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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.

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.

Bobby Petrino’s Potential Next Job(s) October 19, 2012

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The approximate half-way point in the college football regular season is upon us, and while many surprises and other developments surely await us fans, some coaches are already feeling the heat…the heat of the hotseat, that is!  Deny it as they might, certain fanbases are restless, and already talking about who might replace their failing current head coach.  One candidate that keeps emerging in water cooler conversation is none other than Bobby Petrino.

Yes, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, he is so mercenary as a coach that he gives other mercenaries a bad name, to borrow a line from Paul Freeman’s character in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But he wins, and has proven to do so at Louisville (taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2006 season), and at Arkansas, making the program so strong as to merit a preseason top-ten ranking in the eyes of the voters.  Had he not exhibited a horrible lapse in judgment in putting his mistress on the department payroll – to say nothing of having a mistress in the first place while being a married man – there is no telling what sort of memorable season the Razorbacks would be having right now.

A coach that can win like that, despite his baggage and his less-than-loyal track record, will surely have offers by season’s end.  The teams that will likely extend that offer – the likelihood being of a considerable varying degree from team to team – are listed and explained as follows:

Kentucky:  Despite his denials at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – denials of him “not feeling any heat” — Joker Phillips, as decent a man as he may be, is clearly in over his head as the coach of Kentucky’s program.  Rich Brooks left the program in decent shape (actually, in very good shape by Kentucky’s standards), but Joker is a reminder of the inevitable program decay that follows when one promotes the long-time loyal assistant to the head man role instead of an ambitious outsider.  In two-and-a-half seasons as head coach, Phillips has only managed to go 12-20.  Given his geographical disadvantages (it is Kentucky, after all), and that UK plays in the SEC, any coach faces an uphill challenge.  But the fans nevertheless have been understandably grumbling, as the empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium attest.  Could Petrino be brought in to turn things around?

It’s Possible:  Given how mercenary Petrino is, he could very well coach against Louisville.  In a weird way, it would be somewhat fitting, given that his recruiting techniques were pioneered by Fran Curci, the head coach back in the late 1970s.  Petrino himself perfected the recruiting technique (recruiting talented athletes that are potentially, er, troubled) by adding a new layer to the approach with his own, patented system of keeping the potential troublemakers in line and on  a short leash.

It’s Impossible:  Joker’s current salary is $1.7 million a year.  Not bad, but Petrino would expect a lot more to make up for the fact that his team will take a back seat to basketball team due to the UK faithful’s perpetually misplaced priorities.  The bigger problem, though, is in Petrino’s skill set.  The program will be in something of a mess.  Some head coaches are skilled at being turnaround CEOs (think:  Steve Spurrier, or, more to the point, Howard Schnellenberger; in the pros, think:  Bill Parcells).  But turnaround CEOs do not always do well long-term because their skillset is turning a struggling program around into a respectable one, in good working order.  Petrino’s skillset is that of a caretaker CEO; taking programs that are already in decent working order and tweak them slightly to gradually make them better and better.  It is not proven that he can take a program struggling as badly as Kentucky is and take them to where Arkansas was prior to his sudden ouster.

Alabama:  Try not to laugh.  Yes, Nick Saban continues to solidify his bona fides as one of the best coaches in the business while the Crimson Tide is on course to vie for yet another national title.  But there is a potential drawback in this.  Saban is so good in part because he is highly aspirational, and highly aspirational people get bored very easily.  One more national championship, and it is quite likely that Saban will be looking for a new challenge, either another program to rehab, or a franchise if he chose to go back to the pros.  Keep in mind that he built his reputation as a capable coach under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, before he left the defensive coordinator job there to become the new head coach of Michigan State back in 1995.  Not only might he get bored after winning yet another national title, but he could also be sick of dealing with the insane fans and boosters, having to recruit all the time, and not being able to go to the grocery store for fear of getting mobbed by a fanbase that has been known to love its program to death.  All these things ought to be kept in mind.

It Could Happen:  Timing, in this case, is everything.  If Saban leaves after this year, and Petrino does not have many more appealing choices, this could work.  Alabama has demonstrated they are willing to pay top dollar for the best coaching talent and will commit whatever resources the circumstances require to be a perennial championship contender.  It could work, if certain potential developments first occur.

It Ain’t Gonna Happen:  As ambitious as Petrino is, does he really want to coach in what has been acknowledged to be the biggest pressure cooker in all of football, college or pro?  His ambition would surely be put to the test with such a job.  Aside from that, the timing could be bad.  Saban might not leave for newer challenges after this year, assuming he does so at all any time soon.  Petrino is not going to hold his breath while other programs might come calling.

Auburn:  Don’t laugh.  Sure, Gene Chizik is only two seasons removed from winning the BCS national championship in a thrilling game against Oregon.  But he is only 1-5 thus far this season.  Football fans in the Yellowhammer State, either pro-Tide or pro-Tiger, will not stand for such a disgrace.  As Doug Gillett of EDSBS reminds us, Winston Churchill, one of history’s greatest statesmen, was given the pink slip by British voters just 58 days after the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.  Auburn already courted Petrino on the sly before while the mercenary coach did his stint at Louisville.  He was the offensive coordinator before deciding to lead the Cardinals starting in 2003.  His ties to the loveliest little village on the Plains is thus well-established.

It’s Possible:  Only if Chizik sets a new record for the quickest time a coach is fired after winning a national championship.  He already has been [ahem] ‘awarded’ as “Desperately seeking….ANYTHING” in the CFB Week 7 Awards.  The upcoming Vandy game is, at this rate, a toss-up, and Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule.  Will the War Eagle faithful countenance a potential 4-8 year?  If not, guess whom they might call.

It’s not Possible:  Only if the above scenario of ousting Chizik after only two years when we won the whole darn thing does not come to fruition, and be mindful that it would set a new record/precedent if it did.

Texas:  Let’s face it; Mack Brown’s record against hated rival Oklahoma is spotty at best.  The Sooners have to recruit Texas in order to be successful.  This template dates back to the days of Bud Wilkinson (!).  The Longhorns have the built-in advantage of, well, already being there.  The University of Texas is THE flagship school/program of the biggest, best football state in the entire U.S. of A.  They have the pick of the litter; first dibs on the cream of the crop.  Yet they were given a 63-21 butt-whipping at the hand of Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad in the Cotton Bowl this past week.  Losing to a high-powered West Virginia team was one thing, but losing this badly to Oklahoma is too bitter a pill to swallow for the Texas fans, as thoroughly decent and gracious a man as he may be (indeed, on that front, one of the classiest acts in the business.)

It Could Happen:  If enough movers and shakers in Longhorn Nation think that the game has passed Mack Brown by, a vacancy will open.  If enough of said movers and shakers are committed to the idea of never allowing such a loss to Oklahoma to happen on their watch, guess whom they might call.  If they do, the potential upside is tremendous.  As things currently stand, the team is not a mess, just short on playmakers.  With Petrino at the helm, the Horns could become an overnight juggernaut that would give Stoops and Co. in Norman, Okla., more than cause for notice.

It Couldn’t Happen:  There is a great duality to Longhorns fans.  Yes, they care very, very deeply, but unlike the Alabama faithful, they have something called “lives.”  This gives them perspective on things that other devoted fans sometimes lack, and might not call for Mack Brown’s gentle ouster until things could get worse.  Again, as mentioned before, Petrino is not exactly a man to hold his breath, even for the best job in all of college football (along with USC).
(Addendum 10-21-21) Tennessee:  One reader very simply commented, “Tennessee?”  Such an obvious suggestion, and it makes me kick myself in the pants for not adding this [theoretical] possibility to the list in the first place.   So what about it?  The Volunteers are current 3-4, having just lost to Alabama, arguably their most hated rival in a conference that is certainly full of them, to varying degrees.  Earlier in the year, the Vols blew the game against Florida, seemingly a winnable contest at the time.  The loss to Georgia may be understandable, but losing to Mississippi State is still a hard one to swallow, no matter how much improved the Bulldogs are.  To say that Derek Dooley is on the hot seat is therefore an understatement, and it will not get any easier next week, as they must a South Carolina team looking to get well on them — in Columbia, no less!  Make no mistake about it, the Volunteer Nation is grumbling, and a potential 7-5 year will not necessarily pacify them.

It might happen:  Already plenty of Tennessee fans are calling for Dooley’s head on a plate, and let us not forget that he was essentially a stop-gap/default hire after Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure.  Of all the coaches in the SEC, Dooley might be on just as thin ice as Joker Phillips at Kentucky.  If the ice were to break, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination as to whom AD Dave Hart might call.  Tennessee has the resources to pay Petrino a competitive salary; the tradition, fan base, and resources are there to make it a “destination job,” and he would no doubt get the administrative support he would need.

It might not happen:  Only if the fan base and administration are happy with another [potential] 7-5 season and a  mediocre-to-lower tier bowl game.

Other (very) longshots:  Forget Arkansas; no way they will re-hire someone whom they fired for egregious indiscretions in the first place.  Florida might have been on people’s radar screens as a potential job opening, as the fans and media alike were not, for a while, sold on Will Muschamp as their guy.  But he seems to have righted the ship this year with a very stingy defense and improved QB play, meaning that he could be Gator Nation’s guy after all.  Organizationally, Petrino would be a good fit for Florida, and would kick butt like nobody’s business, but things are currently going fine in Gainesville, at least for this year.  If any of you dear readers would like to speculate on where else BP could end up, please offer your thoughts in the comment section!