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What Will Carla Do at Virginia?

It had been a while since Virginia played in a post-season bowl game. In the excitement generated by Virginia’s invitation to the Military Bowl, Virginia fans might have forgotten that sometimes post season bowl experiences go awry.

Some might argue that things started to go downhill with the weather forecast which was for daytime temperatures in the mid-20s with steady winds throughout the day. The good news for the Virginia program is that its fans turned out in force. Virginia fans filled the vast majority of the seats in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium eagerly anticipating the next step in Bronco’s resurrection of Virginia football. Kudos to the Virginia faithful for a strong showing in Annapolis. That’s our primary role supporting the program and it was a job well done.

Unfortunately, Virginia’s on-field performance in the Military Bowl against a middling Navy team was 12 seconds of glory and 59 minutes and 48 seconds of agony.  After running back the opening kickoff for a score, Virginia played like they took the month off leading up to the Military bowl. Navy dominated the lines of scrimmage and Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert’s passes went in every direction except that of wide open receivers. Benkert missed 3 walk-in touchdown passes, under and over shooting by 10 yards or more, so off the mark that fans wondered who was Benkert’s intended target. The balance of Virginia’s performance was equally dismal. I could only tolerate 3 quarters of frigid football torture before heading for the warmth of the 3-hour ride home.

Speaking with friends about the game, one particularly loyal and astute Virginia fan raised a most interesting question – What will Carla do?

Virginia’s new athletic director Carla Williams was an all-SEC guard for the Georgia women’s basketball team. She spent the last 14 years with he Georgia athletic department, overseeing the Georgia football program. During her 14-year tenure at Georgia, the Dawgs won 10 or more games 9 times. They had one losing season, a 6-7 campaign in 2010. The bottom line is that Carla Williams is used to winning…a lot.

I wonder what she thought as Virginia went a second consecutive game without scoring an offensive touchdown? I wonder what she was thinking when Virginia punted from inside the Navy 40 yard-line? I have no doubt she has never seen a field goal attempt from 46 yards bounce across the goal line, having never reached a height that would clear the cross bar. The cynical part of me wanted to say “welcome to Virginia football” Ms Williams. Given her background of winning, however, I doubt Williams will stand idly by while Virginia football continues to struggle in its return to football respectability.

The real question is, what will Carla do? Recall, Carla Williams was running the football program at Georgia when the Dawgs fired Mark Richt, who averaged almost 10 wins per season in the juggernaut SEC. The Dawgs won the SEC twice, their division 6 times and won 9 bowl games while Ms Williams as in Athens…and then Richt was kicked to the curb.

I don’t think Georgia holds the SEC record for the largest loss margin as Virginia does for the ACC – tying it’s own record this week with the 42 point drubbing against Illinois in the 1999 Micron PC Bowl. I also don’t think Carla Williams will find this year’s performance an acceptable outcome for the Virginia football program. She didn’t hire Bronco and she didn’t hire any of the staff Bronco brought with him. I am sure she expects a better performance from a coach making almost 3.5 million a year.

I don’t think that Bronco is in trouble, yet. However I do expect to see changes in the program – some of which we will see, others will be kept behind closed doors. I will be very surprised if offensive coordinator Robert Anae is with the program next season. 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown is unthinkable for someone with Carla Williams’ background – even Vandy can get the ball in the end zone once or twice a game against the best in the SEC.

While Virginia fans should be encouraged by the improvement in the program from 2-10 in 2016 to 6-7 in 2017, I doubt that this is the expectation for Virginia’s new athletic director. This makes the 2018 season a critical one for Bronco and his staff. I think that another 6-7 season with a season-ending drubbing will raise questions in her mind if Bronco is the right leader for Virginia football. I have no doubt that Williams has a short list in her mind of talented coordinators she could bring to Charlottesville should the Virginia program stagnate or regress in 2018.

I don’t think Bronco will make any public “hot seat” lists in the coming year, but I’d bet you 5 bucks he is on the only hot seat list that matters and that there will be many candid discussions during the off season with his new boss.

This is all is good news for Virginia football. I am not ready to throw in the towel on Bronco and staff, but I am glad that he has a boss who is used to winning on Saturdays and who I doubt has many positive feelings about the 2017 season. If Virginia is going to continue to improve its football results, 6-7 seasons with an embarrassing bowl loss cannot be part of the recipe for success. Based on Carla Williams’ background, I suspect Virginia football will improve under the current leadership or it will see dramatic changes that will lead to wins in the future. Either way the Virginia fans who posted in Annapolis on a day when it would have been easy to stay home will see more winning Saturdays for Virginia football. I am good with that.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Week 1 – September 4, 2017

Welcome back to college football, the weekend was glorious, wasn’t it? We’re left with just Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech on the Week 1 schedule, so I think it’s a good time to play the Good, the Bad and the Ugly game with Week 1. Short of Tennessee losing and Butch Jones being left on a tarmac at Atlanta’s airport, nothing can top what we’re about to talk about.

The Good

Easily the best story in college football this week is UAB. After a three-year hiatus and my friends in Tuscaloosa doing everything in their power to prevent football in Birmingham, the Blazers have returned and were triumphant over Alabama A&M. On their first drive, UAB went 76 yards in fourteen plays and converted a touchdown on fourth down. Solid start.

UAB’s football schedule is mostly “easy,” but a solid showing against Florida on Sat Nov 18 could go a long way in bringing more of the right kind of attention to the program in 2017 and beyond.

Also, nice to see a record crowd for UAB in its return, but the long-term success of the program depends on constant support from fans and the community.

The Bad

This wasn’t a great opening weekend for three of the major football teams in Texas. Texas A&M was up on UCLA last night and forced the Bruins to score 34 points without a turnover is nothing short of amazing. Honestly, I turned the game off and switched to NASCAR then Netflix. If we started the evening with Jim Mora at the top of the coaching hot seat, he was quickly replaced by Kevin Sumlin.

Then there’s Tom Herman’s debut at Texas. For the record, I didn’t think Herman was ready for a job like Texas when he was hired and I’m not saying that Saturday’s loss to Maryland cemented that thought to me, because one game does not make a coach. Herman will have his team playing better, and as Chase will tell you this week there’s a lot that likely needs to happen behind the scenes for the Longhorns to get better. Turning non-Power 5 Houston around is a lot easier than turning Big 12 Texas around. That said, in the earlier three meetings between Maryland and Texas, Maryland had never scored; on Saturday they scored 51.

Last, we must talk about Baylor. I think we knew at some point all the shenanigans related to the off-field sexual assault was going to catch up to them in a big way. Coaching changes, players leaving or refusing to play there, negative press, and the constant stories hurt. Did I ever think it would show itself against FCS Lamar in Waco? absolutely not. Do I think this is absolute rock bottom for Baylor? Not even close.

The Ugly

99-0 was the score between St. John’s University and St. Scholastica (yes, she is real because I’m Catholic and I also checked Wikipedia.) in beautiful Collegeville, Minnesota. Per SB Nation, St. John’s used – and get ready for this one – almost 180 players in this game and wanted to play the fourth quarter with a running clock, but the men of Benedictine from Scholastica said, “No, thanks.”

Amazing.

And as a bonus: The Weird

Lane Kiffin. Down by 23 as his FAU Owls are facing the Midshipmen of Navy, the game is already in its third lightening delay and it is nearly 1am and Kiffin refuses to let the game go. He forces both teams to come back out, btw – Navy had already eaten their post-game meal, only to lose the game 42-19.

We get it, Lane – it’s still all about you.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Photo: Wikipedia

The Group of 5 Does Not Need its Own College Football Playoff

The debate that has been raging since the inception of the College Football Playoff is whether or not four teams are enough. Some say that four teams are enough. Others say, “not so fast,” we need more than four participants. And there is yet a third opinionated group of voices that tells us that a playoff isn’t needed regardless of the number of teams participating.

And now there is a fourth voice in the argument and its proposal would be the most disruptive of all. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier is leading the charge for the Group of 5 to have its own college football playoff.

Schools that compete in the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt conferences feel like they’re living on the Island of Misfit Toys. The reason that these conferences feel this way is justified, but it’s also not unfair.

Even when schools like Houston and Western Michigan have magical years, they don’t get into the playoff. Houston proved with its 2015 Peach Bowl victory over Florida State that it could not only compete with but beat a Power 5 school. The Cougars followed that up with a 2016 victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. Then, as the season progressed, things went down hill for Houston.

As Tom Herman led the Cougars into the October 8 game against Navy, Houston was sitting at 5-0. That unblemished record was highlighted with the win over the Sooners. The team had positioned itself well for playoff consideration. And then Houston lost to Navy. But that wasn’t Houston’s only loss. The Cougars then lost to SMU and Memphis. Game over. Playoff consideration was off the table and rightfully so.

But being shunned by the playoff committee was not the fault of the playoff committee. It was Houston’s fault. Houston took care of Oklahoma but then couldn’t take care of its AAC business. Too bad. Go back to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Having a separate playoff for the Group of 5 will not solve this problem because there isn’t a problem to be solved. All that this proposed second tier playoff will do is create a larger divide between the Group of 5 and Power 5 schools. The perceived difference in quality will grow at an exponential rate.

Frazier believes that the current playoff system is designed to crown a Power 5 champion. He believes that the Group of 5 is being held down and left out at a systemic level. Frazier wants us all to ignore the fact that the highest-ranked Group of 5 team is guaranteed a spot in one of the New Year’s 6 bowls. That isn’t the definition of being left out. That isn’t being confined to the Island of Misfit toys no matter what your teams do.

Western Michigan is the 2016 version of the 2015 Houston program. P.J. Fleck and his Broncos rowed the boat all the way to a 13-0 season. The reward is a trip to the Cotton Bowl where the opponent will be the Wisconsin Badgers. Western Michigan had a great season, but don’t be fooled, all 13-0 seasons are not created equal. The Broncos, much to Frazier’s assumed chagrin, do not belong in the playoff. Western Michigan didn’t have its “rightful” spot in the playoff stolen.

P.J. Fleck did go undefeated against the Big Ten this season, but those wins came against a 7-6 Northwestern team and a 3-9 Illinois team. Nope. Sorry/not sorry. The Broncos don’t belong in the playoff. And to be honest, the Broncos are lucky to be in the Cotton Bowl. Thank goodness for negotiated contractual clauses.

2017 has the potential to be an interesting year in terms of playoff consideration if, and only if, Western Michigan can upset Wisconsin. If Western Michigan can manage to do that, it will surely start 2017 off with a high preseason ranking. Package that potential ranking with road games against Southern Cal and Michigan State and the Broncos could be in consideration for the 2017 playoff. But even if the Broncos knock-off Wisconsin, Southern Cal and Michigan State, Fleck will still have to go undefeated in the Mid-American Conference. Sound easy? Just ask Houston about beating schools from the Power 5 only to screw it all up by struggling against its Group of 5 competition.

The Group of 5 is what it is. It’s a collection of good, but not great football programs. There are teams like Houston and Western Michigan that have the potential to be in the same conversation as the Power 5 schools, but teams like the Cougars and Broncos have to build up to a playoff run over the course of multiple seasons. Unlike a Power 5 school, it can’t be done during a single season. Creating a Group of 5 playoff won’t solve this non-problem. If anything, it will be perceived as the Group of 5 creating its own participation trophy.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Pixabay

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Sunday Morning Notebook: Army-Navy edition

It was awards week in college football, and an epic showdown between Army and Navy highlighted this week’s action.

“You’ve sunk my midshipmen!”

The Army Black Knights got their first victory over the Midshipmen of Navy in over 15 years on Saturday by a score of 21-17. After getting out to a 14-0 lead, it seemed like Army was going to dominate. Their four turnovers kept Navy in the game.

Despite losing starting quarterback Will Worth, starting running back Toneo Gulley, and wide receiver Tony Carmona, Navy clawed its way back to a 17-14 lead after quarterback replacement Zach Abey’s beastly 41-yard touchdown run gave the Midshipmen the lead with 12:42 remaining.

On the ensuing possession, Army marched down the field, burning more than six minutes off the clock. The Black Knights converted two third downs and a fourth and inches in the red zone on their way to a go-ahead touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw (Not that Ahmad Bradshaw, this Ahmad Bradshaw).

As he took a final knee to break the streak, Bradshaw turned to the cadets and watched as they poured over the barriers and celebrated with the players.

It was at that moment you could see just how much this game meant to everyone involved. Despite what President-elect Donald Trump had to say on the air, this was an excellent football game.

And the Heisman goes to…

Lamar Jackson! In other news, the sky is blue and water is wet. Jackson was far and away the most electrifying college football player in the country this year, despite stumbling down the stretch against Houston and Kentucky. Jackson’s 3390 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, combined with his 1538 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, earned him the honor, which gave the University of Louisville a first Heisman trophy.

Other notes:

ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Catholics vs. Convicts” aired last night, and it was phenomenal. The film goes in-depth about a t-shirt business run by some Notre Dame students, which culminated in the (in)famous “Catholics vs. Convicts” shirts ahead of the showdown between 1987 defending national champion Miami Hurricanes and eventual 1988 National Champion Notre Dame. 10/10 would recommend, objectively, without any connection to either school’s fanbase. (My dad was in the stands for that game, it was his sophomore year at ND. Here’s his shirt).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter @John_Horlander, or by email:  [email protected].

Flickr – The U.S. Army

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Conference Championship Edition

December is for contenders, and the rest of the season is for pretenders. Unless, of course, you’re Ohio State, in which case you can be a contender without even playing in December. The College Football Playoff picture just got a lot clearer after a weekend chock-full of marquee matchups. Or, perhaps it’s just as murky as it was in November.

Somebody call 9-1-1! I think he’s dead!

But just to make sure, Derrick Gore pounded it home from 10 yards out with 3:48 to play to cap off Alabama’s 54-16 evisceration of Florida. In a game that meant little to either team’s playoff chances, Saban decided to press the pedal to the floor and try to earn Alabama a bye in the College Football Playoff, purely out of mercy to whichever sorry team gets placed at #4 (That was a joke, by the way, Alabama can’t get a bye in the playoff. The #4 team will have to play Alabama. Keep EMS on standby to resuscitate whomever it may be).

Game Notes:

  • Jalen Hurts had a lackluster day, throwing 11/20 for 138 yards and just one touchdown. It’s not his fault he didn’t rack up big numbers, though. There was a six-minute span in the first quarter in which the Tide gained one yard, and yet they scored 16 points.
  • The Crimson Tide had a pick-6 and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in that time frame, and they picked off Gator quarterback Austin Appleby twice more for good measure
  • Three Alabama running backs notched touchdowns: Derrick Henry–erm, I mean Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs, and Derrick Gore.

Pac-12 Champion playoff bound after all?

Sko Buffs! Colorado must have forgotten that the Pac-12 Championship was Friday night and not Saturday. In another blowout conference title game, Washington made it clear that it wants its shot at the College Football playoff, as the Huskies dominated the Colorado Buffaloes 41-10.

Game Notes:

  • The Washington defense was stifling all night, and held the Buffaloes to 81 yards passing and 82 yards rushing. Lockdown.
  • Jake Browning, who for some reason is still in the Heisman race, put up an abysmal 118 yards on 9/24 passing.
  • Browning didn’t need to do much, though, because running backs Miles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman lacerated the Colorado defense for 159 and 101 yards rushing, respectively.
  • Despite this convincing win, I still don’t think Washington will make it into the top 4 tonight. I think that the Pac-12 has spent this whole year beating up on itself, and now they’re going to be left in the dust.

On the BIGgest stage, the true contenders perform

After trailing 28-7 with just a minute to go in the first half, the Penn State Nittany Lions rallied to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31. On the back of a 10-point fourth quarter, Penn State stonewalled Badger running back Corey Clement on fourth down to seal the victory.

Game Notes:

  • Trace McSorely wants Bama! (No you don’t) The Nittany Lion gunslinger notched 384 yards and four touchdowns on 22/31 passing,
  • Clement had himself a game as well for the Badgers, chalking up 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
  • Unfortunately, this win doesn’t totally seal the deal for the Nittany Lions. The committee will be forced to think long and hard about the value of a conference championship, because as it stands now, Ohio State is going to get in over Penn State, despite losing the head-to-head battle.

Other Notes:

  • Clemson hung on to defeat Virginia Tech 42-35. It will probably be enough to get them into the playoff, but Clemson has not been dominant this year. If it were purely up to personal preference, they can have the Orange Bowl.
  • Western Michigan beat Toledo 29-23 in the final installment of #MACtion. The Broncos capped off an undefeated season with a hard fought 13th win in the MAC title game. They’ll be rowing the boat in the Cotton Bowl, though. No chance for playoff berth here.
  • Baker Mayfield’s 288 yards and three touchdowns gave Oklahoma their second straight Big XII title, but it was all irrelevant bedlam. The Sooners beat Oklahoma State 38-20, but they also don’t look likely to make the playoff.
  • Navy lost, so that makes life easy for the bowl selection committee.
Email writer John at [email protected] or connect with him on Twitter: @John_Horlander.

Photo: Flickr – David Smith

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Irish Proved They Still Have Much to Play for

After falling short by one point against a Navy team that played the game of its life, Notre Dame rebounded with a convincing 44-6 dismantling of Army. Defending the triple option is always hard, but it’s much easier when Army doesn’t complete 4-5 fourth downs and holds the ball for half a quarter at a time.

The Irish dominated from start to finish, roaring out to a 21-0 lead and finishing the game with twice as many yards and three times as many first downs as the Black Knights. It was exactly the type of commanding performance that Notre Dame needed; it proved that it won’t be going away easily to end this year.

But the road is the toughest it has been so far. The Irish welcome a tough Virginia Tech squad to Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day. Jerod Evans, the Hokies’ dangerous dual-threat quarterback, promises to make life difficult for an Irish defensive unit that, while showing great improvement since Brian Van Gorder was fired, is still young and inexperienced. They follow that up with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC in the mausoleum colosseum. USC has looked much better since it was obliterated by Alabama, and the Irish will need to be careful to avoid another beatdown like the last time they visited the Trojans.

The Irish, especially freshman Julian Love, looked good against Army. Love began to stand out against Navy, finishing with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a blow to the head that many thought would rule him out against Army. After tests showed that Love had no concussion, he stepped up again and had three tackles, an interception and a pass break up this weekend. Love, smiling like only a freshman on the sidelines after his first career interception could, symbolized to Irish critics and fans alike that Notre Dame is not done yet.

A season filled with tough, close losses can often lead to uncertainty and separation in the locker room for a program like Notre Dame. There has been a great deal of debate and speculation as to whether or not Brian Kelly will retain his job next season (he will, by the way) and whether or not the players still like him (they do, by the way).

At 4-6, with two tough games remaining, the Irish proved that they aren’t just looking to fast forward to next season. An absurdly talented offensive group seems to have alleviated the problems which befell it against Stanford and NC State. Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Kevin Stepherson, and more headline a standout wide receiving corps. Balanced with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tarean Folston in the run game, Notre Dame has a lot of weapons with which to strike. If the defense can keep up the good work, Kelly may have just turned this season around. Kind of. Beat the Hokies. (Time to play some real football).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

The Oversaturation Killing the NFL is Good for College Football

All this time, the NFL has seemed so bullet-proof, but we’re seeing vulnerability in the armor. People aren’t watching as much, and they don’t like the way the product is being dispersed.

What plagues the professional game actually seems to aid college football. While we understand Saturday remains the best day to see the best games, we don’t feel like the occasional Thursday or Friday games are scheduled to do us dirty.

You want to play one of these games on the moon at 4 o’clock on a Tuesday, College Football fans will adjust. Just tell them when/where the tailgate is, and they’re cool.

Tell an NFL fan that Sunday Ticket is only offering a game that his antenna won’t in the late spot on Sunday, and they’re livid with London and Thursday Night Football. The presentation of the NFL game is too clean for fans to adapt to these random game-time windows.

College Football fans see Thursday, and now also Tuesday and Wednesday, as an opportunity to showcase a game that might be buried on ESPNU or some dreaded streaming option at noon on Saturday.

Western Michigan is the “Other” Team

Last Tuesday, the nation’s “other” unbeaten team had the undivided attention of the College Football diehards in Muncie. Maybe a 32-point win over Ball State isn’t that sexy on paper, but did you see what Corey Davis did?

Do you feel anything was flukey about Western Michigan’s 9-0 start? Maybe you understand the pecking order, and where the Mid-American Conference gets pecked. Maybe there’s an obligation to qualify the two road wins over the Big Ten by reminding everyone that Illinois was one of those wins. Maybe you wonder if the MAC juggernaut deserves to be on the field with a mid-major darling like Boise State.

Friday night, by the way, a nationwide audience was given a chance to watch the other Broncos bounce back from their first loss of the season, which happened on October 29.

Remember the 80s?

Just for kicks, you could have watched games involving Oklahoma and Colorado last Thursday. Maybe something like that would have excited you more 25-30 years ago, but those games affect the outcome of the Big 12 and Pac-12, because the present is weird.

You love it, and it takes nothing away from Saturday afternoon or evening.

Election Threads and Football on the Diamond

This coming Tuesday, Eastern Michigan will continue a semi-annual MAC tradition of paying homage to democracy with Election Day uniforms, back in Muncie–for #MACtion. Speaking of everyone’s favorite non-defense-playing conference, you’ll be sure to see Cubs fans from DeKalb to Northern Ohio trolling Guaranteed Rate Field on Chicago’s south side this Wednesday.

It’s football at a baseball stadium. Yeah, Northwestern and Illinois got Wrigley on a Saturday, and GameDay went to Wrigleyville. This next chapter in the great Toledo-Northern Illinois saga might get Roy Philbott, Rocky Boiman, and an ESPN2 production crew to urban Illinois on a school night.

Does Anyone Get Pac-12 Network?

Thursday, we get Utah in the Valley of the Sun, for the FS1 weekend preview. It’s up to the Utes to prove that anyone other than Washington is worth a damn in that conference. This game isn’t being stolen from ABC at 3:30, but more likely from a channel you don’t get, even if you live in Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

NBC is Glad It’s You, Not Them

CBS gave you three games on Saturday, just as they would when they have London and the 1 PM/4 PM doubleheader on Sunday. They got Notre Dame because they have Navy rights. Notre Dame lost again; great moment for Navy. Is College Football worse off for the Irish’s 3-6 campaign?

I doubt CBS or Navy care. They’re going to care about records a lot more in December when they’re selling some lousy SEC East team’s upset potential against Alabama in Atlanta.

Hurts Donut?

Speaking of the Tide, Jalen Hurts may have provided the only offensive spark for Alabama in a 10-0 win in Death Valley at night. There’s a joke to be told including Alabama’s quarterback’s last name and a breakfast food that looks like a zero, but I’m striking out.

The networks are hitting it out of the park though and in doing so, they’ve won us over with quantity over quality. More may mean too much on Sunday, but we love it on Saturday, Thursday, and sometimes Tuesday.

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The Sunday Morning Notebook – Tennessee Has Run Out of Magic

Another great week of college football is in the books, with the exception of Georgia-South Carolina and Florida-LSU.

Enjoy a recap of some of the big games and great moments. 

Comeback Number Five, Loss Number One

Tennessee has played five games this season. In four of them, it has trailed at some point by double-digits. Yesterday, Texas A&M became the first team to beat the Volunteers this season. However, the Aggies didn’t hold the lead, which reached 21 points in the third quarter. It even took two overtimes to put an end to Tennessee’s unbelievable streak of luck.

Just like last week, it took some late magic to help Tennessee push the game into overtime.  Perhaps it was less magic and more luck.  Either way, it was a wild evening in College Station, TX.

Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight, arguably one of the most electric players in the nation, put the Aggies ahead, 35-21, with 3:22 left in the game on a 62- yard touchdown run. The term generally used to describe a score like that, in that particular situation, is “nail in the coffin”.

Not so fast, my friend

On the ensuing possession, Vols’ quarterback Josh Dobbs led Tennessee down the field and into the end zone in just a minute and 15 seconds to get within a touchdown.

15 seconds had run off the clock before Aggies’ RB Trayveon Williams delivered a play that should have warranted another cliché.  This time “that’s a dagger” comes to mind. Williams sped through the defense and down the field for 72-and-a-half yards, but UT’s Malik Foreman caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose and into the end zone for a touchback.  Vols’ ball, 1:49 left to play.

With that kind of momentum on its side, there was no way Tennessee wasn’t going to tie the game, and it did just that on Alvin Kamara’s third touchdown of the game.

What’s more, the A&M kicker missed a 38-yard game-winning field goal attempt with eight seconds left in the game.

It took two overtimes before Dobbs threw an interception (Tennessee’s seventh turnover of the game) that ended Tennessee’s magical journey through the first six weeks of the season.

Notes:

  • Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara rushed for 127 yards and caught eight passes for 161 more. That was huge for Tennessee as it was missing top rusher Jalen Hurd.
  • Dobbs threw two interceptions this week. He leads the SEC in interceptions this season.
  • Knight rushed for over 100 yards for the second time this season.  He’s currently one of the top-10 rushers in the SEC. The last SEC quarterback to finish as a top-10 rusher was Dak Prescott in 2014.

A Shootout, Indeed

Rivalry games are fun. Especially the Red River Shootout, which takes place every year in the midst of the Texas State Fair.

This particular Shootout had massive implications.  Whispers regarding the future of both head coaches, Charlie Strong for Texas and Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, could be heard throughout many circles during the last few weeks.

The result all but guarantees Strong’s departure at the end of the season, as Oklahoma held on for a 45-40 victory at the Cotton Bowl.  However, we can save the coaching discussion for another time.

The story of the game was Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Before yesterday, Texas hadn’t given up 100 yards to a single receiver all season, despite giving up the third-most passing yards per game in the Big 12. Westbrook ended the night with 10 catches for 232 yards and three touchdowns in one of the best receiving performances in college football this season.

Notes:

  • Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine had quite a day, racking up 214 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for the Sooners. 232 yards is the third-highest total of Perine’s career and the most since the famous Kansas game in 2014.
  • It’s not likely that Oklahoma makes the College Football Playoff, but the Sooners should still be the favorite to win the Big 12 championship.  All eyes will be on the Baylor game on November 12.

Hurricane Jimbo

Jimbo Fisher has never lost to Miami as the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles. Last night may have been the closest and lowest scoring game they’ve played against each other in ten years, but thanks to DeMarcus Walker’s blocked extra point with 1:38 left, the Seminoles notched their seventh win in a row over their in-state rival, 20-19.

Notes:

  • Deondre Francois looked terrific. The true freshman passed for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Francois has been solid all season, passing for nine touchdowns and only two interceptions so far.
  • Heisman hopeful Dalvin Cook moved his consecutive 100-yard game streak to three. Cook rushed for 150 yards but no touchdowns.
  • There are only three weeks until Florida State hosts Clemson.  Florida State is really the only tough matchup left on Clemson’s schedule before the ACC Championship game.

 

Quick Notes:

-Houston will not make the Playoff after losing to Navy 46-40. I’d also be surprised if it beats Louisville.

-Stanford is not a top-25 team.

-As a former offensive lineman, this play makes me happy. Watch how fast that guy is.

-Ohio State is the best team in the country.

-Washington is really, really good.

-In case you missed it, Rutgers only amassed 39 total yards of offense against Michigan.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: StuSeeger, Flickr

I Hate All of Your Teams Except for These 6

Every now and then some random person on the Internet asks me which teams I cheer for, which teams did I grow up watching and which teams I hate. Since we’re so close to the beginning of the season, I think this is a good time to pull back the curtain and tell you about the teams I’ll be cheering for this season. Note: I’m still not going to tell you my teams. Everyone has secrets.

Alabama Crimson Tide

This IS actually a team I grew up cheering for. I went to the 1993 Sugar Bowl where my guy Gene Stallings led the mighty Crimson Tide to a National Championship after defeating the hapless Miami Hurricanes. Keith Jackson, Bob Griese, Bourbon Street and tons of women. I don’t remember any of it, but I’m told it was all there.

Anyway, I expect the 2016 version of the Tide led by Nick Saban to, well, win another title. I am a Bama guy and Saban basically wins it every other year. There will be struggles – the obvious being: Who is the quarterback? Will the defense survive the season without a major injury? How many games will the Tide lose this season?

The last is the most important of those questions, so let’s get to it. Alabama will lose a game this season and it will mean something in the long run. Most likely, the loss comes to, yes, LSU and Les Miles on Saturday, November 5, in beautiful Baton Rouge.

I only give the Tigers a chance at this because I’m not stupid enough to pick against LSU at home, at night. That’s it. If this somehow turned into a 3:30 start (the time hasn’t been announced yet), I’d take Alabama without thinking twice.

On August 31, under the assumption Alabama plays LSU at night, I’ll say this is the Tide’s only loss. Won’t matter. LSU will have two losses and Alabama wins out the rest of the year and, yes, wins another championship. #BookMostOfThat

Navy Midshipmen

Again, this IS actually a team I grew up cheering for. I love Navy, how can you not? The Silent Service, the SEALs, the jets and yeah, Top Gun. Exactly. Navy will not win the American Athletic Conference, the Middies will not beat Houston (I won’t be mad if they do) and they will not make the AAC championship game.

Here’s what Navy will do: Beat Air Force, Beat Army and make Notre Dame shake in their shorts a little bit. None of those three predictions is surprising. I expect a down year for Navy after the graduation of Keenan Reynolds and transition to Tago Smith (probably).  As a result, I expect the overall offensive production numbers to be low.

If you’re available on October 8 and can get to Annapolis, then watching Houston play Navy is worth your trip.

Go Navy. Beat Army.

UCLA

I have a team in the Pac-12 I like, but it isn’t UCLA. I’ve also made it clear I think USC is overrated in every imaginable way. I don’t care if my Pac-12 team and USC make me look stupid this year, but if they do, I’m still on the Josh Rosen train. I read Matt Hayes’ profile of Rosen [link http://thelab.bleacherreport.com/a-beautiful-brash-mind/] and it’s worth every moment of your time.

Rosen, much like me, comes across as a straight-shooter. He’s a, “It is what it is and they are who we thought they were,” kinda guy. Rosen knows he’s good and doesn’t give a damn. He says what he wants even if it might hurt him at the next level, but he’s there for his teammates and in the end that’s all that counts.

I’m sure there are other Josh Rosen’s in college football this season, but he has my attention right now and that’s all that counts. Can Rosen and UCLA head coach Jim Mora lead the Bruins to the Pac-12 Championship, sure.

I don’t think they will. I think Stanford has the best chance.

UCLA’s losses this season: vs. Stanford, vs. Utah, and at Colorado (only because it’s a Thursday night). Remember: USC will not be as good at the end of the season as people think they are now.

UCLA over USC.

Clemson Tigers

I have zero connection to the Tigers except for my friend who’s a Tigers fan, so I’ll take it. I also think the Tigers make the playoff this year, but I’m not sure they’ll make it past the semi-final. If Clemson makes it past Auburn this weekend (spoiler alert: they will) then the [Clemson] Tigers should run the table.

That includes beating Florida State in Tallahassee and whatever lower-level team Dabo Swinney and company face in the ACC Championship. Deshaun Watson, Dabo Swinney, and a workable schedule put the Tigers back in the playoff two years in a row.

That’s it. This pick is based purely on how many good starters Clemson is returning and a friendship. Go Tigers…or whatever they say in South Carolina.

Four is probably enough, but I’ll throw two more teams in for shits and giggles:

Michigan State – I like Mark Dantonio a lot and I like Tom Izzo a lot. I think the Spartans have a lot of work to do in a reloading year, but I think having Michigan and Ohio State at Spartan Stadium works in their favor. The primary goal this year should be to defeat Ohio State since the Buckeyes will beat Michigan in Columbus this year.

Create Big Ten chaos, Mark. It’s been forever.

Arkansas – This is sort of a shot in the dark. I like Bret Bielema and I sort of feel like he’s the kid at school that will do whatever it takes to get just a tiny bit of attention. I think that’s why he embraces ‘Bert’ and says stupid things like his kids will never get in trouble.

The Razorbacks might also be the only team in the SEC – and maybe the country – that faces five ranked teams with four at home. It won’t matter, Arkansas will get slaughtered by Alabama and Ole Miss. And ya know what, there’s a chance they face a sixth (SIXTH!!) ranked teams this season.

Look, I know a lot of people think Bielema is in over his head at Arkansas, but as I said earlier this week, it won’t matter who else is coaching in the SEC West as long as Nick Saban is there.

That’s it. Those are the six teams I’ll be cheering for this season.

Roll Tide

Go Navy!

Bruin Up (or whatever)

Go Tigers (that fits everywhere)

Sparty On (I wonder if the MSU people like that?)

Woooooooooo, Pig! Sooie!

E-mail me at [email protected], follow me on Twitter @damienbowman or if you think you’re good enough, join the staff.

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Welcome back, old friend!

These are the dog days.  The weather is overbearing in a way that makes us simply want to wave the white flag.

But, college football doesn’t allow for that.  It doesn’t allow us to give int.  College football offers hope at the end of this hot, desolate wasteland that we know as the “offseason.”

As the calendar flipped to August, I was reminded of one of my favorite football movies, “The Best of Times,” starring the late Robin Williams.  You should put this on your list if only for the poetic diatribes and quotable lines.  When describing the anticipation of the annual rebirth of football, Williams encapsulates the anticipation, the hope of a new season.

“It’s that time of year again…when the first leaf of autumn falls forlornly to the barren ground below.”

The hope he speaks of is found in an ideal unique to college football.

Tradition. A three-syllable word that defines the phenomena that is the sport we love. It’s more than just what happens between the lines. Coaches and players come and go, and the sport encompasses more than Xs and Os.

It is tradition.

It’s the Vol Navy sterngating in the shadows of Rocky Top. It’s the Sea of Red releasing balloons when their Huskers score for the first time. It’s Army and Navy desperately trying to “sing second.” It’s doing the Hokey Pokey at halftime in Blacksburg. It’s dotting the ‘i’, screaming “Bear Down,” “Boiler Up,” and striking the Heisman pose.

It’s the sight of beloved mascots like Ralphie, Tusk, Cam the Ram and Mike the Tiger. It’s the smells filling the State Fair on Oklahoma-Texas weekend, permeating from Dreamland on Friday afternoon, and wafting across The Grove on Saturday morning. It’s the deafening cheers in The Swamp, The Horseshoe, The Doak, “between the hedges” and down on The Farm. It’s the driving melodies of Texas Fight, Fight Tiger, Tiger Rag and Ragtime Cowboy Joe.

The autumn spectacle makes this sport special. It has survived world wars, financial recessions, and national tragedies.

The passion and traditions are cultural – inherited at a young age, carried through tenure as a co-ed, embraced as a seasoned alum, and then taught to the next generation.

No other sport offers the color and pageantry quite like college football. Lucky for us, it’s that time of year again…

The Sooner Schooner serves as the live mascot for the University of Oklahoma and it rumbles across the field after Sooner scores. Photo taken from a message board and used by permission by the unnamed photographer.
The Sooner Schooner serves as the live mascot for the University of Oklahoma and it rumbles across the field after Sooner scores. Photo taken from a message board and used by permission by the unnamed photographer.