any lumbering lummox to block on the line.  So, while he might have NFL-caliber talent on the wings, he has no way of executing plays.  Has the time come to where Petrino would be better off as an offensive coordinator instead of a head coach?  Further observation and analysis of the team’s performance shall tell us yes or no.

What about USC?  Before losing badly on the road to Texas last week, they were ranked and poised to compete for the Pac-12 title again.  But on Friday night, they had to play hard at home to beat unranked Washington State.  One possible explanation:  Sam Darnold’s talent at QB papered over the mediocrity of talent on the coaching staff.  While I’m not a Trojans fan personally, I nevertheless recognize that when a traditional power like USC does well, it’s good for college football (same goes for other traditional powers like Georgia, Texas, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Miami (Fla.)).  Conversely, a mediocre Southern Cal team is thus not great for college football.  Let us hope that they can eventually rise back to national title contention to help keep the west coast markets engaged in the game.  After all, it’s never good for a sport to become regional (looking your way, Major League Baseball).

Speaking of Texas, are they “back”?  And why were they ever, well, not back?  This article by Pete Thamel explains the nature of why a national brand and a massively-valued program ever needed turning around in the first place (hint:  turning around an aircraft carrier takes much, much longer than turning around, say, a personal sailboat).  Forget, for a moment, that the program sure did not help anybody, least of all themselves, by laying an egg on the road to Maryland, and then under-performing at home the next week against Tulsa.  The Longhorns’ big win over USC last week might not indicate that the team is “back” as strongly as one would think due to USC’s apparent mediocrity at the moment.  But then again, Texas did follow up with another big win, this time over No. 16 TCU, 31-16.  So the current conclusion is, if they’re not “back” yet, they’re certainly headed in the right direction.  Onward and upward.

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 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 8 (2017) October 22, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Poor guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking … anything:  Larry Fedora, North Carolina

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Virginia Tech (defeated North Carolina 59-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Miami (defeated Syracuse 27-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Tennessee (lost to No. 1 Alabama 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 23 West Virginia 38-36)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Missouri (defeated Idaho 68-21)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Georgia Southern

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  USC

Did the season start?  Michigan

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Oklahoma 42, Kansas State 35

Play this again, too:  No. 10 Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10

Never play this again: Missouri 68, Idaho 21

What? Rutgers 14, Purdue 12

Huh?  Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 13

Are you kidding me??  Boston College 41, Virginia 10

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Notre Dame 49, No. 11 USC 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 2 Penn State @ No. 6 Ohio State (B1G game of the year?)

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Houston @ No. 16 South Florida

Upset alert: No. 14 NC State @ No. 9 Notre Dame

Also:  Florida State @ Boston College

Must win: No. 3 Georgia @ Florida

Offensive explosion: No. 10 Oklahoma State @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Vanderbilt @ South Carolina

Great game no one is talking about: California @ Colorado

Also:  Mississippi State @ Texas A&M

Intriguing coaching matchup:  James Franklin of Penn State vs Urban Meyer of Ohio State

Also:  Kirk Ferentz of Iowa vs. P.J. Fleck of Minnesota

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 8 Miami (FL) @ North Carolina

Why are they playing? Austin Peay @ No. 18 UCF

Plenty of good seats remaining: San Jose State @ BYU

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Texas State @ Coastal Carolina

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

Poor Texas. Try as they might with their strong defense, offensively they cannot score enough points to get over the proverbial hump.  Yesterday in Austin, they held No. 10-ranked Oklahoma State, with the most productive offense in the county, to only 13 points.  However, the Longhorns in turn could only score 10 points.  Texas seems to have a capable quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, but he is only a true freshman, and the offense seems to rely too much on his guts and determination alone.  Part of the problem is that many of the offensive players are still young, and shall have to grow in experience, and presumably in capability as well.  The tentative verdict is that it will simply take time for the Horns to return to Top-10 status.  They are close, but not there yet.

Speaking of taking time, Purdue practically controlled their own destiny.  Current trajectories indicated they had a clear path to start a decent winning streak after getting beat up by a couple of conference heavyweights.  Then they lost by two points on the road to Rutgers.  Yes, Rutgers.  What happened?  Most likely, defensive coordinators around the league have taken notice of the tricks that Jeff Brohm has been left no choice but to use on account of the dearth of talent that his predecessor has left him.  Thus, for Purdue to show marked, consistent improvement, things shall take more time.  Basically, Brohm will need to bring in better recruiting classes so as to beat his opponents on the field with talent instead of trickery.  This of course is not to blame the man for what he is doing right now.  If we were in his proverbial shoes, we would likely find ourselves left to resort to the same things.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is officially a dumpster fire.  Sure, we all knew at this rate that Alabama would blast them into defeat, but what none of us anticipated was the lack of dignity on the Vols’ part.  The obscene gesture to Bama’s fans by one of Tennessee’s defensive backs after a pick-six is a black eye to the program, and could only hasten Butch Jones’ eventual departure as head coach.  But that aside, the Volunteers do have talent on their team.  Jones has sadly failed to harness it properly, to say nothing of orchestrating that talent into a cohesive effort at the top level that the SEC demands.

To put it another way with regard to the Vols and their current dumpster-fire status, they are to play Kentucky next week.  Tennessee is currently 3-4, while the Wildcats, who usually only barely belong in the SEC, are 5-2.  Yes, that means the world is officially upside-down.

Meanwhile, it’s always mildly intriguing when two conference foes who are about to butt heads share the same thing in common.  Think:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia, as both are the Bulldogs.  Think also:  LSU vs. Auburn, or Missouri vs. LSU, or Auburn vs. Missouri.  All three are the Tigers.  In the case of Mississippi State and Texas A&M, though, both have the same school colors of maroon and white, and both play each other next week.  What makes things even more intriguing is that both have quietly amassed a respectable 5-2 record in the course of the season.  After that game, those records shall inevitably diverge.

This week was a statistical anomaly, specifically with a cluster of defensive struggles.  Who would have thought that Indiana at Michigan State would have been such a defensive struggle, with a 17-9 outcome in the Spartans’ favor?  Even more to the point was the aforementioned 13-10 outcome at Texas.  That the Horns held the Cowboys’ high-powered offense to just 13 points (including one overtime) must surely cause Mike Gundy to reach for the Rolaids while watching film today.  If that’s not enough, the Purdue-Rutgers affair ended at 14-12 in favor of the Scarlet Knights.  Northwestern and Iowa kept the score low at 17-10.  UConn triumphing over Tulsa 20-14 does not count in past eras, but might as well in a time where the hurry-up, no-huddle offense is de rigueur. Same thing goes for Western Michigan over Eastern Michigan, 20-17…in overtime, no less.

College Football Awards Week 6 (2017) October 9, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Lucky guy: Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Poor guy: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

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

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Mike Norvell, Memphis

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Desperately seeking … anything:  Gary Anderson, Oregon State

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 62-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated Wake Forest 28-14)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 65-19)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Wake Forest (lost to No. 2 Clemson 28-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tulane (defeated Tulsa 62-28)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rice

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Oklahoma

Did the season start?  Florida State

Can the season end?  East Carolina

Can the season never endPenn State

GAMES
Play this again:  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Play this again, too:  Texas 40, Kansas State 34 (2OT)

This merits a second look, too:  No. 8 TCU 31, No. 23 West Virginia 24

Never play this again: No. 10 Ohio State 62, Maryland 14

What? LSU 17, No. 21 Florida 16

HuhNo. 24 NC State 39, No. 17 Louisville 25

Are you kidding me??  Michigan State 14, No. 7 Michigan 10

Oh – my – GodIowa State 38, No. 3 Oklahoma 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 12 Oklahoma vs. Texas in the Red River Shootout

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 25 Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Georgia Tech @ No. 11 Miami also:  Utah @ No. 13 USC

Must win: Oregon @ No. 23 Stanford

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ No. 23 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Auburn @ LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Florida State @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs. Mark Dantonio of Michigan State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Missouri @ No. 4 Georgia

Why are they playing? Charlotte @ Western Kentucky

Plenty of good seats remaining: Miami (OH) @ Kent State

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Old Dominion @ Marshall

Week 6 Random Thoughts:

These past couple of weeks, there were not that many upsets.  This week made up for that in quality if not for quantity.  Favored Louisville choked on the road at NC State.  Unranked LSU beat the Gators, in the Swamp, and in a defensive struggle, by a single point.  ACC cellar-dweller Syracuse beat respectable Pitt.  To cap things off, unranked Michigan State defeated Michigan, in a dramatic 14-10 finish (wait, that’s still a thing in 2017?), in the Big House, no less.  What a week.

South Carolina defeated Arkansas in a game that could have gone either way.  The Gamecocks should enjoy the win while it lasts, because the remainder of their schedule is brutal.  In order, they shall play:  Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Florida, Wofford (huh?), and close out the season at home versus Clemson.  Aside from Wofford, the Gamecocks could lose every one of those games.  Yes, that is to say that even Vandy is iffy since they beat Kansas State earlier this year.

Given how hyped Florida State was coming into the season, and the potential regard in which they are still held in the eyes of most fans, is it valid to consider No. 13 Miami’s win in Tallahassee an upset, or simply a comeuppance to an overrated team?

Texas might have turned a corner with a win in double-OT over Kansas State, a team never to be taken lightly and capable of running the tables on the northern schools – what few remain — in the Big XII.  With this key win for the Horns coupled with Oklahoma’s embarrassing upset at home to Iowa State this week, it will make next week’s Red River Shootout Showdown all the more unpredictable.

Maryland has proven that they’re a decent team.  Not great, but decent.  Nevertheless, they came into Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State demolished them, 62-14.  Nothing like a body-bag game (in hindsight) for homecoming.  All kidding aside, could it be that the Buckeyes have solved their identity crisis on offense?  We’ll know for sure by the end of the month when they butt heads with Penn State.

Speaking of whom, Michigan will have ample opportunity for redemption for this week’s upset loss at home when they take on the Nittany Lions on Oct. 21.  It only takes one loss on Penn State’s part for the Big Ten race to become very, very interesting.

College Football Awards, Week 11 (2016) November 13, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Clay Helton, USC  Hon. Mention:  Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney , Clemson

Lucky guy: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Desperately seeking … anything:  David Beaty, Kansas

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Marylad 62-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (lost to Georgia 13-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Illinois (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 48-3)

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

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Notre Dame (defeated Army 44-6)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas A&M

Can the season end?  Kansas

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Play this again, too:  Pittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 62, Maryland 3

Close call:  No. 13 Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 44

What? Georgia Tech 30, No. 14 Virginia Tech 20

HuhGeorgia 13, No. 9 Auburn 7

Double-Huh?  No. 20 USC 26, No. 4 Washington 13

Are you kidding me?  Iowa 14, No. 3 Michigan 13

Oh – my – GodPittsburgh 43, No. 2 Clemson 42

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12))

Ticket to die for: No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 10 West Virginia

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Louisville @ Houston

Best non-Power Five matchup: Memphis @ Cincinnati

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: No. 21 Florida @ No. 16 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mike MacIntyre of Colorado vs. Mike Leach of Washington State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Chattanooga @ No. 1 Alabama

Why are they playing? Alabama A&M @ No. 18 Auburn

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? The Citadel @ North Carolina

Week 11 Take-aways:

Remember how November was for everything? Next year, Bill Connelly surely will add this day of the month in 2016 along with the other legendary dates in college football. Three – count ‘em, three — Top-Five teams went down to defeat tonight, and a total of five – Top Ten teams succumbed to defeat, two of whom were undefeated.

A championship-contender team can withstand a loss in September or even October and still claw its way back to playoff consideration by November – witness Oklahoma in 2008 (they lost to Texas in the Red River Shootout that year, and still managed to play Florida for the BCS Championship).

But November is for everything, remember? That same year, Texas got upset by Texas Tech early that month, and in the end, that made the difference between Oklahoma – whom the Horns defeated – going to the BCS and the Horns settling for the Fiesta Bowl.

The bottom line is, if you lose in November, your playoff hopes are likely dashed. Such might be the case with both Clemson and Michigan. Both looked unstoppable, and both lost on Saturday, in different ways. The former lost at home to a tenacious Pittsburgh squad who managed to hang with the Tigers the entire game until they were in the position to win by a field goal with several seconds left on the clock. The latter lost on the road, at night, to a feisty yet methodical Iowa team that somehow held the explosive Wolverine offense to only 13 points (!) and managed to hang on the end to successfully kick a field goal as the last second ticked off the clock.

Out on the west coast, undefeated, 4th-ranked Washington also tasted defeat for the first time all year. They too were making an obviously serious bid for the playoffs, and were playing USC at home. But the Trojans seemed to have learned to play well enough together as a team to where their talent potential has started to shine through. Such talent certainly shined Saturday night in a win that will surely be one major building block as the program slowly returns to its traditional strength.

The other losses suffered by the other two Top-Ten teams are just as intriguing. All of us were convinced that Auburn had finally found its offensive legs, and that Georgia, who had been grossly underperforming all year, did not stand a chance. All that turned on a dime this Saturday “between the hedges,” as the Bulldogs held Gus Malzahn’s newly-recharged offense to just one touchdown for the entire game. That meant Georgia’s measly 13 points were more than enough for the win, in a defensive struggle that will leave us scratching our heads for a long time to come. What happened to Auburn’s offense that looked as though it had finally tuned up to optimal performance? Where was this strong defensive showing by Georgia for the first ten weeks of the year? Has this win awakened a sleeping giant of a team in Athens?

 

Finally, lost in all of this plate tectonic-shifting shuffle is the fact that Texas A&M, at the No. 10 ranking, narrowly lost to [currently] unranked Ole Miss. Remember them? The Rebels started the season ranked No. 11 only to lose to then-No. 4 Florida State in the opening weekend. Losing to No. 1 Alabama was also an understandable defeat, but getting upset by then-No. 22 Arkansas in their sixth game set a downward spiral in motion just as they began a brutal three-game stretch that included an LSU team finding its second wind and then an Auburn team that seemed, at the time, to be finding its offense. If that’s not enough, in the process, they lost their star quarterback for the rest of the season to a knee injury. At 4-5, everyone had left the Rebels for dead, particularly against No. 10 Texas A&M this week. But remember, the Aggies had lost their QB last week to a shoulder injury, so the two talented teams were on equal footing after all. In the Battle of the Backup QBs, the Rebels triumphed in a close upset, 29-28. In college football, November can be a very cruel month regardless.

Still, Ole Miss now has the opportunity to salvage something of a disappointing season full of what-ifs. It is not inconceivable for them to win out and go 7-5 for the year. We must not lose sight of the fact that each of their losses came to ranked teams, either currently, or when the games themselves were played.

All this aside, with three undefeated, Top Five teams upset this week, it would seem as though the Red Sea has parted for both Louisville and Ohio State to fill the [potential] playoff berth void. No doubt the playoff committee will be burning the midnight oil trying to sort out this sudden mess. Once the new playoff rankings are released, no doubt new controversies will ensue. Let the games begin.

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

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DeVon Edwards, Ryan Switzer

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kentucky @ Tennessee (Noon EST; SEC Network)

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

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

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

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

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

Tulsa @ Navy (Noon EST; CBSSN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 10 Awards, 2016 November 7, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Mike Riley, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Poor guy: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Rhule, Temple

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking … anything:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Louisville (defeated Boston College 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Boise State (defeated San Jose State 45-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did:  Maryland (lost to No. 3 Michigan 59-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Iowa State (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma 34-24)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  TCU (defeated No. 17 Baylor 62-22)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Texas State

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Texas A&M

Did the season start?  Baylor

Can the season end?  Notre Dame

Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 1 Alabama 10, No. 13 LSU 0

Play this again, too:  Texas 45, Texas Tech 37

Never play this again: No. 25 Washington State 69, Arizona 7

Close call:  No. 22 Florida State 24, NC State 20

What? Illinois 31, Michigan State 27

HuhNavy 28, Notre Dame 27

Are you kidding me?  TCU 62, No. 17 Baylor 22

Oh – my – GodMississippi State 35, No. 4 Texas A&M 28.

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 10, pre-week 11))

Ticket to die for: No. 25 Baylor @ No. 9 Oklahoma

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Notre Dame vs. Army in San Antonio

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulsa @ Navy

Upset alert: USC @ No. 4 Washington also: No. 19 LSU @ Arkansas

Must win: Kentucky @ Tennessee

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 23 Washington State

Defensive struggle: NC State @ Syracuse

Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 North Carolina @ Duke

Intriguing coaching matchup: Mark Richt of Miami vs. Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia

Who’s bringing the body bags? Maryland @ No. 6 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Southern Utah @ BYU

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ Florida Atlantic

They shoot horses, don’t they? Boston College @ No. 20 Florida State

Week 10 Take-aways:

Is Ohio State that good or is Nebraska that overrated? Or, is the answer the one preferred by Sterling Archer: A little of Column A and a little of Column B? Probably the third option. It’s never wise to bet against Urban Meyer, who has proven to be the best coach in the business over the past decade (though just a hair better than Nick Saban). But the Huskers have given fans in the stands and at home some great games through some great defensive efforts, and perhaps such efforts fooled the voters into thinking they were, hitherto, a No. 6 team. Still, the demotion all the way down to No. 21 seems a bit extreme, too.

The SEC East, this year, is frankly atrocious. Kentucky is always overhyped, South Carolina and Missouri are under-performing (the latter worse than the former), Florida just got shellacked on the road to enigmatic Arkansas, and Tennessee has developed into a collective head case of a team. Kirk Herbstreit expressed it best when he described the SEC Least as “awful,” and that they might as well cancel the SEC Championship game. That game would be a mere formality anyhow, since it has been shown that it’s Alabama followed by everyone else at this rate.

One of the overlooked tragedies this year is that Arizona’s season has already collapsed. Moreover, it seems as though they might now win another game this year (Colorado? Forget it. Oregon State? Not at this rate. Arizona State? Don’t count on it). Rich Rodriguez has put together some good seasons in Tucson, so this painful season has us all scratching our heads.

NC State has to be the best 4-5 team in the country. They defeated Notre Dame in absolutely hurricane-drenched slog. They almost beat Clemson, in Death Valley. They [mysteriously] narrowly lost to cagey Boston College. This weekend, they lost to Florida State by only four points. The Wolfpack’s subsequent opponents will put themselves in danger if they take this team lightly on account of their currently mediocre record. On that same note, Duke must be the best 3-6 team in the country. They are well-coached and will always give you a tough fight. Ask Louisville for reference.

Virginia Tech now controls its own destiny, at least as far as the ACC Coastal division is concerned. Assuming they seize the opportunity of control by winning out (which is doable), they could muster a more-than-credible challenge for seemingly unstoppable Clemson. Such a match-up remains a pleasing prospect indeed!

Once again, we are left to ask ourselves, what are we to make of Texas? Just a couple of weeks ago, the Horns looked completely hopeless against Kansas State. Then, just a week later, they handed Baylor their first loss of the season. This week, they went on the road and bested an evenly-matched (record-wise) Texas Tech squad. Lest we start to think the Horns are turning things around, they do play No. 20 West Virginia next week, and end the season against a TCU team that flat out embarrassed Baylor on the road this week. Translation: much remains to be seen, and a 6-6 record still seems to be the likely outcome.

Much ado has arisen in the wake of the Playoff Committee releasing their first set of rankings. Not the least of the controversies was No. 4 Washington (No. 4, that is the in the AP Poll) being demoted to No. 7 in the Playoff rankings. “How can this be,” ask many observers. Simple: Washington’s dirty little secret is that they’re still rebuilding, and part of the rebuilding process has been a very weak out-of-conference schedule. Let’s face it: a non-conference slate of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State is pretty darn pathetic. If you dial up wins with body-bag games like this, you have no right to complain when your rankings suffer as a result when they count the most. Many other contenders have played tough out-of-conference games this year. If the Huskies truly want to be counted among the big boy contenders, they will have to do the same.

College Football Awards, Week 9 2016 October 30, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Lucky guy: Charlie Strong, Texas

Poor guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Grobe, Baylor

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Taggart, South Florida

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Barry Odom, Missouri

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Purdue 62-24)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Virginia 32-25)

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

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to No. 2 Michigan 32-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Louisiana Tech (defeated Rice 61-16)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Florida Atlantic

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start?  Tennessee

Can the season end?  Missouri

Can the season never endWisconsin

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17, OT

Play this again, too:  No. 4 Washington 31, No. 17 Utah 24

Never play this again: No. 24 Penn State 62, Purdue 24

Close call:  No. 5 Louisville 32, Virginia 24

What? Wyoming 30, No. 13 Boise State 28

HuhNo. 11 Wisconsin 23, No. 7 Nebraska 17

Double-Huh? South Carolina 24, No. 18 Tennessee 21

Are you kidding me?  Oklahoma State 37, No. 10 West Virginia 20

Oh – my – GodTexas 35, No. 8 Baylor 34

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10))

Ticket to die for: No. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Also: No. 1 Alabama @ No. 15 LSU

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: BYU @ Cincinnati

Upset alertIowa @ No. 20 Penn State  also: No. 10 Florida @ Arkansas

Must winNo. 9 Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ USC

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ No. 20 Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Pittsburgh @ Miami (FL)

Intriguing coaching matchup: Ken Niumatalolo of Navy vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

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

Why are they playing? Georgia Southern @ Ole Miss

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida Atlantic @ Rice

They shoot horses, don’t they? Tennessee Tech @ Tennessee

Week 9 Take-aways:

Yesterday logged a number of major upsets in that four undefeated teams all went down with their first loss of the year. To wit: Baylor, West Virginia, Nebraska, and Boise State (yes, the Broncos were secretly lurking around in the undefeated ranks until yesterday). The only undefeated teams that remain are those that inhabit the top four in the polls; Alabama, Michigan, Clemson and Washington. If these shadows remain unchanged, there are your playoff teams. Then again, November is about to start, so who knows what chaos yet awaits? After all, November is for everything.

It looks as though the SEC is getting their annual late-season body bag game out of the way early for some of their teams. For reference, check out the “Why are they playing?” and the “They shoot horses, don’t they?” slots. Every season, without fail, almost everyone in the conference schedules body bag games late in the season, usually in November. This time, Ole Miss and Tennessee have scheduled theirs the first weekend of November instead of later in the month. After all, the fans of both programs benefit so well from seeing their teams beat up on non-conference mid-majors. Apparently, there is nothing like buying an easy win.

Speaking of the SEC, those who were hollering for Gus Malzahn to get the ax might want to hit the pause button. Those past few weeks, it looks as though the Tigers have found their offense (perhaps it was in an alley behind Jordan-Hare Stadium?), evidenced by their routing of Ole Miss last night, 40-29, on the road, no less. Auburn is now 6-2 (those two losses are to No. 3 Clemson and to No. 7 Texas A&M), is currently ranked No. 11, and they have prospects of winning out until they butt heads with Alabama at season’s end. Experienced observers of college football will point out that some teams take a while to get going. Auburn is one such team.

As the season continues to unfold, every BYU football game thus far has persisted in being interesting. Indeed, this year is by far the most interesting schedule the Cougars have had in a long time, if not in living memory. That should put their current 4-4 record into some perspective, since the wins are well-earned and the losses are without any hint of disgrace.

Some teams, no matter how good, tend not to match up well with others, for whatever odd reason. Witness Virginia vs. Louisville. Charlie Strong had already restored the expected intensity to the program during this tenure there, so the team was already in decent shape when Bobby Petrino returned at the helm, starting in 2014. That year, though, the Cardinals sustained an upset on the road to the Cavaliers. Lo and behold, two years later, a much stronger Louisville squad barely escaped Scott Stadium with a win yesterday. Some teams….

What are we to make of Texas? Last week, their defense embarrassed themselves in yet another unexpected loss, and this week, they contain Baylor’s high-powered offense well enough to win. The Longhorns’ projected best-case scenario for a record this season has thus been upgraded to 8-4, if they win out, though a more realistic “best” scenario, because no way they beat West Virginia at this rate, not even withstanding the Moutaineers’ first loss at home yesterday. Nobody in their right mind would bet Kansas to beat Texas, so it all comes down to how the Horns fare against Texas Tech and TCU. A splitting of that difference would yield a 6-6 record, which, to be sure, would be very short of where the program should/would be had they the right coach in place. Nevertheless, these are merely projections, and further discussions will be in order once the regular season concludes.