Tag Archives: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Mitchell Robinson’s departure drastically changes Western Kentucky’s outlook

Mitchell Robinson, a Consensus Top 10 recruit in the class of 2017, announced on Sunday that he would withdraw from Western Kentucky University and focus on preparation for the 2018 NBA Draft. Robinson’s decision brings an end to one of the most bizarre recruiting sagas in recent years. 

Robinson initially committed to play for Texas A&M in 2015. He backed out following the 2015-16 season, shortly after assistant coach Rick Stansbury left to become the head coach at Western Kentucky. Initial buzz suggested Robinson would wind up at another power conference program, but he opted to follow Stansbury to WKU in June of 2016. The decision Stansbury made in adding Robinson’s mentor Shammond Williams to the Hilltoppers’ coaching staff likely didn’t hurt his recruiting pitch.

The Hilltoppers seemingly made their recruiting coup official when the 222 pound 7-footer signed his letter of intent during the early signing period in 2017, but the story was far from over. Shammond Williams resigned from his coaching position in July, and Robinson was released from his Letter of Intent less than a month later. 

Uncertainty about his 2017-18 eligibility after he started classes at Western Kentucky took most potential suitors out of the running for her services. Robinson visited perennial powerhouse Kansas and local programs LSU and the University of New Orleans, a member of the Southland Conference, before reaffirming his commitment to WKU

During this stretch Western Kentucky fans got another bit of great news when leading scorer and rebounder Justin Johnson announced he would return to the Hilltopper basketball team after flirting with the idea of playing football for the fall semester of his senior year. Johnson averaged 14.5 points and 9.4 rebounds as a junior. Putting him next to a strong one-and-done candidate center would’ve given the Hilltoppers a front court that mid-majors can’t dream of.

There’s no doubt that Robinson, who currently projects as late first round pick on NBADraft.net in the wake of his departure from WKU, would’ve been a serious game changer for the Hilltoppers. His NBA size and athleticism combined with his skills on defense and in transition would’ve made him a nightmare matchup in a conference where tweener forwards dominate the post. 

The timing of Robinson’s arrival at Western Kentucky would’ve been beneficial to the Hilltoppers’ chances at a potential Conference USA title despite the fact that he’s joining a roster that finished 7th in the C-USA in 2017. Middle Tennessee State, which advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of its last two seasons, lost 2017 C-USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams and Second Team All-Conference USA performer Reggie Upshaw to graduation. 2017 C-USA runner up Louisiana Tech lost its star forward Eric McCree to the Miami Heat. 

While Western Kentucky suffered significant losses to graduation, there was still optimism for a big jump in the conference standings. The combination of Robinson and proven double-double machine Johnson would have allowed the team to absolutely overwhelm many conference opponents in the post by preventing overmatched opposition from consistently double teaming either player. It wouldn’t have taken much for Stansbury to build around that front court and put together a roster that would finish near the top of the C-USA. From there, a conference tournament upset or two isn’t out of the question and Western Kentucky could’ve been a strong candidate to find its way to the NCAA Tournament. 

Now it seems that those hopes are all but out the window. Johnson’s stats will likely see a significant jump as much of last year’s supporting cast graduated, but what will be good for his individual numbers won’t be so good for the team’s win total. The Hilltoppers will likely finish somewhere in the muddled middle of Conference USA, and you should’t expect a return to the NCAA Tournament unless Stansbury can channel his inner Ray Harper.

Email John and [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jjparker084.

Photo by: Western Kentucky Hilltopper Athletics

Dennis Felton’s at Cleveland State. Now the Real Work Must Begin.

Well, the hire has been made and the introductory press conference is now in the books. Dennis Felton is now the head men’s basketball coach at Cleveland State. Among the guests at his presser were athletic director Mike Thomas, who chose Felton over, among others, Jerrod Calhoun and Jermaine Kimbrough, and the recently-retired Gary Waters, whom Felton considers a mentor.

Felton, to his credit, has the presence of mind to understand what’s at stake in the coming months as it relates to the CSU program. There are already many questions that will need to be answered before the 2017-18 season tips off in November.

At the forefront is the local ties. During his press conference, Felton mentioned the need to focus on local recruiting to strengthen the ties between Cleveland State and the community. The challenge becomes overcoming his own lack of ties to Northeast Ohio.

The question may inevitably answer itself during Felton’s hiring of a new coaching staff. While nobody is sure if either former assistants Larry DeSimpelare or Jermaine Henderson will be retained, there is certainly at least one slot open, as Cornelius Jackson has accepted an offer to join the Marshall staff.

At this point, the hiring of an assistant with local ties is the highest priority, especially considering with the announcement of Calhoun as the new head coach at Youngstown State, Northeast Ohio will be a major target for him and his Penguins staff.

Helping Felton’s cause are as well the recent shows of support from two of the area’s most prominent names in high school hoops: St. Edwards’ Eric Flannery and Garfield Heights’ Sonny Johnson. In the case of Johnson, the endorsement does seem to indicate that one of his players, CSU signee Shawn Christian, will definitely honor his commitment to the Vikings and be a part of the squad next year.

It’s too early to tell, but any help from the high school ranks would go a long way, especially after Babe Kwasniak, the head coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was openly baffled by Cleveland State’s seeming refusal to give further consideration to Calhoun. This is particularly noteworthy, given that recent CSU player Demonte Flannigan was recruited out of VASJ.

Beyond the incoming recruiting, retaining current players will have to be on Felton’s agenda. And, according to a report from the New-Herald’s David Glasier, sophomore star Rob Edwards is at the top of that list.

As it stands, Felton will already be looking to fill at least seven open scholarship slots for 2018. But before that even happens, he now must worry about the prospects of potentially losing his top playmaker to another school. Felton’s ties to the NBA, a clear aspiration for Edwards, may contribute to providing a compelling argument. But it’s not really clear at this point whether it will work.

Other major questions on the current Cleveland State roster remain as well. Who else is thinking of leaving? What becomes of Derek Sloan? Where does redshirt freshman Andy Lucien fit into all of this? While it’s a situation that Felton has faced in his prior head coaching roles at Western Kentucky and Georgia, there can be little hesitation.

The last, and quite possibly biggest, piece of the puzzle is CSU’s overall standing within the Cleveland sports landscape. Even as Felton’s press conference splashed on the headlines, that news had to compete with both Calhoun’s hire at YSU and the recent announcement at Akron’s Keith Dambrot will be taking over at Duquesne.

Again, from Felton’s own experience, the lack of attention isn’t a new situation for him. One story he related during the press conference was the miniscule crowds that showed up to Western Kentucky games during the early years of his tenure. Upon his departure in 2003, the Hilltoppers averaged more than 5,400 people per home game.

It also probably helped that Felton’s WKU teams didn’t lose a single game at home from 2001 to 2003.

While that may be impressive, as Felton is likely aware, Cleveland is not basketball-hungry Kentucky. CSU not only competes for attention with the Cavaliers, it also has to contend with Akron and Kent State, whose own success can snatch away any Viking media attention in a heartbeat.

The next few months will likely give Felton the opportunity to dispel any concerns that fans and the media (myself included on both counts) have about his hiring. Any misstep along the way either by Felton or Cleveland State could prove costly.

Let’s be honest here. Felton was a safe pick. With the expectations that Thomas would make a home-run hire, the selection of Felton can be considered, at best, a ground-rule double. Sure, the batter made it safely on base, but he’s going to need a lot of help to make it home to score.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Hires Dennis Felton. That’s About It.

For the past three weeks, Cleveland State fans started thinking about potential replacements for head coach Gary Waters. Picks ranged from the coaches with solid track records (Jerrod Calhoun) to former locals wanting to come home (Jermaine Kimbrough) to flat-out head-scratchers (Chris Jent).

So, with all of those people to look at, and with the need for athletic director Mike Thomas to hit this hire out of the park, you’d think we’d be looking at a pretty decent future.

And instead, Cleveland State hired Dennis Felton.

Felton’s biggest claims to fame are his early 2000s run as the head coach of Western Kentucky and his miserable run at Georgia, save for the surprise SEC Tournament win in 2008. Prior to getting the call with the Vikings, he was an assistant coach with Tulsa.

The resume may have been a key selling point, but honestly, given the desperation to garner attention to the basketball program, this absolutely smacks of CSU completely phoning it in.

In terms of wins and losses, sure, Felton does possess a track record of success at the mid-major level with the Hilltoppers. But, as any Viking fan left will tell you, winning isn’t enough to get eyeballs on your product. Waters found that out the hard way.

And then there’s the fact that Felton has zero ties to Northeast Ohio. None of his previous coaching positions put him even close. So, now he’s going to have to contend with a steep learning curve that, quite bluntly, should never have to be.

So, forget all of those faint wishes that local superstars languishing at high-major programs will find their way home. I didn’t see it in in the last two years of the Waters era, and I sure don’t now.

I can’t even imagine what is going through the heads of the current players, either. If you look at a side-by-side comparison, Felton seems like, in all respects, a slightly younger, less expensive version of Waters.

The bottom line is even though that the Felton hire may be thought of as, in the eyes of the administration at CSU, a solid hire, to the fans, it’s a flat-out dud. And sure, the company line will be to fans to take a “wait and see” approach when it comes to the new coach.

Wait and see isn’t what Cleveland State needs. The fan base was already scurrying away to find better things to amuse themselves. Waiting around two to three years to see if everything pans out with Felton isn’t in the cards, especially not for the fans who stuck around to see if the institution would make the right move. This is a particular insult to them.

Good luck convincing them to come back, because they’re leaving out the door, cursing you with every step.

At some point, somebody at CSU will have to explain to all of us how it was absolutely incapable of reading the room on this one. The voices on this search were pretty loud and clear that the Vikings needed somebody who would make an immediate splash, and the powers that be went with an old standby instead.

The message is obvious here: Cleveland State’s priority is to its academics, not in generating any interest in its crown-jewel sports program, and that’s fine. But it’s really an insult to the fans who wanted to be at least a little inspired by the prospects of the basketball team. Now, it just looks like they’ll be waiting around and hoping the Vikings get lucky.

I can hear it already. “But Bob, you have to give it a chance.” How about no?

At this point, CSU might as well just move the team back to Woodling Gym, downgrade to the Summit League and call it a day. Because if getting people interested in basketball isn’t a priority, then stop wasting money.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State University

College Football 2016 Preview: Group of 5

American Athletic Conference

Prediction: University of Houston (11-1) vs. Temple (9-3)

I think almost everyone expects to see UH come out of the west in the AAC, as it is both coming off a tremendous year, and in the weaker division in the American. They biggest competition in the West is probably Navy, but it won’t be nearly as big of a challenge now that Keenan Reynolds is gone to the NFL.

Houston will be working hard this season to try and earn a spot in the Big 12, so it will be working for a repeat of the amazing season it had last year. I only have them losing a late season game to Louisville, but the Cougars are definitely the team to beat in the AAC.

In the East Division, the competition is much more of a toss-up, as realistically any of the five teams could take the division. However, the two most likely division champs are USF and Temple. USF’s schedule could pose large problems, however, as it will have to go through the likes of Northern Illinois and FSU early on. With an easier non-conference schedule, I think Temple will be able to win the East by a game. They will only be the last obstacle in UH’s way to a conference championship.

Conference Champion: University of Houston Cougars

Mid-American Conference

Prediction: Ohio University (7-5) vs. Western Michigan University (10-2)

The conference champion will definitely come out of the West division in 2016. The top four teams in the West are all currently ranked above the top ranked East team, Ohio.

Ohio will be able to get enough wins to take the East over the likes of Bowling Green and Akron. The West should be an interesting competition, but I see a breakout season coming from WMU. Their hardest non-conference games are Northwestern and Illinois, two beatable teams for the Broncos. Though they may drop a game against another team in the West, I think they will take at least the Northwestern game and win the West.

Conference Champion: Western Michigan University Broncos

Mountain West

Prediction: Boise State (10-2) vs. San Diego State (11-1)

The Mountain West really looks like a two-team race this year. Except for maybe Air Force, Boise St and SDSU seem like the only two real competitors for the Mountain West crown.

Both should be able to easily win their division, but Boise’s non-conference is much harder than SDSU’s, as it has to face the likes of Oregon State and Washington State. SDSU only really needs to overcome Cal. However, I see them dropping a matchup against NIU the week following, as they will have to travel all the way across the country. SDSU’s lack of difficult out of conference will make them slightly weaker than Boise, despite the better record.

Conference Champion: Boise State University Broncos

Sun Belt

Prediction: Appalachian State (9-3)

In the only of the Group of 5 conference without a title game, Appalachian State will have to battle off the likes of Arkansas State and Georgia Southern for the Sun Belt title. I see this conference really coming down to Appalachian and Arkansas State. Arkansas State has two guaranteed loses in my eyes, to Auburn and a much closer game to Toledo, and maybe even a third loss to Utah State.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State will lose to Tennessee. They have a possible upset against Miami (FL) and then a game against Akron. If Appalachian State manages to come out of its non-conference schedule having only lost to Tennessee and Miami, it will win the Sun Belt.

Conference Champion: Appalachian State Mountaineers

Conference USA

Prediction: Southern Miss (10-2) vs. Marshall (8-4)

Conference USA is very lopsided this year, as Southern Miss is the easy pick out of the West division. The East division, however, is much more up for grabs. Middle Tennessee, Marshall or Western Kentucky could all be the one to face off against Southern Miss, but I think Marshall’s non-conference schedule gives it the edge.

Marshall’s hardest non-conference games are Louisville and Pitt, which are both preferable to WKU’s game against Alabama. None of the non-conference games for MTSU jump off the page, but they are all decent. Vanderbilt, Bowling Green and Missouri are all difficult opponents. For this reason, I have Marshall coming out of the East.

Conference Champion: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Featured Image courtesy of Giovanni Gallucci – Flickr

Conference USA’s Best Football Games of 2016

Conference USA and the Mid-American Conference were pretty similar in that they both had one team which basically did whatever it wanted. In C-USA that team was Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers rolled through the conference undefeated, averaging 50 points per game in conference play.

However, Western Kentucky has just 11 starters returning, and the starting quarterback is not one of them. In general, the conference sees many of its top teams from last year returning very few starters, while the teams that finished at the bottom bring back quite a few. It should make for an exciting year for Conference USA and could open the door for a dark-horse candidate to break through. These ten games will help decide if we see two new teams in the conference championship game in 2016.

10. Charlotte at Louisville (Thursday, September 1)

Last year was Charlotte’s first season in the FBS, and just its third season fielding a football team. They struggled, as expected, going 2-10 but actually beat a Georgia State team in the opener that would go on to make a bowl game. I don’t think Charlotte will be able to knock off Louisville, but with 17 starters back can they hang around for a while? The final score of this game will show if the 49ers can possibly make a bowl game this year, or if the team is still years away.

9. North Texas vs. Southern Methodist University (Saturday, September 3)

This is an intriguing non-conference game between Group of Five schools. Both schools will have coaches with little experience. Chad Morris is in his second year at SMU and North Texas will be in its first year under first-time coach Seth Littrell. Littrell and Morris will have some familiarity with each other, as both were offensive coordinators at ACC schools. With two offensive minds at the helm, it could provide an entertaining game to start the year.

8. Southern Mississippi at Kentucky (Saturday, September 3)

Southern Miss went 7-1 in conference last year but lost all three games it played against Power 5 teams. Though Kentucky isn’t a world-beater, defeating the Wildcats, an SEC team, in the season opener would certainly help with recruiting (ESPNU at 7:30 pm est).

7. Old Dominion at Charlotte (Saturday, October 1)

Old Dominion and Charlotte combined to go 3-13 in conference play last year. So why is their matchup on this list? For starters, both teams return 17 starters in a conference where most of the good teams return a lot fewer. Additionally, these teams have been part of the Football Bowl Sub-division for two years or less. This game will show which team is closer to becoming a respectably competitive program.

6. Rice at Western Kentucky (Thursday, September 1)

We will see right off the bat what this Western Kentucky team looks like after losing so many key players from last year’s dominant team. They’ll get Rice at home on the season’s opening night in a conference clash that will tell us if Rice is ready to step up and challenge for their own division.

5. Florida International vs. Indiana (Thursday, September 1)

FIU will get back-to-back chances to start the year for a nice non-conference win. Indiana did make a bowl game last year but I don’t think anyone would be shocked if they laid an egg against a Group of Five school.

4. Florida International vs. Maryland (Saturday, September 10)

There aren’t a lot of winnable games for Conference USA against Power 5 competition, but this would be one of them. Maryland was abysmal last year and the Florida International Panthers get the Terps at home in the September heat.

3. North Texas at Rice (Saturday, September 24)

Louisiana Tech was the only school besides Southern Miss to finish above .500 in the West division. With LA Tech returning just nine starters, the spot is wide open as main challenger to the Golden Eagles. North Texas and Rice are two of those teams vying for that spot and this early season match-up will determine who has the early leg up.

2. Florida Atlantic at Florida International (Saturday, October 1)

Both teams will look to get over the .500 hump after going 3-5 in conference play a year ago. Florida Atlantic won eight of the first nine games between these two rivals, but the series has been pretty even since. Both teams return 14 starters so we should see a pretty heated battle.

1. Rice at Southern Mississippi (Saturday, October 1)

Southern Mississippi was in the conference championship game last year and Rice will be looking to take over its spot, with 16 starters returning this year. They’ll be extra motivated to get Southern Miss back for the 65-10 drubbing it put on the Owls last year.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy

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.

Week 8 Rundown: What a Time to be Alive

So you thought Auburn’s “Kick Six” a couple years ago was a once in a generation finish? You thought last week’s Michigan punting failure was a once-in-a-decade type of loss? So did I. And inexplicably, college football fans were treated to incredible, improbable finishes in back to back weeks. The Florida State-Georgia Tech matchup itself was much less meaningful than the Auburn-Alabama game from a few years back and even than last week’s Michigan-Michigan State game. But the Seminoles did have playoff hopes and a lengthy regular season winning streak.

They saw that streak come to an end with arguably the best kicker in the nation Roberto Aguayo having a last second field goal attempt blocked and returned for the game-winning touchdown. It’s not a total shock when a field goal gets blocked behind the line of scrimmage and gets taken to the house, but the best part about this one was that the ball landed past the line of scrimmage and the Yellow Jackets were still able to weave their way around and through the Seminoles for the score. That ending was the lone bright spot on an awful day for Hurricanes fans. That and fans can go back to spending their money on night club bottle service and beach days instead of banners to fly over the stadium now that Al Golden’s been fired.

Perhaps the biggest loss of the day however is one that won’t show up in a team’s Win-Loss record. Baylor QB and potential Heisman finalist Seth Russell sustained a neck injury and is now out for the year. Art Briles’ offensive system has been good for pretty much any quarterback that has lined up behind center for the Bears, but for a team that is known just for its offense, this obviously isn’t ideal. Baylor’s hopes now rest on the shoulders of talented freshman QB Jarrett Stidham, who at least has some game action this year, albeit in the 4th quarters of blowouts. Stidham’s Passer Rating in limited time is 255.7. In other words, college football’s passer rating system could use an overhaul.

Florida State wasn’t the only undefeated playoff contender to go down. Utah saw their first loss come at the hands of the USC Trojans 42-24 on Saturday, though I’m a little surprised the score wasn’t more lopsided considering the Utes lost the turnover battle 4-0. Regardless of this loss, I still have Utah as a Top 10 team and playoff contender. It seems I’m on a pretty lonely island with that though.

Utah dropped out of the Top 10 rankings and in the Campus Pressbox Mock Playoff Committee (which comes out every Monday) I was one of only two people out of eleven who still has Utah a Top 10 team. My thinking: Utah still has a really good defense, good special teams, and a pretty good offense. QB Travis Wilson had a bad day but has been playing pretty well overall. Everyone knows USC has Top 5/Top 10 talent, they just can’t put it together for a whole season. If they happen to play to their potential on one particular Saturday? I don’t look at that as a bad loss. There are plenty of other teams around the Top 10 with one loss, so I’m not going to drop Utah out just because their loss was the most recent.

Utah is still on track to play for a potential playoff spot against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Stanford cruised to a 31-14 victory over the Washington Huskies. Christian McCaffrey continues to do Christian McCaffrey things, rushing for over 100 yards as well as receiving for over 100, adding a touchdown on the ground and through the air as well. If he keeps this up, he may find himself at the Heisman ceremony. A fellow running back who is almost certain to be there is Leonard Fournette, but not if he keeps up performances like this past week. Less than 6 yards per carry against Western Kentucky? Only 150 yards and one touchdown? What is that? He must be hurt…All kidding aside, Fournette’s Tigers pulled away from the Hilltoppers in the second half and get a week off before their showdown with Alabama.

The Crimson Tide may have been ready for the bye week after recent big wins against Georgia and Texas A&M, because they looked uninspiring in their contest against the Volunteers on Saturday. A late defensive stop allowed them to sneak away with a 19-14 home win. The Tide also have the week off before their matchup with LSU. And while everyone likely assumes the winner of that game will be a heavy favorite to win the SEC and make the playoff, we shouldn’t put the final nail in the Ole Miss coffin just yet. The Rebels dominated Texas A&M in a 23-3 win and still only have one conference loss. A win over LSU next month would give them the tiebreaker over both LSU and Alabama. That is of course if the Rebels don’t lay another egg like they did against Memphis.

That brings me to my favorite hypothetical of this college football season. If Ole Miss runs the table (they only have 4 games left and get LSU at home) and wins the SEC Championship game, they would be an 11-2 SEC champ. A guaranteed playoff spot right? But what if Memphis also wins out and goes 12-0 with wins over currently ranked Temple and Houston on top of that Ole Miss win? Memphis is thought to have basically no shot to make the playoff even with an undefeated season but this would be an impossible spot for the playoff committee. They couldn’t possibly leave out an 11-2 SEC champ, but could they put that team in over an undefeated Group of 5 team that beat them? I think America needs to root for this scenario.

That Memphis team continues to look good, at least on offense, after winning 66-42 over Tulsa with QB Paxton Lynch having another outstanding day putting up 447 yards and four touchdowns. Normally this type of team would be a shoo-in for the Group of 5 spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, but not this year. The American Conference still has three undefeated teams, with all ranked in the Top 25. Houston continues to dominate opponents in Tom Herman’s first year as head coach. Temple is the third undefeated, and they’ll get their chance to make a statement this week with a home game against Notre Dame. That matchup is the only game between ranked teams this week. Needless to say, it’s not a great slate. This would be the Saturday to spend some time with the significant other and get in his/her’s good graces.

The playoff committee continues to look at a potential nightmare. The Ohio State/Michigan State winner would be an easy selection if undefeated, but the only other likely undefeated teams are Clemson (in a bad ACC) or TCU/Baylor (if their defenses can hold up against each other and Oklahoma). But unlike last year where the final two playoff spots came down to three or four real candidates, there may be six or seven this year with a solid case. I’m guessing there’s just a slight chance the talk about the need for an eight-team playoff isn’t going to get quieter.

Top 4

Baylor

Clemson

Ohio State

TCU

Leaders of the MAC

Earlier this season I warned you all not to sleep on the Mid-American Conference this fall.  If you didn’t take my advice you missed an interesting first half to the 2015 college football season.

Let’s recap.  Through seven weeks the following has happened:

Toledo and Bowling Green hit the road and beat Arkansas and Maryland in week two.  Northern Illinois went the distance with top-ranked Ohio State in week three, falling to the Buckeyes 20-13 in the ‘Shoe.  In week four, Bowling Green beat Purdue to earn its second road win over a Big Ten team.  The last three weeks have seen #19 Toledo and Bowling Green go undefeated in-conference.

These two Northwest Ohio schools are off to a great start this season.  While the Falcons and particularly the Rockets have enjoyed the bulk of the overall success, just about every team has something to be happy about.  Here are some of the impressive ways that members of the MAC are standing out nationally.

Defensively

(Photo: Toledo Blade / Jeremy Wadsworth)
(Photo: Toledo Blade / Jeremy Wadsworth)

Toledo is one of 10 teams in the nation that have surrendered less than 100 points this season (Duke, Michigan, Appalachian State, Wisconsin, Boston College, Toledo, Temple, Missouri, Florida State, NC State), and one of only six that’ve allowed fewer than 80.

The Rockets have given up just eight touchdowns this season.  Only Duke has given up fewer.  Of those touchdowns only two have come through the air, tying Toledo with Northwestern for the least in that category.

Kent State is one of only 10 teams that have held opponents under a 50 percent completion rate.  They and Northern Illinois are tied for seventh in the nation with 11 interceptions.

Linebackers Austin Valdez and Trenton Greene of Bowling Green, and Dylan Evans and Jatavis Brown of Akron are the only pairs of teammates in the FBS with at least 60 tackles each.  All four are in the top 20 in tackles.

Offensively

Bowling Green is one of just six teams in the nation that have scored more than 300 points (Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky, Ole Miss, Bowling Green).  The same six are the only ones who’ve scored 40 touchdowns or more.

Northern Illinois has rushed for 21 touchdowns, tied for fifth in the country.  With 13 rushing touchdowns, NIU’s Joel Bouagnon is just one behind FBS-leaders Leonard Fournette and Greg Ward Jr.  Eastern Michigan’s Darius Jackson is tied for eleventh with 10 rushing scores of his own.

Quarterbacks

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

The MAC has some of the most prolific passers in college football.

With BG’s Matt Johnson, Central’s Cooper Rush, UMass’s Blake Frohnapfel, and Western’s Zach Terrell, the MAC has three of the country’s top 20 passers in terms of completions, completion percentage, passing touchdowns and passing yards per game.

Frohnapfel is a single passing yard shy of being the third MAC QB in the top 20 in that category as well.

Receivers

(Photo: AP)
(Photo: AP)

Somebody’s got to catch those passes for the quarterbacks to be so successful.  The MAC is also home to some of the most statistically impressive receivers.

BG’s Roger Lewis is one of two players in the nation with over a thousand yards receiving.

Tajee Sharpe (UMass) and Daniel Braverman (W. Mich) rank one-two in the FBS in completions, and nine-ten in receiving yards.  Lewis, Sharpe and Braverman are third, sixth and seventh in receiving yards per game.  Sharpe and Braverman are two of only three players who average 10 catches a game.  Lewis comes in ninth with almost eight.

Braverman and Lewis are tied for fourth in the FBS with nine touchdown grabs.

Akron’s Jerome Lane and Toledo’s Cody Thompson are two of six players averaging north of 23 yards per catch.

Special Teams

Five of the nation’s top 20 kick returners, in terms of yards, play in the MAC.  Freshman defensive backs James Olipahnt (UMass) and Emmitt Thomas (C.Mich), NIU’s Aregeros Turner, Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips and Ball State’s Darian Green have all done an excellent job fielding kicks.

Ball State’s Morgan Hagee has made more kicks than any other freshman in the country.  His 12 made field goals tie him for sixth in the FBS.

Bowling Green’s Tyler Tate is tied for third with 39 made extra points.

Playmakers

Joel Bouagnon, Darius Jackson, Daniel Braverman and Roger Lewis are all in the top twenty in total touchdowns.

Roger Lewis and Darian Green are responsible for at least 1000 all-purpose yards.  They’re two of only fifteen who can say that so far this season.

Cooper Rush is twelfth in the nation in total yards.

Matt Johnson leads all FBS players in total yards and yards per game. He needs two measly yards to get to 3000.

Basically, by not watching MAC football you’re missing out.  Not to worry though, in just a couple weeks we’ll start dedicating Tuesday nights to watching all the aforementioned teams and players go head-to-head.

#MACtion starts Tuesday, November 3 with Northern Illinois at Toledo.  Then two weeks later Toledo heads to Bowling Green for a probable conference championship preview.

You’ve officially been warned, again.

Let’s Tee It Up!

The wait is almost over. FINALLY! In just over 24 hours we will have some FBS football to feast our eyes upon, sports fans! And for those of us who reside below the Mason-Dixon line, we will have SEC and ACC football as the South Carolina Gamecocks, and their Head Ball Coach, will take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte, NC. A nice little bonus game will pit the Vanderbilt Commodores against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.Steve-Spurrier

And… AND… TCU’s highly ranked Horned Frogs will pay a visit to the not-yet-frozen state of Minnesota to do battle with their Golden Gophers.

More? Yes! The Michigan Wolverines, now under the leadership of favorite son, Jim Harbaugh, will face the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, UT.

There are several other games on tap Thursday, such as Duke and Tulane, but the games mentioned above are the nationwide biggies slated for Sept. 3.

September 3rd is also significant to me, for another reason, as Braxton and Edwina LeCroy, along with brother Jerry, welcomed Braxton Jr. to the world on that date in 1952. You good folks have come to know me as “Bird.” I’ll get into the origin of that nickname, that stuck HARD, later… maybe.

Bottom line? Some hootin’ and hollerin’ will take place at 116 Sundown Way in Acworth, GA on Thursday. But… BUT! That will be small potatoes compared to the noise generated  from the Georgia Dome in Hotlanta on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM ET. For it is at that time that the Auburn Tigers will take on the Louisville Cardinals in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic!Gus Malzahn

Let’s tee it up!

Sixth-ranked by the Associated Press voters, Auburn has been installed as a 10.5 point favorite in another battle between SEC and ACC teams.

Opening games almost always tend to generate a great deal of excitement in their fan bases and rightly so. All of us have waited, quite impatiently, for this day to arrive. And for me, it is a day to reflect back on openers past.

I have had the privilege of attending 30 opening day tilts which involved my Auburn Tigers. My record stands at 24-6 in these games. Hey! That’s an .800 winning percentage. I’ll take it!

Now I would like to provide a brief take on a few of these ‘first game of the season’ brawls.

Auburn vs. Baylor – 1965

My first one and also the first time I had seen Auburn lose at Cliff Hare Stadium. My record at home, prior to this day, was a sterling 5-0. Neither team scored until quarter number four and the Bears struck first. They went up 14-0 and Auburn scored on the last play of the game on a pass from Alex Bowden to Freddie Hyatt. They tacked on a two point conversion to make the final score 14-8, Baylor.

Auburn vs. Southern Mississippi – 1970IMG_1566_2

My first as a student, an awkward freshman from Lower Alabama. Pat Sullivan began his best statistical season, on the Plains, and the Tigers handled the Golden Eagles, 33-14. Sullivan found Terry Beasley twice for touchdowns that afternoon. The game may not have been the biggest event of the day for me. I went to the late showing of  ‘Woodstock’ that night, and the rest, as they say, is history. I found my calling. 😉

Auburn vs. TCU – 1981

This was Pat Dye’s opener as head coach of the Auburn Tigers. The field is now named after him. Ron “BBQ” O’Neal blasted in for two TD’s as the home team disposed of the Visitors from Ft. Worth, TX by a score of 24-16.

Auburn vs. Wake Forest – 1982

A true freshman running back from McAdory High School in McCalla, AL scored on runs of one and 43 yards to lead Auburn to a 28-10 win over the Demon Deacons. His name was Vincent “Bo” Jackson. You know the rest of the story.

Auburn vs. Miami – 1984

Auburn entered the game ranked number one in both polls on that balmy night in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. Miami was the defending national champion. This was an “extra” game dubbed the Kickoff Classic. Jimmy Johnson was the new head coach of the Hurricanes and his quarterback, Bernie Kozar, helped lead his team to a 20-18 “upset” of the Tigers.BCS Playoff

Auburn vs. Virginia – 1997

My son, Luke, and I made the trip to Charlottesville, VA for the christening of the 1997 campaign. It was a great road trip and a big win for the visitors. Dameyune Craig and Karsten Bailey were electric, in this Thursday night clash, as they hooked up four times for 151 yards and the Tigers downed the Cavaliers, 28-17.

Auburn vs. Appalachian State – 1999

Tommy Tuberville’s debut as head coach. Auburn had dropped Florida State from it’s schedule and replaced it with the Mountaineers, and this one turned out to be far too close for comfort. Ben Leard had replaced Gabe Gross at quarterback and it took his 33-yard pass to Ronney Daniels with 38 seconds to play to pull out the victory.

Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech – 2009

Another head coaching debut with Gene Chizik at the helm. Derek Dooley was coach of the Bulldog’s at the time and was seen as one of the young “up and comers” in the coaching ranks. Auburn had one of these  young “up and comers” as their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn. It didn’t take long for his team’s record setting offense to get  cranked up. Chris Todd hit Terrell “T Zac” Zachary on a 93-yard pass which helped the Tigers secure the win, 37-14, and this was the longest TD pass in Auburn history at the time.

Auburn vs. Washington State – 2013

Malzahn was now the head coach at Auburn and this was his coming out party. It was a very hard fought game but the Tigers managed to hold off the Cougars, and head coach Mike Leach, 31-24. Much to the surprise of the college football world, Auburn went on to, incredibly, win the SEC Championship and play for the BCS National Championship in Pasadena, CA.Mike Leach

That brings us to the 2015 opener for the Auburn Tigers…

Auburn vs. Louisville 

Folks, I think this one is going to be a real dogfight. Bobby Petrino will bring his Cardinals to the Georgia Dome solely focused on one thing, beating Auburn. His team is not to be underestimated. They will play with great intensity for 60 minutes. Auburn had better be prepared to do the same or they will find themselves on the losing end of this matchup.

This ball game, as is the case in most any, will be won at the line of scrimmage. I like the way Auburn’s D line matches up with Louisville’s O line. Look for Carl Lawson, Dontavius Russell, Montravius Adams and DaVonte Lambert to win this battle of the trenches.

I really like the potential of Auburn’s linebacking corps, as well. Kris Frost, Justin Garrett, Cassanova McKinzy, Tre Williams and JaViere Mitchell should makeup the backbone of a formidable group.

Louisville hasn’t named a starting QB, yet, but I think whoever it is may be running for his life most of the afternoon.

The Cardinal’s defense was very tough last year. They lost seven starters but have three transfers coming in that are very good and will play a big role in solidifying their D.

But I LOVE Auburn’s O line! This group has a chance to be the best since the 2010 group and they were one of the best in school history. And there is quality depth here also.

The Tiger offense should be very, very explosive with Jeremy Johnson at QB and a plethora of skill position players at his disposal.Jeremy Johnson

The wide receivers are talented and deep.  They will feature all-star candidate, Duke Williams, along with Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Stanton Truitt. One guy to pay attention to here is number 4, Jason Smith. The former QB could turn out to be a true weapon for the Tigers in a variety of roles.

Running backs? LOADED! Former Alabama Mr. Football and 5 star recruit, Roc Thomas, appears to be just a nose in front of Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. Look for all three to play Saturday. Another guy to watch, here, is true freshman, and also another Alabama Mr. Football, #21 Kerryon Johnson.

Now, you can expect a Petrino coached team to score some points. He is a great game day coach. He will find a way to get his playmakers the ball and they could put up some big numbers. But Auburn defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, should find a way to limit those numbers somewhat.

The numbers that matter most are to be found on the scoreboard. I expect the first half of this one to see a change of leads and very close at the break. I also think that Auburn is more talented and deeper than Louisville and that will tell the tale in the end.

The bottom line…

Auburn 38, Louisville 24

Let’s tee it up!

IT is almost here

Admittedly, the college football season snuck up on me this year.  Double check that calendar.  We’re now only a fortnight away from having our Saturdays booked for the foreseeable future.

The dog days are all that separate us from weekly 12-hour cycles of football.  All we’ve got to do is survive and we’ll be back to doing what we all love.  Here’s a little something to help you pull through:

Gone are the days of boring opening weekends.  Because of the playoff format, any college football team with championship aspirations needs to take full advantage of every opportunity to build their resume and impress the committee.

After enduring more than a decade of suffering under the tyranny that was the BCS, where the ‘play it safe’ mentality rewarded powerhouse programs for beating up on the Little Sisters of the Poor, we’ve finally been enlightened.  Now we can expect to see many meaningful football games each and every week, including the first.

This season’s opening night, Thursday, September 3, won’t ease us back into the groove of a college football weekend.  It will catapult us headfirst into a brick wall of big games.

At six o’clock, North Carolina and South Carolina kick-off the season with a battle for bragging rights.  These two haven’t been meeting expectations in recent seasons.  You can bet they’ll both come out looking to begin with a bang.  I wouldn’t put it past the Head Ball Coach to dial up a deep shot on the Gamecocks’ first play from scrimmage.  Plus, things tend to get interesting when schools from neighboring states get together.

Oklahoma State has a strange road game scheduled at Central Michigan, which starts an hour later, at seven.  I say strange because MAC schools rarely host prominent out-of-state programs in week one.  The Chippewas were behind the wildest bowl game finish of the 2014 season.  Mike Gundy is still a man, although he’s now 47 (hard to believe this was so long ago).  Anyway, this should be a quality contest.

At eight, Vanderbilt hosts Western Kentucky.  Normally, Sun Belt teams don’t stand a chance against SEC foes, but we could see an ‘upset’ here.  This one will warrant some attention, especially if the first two games don’t hold your interest.

A half hour after that, Michigan kicks off the Jim Harbaugh era at Utah.  And the Wolverines had better watch out.  The Utes’ last game was a 45-10 win over Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Talk about a tough task for Harbaugh as he begins his tenure at his alma mater.  If he and his team can emerge victorious it will provide an enormous confidence boost.

The main event of the opening evening is TCU at Minnesota, which starts at nine.  The last time we saw the Horned Frogs they were belittling Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.  They’ve got a Heisman hopeful quarterback in Trevonne Boykin, who will be looking to follow up on his coming out party.  Some still argue that TCU was snubbed by the committee last season and there’s sure to be a whole heap of hype surrounding them this season because of it.  Minnesota is no slouch either.  The Gophers have been steadily improving for two seasons.  Boy, could they use a big win after all that’s come out about their former Director of Athletics this summer.  I can’t wait to see how this one plays out.

Friday night will not be a lull in the action as it usually is.

The participants from last season’s Sugar Bowl both hit the road to start their 2015 campaigns.  Baylor is at SMU, and Michigan State travels to Western Michigan.  Neither should have too much trouble with their opponent, but then again, you never know.  Both are scheduled for a seven o’clock kick.

For the night cap, Washington heads to the blue turf of Boise State.  These two programs have stagnated in recent years.  U-Dub continues to tread water in the depths of the crowded Pac-12.  Boise State now carries the Mountain West’s torch as opposed to the WAC’s.  Despite the switch, the Broncos remain the best team in their league, by far.  Stay up late and watch.  Chances are you won’t regret it.

Then, at long last, when you wake up on Saturday morning and turn on College Gameday, you’ll realize it’s officially football season.  Stock plenty of food and beverages, invite over some fellow college football junkies, and tell everyone else you’ll be busy for the day.

The most intriguing noon start is Stanford at Northwestern.  The Cardinal’s David Shaw and the Wildcats’ Pat Fitzgerald are two of the ‘good guys’ in college football.  They run tight ships, and you hardly ever hear about any internal problems.  If you like to watch smart kids play football then look no further.

Make sure your remote is ready for the 3:30 slate.  Virginia vs. UCLA, Louisville vs. Auburn, and BYU vs. Nebraska are all mid-afternoon starts.  With so much simultaneous action you can let your interests direct you.  There are plenty of reasons to get excited about all these contests, and you really can’t go wrong here.

If, for whatever reason, you’re not satisfied, you can flip over to Bowling Green at Tennessee, at four o’clock.  UT is entering a season unlike any it’s had in a long while.  This year, there are some actual expectations being put upon them.  The first quarter of this game will likely tell you all you need to know.  If the Vols start off hot, they should roll.  If they struggle at first, it could turn into a long day for them.

Both UL Lafayette vs. Kentucky and Arizona State vs. Texas A&M start at seven.  Kentucky, like Vanderbilt, runs the risk of discrediting the SEC every time they take the field against a team from a smaller conference.  Not to mention, UL Lafayette isn’t a bad team.  The Ragin’ Cajuns won nine games last year, including the New Orleans Bowl.

The Sun Devils are a scary team to see on your schedule this fall.  They took a leap forward in 2014, while the Aggies were shoved backwards.  This is the only Pac-12- SEC matchup in week one.  The outcome here will hold extra weight with many suggesting the caliber of football out west is now comparable to the down south brand.

Texas is at Notre Dame, at 7:30.  The Longhorns are still looking for answers after one bumpy season with Charlie Strong at the helm.  They struggled against good teams in 2014 with a 1-5 record versus ranked opponents.  Notre Dame, meanwhile, got off to a torrid 6-0 start, only to drop five of their last six regular season games.  Needless to say, neither of these two proud programs is where they’d like to be.  It’ll be fun to watch them battle for that first win of 2015.

In the ‘Better as a Basketball Game’ of the Week, Iowa State hosts Northern Iowa.  Iowa State does not have a good football program.  They won only two games last year, neither of which were conference contests.  Northern Iowa, on the other hand, won nine games and finished tenth in the final FCS Coaches’ Poll.  This is a rare instance where an FBS team will be a significant underdog against an FCS opponent.  The game starts at eight, but there’s just way too much good football on to justify watching this unless you’re a diehard Cyclones or Panthers fan.

The primetime fixture on Saturday night is Wisconsin vs. Alabama at eight.  The Badgers lost a close game to LSU in the 2014 opener.  Things only get tougher here with Alabama.  The Tide was last seen being outclassed by Ohio State, who had spanked Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship to earn that last spot in the playoff.  Don’t expect Bama and Wisky to bond over their common enemy.  This one will be a big boy football game.

The late game on Saturday night features Arkansas State and USC.  Basically, you should watch because you’re not ready to go to bed yet, and Arkansas State is decent enough to justify staying awake.

They’ve even scheduled us a game for Sunday afternoon.  Purdue at Marshall certainly doesn’t excite me, but I’ll watch if I don’t have anything to do at three.

Of course, we finish off the weekend with everyone’s favorite leftover: football on Monday night.  Ohio State has a lot to play for in this rematch against Virginia Tech.  This time it’s under the lights, at Tech.  That’s always been a key ingredient for an interesting game in the past.  The Buckeyes will have some key players sitting out due to suspensions.  Of course, they lost to the Hokies in week two last season and went on to win the national championship.  Something tells me they will not want to start off the same way this year.

So, how could you not be positively giddy about the opening weekend of the 2015 college football season?  We’ve got power conference showdowns, upset possibilities, and plenty of storylines to follow.  All we have to do is wait a couple more weeks.