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College Football Awards Week 7 (2017) October 15, 2017

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Glad I’m not him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Lucky guy: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Poor guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Desperately seeking a clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Butch Jones, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma State (defeated Baylor 59-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (lost to Syracuse 27-24))

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Baylor (lost to No. 14 Oklahoma State 59-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 7 Wisconsin 17-9)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Cal (defeated No. 8 Washington State 37-3)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Washington State

Did the season start?  Louisville

Can the season end?  North Carolina

Can the season never endGeorgia  also:  Alabama

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 12 Oklahoma 29, Texas 24

Play this again, too:  Texas A&M 19, Florida 17

Never play this again: Arkansas State 51, Coastal Carolina 17

WhatWest Virginia 46, No. 24 Texas Tech 35

Huh?  LSU 27, No. 10 Auburn 23

Double HuhArizona State 13, No. 5 Washington 7

Are you kidding me??  Cal 37, No. 8 Washington State 3

Oh – my – GodSyracuse 27, No. 2 Clemson 24

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Ticket to die for:  No. 19 Michigan @ No. 2 Penn State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 20 UCF @ No. Navy

Upset alert: No. 19 Michigan @ No. 3 Penn State also:  Kansas State @ No. 10 Oklahoma

Must win: Louisville @ Florida State

Offensive explosion: Oregon @ UCLA

Defensive struggle: Iowa @ Northwestern

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

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

Who’s bringing the body bags? Kansas @ No. 4 TCU

Why are they playing? Idaho @ Missouri

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia Southern @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UAB @ Charlotte

Week 7 Random Thoughts:

The Red River Shootout Showdown did not disappoint.  In recent years, the matchup has often turned into a lopsided affair in favor of Oklahoma.  Not this time.  The unranked Longhorns held their own against the Sooners this time, with a game full of excitement and drama (see the game summary at the top of the page).  The main takeaways are that Oklahoma is still strong enough to be a legitimate top-10 team, while the Longhorns have proven that their dramatic win over Kansas State last week was no fluke.  Indeed, they keep improving, which is a sign of a well-coached team.

Speaking of well-coached teams, the opposite can sadly be said for Louisville.  The Cardinals were stronger earlier in the year than they are now, having just lost in a shootout, at home, to lowly Boston College.  Bobby Petrino has done nothing to address his team’s deficiencies from last year.  His skill position personnel are still young, and he has not done a thing to address his weak offensive line play.  Depending on your star quarterback to carry the team in every phase of the game is no way to go through life, sir.  Nor is it recommended to try to mold said star quarterback into another Aaron Rogers when he is clearly Michael Vick 2.0 instead.

Poor BYU.  They’ve had such a rough year.  At 1-6, perhaps they could catch a break this upcoming week when they play 1-6 East Carolina.  Then again, the Pirates might be thinking the same thing.

Meanwhile, where did Michigan State come from all of a sudden?  They had a few lackluster wins earlier in the season, and lost rather badly to Notre Dame (who, in the Spartans’ defense, was ranked at the time), 38-18.  But then they turned around and beat top-10 Michigan, in the Big House, no less, and now win convincingly, on the road, in inclement weather, at Minnesota.  How can Mark Dantonio not be considered one of the best coaches in the business?  These past several years, he has consistently done more with less.  Moreover, the team is clearly better now than they were earlier in the season, which again, is one sign of a well-coached team.  Part of the secret to his success?  The Spartans have this new thing called a running game, which so many teams these days sorely lack.

This upcoming week, the moments we have all waited for are about to commence with Michigan about to take on Penn State.  Yes, it will be one of the key clashes of Big Ten Titans, and two things shall be ascertained.  One is whether or not Michigan can bounce back from losing the Paul Bunyan Trophy to Michigan State.  The other is whether or not Penn State belongs in the top five nationally.  It will also be a nice warmup for an even more enticing matchup (Ohio State vs. Penn State) later this month.

Speaking of teams that keep improving as the season progresses, Purdue deserves a mention.  Yes, they lost, but it was on the road, at Wisconsin, ranked 7th nationally.  The loss was quite respectable, only 17-9.  One would think that the formidable Badgers would have defeated the unranked Boilermakers by at least two touchdowns, but Purdue fought hard to ensure that did not happen.  Now the Boilers enter the easy part of their schedule.  To wit, they have yet to play, in order:  Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern, Iowa, and Indiana, all of which are winnable to varying degrees.  Indeed, the biggest question mark that remains on the schedule is Iowa (they did take Penn State to the wire, after all), but aside from that, they could theoretically win out.  Time will tell, but focus and consistent effort on their part shall make it so.

Remember last week about South Carolina entering the brutal part of their schedule?  So far they have handled it with aplomb, upsetting Tennessee, in Knoxville, in a low-scoring affair, 15-9.  Next week they face Vanderbilt at home, at game that appears increasingly winnable as time progresses (could it be that the Commodores defeating Kansas State earlier this year was just some weird fluke?).  Forget Georgia, however, as they remain as strong as ever, continuing to roll their opponents.  But Florida is something of a question mark.  Yes, they have been good enough to win most of their games thus far, but this time, they were not quite good enough to win at home, narrowly losing to Texas A&M.  Maybe it was those god-awful uniforms that cursed them.  Maybe the Gators deserved to be cursed for wearing them.  Oh, and forget South Carolina beating Clemson.  Not happening; not at this rate, even after the Tigers lost at Syracuse (which, again, OMG).  All that aside, the Gamecocks could theoretically finish the season at 7-5, if not 8-4.  Perhaps I misjudged Will Muschamp’s ability to coach after all.  Perhaps I should at least reserve judgement until the regular season concludes.

Speaking of Tennessee, after losing at home to South Carolina, it’s a safe bet that Butch Jones’ hot seat just got hotter.  No time to lick their wounds, either, as the Volunteers take on hated Alabama next week.  At this rate of Tennessee’s spotty [at best] performance, beating Kentucky at month’s end is not a given.  LSU won’t play dead for them come mid-November either.  In short, Tennessee has talent, but they’re a mess, and Jones has proved incapable of cleaning up after himself.  A 6-6 finish could be enough to turn Jones’ hot seat into an ejection seat.

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College Football Awards, Week 3 (2017) September 17, 2017

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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Lucky guy: Jim McElwain, Florida

Poor guy: Jim Mora, UCLA

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: David Cutcliffe, Duke

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Matt Rhule, Baylor

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Oklahoma (defeated Tulane 56-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (defeated Mercer 24-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: East Carolina (lost to No. 16 Virginia Tech 64-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (defeated No. 18 Kansas State 14-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Missouri 35-3)

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Kansas State

Did the season start?  LSU

Can the season end?  Rice

Can the season never endDuke

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 4 USC 27, Texas 24

Play this again, too:  No. 24 Florida 26, No. 23 Tennessee 20

Never play this again: Arizona 64, UTEP 16

What? No. 24 Florida 26, No. 23 Tennessee 20

HuhMemphis 48, No. 25 UCLA 45

Double HuhNorthern Illinois 21, Nebraska 17

Are you kidding me??  Vanderbilt 14, No. 18 Kansas State 7

Oh – my – GodMississippi State 37, No. 12 LSU 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for:  No. 16 TCU @ No. 6 Oklahoma State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Ohio U @ Eastern Michigan

Upset alert: No. 17 Mississippi State @ No. 11 Georgia

Must win: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

Offensive explosion: Toledo @ No. 14 Miami

Defensive struggle: Pitt @ Georgia Tech

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs. Jeff Brohm of Purdue

Who’s bringing the body bags? UNLV @ No. 10 Ohio State

Why are they playing? UMass @ Tennessee

Plenty of good seats remaining: Florida International @ Rice

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Georgia Southern @ Indiana

Week 3 Take-aways:

The Clemson-at-Louisville game was the game of the week, and on paper, such a designation was obvious.  But sometimes these “games of the week” become lopsided affairs.  This was sadly such a game, whereby the Tigers triumphed over the host Cardinals, 41-27.  Did the game’s outcome have to weigh so heavily in favor or Clemson?  No.  The problem for Louisville was a combination of a few things.  For one, the Tigers’ offense had incredible speed in their skill positions that kept Louisville’s secondary on their toes the whole night.  The second was their powerful offensive line opened up huge gaps up the middle, allowing their runningback to gain lots of yardage between the tackles.  Much of that could have been cancelled out had Louisville’s offense been allowed to fire on all proverbial cylinders.  Why the hindrance?  Because head coach Bobby Petrino seemed bent on trying to mold Heisman winner Lamar Jackson into another Aaron Rogers, when he is clearly another Michael Vick instead.  Petrino is apparently so bent on micro-managing his quarterback that he has forgotten that an artist needs to be allowed to be, well, an artist.  Let Jackson play to his strengths, and Louisville’s offense shall rise to the level of its potential.  But as long as Petrino continues to micromanage the offense the way he currently is, the Cardinals’ offense shall continue to stagnate.  The choice is that simple.

Meanwhile, what a game in Los Angeles.  The 2005-2006 BCS National Championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was the greatest college football game of my lifetime.  This was the first time Texas and USC had played each other since, and like the previous game, it did not disappoint, with plenty of drama and big plays on both sides.  Despite the unranked Horns’ eventual loss, the moral victory is theirs in that they took the No. 4-ranked Trojans into overtime and only lost by a field goal.  For the first time this year, Texas finally played up to its potential.  Even though moral victories are not counted in any statistic or record book, this is one that Coach Tom Herman can build upon if he is smart about it.

That said, the moral victory for Texas might have been an actual one had it not been for the Longhorns’ four turnovers that game.

Meanwhile, what a difference an offseason and change of coaches can make.  Purdue was a gutter team last year.  Then, out with previous head coach Darrell Hazell, in with new head coach Jeff Brohm, and the difference in team performance is as stark as night and day.  The Boilermakers have grown into a team not to be taken lightly.  Their only loss was to a strong Louisville team.  The following week they won, handily, over Ohio U, one of the best teams in the MAC.  This week, they journeyed to Missouri to take on the Tigers, whom the Boilermakers rolled, 35-3.  This upcoming weekend, they play No. 8 Michigan.  On paper, the odds heavily favor the Wolverines, but do not be surprised if Purdue takes Michigan to the wire just like Texas did with USC this week.

As an aside, Kentucky has beaten South Carolina for the fourth straight time.  The past two times, Will Muschamp has been at the helm of the Gamecocks.  How many more times are the fans going to tolerate such an embarrassing loss to a team that barely belongs in their conference before they run Muschamp out of town on a rail?

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.

College Football Week 4 Awards 2016 September 25, 2016

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Butch Jones, Tennessee

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

Lucky guy: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

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

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Houston

Dang, they’re bad:  UTEP

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Michigan State

Did the season start?  Oregon

Can the season end?  USC

Can the season never endMichigan

GAMES

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

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

Never play this again: Missouri 79, Delaware State 0

What? Purdue 24, Nevada 14

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

Double-Huh? Colorado 41, Oregon 38

Are you kidding me?  Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

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

NEXT WEEK

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

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

Also: No. 8 Wisconsin @ No. 4 Michigan

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

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

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

Upset alert: North Carolina @ No. 12 Florida State

Must win: Oklahoma @ No. 21 TCU

Offensive explosion: No. 22 Texas @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Kent State

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

Week 4 Take-aways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 1 Awards (2016) September 6, 2016

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texas-nd2016

Texas defeated visiting No. 10 Notre Dame in a wild game, 50-47.  The game was one of many excellent games to kickoff the 2016 college football season (photo by Getty Images)

(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 1] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES Wish I were him: Tom Herman, Houston

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Lucky guy: Will Muschamp, South Carolina

Poor guy: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

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

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles Desperately seeking … anything:  Willie Fritz, Tulane

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 19 Louisville (defeated Charlotte 70-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 13 TCU (defeated South Dakota State 38-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Hawaii (lost to No. 7 Michigan 63-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Appalachian State (lost to Tennessee 20-13).

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Western Kentucky (defeated Rice 46-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Tulane

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  LSU

Did the season start?  Oklahoma (also:  Mississippi State)

Can the season end?  Hawaii Can the season never endLouisville

GAMES

Play this again:  Wisconsin 16, No. LSU 14

Play this again, too:  Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47

Honorable Mention to play again:  South Carolina 13, Vanderbilt 10 Never play this again: No. 7 Michigan 63, Hawaii 3

Say what? Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35

WHAT? Texas A&M 31, No. 16 UCLA 24

HuhNo. 15 Houston 33, No. 3 Oklahoma 23

Double-huh?  Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47, 2OT

Are you kidding me?  South Alabama 21, Mississippi State 20 Oh – my – GodWisconsin 16, No. 5 LSU 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 1, pre-week 2) Ticket to die for: Arkansas @ No. 12 TCU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: BYU @ Utah

Best non-Power Five matchup: Northern Illinois @ South Florida

Upset alert: Virginia Tech @ No. 14 Tennessee

Must win: (take your pick)

Offensive explosion: Texas Tech @ Arizona State

Defensive struggle: South Carolina @ Mississippi State

Great game no one is talking about: Penn State @ Pitt

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia vs. Mark Helfrich of Oregon

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

Why are they playing? Nicholls State @ No. 9 Georgia

Plenty of good seats remaining: Army @ UConn

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Wofford @ No. 18 Ole Miss

Week 1 Take-aways:

What a fantastic opening week for college football. It was billed going in as the greatest opening week in the history of the game, and the games themselves did not disappoint. Two Top Five teams went down to defeat, the most teams where that has happened at the season’s onset since 1972.

On paper alone the matchups were very intriguing. To wit: No. 15 Houston played No. 3 Oklahoma at home – in NRG Stadium, no less. No. 22 North Carolina played No. 18 Georgia in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (Peach Bowl preview, anyone?). No. 16 UCLA journeyed to Texas A&M to play the Aggies. No. 5 LSU made the trek up to Wisconsin to play the Badgers – in historic Lambeau Field. Indeed, this was the first time his legendary venue hosted a college game. Later in the day, No. 1 Alabama faced off against No. 20 USC in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Later still, No. 2 Clemson came to Auburn to throw down with the [War Eagle] Tigers. While those two big game were going on, out west, BYU journeyed down to Glendale, Ariz., to play a neighbor to the south in Arizona.

On Sunday, Notre Dame played the Texas Longhorns, in Austin (nominally ACC vs Big XII), and on Monday, No. 11 Ole Miss played No. 4 Florida State (SEC vs ACC), thus adding two more highly marquee matchups two an incredible, extended opening weekend.

If that’s not enough, the previous week, Hawaii played Cal…in Sydney, Australia. The venue for this game was ANZ Stadium, the new name of the stadium used to host the opening/closing ceremonies and the track and field events for the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Whom do we have to thank for this magnificent opening to the 2016 season of college football? Most likely we have the Playoff Committee to thank. They re-worked the formula for selecting teams. The BCS formula left teams way too cautious. One loss likely meant being out of the hunt for a national title. Better therefore to pad the record with an easy win. We the fans suffered with lousy non-conference matchups as a result. When the switch was made from a BCS selection to a four-team playoff, the formula was modified to the point where one loss would not mean the end of the season for those who were in the national title hunt. Conversely, the new formula put a stronger emphasis on strength of schedule. It was a win-win-win. The first “win” is in the form of teams being more free to schedule good games before the conference portion of their season than during the BCS era. The fans reap the second win with great games (see: this weekend). The third win is, as mentioned before, if you have a tough, strong schedule, one loss will not necessarily dash your season’s aspirations.

Good thing, too, because many commentators have dubbed this Saturday the “Day of the Dog”…the underdog, that is. Texas A&M knocked off No. 16 UCLA in overtime at home. Fifteenth-ranked Houston beat No. 3 Oklahoma by 10 points. Even more stunning was Mississippi State missing a last-minute field goal…at home…to lowly South Alabama. Of course, the unranked Wisconsin Badgers upset the No. 5 LSU Tigers in a close game, 16-14. The following evening, the unranked Longhorns knocked off the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish at home, 50-57, in a second overtime, no less.

Apropos of nothing, here is a philosophical question for you: which is more pathetic; that Tulane could only score seven points on Wake Forest, or that Wake Forest could score only seven points on Tulane?

Regardless, what a stupendous weekend for college football. Fans should treasure it for a long time to come!

Which Team Wants It More? December 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015-2016 Bowl Games Preview December 15, 2015

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What used to be the “most wonderful week of the year” has become the most wonderful two weeks of the year.  The bowl game lineup has reach an all-time high of 40.  Diminishing returns, anyone?

But that aside, here are some upcoming highlights and low-lights (note that all times are EASTERN time):

Tickets to Die For:

No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0) in the Capital One Orange Bowl, Dec. 31, 4:00 PM

The Tigers are the No. 1 team, while the Sooners are the hottest of the four teams in the playoffs.  More intriguingly, this will be a rematch from the Russell Athletic Bowl of last year.

No. 3 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, Dec. 31, 8 PM

The Crimson Tide has the postseason experience, but the Spartans have passed every major test over the past three years.  Moreover, the two teams are practically a mirror-image of each other.

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup:

Auburn (6-6) vs. Memphis (9-3) in the Birmingham Bowl, Dec. 30, 12:00 PM

Auburn needs this win to validate their lousy season.  Memphis needs this win to validate the best season arguably in the history of the program.  Thus, this also doubles as a Must-Win.

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might via the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.  Thus, this also doubles as an Upset Alert.

Best non-Power Five matchups:

San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5) in the Hawai’i Bowl, Dec. 24, 8:00 PM

Rocky Long has continued the deceptive strong program built by Brady Hoke in San Diego, while Tommy Tuberville’s Bearcats are never to be underestimated.

Western Kentucky (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4) in the Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21, 2:30 PM

The Hilltoppers have proven to be strong all year, while the Bulls have performed very strongly as of late.  The record comparison may look lop-sided, but let not that fool us, for it shall be a close game.

Intriguing Coaching Match-ups:

Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M vs. Bobby Petrino of Louisville in the Music City Bowl.

One leads one of the most progressive offenses in the SEC.  The other is one of the best offensive minds in the game.  The irony?  Do not expect an offensive explosion.

Mark Dantonio of Michigan State vs. Nick Saban of Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.

As mentioned previously, the two teams are practically mirror-images of the other.

Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. Brian Kelly of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Fri., Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

Two of THE best coaches in the game, going head-to-head?  Yes, please!

Larry Fedora of No. 10 North Carolina vs. Art Briles of No. 17 Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 29, 5:30 PM

Potentially THE most underrated bowl game of the postseason, provided that both teams show up.

Rumble in the Phone Booth:

No. 6 Stanford (11-2) vs. No. 5 Iowa (12-1) in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 5:00 PM

Both teams have great running games, meaning that this should be a dream for fans of old-fashioned, smash-mouth football.  The question becomes, will we be “looking LIVE in Pasadena, Calif., folks”?

Rematches, Anyone?

No. 13 Northwestern (10-2) vs. No. 23 Tennessee (8-4) in the Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 12:00 PM

Recall the 1997 Citrus Bowl?

No. 16 Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. No. 12 Mississippi (9-3) in the Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 8:30 PM

Recall the 2004 Cotton Bowl?  This time, the results could be reversed.

Upset Alerts:

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2) in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, 12 PM

The Cougars are going to their first decent bowl game in decades, while the Seminoles might view the Peach Bowl as a come-down after recent BCS/playoff berths.

Offensive Explosion:

No. 15 Oregon (9-3) vs. No. 11 TCU (10-2) in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Jan. 2, 6:45 pm

Ah, Alamo Bowl, you never fail to entertain!

Defensive Struggle:

No. 14 Michigan (9-3) vs. No. 19 Florida (10-3) in the Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 1:00 PM

The Citrus Bowl came back!  That aside, the Gators have excelled at making games low-scoring, win or lose.  Regardless, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be prepared, and should end up victorious in the end.  Also, the matchup of first-year coaches Harbaugh and Jim McElwain is intriguing unto itself.

Great Games No One Is Talking About:

Ohio (8-4) vs. Appalachian State (10-2) in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl, 5:30 PM

They play this in Montgomery, Ala., in case you were wondering.  The Mountaineers are making their FBS bowl debut against a decent Bobcats team.

No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs. Toledo (9-2) in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl, 7:00 PM

The Owls have proven to be a good team, while the Rockets did beat Arkansas.  It’s not a wash, but it should be a close game.

Not Sure What to Make of This One:

UCLA (8-4) vs. Nebraska (5-7) in the Foster Farms Bowl, 9:15 PM

The Cornhuskers are the second team listed here with a 5-7 record.  That said, they are better than their record suggests, and, more importantly as far as the bowl committee is concerned, their fans will TRAVEL.

Think there is enough dark blue and gold?

Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. No. 21 Navy (10-2) in the Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 2:30 PM

Why Are They Playing?

Connecticut (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3) in the St. Petersburg Bowl, Sat., Dec. 26, 11:00 AM

UConn is bowl eligible?  That alone is an insult to Marshall, which is actually a decent team.

Plenty of Good Seats Remaining:

San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6) in the Cure Bowl, Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00 PM

As if Orlando, Fla., did not have enough bowl games, they came up with this one.  The Spartans are one of three teams with a 5-7 record but are still going bowling.  Meanwhile, the Panthers are only 6-6, meaning that this is a classic example of a garbage bowl game.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7) in the Quick Lane Bowl, Mon., Dec. 28, 5:00 PM

This is the latest iteration of what used to be the Little Caesars Bowl (still at Ford Field in Detroit).  The Golden Gophers are the third team that is 5-7 and yet still bowl eligible.  I can hear Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd mocking this bowl matchup right now.

College Football Week 14 Awards December 7, 2015

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MSU-Iowa_B1Gchamp2015

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

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

 

COACHES

Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

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

Lucky guy: Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Poor guy:  Art Briles, Baylor

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dennis Franchione, Texas State

TEAMS

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

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Stanford

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start? Baylor

Can the season end?  Texas State

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES

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

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

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

What? Georgia State 34, Georgia Southern 7

Huh?  Kansas State 24, West Virgina 23

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

Week 14 Random Thoughts:

Order seems to have triumphed over chaos this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Week 11 Awards: the Night of the Living Upsets Edition November 16, 2015

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Oregon-Stanford2015

The Oregon-Stanford game was a classic matchup of speed vs. power. In the end, Stanford ruined their chances of a playoff berth with two 4th-quarter fumbles. This was but one of many upsets that night which could lead to considerable chaos in the rankings. (AP photo/Tony Avelar)

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

COACHES Wish I were him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

Glad I’m not him: Art Briles, Baylor

Lucky guy: Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Poor guy:  David Shaw, Stanford

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Les Miles, LSU

Desperately seeking … anything:  Kyle Flood, Rutgers

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (defeated Western Carolina 42-17)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 15 TCU (defeated Kansas 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Miami (lost to No. 23 North Carolina 59-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Purdue (lost to No. 18 Northwestern 21-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Southern Miss (defeated Rice 65-10)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  SMU

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Baylor

Did the season start? LSU

Can the season end?  Miami (FL)

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES

Play this again:  Oregon 36, No. 7 Stanford 34

Play this again, too:  No. 14 Michigan 48, Indiana 41

Never play this again: Marshall 52, FIU 0

What? South Florida 44, No. 22 Temple 23

Huh?  Arizona 37, No. 10 Utah 30, 2OT

Double-HuhOregon 36, No. 7 Stanford 34

Are you kidding me?  No. 12 Oklahoma 44, No. 6 Baylor 34

Oh – my – GodArkansas 31, No. 9 LSU 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are week 11 CFP as of right now)

Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Baylor @ No. 8 Oklahoma State

Also:  No. 13 Michigan State @ No. 3 Ohio State

Honorable mention:  USC @ Oregon

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Georgia Southern @ Georgia

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 21 Memphis @ No. 22 Temple

Upset alert: Boston College vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

Must win: UCLA @ Utah

Also:  No. 12 Oklahoma @ No. 15 TCU

Offensive explosion: Baylor @ Oklahoma State

Defensive struggle:  No. 17 Mississippi State @ Arkansas

Great game no one is talking about:  Louisville @ Pittsburgh

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mark Dantonio of MSU vs. Urban Meyer of OSU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charleston Southern @ No. 2 Alabama

Why are they playing? Idaho @ Auburn

Ditto:  Florida Atlantic @ No. 11 Florida

Plenty of good seats remaining: Rice @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Charlotte @ Kentucky

Week 11 Take-aways:

Henceforth let this day, the 14th of November in the Year of Our Lord 2015, be known as the Night of the Living Upsets.  The daylight hours proceeded with each favored team either comfortably sailing by, or at least no worse than slipping away from the occasional close shave.  Then the evening hours descended, and everything seemed to be suddenly turned on its ear.

To wit:

Nobody thought that Arkansas had a chance against LSU.  After all, the Razorbacks were having a mediocre-at-best season, sub-par in any case.  Moreover, Arkansas had only defeated LSU in Baton Rogue just once in the past 20 years.  On the other side of the coin, the Tigers – the Bayou Bengal variety – have been playing very strongly, despite a drubbing to an increasingly dominating Alabama squad.  Yet the Hogs took it to the Tigers, in Death Valley, and did so in dramatic fashion, winning 31-14.  As an aside, the Hogs now have their fourth straight win, having started the season 2-4.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, a marquee matchup in the Pac-12 took place in Stanford, where the Oregon Ducks took on the Cardinal – formerly the Indians – in a classic match of contrasts, speed vs. power.  Speed ended up winning by default in the end, narrowly, 38-36.  Ironically, it was not Oregon’s speed that killed Stanford as it was the Cardinal’s two inopportune fumbles late in the fourth quarter.  Otherwise, they surely would have won the contest.

In the heart of Texas, Oklahoma came in to Waco to take on Baylor in a rain-soaked showdown.  To the surprise of many, the Bears’ high-powered offense was kept in check the entire game.  Not coincidentally, the Sooners actually played real defense, unlike all the Bears’ previous opponents, but it was still a tough fight throughout the game.  The triumph was nevertheless that of the Sooners, 44-34.

Elsewhere in the southwest, the high-flying Utah squad ventured to Tucson, Ariz., to take on the Arizona Wildcats.  Rich Rodriguez must have been ready for the Utes’ arrival.  His team was surely hungry for a big win, for they, muck like Arkansas in the SEC, have had a mediocre season at best.  In the end, the Wildcats triumphed over the Utes in 2OT, 37-30.

A near-upset occurred, as Houston barely survived Memphis, 35-34.  Those Tigers (as opposed to the LSU, Auburn, or Clemson ones) were in the lead most of the game.  The Cougars very gradually gnawed away at the lead in the second half to eventually snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  Even then it took a missed field goal on the part of Memphis to finalize the outcome.

Yet another near-upset occurred in Bloomington, Ind., as the Indiana Hoosiers almost knocked off Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines.  Only a couple of freak big plays towards the end of regulation in Michigan’s favor saved Harbaugh’s bacon that game, as it put the game in OT where the better talent was able to prevail (which it did, 48-41).

An under-the-radar upset came in the form of South Florida – a nobody the entire season – up-ending No. 22 Temple, 44-23.  Remember, this is the same Temple team that played fourth-ranked Notre Dame tough the entire length of that contest.  Indeed, they almost upset the Irish.  Now the Bulls have decisively beaten/upset the deceptively tough Owls.  Oh my.

Another overlooked upset was New Mexico upsetting Boise State in Boise, Idaho, no less, 31-24.  It took a stop just four years shy of the goal line on the part of the Lobos, with 0:00 on the clock, to ensure the outcome.

Yet another under-the-radar upset was so only because it was out on the west coast, and very late at night, even by Central Time standards.  Unranked Washington State defeated No. 19 UCLA, 31-27, in Pasadena, no less.  The win came on a Hail Mary pass that was completed in the end zone in the final seconds, giving an incredible night full of drama one incredible exclamation mark.

Those of who paid attention to the team schedules knew that this November would be a month of separation.  What we did NOT anticipate was that so much, er, separation, would occur so soon in the month, and on one night alone.  The real kicker?  At only halfway through November, more separation (chaos?) is yet to come!

College Football Week 10 Awards November 9, 2015

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

COACHES

Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Gary Patterson, TCU

Lucky guy: Butch Jones, Tennessee

Poor guy: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

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

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Justin Fuente, Memphis

Desperately seeking … anything:  Darrell Hazell, Purdue

TEAMS

Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 49-16)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: BYU (defeated San Jose State 17-16)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to No. 11 Stanford 42-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Vanderbilt (lost to No. 10 Florida 9-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Oklahoma State (see below)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Memphis

Did the season start? Texas A&M

Can the season end?  Rutgers

Can the season never endClemson

GAMES

Play this again:  No. 1 Clemson 23, No. 16 Florida State 13

Never play this again: Arkansas 63, UT-Martin 28

What? Auburn 20, No. 19 Texas A&M 10

HuhNavy 45, No. 13 Memphis 20

Are you kidding me?  No. 12 Oklahoma State 49, No. 8 TCU 29

Oh – my – GodNebraska 39, No. 7 Michigan State 38

NEXT WEEK

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

Ticket to die for:  No. 10 Oklahoma @ No. 4 Baylor

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 25 Memphis @ No. 16 Houston

Upset alert: Oregon @ No. 8 Stanford

Must win: Pittsburgh @ Duke

Offensive explosion: Memphis @ Houston

Defensive struggle: Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

Great game no one is talking about:  Texas @ West Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Art Briles of Baylor vs. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma

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

Why are they playing? Western Carolina @ Texas A&M

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTSA @ Charlotte (also:  UMass @ Eastern Michigan)

They shoot horses, don’t they?  North Texas @ Tennessee

Week 11 Take-aways:

Two quick notes.  One, it might time to put the expression “[I]t’s time to put “Clemsoning” to bed” to bed.  “Clemsoning,” if you’ll recall, refers to the Tigers usually choking (horribly at that) in big games.  They always coughed it up to the then-stud teams of the ACC, especially Florida State.  A few years ago, they went to the Orange Bowl to play West Virginia, and lost…horribly!  That was early January of 2012.  By the time the Tigers – at No. 12 — returned to the Orange Bowl two years later, this time to play No. 7 Ohio State, the situation was considerably different.  In what cannot be ignored as a statement game, Clemson beat the Buckeyes 40-35, and have not looked back since.  Now they currently sit at the top of the College Football Playoff poll.  Bully for them!

The other quick take-away is that it is now November.  Teams are what they are at this point in the season.  But more to the point, these next few weeks, including this past weekend, will be one of separation.  Teams that were hitherto unbeaten – or at least ranked in the top ten – will now start to butt heads.  Separation shall thus ensure (read:  Alabama’s dominating win over LSU).  Indeed, it hath already begun.  What a glorious month of college football this shall become!