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

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Clay Helton, USC

Poor guy: David Shaw, Stanford

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

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

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

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chad Lunsford, Georgia Southern

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

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

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

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

Dang, they’re good: Clemson

Dang, they’re bad:  Louisiana-Lafayette

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Georgia Southern

Can the season never endOklahoma

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

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

Never play this again: Appalachian State 63, Louisiana 14

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

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

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

NEXT WEEK

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

Week 14 Random Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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 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.

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.