Tag Archives: NC State Wolfpack

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

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

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

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

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

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

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

The Sunday Morning Notebook- Bucks Barely Beat Badgers

Another week, another notebook.

Enjoy.

Badgers Badger Bucks, Come Up Short

Playing Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium at night is no easy task. However, Ohio State rose to the occasion and left Madison with its best win of the season, notching a 30-23 overtime victory over the 8th ranked Badgers.

The Buckeyes’ resiliency should have settled the nerves of some fans, but the stubborn play calling may have added to Buckeye Nation’s apprehensiveness.  All season long, Ohio State’s play callers have stuck to quarterback read-options and off-tackle rushes, as well as pitch-options to the outside.

There were moments in the game where that style of offense wasn’t working, but the coaching staff refused change, similar to last season’s OSU-Michigan State match up that yielded Ezekiel Elliott’s post-game criticism of the play calling.  It may have worked last night, but the Buckeyes may have to show the ability to improvise against teams like Michigan or anyone they may face in postseason play.

Notes:

  • J.T. Barrett continued his Heisman campaign by completing 17 of 29 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown while adding 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 21 carries.  He should be sitting in the front row when the winner’s name is read, not for his statistics alone, but also the leadership he’s shown this season.
  • Wisconsin’s Corey Clement was the most impressive player on the field last night. The senior RB averaged 6.6 yards per carry after racking up 164 yards on 25 touches.

Opinion: Early in the game, Clement fumbled the ball after a 68-yard run.  Ohio State initially recovered, but a review of the play showed that the ball inadvertently touched Clement while he was out of bounds, which, by rule, made Wisconsin the recovering team. As a result, the Badgers retained possession.

The proper call was made based on the rules of the game, but this is a bad rule. Chris Worley, the defender that forced the fumble, made a great play to dislodge the ball and the Bucks’ Damon Webb worked hard to make the recovery, but the Badgers got the ball back despite no effort to make a recovery.  This doesn’t seem right, does it?

  

Lucky Louisville 

The weekend got started Friday night with a near-upset in Louisville.  So near, in fact, that Duke didn’t ruin its chance to win the game until a roughing the kicker penalty gave Louisville a first down with 2:00 left in the game.  The extra yardage and free first down ultimately resulted in a touchdown for the Cardinals to put them ahead 24-14.

How did 3-3 Duke hang with one of the best teams in the country?

Efficiency.

Duke’s offense was on the field for nearly 15 more minutes than Louisville and extended drives by converting 50 percent of third downs.  The goal was clearly to keep the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hands, which helped the Blue Devils contain a team that averaged 58 points per game heading into Friday’s matchup.

Notes:

  • Louisville better not take North Carolina State lightly next week.  The Wolfpack did their own rendition of “near spoiler” this week. 
  • Jackson did struggle passing the ball (13 of 26, 181 yds, TD), but he turned in a Heisman-like performance on the ground, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

 

Watson’s Wild Win

NC State almost shocked the world, but the pressure was too much for Wolfpack kicker Kyle Bambard and the Tigers escaped with a 24-17 overtime victory.  Bambard had actually made the same field goal moments before he missed it, but it didn’t count as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called a timeout before the snap.

After Clemson’s Deshaun Watson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott put the Tigers up seven in the first OT, Marcus Edmond intercepted a Ryan Finley pass on NC State’s first play to cap the victory.

Unlike the Louisville-Duke game, this contest was very sloppy.  Clemson, which has had trouble holding onto the football this season, fumbled the ball five times and lost three of them. NC State was unable to capitalize on any of them, otherwise, they may have had a chance at a convincing victory.

Notes:

  • Watson, who has been on the Heisman Trophy watch list for most of the season, completed 39 of 52 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns. The performance wasn’t better than Jackson’s for Louisville, but enough to keep him on the short list for the award.
  • Clemson’s toughest remaining test comes in two weeks when they travel to Florida State. The Seminoles have had a tough time in big games this season, and I don’t think Clemson will have a problem. It helps that the Tigers are off next Saturday, giving them an extra week to prepare.  A quick glance at the Tigers schedule makes them a clear favorite to play in the ACC Championship game.

 

Vols Can’t Compete

Tennessee has been less-than-impressive all season long, and it finally showed on a big stage as the Vols were demolished by top-ranked Alabama, 49-10, at home.

Offensively, the Vols were atrocious. Quarterback Josh Dobbs completed 16 of 27 passes for just 92 yards (3.4 yards per completion if you’re wondering), no touchdowns and one interception.  Jalen Hurd, who was returning from injury, carried the ball 13 times for 28 yards. As a team, Tennessee finished with an average of one yard per carry.

Alabama’s offense focused on the run game as the Tide finished with three 90+ yard rushers and five rushing touchdowns.

The 39 point loss is Tennessee’s largest margin of defeat since they lost by 45 points to Oregon in 2013.

To put the loss in perspective, Alabama beat Western Kentucky and Kentucky by 28 points each, and those match-ups were in Tuscaloosa.  Beating the Vols on the road by 39 points is a huge statement for the Crimson Tide, as if they needed one.

Notes:

  • This loss puts Florida on top of the SEC East. Side note: A quick look at the SEC East standings finds Kentucky in second place.  I don’t mention the Wildcats often in these notebooks because I try to keep these articles interesting, but I will enjoy my favorite team being close to the top while I can.
  • Tennessee will be a huge favorite in the rest of the games they play this season, while Florida must travel to Arkansas and LSU.   The East, while the standings don’t show much separation now, is likely a two-team race, but the Volunteers are the favorite thanks to that fairly easy back-end of the schedule.

 

Quick Notes:

-The ACC slate was fun this week. Other than the games already mentioned, Wake Forest gave Florida State a scare, North Carolina upset 16th ranked Miami, and Syracuse beat number 17 Virginia Tech by two scores.

-Watch Wayne Gallman go airborne.

-Look what Brandon Reilly found.

-Christian McCaffrey is the cog that makes Stanford go (which you probably already knew). Without him, they are even worse than they are with him.

-Behold the boldest fake punt ever (it didn’t work).

 

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

 

Photo by: By Kentucky National Guard [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Creating the New ACC Football Schedule: 9+1=10, But So Does 8+2

Back in July, it was finally announced that there would be an ACC Network. If you missed this news then I’m surprised you even clicked on my article. But by all means, keep reading and educate yourself about this exciting time for ACC football.

This new network, formed through a partnership with ESPN, will obviously generate income for all parties involved when it launches in August 2019. But to make it most profitable, ESPN is asking the athletic directors of the conference to pick one of two options for their future football schedules. Better games mean higher viewership and higher viewership means more money. You may not realize it, but football really is all about money.

Obviously, nothing worth having (the long-awaited ACC Network in this case) comes easily. In fact, the programs are currently deadlocked between their two options for schedules moving forward. It comes down to what would be best for the most competitive schools and what would be easiest for all schools.

What Are the Options?

There is the obvious option to increase the required number of conference games each season from eight to nine. Teams would then also have to schedule one Power Five opponent annually.

The other option is to leave the conference games at only eight. But, this would require all teams in the conference to schedule two Power Five opponents annually.

It should be noted that for these purposes, Notre Dame is considered a Power Five opponent.

So What’s the Holdup?

If you know anything about the way ACC football has been going lately, then you can probably take a pretty good guess at which programs are on what side of this debate. The programs that are more competitive nationally and would like a better chance to reach the College Football Playoffs are in favor of keeping only eight required conference games. On the other hand, the programs that aren’t quite as competitive would rather have an extra conference game.

Why does this even matter? Can it actually affect their schedules all that much? Why are the athletic directors so dang disagreeable?

It matters because it can cause scheduling nightmares for some programs. On each end of the spectrum, there are different problems that the schools would face if forced to implement the type of schedule they aren’t currently supporting.

Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Louisville all already have a Power Five game built into their schedule each season due to in-state non-conference rivals. If these programs were required to have nine conference games, then that means the one Power Five game they play would always be the same. Yawn Granted, who’s to say that they couldn’t step up and schedule two Power Five games anyways? The logistics of the scheduling wouldn’t be easy, and their resulting record may not be as pretty but they could just suck it up.

There are teams like NC State and Virginia that are on the other side of this argument though. NC State hasn’t played two Power Five opponents in one season since 2003. And as of right now, that rarity will only happen one more time through 2028. Having to find another Power Five team to add to their schedule every season would be much more difficult than just rotating in an extra ACC opponent. Virginia currently has the same line of thinking. Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the nine-game model is an easy way to already have another good game built into the team’s schedule.

What About Us?

For fans of the game overall, it could be a Catch-22. Games like the North Carolina-Georgia game would become much less desirable for a school to schedule if they have to devote nine weekends to conference play. But fans of the ACC itself would get to see more cross-divisional ACC matchups on a yearly basis, and some of those games are actually pretty exciting.

At the end of the day, one set of programs is going to have to compromise here. The premier programs like Clemson and FSU would be hard-pressed to give up the chance to play a more formidable Power Five opponent instead of an extra conference one. But the less successful ACC football programs would be hard-pressed to find another Power Five opponent to fit into their schedule each season if they had to.

It’s a lose-lose. But it’s also a win-win…if you really like ACC football. The 2019 season may be three years away (which will feel like 21 years away because football time goes by like dog years), but when it gets here they will finally have their own network. We can watch more ACC football games than ever before while our favorite teams make more money. Now that’s pretty sweet, regardless of the possible scheduling woes.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image Courtesy of Flickr user Emily Baron.

Realigning into 16-Team Power Conferences

So much has been said about conference realignment in the last few years that we’ve become numb to it.  We recognize that the motive behind all of it is money, and that, understandably, turns many of us off to the whole idea.

I haven’t seen anybody try to turn this sensitive issue into something fun though.  Obviously, this is a complicated case with a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what-have-yous.  We don’t need to get into all of that.  It’s been done before.  It’ll be done again.  So, forget all that and proceed with an open mind.

Let’s just stuff 16 teams into each of the Power 5 conferences and see what that looks like.

First of all, logistically speaking, adding teams gives us an opportunity to level the playing field a bit.  16-team conferences break down nicely into four divisions of four and that allows me to mandate schedule changes.

Every team will play 12 games in a regular season, three non-conference contests against other Power 5 teams and nine within the conference.  Teams will play their three divisional foes every season.  They’ll also annually rotate playing one entire division within their conference.  This leaves two more games, filled by one team from each of the remaining divisions in the conference.  Those, too, will rotate yearly.

From there, division winners will be pitted against each other in a two-week long playoff to determine a conference champion.  The five conference champs will receive automatic bids to the College Football Playoff with three more bids going to the most deserving at-large teams.  Oh yeah, we’re expanding the Playoff too, but that’s another column for a different time.

Enough introduction, let’s realign.

ACC

We’ll start out with the easy one.  The Atlantic Coast Conference already has 14 teams and it’s a basketball league anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to add two schools that’ll make the East Coasters happy.

Additions: Memphis and Temple

The Tigers and the Owls both had surprisingly solid seasons in the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Timing might have a lot to do with this but it seems like they’d be the best fits for right now.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Clemson                    Florida State            Louisville                    Boston College

North Carolina         Miami                       Virginia Tech              Pittsburgh

NC State                    Georgia Tech            Virginia                       Syracuse

Wake Forest              Duke                          Memphis                     Temple

The problem with the ACC is there aren’t many schools you know you can count on to field a solid football team every year.  That made splitting them up evenly a bit more challenging and I think these combinations are as fair as you’re going to get.

To clarify the schedule reconstruction from earlier, let’s use Clemson as an example.  The Tigers would play UNC, NC State and Wake Forest every year going forward.  In 2016, they’d play every team in “Div. 2” and one team from “Div. 3” and “Div. 4”.  I think that shakes out to be a much better schedule than anything we see under the current system.

Of course, you’d rotate home and away to prevent Clemson from rarely leaving Death Valley, but breaking all that down would be delving into details that are not the aim of this column.  Again, we can do that some other time.

Big 12

Yee-haw!  Here’s where the real fun is to be had.  The Big 12 needs six teams to get itself up to code.  There’s been a whole lot of talk coming out of the Wild West, but it seems everyone is too afraid to pull the trigger on any real moves.  Let’s make it easy for them.

Additions: Houston, Cincinnati, BYU, Boise State, Arkansas State, North Dakota State

With so many spots to fill, this was the toughest conference to add to.  Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and Boise State all belong in the Big 12 for real and I figured why not throw in Arkansas State and FCS-powerhouse North Dakota State for fun.  All of these teams would run the Kansas Jayhawks out of the building so I’m not worried about having to dig a deeper basement.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                         Div. 3                          Div. 4

Oklahoma                  Texas                        Houston                    West Virginia

Oklahoma State        Baylor                      Boise State                Iowa State

Kansas State              TCU                         BYU                             Cincinnati

Kansas                        Texas Tech            North Dakota State   Arkansas State

Look, I know this isn’t perfect, but like the ACC, the Big 12 isn’t giving me much to work with.  It’s a conference dominated by its haves and embarrassed of its have nots.  I’ve almost made it into a coast-to-coast league by adding Boise State (that’s a long way from Morgantown, West Virginia) but the conference itself didn’t seem too bothered by that when it added the Mountaineers in the first place.

I tried to keep as many rivalries alive as I could without severely crippling any one of the divisions.  Who knows what to expect from “Div. 3” with all newcomers, or “Div. 4” with West Virginia at the top.  There’s a lot going on in the Big 12 and frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it on a regular basis.  Sorry, Courtney McCrary.

Big Ten

Welcome to Big Ten country, where football is just better.  Sure, we’ve recently added a couple ridiculous East Coast members in Maryland and Rutgers, but they do serve nicely as automatic wins for our real teams.  Just two additions needed here.

Additions: Notre Dame and Ohio

Now that I know I’ve scared away all the Golden Domers, I can just come right out and say that it’s utterly ridiculous for Notre Dame to be playing half of an ACC schedule.  The Irish belong in the Big Ten.  We all know it.  They all know it.  The only reason they’re not, you guessed it: money.

Also, welcome the Ohio Bobcats whose campus is absolutely beautiful (and great fun on Saturday nights).  Maybe now people will realize there is, after all, another school besides THE one in Columbus.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Ohio State                Michigan                    Nortre Dame            Wisconsin

Penn State                Michigan State         Iowa                            Minnesota

Maryland                  Indiana                      Northwestern            Nebraska

Ohio                           Rutgers                       Purdue                        Illinois

Truthfully, I would love to boot Maryland and Rutgers, make them go play in the ACC and add a couple more MAC schools.  Northern Illinois, Toledo, Central and Western Michigan would all suffice, but for the purpose of this column I’m simply working with what’s already there.

Notre Dame gets to play schools it can start, or continue, a legitimate rivalry with.  They’ll have to play those fake rivalries they’ve got on both coasts on their own time.  The Buckeyes will have to play the Bobcats every year because I know that scares them.  As far as “The Game” is concerned, like our own Damien Bowman says, Michigan vs. Ohio State would be an even bigger game if it wasn’t played annually.

SEC

I know I angered many of you from the Southland with that wise crack about football being better up north.  We all know where the best football is played.  It’s just that people are tired of hearing about it.  The best conference in college football also needs just two teams to fill itself out.

Additions: Western Kentucky and Southern Mississippi

You’re the best, right?  Well, then you shouldn’t need any more help proving it.  Take these two C-USA teams (last year’s division winners), and consider them replacements for those mid-season walk-throughs y’all like to schedule against FCS schools.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

Alabama                    Florida                       LSU                             Ole Miss

Auburn                      Georgia                      Arkansas                     Tennessee

Texas A&M               Kentucky                    Missouri                     Mississippi State

South Carolina        Western Kentucky    Vanderbilt                  Southern Mississippi

There are so many rivalries down south it’s impossible to keep them all intact.  This divisional split preserves many of the big games while setting up some intriguing new ones.  This shakeup seems perfect to me, particularly for this coming season, but I’m sure some of you have one or two issues with it.  I’m curious what our SEC guys (and gals), Bird LeCroy, Seth Merenbloom and Kristen Botica, think about this.

Pac-12

Fifth and finally, that wacky conference out west that loves to put up points.  Unfortunately, picking last and being on the West Coast severely limits the options here.  With four spots to fill, this is going to be a tough one.

Additions: Utah State, Colorado State, San Diego State, Nevada

Basically, the Pac-12 absorbed the best available teams from the Mountain West and banished the rest of them to whatever level we’re setting up underneath the Power 5.

Div. 1                          Div. 2                          Div. 3                          Div. 4

USC                            Stanford                    Oregon                         Utah

Arizona                      UCLA                         Washington                Colorado

Arizona State            California                  Washington State      Colorado State

San Diego State       Nevada                      Oregon State               Utah State

Dividing this group of teams was even more difficult than finding which ones to add to it.  I wanted to keep USC and UCLA together, but doing so makes all the other divisions look much less formidable.  The door does seem wide open for Oregon and Utah in this setup.  I tried to put the Ducks and the Utes together but, again, the repercussions make things worse than they stand now.  What say you, Mike Wilson?

Reminder

Sports are supposed to be fun.  If they’re not, then what’s the point?  And while I understand this is a serious topic with a lot of money involved, I have a hard time taking it seriously since all anyone wants to do is talk.  Until something real happens, I’ll just keep serving up far-fetched proposals to stir the conversational pot.

I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to many of you telling me what I already know, why this won’t work, in the comments section below and on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Who’s got it bad? 2016’s Most Difficult Schedules

Some may say it’s pointless to take a look at schedules months in advance. Those same people are probably also against pre-season polls, which I took a look at a couple weeks ago. But looking at a team’s schedule this far in advance, even without knowing how good teams will actually be, can give not only an indication of which teams are challenging themselves in the non-conference but also give a gauge for what realistic expectations can be placed on a team. Sometimes teams get lucky with their schedule. Take Wisconsin for example, who didn’t have to play Ohio State, Michigan, or Michigan State last year, but this year find themselves playing all three. Sometimes things break your way and other times your non-conference games happen to be difficult the same year your conference ones are. Such is the case this year for Wisconsin, making them number one on my list of most difficult schedules in 2016.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers have started ramping up their non-conference schedule the past couple years. Last year they opened with Alabama, and this year they start off with another SEC power, the LSU Tigers. LSU had an underwhelming finish to 2015, but will likely start the upcoming season in the Top 10. Wisconsin’s other non-conference games are no slouches either; they’ll face off with Akron and Georgia State who, while not powerhouses, both made bowl games last season. It won’t get easier from there. The Badgers’ first four conference games come against the teams that could be the four best in the conference. Road games against Michigan State and Michigan precede a home game against Ohio State. Bucky will then travel to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes before heading into the easier half of their schedule. Good. Luck.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma had a great 2015 season, turning low pre-season expectations into a playoff appearance. It’s gonna be awfully tough for the Sooners to make a repeat appearance. The Sooners will have a stretch of eight straight conference games without a bye, with games at TCU, against rival Texas, and a possible Top 10 Baylor squad all included. Oklahoma fans should be happy if their team is still in the playoff hunt by that Baylor game since they have maybe the toughest out of conference schedule in the country. They open the year with a virtual road game against Houston. That looked like just a solid non-conference game even at this time last year, but Houston is now coming off a 13-1 season that they capped off by beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl. If that game wasn’t enough, the Sooners will see Ohio State come to Norman two weeks later.

3. Ole Miss Rebels

The Rebels definitely missed out on their chance to take that next step last year. They got the tough part out of the way in beating Bama, but couldn’t survive a long fourth down against an average Arkansas team to seal the deal. Now that expectations have risen, the Rebels get hit with a brutal 2016 slate. They have the typically tough SEC West slate, with games against Georgia and defending champ Alabama in the first month of the season. After a week six bye, Ole Miss has back to back road games against Arkansas and LSU. But what puts the Rebels’ schedule over the top is an opening weekend game against a Florida State Seminoles team that will likely be ranked in the pre-season Top 5.

4. USC Trojans

Though USC finds itself as the fourth toughest schedule on my list, it still feels like they are catching a break in 2016. After having UCLA and Oregon in the pre-season Top 10 a year ago, the Pac-12 looks like it will take a step back in overall difficulty this year. That’s a good thing for the Trojans, because with their non-conference schedule, a repeat of 2015’s conference schedule this year would have made this upcoming fall a downright gauntlet. USC will try and navigate a conference slate that will send them on the road for games against Stanford and UCLA, along with having to play Oregon as another crossover game. That conference slate is bookended by a season opening game against Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, and a season ending tilt versus a Notre Dame squad that could be every bit as good as the one that made the Fiesta Bowl last year.

5. Auburn Tigers

How many SEC teams would I have to put on this list before I start getting accused of SEC bias? Luckily I don’t think we’ll get there, but it would be hard to exclude Auburn from this list. When you play in the SEC but start off the year against the national runner-up who also happens to have the leading Heisman contender at QB, you know it’s going to be a long year. After their week one game against Clemson, the Tigers also have to play LSU (likely top ten at that point) in the first month of the season. If they can navigate second-half road games against Ole Miss and Georgia, they get the fun of ending the year as usual against Alabama, this year in Tuscaloosa.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado isn’t exactly going to be easing their way into the 2016 season. The first game of the year will be against in-state rival Colorado State. No game is really a gimme for the Buffaloes, but they do get a breather against Idaho State before having the opportunity to get smash-mouthed in Ann Arbor by a Michigan team whose hype train will be out of control before the season even starts. Though I mentioned the Pac-12 probably won’t be as good at the top as it was last year, the Buffaloes have to play all their tough conference games on the road. Oregon, USC, and Stanford are all road trips Colorado will have to make in a five-week span immediately following that game at Michigan. And this is all before the Buffaloes get their bye week on October 29th. By then, they’re gonna need it.

7. NC State Wolfpack

I thought for sure the ACC would be completely left off this type of list since it really is Florida State, Clemson, and then everyone else. After looking at NC State’s non-conference schedule I was even more surprised to find myself placing them seventh. The Wolfpack start the year with William and Mary, at East Carolina, and Old Dominion. (No wonder the SEC has so many marquee non-conference games this year, NC State stole all the cupcakes). But after that it gets pretty rough. They’ll play Notre Dame as part of the Irish’s agreement to play a handful of ACC teams every year. The Wolfpack follow that up with road trips to Clemson and Louisville, both likely to be among the three best teams in the conference. NC State also gets Florida State and then closes the year with Miami, who shouldn’t be an easy out with Mark Richt at the helm, and at North Carolina, who could have one of the best offenses in the country in 2016.

8. Kansas State Wildcats

The Wildcats do play Florida Atlantic and Missouri State in the non-conference, but that is made up for by a week one game on The Farm against Stanford on a Friday night. Kansas State does get two bye weeks (Weeks 2 and 11), but they have to play Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU all on the road, the three teams that could be the Big 12’s best once again.

9. Stanford Cardinal

The Stanford Cardinal may have seen their 2015 playoff hopes dashed because of a Week 1 upset against Northwestern. They’ll have to try and not repeat that mistake this year playing against a similarly rated Kansas State team. After a week off, they get the two LA schools back to back (USC, at UCLA). The Cardinal will have a mid-season non-conference road game against the Fighting Irish, a game we can only hope comes close to the classic we saw the two teams play last year. Stanford will then go on to finish it’s conference slate up with consecutive road games against Oregon and Cal.

10. Notre Dame

Notre Dame was a playoff contender basically the entire season last year, even with all the injuries they suffered. If they want to get over that hump in 2016, they’ll have to make it through a typically deep schedule. I didn’t have them higher on the list because I don’t think their toughest games are as tough as in recent years. They get Michigan State and Stanford at home (maybe their two toughest games) and end the year on the road against USC. Outside of Army and Navy (who will likely see a dramatic drop-off without Keenan Reynolds around), the schedule is nothing but solid to good teams week after week.

Featured image courtesy Jim Bauer

Week 9 Rundown: Are They Still Lateraling?

What a great time to be a fan of college football. The 2nd year of the new playoff system, and a third straight week with an all-time type of ending. We’re pretty spoiled. And the endings seem to be getting better. Or crazier at least. This one resulted in a game-winning touchdown on the final play with eight laterals, penalties called incorrectly, missed penalties, and refs appearing to use replay in unauthorized manners. I think everybody would be OK if those refs never oversaw a game again this season. That was horrific. With that said, the outcry for the outcome to be reversed is ridiculous. The proverbial “can of worms” and “pandora’s box” references are applicable here. It’s easy to say because the missed call happened on the last play, but what about missed calls on earlier drives that got the game to that point?

Duke was the beneficiary of three defensive pass interference calls on the previous drive (only one of which was clear-cut) that practically handed them the go-ahead score, a touchdown that didn’t definitively cross the goal-line. Overall, Miami was penalized 23 times compared to 5 for Duke (I didn’t know college basketball started already). I don’t care how undisciplined one team may be, that type of discrepancy is absurd. I do feel bad for Duke, and the refs certainly missed multiple calls on that final play, but I wouldn’t say the Blue Devils got screwed as many have suggested.

There WERE other games

It’s a good thing there was the Miami-Duke craziness because the rest of the day was fairly ho-hum. That was somewhat expected with many of the Top 10 teams on a bye. Two teams that put a scare into their respective conference however were Clemson and Stanford. The Tigers were able to outpace the NC State Wolfpack 56-41 in a trap game. A letdown after the dominating effort against Miami last week would have been expected, particularly with Florida State on deck this week. This was one of those games you just hope to escape with a win. “Outpace” isn’t exactly the word I would use as far as Stanford is concerned. They appeared to be channeling their Week 1 offense, putting up only three points by halftime. In elements which you would have thought would benefit the Cardinal, they looked sluggish but were saved in the second half by Kevin Hogan’s running against Washington State. A loss from Stanford or Clemson would have been a devastating blow to the Pac-12 and ACC’s playoff chances. With the dearth of quality teams, both conferences an ill-afford to have their eventual champion suffer another loss.

That risk will not go away this week, at least for the ACC. As previously mentioned, the Clemson Tigers have a battle with Florida State this Saturday in a game that will be the Tigers biggest challenge by far the rest of the way. The Seminoles had an impressive victory last week, topping Syracuse 45-21 with both QB Everett Golson and star RB Dalvin Cook sidelines due to injuries. A Florida State win on Saturday would likely spell doom for the ACC’s playoff chances, and maybe Notre Dame’s as well.

Those Fighting Irish played in the only game between ranked teams last weekend. While most expected Notre Dame to win handily, Temple not only hung around but had a chance to win in the final minutes. The Irish should have a few easy weeks before closing the year at Stanford. It doesn’t seem Temple has gotten the notoriety as the other ranked teams from the American Conference (Houston and Memphis), but this game shows that they have as good a chance as any to claim the Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl slot. Memphis had another easy win, pulling away in the second half against Tulane while Houston had a dominating performance in beating Vanderbilt 34-0. It’s gonna be a great match-up on November 14th to see Memphis QB Paxton Lynch go up against Houston’s secondary.

It was a relatively quiet week in the SEC with top two contenders Alabama and LSU off. They’ll battle in Tuscaloosa this Saturday in what will be one of the best match-ups between highly ranked teams. It also may be a playoff elimination game with great defenses and Heisman contending running backs. Where have you seen that before? Something you won’t see in that ‘Bama-LSU game is what we witnessed in Lubbock. The Oklahoma State Cowboys gave up 38 points in the first half to Texas Tech…and still won the game. The final score ended up being 70-53 as the Cowboys continue to light up the scoreboard on their way to victories. They sit at 8-0, but having yet to play TCU, Baylor, or Oklahoma, it’s hard to tell if they’re actually any good. They’ll get to chance to prove they are when they get the Horned Frogs at home this Saturday. That game will likely result in another shootout, but TCU’s defense may have a decent chance of stopping (slowing?) OSU’s offense enough to get out with a win. The Horned Frogs have been getting players back on defense and playing much better on that side of the ball. They’ve allowed just 31 points in their last two games and held West Virginia to just 10 this past week.

Will the Horned Frogs’ performance be enough to get them into the Top 4? The initial Playoff Committee Rankings will be revealed today and the Big 12 could start this year where the ended last year, on the outside looking in.

Top 4

Clemson

Baylor

Ohio State

TCU

More Than A Friday: Kill, Sloppy Football, and Site News

The Golden Gophers have been something of an uncomfortable subject in these parts, at least as a talking point. Understand, this is the Northern Illinois perspective that motivates that feeling of awkward towards the University of Minnesota, and specifically their departing head coach Jerry Kill.

When Kill led our beloved Huskies, he did well. In a classic case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, NIU named Kill to replace the retiring Joe Novak after a disappointing 2007 season. Novak did many good things in Dekalb, but no one was writing home about what they did during that 2-10 season, which featured a 34-31 home loss to another directional Illinois school, Kill’s Salukis of Southern Illinois.

Kill went 23-16 in his three seasons leading the Huskies. He lost the Independence Bowl and the International Bowl in his first two seasons, and led the team to an 8-0 record in conference play before a devastating loss to Miami in the 2010 MAC Championship, which turned out to be his final game in the mid-major ranks. Were the Huskie faithful upset to be abandoned by their leader prior to the Idaho Potato Humanitarian Bowl? Sure.

Should they have been? Yeah, why not? No one, even a small school in rural Illinios wants to hear their program isn’t good enough for a man to finish what he started. Argue the flaws of the system, or the machine that is College Football as a business, if you will, but no matter how much I support the red and black, Minnesota is a better job than Northern Illinois.

NIU won their bowl game with an interim coach and ended up getting a huge win in the human resources department, poaching Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to replace Kill. So, it’s been “screw Minnesota” for the last six seasons, but the next guy did them dirtier.

Now, to be fair, Doeren was a staggering 23-4 in his two MAC Championship-winning seasons at NIU. His 2012 squad was and remains the only Mid-American Conference team to crash the high-major party, but that Orange Bowl berth against Florida State would be another contest the student athletes would take on without their full time head coach. Doeren would see plenty of Florida State in his next gig, with a guaranteed matchup against the ‘Noles in the ACC Atlantic Division. To date, he’s had little success with NC State in that regard, where’s he’s 0-for-2, with 2015 contest yet to be played.

As far as Kill is concerned, it was another “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” case with Minnesota, with Tim Brewster’s 2010 squad failing to achieve victory against the Huskies in Week 4 at home. Raise your hand if you recall anyone coaching the Gophers between Glen Mason and Kill1Note: my hand is not raised.. I suppose we can anticipate Kill having a role on the Big Ten Network in the near future.

Kill isn’t walking away because he cannot win, Minnesota is 29-29 with three bowl appearances since he’s taken over. He hasn’t lost his passion for a game that seems to have threatened to take his life, at least from where I sit. He’s choosing his remaining years over the game, and that’s admirable.

Going back to 2005, his heath issues have been among the world’s worst kept secrets. He had a seizure while leading SIU in 2005, and in 2010, he was treated for dehydration after a game at Northern. From 2011 to 2013, Coach Kill had four gameday seizures, promoting a 2-game leave of absence in 2013, but all seemed well when he returned to the Gophers sideline in 2014, where he seemed to have coached without incident.

Then, this week, he retired, citing health reasons. And, it was admirable. Poof; the animosity from NIU was gone. They felt bad for the guy. You might even say they were grateful for what he did for the Huskie football program and maybe even his mark on the game of College Football. This led me to wonder if we might want to let the Doeren thing become water under the bridge, but no such thing was happening.

“Oh no. NC State can still suck it!” And there you have it.

Whatever I Watched Last Night, It Wasn’t Good Football

I honestly don’t know how, in a vaccuum, I could watch a 3 OT College Football game with a dog in the fight, and come away unentertained or unimpressed, but Oregon and Arizona State did just that on Thursday night in Tempe. The Sun Devils ran 100+ plays on offense, but ignored their bread and butter for the most part, running the football. The ground game is also Oregon’s go-to, but they got away with not going to that well tonight, with a 61-55 road victory.

I prefer physical football, and I think we got that from Oregon’s Royce Freeman and ASU’s Kalen Ballage, who exploited your garden variety poor tackling we’ve become accustomed to in Pac-12 Country. The visiting Ducks didn’t seem to need physical as much, as they relied on explosive plays and defensive breakdowns, and the Sun Devils were happy to yield the latter of just enough occasions to prevent the Ducks from flying back to Eugene with a 4-4 record in a disappointing season.

Oregon’s problems aren’t new. Through this dominant run that seems to have come an end this season, they’ve never been fantastic on defense. It just hasn’t shown because the offense scoring 60 points per game2That’s a perception stat, not a researched one., which masks a lot of defensive deficiencies. The code seems to have been cracked; pick them apart and don’t let them off the field on third down.

Another thing, Vernon Adams, for all he gives you, just isn’t Marcus Mariota. Say what you want about system quarterbacks, but Mariota would thrive in whatever system he played in. Ditto for Mark Helfrich. He isn’t Chip Kelly, and when the Ducks find their backs against the wall, they don’t have that guy on the sideline with the confidence to know they’ll overcome the adversity. It didn’t show so much in Year 1 with Helfrich, but it was there.

As for the Sun Devils, they have turned the corner as a program, but they’re not ready for prime time on a consistent basis. Give it up for Todd Graham, building this program into something better than anyone I’ve ever witnessed, a team that plays with pride and counts on its defense to win, but they’re missing too many pieces to get it done in 2015. It doesn’t mean he should be on a hot seat3Obviously, no hot seat for Helfich either., but he has to keep the Arizona high school talent in state and in Tempe. There are plenty of good quarterbacks in this state, and he’s still still going with Mike Bercovici.

Don’t get me wrong, Berco plays with the heart of a lion, and we saw plenty of that on Thursday night, but they can’t take the next step without more talent at the most important position on the field. Now, we just have to see if this 4-4 start is a slide back to mediocrity or simply a down year for Graham and the program. For a great program, these should be the worst of times, but if we’re back to business as usual at ASU, those three consecutive 10-win seasons we saw from Graham to start his tenure with the Devils will soon be easily forgotten.

MTAF News

I want to take a minute to introduce some additions to our More Than A Fan family. B. George Young, Chase Holik, and Nick Brzezinski joined our staff this month. BG will offer a little bit of local flavor to people in my neck of the woods, as our Arizona columnist, so stay tuned to what’s happening in the World of Sports, here in the desert from Mr. Young. Chase joins us from Austin, Texas, where College Football is kind of a big deal; he’ll opine on what’s happening in the state of Texas and the Big 12. Nick’s column will debut next week, with a zany breakdown on everything from the weekend, and I sincerely hope you look forward to that at least half as much as I do.

Josh Flagner is a familiar name around here, or at least he should be, he launched the site and handed me the keys last month. He’s been around with his football picks, and he’ll continue to do that for rising TV star Jeff Nomina’s NFL Pick ‘Em Contest, but I’ve given Josh a new role. It will be similar to what BG is doing for my local market, but back in Cleveland. Yes, we do have a fantastic regional site for Cleveland sports at MTAF Cleveland, but I felt it was unfair to neglect my native land on an all-sports site, like our publication’s main page is.

That’s all for this week; I wish you all the best for a great weekend, as my two worlds collide at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland on Sunday, where the Cardinals visit the Browns for the first time since 2003.

   [ + ]

1. Note: my hand is not raised.
2. That’s a perception stat, not a researched one.
3. Obviously, no hot seat for Helfich either.

Before He Was “The Head Ball Coach”

It was Saturday, October 30, 1965. And it was a beautiful day for football! My father, mother and I were on our way from Lower Alabama to the Plains of Auburn for a homecoming game that matched our Tigers with the Florida Gators.IMG_2355

The visitors were a heavy favorite. They were bringing an impressive 4-1 record into the tilt, while the home team, with losses to Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Southern Mississippi, was really struggling that year at 2-3-1.

The contingent from Gainesville, Florida was lead by a brash young kid from Johnson City, Tennessee. His name was Steven Orr Spurrier.

This was the first game ever televised from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium. It would later be re-named Jordan-Hare Stadium for, then, legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Coach Jordan was given to referring to the Gator quarterback as “Steve Superior”.

“Superior” had led his team to wins over non-conference foes Northwestern and North Carolina State. They sported SEC victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Their lone setback came at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

When the LeCroy clan finally made it to Auburn, it seemed like it took an eternity to get there, they headed over to the home of Nelle and Bill Mims, my aunt and uncle. Aunt Nelle was my mother’s sister. Uncle Bill was retired from the Georgia-Pacific railroad. They had moved to “the loveliest village” where he now had a job with Buildings and Grounds at Auburn University.

Uncle Bill quipped to my father that he might have to drive the jeep that would carry the ABC television camera up and down the home sideline as this was an altogether new venture for the school.

I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world! Would I be allowed to ride in the jeep? As it turns out, this did not come to pass, but that was okay. There were some big fish to fry later that day.

And what a day it turned out to be!

The visiting Gators led the home underdog Tigers 10-0 at the half.  Junior quarterback, Spurrier, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jack Harper and their kicker, Wayne Barfield, booted a 26-yard field goal. The sellout crowd, of 45,000, was dismayed but not daunted.

The Tigers regrouped at the break. And it turned out to be a tough second half for the young quarterback from the mountains of East Tennessee. Auburn middle linebacker, Bill Cody, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it for 29 yards and a touchdown. Spurrier also fumbled at the Florida 10, in the fourth quarter, and it rolled into the end zone. Cody was also the recipient of this snafu that gave Auburn an insurmountable lead.IMG_2358

The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points in that second half. Spurrier threw a late TD pass to Charlie Casey, which mattered little, and Auburn upset the Gators, 28-17.

It was a big win for the home team and a hard learning experience for the tough, talented and talkative young Gator QB.

October 29, 1966 was a horse of a different color.

Florida was celebrating homecoming this time around.

60,000 fans had jammed Florida Field, which was later dubbed “The Swamp” by an alumnus who had returned to coach the Gators in 1990 ;).

Florida was undefeated and Steve “Superior” was their senior quarterback. They also had designs on an SEC Championship, a National Championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their team leader.

The game turned out to be a see-saw battle which went down to the wire.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and Larry Ellis returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

It’s on!!!

Florida retaliated with a 10-yard TD pass from Spurrier to Richard Trapp. They also scored on a 2-yard TD run.

Auburn stunned the old Gator grads with  a 90-yard fumble return and added a 30-yard field goal by Jimmy “Rattlesnake” Jones before halftime. They took a 17-13 lead into the dressing room. The Tigers opened the second half scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Florida immediately tied it when Larry Smith scored a TD from two-yards out. It was 20-20.

Spurrier put the home team on top with 2-yard sneak, early in the fourth quarter, but Auburn quarterback, Larry Blakeney ran one in from the three after Yearout recovered yet another fumble at the Gator 16.

The game was tied, 27-27.

Spurrier then began to engineer a march toward the Tiger goal line, but the drive was stopped when the Gator field general was called for an intentional grounding penalty.

It was now fourth down with just over two minutes remaining in the game and Florida at the Auburn 26 yard-line.

A field goal attempt would be 40 yards and that was outside the comfort zone of the Gator’s regular placekicker.

Spurrier had kicked 40-yard field goals in practice and begged Florida head coach, Ray Graves, to give him a shot at it.IMG_2359

He did.

You can imagine what happened. It was like something out a sports novel for young kids, or maybe the popular AMC TV show, Friday Night Lights.

Yes, Steve Spurrier nailed the field goal, with 2:12 remaining, Florida captured a very hard-fought 30-27 win and, as most of you know, Spurrier went on to take home the Heisman Trophy.

Those are my first memories of Steve Spurrier, or “Superior”, and his heroics on the gridiron.

You know the rest of the story. I don’t need to recount it for you here, yet again.

Many, many tales of championships he won at Duke and Florida have “swamped” television, newspapers, and social media over the past week. And you know of his unprecedented success at the University of South Carolina, from which he recently resigned. You also know of his failure to generate a winner on the NFL level with the Washington Redskins.

I’ll never forget the great upset wins Auburn had over number one ranked Gator squads in 1993, ’94, and 2001. But those were the ONLY three wins my Tigers were able to generate vs. the “evil genius” during his tenure at Florida. Auburn’s final record stood at 3-10 against Spurrier and the Gators.

OUCH!

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There are many fan bases that “Darth Visor” has rubbed the wrong way over the years. Cough cough… Georgia and Tennessee.

But I have always really liked him and have truly enjoyed following the journey of Steven Orr Spurrier. My son and I have had numerous conversations in “Spurrier Speak”. They would begin something like, “Well, we found out nobody had ever scored fifty points on Georgia in Athens before, so we thought we’d try that!”

Priceless!

I laugh when I think about it and about him.

I know you’ve probably also read many of Spurrier’s famous quotes from over the years. I’ll leave you with, possibly, one of my favorites. It’s from the lips of the only Heisman winner he coached, Danny Wuerffel. This was after Wuerffel had thrown a costly interception. He then apologized for the turnover.

Spurrier replied, “Danny, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

So here’s to the “Head Ball Coach”!

May he not, “Go gentle into that good night.”