Tag Archives: cincinnati bearcats

Felton’s Debut Season at Cleveland State Will Be Grueling

For as many basketball pundits who have already predicted that Cleveland State, under Dennis Felton, will finish at the bottom of the Horizon League rankings, the Vikings’ new head coach didn’t seem deterred by loading up the non-conference schedule with some tough contests.

Cleveland State will, for its opening months, be facing the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State and Cincinnati. As expected, The Spartans and the Bearcat will provide the Vikings with, quite bluntly, nearly impossible odds of winning, especially given the recent changes in the Cleveland State roster and coaching staff.

Ironically, though, the CSU-Cincinnati game on December 21st will be played at the home of one of Cleveland State’s conference foes, Northern Kentucky. The Bearcats, while their permanent home is being renovated, will take up temporary residence at BB&T Arena, which the Vikings will see one more time later in the season when they face the Norse in Horizon League play.

As for the Scarlet Knights, second-year head coach Steve Pikiell may find some challenges in Cleveland State, which travels to New Jersey as part of the Phil Sellers Showcase, though Rutgers has made some significant improvements to its roster since last year. This showcase will also find the Vikings hosting Coppin State on November 17th, which will be Felton’s home debut, and Central Connecticut State, with a road trip to East Carolina in between.

For the third year, Cleveland State, along with Akron, Kent State and conference foe Youngstown State, will gather for the annual Northeast Ohio Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. This season, the classic will be held in Akron, with the host Zips facing off against the Vikings on November 14th.

Akron will be one of four MAC teams that Cleveland State will face. Toledo will come to the Wolstein Center for CSU’s annual pre-Christmas match on December 23rd, while the Vikings will make the road trip to Kent State (12/2) and Western Michigan (12/6).

In what seems to be a given with Cleveland State and every other mid-major, there will be a non-Division I team on the home slate. This year, it will be Notre Dame College on December 10th. The Vikings will play a second non-D1 team, Cedarville, but this will be a November 2nd exhibition game.

Cleveland State will, in addition to its conference slate, play 14 games in the confines of the Wolstein Center. The Vikings will play host to Arkansas State on November 29th, a return matchup from the trip CSU took to Jonesboro last season.

Of course, the most anticipated game on the schedule may very well be on New Year’s Day, when the Vikings open the year, and the Horizon League, with a home contest against Youngstown State. The duel between new coaches Felton and YSU’s Jerrod Calhoun is probably marked on a few people’s calendars, though it’s a safe bet many of those folks are wearing red and white.

The competition that Cleveland State will face in 2017-18 is some of the stiffest that the Vikings have seen in some time, and you’d be forgiven if you’re not sure what to make of it. With three high-major road trips and an ever-improving Horizon League (IUIPUI notwithstanding), it seems as if CSU will not spend Felton’s opening year trying to ring up wins against low-majors to inflate its record.

At the same time, a slow burn may hinder Felton’s effort to rebuild the fan base. Whether the scheduling will serve as a benefit or deterrent to the Vikings when January 1st rolls around remains to be seen.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Real Madness of March

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

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

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

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

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

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

East

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

Midwest

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

West

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

South

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

Final Four

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Top 10 Teams Take Tough Tests in Week 3

Just like in school, college football’s first week saw a couple casualties.  There’s always that kid in class you can tell isn’t going to make it.

Week two, despite not a single matchup of ranked teams, was entertaining enough.  Generally speaking, this is the easiest part of the semester.  There aren’t many serious assignments.  You nod in-and-out of consciousness during class and, for the most part, you’re still all good.  Sorry, Cowpokes.

Before you realize it, we’re in the third week already.  By now, professors have stopped caring if you like them.  Seemingly, they’re out for blood and here comes that first exam.  Chances are it’s going to make you wish you’d paid better attention and taken higher quality notes.

Six of the top 10 teams in college football are playing what I consider “real games” this week.  These are the tough tests in week three:

#6 Houston at Cincinnati

Thursday night on ESPN

By no means is Cincinnati a great team, but playing your first true road game against a conference foe in primetime on a Thursday is certainly a challenge.  Account for the way the Bearcats and the record-breaking Nippert Stadium crowd showed up, and this game qualifies as a tough test.

It was good to see Houston follow up its solid win over Oklahoma two weeks ago.  No, the Cougars did not dominate an inferior opponent until late.  Still, Houston is a legitimate national title contender.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Houston gave up a touchdown, opening up a 16-12 deficit, Cincinnati failing a two-point try.  The Cougars answered with an efficient 10-play, 61-yard drive, going up 19-16.

Then they intercepted a pass on the following drive and Greg Ward Jr. led them 60 yards down the field, using 11 plays for a second consecutive touchdown drive.  Cincinnati’s next drive was another interception, this one a house call.  The first play of the next drive was a second consecutive pick six.

All of a sudden it was 40-16 with 3:40 left.  I bring this up because those who didn’t watch will look at the score and laugh, not knowing it took the Cougars’ best to finally dispose of the Bearcats.

This was a great game, but the most interesting part is that it’ll be a Big 12 matchup next year.  That’s right, keep that expansion mumbo jumbo rolling.

It’s no secret Houston is the prize pig for the weakest of the Power 5.  Interestingly, the Cincinnati Bearcats stepped up to the occasion and gave us an unusually exciting Thursday night game.  I think that scores them major points with the Big 12 big wigs.

Anyway, the Houston Cougars came away with a win similar to the one they’ll need every week the rest of the season to keep the Power-5-Playoff-busting dream alive.

#2 Florida State at #10 Louisville

Saturday noon on ABC

It’s really a shame that these two, along with Clemson, are all in the Atlantic division, while the Coastal can’t boast one team legitimately on the same level.  Essentially, this is an ACC semi-final.  The early season aspect makes it all the more interesting.

Lamar Jackson needs to do his thing if he’s going to be a serious Heisman contender this fall.  He’s wowed us with big numbers and flashy plays against inferior teams, thus far.  As Famous Jameis reminded them against Ole Miss two weeks ago, the Seminoles ain’t no puppies.

Winston goes on to say, “We got the best running back in the whole damn league,” referring to the best college running back in the whole damn country, Dalvin Cook.  Watch Cook feast on the Cardinals.

#1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss

Saturday 3:30 p.m. on CBS

The Tide have lost but thrice in the past two seasons.  Two of those losses have come at the hands of the Rebels.  Recent history is telling us this is the toughest test for Nick Saban and the big, bad Bama boys.  I believe in superstitious stuff like that.

This’ll be closer than the experts think.  Break out your best bowties and slickest seersuckers.  It’s a game day at the Grove with Verne and Gary.

#3 Oh*o State at #14 Oklahoma

Saturday 7:30 p.m. on FOX

Incredibly, Oh*o State still hasn’t lost a true road game under Urban Meyer.  That includes one game in a ranked opponent’s barn in each of his four seasons as Head Buckeye.

You all know I have no love for Oh*o State, but I think it’s absolutely awesome it’s playing this game in Norman, Oklahoma.

The kicker is: Oklahoma cannot afford to take another loss, even if it is a non-conference contest.  I’m curious how, if, that motivates the Fighting Covered Wagons.

I’ll be focusing on the quarterback play.  We’ve got two of the most electric QBs in the nation, J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield, going head-to-head.  Expect a flurry of points late as these two go back-and-forth, after they get warmed up.

USC at #7 Stanford

Saturday 8 p.m. on ABC

USC could well have yet another average team that’ll live on unwarranted hype.  Still, this is a real rivalry game that Stanford will not be looking past.

The Cardinal took both the regular season square-off and the Pac-12 Championship Game last year.  The Trojans won the two matchups previous to that, including the last time this rivalry was played at Stanford, in 2014.

Five Progress Reports Pending

We learned a good deal about Houston on Thursday night.  You don’t have to go out on a limb to say that we’ll know much more about five other top ten teams after this weekend.

Good luck on your exams.  Hope you did a little studying in-between beers.

 

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

Photo: Flickr user – Ken Lund

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The American Athletic Conference’s Best Football Games of 2016

The AAC has been looked at as little more than a mish-mash of former Big East teams. One season has changed all that. Nobody expects them to move up to the level of a Power 5 conference, but they can’t be looked at as mere push-overs.

Last season, Houston achieved program-altering success and that momentum, along with their schedule, gives them an outside shot at the Playoff in 2016. It wasn’t just the Houston Cougars earning the AAC respect. Temple, Navy, and Memphis were all in the Top 25 at one point during the season. While a couple of those teams may fall back a bit with the loss of quarterbacks, other teams are primed to improve and make sure Houston doesn’t just waltz through the conference schedule.

Who will those teams be? There are some early season games among the ten best that may show which AAC team can challenge the Cougars for the top spot.

10. Temple vs. SMU (Saturday, October 1)

The conference opener for both teams, Temple will try to pick up where it left off last year. A year ago, SMU put up 40 against a Temple defense that allowed the second fewest points in the conference. The Mustangs still fell 60-40.

9. Cincinnati vs. Houston (Thursday, September 15)

Cincinnati was a disappointing 4-4 in the conference last year but was 5-1 at home, where they’ll get the Houston Cougars this year. The Bearcats only lost by three at Houston last year, and this Thursday home game early in the year will give them a chance to derail Houston’s conference and playoff hopes. This match-up will also provide the AAC’s two best quarterbacks in Greg Ward Jr. and Gunner Kiel.

8. SMU vs. TCU (Friday, September 23)

SMU didn’t exactly put a scare into TCU last year, but a 56-37 final made it closer than the Horned Frogs would have liked. Now the Mustangs get Gary Patterson’s crew at home, and we’ll have a good chance to see how far Chad Morris can bring his team in his second year as head coach.

7. Connecticut at South Florida (Saturday, October 15)

South Florida won seven of its last eight regular season games last year. Included in that stretch was a one-score victory over UConn. If the Huskies are going to improve on their six-win season and stay in the race for the AAC West, it starts here.

6. Temple at Connecticut (Friday, November 4)

This will be a big game in the AAC West race. Connecticut’s offense was abysmal last year, but Huskie fans hope there will be improvement with ten starters back. Temple will be trying to replicate the success of their 10-win 2015 after having just 12 total in the previous three seasons.

5. Houston at SMU (Saturday, October 22)

This should be a fun one. SMU struggled in Chad Morris’ first year as head coach but it shouldn’t take him long to get the offense rolling. The defense will have problems stopping Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. led offense, but the Cougars lost all four starting defensive backs so this game should see plenty of points.

4. Temple vs. South Florida (Friday, October 21)

The East division is Houston and everyone else this year, but the West will be up for grabs. This game could determine who plays the Cougars in the conference championship game. Temple and South Florida were the two best teams in the West last year and the winner of this one will have a leg up in the division race.

3. Houston vs. Connecticut (Thursday, September 29)

Houston gets Connecticut on a Thursday night at home, where they will try to avenge their only loss from the 2015 season. It won’t be easy though, with the Huskies returning a conference-high 16 starters.

2. Houston vs. Louisville (Thursday, November 17)

The Cougars get another chance to make a statement with this oddly scheduled non-conference game late in the year. If the Cougars lose to Oklahoma in the opener, no one will give them much credit unless they show up big in this one. This might be the best defense Greg Ward Jr. and company face all year.

1. Houston vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, September 3)

Houston heads into 2016 with a ton of hype after going 13-1 with a win over Florida State in 2015. We’ll see if they can sustain that success right off the bat when they play the Sooners in the season opener. With Greg Ward Jr. back, the offense should hold its own. This game will be about which rebuilt defense can get enough stops (Noon est, ABC/ESPN).

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs. Cincinnati

Question mark: Is San Diego State really any good?

I haven’t seen the Aztecs play.  I’m assuming you haven’t either.  They have a stout defense and they run the ball, but who’ve they played?  There were only two other teams in the Mountain West that finished with more than seven wins.  SDSU didn’t have to play Boise State and beat Air Force by a field goal in the conference championship.  Other than that, the Aztecs used a weak schedule to their advantage, beating up on mediocre conference opponents.  So, how good is San Diego State, really?

Game inside the game: Cincinnati air attack vs. San Diego State pass defense

Cincinnati’s offense ranks third in passing yards per game, which should shock you.  Normally, teams that chuck the ball around a lot do it with one quarterback.   Cincinnati, however, has been splitting time between Gunner Kiel and Hayden Moore all season.  Unfortunately, personal reasons will keep Kiel from playing in the game, or even making the trip.  Hopefully, all that alternating throughout the season will pay off.  Moore will have to step in against a secondary that doesn’t allow much.  SDSU comes in giving up only 176 yards per game through the air.  With their starter out and their opponent shutting down what they do best, the Bearcats have their work cut out for them.

Player to watch: Donnel Pumphrey, running back, San Diego State

Pumphrey is a little guy at 5’9”, 180 pounds, but don’t let his size fool you.  This guy’s the real deal.  Pumphrey has accumulated 4,173 yards and 44 touchdowns in his career, as he wraps up his junior season.  The Aztec offense, which averages 235 yards on the ground, leans on Pumphrey like few other teams lean on their running back.  Since Cincinnati allows 190 yards rushing per game, Pumphrey is poised for a primetime performance.

X-factor: Turnover battle and time of possession

San Diego State leads the FBS with a +19 turnover margin and holds on to the ball for 32 minutes, 30 seconds, on average.  Obviously, winning the turnover battle and controlling the clock are two big parts of the Aztecs’ game.  If the Bearcats can take the ball away and hang on to it, they’ll be halfway to beating the Aztecs at their own game.

Prediction: San Diego State over Cincinnati, 28-20

Cincinnati is good enough to keep this close.  In the end though, everything working against them will outweigh the Bearcats’ solid play.

Week 5 Rundown: What will it take for OSU and MSU to drop?

Last week I briefly talked about how this college football season could be the craziest in almost a decade. I figured over the next couple months we’d see some unexpected endings and as a result, some unexpected teams ranked pretty high. It took 3 days. This past Saturday saw four Top 10 teams go down and two others look unimpressive against subpar competition. But we’ll start today with a team that was impressive in a game that was the most entertaining of the day. The Baylor Bears knocked off Texas Tech in a game that saw 70 points scored in the first half alone. I don’t care who you’re playing, scoring 49 points in a half against any Power 5 team is impressive. Baylor has rushed for over 300 yards in every game this season. Even though Baylor is Top 4 in each poll, I still feel like people aren’t taking them as seriously as they should.

If there’s a game that has a chance of topping Baylor/Texas Tech’s 70 point half, it’s later this year when the Bears square off against TCU. Both offenses are running on all cylinders and the Big 12 championship may come down to that game again. The Horned Frogs beat Texas soundly this weekend, 50-7. They didn’t even give the Longhorns a chance to embarrass themselves at the end of a close game this week. Quick side note: which fan base is more miserable/outraged/depressed at this point- Texas, Tennessee, or Miami’s? Just when Miami got a little momentum a few weeks into the season, they lose to Cincinnati. I was on the side that Miami should see how the season played out to determine what to do with Al Golden but after Thursday night’s debacle, he needs to go. I think his only chance of salvaging anything with the fan base is to get a win against Florida State this week. Let’s just say I’m not optimistic.

Though the optimism is minimal, if there was a year for Miami to get off the snide against FSU it would be this year. The Seminoles have yet to play a quality opponent but have been rather unimpressive each week. Barely winning at Boston College and Wake Forest is not the way to show your program isn’t missing a beat after the departure of Jameis Winston. Luckily for the Seminoles, most of the ACC is trash and the conference will likely come down to them and Clemson again. FSU travels to Clemson on November 7th. The questions for Clemson this year mostly centered on replacing key members of a defense that was the best in the country a year ago. They were extremely impressive for 45 minutes, holding Notre Dame to just a field goal as the Tigers entered the 4th with a 21-3 lead. After letting the Irish storm back, the Tigers survived by stopping Notre Dame’s tying two-point attempt. I’m starting to wonder how Notre Dame is feeling about this ACC agreement now that they’ve lost in the last minute in back to back years to the conference’s two best teams.

Notre Dame wasn’t the only Top 10 team to see their playoff chances shrink after Saturday. Ole Miss and Georgia each laid complete eggs, each game basically being over by halftime. I’m not sure which loss was worse. Ole Miss was playing a weaker opponent in Florida (or at least we think so at this point) but Georgia was playing at home. The good thing for Georgia is that they’re in the SEC East so this loss doesn’t mean a ton to them. If the Bulldogs can avoid giving up 8,000 rushing yards this year to the Gators and they’re able to knock off Florida, they’re all but guaranteed a spot in the SEC title game. Alabama on the other hand needed the victory much more since Ole Miss already has the tie-breaker over them. That breathing room that the Rebels gave themselves with their win in Tuscaloosa disappeared with their no-show in Gainesville. Sure Florida’s defense may have been a bad matchup for the Rebels’ offense, but who would have thought the Gators passing attack would have that much success against the Ole Miss defense? Rebels fans have to be going to sleep praying these next couple months aren’t going to end the same way 2014 did.

Ole Miss and Georgia weren’t the only top teams torturing their respective fan base this past weekend. Ohio State and Michigan State continue to look like the shakiest Top 2 teams ever. Ok maybe not ever, but how do these two squads continue to be ranked at the top when they’re barely beating mediocre teams in a mediocre conference week after week? I’m not sure if I’d have either in the Top 4. Speaking of mediocre teams, I’d ask if you saw the Iowa-Wisconsin barnburner on Saturday, but secretly I’d be hoping for your own sake that you didn’t. These two teams made “3 yards and a cloud of dust” look like the Baylor Bears’ offense. Iowa is undefeated, but average at best. As far as the Badgers? Let’s just say Joel Stave’s last game in Madison won’t be a sad day. The Big 10 champ, whoever it ends up being, is well on their way to being this year’s Florida State.

One team that surprised on offense as well was Stanford, albeit at the other end of the spectrum. The Cardinal put up 55 points against Arizona. Don’t ask me how. I had to check to see if they changed touchdowns to 10 points but apparently not. Stanford scoring that much after what they showed the first couple weeks is one of the more surprising results of the year. Another somewhat surprising result was elsewhere in the Pac-12, where Arizona State knocked off 7th ranked UCLA. I can’t say I’m completely shocked by it though. As much as USC gets slammed for losing games they aren’t supposed to, the Bruins seem to do it just as often. Which is why after the Trojans loss to Stanford I in no way thought they were out of the playoff race. To keep those playoff hopes alive however, USC will have to beat Utah. The Utes moved into the Top 7 of each poll without even playing and are in many experts’ current Top 4. They’ll get another chance to impress on Saturday night when the face undefeated California and Heisman contending QB Jared Goff. College Gameday will be making the trip out west for the California-Utah contest. Yes that Cal, and that Utah.

There aren’t a ton of marquee games this weekend, but it’s crazy to think that on a Saturday with Oklahoma-Texas and Miami-Florida State, College Gameday is heading to Pac-12 country for a game that doesn’t include USC, UCLA, or Oregon. Just another reason to expect the unexpected every Saturday the rest of the year.

Top 4

Baylor
Ohio State
Utah
Clemson

The Pipeline – August 29, 2015: A Firing, some Fines, and a new Television Deal

1. Illinois Fires Tim Beckman Seven Days before Season Opener

Our top news story in this week’s Pipeline comes from the University of Illinois.  (Never thought you’d read that, did you?)  Yes, the Illini have attracted national attention, at least for a couple days.

Head coach Tim Beckman was fired Friday afternoon just seven days before Illinois opens its season against Kent State.  Director of Athletics Mike Thomas dismissed Beckman due to the findings of an external investigation into the mistreatment of players.

Beckman is alleged to have deterred the reporting of player injuries, and pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and play through injuries.  There are also some questions as to whether or not seniors were treated fairly with respect to their scholarship status during the spring semester once they were done playing.  He has, of course, denied that the allegations are accurate, setting the stage for a future lawsuit.

These are very serious accusations.  And there must have been quite a lot of damning evidence to substantiate these claims for Thomas to can Beckman so close to the season opener.

Bill Cubit will take over for the 2015 as interim head coach.  He joined the Illini coaching staff in 2013 as offensive coordinator.

The issue of player safety became real for us last fall when Brady Hoke and the Michigan training staff failed miserably in protecting quarterback Shane Morris.  Excuse the video quality, but you should hear how Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham brought this to a live audience.  Now that a coach has been fired for mismanaging his players, it’s officially a hot button issue.

2. Fining College Football Players?

On Wednesday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said some things he shouldn’t have about the possibility of fining players.  Athletic director Whit Babcock was quick to shut the idea down, saying Tech would be doing no such thing.

On Thursday a list of all finable offenses is spotted outside the Tech locker room.  A picture is taken.  The picture makes its way around the internet.  And Foster’s words are legitimized, proving that there was a plan in place to fine Hokie players for misbehavior.

Then, Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville seconds Foster’s motion.  The AD in this case, UC’s Mike Bohn does not squash his coach’s idea, but instead agrees with him.

There’s some confusion about whether this is legal.  NCAA rules state that taking money from a student’s scholarship is impermissible.  However, there is supposedly some language in these financial aid contracts which states the school may subtract aid if the violations go against department policy or the student code of conduct.

I’m no legal eagle.  I’ll let the lawyers decide what exactly the contracts allow schools to do with players’ financial aid.  I can say that this will undoubtedly add another convoluted layer to the already complicated cake that is the controversy over compensating college athletes.

3. Pac-12 Network on DirecTV

As our own Mike Wilson wrote last week, west coast football fans might be able to relax soon.  After years of not carrying the Pac-12 Network on their cable package, DirecTV will finally give fans out west what they want.

DirecTV, which was recently bought by AT&T, began testing on Friday that appears to be the first step towards bringing the Pac-12 Network to their customers’ television sets.

Imagine the frustration of paying for sports packages you’re not interested in while your favorite conference’s network is unavailable to you.  This is what some fans have been dealing with since the Pac-12 Network’s inception in 2012.

Luckily for them it seems to be coming to an end just in time for the 2015 season.

4. Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  Apparently, he had too much to drink and had taken some pills he was prescribed.

The press conference was short, but notably odd.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to ‘swear off’ drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

The USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just as they would have had to do for breaking team rules.

The team has moved on and so should the media.  This was a big mistake, but it was not an accurate reflection of Sarkisian’s character.

5. Vernon Adams Wins Oregon’s Starting QB Job

Anyone who was following the quarterback battle at Oregon knew there was a good chance Vernon Adams would end up winning the job.  The Ducks’ week one depth chart was released on Friday, and sure enough Adams was at the top.

This is news mostly because it wasn’t news to those of us who were paying attention.

Adams is a graduate transfer student who played three seasons at Eastern Washington.  He put up the type of numbers you see from Oregon quarterbacks, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while with the Eagles.  With Marcus Mariota gone to the NFL and the rest of the team in place, the Ducks needed a new quarterback who could step in and preform immediately.  In Adams, they’ve got just that.

USA Today Sports
USA Today Sports

Interestingly, Adams will make his first start against his alma mater next weekend when the Ducks host the Eagles.  That’s right, just three weeks after graduating from Eastern Washington he will take the field against his former team.

Ahh, what a glorious loophole in the NCAA’s transfer rules.

Tournament Notebook: Midwest Region (Part 2)

And just like that, the first flurry of NCAA Tournament games is nearly finished with the set of 16 teams who will be feeling Sweet nearly complete. Much of the Midwest region has been surprisingly unsurprising with the least shocking of all being Kentucky’s march to the second weekend. They survived another grinder, a common theme for the entire region, on Saturday against Cincinnati. The Bearcats stayed within striking distance for much of the game, but it never really felt like the ending was in question. I guess it shouldn’t be a total surprise that even with the seed difference a game would be close between two teams as physical and with the defensive mentality of these two teams. I’ve been wondering the second half of the year if Kentucky’s close games are a sign that they might not be as good as their undefeated record would indicate, or if it is them simply being bored against inferior competition. We didn’t find out the last few days, but we surely will starting next weekend.

At the time of this posting the Wildcats’ opponent has yet to be determined, with Maryland/West Virginia being one of the late tip-offs on Sunday night. Both teams were somewhat popular picks to be upset in the first round games so it’s a little surprising that both teams found their way to this match-up. It’s hard to see either of these teams being able to compete with Kentucky for 40 minutes even with almost a week to prepare.

The other side of the Midwest region had a little more intrigue. After escaping a nail-biter against Texas, Butler was unable to finish the deal against Notre Dame on Saturday. Notre Dame made the clutch plays that allowed them to advance to the Sweet 16 even though they shot only 6-20 on 3s, something that has become their calling card.

The team that will be trying to hold the Irish to a similar 3-point percentage next week? The Wichita State Shockers who nailed 10-20 from deep in upsetting the Kansas Jayhawks on Sunday. The Shockers’ guards/experience proved too much for a young, up-and-down Kansas team to handle. Wichita State has experienced a lot of winning the last three years and certainly doesn’t let the moment affect them. Their win Sunday sets up what should be an incredible game against Notre Dame. Both the Irish and Shockers have a relative lack of size, star guards, and can bury teams with a barrage of threes. With any luck it will give us a game that doesn’t require overtime for the teams to get to 60 points.

The more marquee Elite 8 game would probably be a Kentucky-Notre Dame match-up, since many people pegged them as one of the few teams who have a chance to end the Wildcats’ undefeated run. From my point of view, the Irish and Wichita State are both so even that they have an equal chance, or lack there-of, of beating Kentucky. Plus Wichita State would surely provide many more underdog and “David vs. Goliath” stories that the media would surely eat up. Regardless, many people will be rooting for Kentucky’s opponent from here on out, no matter who that happens to be.

Tournament Notebook: Midwest Region

The Midwest Region was mostly a blood-bath on Thursday. Kentucky rolled as expected. As with many one seeds, they were up big early and then coasted in the second half. The only thing that stood out was that 15 (!) guys saw the court for the Wildcats. Six of those guys saw only one or two minutes. What’s the point? I never understood that. Otherwise nothing to see here.

The Notre Dame/Northeastern game started the tourney off with a bang. Notre Dame’s reputation for laying an egg in the tournament precedes itself and almost came through here. The Irish were on the brink of disaster, but won because of their huge edge in turnovers, including on the final possession when Northeastern couldn’t get off a shot. The Fighting Irish maybe had a little luck carry over from St. Patrick’s Day as they were able to pull out a win despite allowing Northeastern to shoot 49% and nearly getting doubled up on the glass (33-17). The biggest surprise may have been the Irish, known for their 3-point shooting, going only 2-6 from deep. They’ll have to make more than that to beat Butler on Saturday.

As for those Bulldogs? They were another Midwest team lucky to come out with a win (turned out to be the theme of this region in general). They played a grinder against Texas, not that it was overly surprising. Butler is known for their physicality and defense and the Longhorns were 15th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Butler was able to pull away in the end because of execution and a lack of turnovers. Like Notre Dame, they took care of the ball much better than their opponent. Unfortunately, just like Notre Dame they got pummeled in rebounding (41-28). The good news for the Bulldogs is that that rebounding edge, or lack thereof, was the result of the Longhorns incredible size advantage, both in height and weight and NBA talent as well. That’s not something Butler will have to deal with against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs’ physicality will be a lot for the Irish to handle and if they can limit outside shooting the way they did against Texas, they have a good chance of making it to the second weekend.

The other Midwest game on Thursday was of similar ugliness as the Texas-Butler affair. The only reason Purdue or Cincinnati got into the 60s was because it went to overtime. Purdue squandered opportunity after opportunity and was an abysmal 4-26 from 3-point range. In the end this game has little significance since the winner’s prize is going up against Kentucky next. Cincinnati is a gritty, defensive team but they got outrebounded 51-38 against Purdue, what’s going to happen against the Wildcats on Saturday?

The Midwest region certainly provided intrigue and close games on Thursday, let’s just hope that intrigue is a little easier on the eyes today.