All posts by Mitchell Gatzke

College Football’s Opening Weekend Owes Us More

I love college football just as much as the next guy.  Saturdays aren’t for the boys so much as they are for the boys to gather around a big screen, drinking as many 96-calorie Miller Lite’s as they’d like.  We’ve yet to find anything that comes anywhere near college football’s ability to help us justify that weekly decision.

We owe a lot to college football Saturdays.  When I pick through the Week 1 schedule we have lined up for Labor Day weekend, though, it feels like college football owes us a little more.

Stanford is beginning its season with a game in Sydney, Australia.  That’s cool.  The fact that the Rice Owls are the opposition is not cool.  There’s a Florida rivalry game right off the bat.  Unfortunately, it’s between Florida International and Central Florida.  University Alabama-Birmingham makes its glorious return to football after a two-year hiatus, against Alabama A&M.  How have we possibly contained our excitement all summer?

In all seriousness, there are some things worth looking forward to.  P.J. Fleck, Lane Kiffin, and Tom Herman take the field with their new teams for the first time.  Ohio State opens on the road, on a Thursday night, against a conference opponent for the first time in… probably ever.  Florida State and Alabama collide in a top-five matchup in Atlanta.  Michigan and Florida head for Jerry World and a top-15ish meeting.  West Virginia and Virginia Tech will likely both be ranked for their opening contest in Landover, Maryland.

If you’re not a fan of those programs, you’ll probably be forced to watch your team playing in a glorified scrimmage.  Whether your team is the one laying the beat down or getting its ass kicked makes no difference, really.  Nobody wins if the boys had to finish the Miller Lite by halftime just to make it interesting.

At what point do we stop flooding to football just because it’s back?  At what point do we demand more as consumers, as opposed to blindly accepting whatever we’re given?  My guess is that will never happen.  Until it does, we’ll continue to receive a mediocre slate of games on opening weekend, with the only ones truly worth watching happening hundreds of miles off campus, in NFL stadiums.

This is big business we’re talking about and there’s a ton of money involved in these neutral-site games.  I understand that.  Still, it pisses me off.  These are essentially bowl games.  Actually, these games are more important because the whole season is still ahead.  If money grabbing is what we’re doing now, and it most certainly is, then why not take it to the extreme?

What Can We Do?

Let’s schedule bowl game rematches for the first week of the season.  Think for just a second about the storylines.  Would Clemson be able to pull off another upset of Alabama eight months after their instant classic?  Could USC and Penn State replicate the craziness of last year’s Rose Bowl Game?  Is Lamar Jackson really that containable, or did LSU’s defense just do everything right that day?

Wouldn’t it be fun if the two semifinal losers got a crack at each other to start the new season?  Imagine the hype that would surround a Washington-Ohio State clash in a couple weeks.  Automatically, one of the top contenders to reach the playoff would have an impressive feather tucked into its cap.  The four-letter network could have a field day with that buildup.

If your team was not invited to participate in a bowl game the previous year, it can do whatever it would like.  Honestly, nobody outside of the school gives a damn about your five-win team.  I’m only concerned with the primetime programs here.  And in tying them all up in these bowl game rematches, I am, in turn, saving a lot of you from an opening week embarrassment anyway.  It’s a win-win, even for the losers.  You should be thanking me for ignoring your meaningless team.

Is this grand idea ever going to materialize?  No, it won’t.  Like so many things in the world of college football, it makes too much sense to become a reality.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to dream, especially when the boys still have two weeks to save up their beer money.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Overcoming Our Fear of College Baseball

Super Regionals are this weekend.  More of us should be tuning in than will be and I think that’s because we don’t know what we’re watching.  We don’t know what to be looking for.  Essentially, we don’t know how to enjoy college baseball.

Taking a look at our relationship with college basketball helps to illustrate my point.  Many people’s biggest beef with March Madness is that no one really knows who most of the teams are because we don’t watch the regular season.  Well, baseball has many more games and much less, almost no coverage on ESPN for you to stumble upon.

Generally speaking, we have zero idea what’s going on in the college baseball world until mid-June.  Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to care deeply about the eight teams that have made it to the College World Series?

Which is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, by the way.  Not that it’s not a nice place.  I’ve never been there myself actually, but I have heard nice things.  It’s just not what you’d exactly call a vacation destination.  That fact, however driven by perception it may be, exists all the same and does the CWS no favors with potential casual fans.

How It Works

So what exactly are we watching?  How does this tournament work?  Here’s a look:

Regionals are the first round, which happened last week.  64 teams are broken into 16 groups of four.  Those groups play a double elimination tournament until one team is left standing in each region.

That brings us to where we are now, the super regionals.  16 teams remain.  They’re broken up into eight pairs and now it’s a best of three series, starting this Friday.  Win twice and you’ve made it to Omaha and the College World Series.

Once there, the eight teams play another double elimination tournament until two are left.  Those two then play a best of three championship series.

Who We’re Watching

Oregon State is the prohibitive favorite, carrying with it an astounding 52-4 record this season.  Vanderbilt is the unlucky team that will face the Beavers.  The Commodores beat #21 Clemson twice at its own field to win the regional last week.  OSU’s lefty Luke Heimlich has a chance at being selected in the first round of this summer’s MLB draft.

The only team hosting a super regional that did not host a regional is Texas A&M.  To earn that distinction, the Aggies triumphed over that Baptist School in Waco, Texas, Iowa, and the host, Houston.  College Station will host because Davidson took down the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, twice last week to get here.  If you’re looking for a Cinderella, you’ve find her.  It’s Davidson.

#9 Long Beach State and #20 Cal State Fullerton square off to determine which school will represent the state of California in Omaha.  Fullerton beat their host #8 Stanford twice to advance from regionals.  The team affectionately known as the Dirtbags holds a 5-1 record in two series against Fullerton this season.

Louisville hosts Kentucky in an even bigger rivalry matchup.  With #7 and #11 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25, this is the most intriguing series, on paper, heading into the weekend.  The Cards and the Cats split a pair of separate meetings during the regular season.  Louisville lefty Brendan McKay is the consensus #2 draft prospect.

Sam Houston State took the long route to the super regionals, having played five games in the previous round.  With their backs against the wall, the Bearkats won three straight games in two days, including two over host Texas Tech, to earn this spot.  Their reward is a shot at #16 Florida State, which rebounded from losing the first game in its regional last week.

#6 TCU really had no trouble sweeping through its regional.  The Horned Frogs will play host to the #22 Bears of Missouri State, who snuck by Arkansas, winning two of three one-run games between the two sides last weekend.  Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger has scouts excited about his future.

It’s an SEC affair with #17 Mississippi State traveling to #3 LSU.  The Tigers won their three games by a combined 18 runs, while the Bulldogs beat their in-state rival, #10 Southern Miss, twice on Monday to advance.  LSU’s Alex Lange is another top prospect to look out for.

If you pay attention to such things, you’ll notice that six of the 16 teams left are members of the SEC.  It must mean more down there or something.  That sixth SEC representative is Florida.  The #4 Gators welcome in #14 Wake Forest.  Florida’s 6’5” pitcher Alex Faedo has been getting a lot of mention as a potential top ten pick.

So, there’s a bit of info that will hopefully spark your interest and get you to check some of these games out.  The best part is there are games on all weekend long.  With start times of noon, three, six, and nine, you’ll have at least one game to watch basically all day long for three days straight.  Saturday is even better, with two games in each of those four time slots.  And if any of these series are tied after two games, we get even more games on Sunday and Monday.

Join me in flipping on the ESPNs this weekend as we get ready for the College World Series.  Doing so will help us all with our apparent fear of college baseball.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Paul Finebaum is the SEC’s Pawn

Many college football fans, and even some pundits, were quick to strip the title of best football conference away from the SEC last fall.  A shaky season with bad quarterback play, one dominant team, and a lackluster bowl record had these people claiming the king of the hill had been toppled.  Those people were a bit too quick.  If the same thing happens again this coming year, then we can open a discussion on the subject.

In the meantime, the SEC is still top dog but clearly aware that position is in danger of being taken away.  As a result, it’s gone on the offensive, in the form of a man who looks no more intimidating than your world history teacher from junior high.

Paul Finebaum has been the prevailing voice of the Southeastern Conference for years.  Now, as an outside threat begins to appear, apparently Finebaum would like to comment on college football in its entirety.  Specifically, Finebaum seems to have an interest in the actions of one Jim Harbaugh.  Why, you might ask, would the SEC guy care about what Michigan’s coach is doing?  Well, you’ve arrived at the million-dollar question there, one I can only answer with calculated speculation.

Harbaugh has done nothing if not shake up the recruiting process.  Judging by the 2016 and 2017 ranks of his classes, it’s easy to see he’s tapping into something.  He and Urban Meyer have even started to establish recruiting pipelines in the south that only the SEC schools used to feed off of.  When the number of recruits is stagnant but the amount of potential schools has increased, that’s an issue for those who were interested in maintaining the status quo.

Naturally, the easiest way to discredit an opponent is to accuse them of cheating.  Recent outcomes haven’t been what the SEC is used to so somebody’s got to be doing something against the rules.  Finebaum comes out and says Harbaugh’s hiring of Mike Johnson is based strictly on the fact that Johnson’s son is one of the top quarterbacks in the 2019 class.  It’s not technically cheating, but it goes against the spirit of the rules, he says.

First of all, Finebaum should apologize to Johnson for saying there’s “no other reason” Harbaugh would be hiring him.  That’s utterly ridiculous considering the man’s long track record that happens to include previous gigs under Harbaugh.  Do some research, Paul.

Secondly, saying Harbaugh’s not technically cheating is such a slimy way of still saying he’s cheating.  And really, you don’t need to actively build a public opinion case against Harbaugh.  He’s loony enough that he does it for you.  Going out of your way to attack him looks desperate.

Oh yeah, and to top it off, Johnson didn’t even end up taking that job with Michigan.  He’ll be coaching at Oregon in the fall.  Is Willie Taggart a cheater too, Paul?  I didn’t think so.  He’s too inconsequential all the way out there.

The SEC and its mouthpiece must really be worried about this if Finebaum wants to be able to branch out nationwide.  Doing so would enable him to slam whoever gets in the way of the southland and its football.  No sir, I say to the SEC slap.  Stay where you know what you’re talking about.

That is, of course, unless you really are nothing more than an SEC pawn.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Pixabay

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Do You Like a Hollywood Blockbuster? Alabama and Clemson Wrote Back-to-Back Scripts

It’s five past eight on Tuesday morning and I’m surprisingly not tired, considering I stayed up until 12:45 in the morning watching Clemson topple Alabama. I didn’t dare go to bed while that game went on. I couldn’t have slept knowing what I was missing.

Last night’s College Football Playoff National Championship rematch was even better than last year’s installment. This time last year, I was talking about how we had just witnessed a sensational football game. Well, I’m back to say the same thing about Monday night’s classic.

Last year’s game had just about everything – stars carrying their team (Derrick Henry and Deshaun Watson), surprising standout performances (O.J. Howard and Hunter Renfrow) and numerous dramatic momentum shifts. Monday night’s game wasn’t as wide-open, but the storylines were just as, if not more compelling.

Admittedly, I was searching for them but there really were a lot of similarities between the 2015 and 2016 versions of this game. I started noticing them in the second quarter as the Tide’s offensive line began to dominate the Tigers’ front seven. Then, my guy Bo Scarbrough scampered in from 37 yards out to score his second touchdown of the evening. A lot of people were ready to hand the Tide the title at that point. Aren’t we glad they didn’t?

Last season we saw improbable stars emerge in the form of Hunter Renfrow and O.J. Howard. Both of them were cast brilliantly in the sequel. Renfrow was again Watson’s most reliable target, reeling in 10 passes for 92 yards and two scores. Howard turned in more big plays when Alabama needed them most, racking up 106 yards and a touchdown on four grabs.

This game was the culmination of what truly could be made into a movie. It felt like fiction as it played out in front of us. The “underdog” won. You have the villain, Nick Saban, (or anti-hero, as I prefer to see him) trying to win his sixth national championship and remain perfect in the game itself. The zany Dabo Swinney can act as comic relief, if you’re into his whole act.

Deshaun Watson is clearly the main character and hero. His performance was both outstanding and inspiring. My favorite part was the way he handled it. He doesn’t seem like a spotlight guy, off the field. He can’t help but steal it on the field, though. He became a college football legend and unquestioned top-pick candidate without being annoying like a lot of guys tend to get now.

All the makings of a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster are there. The only difference is this was real life.

The most untouchable dynasty in the history of college football hit a big speed bump and got a flat tire. I’m not at all worried about Alabama not making it back to this stage. In fact, find any odds you can and I’ll take the Tide as 2017 champs.

That’s down the road though. For now, all we have to do is revel in the greatness that was Monday night’s game and give props where they are due.

Congratulations to Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers, 2016 College Football Playoff National Champions.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Big 12 Schedule Changes Fall Flat

The Big 12 took another step in its continual pursuit of the rest of the college football world this week when it released the conference schedule for next season.  The biggest change of all, of course, is the addition of the conference championship game.  Finally, this sad group of little houses on the prairies can feel like the Power 5 conference that it is, or is supposed to be.

As you may recall, there’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Big 12 in the past 18 months or so.  For a while there during the summer, when we really had nothing better to talk about, it seemed each week there was a new school rumored to be joining the conference to help boost its membership to 12.  As it turned out, there was no expansion after all.  We didn’t really believe all that meaningless talk anyway, did we?

No, the Wild West, where little to no defense is ever played, remains the Power 5 least common denominator, both in numbers and in quality.  That’s why these minor changes are considered such big news for them.  But hey, they’ve got a championship game now.  And that, with just a 10-team league, actually creates an interesting dynamic.

The one thing I do respect the Big 12 for is the fact that each team plays every other team in the conference.  There’s no hiding from the big boys in the other division (looking directly at you, Penn State, you fake champion, you).  This round-robin model of conference play has severely hurt the Big 12 in the recent past.

History Lesson Learned

Fans of TCU and that Baptist school in Waco, Texas will remember a mid-October, 2014 game with a ridiculous 61-58 final score.  The Bears won but would lose their next game and finish essentially tied with the Horned Frogs in the final College Football Playoff rankings.  The indecisive shootout dragged both out of the top four.  The Buckeyes wanted me to make sure to say, “Thank you very much,” by the way.

For whatever it’s worth to them now, TCU proved to be the better team in the bowl season.  The Horned Frogs mollywhopped the Ole Miss Rebels, 42-3, while the Bears were outscored 21-0 in the fourth, losing to Michigan State in one of the greatest comebacks we’ll ever see.

One Truly True Champion

Anyway, with a conference championship game in place, the nightmare of having two good teams both get shut out of the Playoff isn’t really a possibility anymore.  If you run into a similar situation, two one-loss teams having played a very close game two months ago, you now have a legitimate tiebreaker.  There really will be “one true champion,” truly!

Nothing is more American than a do-over and if you can’t step up and beat your opponent when they call for a re-do, then you don’t deserved a spot in the running for that hideous trophy anyway.

So, here’s to the Big 12.  Welcome to modern college football, we’re all hoping this means you can start contributing significantly now.

Let’s take a look a few of the big money matchups we have to look forward to in 2017:

September 23

Oklahoma visits that Baptist school in Waco, Texas in the premier matchup of the first week of conference play.

September 30

Texas heads to Iowa State for its first Big 12 game under new head coach Tom Herman.  I’m willing to bet they lose that bad boy.  Any takers?

October 14

The Red River Shootout, Rivalry, or whatever they’re calling it now, takes over Dallas.

October 28

Kansas State and Kansas… Nah, I’m just kidding.

November 4

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Bedlam will be a bit earlier than we’re used to next fall.

December 2

The long-awaited, much-anticipated, hotly-debated inaugural Big 12 Championship Game.  Where else but Jerry World?  Maybe they can find a couple of teams that actually deserve to be there.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke

Photo: Wikipedia

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I’m Your College Football Commissioner

Recently, more and more people have been stating their case for or against implementing a college football commissioner.  The debate about the need for a commissioner is far from over and I’m not here to end it.

There are plenty who say we should not have a commissioner, that it wouldn’t solve anything.  They’re just no fun.  Some have proposed possible candidates to fill the position.  Well, if none of those distinguished gentlemen are going to step up then I will.  I’m going to work under the assumption that we do have a commish and it’s me.

Before I really get started, I want to make it clear that my position is in no way associated with the sham of an organization that is the National Collegiate Athletics Association.  I am the College Football Commissioner and I will not answer to the NCAA.  It will answer to me, as will its member colleges and universities.

That’s important to note because a lot of what I’m going to propose here will not be popular in those circles.  Frankly, I don’t give a damn.  It is past time the NCAA and its member schools make some sacrifices for the benefit of others.

I’m looking long-term here.  Those who are strictly after more money immediately can’t see that far down the road.  Here are your binoculars.

Joel Klatt’s Issues

Over the summer, Fox college football analyst Joel Klatt launched into his elevator speech highlighting the reasons why college football needs a commissioner.

Scheduling – This is an easy one.  Scheduling consistency is a necessity in the Playoff era.  Constantly comparing and contrasting the value of wins undermines the Playoff by questioning the strength of the selected teams.  Put everyone on a more level playing field and enhance the debate in the process.

Staff size – Klatt doesn’t like the way Nick Saban stashes coaches on his staff by calling them “analysts.”  It got him fired up enough to make another appeal in favor of installing a commish.  To a degree, Klatt is right about this.  It is unfair for the big boys to gobble up the best coaches just because there are virtually no restrictions on how many employees a program can have.

Player conduct – Right now, player discipline decisions are made by the head coaches themselves.  If that’s not a conflict of interest then they need to redefine what that phrase means.  Again, this is an easy fix.

Recruiting rules – This past summer, Jim Harbaugh showed us that the recruiting trail really is the Wild West.  It’s hard to regulate because so much of it occurs in the shadows.  I would appoint a Director of Recruiting to establish and enforce guidelines that prevent the big programs from abusing their power without preventing coaches from separating themselves from others.

“Fumbled” satellite camp vote – When it becomes painfully obvious that the conferences are voting not necessarily in their own best interests, but to harm the others, it’s time to switch things up.  The satellite camp debate that raged throughout the summer was an eye-opener indeed.  Let’s get some rules agreed upon and take the enforcement of them out of the hands of each self-serving conference.

Transfer rules – Sometimes, kids decide they want to go to a different school.  They shouldn’t be punished for that.

“Checkered past” transfers – Klatt mentions “checkered past” transfers, in obvious reference to what went on at that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Generally, these are not good human beings, but they’ve got skill so coaches are willing to take the chance.  In this situation, we need to raise the stakes for coaches and schools so they’re not endangering campuses by bringing in convicts.

Graduate transfers – These are college football’s free agents and I’m a huge fan.  If anything, we should be making it easier for guys to take full advantage of their eligibility while pursuing an even higher degree.

Officiating – Klatt is totally right about this.  Get all the officials under one umbrella so that everyone’s on the same page.  That way we won’t have to listen to fans whine and complain about an opposing conference’s officials playing favorites.  It’s a ridiculous notion and it’s easily fixed by unifying all the men and women in stripes.

Klatt says we need an adult in the room.  I totally agree with him there.  Here’s what the adult in the room has decided:

Problems Solved

Each Power 5 team will play at least two other Power 5 teams – one at home, one on the road – by the end of Week 3.  Each Power 5 team will play at least one Group of 5 team – on the road at least once every four years – before the end of Week 3.  These three games will compose the non-conference portion of the schedules

In Week 4, conference play starts, continuing through Week 13.  Each team will play nine conference games and get a bye week at some point during the conference schedule.  Week 14 is reserved for the conference championship games, which are now mandatory.

All football programs may only have a certain number of employees.  This includes coaches, trainers, “analysts,” everybody.  I won’t get too specific here.  How could I even hazard a worthwhile guess at such a number?  I’ll let my Compliance Director handle it.

All player conduct issues will be handled by the Commissioner’s office.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Roger Goodell and start making these decisions on my own.  As you see, I’ve got many other things to do.  I’ll hire someone to review cases and suspend players as they see fit.  You can think of them as the Dean of Discipline.  No prior punishment will come into consideration as precedent.  We’re starting over.

We will have no more verbal commitments from recruits.  It’s unnecessary and it gets confusing when a guy decides he doesn’t want to go to that school after all.  We can all wait until national signing day.  I’ll save the countless intricacies that go into this process for my Director of Recruiting.

Satellite camps are not only legal, they are encouraged.  If you can spare however many of your allotted employees then you can take your show anywhere on the road your please.  We will establish guidelines before spring recruiting picks up.  There will be strict parameters as to how many employees a program can send.  All camps must be made open for all other schools to send representation.

There are only a couple transfer rules that I will concern myself with.  The first is the rule we all know.  When a player transfers schools they must sit out a season before playing at their new school.  Yeah, that’s gone.  I’ll let you transfer and play immediately, but you can only do it once while you’re still taking undergrad classes.  Once you graduate, you may transfer again, if you’d like.

As for the guys Klatt refers to as “checkered past” individuals, like I mentioned earlier, the stakes need to be higher for the coaches and schools bringing these guys in.  You want to take a chance that’s fine, but you will be fined if that chance you took turns out to be a bad one.  Taking money away is the most effective way I know to keep people in line.  Financial sanctions will dictate more careful decision making and I’ll bet we see a drastic dip in these “checkered past” transfers causing more problems.

All officials will be trained, employed, and monitored by the Officiating Director.  Repeated poor performance will be punished with demotions to lower profile games.  At some point though, fans are going to have to realize the refs do not have it out for their team.

Now I can get into the exciting part.  The College Football Playoff is now expanded to eight teams.  Each Power 5 conference champion will automatically qualify.  The committee will select at least one team from a Group of 5 conference, as well.  The final two spots are completely at-large.

So, does the committee go with a conference championship game loser, another small conference champ, or a runner-up from a tough division?  I don’t know, but as Commissioner, I’m intent on finding out.

The opening round quarterfinal games will be played on college campuses, with the higher-seeded team hosting.  This is one of the few things that the schools might actually like to hear.  Imagine a Playoff game at any one of the dozens of iconic college football venues.  Unlike most of what I’ve said here, this is not a hard sell.

Now Accepting Applications

As your new College Football Commissioner, I would like to officially offer you a chance to apply for employment in our office.  We’re going to take college football into a new era and we’d love to have your help in doing it.  Join now because what I say goes and it’s going to be fun.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke

Photo: Flickr user Elvert Barnes

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Playoff or Bust for the Wolverines

I’m in my car on my way home from work Wednesday afternoon, listening to Valenti and Foster, a sports talk show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.  Mike Valenti, my favorite sports talk show host, asks a crucial question of Michigan fans.  At this point, should the expectation be Playoff or bust for the Wolverines this year?

At 6-0, fresh off an 11-touchdown, shutout conference road win (somebody get Pat Hobbs a beer, please), currently ranked fourth in the nation, yes, it most certainly is Playoff or bust for the Wolverines in 2016.  That’s not me being a fan.  Truly, I will be just as happy watching Nick Saban lift another trophy this January.  No, this is me looking at the position Michigan is in and recognizing this could be the year.  Here’s why:

As Valenti pointed out on the show, this is a talented team.  Brady Hoke was a clown of a coach but for whatever reason, kids 17-23 love this guy.  Jim Harbaugh inherited a stacked roster.  Hoke recruited better than most could have and he left a cupboard full of top talent that’s coming of age in Harbaugh’s second season in Ann Arbor.

The Talent is There

Jourdan Lewis is the best cover corner in the country and it’s not because of this slick pick.  He’s been locking down his side of the field for the past two years.  That’s one of Hoke’s guys.  Taco Charlton is a force on the defensive line, another Hoke guy.  Jabrill Peppers is Jabrill Peppers.  He’s also a leftover from Hoke.  These are just a few examples.

No matter whose recruits they are, they’re all Harbaugh’s players now.  He doesn’t have to wait for his guys to get to campus.  It doesn’t seem like he’s having a hard time fitting the ones he’s got into his system.  Harbaugh has the talent he needs right now and he’s clearly the man better suited to elevating their game.

The Schedule Opens Up

Take a look at the remaining schedule.  It looks much easier than originally anticipated, doesn’t it?  Let’s be honest: Illinois is terrible, Michigan State is reeling, Maryland lost to the only decent team it’s played, Iowa has returned to its usual form, and Indiana isn’t nearly as scary away from Bloomington.  There’s one more game left on the Wolverines’ schedule, too.  I just can’t place it.

Look, The Game is going to be the toughest test of the season every year for the rest of eternity.  It doesn’t matter where it’s played or how good either team is.  Everybody brings their best when the Wolverines and the Buckeyes clash.  Blowouts are not common.  In the past 20 years, only four meetings have been decided by more than 14 points.  You better come to play two days after Thanksgiving or you might not finish the game.

The Big Ten Difference

I’m safely assuming the Big Ten East teams with only one conference loss (Penn State, Maryland, Indiana) will all lose at least once more, leaving the Wolverines and Buckeyes to figure it out themselves.  Even if one of them takes a loss before the November 26 matchup, a win there would end up being the tiebreaker.  Plenty of Michigan fans would tell you it’s a failure of a season if you don’t beat Theee Ohio State University anyway.  This year, just add a Playoff spot to the stakes.

That’s my point. That, more than anything is why it’s Playoff or bust this fall for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.  Beating the Buckeyes secures you a spot in the Playoff.

Really, the Big Ten Championship Game won’t matter at that point.  Obviously, a win would boost your resume but a loss wouldn’t ruin it.  Think about it.  Wisconsin has lost to Michigan and will lose to Ohio State this weekend.  Nebraska will lose this weekend at Indiana, at Wisconsin in a couple weeks and probably at Iowa to end the season.  Forget the Badgers.  Forget the Huskers.  A Big Ten championship won’t be enough of a boost for either of them.  And there’s a zero percent chance the Big Ten gets locked out of the College Football Playoff this fall.

There are higher powers at work here.  Despite the total mediocrity of the mid- to lower-tiers of the conference, the Big Ten is getting a lot of hype nationally, this season.  There are currently four Big Ten teams in the top 10 for the first time during a season since 1960.  People are sick of the SEC and they want a replacement.  Unfortunately for them; the Big 12 is absolute garbage, the Pac-12 can’t keep its average teams from devouring its good teams, and the ACC’s best three teams are clustered in the Atlantic division, preventing its biggest game from featuring its best matchup.  That leaves the Big Ten, which might actually sneak two teams into the Playoff.

It all comes down to The Game, as it should.  Since that’s the case, it might as well be Playoff or bust for the 2016 Michigan Wolverines.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image: Wikipedia

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College Football Midterms

In college football, you either win or lose.  There are no letter grades.  You can try to put degrees on performances, but when it comes down to it, you pass or you fail.  This past weekend marked the halfway point for most teams as they played their sixth game of the season.

Let’s see who passed the test and who still has some studying to do.

Pass

Alabama – We don’t make a big deal about the Tide’s more impressive wins because we’re so used to them by now.   Until proven otherwise, this is still the best team going.  Saban’s big, bad Bama boys showed us why with a three-score road win over a ranked conference opponent.

Ohio State – The Buckeyes also earned a three-score victory over a conference opponent.  Indiana certainly isn’t on Arkansas’ level, but Ohio State doesn’t really need good wins.  At this point, just keep winning and you’ll be where you want to be.  The Buckeyes are.

Clemson – After a huge win like the one over Louisville two weeks ago, you need to avoid that hangover loss we often see from top teams.  The Tigers quickly shutdown any chance of that happening Friday night in Boston.

Michigan – I don’t care who you are.  I don’t care who the other team is.  Scoring 11 touchdowns on a conference opponent in their own barn is commendable.  Oh, and the Wolverines pitched a shutout, too.

Washington – Saturday night was duck season and it got quite ugly for those defenseless “Web Foots.”  In the last two weeks, the Huskies have embarrassed the two teams that have been dominating the Pac-12 North division for years.  Quickly, a team we didn’t know much about has legitimized its claim as a Playoff contender.

Texas A&M – A 21-point fourth quarter from Tennessee forced overtime, but finally the magic ran out.  Kevin Sumlin’s team now has three wins over ranked opponents.  Next is a date at Alabama, with A&M idle this week.

Fail

Houston – It’s tough to play with a target on your back, especially when you’re used to being the hunter, not the hunted.  The Cougars learned that by falling to the Navy Midshipmen, effectively ending their possible run to the Playoff.  Suddenly, Houston is in a position where it needs help just to have a shot at winning its division.

Tennessee – Let’s be honest.  It was a bit of a mini-miracle that the Vols had remained undefeated for as long as they did.  The furious comeback wasn’t quite enough and now the battle for the SEC East gets interesting.

Miami – As far as the most excruciating ways to lose a football game are concerned, this has to rank quite high.  I have been saying Mark Richt needs some time with his Hurricanes before they become real players in the ACC.  This loss proves my point.  They’re just not ready to be that good yet.

Stanford – Yikes.  Getting stomped by Washington on the road is one thing.  Getting rolled by Washington State at home is another entirely.  Clearly, the Cardinal is done-zo.

Failing the midterm exam doesn’t necessarily kill your semester, but it sure does make the latter half less fun.  Passing, on the other hand, allows you to focus on just taking care of your business, letting everything else take care of itself.  Such is now the task for the Tide, Buckeyes, Tigers, Wolverines, Huskies and Aggies.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke

Photo: Wikipedia

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Huskies Ready to Go Duck Hunting

If you’re an Oregon Ducks fan, think about why you call yourself that before you read on and get all offended.  I’m betting most of you began rooting for them when Chip Kelly got there and won a Pac-12 title in 2009.  Spare me.

You had to know that stretch of success would come to an end.  When did you realize it was over?  Was it that bulldozing you took from Ohio State?  Or, maybe it was before that when Chip Kelly took off for the NFL and left you with Mark Helfrich.  Either way, you’re done.  It’s over.  I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.

Power in college football is cyclical.  There are no exceptions.  Oregon thrived over the better part of the past decade because a lot of things started going well.  Nike took over uniform design and ran with it.  At the time, it was impossible to know this was the first layer of a new strategy that would go on to revolutionize the sportswear and college recruiting industries.

I don’t think Nike wants to create a whole new Oregon football uniform for every single game, but the expectation is there now.  This one here is my personal all-time favorite, by the way.  To roll out something the Ducks have already worn would be to disappoint those checking in to see what they’re wearing.  That’s all many of us will be doing this weekend.  Seeing the score, we’ll either turn it right back to the inevitably closer game we’re watching or stay tuned to enjoy the duck hunt.

Breaking news: Dakota Prukop is not Vernon Adams, who was not Marcus Mariota.  I smell a couple picks.  If he even starts, that is. Really, it won’t matter who starts behind center.  The Washington Huskies are going to make sure there are no smiling Ducks this weekend.

Did you see what Washington did to a good team last Friday?  Now imagine what’ll happen Saturday against an Oregon team that’s lost to Nebraska, Colorado and Washington State its last three times out.  I mean, the Huskies laid a beatdown on Stanford the likes of which we haven’t seen since 2014.  That was the last time this game was played in Eugene, when the Ducks blew out the Cardinal, 45-16, on their way to that lopsided national championship duel with the Buckeyes.  More breaking news: this isn’t 2014 and the Huskies aren’t pushovers anymore.

If there is a bright spot for the Ducks this weekend, it’s that they’ll be remembered as the second-best road win on Washington’s Playoff resume.  The Autzen Stadium crowd brings the noise and it’ll be fun for them to have at least this one big game this fall, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re so clearly overmatched on the field.

There’s a new top dog in the Pac-12 North and you’ll get your double confirmation when the Huskies wipe the turf with the Ducks, no matter what they’re wearing.  I hope you like Chinese turkey.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Great Gatzke

Photo: Wikipedia

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