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The New Era of College Football: The Haves Trump The Have-Nots

The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:

  1. Those that have a chance to win a national championship
  2. Those that have no chance to win a national championship

There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.

While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:

  1. Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
  2. Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national    championship
  3. Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVC3UziHeGk and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4NXtu2T5E.

These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.

I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.

It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.

What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.

Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.

None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.

Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.

As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.

The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

The Return of the MAC

With 5 weeks in the books, college football ,as always, has been full of surprises, upsets, big plays, and crazy comebacks. The MAC has had it’s fair share of excitement so far as well, and entering the first full week of MAC play teams are hitting there stride and some competitive football is coming our way. Despite a few in conference MAC games already being played, very little has been decided other than a few bottom feeders claiming their territory and a surprise contender or two making some noise.
It’s been an entertaining first month of the season for MAC fans with ups and downs a plenty. The following is a condensed recap of the Highlights (and low-lights) of the season thus far:
Week 1: Starting off the season with a bang, MAC East preseason favorite Bowling Green got manhandled by the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 59-31 in a shocker. Being a relatively quiet tune-up week for most schools not much else thrilling took place week 1 although its noteworthy that in an early conference match-up Ohio defeated Kent St. 17-14 while Eastern Michigan matched their 2013 win total knocking off Morgan St. 31-28.
Week 2: In what proved to be the biggest week of upsets so far, week 2 gave us a little bit of everything. Central Michigan went to Purdue and stunned the Boilermakers 38-17 after Purdue outlasted a scare from Western Michigan last week. Northern Illinois followed suit dismantling in-state rival and fellow Big10 school Northwestern 23-15. Ball St. came within seconds of a MAC trifecta frightening Iowa fans in a heart crushing last second 17-13 loss. U-Mass took Colorado to the brink before falling 41-38 while Toledo couldn’t keep up with #24 Missouri losing 49-24 although it was a much closer game that the score reflects. After getting their fans hopes up week 1, E. Michigan suffered the 2nd largest lopsided defeat of 2014 in an absolute beat down from Florida 65-0 (EMU also has the 3rd largest blowout as you’ll find out later).
Week 3: A rough week for the MAC as tougher schools came calling. The lone bright spot was in yet another Big10 upset as Bowling Green worked out some wrinkles and squeeked past Indiana 45-42. Kent St. didn’t fare as well against the Big10 getting punished by #22 Ohio St. 66-0. C. Michigan’s high from the Purdue win was short lived as Syracuse stomped them 40-3. Buffalo shared a similar fate getting smashed 63-21 at #8 Baylor. Toledo hung around yet again in another shootout but eventually fell 58-34 to Cincinnati. N. Illinois continued to impress taking down UNLV 48-34 albeit UNLV isn’t the major program the others listed are.
Week 4: Yet another rough week for the MAC as the non-conference schedules get tougher and tougher. Bowling Green found out what a “real” Big10 team plays like getting shredded 68-17 by #19 Wisconsin. Helpless E. Michigan received the same Big10 powerhouse thumping at the hands of #11 Michigan St. 73-14 (There it is). C. Michigan continued to struggle through a tough early schedule falling to Kansas 24-10. N. Illinois ran into a team they couldn’t hang with losing to Arkansas in a 52-14 drumming. Continuing their promising start, Toledo had the lone highlight of the week in defeating Ball St. (who’s off to a slow start) 34-23 in Toledo’s MAC opener.
Week 5: Akron flexed some surprise muscle to start week 5 conquering Pittsburgh 21-10 while half of the MAC entered conference play. WMU however, was not one of those teams and after doubling last years win total last week (2), the Bronco’s were brought back down to earth against Virginia Tech losing 35-17 although like Toledo, hung in longer than the score reflects. Sticking with Toledo, they rocketed past C. Michigan 48-28 continuing Centrals early woes and proving again to be a strong contender for the MAC West title. Also playing in conference, Bowling Green righted the ship beating U-Mass 47-42 while surprise Buffalo bullied Miami(OH) 35-27.
Entering the first full week of MAC play, it appears 8 teams have put themselves into my “contender” ranking: Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, N. Illinois, Ohio, Toledo, and W. Michigan. To date, Toledo, N. Illinois, and C. Michigan have played the toughest schedules which is why CMU still gets a nod despite being the only team named under .500. This week will provide us a much clearer view of who’s a real contender, and who’s just been pretending. It’s safe to say we can eliminate 1/2 of the East division from contention with 0-4 Kent St., 0-5 U-Mass, and 0-5 Miami(OH) not convincing anyone otherwise. E. Michigan can be put in this list too despite having a win, they lost their other 3 games a combined 155-17. The biggest surprise team not mentioned yet is Ball St. who despite their 1-3 record I can’t write off just yet but hasn’t earned contender status either. They should’ve beat Iowa and their 3 losses have all been by 10 pts. or less.
Despite some success, the majority of teams will be ready for, and looking forward to conference play. With understandable success against non-major conferences, the MAC still struggles against the major conferences not named Big10. Honestly, 3-8 versus the Big10 isn’t that high of a success rate either, but it’s considerably better that the 2-13 the MAC mustered up against all other major conferences (not including Marshall who is 3-0 vs. the MAC). The MAC is also 0-5 vs. AP Top 25 teams with the majority of the biggest blowouts coming at the hands of such schools. That being said, the MAC is getting better one season at a time as N. Illinois’ undefeated season last year, and P.J. Flecks 36th best recruiting class in the nation is proving in 2014. This week should be highly entertaining as MAC teams collide with eyes on the prize. Every game matters, but there are several marquee matchups on Saturday in the MAC including:
TOL vs WMU logos
A west division showdown between Toledo (3-2)(2-0 MAC) at Western Michigan (2-2)(0-0 MAC) in the Bronco’s MAC opener. The winner of this game gets my vote for MAC West division favorite. In an East vs. West collision, Ohio (3-2)(1-0 MAC) travels to C. Michigan (2-3(0-1 MAC) in whats become a must-win game for the Chippewas. Ohio could emerge with a 2nd MAC win vs. a fellow contender and a little more respect overall. Finally in an East division showdown, Buffalo (3-2)(1-0 MAC) locks horns with Bowling Green (3-2)(1-0 MAC) in a battle to remain on top of the East division. Only one can stay undefeated in conference while Buffalo can prove alot going on the road and earning a W in what would be an upset for the Bulls. All 3 games will be hard played and exciting to watch. I myself am attending the Toledo vs. WMU game and can’t wait to catch some live MAC action! Thanks for reading and be sure to tune in next week for all that is MAC from out here in MAC land!

Mizzou Might be Pretty Good


Gary Pinkel has won a lot of football games.
Gary Pinkel has won a lot of football games.

Last year, not a single team from the AP preseason Top 5 ended the season there. Three teams that did make it – Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri – didn’t even crack the Top 25. In summation, preseason predictions are mostly silly.
But they’re fun; so they’re made and they’re glorified and they’re bemoaned as college football fans anxiously await the season, but now, after a couple week of games, the guesses can become a bit more educated.
When taking a pragmatic approach to prognosticating the 2014 Missouri Tigers, it’s difficult not to look at the past to predict the Tigers’ future: Every Missouri quarterback under Gary Pinkel has gone 8-5 in their first year under center. Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin were all sophomores that first year and each of them went on to start their remaining three years; Brad Smith was a redshirt freshman and he went on to start the next four. That’s a remarkable run of a consistency.
Maty Mauk, the latest underclass signal caller to take the reins, has had the bar set very clearly for him; 8-5 should be expected, anything less would be a disappointment and anything more could be deemed bonus. Except many Mizzou fans, after last year’s nearly perfect regular season and this year’s relatively easy schedule, probably wouldn’t consider 8-5 a success, especially if they consider themselves members of The Cult of Maty, which many do.
After the Tigers’ shaky performance in week one against South Dakota State, an 8-5 finish seemed about right, but after a marked improvement in week two’s matchup against Toledo, it’s easy to remember why five losses seemed a few too many.
Prior to the season it was tough to look at Mizzou’s schedule through the eyes of a homer and see five losses. Perhaps a five loss season is to be considered par, but where would those five losses come? The first four games against South Dakota State, Toledo, UCF and Indiana, aren’t exactly a gauntlet, and the SEC portion of the docket, though inherently tough, could be a whole lot worse. They’re on the road against South Carolina, at home against Georgia, at Florida, at home against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, on the road against Texas A&M and Tennessee, and finally, at home against Arkansas; No Alabama, no Auburn, No LSU, No Ole Miss; It could be a whole lot worse.
Georgia is the easiest game on the schedule to pencil an “L” next to. Despite beating Georgia on the road last year, they did so without having to deal with perhaps the best running back in college football, Todd Gurley, his formidable backup Keith Marshall and a host of other offensive playmakers. After that, the easiest game to cede defeat to – prior to the season – was their SEC opener versus South Carolina, because it’s on the road and they provided the Tigers with their only regular season loss last year, but it wasn’t nearly the preordained loss that Georgia seemed to be, especially considering last year’s loss came in double overtime after a clanked 24 yard field goal and the Tigers were starting a their backup Freshman quarterback. Now, factoring in the Gamecock’s sub-optimal performances through the first couple weeks, and the game looks even more winnable.
The road trip to Gainesville to face the Gators seemed to be the most likely third loss, but Kenny Hill’s revelatory statement in week one makes the trip to College Station to face the Aggies an equally, if not more, daunting task. Yes, the Tigers walloped Florida last year despite a Freshman quarterback getting his first career start, and yes, they also beat an A&M team manned by a guy named Mr. Football, but Florida was awfully beat up last year and Mr. Hill looks to be a worthy replacement for the Aggies.
After that? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Tennessee? Mizzou beat those three teams by a combined 130-48 last year. And Arkansas and Mizzou didn’t play last year, but if they did, the previous statistic would have looked even more absurd.
If anything was learned from week one’s effort against South Dakota State, it’s that despite the local hype bestowed upon Mauk, he is still a first year starting quarterback. He threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was only 13/21 and he often looked jittery in the pocket and unable to make the simple throws to march Mizzou down the field.
If anything was learned from last week’s effort, it’s that Mauk doesn’t care how old he is and he’s going to be responsible for a bunch of touchdowns. The SEC Offensive Player of the Week tied Daniel’s school record of five passing touchdowns (again) and ran for another score.
Maty Mauk frankly doesn't give a......
Maty Mauk frankly doesn’t give a……

A lot is expected of Mauk – he’s young, he’s exciting and he has a winning pedigree – but at the moment he’s the quintessential boom or bust quarterback. His altitudinal similarities to Daniel shouldn’t cloud the reality that Mauk is taking over for a very productive collegiate quarterback in Franklin who, though frequently injured and often maligned, didn’t get enough credit for the calm and stability he brought to the offense when he was fully healthy. He was able to pick up the three yards needed to keep drives alive with his uncanny ability to run the speed option and his underrated ability to read coverages and make the right, simple throw, but as of yet Henson has no such luxury with the young Mauk. Franklin was the solid .300 hitter with some pop, who sprayed balls all over the field. Mauk is the dead-pull slugger who swings for the fences every pitch. He might strike out a lot, but he’ll hit a lot of home runs, and everybody loves the long ball.
I wouldn’t blame the Mizzou faithful for expecting Mauk’s first-year performance to exceed his predecessors, no matter how unfair that might be, but I suspect Mauk’s mentality may cost the Tigers a game it may be expecting to win, just as I suspect his big play ability to lead the Tigers to some previously unexpected victories. Still, at this moment in time, an 8-5 finish, though certainly fair, would seem a disappointment.
Mauk’s fearlessness makes it easy to ignore history and embrace unrealistic expectations.