Tag Archives: Louisville

Overcoming Our Fear of College Baseball

Super Regionals are this weekend.  More of us should be tuning in than will be and I think that’s because we don’t know what we’re watching.  We don’t know what to be looking for.  Essentially, we don’t know how to enjoy college baseball.

Taking a look at our relationship with college basketball helps to illustrate my point.  Many people’s biggest beef with March Madness is that no one really knows who most of the teams are because we don’t watch the regular season.  Well, baseball has many more games and much less, almost no coverage on ESPN for you to stumble upon.

Generally speaking, we have zero idea what’s going on in the college baseball world until mid-June.  Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to care deeply about the eight teams that have made it to the College World Series?

Which is hosted in Omaha, Nebraska, by the way.  Not that it’s not a nice place.  I’ve never been there myself actually, but I have heard nice things.  It’s just not what you’d exactly call a vacation destination.  That fact, however driven by perception it may be, exists all the same and does the CWS no favors with potential casual fans.

How It Works

So what exactly are we watching?  How does this tournament work?  Here’s a look:

Regionals are the first round, which happened last week.  64 teams are broken into 16 groups of four.  Those groups play a double elimination tournament until one team is left standing in each region.

That brings us to where we are now, the super regionals.  16 teams remain.  They’re broken up into eight pairs and now it’s a best of three series, starting this Friday.  Win twice and you’ve made it to Omaha and the College World Series.

Once there, the eight teams play another double elimination tournament until two are left.  Those two then play a best of three championship series.

Who We’re Watching

Oregon State is the prohibitive favorite, carrying with it an astounding 52-4 record this season.  Vanderbilt is the unlucky team that will face the Beavers.  The Commodores beat #21 Clemson twice at its own field to win the regional last week.  OSU’s lefty Luke Heimlich has a chance at being selected in the first round of this summer’s MLB draft.

The only team hosting a super regional that did not host a regional is Texas A&M.  To earn that distinction, the Aggies triumphed over that Baptist School in Waco, Texas, Iowa, and the host, Houston.  College Station will host because Davidson took down the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, twice last week to get here.  If you’re looking for a Cinderella, you’ve find her.  It’s Davidson.

#9 Long Beach State and #20 Cal State Fullerton square off to determine which school will represent the state of California in Omaha.  Fullerton beat their host #8 Stanford twice to advance from regionals.  The team affectionately known as the Dirtbags holds a 5-1 record in two series against Fullerton this season.

Louisville hosts Kentucky in an even bigger rivalry matchup.  With #7 and #11 in the latest D1Baseball.com Top 25, this is the most intriguing series, on paper, heading into the weekend.  The Cards and the Cats split a pair of separate meetings during the regular season.  Louisville lefty Brendan McKay is the consensus #2 draft prospect.

Sam Houston State took the long route to the super regionals, having played five games in the previous round.  With their backs against the wall, the Bearkats won three straight games in two days, including two over host Texas Tech, to earn this spot.  Their reward is a shot at #16 Florida State, which rebounded from losing the first game in its regional last week.

#6 TCU really had no trouble sweeping through its regional.  The Horned Frogs will play host to the #22 Bears of Missouri State, who snuck by Arkansas, winning two of three one-run games between the two sides last weekend.  Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger has scouts excited about his future.

It’s an SEC affair with #17 Mississippi State traveling to #3 LSU.  The Tigers won their three games by a combined 18 runs, while the Bulldogs beat their in-state rival, #10 Southern Miss, twice on Monday to advance.  LSU’s Alex Lange is another top prospect to look out for.

If you pay attention to such things, you’ll notice that six of the 16 teams left are members of the SEC.  It must mean more down there or something.  That sixth SEC representative is Florida.  The #4 Gators welcome in #14 Wake Forest.  Florida’s 6’5” pitcher Alex Faedo has been getting a lot of mention as a potential top ten pick.

So, there’s a bit of info that will hopefully spark your interest and get you to check some of these games out.  The best part is there are games on all weekend long.  With start times of noon, three, six, and nine, you’ll have at least one game to watch basically all day long for three days straight.  Saturday is even better, with two games in each of those four time slots.  And if any of these series are tied after two games, we get even more games on Sunday and Monday.

Join me in flipping on the ESPNs this weekend as we get ready for the College World Series.  Doing so will help us all with our apparent fear of college baseball.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

College Football Needs Charlie Strong To Succeed At Texas

The Charlie Strong era at the University of Texas hasn’t gotten off to the start he had hoped for, but the rest of college football should be hoping that he rights the ship soon.

With many of the traditional football powerhouses down in recent years (I’m talking about you Florida, Michigan, USC and Texas), college football just hasn’t been the same. Is it just a coincidence that when those power programs have been down, there has really only been one single dominant conference?

There has been a little more parity in the sport over the past couple of seasons, but I’ll explain why Texas is the team that must get back on track soon.

Texas is the richest and most influential college program in the country. Fans either love them or hate them. There aren’t many people that don’t have an opinion on them. When Texas was good, you had Mack Brown at the helm and he was just as good at politicking as he was at coaching. He created an empire at Texas, which eventually led to the creation of the Longhorn Network. Since Texas lost the 2009 BCS National Championship to Alabama, Texas has been on a downward spiral.

Enter Charlie Strong. Strong made a statement when he was hired in 2014, by releasing multiple players from scholarships and suspending a handful of other players. He wasn’t shy about whom he cut, either. Many of them were starters the previous year.

His actions caused shockwaves throughout the program and through the national media. It was, and still is, clear that Strong will not sacrifice integrity in order to win. The trend continued through the season as we saw other players get released due to violations of team rules. Again, Strong was not afraid of distractions to his team. He was more focused on getting rid of the cancer rather than overlook it.

Texas finished the season 6-7 with an embarrassing bowl game loss to Arkansas. The Longhorns were sitting at 1-4 heading into the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma this season. They didn’t stand a chance.

When the players realized that their coach’s job was on the line, we saw how talented they really are. We saw players play out of respect for their coach, even though many of them lost their friends from the team when they got released. Texas dominated Oklahoma. This says a lot about a coach when there are typically a lot of shady things that go on in many programs.

Texas being in the national championship discussion is not only good for the state, but it’s good for college football as well. Charlie Strong is building his program with a foundation of ethics, which is rare nowadays. In fact, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even met with Strong about his program last year to get a sense of his five core values that he bases his program on. Love or hate the Longhorns, you have to appreciate what Strong is doing as a college football fan.

Scandals can mar a program. Many coaches will overlook or brush off accusations, especially if they are against their star players. The Joe Paterno saga is a perfect example. Not Strong and not Texas.

If Strong is able to turn the Texas program around and contend for championships again, there needs to be an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary written about it. It is the ultimate story of a relatively unknown coach to the state, being the first African American head coach at the school, not being admired by some big-name donors and still able to make it happen.

On the field, Texas being back to prominence will likely make others rise to the top. We’ve seen Michigan and Florida start trending upward. Once it happens with Texas, we could see a lot more power programs start to rise.

Off the field, there probably wouldn’t be a better story of building a championship team with a bare cupboard. The trickle-down effect could go all the way to the high school ranks because of the respect that the coaches have for Strong.

If Texas cuts ties with Strong too soon, it will send a wrong message to the fans of the program and the sport in general. Strong is more concerned with building a team of character before he can win. Texas fans and boosters will get antsy if their team finishes with another losing record this season, but they have to give him time.

Once Texas starts winning again, so will the rest of college football.

East Region Notebook: Will the Real Mr. March Please Stand Up

The East’s portion of the Elite 8 is set and it is fitting who the participants are. Louisville and Michigan St will play for the right to go to the Final Four. It is fitting that Michigan St is in this game because Tom Izzo is considered to be Mr. March. Louisville, on the other hand, is led by Rick Pitino who may very well be Mr. March himself.

Michigan St had to fight their way from behind against Oklahoma. The Spartans found themselves playing from behind for much of the game and finally took a lead of their own with under 10 minutes to play in the game. With Travis Trice leading the way, the Spartans edged out the Sooners with a final score of 62-58. Tom Izzo performed his usual late season masterful job in getting the Spartans to play their best basketball when it counted.

Louisville was in a battle of their own against NC State. This was not the same type of battle that Michigan St and Oklahoma played. There was always the sense that Michigan St would pull their game out. However, the two teams were considered to be evenly matched. In the Louisville game, I never sensed that NC State truly belonged in the game and it was simply a matter of time before Louisville peeled away.

Now for giving Pitino his due. Louisville was solid this year but had to work through issues. Check this tweet out from Doug Gottlieb.

The cutting of the point guard is the real meat of Gottlieb’s statement. Pitino was not afraid to cut ties with a primary player, Chris Jones, at a point in the season when having all hands on deck mattered most. Quentin Snider replaced Jones had has been nothing short of masterful running the show for Pitino. His statistical contributions have been top notch and I could list them all out. But all you or anyone else needs to know is that Snider’s increased role has not proved to be a distraction.

Pitino has historically been at his best when it matters most. His overall record in Sweet 16 games is 12-1 and is 6-1 in Sweet 16 games with Louisville. The man has been to 4 Final Fours, 4 Elite Eights, has been the NCAA Runner-up 1 time and NCAA Champion 2 times.

Izzo is given wide spread respect nationally and deservedly so, but Pitino’s record is just as good if not superior. It’s time to give Pitino his due. He is Mr. March.

*feature image courtesy of lexpatriates.wordpress.com

NCAA Tournament: East Region, Day 2

The Beast Of the East turned out to be not so beastly. Villanova seemed to have everyone’s love and then they ran into 8 seed NC State. I had a front row seat on the Nova bandwagon and was just kind of “meh” with NC State. Nova was a team that I considered to be one of the most offensively versatile in the tournament and NC State had to dig out of a hole against LSU. You know the saying, Any Given Sunday. Nova ran into Any Given Saturday.

Michigan St should be expected to be in any game played in March as long as Izzo is their coach. Their game against Virginia was not the exception. Virginia had a great season, but they never truly impressed me. My thought going into the tournament was that they were the second most vulnerable 2 seed behind Kansas. And then they ran into Izzo in March. This Spartan team is poised for at least an Elite 8 run at this point.

Kudos to both Louisville and Oklahoma for taking care of business. Dayton was poised to be this year’s Cinderella and Oklahoma made sure that their clock struck midnight. Lon Kruger has made a Sweet 16 with four different programs. Coaching plus talent is always a deadly combination. Louisville took out a hard nosed Northern Iowa team. Teams that sleep on Missouri Valley teams (ahem…Kansas) tend to regret it. Coach Pitino had his team ready to go and Louisville lives to see another day.

The East Region teams that move to the Sweet 16 are NC State, Louisville , Oklahoma and Michigan St.

The Seminoles need to begin games the way they’re ending them

Earth to Florida State… If you play with fire, you will eventually get burned. The Florida State Seminoles have trailed at halftime in 5 of their previous 8 games, with a few of them being a couple of possession games. While it is encouraging that this team has repeatedly been able to overcome these deficits, this is not a formula that consistently gets you victories. Nor is it a formula that will impress the playoff committee, proven by the #3 ranking that the Seminoles currently hold.

This season for Florida State, other than their record, has been the polar opposite of last season. Last season, the Seminoles won by an average of 41 points, with Jameis Winston coming off the field in the 3rd quarter in most games. This season, there have been four games that have been decided by one possession. This isn’t a damning thing to the Seminoles, just not ideal. The reality is that it doesn’t matter how the Seminoles win, they just need to continue to win, which I don’t believe will be a problem until the playoffs begin. However, once the playoffs begin, if the Seminoles continue their season long trend of surrendering halftime leads to the opponent, the Seminoles will get burned.

I won’t sugarcoat it, the Seminoles haven’t had a particularly tough schedule this season, so while these comeback wins show an impressive unity and character with this team, it’s not like these comeback wins have been against impressive teams. If the Seminoles are losing to a team like Alabama, Oregon, Mississippi State, or the other playoff contenders, the Seminoles won’t be able to simply flip the “Play Good” switch as easily as they have been able to against teams like Louisville, NC State and Miami. However, like a said earlier, this is not all negative. Last season the Seminoles never had a game up to the National Championship game where their backs were up against the wall like this season. When the Seminoles went down early to Auburn in that game, Seminoles fans weren’t sure how the Noles were going to respond, specifically because the Noles had no experience in games like these last year. This year, we know how Florida State will respond to adversity, but once again, if they keep playing with fire, they will eventually get burned.

To this point we know how the Seminoles will play in the second half of games, Jameis Winston will show up to play, their defense won’t consistently miss assignments and the overall team will play more aggressive, the Seminoles just need to get their act together in the first half of games. So, Earth to Florida State… Stop playing with fire!

FSU’s Season Far From Over

After knocking off every opponent that was deemed able to beat the Seminoles before the season started, most people believe that an undefeated season for the Noles is inevitable. While it is true that the opponents left on the Noles schedule are relatively weak, the Seminoles can’t afford to take their foot off of the gas pedal.

The Noles, in multiple games this season, have had some very poor starts to games, have allowed lesser teams to take games to the finish, and at times haven’t looked like a team that has beat Notre Dame, Clemson and Louisville.

If the Seminoles take an approach to these upcoming games in which they believe they will win no matter what, the Seminoles could be in trouble, especially with two in-state rivals remaining on their schedule.

The Seminoles remain unbeaten at 8-0, with only four games remaining, not including the ACC Championship. In the ACC Championship, it looks as if the Noles will play either Duke, or Georgia Tech, neither of which would be a statement win for the Seminoles.

Long story short, the Seminoles absolutely can’t lose.

At this point in the season, if the Seminoles were to lose, they would probably drop significantly due to their relatively weak schedule and wouldn’t have any games left on their schedule that could make them jump in the rankings. Of course, rivalry games against Miami and Florida mean a little bit more in terms of having a quality win, but no one looks at either team and considers them a particularly good team.

Consider Mississippi State’s position. They are also 8-0 and sit one spot ahead of the Noles at #1. However, Mississippi State has two top 12 teams remaining on their schedule, not including an SEC Championship. If they were to lose a game to a cupcake team or even against Alabama in two weeks, they would still have a couple of chances to make a statement and potentially stay amongst the top four teams.

Florida State doesn’t have that luxury. Florida State’s time to lose (if there ever is a time to lose) would have been at the beginning of the season in similar fashion to Oregon.

Oregon doesn’t have a particularly hard schedule either, but lost at the beginning of the season, and thus have had enough time to climb back into the top four.

Florida State needs to just win out, that’s all that they need to do. It doesn’t matter if they win each game by 1 point, they just need to win out and they are in the playoffs. I just hope that this team doesn’t consider their season over, because it’s not.

The Seminoles next game is this Saturday at 6:30 versus the Virginia Cavaliers.

Syracuse Aims To Turn Season Around

As we’ve all seen, the first half of the 2014 season did not go according to plan for the Syracuse football team. The Orange were supposed to start the season 3-0 and then have three cracks at pulling off an upset against a top-25 caliber team before finding a much more manageable schedule the second half of the season. Instead, Syracuse was fortunate to start the season 2-0, failed to capitalize on an opportunity to go 3-0 with a disappointing home loss to Maryland, and didn’t come close to pulling off an upset against Notre Dame, Louisville, or Florida State. That poor start has put the Orange in a difficult position with regard to reaching its fourth bowl game in five years.
However, the past two weeks there have been signs that Syracuse is starting to turn things around. Somehow, the Orange managed to play their best football of the season in a loss to Florida State, who at the time was ranked first in the country. Despite an 18-point loss, Syracuse was able to take plenty of positives out of the game, as they were far more competitive with Florida State than they were a year ago. The Orange followed that up with a convincing road win against Wake Forest to snap a four-game losing streak and give Syracuse some much-needed momentum to kickoff the second half of the season.
The biggest reason why Syracuse may be ready to turn their season around is the improved play of the offense the past two weeks. The Orange offense was erratic and unreliable the first month of the season, and they hit rock bottom with a six-point performance against Louisville, which was also the game in which Syracuse lost quarterback Terrel Hunt for several weeks to a broken leg. A third straight loss, the injury to Hunt, and a midseason change in the offensive coordinator had the Orange offense in panic mode before they finally started to show signs of life.
The renewal of life from the Orange offense has come from three true freshmen: quarterback A.J. Long, wide receiver Steve Ishmael, and running back Ervin Phillips. Long has looked mature beyond his years as the team’s new starting quarterback, showing both confidence and play-making ability the past two weeks. Ishmael had six catches the first five games of the season, but has nine the past two weeks, including two touchdowns. Ishmael is clearly the most talented wide receiver on the Orange roster, and he and Long appear to have a great chemistry in the passing game. Finally, new offensive coordinator Tim Lester appears has tried to increase Phillips’ role in the offense, as he has flashed great skills and the potential to be a game changer.
Of course, the Syracuse defense continues to play well, as the Orange attempt to turn their season around. The Orange have been much better at playing bend-but-don’t-break defense in recent weeks, which has at least kept Syracuse within striking distance had the offense been more productive. More importantly, the Orange defense has continued to create turnovers, forcing two against Florida State, while also being in position for at least two more, and then scoring two defensive touchdowns Wake Forest. If nothing else, the Syracuse defense should be able to keep the team competitive the second half of the season, and give the Orange a chance to win enough games to reach a bowl if the offense can continue to show improvement.
The schedule ahead is not quite as daunting as what Syracuse faced the first half of the season, but it’s certainly challenging. Among road trips to Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, as well as home games against N.C. State and Duke, the Orange need to find at least three wins. Based on the play of the Orange thus far, all of those games are at best a toss-up, if not games in which Syracuse will be an underdog. That’s a tall task, but Syracuse has overcome slow starts in previous years and managed to reach a bowl game. With the team’s four-game losing streak over, and the offense showing signs of life the past two weeks, there is a glimmer of hope that Syracuse can get things turned all the way around and find themselves in a bowl game in 2014.

A Must Win Game for Florida State

This weekend, the #2 Florida State Seminoles play the #5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Doak Campbell Stadium, and with the lack of quality opponents on Florida State’s schedule, the rest of the Seminoles season hinges entirely on the outcome of this game.
As I’m sure every Florida State fan is aware of, the Seminoles don’t have a very strong schedule this year. With the only other two ranked opponents on the Noles schedule besides Notre Dame already in the rear view mirror, this game will be one of the last chances for Florida State to come out and make a statement. Adding to this, in the previous two opportunities that Florida State has had to make a statement against a quality opponent in Oklahoma State and Clemson, the Seminoles were not very convincing. If the Seminoles want to make everyone believe that they are the real deal, and don’t want to be on the outside looking in to the playoff picture, this is a must win game. If the Seminoles were to lose this game, they don’t have the comfort in knowing they have other chances to redeem themselves against a high quality opponent, unless there in an ACC team that reels off some wins to make the ACC championship a compelling match up. After Notre Dame, the Seminoles play Louisville, Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida, none of which are currently ranked, or especially talented. If the Seminoles play the football that they are capable of, and win this game, then they will have a good chance of regaining the #1 position in college football, and will remind everyone why they were favorites to repeat coming into the season. The outcome of this game will make everyone watching either believe that the Seminoles are the best team in the country, or believe that they are not who we thought they were when the season started.
The preseason #1 ranked Seminoles have experienced multiple bumps in the road so far this season, including a lot of trouble surrounding star QB Jameis Winston off of the field, and numerous injuries occurring to vital players on both sides of the ball. As a result, the Seminoles haven’t exactly lived up to the expectations that were set out for them prior to the season starting. The Seminoles have sputtered against every opponent they have played except Wake Forest, specifically having trouble against Oklahoma State and NC State. Not to mention the game against Clemson where an inexcusable fumble by Clemson late in the 4th quarter basically lost Clemson the game. Now, after the great start to the season that Mississippi State has had, the Seminoles find themselves ranked #2 for the first time all season.
I believe that the Seminoles are completely aware of the stakes of this game, and will be extra motivated by the fact that they were moved down to the #2 spot in the rankings. These Seminoles are tired of hearing all of the distractions that have been surrounding Jameis Winston, tired of hearing all of the doubts surrounding whether or not this team has what it takes to stop a mobile quarterback and most specifically are tired of hearing that they aren’t the best team in the country.

Playoff Positioning: Conference Edition

At the beginning of the year everyone had their own picks for what teams would make this year’s playoff. No matter the teams, most people had the same general feel for what conferences would get in. Florida State from the ACC, the SEC champ, the Pac-12 champ (mostly Oregon or UCLA) would get bids, and the remaining spot would go to the Big 12 or Big 10 champ. We figured there would be a little debate over that final spot considering there would be five major conference champions and only four playoff spots.
Six weeks into the season and things are even more of a crap shoot than I and most others anticipated. Three of the most popular pre-season picks already have a loss with Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma going down this past weekend. One weekend dramatically increased the number of teams who now have realistic shots at making the playoff. But where do conferences stand as a whole? Certain conferences are now more at risk than before the season of not getting a team in the playoff. There were already only four spots for five major conferences, and three of those conference’s major contenders already have losses. Throw in Notre Dame who is undefeated and ranked in the Top 10 and that makes five conferences plus Notre Dame and only four spots. And this assumes only one team per conference. The possibility of crazy scenarios is slim, but would we be that shocked if two 1-loss SEC west teams made the playoff over a conference champion with multiple losses? I certainly wouldn’t.
So which conferences are in the most trouble currently? Here’s a conference shakedown about which ones should be most concerned at this stage. We’ll have a better idea of where conferences stand in a few weeks when the playoff committee releases their initial standings but one thing is clear about this college football season: Expect insanity.
The SEC is the conference that should be least concerned and is surprising to absolutely no one. Some may think the conference is even better this year because of Ole Miss and Mississippi State’s play and subsequent rise in the rankings, but I think the conference is just as good as it has been (not too shabby). LSU is down as well as the whole SEC East so that offsets the SEC West gauntlet, but the conference is still the best in the country. The Auburn/Mississippi State winner will be the leader in the clubhouse but even a two loss SEC champ from the West would be worthy with multiple wins over the Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M group.
Notre Dame
I think Notre Dame is actually the team in the best spot at this point. They do have a few tough games remaining, but they don’t have to face brutal Pac-12/SEC schedules the rest of the way and don’t have being in a weak conference hanging over their head like the Big 10 and ACC winners will. Notre Dame’s biggest test comes next week when they play at Florida State. After that the schedule consists of Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville, and USC. Playing at the Sun Devils will be tough, but I think Notre Dame’s defense can stop Arizona State’s offense more than the other way around. The Irish’s season will come down to that game at USC, and we have all seen how inconsistent the Trojans are this year. The Irish don’t even have to win at Florida State. If they go 11-1 with their only loss in Tallahassee against the defending champs, it’s going to be nearly impossible to leave them out of the playoff.
The ACC is the simplest of conferences to assess. If Florida State loses a couple of times the ACC isn’t getting anyone in the playoff. That seems unlikely since outside of Notre Dame the Seminoles’ toughest games are on the road against Louisville, Miami (Fl.), and Syracuse. Not exactly the SEC West. Chances are Florida State will go undefeated. Even if they lose to Notre Dame, if they go 12-1 and win the ACC a single loss to an 11-1/12-0 Irish team won’t be enough to keep them out.
Big 12
The Big 12 is in a better position now than it was heading into the season. The Pac-12’s struggles obviously help. And even though front-runner Oklahoma lost, TCU’s win will help the conference as a whole. Going into the year Baylor and Oklahoma had a small margin for error since it was viewed as just them and a bunch of decent not great teams. TCU’s play gives the conference another really good team and another chance at a high quality win. If either of those three go 11-1, their resume will look pretty good with at least one win over a team from that trio. If a team outside of them somehow wins the conference, they would obviously have a great shot having had to beat at least two teams out of Baylor, Oklahoma, and TCU. There’s one thing that could be fun for college football fans and terrifying for the selection committee. What if that trio of teams all goes 11-1 only losing to each other? How do you leave one, let alone two of those teams out?
Big 10 and Pac 12
That leaves the two conferences that are in the most trouble right now. The Big 10 is obviously down. Even if Michigan State wins out, their best wins would be over Nebraska twice and Ohio State. That in and of itself wouldn’t be the worst, but now their one loss to Oregon looks like it might not end up being as great of a loss as we thought at the time. Even if Oregon wins out, they’d make the playoff over the Spartans so Michigan State needs a lot of teams to start losing. They definitely need Notre Dame to because if the Irish make the playoff it will be hard for the Spartans to make it over two conference champions.
Things look bleak for the Pac-12 as well. It’s never a good weekend when your top two contenders both go down at home. Oregon and UCLA have shown some weaknesses in the past couple of weeks and right now it is hard to see either team winning out. They play this Saturday and the loser’s playoff chances are likely toast. Arizona has the best win so far but it is still unclear if they are more for real or if Oregon was overrated. The best chance for the Pac-12 (short of Arizona going undefeated) is for Oregon to win out and avenge their loss to Arizona in the conference championship game.
The 2014 season has already been full of excitement, and it is anyone’s guess who will escape the upsets and survive until the playoff. One thing is clear, the committee is going to have an impossible task, and I look forward to the heat they’ll inevitably take from crazed fan bases.

Syracuse Offense in Panic Mode

Five games into the season, the identity that the Syracuse football team has established is that of a solid defense capable of keeping the team in games and an insufferable offense that can’t get out of its own way. The Orange offense has been perpetually disappointing this season and is the sole reason why Syracuse has a 2-3 record and will have a difficult time qualifying for a bowl game in 2014.
In four of five games this season, the Syracuse offense has hurt itself with mental errors and been unable to capitalize on scoring chances. It started in the season opener when the Orange offensive line failed to push around an undersized Villanova front-7, which nearly cost Syracuse a game they could have easily lost. Against Maryland, Syracuse racked up nearly 600 yards of offense, but because the Orange struggled in the red zone, they lost a game they should have won by double digits. Against Notre Dame, the Syracuse defense forced five turnovers, but the Orange offense failed to turn those takeaways into points, costing them the game. In its most recent loss against Louisville, Syracuse had ample opportunities to score points, but penalties, dropped passes, and the inability to win at the line of scrimmage kept the Orange out of the end zone and forced the defense to spend too much time on the field, which eventually wore them down and cause the Orange to lose by an embarrassing margin.
There’s no viable reason for the Syracuse offense to be as bad as they’ve been this season. Outside of center Macky MacPherson and running back Jerome Smith, the Orange lost no offensive players of consequence from last year’s team. Syracuse has more than enough talent at running back to make up for the loss of Smith, while the return of four starters along the offensive line and the emergence of Omari Palmer and John Miller as starters should have been enough to make up for the absence of MacPherson. With so many returning players, as well as a few promising freshmen sprinkled into the mix, the Orange offense should have taken a considerable step forward this season, especially after appearing to hit their stride at the end of the 2013 season. Instead, the Syracuse offense has taken a monumental step backwards in 2014 and been one of the worst in the country among power-five teams; and now it looks like things will get worse before they get better.
On Monday, Syracuse found out that quarterback Terrel Hunt will miss at least four weeks with a broken leg, an injury that could keep him out the rest of the season. To be fair, Hunt has been a big part of the struggles of the Syracuse offense this season, but losing him is still a crushing blow for the Orange. Despite terrible accuracy throwing the ball and a slew of mental errors this season, Hunt is the best option at quarterback. He has 15 career starts under his belt, he’s a threat running the ball, and he’s surely capable of playing better and making better decisions than he has thus far. However, now he’s just another name on the injured list, leaving a trio of freshmen with little or no experience to lead what has been an abysmal offense.
In an attempt to jumpstart the offense, with or without Hunt, head coach Scott Shafer has decided to take away the play calling duties from George McDonald and make quarterbacks coach Tim Lester the new offensive coordinator. This is a move that reeks of desperation, but this is certainly a desperate time for the Syracuse offense. Obviously, something needs to change for the Syracuse offense, and since they can’t bring in new players mid-season or wave a magic wand and heal their injured players, changing the coach who’s calling the plays is one of the few changes that can actually be made, even if it’s merely change for the sake of change. Lester actually does have play calling experience, albeit at lower levels of college football, which is something McDonald didn’t have before coming to Syracuse. Lester has also worked closely with Syracuse backups Austin Wilson, A.J. Long, and Mitch Kimble, so he will have a good understanding of each player’s strength and weaknesses, as the Orange try to move forward without Hunt and still find a way to improve the performance of the offense.
Of course, regardless of who’s calling the plays or which players are injured, things are likely to get worse before they get better for the Orange offense with top-ranked Florida State coming to the Carrier Dome this week. Any change that Syracuse makes offensively will likely be fruitless against the Seminoles, but changes do need to be made for the sake of their season. Pulling off an upset over Florida State or Clemson is likely off the table, but Syracuse does have a handful of games left on the schedule against teams they are capable of beating, especially with the Orange defense playing well enough to keep the team in games. It’s now up to the Syracuse offense to get things turned around, give a hard-working defense some support, and give the Orange a fighting chance to make it to a bowl game.