Tag Archives: UCLA Bruins

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.

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

March Madness – From Pistol Pete to a Magic Carpet Ride

I didn’t begin to grow my hair, longer than the crew cut I sported at the time, because of the influence of rock groups I listened to, like Steppenwolf and Cream, who were popular at the time. It was due to a basketball player who was my idol, “Pistol” Pete Maravich. I loved the way Pistol Pete’s shaggy brown hair flopped as he brought the ball up the court for his team, the LSU Tigers.

Freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity back in 1966, so Pete’s first year as a starter for the Bayou Bengals was the fall of 1967. And there were very few games that were televised back then, but when there was a game on television I was watching. I couldn’t wait for Saturday afternoons and the SEC game of the week.

I was also a sophomore on our high school’s team in ’67 (we didn’t have a varsity and junior varsity). We had an “A” team and a “B” team and I was on the “B” team.

The problem was, we had to cut our hair to play sports at Wilcox County High School in Camden, AL. I began to let mine grow in 1968 which was my second year on the “B” team (that team went 17-0 by the way). But come November and basketball practice, whack, we had to get that hair cut. Mine wasn’t trimmed short enough so I had to go back and get it snipped again. And friends, it wasn’t very long to begin with.

The fall of 1968 was also when I had my first kiss, my first taste of whiskey, and my first cigarette. I’ve since given up the cigarettes.

So those were heady days. And as the lyrics to the Grateful Dead’s Uncle John’s Band go, “Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?”

It has now been 50 years since Pistol Pete Maravich was in his first varsity season down in Baton Rouge. I was fortunate to witness him play the first game in what became Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum in Auburn on January 11, 1969. The home team Tigers won that game, 90-71. Sorry Pete.

And, it is noteworthy that LSU never made the NCAA Tournament during Maravich’s playing days. They did receive an invitation to the NIT his senior year.

March wasn’t exactly bursting with madness back in those days. In fact, there were only 23 teams in the NCAA Tournament. But, the UCLA Bruins were in the middle of a three-year title run under the tutelage of John Wooden and the leadership of their star center, Lew Alcindor, who was later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Yes, it’s a long way from those 23 teams, from 50 years ago, to the field of 68 that we grapple with today, and there are 10 of the usual suspects (North Carolina, Princeton, West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, New Mexico State, SMU, and UCLA) in both sets of brackets.

But interest is at a fever pitch, in the year 2017, and we are all caught in the throes of what is now termed “March Madness.”

The “Sweet 16” will have begun play by the time you read this, and here is the way I see it shaking down.

In chronological order:

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon

Gonzaga over West Virginia

Kansas over Purdue

Arizona over Xavier

North Carolina over Butler

South Carolina (Welcome Cinderella!) over Baylor

UCLA over Kentucky

Wisconsin over Florida

 

Elite Eight

South Carolina over Wisconsin

Gonzaga over Arizona

Kansas over Michigan

UCLA over North Carolina

 

That leaves us with a Final Four of:

South Carolina vs. Gonzaga

Kansas vs. UCLA

 

So let’s fasten our seat belts as we approach the final turn on that magic carpet ride… ”March Madness.”

 

E-mail Bird at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

It’s not a Homer Pick if my Team can Win it All

As much as I love the Louisville Cardinals basketball team, I always muse that it’s much easier to remain objective picking my March Madness bracket if the Cards don’t make the field.  Now, that’s typically a rare occurrence, and fortunately, over the last decade or so, UofL has been in the discussion as a national title contender, so picking them to win isn’t an outlandish proposition.  This past Monday, I rapidly completed my bracket, and immediately tweeted my prediction that Louisville will win it all.  Within minutes of making announcing my choice, I had several friends drop the “Homer” label on me.  So, I ask the question, is it really a homer pick if the team you root for is a legitimate contender?  I say no.  Ponder that as you read through my predictions for the entire bracket.

East Region

The defending Champion Villanova Wildcats reside here, and it’s their region for the taking.  Jay Wright’s team is battle-tested, and looks more than capable of a repeat.  Let’s not be too hasty, as there are a number of hazards on the road to Phoenix.

Dangerous on Day 1:

Watch out for the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks.  Kevin Keatts is from the Rick Pitino coaching tree, and he has put together a dangerous squad.  In last year’s tournament, the Seahawks pushed Duke to the limit in the Round of 64 before losing a hard-fought game by just eight points.   The Seahawks will push the pace and play pressure defense, which will be in direct contrast to Virginia, as they get another ACC foe this year.  If UNCW can dictate tempo, it could spell early round trouble for the Cavaliers.  While Tony Bennett’s team is always one of the toughest defensively, their style keeps opponents within striking distance, which could play right into Wilmington’s hands.

Early Exit:

Baylor ripped off 15 straight wins to open the season, and looked like an elite team.  While the Bears aren’t completely abysmal, an early disappearing act may be on its way.  Baylor is 5-5 over its final 10 games; and is scuffling enough that a loss to New Mexico State in the opening round, or a run-in with a powerful and hungry SMU team in the Round of 32 should be the demise of Scott Drew’s club.

Pivotal Match-Up:

The most critical match-up to affect this region will be Virginia vs. Villanova, part two.  Part one on January 29 was an absolute classic, as the Cavaliers led most of the way, on the road no less.  The Wildcats scratched and clawed their way back into the game late, and won 61-59 on Donte DiVincenzo tip in as time expired.  I suspect round two will be just as grinding as the first meeting, only with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.  I have Nova surviving it, but no matter which team comes out of it, they’ll be in prime form to make it out of the East Region.

Dark Horse:

Fittingly, the SMU Mustangs are the dark horse in the East.  A bit under the radar, and under -appreciated coming out of the AAC, Tim Jankovich’s team has something to prove.  The Mustangs have an awful lot of length, and a ton of experience, led by the powerful Semi Ojeleye.   The Ponies haven’t lost since January 22 at Cincinnati 66-64, and the Bearcats finished just a game behind SMU in the standings.  Facing a favorable #3 Seed in Baylor, and then a Duke team which is heavily reliant on young players, there’s a strong chance the Mustangs can aptly fulfill the dark horse role.

Who Wins the East?

I’ve gotta stick with the Villanova Wildcats.  Whether the Cats have it in them to repeat once they arrive at the Final Four, I can’t say, or at least won’t say just yet; but this team has enough talented pieces to chase a mini dynasty.  With a rock-solid backcourt of Jaylen Brunson and senior leader Josh Hart, along with last year’s hero, senior Kris Jenkins, it would be a good bet to book a reservation for Nova in Phoenix.

West Region

The OCD in me loves that we actually got two western teams as the top seeds with #1 Gonzaga and #2 Arizona.  It feels like there’s a real opportunity for the west coast to get some representation in the Final Four; and in the case of Zona, have a distinct home court advantage.

Dangerous on Day 1:

The West has many double-digit seeds that I think can stop some hearts in the Round of 64.  Xavier is one, although they’re not an under-the-radar candidate.  The same goes for VCU.  However, the 12, 13, 14 seeds, Princeton, Bucknell, and Florida Gulf-Coast may also pose some problems.  My personal pick is Bucknell.  The Bison have the mid-major formula of solid veteran guards, along with sufficient frontcourt size, which leads to upsets.  Guys like Zach Thomas, Nana Foulland, and Stephen Brown may inject themselves into the American consciousness with a win of West Virginia, and potential battle with Notre Dame.  The West may be blown up by day two.

Early Exit:

West Virginia is my odds-on favorite to get bounced.  Naturally, as I picked Bucknell, as my double-digit danger choice; and the Bison face the Mountaineers.  Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with West Virginia.  Bob Huggins’ team got plucked in the Round of 64 last year, and feel like a good candidate to get bounced, in what could be a topsy-turvy region.  If I had to pick another top seed that may be at peril, it would be Florida State.   Leonard Hamilton has put together a talented group led by sophomore 6-7 guard Dwayne Bacon.  However, these Seminoles haven’t experienced the tournament yet.  If the Noles get past Florida Gulf Coast, the Round of 32 could be the end of the road.

Pivotal Match-Up:

A Sweet 16 tilt between Gonzaga and Notre Dame is my key match-up for this region.  Mark Few has had the Bulldogs on the precipice of the Final Four in the past, only to have his talented, expectation-laden teams fall short.  This rendition of Gonzaga has a go-to star in Nigel Williams-Goss, and plenty of heft manning the middle with Przemek Karnowski.  Many feel like this is the year for the Zags to finally break through.  Not so fast.  The Golden Domers are essentially the same team that has been to the Elite Eight the past two seasons.  Mike Brey’s team is led by the versatile Bonzie Colson, and has plenty of exterior firepower as well with Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem.  I think the Irish make a third consecutive trip to the Elite Eight, and leave Gonzaga fans longing for that elusive Final Four run.

Dark Horse:

The aforementioned Notre Dame Fighting Irish team is my dark horse.  Yes, the Irish are a #5 seed, but certainly are not considered favorites to escape the region.  The experience on hand, along with the tournament success this team has gained over the previous two seasons, makes Brey’s team extremely dangerous.  Assuming Notre Dame gets past Gonzaga, there’s no reason that Arizona, or whichever opponent finds their way to the Elite Eight, can’t be eliminated by the Fighting Irish.

Who Wins the West?

I’ve barely mentioned the Arizona Wildcats up until now, but Sean Miller’s squad is my choice to win the West.  The Wildcats are at the top of their game heading into the NCAA Tournament, having won nine of their last 10 games, including capturing the Pac-12 tournament title.  6-5 sophomore Alonzo Trier is a do-everything type of player and 7-0 super frosh Lauri Markkanen is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the country.  Miller just missed the Final Four in 2015.  This year he’ll get Zona to Phoenix for a shot at the National Championship.

Midwest Region

The Midwest Region seems to have laid out fairly well for my Louisville Cardinals.  Without a doubt Kansas can’t be taken lightly as the #1 seed.  However, #3 seed Oregon just lost a key player.  #4 Purdue is good, but definitely not elite, and the Cardinals have already beaten the Boilermakers.  And #5 seed Iowa State has been a huge disappointment the last few years come March.  Of course, I say this, and the entire region could blow-up in my face.

Dangerous on Day 1:

When I look at the Midwest, I think chalk.  It just feels like a section of the bracket that will end up staying to form, as few of the double-digit seeds feel like a huge upset threat.  If I had to guess which teams have a shot, I’d point out Nevada and Vermont.  The Wolfpack won the Mountain West regular season, and tournament titles, and closed the season winning eight in a row.  The Catamounts haven’t lost a game since December 21, closing out the regular season with 21 wins in a row.  Both teams face opponents – Iowa State and Purdue – which have displayed the propensity to get clipped early in the tournament.  Beware.

Early Exit:

I referenced in my Midwest Region Preview yesterday, that Oregon’s biggest challenge heading into the NCAA Tournament is the loss of Chris Boucher to injury.  Most teams that suffer loss of key personnel typically either rally around it, or sulk and lose focus.  My bet is on the latter.  Top player Dillon Brooks can be a star, but he also has his own meltdowns and antics which distract from the team.  Round of 64 opponent Iona played NCAA tourney participants Florida State and Nevada early in the year; and knocked off Nevada in the second match-up.  The Ducks will likely get past the Gaels, but my prediction is that Oregon will run into red-hot Rhode Island, and get shot down quickly.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It may seem a bit early to be considered a pivotal match-up, but the potential Kansas/Michigan State game will play a major factor in this region.  The Spartans have been down this season.  So down, that for a while it felt like Tom Izzo’s team wouldn’t make the Big Dance.  Well, here come the Spartans, landing at a #9 seed, just in time to bug the hell out of top seeded Kansas.  Honestly, there’s no reason the Jayhawks shouldn’t knock off MSU.  However, the one major weakness for Kansas is in the frontcourt where Bill Self’s team is a bit thin.  That just happens to be a strength of the Spartans.  If Kansas escapes, it will likely propel the Jayhawks to great fortune.  If not, the Midwest Region really opens up.

Dark Horse:

#11 seed Rhode Island is the sleeper in this region.  The Rams closed strong, winning eight of nine; and have a win over Cincinnati under their belts early in the year.  Undoubtedly, URI starts with a difficult contest against #6 Creighton, and would likely have to take on #3 Oregon in the Round of 32.  With the way the Rams are playing, solid inside-outside balance, and up-and-coming Dan Hurley at the helm, Rhode Island has the look of a Cinderella.  I envision the Rams riding that late-season success into an Elite Eight appearance.

Who Wins the Midwest?

I have the Louisville Cardinals coming out of the Midwest.  As I mentioned in my preview of the Midwest, the Cardinals have their flaws.  Most of those flaws however are self-inflicted.  This is a team that can play multiple defenses, get out in transition, and pick teams apart.  Focusing on applying the death blow is what Louisville needs to add to the repertoire to advance deep into the tournament.  Rick Pitino will adjust the rotations, and as usual, have some tricks he kept hidden all season, which will put UofL on the right path toward the Final Four.

South Region

There’s always one region which seems to have a lion’s share of top programs, and could almost be considered a “Group of Death”.  The South is it this year.  Arguably the top three college basketball programs of all time – KentuckyNorth Carolina, and UCLA – all reside in the South.  What makes this region really fun though, is that in addition to all that tradition, some of the most dangerous double-digit seeds also found their way here.

Dangerous on Day 1:

This one is easy; the most dangerous high seed is #12 Middle Tennessee State.  The Blue Raiders pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history last year, knocking off #2 seed Michigan State.  Much of that squad is back for a second helping, and now they have 6-8 senior JaCorey Williams.  The Arkansas transfer leads MTSU in scoring at 17 points per game.  In the Round of 64, the Blue Raiders get Richard Pitino’s #5 Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Gophers are back in the tournament field after having a miserable 2015-16 season, finishing 8-23.  Without a doubt, Pitino did a masterful job turning this team around, but the visit to the tournament may be short-lived.

Early Exit:

Once again John Calipari has an uber-talented group of freshmen, forecasted for greatness, which captured the SEC regular season and tournament titles.  Kentucky has won 10 games in a row, and may possibly be hitting their stride.  Like most of Calipari’s teams, in-game focus, and reliance on physical ability over substance, are the most glaring flaws.  On most nights, the Wildcats can overcome those.  Enter Wichita State as the foe in Round 2.  Greg Marshall’s team has reeled off 15 wins in a row, and has faced tournament teams, Louisville, Michigan State, and Oklahoma State this season.  The Shockers were also woefully under-seeded by the tournament committee.  That sounds familiar.  Like 2014 familiar when Wichita State was undefeated and a #1 seed, and had to face a Kentucky team that ended up with a peculiar #8 seed.  Turnabout is fair play.  Wichita gets revenge on Kentucky, and sends the Cats packing.

Pivotal Match-Up:

It has to be Kentucky vs. Wichita State.  If my forecast is correct, and the Shockers knock off the Wildcats, then things open up for UCLA.  Not that the Bruins can’t take down Kentucky, they’ve done so the last two years in row.  This year, Steve Alford’s team traveled to Rupp Arena and did it.  Despite my prediction, it will take everything Wichita has to defeat the Wildcats.  Many times, that type of effort leads to a let-down the following game.  If Kentucky gets through the Shockers, then Calipari’s team has vengeance on the mind, and a more talented opponent for the Bruins to have in their way.

Dark Horse:

The Cincinnati Bearcats haven’t been able to recapture the success experienced under Bob Huggins in the 1990’s.  Now relegated to the AAC after the Big East restructure several seasons ago, UC doesn’t garner a lot of respect.  Mick Cronin’s team could punch some teams square in the face and take back respect.  Cincy plays a physical brand of basketball, particularly on the defensive end.  That has been Cronin’s hallmark.  Senior point guard Troy Caupain runs this team with aplomb.  Juniors Gary Clark and North Carolina State transfer Kyle Washington provide a strong frontcourt, to go with the scoring punch of 6-6 sophomore Jacob Evans.  Assuming the Bearcats get by Kansas State in the opener, UC could present a tough match-up for UCLA in the Round of 32.

Who Wins the South?

Although I’m never sold on Steve Alford coached teams, I’ve got the UCLA Bruins getting out of the South, and giving the Final Four its second west coast rep.  There’s an awful lot of talent on board for the Bruins, particularly super freshman Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf.  Ball does just about everything, and Leaf leads the UCLA in scoring.       Blend that with veteran contributions from senior Isaac Hamilton and junior Thomas Welsh, and the Bruins have the arsenal available to make a run at the NCAA title.

THE FINAL FOUR:

The first semifinal pits a couple of Wildcats against each other.  Defending champion Villanova against traditional power Arizona.  Nova has all the moxie, veteran experience, and the championship in their hands until someone rips it away.  Josh Hart is one of the toughest players around, and always seems to make the necessary play to win.  I think the biggest difference will be up front.  Lauri Markkanen is getting better by leaps and bounds every game.  The size issue that Zona presents will be the difference as Arizona gets back to the NCAA title game for the first time since 2001.

On the other side of the bracket, Louisville and UCLA square off.  It’s been some time since the Cardinals and Bruins have played, so it’ll be nice to see these traditional powers, and rivals of the 70s and 80s get back together.  The Bruins can put up some serious points, and have an edge in overall depth of talent, but that gap isn’t as large as you’d think.  Getting out in transition is just what Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel want to do for the Cardinals, and if UofL doesn’t have to settle for jump shots, it’s for the best, as that runs hot and cold for the Cards.  The biggest difference here is coaching and experience.  Rick Pitino is a far superior strategist than Steve Alford.  The Cardinals also have several holdovers from the 2015 Elite Eight run, including Quentin Snider and Mangok Mathiang.  After having to miss out on the Big Dance last year, the Cardinals are hungry for more, and get through to the Championship game.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP:

Arizona Wildcats.  Louisville Cardinals.  This is a National Championship game that I crave.  Sean Miller’s star continues to rise, as he brings Arizona back to the prominence.  Rick Pitino continues his master craftsmanship of molding elite basketball teams.  Alonzo Trier and Donovan Mitchell will be the showstoppers.  Much of the talent position by position will be crossed out.  Louisville has the big men to throw different looks at Lauri Markkanen, and limit the freshman’s impact on the game.  The X-factor will be junior point guard Quentin Snider.  Q can very quietly step up in the biggest moments, and his control of the game, and perhaps a big shot or two, will decide this one.  Rick Pitino gets his third, and the Louisville Cardinals grab their fourth National Championship.

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

The Real Madness of March

Every year, I spend far more time and energy than I should filling out my NCAA Tournament March Madness bracket.  I debate whether chalk or Cinderella’s will prevail.  I agonize over which 12-5 upsets are ripe for the picking.  I look at strength of schedule and see who beat who, as if that matters.  Then, I spend the entire tournament second guessing myself.

Inevitably, I get caught in between rooting for my bracket and cheering for those Cinderella’s that capture our hearts.  It ends up being a very stressful month and at the end, I never feel like I have fully enjoyed what is truly an amazing sporting event.

I like to act as if I know what I’m talking about when predicting these games.  Really, I don’t.  None of us do.  Why bother pretending?  It’s not like I’m a big college basketball fan anyway.  I mean, sure, I watch the tournament religiously.  The first Thursday and Friday of games are days that I believe should be national holidays.  Why play the charade of going to work and acting like I’m not watching online?  I am.  #SorryNotSorry (I am, however, sorry I just used that expression. #NeverAgain)

Anyway, when it comes to regular season college basketball, I never watch many games.  This season though, that’s never been truer.  Confession: I watched a grand total of three full college basketball games this winter.  The complete list: Mt. St. Mary’s vs. Michigan (I was actually in attendance), Xavier vs. Cincinnati (Go Bearcats! #BeatX), and Tulsa vs. Cincinnati (Again, I was in attendance).

So, yeah, I don’t really have any idea what went on this college basketball season.  (Though, I hear tripping people has become a hot button issue.)  What I do know, from hardly following along, is that there was a lot of movement in the Top 25.  It seems to me that this is one of those years where there are a ton of good teams in the field, but not many great ones.  Is that a fair assessment?  Honestly, I’m asking.

Let’s highlight some things as I take my first look at the bracket.  (That’s right; I didn’t watch the selection show either.)

East

Hey!  Mt. St. Mary’s made the field… sorta.  The only first round upsets I have here are Marquette over South Carolina and New Mexico State over that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.  Give me Virginia over Florida in the second round.  Other than that, there’s nothing too exciting.  Looks like an easy path to the Final Four for defending champion Villanova.

Midwest

Woo, lots going on here.  First, Michigan State got lucky.  The Spartans are bad but the Hurricanes sound beatable.  The rest of the first round seems pedestrian but man, look at these possible second round matchups.  Kansas vs. Michigan State is enough said.  Iowa State meets Purdue in a battle of teams with high hopes.  Creighton vs. Oregon will be fun.  And Michigan gets a shot at revenge against Louisville.  I’m still upset about 2013 and, as a result, I’m going into full homer mode.  The Wolverines beat the Cardinals, the Ducks, and the Jayhawks on their way to Phoenix.  (#SorryNotSorry… Damnit, that didn’t last long.)

West

Smart guy alert in the 8-9 matchup as Northwestern and Vanderbilt get together.  Wait, the Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament!  Congrats to them.  I’ll even pencil in an opening round win for them before getting smacked by Gonzaga.  Give me the other smart guys at Princeton to pull the upset on Notre Dame.  On the bottom half, I’m going a little upset crazy.  Florida Gulf Coast makes another run to the second weekend with wins over Florida State and Maryland.  And St. Mary’s finds its way to the Elite Eight for a fourth try at besting West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga.  You know what they say, “it’s tough to beat a team twice, thrice, four times in the same season.”  Well, Gonzaga will.

South

I’ve got Seton Hall beating Arkansas for the same reasons I have Marquette beating South Carolina.  I’m Catholic and the SEC is still a terrible basketball conference, until proven otherwise.  Middle Tennessee State earns its second tourney win over a Big Ten opponent in as many years, my second 12 over 5.  Cincinnati will beat UCLA with a superior defense the likes of which the Bruins have never come up against.  Unfortunately for my adopted school, the Kentucky Wildcats will be waiting in the Sweet Sixteen.  North Carolina will be able to handle Coach Cal’s bunch en route to yet another Final Four.

Final Four

Last year’s championship game was so phenomenal, why not have a rematch?  Michigan and Gonzaga fall victim to destiny.  This time around, Villanova won’t need a buzzer beater.  The Wildcats will repeat, beating North Carolina quite easily.

There you have it.  Now all that’s left to do is wait until Thursday so I can hide my internet browser behind some important-looking work stuff and enjoy this damn thing for once.

I recommend you do the same, but don’t expect many of you to.  That chance at glory is too tantalizing to pass up, isn’t it?  Yes, you’d rather drive yourself crazy trying to arrive at the perfect bracket that you’ll literally never achieve.

And to you all I say have fun losing your group for the umpteenth time to your aunt who bases her picks on the team mascots.  After all, this is the real madness of March.

E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll send you back an invite to my bracket group.  Should be easy to beat me since I’m not trying, right?

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LaVar Ball Lives Through his Protege Son Lonzo Ball

UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball has helped lead the Bruins back to the top of college basketball. The Bruins are a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and that is in large part to Ball having averaged 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The youngster from Anaheim, CA has been so impressive during his debut season that he is already considered to be the 2nd best prospect leading up to the NBA draft.

Considering all the success that Ball has had and is expected to have in the future, it’s easy to see why his parents would be exceptionally proud of their oldest son. But even so, his father, LaVar Ball, may be going overboard. Scratch that. LaVar Ball is going overboard in his adulation for his son.

LaVar’s over-the-top, braggadocios praise of his son started earlier this season. The elder Ball offered this comparison of his son to the NBA’s reigning back-to-back MVP winner, Steph Curry:

“I have the utmost confidence in what my boy is doing. He’s better than Steph Curry to me. Put Steph Curry on UCLA’s team right now and put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”

LaVar considers Lonzo to be better than Curry right now. Not in the future. Right now.

Since LaVar believes that UCLA is being led by a freshman who is better than Curry now, it is easy to understand LaVar’s NCAA Tournament guarantee. UCLA will win the National Championship. It’s as if it’s a stone cold Vegas lock from Brent Musberger himself.

Want more? Oh, there’s more.

LaVar, the Fountain of Spout himself, has told the world that Lonzo will find the NBA game to be even easier than the college game.

“It is going to get easier for Lonzo as we go,” LaVar said. “When he gets to the pro’s, the game is even faster and that’s when he’s at his best. You trade in Bryce [Alford] for D-Wade, [Isaac] Hamilton for [Andre] Iguodala, get away from TJ Leaf and give him Anthony Davis.”

Look at that. He even managed to throw Lonzo’s current teammates under the bus. But remember, Lonzo is so phenomenal that he will elevate UCLA to a guaranteed national championship. His teammates must feel like the luckiest supporting cast on the face of the Earth. I guess Lonzo is Vincent Chase while the rest of the team are a bunch of Johnny Dramas.

LaVar is already branding his son. There’s family friend Darren Moore who is paid to essentially babysit Lonzo. There’s the hand selected paparazzi that snaps pictures and takes video of Ball and his boys for a potential reality show. And there is also Alan Foster who is already working on a basketball shoe for Lonzo.

Speaking of that signature basketball shoe, LaVar has already set the asking price of Lonzo’s shoe deal at $1 billion. But based on LaVar’s rhetoric, I’m not sure who this budding shoe deal is really for. LaVar or Lonzo?

“A billion dollars, it has to be there,” Ball told USATODAY. “That’s our number, a billion, straight out of the gate. And you don’t even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 mil over 10 years.”

If you thought dance moms were bad, LaVar tops them all. Before he was married, he set out to have his own set of “Ball boys.” You see? LaVar’s goal in life seems to have always been to live vicariously through his sons.

LaVar did play college basketball. He played for Kelvin Sampson at Washington State. LaVar claims that Michael Jordon wouldn’t have stood a chance against him in a game of 1-on-1. Never mind that LaVar averaged all of 2.2 points per game for the Cougars.

LaVar and Lonzo are going down the same road that Marv Marinovich took his son, Todd. Todd was a hotshot quarterback recruit from San Leandro, CA and he chose to stay close to home and play for USC. Like Lonzo, Marinovich had been groomed by his father to be a star athlete since before he was born. Marinovich’s life didn’t turn out the way his father had planned.

Being a proud parent is only natural. Being an overbearing parent who lives through their child can ultimately lead to a detrimental upbringing and even worse adulthood.

LaVar was never going to beat Jordan. As for Lonzo being better than Steph Curry right now? LaVar needs to give his son support while allowing him the space needed to mature on his own. That is all any child needs. And if that leads to a National Championship for the Bruins and multiple NBA MVP awards for Lonzo? So be it.

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The Best and Worst of 2016: Pac 12

There were a lot of praise-worthy moments during the 2016 Pac 12 campaign. And in the same breath, I can say with 100% certainty, there were equally plenty of cringe-worthy moments as well. In my opinion, I would say that the Pac 12 took a step back this year. There were some teams that performed extremely well (Pac 12 Champion Washington Huskies) and some teams that stumbled out of the gate, fell, face-planted, and remained on the ground for 12 weeks or so (Arizona, Oregon, Cal, take your pick).

Amongst the peaks and valleys this past season, there were some teams that represented the very best of the Pac 12 and what this conference has to offer to college football. Conversely, there are some teams that flat out stunk and left an ‘un-Febreze-able’ odor, stinging the nostrils of hapless fans up and down the Pacific coast. Depending on your perspective, some of these teams are interchangeable. In the end, we know good football when we see it, straight up. No exceptions. Looking back on this past season, here are my takes on the best and worst of the Pac 12.

The Best

Washington Huskies

Washington made good on their preseason picks to represent the Pac 12 and possibly crack the top four in the College Football Playoff. With an impressive 12-2 (8-1) record, the Huskies punished would-be opponents en route to the Pac 12 championship. It was their first since 2000. Led by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, The Huskies jumped out of the gate winning their first nine games before falling to eventual Rose Bowl Champion, USC. However, despite the loss, U Dub was able to regroup after the loss, win the Pac 12 Championship and face Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Though the Huskies were put down 24-7, they showed no quit and scrapped it out until the very end.

USC Trojans

The Trojans stumbled out of the gate, losing three of their first four games. They were beyond cross road status. They were picking out a plot and resting in shame for the rest of the season. But, somehow, some way, they picked themselves up by their bootstraps and forged ahead to what was a turnaround of all turnarounds. After a 31-27 defeat to the Utes (Utah), USC went on a torrid win streak (eight straight) and displayed why they are perennial favorites to compete and win the Pac 12 year in and year out. And the ultimate cherry on top, you ask? It was an ‘instant classic’ of a game as you can imagine with an improbable come-from-behind Rose Bowl victory over Big Ten Champ, Penn State 52-49.

Colorado Buffaloes

No, this isn’t a typo. I meant it. Yes, I certainly wasn’t a believer for this pick, but I had to really sit down and catch a few games. And to my surprise, the Buffs were quite good this season. They finished 10-4 (8-1). I think Colorado would have given eventual champion Washington a bit more competition in the conference championship had Sefo Liufao not injured his ankle early in the game. That’s my opinion. But we’ll never know. It’s remarkable what Colorado could do in a course of two seasons. Talk about a serious 180 degree turn around from last season where they went 4-9 (1-8). It’s incredible, especially since it’s with the same group of players. Just goes to show you what continuity can do for a team. Unfortunately, the Buffs had to come crashing back to Earth from a 38-8 smack down at the hands of Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Despite the loss, this was an impressive campaign and their heads should be held high.

The Worst

Oregon Ducks

A very popular acronym comes to mind when I think of the Ducks: W.T.F? To those not up on current social terminology, let’s just say that it’s a serious inquisition into understanding the unlikeliest of outcomes. Going into the season, there were some question marks regarding the quarterback situation. Graduate transfer Dakota Prukop didn’t quite live up to the hype and his position was given to true freshman, Justin Herbert midway through the season. The issues didn’t just end there. Their porous defense was atrocious. During the October 8th game against Washington, the Ducks surrendered 70, that’s right 70 points and a whopping 682 yards of total offense! To complement a passive defense, All Pac 12 running back, Royce Freeman battled injuries throughout the season and wasn’t even close to being a factor. All totaled, the Ducks finished 4-8 (2-7). Subsequently, Mark Helfrich was relieved of his duties at season’s end. His replacement, former University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart assumed the position and is looking to retool a once proud and dominant program. One notable bright spot is that running back Royce Freeman will return for his senior season.

UCLA Bruins

Injuries to quarterback Josh Rosen quickly derailed what would be been a championship campaign for the Bruins. Without the sophomore quarterback, UCLA stumbled and bumbled to a 4-8 (2-7) record. Despite the record, the Bruins’ defense kept them in most of their games. Unfortunately, the offense could not drum up enough of a rhythm to keep the defense off the field for extended periods of time. The Bruins look to have Josh Rosen back for his junior season. Hopefully, he will be healthy and the defense, though losing some key playmakers, can resume consistent, strong play.

Cal Golden Bears

Oh, this pains me so! There is no way I can’t say that this season was an absolute disappointment. Early predictions had Cal contending for the Pac 12 North division title – key word, early predictions. When news that Cal had landed graduate transfer Davis Webb from Texas Tech, it seemed that the Golden Bears’ prayers had been answered as far as a replacement for former signal caller, Jared Goff. Statistically, Webb performed well above expectations- throwing for 4,295 yards with 37 TD’s versus 12 picks. Of course the other side of the coin reveals a much darker, bleaker situation. Cal’s defense, which showed some improvement last season, seemed to have left that improvement somewhere in 2015. Cal’s defense ranked at or near the bottom in several defensive statistical categories. It was a hot mess of a dumpster fire. However, the defensive highlight of the season and a moment which I figured would turn Cal’s season around was the epic goal line stand against then #4 Utah. It was the type of stand that sets the tone for the rest of the season. Alas, it was only good enough to get the win and nothing more. Sadly, it would be only one of two wins to come in the final seven games of the season. The blaze that was the 2016 season saw coaching casualties in Defensive Coordinator Art Kaufman and Head Coach Sonny Dykes. With a new regime taking place in Strawberry Canyon, first-time head coach Justin Wilcox is poised to right a ship that has been astray for some time.

Email David at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @VirgosAssasin.

Featured images courtesy of collegeswimming.com

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- Meyer, Tide, Utes, and More

Meyer Makes a Mistake

Urban Meyer proved he is a human last night.  His delayed decision to rush his kicking team onto the field late in the game turned a makeable field goal try into six points for Penn State.  Taking three points on a long field goal attempt was uncharacteristic for Meyer in the first place, and the hesitation only made the attempt more difficult.

Those six points gave the Nittany Lions a 24-21 lead with 4:27 left in the game, and the Buckeyes couldn’t answer.

It’s not common for Meyer to make coaching mistakes. That’s an obvious statement if you know anything about his career.  He’s 56-5 as Ohio State’s head coach, and 160-28 all time. When it’s all said and done, this will be an insignificant event in a hall of fame coach’s illustrious career.

For now, though, this loss could be significant.

There are just five weeks left before the Buckeyes host Michigan on November 26, and those five weeks include a meeting with undefeated Nebraska.  A one loss Ohio State squad will likely get into the playoff with a win over Michigan and a Big Ten Championship in the last two weeks of the season.  A two-loss Ohio State team may still get into the playoff with the same resume.

But what if Ohio State beats Michigan and loses in the Big Ten Championship. What if they beat Michigan by a small margin and lose in the Big Ten Championship? Does one loss, conference championship-less Michigan get in over the Bucks?

The “what-ifs” are endless, but if the Buckeyes would have taken care of business last night we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Notes:

  • J.T. Barrett’s Heisman stock took a slight hit.  His numbers were still impressive, but not nearly impressive enough for a player trying to keep pace with Lamar Jackson.  Barrett completed 24 of 43 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown.  His 26 rushing yards were the fewest he’s registered in a game all season, and last night marks just the third time in 2016 that Barrett hasn’t recorded a rushing touchdown.
  • There was absolutely a missed pass interference call on Penn State with a little over a minute left, but there is plenty more for fans to be angry about.  They can start with Ohio State’s offensive line, which gave up six sacks.
  • Penn State Head Coach James Franklin has been on the hot seat all season, but this win likely buys him another year.
  • ESPN’s Mark May never picks Ohio State. If you haven’t heard, he’s been pretty biased against the Buckeyes his whole television career.  However, he picked Ohio State to win last night. Must have been a reverse psychology trick.

Alabama Wins, Then Loses

The most anticipated game of the weekend was a battle of undefeated teams as sixth-ranked Texas A&M traveled to Tuscaloosa to take on number one Alabama.  After falling behind 14-13 early in the second half, Alabama outscored A&M 20-0 in the last 27:54 in the game en route to a 33-14 victory.

A&M went into Saturday’s matchup averaging over 530 yards of total offense per game (1st in SEC), but Alabama, statistically the conference’s second-best defense, held the Aggies to just 278 offensive yards.

‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts continued his stellar freshman season by turning in 93 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. He added two more touchdowns and 164 yards through the air.

Alabama did receive some bad news, however, after senior defensive back Eddie Jackson was diagnosed with a broken leg. He is not expected to return this season.  Jackson averages three tackles per game, but plays a big part in the defensive backfield and on special teams. He has one interception returned for a touchdown this season, and he averages 25.8 yards per punt return with two touchdowns.

Notes:

  • Alabama sacked Trevor Knight five times.  The Tide average 3.86 sacks per game, which is good for third in the nation.
  • This fumble recovery for a touchdown marked Alabama’s 10th game in a row in which they’ve scored a non-offensive touchdown.
  • For weeks I’ve been calling Ohio State the best team in the country. After this weekend’s events, I have to eat my words. I’m not sure Ohio State wasn’t more impressive than the Tide for the first part of the season, but Alabama has earned that title.

 

Utah’s Williams Runs Wild in a Classic Pac-12 Shootout

Just over a month ago, Utah’s Joe Williams decided to quit the football team because he wasn’t passionate about the game anymore.

Yesterday, that same Joe Williams rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns as the Utes outlasted UCLA 52-45.

That’s right, a guy that quit the team and decided to come back a month later turned in college football’s best rushing performance of the season.

You can read about his story elsewhere.

While we’re on the topic of staggering stats, UCLA backup quarterback Mike Fafaul, who was filling in for the injured Josh Rosen, attempted 70 passes, only 19 shy of Connor Halliday’s NCAA record of 89 attempts in 2013.  Fafaul completed 40 of those attempts for 464 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions.

Notes:

  • Utah is 7-1 this season, with a 4-1 mark against Pac-12 opponents.  The Utes are in first place in the Pac-12 South.  Next week they will host the undefeated Washington Huskies, who are ranked number five in the nation.  Don’t miss it.
  • In a preseason media poll, UCLA was picked to finished first in the Pac-12 South Division.  The Bruins are currently 3-5 overall and are fifth out of six teams in the Pac-12 South.

 

Other Notes:

-11th Ranked Houston lost 38-16 to SMU. That’s the Cougars’ second loss of the season. If Tom Herman’s Cougars keep struggling, Herman’s price tag could drop significantly.

-Lamar Jackson was excellent once again. Jackson accounted for 359 yards and four touchdowns in Louisville’s win over North Carolina State — in the first half.  After easing up on the gas in the second half, Jackson finished with 355 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and another 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground.  He is still the clear favorite to win the Heisman trophy.

-Leonard Fournette returned from injury and broke LSU’s single game rushing record after just eight carries.  Fournette finished the night with video game numbers, amassing 284 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. That’s an average of 17.8 yards per carry.

-Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook has been on an absolute tear during the last four weeks. After his receiving performance of 202 yards and two touchdowns last night against Texas Tech, Westbrook is averaging 194 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game over his last four games.

-I’d mention the rest of Oklahoma’s unbelievable offensive performances from last night, but playing against Big 12 defenses isn’t nearly as impressive as it used to be.

-BYU made the gutsiest fake punt call of the season, and perhaps ever.  It didn’t work.

-However, this Virginia fake-ish field goal did work, and it was awesome.

 

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

Photo: Wikipedia

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Does the Sun Devil Surprise Continue in Colorado?

In every football season there are surprises. A team exceeds expectations or drops off the face of the Earth. Well, don’t tell anybody, but the Arizona State Sun Devils are quietly in the mix for the Pac-12 South division title going into their game with Colorado.

We still have a ways to go in this Pac-12 football season, however, there is a low-key confidence growing among the coaches and the players for the Sun Devils.

What has to happen for Arizona State to pull the surprise and win the Pac-12 South?

First of all, the Sun Devils have to get by an upstart Colorado team this Saturday. This is not going to be an easy thing to do. The Buffaloes have proven to be a team to not overlook. They were up big on a talented Michigan team, beat Oregon in Eugene, and fell just short against the USC Trojans.

The Sun Devils are well aware of how important this game is in terms of the Pac-12 South division. If Arizona State gets this win it’ll put the Devils a game up on Colorado and they will then control their own destiny.

The other aspect that can derail this season for the Sun Devils is injuries, especially at the quarterback position.

Starting quarterback, Manny Wilkins Jr., has been out with injury for the past couple of weeks. He is expected to return for the Colorado game. Being at Sun Devil practice, it is obvious that the coaching staff wants Manny Wilkins Jr. at quarterback on Saturday. Wilkins is going through all the drills that don’t involve contact. His replacement, Brady White, who played admirably in relief two weeks ago against USC is out for the rest of the season due to an injury that occurred last week in the win against UCLA.

If Manny Wilkins Jr. can’t play on Saturday it will be a difficult game for the Sun Devils in Colorado.

The next part of the equation for Arizona State is that leaky faucet defense the Sun Devils have. The Sun Devils have to make stops against Colorado. The defense needs to step up and that might include not relying on the blitz so much.

“The Sun Devils blitz when they walk off the bus. We know we will have some negative plays defending the blitz, but there will be chances for us to take advantage of it.” Said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre on the weekly Pac-12 conference call.

Blitzing is the bread and butter for the Arizona State defense. Talented teams like Colorado can take advantage of the over aggressive style to make big plays. The Sun Devils bring pressure from every angle to try and confuse the offense. Arizona State gets to the quarterback, but also gives up many big plays with its blitzing.

I believe the Sun Devils need to dial back the aggressive play a bit. With a division title possible you have to play smart and being so aggressive is not always the smartest way to go.

Will the Sun Devils choose to dial the blitz back?

Don’t count on it. Coaches have a style that suits them. This is the style of Coach Graham.

I believe the Sun Devils will have Manny Wilkins Jr. at quarterback on Saturday, but how effective can Wilkins be coming off of injury? Colorado will be coming after Wilkins and if Colorado can get him out of the game, it’s game over for the Sun Devils.

When the clock runs out on Saturday, I believe the Colorado Buffaloes will be the victors. Colorado doesn’t have as many questions heading into this game, in my opinion. Buffaloes win, 45-28.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: Wikipedia

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