Tag Archives: Marshall

College Football: Week 1 Features Ohio State’s Embarrassment of Riches

It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.

From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.

Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24

The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.

It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.

Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.

https://vine.co/v/etJnO1lvnKm

Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.

Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.

It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.

Marshall 41 Purdue 31

It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.

On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.

Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.

Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17

Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.

So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.

Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17

Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.

After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.

This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.

Northwestern 16 Stanford 6

We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.

One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.

The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.

Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3

Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!

Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24

Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.

Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.

Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20

This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.

For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.

TCU 23 Minnesota 17

I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.

He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.

Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.

That Ref Deserves a Hug

Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).

Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.

https://vine.co/v/eTVKrzL5T0E

…and the rest.

These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.

  • Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
  • Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
  • Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
  • Nicely done, Josh Rosen.   What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it.  UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5.  It was Virginia, but still.
  • Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
    We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
  • By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
  • So, Auburn is pretty good.  Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday.  Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
  • Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
  • Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
  • I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
  • Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche.  We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.

Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.

Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.

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.

Top 5 Contenders Outside the Top 10

Tomorrow we finally get what we’ve all been waiting for, a look into the playoff committee’s minds. They’ll release their initial rankings which will certainly be cause for drama and ridicule. More importantly, it’ll give us a better idea of where conferences stand and which individual teams need to do more or need more help to get selected. The Top 5-10 teams clearly still have a lot of hope and would likely make the playoff if they take care of business. I’m concerned with the teams outside the Top 10.
When looking at the new polls yesterday, I tried to think of any teams that would be able to make a run at a playoff spot that are currently not in the Top 10. The teams have to have a schedule that works in their favor as well as good individual team or conference perception. Here are my top five candidates.
1. Baylor
The Bears were in clear control a couple weeks ago before being upset in Morgantown. After having a bye last Saturday, they now find themselves just outside the Top 10. They are still in a great position though. They have a huge game on the road against Oklahoma, but the rest of their games are at home. The season finale could be a de facto Big 12 championship game against Kansas State if TCU slips up.
2. Arizona
The Wildcats already have a big win this year, winning at Eugene. That win looks better and better with each win that the Ducks tally. Arizona has a more difficult schedule than Baylor, but they still have three ranked teams on the schedule, opportunities to impress the committee. Winning a potential Pac 12 championship game against Oregon would prove the first was not a fluke.
3. Kansas State
Kansas State is in a better position than Baylor currently because they have yet to lose a conference game. As mentioned before they also have the season finale against the Bears which could decide which Big 12 team, if any, makes the playoff. Going forward however, Kansas State has a much more difficult schedule, with road trips at TCU and West Virginia before that season finale.
4. Oklahoma
The running theme is how wide open the Big 12 is. Whoever wins the Big 12 is going to have a pretty good shot at making the playoff. Things look bleak now, but the Sooners should have their opportunity. They would need losses from TCU and Kansas State, but they schedule is more than manageable. Outside of the matchup with Baylor, their toughest remaining game is Oklahoma State coming to town on the last weekend.
5. LSU
LSU is coming on strong the last few weeks, and their upset win over previously undefeated Ole Miss certainly gives them a resume builder. Shockingly LSU only has three regular season games left. That could be good and bad. If they can upset the Crimson Tide in two weeks, their only remaining games are against Arkansas and Texas A&M. The SEC champ will certainly make the playoff, but LSU needs more than their share of help to make that happen. Even if they win out, they’ll need Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn to lose two conference games.
Top 25 (Last Week’s Rank in Parenthesis)
1. Mississippi State (1)
2. Michigan State (3)
3. Florida State (4)
4. Ole Miss (2)
5. Alabama (6)
6. Auburn (5)
7. Oregon (7)
8. TCU (9)
9. Baylor (8)
10. Georgia (10)
11. Kansas State (11)
12. Notre Dame (12)
13. Ohio State (13)
14. Nebraska (14)
15. Arizona State (15)
16. Arizona (16)
17. West Virginia (22)
18. Utah (21)
19. Clemson (17)
20. Oklahoma (18)
21. LSU (UR)
22. East Carolina (19)
23. Duke (24)
24. UCLA (25)
25. Marshall (UR)

The Thundering Unheard

There are currently 4 undefeated teams in Division I football. I bet you can name 3 of them. The team that you are likely forgetting is Marshall. They are sitting at an impressive 7-0. #23 Marshall hasn’t gotten much attention due to their exceptionally weak schedule. Conference USA hasn’t been known for producing top teams in the past. The good news for Marshall is that there are no more automatically qualifying conferences. They have just a good of chance as anyone. The only thing holding Marshall back in the rankings is their soft schedule.
Marshall’s schedule is weak, even weaker than Florida State’s, which is saying something; however, Marshall has been blowing teams out. They have not scored less than 42 points in any of their games. They rank 2nd in average points scored per game with 47.6 points. They rank 7th in points allowed per game with 16.6 points. They are winning by an average of 30.9 points per game. These numbers are what you would expect from a top tier team playing this schedule. And it looks like it will only get better from this point on. The only team left on their schedule that currently has a winning record is UAB. Marshall could easily run the table and finish this season undefeated.
Marshall’s success is due in large part to senior quarterback Rakeem Cato. He recently broke Russell Wilson’s college record of throwing a touchdown pass in 39 consecutive games. And counting. He has thrown 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions so far this season. He is averaging 9.4 yards per completion. But he’s not the only one showing out. Marshall’s junior running running back, Devon Johnson, is averaging 8.2 yards per carry. With at least 69 yards on Saturday, he will go over 1,000 yards on the season. He has also accounted for 11 of the team’s touchdowns. While Cato cannot return next season, Johnson can. If he can continue this success next season, the future looks bright for Marshall and the Thundering Herd.
As good as this season will likely be for Marshall, I can not in good conscience predict that they will make it into the playoffs this year. Their schedule will discredit any success that they have; however, they do have the opportunity to turn this into a dynasty of sorts. They can pull a Boise State. If they just schedule one high ranked out of conference team at the beginning or end of the season, their weak conference schedule wouldn’t matter as much. They wouldn’t be the number one seed, but this isn’t the BCS anymore. All you need to be is fourth best to make it in. Marshall will likely also have the opportunity to jump into a better conference. Rumors of conference realignment are always circulating, for some reason. From the outside looking in, one would think the ACC would welcome Marshall with open arms. It’s not like the bottom of that conference can get much worse.
The future of Marshall’s football program looks bright. Even without Matthew McConaughey as their head coach. If things keep going the way that they are for the program, Marshall will be a much more household name in the coming years. Being someone who naturally roots for the underdog, I hope to see Marshall creep its way up the rankings. It will be interesting to see where the selection committee places Marshall on Tuesday night. It will say a lot about what they think of strength of schedule and conferences.

Proposal For a New Conference

traditionConference realignment, you thought that discussion was over for a while. Well, rumors are circulating that the Big 12 is looking to expand. More specifically, they are looking eastward and that East Carolina is in the mix. I have no insight or information that the rumors are true, only that they are out there.
However, the rumors give me an open door for why there should be conference realignment, but not one where ECU goes to the Big 12. Conferences should be geographically compact, on an equal footing in the strength of their teams and have similar athletic goals and traditions. As far as East Carolina, the conference would consist of East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt.
This is an improvement for all of the schools in terms of travel. The AAC spans from Texas, Louisiana and Florida to Connecticut. The ACC has Miami and Boston in its fold. West Virginia is a Big 12 member and travels to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Iowa for its conference games. Those are long road trips for Mountaineer fans.
East Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Marshall, West Virginia, Georgia Tech and Pitt are football schools. Basketball, for the most part, is something you do because it is too cold to play football. All of the schools have a passionate fan base. Admittedly, West Virginia might have a bigger stadium than Marshall, but their little brother is growing up and deserves a chance to compete on an even level. Arguably, East Carolina could not have beaten Clemson, West Virginia, or Georgia Tech on a regular basis in the past, but a new day has arrived in Greenville. The Pirates’ success this year is only part of a continued pattern of growth that has been occurring since the 1970’s. Pat Dye, Ed Emory, Bill Lewis, Steve Logan, Skip Holtz and now Ruffin McNeill have all lead ECU to a new level in football.
A fair question is why would North Carolina State, Clemson, West Virginia and Georgia Tech leave established conferences with lucrative television deals to start a new conference. There are three reasons. First, the conference would be more geographically compact. Second, other than the SEC, the new conference would be best college football played in the east, other than the Southeastern Conference. Third, the schools in the new conference are without major scandals. It is my contention, that college football must bring order to its house and the aforementioned schools are not front page violators.
There is a basis for a North Carolina centric conference since there are six FBS schools within the borders of North Carolina, yet only ECU and NC State are a fit for the new conference with the other schools that I would place in the conference.
Appalachian is only in its first year of competition in the FBS, but does have a strong tradition in football. They are not ready competitively, but the question can be revisited in the coming years.
Wake Forest and Duke are basketball schools and do not have a history of continued success in football. David Cutcliffe, Duke’s head coach, is an outstanding coach and got Duke to the ACC Championship game in 2013. However, Cutcliffe is the exception at Duke, and even he has not been able to build strong fan support based on attendance at Duke’s home games. This year the average attendance at Duke’s home games is only 25,537. When Cutcliffe leaves, so will Duke’s football success.
Wake Forest has similar issues. They had an excellent coach in Jim Grobe and some success. However, Grobe could only use chicken wire and duct-tape for so long before the Wake Forest program descended in the number of wins they produced. I do not mean to disparage Duke or Wake; but they simply have not produced a winning tradition in football.
Then there is UNC. I remember as a child in the 1960’s coming to understand that football at UNC was mediocre. However, that was okay because UNC, and the ACC, were about academics and integrity. If maintaining standards meant a so-so football team, then it meant a so-so football team.
Unfortunately, UNC is now about no show classes, drug dealers providing cars for a UNC athlete and inappropriate contact with sports agents and much more. However, the football is still mediocre.
On a side note, as a proud North Carolinian, I wish leadership that was provided by people like William Friday in the 1950’s and 60’s was still present at UNC. Friday was the President of UNC when a cheating scandal arose at the popular Dixie Classic Basketball Tournament; he cancelled the tournament. William Friday’s name was synonymous with integrity and education.
I am an ECU fan and to borrow the cliché, “I bleed purple and gold”. However, as a North Carolinian, I am pulling for UNC to make the in-depth reforms that are needed so that the university can return to its once honored position in college athletics and as a worthy opponent. I think we all know what William Friday would do; the question remains, does the current leadership at UNC have the courage to do what is needed. The death penalty was imposed on SMU athletics by the NCAA. Perhaps, UNC should examine the record and do what William Friday had the courage to do and not wait for the NCAA.
I am ready for a conference that plays quality football and still understands college football is not a business. It has to be responsible and pay its bills, but consistently shipping kids across the country to play a game is of questionable financial value, and it is not good for the academic success of the athletes. Also, college football has to stand for something more than money and the win-loss record.

Sleeper Teams for the College Football Playoff

It’s really hard not to make predictions. It all starts with the preseason polls. No matter how much some hate the fact that the rankings start before any team has taken a snap, it’s difficult not to look at them and project. Which teams are too high? Which are too low? The anticipation is even higher this year with the playoff, and we’ve already begun to see plenty of experts’ predictions of which teams will be fortunate enough to find themselves in the first playoff. Equally as difficult as resisting making predictions is picking the top teams in those predictions. After all, that’s why they’re preseason Top 5 or Top 10 teams. They are perceived to be the best teams at the start of the season, so why wouldn’t we expect them to make the playoff? As much as I’d like to think I have the best teams pegged in my Top 10, chances are one or two teams that ultimately wind up in the playoff will start the season outside of the top 10. Based on talent, experience, and schedules I’ve put together a list of the sleeper teams with the best chance to make the playoff that start the season outside of the Coaches Poll Top 10.
 
1. LSU
It’s tough to call LSU a sleeper team considering their recent success, but I feel this year, if any, they qualify. Counting on so many freshmen on offense has them flying somewhat under the radar this year. Behind a dominant run game and a defense that will be stifling as usual, the Tigers have as good a shot as any outside the top 10 to make the playoff. A win in the opener over Wisconsin would give them early momentum and conference games at Auburn, at Florida, and against Alabama (with a bye week beforehand) give LSU ample opportunities to make a statement.
 
2. USC
The Trojans have as much starting talent as most of the top teams in the country, but they will need to stay mostly healthy considering their lack of depth. If they can, a great defense and stable of running backs will keep USC in every game this year. Getting a win at Stanford early in the season would set the Trojans up with a great chance of being 10-0 heading into their rivalry game at UCLA. Depending on the season UCLA has, a split in their final two games (@UCLA, Notre Dame) and USC could find themselves in the Pac-12 championship with a spot in the playoff on the line.
 
3. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish came out of nowhere for their championship game appearance a couple years ago and could do the same this season. If Everett Golson can pick up where he left off from that championship game appearance, he and an improved defense could lead ND to another run. If we’re being realistic, with Notre Dame’s history and their difficult schedule, they will probably have the same leeway SEC teams will get. Even if Notre Dame has two losses, I can see a scenario where splitting their four toughest games (Stanford, at Florida State, at Arizona State, at USC) has Notre Dame sitting at 10-2 and squarely in the discussion for a playoff spot.
 
4. Ole Miss
I feel a natural drop-off at this point in teams’ chances. It’s not that Ole Miss isn’t talented. They’re one of the most experienced teams in the SEC, with the best returning quarterback in the conference. But have they accumulated enough talent to navigate a brutal schedule? If no teams go undefeated, Ole Miss may have a chance at making the playoff with two losses. An SEC title game win over a top 10 team (likely Georgia or South Carolina) might be enough to overcome two regular season losses. Fortunately for the Rebels, they get their toughest opponents at home outside of a trip to LSU.
 
5. Texas
Texas has the talent, but Charlie Strong’s impact on the team’s discipline on and off the field will have to take effect immediately. Texas should run the ball almost at will, and the defense should be vastly improved with health and a defensive minded head coach. The Longhorns can make an early season statement against Top 10 UCLA, and not having to go on the road to face Baylor or Oklahoma puts Texas in a prime spot to be a dark horse title contender.
 
6. Nebraska
This is where you start to see some of the long-shot teams. These teams will have to have a lot of “ifs” come true, but you could’ve said the same about Auburn before last season started. Nebraska will have one of the better defenses in the Big 10, and have one of the best running backs in the country in Ameer Abdullah to carry the offense. Thanks to injuries, QB Tommy Armstrong was able to get his feet wet last year and should come into this year more confident. Playing in East Lansing gives Nebraska the chance for a marquee win, and the rest of the schedule is manageable with games against Miami (Fl.), at Wisconsin, and at Iowa. They then would have the Big 10 title game against Ohio State or Michigan State to further prove their case.
 
7. Florida
Florida might be the most polarizing team going into the year. Some feel they are Top 25 worthy based on the talent on hand and considering the injuries they had last year. Others feel like a team that was 4-8 last season has no business being ranked to start the year. I tend to lean towards the idea that this is a new year and Florida has the defense that makes them a Top 25 team and a sleeper in the playoff race. They will need to get drastically better on offense, but if the new spread offense more suited to Jeff Driskel’s skills takes off even a little it will make the Gators tough to beat. A typical SEC schedule will give Florida more than enough opportunities to make a statement. As long as they can keep from getting housed by Florida State like last year, a one or two loss Florida Gator SEC championship team would likely make the playoff.
 
8. North Carolina
This is where the real long-shots begin. North Carolina will be experienced with 15 starters returning from a team that was 5-1 down the stretch. That success coincided with a change at quarterback to Marquise Williams. Even with a non-conference game against Notre Dame, the Tar Heels will only be able to afford one loss max during a soft ACC schedule. They would also need to pull off a drastic upset of Florida State in the ACC Championship game to prove their worthiness.
 
9. TCU
Running game, efficient quarterback play, and dominant defense. That’s what TCU will have to rely on if they want to have a chance at making the playoff. The defense should be there and they have enough quality running backs to be successful in that area. However, the Horned Frogs will need transfer QB Matt Joeckel to acclimate himself to the offense and be able to make enough plays to keep the chains moving. With the lack of a conference championship game and starting the season so low in the polls, TCU will have to run the table to keep their hopes alive. Getting conference favorite Oklahoma at home helps, but games at Baylor and Texas will require a 2013 Auburn-like run to make it a reality.
 
10. Marshall
Marshall has a real chance at going undefeated. Dark horse Heisman candidate Rakeem Cato leads an offense that will be one of the best in the country statistically. They also return 10 of their 11 top tacklers which should make the defense good enough. The problem is Marshall plays absolutely nobody of significance even in the non-conference. There will be plenty of support in some circles that a team from a non-major conference deserves a shot if they had a great season. However the only scenario this happens is if Marshall dominates almost every week on their way to an undefeated season, and many of the major conference champions have two losses.