Tag Archives: Iowa State Cyclones

2017 NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Notebook

Good fortune finds that the region that I happened to be covering turned out to be the only part of the bracket I predicted 100% correctly after the Round of 64.  No real surprises, as the top seeds took care of things in a business like fashion; and the only higher seeds to advance – #9 Michigan State and #11 Rhode Island – were anticipated.  The Round of 32 presents some intriguing match-ups as the first weekend of the Big Dance commences.

Close but no Cigar

I mentioned in my tournament preview on Thursday that the Midwest felt like a bracket that would not have much in the way of double-digit upsets.  The teams I felt were most likely, if any, to pull off upsets were Vermont and Nevada.  I make the mistake every year of picking a few too many of the 11-13 seeds to advance out of the Round of 64.  In customary fashion, both of these schools played very well, and hung tough for the majority of their respective games, but in the end Purdue and Iowa State were able to outlast the upstarts.  No surprise that Monte Morris led the way for the Cyclones, and B1G player of the year Caleb Swanigan did the most damage for the Boilermakers.  This sets up a 4/5 tilt between two schools recently plagued by early tournament failures, and something’s gotta give.

Wolverines continue their tear; have a shot at Revenge

The #4 seed Michigan Wolverines kept on rolling, outlasting Oklahoma State 92-91 in one of the more entertaining opening round games.  Senior Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with 26 points and 11 assists, setting up a Sunday afternoon showdown with Louisville.  The Cardinals once again got off to a shaky start, allowing themselves to fall into a 10-2 hole, before taking the lead permanently with just under seven minutes left in the first half.  The Cards got surprisingly strong contributions from big men Mangok Mathiang and Ray Spalding in order to outlast Jacksonville State.  Michigan has an opportunity to grab a little revenge, as John Beilien’s Wolverines fell in the 2013 National Championship game to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals.

Ram Tough

Dan Hurley’s Rhode Island team handily dispatched #6 Creighton, lining up one of the match-ups I was most looking forward to in this tournament, a date with the #3 seed Oregon Ducks.  All five starters scored in double figures, led by freshman Jeff Dowtin, who along with E.C. Matthews, went 10-10 from the free throw line.  The Rams will need every bit of toughness they have in them, as Oregon handled their business the way the tops seeds should, running up 55 points in the first half, and cruising to victory.  When Dana Altman’s team exerts all of their talent, the Ducks are elite.  This will be a fun game on Sunday.

This is Sparta!

The 2016-17 instillation of the Michigan State Spartans isn’t the typical powerhouse that Tom usually has at his disposal.  Coach Izzo knows how to pull the right strings at the right times, and now is presented with a golden opportunity to knock out top-seeded Kansas.  The Spartans thumped the Miami Hurricanes, and now await the Jayhawks, who, as expected, destroyed UC Davis to move into the Round of 32.  What was expected was the performance of Michigan State’s powerful freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward.  The keys on Sunday will be how Izzo’s club deals with the Kansas backcourt, particularly Frank Mason III, and whether the Jayhawks have enough support for senior Landen Lucas on the interior, in order to keep him on the floor.  I like Bill Self’s team to get through, but it may be a battle of attrition.

The Midwest Region is set up to have an outstanding Sweet 16.  Purdue or Iowa State will grab the first slot as that game caps off the action on Saturday night; then everyone else will fill in the gaps on Sunday.  Here’s hoping I can keep one clean region, and have each of my picks roll through, including #11 seed Rhode Island, there to upset the apple cart, and close out the opening weekend of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

E-mail Damon at  or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

At first blush, the Midwest Region seems to be destined to have the top seeds represented in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8; but questions abound for Kansas, Louisville, and Oregon as the opening rounds approach.  Although most of the double-digit seeds in this region don’t appear to pose a serious threat, there’s at least one that may knock heads with the big boys.

Jayhawks are going to Kansas City, Kansas City here they come!

There’s no reason to suspect that the Kansas Jayhawks shouldn’t find their way to KC, but will they be able to go any further?  Bill Self’s team had another incredible season, scattering four losses throughout the year, including bookends in the season opener, and to close the season in the Big 12 semifinals.   Despite their immensely talented backcourt led by Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks frontcourt is a bit thin.  Could a potential matchup with Michigan State and the Spartan’s tough frontcourt combo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward be too much for Landen Lucas to handle on his own?  This is the time of year that Tom Izzo starts working his magic, but if he can’t, top seeded Kansas should be bound for Kansas City, and a shot to advance out of the Midwest Regional Final.

Cardinals need more Dr. Jekyll, less Mr. Hyde

Louisville may be the one of deepest and most talented teams in the Midwest region, and perhaps the country.  However, the biggest issue this team has shown has been its wild personality swings.  Particularly glaring during late season losses to Wake Forest and Duke, the Cards have displayed a propensity to squander big leads.  UofL can dominate the vast majority of a game, only to completely go away from everything that is working.  Those lapses are what terrify and infuriate the Louisville fan base.  What is most shocking is that this tendency manifested early in the season during Louisville’s first loss of the year to Baylor.  The Cardinals let a 22 point lead slip before falling to the Bears in the Bahamas.  That may just be the identity of this year’s version of the Louisville Cardinals.  I suspect that Rick Pitino will tighten up the rotation, which should provide more cohesiveness; and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell is the type of player that can carry a team into early April.  If the Cards are Dr. Jekyll, they could win it all; if they’re Mr. Hyde, it could be a very early exit.

Rough Rhode ahead for the Ducks

Oregon has spent the entire 2016-17 season among the nation’s elite teams, and still has a loaded roster, and excellent coach in Dana Altman to lead them deep into this tournament.  Much will depend on the way the Ducks respond to the loss of versatile 6-10 senior Chris Boucher.  While Boucher was important, this team goes as junior Dillon Brooks goes.  However, the injury essentially cost Oregon a seed line, which is ridiculous since seeding should be based on a team’s body of work.  Will the Duck’s be ultra-motivated by the injury and a little bit of a slight by the committee, or will these late season factors lead to a bit of a malaise?  I’m leaning toward the latter.  Assuming Oregon survives the Round of 64 against Iona, the Ducks may be in for a rude awakening in the Round of 32 against Rhode Island.

Rams are a dark horse?

Don’t sleep on Rhode Island.  As mentioned above, URI could be a serious stumbling block for Oregon should they run into each other in the Round of 32.  The Rams were sitting squarely on the bubble, and then ripped off eight wins in a row, and took the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to ensure a spot in the field.  Dan Hurley’s squad has solid inside-outside balance with E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin; and has shown a ton of grit down the stretch.  In a region that appears to be set up for the chalk to advance, Rhode Island is poised to make a run.  Certainly the opener against the Creighton Blue Jays will be no cakewalk, but if the Rams escape, there’s no reason that Hurley’s club can’t bounce the 3 seed Oregon, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.

Perfect storm for the Cyclones

Over the last few seasons, Iowa State has been a huge disappointment (I know they’ve killed my bracket), but the path the Cyclones face may be tailor-made to make amends.   I loved the Steve Prohm hire when Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA; and although it took some time to come together, ISU has the pieces in place to do some damage this year.  A rare senior-laden team in college basketball, the Cyclones are in great hands, particularly with Naz Long and Monte Morris.  After several bitter tournament showings, look for Iowa State to get past #4 seed Purdue, to set up another Big 12 showdown with rival Kansas in the Sweet 16.

North Carolina Central and UC Davis will square off on Wednesday for the right to be the first roadblock for the Jayhawks on their way to a cozy spot in Kansas City.  There should be a lot of answers about the Midwest Region when the Round of 32 wraps up on Friday evening, but don’t be surprised if there are even more questions.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Flickr/Brett Hurd

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

The Best and Worst of 2016: Big 12

The Big 12 Conference had a pretty forgettable year on and off the field in 2016. The conference was shut out from the College Football Playoff again and hit rock bottom in terms of conference prestige.

But not everything was a complete disaster. Here are some of the best and worst games in the Big 12 last season.

Best Games of 2016

Texas vs. Notre Dame

Texas is back” is what college football fans heard on the Sunday of Labor Day. The Longhorns kicked off the season with a thrilling double overtime win over 10th-ranked Notre Dame. It appeared very briefly that Texas would make some national noise, but finished 5-7 instead. And despite the game being fool’s gold because of Notre Dame also being highly overrated, it was still arguably the best game for a Big 12 team, especially in the non-conference schedule.

TCU vs. Oklahoma

This was a game many thought TCU could win, especially with Oklahoma’s early struggles. The Sooners ran away with the game in the first three quarters before TCU mounted a strong comeback. They had an opportunity to win in the end, but it ended up being an Oklahoma victory 52-46. The win was the beginning of some serious momentum for Oklahoma that propelled them into an eventual top-10 finish in the polls.

TCU vs. Texas Tech

This game may not have looked pretty, but it was highly entertaining. In what was expected to be a shootout, no one could have predicted the score to be tied at 17 at the end of regulation. The Red Raiders won on the road in double overtime 27-24 after the TCU kicker missed a short field goal on the first possession in double OT. In true Texas Tech fashion, they played conservatively and kicked a game winning field goal. A fitting end to one of the most surprising results of the Big 12 season.

Honorable Mention: Kansas State vs. Texas A&M and Oklahoma State vs. Colorado

It’s worth mentioning these two bowl games together because it’s always good for the conference when a team beats a former conference mate. Kansas State beating Texas A&M was a true shocker, and no one expected Oklahoma State to handle Colorado the way they did. These games really helped the perception of the Big 12 during the bowl season.

Worst Games of 2016

Oklahoma vs. Ohio State

The final score showed Ohio State winning 45-24, but anyone watching the game knows it was much worse than that. This was supposed to be the game to put Oklahoma and the Big 12 on the map. Instead, the Sooners got embarrassed by the Buckeyes at home. It capped off a rough start for Oklahoma, who eventually would win the conference. Which raises the question: just how far behind is the Big 12 when it comes to being nationally relevant?

Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma

This game was just purely embarrassing for the Big 12. With the final score of 66-59, how can you really claim either team won? The teams should have just rested their defenses and let the offense play against air. It would have been the same result. I have no problem with a high scoring game, but this one got out of hand. A big embarrassment for the conference, to say the least.

Kansas vs. Texas

Big 12 critics seem to think the conference won’t be relevant again until Texas and Oklahoma are both top-10 teams again. Texas proved they have a long way to go after losing to lowly Kansas. It’s easy to say this was the worst game of the Big 12 season, but you can’t take away that much from Kansas. You can. This was an awful game from start to finish. Kansas snapped their 23-game losing streak to FBS opponents and Texas finally hit rock bottom. No one truly won this game, and the conference took a huge hit to its reputation as a result.

Honorable Mention: Oklahoma State vs. Central Michigan

You may not have seen a wilder finish to a game than this one. The referees admitted a mistake on their part, which gave Central Michigan one last chance with an untimed down. They threw up a Hail Mary, which got lateraled back and ran across the field for a touchdown. Cowboys fans will want to forget this one forever.

Iowa State vs. Texas Tech

Overshadowed by Texas’ loss to Kansas, Texas Tech managed to lose 66-10 to Iowa State on the same day. I’m not even sure how that’s possible on either side of the scoreboard, but somehow it happened. As if anyone wanted to really watch this game anyway.

Well, there you have it. Time to close the book now on the 2016 Big 12 football season as being one to forget. But hey, look at the bright side, the conference can’t get much worse in 2017!

Or can it?

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

Photo: Wikimedia

The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

All this time, the NFL has seemed so bullet-proof, but we’re seeing vulnerability in the armor. People aren’t watching as much, and they don’t like the way the product is being dispersed.

What plagues the professional game actually seems to aid college football. While we understand Saturday remains the best day to see the best games, we don’t feel like the occasional Thursday or Friday games are scheduled to do us dirty.

You want to play one of these games on the moon at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, College Football fans will adjust. Just tell them when/where the tailgate is, and they’re cool.

Tell an NFL fan that Sunday Ticket is only offering a game that his antenna won’t in the late spot on Sunday, and they’re livid with London and Thursday Night Football. The presentation of the NFL game is too clean for fans to adapt to these random game-time windows.

College Football fans see Thursday, and now also Tuesday and Wednesday, as an opportunity to showcase a game that might be buried on ESPNU or some dreaded streaming option at noon on Saturday.

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

Last Tuesday, the nation’s “other” unbeaten team had the undivided attention of the College Football diehards in Muncie. Maybe a 32-point win over Ball State isn’t that sexy on paper, but did you see what Corey Davis did?

Do you feel anything was flukey about Western Michigan’s 9-0 start? Maybe you understand the pecking order, and where the Mid-American Conference gets pecked. Maybe there’s an obligation to qualify the two road wins over the Big Ten by reminding everyone that Illinois was one of those wins. Maybe you wonder if the MAC juggernaut deserves to be on the field with a mid-major darling like Boise State.

Friday night, by the way, a nationwide audience was given a chance to watch the other Broncos bounce back from their first loss of the season, which happened on October 29.

Remember the 80s?

Just for kicks, you could have watched games involving Oklahoma and Colorado last Thursday. Maybe something like that would have excited you more 25-30 years ago, but those games affect the outcome of the Big 12 and Pac-12, because the present is weird.

You love it, and it takes nothing away from Saturday afternoon or evening.

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

This coming Tuesday, Eastern Michigan will continue a semi-annual MAC tradition of paying homage to democracy with Election Day uniforms, back in Muncie–for #MACtion. Speaking of everyone’s favorite non-defense-playing conference, you’ll be sure to see Cubs fans from DeKalb to Northern Ohio trolling Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side this Wednesday.

It’s football at a baseball stadium. Yeah, Northwestern and Illinois got Wrigley on a Saturday, and GameDay went to Wrigleyville. This next chapter in the great Toledo-Northern Illinois saga might get Roy Philbott, Rocky Boiman, and an ESPN2 production crew to urban Illinois on a school night.

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

Thursday, we get Utah in the Valley of the Sun, for the FS1 weekend preview. It’s up to the Utes to prove that anyone other than Washington is worth a damn in that conference. This game isn’t being stolen from ABC at 3:30, but more likely from a channel you don’t get, even if you live in Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

CBS gave you three games on Saturday, just as they would when they have London and the 1 PM/4 PM doubleheader on Sunday. They got Notre Dame because they have Navy rights. Notre Dame lost again; great moment for Navy. Is College Football worse off for the Irish’s 3-6 campaign?

I doubt CBS or Navy care. They’re going to care about records a lot more in December when they’re selling some lousy SEC East team’s upset potential against Alabama in Atlanta.

Hurts Donut?

Speaking of the Tide, Jalen Hurts may have provided the only offensive spark for Alabama in a 10-0 win in Death Valley at night. There’s a joke to be told including Alabama’s quarterback’s last name and a breakfast food that looks like a zero, but I’m striking out.

The networks are hitting it out of the park though and in doing so, they’ve won us over with quantity over quality. More may mean too much on Sunday, but we love it on Saturday, Thursday, and sometimes Tuesday.

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Five Teams with Zero Chance of Winning the Conference Title in 2016

It’s the second half of August which means we’re mere weeks away from the start of college football. While everyone is going to tell you which teams will make the playoff or win the conference championship, I’m here to tell you about five teams that have absolutely no chance to win a conference championship this season. Be angry.

ACC

There are two really good teams in the ACC and then there’s every other team. Unfortunately for all of us,  Clemson and Florida State are also in the same division. In 2016, I think Florida State has the most talent on both sides of the ball, but at this very moment, I think Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is a better coach than Jimbo Fisher. And, I think that’s where the difference lies. Here’s where all this gets interesting: I believe after Clemson beats Auburn in Week 1 (Hi Bird), the Tigers will run the table, and win the Atlantic division en route to beating whichever team loses the least amount of games in the Coastal Divison. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: I also believe that when these two teams meet Halloween weekend at Doak Campbell, I think Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will lead the Tigers to its first win in Tallahassee since 2006.  There will be rain, wind, and shenanigans. Get ready.

Big 12

This one is a bit tougher to pick, because, honestly no one knows how good Baylor will be 1. I would be absolutely out of my mind to think Oklahoma would have no chance to win the Big 12 in 2016, but ‘No Game’ Bob Stoops, as I call him, hasn’t had two awesome seasons back-to-back in well…ever. BUT, and a Baby Got Back type of BUT(T), I will take the Sooners in 2016 to win the Big 12 because not only will they blow the doors off Oklahoma State, they will find a way to beat Ohio State in Week 3 and roll to their first 12-win season since 2010. So the question becomes which team has zero chance to win the Big 12, and we’re not gonna step on Iowa State or Kansas more than we need to, but it’s TCU. TCU with Gary Patterson (who I like a lot, but needs to eat less brisket) has absolutely no chance despite how much the media is pumping their chances. Baylor, in its current state of disarray, has a better chance than the Horned Frogs. The purple and white will lose to following teams this season: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. Yes, the Frogs will be 2-2 in against the state of Texas and will be no closer to the winning the Big 12 this year as they have been in the past five years*. Where the hell is TCU anyway? Wherever that is, stay there and watch from the middle of the pack. Send the brisket! Calm the hell down. I know exactly where TCU is, but no one who doesn’t watch college football knows that it’s in Fort Worth.

Big Ten

Is Ohio State the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten in 2016? No. Are the Buckeyes the most experienced team in either division? Yes. Michigan State is the closest in experience and that brings us to the team that has absolutely zero chance of winning the Big Ten in 2016: Michigan. Michigan doesn’t win the East and the conference because of, yep, the Harbaugh Effect. This is not Harbaugh’s year. I do expect Michigan to finally beat Michigan State for the first time since 2012 and the first time in East Lansing since 2007 2. It all ends for Michigan on November 12 when the Hawkeyes of Iowa slip one past the goalie and beat the Champions of the West in Iowa City. Oh, and Michigan isn’t beating Ohio State, but keep dreamin’ that dream. I’m one of the few non-Ohio State fans that live in Ohio and even I can’t get behind Michigan beating Ohio State. That first victory since 2011 needs to happen in Columbus, not the whore known as Ann Arbor.

Pac-12

This is also very tough to pick because I don’t know which team is the best in the Pac-12. Here’s what I will tell you, no Pac-12 team will make the playoff because the Pac-12 is not good this year. The season will begin and one team (you know which one) will start strong by beating the Little Sisters of the Poor, then BOOM, they’ll lose on a Thursday night like all overhyped Pac-12 teams do. This is the phenomenon known as Pac-12 Suicide. That’s right, USC will lose to Cal on Thursday, October 27 sending its season into the familiar nosedive we’ve become used to over the past half-decade. No, USC will not beat Alabama (#DontBeStupid) but they will beat Stanford, survive Arizona in Tucson and will lose to UCLA and Notre Dame. Mathematically, they will probably still have a chance to win the division but mentally the Men of Try will not beat the Pac-12 North representative, thus losing the Pac-12. Look, this is totally a stretch, but UCLA and Cal are moving forward while USC lives on hype. Prove me wrong, please.

SEC

This is the easiest pick of them all. The SEC will continue to be won by a team from the West until Nick Saban retires. I’m not suggesting Alabama will play or win the SEC Championship Game, but he’ll single-handedly make every other team in the division get better. That means there can only be one team with zero chance to win the SEC in 2016: Tennessee. I’m a closet Tennessee fan. I enjoy Neyland Stadium. I enjoy listening to the Pride of Southland Band perform Rocky Top 50 times before kickoff, but no, Tennessee is not winning the East and the Vols will not be appearing Atlanta. I’m not on the Josh Dobbs hate train like Seth. I believe the biggest hindrance to the Big Orange’s success in 2016 is Butch Jones. Tennessee will lose to BOTH Florida (no surprise here) and Georgia because Butch Jones does something incredibly stupid. And since the games are back-to-back (Sep 24 and Oct 1), before Alabama rolls the Volunteers in Knoxville on October 15, Butch Jones will officially be at the top of college football’s chopping block. Tennessee would owe Jones $2.5 million every year through 2020 if fired without cause, and Jones can save some face by beating Alabama, but there’s no chance in hell they beat Florida AND Georgia in 2016. If they do, it would be the Vols’ first championship game appearance since 2007. It last won the championship game in 1998.

There it is, five times that have zero chance to win a conference title in 2016. If you’re a smart college football fan, I’ve played Captain Obvious for the almost 1200 words, but for everyone else, don’t stop believin’.

*Update: Reader Sam e-mailed to remind me (I honestly forgot and so did my editor) that TCU split the Big 12 with Baylor in 2014. I personally don’t consider a split as winning, but I’m including the note because Sam took the time to write a respectful note.

E-Mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

  1. They’re playing football despite all the nonsense that’s been going on, so let’s stick to the prize right now – football.

  2. Maybe Brady Hoke was as bad as they said he was? Nah.

The Big 12’s Best Football Games of 2016

Last year the Big 12 looked to be one of the best conferences, at least at the top, with TCU and Baylor heading into 2015 in the top five. It was hard to get any clarification on which team would prevail because the conference back-loaded the schedule, having most of the big games at the end of the year. By that point Oklahoma was on a roll, and Baylor and TCU had been hit with key injuries. What games will determine the Big 12 champ in 2016? Here are the best Big 12 games to look forward to in 2016, along with a couple non-conference games that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.

10. Texas vs. Iowa State (Saturday, October 15)

Texas had an abysmal season in 2015, but nothing was worse than getting shutout 24-0 by the Iowa State Cyclones. The game isn’t in a great spot for Texas, coming after back-to-back weeks versus Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, but I’m guessing the Longhorns won’t want to be embarrassed again.

9. Texas vs. Baylor (Saturday, October 29)

Texas beat Baylor last year, but Baylor having to play its eighteenth string quarterback played a big part in that. Outside of that, Baylor has dominated the series since 2010. The loser of this game will likely be out of the conference race with a month left in the season.

8. Baylor vs. TCU (Saturday, November, 11)

This matchup has featured the conference’s best two teams over the past few seasons. Two years ago it was one of the most exciting games of the past couple years while last year’s couldn’t have been more opposite, thanks to injuries and awful weather. Hopefully we get something closer to the 2014 version between two teams that now expect to compete for conference championships year after year.

7. Baylor vs. Oklahoma State (Saturday, September 24)

Last year Baylor ended Oklahoma State’s undefeated run (10-0) with a 45-35 win in Stillwater. This time it will be each team’s first conference game so both will be hoping to launch an undefeated conference season. Baylor has to replace six starters on each side of the ball so the timing couldn’t be better for a Cowboys team that returns 16. With nine of those starters coming on offense, this game could hit 100 total points.

6. Texas vs. Notre Dame (Saturday, September 3)

Notre Dame absolutely embarrassed Texas last year in the season opener. The Longhorns will try to get revenge on their turf this year but the Irish are expected to be the much better team again in 2016 (7:30 est on ABC). If this game ends similarly to last season’s debacle, it could be the beginning of the end for Charlie Strong in Austin.

5. Texas vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 8)

Though Texas has now been down for a while, it always shows up for the Red River Rivalry. This is one where you really can throw records out the window. Last year’s unlikely Longhorns’ win over the Sooners almost cost Oklahoma a trip to the playoff. Oklahoma will likely be favored in this game, but the Longhorns should show improvement this year which means another contested rivalry game with Big 12 championship ramifications.

4. TCU vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, October 1)

Two years ago TCU’s upset against Oklahoma propelled it to arguably the best season in school history. Though devastated by injuries last year, the Horned Frogs almost derailed the Sooners’ playoff bid in Norman. This year TCU has to reload on offense, and this will be a big game early in the season that determines if TCU’s program has reached “reload not rebuild” status.

3. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Saturday, December 3)

Oklahoma State exceeded expectations last year in what was thought to be more of a rebuilding year. Now with 16 starters back (most in the Big 12) the expectation will be to compete for the conference crown. If they can survive a tough conference road slate, this one could decide the Big 12 title. If not, the the Pokes will still seek revenge for the Sooners blasting them in the Bedlam rivalry game a year ago.

2. Oklahoma vs. Ohio State (Saturday, September 17)

Oklahoma gets an early test that could determine its season’s fate. Ohio State could learn the ceiling of its season with just six starters back. Even with some uncertainty between the teams, a non-conference matchup with two Heisman contending quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett) will be must-see television.

1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

This game has often been a de facto Big 12 Championship game in recent years, and the winner of this one could have the inside track this year as well (if Oklahoma doesn’t perform its usual meltdown in years with high expectations). Both teams have a lot to replace on defense, but with Seth Russell and Baker Mayfield returning, as well as a plethora of skill position talent for each school, neither team should have a problem putting up points.

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

 

Featured image courtesy frankleleon

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.

Big 12 Expansion is All Talk

Right now you may be tired of reading about expansion in the Big 12, but more and more is coming out about it every day. One of the most recent pieces of news that has come to a head is that Max Weizenhoffer, the Oklahoma board of regent’s chairman does not want the Big 12 to expand. He is not the only Oklahoma Chairman that doesn’t want this to occur. Oklahoma City Thunder chairman Clay Bennett is also against expansion.

President Bob Boren has a powerful influence on the other Big 12 presidents’ votes, but it sounds like he will not have the final say in the matter. Weizenhoffer said that “we just want to let him (Boren) know we don’t like it. If the expansion goes forward, it may get to the point where we may not be able to stop it.”

You can tell that Weizenhoffer is extremely against the expansion and thinks it is a bad idea, not only for Oklahoma but the other schools as well. He has stated that they, meaning the Big 12, are at a huge disadvantage compared to the other Power 5 conferences.

It has been said before that numerous Big 12 presidents (Oklahoma’s, West Virginia’s, Iowa State’s and Kansas’s) have all admitted to being in favor of expansion. Kansas State does not have a permanent president in place yet to discuss the matter. But, of course Texas isn’t saying a word about expansion.

Weizenhoffers argument is that expansion doesn’t make sense unless the Big 12 gains teams from other Power 5 conferences. It is impossible to gain such teams since the teams are bound together by a grant of rights and their conferences. I highly doubt the Big 12 is willing to pay or give the time to go to court to break the rights these teams have with their conferences.

The main talk of expansion teams surrounds Boise State, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis and South Florida. All of these schools seem so small in size compared to all of the other schools in the Big 12 Conference. According to this article this is true. If the Big 12 sticks with what it has said before about adding teams with strong and large athletic crowds the schools that were mentioned will not be the best choice.

I have heard that there is a possibility to pick up Arizona State and Arizona. If the Big 12 were to do that it would be a much better choice. This way the Big 12 could gain major TV coverage, larger stadiums which equal larger crowds and more revenue for those teams and for the Big 12.  I am to the point where I am ready for an answer. June 3 cannot come soon enough.

Hopefully after these meetings there won’t be talk about expanding, or not expanding, for a while.  Hopefully the solution they come up with will be set in stone for a while and hopefully the majority of the people and schools will agree.

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The 2016 Quarterbacks of the Big 12

Quarterbacks are extremely important when it comes to football. The Big 12 has had some powerhouse quarterbacks throughout the years. The quick explosive offenses the Big 12 has been known for are highlighted by the quarterbacks that have gone through the league throughout the years. It looks like this year will be no exception, especially with a lot of high-powered quarterbacks returning for Big 12 teams.

The main returning quarterbacks that will make a big impact in the Big 12 this season are Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Baylor’s Seth Russell, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. West Virginia has its quarterback, Skyler Howard, who was the number five quarterback in the league in passing yards per game. Howard threw for 3,145 yards and 26 scores. Iowa State also has its quarterback position filled with Joel Lanning, but Zep Noland looks like he could also compete for the starting job. These two quarterbacks might not have as huge of an impact in the Big 12 this season, but it is nice that their teams won’t have to worry about filling that position.

The rest of the Big 12 schools are still questioning who their starting quarterback is going to be. The main question for Texas is what quarterback will fit into the offensive scheme of the new offensive coordinator. There are three options for Texas with Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and true freshman Shan Buechele.

TCU has to replace its biggest play maker in Trevone Boykin. Quarterback Bram Kohlhausen made a huge impact in the Alamo Bowl at the end of the season, but unfortunately he graduated after that game. Now the battle of quarterbacks consists of Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill and former four-star recruit Foster Sawyer. It will be a big battle, and it will be very interesting to see who Gary Patterson will chose to start the first game.

Kansas State is the next team in the Big 12 that has questions about its starting quarterback. Luckily for the Wildcats there is no shortage of choices for people who play that position. Last year the Wildcats caught some bad beaks with injuries and sickness. This year the Wildcats return Jesse Ertz from his ACL injury, co-starter Joe Hubner, red shirt freshman Alex Delton and top recruit Skylar Thompson. I could see Coach Snyder waiting until the day before the first game to announce who he will pick to start at quarterback for the Wildcats.

The Kansas Jayhawks are the last team that still doesn’t know who their starting quarterback is going to be this season. The Jayhawks have more questions that that though.  KU has to choose between Montell Cozart, Ryan Willis and Tyriek Starks. Both Cozart and Willis played last season but neither quarterback really stood out. Willis is a better quarterback when it comes to David Beaty’s air raid offense. Willis did get hurt this sprig playing basketball, but they are hoping he is 100% by fall. Starks was offered a scholarship even though Kansas was set for this season. The Jayhawks staff did not want to pass this opportunity up, even though their scholarships are limited. IT will be interesting to see who Beaty will choose to start the season, but it probably won’t be the same person that finishes at quarterback for the Jayhawks.

 

Image: Google