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The Best of Times; Remembering the Big East's Run With the "Big Boys"

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With all this talk of committees and selection process, it’s hard to imagine college football ever used computers to pick its national championship games. Times have sure changed. The much maligned BCS era produced its share of controversy over the years, but for the old Big East (preceding the American), it wasn’t so bad.
The conference racked up a 9–7 record overall during that time in BCS games, with some huge wins along the way. While the conference was never considered the upper crust of college football, it sure had its time in the sun.
Below are the top five moments for the Big East/American between 1998 and 2013.
1) UCF wins the Fiesta Bowl. As far as wins go, it might not have been the biggest. After all, they beat Baylor, and on most years Baylor hardly passes as a division one program. But the Golden Knights winning a BCS game against a top-ten team in 2014 marks the high point for the American. Why? Because in no other year did the conference receive so much criticism, and have so much to prove, than in its inaugural year.
2) West Virginia embarrasses No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. No one saw that one coming. Not even WVU coach Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan before the game was even played. Interim coach Bill Stewart rallied his team to not just a win, but a good old fashioned beat down of the Sooners, 48-28.

3) Big East finishes 2006 season with a 5—0 bowl record. The only conference that year with a perfect bowl record was highlighted with Louisville’s Orange Bowl win over Wake Forrest. The Cardinals, Rutgers and West Virginia would all finish in the top AP top 12 that year.
4) Cincinnati goes 12—0 in the 2009 regular season. Any other year that doesn’t feature an undefeated Alabama and an undefeated Texas, and you might have lived to see the Cincinnati Bearcats in a national title game. When Nebraska blew the Big 12 title game in the final seconds versus Texas, their fate was sealed. Brian Kelly left the team a matter of days later and the Bearcats were outclassed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

5) Miami wins the 2002 National Title. The one and only a time a Big East team won a national title. It seems like a distant memory now that the Hurricanes were ever in the Big East, but they left a heck of an impression.
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Who Will Be Oklahoma’s Starting Running Back?

Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, and Trey Millard are no longer in the Oklahoma backfield. The four seniors totaled over 6000 yards on the ground over their careers. They’re all off to the NFL now, hoping to make the cut by next season. The departure of those seniors leave a huge question mark in the Oklahoma backfield. After all, the Sooners won 11 games last season with their rushing attack. If they want to see even more success this season, then Oklahoma has to find a starting running back.

Oklahoma backs

The Sooners currently have seven running backs on their roster, including two freshmen and three sophomores. The only key returning running back for the Sooners is Sophomore Keith Ford. He carried the ball 23 times for 134 yards this past season. But Ford has had some fumbling issues, which has caused him to be sat on the bench during key game situations. There’s no doubt Ford has the potential to be a great running back, but he’ll need to sharpen up his fumbling problem if he wants to be the starter in the opener.

Ford may be the most talented running back, but don’t tell that to Alex Ross. The Sophomore carried the ball three times last season, but it might have to do more with his attitude than his skill. In Ross’ first career carry, he picked up eight yards and was pushed out of bounds. He then slapped the opposing player on the helmet for a penalty, and then proceeded to sit on the bench for the next two months. With a running back group that has as much depth as this one, there’s no room for any mental errors.

5″8 sophomore Daniel Brooks has never played a meaningful snap in an OU uniform, but Brooks is the one who stole the show in the annual OU spring game. He carried the ball eight times for 67 yards and also had a catch for seven yards. The smallest runningback of the group, Brooks reminds you of a Roy Finch type runningback where his 4.4 40-yard-dash and strength makes him versatile to the team.

David Smith was offered by Michigan State, Arizona, and Oregon State, schools known for their runningbacks. But in 2012 he committed to Oklahoma over 17 other Divison-1 programs. He was the only player in the spring  game with a rushing touchdown while recording 51 total yards. Smith isn’t the most athletic in the group, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be the most consistent back on the team. With such a young group, Smith is the most college ready right now which may just get him the starting job in August.

What about the newcomers?

Incoming freshmen Samaje Perine stands at nearly 240 pounds. Perine might be better suited as a fullback, but a powerback seems like a better term. It’s hard to knock him down, as watching through his highlight reel the only way to stop him is by pushing him out of bounds. Of course, I’m sure the Sooner defense has no trouble bringing down someone of his size. Perine won’t be the starter next season, but when it’s third and five or less don’t be shocked when Perine’s number is called.

Five star recruit Joe Mixon didn’t play in the OU Spring game, but there’s a good chance Mixon will be the starter come week 1. He’s the biggest of all the running backs standing at 6″2 200 pounds, but he still runs a 4.53 in the 40-yard-dash. Mixon has a lot of, ummm whatever this is. I honestly believe there’s a chip placed in his mind, and every time he touches a ball the chip displays a message in his brain that says ” Beast Mode Activated”. It’s either that, or the man is extremely talented. One of those two but I just haven’t figured it out yet. Mixon ran for 23 touchdowns and over 1700 yards his senior season. He is said to be a receiver playing running back, but there’s not a ton of receivers that run the ball the way Mixon does. He’s a five star running back, not a five star athlete after all. Mixon has potential like no other player on this roster, which is why he’ll be the starter next season.

Projected RB Oklahoma Depth Chart

1. Fr. Joe Mixon,  6″2, 216-pounds

2. So. Keith Ford,  5″11, 211-pounds

3. So. David Smith,  5″10, 204-pounds

4. So. Alex Ross,  6″1, 221-pounds

5. So. Daniel Brooks, 5″8 182-pounds 

6. Fr. Samaje Perine,  5″11 238-pounds

* Height and weight listed on school website

 

 

 

From the Tiger to the Bears

Tiger Ellison

Since Tiger Ellison’s legendary creation, the Run-and-Shoot Offense, was architected in 1958, it would be a gross understatement to suggest that mere “bits and pieces” of it exist today, even at the highest levels of American football. In this article, I argue that what is currently taking place in Waco, TX is as important to the shaping of football’s future as the forward pass did back when it was first tried legally more than 100 years ago.

While it’s very true that other spread-no-huddle offenses like the Auburn Tigers, Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, etc bear very strong similarities to the Ellison creation, Art Briles has almost literally replicated it, albeit in a slightly altered facsimile out of the shotgun formation.

Briles’ roots as an offensive guru stem back to his days as an assistant coach at Sweetwater High School in the Northwest Texas region in the early 1980’s. It was there that Briles began to mold himself as a Veer coach, believe it or not. At the age of 28, he was named the head coach at Hamlin High School, where he took this Veer concept, which had been established by Bill Yeoman at the University of Houston nearly a decade earlier, and built a juggernaut. Initially, Hamlin was destined to be a Veer team throughout Briles’ tenure, but he had a revelation. As he explained in an interview with SB Nation, “my first year there, we had a great football team, ran the split-back veer, went 13-0-1. In the second year, I saw that if you got deep in the playoffs, you’re gonna face people with talent just as good or better than yours. So what I looked for was an edge, something different; so in ’85 we went to the one-back, for wides and went 14-1.”

That mid-tenure transition would be replicated in his stint at Stephenville. A lot is misunderstood about that/those transition(s), however. To this day, Briles kept to the same principles of the Veer running game. The only difference was that, at Stephenville, his team was running these plays out of the shotgun in spread formations instead of using the quarterback under center with a full house in the backfield. The only real changes made, both at Hamlin and Stephenville, was the frequency and style of the passing game.

With his seemingly newfound love for the forward pass, his mentality shifted dramatically towards the concept of option routes…well at least as they’re traditionally understood. To further understand this distinction, one has to bear in mind yet another fact about Briles’ offense: there is no playbook. As Briles explained, “a guy’s not going to read or study [a playbook]. Kids play video games, so we show them the plays on video. Everything is on an iPad, and we label it and number them. A playbook is something we don’t do. I’m a visual learner, and people learn differently. If you can see something, you remember it. If you read it and try to interpret it, it’s a little different. We do a lot of repetition on the field so guys can learn it.”

Though this does not in and of itself mean Baylor runs option routes in its passing game, this mentality has its effects. They have base plays and constraint plays, to be sure, and they have plays that contradict each other. Any fluid offense possesses these attributes. But when you’re a coach and “everything is visual,” that means you have to retool as a season progresses. In fact, you have to retool in the middle of games. Hardly anything you do in Week 1 will look exactly that way in Week 12. In the spread, the game is about attacking the weakness of the defense. In addition, it’s well understood that a lot of what Baylor does in the passing game has to do with sending at least two, if not three, receivers on deep routes. One would be naïve to believe that even the bulk of those plays, let alone all of them, don’t allow for the deep receivers to adjust based on what they see in front of them.

In essence, Briles is running the option nearly every play. The Bears have plays where the quarterback can either check out of a run and throw a screen, check out of a run and throw a quick hitch, drop back and throw to a couple of people who could be in different spots based on what he sees, and they also have the inside mesh concept (commonly referred to as the “zone read” by sportscasters). With the kind of athletes the Bears are recruiting, it’s no wonder why they were averaging 60+ points per game for a large part of the 2013 season.

One of the greatest attributes that makes the deep passing game work for Baylor so well is their play action game, which is by far the best ever seen in a college offense. Baylor’s play action game is not built like a classic spread team, which is usually just based on a fake quick draw. There are those who believe that the key to selling play action is the quarterback selling the fake hand off. This has its benefits, to be sure, but the real benefit happens before that. It begins with the offensive line moving as if to suggest a run. When play action fails, it’s usually because the team in question is faking a draw (i.e. selling the pass already) and the draw hasn’t presented itself as a threatening play to the defense. Baylor rarely blocks with standard drop protection on play action. Most likely what they’ll do is pull a guard, stretch block, slip a back into the flat, etc. They literally have a play fake off every running play they have, and that’s quite an arsenal in itself. Bill Walsh said it best regarding play action when he said “the Play-Pass is the one fundamentally sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the basic principles of defense. I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense. By using the play-pass as an integral part of your offense you are trying to take advantage of a defensive team that is very anxious very intense and very fired-up to play football. The play-pass is one of the best ways to cool all of that emotion and intensity down because the object of the play-pass is to get the defensive team to commit to a fake run and then throw behind them. Once you get the defensive team distracted and disoriented, they begin to think about options and, therefore, are susceptible to the running game.”

Walsh’s framework is perhaps the most fundamental reason Baylor’s offense thrives like it does: it has an ethos, but they can adjust the order in which said ethos plays out. If a defense wants to commit to stopping the Bears’ running game first with a base defense, they’ll get beat over the top. If the opposition wants to play against the pass early in the game, Baylor will run up the middle in a variety of ways. If they want to load the box and/or blitz, they’ll get destroyed by the screen and short passing game.

But Walsh uttered these words decades after Tiger Ellison made his much larger mark on the game of offensive football. Ellison said of the play action, and about his offense in general, “we made every pass look like a run and every run look like a pass. Offenses that pass from a pocket split their attack into two phases-their running game and their passing game. The setting up of the quarterback in the pocket screams “Pass” to every defender on the field. Even though pocket-passing teams often fake the ball to a runner before setting up in the pocket, still the fake wards off detection for only a moment, after which all defenders spring into anti-aircraft action. The Run and Shoot offense did not split its attack–it was just one game, running and passing performed anywhere anytime with no distinguishing clue to signal run or pass.”

It’s for these reasons I argue that Ellison’s revolution, which began 55 years ago, is in motion (pun intended) faster than ever and that with the increased implementation of safety rules, various deviations of Ellison and Briles’ schemes will be centerpieces of every single football team at every level, as well they should be. In my view, football is not about lining up and pummeling the guy in front of you. Does that help? Yes, but it’s not the prime directive. The prime directive is to score more points than the other team. In my view, no one understands this reality better than Art Briles.

West Virginia Players Affected by the Draft

            The 2014 NFL draft saw two West Virginia players go in the third round; Charles Sims and Will Clarke.

            Charles Sims going in the third was pretty much expected. Though he was considered one of the best of this class of backs, the premium on NFL running backs has dropped substantially. Unless a team legitimately thinks it’s going to get the next Adrian Peterson, I don’t expect that to change any time soon. Running backs are a dime a dozen. That all suffices to say that I expected Sims’s floor to be the fourth or fifth round, but was optimistic that he might go in the third. He went to the Bucs, which was an interesting spot considering they have a young Doug Martin. However, Sims was frequently being compared to Matt Forte last season, and Lovie Smith is the new Tampa coach. Interesting.

            I have to admit, Will Clarke going in round three was a complete shock to me. I knew he would get drafted, but considering his last two years at WVU were spent on two of the worst defenses in school history, I figured his best bet was the middle of round four. I knew he was good at WVU, but not third round good. That means the Bengals expect him to be a solid contributor, and soon. Apparently his was a case of being a workout warrior at the end of the season.

            For fun now, I’m going to look at WVU players currently on NFL rosters and speculate as to how the draft will affect them. First up, Geno Smith.

            A lot of fans think that the Jets bringing in Michael Vick was an attempt to replace Geno. I disagree, for the time being. I think his job is to be the veteran backup/mentor, and he will only see the field on one of three conditions: 1. Geno gets hurt. 2. Geno has a slump similar to last season. 3. Geno absolutely implodes in training camp. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t see 2 or 3 happening. WVU fans know his work habits, and in the NFL he doesn’t have classwork to distract him from doing his job.

            Believe it or not, this is related to the draft.

            I personally believe that it was a huge, ringing endorsement for Geno that the Jets didn’t take Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater in round one. Yes, they had bigger needs (side note, I was really annoyed that they took Calvin Pryor instead of Brandon Cooks) but some of their writers seemed to think that they would be stupid not to take Manziel if he fell to them. They passed up arguably the two best quarterbacks in the class, when both fell to them.

They drafted Jace Amaro (I was ecstatic), Jalen Saunders, and Shaq Evans. I’m not as familiar with Evans and Saunders, but at least now there’s competition at wide out. Essentially, the Jets built around Geno, and took a developmental quarterback (Boyd) in round 6. Some fans on WVU boards freaked out at that, but if Boyd ever sees the field, it means that Vick and Geno are hurt, or Rex Ryan is out of a job.

Next, Tavon and Stedman.

The Rams’ first two picks were Greg Robinson and Aaron Donald, potentially the two best linemen in the class. The Rams were in a position to take Sammy Watkins, and passed. In fact, they didn’t take a receiver at all. They did take Tre Mason from Auburn, which Rams fans should be very happy about. Bradford is surrounded by weapons now, and if he finally stays healthy, there’s no more excuses. Anyway, what the Rams’ draft means is that they have full faith in their current wideouts – which include Tavon and Stedman. Tavon started out slow, but was coming on at the end of the season before getting hurt, at which point Stedman’s playing time went up tremendously. The Rams are high on both of them, and I expect to see Austin explode this season, and Bailey will gradually get more and more playing time, until the Rams finally realize they have one of the best possession receivers in the league. Yeah, I said it. If Stedman was a couple inches taller he would have been a first round pick last year.

One older player whose team’s draft pick might be signaling the beginning of the end is Pacman Jones. He’s entering his 9th year in the league, and turned 30 this year. The Bengals drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round. They’re wanting to go younger on defense, and that could be a sign that Mr. Pacman’s ghosts are catching up to him. That was a terrible reference, but I couldn’t resist.

Speaking of the Bengals real quick, how about them taking Jeremy Hill? Hill and Bernard are going to make one hell of a runningback combo.

Note: I realize I didn’t mention Bruce Irvin, J.T. Thomas, Keith Tandy, or Najee Goode. Bruce didn’t feel necessary, because as a first round pick and starting outside linebacker, or occasional situational player, it didn’t seem necessary. And to my knowledge, Thomas and Goode are primarily special teams players anyway. I mostly wanted to write about the more prominent players WVU fans would be following more closely

Oklahoma Football : Top Five Players For 2014

Riding high from the momentum of their 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory and 11-2 record, the Oklahoma Sooners looked poise for a big 2014 season. The Sooners have national title expectations, which means even more pressure to their star players. Those stars include a Heisman candidate, a strikingly good linebacker, and even a special teams player. But who cracked the list for the top five players for the 2014 season? Let’s take a look :

* This ranking is based on a mix of talent and achievment; incoming freshmen were not considered.

5. Michael Hunnicutt , Kicker

A kicker? A top five player?

Lets just say it says more about the quality of the kicker than it does the depth of the team. Believe me, there was a large group of players that could of took the fifth spot.

Last year, Hunnicutt was selected as a finalist for the 2014 Groza award, given to the nations top kicker. He was also an honorable mention All-American by CBS and Sports Illustrated.

In a playoff system where a Big 12 team almost has to be undefeated, a kicker who can help win close games will certainly help come conference play. I wouldn’t be surprised if his leg decided a few games this year for the Sooners.

 

4. Trevor Knight , Quarterback

When “Player A” played Alabama his freshmen season, he completed 24/31 passes for 2 touchdowns and 253 yards in an upset win against Alabama.

In “Player B’s” freshmen year, he completed 32/44 passes for 4 touchdowns and 348 yards in an upset win against Alabama.

You might of already guessed it, but “Player A” is Johnny Manziel and “Player B” is Trevor Knight. Of course, Knight didn’t exactly take the world by storm like Manziel did his freshmen season. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t big things in store for Trevor Knight, especially after Oklahoma’s victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in which Knight’s offense scored 38 points.

Knight is a big part of the reason why Oklahoma is receiving so much preseason hype, and with his 6-0 record as a starter there isn’t any reason why Knight shouldn’t be the man to lead Oklahoma to their first national title in 14 years.

 

3. Sterling Shepard , Wide Receiver

Perhaps the most talented player on the offense, Sterling Shepard is a do-it-all receiver who can run and catch. He is the most vital part of the Oklahoma offense, as the Sooners play their best offense when Knight and Shepard are clicking in the passing game.

Shepard recorded 8 total touchdowns last season and should become the Sooners number one target after the departure of Jalen Saunders.

 

2. Charles Tapper, Defensive End

No. 91 might be the most dominant linemen Oklahoma has seen since Gerald McCoy in 2009. Tapper has athleticism and a drive thats impossible to stop. The junior recorded 5.5 sacks last season and 9.0 tackles for loss.

The duo of Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper should make for the best defensive line in the Big 12 this year. Look for the experienced and talented line to become one of the best in the country before its all said and done.

 

1. Eric Striker

The best linebacker in the Big 12, Eric Striker is a junior who might be the best defensive player for Oklahoma since Roy Williams. That’s dating back to 2001 since the Sooners have had a player like this. Striker had 6.5 sacks last season and 10.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

If the Sugar Bowl was a sign for what is to come from Eric Striker, then you might as well just put him as a lock as an All-American.

 

Just missed out : DT Geneo Grissom, TE Blake Bell, LB Frank Alexander

Big XII Year In Review

There are actually ten teams in the Big XII, and we’re just going to have to get over it.

Big-12-logo_medium

To think this conference almost died three years ago would have been a crying shame.  They’ve given us some pretty good football since Larry Scott almost gutted the meat and potatoes of this league to go the Cali-forny Way in a potential 16-team Pacific Coast super-conference, and it’s had very little to do with that school in Austin.  Well, they didn’t need the University of Texas to hold their own on the field, but it took the ridiculousness that is ESPN’s partnership with the school to keep 19 year-old conference glued together for this long.

That’s all in the past, though it doesn’t mean that they’ve been unaffected by conference expansion in Big XII country.  Four of its charter members have sought greener pastures, while only two have been replaced.  Only Colorado, one of Scott’s six targets (the others were Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State) made the jump to the old Pac-10, but Texas A&M and Missouri joined the Southeastern Conference, while Nebraska found a new home in the Big 10…which now has 12 teams.  Again, get over it.

In 2011, Oklahoma State had a clear path to a national championship appearance until a missed field goal on a Friday night in Ames, Iowa knocked them off course.  The next year, with A&M and Mizzu off to the SEC, West Virginia and Texas Christian (TCU) were the new kids on the block.  The new guys found that they actually would have to be in Kansas every now and again, and found themselves towards the basement of their new digs.  Speaking of Kansas, Kansas State to be specific, the school in Manhattan, Kansas had their sights set on a National Championship berth, but a night in Waco, Texas suggested that it was not to be for the Wildcats.

That brings us to 2013, and a new dawn in the Big XII.  Were we really thinking Baylor, two years removed from Robert Griffin III and a year removed from Nick Florence, could win this conference?  Hell, when the chips began to fall, we were actually thinking the final BCS National Championship might actually pit the Baylor Bears in the 16-year series final game, while a traditional favorite like Ohio State would be left out.  That was all in theory and on paper, after all the games were played, the guess-work was easy, if not non-existent.

However, the 2013 story of this conference runs much deeper than getting a team to Pasadena.  You could throw away the chalk.  This particular season could have served as a thesis for, “that’s why they play the games.”

Any Given Saturday

Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia, and TCU were all denied the opportunity to go bowling, unless they were renting shoes at the local Brunswick house.  None of them won more than two conference games on a nine-game schedule, and even with the benefit of an FCS opponent on each of their schedules, these four schools couldn’t eclipse the four-win mark on the year.  In Iowa State’s case, the FCS opponent wasn’t a given; the Panthers of Northern Iowa defeated the Cyclones in Ames by a count of 28-20.  Even West Virginia trailed William & Mary by 10 at the half, before a second-half comeback.  But, you didn’t want to commit yourself to yard-work when these teams were in action; they had some fight in them, and yes, that even includes the hapless Kansas Jayhawks.

Charlie Weis, the place you start most arguments against hiring off the Bill Belichick Coaching Tree, had only one win in his first season in Lawrence, against South Dakota from the FCS ranks, so naturally Kansas invited another team from South Dakota in 2013, South Dakota State this time.  Weis was able to double his win total from 2012 with a 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech, a team that finished 4-8 in the mighty Conference USA.

Weis had his Any Given Saturday on November 16th, while playing host to West Virginia and NFL running back prospect Charles Sims.  It was a day for Sims to dominate, just not for Charles, who was held to 99 yards, while James Sims ran for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 31-19 win to snap a 27-game Big XII losing streak for Kansas.  The fans stormed the field and tore down goal posts in the lone bright spot for the Jayhawks in Big XII play.  In their other eight conference games, all losses, they were outscored by an average of 39-12.

Iowa State did not start well; there was the aforementioned loss to Northern Iowa, followed by a rivalry loss to another in-state rival, Iowa, before finally getting in the win column at Tulsa in Week 3.   One might make an argument for the Cyclones showing in a 31-30 loss, a game Texas won with a Case McCoy touchdown run and Anthony Fera’s subsequent extra point with 51 seconds left, on October 3rd as Iowa State’s big surprise of the year.  However, a lot of people might have expected Texas to go down on this Thursday night at Jack Trice Stadium, given how low everyone’s opinion of them was at that point; not to mention, I’m not getting into Any Given Thursday in this space.

If you want to polish a turd, go ahead, but that loss was the beginning of an 0-7 conference record; even Kansas had a win with a victory over West Virginia the week before these titans would clash in Ames on November 23rd.  For Kansas, a 34-0 was essentially par for the course; for Iowa State, this was a big win, but not quite their “Any Given Saturday” moment.

With neither team going bowling, with balls weighing less than 14 pounds anyway, Iowa State’s finale in Morgantown was a game played purely for pride.  In what is surely a far cry from the old Backyard Brawl they used to play with Pittsburgh in the Big East, as far as finales go, West Virginia gave the home crowd plenty to be proud about early, and looked to be finishing the season on a good note after a 76-yard Charles Sims touchdown run put them up 31-7 early in the 2nd quarter.

Obviously, we’re still talking about the Cyclones, so you probably know where this is going.  It’s going towards great moments in hook-up history, featuring Grant Rohach and Quenton Bundrage.  On the ensuing drive, Rohach, whose 54-yard 1st quarter touchdown run represented Iowa State’s only points of the day to that point, found Bundrage for a 10-yard scoring strike that narrowed the gap to 31-14 before the half.  After a scoreless third quarter, the teams traded touchdowns early in the game’s final frame.  The Cyclones found themselves down 17 once again when Rohach and Bundrage connected again, this time for 62 yards and the score, making it 38-28 in favor of the Mountaineers.  Then, it was time for Rohach to move on from Bundrage, who finished with 7 grabs for 93 yards to go along with his touchdown receptions.

With a minute left in regulation, Rohach, who finished the day with 331 yards with his arm, hit Justin Coleman to tie the game at 38, prolonging the 2013 season for both of these teams for at least one more possession apiece.  They did nothing but trade field goals for two consecutive overtime periods, but Iowa State wasted no time the third time around.

On the first play of Triple Overtime, Rohach hit Coleman, who had five catches for 91 yards, for the touchdown, then made the required two-point conversion attempt to go up 52-44.  West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett nearly equaled what his Iowa State counterpart did, but Charles Sims was pushed out of bounds at 3 in the “home half” of the third OT.  Despite having four tries, nor Trickett or Sims could find the end zone, and the game ended when Daikiel Shorts was pushed out of bounds at the 3 after a reception.  That was the end of the season for both squads; one elated, the other devastated.

Hold on, if West Virginia stunk so much, and they did finish 4-8, what’s so signature about those wins for Weis and Rhodes?  I guess goes back to late September, when the Mountaineers hosted a man with a gaggle of players well under the age of 40 from Stillwater, Oklahoma.  A win over Mississippi State, UT-San Antonio, and Lamar had earned the Cowboys the #11 spot in the polls, but no poll wanted any part of Dana Holgorsen’s team that was thumped 37-0 by Maryland in Baltimore a week earlier.

Clint Trickett would be West Virginia’s third quarterback in five games, but Trickett was no stranger to the clipboard after transferring from Florida State, where he was EJ Manuel’s understudy.  So, he hadn’t played since mop-up duty in October 2011.  He completed less than 50% of his passes and was intercepted twice versus one touchdown, but it was all about the West Virginia defense slowing down JW Walsh, Oklahoma State’s dynamic quarterback.

Walsh did have three touchdowns in the game, but the visiting team trailed 24-14 at the half, and his scoring strike to Josh Seaton closed the gap to 24-21, but that would conclude the scoring for the Cowboys in their first Big XII contest of the season.  A pair of Josh Lambert field goals, the second coming inside of the two-minute mark made it a two possession game, giving Holgorsen his only signature victory of the season.

Finding a signature win of any sort for TCU, a team that has struggled in their three years away from The Little Sisters of the Poor (the Mountain West Conference), was difficult, if not impossible, in 2013.   Their four victories came against Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Methodist, and the aforementioned dregs of the Big XII; at least West Virginia knocked off a big boy on the national scene, adding value to anyone who took them down.

TCU took the Titans of Appalachia to OT at home, but West Virginia pulled out a 30-27 win on the road.  I think they deserve more credit for giving Baylor all they could handle in a game Baylor had to have to keep themselves alive for a conference championship.  They still lost 41-38.  However, this was not a season without some mitigating circumstances for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs.  After missing the 2012 season to personal problems, quarterback Casey Pachall was sidelined for five games with a broken arm in 2013, forcing Patterson to play some depth chart musical chairs with athlete Trevone Boykin assuming the duties.

If it’s Brown…

As I’ve mentioned, time starts and stop with what’s going on in Austin, Texas.  I don’t want to take anything away from the heroics of Vince Young, financial statements notwithstanding, or even Colt McCoy, but I don’t know when the expectations for the Longhorns reached the level of some mythical place where Mack Brown isn’t allowed to lose any games, like ever.  So, 5-7 isn’t where you’re supposed to be if you’re Texas; when that happened in 2010, it was the Longhorns’ first losing season since 1997, but they’ve lived in that 8-9 win range ever since.

This season, after poor showings against Ole Miss and BYU, angry mobs carried torches through the streets of Austin demanding Brown’s head on a platter—okay, not really, but they wanted him out.  I suppose that’s fair, but I’m not sure what part of that entitled them to the services of Nick Saban.  I know that all it would take for some people is a two or three Brinks trucks backing up to their front door, but Saban has money.  And right now, he has the University of Alabama football program under his charge; somehow, I believe that’s more priceless than all of the brisket in Texas.

The way things were made out to be after a 3-2 start, it was as if Mack Brown were somehow sabotaging the program.  Nobody gave him a chance in the Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl against Big Game Bob and his Sooners, but I guess this is why they play the games.  It was, in fact, Oklahoma that stood no chance at the Texas State Fair’s Main Event.  Aided by a good start that got them out to a 20-3 lead in the second quarter, Texas simply looked like the better team than #12 Oklahoma on this day.

Case McCoy was efficient, despite throwing a 4th quarter pick-six, which brought the Sooners back to within two possessions at 36-20, a score that held up until the final gun.  He did need to do anything special with the way his backs were running the ball; Jonathan Gray and Malcolm Brown each eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards.  While Brown was starting to find answers, questions were being raised up in Norman.  Blake Bell struggled mightily, and the Sooners offense converted just 2-of-13 third downs.

They’d go on to win six straight Big XII games in all, the sixth being 47-40 overtime thriller at West Virginia, before dropping three of their last four games, in what turned out to be Brown’s final season in Austin.  They did this, despite getting a new athletic director in-season and having to avoid the writing on the wall about their head coach’s fate.  Sure, there’s nothing good about a 1-3 finish, but do consider the 3 came at the hands of #10 Oklahoma State, #9 Baylor, and #12 Oregon.  In the end, it was Charlie Strong from Louisville, and not Saban, who was brought in to prove that Texas is indeed too good for 4 and 5 loss seasons.

By the way, Texas finished the regular season in Waco, with a chance to win a conference title.  Art Briles and the Baylor Bears weren’t about to let that happen in the swan song for Floyd Casey Stadium, but after all of the scrutiny, Brown brought home a 7-2 conference record, and had his team in a “win and you’re in” (the Fiesta Bowl) scenario.

Snyder of Manhattan

Every time I’m out in Goodyear, Arizona, the spring home of the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, I’m teased by the Synder of Hanover building.  And, it’s not that I so much that I have a problem with pretzels as I’m reminded that I’m time zones away from Snyder of Berlin and those delicious barbeque chips that answered many a snack cravings as a child.  Okay, where was I going?  That’s right; it’s Bill Snyder and the 2013 Kansas State Wildcats.

While they’re talking about doing better than Mack Brown at Texas, someday Kansas State is going to have to do something other than Bill Snyder with their football program.  Snyder is 74, and has served as the Wildcats head coach for 22 years, albeit non-consecutive years.  If the next guy doesn’t work out for them, I’m not sure another un-retirement is in the cards, but who’s talking about retirement?

A year removed from a Fiesta Bowl appearance, an occurrence that’s become more regular than it ought to be for the school in the Little Apple, the Wildcats had a rough start out of the gate, losing to an FCS school.  Never you mind the small fact that North Dakota State won the Division I Playoff, the FCS stigma still remains.  After that, they did drop four games, only to the league’s Top 4 teams, but they returned to Arizona and finished on a good note, shellacking Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (can I still just say BW3?) by a score of 31-14.

Off the Kliff

We knew something would have to give in the Big XII, especially if Texas wasn’t as bad as we believed them to be in September.  There just wasn’t enough room at the table for everyone, even with A&M long gone, if Baylor was really going to insist on a spot at the adult table.

In a decision that may very well have been based on the availability of grilled cheese on glazed donuts on Tom + Chee, Tommy Tuberville left Lubbock for the potentially greener pastures of Cincinnati, Ohio.  That left Kliff Kingsbury, who played quarterback at Texas Tech only a few years ago, but was more recently credited with the fast development of Johnny Manziel at A&M, to take over a Red Raiders program that’s fallen a long way since they dismissed Mike Leach.

They got out to a 7-0 start, which earned them a #10 ranking, but a non-conference slate of SMU, Stephen F Austin, and Texas State probably never instilled fear into the hearts of men.  Now, I never like to say a team got “exposed” because they hit a gauntlet in their schedule; Tech had to play the Top 5 teams in the final Big XII standings in consecutive weeks, and they lost them all.

They went to Oklahoma, hosted Oklahoma State and Kansas State, played a neutral site game with Baylor, and then lost 41-16 in Austin.  There’s only score to be read there, but it tells the tale of the entire losing streak; the offense scored no more than 34 points in any game of the losing streak, while the defense allowed no fewer than 38 in any of those games.

They drew Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, which was an underwhelming draw for the Sun Devils if you ask people who support the Pac-12 runners up, but Texas Tech dismissed all perceptions with a relatively dominating performance.  Davis Webb threw for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns, as the Red Raiders took the Sun Devils behind the woodshed for a good ole fashioned beat down.

What’s a Little Bedlam between Two Thursdays?

We know that Oklahoma State didn’t play much of a non-conference slate.  Hell, that goes ditto for Oklahoma, though the latter went to South Bend and avenged their 2012 loss to the Irish on the God-forsaken Plains.  It was going to come down to conference play, and both took an early loss.  Somehow, some way, West Virginia took down Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys, and we know the story of what happened to Stoops at the Red River Shootout.  That said, each took down a giant, which gave shape to the Big XII title chase, and then un-did that very shape.

Somehow, some way, it was Baylor that became the giant that needed slaying.  On a Thursday night in Waco, Oklahoma showed that they were far from ready for the task.  It was a 41-12 loss that everyone not glued to every snap in the Oregon-Stanford game saw.  I’m not sure that game really set us up for what would go down in Stillwater, when those giants, I mean Bears, would claw their way into T. Boone Pickens Stadium for the Saturday Night Main Event.  What Baylor did, was take all of the goodwill given to them after beating up the team from Norman, and torch it over a couple of hours during a 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State.

When the two met in Stillwater on December 7th, Oklahoma State was playing for the conference title and a bid in the BCS.  A BCS bid was a long shot for the Sooners, but the opportunity to spoil the Cowboys title hopes sat right in front of them.  This was Bedlam, and absent a post-season conference championship game, this would serve as a de facto championship of sorts, and would turn out to be a BCS clinching game for the winner.

The game was tied after the first, second, and third quarter.  It had five lead changes, a punt return, a kicker scoring a touchdown, and it ended with a scoop and score as time ran out, and the Sooners upset the Cowboys in their own house.  They spoiled everything for Oklahoma State, and opened the door for Texas to play Baylor for a Fiesta Bowl berth.  The Cowboys were sent to Arlington to play Big XII expat Missouri in the Cotton Bowl, while the Sooners earned a date with the might Crimson Tide of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

A Friday night loss in the House of Jerry rendered Oklahoma State’s season forgettable to an extent, which isn’t to take anything away from them or Missouri, but it left me to believe they were just a team that upset Baylor, rather than being sold on them actually being the best team in the Big XII.  Oklahoma lost to Texas and Baylor, which left them mathematically ineligible for the conference title in the season finale, but they did enough to be noticed.

It was them, and not 2-loss Oregon from the Pac-12, that filled the final at-large spot in the BCS.  When it comes to believing a team without a conference title as the best, this Alabama team came to mind, weighing the reality of how they lost at Auburn to end their regular season.  No one gave Oklahoma a chance, except for maybe Bob Stoops and his young men.

However, when they took the field in New Orleans on that Thursday night, they showed that they were not only capable, but that Trevor Knight and company might have even been a downright better team that AJ McCarron and the Tide.  The nail in the coffin was similar to the finish at Bedlam, a scoop and score.  Final score: Oklahoma 45 Alabama 31.

Ida Gone To Baylor

So, the story goes like this, as my friend Miko would tell it.  Now, I haven’t seen Miko in a number of years, but this will stay with me forever.  He was an Oklahoma guy, an alumni, and he recalls a cowboy telling the Baylor mascot how it is, with a big ole chew in his mouth, in the thickest of thick cowboy accents, he says, “I’d have gone to Baylor, (spits tobacco juices) if they had a football team.”  Of course, it comes out like this, “Ida gawnta Bay-Ler, they had a Foot Bawl team!”

It was a good time for the Oklahoma program; in the same breath, it was a good time for Ohio State, the early 2000s.  Shortly after that, I’m pretty sure he moved back to Oklahoma shortly after that.  I’ve only heard from him once in the years since.  It was the night of October 22, 2005.  The first text read, “Oh shoot, maybe they do have a football team.”

I looked at the TV, a side TV because Baylor-Oklahoma was supposed to be a throw-away game.  Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell had thrown a 55-yard touchdown pass to bring the Bears within two.  Bell converted on the 2-point conversion with his legs, which tied the game at 27, and we had overtime in Norman.  Baylor kicked a field goal on their first possession of the bonus period, and it took a 39-yard boot from Garret Hartley to keep the game alive.  The Sooner held on in the second OT, and I got a second text from Miko, the last thing he ever said to me.

“Phew”

That was eight years ago.  Guy Moriss is out, Art Briles is in, and thanks to a 45-38 win over the Sooners in 2011, the Bears are no longer 0-for-forever against Oklahoma.  Art Briles has changed the program; Robert Griffin III obviously deserves some credit for changing the culture there.  They won’t accept 2nd-rate facilities or a 2nd-rate program in Waco.  They were contending for the national championship before their trip to Stillwater.

Though they stumbled in Glendale, Arizona on the big stage against an underrated Central Florida team, and it isn’t like they stumbled hard or even to a bad team.  They just lost a game they were favored to win, but I wouldn’t let the Vegas standard affect how I feel about Baylor.  Their biggest win came in retaining Briles, who easily could have and probably should have been the new man in Austin.  I see nothing but more of the same from this program, one that was left out of the fold when the entire conference was being poached, in favor of Colorado.  I know that it was more about the Denver TV market than anything else, but still, Baylor does more for their conference in 2014 and beyond than I ever see happening for the Pac-12 in Boulder.

 

 

 

Fiesta Knights

Since it moved from Tempe to Glendale in January of 2007, the Fiesta Bowl has taken on a different feel, more of a corporate one in an NFL stadium. I don’t really say that in a good way. Sun Devil Stadium hosted the first Bowl game officially designated as a championship game, the first that would mandate the #1 and #2 teams in the country be on the same field, where Tennessee knocked off Florida State. In a few days, Florida State will once again travel west to take on the champion of the Southeastern Conference to determine a title, in California this time around, but Arizona still hosts that Fiesta Bowl game, and 2014’s exhibition would feature two teams without a lot of curb appeal.

I understand why there are two domes in Arizona, which host the area’s NFL and MLB teams; the heat is unbearable for most of baseball season and for the first few weeks of football season also. The only major sport that gets played in a true outdoor stadium in these parts is Sun Devil Stadium, which is on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe and used to host the Arizona Cardinals. I never attended a regular season NFL game there, but it boasts a real college atmosphere. The Fiesta Bowl became a bit of an Ohio State Invitational, with the Buckeyes getting an invite in 2003, 2004, and 2006. The area around the stadium, Mill Avenue to be specific, was always electric with incredible fan bases from Manhattan, Kansas and South Bend, Indiana in the days before the game.

The games on campus always meant something, which isn’t to say that University of Phoenix Stadium hasn’t seen its fair share of thrillers in the past 8 years, but obviously it’s my personal opinion that college games are better in college stadiums. The games I did not attend, since moving to Arizona in 2001, featured teams in 2002 that had a legitimate beef with the system over their rightful chance at a title and a non-qualifier crashing the party in 2004. Of course, the inaugural Fiesta Bowl in Glendale may have been the most memorable non-Championship game in the 16-year history of the BCS, a 43-42 OT thriller that saw Boise State crash the party.

I’d hear arguments for Texas, the victor over Ohio State in the 2010 game, presenting themselves worthy of Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators for the crystal football, having knocked off the team that played the sacrificial lamb to the SEC in Miami that night. You won’t hear a lot of people bellyache about the Championship caliber teams coming to the desert, but there’s this perception with curb appeal when you don’t get the brand names. Wednesday’s Central Florida vs. Baylor game sounded about as lackluster as the 2010 game that featured teams from the Mountain West and WAC on paper, but if you watched the games in 2013, you knew this wasn’t your typical “directional” school versus the academic of a power conference. We saw Western Michigan play Northwestern in September, and this game would be better.

Baylor is the type of team that scored 70 points on 4 different occasions this season, but from one week to the next, they’re just happy to be successful. Maybe they didn’t have a crystal football in mind when they were sweating out the Waco heat during two-a-days, but the prospects of getting to the National Championship were very real in mid-November, when they were being touted as the best undefeated team outside of Tallahasse, when they won convincingly over Oklahoma on a Thursday night where many of us were flipping over to Stanford’s home upset of previously unbeaten Oregon. The dream ended in Stillwater, where the Bears have not been able to sic the Cowboys in six decades, but this team was wild about qualifying for the Alamo Bowl two seasons ago, so the BCS was another step up for Art Briles and this Baylor program.

The American Athletic Conference did not exist last season, but they held an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) for this last year of the series. Most had penciled in Louisville, winners of last year’s Sugar Bowl and mere renters of space in The American for a year before the ACC is ready to welcome them for the 2014 season, to represent the conference in the BCS, but George O’Leary and the UCF Knights opted to screw up everyone’s plans with a win in Louisville on a Friday night. Does nothing major happen on Saturday any more?

You can look at the Knights schedule any way you’d like, but be prepared to be accused of having an agenda. You could say they avoided Cincinnati, skated past Akron and Florida International, and just had to catch lightning in a bottle against Louisville. There were some close calls against conference foes Houston, Temple, South Florida, and Southern Methodist (SMU). They lost to South Carolina in what was easily their most difficult non-conference game, if not the best game on their schedule. They lost by three points. They also won at Penn State, a team that ended up beating Wisconsin. It might be bold to say, with the way the dominoes fell with the undefeated teams late in the season, but the Knights might have been 3 points against Steve Spurrier from playing for the National Championship.

Dismiss that last notion, if you don’t mind. People were angry enough that the Fiesta Bowl got “stuck” with this 11-1 team. Sure, Blake Bortles is not Teddy Bridgewater, but he’d been making a name for himself all season and the UCF quarterback is certainly in the same NFL draft conversations as the Louisville junior. Still, their best season in school history was only good enough for the Fiesta Bowl, because Northern Illinois went to Detroit in early December and forfeited their invite to Glendale with a loss to Bowling Green.

Ticket sales weren’t great for this one, it ended up being the worst-attended game in the history of the new venue. On the day of the game, tickets could be found on the secondary market for $16. That’s a fairly stark contrast to my first attempt to attend a game in that stadium that looks like a UFO when driving past it on the 101-Loop; $2000 in cash wasn’t enough to satisfy the scalpers when Ohio State and Florida played for a title in 2007. This, on the other hand, ended up being an experience unlike that in any way. Yes, I realize comparing a National Championship of that magnitude to this exhibition was apples to dumptrucks.

Parking wasn’t cheap ($20), but it was easy. I’d been here before, in March of 2009 for the NCAA Basketball Regional Final, only this space was a desert terrain with broken glass and weeds, but still a stone’s throw from the football stadium. I’ve never been much of a fan of tailgating, but this was tailgating done right, with a grill borrowed from professionals and cold adult beverages. Doing tailgating right isn’t actually difficult, as it turns out.

I didn’t have a dog in the fight, but we saw mostly green and gold clad Baylor supporters in our parking lot, which isn’t to say there wasn’t a few stragglers in UCF colors. Also, the consensus was that Baylor would run away with this. Our caravan included a few Northern Illinois fans extending their vacation after seeing their team lose to Utah State in San Diego on December 26th, which was difficult to explain to passers by, who saw the Huskies flag flying high.

“We were hoping you would get to kill us,” our friend from DeKalb was heard telling Baylor fans. I’d been hearing it since Christmas Eve, how the silver lining for NIU fans was avoiding a 70-point game from Baylor. He was right, they couldn’t stop anyone, but I kept that same sentiment about Baylor tucked away in the back of my head. The team Baylor suited up for that 2011 Alamo Bowl was completely different from this installment of the Bears, but another 67-63 game wasn’t the craziest thought in the world.

The Knights received the opening kickoff and took it right down Baylor’s throat.  For a team with an alleged NFL-caliber quarterback, UCF didn’t worry about showcasing Bortles arm at all.  They ran the ball six times for 76 yards, and that included two runs greater than 20 yards, capped off with Storm Johnson’s 11-yard run 3:36 into the game.  They forced a punt, then Johnson hit paydirt again, however the Knights led 14-7 after one quarter of play.  The second quarter was about what you’d expect, the teams combined for 27 points, but thanks to a missed field goal attempt, from 45 yards out as the first half expired, the heavily favored team from Waco was down 28-20.

We got to see a little bit more of Bryce Petty’s coveted arm in the third quarter, notably on a 50 yard touchdown to Jay Lee, and the game was tied after a two-point conversion, which I thought was a mistake to attempt, unless it works, which it did.  I have a major problem with chasing points that way before the fourth quarter, and the only thought I had was, Art Briles isn’t going to get away with that when he takes the Texas job after this game.  There was some speak of Baylor covering the spread at that point; I believe they were favored by 16 or 17, depending on when you made your declaration…for entertainment purposes only, of course.

Bortles and company would be having none of that.  They scored on the very next drive, and after a stop, they found the end zone again.  14 points wasn’t impossible to overcome on paper, but the flags started flying every time it looked like the Baylor defense had stopped the UCF offense.  It was pointed out to me that trying to get away with pass interference was Baylor’s best bet to slow down UCF, but these SEC officials were on to them.  They couldn’t stop the run either, and ultimately couldn’t get any timely stops, as Johnson and William Stanback closed the game out, giving the fans who traveled from Orlando a big reason to celebrate.  When UCF hit a field goal that made it a 3-score game with 4 minutes left, it was time to head for the exits with our care package from Tostitos, two bags of chips, some chipolte salsa, and a coupon for the new White Queso Blanco dip, in hand.

Central Florida recovered an onside kick, as we listened to the call on the radio.  52-42 was the final.  Though it was probably preordained anyways, Briles would not be headed to Austin, and there is some real doubt that Petty will declare for the NFL draft.  I’m obligated to mention that Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright were spotted on the Baylor sideline, and joined by Cleveland Browns teammates Phil Taylor and Josh Gordon, meaning the pair has still not stood on a winning sideline since early November.

 

A College Football Story

Christmas time is such a polarizing time of year, based on your perspective, whether you celebrate the holiday or not.  It brings out the best in some of us and the worst in others.  Some people do the gift exchange thing, others don’t, but everybody, well, everyone who has cable anyways, gets 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS every year.

I’ll admit it; growing up in Cleveland and attending school near the Tremont neighborhood where some of the 1983 film’s scenes were filmed, the cinematic staple of the holidays might mean a little more to people from my hometown and region than it does on the national landscape.  Fans of college football in the South might tell you the same thing about their beloved Saturday pastime, and who am I to argue?  It doesn’t mean you can’t be a fan of the game in Columbus, Chestnut Hill, Eugene, or even Missoula.  In that same breath, I might acknowledge a family or two in Laredo, Texas watch Ralphie Parker’s quest for that Red Rider every Christmas.
This year, I’ve decided to take a little more away from the 4 or 5 viewings than just some nostalgia.  Though it’s been done, overdone, and beaten like the dead horse that inspired the saying, we’re going to blend pop culture into sports for the purpose of filling space on a blog.  So, without further ado, here’s the 2013 rendition of A College Football Story…
Ralphie Parker/Michigan State
I guess it’s appropriate that we start with Ralphie, our main character, whose story is being told by his older self.  Whether it was the terror of Scut Farkus or Ohio State, being let down by his mother or devastating early season loss to a MAC team, or coming up short of his goal (an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle), Peter Billingsley played a child-like version of Michigan State in 2013.  In the end, Ralphie does get the air rifle he desires, despite the caution of shooting his eye out, and Michigan State gets to smell the roses in Pasadena on January 1.
Storyteller/Nick Saban
The voice of Jean Shepherd was supposed to be that of Ralphie as an adult, so it’s fitting that Saban used to be the top guy in East Lansing, but the real reason we found Saban to be the best fit to tell the story is because this Saturday game we love so much all revolves around him.  Whether it’s Austin, Columbus, Waco, or that little farm town that Bear Bryant refused to travel to, everything in this world happens from Saban’s point of view; including this season, Nick Saban always has had a say in who wins the crystal football.  The last team to win it all without being Nick Saban or beating him, were the 2006 Florida Gators, who beat Mike Shula’s Crimson Tide, while ol’ Saint Nick was in Miami sowing his NFL oats.

The Parade/Florida State at Pitt
What’s a little confusing for us Cleveland folk is the movie’s opening, which takes us to the top of the Terminal Tower in the opening credits, down past Higbees (now, the Horseshoe Casion), to a parade on the streets of what we assume is downtown Cleveland, but the story takes place in a part of Indiana that’s considered suburban Chicago.  Anyway, the movie starts with a parade, which gets us I the mood for Christmas, the same way the Labor Day showdown between Pittsburgh and Florida State at Heinz Field readied us for the college football season ahead.  Jameis Winston was incredible and near-perfect, filling the shoes of first-round pick EJ Manuel so naturally that the former Seminoles quarterback was quickly made to be an afterthought.
Santa Claus/ACC
Kids are always super excited to see Santa Claus, whether you see him on TV or in person, but sooner or later, there’s always a reveal.  The ACC tends to give us a September Santa every year, but then there’s that reveal.  For Clemson and Tajh Boyd, the excitement came with a somewhat convincing win over traditional SEC contender Georgia in the opening weekend.  Virginia Tech is sometimes that Santa, but they’re the type of Kris Kringle that has a poorly constructed fake beard that doesn’t fool even the most naïve toddler, so when Alabama dropped a bag of coal on their laps, no one on the scene at the Georgia Dome batted an eyebrow.
Randy Parker/Michigan
It would dishearten former Michigan running back Mike Hart to know that the little brother currently resides in Ann Arbor.  There’s something redeeming about Randy, even though he’s an easy target for the local bully, has weird eating habits, and can’t put his arms down in his winter gear.  He also needs to get into the only bathroom of his Cleveland Street dwelling, but big brother currently occupies the spot, so there’s no vacancy, a la The 2014 Rose Bowl Game.  Now, just think of Scut Farkus as the bully, the weird eating habits as their refusal to play defense, and the reality that Brady Hoke’s husky figure prevents any legitimate chance at putting his arm’s down, though he never bundles up.
Old Man Parker/David Shaw
David Shaw is a noble man that’s won major awards, mostly of the Pac-12 Conference ilk, that I’m sure Mrs. Shaw doesn’t care to have showcased in the front window of their home.  The thing is, he provides for the young men who come to the farm to play football for him, and they reciprocate with undying loyalty.  He has his battles with the furnace, and by furnace, I mean Utah, but his eye is on the prize with the Christmas feast.  The thing that may have ultimately denied him that feast turned out to be the Bumpus Dogs, known in Pac-12 country as the USC Trojans.
Mother Parker/Mid-American Conference
Oh, she’s nice, isn’t she?  She doesn’t really play anything more than a consoling role; she cares for her children and stands by her husband, except when he’s trying feast before it’s time to feast.  Occasionally, she’ll get in the way of Iowa or break a lamp, then use up all the glue on purpose, but all she really wants to do is help.  Ultimately, you just want the MAC to do their part to help tune up the Big Ten, making Buffalo a good team to somewhat compete with Ohio State, but not to actually beat them.  She pulls Ralphie away from a donnybrook and consoles him when his glasses break.  She does want to be part of the BCS party, but many think that would involve her overstepping her bounds and would prefer she maintain a smaller role.
Scut Farkus/Ohio State
Remember when Urban Meyer told Aaron Hernandez to kill a guy, put an intoxicated Carlos Dunlap behind the wheel, and ordered Carlos Hyde to assault some girl in a club?  Okay, none of that really happened, we think, but regardless of whether I’m writing to an Ohio fan base that doesn’t want to be the portrayed by a character with yellow eyes, Ohio State fits that bully role this year.  Nobody respected their schedule, nobody wanted them at the adult table at Christmas, and nobody thought they needed to shove Michigan in the snow.  There is no middle ground with Ohio State, the way it seems, you either love them unconditionally or you want to poison the Ohlentangy River that flows past the Horseshoe, and infect the team and their rabid fan base.  It’s pretty redeeming when Michigan State, I mean Ralphie, gets their comeuppance in the end.
Grover Dill/Notre Dame
See Scut Farkus/Ohio State.  Polarizing and disliked in the same breath as Ohio State from outside of their own fan base, but not quite on the same scale in the present tense.  They are a little bit of a toad in their own right, but they do have that win over Michigan State.  I know what you might be thinking; the math doesn’t work on this.  Grover Dill didn’t beat up Ralphie, but also get smeared by Randy, the way the circle of parallels between Michigan, Michigan State, and Notre Dame would have to line up here.  Well, I’m using the Mystery Science Theater 3000 defense here; it’s just a silly column, so relax.

Miss Shields/Mountain West Conference
She’s a lot like Mother Parker, just as the Mountain West has its similarities to the Mid-American Conference.  She’s another consoling figure with some level of authority.  She has to put up with that desk drawer full of sophomoric gag toys, just as the MWC has to tolerate the blue turf in Idaho and the expense of a trip to Hawaii every other year, but they’re entitled to good things too.  But, when TCU takes up a spot in the Rose Bowl, you take it as a slap in the face, like when the Little Sisters of the Poor grade the theme for your Christmas dreams as a C+.  Were we happy when Fresno State was put in their BCS place by San Jose State, then validated when the Pac-12 suggested they didn’t belong anywhere near the big-boy table?
Triple Dog Dare/Iron Bowl
Like I said previously, it all comes down to Saban sometimes. Alabama double-dared Texas A & M to beat them in College Station, then they double-dog-dared LSU to beat them in Tuscaloosa, as they had two years prior.  In both cases, it was no dice for the other guy.  Just as Schwartz and Flick, who was played by kid named Schwartz, talked it up prior to the event, the Iron Bowl triggered some discussion before-hand as well.  Next up, would have been the triple dare, which was arguably AJ McCarron’s 99-yard pass to Amari Cooper, which gave the Tide a 28-21 lead over Auburn late in the 2013 Iron Bowl, but we’ll skip right over the Triple Dare, as Schwartz opted to do at that old Tremont school.  To really get into the tongue to frozen, rusty flagpole part of this football season, Nick Saban sent Adam Griffith out to attempt a 57-yard field goal, with a berth in the SEC Championship on the line.
In other words, he Triple-Dog-Dared Auburn to win the game and the SEC’s West Division…

Leg Lamp/The American
You can call it the AAC or just The American, if you’d like.  Just don’t call it the Big East, you can’t do that anymore.  If anyone not named Ohio State had an easy path to undefeated and a title shot, you had to believe it was Louisville.  You could put them in the front window and be proud of that 0 in the loss column, and then Central Florida happened.  After that Friday night stunner at the hands of George O’Leary’s Knights, the first thought was this broken lamp could be fixed with some glue; let’s just attach Louisville’s attributes to UCF, but they were out of glue.  South Carolina used up all that glue on purpose with 28-25 in non-conference play, so Central Florida was bound for whatever BCS bowl would be obliged to take them.  And with a pseudo-lead of two games in conference, it didn’t even matter if they lost again…which they didn’t.
Department Store Santa/Spoilers
Though I never encountered a particularly mean Santa or elves at the mall, the realization that the dude at the mall isn’t the one eating your cookies or providing you with gifts just stinks.  And when he sings that same tune that the mother and teacher did about shooting your eye out, Santa becomes a read dud.  That dud might come in the form of Oklahoma State knocking off an undefeated Baylor, Northern Illinois laying an egg against Bowling Green, Texas not salvaging this train wreck of a season a win over Baylor and a Fiesta Bowl berth, or Arizona State losing their shot at the Rose Bowl with a second loss to Stanford in their own house.  Even as Todd Graham gets kicked down the slide, while making a case for his Sun Devils to be considered for a BCS at-large berth, he’s told he’ll get a 7-5 team in San Diego on December 30th.
HO HO HO.
OH FUDGE/Oregon
Hey Oregon, why don’t you help the Pac-12 fix that flat tire they suffered when Stanford lost at USC?
Really, can we?

So, Oregon’s Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas really wanted to play for a National Championship, but would have been honored to return to the Rose Bowl.  Only, their quotes to the media didn’t come out that way; it was more like they told the Tournament of Roses to go F, dash, dash, dash themselves.

Josh Huff: “I don’t want to play in a Rose Bowl unless I’m playing for a national championship.”
De’Anthony Thomas: “It’s not a big deal at all. We already won a Rose Bowl, so it feels like, ‘Whatever.'”

Well, Rich Rodriguez led his Arizona Wildcats to presenting the Ducks a big ole plate of ‘whatever’, and spared them that trip to the Rose Bowl.  They’re tired of Disneyland, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy The Alamo and the Tower of the Americas in December.
Chinese Restaurant/Rose Bowl

The heavenly aroma still hung in the house. But it was gone, all gone! No turkey! No turkey sandwiches! No turkey salad! No turkey gravy! Turkey Hash! Turkey a la King! Or gallons of turkey soup! Gone, ALL GONE!

A combination of Notre Dame and the lack of strength anywhere else in the Big Ten, punctuated with Wisconsin’s loss to Penn State, shattered any dreams of Michigan State playing in the very last BCS Championship.  That’s a little bit ironic, when you consider the fact that the Spartans kept Ohio State out of the very first and last BCS Championship games, but the trip to Pasadena itself will serve as the old man getting Ralphie the air rifle.  On the other sideline, the Rose Bowl might feel like old hat to David Shaw at this point, but he can certainly make lemonade from lemons, as disappointing as it may have been to lose twice this season.  The Stanford Cardinal are still going out to eat, and there’s nothing wrong with a little Chinese turkey.
‘Tis the season to be jorry.
Footed PJs/Bowl Games
Our Aunt Clara isn’t giving us a toy rifle or even a football, but you know it’s coming every year.  Look, there are 35 bowl games, 1 that actually matters, and arguably 7 others that we actually care about.  Generally, I’d say there are 8, but this year’s Holiday Bowl leaves something to be desired, with 7-5 Texas Tech matched up with 10-3 Arizona State.  This year, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Alamo Bowl, Chick-fil-a Bowl, and Captial One Bowl should draw interest from the casual fan, but there’s nothing quite like aesthetically displeasing nature of the pink-bunny-footed-pajamas or the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.
Red Rider BB Gun/BCS Bowls
These money games are a goal for a lot of teams, but for Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama, and to an extent, Baylor, missing out on the title game may serve as a setup for disappointment on the big stage.  There’s a clear distinction between these Bowl Championship Series games and even the upper echelon of the non-BCS games, the best example being the Cotton Bowl, which FOX will sell as the greatest thing outside of Pasadena this January.
A BCS Bowl is the brass ring or Red Ryder Air Rifle, everything else is just everything else.  And, when you can’t shoot your eye out, how much fun can you have with anything else?
Christmas Day/BCS National Championship
What I take away from A Christmas Story is, this holiday is what you make of it.  If you just take it as a day to watch bad basketball played in ugly uniforms, have your way with it, NBA fan.  If you want to get drunk and swear at the neighbors and family, have at it Clark Griswold.  If you want to drink egg nog, then take cheap shots at Ohio State and Notre Dame, have at it Mark May.
The BCS National Championship Game will serve as the same type of target.  You can get a keg and a big sandwich to consume while you enjoy the final year of college football’s one-game playoff, drink and eat up.  Or, you can watch a repeat of How I Met Your Mother, and bitch about the once alleged rapist winning a title or how fatigued you are by the Southeastern Conference.
As much as we try to be politically correct, to chastise the film at hand for stereotyping Asians in the final scene, to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, to have a Winter Solstice theme to our parties in December, or to say every game counts in a college football season, we know it’s mostly crap.
It’s all about December 25th, when you’re talking about the “holiday season”.  And, it’s all about this one game, even when propagating the myth that “every game counts”.  So, if I’m comparing a college football season to A Christmas Story, the National Championship Game is the only thing that matters, like Christmas itself.
The game, the controversy, the commercialism attached to it; all of it applies.  You can even remove the letter “C” from the word in both cases, make it the BS Championship or Xmas.  I’m not condoning you do either, but I would recommend diversifying in both cases.  Check out some other bowl games, and maybe mix in the Griswold’s tale of Christmas.
Whatever you do, enjoy yourself.  Be jolly.
 
 

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Most Powerful in College Football?

Who’s Got the Power in College Football after Week 4

Hello, everybody!  I’m extremely pleased to begin contributing on this site, and I hope you’ll be pleased to read this column.  I will present the weekly results from my college football power ranking model that I’ve developed myself over the past four years.  I will show you which teams have played the best against the best so far this season.  Besides wins and losses, the other factors in this model include home or away, margin of victory, strength of schedule, and the historical performance of the opponent.  The game points are earned or lost depending upon the relative ranking of the two teams.

Though I factor in historical performance, every team gets a fair chance to earn its ranking as every FBS team enters week 1 of the season tied for 1st.  Some of you won’t like where your team is ranked. Some of you will.

Top 25:

Cumulative

Last

WEEK 4

2013

Points

W

L

Rank

1

LSU

15.28329

4

0

11

2

GEORGIA

15.0153

2

1

2

3

OREGON

15.0071

3

0

1

4

UCLA

13.96313

3

0

3

5

ALABAMA

12.65312

3

0

5

6

WASHINGTON

12.48753

3

0

4

7

UCF

12.07496

3

0

6

8

WASHINGTON ST

11.78033

3

1

7

9

MICHIGAN

11.31855

4

0

10

10

CLEMSON

11.31778

3

0

18

11

MIAMI

10.8561

3

0

8

12

STANFORD

10.72199

3

0

28

13

GA TECH

10.57604

3

0

21

14

NOTRE DAME

9.930067

3

0

31

15

USC

8.688601

3

1

35

16

TEXAS TECH

8.671672

4

0

25

17

RUTGERS

8.202548

3

1

58

18

OKLAHOMA ST

8.019396

3

0

13

19

MARYLAND

7.86195

4

0

43

20

FLORIDA ST

7.703966

3

0

14

21

FRESNO ST

7.536

3

0

30

22

OKLAHOMA

7.387604

3

0

15

23

ILLINOIS

7.360184

2

1

16

24

MISSISSIPPI

7.306442

3

0

17

25

MISSOURI

7.296315

3

0

51

 

Some may not see your team ranked.  Don’t worry.  If your team is winning, it will climb in the rankings.  Let me hear your concerns, your trauma and your rejoicing.  

 If you want to see the ranking for all 126 FBS teams, please visit College Football Power Ranking!

And Follow me on Twitter @CFBPOWER_RANKER and Like More Than a Fan on Facebook!

CFB Roundtable #3: Poking the Pokes


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This week Jeff and Damien go 1:1. They talk about all the games from this weekend with a special focus on Texas, USC, and Alabama. They preview this week’s upcoming games and talk Oklahoma State allegations.
Damien Bowman (@damiEnbowman) – Managing Editor; More Than a Fan
Jeff Rich (@JRichTCF) – College football analyst; More than a Fan, Writer – The Cleveland Fan