All posts by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich is the Editor-in-Chief at More Than a Fan. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Jeff is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He has lived in Phoenix, Arizona since 2001. Jeff has discussed sports on radio, podcasts, and in various blogs for the last decade. He first joined MTAF in 2012, covering College Football and participating in the launch of College Football Roundtable (now Campus Pressbox). He can be heard from 11am-1pm EST on Dorf on Sports at SportsByline.com.

Shame on Your Weak Week 12 Schedule, SEC

Shame on you, for real.

No, not you, Ohio State. I don’t think you were looking ahead, to the last game on your schedule. You were dealing with a typically tough conference rival in their house. You won the game, and that’s all we needed to see.

No, not you, Colorado. What a fantastic season you’ve had. However, let’s not get it twisted. Storming the field has lost all meaning, if you’re motivated by the “lifetime achievement award” type season. Taking down Washington State may have been your best home win, but that was hardly a moment of goal post uprooting.

Kansas, you should be ashamed of a lot of things, but the pandemonium in Lawrence makes sense to me. It shouldn’t have been the second trespassing incident on that turf this season. It shouldn’t have been the Jayhawks’ first win in 24 tries versus FBS competition. I sincerely hope Saturday’s win over Texas doesn’t end up being the backdrop for Charlie Strong’s Final Act as head coach at Texas. Standby on that.

The SEC-Southern Conference Challenge

Shame on you, Alabama. For the record, I don’t care to see any of the game’s traditional juggernauts play a televised game against a scout team any time of year, but when it happens in Week 12, the exhibition adds insult to injury. I’m not mad that Tennessee-Chattanooga led the Tide, 3-0 after one, and I don’t think it should matter to anyone. Whether Alabama won that game by a single possession or earned the 28-point victory they actually etched out against their 8-2 FCS opponent, no one should have cared about that game. I hope no one of any significance did.

It’s just a shame. I think we’re being gypped. It’s become clear to me that how good you are matters more than what you’ve achieved, and if that’s the criteria, I don’t want the best of the Southeastern Conference playing anyone that isn’t Power 5 after October 1st, let alone in Week 12.

They weren’t alone in the SEC, seeking out a Southern Conference opponent from the lower tier. South Carolina hosted the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Down in Auburn, the Tigers survived Alabama A&M from the SWAC, edging the Bulldogs 55-0. What do these contests tell us?

Nothing. It’s a shame they even partake in the practice.

Florida and LSU Found a Way to Play

It’s funny how it ends up being a blessing in disguise for the conference to bail themselves out of the cluster-you-know-what created in the aftermath of Florida canceling their scheduled game with LSU on October 8th. Remember all of that finger-pointing? Did you think maybe Florida was digging their own grave?

It turns out they didn’t. They got a trip to Atlanta out of it, and they don’t have to go to Baton Rouge next year. We’ll see how much of it matters after they rendezvous with Saban and company. It may not matter much after they play Florida State. The one we don’t get, is the 2-9 Presbyterian Blue Hose. Their coach is stepping down; South Alabama gave them a whooping in Florida’s place, and faithful Gator fans were spared an essentially unwatchable game.

Rutgers Just Isn’t Good Enough For the Big Ten

Shame on the Big Ten for the latest expansion. I don’t care if anyone thinks it pisses on tradition. You stuck all of these decent teams in the Big Ten East with Maryland and Rutgers. Two teams that really could have used showcase games, a week before Ohio State and Michigan own the conference spotlight, got stuck with cake walk games–versus Maryland and Rutgers.

That’s your Big Ten Championship, if the dominoes fall a certain way next Saturday. Nebraska and Penn State, they might as well have played Youngstown State and Villanova. The chalk says Wisconsin plays Penn State, but it sure would be a shame if the winner of Ohio State-Michigan didn’t win the Big Ten Championship.

Would it be a shame to appoint our first team without a conference title in hand? I would not be ashamed to see a Buckeyes team with wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the College Football Playoff.

That would only be a shame for people that think seasons should disintegrate due to blocked field goals in hostile road environments. Shame on you, people like that.

The next few Saturdays should be a lot of fun. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get more quality from the 205 this weekend.

Photo Credit: Matthew Tosh, via Flickr

The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

All this time, the NFL has seemed so bullet-proof, but we’re seeing vulnerability in the armor. People aren’t watching as much, and they don’t like the way the product is being dispersed.

What plagues the professional game actually seems to aid college football. While we understand Saturday remains the best day to see the best games, we don’t feel like the occasional Thursday or Friday games are scheduled to do us dirty.

You want to play one of these games on the moon at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, College Football fans will adjust. Just tell them when/where the tailgate is, and they’re cool.

Tell an NFL fan that Sunday Ticket is only offering a game that his antenna won’t in the late spot on Sunday, and they’re livid with London and Thursday Night Football. The presentation of the NFL game is too clean for fans to adapt to these random game-time windows.

College Football fans see Thursday, and now also Tuesday and Wednesday, as an opportunity to showcase a game that might be buried on ESPNU or some dreaded streaming option at noon on Saturday.

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

Last Tuesday, the nation’s “other” unbeaten team had the undivided attention of the College Football diehards in Muncie. Maybe a 32-point win over Ball State isn’t that sexy on paper, but did you see what Corey Davis did?

Do you feel anything was flukey about Western Michigan’s 9-0 start? Maybe you understand the pecking order, and where the Mid-American Conference gets pecked. Maybe there’s an obligation to qualify the two road wins over the Big Ten by reminding everyone that Illinois was one of those wins. Maybe you wonder if the MAC juggernaut deserves to be on the field with a mid-major darling like Boise State.

Friday night, by the way, a nationwide audience was given a chance to watch the other Broncos bounce back from their first loss of the season, which happened on October 29.

Remember the 80s?

Just for kicks, you could have watched games involving Oklahoma and Colorado last Thursday. Maybe something like that would have excited you more 25-30 years ago, but those games affect the outcome of the Big 12 and Pac-12, because the present is weird.

You love it, and it takes nothing away from Saturday afternoon or evening.

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

This coming Tuesday, Eastern Michigan will continue a semi-annual MAC tradition of paying homage to democracy with Election Day uniforms, back in Muncie–for #MACtion. Speaking of everyone’s favorite non-defense-playing conference, you’ll be sure to see Cubs fans from DeKalb to Northern Ohio trolling Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side this Wednesday.

It’s football at a baseball stadium. Yeah, Northwestern and Illinois got Wrigley on a Saturday, and GameDay went to Wrigleyville. This next chapter in the great Toledo-Northern Illinois saga might get Roy Philbott, Rocky Boiman, and an ESPN2 production crew to urban Illinois on a school night.

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

Thursday, we get Utah in the Valley of the Sun, for the FS1 weekend preview. It’s up to the Utes to prove that anyone other than Washington is worth a damn in that conference. This game isn’t being stolen from ABC at 3:30, but more likely from a channel you don’t get, even if you live in Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

CBS gave you three games on Saturday, just as they would when they have London and the 1 PM/4 PM doubleheader on Sunday. They got Notre Dame because they have Navy rights. Notre Dame lost again; great moment for Navy. Is College Football worse off for the Irish’s 3-6 campaign?

I doubt CBS or Navy care. They’re going to care about records a lot more in December when they’re selling some lousy SEC East team’s upset potential against Alabama in Atlanta.

Hurts Donut?

Speaking of the Tide, Jalen Hurts may have provided the only offensive spark for Alabama in a 10-0 win in Death Valley at night. There’s a joke to be told including Alabama’s quarterback’s last name and a breakfast food that looks like a zero, but I’m striking out.

The networks are hitting it out of the park though and in doing so, they’ve won us over with quantity over quality. More may mean too much on Sunday, but we love it on Saturday, Thursday, and sometimes Tuesday.

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PJ Fleck Deserves Better Than the MAC or Purdue

About that Purdue job, just say no. PJ Fleck should just continue to row that boat in Kalamazoo.

At 7-0, Western Michigan is in a good position to run the table, and in the conversation to represent the MAC Conference on the New Year’s Six slate. That’s a ways down the road, and there are some other factors to consider before we start getting too excited about any of that.

First, they have to take care of business in the MAC West, where remaining opponents Eastern Michigan, Ball State, and Toledo are a combined 14-6 overall. Toledo’s only slip-up of the year was that wild Friday night in Provo, which wasn’t worth Mack Brown’s time. Should the Broncos get to that game, for just the third time in the game’s 20-year history, they would be gunning for their first MAC crown since 1988.

Problem is, getting to Detroit has been a problem for everyone in the MAC West, except for Northern Illinois. Jerry Kill took the Huskies there in 2010, and NIU has represented the MAC West every year since. In 2011, it was Dave Doeren, and for the last three years, Rod Carey has led NIU into Detroit. That’s three coaches in six seasons.

That’s only a glimpse at the problem. During NIU’s six-year run of making that game, they’ve faced four different schools from the MAC East and seen five different head coaches. Of those five, only Ohio’s Frank Solich remains where he was.

Anyone can make an argument for seeking greener pastures than the Mid-American Conference. They are all very honest about what they are and where they fall in the pecking order. It looks dirty when they take the money and run, but while it’s never a perfect job, it’s always a better job when the money is that much better.

Real Success After MAC Success

Kill and Doeren left DeKalb for promising opportunities in high-major conferences, at Minnesota and North Carolina State, respectively. Kill’s high-major coaching career was cut short due to health, but his legacy lives on through his staff in Gopher Land. Meanwhile, Doeren is doing his best to get NC State on the same plane with the Florida State’s and Clemson’s of the world, in his fourth season in Raleigh.

The grass has been greener for them, and also Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, to name a few. Dave Clawson may only be 11-20 in his third season at Wake Forest, since leaving Bowling Green after their 2013 MAC Championship, but the Demon Deacons are 5-2 this season.

Winning in the MAC Doesn’t Always Translate

On the flip side, there are the guys who have left for Illinois. That wasn’t good.

How about Darrell Hazell? The former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State was hired by Purdue after an 11-1 year and MAC Championship defeat in his second season at Kent State. To win at Kent was something; to win in West Lafayette required something else. It was something Hazell didn’t have, leading the Boilermakers to a 9-33 mark in his three and a half seasons as the Purdue head coach.

At the end of the day, he either wasn’t ready or wasn’t good enough. That does happen; just look at Turner Gill. One minute, Gill is leading Buffalo past an undefeated Ball State team in Detroit. The next, he’s treading water at FCS Liberty after a failed go at Kansas.

Loyalty Eventually Means Losing

At present, Northern Illinois is 1-5, after dropping an overtime thriller to Central Michigan on Saturday. A drop-off was expected for this program, but at least they have a head coach that sticks around for the bowl game after the Conference Championship, but it isn’t unfair to explore the idea that Rod Carey isn’t good enough, even to be a big fish at the bottom of the FBS.

Can we say anyone willing to stay in the MAC, or anyone not good enough to get another offer, just won’t be good enough to sustain success? Now, Fleck happened to attend Northern Illinois, so maybe he’s not too good for the conference. However, his coaching past at his alma mater comes with the type of baggage that makes a reunion far from inevitable, which probably doesn’t change the soft spot he may or may not have for the conference.

PJ Fleck’s Immediate Future

Still, his ceiling is higher than what Western Michigan can ever be. The Big Ten seems like a logical leap for these MAC coaches to remain in the same region, but Fleck to Purdue yields nothing that resembles logic.

There is something about taking the jobs that are available, and you know LSU and Notre Dame aren’t knocking down PJ Fleck’s door. Given the current landscape in the Big Ten, Purdue may have the conference’s only vacancy until at least this time next year or later.

In a world where MAC ADs usually make a choice between a guy that will win and a guy that will stay, PJ Fleck may give Western Michigan a little bit of both…for now.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.
Photo Credit: User TheKuLeR on en.wikipedia (link)

College Football Shames Schools With Directional Names

What’s in a name? Sometimes, it’s mostly the name that sells the perception. The name of the state is good, and in most cases, it’s still good when you throw a “State” suffix on the end. In the cases of Alabama and Ohio State, adding or dropping the “State” can mean a serious downgrade to the caliber of football we’re talking about. For the most part, State Name U and State Name State give the book a decent cover, if you’re prepared to judge it that way.

Cities are a good bet too, especially if that city is Houston, or perhaps one of the three cities in the ACC that host schools that occupy a spot in this week’s Top 10.  However, there are a few types of school names that create a seed of doubt.  If the word “directional” can be used to describe your favorite university’s title, it automatically means bad news for that school’s football program.

For example, with a win over the San Diego State, the University of South Alabama (USA) picked up their second name-brand win of the season on Saturday. They had previously shocked the College Football world in Week 1, upsetting a school with that Southeastern Conference pedigree, at Mississippi State.

Why is it so shocking, though? South, West, East, and North are great for navigation, but serve as a poor verbiage for the name of a power house.

Southern California Gets Away With Being Directional

Maybe it’s just that it’s easier to use three letters, because University of Southern California is such a mouthful, but you never think of USC as directional California. I guess, at 2-3, there isn’t too much reason to spend time thinking about the Trojans in 2016.

The Battle of Directional Michigan

With all respect due the team that plays on the grey turf in Ypsilanti, the directional Michigan schools did battle in Mount Pleasant on Saturday.

Central Michigan, you might recall, stole that win in Stillwater over Oklahoma State, and hosted Western Michigan on Saturday. PJ Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos came away with the 49-10 road win, improving to 5-0 on the year, building on their Group of Five résumé, which already included wins over Northwestern and Illinois. You may not care about about “a couple of directionals”, but at least one of the coaches involved does.

“I would rather go through eight weeks of chemotherapy radiation again then lose to that team the way we lost tonight. That’s the truth to how I feel.”

-CMU Head Coach/Cancer Survivor John Bonamego

Not Just a Name, But Some Person’s Actual Name

When James Madison upset Virginia Tech in 2014, it was brought to my attention that it’s bad to lose to a school named after a person. You’ll only find first and last names in the FCS ranks and below, but the FBS features strong academic institutions named after Cornelius Vanderbilt, Washington Duke, and R.E.B Baylor.

By their full names, the schools would sound worse than they already are. If Stephen F. Austin was just Austin, I’d respect their name a lot more. It’s just good that Leland Stanford didn’t live to see what happened to the Cardinal in Seattle on Friday.

[Name of City] State Universities Are So Mountain West

You hear about these a lot more in basketball than football. If you think your team is a contender and they’re playing Something State, but the “Something” isn’t the name of the state, your team better win. Four such teams play in the Mountain West.

Before the hiccup at South Alabama, the San Diego State was rolling. At 3-1, with a win over Cal, look for the Aztecs to contend in the Mountain West.

Boise State is the only team in this group that occupies a prestigious spot in the Top 25. They started their Mountain West schedule with a win over Utah State this weekend, and they have two wins over Pac-12 competition in their back pocket. Neither Fresno State, nor San Jose State, have a win over an FBS opponent yet.

The MAC is Directional (So Is the SEC, But Shut Up)

Bowling Green doesn’t use their “State” often, but they’re in the previous group. Having been outscored 249-86 on the year, the Falcons don’t look like promising favorites to return to the MAC Championship for a fourth straight year. Quite frankly, neither does Northern Illinois, who went to Muncie with an 0-4 non-league record.

Ball State, named after the Ball family, fit in the “named after a person” category, as well as the “Not The State…State”.  It’s no wonder they gave Directional Illinois their first win of the season.

The Ampersand, Agriculture, and Mechanical

It’s not like we don’t respect institutions that specialize in Agriculture and Mechanical. Believe me, we do, but it has to be in Texas. We’re not digging the ampersand that comes with their A&M counterparts in Alabama and Florida. As for the Aggies, if they’re truly the SEC West darkhorse we need, they ought to be the ones to expose Tennessee next Saturday, despite the horseshoe Butch Jones’ proctologist has probably been warning him about.

E-mail Jeff at jeff [dot] rich [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter, @byjeffrich
Photo Credit: Gregory Vamum via Wiki

Context for a Conversation About College Football

We are finally deep enough into the season where we have actual context to understand exactly what we’re seeing on the television and in the box scores. In the coming weeks, a lot of questions that are part of the conversation will be answered on the field of play. However, college football still requires us to play the “what if” game and use that transitive property, almost like it’s an exact science. For the record, we’re going on the assumption that transitives only tell part of the story.

The rest of the conversation sees its blanks filled in, for the most part, over time. Time tells us that we should take certain past events at face value, while others dictate the glass being half-empty or half-full. ‘Who played who?’ and ‘who beat who, by how many?’ matters, but more games give me more pertinent information.

Going into the weekend, it seemed like a lot of what we thought we knew was based on how little we knew about Notre Dame. The assumption that Michigan State, Texas, and even Cal were good, that was giving the Fighting Irish a lot of credit for a home win over Nevada in Week 2. Now, we’ve been provided with the context of Duke being three points better than Notre Dame in South Bend, and no one is building any arguments on the foundation of a win over Notre Dame.

Some of us may have already had enough with Notre Dame before its third loss of the season, but we definitely had some games on the slate that would supplement or debunk our early season theories.

What to Make of Wisconsin Surviving Georgia State

The Badgers have the benefit of that win over LSU to open the season in their back pocket. The stock on that one is starting to plummet, which will happen when that school fires its coach of more than ten years. None of the goodwill from that game was helping Wisconsin, in the context of the conversation, when it trailed one of the Sun Belt’s worst teams 17-13, with just under eight minutes to play a week ago.

The only other feather in Michigan State’s cap, aside from its trouncing of Notre Dame, is a home win over Furman. The Spartans were given a lot of the benefit of the doubt, based on what Mark Dantonio has done the past few seasons, but they needed conference play to begin in a bad way. At the end of the day, they wish they could have hosted the Badgers before Paul Chryst figured out that Alex Hornibrook was the better option at quarterback.

Wisconsin played better defense, holding the Spartans to 75 yards on the ground and forcing three turnovers. The 30-6 victory was a good start to the five-game gauntlet, which continues with Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska. The Badgers have a good case for #1, should they run through that unscathed, but Saturday’s performance in East Lansing renders their mediocre showing versus Georgia State moot.

Was Georgia Really Just Two Points Better Than Nicholls?

USA Today called it uninspiring. Kirby Smart referred to it as disappointing. At the end of the day, the scoreboard said it was a 26-24 loss for the Colonels of Nicholls, a 1-2 FCS team that created itsown context by coming within one point of upsetting South Alabama in Mobile this weekend.

Georgia went to Oxford, perhaps with memories of knocking off North Carolina in Week 1. That big win was all but forgotten by the time they trailed Ole Miss 31-0 at the half, on their way to a 45-14 defeat. I think it’s time we’re honest about the Bulldogs. They didn’t deserve that 12 or any number ESPN wanted to put next to their name on the score overlay last week, and I’m wondering if CBS has explored opting out of airing the bloodbath they face with Tennessee coming between the hedges next weekend.

Maybe Nicholls should have beaten them, but short of that, Georgia cannot and will not hang in the SEC.

Was “Almost at A&M” the Ceiling for UCLA?

After coming up just short at Kyle Field in Week 1, the UCLA Bruins have not been afforded much of an opportunity to prove their worth on a national stage. Sure, they took a trip to Provo and barely defeated a BYU team that seems to specialize in barely losing games this season, but no one is docking Jim Mora and Company for style points. That was a real live loss in College Station.

Despite what some may have considered a struggle in Week 1 against visiting Kansas State, Stanford is widely considered the class of the Pac-12 right now, and the consensus favorite to win the conference. UCLA getting them at the Rose Bowl in Pac-12 after dark action spoke well to its chances of getting the W, and it looked like it was going that way until the final drive.

10 plays, 70 yards, very little of it had to do with Christian McCaffrey. Like that,  a 13-9 deficit ends up being a 16-13 lead, and some chaos at the end gives Stanford a meaningless score for a 22-13 victory.

UCLA almost won, again. UCLA almost wins, a lot.

That almost puts them in the conversation.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

Featured Photo: Eric Chan via Wiki

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NCAA Pulls Events From North Carolina, Leaves Collateral Damage

The NCAA has spoken, and it is not happy with the state of North Carolina. For reasons clearly stated in a September 12 press release, seven NCAA championship events will be relocated away from previously designated venues in Cary, Greensboro, and Greenville, North Carolina. This action will affect seven men’s and women’s sports across all three divisions of the NCAA, but the opening weekend’s games of next year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament not being played in Greensboro will grab the headlines.

It’s not that you need the NCAA involved to draw headlines towards North Carolina’s now infamous bathroom bill. The National Basketball Association has pivoted its big neutral-site game, the Association’s All-Star Game, from Charlotte, where it was scheduled next winter, to New Orleans. Businesses, most notably PayPal, have halted planned growth in the state. Concerts have been canceled and a number of local governments have restricted business travel to the state, all voicing frustration with the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.

With me, I’ve never actually paid that much attention to the company I keep in a public restroom. Get in, take care of what you went in there to do, and get out. It feels simpler than it seems to be, and I feel common sense is at play, but I’m not in public office. Maybe every fourth or fifth law passed over there has to be about something that really isn’t an issue, or wasn’t an issue. It is certainly buzzworthy now.

We’ve punished a lot of the wrong people in North Carolina, to date. To be fair, this punitive action towards the citizens of North Carolina is about removing anti-discriminatory language from law. It’s been a while since my last math class, but if I recall how to handle a double negative, it equals ‘adding discriminatory language’, correct? That’s how I’m rolling, here.

The hospitality industry has lower numbers to be hospitable towards, thus fewer hours will be given to those employees. Construction workers aren’t laying the groundwork for new commercial properties. With the absence of those buildings, goes the many entry-level jobs no longer available to the many students hoping to graduate into the workforce.

Some of those recent graduates will be the NCAA’s former student-athletes, some forced so far from home their families won’t see them play on the biggest stage of their careers. On the off chance, Mount Olive returns to the Division II Championship Baseball tournament, the know they won’t be hosting the finals in Cary, even though that was the plan. There are athletes that play golf, soccer, lacrosse, and tennis that might have similar sob stories.  You could call if unfair, but that really only amounts to a minor inconvenience.

Something like that only pales in comparison with the dilemma a NCAA Tournament Committee might face, when it would have had to (maybe) keep public schools from Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont out of one of the 8 slots in Greensboro next March. There would be more noise about losing a Sweet Sixteen, let alone a Final Four, but we’ll hear plenty, given the 18 Division I Hoops programs in the basketball-crazy state of North Carolina.

Quick to weigh in with endorsements of the NCAA’s decision were the athletic directors from the state’s name brand athletic programs, Duke and North Carolina. Duke’s Kevin White stated that they agree with the NCAA’s decision and that they “will always be committed to diversity and inclusion, and applaud any efforts to ensure that those values are protected and enacted at all times, and in places in the state of North Carolina.”

North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham discussed his school’s commitment to fairness and also expressed his disappointment on behalf of people of the state and the communities “that are scheduled to play host to these championship events and to the students who may be denied the opportunity to compete for championships in their home state.” What happens to the student-athletes is admittedly trivial, but they are collateral damage, playing the role of pawns in this political chess game.

Ask Governor Pat McCrory or the sponsor of HB2, Representative Dan Bishop, how much they weep for those student-athletes, those hospitality workers, or those young North Carolina-educated professionals, all missing out on opportunity and prosperity. Does the message get to them, to spark change? I don’t think it does.

It doesn’t actually matter. The NCAA is bound by its constitution to not stand idly by. The schools are bound by their own commitment to decency, if not their reputations, to follow suit. The idea here is a unified front against discrimination. It isn’t the NCAA’s directive to get complicated and detailed with this. They needed the North Carolina government to do better, and the North Carolina government failed them.

The longer this goes on, the more collateral damage we’ll see in the form of real people in the Tar Heel State. For the student-athletes, they’re best served to take the sacrifices they may be forced to make with a grain of salt.

Maybe they can send a postcard from Pensacola or wherever.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @byJeffRich.
Featured photo Jarrett Campbell via Wiki

What Happens When Michigan Actually Leaves Ann Arbor?

If you’re looking for something to dismiss or perhaps take with a grain of salt this College Football season, I might suggest checking out the Michigan hype train. Mind you, the Wolverines might actually be worth every piece of their top 5 ranking in the polls, but you can’t base that on anything you’ve seen to date.

No one is questioning how fluid their offense is, how bright their future appears to be, or how the sky’s the limit for Jabrill Peppers. Outscoring your opponent 114-17 through eight quarters of play is impressive, whether your opponent is from the Deep South or the Pacific Islands.

The issue at hand here is, what you’re seeing now, this isn’t the environment Michigan is going to be playing in when it matters. Obviously, you can say that about the majority of major programs in the Power 5 ranks right now, but it’s worth emphasizing in the context of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh tends to get people excited about some really mundane things, and I’m hoping fewer people fall for it this time around.

I know that the schedules are constructed years in advance, so there’s no pointing the finger at anyone currently in Ann Arbor for this, but this run of home games, five in all, doesn’t paint a true picture of what this team is. We won’t remember 2016 for its September, a month the Wolverines won’t leave Washentaw County. We’ll be well into the season of autumn by the time we see those white Jumpman jerseys for the first time, so what are we actually going to learn about Michigan this month?

There’s more to this sideways view of Michigan’s ascension to the top of the polls than level of competition. It’s the precedent they set a year ago, rebounding from a season-opening loss at Utah. They built on it, until the wheels fell off at the end of their game with Michigan State.

Home, Home, and Home Again

Michigan plays five straight home games to start the season. We’ve established that, but they do get progressively more difficult, even though they are all home games. With mid-major foes, Harbaugh had the luxury of being able to offer his freshmen and inexperienced student-athletes some valuable playing time. Colorado should be better, based on what I’ve seen, than anyone we’ve seen to date.  They are a Power 5, but haven’t really legitimized owning that label in the last decade.

I think we’ve seen that Penn State can be pesky and there’s no quit in James Franklin’s squad. While they’re a worthy opponent, I’m not sure they will do anything that resembles ‘giving Michigan all they can handle’ when they pop in on their friends at The Big House on September 24.

Wisconsin somehow convinced LSU to play them in Green Bay, and the Badgers were victorious. Was it a fluke, or is Wisconsin any good? For that matter, is LSU any good? Those questions, thanks to appealing Week 2 pairings with Akron and Jacksonville State, remain unanswered for now. When it comes Michigan and Wisconsin, the home team is 6-1 since 2002. Michigan will be the home team on October 1.

Alas, Michigan Plays an Away Game

Finally, on October 8, the schedule takes Michigan to Piscataway, New Jersey to play Rutgers in its sixth game of the season.

Last year, Michigan drilled Rutgers, 49-16, in Ann Arbor. This time around, Rutgers will be just seven days removed from its trip to Ohio State. You might expect a similar result, unless Harbaugh’s squad has trouble adjusting to the New Jersey atmosphere.

A Well Deserved Pre-Homecoming Bye

The trip spans 613 miles, but don’t worry about the fatigue from travel taking the polish off of Michigan’s shine. The scheduling gods offer them a week off before their next game, which happens to also be at home.  They host Illinois for Homecoming, and if Michigan is better than North Carolina, and I think we can assume they are, they will be better than Illinois at Michigan Stadium on October 22.

The Real Question

The bottom line is the real work begins when they travel to East Lansing on October 29. Until we’re given a reason to believe otherwise, the Big Ten goes through Michigan State and Ohio State. Neither of those games are at Michigan Stadium.

They’ll be away from The Big House for three of their last five games, with lay-up home games in between trips to Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State. I don’t care what the Wolverines did in the Who Cares Bowl, they’re still looking up at all three programs that played on the big stage in January.

Not only do they deal with a tall order in winning all of those games, but they need to defeat all three in their respective homes to even sniff anything more than a conference championship. We don’t know the answer, but we have to ask.

What happens when Michigan actually leaves Ann Arbor?

Featured Photo, courtesy of Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy (via Flickr)

The Right Thing for Leonard Fournette is to Play Football at LSU in 2016

Leonard Fournette needs to play football for LSU this fall. He understands this, as does his Head Coach Les Miles. I know it and you should too. Blue chip athletes, like Fournette, for example, lose their blue chip status when they expose their passive side. Sitting out a season to protect draft status is sailing into uncharted waters, an act that I might classify as cowardice, and there is no precedent.

To hear the suggestion, the noise that Kirk Herbstreit wished to quickly silence last October, is nothing new. They wanted Jadeveon Clowney to do it. They said Ezekiel Elliott should do it. Supporters of Todd Gurley probably wish he would have done it. It’s a fun conversation, nothing more. If you’re healthy and you’re eligible to play, you take every opportunity to demonstrate to your future employer why you’re special.

Rest assured, any player that brings this conversation to the forefront is anything but a nobody. With the obvious knock on a player’s competitive desire out there, Mike Mayock told Rich Eisen,

”… I think there would be another core group of individuals and teams that say, ‘Wait a minute, not only can we draft a kid that might be a once-in-a-lifetime type talent, but there’s less tread (wear) on the tires. He didn’t take the beating of 12, 13, 14 games in the SEC. I think it would be a mixed opinion. I think the more vocal opinion would be negative. But I think there would be a lot of teams throughout the league that would say ‘Hey, that’s OK with me.’ They’re just not going to say that publicly.”

With Fournette seen in a walking boot, a precautionary measure after an injury at practice, this discussion has been given new life. After, was it an injury scare that prompted this line of thinking in the first place? I checked; it wasn’t.

The media decided just how special Leonard Fournette was, in the days after LSU’s 34-24 victory at Syracuse. He torched the Orange defense for 244 yards and two touchdowns, in a game that was very competitive most of the way. It was not because anyone feared him getting hurt necessarily, it was just that everyone believed the then-20-year-old was physically gifted enough to play in the NFL.

I don’t know. Maybe no one feared Willis McGahee or Marcus Lattimore absorbing devastating injuries either. McGahee recovered from his injuries suffered in his final College Football game and salvaged an NFL career. Lattimore’s fate, following a knee injury suffered in 2012, was much more devastating. Fortunately, both had the safety net of insurance, just in case they met the fate they were destined to encounter. Those policies were worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.7-$2.5 million.

Fournette’s family has multiple $10 million policies on the junior running back. It protects his draft stock, as well as some financial protection against injury. Frankly, the game has come a long way from the inevitable doomsday that the Alvin Mack character faced at the end of The Program. Now, I’m not saying that getting paid makes the opportunity they miss out on worth it, but the story doesn’t end with complete and utter ruin under any circumstance.

Now, you’re going to hear the likes of Nick Wright say these guys have nothing to gain by playing another down, but if you allow me to play the role of scout or NFL front office person, I’m insulted that I’m intentionally being denied a larger sample size. I don’t really even agree with the crux of the message, that it isn’t worth taking the risk, but I’m most hung up on the “nothing to gain” sentiment.

Call me foolish, but I still believe that young men are still learning to play the game and mastering how to be football players at the collegiate level. In contrast, the NFL expects everyone to know how to play, so they can move on to working on how it’s applied in their professional system. Cam Cameron and Les Miles are probably fairly decent at teaching the game at an advanced level, and Fournette will certainly benefit from that.

There’s a featured quote from an early episode of The Wire that’s always bothered me, and it’s Marla Daniels, “You cannot lose if you do not play”. She asked her cop husband not to rock the boat by pursuing a crime syndicate full of murderers. In that case, they decided to play and the right thing had happened.

It was a case of doing the right thing versus doing the easy thing. For Miles and Fournette, it was never a question, and we’ll see “the right thing” on display at Lambeau Field on the afternoon of September 3rd.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

Featured photo credit: Wikipedia

The Cartel and the Mid-Majors, Why Scheduling Matters

Imagine pulling for a team that can’t possibly win a championship, and not just because they aren’t good enough.  In College Football, it might literally be impossible to even qualify for a championship based on the company we keep.  Because of that, and that alone, it falls on the schedule-makers at Nobody U to make said program outside the Cartel relevant to the national conversation.

That’s not to say any of the participants from “non-qualifying” conferences ever really diluted the product, quite the opposite, in fact.

Boise State was the nation’s only unbeaten team from the 2006 season. The Broncos had to ‘settle’ for that historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.   Meanwhile, one-loss Florida took down Ohio State in the bigger game on that same field in Arizona a week later.  After Boise State’s 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, their quarterback was asked if they deserved a title shot, and he said he thought so.  He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t quite all-the-way right either.

That perfect Boise State squad scheduled Division I-AA Sacramento State, a 10-win Oregon State team, Wyoming, and Utah in a down year, out of conference. None of their Western Athletic Conference rivals were ranked at the time of their game against the Broncos or the end of the season, so it was very difficult to argue their body of work against that of Ohio State’s or Florida’s for a spot in the two-team playoff.  Being undefeated basically became the standard for the Broncos, but even non-league wins over Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia were not enough for National Championship consideration.  Playing other mid-majors in 8 or 9 contests per year, it impresses no one.

What are the contenders in the American, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt doing to chase down more than just small conference glory? What type of 2016 schedule might qualify these nobodies for the very exclusive tournament that College Football uses to crown its champion?

American Athletic Conference

The geography of this league lends itself to some really good non-conference games, as SMU gets backyard games with TCU and Baylor, but the team with a schedule worthy of national consideration is Houston.  Sure, they’re playing Lamar, and I will not support any playing of FCS opponents by teams that want to be the best of the FBS, but I’ll let it go for Oklahoma and Louisville.  The Sooners and Cardinals will both play Houston in Houston, which should be good enough if they survive the AAC.

Conference USA

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) is going to attract the big boys to the Alamo Dome, but they will usually have to reciprocate with a road game. This year, they host Arizona State in September and take a trip to College Station, where Texas A&M will host them in November.  Don’t expect competitive games.  I might like Marshall’s gauntlet of ACC adversaries, if they weren’t coming immediately after an opening slate of Morgan State and Akron. Like Marshall, Western Kentucky will be taking on Louisville, but we’re focused on their Week 2 matchup. They’ll tussle with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, so should there be a running of the table, the Hilltoppers may get to dance.

Mid-American Conference

There might be a case to be made for Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green accompanies their visit to Columbus to play Ohio State with solid mid-major matchups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis. They’ll see both NIU and Toledo in conference play, games they need to win for anyone to take them seriously, especially if Ohio State doesn’t boat-race them in the opener.

Mountain West

Boise State will make headlines in some markets with their Pac-12 opponents, at home against Washington State and in Corvallis versus the Oregon State Beavers, but BYU may give them their biggest challenge. However, it is the much traveled Hawaii Rainbow Warriors that play Cal, Michigan, and Arizona.  Those are all long-ish to long road trips against 2016 teams that are much better than their 2015 counterparts.

Sun Belt

If I skipped this section or listed FCS schools in this paragraph, would you even notice?

On a serious note, Troy plays Clemson, which is cool, but it’s off-set it is by playing the dregs of the FBS in Idaho. Austin Peay and Southern Miss don’t move the needle for me either, looking at the Trojans schedule. However, our eye is on Appalachian State.  The team best known for upsetting Michigan in 2007 is going FCS-free in ‘16, visiting the best Tennessee Volunteers team anyone has seen in years, and they convinced The U to come to Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have already won, if you ask me.

At the end of the day, if we’re talking about those four lines and those two semi-final games, to open our game’s championship up to the anyone outside of the Cartel, it’s probably Houston.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

(featured photo via Sporting News.com)

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Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

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1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.