Tag Archives: Alabama

Non-Schedule Games Important for Notre Dame’s Title Hopes

By now, Notre Dame fans know which games are most critical to the Irish’s hopes of running the regular season table this fall. Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, and Southern California are the marquee matchups featured on the 2016 docket for the Irish. If the Irish take care of business in these games, there will not be much debate about their place in the College Football Playoff picture.

However, should the Irish stumble along the way, style points will be at a premium. A few games not featuring a team in all-gold helmets will play a large part in the Irish’s ability to gain style points.

September 3rd – USC Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The first week of the season features perhaps the most important game of the year in terms of Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. This matchup between the Trojans and Crimson Tide will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. USC is projected to finish at or near the top of the Pac-12, along with fellow Notre Dame opponent, Stanford. A win for the Trojans would validate the Pac-12 and deliver a blow to the SEC. This would be huge for the Irish, who have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves against Pac-12 opponents, but lack a matchup against the SEC. At season’s end, a debate between Notre Dame and Alabama for playoff positioning could be settled by how each performs against a common opponent.

October 29th – Michigan at Michigan State

On the day Notre Dame hosts the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium, there is another major midwest college football game that has plenty of bearing on Notre Dame’s path to the playoff. With Ohio State reloading after losing numerous starters, the Wolverines and Spartans figure to be the two teams contending for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Outside of Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame have no common opponents. In fact, Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State is the only time the Irish will face a Big Ten opponent this season. For this reason, Michigan State dominating the Big Ten would once again be beneficial for the Irish.

November 25th – TCU at Texas

Despite losing Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin to the NFL, the TCU Horned Frogs still figure to be a contender for the always wide-open Big 12. This game, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, is a potential trap game for the Horned Frogs. If Notre Dame takes care of Texas in the first game of the season and the Longhorns can steal a late-season game against the Horned Frogs, the Irish will certainly have a decided tiebreaker against teams from the Big 12. Much like the situation with Michigan State, Notre Dame’s only game against a Big 12 opponent comes against Texas. If Charlie Strong’s team can surprise college football experts, Notre Dame benefits.

Other games that should gain considerable notice from Irish fans include Florida State at Miami (October 8th) and Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19th). With a pseudo-Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, Notre Dame should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its worth against ACC opponents. If Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team can pick up where it left off last season, however, the matchup with the Spartans in East Lansing is arguably more important than the aforementioned Michigan – Michigan State matchup.

Whatever the case, Notre Dame has plenty of opportunities to add wins against opponents from many of the Power 5 conferences to their resume. If the Irish take care of business at home (with the exception of the game against USC, all of their marquee matchups take place in South Bend), Notre Dame just may find its way into the College Football Playoff for the first time since its inception.

Featured image is courtesy of wikipedia.com. 

Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss Will Have the NCAA Asking Questions

Laremy Tunsil was a fantastic offensive lineman for Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss. It is easy to see why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. His recruitment also involved alleged recruiting violations by Hugh Freeze. At least that is what Tunsil’s step-father accused the coach of. This is the same step-father who is now suing Tunsil.

Tunsil’s recruitment was legendary and his time spent in Oxford appears worthy of a good story as well. But even with all of the energy surrounding Tunsil, the real story is about Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss.

Freeze has done a remarkable job turning around the Ole Miss program. He’s done so well that the assumption has been made that he’s broken a few rules along the way when it comes to recruiting. And Tunsil’s short but informative post-NFL draft press conference has only added to the smoke surrounding the Ole Miss program.

As Peter King reported, Tunsil was asked by an unnamed reporter whether or not the Ole Miss star had ever received money from a coach.

Once the NFL rookie understood the question within the context of his experience at Ole Miss, he admitted that the accusation was true and there was the implication that there are text messages to prove the allegations.

When the reporters attempted to press Tunsil on the issue, Amy Milam rushed in to escort Tunsil away from the podium. Milam is also Jimmy Sexton’s assistant and Sexton is also Tunsil’s agent. Even with handlers, players can go off script.

As he was being whisked away, Peter King over heard one reporter’s reaction to what Tunsil had just admitted Ole Miss was guilty of.

“There’s no way I heard that correctly,” a reporter in the front row said. “There’s no f—ing way that just happened.”

I’d say that reaction sums up the reaction from all of us. And now these allegations will be aggressively investigated. By Ole Miss.

It’s important to remember that Ole Miss is currently dealing with another NCAA investigation. What’s one more, I guess.

Ole Miss fans have defended their coach and school over the past few years. People didn’t believe that Freeze could recruit like this on his own merits. Ole Miss fans believed he could. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between, but when your star player makes a statement like Tunsil did, it does not bode well for you if you’re Ole Miss or Freeze.

The morning of the draft, Alabama announced that one of their assistants would be leaving their program because of possible recruiting violations. One of the Ole Miss fan sites took this as an opportunity to gloat.

Rivalries are great and certainly have entertainment value if you’re a fan. Ole Miss fans consider Alabama a rival. Whether that’s true is a topic for another day, but their fans believe it so let’s run with it.

Alabama is the marquee SEC program. To think that Saban and his staff broke significant rules to build their empire is comical. Did Bo Davis potentially break a rule? Sure. It’s almost impossible for a school not to break a few NCAA rules. However, before Ole Miss starts throwing shade at Alabama or any other school, they should make sure that they aren’t running their program like a bunch of bootleggers during prohibition.

Ole Miss? There’s a lot of smoke around your program, and a flame has been sparked with Tunsil’s comment.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

*Featured image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

Ranking the SEC Bowl Games of Importance

The satisfaction of reaching a bowl game varies among programs across the SEC and college football. Having the luxury to virtually prepare for next season with a postseason game to foreshadow is how some teams may approach the bowl season as in Auburn, LSU and Tennessee returning its starting quarterbacks for next season with a talented enough roster to make an impact. Other teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State look to provide a proper send off to two of the nation’s most efficient passers along with a couple of other all-conference performers.

The once dominant SEC, yes I used that in the past tense, has taken a step down this season with underperformance and the lack of big quarterback play. The conference usually hangs its hat on its successful bowl showing and looks to capitalize on some favorable matchups heading into the new year. Making the conference look good is one thing, but individually some teams need a good showing to help boost the program’s image or to continue to ride its success. Here is the breakdown of which games I view are most important to the programs and teams individually regarding the current status of the team.

#10. Tax Slayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State

With the departure of Mark Richt and the absence of eventual head coach Kirby Smart, this game is really just something to enjoy on your New Year’s Day hangover. The Bulldogs still without all-conference runner Nick Chubb can reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons. But yet, Bulldog fans wanted Richt out and the demands were met. Welcome to college football, folks!

Game Details: Jan. 2 at Noon EST on ESPN // Jacksonville, FL // EverBank Field

#9. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan

Frankly, just getting to a mid-tier bowl in his first season as head coach, Jim McElwain has already had a successful inaugural season in Gainesville. With quarterback issues and an inconsistent offense, not much is expected from this Gator squad on New Year’s Day. Amazingly making it to the SEC Championship Game with 10 wins, the Gators have already reached its peak this season and getting to 11 wins is just a luxury. Having that opportunity alone tells you what a fine job McElwain has done this season or the lack of a strong East division or a little bit of both.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ABC // Orlando, FL // Orlando Citrus Bowl

#8. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State

A pseudo fumble play essentially eliminated them from going to Atlanta for its first ever SEC title game appearance and the Rebels will settle for second place in the SEC with a Sugar Bowl berth. The game is important to many in the game but from an outsiders’ perspective the game will just be entertaining to watch as we know the program is in good hands with or without a win here. One thing is for certain though: NFL scouts will be aplenty.Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.14.13 PM

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // New Orleans, LA // Mercedes Benz Super Dome

#7. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State

Having won its past two bowl games versus the Big 12, the Razorbacks are prone to having hot finishes as of late. The key to ending this game with a win is to carry the victory over to next season. Arkansas dominated a declining Texas squad a season ago, but failed to keep the momentum into the 2015 season. The importance of this game is to win, but to also deliver a bright spot to the 2016 season without Brandon Allen.

Game Details: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m. EST on ESPN // Memphis, TN // Liberty Bowl

#6. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. NC State

Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the always highly competitive West division in the preseason and managed to come away with eight wins. Finding a way to get to eight wins was huge for this program and compliments Dan Mullen’s ability to hang in there with some of the top teams in the division. With Mullen’s name being tossed around for some coaching jobs it’s unsure to note how comfortable Mullen is staying in Starkville for a longer period of time. I’m guessing a win here sure would help. Oh, and we’ll miss you Dak!

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // Charlotte, NC // Bank of America Stadium

#5. Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech

Pretty much having to “rehire” Les Miles as its head coach, LSU has the opportunity to get to nine wins in what has been a very interesting and lopsided season. With a win here, it gives LSU officials that doubted the direction of the program the chance to not say, “I told you so,” with a loss here motivating that comment. Regardless, LSU has the opportunity to capitalize on its impressive amount of bowl victories in its history currently at 23 wins.

Game Details: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN // Houston, TX // NRG Stadium

#4. Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern

What more positive things can we say about this Tennessee program with Butch Jones? We’ve tried to embrace the new culture but the wins and intensity has yet to stick. Jones isn’t on his way out, but if an unattractive loss came to the Big Ten’s Vanderbilt, there will be some heavy heat on the program heading into 2016, but I don’t have to warn you about that happening.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at Noon EST on ESPN 2 // Tampa, FL // Raymond James Stadium

#3. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.29.28 PMThe offensive schemes in this matchup of Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino are intriguing enough without whatever is going on in College Station at the moment. First off, the Aggies are going to have to find a quarterback to start the game and Sumlin will need to find a way to distract viewers and followers from the dark cloud looming over the campus. A win would of course help the rumors and exaggerations from spreading even further.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN // Nashville, TN // Nissan Stadium

#2. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis

The punishment of finishing with an underwhelming 6-6 record is a bus ride two hours up the road to take on the number one rated NFL draft quarterback Paxton Lynch (good luck with that). Gus Malzahn is 0-2 in bowl games at Auburn and both losses have come when failing to hold fourth quarter leads. Malzahn’s seat is getting warm and another bowl loss, even without much of a defensive staff, would be an extremely disappointing outcome and would create some murmurs throughout the fan base.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at Noon EST on ESPN // Birmingham, AL // Legion Field

#1. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

We knew Alabama would get here somehow to be the lone team to represent the SEC. The importance of this game falls on the shoulders of the SEC and the Alabama program itself. The SEC’s stance on this game is hoping to at least have Alabama win for a chance to win another national championship for the conference. As for Alabama, the loss to the later national champion Ohio State did not settle well in Tuscaloosa and if the Tide were going to drop another, I imagine there would be some uncomfortable feelings toward the football program.

Game Details: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN // Dallas/Arlington, TX // AT&T Stadium

Ohio State Doesn’t Belong in College Football Playoff

The playoff picture is less than a week away from being formed.

Heading into the final weekend there are seven teams that are still alive.

Clemson and their opponent in the ACC Title Game, North Carolina, Alabama, Iowa and their opponent in the B1G Championship Game, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Oklahoma has all but assured themselves a spot in the final four to cap things off.

Of the seven teams listed, only six deserve to have the chance to play for the college football playoff.

The Ohio State Buckeyes do not belong in this conversation.

Yes, they are highly ranked, and yes they are very talented, there is no denying both of those two facts. What can be denied is that the Buckeyes have played well enough to deserve a spot playing in the semi-finals on New Year’s Eve.

Entering this season, Ohio State was voted unanimously number one by the AP. Voting them first overall seemed like the right move considering how many key players were returning to the Buckeyes from the previous season that saw them win the national championship.

While many of the key players returned, the team was nowhere near the caliber that the 2014 edition of the Buckeyes was.

Throughout this entire year, Ohio State has underachieved. The Buckeyes have had close calls against NIU at home, Indiana on the road and Minnesota at home as well before finally falling to Michigan State in the Horseshoe.


The Spartans dominated the Buckeyes physically in their own house, out rushing them 203 to 86, and holding Heisman hopeful Ezekiel Elliot to only 33 yards on 12 carries.

Sure, the Buckeyes bounced back nicely and dominated Michigan at the Big House the following week, but does one good win really deserve to be rewarded with an opportunity to play for college football’s biggest prize?

Comparing Ohio State to the other one-loss teams shows the Buckeyes do not have anywhere near as impressive as Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan State.

The Crimson Tide’s seventh best win (Wisconsin) would be the second best win that Ohio State would be able to tout. Sure, both teams have a home loss, but is there any doubt as to which team has a better body of work? Absolutely not.

Heading out west, to Norman, OK, the Sooners also have a resume that trumps what the Buckeyes are able to present. Aside from the drubbing of rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater by a score of 58-23, the Sooners also have wins over Baylor, TCU, West Virginia, and in SEC Country at Tennessee. Comparing resumes, the Sooners have two wins that would be better than any win Ohio State has. Of course, Oklahoma did lose a neutral site rivalry contest with Texas, but overall the body of work simply outweighs what the B1G East Runner-Up Buckeyes have been able to put forth.

It is also worth noting that Oklahoma has won the Big 12, and Alabama has an opportunity to win their conference, the SEC, something Ohio State does not have a chance to do. They lost that opportunity when Michigan State smoked Penn State on the last Saturday of the B1G regular season.

Surely, no one is arguing that Alabama and Oklahoma don’t belong in over Ohio State. The argument that very few are talking about would come out of the ACC.

Simply put, if Clemson wins the ACC Championship, they’re in the playoff, no two ways around it. The argument would be if they lose to North Carolina in that game.

The Tar Heels have flown under the radar since their week one loss to the Old Ball Coach and South Carolina. Since that game, all Marquise Williams and the Tar Heels have done is win, and looked very impressive doing so.


The Tar Heels have not played an overly grueling schedule considering they are still looking for a marquee win, one they have a chance to get against Clemson. The lack of a big win does hurt them, but the fashion in which they have taken care of the opponents on their schedule has been very impressive. Williams and company have topped the 50 point mark three times against FBS competition, and came within five points of doing so two additional times.

The Tar Heels, like the Buckeyes have only defeated one ranked team (@ Pitt), but they have looked much better than the Buckeyes have against very similar schedules.

Much is made of the “eye test” these days in the college football world. The test essentially is based upon how well a team plays week to week. Alabama and Oklahoma have each passed every week since their losses; Iowa has looked bad on an eye test level as well. The Buckeyes failed their eye test while the Tar Heels have passed theirs.

A win over Clemson would give North Carolina an A on their eye test, how could that be kept out in favor of an underachieving team?

It would be an absolute travesty to leave North Carolina out in favor of Ohio State if Clemson goes down this coming weekend.

Ohio State does not belong anywhere near the semi-finals, here’s to hoping the committee does the right thing.

Shattered Dreams and Iowa

The phrase “we need Iowa to go undefeated” is one that probably was not uttered by anyone other than Iowa alumni.  Coming into the season, there was a legitimate possibility that Kirk Ferentz was going to get the axe, but his contract, more specifically his buyout clause, was stopping that from happening.  Now, Iowa is undefeated, has a guaranteed spot in the Big Ten championship game, and looks to be the Big Ten’s best chance at being in the College Football Playoff as an undefeated team and eliminating the counter argument of “they just got in because they play in the Big Ten.”

The beauty of the college football playoff is how much scheduling plays a part.  Luckily for Iowa, very few thought that they would be legitimate contenders and did not schedule them into any true primetime, late season matchups. The Hawkeyes finish the season at Nebraska, the team that has managed to lose a surprising number of close games throughout the season and had a season-defining win in which they managed to ruin Michigan States’ title chances by handing them a late season loss.  While Nebraska will view the game against Iowa as their “championship” game, Iowa should be able to win and go into the Big Ten championship undefeated.

In comparison, the other teams around Iowa in the rankings have far tougher matchups.  Notre Dame finishes its year at Stanford without two of its best players, C.J. Prosise and KeiVarae Russel, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play one another in what should be a high scoring rivalry game that will determine who will be the Big 12’s playoff candidate.  Florida, the 8th ranked team in the Week 12 rankings, ends its year at Florida State.

My bound-to-be-wrong prediction for Iowa

Iowa wins at Nebraska convincingly, but not overwhelmingly with a 31-14 win.  In the Big Ten championship game, they play Michigan State.  The Spartans, coming off a huge win at Ohio State and a win over Penn State win a close, low scoring and what most of the country considers to be an “ugly” game.  In the process, the Big Ten manages to have three 1-loss teams.  Considering the huge media hype that constantly surrounds Notre Dame and the possibility of an undefeated Oklahoma State team, Iowa misses the playoffs and no Big Ten team gets to compete for the championship.

While having no team in the championship would be somewhat embarrassing for the Big Ten, it will not be as horrible as people make it out to be.  Clemson and Alabama are clearly the top teams this year and Iowa does not have the weapons or the personnel to keep pace with teams of that caliber.  Iowa getting into the playoff would probably look at lot like a bowl game featuring an automatic qualifier; it will be obvious from the start which team had a “miracle” year that is coming to an end and which team is entrenched as a top contender year after year.  As fun as it would be to have a team from the Big Ten in the playoff, it will probably be better to not have to endure a 60-minute beatdown at the hands of Clemson or Alabama that loses its suspense after the first quarter when Iowa is down by 21.

Who Should Irish Fans Root For?


Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time of year again.

Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Committee released their second Top 25 poll of the season. Now before you read any further, let me remind you that all of this is extremely fluid and is subject to change from week to week. For instance, Ohio State, last year’s eventual national champion was slotted at 16th in the opening poll of the season. Much can change between now and December 31st when the semi-final games are slated to be played.

With all of that said, Irish fans have to be extremely happy with the results that were revealed on November 10.

Notre Dame came in at fourth, the final spot of the playoff.


The high ranking does hold some weight however. Common thought would be that if Notre Dame is able to win their remaining four games they will not be held out of the Final Four. This is due to the fact that Notre Dame has a resume building win remaining on the schedule at Stanford, and some of the other teams may take care of themselves.

Left in the season are a few elimination games, or at least games that have the potential to strongly affect the Final Four.

Among these are  many of the remaining Big 12 games, a possible matchup between an undefeated #3 Ohio State and an undefeated #5 Iowa in the B1G Championship Game, and Notre Dame’s late season trip to Palo Alto.

Last weekend, LSU was stomped in Tuscaloosa by the Crimson Tide. This caused LSU to fall out of the playoff picture for the time being, and Alabama sliding into the #2 spot that the Tigers briefly held. This, along with another Ole Miss loss, allows Alabama to control their own destiny on the way to an SEC Title Game.


Irish fans should root for:

Nov 8, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeAndrew White (2) catches a touchdown over LSU Tigers safety Jalen Mills (28) during the overtime of a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 20-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports


With Alabama controlling their own destiny, and appearing to have a firm grip on a spot in the playoff, the best chance for a Crimson Tide loss would be this weekend in Starkville against Mississippi State, or in an eventual SEC Championship Game against the Florida Gators. Irish fans should be pulling for the Bulldogs and possibly the Gators as well. Although if Florida runs the table and wins the SEC, I would expect to see them garner a spot in the Final Four. As I said earlier I would be surprised if a two loss team would make the Final Four, but if it does happen, my money would be on it being Alabama.

The Big 12 is currently on the outside looking in as well. Baylor and Oklahoma State are both currently unbeaten, but find themselves sitting at six and eight, respectively. These two programs have played relatively weak schedules thus far, and also don’t play defense really well, if at all. The Cowboys do play much better defense than Baylor, but it is still nothing to write home about. That is just the way of life in the Big 12, and I think that the committee takes offense to that in their rankings. These two teams will square off on November 21st. It is very possible that Baylor could fall this week against the Oklahoma Sooners, a team that already has a loss. The Sooners lone hiccup is to Texas in the Red River Rivalry.


Irish fans should root for:


Oklahoma to win out. This would leave Oklahoma as the one loss Big 12 champion. It just so happens that the Sooners loss would come to a team that Notre Dame beat by 35 points. If there would be an undefeated team left out, my money would be on it coming out of the Big 12.

The Big Ten, or B1G as the cool kids call it these days, has two teams in the top ten in Ohio State (3) and  Iowa (5). Yes, neither of them have been beaten thus far, but both have failed to notch an impressive win thus far.  The Buckeyes have looked extremely average in a few of their games, but they have looked like a top team in a few others. Iowa has played well, however their best win is due to a last second, 57-yard field goal over currently unranked Pitt. A good win, but not a marquee one per se.


Irish fans should root for:


This scenario became a little clearer this past weekend with the loss of Michigan State to Nebraska. The hope is still for Michigan to win the conference, but now that is a little more likely to happen. If Ohio State can manage to defeat Illinois and Michigan State, and Michigan beats Indiana and Penn State, then that would set up a de facto B1G East Title Game on November 28 at the Big House between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Irish fans would be pulling for Michigan to upset the Buckeyes and later defeat Iowa to win the B1G. I would be very surprised to see a two loss B1G team sneak into the Final Four.

Out west, teams in the Pac 12 have not done themselves many favors this season. Stanford is the highest ranked team in the conference at seven, up four spots from last week. They are followed by Utah at ten. Every team in the conference has at least one loss at this point in the season. The best chance for a Pac 12 representative in the Final Four would be Stanford winning out.

Irish fans should root for:


Stanford to win the Pac 12 title, with a loss to Notre Dame along the way. Sounds simple enough, right? It also would not hurt if USC won out, coupled with a Utah loss to set up a Pac-12 title game between two teams that Notre Dame would have defeated, assuring a win over a Power 5 Champion.

In the ACC things are far less complicated for Notre Dame fans. Obviously, the lone Irish loss of the season came in Death Valley to the Clemson Tigers. The hope would be that Clemson is able to finish an undefeated regular season and win the ACC crown. This would ensure that the Tigers reach the Final Four, and likely give Notre Dame the best loss that anyone in the country has. I hate the term best loss, but it would be true in this case. Clemson has a key game against Florida State this weekend. It also wouldn’t hurt Notre Dame if Pitt wins the remainder of their games after their clash with Notre Dame.


Irish fans should root for:


Clemson to win every game, and look good doing it, until a rematch in the semi-finals against the Irish.

Elsewhere, Notre Dame fans should also be rooting strongly for Navy and Temple to continue their winning ways and meet up in the AAC Title Game. Navy has SMU, Tulsa, and Houston left in AAC play, and then the traditional Army-Navy game would be played after a potential AAC Title Game. The Temple Owls have USF, Memphis, and UCONN left on their schedule. Each team should be ranked in each of their remaining games.

Ultimately, none of this matters if Notre Dame is not able to win their next three games. The remaining slate for Notre Dame is Wake Forest at home, Boston College at Fenway Park, and finally a trip to Palo Alto for a showdown with Stanford. If the Irish take care of business, they’ll be playing on New Year’s Eve.

Decline of One Rivalry and the Creation of Another

Alabama vs. Tennessee

Dating back to 1901 the “Third Saturday in October” has been one game to always mark on the calendars entering the season. The amount of players to showcase their talent on this stage is innumerable. Tradition has also been a factor in this matchup, which comes with every notable college football series.

But this rivalry thing…

Does that still hold true?

Depending on what side of the table you are sitting on may determine the answer to that question. Also, the question that needs to be answered is what is the definition of a rivalry:

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 2.28.38 PM

Well, by definition this series still serves as a rivalry and so does every other matchup in college football this Saturday. College sports have added its own interpretation of the definition: a state or situation in which teams compete against each other with a history and a competitive nature. The competitive nature is what has this rivalry in question.

In January 2007 when Nick Saban was hired as the next Alabama head football coach, the Tennessee football program has been irrelevant in this series and in general. Since, the Vols have dropped eight to the Tide losing by an average score of 35-12.

Scores of game from 2007-2014:
2014: Alabama 34-20
2013: Alabama 45-10
2012: Alabama 44-13
2011: Alabama 37-6
2010: Alabama 41-10
2009: Alabama 12-10
2008: Alabama 29-9
2007: Alabama 41-17

Rivalry series don’t have to be acknowledged by equality of victories, though that case can be made here, but by the fan perception of both teams. The Tennessee fan base has become known as the fan base that supports the program when good but can also crush it when it’s bad. I don’t want to question the loyalty of the fan base because I don’t think that can necessarily be justified but it’s hard to argue against that the support for this game each year has slowly slipped each season; student sections are not filled and crowds leaving early before the fourth quarter. Hey, it happens.

The closest Tennessee came to winning was in 2007 when Terrance Cody of Alabama blocked the game-winning field goal…twice.
The closest Tennessee came to winning was in 2007 when Terrence Cody of Alabama blocked the game-winning field goal.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones acknowledges that his team (the Tennessee program before his arrival) has not played well against the Crimson Tide and that needs to change. One win this Saturday is a start, but it’s a long road to making this a relevant rivalry again.

Arkansas vs. Auburn

I already touched on this matchup in the preseason, but with the showdown taking place this weekend it’s ideal to reiterate the uprising of an Arkansas versus Auburn rivalry series.

This series has mostly been the kind-hearted rivalry with two of the more genuine fan bases in the SEC. Have the tables turned from what used to be that heartfelt greeting or departure of “Welcome to the Plains” or “Hope you have enjoyed your stay in Fayetteville. Have a safe trip home”? For the most part, the fans have not been the initial targets of this series but more of what has taken place off the field with side comments from coaches.

In the last meeting in Fayetteville, Auburn running back Tre Mason carried the ball 32 times for 168 yards and four touchdowns.
In the last meeting in Fayetteville, Auburn running back Tre Mason carried the ball 32 times for 168 yards and four touchdowns.

Similar to what I wrote above about the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is that both sides have to have some sort of competitive at some point and the Tigers have a 2-0 advantage over the Razorbacks with Bret Bielema in town. But the record has yet to hide Bielema’s toward Auburn claiming he “hates Auburn” and accused the engineering of Jordan-Hare Stadium of cheating after assistant coaches being held in the elevator at halftime longer than expected. Bielema has clearly made this matchup one of the biggest games on the Arkansas schedule.

The matchup here though is mostly black and white, or to avoid confusion and other stuff, day and night of offenses which has also created friction from fan bases and coaches claiming one has the advantage over the other and one is more dangerous and everything else that comes with trash talk. Regardless of the justification of arguments, the fans are now into this so-called rivalry being a legitimate gridiron battle they look forward to each season.

Started From the…and Now We’re Here

Disappointing and surprise seasons come due to the rankings the teams are knighted with in the preseason. Fair or not fair that’s how college sports roll. The season is almost half over and many fans have already started the “next year’s team” talks. On the other hand, hopes and aspirations are still alive for some of the higher caliber programs along with some of the surprise teams that have suddenly came out of their shell; at least for now they have. Comparing the preseason expectations and how they have performed this season I break down each SEC team to see how they have stacked up against their preseason accolades or premature dismissals.

Alabama Crimson Tide (Preseason Rank: #3; Current Rank: #8)

The preseason buzz that surrounded the Tide this preseason focused on the quarterback competition and not only who was going to be awarded the job but if that quarterback can sustain the always high-caliber Crimson Tide. Though the team already has one loss on its playoff résumé, the Tide look to be in good hands from here on out finding consistent play at quarterback with both sides of the ball looking sharp in Athens last weekend.

 Arkansas Razorbacks (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Arkansas came into the 2015 season similar to last season’s billing as looking the part but not showing its improvement on its record. Opposed to last season, this season’s version has not looked improved dropping some key non-conference games to Toledo and Arkansas and not looking good in either showdown. Bret Bielema has been a big talk guy but when is it time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk? Time is running out.

Auburn Tigers (Preseason Rank: #6; Current Rank: NR)

One of the biggest letdowns in college football this season is the Auburn Tiger football team. Jeremy Johnson was in line to be the next big thing but has slipped out of the spotlight to find himself on the bench. The season has almost started anew with new quarterback Sean White and many defensive adjustments as the Tigers look to renew their once hyped 2015 season.

Florida Gators (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #11)

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Within the past ten years or so, first year head coaches have made immediate impacts at their respected school. With that said, the expectations for the Gators this season were not high as they were breaking in potentially a new starting quarterback with many personnel changes. Finding Florida ranked just outside the top ten is big for a program needing a spark and now are in the driver’s seat in a semi-weak eastern division.

Georgia Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: #9; Current Rank: #19)

It’s become a status quo for Georgia football starting the season as one the SEC and national favorites but find a way to slip up along the road in disappointing fashion. It’s not that Georgia was supposed to defeat Alabama – Georgia was favored to win – but losing by three touchdowns at home to a team that is still in the growing process on offense has left the Dogs in a weird but kind of expected season. The Mark Richt hot seat rumors have been ignited and it could be SEC championship or bust for the Bulldogs. What do you think?

Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Similar to Arkansas’ 2014 season outlook the record should not reflect the overall improvement from this Kentucky football team. Kentucky has improved mightily since Mark Stoops took over and each year we have seen the strides of getting better. Unfortunately the record has yet to be completely rejuvenated but with addition of new SEC talent the Wildcats are in good position for the future. The question is does the future begin next week or next year?

LSU Tigers (Preseason Rank: #14; Current Rank: #7)

Another SEC team that was flooded with quarterback questions before week one, LSU answered its problem without really addressing the issue directly not having to yet with a stud running back in Leonard Fournette. Doing exactly what is expected of them, the Tigers have grounded and pounded through the schedule so far and now jump into the heart of the SEC portion part of it.

Ole Miss Rebels (Preseason Rank: #17; Current Rank: #14)

Chad Kelly

The star-studded recruiting class became draft eligible week one and has hit on all cylinders for the most part. Going into Tuscaloosa and coming out with a win giving Hotty Toddy consecutive wins over the Tide set the tone for what could have been an unblemished season. Not coming away with a win from Gainesville is tough but having been completely shut down on offense is why I am currently cool on the Rebels.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Having a historical season a year ago it was hard to predict how the Bulldogs would fare this season based on returning only nine starters from last year. State has performed right on par in where they were expected to be riding Dak Prescott’s back with key plays from the secondary. Seemingly being out of the conference race State can play spoiler throughout the rest of the season still claiming to be a solid all-around team.

Missouri Tigers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

There was a point of good, bad, and ugly the first few weeks of the Tigers’ season and hopefully it’s back to good now. Oddly enough benching Maty Mauk, with the suspension, may have been the best thing to happen for the Tigers after struggling to score points on offense on many occasions yet still sneaking by. Though still an impressive 4-1 the season has not looked as peachy as expected, but the Tigers look to be headed into the right direction with Drew Lock taking snaps from center.

South Carolina Gamecocks (Preseason Rank: NR, Current Rank: NR)

Yuck. That pretty much sums up what has been a rough year for the Gamecock fan base. Not having consistent quarterback play, heck, any consistent play has put Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in a really sticky situation heading forward with not much positives to throw out there right now.

Tennessee Volunteers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

After writing a column titled “Put Up or Shut Up” for Tennessee two weeks ago, I am disappointed and a little surprised in what Tennessee has put out in the past two weeks. Having the youthful roster still doesn’t suffice an excuse of underachieving some lofty preseason expectations. Tennessee has blown three games when being up by at least 13 points, which has unfortunately set the tone for the season. A big win over Georgia this weekend could really turn things around.

Texas A&M Aggies (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #9)

Getty Images from Washington Post
Getty Images from Washington Post

Struggling on the defensive side of the ball since its inaugural year in the SEC, Texas A&M seems to finally have some identity on defense complementing its always high-scoring offense. Meshing these two together have given the Aggies a 5-0 record heading into Tuscaloosa next weekend off a bye.

Vanderbilt Commodores (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

It’s a luxury if the football program is relevant in Nashville in any given season and just the norm when the team fails to reach bowl eligibility. This season hasn’t been a luxury, but it also hasn’t been a letdown either. Though to the naked eye the 2-3 record looks bad but holding their own versus conference foes Georgia and Ole Miss showing improvement slowly but surely.

The College Quickie: Strap on Your Seat-belt, It’s About to Get Wild

It’s about to get wild. What’s about to get wild, you ask? Everything about this college football season. We’re only a month in and the season has brought plenty of surprises. USC has lost, (ok not the most surprising thing) Oregon looks like an average football team, and Auburn fans would kill for their team to look average.

This whole thought was spawned by my recent viewing of the latest college football polls. Michigan State is number 2? How? Florida State is #11? Based on what? The fact that they won the title two years ago and went undefeated against a watered-down ACC in last year’s regular season? And then there was the real kicker of LSU. What has LSU done to deserve a Top 10 ranking? They’ve beaten Syracuse, the dumpster fire that is Auburn, and Mississippi State, who was picked by many to finish last in the SEC West and whose best win is by 8 points over said Auburn dumpster fire. I think that ranking has everything to do with Leonard Fournette more so than people actually thinking LSU is a really good football TEAM.

But bashing the pollsters is not what this is about, because then I looked at the entirety of the Top 25 and thought to myself, “I really can’t blame anyone for putting LSU in the Top 10.” The rest of the teams after that are uninspiring. Florida State and Clemson haven’t beaten anybody yet, Alabama lost at home and hasn’t looked great, A&M’s wins over Arizona State and Arkansas aren’t nearly as good as one would’ve imagined before the year started, USC already lost, and Northwestern? No thanks.

Even the teams in the Top 10 you find more questions than anything. Ohio State is as shaky a Number 1 as we’ve seen in a while. Michigan State’s best win is by 3 points over a team that just lost by 42 at home, and TCU is two weeks away from taking people from the stands to put out there on defense.

I can’t remember a time that there was this much uncertainty this early in the season. Every year for almost the last decade there has been a dominant number one team at this juncture (Alabama in ’10, ’12, ’13. LSU in ’11. Florida in ’09. USC in ’08) or really good teams almost everyone thought would make the playoff (Alabama and Oregon last year). You have to go back to 2007 to find this year’s level of uncertainty. At this same time that year, West Virginia, California, Rutgers, and Boston College were all ranked in the Top 12. 2007 finished as the year of complete insanity, with the #2 team changing every week near the end of the season and the likes of Missouri, Kansas, and West Virginia all controlling their own destiny at some point for a BCS spot.

Though this year may involve more “traditional powers” exchanging spots than that 2007 season did, my guess is we can expect similar chaos as the year goes on. And while all of this parity should make us appreciate having the four team playoff instead of a two-spot BCS Championship Game, you already know it will only fuel the fire for the many college football fans who long for a more numerous playoff structure.

The Week 1 Rundown: Overreactions Abound

What the hell’s goin on out here? Famous quote by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, and a fair question to ask after a college football Week 1 that saw some thought-to-be contenders struggle and other Power 5 teams fall flat on their face. So what actually went on out there? The overreactions to opening games are expected and you can see the wave of them coming as soon as each game ends. I’m here to bring some enlightenment on what we saw, knock some fan bases off their high horse, and likely mystify you with my post-weekend Top 4. Welcome to the Week 1 Rundown.

Week 1 kicked off with an ugly game between North and South Carolina, but that was really just a prelude to the meaningful start of college football, TCU facing off with Minnesota. If it’s possible to have momentum when your team hasn’t played in 8 months, TCU had all of it. Coach Gary Patterson is probably glad that his Horned Frogs will have to build new momentum after struggling against the Golden Gophers on Thursday night. But as Damien Bowman points out here, TCU should get credit for playing an opening week road game against a quality opponent. This game says more about the Golden Gophers who, with the defense they played in the opener, should contend in the Big Ten West considering this is by far the best offense they’ll have to play outside of a November 7th trip to Columbus.

Elsewhere in the land of not-so-elegant Big Ten play, Northwestern knocked off preseason sleeper Stanford in a game where the Cardinal never woke up. A slow start could have been expected in a game that was a 9:00 a.m. local kickoff for the Cardinal players, but they came nowhere near matching the intensity of the Wildcats throughout the whole game. Northwestern and Minnesota’s performances muddle up a Big Ten West division picture that was already cloudy to begin with. On the other side, Penn State did the opposite of look like a contender, losing 27-10 to a Temple program who hadn’t beaten them since 1941. That entire conference was mostly part of ugly games, so if numbers are what you’re looking for the Big 12 is a good place to start. Baylor QB Seth Russell’s numbers stood out on Friday night both for what they were and also for what they weren’t. Even against an SMU squad that likely won’t sniff a bowl game, Russell put up 300+ yards on just 15-30 passing. Those astronomical yards per attempt and yards per completion numbers are to be expected from a quarterback who many thought would take more chances downfield than departed signal caller Bryce Petty, but who is also less accurate. It’s nice to be able to bomb the ball downfield with arguably the best WR corps in the country, but it makes me wonder if Russell will be accurate enough to make key throws in tight spots later in the season when a game is on the line.

Nashville was another place where the scoreboard operator was busy, as the Tennessee Volunteer hype train rolled into town only to get hit with an aerial assault they might not have seen coming. The Volunteer defense allowed a boatload of yards to the Bowling Green Falcons, including 424 yards passing from quarterback Matt Johnson. Fortunately for Vols fans, the offense was dynamic in rolling up 600 yards of offense of its own, and Bowling Green may be the best offense they play all year. If you thought the 59-30 game between Tennessee and Bowling Green was a doozy, Oregon does what Oregon does and one-upped that by delivering a 61-42 win in a defensive struggle. As in the defenses struggled. A lot. Vernon Adams was successful in his Ducks debut and appears to have avoided serious injury after a scary late hit. The Ducks’ offense looked like it has the last few years, but the defense will obviously have to improve immensely if they want to be a playoff contender. If they gave up 42 points (including a 15-246-3 line to ONE Eastern Washington receiver) to an FCS team, what’s going to happen in Pac-12 play?

Fortunately for Oregon, the rest of the Pac-12 was hit or miss as well. The previously discussed Stanford Cardinal has seen most of their bandwagon emptied after a shocking loss against Northwestern and the offense looks like it could be their undoing again in 2015. In the other division, USC did what they should have against a lackluster opponent, and Utah survived a scare in Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan debut. Arizona State got ambushed by a Texas A&M defense that looks light years ahead of where they have been previously during Kevin Sumlin’s tenure. Arizona State was thought of as a Pac-12 South contender and possible playoff sleeper. They looked anything but on Saturday night. The offensive line was abysmal, and I think the Sun Devils are going to miss Jaelen Strong more than many realize. DJ Foster is a playmaker, but he’s only about 6’ 200 lbs so I’m not sure Arizona State will have that player who can “go get it” when the game is on the line. It would help if quarterback Mike Bercovici wasn’t on his back looking at the sky half the game.

Speaking of hits and misses, Ole Miss delivered plenty of blows against Tennessee-Martin and started the SEC on a roll that they would stay on all Saturday. Yes, I know it was a lowly opponent. But this is Ole Miss, Ole Miss doesn’t score 50 points in a game, let alone 76 (!). And it was the way they did it. The defense was its usual stifling self, but the offense is what has to have Rebel fans excited. Chad Kelly looked like he should be a good fit in the new, more up-tempo offense, and this offense has playmakers. Laquon Treadwell looked like his old self, and Jaylen Walton is a dynamic RB that should give Kelly a safe check down option in future games if nothing is working downfield. On the flip side, Ole Miss will need stud LT Laremy Tunsil, who is being held out while an improper benefits investigation takes place, once SEC play arrives.

It was definitely a bad day for SEC haters as the conference went 12-1. Alabama, Texas A&M, and Auburn all had victories over quality opponents from other Power 5 conferences, and the Aggies victory over Arizona State was an early season blow to those on the Pac-12 > SEC bandwagon. As for those Aggies? You already see the playoff contender hype now. Personally, I can’t wait until they vault into the Top 15 only to finish 8-4. That’s right, I think this A&M season will play out similarly to last year’s when the Aggies steamrolled a ranked opponent in the season opener only to be exposed as the season went on. The defense may be better under John Chavis, but it’s not going to have 18 sacks every game (ok it just felt like that many). And color me unimpressed with the offense. It generated just 10 points of offense the first 3 quarters before the wheels fell off the Sun Devils defense in the 4th quarter. The constant shuffling of quarterbacks by Sumlin? That’s not gonna fly once conference play rolls around. Plus it’s not like either guy set the world on fire. Kyle Allen was inconsistent, including an awful interception. Kyler Murray’s idea of offense is running around until the defensive backs are 40 yards downfield and then taking off. He also added an awful interception of his own. It probably sounds like I hate Texas A&M. I really don’t. I just think the hype is going to be out of control after one game and they will get exposed against better teams.

One of those better teams is Alabama, who silenced some doubts there were about the offense. Jacob Coker looked, dare I say, impressive in his first start and the defense didn’t let the Wisconsin offense get anything going. Be prepared, I’m about to go all negative on an SEC team again. I think this looks like the same old Alabama team we’ve seen the last couple years. The one who looks great against similar teams but struggles against dynamic offenses. I thought they still lacked a pass rush (until Wisconsin got down big and Bama knew they had to pass) and the back seven wasn’t challenged much. I’m not predicting doom and gloom for the Tide this season, but I’d be shocked if they don’t finish with a couple losses. Ok I take it back, I am predicting doom and gloom.

On the other side, I think Wisconsin is going to be fine this year. Alabama is just about the worst opponent for them, a team that plays a similar style on offense and defense but with much more talent at almost every position. And though Alabama felt in control most of the game, Wisconsin was a missed chip shot field goal away from being down just 14-10 at half. I have no idea who that was playing quarterback Saturday, but it didn’t look anything like the Joel Stave we saw last year. He looked good, and with their running game, I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t win 9 games this year.

You know who won’t be fine this year? Texas, who got housed by a Notre Dame team that looked every bit the playoff contender some thought. The Longhorns looked light years away from being relevant and the Irish took full advantage in every facet.

With Week one mostly in the books, I’m already looking forward to Week two to see which teams sustain their opening week momentum and which results were a mirage.

Top 4
Ohio State
Ole Miss

Just Missed: Notre Dame, Alabama