Tag Archives: LSU

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

SEC Links: What’s Going On In The Southland?

“Way down in Alabama!” $1 to Wet Willie for their cover of the great Otis Redding’s ‘Shout Bamalama’. Down in Alabama things are happening on the SEC football front. Both Auburn and Alabama are wrapping up spring practice and turning their focus to the upcoming 2016 season. Yes in-deedy! You know how strong the SEC West is with two perennial powers, but should they actually be realigned to the SEC East?

Auburn’s A-Day game is tomorrow. The most pressing issue on the Plains is finding the right quarterback to run Gus Malzahn’s HUNH offense. Who will that person be? Will the spring game give Auburn fans any clue as to his identity?

In spite of the fast-paced, high octane offenses that are now wide ‘spread’ in the conference, defense is critical to a team’s success. Who is The SEC’s best defensive player?

Now how about the top player on offense?

Even if a team has a great offense and a sterling defense they have to put fannies in the seats, and with enormous HDTVs that is becoming more of a problem in the SEC and across the country. Or is it?

There are bound to be some big upsets this fall down south. That we know. But who will the underdogs topple?

You may or may not be familiar with the financial struggles the state of Louisiana has been experiencing. These monetary difficulties are having a direct impact on football in the Bayou State. Click here to see what LSU is up to in response to all this.

Louisiana politics. It’s always been crazy and colorful. Remember Huey Long, ole Kingfish? Things continue to lean toward insanity, on the political front, in Baton Rouge and it involves football. Check it out.

Well folks, there you have it. Your one-stop-shopping-spot for all things SEC. We’ll see you again next Friday! Y’all come!

Ranking the SEC Bowl Games of Importance

The satisfaction of reaching a bowl game varies among programs across the SEC and college football. Having the luxury to virtually prepare for next season with a postseason game to foreshadow is how some teams may approach the bowl season as in Auburn, LSU and Tennessee returning its starting quarterbacks for next season with a talented enough roster to make an impact. Other teams like Arkansas and Mississippi State look to provide a proper send off to two of the nation’s most efficient passers along with a couple of other all-conference performers.

The once dominant SEC, yes I used that in the past tense, has taken a step down this season with underperformance and the lack of big quarterback play. The conference usually hangs its hat on its successful bowl showing and looks to capitalize on some favorable matchups heading into the new year. Making the conference look good is one thing, but individually some teams need a good showing to help boost the program’s image or to continue to ride its success. Here is the breakdown of which games I view are most important to the programs and teams individually regarding the current status of the team.

#10. Tax Slayer Bowl: Georgia vs. Penn State

With the departure of Mark Richt and the absence of eventual head coach Kirby Smart, this game is really just something to enjoy on your New Year’s Day hangover. The Bulldogs still without all-conference runner Nick Chubb can reach the 10-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons. But yet, Bulldog fans wanted Richt out and the demands were met. Welcome to college football, folks!

Game Details: Jan. 2 at Noon EST on ESPN // Jacksonville, FL // EverBank Field

#9. Citrus Bowl: Florida vs. Michigan

Frankly, just getting to a mid-tier bowl in his first season as head coach, Jim McElwain has already had a successful inaugural season in Gainesville. With quarterback issues and an inconsistent offense, not much is expected from this Gator squad on New Year’s Day. Amazingly making it to the SEC Championship Game with 10 wins, the Gators have already reached its peak this season and getting to 11 wins is just a luxury. Having that opportunity alone tells you what a fine job McElwain has done this season or the lack of a strong East division or a little bit of both.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. EST on ABC // Orlando, FL // Orlando Citrus Bowl

#8. Sugar Bowl: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State

A pseudo fumble play essentially eliminated them from going to Atlanta for its first ever SEC title game appearance and the Rebels will settle for second place in the SEC with a Sugar Bowl berth. The game is important to many in the game but from an outsiders’ perspective the game will just be entertaining to watch as we know the program is in good hands with or without a win here. One thing is for certain though: NFL scouts will be aplenty.Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.14.13 PM

Game Details: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // New Orleans, LA // Mercedes Benz Super Dome

#7. Liberty Bowl: Arkansas vs. Kansas State

Having won its past two bowl games versus the Big 12, the Razorbacks are prone to having hot finishes as of late. The key to ending this game with a win is to carry the victory over to next season. Arkansas dominated a declining Texas squad a season ago, but failed to keep the momentum into the 2015 season. The importance of this game is to win, but to also deliver a bright spot to the 2016 season without Brandon Allen.

Game Details: Jan. 2 at 3:20 p.m. EST on ESPN // Memphis, TN // Liberty Bowl

#6. Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs. NC State

Mississippi State was picked to finish last in the always highly competitive West division in the preseason and managed to come away with eight wins. Finding a way to get to eight wins was huge for this program and compliments Dan Mullen’s ability to hang in there with some of the top teams in the division. With Mullen’s name being tossed around for some coaching jobs it’s unsure to note how comfortable Mullen is staying in Starkville for a longer period of time. I’m guessing a win here sure would help. Oh, and we’ll miss you Dak!

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN // Charlotte, NC // Bank of America Stadium

#5. Texas Bowl: LSU vs. Texas Tech

Pretty much having to “rehire” Les Miles as its head coach, LSU has the opportunity to get to nine wins in what has been a very interesting and lopsided season. With a win here, it gives LSU officials that doubted the direction of the program the chance to not say, “I told you so,” with a loss here motivating that comment. Regardless, LSU has the opportunity to capitalize on its impressive amount of bowl victories in its history currently at 23 wins.

Game Details: Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN // Houston, TX // NRG Stadium

#4. Outback Bowl: Tennessee vs. Northwestern

What more positive things can we say about this Tennessee program with Butch Jones? We’ve tried to embrace the new culture but the wins and intensity has yet to stick. Jones isn’t on his way out, but if an unattractive loss came to the Big Ten’s Vanderbilt, there will be some heavy heat on the program heading into 2016, but I don’t have to warn you about that happening.

Game Details: Jan. 1 at Noon EST on ESPN 2 // Tampa, FL // Raymond James Stadium

#3. Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.29.28 PMThe offensive schemes in this matchup of Kevin Sumlin and Bobby Petrino are intriguing enough without whatever is going on in College Station at the moment. First off, the Aggies are going to have to find a quarterback to start the game and Sumlin will need to find a way to distract viewers and followers from the dark cloud looming over the campus. A win would of course help the rumors and exaggerations from spreading even further.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN // Nashville, TN // Nissan Stadium

#2. Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis

The punishment of finishing with an underwhelming 6-6 record is a bus ride two hours up the road to take on the number one rated NFL draft quarterback Paxton Lynch (good luck with that). Gus Malzahn is 0-2 in bowl games at Auburn and both losses have come when failing to hold fourth quarter leads. Malzahn’s seat is getting warm and another bowl loss, even without much of a defensive staff, would be an extremely disappointing outcome and would create some murmurs throughout the fan base.

Game Details: Dec. 30 at Noon EST on ESPN // Birmingham, AL // Legion Field

#1. Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State

We knew Alabama would get here somehow to be the lone team to represent the SEC. The importance of this game falls on the shoulders of the SEC and the Alabama program itself. The SEC’s stance on this game is hoping to at least have Alabama win for a chance to win another national championship for the conference. As for Alabama, the loss to the later national champion Ohio State did not settle well in Tuscaloosa and if the Tide were going to drop another, I imagine there would be some uncomfortable feelings toward the football program.

Game Details: Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN // Dallas/Arlington, TX // AT&T Stadium

Who Should Irish Fans Root For?

UPDATED 11/11

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s that time of year again.

Tuesday night the College Football Playoff Committee released their second Top 25 poll of the season. Now before you read any further, let me remind you that all of this is extremely fluid and is subject to change from week to week. For instance, Ohio State, last year’s eventual national champion was slotted at 16th in the opening poll of the season. Much can change between now and December 31st when the semi-final games are slated to be played.

With all of that said, Irish fans have to be extremely happy with the results that were revealed on November 10.

Notre Dame came in at fourth, the final spot of the playoff.

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The high ranking does hold some weight however. Common thought would be that if Notre Dame is able to win their remaining four games they will not be held out of the Final Four. This is due to the fact that Notre Dame has a resume building win remaining on the schedule at Stanford, and some of the other teams may take care of themselves.

Left in the season are a few elimination games, or at least games that have the potential to strongly affect the Final Four.

Among these are  many of the remaining Big 12 games, a possible matchup between an undefeated #3 Ohio State and an undefeated #5 Iowa in the B1G Championship Game, and Notre Dame’s late season trip to Palo Alto.

Last weekend, LSU was stomped in Tuscaloosa by the Crimson Tide. This caused LSU to fall out of the playoff picture for the time being, and Alabama sliding into the #2 spot that the Tigers briefly held. This, along with another Ole Miss loss, allows Alabama to control their own destiny on the way to an SEC Title Game.

 

Irish fans should root for:

Nov 8, 2014; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver DeAndrew White (2) catches a touchdown over LSU Tigers safety Jalen Mills (28) during the overtime of a game at Tiger Stadium. Alabama defeated LSU 20-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

 

With Alabama controlling their own destiny, and appearing to have a firm grip on a spot in the playoff, the best chance for a Crimson Tide loss would be this weekend in Starkville against Mississippi State, or in an eventual SEC Championship Game against the Florida Gators. Irish fans should be pulling for the Bulldogs and possibly the Gators as well. Although if Florida runs the table and wins the SEC, I would expect to see them garner a spot in the Final Four. As I said earlier I would be surprised if a two loss team would make the Final Four, but if it does happen, my money would be on it being Alabama.

The Big 12 is currently on the outside looking in as well. Baylor and Oklahoma State are both currently unbeaten, but find themselves sitting at six and eight, respectively. These two programs have played relatively weak schedules thus far, and also don’t play defense really well, if at all. The Cowboys do play much better defense than Baylor, but it is still nothing to write home about. That is just the way of life in the Big 12, and I think that the committee takes offense to that in their rankings. These two teams will square off on November 21st. It is very possible that Baylor could fall this week against the Oklahoma Sooners, a team that already has a loss. The Sooners lone hiccup is to Texas in the Red River Rivalry.

 

Irish fans should root for:

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Oklahoma to win out. This would leave Oklahoma as the one loss Big 12 champion. It just so happens that the Sooners loss would come to a team that Notre Dame beat by 35 points. If there would be an undefeated team left out, my money would be on it coming out of the Big 12.

The Big Ten, or B1G as the cool kids call it these days, has two teams in the top ten in Ohio State (3) and  Iowa (5). Yes, neither of them have been beaten thus far, but both have failed to notch an impressive win thus far.  The Buckeyes have looked extremely average in a few of their games, but they have looked like a top team in a few others. Iowa has played well, however their best win is due to a last second, 57-yard field goal over currently unranked Pitt. A good win, but not a marquee one per se.

 

Irish fans should root for:

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This scenario became a little clearer this past weekend with the loss of Michigan State to Nebraska. The hope is still for Michigan to win the conference, but now that is a little more likely to happen. If Ohio State can manage to defeat Illinois and Michigan State, and Michigan beats Indiana and Penn State, then that would set up a de facto B1G East Title Game on November 28 at the Big House between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. Irish fans would be pulling for Michigan to upset the Buckeyes and later defeat Iowa to win the B1G. I would be very surprised to see a two loss B1G team sneak into the Final Four.

Out west, teams in the Pac 12 have not done themselves many favors this season. Stanford is the highest ranked team in the conference at seven, up four spots from last week. They are followed by Utah at ten. Every team in the conference has at least one loss at this point in the season. The best chance for a Pac 12 representative in the Final Four would be Stanford winning out.

Irish fans should root for:

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Stanford to win the Pac 12 title, with a loss to Notre Dame along the way. Sounds simple enough, right? It also would not hurt if USC won out, coupled with a Utah loss to set up a Pac-12 title game between two teams that Notre Dame would have defeated, assuring a win over a Power 5 Champion.

In the ACC things are far less complicated for Notre Dame fans. Obviously, the lone Irish loss of the season came in Death Valley to the Clemson Tigers. The hope would be that Clemson is able to finish an undefeated regular season and win the ACC crown. This would ensure that the Tigers reach the Final Four, and likely give Notre Dame the best loss that anyone in the country has. I hate the term best loss, but it would be true in this case. Clemson has a key game against Florida State this weekend. It also wouldn’t hurt Notre Dame if Pitt wins the remainder of their games after their clash with Notre Dame.

 

Irish fans should root for:

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Clemson to win every game, and look good doing it, until a rematch in the semi-finals against the Irish.

Elsewhere, Notre Dame fans should also be rooting strongly for Navy and Temple to continue their winning ways and meet up in the AAC Title Game. Navy has SMU, Tulsa, and Houston left in AAC play, and then the traditional Army-Navy game would be played after a potential AAC Title Game. The Temple Owls have USF, Memphis, and UCONN left on their schedule. Each team should be ranked in each of their remaining games.

Ultimately, none of this matters if Notre Dame is not able to win their next three games. The remaining slate for Notre Dame is Wake Forest at home, Boston College at Fenway Park, and finally a trip to Palo Alto for a showdown with Stanford. If the Irish take care of business, they’ll be playing on New Year’s Eve.

Started From the…and Now We’re Here

Disappointing and surprise seasons come due to the rankings the teams are knighted with in the preseason. Fair or not fair that’s how college sports roll. The season is almost half over and many fans have already started the “next year’s team” talks. On the other hand, hopes and aspirations are still alive for some of the higher caliber programs along with some of the surprise teams that have suddenly came out of their shell; at least for now they have. Comparing the preseason expectations and how they have performed this season I break down each SEC team to see how they have stacked up against their preseason accolades or premature dismissals.

Alabama Crimson Tide (Preseason Rank: #3; Current Rank: #8)

The preseason buzz that surrounded the Tide this preseason focused on the quarterback competition and not only who was going to be awarded the job but if that quarterback can sustain the always high-caliber Crimson Tide. Though the team already has one loss on its playoff résumé, the Tide look to be in good hands from here on out finding consistent play at quarterback with both sides of the ball looking sharp in Athens last weekend.

 Arkansas Razorbacks (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Arkansas came into the 2015 season similar to last season’s billing as looking the part but not showing its improvement on its record. Opposed to last season, this season’s version has not looked improved dropping some key non-conference games to Toledo and Arkansas and not looking good in either showdown. Bret Bielema has been a big talk guy but when is it time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk? Time is running out.

Auburn Tigers (Preseason Rank: #6; Current Rank: NR)

One of the biggest letdowns in college football this season is the Auburn Tiger football team. Jeremy Johnson was in line to be the next big thing but has slipped out of the spotlight to find himself on the bench. The season has almost started anew with new quarterback Sean White and many defensive adjustments as the Tigers look to renew their once hyped 2015 season.

Florida Gators (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #11)

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Within the past ten years or so, first year head coaches have made immediate impacts at their respected school. With that said, the expectations for the Gators this season were not high as they were breaking in potentially a new starting quarterback with many personnel changes. Finding Florida ranked just outside the top ten is big for a program needing a spark and now are in the driver’s seat in a semi-weak eastern division.

Georgia Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: #9; Current Rank: #19)

It’s become a status quo for Georgia football starting the season as one the SEC and national favorites but find a way to slip up along the road in disappointing fashion. It’s not that Georgia was supposed to defeat Alabama – Georgia was favored to win – but losing by three touchdowns at home to a team that is still in the growing process on offense has left the Dogs in a weird but kind of expected season. The Mark Richt hot seat rumors have been ignited and it could be SEC championship or bust for the Bulldogs. What do you think?

Kentucky Wildcats (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Similar to Arkansas’ 2014 season outlook the record should not reflect the overall improvement from this Kentucky football team. Kentucky has improved mightily since Mark Stoops took over and each year we have seen the strides of getting better. Unfortunately the record has yet to be completely rejuvenated but with addition of new SEC talent the Wildcats are in good position for the future. The question is does the future begin next week or next year?

LSU Tigers (Preseason Rank: #14; Current Rank: #7)

Another SEC team that was flooded with quarterback questions before week one, LSU answered its problem without really addressing the issue directly not having to yet with a stud running back in Leonard Fournette. Doing exactly what is expected of them, the Tigers have grounded and pounded through the schedule so far and now jump into the heart of the SEC portion part of it.

Ole Miss Rebels (Preseason Rank: #17; Current Rank: #14)

Chad Kelly

The star-studded recruiting class became draft eligible week one and has hit on all cylinders for the most part. Going into Tuscaloosa and coming out with a win giving Hotty Toddy consecutive wins over the Tide set the tone for what could have been an unblemished season. Not coming away with a win from Gainesville is tough but having been completely shut down on offense is why I am currently cool on the Rebels.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

Having a historical season a year ago it was hard to predict how the Bulldogs would fare this season based on returning only nine starters from last year. State has performed right on par in where they were expected to be riding Dak Prescott’s back with key plays from the secondary. Seemingly being out of the conference race State can play spoiler throughout the rest of the season still claiming to be a solid all-around team.

Missouri Tigers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

There was a point of good, bad, and ugly the first few weeks of the Tigers’ season and hopefully it’s back to good now. Oddly enough benching Maty Mauk, with the suspension, may have been the best thing to happen for the Tigers after struggling to score points on offense on many occasions yet still sneaking by. Though still an impressive 4-1 the season has not looked as peachy as expected, but the Tigers look to be headed into the right direction with Drew Lock taking snaps from center.

South Carolina Gamecocks (Preseason Rank: NR, Current Rank: NR)

Yuck. That pretty much sums up what has been a rough year for the Gamecock fan base. Not having consistent quarterback play, heck, any consistent play has put Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in a really sticky situation heading forward with not much positives to throw out there right now.

Tennessee Volunteers (Preseason Rank: #24; Current Rank: NR)

After writing a column titled “Put Up or Shut Up” for Tennessee two weeks ago, I am disappointed and a little surprised in what Tennessee has put out in the past two weeks. Having the youthful roster still doesn’t suffice an excuse of underachieving some lofty preseason expectations. Tennessee has blown three games when being up by at least 13 points, which has unfortunately set the tone for the season. A big win over Georgia this weekend could really turn things around.

Texas A&M Aggies (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: #9)

Getty Images from Washington Post
Getty Images from Washington Post

Struggling on the defensive side of the ball since its inaugural year in the SEC, Texas A&M seems to finally have some identity on defense complementing its always high-scoring offense. Meshing these two together have given the Aggies a 5-0 record heading into Tuscaloosa next weekend off a bye.

Vanderbilt Commodores (Preseason Rank: NR; Current Rank: NR)

It’s a luxury if the football program is relevant in Nashville in any given season and just the norm when the team fails to reach bowl eligibility. This season hasn’t been a luxury, but it also hasn’t been a letdown either. Though to the naked eye the 2-3 record looks bad but holding their own versus conference foes Georgia and Ole Miss showing improvement slowly but surely.

Problems with the Playoff

I can’t pretend like the College Football Playoff didn’t make this season even more intriguing than normal. With the excitement building in the last few weeks of the regular season and culminating in the three playoff games themselves, it’s fair to say the long-awaited experiment was a success. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t found some design flaws. There is certainly room for improvement and that’s what I’m here to do.

Irrelevant weekly updates
First off, as Damien Bowman said a year ago, the actual College Football Playoff Rankings should not come out until after the final week of the season when everything is decided. What’s the point of releasing them weekly? Talking points. We’re going to tirelessly discuss the teams vying for the top spots regardless. Plenty of polls and opinions already exist. Leave it to them until you’re sure.

TCU went from five to three all the way down to six in the final three weeks of the season. All they did was win the ballgames on their schedule (I’ll address this separate issue later on). In turn, they were given false hope and punished. Eliminating the Playoff Rankings until the regular season is over will rid us of that ever happening again.

The role of conference championships
This is more of a conference alignment thing but my next point is that the Big 12 got screwed because it lacks a championship game. I do think a round robin approach is ideal, but if every other conference has a title game then you’re hurting yourself by not having one too. I think ultimately the committee couldn’t decide between Baylor and TCU, so they didn’t. Instead they chose Ohio State to be the fourth team in.

Now, some people will say Baylor is clearly the better team because they won the head-to-head matchup. Others will argue that was a dramatic comeback win on a last-second field goal in Baylor’s own stadium that happened half a season ago. The point is that a rematch would’ve settled the score, and the Big 12 wouldn’t have gotten shutout of the playoff.

The fix is simple. Either, add two (or more) teams (Boise State, BYU, Houston, Louisiana Tech?) or make sure your proposal to change NCAA rules gets through so you can keep your cute, little 10-team league.

The SEC showed exactly what’s wrong with the divisional approach to conference play. The West was ridiculously more difficult to navigate than the East was this season. Missouri won the East and earned their rightful spot in the championship game, but they got lucky by drawing Arkansas and Texas A&M as their inter-divisional opponents for this season. They avoided Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, and LSU. It would be gracious of you to write them down for more than one win out of those five.

This is why the divisional format is troubling. The two best teams in the conference don’t always meet up at the end. Unfortunately, in a 14-team conference not every team can play one another, unless you expand the regular season by a couple weeks (good luck with that). So, in the meantime let’s get rid of the fourth non-conference game that many SEC teams use as a glorified bye week midway through their tough schedule. Make them play one more conference foe to further sort out what the standings should look like come season’s end.

What about the little guys?
Remember the few seasons where it seemed like everyone became a Boise State fan just so we could see someone break the BCS and squeak into the national championship game as a little guy? Well, that never happened and now that we’ve got a four team playoff I really don’t see how it ever could.

Florida State had a hard enough time getting into the top four as an undefeated member of the ACC, and the defending national champs. How is Marshall supposed to have a chance at the playoff when the “Power 5” is halfway to autonomy? Boise State, at 20, was the one and only team from a “Group of 5” conference to be included in the committee’s final playoff rankings. Though they showed they definitely deserved it, they should consider themselves blessed to have gotten the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl.

8 > 4
This is a slippery slope but I think an eight team playoff would be far superior to the four team format we have now. Immediately some will complain about these kids playing in too many games and there not being enough time to play them all. Don’t even. All those players would love to suit up one more time. And surely we could eliminate the three week hiatus between the playoff announcement and the bowls.

An eight team playoff would look like this: the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC champions each receive an automatic bid. Even though I’m a little leery to do that, it’s almost certainly what would happen anyway. The remaining three spots would be at-large bids reserved for the next three most-deserving teams (smaller conference champs, big conference runner-ups, or teams in situations like Mississippi State, who didn’t get a shot).

The Peach, Orange, Fiesta, and Cotton Bowls would be your quarterfinals. The Rose and Sugar Bowls would be your semis. Then you could have your National Championship Game. You could still rotate between the six of them to spread the revenues around.

Wrap-up
In conclusion, I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten or overlooked. Please, add your own ideas. Praise me, call me an idiot and offer your own fix, anything. Getting a dialogue going is the only way to arrive at the best possible solution.

Think nobody’s listening and it’s pointless? Well, we finally got our playoff. Now that we’ve taken that daunting first step it’s time to take another.

Notre Dame & Malik Zaire’s Music City Marvel

Fresh off a big win against LSU in the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame heads into the off season with optimism at QB.
Can Malik Zaire be the QB to take the Irish to the Playoffs?

Going into the bowl game, I had mixed emotions and expectations. Of course I wanted to see my beloved Fighting Irish win but I also knew all the problems currently facing the team. Quarterback Everett Golson was a turnover machine, the defense was stretched thin and the Irish were coming off four straight losses with two of them being blowouts. The news got worse when you consider Notre Dame’s record in recent years against the SEC (particularly in big games) and hope and optimism was slightly hard to come by. All that skepticism turned to elation as Notre Dame arguably played their best game of the year and perhaps in turn found their new leader, Malik Zaire.

Music to my Ears

Heading into the bowl game, Brian Kelly announced the quarterback position was one of many that he declared to be “open” for competition. Upon hearing that, I felt like that decision was about a month or so too late. Golson had no competition and accountability (we will dive into Golson next week). It did not surprise me that when two days before the Music City Bowl, Brian Kelly announced Malik Zaire edged Everett Golson and would be the new starter.

Of course a part of me was nervous about Zaire getting his first start in a bowl game, but there was a quality about him I really liked, his attitude. Zaire thought he should have beat out Golson for the starting job back in August and he hung onto that feeling all season so when his time finally came, he had something to prove. During the final stretch of the year when Golson and the Irish were struggling and losing, the talk of a quarterback change naturally became louder and louder.

By the Numbers

Considering the opponent is one of the best defenses in the SEC, Zaire had a tremendous debut in the Music City Bowl. I wouldn’t call his start “flashy” by any sense of the imagination, but he took care of the football and made plays when it mattered. What else can you really ask of a first time starter? Let’s take a look at Zaire’s line: 12-15 passing for 96 yards and one touchdown and 22 rushing attempts for 96 yards and one touchdown.

The biggest statistic that jumps out is the one that is not listed, turnovers. No, I did not forget about it, but there were none. Imagine that, a team not turning the ball over and winning. Many times during the year Notre Dame would dig themselves a hole by turning the ball over many times during the game and invariably lose the game.

Final Thoughts

Needless to say, the win last week in the Music City Bowl for Notre Dame was a huge boost for the program. Not only did Notre Dame beat a vaulted SEC team (in SEC territory), but also Notre Dame might have found their new leader heading into the 2015 season. Golson will be back for sure and will no doubt challenge for the quarterback position but when you have two talented QBs competing for the starting job, the biggest winner is the rest of the team.

Photo Credit: Egwnd from Flickr via Creative Commons (Original image) License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode

Inconsistency dooms Longhorns against TCU

Several positives can be found in the first season of Charlie Strong’s regime as head coach of the Texas Longhorns, but inconsistent play in basically all phases of the game is one issue that has stood out during what is currently a 6-6 season heading into the bowl game.

Entering the Thanksgiving Day game at home against TCU, Texas had lots to be thankful for. A three-game winning streak against Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State – two of those contests on the road – had clinched bowl eligibility for the Longhorns, which was quite an accomplishment considering they started the season 2-4.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes had begun to take more control of the offensive huddle and was seemingly coming of age as a signal-caller despite several ill-advised throws that ended up halting potential scoring drives or wound up in the arms of defenders. The defense, which has been a strong point for Texas all season, had been playing lights out during the stretch. But that all changed when Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs got off the bus at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Turkey Day.

TCU could have looked past Texas because of the Longhorns record and rebuilding-mode status, but the Horned Frogs took control of the game from the outset and never let the home team back in. The Horned Frogs entered the match up in the fourth spot in the inaugural college football playoff bracket and definitely seemed ready to post a convincing win that could way the committee.

Consider that task mission accomplished, as TCU left Austin with a 48-10 victory. With the win, the Horned Frogs leaped over Florida State and into the third seed in the playoff rankings. TCU faces off with Iowa State on Saturday to finish out the regular season.

For Texas, the contest was a microcosm of the problems that have plagued Strong’s team throughout the 2014 campaign. Swoopes had an up and down effort against the Horned Frogs. He was Texas’ leading rusher with 61 yards on 15 carries, as Patterson’s defense focused mostly on controlling running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. In all, Texas only managed 90 rushing yards on 36 attempts. Gray was held without a yard on 11 totes.

Though Swoopes had some success on the ground, TCU’s secondary was able to take advantage of several poor throws that were a result of constant pressure from the defensive line and linebacking corps. The Horned Frogs picked off Swoopes four times, while yielding only one touchdown pass and 200 yards through the air.

The Longhorns’ defense didn’t fare any better than the offense did, as TCU managed 368 total yards, with 135 of those coming on the ground. Once the Horned Frogs opened up a 27-3 lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass by Trevone Boykin on the first play of the fourth quarter, the game was essentially decided.

Texas answered less than a minute later when Armanti Foreman broke free of the Horned Frogs defense for a 73-yard scoring pass, but TCU responded by scoring the final three touchdowns of the game to clinch the victory.

Though the Southeastern Conference gets tons of recognition as the best overall conference in the nation, Texas played one of the more difficult slates of any team in 2014. Five of the six losses this season came against teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25 of the college football playoff standings and the sixth team that defeated Texas – BYU – likely would be ranked if quarterback Taysom Hill hadn’t broken a leg against Utah State. Despite his absence, the Cougars are 8-4, with three of those losses coming right after Hill’s injury.

Early bowl projections have Texas locking horns with the LSU Tigers in the Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston, but rumors also have the SEC opponent being Arkansas or Texas A&M. Reports surfaced recently that the SEC doesn’t want to see Texas and Texas A&M face off in the bowl game because a potential loss by the Aggies would hurt their recruiting success of late, but fans on both sides of the historic rivalry want to see that game.

While it definitely would bring in loads of cash and ratings to both conferences, I tend to fall on the side that says the rivalry should die – at least for now. Later on down the line if officials decide to resume the match up, that’s fine by me, but both teams have a lot on their plate in the coming years. Texas opens next season at Notre Dame and will face California later in 2015, in addition to the nine conference games.

A&M officials have stated in statements to the media that the Aggies have a difficult enough schedule without adding another marquee match up, but I feel like in the end officials from both sides of the aisle will see the dollar signs and push to restart the rivalry.

Whichever way that domino may fall in the future, Aggie fans likely want to see Texas lining up across the field once again so us Longhorn fans can’t remind them anymore that Texas won the last meeting of the rivalry 27-25 at Kyle Field in 2011.

Who’s In and Who’s Out?

Boykin has led TCU into the Playoff conversation.
Boykin has led TCU into the Playoff conversation.

After another week of college football, one huge question remains.

Who is going to be the fourth team in the Playoff?

The top 4 for this week, as decided by the committee, are as follows. Mississippi State, Oregon, Florida State, and TCU, respectively. The first two put are Alabama and Arizona State. Yes, the same Arizona State Sun Devils who lost by almost 40 at home to UCLA earlier this season.

With Auburn’s loss, at home, to Texas A&M, they have moved down to the lower half of the top 10 and have all but ruined their destiny. They are the best 2-loss team, but 2 losses probably won’t get the Tigers into the playoff, unless they receive a ton of help.

TCU jumping over Alabama is a bit questioning for me, however. TCU has had an incredible run this season, but Alabama is in the SEC and has dominated recently. The Big 12 is not as credible, but is getting there with Baylor and TCU representing well in the top 10. Baylor beat TCU head-to-head, yet TCU is 3 spots ahead of the Bears. Alabama has one loss, to Ole Miss, and is just behind TCU.

Yes, Alabama shouldn’t be too worried because they control their own destiny and  play Mississippi State and Auburn to finish out the season, and if they win out they will clearly take over control of this Playoff bracket. Oregon jumping Florida State in another question mark, but of course the PAC 12 is far tougher than the lowly ACC, although that is not the Seminoles fault.

OK, time to take a deep breath. Bear with me here ladies and gentlemen.

If Alabama beats Mississippi State, TCU wins out, and Oregon wins out, than we have 3 teams locked into the bracket: Alabama, Oregon, and TCU. Then the big question would be who is that fourth team? Would it be Mississippi State, would it be Baylor who beat the Horned Frogs head-to-head, or could it an outside team such as Arizona State or Ohio State?

This weekend will have huge implications on the Playoff battle. Mississippi State travels to Tuscaloosa to take on the Crimson Tide, who have looked unstoppable since squeaking by Arkansas by one single point. Florida State also has in-state rival Miami, on the road too.

Knowing that, here’s what could also happen. If Mississippi State losses, they probably won’t drop out of the top 4. If Florida State loses, they will most certainly drop out of the top 4. Yes, that is entirely up to the committee.

With all this being said, the Committee answered a couple questions for us this week.

Although Baylor beat TCU, the Horned Frogs victories were more impressive than Baylor, and TCU’s one loss is better than Baylor’s one loss. Therefore, the head-to-head matchup doesn’t help Baylor, and TCU is currently in the Playoff picture. Also, Arizona State jumped all the way to number 6 and is ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State. This clearly tells us how the committee feels about the PAC 12 as opposed to the Big 12 and the Big 10.

And lastly, win out and you’re in. This message is clear and simple for teams vying for Playoff position.  Oregon and Arizona State will more than likely face off in the PAC 12 championship game, and Mississippi State and Florida state basically have to win out to secure their spot. One loss by either the Bulldogs or the Seminoles will most likely knock them out of the top 4, unless Mississippi State handles Alabama well on Saturday.

The Top three control their own destiny, and are locked in until and if they lose. The fourth team is a big question mark. If TCU loses, Alabama takes over. If Alabama and TCU lose, Arizona State probably takes over. If Arizona State loses as well, it should be Baylor or Ohio State, although both don’t have strong non-conference schedules.

There is still a lot of football left to play, and still have the conference championship games which we know are very important to the Committee. For instance, if Alabama beats Mississippi State and Auburn, but loses the SEC championship, they will be out of the Playoff. Tha can be said for any team trying to crack their way into the Playoff bracket.

Of course in the next four weeks anything can happen. We are less than a month from the Inaugural Playoff Selection show, and it couldn’t be more exciting. So many teams are still alive, and so many teams have huge games in the next weeks that will either make or break their seasons. TCU and Oregon have favorable match-ups to end the year leading up to the conference championship games. Alabama and Mississippi State have a little tougher road down the stretch, and Florida State has had a pretty easy path all year long, thanks to being a member of the ACC.

With each week that goes by, more and more teams will reveal their true identity, and either solidify their Playoff hopes, or watch their Playoff dreams fade off into the distance. The Committee so far has done an excellent job with the rankings and don’t seem to be going through any growing pains whatsoever.

Yes, this is all so crazy. This is all way more exciting than the BCS was and each set of rankings reveals answers and also brings up more questions. The BCS system is a laughing matter now, and we can’t help but think what would’ve happened had the Playoff been instituted earlier. The excitement is unreal, and the importance of these big games is so huge.

This might just be the best thing to ever happen to College Football.

Who misses the BCS system?
Who misses the BCS system?

 

 

It’s Not The Game Of The Century, But It Is Alabama’s Game Of The Season

Well it’s not the game of the century this year. It’s not even the game of the season. But for Alabama, this weekend’s game might be the most important one they’ll play all year. Many of you just read that sentence and wondered if I forgot who is left on Alabama’s schedule. I have not. I’m fully aware that the Tide still must face the number 1 and 3 ranked teams in the country, but one factor sets those games apart: Location, Location, Location.

I don’t buy into the whole “LSU at night” bullshit. Every stadium in the country is louder at night. Simple math says more time to drink=more time for alcohol consumption. Drunk people get wild and loud at football games. That’s not exclusive to Baton Rouge. Are LSU fans typically crazier and louder? Possibly, but in the past that has not affected Alabama much when visiting. This year is different, however, as Bama is a drastically different team on the road than at home. In the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny, the Tide blow out good teams. On the road… Alabama snuck by a weak Arkansas team and lost to the only good team they have played.
This is why Alabama fans should be more nervous this weekend than for the more nationally anticipated games against #1 Mississippi and #3 Auburn. Those games are at home. LSU is not.

LSU is not the team they have been in recent years. They are certainly much improved from the beginning of the season, but are still fairly one dimensional on offense, and not quite as stout as usual on defense. Traditionally this game decides the SEC each year, and technically it still could, but most likely that will not be the case this year. I don’t say this to take anything away from LSU. They are still a very good team, and honestly have better wins than Alabama does this year, but if the Tigers upset Alabama it will not be because they are a more talented team. It will be because the Tide has not been good on the road.

I wish that I could pinpoint one thing that causes these struggles. It would be easy to point the finger at Blake Sims and his inexperience, but honesty, besides the Arkansas game, Sims has played fairly well on the road. It would be easier to blame the excessive penalties and turnovers. They have certainly been a problem this season, and hostile environments only make presnap penalties and communication on the field a bigger issue. This can’t be the main problem, however, as Alabama has struggled with these things at home as well, and still managed to win impressively.

To me it’s a confidence thing. When the Tide play at home the whole team clicks. You see them dancing on the field. They play mean. They have a swagger about them (I hate the word swagger, but I don’t know a better way to describe it). Against Tennessee they seemed to have that in the first half, but let it go in the second. In all their other road games the Tide have seemed a little timid. But this is LSU and playing that way on Saturday will earn you a loss, and essentially end your season.

Alabama will have to come out with an attitude. They will need to feed off the negative energy coming from the LSU faithful, because their fans will certainly send it their way. The only way to quiet them down is to score quick, gain some confidence early, and don’t let up if you build a lead. Tide fans will just have to have faith their team comes prepared to do this. LSU is not the best team left on their schedule, but this will be Alabama’s biggest test this year.

 

Also I’m leaving this here because it’s my favorite: