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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.

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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!

The College Football Bowlgame Breakdown for 2014-2015 December 17, 2014

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NewMexicoBowl2012

The 2012 New Mexico Bowl between Arizona and Nevada turned out to be a thrilling, high-scoring affair. Let us hope that when the Wildcats line up against Boise State in this upcoming Fiesta Bowl, we the fans will be treated to similar fireworks!

Yes, folks, we are but a few short days away from looking LIVE at a bevy of bowl games.  This plethora of postseason pigskin contests will span two weeks and change, and we will likely be satiated with college football, at least until the Spring games in April.  So, here is a break-down of what not to miss, and a few that you’d like to miss, but will not be able to help yourselves just the same.

Ticket to die for:  Oregon vs. Florida State in the Rose Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  Actually the real ticket to die for is the playoff championship game held a week later, but the semifinals must be played first to determine who plays then.  Fair enough, you say, but what about Bama vs. the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl?  That’s a good one, to be sure.  But in the minds of most fans and commentators, the Ducks vs. the Seminoles seems to have just a slightly greater degree of sex appeal, that’s all.

Best non–Power Five vs. Power Five match–up:  Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  For one, this might be the only worthwhile bowl game to watch on the first day of the post–season.  For another, there are actually a few other decent match–ups to keep one’s eye on as said post–season unfolds, namely Illinois (wait, they’re in a bowl this year?) vs. Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and N.C. State vs. Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl (wait, what happened to it being called the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl?), both on Fri., Dec. 26.  Indeed, the latter line–up might be cause to reconsider who merits the “best” distinction. The reason I say that is, with the Rams’ coach having bolted to take the Florida job (who can blame him for taking such a prestigious post?), nobody knows what sort of team will show up to face the Utes.

Then again, this is the mystery that shrouds most bowl game line–ups.

Best non–Power Five match–up:  Marshall vs. Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tues., Dec. 23.  So Florida Atlantic is going to host a bowlgame?  Apparently they’re good for something after all. Sorry, Owls, but things haven’t been the same since Coach Schnellenberger retired.  The Huskies won the MAC decisively in Detroit, while Marshall has been a strong non–Power Five team all year long, notwithstanding almost coughing it up to the La. Tech Bulldogs recently.

Upset alert:  Oklahoma vs. Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Mon., Dec. 29.  This is the safest upset to predict because whereas the Tigers are ranked (No. 17), the Sooners are not, and Clemson’s postseason performance is unreliable, right, Dana Holgersen?

Must win:  Ole Miss vs. TCU in the Peach Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  The winner of this game will be the team that is the least disappointed to be there after having much higher aspirations during the regular season.  A win here will also help them salvage some consolation from not having lived up to said aspirations.

Offensive explosion:  Boise State vs. Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, Wed., Dec. 31.  At least, this match-up has a good a chance as any to rack up some points.  The Wildcats and the Broncos both have been fairly adept at that this season, after all.  The bonus in this game is that there is great potential for snazzy colors in the team uniforms on both sides of the ball!

Defensive struggle:  Boston College vs. Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Neither team really lit up the scoreboard this year, did they?  Add cold weather on top of that (it will be played in Yankee Stadium, after all), and that is likely to put a further damper on offensive output.

Great game no one is talking about:  Iowa vs. Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Fri., Jan. 2.  This used to be called the Gator Bowl for the previous 67 years, fyi.  What makes this game so good is that the Hawkeyes have been very quietly winning a critical mass of games this year, while the Volunteers are a year away under Coach Butch Jones before becoming really good.  Translation:  this is a closer match–up than most SEC fans would be willing to acknowledge.

Intriguing coaching match–up:  Nick Saban of Alabama vs. Urban Meyer of Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Thurs., Jan. 1.  This is a no–brainer.  They’re arguably the two best coaches in the business, no what it takes to win, and both of multiple national championships under their belts.  Moreover, the two have gone head–to–head before when Meyer was coaching at Florida.  This oughtta be a good one, folks!

Who’s bringing the body bags?  LSU vs. Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  The only way this game is remotely competitive is if the Tigers just lie down for most of the game, for the Irish have been exposed time and again as overrated frauds late this year.

Why are they playing?  Florida vs. East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, Sat., Jan. 3.  The only reason in any known universe that these two programs would be playing each other in a bowl game is because the Gators are that far down as a program at the moment.

Plenty of good seats remaining:  Western Michigan vs. Air Force in the Idaho Potato Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20. Nothing against Western Michigan and the fine year they have had (by MAC standards, at least).  Nothing against Air Force, because they’re the troops.  But still, it will be in frigid Boise, Idaho.  Unless you’re going there to ski, why bother being anywhere near there this time of year?

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Nevada vs. Louisiana–Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl, Sat., Dec. 20.  Yes, I know, these past 13 years, the New Orleans Bowl has been the traditional kick-off game for the bowl season, but let us be honest:  this strikes us as only a slightly better–than–average non–Power Five early season match–up.  Do I lie?

That said, an honorable mention for pointless match–up is Toledo vs. Arkansas State in the GoDaddy Bowl (played in Mobile, Ala.) on Sun., Jan. 4.

Red–and–Black Special:  Louisville vs. Georgia in the Belk Bowl, Tues., Dec. 30.  These two teams seem too good for the Belk Bowl.  Still, the bowl itself has managed to climb its way up the prestige ranks a bit over the course of a decade.  It must be the sponsor:  “Belk Bowl” has far better ring to it than “Continental Tires Bowl”.  Yes, that’s what it used to be called.  Honest!

Most exotic location:  Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Wed., Dec. 24.  Do not adjust your screens, for you read that correctly.  Yes, there is now a bowl game in the Bahamas (Nassau, specifically), an obvious “first”.  Let’s hope the teams have the opportunity to enjoy things and live it up a bit.

Two great programs in a so–so bowl:  Miami vs. South Carolina in the Independence Bowl, Sat., Dec. 27.  Maybe after these two proud programs get down knocking heads, the bowl game will be a bit less so–so, and more reminiscent of recent times when the likes of LSU and Notre Dame slugged it out (1997) or when Mississippi State and then–Big XII rep Texas A&M duked it out in a blizzard (2000).  It already has made us forget the less–than–memorable match–ups of the past few years.

The explosive offense meets the immovable defense:  Baylor vs. Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl, Thurs., Jan.1. Plus, there will be lots of green!  Seriously, though, the Bears have put up scorching numbers on offense, but the big knock against them has constantly been, whom have they played this year?  On the other hand, Michigan State has proven themselves to be a force with which to be reckoned after upsetting Stanford in the most recent Rose Bowl.  Lesson learned:  Mark Dantonio and the Spartans are not to be taken lightly.

Consolation game:  Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Jan. 1.  Similar The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, if Mississippi State wins this, it will be because they overcame their disappointment of not making the Top 4 in the playoffs.  With that said, when was the last time that the Bulldogs have made it to such a prestigious bowl game?  Certainly not in my lifetime!

College Football Week 9 Awards October 27, 2014

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Leonard Fournette

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

COACHES
Wish I were him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Glad I’m not him: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Lucky guy: Les Miles, LSU

Poor guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Desperately seeking … anything: Brady Hoke, Michigan

 

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Wisconsin (defeated Maryland 52-7)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: East Carolina (defeated UConn 31-21)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UAB (lost to Arkansas 45-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kentucky (lost to Mississippi State 45-31)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: Georgia Tech (defeated Pittsburgh 56-28)

Dang, they’re good: TCU
Dang, they’re bad: Kent State

You know, they’re not so bad: Arkansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Minnesota

Did the season start? BYU
Can the season end? Michigan
Can the season never end? Michigan State

 

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 5 Auburn 42, South Carolina, 35

Play this again, too: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7
Never play this again: No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27

What? Illinois 27, Minnesota 24

Huh? Miami 30, Virginia Tech 6
Are you kidding me? North Carolina 28, Virginia 27

Oh – my – God: No. 24 LSU 10, No. 3 Ole Miss 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for: No. 4 Auburn @ No. 7 Ole Miss

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: No. 6 Notre Dame vs. Navy

Best non-Power Five matchup: San Diego State @ Nevada

Upset alert: No. 2 Florida State @ Louisville

Must win: Tennessee @ South Carolina

Offensive explosion: No.10 TCU @ No. 20 West Virginia

Defensive struggle: Florida vs. No. 9 Georgia in Jacksonville
Great game no one is talking about: Kentucky @ Missouri

Intriguing coaching matchup: Rich Rodriguez of Arizona vs. Jim Mora of UCLA

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

Why are they playing? Old Dominion @ Vanderbilt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Georgia State @ Appalachian State

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Cincinnati @ Tulane

 

Week 9 Random Thoughts:

  • There is a reason they call Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. It is the place where dreams go to die – other teams’ dreams that is. Ole Miss was having the most phenomenal season of the program in about 52 years, and seemed to be on a collision course for vying for the national title. After a neat playing at LSU, that is now seriously in doubt. The really interesting aspect of it all? The score: the Tigers triumphed over the Rebels 10-7. Such an old-fashioned score was, ironically, a great nod to the classic rivalry and the memorable games during the Eagle Day and Billy Cannon eras thereof.
  • One cannot recall a more valiant effort given on the part of South Carolina the previous evening. Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier knew going in that he was out-gunned and undermanned going into Jordan-Hare Stadium to face a fearsome Auburn Tigers squad. But the Gamecocks gave it their all, took incredible risks on 4th down throughout the evening – mirabile dictu, they converted more often than not – and almost succeeded in the end. Almost. What ultimately turned out to be South Carolina’s undoing was their quarterback, Dylan Thompson, who had a habit of throwing fade route passes towards the sideline and almost always failing to connect with his receivers, overthrowing them constantly. Granted, over-the-middle passes are always more risky than those thrown towards the sidelines, but Thompson succeeded more often in the middle of the field, and it is a shame that he did not go on that same instinct late in the game. Had he done so, the Gamecocks might have pulled off one of the grandest upsets of the year.
  • Few fans outside of the Pacific Time Zone might have witnessed this, but the No. 19 Utah Utes defeated the No. 20 USC Trojans, 24-21. How fitting a score for two teams ranked literally right next to one-another, with the correct, higher-ranked team, winning? Every now and then, the pollsters literally do get it right!
  • Pride commeth before the fall. Since a Michigan player made a “little brother” comment about their in-state, intra-conference rival Michigan State at a press conference several years ago, Sparty has gone 6-1 in said rivalry. In an established rivalry between two programs, Rule No. 1 is that you show said rival respect. With the Spartans having humiliated the Wolverines yet again, 35-11, we have just witnessed the potential penalty made manifest for violating said rule. Let that be a lesson to all of us.

Memo to Big Ten: More is not always better November 21, 2012

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More is not necessary better.  If one of your favorite products introduces a new product line, will that help the overall brand, or will it detract from productive capacity and quality control resources for the product and you and others already know and love?  If your favorite airline adds more routes, instead of enhancing the brand, all it might do is cause more flights to be delayed.

The reason I bring this up is because the news has come out that the Big Ten is inviting both Maryland and Rutgers into their prestigious conference.  The invitation obviously benefits these two universities, but how does it benefit the Big Ten?  More is not always “more,” as in better.  It’s not as if the Big Ten is adding Notre Dame and Texas, in which there would be more great TV games and home games.

The benefits for Maryland and Rutgers are obvious.  Neither teams are making much money with their athletics programs (least of all Rutgers), not with the relatively lousy television deals they currently have.  By joining the Big 10, that problem instantly vanishes, since that conference has one of the best TV deals in the business.  It is not rocket science to figure out why a poor guy wants to marry into a rich family.

Moreover, while those two teams’ conference fit is a geographic stretch, academically it somewhat makes sense.  Like almost all other conference members, Maryland and Rutgers are both members of the Association of American Universities, for what that is worth (oddly enough, Nebraska is the only B1G member not yet in that affiliation).  Adding these two schools could further enhance the conference’s already solid academic reputation.

But aside from that, how does the Big Ten benefit?  From a fan’s perspective alone, this could border on havoc.  Think of the traveling distance.  Many Big Ten fans travel by the busload to some away games.  A band of Nebraska fans traveling to Piscataway, N.J. to see their beloved Cornhuskers play Rutgers would literally be journeying halfway across the country.  That’s a huge difference from a more typical conference matchup in which some Wisconsin fans would have but a [roughly] three-hour run to Iowa City to cheer on their Badgers against the Hawkeyes.

Moreover, think of home game schedules for a moment.  So few great home games are available year in and year out.  Think about how many season ticket-holding fans have to put up with lousy match-ups at home.  Wisconsin playing Cal Poly or Ohio State playing Youngstown State at home might be easy wins, but they are horrible games for the fans.  Ditto with the Buckeyes playing the Blazers of UAB; yuck!  Fans of B1G teams wait patiently from great match-ups, such as the Buckeyes coming in to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for a night game, or Michigan State coming into Northwestern for a close, hard-fought match-up.

With Rutgers and Maryland now in the mix, those great regional rivalries that fans hunger for are now further in jeopardy in place of a potentially mediocre match-up with these mediocre teams.  Again, what has the Big Ten, on balance, to gain from this?  The Terrapins’ affiliation with the conference will not make the program improve.

It also messes with traditional rivalries.  The Terps have nothing to do with the Spartans, Buckeyes or Badgers.  Their rivals are Virginia, North Carolina, etc., all in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Leaving the ACC for the B1G means all those rivalries instantly vanish.

Ah, but adding Rutgers and Maryland into the conference means that the Big 10 can tap into the New York City and Washington, D.C. markets, say the expansion advocates.  But people in those markets don’t care about either team, so says Nate Silver, who has a great piece that voices that same concerns written on this page.  Silver’s analysis shows that there are low percentages of college football fans in those two large metro areas.  Why compromise teams’ schedules for such a diminishing return?

The bottom line is that the Big Ten, arguably most prestigious athletic conference overall in college athletics (notwithstanding football alone, in which the SEC is, at this time, head and shoulders above everyone else), is running a serious risk of diluting their brand.

If you want further proof of this real possibility of brand dilution, look no further than the Pac-12 to see how this move makes no sense.  Any benefit of adding Utah and Colorado is marginal at best.  The Utes have been mediocre this year, and the Buffaloes have been an outright embarrassment, as they are arguably the worst team in the FBS (see: “Dang, they’re bad,” see: “Can the season end?”).  Yes, the Pac-12 has some great teams right now:  six of its member teams are, as of his week, ranked in the top 25.  But Utah is not among those who are ranked, and, as already mentioned, Colorado is embarrassingly abysmal.

At least when the SEC expanded, it brought in Missouri and Texas A&M; two quality programs.  Maryland and Rutgers just dilute the brand, and further weaken an already teetering Big East.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany may think that bringing these two teams in will allow for it to reach certain key “demographics,” but not only does Nate Silver show that those demos are not as inviting as they would initially appear, Dan Wetzel of Rivals/Yahoo! points out similar problems.  Delany and the rest of the conference leadership need to snap out of this trance before they make a horrible mistake that will ruin the brand.