Tag Archives: national championship

The College Football Playoff Is Not Going To Expand

Jim Harbaugh appeared on a morning sports talk radio and had some interesting opinions on things. I’m not talking about who’s going to be the starting quarterback at Michigan because no one cares, that season is over. What I’m referring to is Harbaugh’s opinion on the College Football Playoff.

The Michigan head coach thinks that the playoff field should be expanded from the current four teams. That’s not a surprise, a lot of people want that. What is a surprise is how many teams Harbaugh thinks should be allowed in. Harbaugh doesn’t want six or even eight. He wants 16 or at the very least, 12.

I’ve got two arguments against why he’s not talking any sense. One of them is why it’s a bad idea and the other is why it’s never going to happen. Neither of them has to do with Harbaugh only wanting it because it looks like that might actually be his best shot to win a title while at Michigan.

There’s a lot of arguments against why a larger playoff field is a bad idea but most of them aren’t taking into account a 16 team field. They’re more based on the argument for the six or eight-team expansions. Those expansions would be fine in my opinion but the double-digit field takes away the one thing that separates college football from every other sport: the regular season.

The regular season in college football is unlike any other sport, both professionally and collegiate. A team’s season lives and dies with every single game every single week. You lose in Week 7? Well, you’re probably screwed. Lose in Week 3? You might be able to recover yet. Compare that to college or pro basketball for a second. Their regular seasons are pointless, especially college basketball when 68 teams get to go to the postseason. You see teams without winning records go to the postseason a fair amount in all sports.

Except for college football.

The regular season means everything and if the field expands to 16 teams, the sport loses that sense of urgency to win every game. Take last season for instance. The Michigan-Ohio State game that went to double overtime in 2016 wouldn’t have mattered because both of them and Penn State would already be going to the playoff. Would players have played as hard if there was nothing on the line? Probably not.

So that’s why playoff expansion is a bad idea but let me tell you why it’s not going to happen.

Slowly but surely, non-Power Five schools have been creeping into the AP and College Football Playoff polls. Houston, Western Michigan, Temple, and more have all made appearances in the last few years. The Houston Cougars even finished 2015 ranked inside the top ten. That’s a trend that despite the reluctance to let go of the traditional “blue blood” programs that have the name recognition, people have started to realize that these teams can be and are pretty good.

What’s this got to do with the College Football Playoff expanding?

Glad you asked.

If the playoff field expands at some point a non-Power Five school is going to make it in. Suppose Boise State gets in and are set to face the USC Trojans. During the first quarter of the game, the starting quarterback for USC tears his ACL and Boise State wins that game. Suppose they come out firing on all cylinders and take down a Michigan State team that just can’t get in sync. The Boise State Broncos manage to run the table and are unexpectedly crowned the champions of college football.

Seems like it’d be pretty cool, right?

Not unless you’re a Power Five commissioner and you like money.

Per Forbes, a team makes their conference $6 million just by simply appearing in the College Football Playoff. That’s chump change when you consider what conferences can make from all the bowl games. Check this out: the Big Ten made $132.5 million from postseason bowl games last season.

$55 million base payout.

$6 million for Ohio State’s berth in the Fiesta Bowl which is a College Football Playoff game.

$4 million for Wisconsin’s berth in the Cotton Bowl.

$40 million for Penn State’s berth in the Rose Bowl.

$27.5 million for Michigan’s berth in the Orange Bowl.

All those major bowl games are out the window with an expanded playoff field so the Big Ten has 132.5 million reasons to not want expansion. Let’s all be honest with each other for a moment: money talks. Everything is driven by what makes someone money and postseason play is an absolute cash cow for these conferences.

College athletes can’t get paid and you think these conferences are going to share their money with even more teams and conferences that get into the College Football Playoff?

The University of Memphis has a better shot at making the playoff this year than we do at seeing a 16 team playoff so just go ahead, get comfy, and get used to a four-team College Football Playoff.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

Image courtesy Flickr

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Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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I Don’t Like Alabama, But I Sure As Heck Respect It

This is one of those rare moments when I swallow my Gator and Vol pride to give credit where credit is due. The Alabama Crimson Tide is getting all the credit I can get myself to give to it today. I will make this clear: I loathe Alabama football and I obviously cannot stand Lane Kiffin. But that does not mean I will not show them some respect when it comes to what they manage to do season after season. The Tide is consistently excelling in the hardest division of the strongest conference in all of college football. That alone is absolutely incredible.

I will be the first to admit that I tend to underestimate Alabama every single year. I always think they lost too much talent so they may need to rebuild. What I seem to forget is that they are pulling in phenomenal recruits year after year. Last year, I even went so far as to say that Nick Saban was about to be in Urban Meyer’s shadow. I am eating those words at the moment. I take it back. I take it all back. As my penance for that terrible thing I said, this year I will not underestimate Alabama football. This year I am finally ready to put aside my pride and give them the credit they clearly deserve.

Their spring game was admittedly a bit underwhelming, with a whopping ten points scored overall. When you are an Alabama fan though, I doubt you really care about what happens in the spring game. You just know deep down that your team will perform when it counts. That feeling must be nice.

Last year Alabama had a quarterback battle that lasted into the season. This year it still has quite the quarterback competition going on in Tuscaloosa. This one might last into the season as well. If last year is any indication of who will be the starting quarterback, then you can bet Cooper Bateman will get his chance to go from second-string to first-string. With other athletic contenders in the mix, namely Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts, I would definitely not give Bateman the starting job quite yet. Replacing last year’s quarterback may not be their biggest concern heading into next season though.

The Tide lost key starters on both sides of the ball. Perhaps the biggest concern for Alabama right now is the offensive line. I know we have to take spring games with a grain of salt, but let it be known that the offensive line allowed eleven sacks in that game. Now, it is definitely worth nothing that a sack in a spring game is not as physically involved as one during a real game. It is also worth noting that Alabama probably has a top ten defense again so, of course, the defense is going to get some sacks. That kind of smothering defense is just something we have come to expect from them. Still, the number stands, and eleven sacks are just too many to completely overlook. Knowing Alabama football, though, I am sure the Tide will have it figured out in time for the College Football Playoff next year. Just maybe not in time for the Ole Miss game.

So what else is there to think about? Worried about them replacing Derrick Henry? No need to be. Bo Scarbrough seems to be more than ready to pick up right where Henry left off and there is some pretty good depth at running back behind him. So what about the defensive talent they lost? I said it once and I will say it again: Alabama probably has a top ten defense again. Okay, they lost Kirby Smart as their defensive coordinator. Never fear. We all know Nick Saban is the one who really calls the shots in Tuscaloosa anyway. Here’s the thing: every single potential problem I propose already has a clear solution. And that is their secret. That right there is how Alabama does it, folks.

Nick Saban at the helm and good recruits from years passed make almost every personnel (and coaching) loss a non-issue for the Crimson Tide. That is exactly the thing I failed to understand when I was quick to say Alabama could not win a title last year. I mean is there ever really a year when Alabama does not have the potential to win a National Championship? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a strong “no.” Love them, hate them, envy them, doubt them…do whatever you want. At the end of the day the haters will continue hating while the Crimson Tide keeps dominating. As Birdman might say, put some “respek” on their name!

Now please excuse me while I go thoroughly wash out my mouth with soap for saying all this. I am truly sorry to all my other SEC friends for writing this article. And to my dear father who taught me everything I know about football, I hope you are not too disappointed in your little girl right now. But, if you guys want to see how much I really do dislike Alabama then make sure to follow me (@OGKristenB) on Twitter. I assure you that I definitely do not usually sing their praises.

Photo of Bryant-Denny Stadium courtesy of Latics.

NCAA Tournament Notebook: The Greatest National Championship Ever

What. A. Game!  The #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels and #2 seed Villanova Wildcats were the rightful owners of the final two spots in the tournament, and didn’t disappoint.  In what may be the greatest National Championship game in history, Kris Jenkins ripped the hearts out of the Tar Heels at the buzzer, to bring the trophy back to Villanova.  Here’s how they did it.

Cats Camouflaged the Defense:

From the outset of the game, Villanova continuously ran varying defensive looks at North Carolina.  The Wildcats deployed a light three-quarter court press periodically, just to keep the transition in check.  By mixing up man-to-man and hybrid zone looks, the Tar Heels could never really get into a great rhythm.  Even when North Carolina would get a guard defending Brice Johnson, or Kennedy Meeks, they struggled to get the ball inside.  The Villanova guards pulled the old trick of not making body contact.  Post players hate that move.

Lettin’ Them Play:

In a season in which several rule changes were implemented, and there was heavy concern about the competency of referees across college hoops, these officials did a solid job of letting the game play out.  They were inconspicuous for much of the first half and allowed a lot of bumping, and physical play, while at the same time, not rushing to call the travels which resulted from the bumping.  Credit the refs for not taking center stage.

Flip the Script:

Early on, Villanova inverted its guards on a number of opportunities.  They focused on posting up Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart, taking the Carolina bigs away from the paint, and allowing paint touches.  This took pressure off of the perimeter, and freed up some clean looks.  Late in the game the Tar Heels did a solid job of taking that away, and blocked a number of shots on Villanova drives, which put them in position to tie the game late.

Uber Efficiency:

Joel Berry and Justin Jackson displayed extreme efficiency at the start, going 6-6 from three-point range in the first half.  Nova did a solid job of limiting the offensive boards that UNC got, almost eliminating the threat of the put-back, but it did provide opportunities for open threes.  Although Carolina dropped off slightly in the second half, it still came up with enough big shots, including Marcus Paige’s ridiculous double-clutch to tie the game with less than five seconds to play.

Crisp Offensive Sets:

The Wildcats were extraordinarily patient all game.  They never went away from what got them to this point.  Drive and kick action, dribble penetration leading to backdoor cuts, and avoiding challenge shots allowed them to shoot at a high percentage once again.

On the flip side, you could see the frustration on the faces of the Tar Heels in the second half when they got behind.  North Carolina played into the Nova game plan on offense, forcing challenged shots and attempting to create faux transition chances in order to jump-start a run.  It’s a credit to how talented the Tar Heels are that they were within seconds of winning, despite the execution of Villanova.

Man Up on the Glass:

The glaring weakness heading into the game was Villanova’s lack of size and depth compared to North Carolina.  I pictured a load of offensive put-backs by the Tar Heels as I analyzed this match-up.  The Wildcats completely nullified that.  Aside from the constant changing of defensive looks, Villanova’s energy and physicality outmatched Carolina.  Surprisingly, Josh Hart was one of the most important guys on the glass, snaring seven defensive rebounds.  The inability of North Carolina to be effective on the offensive glass was a deciding factor.

The Closing Sequence:

After going up by three with a couple of free throws from Hart, the Wildcats simply had to defend for one possession to claim the title.  It appeared that they would foul UNC to avoid a game-tying three-point shot, but chose not to, which I absolutely agree with.  Despite the result, Nova played some solid defense.  There’s no way you can account for what Marcus Paige was able to do with that insane double-clutch three.  And, if they had fouled, the College Basketball world would have been denied a legendary finish.

With barely more than four seconds left, it appeared Arcidiacono would simply pull up for a long triple.  Instead he showed tremendous patience, teeing up Kris Jenkins for as clean a look as you can ask for, and he absolutely laced it.  Thank you Kris for making me look like a genius.

What may have been the greatest National Championship game in College Basketball history ended in the best possible fashion.   I don’t care what anyone says, this was an unbelievable season, and it culminated with an outstanding NCAA Tournament.  Next season can’t come soon enough.

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

Photo: NCAA

Has College Basketball Lost Its Appeal?

March Madness. All you have to do is say those two little words and you conjure up memories for most red-blooded Americans who like to watch college basketball. When I think of college basketball I remember watching The Big East Conference or at the time the Pac-10 Conference game of the week every Saturday when I was a teenager. I could look at most teams and name just about every player on most rosters or at the very least be familiar with all the players’ names. Oh, how times have changed.

I don’t get the same amount of joy watching college basketball anymore. To me, it’s a difficult game to watch. People are going to say “the game is pure” or “they play it because they love the game” or “it’s the same game it’s always been.” You want to know what I say to that? To put it appropriately, I call BS.

The product is not very good at all in my opinion. People like a good product on the court or field when they go watch their teams, but right now they are not getting their money’s worth.

Everybody knows that the NBA is a players’ league. Well, NCAA college basketball is a coach’s league and let’s just say that the coaches are micromanagers of their players. Every possession is grinded out like they are trying to figure out if there was somebody on the grassy knoll. The players are not allowed to freelance too much because that means lost possessions to the coach and it probably means that the player will find himself on the end of the bench or seated right next to their coach getting an ear full of discipline. So to the player it doesn’t benefit them in any way to play a little loose and free. The free movement of basketball isn’t there for college basketball because the college coaches want to play the game in a phone booth and not out in the open like it should be.

After watching Pac-12 (Pac-10 as a youngster) basketball all my life and in person the last couple of seasons it is readily apparent that players don’t have the same skill set they once had. Oh, sure, there are the occasional anomalies that come with that ability to do everything, such as Jahlil Okafor. But, for the majority of players coming into college basketball they have one skill they can do. Some have good ball-handling, some are decent shooters, some rebound or play solid defense, but there are not players that leave college being better players than they were when they came into college basketball. Why?

Let’s be honest about what has happened in big time Division One college basketball. The one and done player is killing the game. Many of these players are just not ready to play on the Division One level, but have talent so the coaches are pressured to play these kids and suffer through the growing pains. The other aspect of college basketball is that it’s just a minor league for the NBA. When players have the opportunity to leave after a semester in college, the product on the floor will suffer greatly. These players are not ready for the professional ranks after four months in college.

College basketball is to the point of being unwatchable to many sports fans like myself. It’s slow, can be ugly, and it is unskilled. For the people that tell me that a 54-50 defensive ball game is fun to watch, I just roll my eyes. If I want to see two people mugging each other I will just watch the next episode of “Law and Order”.

There are wrestling matches in the paint, secondary defenders getting charges off stupid calls, guards playing hand to hand combat at the top of the key, officials with quick whistles slowing the game down to a crawl, and cutters trying to avoid collisions. When you add all this up, it’s not a shock as to why the visual of college basketball is so brutal these days.

“We are getting the game we deserve right now. College basketball is antiquated in the way they do things.” Said Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst and former Duke Blue Devil.

For the average fan, college hoops is boring to watch and the NCAA is not willing to change many things up to improve the product on the floor.

The NBA went through some changes to make the game more visually appealing to its fans. The fans and even people inside the NBA made complaints about how the game became ugly. So the NBA listened to them and over the last 20 years or so, the NBA has been a leader in making its game better. They have cracked down on hand-checking, flopping, backing players down in the lane, and for those actions, it is why the NBA is more visually appealing to fans now. It’s certainly more appealing to me.

The NCAA is suffering through a time where people are not paying attention to college basketball like they used to. Overall attendance is down, ratings are down, and scores are down. Teams are averaging about 67.2 points per game, the lowest average total since 1952, which tells me that college basketball players don’t have the offensive repertoire as they once did. They are certainly more athletic, but that doesn’t mean they are better overall players than their predecessors. Attendance is also down at college basketball games. Overall attendance is down for the seventh straight year and down roughly 360,000 people. In 2006 college basketball attendance averaged 5,237 people and now it averages 4,817. That may not seem like a lot, but to a school to lose roughly 500 paid people to a game means lost revenue that is difficult to recover.

What is driving these fans away? Are people being turned off by one and done players? The drop in skilled players? Maybe. To go along with the drop in attendance, the television ratings have also been declining. ESPN which carries a ton of games has had their viewing of college basketball drop by six percent in the last year. Has conference realignment affected this? I would say yes because the new conferences have taken away some very good rivalries which mean a lot to the fans of those schools, but to presidents of those schools it’s all about the money. Some type of change has to be made for college basketball to return to what it once was and the NCAA has to spearhead that change.

What can be done though? It’s not like the NCAA is an organization that likes to change things. It almost seems like the NCAA have to be dragged kicking and screaming toward that change for it to actually occur.

The NCAA has changed the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds to help out scoring, but when there are a lack of shooters in college basketball that point disappears. As I stated earlier, scoring is down to lowest levels in about 50 years, so what other changes does the NCAA need to look at to increase their ratings and slumping attendance?

Here are just a few ideas.

  1. Take away the possession arrow and replace it with the jump ball. I have hated this possession arrow rule since its inception, so I wouldn’t mind seeing it disappear.
  2. Move the three point line to the NBA distance which would open up the court for penetration.
  3. Get rid of the one-and-one free throw and make every foul the double bonus. This would eliminate the constant fouling at the end of many games.
  4. Make the 10 second backcourt time limit eight seconds.
  5. Put in the defensive three second rule.

Take those for whatever you want, but I think they would better the college game. They would open things up, provide for more movement, and make players play some better defense. No matter how much the NCAA likes to throw out the student/athlete story line, the NCAA is a business and if the product is inferior, the NCAA has to step in and improve it. I’m not saying that change will come anytime soon, but it needs to happen otherwise people will continue to walk away from college basketball.

Image: google

Filling out My Bracket with a Cavalier Attitude

2016 was one of those rare College Basketball seasons which never revealed a truly elite team.  Usually there’s at least one school which is head and shoulders above the rest.  With so many teams flitting in and out of elite status over the course of the season, I had to loosen the reigns a bit while making my selections.

Most years I can pretty confidently have the bracket completed within 15-20 minutes after the field is released on Selection Sunday; but certainly not this season.  It took me until Tuesday evening to finalize my picks all the way to the Champion.  Here is my Region by Region breakdown of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

SOUTH REGION

We’ll start in the South Region, where the top overall seed, the Kansas Jayhawks reside.  Bill Self’s team began to pick up steam late in the year, and is one team which is as close to being truly elite as you can ask for this year.  This is how the South shakes out:

Dangerous on Day 1:

The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are my pick to cause real problems as a double-digit seed.  Stefan Jankovic is the name to remember.  The 6-11 junior is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Bows.  Out of conference, they beat a tough Northern Iowa team, and lost close battles with tournament participants Texas Tech and Oklahoma.  Look for Hawaii’s experienced backcourt, along with their star Jankovic to knock off the Cal Golden Bears, and their super frosh Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb.

Early Exit:

As far as a higher seed which will get bounced on the first day, I just mentioned them, the California Golden Bears.  Cuonzo Martin’s team has a plethora of talent, but inconsistency has plagued them.  Cal has a good mix of size and perimeter ability.  Aside from the freshmen Brown and Rabb, the Bears also have excellent wing players in Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace, and Jordan Mathews.  However, between the inconsistency, and now the revelation of a scandal involving a recently fired assistant coach, I see the Golden Bears departing quickly.

Pivotal Match-up:

The face-off between the Maryland Terrapins and the Kansas Jayhawks should decide the region.  Kansas is one of the more balanced teams.  Senior Perry Ellis uses a variety of fundamentally sound post moves to lead the way in scoring.  Old man jokes aside, Ellis truly has an old school game.  He teams up front with Landen Lucas, and brick house Jamari Traylor.   Add in the perimeter attack of Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, along with Wayne Selden; and Kansas has a lot of ways to beat you.

The Terps are on the list of teams with temporary elite status this year.  But don’t let that fool you; they’re as talented as any team in the country.  Melo Trimble is arguably the best point guard in the country; and they have plenty of post power with Robert Carter and Diamond Stone.  It’ll be interesting to see how Jake Layman matches up both offensively and defensively in this one, because he may be the difference.  In any event, whichever team gets past this game is going to the Final Four.

Dark Horse:

Sixth seeded Arizona is my pick to surprise in the South.  Like much of the Pac-12, the Wildcats were up and down all season.  Much of that can also be attributed to the absence of blue chip freshman Alonzo Trier for a number of games.  However, Trier, Gabe York, and Ryan Anderson each average over 15 PPG; and they can rely on seven-foot senior Kaleb Tarczewski to patrol the paint.  Don’t be surprised to see Coach Sean Miller get his team together for another deep run.

Who Wins the South?

My pick to win the South Region is the Maryland Terrapins.  Coach Mark Turgeon is a coach on the rise, and is building a strong foundation at Maryland.  His team has the balance and depth necessary to sustain a deep run, and fend off periods of offensive drought.  Keep an eye out for the Terps in Houston.

WEST REGION:

The West is widely considered the weakest region.  Top seeded Oregon is not a school accustomed to being in this position, and probably hasn’t been seen by many people East of the Mississippi.  A weaker installment of the Duke Blue Devils, and a perimeter heavy #2 seed in Oklahoma, makes for a wide open, truly Wild West.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Yale has rapidly gained popular support as the classic 5/12 upset special.  The Bulldogs made sure to play some top teams in the non-conference.  Duke beat them by 19, and USC by 12, but they also pushed SMU to the limit in a two-point loss.  They are dealing with turmoil of their own, with the dismissal of team Captain Jack Montague in February, but Yale still has what it takes to advance at least one round.

Early Exit:

I have no doubt that Shaka Smart is going to do great things at Texas, just not this year.  Smart did a real nice job with the Longhorns this season, but it’s going to take a bit more time for his full “Havoc” to take effect.  Running into a veteran Northern Iowa team, who is playing in their second straight tournament is simply the wrong spot for Texas.

Pivotal Match-up:

Texas A&M vs. Northern Iowa won’t necessarily determine the Final Four representative from the West, but it will have a major impact.  The Aggies became a popular choice immediately after the brackets were released, to take the West Region.  While they have had a strong season overall, they had a rough four game losing streak against some very average teams in the SEC.  I’m not sure Northern Iowa has answers for Danuel House and Jalen Jones; however, the Panthers’ Wes Washpun will be the X-factor.  He’ll pester the Aggies shaky lead guards, and has a knack for hitting big shots.  If A&M can get past this one, it may propel them to great things.  I just don’t believe they will.

Dark Horse:

Cincinnati is my sleeper in the region, coming in as the #9 seed.  The Bearcats are always tough defensively, and their physical nature could disrupt the up and down style of Oregon in the second round.  Whether they can score enough is the question?  Cincy could be the team to knock out the first #1 seed.

Who Wins the West?

I’ve barely mentioned them while discussing the West Region, but my Final Four pick out of this bracket is the Oklahoma Sooners.  Although it goes against my nature to pick a perimeter heavy team to advance this far, I think the path in front of them lends itself to that type of success.  Buddy Hield has been flat-out magical this season, and that magic will carry them through the West Region.

EAST REGION:

Yesterday in my piece regarding equitable brackets I referred to the East Region as the “Group of Death”.   That may be a bit dramatic, but the East is certainly heavy with pedigree, if you will.  We should get blue bloods Indiana and Kentucky in the second round, followed by the winner of that game against North Carolina in the Sweet 16.  This is going to be a fun region to watch.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Most of the double-digit seeds in this region aren’t much of a threat.  However, you won’t want to sleep on Stephen F. Austin.  The Lumberjacks are playing in their third straight NCAA Tournament, and they did knock off VCU in the First Four a couple of years ago.  Coach Brad Underwood is beginning to emerge as an attractive potential hire for the power conferences; and they have the guard play to compete.  I doubt SFA pulls it off, but they have the goods to put a mighty scare into West Virginia.

Early Exit:

This is the one region which doesn’t really have a glaring candidate among the higher seeds to get bounced early.  Either Kentucky or Indiana will go home at the end of the first weekend regardless, so unless there’s a big shocker, most of the top seeds are safe.  Notre Dame against the play-in winner is the closest thing to an early out surprise that the East has to offer.

Pivotal Match-up:

All the talk is about the top of the region, but the most pivotal match-up to me is Xavier vs. West Virginia.  Both of these teams are tough as nails, so this should be a grinder.  Chris Mack’s team was very consistent, and has good perimeter/interior balance.  The battle up front between Devin Williams, who’s an absolute beast, and the Musketeer’s big men James Farr and Jalen Reynolds should be entertaining.  We’ll also witness some outstanding guards going head-to-head with Trevon Bluiett and Jaysean Paige.  With all eyes on the top of the bracket, the winner of this game may get to fly under the radar.

Dark Horse:

Anytime you have a sure-fire lottery pick on your team, you’ve got a chance to advance through the bracket.  Providence has that player in Kris Dunn.  A powerfully built 6-4 guard, Dunn is the type of player who could put a team on his back for three weeks.  Luckily, he’s also got a great running mate in 6-9 Ben Bentil, who leads the Friars in scoring and rebounding.  Early in the season it looked as if Providence would do better than a 9 seed.  Don’t be shocked if they make a deep run.

Who Wins the East?

The Xavier Musketeers have never made the Final Four.  This year, I think they finally do it.  Led by one of the bright young coaches in the game in Chris Mack, along with the required balance necessary to deal with every type of opponent; I see Xavier getting the job done.  The Musketeers will harass the North Carolina guards into a rough shooting night, and the big men will keep Brice Johnson at bay on the glass to finally break through to the Final Four.

MIDWEST REGION:

If the East is the Group of Death, then the Midwest is “The Bloodbath”.  Honestly I view this as the most difficult region.  There are essentially two #1 seeds with Virginia and Michigan State.  Both of these top-tier teams will have some tremendously physical match-ups en route to the Regional Final.  Can they survive it?

Dangerous on Day 1:

While most of the Midwest region will be playing brass knuckle ball, the Iona Gaels and Iowa State Cyclones are going to be in a track meet.  Iona has a future pro in A.J. English; and that alone makes them dangerous.  The Gaels will get up and down with the best of them, and shoot a lot of 3’s.  Although they didn’t have any great wins this season, they may just get their first during the tournament.

Early Exit:

Iowa State clearly has talent, and Georges Niang will be the most versatile player on the floor on most nights.  The Cyclones have seven players who average double figures, so scoring won’t be an issue. However, it’s been rocky waters in Steve Prohm’s first season in the locker room, which may end much like last year’s did for Iowa State; on the first day.

Pivotal Match-up:

When I mentioned this region being a bloodbath, I was thinking specifically about the potential match-up between Virginia and Purdue.  The Boilermakers frontline of A.J. Hammons, Caleb Swanigan, and Isaac Haas is imposing.  The Cavaliers won’t be intimidated with 7-0 Mike Tobey, and powerful Anthony Gill going to battle with them.  The backcourt is where Virginia likely gets it done, with London Perrantes knocking down shots, and Malcolm Brogdon doing a bit of everything.  The key will be if either of these teams have another 15 rounds in them once they reach the Regional Final.

Dark Horse:

Seton Hall is HOT! The Pirates have won 14 of their last 16 games, including the Big East Tournament Title.  They’re led by four sophomores, namely Isaiah Whitehead on the wing, and Angel Delgado in the paint.  Whitehead is the type of player that can lift a team onto his shoulders, especially for a short sprint of the tournament.  The toughest part will be the difficult pairings they’ll have right from the jump.

Who Wins the Midwest?

Virginia has lost to Michigan State two years in a row in the NCAA Tournament; last year in the second round, and the Sweet 16 the prior year.  Both of those games were bare knuckle brawls.  The toe-to-toe match-up between Denzel Valentine and Brogdon one last time may become a thing of legend.  I expect nothing less than brilliance this year, but this time Tony Bennett gets his guys over the hump.  Virginia advances to the Final Four.

THE FINAL FOUR:

In the first semifinal we’ll have Maryland vs. Oklahoma.  There will be some unbelievable guard play on display with Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon, nose-to-nose with Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield.  The guards may cross each other out, leaving the Terps frontcourt to be the difference.  This is the game which will expose the Sooners up front.  Willow-thin Khadeem Latin will have all he can handle and then some with Robert Carter and Diamond Stone.  The overall balance of Maryland gets them into the Championship game.

Next up will be Final Four newcomers Xavier, versus a Virginia team which hasn’t been this far since 1984.  While the backcourt match-up won’t be quite as dynamic in this game, it will certainly be formidable.  Unlike the other semifinal, the yeoman’s work being done up front by both teams big men, may even things out.  The difference here will be the defense of Virginia, and Malcolm Brogdon.  The Cavaliers put opponents in a vice and squeeze until they crush them.  Defense will push Virginia into the final game.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

Squaring off in the National Title game are the Maryland Terrapins and the Virginia Cavaliers.  Former ACC Rivals meet again for the hardware.   Virginia has beaten opponents all season by imposing their will.  A similar fate awaits the Terrapins in the Championship game.  The size up front which Maryland has been able to use as an advantage all tournament, will be offset by the physical nature of Virginia.  Melo Trimble will rise to stardom this March, but the Cavaliers have a disciplined backcourt combo which will be able to keep him in check.  Once again, Malcolm Brogdon is the difference maker, impacting every aspect of the game, to lead his team to victory.  The senior laden Virginia Cavaliers are your National Champions!

Email Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Image via Flickr/Thomson20192

NCAA Tournament: The Tuesday First Four Games

Tuesday night the Big Dance officially got underway with the first two play-in games. Fairleigh Dickinson played Florida Gulf Coast University in one game and Vanderbilt played Wichita State in the other. These four teams were looking to move forward in the tournament to have a date to play North Carolina and Arizona. Who survived and moved on?

Florida Gulf Coast/Fairleigh Dickinson

Fairleigh Dickinson took to the floor to play Florida Gulf Coast in a game played by teams deemed 16 seeds. From the beginning of the game, it was apparent that Florida Gulf Coast came to play. If Florida Gulf Coast sounds familiar, think back to 2013 when they had a group of players who were dunking all over the place. The phrase “Dunk City” was attributed to them back then, but this was not Dunk City.

The 2015-2016 version of FGCU controlled the boards and then simply blew past Fairleigh Dickinson. Florida Gulf Coast started off the game with a dunk, but then used a 23-6 run in the first 10 minutes of the game to open a huge 40-19 lead at halftime. This halftime lead could have been worse, but Florida Gulf Coast only shot 6-17 from the free throw line. Florida Gulf Coast shot 60% from the field and Fairleigh Dickinson couldn’t hit water if they were in a boat on Tuesday night.

Fairleigh Dickinson shot 33% from the field and their 19 points at halftime were the lowest output of the season. However, when you are not shooting well you at least want to play tough defense, so the game doesn’t get out of control for you. Fairleigh Dickinson couldn’t do that either as their team defense was very porous and made for a long night for them.

Marc-Eddy Norelia led Florida Gulf Coast with 20 points, Julian Debose and Christian Terrell both scored 14 points to help Norelia out for the Eagles. Demetris Morant also added 10 points for Florida Gulf Coast.

“Coach made the game plan and said we’re going to do what we’ve been doing, and it worked for us.” Said leading scorer Marc-Eddy Norelia.

The one thing that also was a positive for FGC was their inside game and the way they outmuscled Fairleigh Dickinson on the boards and that might be one thing they can hang their hat on for their upcoming game with North Carolina. The Eagles survive and move on, but do they get past the Tar Heels? Probably not, but it is the NCAA Tournament, so who really knows.

Wichita State/Vanderbilt

This was game between 11 seeds and the prize was a date with the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night.

This game was ugly at the beginning, the officiating was being second guessed, and there was no game flow happening at all. Neither team was taking open shots that were in front of them. The flow of the game was rather choppy because of the missed shots and even the whistles the referees were blowing.

Due to these things happening, it was 30-30 at half time and the game was up in the air. What did the Shockers do? They relied on their experience.

Wichita State is a team that people recognize from past tournaments because of their runs deep into the tourney and that many of their players are not the “one and done” players. Players have experience that help in these situations when it comes down to crunch time and that proved to be the case on Tuesday night for the Wichita State Shockers.

The Shockers used a 16-0 run at the end of the first half that continued into the beginning of the second half to put some distance between themselves and Vanderbilt. However, Vanderbilt did make a run on the Shockers that brought them within two points at 50-48. As quickly as the Commodores got their wheels going, those same wheels came off just as quickly as Wichita State finished the game on a 20-2 run and held Vanderbilt scoreless in the final minutes of the game.

Senior point guard Fred VanVleet led the way for the Shockers with 14 points, seven assists, and only had one turnover. He was not going to let Vanderbilt end his college career on Tuesday night. He fought through an elbow to the side of the head that caused some bleeding and that pretty much sums up the type of player he is. He spoke on the experience that his team has and how that helped them in this game.

“We’ve been here before, we know how to act in these situations. Experience is very underrated in these scenarios.” VanVleet mentioned after the game.

In the end, the game came down to a team that had been there before and a team that had not. The Shockers moved on with 70-50 win and get to play Arizona on Thursday night. Don’t write off Wichita State in their game with Arizona because experience does count for something in the NCAA Tournament. Let’s see if it works for the Shockers on Thursday night.

Photo: google

Cardinals Will Rise from the Ashes

For the University of Louisville Basketball program and its fans, the 2015-16 season began with a lot of promise; and will come to a grinding halt on March 5. So much has already been said about the self-imposed ban, and what other sanctions may or may not be coming. Despite all of that, the Cardinals players have continued to show tremendous fight.

That was on full display this past Saturday, when the Cardinals overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half, to outlast the Duke Blue Devils 71-64. In that game, and throughout this season, some very bright spots have begun to shine.

Assuming that there aren’t significant additional penalties levied by the NCAA; and that Head Coach Rick Pitino survives the scandal, the future is very bright for this program. Focusing just on the basketball court; here is a look at what the Louisville Cardinals will look like next year.

Let’s begin, naturally, with the projected starting lineup. At point guard, back for his junior year will be Quentin Snider. The 6’2” Snider returns with a ton of experience. After being thrust into the starting lineup late in his freshman season, and running the show for the U of L squad that made a run to the Elite Eight, Q has progressed nicely.

Although he’s not ultra-quick, Snider is able to carve his way through defenses, get to the lane, and has become a decent finisher around the basket. While not a sharpshooter, Quentin’s shot is proficient enough to keep defenses honest, and he’s a more than capable ball-handler. As his decision making continues to improve, Q will be a solid leader.

Sophomore Donovan “Spida” Mitchell will take over as the full-time starter at the shooting guard spot. He has already become a fan favorite, and his freshman season has been filled with highlight reel dunks. His athleticism is off the charts, but he also has a strong mid-range game. He’s showed poise and moxie beyond his years. In order to take the next step to stardom, Mitchell will need to avoid gambling as often on defense. At 6’3”, Spida may need to add some point guard abilities as well, not only to allow the Cardinals some flexibility, but to succeed at the NBA level. He certainly has the goods to do so.

Moving on to the frontcourt, we’ll start at small forward. Deng Adel should be in line to start there. Adel’s freshman season hit a snag when he hurt his knee just two games in. He was a starter right off the bat, and then has struggled for much of the year to get consistent minutes after returning from injury. On Saturday against Duke however, he finally got his chance, and he made the most of it. Scoring 12 points, adding five rebounds, Deng displayed a lot of versatility.

At 6’7”, long and quick, Adel will be able to float between the shooting guard and small forward; and if Pitino wants to go small, perhaps even the power forward spot. Deng has three point range on his jump shot, and can get to the rim. He’ll need to spend the off-season getting acclimated to Coach Pitino’s match-up zone defense. Adel has been glaringly lost in that defensive scheme quite a bit since his return from injury. Assuming he erases his defensive issues, his activity, and rangy body will make him a problem for most teams to deal with.

Jaylen Johnson is next up at power forward. The 6’9” junior to be has shown glimpses, but still has a lot of work to do. Johnson has started for a good portion of his sophomore season, and should continue to progress into a solid college player. Similar to Adel, Jaylen has looked a bit lost in the match-up zone defense. Missed assignments have led to a number of wide open looks for opposing teams. That’s going to be what determines if he keeps the starting gig.

Johnson does have the ability to hit face-up jumpers out to 17-18 feet. With added muscle, he also should be a capable post threat. With three years in the program, hopefully that will lend a bit more confidence, and allow Jaylen to be more assertive.

Based on another assumption, the center position should be in excellent hands. Chinanu Onuaku improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year. He put a tremendous amount of work into his offensive footwork. As a freshman Nanu looked terrified on offense. Now, he can score in a variety of ways. He’s excellent with his back to the basket, and can score over either shoulder. His jump shot is also effective out to 15 feet.

Defensively, Onuaku can be an absolute terror blocking shots. He’s also a rebounding machine. Unfortunately, he’s still a foul magnet, so foul trouble follows him everywhere. If he learns to cut down on silly fouls, particularly moving screens on the offensive end, Nanu could turn into an All-American.

Over the last few years, Rick Pitino’s teams have been blessed with a tremendous amount of depth. 2016-17 should be no different from that standpoint. In particular, the frontcourt is going to be stacked. Rick will be able to look down the bench, and pick from guys standing 6’10”, 6’10”, 7’0”, and 7’0”. Each of those options will come with some quality experience.

Mangok Mathiang will be heading into his fifth season with the program. His junior year was derailed by a foot injury that effectively ended his season in mid-December. Whether he’ll be granted any additional eligibility due to missing most of the season, remains to be seen.

If not, Mangok will be a senior who practiced with the 2013 National Championship team; and has played in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Similar to Onuaku, Mathiang benefited immensely from international experience over the summer of 2015. During the brief time he played in 2015-16, he displayed some offensive ability he didn’t previously have. Mangok’s energy on the boards and defensively will continue to be an asset, and he’s grown into a team leader.

The first seven-footer off the bench will be Anas Mahmoud. This kid just oozes moxie, and basketball IQ. He’s one of those hidden gems that Pitino tends to find. Anas has a smooth offensive game, can run the floor, and has shown some decent shot blocking instinct. He’ll absolutely have to add muscle, as he can be knocked over by a stiff breeze at this point. If he does, Mahmoud is going to be a beast.

Local product Ray Spalding has been a pleasant surprise. It’s always nice having Louisville kids on the team, but even better when they’re legitimate contributors. I thought it would take Ray a couple of years to see the floor, but he has proven to be worthy of immediate minutes.

Spalding is another super athlete. He’s got the quickness to guard on the perimeter, and the spring to swat shots away near the basket. Ray’s offensive game is advanced far beyond what was expected coming in. He’s got nice touch on his shot out to the free throw line, and is crafty in the paint. Like Mahmoud, if he builds up his body so he can physically hold his own, he’ll be hard to handle.

The other seven-footer who will contribute is Matz Stockman. While he still has a long way to go in order to garner a significant amount of minutes, Matz has shown that he won’t be overwhelmed when he gets them. Although not a total liability, Stockman will need to do a lot of work study defensively in order to stay on the floor. He’s already displayed some offensive acumen, and unlike many inexperienced players, Matz is not afraid to attack the basket as soon as he gets the ball.

Unlike the frontcourt, the backcourt depth may be a bit of a question mark. It’s all going to start with incoming freshman V.J. King, who is the gem of the incoming class. King is a 6’6” McDonald’s All-American, who has a penchant for scoring. Attacking the basket is his strongest attribute right now, but is also considered a capable outside shooter. His size should allow him to share the shooting guard/small forward duties with Deng Adel. Whether next year’s Cardinals are a legitimate contender, will hinge upon V.J. living up to his lofty expectations.

The remainder of the backcourt minutes are going to be up for grabs. Cleveland product Frankie Hughes is on his way, and has risen up the recruiting ranks. He’ll be a combo guard to start, and will need to develop into an option at point guard in order to gain early minutes.

After the success of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis this year, Coach P went the route of the grad transfer again. Tony Hicks will provide a veteran presence, and was a solid scorer while at Penn. I doubt he’ll have the type of impact that Lee and Lewis did, but if he can spell Snider at the point guard, that will be enough.

David Levitch will be around for his senior season, and should fill the same role he always has. Rick loves putting him in the game when we all least expect it. He doesn’t typically hurt the team when he’s in, and has finally begun to knock down three’s consistently when the occasion presents itself. What Ryan McMahon brings to the table, remains a complete mystery.

Hopefully the NCAA will have made their final determinations by the time the 2016-17 season tips off. There may be a portion of the season that Rick Pitino is suspended for assuming he’s still at the helm. What he has proven time and time again, is that he will get the absolute maximum out of every person on his team. In the past 10 years, Louisville has jumped into the most difficult conferences in the Big East, and now the ACC; and has competed at a high level. With the talent on board, there’s no reason to believe that next year’s U of L squad will not only compete for ACC supremacy; but also for a National Championship.

Photo via Kevin Coles/Flickr

More Than A Friday: Nothing Has Mattered In College Football Until Now

Every game counts, except for the ones we determine don’t matter, under the guise of not evaluating losses.  The end of the College Football season has always had its ways of frustrating us on one level or another.  Bowl games were set up in a weird way, where the best teams didn’t necessarily play each other, and everyone was proud to play on January 1st.

I know, I know.  This New Years Eve is going to be so awesome, watching College Football through confetti…but really, is it?  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the old days of split-titles and what-not, but the more we try to solve the problem, the more we realize there’s no perfect solution.  I mean, it’s nice.  We reward four regular season achievers with a playoff, distinguish four other games as very important, and spend our December and early January evenings watching games of waning importance that feature slightly above average to fairly good teams.

That seems cool, but the undercard action is borderline fatiguing, and there’s such a gap between the motivation you’re going to have for a National Semifinal versus an “Access Bowl”.  Ask Nick Saban about his Alabama team sleepwalking into those consultation games.  There’s gap between the Access Bowls and kicking off in Orlando at 11 AM on the first day of the year, but being left out of the Peach Bowl isn’t quite the same as being five and wondering why a committee thought four was better than you.

That might be a problem.  For the second year in a row, I’d have to assume we’re going to see some sort of subjective cut line, and there will be a solid argument for a team playing in Pasadena1Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford to be competing for a title.  Ohio State and Notre Dame have only lost close games to top opponents, Stanford dropped one to an Oregon team that’s much better than their record and one hard-to-forgive road contest at Northwestern, and North Carolina is begging forgiveness for their season opening loss to South Carolina and the Ole Ball Coach2That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year..

There’s a few ways to look at this.  Chalk makes it easy and chaos makes it chaotic.

ACC Championship

It’s undefeated Clemson and once-defeated North Carolina.  Clemson finally cleared the hurdles created by Florida State and South Carolina in the past, and find themselves in the ACC Championship game for the first time in a while.  Quarterback DeShaun Watson will take the stage with an outside chance at the Heisman Trophy, so head coach Dabo Swinney will set him up to shine.  North Carolina has Marquis Williams, and he’s been nothing short of sensational behind center for Larry Fedora’s team, who enters the weekend on an 11-game winning streak of their own.

Chalk: Clemson wins and they’re in.  Wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, and North Carolina will make the fact they schedule Wofford as meaningless as Alabama’s loss at home to Ole Miss.

Chaos: North Carolina wins, and you start comparing them to teams on the couch this weekend.  Ohio State was underwhelming, despite holding the top spot until we recognized the committee’s rankings over the AP’s.  The Tar Heels didn’t play Florida State this season, and schedule two FCS opponents.  This might come down to style points, and while most would have to think simply taking down Clemson would do the trick, we know the aforementioned Buckeyes made an “All Sales Final” pitch to the committee in the Big Ten title game a year ago.

Big Ten Championship

With all due respect to their recent success, it will be a battle of little brothers in Indianapolis to crown a Big Ten Champion.  Iowa is unbeaten, but no one believes they are what it says they are on paper.  They’re hanging their hat on a non-conference win over Pitt and victories over a few decent intra division rivals.  Michigan State, on the other hand, has been the best team on the field in every game they’ve played this season.  They were better than the Cornhuskers, who won on a very controversial play, and they were better than the Buckeyes, who they dominated in their own building, despite the game coming down to a walk-off field goal.

Chalk: The winner goes to the College Football Playoff.  Few would argue that.

Chaos:  Enough people might get it in their head that if Iowa wins, do you automatically deem them better than all of the 1-loss teams.  Undefeated should eliminate that noise.  You could hold the Nebraska loss against Michigan State, but wins at Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon3You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State., not to mention Iowa on the big stage should quiet all of that noise.  The only chaos here would be an ugly game, and an ugly game didn’t keep Texas out of the 2010 BCS Championship, in the era known as that of The BCS.

Pac 12 Championship

USC has four losses, and they fired their head coach earlier this season, but bounced back under interim-turned-full-time head coach Clay Helton.  Stanford has some momentum after the big win in their season finale over Notre Dame, and they’ll be playing close to home this weekend.

Chalk:  I’m not sure it matters, but if Stanford loses, they are out.  If they win, they are scoreboard watching.

Chaos:  The top teams bottom out in their conference championship games, and the committee has three teams locked in, Oklahoma and the champions from the Big Ten and ACC.  Fourth spot is up for grabs, with 2-loss Alabama, 1-loss Ohio State, and the 2-loss Cardinal reaching for it.

SEC Championship

Alabama was able to convincingly beat Wisconsin on a neutral field to start the year and lost early to Ole Miss at home.  They took care of business versus the rest of the SEC, but the jury is really deliberating hard on just how good the conference was in 2015.  Florida has had a good run under first-year coach Jim McElwain, surviving an unexpected year-long suspension for their opening day starting quarterback to win the SEC East, but a poor showing versus Florida State last week does not inspire anyone into believing they’ll best Alabama in Atlanta on Saturday.

Chalk: Alabama is very likely on the top line with a win and all the way out with a loss to the Gators.

Chaos:  There promises to be a lot of Gator fans in Columbus.  Realistically, a Florida win is the only obvious route for Ohio State (or Stanford) to reach the College Football Playoff, but then what do you make of a 2-loss Florida team.

Actual Predictions

Basically, because rarely does anyone ever find themselves held accountable for being wrong, I’m going to take a stab at slotting the Semis and the Access Bowls.

Orange Bowl (National Semifinal)

Michigan State vs. Clemson

Cotton Bowl (National Semifinal)

Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Rose Bowl

Ohio State vs. Stanford

Sugar Bowl

Baylor vs. Florida

Fiesta Bowl

Iowa vs. Notre Dame

Peach Bowl

Houston vs. Florida State

 

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1. Or one of those other prestigious non-championship participating games.  I’m assuming a Big Ten team or Stanford
2. That’s Steve Spurrier, who resigned in-season this year.
3. You could mitigate this victory a little bit by suggesting they didn’t play the same Oregon that knocked off Stanford, but it was still a good win for Michigan State.

The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry

I have attended twenty-five Auburn-Georgia games. My record is 13-11-1. Saturday, good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise (well, the creek HAS risen, but that’s another story), will be number twenty-six for me. And I hope my record improves to 14-11-1. More on that later.

Here is a look back at some of those games I attended which were memorable and had a huge impact.

1968

The 1968 game was the first one I was privileged to view in-person. My father drove me, and my friends Frank McGraw and Mike Collins, to The Plains that rainy November morning. The weather cleared during the game.

Auburn was 6-2 with designs on an Orange Bowl invitation. Those dreams were squashed by a suffocating Bulldog defense which allowed only 3 first quarter points. The visitors scored all 17 of their points in stanza number two. The final tally was 17-3.

The Herschel Years

Herschel Walker, arguably college football’s greatest running back EVER, toted the rock at UGA for three seasons, 1980-82, and Georgia was the victor in all three. The respective scores were 31-21, 24-13, and 19-14.

I was there for all of those losses.

1982

Moral victories (is there really any such thing?) are ultimately hollow, but often provide a ray of hope. That was the case in 1982.

Georgia was undefeated and had their sights set on a second National Championship in a three-year span. They had beaten Notre Dame to accomplish this, behind the running of frosh phenom, Walker, following the 1980 season.

The Dawgs led 13-7 in the fourth quarter when Auburn’s Lionel “Little Train” James fielded a punt at his own 13-yard line and took it to the house. Tigers 14-13!

The number one team in the country responded like the champions they were with an 80-yard march that ended with Walker taking it in from the three. The two-point conversion attempt failed.

The Tigers countered with a desperation drive, engineered beautifully by quarterback Randy Campbell, that fell just short, as Campbell threw into the end zone on fourth down only to have the pass batted away with 47 ticks remaining on the clock. Game over. Georgia, 19-14.

This was the afternoon that legendary Bulldog broadcaster, Larry Munson, screamed, “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky! Look at the sugar falling out of the sky!” as the game concluded, and referencing the, now upcoming, trip to the Sugar Bowl for the SEC Champion Bulldogs.

But… BUT, also as the game concluded, Auburn fans, as often we do, chanted “It’s great to be an Auburn Tiger!” over and over and over. And the mood at our, and other’s tailgates, was not one of sadness or despair, but one of optimism and hope.

One game was yet to be played on that 1982 schedule, and the opponent was the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Auburn fans knew, in their heart of hearts, as one, that the nine-game winning streak that the Tide lorded over the Tigers could very well come to an end in two weeks at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.

It did! Bo Jackson went “over the top” to give Auburn a 23-22 lead which they did not relinquish. That was Bear Bryant’s last regular season game as head coach at Alabama, and the balance of power, within the state, began to shift.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Another monster game in “The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.”

1983

I was NOT in attendance. We were living in Albany, NY and didn’t make the game, but it’s tale is a must tell when one consider’s the enormity of the event.

Auburn had not won an SEC Championship since 1957. Third-year coach Pat Dye brought a determined group of Tigers to play “between the hedges”. They were 8-1 and number 3 in the country. Georgia was undefeated and ranked number 4.

Georgia was looking for its fourth straight league title. The winner of this one would decide who would represent the SEC in New Orleans.

Auburn would, absolutely, not be denied this time. They were in full control of the game, from the beginning, and the 13-7 triumph was not as close as the score indicated.

The twenty-six year conference championship drought came to an end in Athens.

Auburn went on to defeat the Michigan Wolverines, and Bo Schembechler, 9-7, in the Sugar Bowl. They would be crowned National Champions by the New York Times.

Schembechler said Auburn would not be able to run on Michigan. Auburn did, indeed, run on the Wolverines and Bo Jackson was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Fast forward to 2004. I’m back in attendance.

2004

Auburn… #3 and undefeated. Georgia… #5 with one loss.

ESPN College GameDay.

There is only one game in which the atmosphere was more electric on an Auburn football Saturday. That was in 1989 when Alabama came to town for the first time in the history of the series.

Auburn had already clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game and was playing for a, potential, spot in the Orange Bowl in the BCS National Championship Game.

Auburn held Georgia scoreless for 57 minutes and wound up winning by a 24-6 count. It wasn’t that close. They dominated the Bulldogs on both sides of the ball.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the ball 19 times for 101 yards.

Ronnie Brown ran for 51 yards. He also caught 7 passes for 88 yards.

And how about Jason Campbell? 18 for 22 and 189 yards.

Most of us know the rest of the story.

Auburn went into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama two weeks later. The Tigers should have played Southern Cal for it all. They did not, as the idiots in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Polls kept Oklahoma at number two, and college football fans were robbed of what would, most likely, have been a monumental ‘game for the ages’ in Miami.

Auburn WAS named National Champions by People’s National Champions and the GBE College Football Ratings, among others.

2013

‘Nuff said!!!

And that brings us to…

2015

It’s not 2004, or even 1982, but this year’s contest between Auburn and Georgia is very important. Without rehashing what is going on in Athens, with Mark Richt and his squad, Georgia needs this game… BADLY.

Auburn needs this game.

The Tigers went to to College Station and whipped the Texas A&M Aggies in a most impressive fashion.

The game plans for the offense and defense were excellent and they were well executed.

Jeremy Johnson returned as the starting signal caller and performed extremely well.

Jovon Robinson asserted himself as that ‘go to’ back that Auburn can give the ball to with complete confidence, and he will break a couple of long runs before the season is over.

The Auburn defense nabbed three picks off the arm of dynamic freshman quarterback, Kyler Murray and, very importantly, contained him in the pocket.

In short, the Tigers played Auburn Football, really, for the first time this year. Now it’s time for them to step up and do that consistently.

For the 119th time, Georgia awaits. The series stands at 55-55-8. Think it could get any closer?

There has been turmoil within the Bulldog program and Richt might be coaching for his job in these last two games, but you can believe that he will have his minions ready for Auburn. He always does. The Dawgs have won seven out of the last ten.

The stage is set.

I am of the opinion that Auburn will continue to build on what they have been doing for the past three weeks, the A&M game being their most complete one, and play their best game of the 2015 season. And I will run my record, in games I’ve attended versus Georgia, to 14-11-1.

Auburn 31, Georgia 20