Tag Archives: acc

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

College Football Playoff Preview: Fiesta Bowl

The nightcap of the New Year’s Eve bowl schedule is the second College Football Playoff semifinal. This game is a closer matchup, in most people’s minds, than Alabama-Washington. They have good reason to think that, too. Both the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Clemson Tigers have been incredibly good teams this season. Though neither was helmed by the “true” Heisman hopefuls I thought they would be, both teams turned in great resumes. This game will take place at the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, which gives the home field advantage to…neither, I guess? Ohio State fans travel so well, so there may be a few more of them, but I expect the crowd to be about even. The game is sponsored by PlayStation, who should take this as an opportunity to MAKE ANOTHER COLLEGE FOOTBALL VIDEO GAME. I mean, come on guys, haven’t we suffered enough?

I digress. Let’s stop worrying about corporate sponsors and instead look at the matchup. While both teams have highly competent defenses, both Ohio State and Clemson are highlighted by their offensive abilities. This should be a high-scoring affair. Both teams can score in so many ways that it will really be a contest of which defense can get the most stops. J.T. Barrett and Deshawn Watson may make a few mistakes, but both should play well in their final college football game.

In terms of defenses, I think, looking at the body of work, the Buckeyes have the slight advantage. Overall, it seems that the Buckeyes defense has done a better job that the Tigers in keeping high quality opponents from scoring points in bunches. This fact could just give Ohio State the slight edge in this matchup.

Ohio State and Clemson are going to trade punches throughout the night as we get closer and closer to 2017. If the game is as much as an offensive battle as I think it will be, it may in fact mess with some people’s New Year’s plans, to a degree. I think both teams will play great throughout the night, and even if one team gets up by a few possessions, the high-powered offenses mean that it will still always be a game. However, I think near the end of the game, Ohio State is going to get the few stops it needs to seal the deal and move on to the College Football Playoff National Championship.

 

Final Score: Ohio State Buckeyes 52, Clemson Tigers 42

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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New Year’s Six Preview: Orange Bowl

The first of the New Year’s Six bowl games this season, the 83rd Orange Bowl, will also be the only game of the Six played on New Year’s Eve-Eve, or December 30. Luckily for the Orange Bowl, it just might happen to have the best matchup of all the non-College Football Playoff games. On paper, as well as from a marketing standpoint, it is hard to beat a matchup between the University of Michigan and Florida State. The Seminoles will have, unsurprisingly, the home field advantage this time around. While Tallahassee may not be super close to Miami, is sure is a hell of a lot closer than Ann Arbor is.

However, home field is where the Seminoles’ advantages over the Wolverines end. While one can point to the Seminoles offense and simply state that it is “better” than the Michigan offense, that really is not what matters. What matters is how the FSU offense matches up against Michigan’s defense, which is statistically the second best defense in the nation behind Alabama, but most people would agree that the Wolverines’ defense is probably the top dog. The key for the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl this year will be finding a way to beat the Michigan defense.

While the game’s focus will be on the matchup between the FSU offense and the Michigan Defense, the final score will probably come down to the other side of the ball. It seems pretty obvious that Michigan, with its goliath of a defense, will be able to greatly hinder the FSU offense and keep the Seminoles score low. The real question is can the Seminoles defense do the same? If Michigan gets more than 20 points, I think it is extremely likely that it comes out on top. While the Seminoles will break at least a few plays open, I just find it unlikely that it will be enough.

Analytics aside, my opinion is this game is going to be a very one-sided affair. Comparing the two teams, I just fail to see a way that Florida State can break through the juggernaut Wolverine defense enough to win the game. We all talk about the Michigan defense, but so many forget the preposterous numbers that the Wolverines offense has put up at times this season. The Orange Bowl’s final score probably won’t be as one-sided as the game will look, but Michigan should easily win this matchup by about two or three scores.

 

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 28, Florida State Seminoles 10

 

Email Cooper at [email protected] and follow him on twitter @uf_goetz.

Photo: Pixabay

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WakeyLeaks, not a Louisville Problem

Another day another scandal here at the University of Louisville. Luckily this one is not a university problem.  The WakeyLeaks scandal (if you can even call it that) is a Wake Forest problem. It is not UofL’s job to inform the team when one of its radio broadcasters is handing out offensive game plans to the opposing teams.  Is there integrity involved? Yes. And should Lonnie Galloway have gone straight to Bobby Petrino and told him what just happened? Sure.  But that still doesn’t mean it’s UofL’s problem nor should this even be a talking point for UofL.

Virginia Tech has come out and also stated that the same man, Tommy Elrod, gave them plays back in 2014, and Army said it received plays twice from Elrod in 2014 and 2016.  No proof has come forward to show that any of the teams used the plays to their advantage. Judging by the first three-quarters of the UofL vs Wake Forest game I would’ve guessed Wake Forest had UofL’s playbook by the way it locked down Lamar Jackson and company.

UofL’s response to the allegations was strong and swift, and sent a message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated on this team, which is good.  Though it’s not a problem. The fact of the matter is that Galloway did accept plays knowing good and well what could happen if he got caught.  The suspension of Galloway for the Citrus Bowl is the correct punishment, focusing on the individuals’ actions rather than making an entire team suffer.

Take notes UofL Basketball.  The $25,000 fine, which is the maximum fine under ACC bylaws, seems a bit lofty especially without proof of the plays being used and the fact that the plays were more handed over than requested.  That being said, UofL will just accept the fine because big school, big money, and go about preparing for LSU in the Citrus Bowl.

All in all I believe this situation was handled well by all parties and the punishments are to the correct degree.  This is one of those instances that this may be a story now but until more information is found or another angle comes into play, this should all be over and forgotten in a months’ time.  It also helps that this is happening at the same time as the Joe Mixon tape (the tape is extremely graphic, viewer discretion advised) being released. I’m guessing that tape will continue to get a much larger uproar.

 

Image:FlickrMedia

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

College Football Playoff Rankings: Week 1

After an amazing opening weekend of college football, it is really interesting to see how the current top contenders stand in terms of the College Football Playoff. Below, I have ranked my current top 10 teams, which is loosely based off the preseason AP poll (this weeks AP poll is nuts, check it out). This is a feature that I will release every week this season on Tuesday, so be sure to be on the lookout for next week’s rankings.

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide

The Crimson Tide had probably the most impressive start among the week 1 top ten teams. It’s deconstruction of the ranked USC squad (to the degree where ‘Bama straight up added another former USC head coach to its staff) tells the whole story. Going into this season, Alabama’s one major question was the quarterback position. To say that the question was answered Saturday night would be an understatement. Jalen Hurts, and to a lesser degree Blake Barnett, removed Bama’s only weakness, and now, especially with the struggles of Tennessee and LSU, the Crimson Tide seem poised to take the West, win the SEC Championship, and make it to the College Football Playoff.

  1. Florida State Seminoles

Florida State’s matchup with Ole Miss on Monday was, as we have become used to with Jimbo Fisher football (who is now 6-1 since 2013 when trailing by 7 or more at the half), a tale of two halves. As long as Francois keeps up his play and the Seminoles find a way to play multiples halves of football in a single game, the Seminoles will be an obvious CFP contenders, pending a huge throw down with Clemson at home, which could very well decide which ACC school makes it to the Playoff.

  1. Clemson Tigers

Speaking of the Tigers, the team that I picked to win the College Football title this year struggled more with a mediocre Auburn squad than most of us thought it would. For that reason, it is much less of a sure thing in my mind that the Tigers beat FSU in Tallahassee. However, this is only week one, and with Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson at the helm, Clemson should still be expected to be a top tier team with obvious CFP hopes.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Speaking of Heisman, my pick for the award this year, Mr. J.T. Barrett, had himself a day. He had seven total touchdowns, with six through the air. We won’t get to see what the Buckeyes really look like until it squares off against Oklahoma, but when your QB has seven scores, it tends to be a good sign. The Buckeyes have a lot on its plate the rest of the year, but if Ohio State play like it did on Saturday, it is definitely a CFP frontrunner.

  1. Michigan Wolverines

The Big Ten pretty much let its top teams hammer some cupcake squads in week one, and that was very apparent in Michigan’s matchup against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii. Much like Ohio State, Michigan just swept the floor with its opponent. An impressive win, yes, but much like the Buckeyes, we won’t see the Wolverines’ true abilities until it faces off against a squad more its speed. However, its now 100 percent true that the Wolverines are officially back.

  1. Houston Cougars

The shocker of the weekend for most (for some odd reason, considering how good the Cougars were last year) was Houston’s win over the Oklahoma Sooners. This, in my rankings, rocket propelled UH up nine spots, as not only did Houston win, it beat Oklahoma into the ground. All of a sudden, Houston looks like a possible Group of Five CFP team, as the rest of its schedule is fairly mild. As long as the Cougars can hold off Louisville, and avoid other major upsets, Houston could very well end the season undefeated and crash the party of Power Five teams in the CFP.

  1. Stanford Cardinal

In a victory that was fairly mild, the Stanford Cardinal beat K-State by 13. The rest of the season is fairly simple, as the Pac-12 isn’t what it was a few years ago. Two of Stanford’s toughest opponents, UCLA and Notre Dame, both dropped their Week 1 matchups. The toughest game left for Christian McCaffrey (a clear Heisman candidate) and the Cardinal is the matchup at Washington. The game, which will most likely decide the fate of the Pac-12 North, will be Stanford’s make or break matchup in terms of College Football Playoff hopes.

  1. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU, much like many other teams on this list, played a team well below its own caliber in Week 1. The Horned Frogs, however, struggled heavily, especially on the defensive side, against South Dakota State. Giving up 41 points to a non-FBS school is never a great motivator, and while TCU’s College Football Playoff hopes may be small, the Horned Frogs certainly have a great chance to win the Big 12 with what seems like an Oklahoma team that could struggle throughout the year. TCU will need to watch out for Baylor and Texas as well, but for now, Texas Christian seems like the Big 12 frontrunner.

  1. Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers almost blew its opening matchup to Appalachian State. The team looked horrendous for a large part of the game, with particular struggles coming from the Tennessee O-Line. Josh Dobbs struggled mightily as well, and Tennessee needs him to play better if it is to have any hopes of beating Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama in four consecutive weeks. To me, at this point, unless Mighty Mouse becomes as good on the field as he is at blocking twitter accounts, it seems like Tennessee making the College Football Playoff is a long shot.

  1. Michigan State Spartans

The third Big Ten team on this list also had a cupcake matchup in Week 1. However, unlike the Wolverines and Buckeyes, MSU struggled with Furman, a FCS squad. Honestly, the only reason the Spartans make this list after it’s week one struggle is due to all the teams in front of it that lost. MSU has a lot of work to do if it wants to prove that it deserves to make the CFP. Heck, with a crowded Big Ten East division, the Spartans have a lot of work to do to make it to the conference championship.

Honorable Mentions: Washington, Georgia, Iowa, and Wisconsin

E-mail Cooper at  or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.
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Image Courtesy of the University of Alabama

Home Sweet Neutral Site?

Opening week of the 2016 season was dubbed to be the best in the history of the sport. It delivered in a way that made the long offseason worth it. Upsets, overtimes, drama.

But, the made-for-TV, neutral site settings must go. They are a blemish on the sport that rob the die-hards from the best of what college football has to offer. While the games in question matched up good programs, the fact they played in an NFL stadium made them less than what they could’ve been.

College football Saturdays produce a mental image of campus, collegiate landmarks, alums coming home and the stadiums, those stadiums. Not the whitewashed, corporate arena that just so happens to host a football game on that particular day.

With the quality of teams on the slate, the probability of good contests was a virtual guarantee. Houston’s convincing upset over Oklahoma, Wisconsin’s slobberknocking win over LSU, Georgia’s rally to top North Carolina, all were competitive games in NFL environments.

Those contests were indeed entertaining, but they didn’t come close to providing the atmosphere that we witnessed during Auburn’s 4th-quarter flurry. Texas A&M and 100,000 strong Aggies welcomed in the new season by downing UCLA in a raucous Kyle Field den. And, was there a more energetic environment than in Austin as Texas knocked off Notre Dame in overtime? All three games were on campus, in front of the student body and die-hards, in those storied stadiums. That’s what we think of when we envision the sport.

With that said, there is a distinct difference between the ones we just watched last weekend and the traditional neutral site games like Florida-Georgia and Army-Navy. When an annual matchup has been played at a neutral site for decades, that’s not a neutral site game. That’s just where the game is played. Ole Miss-Florida State in Orlando is not the same as Oklahoma-Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

All About the Benjamins

Look, I’m not naive. I understand why the bean-counting bureaucrats choose to allow the networks to play the role of love broker. The administrators want to hoard as much money as possible and this approach allows them to do so without having to work at it. In essence, they look to their TV partners as an escort service – no effort to get the desired results.

Just call a TV executive and tell them you want to make some money and you’re willing to play anyone, as long as it’s a one-night stand. The exec then sets out to find an NFL stadium owner who wants to make some dough (hint: all of them). They agree on a catchy game title and then collaborate to lure a corporate sponsor to put their logo on it. Time to leave the money on the nightstand.

Here’s where things get contorted, though. During the constant athletics arms race, it’s difficult to find a school that hasn’t unveiled its pricey facilities upgrades. They are pouring millions of dollars into stadium improvements so fans will want to continue to attend campus home games.

As they expand seating capacity and add video screens the size of a city block, they fill their home non-conference schedules with teams I wouldn’t watch for free even if they played in my front yard. This philosophy reveals their devotion to revenue above all.

What about the customers – the fans?

There’s not a single fan who would attend or watch a game played in a sterile NFL stadium over a showdown on campus. The fan interest generates the existence for this entire spectacle and there is never a single decision made with them in mind. The bureaucrats only think about what they can milk them for.

There’s not an Alabama fan on the planet who wouldn’t have preferred for the Tide to take on USC in Bryant-Denny or the L.A. Coliseum. LSU and Wisconsin fans would rather have played their two-game series in Death Valley and Camp Randall. Georgia fans taking over Chapel Hill? How about a return game of the Heels going between the hedges?

Non-conference matchups provide schools the opportunity to showcase the university and the college town to a national TV audience. Neutral site games are primarily a chance to promote tourism to a big city.

The ones who make the biggest sacrifice are the tens of thousands of devoted fans who aren’t given the thank you of watching a big name opponent in their own stadium – or travel to a unique opposing school’s campus setting.

The Biggest Obstacle

At the heart of this issue is fear. Coaches act like rugged survivalists and are molders of men, but when it comes to scheduling, they are cowards.

For all of their postings of memorable mottos about adversity and perseverance, most coaches instruct their ADs to go out of their way to take the path of least resistance. They schedule as many cupcakes as possible because they’re afraid to face tougher competition and possibly lose. Then, when they do play a worthy opponent, they opt to limit the risk by playing at a neutral site.

Let’s look at Nick Saban, for example. He gets credit for playing Power Five opponents and everyone cheers him and Bama for their willingness to play those games. However, it’s empty praise. He’s only willing to play a Power Five regular season game if it’s a one-time thing at a neutral site. And, it’s always opening weekend, so he has 8 months to prepare his team. That’s a lot of “only ifs” for a guy who touts “the process” and a fan base that proclaims to be the standard.

If coaches demand to their athletic directors that they want to play a home-and-home series with a Power Five team, the ADs will absolutely make it happen. It would be good for the sport if Saban would man up and take that stance.

A Potential Solution

Coaches’ contracts are filled with incentives. Why not take this approach: Incentivize TV deals and/or coaches’ contracts based on the quality of the opponent and the location in which they play.

Schedule a Power 5 non-conference game – get paid. Play it in a campus setting – up the incentive. Make it a home-and-home – max the payout.

The Worst Is Yet to Come

The matchups that the neutral sites produce are better than the alternative of the cupcake non-conference slates that fans are forcefed. So, even though there is a better option for where most of the Week 1 spotlight games were played, at least they’re actually being played.

For as much as I dislike the NFL stadium setting, it’s far better than the stupidity of playing in a NASCAR venue. This week’s Tennessee-Virginia Tech game at Bristol Motor Speedway is even dumber than the games that are played overseas. More isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more, which is what we’ll have on Saturday.

Labor Day Weekend was all that we envisioned. Competitive matchups between ranked opponents and traditional programs is how it should be. But, because the love of money is at the root, the bureaucrats will continue to give us the table scraps of what should be a gourmet meal.

E-mail Mark at mark[dot]fried[at]campuspressbox[dot]com or follow him on Twitter at @MarkCFried.

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Playoff Selection Process Starts Labor Day Weekend

This year’s Week 1 provides the single greatest opening week of games in the history of the sport. From showdowns like USC-Alabama and Florida State-Ole Miss to the glorified scrimmages between Michigan State-Furman and SE Louisiana-Oklahoma State, it is best to follow our advice: “don’t lose.” 

Because of the quality of the slate of games, it highlights the most flavorful aspect of this grand ol’ game. The regular season is a time for men, not for the faint of heart.

Am I overstating? No. It’s the only sport on the planet where what you do in Week 1 is important in determining who qualifies for the championship round. This has been true since the inception of the BCS and the intensity has been ratcheted up with the College Football Playoff.

Here’s the deal. The playoff committee’s job starts Labor Day weekend. For the perceived contenders with expectations of the CFP, they’d better bring it right away. To the teams starting the season with modest expectations but want to shock the world? Their road to Tampa kicks off in Week 1. There is little room for error in college football and that is a great thing.

If Oklahoma falls to Houston on Sept. 3, they’re on the brink. Can’t lose again. If Houston wants consideration for a playoff spot, the Coogs must beat OU and Louisville and everyone else on their slate.

If Wisconsin beats LSU at Lambeau Field, the expectations and possibilities open up. If Tennessee wants this to be a special season, it can’t lose to Appalachian State.

We may disagree on many points. For instance, I believe that college football produces the best regular season of any organized sport in the world. I also believe that staying at four teams is critical for the sport’s long-term, year-round health.

The people that disagree with me on those issues have a right to their opinion, even if they’re wrong. Those folks are the guy who attends the Rose Parade but spends his whole time checking Twitter so people at home can tell him how beautiful it is. They’d see it, too, if they’d just bother to look up.

The nature of the sport is very clear. If a team plays a good schedule from top to bottom and wins them all, they’ll be there. If they lose one, they’re taking their chances. Lose two and the stars will need to align. And, if you go out of your way to take the path of least resistance to earn a spot in the playoff, do it at your own risk (we’re all looking at you, Baylor 2014).

Most fans will enjoy the games this weekend because football is back. But, it’s more than that, much more. Stuff gets real this week, people.

For college football to be enjoyed to its fullest, it’s a must to recognize the significance of each week. Because what happens Labor Day Weekend will impact who the selection committee chooses in December.

Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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