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For Cleveland State, Next Year Has Arrived (But Not For Everybody)

The Cleveland State men’s basketball season, the first for head coach Dennis Felton, has finally come to its end. At this stage, most CSU fans have just resided themselves watching the future, which clearly rests on the shoulders of sophomores Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne and freshmen Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic, rather than hope the present would get any better.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season: The Vikings got hot at Motor City Madness. All the way to the final game.

CSU, for its part, could have just rested on the first-round win over Youngstown State, which, of course, was a grind until the very end. The long odds and shot turnaround time from the victory against the Penguins would make any Vikings fan skeptical of beating Northern Kentucky, which had bested CSU by double digits twice in the regular season, let alone get to the final game.

But yet, there the Vikings were, fighting through nail-biter after nail-biter. And for the third year in a row, the top seed at the Horizon League Tournament failed to win the whole thing. And for the second year, the No. 1 seed inexplicably lost to the winner of the 8-9 first round game.

This year’s victim was Northern Kentucky, who, aside from getting swept by Wright State, had been pretty well-set at the top of the conference standings. And as for Cleveland State, the Norse had no issues dispatching of the Vikings twice in the regular season, with both contests won by at least 15 points.

CSU dismissed those early-season setbacks and ran headlong into the defending champions with no fear. The end result was a nine-point Cleveland State win, and Appleby was the star. The All-Freshmen team selection was unconscious in the second half, finishing with a game-high 24 points and putting all conference foes on notice that he’d be a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The ugly defensive slugfest against Oakland that was finally settled with 32.4 second left. That’s when Appleby stared down the Horizon League’s top shot-blocking squad and dropped a baseline layup.

And when that was through, senior Kenny Carpenter, whose 14 second-half points proved to be key, locked down Kendrick Nunn, the conference player of the year, and kept his final shot from getting in the basket, leaving Cleveland State with an astounding 44-43 win.

Even though Wright State proved to be too much for the Vikings in the finals, handing CSU a 74-57 defeat en route to a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the foundation, it appears, has been laid.

For the Cleveland State fans that took the wait-and-see approach with Felton in his inaugural campaign, the Motor City Madness run was an early payoff to their patience. And CSU, who did everything within its power to get fans to Little Caesars Arena, can now think about how to expound upon this late-season success.

There will be far greater expectations for both the on-court performance and fan enthusiasm. Even with six departing seniors, Felton will still return two full-time starters (Appleby and Kenic), one former starter turned sixth man (Thomas), Clayborne, Dontel Highsmith and Shawn Christian.

Add into the mix DePaul transfer Algevon Eichelberger, fall signees Rashad Williams and Deante “Spider” Johnson, plus Dibaji Walker, Seth Milner, Uros Plavsic and JUCO transfer Jalaam Hill, who are all expected to join CSU during the spring signing period. With the general consensus being that this is the most talented recruiting class in a long time, Felton will have to get them all adjusted to the Division I game quickly.

One sign he may get a chance to get the team on the same page quicker than, say, midway through the non-conference schedule, is the pending trip to Europe. Men’s basketball has already started the fundraising effort to get the $20,000 in funds to make that trip a reality. And with $4,635 already banked from CSU’s annual Giving Day event in February, it’s only a matter of time before the team gets the rest of the funds and can start packing their bags.

From a fan standpoint, Athletics must take a good, hard look at the effort put in during the conference tourney and parlay that into a plan to boost attendance at the Wolstein Center. The smart move would be to keep the summer social media push (which featured weekly videos and the blitz on Twitter involving the mascot, Magnus) going year-round.

The logical first stop? Spring signing day. After all, all the new recruits are on Twitter, along with Thomas, Appleby, Highsmith and Clayborne. The chatter between all of them in the off-season will be something to watch.

So, as the title implies, next year has arrived, but not for everybody. For the seniors, next year is here in the form of new adventures, both on the court and off, after graduation. For the underclassmen and recruits, next year comes in the form of getting to know each other and the prospect of making 20-loss seasons a thing of the past.

For the coaches, next year comes in the form of the spring signing period, along with taking a good, hard look at the recruiting class of 2019 and beyond. For the fans, next year comes in the form of, well, beating each other up on social media and the CSU Viking Hoops message board run by writer Tom Mieskoski.

For me and this column, however, there is no next year.

In January, I made the decision to stop the CSU column I have written since May 2014, starting at the now-defunct More Than a Fan: Cleveland and continuing here at Campus Pressbox in March 2016. It’s been a good run, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Sure, you’ll still see me break out the occasional Twitter rant, but as far as this column is concerned, that’s a wrap. There’s still plenty of news and views about Cleveland State out there, starting with Mieskoski’s Cleveland State Hoops site and including upstarts like 216 Sports and The Reserve News. You’d do well to follow all of them, as I have.

For someone who never thought he’d be writing anywhere ever again, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover my alma mater. And I thank all of you, both at Cleveland State and beyond, who made this possible. Because at the end of the day, win or lose, I will always be a fan.

An occasionally grouchy, angry fan, but a fan, nonetheless.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald

Image via CSUVikings.com

The FBI Sets its Sights on NCAA Basketball

Stop the presses! An FBI investigation suggests that “influencers” surrounding high school basketball hot-shots are getting paid by shoe companies and agents to steer kids to preferred One-and-Done programs!?! Who would have thought it possible? Maybe the better question…is anyone really surprised?

I have no doubt that there are blue-blood basketball programs and blue-blood wannabes that have a river of illicit money flowing to families, coaches, and other influencers that surround the top 30 or so recruits in the country. College coaching staffs may know exactly what is going on and are involved in the money flow. They may know what is going on and simply turn a blind eye. Some programs are not part of the system. They are likely the ones not getting many top 30 recruits.

This is not a question about whether college athletes in revenue sports should get paid (they should). This problem is about the leeches in current system that abuse their relationship and influence with high school kids for profit.

The reality is that every year there is a very small group of high school players who are ready to play in the NBA. The unfortunate reality is that there are another 30 or so kids every year who think they are ready to play in the NBA but are not. Unfortunately, this larger group of “not ready, but think they are” have “experts” and “advisors” whispering in their ears that they are the next Joel Emblid, Jahlil Okafor, or Karl-Anthony Towns, when they aren’t.

Like Ben Simmons, Jabari Parker, Jamal Murray, Stanley Johnson before him, it didn’t take a genius or any special eye for talent to watch Marvin Begley III play basketball and conclude that he was a stratospheric talent. Were there “handers” who profited from O-A-D decisions of these phenoms? I don’t know, and for these players, it doesn’t really matter. It is not these kids who suffer from the actions of the leeches. The only problem for hyper-talented of players coming out of high school is the inconvenience of having to delay earning millions by 12 months with the charade of one year in college.

The bigger problem rests, not with the kids who become one-and-dones and sign big NBA contracts, but with the hundreds of kids over the past 10 years who thought they were O-A-D’s  because their “advisors” told them they were and they weren’t. These players made decisions based on advice and information that was tainted. The players, not the advisors suffer the consequences of bad advice. Crestfallen players languish on the bench at one-and-done factories, realizing they were not as good as they were told. They are recruited-over by the next year’s hot-shots and the dream of the NBA becomes a bridge too far.

Who pays the price for this tragedy? Not the advisers. Not the agents. Not the shoe companies. The kid who would have been far better off going to a program where he would have been the star, where he would have actually played lots of minutes in front of large TV audiences, where he had a chance to get an education, and where, given strong coaching he had a chance to grow into a professional basketball player. He is the one who draws the short straw and suffers the consequences, while the leeches are off in search of their next protege.

I would suggest that “advisors” who get paid under the table to steer kids to preferred programs are not advisors but rather predators, just like any other predator who satisfies their own needs and desires taking advantage of kids. They don’t care about these kids, they care about getting a payday. These players are kids, from a stand point of maturity and in the eyes of the law. Most of their families are not well-schooled in the world of big-time recruiting. These predators who work their way into in the circle of trust of both the players and their families are are leeches, blood suckers. They are the worst kind of threat to the best interests of these kids and their families.

It is my bet that if the FBI goes public with the results of their investigation, there will some big names in college basketball running for cover. We also will learn the names of shadowy figures who, for the right payday, steered high school recruits to the basketball factories that wanted them.

Speculation at this point? Sure. Is there really any doubt that there is illicit money changing hands in an industry that generates billions of dollars annually and the athletes play for free? Pull my finger and it plays Mozart.

Virginia’s Win over Duke is a Big Win for College Basketball

The scoreboard in Durham read:

Virginia 65

Duke      63

But the bigger story was this:

Real College Basketball – 1

NBA Minor League – 0

The University of Virginia scored a big win for college basketball on Saturday. Virginia, notched an improbable, but not shocking win against the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham, otherwise known as the Duke Blue Devils.

Let’s be clear about one irrefutable truth – Duke has the most talent of any team in college basketball. I am not sure there is a close second. Kentucky maybe, but no other team has the wealth of talent that a Coach K has assembled at Duke. Duke has multiple NBA lottery draft picks on their roster. So how did UVa, who has zero NBA lottery draft picks on their roster, beat Duke at Cameron Indoor?

I am not sure it’s that hard to understand. Virginia is a tightly knit team of college basketball players who are completely vested and committed to the University of Virginia and the success of UVa basketball. Duke is a confederation of future NBA basketball players, none of whom give two rips about Duke, Durham, or college basketball unless it impacts their route to the NBA. In real world terms, the Virginia players are home owners with a vested interest in the success of their program. Duke’s players are renters, looking to move out as soon as they can. Which one of those is better for the long term prospects of the neighborhood? Which is better for college basketball?

I was awed by some of the jaw-dropping plays Duke made on Saturday. They are an impressive collection of massively talented basketball players. To their credit, the Duke one-and-dones seem like good kids in addition to being ridiculously talented athletes. They are not dirty cheap-shot artists, like Grayson Allen. They are not foul-mouthed cry babies…like Greyson Allen. The fab Freshmen at Duke have not emulated Grayson Allen, primarily because they don’t care about Grayson Allen or anything else about Duke basketball…and that’s why Virginia won on Saturday.

I think the one-and-done kids play hard. I think they would much rather win than lose. I am sure they work hard in practice. However, there is no doubt that the success of Duke basketball is not at the top of their list of priorities. Duke is a holding bin, a way station on the way to the NBA for all of Duke’s contributing players. While I am sure they like Duke and respect Coach K, if VCU could convince these kids that VCU was a better conduit to the NBA than Duke, there is no question these kids would punt the Devils and embrace the Rams. This is why Duke lost today. This is also why Duke lost to Boston College and NC State. When your NBA highlight reel is your highest priority, winning is nice, but it’s not the ultimate goal.

By contrast, Virginia’s players are fully vested in their university, their coach, and their program. Several of Virginia’s players will certainly have professional basketball careers and one or two might have long careers in the NBA. However none of Virginia’s starting 5 will be NBA lottery picks, but they will all be Virginia basketball legends and adored by Virginia fans for the rest of their lives.

There is no question that Virginia’s players love UVa. They love their coach. They love Charlottesville. By the time they graduate they will have spent 4 or more of their most formative years immersed in the culture of UVa, Charlottesville, and the Virginia basketball program. They are part of the fabric of UVa. They bleed for UVa. Duke’s current crop of fab-freshmen will spend the obligatory 8 months in Durham before moving on to the NBA. While I am sure they would like to win the ACC championship and the NCAA tournament, the Virginia players would given their first born to bring championships home to Charlottesville. That’s why the Bad News Bears won today. It is why Virginia will remain relevant on the national stage as long as Tony Bennett is leading the program.

I have no illusions that Virginia is the favorite to win the NCAA tournament this year.  I will be thrilled if they can win the ACC regular season. It is a long road ahead and Virginia has to clear many high hurdles to win the ACC much less win the NCAA championship. By the time March rolls around, less talented legs are tired and the Duke thoroughbreds might be in a better physical condition to make a tournament run. However, if the winner of the Big Dance comes down to heart and determination, a real college team like Virginia will be tough to beat and fab-freshmen can move on to the NBA, making room for next year’s mercenaries.

The Wild and Wacky World of Horizon League Hoops

When the Horizon League schedule began at the end of 2017, all signs pointed to essentially everything staying pretty much the same as they had last season. Oakland and Northern Kentucky would be duking it out for the top spot. Wright State would continue to lurk as a contender. And Milwaukee would expound on its surprise Motor City Madness run from last year and compete in the top half of the league.

Also, Green Bay would hover somewhere near the middle of the standings, while most of the bottom of the conference from last year, as well as new addition IUPUI, would remain looking up at the better schools.

This isn’t exactly how things have gone in the early going. In fact, it seems as if the Golden Grizzlies have switched places with one of the bottom-rung teams. And few would have guessed that team would be Youngstown State.

The Penguins, who languished throughout the entire non-conference slate without a win against a Division I school, were essentially written off before the Horizon League began play. That was probably a major oversight over everyone’s part, as YSU rattled off three straight wins to begin league play. The 3-0 start is the first time Youngstown State has ever been at that mark since joining the conference.

It’s been more than 16 years since YSU joined the Horizon League. That’s a pretty big deal.

While the Penguins have connected with some surprise punches, the Raiders were sort of the wild-card in the league mix. The goal in Year Two of the Scott Nagy Era at Wright State was to get the team closer to the top of the heap.

And so far, it looks as if the Raiders may be a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the conference, joining Youngstown State and NKU in the ranks of the undefeated among Horizon League foes.

For the Norse, the defending Motor City Madness champs, the road to stay on top has been a rather difficult one early. Northern Kentucky already had a tough go of it on the road trip to Michigan, barely squeezing by Oakland, 87-83, and winless Detroit Mercy, 56-54.

And the Grizzlies? They seem to be stuck in neutral, with only one win in the early conference going. The close loss to the Norse was sandwiched in between a surprise loss the Green Bay and the 86-81 overtime setback at the hands of Wright State.

The Wisconsin trip to Green Bay and Milwaukee does still look to be a grueling trek for any Horizon League school, but neither the Phoenix nor the Panthers are setting the world on fire. Green Bay, since besting Detroit and Oakland, have dropped three straight, including getting swept on its Ohio trip by both YSU and Cleveland State. Milwaukee, at the same time, sits at 2-2.

And finally, there’s UIC, which was favored as an early contender. A close 65-61 loss against Wright State was negated by an 86-51 drubbing by Northern Kentucky.

It’s pretty clear that through the early games, in spite of three undefeated teams at the top, no on school has truly dominated, and that could mean some wild shifts in the standings in the coming months. Given how poorly the Horizon League performed as a whole during the non-league slate, it’s likely going to be a long up-and-down slap fight leading up to Motor City Madness.

Email Bob at bob.mcdonald@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via NKUNorse.com

Sorry Duke, Virginia is the New Taste in College Basketball

Reading some of national reporting on college basketball, particularly Virginia basketball, it might be easy to conclude that there was a crisis in college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia basketball was an infection slowly killing college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia was leading NCAA basketball down the path to attention deficit disorder-driven doom.

Such a conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

I watched Duke play Florida State the other day. It is hard not to be impressed by the embarrassment of riches Coach K has brought to Durham. Duke starts 4 freshmen. At least 2 of those 4 will be one-and-dones. The other 2 could spend a second season in Durham pretending to be college students, but it is not likely. Smart money says all four call it quits on going to class in January and conclude their stints at the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham after March Madness concludes.

As I watched the track meet with FSU, I couldn’t help but wonder what Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams thought. I can’t imagine what Bobby Hurley, Christan Laettner and Grant Hill think. I am sure they are happy with the continued success of the program. Duke is an unquestioned big dpg in NCAA basketball. However, watching Duke play basketball today has very little in common with Duke basketball that put the Blue Devils on the map. It looks nothing like the game that Battier, Booozer, Laettner, and Hurley played. Funny, I don’t remember many reporters griping about too much defense when defense was Duke’s calling card.

The Duke of old was known for discipline. Hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man defense was Duke’s differentiation. While Duke had very talented players back in the day, they lived and died with their defense and the offense it so frequently spawned. Prior to the current incarnation of Duke basketball, players went to class and graduated with college degrees.

Not any more. The Duke of today is a staging area for NBA players. A way station, a holding bin. Duke no longer has a brand or calling card other than a roster stacked with kids who have no interest in a Duke education. Instead, they have every intention of leaving Durham before the first commencement ceremonies of their college “careers.” Remember when Coach K wouldn’t raise a championship banner in Cameron Indoor if a player on his team had not finished his degree? Yeah, those days are over.

Watching Duke play these days is like any other play ground game. it is festival of 1-on-1 moves and dunks. Duke’s defense is more happenstance than strategy & execution. When ridiculously talented players log enough minutes, eventually they will be in a position to make a remarkable play. Duke’s defensive success is more like looking down and finding a 4-leaf clover than the result of a well deployed plan.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Virginia/North Carolina game in Charlottesville. UNC came into today’s game averaging 85 points per game. They scored just over half of their average today as Virginia dominated the Tar Heels for the second year in a row in John Paul Jones Arena.

In past two games combined against Virginia, the Heels have scored 92 points for a per-game average of 46. That doesn’t happen by accident. It also is not a result of Virginia’s roster being stacked with 5-star, future NBA lottery picks. Rather it is the result of a program that is committed to winning differently and generally has its way setting tempo and controlling the pace of play.

Unlike Duke, Virginia wins based on stellar execution at both ends of the floor. They win by playing the best defense in the country. They win by frustrating offensive juggernauts used to having their way running up and down the court doing tomahawk and windmill dunks. UNC didn’t have any windmill jams on Saturday. Instead they got their butts kicked at both ends of the court by a team that, on paper, had no business staying within 20 points of the Tar Heels. What’s not to love about that?

David slaying Goliath has always been a popular theme in college athletics. Until Virginia started averaging close to 30 wins a season, no one ever evaluated David’s style points for how he slew Goliath. That Virginia fans went as crazy over 3 uNC shot clock violations as they did for De’Andre Hunter’s thunder jam over Joel Barry shows me that Virginia fans appreciate the full breadth of the college game.

Virginia can’t win playing UNC or Duke basketball, so they don’t. Instead, they play aggressive defense. They make the extra pass on offense. They play Virginia basketball. True basketball fans should at least appreciate if not relish the fact the Coach Tony Bennett has found a way to run with and beat the big dogs by intentionally not playing their game. Strategy and execution should be as appreciated as a part of college basketball as a break-away slam.

I suspect those who grimace at the way Virginia has creeped into the top tier of basketball programs are the same folks who like to see a winning score at the US Open of -20. On the surface a birdie-barrage looks more entertaining than hacking out of knee-deep cabbage.

However, what the run-and-gunners  and birdie fanatics miss is an appreciation for the strategy options and execution that turn an expected outcome on its head. Maybe what irks Virginia’s detractors the most is that Virginia wins enough big games now, that after a beatdown of UNC, no one even considered storming the court…since Virginia has now done this 5 times in a row.

I am not asking everyone to be a Virginia fan. All I am asking is for an accommodation, for a grudging acceptance that there is more than one way to succeed mightily in college basketball. Virginia might be an acquired taste, I understand that, but so is good bourbon, good scotch, and stout beer. Beating the tar out of the Heels two years in a row is a great reason to celebrate the acquired tastes in life, wherever we find them.

2017 Report Card For The Texas Longhorns

2017 brought a lot of hype to the Texas football program, but that’s really nothing new. Expectations were high with Tom Herman coming in and taking over the program, and to most people, those expectations didn’t come close to being met.

There were plenty of positives throughout the season, but we’ve seen this story before. Herman’s job this offseason is to build on those positives and eliminate the negatives. Previous regimes haven’t been able to do so successfully, and the result has been a below average team for the last several years.

Here are my thoughts on how each position unit graded out for the Longhorns in 2017.

Offense: C-

I believe Texas found it’s quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Shane Buechele is a good quarterback, but he just can’t stay healthy enough to be relied upon. With that being said, Ehlinger is essentially the sole reason for three out of the six losses Texas had. He fumbled the ball in double overtime against USC, threw a dumb interception in overtime against Oklahoma State and made a terrible mistake by throwing the ball on a third down late in the game against Texas Tech that resulted in an interception.

Eliminate those three plays and Texas finishes the season at 10-3 instead of 7-6. That’s a brash statement, but it’s just an indication of how close the Longhorns were to meeting expectations. It was clear to me that the coaching staff sent a message to Ehlinger during bowl practices that he has to be smarter on the field. He tries to do too much at times and it hurts his team. I saw a smarter quarterback in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, so there is some promise that he could build on his maturity over the offseason.

Defense: A

There’s no question this Longhorns team wouldn’t have won seven games if it weren’t for Todd Orlando’s defense. In fact, this is probably a three- or four-win team if the defense hadn’t played stellar all season. The Texas defense faced a top-tier quarterback week in and week out, and pretty much contained them as much as possible.

Consider this list of names Texas faced: Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Drew Lock. Three of those quarterbacks will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, and the fourth likely will be next year. The common theme is Orlando’s defense held those quarterbacks in check and did not allow them to take over the game, as they do against other opponents.

It appears Herman and the UT administration is working on a contract extension and a raise for Orlando, which could be the best thing they do all offseason.

Special Teams: B-

The only reason I’ve given this high of a grade for this unit is because of punter Michael Dickson. There’s a reason why he’s a Ray Guy award winner for the best punter in the nation. He was the best offense in many games for Texas, with his ability to flip field position and put the defense in a better position to succeed. The Longhorns are going to miss his leg next year as he heads off to the NFL.

Special Teams would have received an “A” grade if it weren’t for the field goal kicking woes. Herman was forced to either go for it on 4th down or punt numerous times instead of attempting a long field goal. In some cases, he passed up field goal attempts of under 30 yards because he couldn’t trust his kicker. Look at every good Texas team in the last 15 years and you’ll recognize the name of the kicker. It’s a critical part of the success of any program, and the Longhorns didn’t have it this year. Hopefully, Herman will solve the kicking woes in recruiting this offseason, because it was clearly an issue in 2017.

Recap

2017 was mostly a year to forget but could be a turning point for the program as well. Stability within the UT athletic department could be a sign of good things coming for Texas, and bringing back a pretty decent amount of experience will help. Herman now knows how fragile of a group he was working with all year, especially from a mental standpoint, so now he has to go to work to address those issues. Otherwise, we will be talking about a similar story at this point next year.

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

The University of Central Florida Is The Self-Proclaimed College Football National Champion

Going undefeated is an impressive accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if it’s achieved in a Power-5 conference or if that gauntlet is run to perfection in a mid-major conference. That’s what Scott Frost accomplished in his final season as head coach of the University of Central Florida football team.

The Golden Knights perfect record was capped off with a 34-27 win over Auburn. While this was a truly great achievement, it by no means makes Frost and UCF national champions. But don’t tell that to UCF.

Their passionate fan-base believes that going undefeated makes you the rightful owner of the national championship. This drum was beaten to death before the bowls even kicked off. Alabama getting into the playoff over UCF was seen as the heist of the century. Who’d Alabama play they asked? Who’d Alabama beat they asked?

As far as who Alabama played in comparison to UCF, well, Alabama’s strength of schedule was superior to UCF’s. Frost may not believe that it was right, but it was true. Sure, Alabama’s SOS gets an immediate pump from playing in a Power-5 conference. You know what I have to say about that? Too bad. Life isn’t fair.

And who did Alabama and UCF beat? UCF beat one committee ranked team in Memphis and played just one Power-5 team in Maryland. Alabama had the already stated luxury of playing in a Power-5 conference with a Power-5 schedule. And I’ve heard the argument that Power-5 teams don’t want to play UCF in Orlando. That being the case, one of the big boys doesn’t have to play UCF on its home turf, however, that doesn’t mean that UCF should use that as an excuse to not play those teams at all. Perhaps if UCF had scheduled someone other than a lousy Maryland team from the Big Ten, the committee would have treated a potential one-loss UCF team the same as a one-loss Alabama team. There’s really only one way to find that out. Schedule a potential loss and run the table in the AAC. Do that and get back to me.

Let’s also keep something else in mind when elevating UCF to its mythical national championship. The Golden Knights and the supporters of UCF are making their argument based in part on beating a team from the SEC in its bowl game. But just a minute. Let’s press pause on yet one more argument in defense of UCF’s national championship hardware. We’ve been told throughout bowl season that the dominance of the SEC is mere perception and the SEC isn’t that strong from top to bottom. If we assume that to be fact then UCF’s win over Auburn doesn’t mean nearly as much as we’re being told.

UCF, Frost, and outraged fans across America can’t have it both ways yet here they are attempting to do so.

The Golden Knights can have a parade and can raise a national championship banner. AD Danny White can even give the entire coaching staff national championship bonuses. But it doesn’t change the fact that UCF didn’t win the national championship. UCF won the Peach Bowl and Alabama will play Georgia in the REAL national championship.

I applaud UCF and Frost for the great season that the Golden Knight’s fans were treated to. UCF has numerous players who will play on Sundays and nobody can ever take away the 12-0 record. But concocting national championship banners and having a parade in honor of a self-appointed championship cheapens what Frost and his team accomplished.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What Will Carla Do at Virginia?

It had been a while since Virginia played in a post-season bowl game. In the excitement generated by Virginia’s invitation to the Military Bowl, Virginia fans might have forgotten that sometimes post season bowl experiences go awry.

Some might argue that things started to go downhill with the weather forecast which was for daytime temperatures in the mid-20s with steady winds throughout the day. The good news for the Virginia program is that its fans turned out in force. Virginia fans filled the vast majority of the seats in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium eagerly anticipating the next step in Bronco’s resurrection of Virginia football. Kudos to the Virginia faithful for a strong showing in Annapolis. That’s our primary role supporting the program and it was a job well done.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s on-field performance in the Military Bowl against a middling Navy team was 12 seconds of glory and 59 minutes and 48 seconds of agony.  After running back the opening kickoff for a score, Virginia played like they took the month off leading up to the Military bowl. Navy dominated the lines of scrimmage and Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert’s passes went in every direction except that of wide open receivers. Benkert missed 3 walk-in touchdown passes, under and over shooting by 10 yards or more, so off the mark that fans wondered who was Benkert’s intended target. The balance of Virginia’s performance was equally dismal. I could only tolerate 3 quarters of frigid football torture before heading for the warmth of the 3-hour ride home.

Speaking with friends about the game, one particularly loyal and astute Virginia fan raised a most interesting question – What will Carla do?

Virginia’s new athletic director Carla Williams was an all-SEC guard for the Georgia women’s basketball team. She spent the last 14 years with he Georgia athletic department, overseeing the Georgia football program. During her 14-year tenure at Georgia, the Dawgs won 10 or more games 9 times. They had one losing season, a 6-7 campaign in 2010. The bottom line is that Carla Williams is used to winning…a lot.

I wonder what she thought as Virginia went a second consecutive game without scoring an offensive touchdown? I wonder what she was thinking when Virginia punted from inside the Navy 40 yard-line? I have no doubt she has never seen a field goal attempt from 46 yards bounce across the goal line, having never reached a height that would clear the cross bar. The cynical part of me wanted to say “welcome to Virginia football” Ms Williams. Given her background of winning, however, I doubt Williams will stand idly by while Virginia football continues to struggle in its return to football respectability.

The real question is, what will Carla do? Recall, Carla Williams was running the football program at Georgia when the Dawgs fired Mark Richt, who averaged almost 10 wins per season in the juggernaut SEC. The Dawgs won the SEC twice, their division 6 times and won 9 bowl games while Ms Williams as in Athens…and then Richt was kicked to the curb.

I don’t think Georgia holds the SEC record for the largest loss margin as Virginia does for the ACC – tying it’s own record this week with the 42 point drubbing against Illinois in the 1999 Micron PC Bowl. I also don’t think Carla Williams will find this year’s performance an acceptable outcome for the Virginia football program. She didn’t hire Bronco and she didn’t hire any of the staff Bronco brought with him. I am sure she expects a better performance from a coach making almost 3.5 million a year.

I don’t think that Bronco is in trouble, yet. However I do expect to see changes in the program – some of which we will see, others will be kept behind closed doors. I will be very surprised if offensive coordinator Robert Anae is with the program next season. 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown is unthinkable for someone with Carla Williams’ background – even Vandy can get the ball in the end zone once or twice a game against the best in the SEC.

While Virginia fans should be encouraged by the improvement in the program from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 in 2017, I doubt that this is the expectation for Virginia’s new athletic director. This makes the 2018 season a critical one for Bronco and his staff. I think that another 6-7 season with a season-ending drubbing will raise questions in her mind if Bronco is the right leader for Virginia football. I have no doubt that Williams has a short list in her mind of talented coordinators she could bring to Charlottesville should the Virginia program stagnate or regress in 2018.

I don’t think Bronco will make any public “hot seat” lists in the coming year, but I’d bet you 5 bucks he is on the only hot seat list that matters and that there will be many candid discussions during the off season with his new boss.

This is all is good news for Virginia football. I am not ready to throw in the towel on Bronco and staff, but I am glad that he has a boss who is used to winning on Saturdays and who I doubt has many positive feelings about the 2017 season. If Virginia is going to continue to improve its football results, 6-7 seasons with an embarrassing bowl loss cannot be part of the recipe for success. Based on Carla Williams’ background, I suspect Virginia football will improve under the current leadership or it will see dramatic changes that will lead to wins in the future. Either way the Virginia fans who posted in Annapolis on a day when it would have been easy to stay home will see more winning Saturdays for Virginia football. I am good with that.

Agree or Disagree With Tom Herman’s Sideline Mockery?

In case you missed it, Tom Herman created a bit of a stir at the end of the Longhorns’ 33-16 bowl game victory over Missouri. For this article to make sense, take a minute to watch this.

Now, to the casual college football fan, Herman looked completely immature and irresponsible as a head coach of a major university. I get that because he did.

I’m not going to make any excuses for Herman here because he’s got to be better in this situation. If you’re going to mock the opposing team in any way, do it behind closed doors so only your team can see it.

With that said, I have absolutely no problem with what Herman did. What the casual fan doesn’t know is that Missouri players had been mocking and trash talking to Texas players all week leading up to the game.

And then they committed the big no-no: flashing the horns down sign.

Here’s a video that surfaced to give the rest of this article even more context.

This is exactly why I have no problem with Herman’s mockery.

Opposing players, coaches and fans constantly mock Texas by throwing the horns down sign. Throwing the horns up sign signifies so much for the University of Texas, whether it’s celebrating after a big play, scoring a touchdown, singing the Eyes of Texas or anything else. When a person throws the horns down sign, they are mocking the player, coach, alumni and university as a whole.

And you know what? There’s never any outrage. In fact, I think I saw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty thrown on an opposing team for the first time ever this year for doing it.

Why is it ok for other teams to throw their horns down with no backlash, but the Longhorns can’t mock an opposing player’s celebration? It’s complete crap is what it is.

Another reason why I’m ok with Herman’s mockery is that it shows he takes the horns down sign personally. Mack Brown did, but he handled the issue behind closed doors (like it should be). Charlie Strong didn’t respect the sign much and didn’t care if it was disrespected, in my opinion.

For the first time in a long time, I saw a coach and players get as upset and pissed off as I do when I see the horns down sign. Especially when it’s directed at me specifically. It takes quite a bit to make me mad, but there’s something about seeing the horns down sign that boils my blood every single time.

So when I saw the video of the Missouri players doing the horns down sign so freely and confidently, I was proud to see Herman and the Texas players on the sideline doing what they did. Probably the thing I’m most proud of after seeing the video is that the Texas players on the stage with those Missouri players didn’t light them up right there on the stage. If it were me, I would have had a hard time not going all-out Bobby Boucher on them as they were prancing around proudly with their horns down.

Unfortunately for Herman, he’s going to have to live with the social media backlash for a while. It will be talked about for a couple days and will definitely resurface throughout future football seasons, but it is what it is. But if he won over the locker room by doing it, then mission accomplished. And according to Breckyn Hager, he did:

Now if Herman makes this type of behavior the norm, then I’ll have a problem with it. But for a fragile program that has no self-pride in several years, I’m ok with it just this time.

My final point is for the people who say the team should act like they’ve been there before, in regards to winning. My rebuttal is this team has not been there before. They don’t know what winning feels like. Maybe this will give them a taste of winning, maybe it won’t. But for Herman, it’s a small price to pay to potentially elevate his program.

To recap:

Should Herman have done what he did? Probably not.

Is it the end of the world? Definitely not.

Should he make those antics a habit? Absolutely not.

Should Texas fans be embarrassed? Depends on your opinion, but embarrassment is not something that describes my feelings, obviously.

Do the Longhorns have a coach who genuinely takes pride in the University? You better believe it, and it was proven at the Texas Bowl.

And for the record, the Missouri quarterback whom Herman mocked understands the situation and has no problem with it:

Once Texas returns to their winning ways again, this will never be an issue with Herman or his players. I feel confident in saying that. The program just has to get to that point first.

Hook’em \m/

Photo: Wikimedia

E-mail Chase at chase.holik@campuspressbox.com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Missouri Tiger Marcell Frazier Is Speaking To The Media Again

After a 1-5 start to the season, the Missouri Tigers were fortunate to be in the Texas Bowl. That good fortune was created in large part to an offense that found its top-gear during the second-half of the season. Bowl games are fickle beasts though. So when Texas beat Missouri 33-16, it wasn’t a complete surprise. The attention that players give these non-championship level bowl games is always questionable and, at times, the focus of the coaching staff can be questioned. And that’s just what Missouri’s Marcell Frazier did. He questioned coaching loyalty.

Frazier’s defensive squad played well enough to win this game. If anyone had room to call anyone out, it was a member of the Missouri defense. But Frazier was out of line when calling out now-departed offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, offensive line coach Glen Elarbee and, when we get right down to it, the entire offensive side of the ball under the leadership of interim offensive coordinator Joe Jon Finley.

Back in June, Frazier announced that he wouldn’t grant interviews to the local Missouri media this season over treatment that he perceived to be harsh and unfair. We not only heard nothing from Frazier via local beats but heard very little from him nationally. That all changed once Texas beat Frazier’s Tigers.

For Frazier to have placed a self-imposed gag order on himself over critical members of the media only to throw former coaches, current coaches, and teammates under the bus is classless. I know, in his own words, he’s just a teenage boy (but not really), but he positioned himself to be as mature, if not more mature than many of the adults in his life. Not so.

As a fan, I don’t like Heupel and Elarbee leaving the program when they did. But I get it. Just as Frazier said, college football is a business and coaches move around looking for new opportunities that will further their careers. We all know the nature of the business and that includes the players. Heupel and Elarbee left at the worst possible time. Get over it. The timing of their departures was no excuse for Frazier to lob his verbal grenades at Joe Jon Finley and the offense.

All year Missouri fans heard about the toxic locker room atmosphere that Barry Odom had inherited from Gary Pinkel. We heard about a few bad apples who didn’t have the best interests of the team at heart. When Odom kicked players off of the team or had players transfer out, Missouri fans were sold on the idea that the culture was being cleaned up. Maybe these guys were toxic, maybe they weren’t. But this is what we were sold on.

I’ll say this. As good as Frazier was on the field, his attitude should be called into question. If he was willing to publicly say what he said about everyone associated with Missouri’s offense, then I have to wonder what he was saying behind closed doors. Maybe we’d have a hint of Frazier’s attitude if he wouldn’t have been hiding from the media all year. That is until he was ready to attempt to publicly humiliate teammates and coaches.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons