Tag Archives: Cotton Bowl

Can You Blame Texas Players For Leaving Early For The NFL?

There’s been a lot of attrition around the Texas football program for several years. But this is the first time that I can remember where a good chunk of the attrition is coming from players leaving after their junior season to enter the NFL draft. Let’s take a look at who’s gone so far:

  • OT Connor Williams announced almost immediately following the Texas Tech game that he would forego his senior season and not participate in the upcoming bowl game. Williams is projected as a first-round draft pick, and potentially a top-10 pick overall. His decision should have been a no-brainer, and it appears that it was to him as well.
  • DB Holton Hill made a similar announcement recently. Hill’s situation is different because he was suspended for the last few games of the season. His stock was soaring as he was having the best year of his career. Most people expected him to bolt to the NFL anyway, but his suspension pretty much solidified the decision.
  • DB Deshon Elliott’s decision to enter the NFL draft came as somewhat of a surprise to me. Yes, he had a great year and was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, but I don’t believe his stock is very high. He could potentially improve his stock with another solid year next year, but I guess you can’t blame him for striking while the iron is hot.

Other potential departures we are waiting on announcements from are Malik Jefferson, Kris Boyd, and Michael Dickson.

I fully expect Jefferson to leave, since he has the potential to be a first-round draft pick.

Boyd needs another year, plain and simple. He showed some good signs when he replaced Hill for the final three games, but has plenty of room to improve.

Dickson is a wild card. As a punter, you may not get drafted at all. However, being the Ray Guy award winner as the nation’s top punter will help his stock out. This decision likely just depends on whether Dickson is tired of school or not.

So now that we have the main list of candidates to think about, it’s time to have the discussion of whether they should leave or not.

In my opinion, Williams, Hill, and Jefferson should go. They have a chance to be first or second round picks, and it’s not worth coming back to Texas to risk injury. The only reason why they should even remotely consider coming back is if they have a chance to win a championship. Even the optimistic Longhorns fan knows that isn’t realistic at this point.

As for the rest of the players, can you actually blame them if they decide to leave? I mean, they can make the league minimum salary and still be in better shape than playing for free in college. Could they get better and make more money by being a higher draft pick after next season? Yes. Could they get hurt next season and end their career without making a dime playing football? Absolutely.

As a fan, you always want your best players to stick around for four years. But with the landscape of college football and the NFL changing, it’s hard for me to blame them for making money while they can.

The worst case scenario for them is they go undrafted, get signed as an undrafted free agent to a practice squad and then work their tails off to make the team. The best investment you can make is in yourself, so if you have the talent to play in the NFL, then go after it. These guys can always come back to school if the NFL doesn’t work out, but there’s only so many healthy years they have to play in the NFL.

With that being said, I hope this doesn’t become a trend where players skip out on bowl games if they are entering the NFL draft. The college bowl season is already losing the interest of fans enough as it is, so not having the best players on the field will diminish the relevance of each game even more. If the trend continues, college football as we know it will be changed drastically.

As for Texas players specifically, there’s really no reason for guys to play in the bowl game if they’re going to pursue a career in the NFL. There’s absolutely no value in playing in a mediocre bowl game as a 6-6 team. Yes, the team loyalty factor comes into play, but there are times when you have to look out for yourself as well. The chance to make hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum is one of those times, in my opinion.

Photo: Pixabay

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

New Year’s Six Preview: Cotton Bowl

Forewarning: While I have zero affiliation with either team in this year’s Cotton Bowl Classic, I would be lying if I said I was unbiased. I grew up in Ohio in an Ohio State family. While I no longer root for the Buckeyes, some of my emotions and opinions about Michigan certain Big Ten football teams remain. While we always despised the “Team Up North” we also, to a degree, respected them. We did not, however, in any way shape or form, respect the Wisconsin Badgers and, especially their fan base. Also, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to see P.J. Fleck and the Western Michigan Broncos row the boat over any and every Power 5 opponent. That being said, I’m going to keep this as diplomatic and unbiased as I possibly can manage.

Whilst I was holding out for an in-state matchup between the two best Michigan teams (sorry MSU) in this year’s Cotton Bowl, I was pleased with the Wisconsin Badgers vs. Western Michigan Broncos draw. If I’m going to be honest, I believe that this game could actually be close. Granted, WMU needs to play at its top possible level, but I believe that the Broncos have a legitimate shot at beating Wisconsin. Zach Terrell has made very few mistakes this season, throwing only 3 interceptions. However, he did that with very little pressure, only being sacked 14 times over the 13-game season. Wisconsin, which probably has a top-10 defense, will definitely look to disrupt and hit Terrell early and often to force mistakes. The key for Terrell will be to suck it up, take the hits, and not change his progression whatsoever. If he does so, the Broncos should be able to dent the Badger defense.

Many people, myself included, will focus on the matchup between the Broncos offense and the Badgers defense. However, the other side of the football offers an interesting storyline. Coming into the Cotton Bowl, the Badgers have the 86th ranked offense, directly behind the Rice Owls. There is a chance that the Badgers could seriously struggle offensively, which could turn the game into either a Western Michigan blowout or a defensive struggle.

In the end, I see this game being a defensive struggle. While both offenses may put up a good chunk of points, the winner of the Cotton Bowl will be determined by which defense steps up in the fourth quarter. I think this game will stay tight, but the Wisconsin pressure will be too much late, and the Broncos will be unable (unfortunately) to score the winning touchdown at the end of the game.

 

Final Score: Wisconsin Badgers 31, Western Michigan Broncos 28

 

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

Photo: Pixabay

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Wisconsin Season Report Card

Heading into this season, numerous pundits including myself predicted the Wisconsin Badgers would take a step backwards despite winning 10 games in 2015 and finish mid-pack in the Big Ten West due to their incredibly tough schedule and new personnel.

Instead, the Badgers defied those preseason predictions by beating three top-10 opponents and winning the Big Ten West division to earn another trip to the Big Ten Championship versus Penn State, another program that shattered preseason expectations. It appeared that the Badgers would cruise to a conference title after seizing a 28-7 first half advantage, but the defense, which had been the strength of this team, squandered the lead and the Nittany Lions used their explosive offense to pull off a 38-31 victory. For most programs, accumulating ten victories would be a formidable accomplishment, but the season left something to be desired.

Now, Wisconsin will take on the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl at Arlington, Texas on January 2. It certainly isn’t the prize the Badgers had hoped for but it’s still a New Year’s Six bowl game and they hope to end the season on a high note.

Passing offense: C

The Badgers had more continuity at quarterback last season with Joel Stave under center every game and were 55th overall in total passing yards, but this year, they dropped to 98th in that category, as senior Bart Houston and freshman Alex Hornibrook combined to throw for 2329 yards along with just 13 scores and 10 interceptions.

Houston’s experience and slightly more mobility and accuracy than his teammate offered a nice change of pace and kept defenses on their toes and while the freshmen did show flashes of brilliance and poise in the pocket, he struggled at times to consistently hit open receivers.

As for receiving, the speedy Jazz Peavy (43 catches, 635 yards, five touchdowns) became the Badgers top weapon and tight end Troy Fumagalli (41 catches, 497 yards) proved to be an important security blanket this season.

In a nutshell, the passing offense was the definition of mediocre. It wasn’t dreadful but it certainly wasn’t great and didn’t put the Badgers over the top when they needed an offensive boost.

Rushing offense: A-

Last season, the Badgers stumbled in this department as they ranked 97thwith 1,954 rushing yards, 10th in conference while averaging 150.3 per game. Corey Clement was out most of year due to a sports hernia surgery so the Badgers severely lacked a home-run hitting, dynamic playmaker in the backfield and the offensive line couldn’t stay healthy, losing three starters.

Fortunately, the vintage Wisconsin rushing attack, which was No. 1 in rushing yards in the Big Ten, returned and was the saving grace for the offense. With a reliable, stable O-line anchored by first-team All-American Ryan Ramczyk this season, Clement’s 1,304 rushing yards led the conference and as a result, the offense overall was more balanced and consistent this season.

Freshman Bradrick Shaw also gave Badgers fans reason to feel optimistic about next year in limited action. Shaw averaged a solid 5.2 yards per carry and rushed for 457 yards with five touchdowns.

Passing defense: B-

Similar to last season, the Badgers pass defense was a consistent source of strength though from a numbers standpoint, they fell a little, dropping from 2nd to 7th in yards allowed per game (206.1) in conference and falling from 2nd to 12th in the Big Ten in total yards allowed (2,679). Nonetheless, there was still plenty to like about the way Wisconsin played.

The Badgers were second nationally in takeaways (21) led by senior Leo Musso’s five interceptions and the pass rush was especially ferocious as junior T.J. Watt, who made the switch from tight end to linebacker, had a team-leading 10.5 sacks and was named second-team All-American.

However, even with all the positives in place, Wisconsin was exposed in the title game as Penn State’s taller, more physical receivers took advantage of the Badgers smaller-sized secondary. Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorely passed for 384 yards and four touchdowns. If Wisconsin truly wants to be win the Cotton Bowl, it will have to figure out how to limit big plays in the passing game.

Rushing defense: A

The Badgers rank second nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (96.9) and only Leonard Fournette surpassed the 100-yard mark against this unit. In fact, just six teams have allowed fewer than the eight rushing touchdowns Wisconsin surrendered. The Badgers also rank among the top 10 in yards allowed per carry (3.23).

Led by Olive Sagapolu and ends Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih, along with Alec James, the unheralded defensive line combined for 83 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

Wisconsin’s linebackers were an especially disruptive corps this season and consistently demonstrated explosive playmaking abilities. Leading tackler T.J. Edwards racked up 79 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and Watt, younger brother of NFL players J. J. and Derek Watt, has 14.5 TFL for the season and an interception return touchdown. Jack Cichy (60 tackles), Ryan Connelly (54), Vince Biegel (39) and Garret Dooley (39) all chipped in at key moments for what is arguably the deepest and most talented set of linebackers in the Big Ten.

Special teams: C

Wisconsin had its share of ups and downs in this area. Starting kicker Rafael Gaglianone was out for the majority of the year with a back injury, forcing backup Andrew Endicott into action. He’s been just subpar, hitting 11-of-16 field goals (68.8 percent) with a long of 46. Anthony Lotti averages 37.7 yards on punts, which is last in conference and the return game lacks any explosiveness.

Overall: B

Wisconsin was in position to close the year on a high note and couldn’t finish against Penn State. Ultimately, the result will sting for a while and take some luster off of Paul Chryst’s second year as head coach.

Still, back-to-back 10-win seasons is pretty respectable and a 10-3 record probably isn’t what many fans expected given the tough schedule. And If Chryst can recruit the right players to fit his own system, the future of Wisconsin football looks bright.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

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

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

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

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

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

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Image Courtesy of Counse – Flickr

Grateful, But Not Dead Yet

Well folks, 2015 is in our rear-view mirror and 2016 is upon us. As the Grateful Dead ponders the passage of time in their song, Uncle John’s Band, “Oh, oh but I want to know, where does the time go?”

Beats me. And when you’re well to the north side of of six decades on this spinning blue marble, that line rings ever so true. I’m running as fast as I can, but I often feel like I can’t keep up. ZOOOOOOMMMMM!!! Collecting Social Security? WHOOOOSSSSHHHH!!! Looking down the barrel of  sixty-five turns-around-the-horn in a mere twenty months?

Wot hoppened?

Life did, that’s what. Fine. Carpe diem! Rock ‘N Roll, Mick! I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it and I plan to keep on doing just that!

Now, let’s take a quick glance back at 2015, and Auburn, before we turn the page to 2016.DSC02296

It truly does seem like yesterday that we were about to make our way to Tampa for the Outback Bowl between Auburn and Wisconsin. Auburn was flush with promise. Will Muschamp had just been hired as the defensive coordinator on The Plains and things were looking up.

That bowl game, in hindsight, was a portent of things to come. Daniel Carlson, a superb placekicker, bounced a field goal attempt off the goalpost, at Raymond James Stadium in overtime, and the Tigers found itself on the losing end of its first bowl game of 2015. They will play their SECOND bowl game of the year in the Birmingham Bowl. The opponent is the Memphis Tigers. That game is either in progress, or has been completed, by the time you read this.

Then came recruiting. Gus and company landed an excellent class. Check it out!

The A-Day game, in mid-April, gave Auburn fans more reason to hope as Jeremy Johnson, Sean White, Duke Williams, Roc Thomas, and company lit it up! Woo Hooo!

SEC Media Days ushered in a blast of unabated enthusiasm for Auburn Tiger fans all across this spinning globe. They were picked, by the media, to win the SEC and advance to the College Football Playoff. I was, and many of you were, so stoked by this time that we could hardly contain ourselves. Auburn’s in the top five and Jeremy Johnson is getting Heisman hype!

GULP! We know, all too well, what transpired next and continued throughout the entire autumn.

Mediocrity. In spades.

65098088_f133306ab5_bSo, where does that leave us? In Birmingham, that’s where.

I was once told, by an attendant at what was the old Gulf station at College and Glenn, in Auburn, when my old Pontiac Astre broke down, “You have a blew gasket.” That was, of course, spoken to me. I knew my gasket wasn’t the color blue. I knew it was busted, broken, kaput.

And as I peer at 2016 through my orange and blue crystal ball, I’m hoping this thing ain’t “blew”.

I believe Gus will get his bus up and running MUCH more smoothly than it ran in 2015, when it sputtered and spewed and belched forth six regular season wins.

I think he will locate a very good defensive coordinator that will, hopefully, give us the continuity and stability he is looking for.

I think he will come up with an exciting dual threat quarterback, John Franklin?, that will get the offense back in the mode Gus has become known for with his HUNH.

The Tigers have a good nucleus of returning players to build around in 2016. They include Braden Smith, Alex Kozan, Austin Golson, Robert Leff, and Kaleb Kim on the O line. Will Shon Coleman and Avery Young go pro?

The D line should return Carl Lawson (PLEASE!), Gimel President, Raashed Kennion, Maurice Swain, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, and Price Tega Wanogho, among others.

Linebackers? Tre’ Williams, Deshaun Davis, Jeff Holland, and Cameron Toney will make up the core.

How about the secondary? Carlton Davis (BOOM!), T.J. Davis, Josh Holsey, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Johnathan “Rudy” Ford, Tim Irvin, Tray Matthews, and Montavious Atkinson.

And back to the offense. The aforementioned John Franklin, Tyler Queen, Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and, the incoming Woody Barrett, are all potential starters at quarterback.

The running back position looks great with Jovon Robinson, Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas, and Kerryon Johnson helping to make up that group.

Jason Smith, Tony Stevens, Stanton Truitt, Marcus Davis, Darius Slayton, Ryan Davis, and Gray King will return at wide receiver.

The kicking duties are in excellent hands (or legs?) with Daniel Carlson and Kevin Phillips coming back.

I expect the tight end and H-back/fullback roles to perform much better with some experience and added talent.

All the guys, just mentioned, were known quantities, for the most part. There are redshirt and incoming freshman that will bolster the talent levels, as well.

What else do the last couple of days in 2015 and the New Year of 2016 hold for those of us who are rabid college football fans.

I have Alabama over Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl and Oklahoma over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

What will happen in Glendale? Will Nick Saban win one more Natty at Alabama and depart T-Town? Or maybe retire? Possibly?

Who will be the early favorites for the 2016 crown? Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Notre Dame, it appears.

The SEC West? That has to be Bama. The SEC East? I like Tennessee.

Ohio State should get a strong challenge from Michigan and, especially, Michigan State in the Big 10.

Florida State looks set for the long haul in the ACC, after Clemson.

You have to stay with Okie State, TCU, and Baylor to continue to be strong in the Big 12.

The PAC-12? Wide open. USC, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, and, my dark horse, the Washington Huskies, should all contend.

A fly-in-the-ointment? Houston? Boise State?

And what about the Auburn Tigers? You’ve been given a look at some solid returning talent and there are some studs in the 2016 signing class. Only time will tell. But, playing in the SEC West is absolutely brutal.

Where do we find victories on that next schedule?

The Tigers open with my pre-season numero uno, Clemson… in Auburn…on my birthday. I’m not of the mind to pencil that one in as a win.

Let’s go with victories over Arkansas State, Texas A&M, LA-Monroe, Mississippi State (bye, Dak), Vanderbilt, and Alabama A&M. That’s six. I have LSU (in Auburn), and Arkansas (also in Auburn) as, at least, 50/50 shots. Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama? You simply cannot pencil wins in for any of those tough ones. But, I do believe Auburn will have a chance to win any game they play in, with an 8-4 record a good possibility. Anything else will be gravy. Well, bring on the turkey and dressing ’cause we have that gravy awaiting on The Plains.

Happy New Year and War Damn Eagle!

Big Ten Bowl Predictions

Here are my predictions for all ten bowl games.

Holiday Bowl – Wisconsin vs. University of Southern California

It still is unclear to me and many others how good or bad this team really is but they will have a golden opportunity to prove they are for real when they take on USC in the Holiday Bowl . The Badger defense will face its hardest test of the year when they take on the highly-talented Cody Kessler but don’t expect a blowout or for USC to overpower the Wisconsin defense. This defensive unit is extremely talented and aggressive, constantly pressuring the opposition with Joe Schobert and is No.1 nationally in scoring defense. As for USC, the Trojans front seven will be licking their chops as they take on an injury-riddled offensive line, a turnover prone quarterback in Joel Stave and a run game missing its top threat in Cory Clement. Nonetheless, I predict a close game and that the Badger defense will give Stave a chance to atone for his shortcomings this year late in the game. Wisconsin wins 27-24.

Citrus Bowl – Michigan vs. Florida

Both Florida and Michigan made coaching switches before the season and those moves have paid off tremendously as each program shattered expectations. Also, both teams boast killer defenses but are offensively challenged particularly rushing the ball (Florida – 104th, Michigan – 93rd). I’m not sure how well Michigan can move the ball especially going up against a deep, athletic front seven and a secondary that gave up just 175 yards per game even with a healthy Jake Rudock. Conversely, Treon Harris has been highly inconsistent and the Wolverines defense has allowed the opposition to complete just 48% of their passes on the year with seven touchdowns. However, Florida has kicking problems as Austin Hardin has converted just 5/14 field goals and in what looks like a close, defensive battle, points will be hard to come by. I predict a Michigan win because after being humiliated by OSU, I can guarantee this team will not let Harris run free like J.T. Barrett did. Wolverines win 20-10.

Outback Bowl – Northwestern vs. Tennessee

The Northwestern Wildcats are aiming to put an exclamation point on a solid season by winning 11 games for the first time in history and the Tennessee Volunteers want to close out 2015 with six straight victories. The Volunteers high powered offense will have to work hard against one of the country’s stingiest defenses as the Wildcats have allowed just five passing touchdowns and tallied 12 picks while giving up 200 rushing yards twice. However, if Tennessee can somehow manage to solve the defensive puzzle and score, it could be a long day for Northwestern. They do not do well playing from behind as their offense lacks firepower – they only topped 200 passing yards once this year and are No. 120 in passing yards per game. Also, Joshua Dobbs presents problems with his dual-threat ability and has had time to heal. If Dobbs can perform the way he did against Florida and Georgia, it’ll be a tough task for the Wildcats to contain him. I see the Vols taking this one, 24-14.

Pinstripe Bowl – Indiana vs. Duke

Duke comes into this game losing four of its last five games while Indiana is just excited to be in a bowl game since 2007 and a chance for a rare winning season. The Hoosiers are the definition of polar opposites as their defense was one of the worst in the nation, allowing 37 points per game while their offense was a high-octane juggernaut, averaging 36 points a contest and scoring 41 points in the final three games even against Michigan. As for the Blue Devils, they will look to exploit the porous defense with dual-threat quarterback Thomas Sirk, but Duke has yielded 30 or more points in five of their last six games. This game has shootout written all over it and if that’s the case, then I have to give the edge to Indiana, 38-31.

Foster Farms Bowl – Nebraska vs. University of California-Los Angeles

Nebraska is like Jekyll and Hyde. Are they the bad-ass team that beat Michigan State even if it was controversial or are they the soft, pedestrian team that lost to Illinois? Its hard to gauge how good or bad this team is as six of their seven losses were by no more than eight points but will prove its worth versus UCLA. Speaking of which, despite having true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen throw over 3350 yards and 20 touchdowns, they were also inconsistent and had their own hiccups like a 19-point thrashing by USC. I feel the battle in the trenches will play a pivotal role as Nebraska ranked 8th in the country in stopping the run while the O-line was reliable, giving up only 13 sacks. However, Rosen gets to face a suspect Husker defensive backfield that ranks No. 13 in Big Ten pass defense and Tommy Armstrong faces a unit that allowed 394 ypg. Both teams are very evenly matched but I believe in the kid over the veteran and will take UCLA 21-17.

Quick Lane Bowl – Minnesota vs. Central Michigan

Minnesota had a tough year with close losses to TCU and Michigan, the retirement of Jerry Kill and comes in losing five of the last six games. Central Michigan is red-hot, winning five of their past six and features a high flying offense that averages 313 yards passing per game and if they get ahead, Minnesota’s maligned offense will have a hard time keeping up. Also, the Chippewa’s allowed only one 300-yard passing game and Minnesota is not built to go toe-to-toe passing the pigskin either. Their hope lies in getting the ground game going though it ranked 11th in the conference. Now Central Michigan has not yielded over 180 yards rushing in any of the last six games but teams that could pound the ball did against them and Minnesota could have a breakout game on the ground. Plus, the Gophers have a very strong secondary (15th overall) and while I see Cooper Rush making some plays, it won’t be enough as Minnesota ends their season on a positive note, 23-17.

Rose Bowl – Iowa vs. Stanford

Iowa has a chance to prove that they are an elite team and this year wasn’t a fluke in their first Rose Bowl game since 1990 while Stanford wants to make a statement about missing the playoff. The Achilles heel for Stanford has been their run defense as Northwestern ran for 225, Oregon for 231 and Notre Dame for 299, resulting in two losses and a near third. Iowa has manufactured 200 or more rushing yards seven times and averaged 192 per game on the season. If they can run the ball, Stanford could find itself in a hole. On the other side, the stout Iowa defense will have their hands full with Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey and veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan but if they can force them to pass, they’ll have a chance especially with the Big Ten’s best corner, Desmond King. Both teams will have shining moments in this game but I feel with the defense and C.J. Beathard, Iowa will do just enough to win a close one, 20-17.

Cotton Bowl – Michigan State vs. Alabama

Michigan State will not beat itself with costly turnovers, silly penalties and will control the pace of the game as veteran quarterback Connor Cook is savvy enough to move the chains. Alabama will be looking to attack a weak, suspect secondary that gave up 200 or more passing yards in four of its last six games as the Spartans run defense has been solid all year, and with time to prepare, will be ready for Derrick Henry – though containing him is a different story. I will also be watching how the Spartans offensive line matches up with the athletic front seven that lead the nation in sacks with 46 but keep in mind, MSU’s also one of the few teams that could possibly hold up itself against the Crimson Tide’s lines as it proved that against Ohio State. Now, Michigan State has a chance if it can attack Alabama’s secondary with Aaron Burbridge but I think the Alabama defensive line will apply good pressure and prevent Cook from having a clean pocket. And I think Henry will wear down this defense as the games goes on. Alabama wins 28-20.

Fiesta Bowl – Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Ezekiel Elliott is the heart and soul of this offense and considering it’s his final game as a Buckeye, I expect OSU to pound away against Notre Dame and lean on him. If the Irish do succeed in bottling him up, OSU still should be able to control the game with the speed and elusiveness of J.T. Barrett. As for the Irish, I see them pounding the interior of the defensive line as Adolphus Washington will be suspended to set up play action and manageable third downs for quarterback Deshone Kizer. The Buckeyes secondary also hasn’t faced a receiver like Will Fuller, who found the endzone 13 times and averaged 20.5 yards a catch though, the Silver Bullets were second in scoring defense and sixth in efficiency, allowing over 17 points only twice in the last 11 games. With all that said, I think Urban Meyer will have his team focused and ready to play. Plus, Ohio State has more talent. Buckeyes win 35-21.

Taxslayer Bowl – Penn State vs. Georgia

The Nittany Lions have little offense as they rank 110th in total yards per game (325) and score 24 points a game (101st), and to make matters worse, Georgia features the top passing defense in the country, allowing just 146 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are No. 83 in passing offense, averaging 209 yards per game. However, Penn state also has an elite defense (No. 12 in total defense) andGeorgia has a flimsy passing game (103rd; 187 ypg) so it relies on its ground game and I see PSU loading the box to make Bulldogs quarterback Greyson Lambert beat them. Lambert is not an NFL prospect like Christian Hackenberg but he is a good game manager and will take care of the ball. I see this as a low scoring defensive battle with each offense grasping for any foothold and I believe in the Bulldogs run game with Michel running effectively en route to victory. Georgia wins 17-10.

Bowl Me Over!

I will jump right in with a keen grasp of the obvious. It’s BOWL season! Well, duh!

We’re surrounded by bowls and they’re closing in on us ($1 to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson for that bit of inspiration). If you substitute the word idiots, for bowls, then you have the good doctor’s quote exacto.

Much of our chatter about bowls comes in the form of criticism. How many times have you heard or spoke this phrase? Now, everybody together. Fill in the blank. “There are too (blank) bowls.” How did you complete that sentence? I’ll bet you didn’t use the word ‘few’. Who says there are too FEW bowls? No one. Who says there are too ‘many’ bowls? Almost everyone.

It’s true that there are a glut of bowls which now comprise our postseason. There are so many, in fact, that teams with a sterling record of 5-7 are now being invited to participate in these, often meaningless, exhibitions.

Bowl names are sometimes, at once, both puzzling and amusing. Case in point. here are the bowls that have already gone into the books as I write this column. The Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, AutoNation Cure Bowl,  R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, and the Miami Beach Bowl.

That’s six down and thirty-five to go!

Bowls, bowls, bowls! Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors! And half-filled stadiums (which is being generous to a number of these contests). Or half-empty stadiums, huh? 😉

But you know what? I like bowls. Bring ’em on! Watch them or don’t watch them. Let the kids, their schools, and their fans have a big time. It’s fun! And bowl trips, themselves, are a lot of fun. That’s certainly the case as I have experienced it.

I have attended nineteen bowl games, in my lifetime, and the Auburn Tigers were participants in each and every one of them. Surprise!

Let’s take a look at two of the most memorable of these events.

Auburn vs. Michigan – 1984 Sugar BowlIMG_2569

There’s nothing like the first time. This holds true in many areas of life. This was the first bowl game I ever observed in person. And even though it was a low scoring game, Auburn won 9-7, it was very exciting. Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, said Auburn wouldn’t be able to run the ball on the Wolverines. They did.

Bo Jackson ran for 130 yards on 22 carries and he was named the game’s most outstanding player. But, the Tigers were not able to punch the ball into the end zone. Al Del Greco kicked three field goals to account for all of the Tigers’ points. The last one came with 23 seconds left on the clock to seal it for Auburn.

As memorable as the game was, to me, it was the city of New Orleans that almost stole the show. My wife, Melodye, and I arrived on New Year’s Eve for the game which was to take place on Monday, January 2, as Sunday is pro football day and the Saints were playing at home.

Our hotel, a Days Inn in Kenner, LA, was in the grip of a most unusual cold snap that ‘The Big Easy’ was suffering through at that time. The pipes had burst in the modest facility and we were sent to the International Hotel on Canal Street. It was quite close to the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and it was a big step up from the little motel near the airport where we were scheduled to stay

To say a big time was had by all would be putting it mildly. We watched, in both awe and disbelief, at the proceedings which took place in the French Quarter, and, most popularly, on Bourbon Street. “Laissez les bon temps router!” Or, in English, “Let the good times roll!”

They did!

It seems as though we walked dozens of miles in ‘Nawlins’ those three days and nights in late 1983 and early 1984.IMG_2570

There were hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s and rum swizzles at the Seaport Cafe & Bar, but primarily there was beer at Molly’s Irish Pub on Toulouse Street. This was the first time we had ever run across those 24 ounce cans on Foster’s Beer, which is brewed in Australia.

As luck would have it, there was a group of Aussie sailors who were docked in New Orleans and we made their acquaintance through an Auburn student, from Baltimore, who was named Sarah. Sarah, and the sea faring lads from down under, combined with us to finish all of the Foster’s that Molly’s had in stock on the eve of the Sugar Bowl. Then it was into the Dixie beer, which was a step down.

There was also Shrimp Remoulade at Arnaud’s, this is where the dish was conceived, red beans and rice at Joe’s, and oysters at the Acme Oyster House.

We have since made several trips to New Orleans, including four more Sugar Bowls, but there will  never be another like that first one.

“Laissez les bon temps router,” indeed!

Auburn vs. Texas A&M – 1986 Cotton Bowl

As luck would have it, this was the 50th anniversary of the classic from Dallas. Oddly enough, that 1983-84 jaunt to New Orleans was the 50th playing of the Sugar Bowl.

The Aggies, under the leadership of then extraordinarily highly paid coach, Jackie Sherrill, laid a whuppin’ on Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers. Bo DID win another MVP for this game, yet again.IMG_2568

But what a trip!

We were living in Albany, NY at the time and we were accompanied by our dear friends, Don and Linda Meagher. The Meaghers were New York natives. We were about to introduce them to the world of hospitality, Texas style.

Melodye and I spent the first three years of our marriage in Ft. Worth, so we were very excited to be headed back that way for the first time since we left Tejas. We stayed at a La Quinta Inn in Euless, which is located about half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

We gorged on Mexican food at Raphael’s in Dallas, twice, and BBQ at the Southfork Ranch near Plano. The four of us used to always watch Dallas together on Friday nights, so this was a big treat for us.

One night, after dinner at said Raphael’s, I coaxed the crew into stopping by Carter Country in Irving, TX, the then home of the Dallas Cowboys. Carter Country is a combination bowling alley and honky tonk.

Don, not being steeped in, or necessarily comfortable with Texas culture was a bit wide-eyed when we pulled into the parking lot. Don surveyed the situation and said, “I don’t know. There are an awful lot of pickup trucks here.” I assured him that the crowd here could add and subtract and that there would be no problem. There was not a problem. But, we were familiarized with a song that played on the jukebox between live music sets. It was/is entitled, ‘The Rodeo Song’. I’m not going fill you in on the lyrics to ‘The Rodeo Song’ as they are not fit for younger eyes and ears or those who are easily offended. Google it, if you so desire.

‘Well it’s forty below and I don’t give a…”

Take it from there!

The highlight of the Cotton Bowl trip was probably New Year’s Eve at Billy Bob’s Texas. Surely everyone of you good readers is up on this world renowned country and western palace. The mechanical bull and all that. I think Gilley’s was the first of these types of establishments. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Gary Morris and Reba McEntire brought in 1986 that evening. A good, no GREAT, time was had by all. Melodye truly enjoyed the champagne that was served up to us, in twelve ounce Billy Bob’s Texas plastic tumblers, at the stroke of midnight.

Ask her about it the next time you see her. Or, better yet, give her a shout on Facebook. She is such a good sport about my telling of our adventures together. There have been countless numbers of those and I look forward to many,  many more with great anticipation.

The next one will take place in the great state of Alabama. The Birmingham Bowl. We’ll see you here, next week, with a preview of that bowl game, and hopefully, we will see some of you, who help to make up the Auburn Family, in Birmingham.

Peace on earth to one and all!

 

 

 

 

 

So You’re Saying There Is A Chance

In what turned out to be a highly entertaining, epic defensive battle, the Michigan State Spartans held off the Iowa Hawkeye’s 16-13 in the Big Ten championship game to advance into the College Football Playoff. There is no question that it was a well-earned, hard-fought victory and the Spartans deserve a chance to potentially play for a national title, but drew the Alabama Crimson Tide as its opponent in the Cotton Bowl.

(Truth be told, I wanted Iowa to win simply because it would’ve provided another piece of evidence that the Big Ten is better and deeper than it has been getting credit for the past several years. Everyone predicted that the winner would come from the Big Ten East this season and if the Big Ten West had produced a conference champion, then people might take the Big Ten even more seriously.)

Up until this point in this season, no one has been able to stop the offensive running game of Alabama or solve the puzzle the defense constructs every game. Sure, Ole Miss was able to defeat Alabama but the Crimson Tide still accumulated over 500 yards in that game and uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times. It was more of an anomaly than anything else and is something very rare to see from a disciplined Nick Saban team.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, since losing to Ole Miss in October, Alabama has led the nation in fewest points allowed per game and yards allowed per game. Alabama has 46 sacks, most in the nation, has held nine opponents under 300 yards, rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense (258.2 yards per game) and is No. 1 in rushing defense (74.0 yards per game).

However, as daunting and improbable as it may seem, I believe the Spartans give the conference a chance at the title.

Just look at the numbers.

Ever since Alabama trounced Michigan State 49-7 in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, the Spartans have garnered four consecutive bowl wins, back-to-back top five finishes, and won 38 of their past 42 games including seven of their past eight games against top 10 teams, beating Iowa and the same Ohio State squad that eliminated the Tide from last year’s College Football Playoff.

They have defeated nearly everyone in their path with one blemish on their record due to a controversial call and have overcome adversity and injuries to get where they are today.

Also, the Spartans have Connor Cook, who has proven, at least to me, he is a legitimate, reliable anchor for this team as he was selected as a first-team All-Big Ten QB. They also have the Big Ten Receiver of the Year in Aaron Burbridge, depth on the offensive line and four tailbacks with great potential. On the other side of the ball, they possess one of the best defensive lines in the programs history, athletic linebackers and an ever-improving secondary, though they do allow 230 passing yards per game.

So you’re thinking they are going to beat Alabama?

Woah. Slow down there.

I think there’s a chance they can defeat the Crimson Tide, but a lot of things need to go right. It starts up front in the trenches. Derrick Henry has had a monster year, rushing for an unprecedented 1,986 yards in the SEC and a nation-leading 23 touchdowns.

The front seven, which is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry, is the heart and soul of this team. Preventing Henry from breaking away for a big gain will be their biggest hurdle this season, but if they can contain him, they’ll give their team a good chance.

Next, they’ll need Cook at full strength and for him to stretch the field versus the Tide’s stout defense by getting the ball into Burbridge’s hands, something they struggled to do against Iowa, and by moving the chains for first downs as Alabama leads the nation in forcing three-and-outs since its loss to Ole Miss.

And finally, Michigan State has to be free of mistakes on offense and special teams. In what should be a low-scoring game, one big score could be the difference in this game and kicker Michael Geiger needs to be on point for Michigan State.

If all these things happen, then the Spartans no question have a legitimate shot and in college football, just a little can be the difference as strange things do occur. Of course, Michigan State is all too familiar with this as they beat Michigan in the most bizarre fashion in the closing seconds.

Anyways, the importance of this game can’t be overstated.

The Big Ten is arguably the country’s best conference this season and if the Spartans can knock off yet another SEC flagship program, it would be difficult to argue otherwise. This game is crucial and with millions watching, could greatly enhance the Big Ten’s reputation. This year’s game is the ultimate measuring stick for how far the entire Big Ten has come to closing the gap with the South.

Now, the optimistic Big Ten fan gives me hope as it screams that anything can happen but the rational college football fan inside of me screams don’t be stupid, no one can beat the red hot Crimson Tide especially not the Spartans who lack that it factor that Alabama seems to possess.

However, being doubted and overlooked is nothing new to the Spartans. They relish the role of being David and Michigan State has won nine of the last 13 games in which it has been an underdog. The last time they were underdogs was against Ohio State and we all know what happened then. They walked out with a 17-14 victory over the defending champions.

With all that said, I do not know if the Spartans will win or not but I’m giving them a shot and sometimes that’s all you need.

More Than A Friday: Nothing Has Mattered In College Football Until Now

Every game counts, except for the ones we determine don’t matter, under the guise of not evaluating losses.  The end of the College Football season has always had its ways of frustrating us on one level or another.  Bowl games were set up in a weird way, where the best teams didn’t necessarily play each other, and everyone was proud to play on January 1st.

I know, I know.  This New Years Eve is going to be so awesome, watching College Football through confetti…but really, is it?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the old days of split-titles and what-not, but the more we try to solve the problem, the more we realize there’s no perfect solution.  I mean, it’s nice.  We reward four regular season achievers with a playoff, distinguish four other games as very important, and spend our December and early January evenings watching games of waning importance that feature slightly above average to fairly good teams.

That seems cool, but the undercard action is borderline fatiguing, and there’s such a gap between the motivation you’re going to have for a National Semifinal versus an “Access Bowl”.  Ask Nick Saban about his Alabama team sleepwalking into those consultation games.  There’s gap between the Access Bowls and kicking off in Orlando at 11 AM on the first day of the year, but being left out of the Peach Bowl isn’t quite the same as being five and wondering why a committee thought four was better than you.

That might be a problem.  For the second year in a row, I’d have to assume we’re going to see some sort of subjective cut line, and there will be a solid argument for a team playing in Pasadena1Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford to be competing for a title.  Ohio State and Notre Dame have only lost close games to top opponents, Stanford dropped one to an Oregon team that’s much better than their record and one hard-to-forgive road contest at Northwestern, and North Carolina is begging forgiveness for their season opening loss to South Carolina and the Ole Ball Coach2That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year..

There’s a few ways to look at this.  Chalk makes it easy and chaos makes it chaotic.

ACC Championship

It’s undefeated Clemson and once-defeated North Carolina.  Clemson finally cleared the hurdles created by Florida State and South Carolina in the past, and find themselves in the ACC Championship game for the first time in a while.  Quarterback DeShaun Watson will take the stage with an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy, so head coach Dabo Swinney will set him up to shine.  North Carolina has Marquis Williams, and he’s been nothing short of sensational behind center for Larry Fedora’s team, who enters the weekend on an 11-game winning streak of their own.

Chalk: Clemson wins and they’re in.  Wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina will make the fact they schedule Wofford as meaningless as Alabama’s loss at home to Ole Miss.

Chaos: North Carolina wins, and you start comparing them to teams on the couch this weekend.  Ohio State was underwhelming, despite holding the top spot until we recognized the committee’s rankings over the AP’s.  The Tar Heels didn’t play Florida State this season, and schedule two FCS opponents.  This might come down to style points, and while most would have to think simply taking down Clemson would do the trick, we know the aforementioned Buckeyes made an “All Sales Final” pitch to the committee in the Big Ten title game a year ago.

Big Ten Championship

With all due respect to their recent success, it will be a battle of little brothers in Indianapolis to crown a Big Ten Champion.  Iowa is unbeaten, but no one believes they are what it says they are on paper.  They’re hanging their hat on a non-conference win over Pitt and victories over a few decent intra division rivals.  Michigan State, on the other hand, has been the best team on the field in every game they’ve played this season.  They were better than the Cornhuskers, who won on a very controversial play, and they were better than the Buckeyes, who they dominated in their own building, despite the game coming down to a walk-off field goal.

Chalk: The winner goes to the College Football Playoff.  Few would argue that.

Chaos:  Enough people might get it in their head that if Iowa wins, do you automatically deem them better than all of the 1-loss teams.  Undefeated should eliminate that noise.  You could hold the Nebraska loss against Michigan State, but wins at Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon3You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State., not to mention Iowa on the big stage should quiet all of that noise.  The only chaos here would be an ugly game, and an ugly game didn’t keep Texas out of the 2010 BCS Championship, in the era known as that of The BCS.

Pac 12 Championship

USC has four losses, and they fired their head coach earlier this season, but bounced back under interim-turned-full-time head coach Clay Helton.  Stanford has some momentum after the big win in their season finale over Notre Dame, and they’ll be playing close to home this weekend.

Chalk:  I’m not sure it matters, but if Stanford loses, they are out.  If they win, they are scoreboard watching.

Chaos:  The top teams bottom out in their conference championship games, and the committee has three teams locked in, Oklahoma and the champions from the Big Ten and ACC.  Fourth spot is up for grabs, with 2-loss Alabama, 1-loss Ohio State, and the 2-loss Cardinal reaching for it.

SEC Championship

Alabama was able to convincingly beat Wisconsin on a neutral field to start the year and lost early to Ole Miss at home.  They took care of business versus the rest of the SEC, but the jury is really deliberating hard on just how good the conference was in 2015.  Florida has had a good run under first-year coach Jim McElwain, surviving an unexpected year-long suspension for their opening day starting quarterback to win the SEC East, but a poor showing versus Florida State last week does not inspire anyone into believing they’ll best Alabama in Atlanta on Saturday.

Chalk: Alabama is very likely on the top line with a win and all the way out with a loss to the Gators.

Chaos:  There promises to be a lot of Gator fans in Columbus.  Realistically, a Florida win is the only obvious route for Ohio State (or Stanford) to reach the College Football Playoff, but then what do you make of a 2-loss Florida team.

Actual Predictions

Basically, because rarely does anyone ever find themselves held accountable for being wrong, I’m going to take a stab at slotting the Semis and the Access Bowls.

Orange Bowl (National Semifinal)

Michigan State vs. Clemson

Cotton Bowl (National Semifinal)

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl

Ohio State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl

Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta Bowl

Iowa vs. Notre Dame

Peach Bowl

Houston vs. Florida State

 

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1. Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford
2. That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year.
3. You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State.

Legacy Lines – 9/4/15: Humble Beginnings

Editors note: Hollis Oliver McLain, III (@HollisOliverIII) will be publishing a series of articles throughout the season on some of college football’s most storied programs. This year, we’ve selected Alabama, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA and Virginia Tech. On Tuesday’s you’ll get important links about each program (Legacy Links) and on Friday’s you’ll get important story lines and a game preview of one team (Legacy Lines). Follow each of these stories here.

 After a stellar first night of college football, it will be difficult for the weekend games to top the excitement that was unleashed last night. From the ugly, turnover filled game that pitted the Carolina’s against each other to the lackluster offensive performance of the Hilltoppers and Commodores, college football came back with a vengeance, even if it wasn’t great football we saw. While only a few teams played, I think it is safe to say that we can’t wait to get Saturday started. With so many good games on the schedule, planning is the only way to watch them all.

When it comes to our legacy teams, the majority of them are going up against less than great talent, but a few teams, however, will have a challenge come Saturday. A couple notable games include Alabama vs. Wisconsin Saturday night, and Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State on Monday night. Although those two games will most likely prove to be exciting, there is one game that we will focus our attention to on Saturday. That game features the Texas Longhorns vs. the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 on NBC.

Before I delve into this week’s historical perspective, we need to know what to expect from these two teams come Saturday. Let’s start with the Longhorns. As we all know, Texas hasn’t been at their best recently, partly due to a coaching change, but also because of other outside sources. While Charlie Strong is a great defensive mind, he hasn’t been able to balance recruiting with scheme well enough to create any ripples on the defensive side of the ball. With roughly half of the defensive starters no longer wearing burnt orange, the Irish offense has a chance to strike early and often. Making the situation even more difficult for the young defense will be the evasive Malik Zaire. Even though Zaire has only made one start for the Irish, his quickness, arm, and decision-making could prove dangerous for Texas. The Longhorns have to keep him in the pocket and get some sort of pass rush if they hope to stop the Irish offense. On the other side of the ball, Texas has some elite playmakers, but the offense can only have success if they win the battle on the line of scrimmage.

While the Notre Dame defense isn’t exceptional, their line is well coached and can create problems in the passing game. If the Irish can stop Jonathon Gray from the start, I think the Irish could take control of the game. One thing is for sure, and that is the team that wins the turnover battle will most likely come out victorious. Even with the young starter at quarterback, I think the Irish take this one and start the season 1-0. Don’t be surprised if the Longhorns stay around for a while and have a chance to win it in the fourth though, especially if Matt Zaire struggles. All in all, I see Notre Dame winning this one by a couple touchdowns, but the Longhorns give a valiant effort in South Bend.

Since the theme of this entire beat is historical perspective, it would be a travesty not to talk about Notre Dame vs. Texas. As two of the greatest college football programs in history, these teams are considered college football royalty. If you asked most fans of these schools who their respective rivals were, you probably wouldn’t hear Texas or Notre Dame because the fact is, they haven’t played in almost twenty years. The last time the Irish played the Longhorns was the year 1996 and the Irish came out on top. In fact, the rivalry has only been played ten times in history, but those ten games meant a lot to the game of college football.

After the first five games of the series had been played, Notre Dame was 4-1 against Texas. Then came the 1969 college football season. Towards the end of the regular season, the Texas program was looking for an opponent to play in the Cotton Bowl for the National Championship (the Longhorns were ranked #1). The Longhorns wanted someone they would beat, but also a team that would give them a fight, so they picked Notre Dame, a team who had only been to one bowl game before this Cotton Bowl. Even though Texas ended up winning the game and the National Championship, Notre Dame gave them hell for four quarters and barely lost to the Longhorns. This great Irish performance would pave the way for two more nationally relevant Cotton Bowl games against Texas, both of which the Irish would win, and two more regular season games in the 90’s. While Texas may have gotten the best of ND in that first Cotton Bowl game, Notre Dame’s legacy as a strong football team, especially in bowl games, skyrocketed in years to come, and helped to bring Irish football to the national spotlight that it holds today.

If you would like to read more into this epic battle of programs, then check out this link (http://www.uhnd.com/articles/football/notre-dame-texas-history-23108/). Here you will find the full back-story of the historic game and maybe some other tidbits you didn’t previously know. Thank you for reading, and I hope to have you all back next week as we take on the next Legacy Line game of the week.