Monday, January 12, 2015

College Football: Thoughts on the (first) College Football Playoff Championship Game.

By the end of the evening we're going to know two things:

1. Who the Football Bowl Subdivision Football champion is for 2014-2015

2. Whether or not Chris Fowler is up to the task of calling a major championship game.

While I've had a mixed record this year I did at least predict two of the eventual CFP participants and one of the teams in the championship game which is in-line with my theory that blind luck gets you close to 50% so I'm happy with that.

That said I think the game (Oregon [-7] vs. Ohio State) has a chance to be very competitive and could go the way of the underdogs. I think Urban Meyer is one of the best coaches in college football today and I think, if anyone, he is the coach who can untangle Oregon's hyperspeed offense.

Despite my optimism regarding Ohio State it is dampened a bit by the fact that I still feel Alabama (and the entire SEC) was overrated this year. Hence the reason I didn't pick Bama to be in the playoff this year. Fortunately for Alabama, it turns out that South Carolina and everyone of the SEC teams was worse than I expected as well.

Taking all of that into consideration.....and without further ado.......

Oregon 37 Ohio State 34

Either way I think it's going to be an exciting game,

Friday, January 2, 2015

College Football: How about that B1G now?

After last night's Ohio State victory over all-powerful Alabama you can be forgiven for wondering where the sporting pundits are today. After all, it was back in October that almost everyone of them declared the B1G's title hopes DOA.

Michigan State had just lost to Oregon and an Ohio State team still transitioning away from Braxton Miller had just fallen to a very average Virginia Tech team. The view of the B1G was so bad that sports writer, and professional B1G troll, predicted the conference would finish the bowl season 0-10.


How quickly all of that changed as Michigan State came back from the dead to edge almighty Baylor 42-41, ending the Bears cries of foul for being left out of the college football playoff, and Ohio State outscored Alabama 42-35 leaving the S-E-C(!!) without a representative in the inaugural championship game. (Side note: Had the B(C)S still been in effect the championship game would have been Florida State and Alabama. It's harder to dominate when you're not operating in a system designed for your benefit.)

Vegas has immediately established the Buckeyes as 7 point dogs to the Oregon Ducks, a line that I'm not inclined to quibble with.  However, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ohio State be competitive nor would I be surprised to see a blow-out.  I'll delve more deeply into the why's later.

For now though, congratulations to the B1G who, with the addition of the Harbaugh hire, is proving to everyone that they are not only relevant, but competitive at the highest levels as well.

And now, for some bowl picks.

Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Pitt (-6) After the firing of Tony Levine I have a feeling the Cougars are going to be fired up in this game. That being said I think the team is too offensively limited to do much against Pitt.  Call this the "Desperately hoping for a turn-around" Bowl.

UH 10 Pitt 27

Tax Slayer Bowl: Iowa vs. Tennessee (-3) For all of the good I wrote about the B1G above you have to look at individual teams. Iowa is not good.  Tennessee is on the rise.

Iowa 3 Tenn 35

Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA (-1.5) In the pre-season I was very high on the Bruins. Over the course of the year they morphed into one of the most disappointing teams in the country.  As with most K-State games my thoughts can be summed up thusly:  UCLA will make mistakes, K-State won't.

KSt 24 UCLA 20

Cactus Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Washington(-7) This one is fairly straight-forward. In what we now know to be a down Big Twelve Twen OSU needed a last-minute victory over OU to make it to a bowl.  Washington should be a much better team.

OSU 14  Washington 27

Birmingham Bowl: East Carolina vs. Florida(-7) This line is clearly a public special. With Florida's name it would be hard to balance the betting if ECU was installed as the favorite.  That said, I think ECU is a much better team and Florida will be without their coach.  Surprisingly, this could be a benefit for them.

ECU 24 Florida 23

Go Bowl Toledo(-4) Arkansas State Despite Toledo being favored by 4 points I think this game is a pick 'em. The two teams are somewhat mirror images of each other as they each possess a good running back, and little else offensively.  It's going to be hard to find an edge but I think the Sun Belt conference is just slightly better than the MAC.

Toledo 20 Arkansas State 21

Good luck and enjoy the last weekend of College Football.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

College Football: The Age of Uneven Performances (And....Harbaugh!!!!)

Tonight's LSU performance is why I hate picking bowl games.

Uneven, distracted defensively and playing way below their level of skill, it's almost impossible to decide who is there to play and who isn't.  Being stubborn however, I'll continue plodding along. Just remember that my picks are worth exactly what you paid for them.

Georgia's running game though.

Maryland was B1G slow last night and they made a very average Stanford team look like world beaters.  I realize that Randy Edsall is a nice guy and all of the sportscasters love him, but I think it's fair to ask just how good of a coach he really is. Maryland looked totally overmatched, and underprepared last night.

The Harbaugh Files

First: Admittedly, as a Michigan fan I'm ecstatic. So anything that I write on this subject has to be first put through a Maize and Blue filter.  I admit this.

All that being said I'm going to try and be somewhat realistic about Michigan next year as Harbaugh is going to have some talent hurdles to overcome.  Michigan needs speed at all positions, an NFL quality running back, talent at WR, defensive support and (most importantly) a quarterback who can do more than just throw it up and hope.

Game management should be better so, based on that and what I'm expecting to be a good Freshman class, my expectations are 8-4 to 10-2 and a good bowl game.

Stubbornly plodding along.

Without further ado.....some picks.  Let's see if we can get some right today.....

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU (-3.5) - What might be the best game of the day will be played when a lot of people are still working. Sadly, since the injury to Treadwell the Rebels have not been the same team. I think TCU is playing for pride here and should cover fairly easily. Ole Miss 17 TCU 35

VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona (-3) - As the highest ranked Group of 5 conference champions Boise State gets the consolation prize here. If Solomon is 100% healthy I don't see the Broncos competing with the Wildcats.  As a Michigan fan it pains me to say this, but Rich Rod can coach and I think the Wolverines made a mistake in dismissing him so soon. BSU 10 Ariz 42

Capitol One Orange Bowl Mississippi St. (-6.5) vs. Georgia Tech - The best time to play against Paul Johnson's triple option is at the beginning of the season or in a bowl game. I think Dak Prescott and company have more talent, speed and better coaching than the Rambin' Wreck and will show that off here big time.  Miss St 34 GT 20

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

College Football: The Big XII fires it's shot (and misses badly)

So it turns out that the Big XII could neither produce "One True Champion" or (so far) a competitive product on the field. 

Three bowl games, three losses. In none of the games was there a realistic chance that the Big Twen representative was going to win.

West Virginia looked like a contender for one half, but then blew it in the 3rd quarter and ultimately fell to Texas A&M 45-37 in a game now known more for video images of an aTm assistant going rogue than compelling football.  I'm sure this season will be enough for Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorson to keep his job, but I'm not all that sure it should be.  The team has regressed since he took over.

What followed was even worse. Not only did OU look inept in a 40-6 shellacking at the hands of Clemson but they looked bad against a team playing a backup QB who has a cheerleader for a coach. There have already been calls by many Sooner opinion makers and alumni for Stoops to go. I'm sure he survives but it's pretty safe to say that this is a team that is heading in the wrong direction.

The night closed with, quite possibly, on of the worst offensive performances ever by the UT-Austin Longhorns as they were demolished 31-7 by an Arkansas team who was not as good this year as the ESPN analysis team made them out to be. How bad were the Longhorns? CultureMap Houston sic'd their resident troll on them to write an intentionally inflammatory hatchet job. You know things are not going well when this happens.

Amazingly however, Baldwin (probably unintentionally) got it right this time.  What happened last night in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl was historically bad. 59 yards of total offense bad.  It was bad enough that the College Football Playoff arguments of both TCU and Baylor were 100% shot down, especially when you consider both of them held up as a signature win beating OU.

And now, for some quick Bowl picks:

Notre Dame vs. LSU (-8) Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. If nothing else, LSU should win comfortably because Notre Dame is 1. overrated and 2. more resembling of a M.A.S.H. unit right now.  LSU 27 ND 10

Georgia(-7) vs. Louisville Belk Bowl.  I really think that the game is going to come down to whether or not Louisville can stop UGA's running attack.  My bet is they don't. UGA 34 UL 13

Maryland vs. Stanford (-14) Foster Farms Bowl. While Pat Forde has already been proven wrong on his 0-10 B1G prediction I think this is another chance for there to be fuel on the fire.  Yes, Maryland is not that good of a team, but there's some evidence that this year's Stanford team is not all that good either, despite coming from the PAC12, which I consider to be one of the strongest conferences this year. Yes, even better than the SEC (as a whole).  Maryland 24 Stanford 21.

Monday, December 29, 2014

College Football: Undo praise for a matchup between two 6-6 teams. (And some bowl picks)

If you read the Chron on Sunday you might be forgiven for thinking the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl was a matchup for the ages between two of 2014's national powers with something real on the line.

Texas Bowl helped re-establish Houston as a 'viable' college football market. Joseph Duarte,$$)

Most recently, the Texas Bowl entered a six-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference, a league it has targeted since inception, to pair with the Big 12. That made possible a Texas-Arkansas matchup, a rivalry that dates to the grudge matches of the old Southwest Conference and the Game of the Century in 1969 between the No. 1-ranked Longhorns and No. 2 Razorbacks.

That's all well and good and romantic sounding but the reality of the situation is that neither the Longhorns or the Razorbacks were especially relevant on the college football landscape this year.

The rest of the Chron story goes on to talk about Houston as a premier college football destination. Again, while the profile for Houston is improving it's still miles behind Dallas as a major player in the game.

When you consider that the College Football Playoff Championship Game will be at Jerry's World, and that the CFP Committee held their final meetings at the Gaylord in Dallas, and that the home of the Cowboys hosts more, and higher profile college games than the home of the Texans you understand how Houston has devolved into a second-tier destination.  In Bowl terms it's probably closer to 3rd tier.

This is not to say that Houston hasn't made improvements, in fact, the city has.  From a college football waste-land to a college football city, there's at least signs that what happens in the City will at least be paid some attention to, even if it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

The Advocare V100 Texas Bowl game tonight might accidentally be fairly entertaining. Because it's the University of Texas-Austin vs. The University of Arkansas-Fayetteville there should be a good crowd and some good energy in the stands. However, because it's reportedly being played on the Texans grass field there's sure to be some pretty poor conditions as well.

All of that said, I'll be watching the game for no other reason than it will be the only show in town. True, it will probably be on mute on TV #2 (on TV #1 will be the Rockets game) I'll still at least keep up with it and am excited that the match-up seems fairly solid.

My good friend Kevin always notes that the Houston Chronicle is one of the best newspapers in the world when it comes to writing glowing, uncritical stories of local institutions. I feel that this is the case here.

Certainly the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl has risen from the ashes to be a compelling 3rd tier bowl, to suggest that it's made Houston into a major college football player is stretching it just a bit.  It keeps the Bayou City from being totally irrelevant, but it doesn't grant it a seat at the adult table.

Game Picks: Three games today, here's how I see them going down.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas aTm & West Virginia (-2) - At one time the Liberty Bowl was the eventual destination of the C-USA champion, now it, like the Advocare V100 Texas bowl is a destination for middle-of-the-pack SEC and Big Twen teams. The AutoZone Liberty Bowl is one step above however.  In this game I think the key match-up is aTm's struggling defense and WV's high-powered offense.  I don't expect much, if any, defense to be played:  aTm 49 WVU 52.  (Note: if you're a fan of Twitter the gimmick account @fauxHolgorson is making its curtain call during this game. Whoever did this has been one of the better fake coach accounts on Twitter for a while now. Follow in if you can)

Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma (-5) vs. Clemson: Call this the "Didn't live up to expectations Bowl" if you want but the key matchup is OU's running game with Perine and Clemson's overrated, but statistically solid, defense.  While Clemson is the ranked team here the ACC has been awful early in bowl games suggesting the conference is not as strong as people imagined.  OU 33 Clem 20.

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: UA-Fayetteville (-7) vs. UT-Austin: First things first, this won't be a replay of the Game of the Century. In fact, while I think UT-Austin is on the upswing with coach Strong and I truly believe that coach Bielema is one of the worlds great turds, I also think that UA-Fayetteville is one of the better rushing teams in the country.  UA-F 27 UT-A  10.

Houston Texans: When Middle of the Pack is A-OK

Sunday morning, I woke up, checked my Twitter account, and found a couple of angry tweets from a Texans fan suggesting that I "eat crow" as well as a infographic illustrating how I can shove my opinion up my backside. 

Normally, I would just ignore this and go on about my business. However, this guy did two things wrong: 1. He spelled my name wrong. 2. He didn't even get my position on the Texans record correct. While it's true that I predicted the team would go 5-11 this season I also added this disclaimer:

I will say this, I believe that 5-11 is the FLOOR for the Texans and not the ceiling. The ceiling is 8-8 although, for draft picks, that could be just about the worst-case scenario since it would probably mean that the Texans will be out of the running for any of the top QB's in next year's draft.
So, when all is said and done I was one game away from their final result.

Picking NFL games at the beginning of the season is a crap-shoot at best, and should be treated as such. I think it's wise to establish a range and then live with it.  To my way of thinking, the Texans range this last year was 5-11 to 8-8.  That they outplayed (slightly) what many thought to be their ceiling in the face of several injuries speaks volumes regarding the coaching job turned in by Bill O'Brien and his staff.

As it stands I picked 5 of 8 Division champions which is higher than 50% so I'm very happy on that front.  Teams that surprised me were the Texans (discussed), Pittsburgh, Dallas and the Panthers. Teams that turned out to be worse than I thought were the Ravens, Bengals and Eagles.

Now that all is said and done, and with the benefit of perfect 20/20 hindsight, I think the final record of the Texans is just about where they should be.  Throughout the team's history the norm has been somewhere around .500, with a few variations either up (or down) that has led this to be one of the more average teams in the league.

After 13 seasons of play the combined record for the Texans is 88-120-0 in the regular season. In the playoffs the team is 2-2 all time, having made the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 so overall 9-7 is a good year.

The question now is whether or not slightly above average, the Texans will have the 16th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, will be good enough for General Manager Rick Smith to keep his job?

Heading into 2015 the Texans have more questions than answers. O'Brien seems like a quality NFL coach, they are now expected to bring Arian Foster back, one would think they also bring back C Chris Meyers but after that it's a crap-shoot.

Brooks Reed is probably going to be wearing another uniform next year as will Andre Johnson unless both players take huge pay cuts.  The Texans will still be dealing with salary cap problems this off-season but not to the degree that they have the last two years. Heading into the draft the list of needs will probably by much the same as in 2014 (which is concerning) and include QB, OL, LB, DB & WR. If Foster's hamstring issues are worse than expected you can add RB to that list as well.

Minus any breaking news today I'm expecting that Rick Smith will again be in charge of the Texans draft process, a fact that has to be discouraging for fans.

That aside, this was a good season for the Texans and, coming off the 2-14 disaster that was 2014 it is hoped that the future is looking up. 

As for my opinions?  Well, I'm not shoving them up my backside and I'm not eating crow today. Overall I think my opinions regarding the matter were pretty much spot on.

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