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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

College Football: Pick your coaching poison

Two schools, one that I root for and one that I follow since I did graduate from their university system, fired their football coaches recently.  While Michigan (who I root for) has slowly watched itself devolve over the past couple of decades from National power to B1G mediocrity there are signs that they are finally starting to understand the root-cause of the problem.

That said, Les Miles was always a pipe dream (why leave LSU?) and I've a feeling Jim Harbaugh might be as well. Although I'd be happy to have khaki walking around the UM sideline I still think he's more likely to entertain NFL offers first, after the 49ers (the NFL team I root for ironically) give him the boot after the season.

I realize that most Big Blue fans still harbor delusions of grandeur, but the reality is that Michigan football is in a rebuilding phase. Whoever the next coach is will need to understand that and also will need to understand how to bring a program back to glory in the face of some unrealistic expectations from boosters.  Oh, and then there's the evergreen shadow of Bo.

With that in mind I like the idea of Greg Schiano as the next head coach of the Maize and Blue. Yes, his tenure in Tampa Bay was a disaster but, before that, he resurrected Rutgers and took them just about as far as they could go given their resources.  Say this for Michigan, they are unrivaled when it comes to having resources so that still makes them a coveted job.

The second school, Houston, has just hired Ohio State Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman as the coach who is tasked with fixing the mess caused by nice guy, but poor head coach, Tony Levine. In many ways the UH job is the Michigan job in miniature.

The program has history (although not as much as Michigan), they have had some success in the past (although again, not as much as Michigan) and they have a fan and booster base that's somewhat delusional.

For both schools, football history is stuck in the 80's. While Michigan dreams of the days when mighty Bo Schembechler prowled the sidelines and three yards and a cloud of dust, UH fans are still bitter over the implosion of the Southwest Conference and blame Baylor and certain politicians for their ultimate decline.

Michigan wants a "Michigan Man" while UH just wants offense. I've seen many a supporter talk about UH "lighting up the scoreboard again" with very little focus on actually winning.  And while lesser Houston sports writers have chastised UH for firing Levine, more reasoned thinkers realize that what was brewing over at Cullen Ave. was a disaster that needed to be fixed, fast.

I think the UH hire of Tom Herman was a good hire. I think he's got the coaching pedigree to turn the program around and really compete in the AAC, something Levine didn't have the coaching chops to do.  For Herman I think that job #1 will be: Don't lose the games you should win, be competitive in the one's you shouldn't, and don't do stupid things like lose to Texas State or UTSA.

However, even if Herman accomplishes that there will still be a broad cross-section of UH fans who won't be happy. These are the people who spend too much time in the echo chambers of UH football chat boards.  For Herman I have this bit of advice: Ignore them.  Even if you counter their arguments with facts and wins they still won't be happy.

For Michigan there's a tougher road to hoe. For one, the expectations and stakes are much higher. Secondly, even if Michigan's dreams come true and Harbaugh takes the reins (which, despite the fact I don't think Big Blue will get him, would be outstanding for the program and something I very much want to see) there's still the spectre of Ohio State and Urban Meyer in the distance.

My last days on a UH chat board were spent talking about football rivalries and which ones were 'hot' right now.  On my list I left off "The Game" because it's been a one-sided affair of late. Yes, Michigan and Ohio State fans still chirp about it but, on the National stage, it's pretty much a non-entity because Michigan has been an overwhelming loser for a while now.  When I pointed this out to a UH fan (again, facts) what proceeded to follow was an avalanche of insults of the "you don't know anything about football" type.

For the new Michigan coach and Herman, this will be the norm from a large portion of delusional fans.  In many cases I wonder if even wins will be enough to overcome that.  For Michigan I sure hope so.  For UH?  I don't think it ever will.

This goes a long way towards explaining why both programs are currently mired in mediocrity.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The 'screwing' of the Big XII - 2014 College Football Playoff edition.

Earlier today the College Football Playoff Committee (a group that has done the impossible and made everyone yearn for the good ol' days of the B(C)S) released their final four:

1. Alabama
2, Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State.

At 5 & 6 respectively were Baylor and TCU which caused all hell to break loose on Twitter as the fans of the Big XII suddenly realized a couple of truths.....

1. Neither Baylor nor TCU were viewed as elite teams by most of the country.
2. The Big XII is not viewed as a top conference outside of the Big XII schools fan base.

Honestly, they shouldn't be taken all that seriously, at least this year.  Let's look at the standings:

1. Baylor 11-1 (Loss to W Virginia)
1. TCU 11-1 (Loss to Baylor)
3. Kansas State 9-3 (Losses to Baylor, TCU and Auburn)
4. Oklahoma 8-4 (Losses to Baylor, TCU, K-State and Oklahoma State)
5.Texas 6-6
6. West Virginia 7-5
7. Oklahoma State 6-6
8. Texas Tech 4-8
9. Kansas 3-9
10. Iowa State 2-10

Out of the top 4 teams, the only team with a win against a non-conference ranked opponent is TCU, who beat Minnesota in the game that had them ranked ahead of Baylor until the last week. For anyone below the top four, it's really pretty dismal.

Add the relatively soft schedules of Baylor and TCU to the problem that they didn't get to play in a championship game (something CFP chairman Jeff Long made mention of) and you have a body of work that's just not all that impressive.

While Big XII fans (and touts who obviously lost prop bets on either Baylor or TCU) bloviated about how poor the B1G was this year the reality didn't match the rhetoric.

Consider the B1G:

1. Ohio State 12-1 (Lost to Va Tech)
2. Wisconsin 10-3
3. Michigan State 10-2
4. Nebraska 9-3
5. Minnesota 8-4
6. Maryland 7-5
7. Rutgers 7-5
8. Iowa 7-5
9. Illinois 6-6
10. Penn State 6-6
11. Michigan 5-7
12. Northwestern 5-7
13. Indiana 4-8
14. Purdue 3-9

As you can see, there's no demonstrable advantage for the Big XII over the B1G and, except for one bad week at the beginning of the year, neither the B1G or the Big XII did anything to convince you that one is better than the other.

Think about it, neither conferrence really had a signature win over one of the top teams in the other power conferences, neither conference did much but knock each other around. Most of the conference teams signature wins over top 25 teams are in conference.

As a matter of fact, the only reason the B1G is terrible lie existed in the first place was because Ohio State lost to Va Tech way back in week two while Michigan State was losing to Oregon. It was a joke then and a joke now, and it's done the Big XII fan no favors because it's outing them as blind to the reality that their conference is one that teams are looking to abandon, not one that teams want to join.

In summary then, what happened today was neither a screw job or politics. It was the result of two teams not having the opportunity to make the same statement as the third.

Ohio State's 59-0 devastation of Wisconsin was the most impressive win of the day by any school. The Buckeyes destroyed a very good Badgers team who had just beaten a pretty good Nebraska team,

Oh, and before Baylor fans scream 'but Wisconsin lost to Northwestern' let me remind you that your Bears lost to a very pedestrian West Virginia team who only is 7-5 because they got to play against a soft Big XII schedule.

Don't get me wrong, I still think the College Football Playoff is flawed beyond repair. Leave it to the geniuses currently in charge of the sport to make a mess of it. I think that ESPN and their marriage is going to lead to a lot more of this in the future. I predict that there will be arguments like this every year because too many people lack the ability to take an honest look at their teams and admit that, as in the case of Baylor, what happened was, in fact, justified.

Monday, December 1, 2014

College Football: For Your Consideration.

It will never happen but.....

1. Oregon
2. Florida State
3. Alabama
4. TCU

5. Ohio State
6. Baylor.

I realize that ranking Alabama behind both Oregon AND Florida State is considered football blasphemy but....

1. Right now the Oregon loss to Arizona is looking way more impressive than the Alabama loss to Ole Miss.
2. Also, lest we forget, no matter how much we all want to root against them, Florida State is STILL undefeated.  That means something.
3. Yes, I know, Baylor beat TCU (barely) at home and they are holding that up as proof of case that they are the better team.  But, on a neutral field I think TCU holds on and wins. Head to head does matter, but it's not the be all, end all considering all of the factors involved.
4. If Ohio State, with a 3rd string QB, beats Wisconsin in the B1G Championship game they vault into the 4 spot for me.

Final thought on this issue:  The CFP Committee is going to screw this up.  Just watch.

Unrelated:  HOW has Michigan not terminated Brady Hoke & Co as of yet?

Unrelated II: The last time Nebraska released a coach coming off a 9 win season (Frank Solich) it ushered them into the Bill Callahan era.  Be careful what you wish for Corn Huskers.

Unrelated III: Just because you played football at the collegiate and professional level does not make you an expert on A. Fooball and B. What the fan base at a school you never attended is thinking.

Unrelated IV: Turn your radio off whatever local sports talk show you have in your town, on social media, unfollow and mute almost every local talker, analyst, etc.  Your College and professional football knowledge will increase almost immediate.

Unrelated V:  We're reminded that Not all coaching jobs are created equal.  Funny that Iowa is the place to remind us.

Championship game lines are out.  Or, at least, Championship game "week" lines are out since the Big XII is continuing the "one true champion" farce.  Early thoughts:  Oregon is way too high a favorite against Arizona if Solomon is healthy.  I'm thinking that La Tech on the money line (+13.5) might be the best beet of the day.  If SMU is going to win a game this season UConn is a good bet.  Florida State (-3) at Ga Tech feels low. Could be some value on the favorites if the lines stay the same.

Other than that?  Too early to tell.  Will be interesting to see the line for Baylor/K-State once we get a final status on Petty and the boards re-post.

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