All posts by Cole Hankins

The Big Ten Does Its Best MAC Impression

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Big Ten’s recent adoption of Friday football is exactly that.

Last week, the conference announced the inclusion of six Friday night contests in its 2017 television partnership with FOX. “All things considered we thought it was worthwhile to dip our toe in the water,” said Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner.

Sure Big Ten, it’s fine to dip your toe in the water, but understand this: there’s a big, blood-thirsty shark lurking in that water. That shark? The #MACtion.

The Big Ten can conceal its jealousy for the Mid-American Conference no longer. After years of watching weekday football from the outside looking in, Delany and the Big Ten finally caved to their better instincts. The only way for the Big Ten to solidify itself as a premier college football conference is to follow in the MAC’s footsteps.

After all, what does the Big Ten have that the MAC doesn’t? The MAC’s best team is ranked above ten teams in the Big Ten and defeated two of those teams. You can’t tell me watching Purdue on a Saturday is that much more valuable than watching Miami University on a Friday.

Let’s not even consider the fact that weekday games are a terrible idea for the Big Ten. Let’s not even consider the horrific effects it’ll have on recruiting for benchmark programs like Penn State and Michigan. Let’s simply evaluate how pathetic it is that the Big Ten is stooping to the MAC’s level.

By adding weekday games, the Big Ten is admitting it cannot compete within the traditional Saturday slate. Maybe Ohio State and Wisconsin can. But Illinois? Iowa? Rutgers? Maryland? Not so much. Moving to a weekday sends the clear message that those teams are effectively as hapless as MAC members when it comes to generating television revenue. It also sends the message that attendance at those games are so bad already that moving to Fridays – where they’ll presumably lose ticket sales – won’t really matter.

The Big Ten has never looked stronger in recent history, which is why the decision to relegate their product to Friday evenings is so peculiar. Perhaps the Big Ten brass understand that action needs to be taken in order to salvage the lagging members of the conference.

Or maybe they’re just paying homage to their conference from another mother. Looking at you, MAC. Never change.

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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An Open Letter to Kirby Hocutt (on Behalf of the #MACtion)

Dear College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt,

Sup Kirby? How you been?

I’ve been pretty good myself. As you know, the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings are about to be unveiled, the Big 12 is in shambles, and, if you haven’t noticed, the state of the #MACtion is STRONG. Like, Frank Solich-wrestling-a-bear caliber STRONG. Like, Charlie Strong-when-he-was-still-at-Louisville STRONG.

And that’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about Kirby. You see, I love Alabama just as much as the next guy. I’ll concede that they’re a fairly decent football team. Between the two of us, we both know they’re going to be the leader in your rankings.

Then, you’ll fill your rankings with three more undefeated powerhouses. You’ll likely have Clemson second, Michigan third, and you’ll obviously leave that coveted fourth spot to…

…the Western Michigan Broncos.

Now, Kirby, I know what you’re thinking: this is so obvious, why would I even bother saying it? Well, unfortunately, there are those among us who seek to undermine the integrity of the country’s greatest conference.

There is an alarmingly large contingent of college football fans this week that believe the fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff should go to the Washington Huskies. That’s right. Washington.

Now, Kirby, I know what you’re thinking (again): is Washington even a state? The answer is no, Kirby, it’s not a state – it’s part of Canada. But that’s beside the point. Regardless of their questionable statehood, they aren’t nearly as ELITE as Western Michigan.

Who has five consecutive victories scoring over 40 points? Western Michigan. Who has not one, but TWO road victories over Big 10 teams? Western Michigan. Who is averaging over 500 yards of offense per game? Western Michigan. Who has one of the best head coaches in college football (and also a candidate for the Dodd Trophy come season end)? Western Michigan.

How is Western Michigan not the clear choice? To be honest Kirby, I’m not sure. Some naysayers cite “strength of schedule” as an excuse to exclude the Broncos, but their vision must be blinded from that Canadian mountain fog.

Sure, the Huskies notched a non-conference win over a Big 10 school, except the win came at home and against Rutgers, so it really doesn’t count. Besides that, they played Idaho and an FCS team. Where’s the strength in that?

Western Michigan scheduled their season to be as challenging as possible. They arranged two series with two Power 5 teams in Northwestern and Illinois. Another one of their opponents, Georgia Southern, swept the Sun Belt last season and another opponent, North Carolina Central, hasn’t lost a game since they lost to WMU. It seems to me Western Michigan played a markedly tougher non-conference schedule, and that’s all a program can really control.

Both teams are eviscerating their respective conferences and both teams can play in conference championship games, so I see no advantage there. If anything, one could argue that Western Michigan has it tougher – they’re placed in quite possibly the most lopsided conference division in all of college football.

Plus, just WATCH awesome skill players like Jarvion Franklin, who’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry, or Keion Adams, who has registered 6 sacks, or Corey Davis, who has 11 touchdown catches on the season, or Zach Terrell, who boasts a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20:1. How can you deny a team this dominant?

Spoiler alert: you can’t.

I know we’re on the same page Kirby – Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, then Western Michigan. Unless you wanted to switch Michigan with Western Michigan. I could understand that too.

I suppose Washington will have to wait its turn. Don’t worry, Washington is more than proficient at waiting to be good. They’ve had like a decade of practice.

Of course, I guess there’s a tiny, microscopic chance your committee opts for the Huskies. I won’t be mad if that happens Kirby, just disappointed. The College Football Playoff is supposed to be viable for every FBS program. That’s the beauty: anybody can win.

If you don’t think Western Michigan has what it takes to compete in this year’s playoff…I don’t know what you’re waiting for. The #MACtion can only get so strong. If even this team isn’t good enough, maybe you should rename it to be the “College Football PAYoff” to reflect the fact that only teams that PAY absurd amounts of money for new athletic facilities can get in. Or you can just kick the MAC out of the FBS. That too.

But I know you won’t do that Kirby. I have faith in you. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the MAC, and as William Shakespeare once wrote, “you can’t stop the #MACtion, baby.”

             With kind regards,

              Cole Hankins | Spokesman for the #MakeTheMACGreatAgain Movement

NOTE: If you would have interest in purchasing a “Make the MAC Great Again” Trump-styled trucker hat, please email me at the email address below.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of pickleat – Pixabay

A Bowl Bid, a Forgotten Town, and a Microcosm of America

Right off Interstate 94, wedged just east of pristine Ann Arbor and just southwest of bustling Detroit, there’s a forgotten town of 20,000 called Ypsilanti, Michigan.

If you’ve never heard of Ypsilanti, yes, that’s exactly how it’s spelled. The town’s name derives from one Demetrius Ypsilanti: a Greek war hero immortalized for his service in the War of Independence. Despite all that tradition, as the locals will tell you, natives rarely call it Ypsilanti. Ypsi does just fine.

That’s not all the locals can tell you about Ypsi. In 1960, a little-known pizza shop called Domino’s opened for business there. In 2003, Ypsi’s (in)famous water tower received the honorable designation as the World’s Most Phallic Building. And, in 1986, Ypsilanti saw their home football team secure a Division I bowl victory. That feat hasn’t been achieved since.

Yes, Eastern Michigan University also resides in Ypsi — right beside the penis tower.  To say Eastern Michigan dominates town life would be an understatement; not only do over 35% of Ypsilantians qualify as college-aged (18-24), but EMU is by far Ypsi’s largest employer. It seems that EMU brings a beating heart to an otherwise lifeless city — one burned out on the way things are versus the way they used to be.

There used to be a Ford Auto Plant in Ypsi. In fact, after the plant opened in 1932, Henry Ford supposedly roamed its halls. Today, Henry Ford is dead, and so is his plant in Ypsi.

What began as a 63,000 square-foot hub of industrial, wartime America is now a 715,000 square-foot storage space acknowledged as one of the city’s most dangerous buildings.

You might not be surprised to learn that Ford sold the plant in 2007, two years before the company accepted a $5.9 billion federal loan. What you might be surprised to learn is that, at its height of operations in 1982, the Ford Ypsilanti Plant employed roughly 16 percent of the entire city – about 2,000 people. After the plant folded, those 2,000 people found themselves straight out of work and straight out of luck, which is why Ypsilanti’s population plummeted 34 percent over the last forty years. Over a quarter of Ypsilanti households currently earn less than $15,000 per year, and the Census Bureau reports that 30.4% of people living there do so in poverty.

This is not a story isolated to Ypsi, Michigan. This story has played out in the lives of everyday people across the country. Cars were luxuries in 1932; now they’re necessities. Factory jobs were commonplace in 1932; now they’re getting shipped overseas by the day. It’s just a fact of life.

Amidst all that misery, you might forget about Greek heroes and pizza chains. You might forget about Henry Ford and penis statues. You might even forget that Ypsilanti is home to a football team too, and as it turns out, the people of Ypsilanti certainly did.

In 2015, the team’s second year under head coach Chris Creighton, the Eagles finished 1-11 while averaging under 5,000 fans per game. Their defense allowed an inconceivable 317 rushing yards per game, and the year before, their offense surmised a mere 4.46 yards per play. Thus, nobody was surprised when the Eagles finished dead last in the 2016 MAC Preseason Media Poll, and rumors began swirling as to whether Eastern Michigan truly had any business participating in FBS football in the first place. The team earned their only FBS bowl invitation in 1987 – history so distant, the Eagles still called the Hurons. This is a program that has endured two winless seasons, a 22-game losing streak, shoddy attendance, perpetual coaching turnover, and, to top it all off, an embarrassing, profanity-laced tirade, even as it begs for a $27.3 million subsidy. So maybe those rumors aren’t just rumors. At that point, maybe you have no business playing FBS football.

But not so fast.

Nobody saw it coming, but the Eagles are currently building one of the strongest seasons in the modern history of the EMU program. What began as one easy victory against an FCS opponent quickly turned to two wins, then three. Add a road win against the defending MAC champion. Four wins. Add a road win against the current leader in the MAC East. Five.

Five wins for a team critics expected to dissolve altogether. It’s miraculous. It’s monumental. But it’s also not quite enough. Five wins in college football don’t mean a goddamn thing.

Eastern Michigan hosts the Miami RedHawks this weekend in search of their sixth win. If they find it, they enter the elusive realm of bowl eligibility.

There’s nothing overly flashy about how the Eagles are winning – they’re just gritty. In fact, they probably won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher or a 3,000-yard passer this season. EMU protects the quarterback at an elite rate, allowing only five sacks on the season. The Eagles convert their red zone changes, going 35-38 inside the 20. And guess what? After allowing a gaudy 317 rushing yards per game last season, they’re currently averaging only 143. In 2016, there is no team in college football more resilient than the Eastern Michigan Eagles, and Ypsi is taking notice.

Rynearson Stadium isn’t going to be averaging under 5,000 fans a game again this season. Something about the Eagles appears to be drawing the city in. Maybe that something is a resilience they both share.

Just five wins ago, this football team and not-so-football town were seemingly lost and forgotten. For decades, people have fled Ypsilanti – just as critics wanted EMU to flee FBS football. In a rapidly evolving world, Ypsi’s blue collar overstayed its welcome – just as, in the college football arms race, EMU’s tiny athletic budget overstayed its welcome.

Now, five wins later, college football has given Ypsi a reason to hope, and if EMU can secure bowl eligibility this weekend, hope will spring eternal.

People are struggling in Ypsilanti just as people are struggling across the country. You can sympathize, rationalize, and politicize that all you want, but do any of those actions mitigate those people’s struggles? At the very least, Eastern Michigan football is giving Ypsilantians a reason to be excited about Ypsilanti, for however brief a moment. You know what? That means something.

So you won’t find EMU’s showdown with Miami broadcasted on national television this weekend, but nonetheless, there isn’t possibly a college football game with higher stakes. Instead of rankings, conference championships, and playoff spots on the line, it’s the spirit of an entire city. Ypsi might be struggling, but you’ll see absolutely no indication of that on Saturday.

And if they win? Well, let’s put it this way: the Eagles are no Greek heroes, but Ypsilanti might want to consider renaming the city after them anyways.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

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Attention College Football Fans: The Heisman Trophy Isn’t a Race

In the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, I found myself unfortunately watching Danny Kannell on ESPN. He was joined by Joey Galloway, who I rather enjoy. But Danny Kannell? Not so much.

Somehow, in the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, Danny Kannell inspired within me a furious sportsrant. Attention college football fans: college athletes are not horses, the Heisman Trophy isn’t a race. Stop treating it like one.

In the wee, wee hours of Sunday morning, Kannell began a hopeless, long-winded, ESPN-ish adjudication about the current state of the Heisman race. His bold conclusion? Neither Lamar Jackson or J.T. Barrett had helped or hurt themselves in action this week. Thrilling.

Sure, completely ignore the fact that Barrett defeated the #8 team in the country on the road, in overtime, primarily thanks to his play. Ignore the fact that Lamar Jackson barely defeated Duke this week. If you ignore both of those plain facts, Kannell is actually correct.

It’s not Kannell’s fault that 24-hour sports media like ESPN ruins the sanctity of an award like the Heisman Trophy. A lot of things are Kannell’s fault, but, to his credit, this isn’t one of them. College football’s dependence on rankings – AP, Coaches Poll, CFP, FPI, etc.  – creates a culture where analysts feel the need to adjudicate everything as far in advance as possible. Should that bother me? Probably not. But it does.

Remember last season, when the college football universe had all but anointed Leonard Fournette a Heisman trophy winner? Yeah, then Alabama happened. Continuously ranking players in respects to the Heisman ceremony defeats the purpose of the award. If Lamar Jackson can’t score six touchdowns in a given game, the talking heads like Kannell will declare it a regression. That’s not realistic.

Not only is it unfair to frontrunners like Jackson, but take a player like Christian McCaffrey for example. In 2015, McCaffrey wasn’t considered to be a pre-season Heisman favorite. After eclipsing 2,500 all-purpose yards, you’d expect McCaffrey to be a strong contender. That trophy, of course, went to Derrick Henry. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Henry, but if McCaffrey had been a favorite at the season’s beginning, would Henry have the edge? I think not.

Plus, calling the Heisman Trophy a “race” implies a comparison to, say, a 400-meter dash. That’s simply not the case. Greg Ward Jr. is turning in another impressive season, yet the most difficult part of his schedule has already passed. Jabrill Peppers, however, wishes he could say the same. The playing fields aren’t even at any given time, so the snapshots of a Heisman race at those times intentionally mislead.

Obsessing over day-by-day rankings for the Heisman Trophy pollutes one of organized sports’ greatest honors. Let the players play a full season of football. Then, when it’s all said and done, objectively review all statistics and accomplishments to determine a winner. The only need for weekly rankings is to provide Danny Kannell a paycheck.

From what I gather, he’s doing alright.

NOTE: Although this article documents my dislike for Danny Kannell, let it be known that I unequivocally consider Mark May to be the worst, major television analyst of my lifetime.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

Pour One Out for Miami University’s Chuck Martin

This season, for the first time since 2006, alcohol will be sold at Yager Stadium – the home of Miami University football. What they once cited as a security headache, the university now considers a viable option in boosting home attendance.

Last season, the RedHawks average attendance amounted to 15,707 per game – only 708 beyond failing to meet the NCAA’s stated attendance requirement for Division I programs. Faced with the threat of losing that Division I membership, how does Miami University respond? By boozing up college kids.

It isn’t hard to do the math. Currently, the students of Miami University (of which I am one) congregate every Saturday at off-campus bars outfitted with fancy TVs and alcohol of every kind and color. Those students, fittingly, then spend their Sundays congregating over trashcans.

A football game isn’t even on those students’ radars. Miami follows the logic that, if you booze it, they will come.

It’s hard to believe a thriving college town with a Division I football program could display so much apathy towards a biweekly Saturday home game. For fans of the Miami RedHawks, a team with 37 losses over the previous four seasons, apathy is all one can reasonably muster. The team is pitiful, and everybody here knows it.

Entering the season, there was hope. After securing the Mid-American Conference’s third-ranked recruiting class, the RedHawks undoubtedly featured one of the youngest rosters in the nation. Still, they returned a promising signal-caller in sophomore Billy Bahl behind an equally young but equally promising offensive line. And besides, surely a defense that allowed 32 points per game last season couldn’t possibly get worse. At the very least, there was hope.

After an 0-6 start, hope is but a memory. As a loss to an FCS squad confirmed, the team is just pitiful. However, at least from Miami University’s perspective, that’s not the concern. From Miami University’s perspective, here’s the one, major concern:

College football is dead in this town.

Oxford, Ohio has placed the task of reviving college football at one man’s feet. His name is Chuck Martin.

Just about the only place Martin has succeeded is the recruiting trail. Everybody expected Miami to be in for a gargantuan rebuilding process, but nobody expected the third year of that process to look like 0-6. When Don Treadwell began his third season with the RedHawks 0-5, he didn’t even get the chance to go 0-6. It seems like Martin is on borrowed time.

If Chuck Martin doesn’t defeat Kent State in a home game on Saturday, he’ll be fired sooner rather than later. There’s no 5-0 run stored in this team.

Based on his recruiting efforts, I’m inclined to think Martin is a decent coach. Based on Miami’s 8.8 penalties per game, I’m inclined to think he isn’t. Regardless of whether or not he’s decent, Chuck Martin certainly isn’t anything special. Only special coaches are capable of handling the absurd undertakings of a run-down, mid-major program. Not only does he have to completely restock the cupboard with serviceable talent, but Martin has to revolutionize a program detached from its community and its fanbase. Miami University hopes Chuck Martin can elevate MACtion to a lucrative level. That’s simply ludicrous.

This doesn’t just apply to Chuck Martin. This applies to Mike Jinks. This applies to Rod Carey. This applies to any Group of 5 coach at their wits’ end in developing a path forward for stagnant teams and worthless programs. If small athletic departments consistently struggle to even surmise a profit, how are coaches supposed to produce consistent success in a similar space?

So, Miami University will suit up this Saturday against Kent State and probably lose. If the RedHawks are going to win any game this season, you’d think this would be the one. If there is any God, you’d think this would be the one.

Luckily, fans can now drown their sorrows by throwing back a beer…or two, or three. While they’re at it, I implore those fans to consider pouring one out for Chuck Martin. Here’s to Chuck Martin: a likely victim of an impalpable college football culture utterly impossible to build.

Then again – before anybody can buy a beer, somebody has to show up.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

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Mark Helfrich Is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis

These days, the only thing more aflame than Oregon’s uniforms is coach Mark Helfrich’s hot seat.

Just two seasons after finishing runners-up in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ducks stare down the barrel of extending a three-game losing streak to four in this week’s matchup against the #5 Washington Huskies. They’re allowing 210 rushing yards per game, they’re the sixth-most penalized team in college football, and they’re endangering their shot at earning a bowl invitation.

How have Oregon fans responded? By launching a GoFundMe page to bankroll Helfrich’s massive buyout.

Have faith Oregon fans. At the time of this writing, there’s only $10,999,790 left to go.

To his credit, Helfrich isn’t making any excuses. “Anything that’s bad in this program is my responsibility,” he insisted after a disappointing loss to Nebraska. “Anything you think of that’s bad is my fault.” Don’t get me wrong- that degree of integrity and accountability in a head coach is truly admirable. I like Mark Helfrich. Maybe he doesn’t know a lick about how to play defense (or how to choose a defensive coordinator), but Mark Helfrich is still a quality individual.

Except, quality individuals make awful head coaches. As far as I can tell, that’s the college football reality we live in. Show me a coach with 409 career wins, and I’ll show you someone who reprehensibly covered the tracks of a child rapist. Oh, is it too soon for those questionable Joe Paterno references? Apparently, it isn’t too soon for Penn State to roll out the red carpet in questionably honoring him.

Also, I’m almost certain one of the top five coaches in college football spends his Sundays posterizing middle schoolers at the local YMCA. Is that coach Jim Harbaugh? The world may never know.

Enabling sexual assault. Committing blatant recruiting violations. Hiring coaches recovering from alcoholism. That’s the kind of college-football-isn’t-supposed-to-be-fun mentality you need to coach in college football. Mark Helfrich lacks that mentality. Mark Helfrich looks more like Kermit the Frog than somebody willing to drown a litter of puppies to secure a five-star recruit. When I see Jimbo Fisher, I see a man who would trample a sea of helpless baby orangutans just to re-polish the encased ACC Championship trophies perched so prominently atop his mantle.

Helfrich is clearly more understated than his mentor and predecessor, and while that can have its benefits, it doesn’t help him in either recruiting or developing players and assistant coaches. Helfrich earned his reputation under Chip Kelly by tutoring a number of high-skill quarterbacks, including, most notably, Marcus Mariota. Truth be told, Chip Kelly and Scott Frost (currently at UCF) deserve an enormous amount of the credit assigned to Helfrich. As luck would have it, both men have surfaced in coaching carousel discussions surrounding a potential Helfrich departure.

Helfrich is the Larry Coker to Chip Kelly’s Butch Davis. The latter halves of the comparison each continued onto questionable coaching careers in the NFL. The former half failed to fill the shoes of their coaching mentors. The University of Miami has finally left a downward spiral triggered by inept coaching. If the Ducks don’t act fast, now may be only the beginning of that spiral.

Chip Kelly and Mike Bellotti built the Oregon program to stardom in the previous two decades, yet a decision to stand pat with an average coach in Helfrich threatens every last ounce of that stardom. The Ducks are currently trending away from a winning season and trending away from the offensive firepower that led them to a national championship. A handful of graduate transfers at quarterback have kept the program momentarily afloat, but in a matter of years, the full incompetence of the Helfrich regime will become fully exposed.

And by then, it’ll be too late.

Oregon tried and failed to maintain operations in-house. It’s time for the athletic department to expand the coaching search beyond the boundaries of Eugene- and whatever the hell they call that offense- to bring in an regularly-credentialed asshole with some know-how. If the Ducks waste the 2017 season with a proven lost cause at the helm, who knows whether the former glory of the Oregon program can ever be fully salvaged.

Then again, at least they’ll always have those jerseys.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy – Wikipedia

How Many Games Would Western Michigan Win with a Big Ten Schedule?

Row, row, row your boat ladies and gentlemen- the Western Michigan Broncos are for real.  After convincing victories at Illinois and Northwestern, the Broncos finished 4-0 in regular season non-conference play. Thus far, they’ve amassed just under 2,000 yards of total offense and they’ve possessed the ball over a quarter longer than their opponents. They’re limiting opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry and they’re already +7 in turnover margin.

There’s absolutely no reason the Broncos can’t run the table. With Northern Illinois, supposedly Western Michigan’s strongest intradivisional competitor, off to an abysmal 0-4 start, the ceiling is shattered for P.J. Fleck’s squad to gROW h16her.

Why stop there? Sure, Western Michigan is a popular pick in the MAC West. But how about the Big Ten West? After all, they’ve already vanquished two teams in college football’s strongest conference.

Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking: should Illinois count as an FBS football team? Probably not, but last time I checked, they’re still considered one and Western Michigan beat them. Similarly, the best thing to happen to Northwestern football in the last month is a guy named Trevor Semen Siemian. Maybe it isn’t so unrealistic to imagine the Broncos battling with the Big Ten brass week in and week out.

That’s the burning question no other mediocre sports writer has the courage to answer: how many games would Western Michigan win with a Big Ten schedule?

First, we need to provide the Broncos with a Big Ten schedule. Seeing as Western Michigan literally has the word “western” in it, the Big Ten West seems to be a natural fit. Yet, in order to include the Broncos in the West, another team has to be excluded from the West.

In what’s probably the least shocking news you’ve heard all day, we’re excluding Purdue from the Big Ten West. They’re a disgrace to the game of football at the moment. Given that their colors are nearly identical, you could replace the Boilermakers with the Broncos on any given Saturday and the only way their fans would know the difference is that they’d actually be winning a meaningful game for once.

With that, let’s examine just how well Western Michigan would fare playing Purdue’s Big Ten opponents this season. As for how Purdue would fare in the MAC…we’ll save that for a later date.

Home vs. Maryland Terrapins – W

What’s that? A home tilt against a team that won three games last year? Sign me up. Yeah they’re 3-0, but Maryland’s non-conference schedule was downright criminal. I mean, who doesn’t respect premier programs like Howard, FIU, and UCF? Maryland benefitted from both an easy schedule and sheer luck in the turnover department. A turnover hasn’t been allowed by either of these teams this season. The difference is, it makes sense with WMU- they actually have a good coach.

Away @ Illinois Fighting Illini – W

Western Michigan already won this contest in Week 3 of their actual schedule, so chalk this one up as a W.

Home vs. Iowa Hawkeyes – L

To speak in terms fellow MACtion lovers will appreciate, the Iowa Hawkeyes are simply a better version of the Ohio Bobcats. They’re stout, they’re gritty, they’re conservative, and both have coaches older than the ground they walk on. After Iowa’s blunder against North Dakota State, it’s clear the Hawkeyes aren’t the 12-2 world-beaters that earned Kirk Ferentz an eighty bajillion-year contract. They are, however, experienced. With experience up front and on both sides of the ball, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t allow themselves to falter a second time against a mid-major.

Away @ Nebraska Cornhuskers – L

The way they’re playing at the moment, I’m wary of picking against the Cornhuskers. This hypothetical matchup hinges on a battle within the trenches. Nebraska rushes for 5.1 yards a carry. Western Michigan allows only 3.4 a carry. Nebraska showed enough capability in defending against a spread Oregon attack that I doubt Western Michigan could out-possess or outscore Nebraska.

Home vs. Penn State Nittany Lions – L

I think this is James Franklin’s last season in State College. I’ll give you one good guess as to who I think replaces him. For the purposes of this matchup, I expect Trace McSorley to be a difference maker by the middle of the season. Not like anybody has ever overhyped a Penn State quarterback before…

Away @ Minnesota Golden Gophers – W

I expect P.J. Fleck to revitalize his team after a three-game skid and defeat a ho-hum Minnesota team. Besides that, I’m just going to leave this here:

Home vs. Northwestern Wildcats – W

Western Michigan defeated Northwestern narrowly in Evanston by a 22-21 margin. I’m going to assume a change of scenery to Kalamazoo wouldn’t alter the decision. This is another win for Western Michigan.

Home vs. Wisconsin Badgers – L

This is the only team on this schedule that Western Michigan has no chance of beating. With how swiftly Wisconsin punished Mike D’Antoni Mark Dantonio and Michigan State, even the flashiest of MAC talent simply can’t compete.

Away @ Indiana Hoosiers – W

Indiana just lost to Wake Forest, which is less than ideal. A week before, they only managed a 10-point cushion against Ball State- another MAC member. Once again, it appears all Indiana can do is throw the football. To stop Zach Terrell and Corey Davis, you need to do more than just throw the ball.

Final Record: 9-4 (5-4)

According to my predictions, Western Michigan easily secures a bowl game in the best conference in football. Take that, Purdue.

Am I high on the Broncos? You bet I am. Regardless of my feelings about them, regardless of whether they run the table, regardless of whether they reduce the MAC West to rubble (like Northern Illinois has for years), they’ll never get serious looks as a legitimate contender. That’s a shame for a team as talented as WMU and a coach as talented as Fleck, as well as all other underdogs like them.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, [the Big Ten] is but a dream.

Email Cole Hankins at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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NCAA’s HB2 Boycott Welcomes Fans to the 21st Century

On October 19, 1960, Georgia authorities jailed thirty six civil rights protesters for their participation in an organized sit-in, among them Martin Luther King Jr. With candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon embroiled in a highly competitive presidential race, the story presented a political hot potato neither campaign wanted any part of catching.

Unfortunately, projecting support for African American communities at the time irritated voters in the country’s all-critical southern bloc, threatening either candidate’s pursuit of the Oval Office. The strategy? Avoid, avoid, avoid.

To his credit, Kennedy didn’t avoid it. In an act of political courage, Kennedy called Coretta Scott King soon after the incident in order to reconcile with a grieving community, even as it jeopardized his White House aspirations.

If you haven’t heard, that campaign worked out alright for President Kennedy. Beyond that, his piece of history serves as a poignant example of how goodwill and good business can so often align. Sure, our moral standards should motivate us to console Coretta Scott King, a grieving wife and mother, but business happens to look favorably upon those who follow moral standards. Kennedy’s controversial action began a decades-long alignment between the Democratic Party and African American electoral support, electing multiple presidents and pushing incalculable measures in public policy. I’d say that’s pretty good business.

Using your authority to safeguard certain people’s interests is not only the right thing to do, it’s the intelligent thing to do. It doesn’t matter if those people are black or white. It doesn’t matter if those people are rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if those people are gay or straight, male or female, or anything in between. Protecting certain people’s interests is the intelligent thing to do. Thankfully, NCAA President Mark Emmert occasionally acts intelligently.

People can cry all they want about the NCAA’s “political correctness” in removing championship games from North Carolina. Allow me to welcome those people to the 21st Century. Political correctness is no longer just a buzzword. Political correctness is no longer just “virtue signaling.”

As the demographics of this country diversify at unmistakable levels, political correctness is increasingly becoming just plain old correctness. Whether you are comfortable with that concept from a subjective standpoint is none of my concern. My concern is the objective truth, and the objective truth is that “political correctness” concept constitutes the way forward for entities reliant upon public opinion and public participation. It’s the way forward for people, it’s the way forward for businesses, and it’s the way forward for the NCAA.

House Bill 2, in contrast, defiles the very basis of political correctness. HB2 singles out members of the LGBTQ+ community based on their identities and discourages them from using public facilities, therefore disincentivizing them from engaging in business with the NCAA. House Bill 2 affects the NCAA just as it affects all businesses: by marginalizing consumers. Nothing affects the bottom line quite like marginalizing consumers.

The Center for American Progress projects $567.5 million in future economic losses for North Carolina. Wired estimates the losses are already at $395 million as of Sunday. On the one hand, companies like the NCAA are boycotting North Carolina realizing it’s bad for business. On the other hand, companies like the NCAA are being adversely affected by the fact HB2 is bad for business.

The NCAA wields all the power in this showdown with the state. If North Carolina chooses to legislate against the interests of certain consumers, the NCAA has full right to allocate their business to locations most beneficial to their fans and to the society their fans create. If that reallocation happens to satisfy LGBTQ+ and millennial fans, all the better.

Last week, my colleague Seth Merenbloom (whose writing I greatly respect) penned his disapproval of the NCAA, citing, among other complaints, China hosting a Pac-12 basketball game this November. I endorse in no way the human rights record of the People’s Republic. With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with the NCAA playing in China.

Seth’s premise rests upon the fact that there’s a comparison between the human rights records of China and the United States, and, quite frankly, there’s not.

With the precious rights and liberties that the United States extends its citizens (and its lawmakers), there’s absolutely no excuse for a state to flout those rights and liberties by marginalizing an innocent minority. The NCAA’s business in North Carolina will inspire zero cultural change within the Tar Heel State. Bringing an NCAA (and thus American) influence to China enables a sharing of those rights and liberties, helping the NCAA, helping their student-athletes, and, if only slightly, China’s progression towards LGBTQ+ inclusion.

There’s nothing wrong with the NCAA promoting its business in China. There’s everything wrong with allowing North Carolina to sulk to a comparison with the human rights standards of the Chinese government.

For an organization that preaches “student” before “athlete”, how can the NCAA not exemplify the diligent, principled activism it expects from its student-athletes? Civil disobedience has endured generations. If their boycott can truly inspire reform, why is that practice suddenly off limits for the NCAA?

Here’s why: because certain sports fans and pundits remain glued to the past, refusing to accept the developments of a 21st Century America as they relate to a 21st Century sports world. I’m 18 years young and I have no qualms with disrupting the traditionalism that holds sports back.

The NCAA’s decision to remove championship games from North Carolina promotes goodwill, good business, and treating people with respect. No, that doesn’t politicize the issue. Business has been politicized since the very beginnings of this nation. The writers, fans, and pundits faulting the NCAA for making a sound business decision with empirical benefits?  They’re the ones politicizing the issue.

Refusing to recognize the empirical benefits simply to take a political stance against “political correctness” towards LGBTQ+ individuals is implicit bigotry that’s just as divisive as House Bill 2 itself.

The notion that defending the LGBTQ+ community is bad for business draws unsavory, underlying assumptions about the LGBTQ+ community.

Criticizing the NCAA for adapting to the 21st Century undermines college sports and all those who benefit. Those takes may seem #hot, but they’re true. In fact, I seem to remember another #HotTake artist who challenged the status quo with some young, flashy, and innovative ideals.

His name was John F. Kennedy.

 

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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Picking Against Oklahoma: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

At Campus Pressbox, as my emailers often remind me, I don’t usually get things right. But there is a singular, glorious exception: my spot-on Houston vs. Oklahoma prediction. Now, as Oklahoma gears up to battle Ohio State- the Big Ten’s biggest gun- in primetime, I’m faced with yet another tough decision. Should I place my bets on the Buckeyes, a talented yet unproven contender early in the season? Or should I reconcile with the Sooners, a talented team proven to be composed of choke artists early in the season?

My mother raised me on a steady dose of antiquated morals and maxims and such. One of them goes like this: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Picking against Oklahoma ain’t broke, so I certainly ain’t fixing it.

(My mother also taught me that ain’t ain’t a word because ain’t ain’t in the dictionary. But “ain’t” is currently in the dictionary, and I’m allegedly a college sports writer now. So, sorry mom.)

Here’s a different maxim that my mother had no role in teaching me: the Big 12 sucks. After Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Kansas State all failed to rise to their respective challenges, I’m officially deserting the conference as a likely playoff contender. In Weeks 1 and 2, while the Big 10 entered the conversation of rivaling the SEC for the honor of being the Power 5’s strongest conference, the Big 12 entered the conversation of rivaling the Pac 12 for the dishonor of being the Power 5’s weakest conference.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that from listening to backup quarterback Austin Kendall’s comments yesterday, in which he downplayed Ohio State’s “really basic defense” and emphasized Baker Mayfield’s ability to “light [that defense] up”.

But Kendall didn’t stop there. He also reminded the Buckeyes to keep an eye out for Oklahoma’s secret weapon: himself. “If my number is called,” he rambled, “I think I can do the same [as Mayfield].” I’m sure Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano are searching frantically for Austin Kendall game film as we speak. They’ll have a tough time finding any, however, as Kendall is only fifteen passes better than I am at college football. After losing to an 11.5-point underdog, Kendall inexplicably handed billboard material to the program with the biggest billboard in the country. Boomer Sooner, baby.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that you don’t lose just four games in four seasons by fostering basic defense. Maybe they play “basic defense” because they actually have talent on that side of the ball, unlike, you know, literally every team in the Big 12.  Maybe they don’t need all the empty gimmicks that lesser teams employ. Or, maybe Ohio State’s defense seemed basic because- oh, I don’t know- they’ve played Bowling Green and Tulsa this season. Last time I checked, neither are prolific offenses.

Here’s another maxim my mother taught me: the pot shouldn’t call the kettle black. The pot especially shouldn’t call the kettle black if the kettle isn’t black. I mean that’s just silly.

Oklahoma has no room to criticize Ohio State’s “basic” defense, especially because Ohio State’s defense isn’t basic. Sure, the unit lacks experience, but when you recruit the talent Ohio State does, lacking experience doesn’t make you basic. Lacking experience makes your defense eleven ballhawks that are bigger, faster, and stronger than the eleven guys across the field. You can’t call playmakers like Malik Hooker, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, and Marshon Lattimore “basic”. They’ll show you up.

So, we joke, but in all seriousness- does the Big 12 know what defense is?

There is not a team in college football that resembles more closely Houston’s pro-spread attack than Ohio State, and that’s really, really bad news for Oklahoma. See, Austin Kendall could be right. Baker Mayfield could light the Buckeyes up for 323 yards- just like he did against Houston, but it wouldn’t matter. If Oklahoma doesn’t learn to stop dynamic playmakers like J.T. Barrett and Greg Ward Jr., it can’t expect to be considered a legitimate contender anymore. Unless our man Kendall, Oklahoma’s newfound and self-proclaimed savior, plans on suiting up as a pass rusher of some sort, that improvement won’t be happening.

I’m sorry Sooner fans. That wasn’t a very nice thing to say. That’s something else my mother taught me: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Well, sorry mom.

Oklahoma is overrated. Its conference is overrated. Its quarterback is overrated. Its backup quarterback is overrated. And its chances against Ohio State? Overrated. Ohio State will deliver a swift yet vengeful fist to the Sooners’ jaw on Saturday night. And you know what? There ain’t a damn thing they can do about it.

 

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sorry Oklahoma State, You Can’t Stop the MACtion

Last Saturday, Mid-American Conference officials took a major step forward in the effort to Make the MAC Great Again by literally handing a game to Central Michigan.

Fantastic play. There’s only one problem: it never should’ve happened. After Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph purposely incurred an intentional grounding penalty as time expired, the game’s MAC officiating crew awarded Central Michigan an untimed down. Although, as they later discovered, that’s not how football works.

This quickly prompted outrage around college football circles, forcing many (including Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder) to ask the unthinkable. Should the result of a college football game be reversed?

I learned a valuable piece of life advice from the movie Ghostbusters. Don’t cross the streams. It may seem tempting to balance the scales and restore justice to Oklahoma State’s promising season, but that would be an awful idea. Here’s four reasons why.

#1: Reversing a Game Opens Pandora’s Box

This is probably the most obvious point, but it’s an important one. If the NCAA or its officials overturn the result of this game, as easy as it may be, that leaves the door open for botched officiating to jeopardize the results of every game from here on out.

Fans may not like to hear it, especially when their team is involved, but the human element is involved in nearly every aspect of football. Your defensive tackle jumps offsides on a 4th and Goal? Whoops. Your quarterback’s helmet pops off before the last play of the game? Sorry. Your headgear malfunctions on the sideline? Tough luck. If any of those things happen over the course of a football game, the onus is on you to overcome them.

An officiating error is no different. If we set a precedent in allowing officiating error to affect the final score of a football game, every single call can now be grounds to delegitimize a team’s victory. Coaches and fan bases gripe enough about penalties already. Imagine if we gave them a reason to claim that they actually won the game if not for those penalties?

It may seem reasonable to excuse this particular instance because of the special circumstances it presents. It was the last play, an untimed down, and a ridiculous Hail Mary. But the truth is, a football game’s first play is no more or less important than its last, and allowing CMU’s last play to distort the equity and fairness of the game is corrupted form.

#2: Oklahoma State Earned the L

Accept it Cowboys fans. You lost to a MAC team. And, even if the world burns and you somehow get your three-point win, you still lost in spirit. There’s no excuse for a ranked Big 12 school to lose to an above average MAC team. There’s no excuse. This just further cements what I’ve been saying for a while now: the Big 12 sucks.

Okay, maybe this is just a matter of personal annoyance, but I adamantly refuse to allow Oklahoma State to use officiating to shield an underperforming team from the criticism it rightfully deserves. Sure it’s a tough loss, but everybody understands the circumstances. Which leads into a surprisingly forgotten point…

#3: We Have This Thing Called the Playoff Committee

Man, if only college football entrusted its evaluation process to actual human beings who could decide on Oklahoma State’s fate beyond their simple win or loss ranking. Wouldn’t that be great?

The argument that Oklahoma State’s loss cripples their championship hopes is ludicrous for two reasons. First, Oklahoma State never had championship hopes. Second, even if they won, members of the Playoff Committee would still be disapproving of the Cowboys’ lackluster performance. Those committee members can decide Oklahoma’s fate as rational human beings if it reaches that point. I’m not holding my breath.

#4: Last but Not Least, the BielemaMeter

Central Michigan’s hard-fought, if fortunate, victory reinforces a halfhearted prediction I didn’t quite make via the BielemaMeter. What’s important is that the MAC reigns once again, and a Power 5 foe joins the ranks of those Bielema’d.

All that matters is that by a MAC miracle of Ben Roethlisberger proportions, CMU claimed its moment in the limelight, and terrible officiating helped to Make the MAC Great Again. Face it Oklahoma State- you just can’t stop the MACtion.

Email Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Cole_Hankins.

Photo courtesy of Reddit – cinciforthewin