Thursday, December 31, 2015

College Football: A Revision on the Alamo Bowl

By now you've probably heard that TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin was arrested after a bar fight in San Antonio. Word now is that he, and another starter, have been officially suspended for the game.

Clearly, what I wrote in my original write-up for this game is now out dated.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 3:45 PM CST)

Oregon @ TCU (-1) [O/U 78.5]
- Maybe the best bowl matchup of the entire bowl season, and I'm including the playoff games.  Both teams score, neither team seems likely to stop the other.  They would have to put the number on this game close to 90 for me to consider the under.  A must watch. Oregon 47 TCU 45.

Given the official change in Boykin's status the lines are in flux, taken off the board in many cases. While I'm not sure what the final odds will be I am sure that TCU will no longer be a slight favorite by kick-off.  Once I find some solid information I'll update it within this post.

So, right now, we have this:

Oregon (-7) @ TCU  [O/U 75]

I will say that my pick is going to change, although I'm unsure how much.  My current plan is to update tomorrow once we get more information.

Regardless of how the lines move what is very clear is that Boykin just cost himself a LOT of money.

Updated:  My pick is the following:  Oregon 52 TCU 17

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Houston Texans: Inside the Texans Brain Trust (Probably)

(Somewhere in between preparing for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and recording one of his many radio spots, Texans Head Coach Bill O'Brien takes a moment to speak with General Manger Rick Smith about the next draft*.......)

NRG Stadium:  Wednesday, December 30th. 2:40 PM CST

Rick Smith: "Hey coach, you got a minute?"

Bill O'Brien: "The fuck you want now Rick?"

Smith: "Listen, I know you're busy working on actual football stuff but Mr. McNair did say that we had to find a quarterba.."

O'Brien: "What? Now? Can't you fucking see that I'm in the middle of fucking preparing to play the Jaguars with Brandon fucking Weeden as my starting QB?"

Smith: "Yeah, about that. I know you're busy but did you have a chance to watch Paxton Lynch play today?  He was in that bowl game you kn....."

O'Brien: (Sighs) "Lynch, Lynch it's always fucking Lynch with you.  Haven't I already decided that we're picking Christian?"

Smith: "No, no you're right coach, and I don't feel that strongly about it either way, I just thought that with his height and ar...."

O'Brien: "OK, fine. We'll pay attention to this Goddamn Lynch kid for a minute.  What was his line today?"

Smith: "Got it right here......he went 17/38 for....ummmm..."

O'Brien: "For?"

Smith: "Well, this was only one game and his....."

O'Brien: "Rick, we've been over this. I don't care if it's one game or 20, give me his fucking stat line. I've just beaten the Titans with Brandon Fucking Weeden at QB you idiot."

Smith: "104 yards and one INT Bill."

O'Brien: Vince Fucking Wilfork in overalls Rick!  104 with one INT?  Just write the name Christian Hackenberg on the damn draft slip, mail it to NY and leave me the fuck alone.  Shouldn't you be funneling McClain some bullshit about Arian coming back or something?"

Smith: "Sorry Bill, it won't happen again.  I'm all over the Hackenberg thing.  You're right.  Sorry."

O'Brien: (mumbling) "Jesus fucking Christ....104 and one interception.  Could have gotten that shit out of Mallett."

*Obviously a parody conversation.  Except the cursing which I'm pretty sure, given O'Brien's language, is pretty real.

The Texas Bowl: Whither Fournette?

Last night, Leonard Fournette did what was expected of him and ran all over the Texas Tech (simulated) defense for 212 yards, five touchdowns and an MVP Award. (the linked article reports, incorrectly, that Fournette only scored 4 Touchdowns)

While watching him play I had the following thought.

At this point I can't see any harm in Fournette taking next year off. Would still go 1st round 2017.

I then followed that up with this.

That said, if he did sit out LSU fans would have a fit. And players should want to play. Would be unorthodox for sure.

Whether or not you think Fournette should forego his Sophomore season, to avoid injury, and then enter the NFL draft somewhat depends on your fandom.  There are a lot of fans of other SEC schools that think this is a fine idea. LSU fans on the other hand....

Being removed from the situation I'm going to try and offer some analysis that, I hope, you will find unbiased and meaningful. If not, well, it's a big Internet after all.

Why Fournette should sit out next year:

As previously stated, I don't think he has anything to learn on the field to prepare him for the NFL. He's got speed, quickness to the hole, and power. Much of that is because he's a physical freak, and some is because he's in possession of good football instincts. When you package the two up it makes for a formidable running back who, barring injury, should be a productive back in the NFL.

Fournette reminds me of a bigger, faster, Adrian Peterson. If you look at the two during their college years the build is very similar.  Everything that Adrian did in college, Fournette does better. Of course he can get into the league, get enthralled by the money, and wash out, or he could get injured but, if he can avoid that I don't think he's going to fail because of his football skill.

It's also a fact that Fournette is going to graduate into a different NFL now than Peterson (and others) did a decade or so ago. The running back shelf-life is much shorter now and most teams are choosing to wait deeper in the draft to select a back, and platoon without having a "featured" back at all. Call it the "Belicheck" method of running backs.

What this line of thinking ignores is that, when teams DO get a dominating running back, they still feature them prominently. Think Minnesota/Peterson, Arizona/Johnson, Pittsburgh/Bell just to name a few. It's also prudent to point out that New England and Belicheck are much better when LaGarrett Blount is running dominant than when he is not.  So there is still value to having a top back, and teams will pick them high in the draft (See: Todd Gurley) when they come available.

Suggesting Fournette sit out of college football for a year to keep additional tread on the tires is a divergence from history. But in Fournette's case I think there's a case to be made that he has nothing more to learn in the college game, that his game is almost instantly applicable to the NFL, and that he's risking injury should he play another year.

Given today's advanced training regimens it's highly probable that he can latch on with a fitness factory and be in even better shape than he already is come the 2017 draft.  Plus, he will have had a year away from the pounding in an SEC schedule so he'll by physically fresh.  He'll also be free to accept endorsement money, which will help with food plans etc.

Why Fournette shouldn't (and I think won't) sit out next year:

Even suggesting all of the above I think there are a few key factors that drive Fournette to play.

First, he will instantly be inserted as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy should he return. Leonard Fournette wants to be considered one of the all-time great SEC running backs. This year, due to LSU's sub-par (for them) offensive line he struggled in big games against Alabama and Ole Miss. It also didn't help that Cam Cameron was calling the plays.

Next year LSU is expected to have a better O-line and people are hoping that they have a better play-caller and offensive coordinator running things.

Second, if the above is true then LSU will be a favorite to make the College Football Playoff and possibly win the National Championship. It is hard to believe that a competitor at the level of Fournette would not be interested in leading his team to these goals.

Finally, sitting out for a year would be unprecedented, and the NFL is not typically a fan of running against type.

Why press the odds?  Why open yourself to questions regarding intangibles such as "desire" and "heart"? Things NFL draft analysts love to throw around despite having little to no competitive histories themselves?

The fact is that a large part of a players evaluation boils down not just to talent, but something people like to call "a love for the game" and "leadership". Bailing on LSU, in order to avoid injury would make it appear that Fournette is selfish and something less than a competitor, I still think he would go in the first round despite this (his talent level is too high) but those questions would dog his career.

Why even take the chance?

As a fan of college football I hope that Fournette does come back and that he has a good season. I wish, for him, that he stays injury free and we get to see him do even more of what he did this year. As a fan of Les Miles I hope that LSU has a great season with a new Offensive Coordinator calling the shots, that they make the College Football Playoffs and lose to Michigan in the Final. (Homer alert).

Past that, I hope he's drafted high and continues to do great things in the NFL, would that he was drafted by the 49ers that would be all the better.  Of course, Trent Baalke would need to go....but that's another post entirely.

College Football: A look back at part II of the 40(!!!) Bowl Games.

As we approach the big weekend, we can start putting a bow on some of the Group of 5 conferences as we look toward the big games.  As a reminder, I'm rating myself on two factors here: Versus the spread and on the total, so that's two predictions for each game.  After Section One (including games I didn't have time to review) I'm at 12-12 for the Bowl Season.

St Petersburg Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 10:00 AM CST)

UConn @ Marshall (-4.5) [O/U 44]
- Actual final: UConn 10 Marshall 16. I had Marshall, but I thought their offense would be better against a slow UConn defense. Split result. (13-13)

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 1:00 PM CST)

Miami @ Washington State (-2.5) [O/U 61.5]
- Actual Final: Miami 14 Wazzu 20. I don't know of anyone who thought this game would go under. (14-14)

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 1:20 PM CST)

Washington (-8.5) @ Southern Mississippi [O/U 55]
- Actual Final Washington 44 Southern Miss 31. A total miss on my part. I thought USM's defense would keep them in it. (14-16)

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 2:30 PM CST)

Indiana (-2.5) @ Duke [O/U 71] -
Actual Final: Indiana 41 Duke 44. I nailed the result, I had Duke winning by 3, but blew the total. Bad ML pick on my part. (15-17)

Camping World Independence Bowl. (Saturday, December 26th, 4:45 PM CST)Tulsa @ Virginia Tech (-14) [O/U 61.5] - Actual Final: Tulsa 52 Va Tech 55. Good for Frank Beamer. Although the Hokies made us sweat. This game went over before halftime. (17-17)

Foster Farms Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 8:15 PM CST)

UCLA (-6.5) @ Nebraska [O/U 61]
- Actual Final: UCLA 29 Nebraska 37. #Bruining is now officially a thing. (18-18)

Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman (Monday, December 28th, 1:30 PM CST)

Pittsburgh @ Navy (-3.0) [O/U 53]
- Actual Final: Pitt 28 Navy 44. Congrats to Reynolds, who went out a winner in grand fashion.  (20-18)

Central Michigan @ Minnesota (-6) [O/U 48] - Actual Final: Central Michigan 14 Minnesota 21. Went a little further under than I thought, and the Gophers almost blew the cover but, in the end, it got there.  (22-18)

So, right now, I'm comfortably over .500 although I have had a bad start to section III.  Especially Baylor, which I missed on badly.  Still, there are a LOT of games to play over the next couple of days which means that there's plenty of time to make a strong final run.

Monday, December 28, 2015

College Football: Bowl Predictions Part III: Bring on the Big Games

So far, there have been a lot of good games, and a lot of scoring......

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 1:30 PM CST)
  California (-7) @ Air Force [O/U 67.5] - California comes into this game off of a disappointing season where they thought they might have a legitimate shot at the CFP early on.  Air Force finished the season with two losses to New Mexico and San Diego State. This could be the last game for the Bears QB Jared Goff who's looked both great, and average this year. Because of this I think he comes out and tries hard to help his draft stock. Since Cal's receivers are much more athletic than anyone on Air Force's roster I'm pulling for the service academy but picking a team I really don't like. Cal 34 Air Force 20.

Russell Athletic Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 4:30 PM CST)

North Carolina (-3) @ Baylor [O/U 69.5] - There are two big questions surrounding this game: 1. Will either team be motivated to play in it considering they each thought they had CFP chances? 2. Who in the heck is Baylor going to have healthy?  Under normal circumstances I would like Baylor here, but they are down to their 3rd or 4th string QB and will be missing their #1 wide receiver in Coleman.  Add to that the fact that the Bear's defense is one step above air. North Carolina 42 Baylor 10.

NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. (Tue, Dec 29, 6:30 PM CST)

Nevada @ Colorado State (-3) [O/U 56.5] - Also known as the "You're not going to be able to watch this Bowl" due to it having no television contract which means that it will only be available via online streaming.  This is good however, because this game is nothing more than a Mountain West conference game pitting two teams that, thankfully, didn't play during the regular season but who didn't seriously contend in their divisions. Nevada 17 Colorado State 20.

Advocare V100 Texas Bowl (Tue, Dec 29, 8:00 PM CST)

LSU (-7) @ Texas Tech [O/U 73.5] - A surprisingly decent match-up on paper that I think is going to be lopsided when actually played. Say what you want about him, Les Miles is a much better coach than Kingsbury and has a lot more talent to work with. LSU 63 Texas Tech 20.

Birmingham Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 11:00 AM CST)

Auburn (-3) @ Memphis [O/U 62.5] - Memphis started the year strong with solid wins over Bowling Green, South Florida and (most notably) an Ole Miss team that looked pretty good. They then lost three straight to Navy, Houston and Temple which landed them here. Auburn, on the other hand, struggled against middling opposition and proved themselves to be what I called them at the beginning of the season: the most overrated team in college football.  Still, Memphis lost their coach which is going to have an effect. Auburn 27 Memphis 20.

Belk Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 2:30 PM CST)

North Carolina State @ Mississippi State (-6) [O/U 60.5] - Yes, Boston College finished the season 7-5 and earned a bowl bid but, they did not beat a single team that also made it to a bowl. In short, this is NOT a good team. I don't think this one will be all that close as Dak Prescott says goodbye in style. NC State 3 Miss State 47

 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 6:00 PM CST)

Texas aTm @ Louisville (-4) [O/U 47.5] - Due to aTm's well documented issues at quarterback, the line on this game has moved wildly toward Louisville since opening with the Aggies as a slight favorite. The total has dipped as well as people wonder what aTm has at QB now that Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen have both jumped ship.  Normally this would cause me to pick against the Aggies but there's one thing giving me pause: Louisville coach Bobby Petrino.  aTm still has a good defense tho. Texas aTm 17 Louisville 13.

National Funding Holiday Bowl (Wed, Dec 30, 9:00 PM CST)

USC (-3.5) @ Wisconsin [O/U 50.5] - Wisconsin gets more love than they should ever year, and USC has been playing much better football of late. I think the difference here lies in speed and athleticism, which USC has by the boatloads. USC 35 Wisc 28.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (Thur, Dec 31, 11:00 AM CST)

Houston @ Florida State (-7) [O/U 50.5] - Amazingly, it appears that Everett Golson's missing this bowl has not moved the line at all. That said, after watching both teams several times this year I think this line is way, way off.  Houston is going to be better coached, and better prepared than a Florida State team who's been public about their displeasure in having to play the Group of 5 school. Still, Dalvin Cook is still playing so the 'Noles are in with a chance. Houston 41 Florida State 38.

College Football Playoff

Capitol One Orange Bowl [College Football Playoff Semi-Final #1] (Thur, Dec 31, 3:00 PM CST)

Oklahoma (-3.5) @ Clemson [O/U 64] - Due to greed, and an unwillingness to tell the Rose Bowl what to do with itself, this game is going to be played when a significant portion of college football fans are still at work. Imagine the NFL holding playoff games on a Thursday afternoon. It would never happen.  That said, Oklahoma is the sexy pick here and I really believe this game is too close to provide a definitive call on.  If anything, I'm leaning toward the Tigers to cover in a high scoring game that's one of the best of the bowl season. Oklahoma 38 Clemson 37.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl [College Football Playoff Semi-Final #2] (Thur, Dec 31, 7:00 PM)

Michigan State @ Alabama (-10) [O/U 46.5] - Due to greed, and an unwillingness to tell the Rose Bowl what to do with itself, this game is going to be played when a significant portion of college football fans are at New Year's Eve parties. Imagine the NFL holding playoff games on Christmas night. It would never happen. The problem that I see, for the Spartans, is that they're the type of team that Alabama typically dominates, slow, B1G, not a very inventive offense.  Think Wisconsin, but better. 'Bama started this season beating the Badgers 35-17 I think they win here, but I also think 10 points is a LOT to give.  Michigan State 17 Alabama 21.

New Year's Day

Outback Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, 11:00 AM CST)

Northwestern @ Tennessee (-8) [O/U 47] - Both of these teams finished the year strong, on long winning streaks, against good to OK competition. That said, I can't figure out why the line is leaning so far towards the Vols here. This is a classic example of the public's SEC bias IMO.  I think this will be a competitive game against two teams who had ups and downs over the past year. I also think Northwestern will struggle a little with Tennessee's athleticism. Northwestern 23 Tennessee 27.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, Noon CST)

Michigan (-4) @ Florida [O/U 39] - Back during the dark days when Appalachian State was blocking field goals to make Michigan the laughing stock of the nation, people forget that year's Wolverine team finished the regular season 8-3 and then beat the Tim Tebow-led Gators in a bowl game.  Fast forward to this year, and Michigan is no longer a national laughing stock (but Florida almost was) and we're in the same situation.  I have not made official picks on Michigan games all year, but I will in the bowl game because I've said that I'll pick them all.  100% a homer pick. Michigan 23 Florida 10.  Go Blue!!!

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, Noon CST)

Notre Dame @ Ohio State (-6) [O/U 56] - Call this the "We really don't want to be here either" Bowl as both teams had designs on playing the day before this, and then on the 11th. Ohio State has been a mess all year and Notre Dame is banged up. That said, I think Meyer is a much better coach than Kelley and he'll have the Buckeyes ready to play.  Notre Dame 17 Ohio State 38.

Rose Bowl Game Presented by NorthWestern Mutual (Fri, Jan 1, 4:00 PM CST)

Stanford (-6) @ Iowa [O/U 53] - This game then, is the reason the two CFP games are played when few will be watching.  The Rose Bowl, and the people who run it, are one of the greatest obstacles to reform in college football.  Well, that and the lack of courage the rest of the Country has in standing up to them.  Honestly, nothing about this game, and this match-up excites me. But, it's "tradition" and the parade in the morning is typically well-liked so there's that.  Stanford 17 Iowa 16.

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Fri, Jan 1, 7:30 PM CST)

Oklahoma State @ Ole Miss (-7) [O/U 67.5] - I would have rather seen Ole Miss and Ohio State play as I think that would have been quite the matchup. Instead we get an overrated OSU team that I think is going to get housed. This will set up many annoying "S-E-C" chants by people who didn't attend an actual SEC school.  And Paul Finebaum.  OSU 27  Ole Miss 45.

The minor bowls after New Year's Day (for some odd reason)

TaxSlayer Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 11:00 AM CST)

Penn State @ Georgia (-6.5) [O/U 42.5] - Most of these games have all of the excitement of taupe paint. This game is no exception. I probably will go to the grocery store or something while this game is being played.  Ironically, I probably would have watched it earlier in the bowl season but I'm tired of games like this being played after New Year's Day.  Penn State 10 Georgia 42.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 2:20 PM CST)

Kansas State @ Arkansas (-12.5) [O/U 54.5] - Possibly the biggest mismatch of any bowl matchup on the schedule. K-State is not a good team this year, Arkansas is. Kansas State 7 Arkansas 38.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 3:45 PM CST)

Oregon @ TCU (-1) [O/U 78.5] - Maybe the best bowl matchup of the entire bowl season, and I'm including the playoff games.  Both teams score, neither team seems likely to stop the other.  They would have to put the number on this game close to 90 for me to consider the under.  A must watch. Oregon 47 TCU 45.

And finally (mercifully).....

Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (Sat, Jan 2, 9:15 PM CST)

West Virginia (-1) @ Arizona State [O/U 64] - At the end of the (non CFP) bowl season we're treated to a game to determine who is the most average team in America.  Either the middle of the (Big XII) pack West Virginia or middle of the (Pac 12) pack Arizona State. I think the Pac 12 is the much better conference.  Hooray for mediocrity.  West Virginia 35 Arizona State 37.

And with that we await the College Football Playoff final game.

Houston Texans: All but in the playoffs.

Brandon Weeden.

The Texans trounced the hapless Tennessee Titans 34-6 on Sunday with Brandon Weeden quarterbacking the team.

As a result, the team is now all but assured of the Division crown (If Cincinnati wins on Monday night they're in, otherwise the Colts need a Rube Goldberg chain of events to happen to pass the Texans) and a home-game in the playoffs, potentially at 9-7.

Forgetting for a minute the silliness of the NFL playoff structure (it's now likely the Texans will face the potentially 11-5 Chiefs (who beat them) in the first round) or the fact that there are teams with better records (Pittsburgh) who could be on the outside looking in, as champions of the pedestrian AFC South the Texans will be in the playoffs whether that's good for the team or no.

This seems pretty impossible for a team who, after the first half of the season, was 3-5 and coming off horrendous losses to the Falcons and then the hapless Dolphins. A team whose defense looked like it couldn't stop a stiff Jr. High Marching Band and whose offense had just lost it's best weapon (Arian Foster) to a season ending Achilles tendon tear.

There were even calls, by many including me I admit, for a house-cleaning to occur at the end of the season.

Yet, improbably, this team seemingly from the Island of Offensive Misfit Toys turned things around and, behind the arm of Brandon Weeden, beat the aforementioned Titans by a bunch and sewed up a playoff berth barring the highly improbable.

How improbable?  If you were to take a flight to Vegas and place $100 on the chain of events that need to happen for the Texans to lose out to the Colts on a parlay the resulting payout would be North of $100,000.

Here's what would need to happen.

1. Denver beats Cincinnati (MNF)
2.Texans lose to Jaguars
3. Colts beat Titans
4. Miami beats New England
5. Denver beats San Diego
6. Atlanta beats New Orleans
7. Baltimore beats Cincinnati
8. Buffalo beats New York (Jets)
9. Oakland beats Kansas City
10. Pittsburgh beats Cleveland.

Any deviation from that formula and the Texans are in.  I've seen the odds placed at around 3300-1.

Now, granted, all of the above are possible, but not probable. New England losing to Miami would be the biggest upset.  Of course, the Texans can silence any of this talk by beating Jacksonville on Sunday.  If that happens none of the nightmare scenario above matters.

It's no secret that I've been negative toward this team all season long. I still remain lukewarm about their long-term success as currently constructed, especially with what I feel is one of the weakest personnel evaluation teams in the league.  Still, O'Brien has done a decent job coaching this team after the disasters at Atlanta and Miami had people questioning his ability and, after the 1st half debacle, the defense has decided to play like many thought they could in the pre-season. 

So, while I still think the Texans have talent deficiencies at a variety of positions, I think their coaching staff is scheming well enough to hide that, and creating game plans that play to their strengths.

I'm still not sure if making the playoffs is a good thing for this team in the long-run (Bob McNair has shown a strong tendency to ignore weakness when he shouldn't), I do think that they should be praised for what they have done.

Provided disaster, and improbability, doesn't strike that is.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

College Football: Bowl Predictions part II: A Big weekend upcoming.

Saturday the 26th and Monday the 28th showcase several games, some of which might actually be entertaining.  As a reminder, I'm picking winner vs. the spread and Total on all of these for a total of two picks per game.

St Petersburg Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 10:00 AM CST)

UConn @ Marshall (-4.5) [O/U 44] - I expect there to be a LOT of UConn money come in as the game gets closer which might inflate this line some.  Right NOW however I like Marshall to win by more than a touchdown against the fighting Diacos. The Huskies biggest problem is that they are scoring challenged. They're going to need to score to beat a Marshal team who has the opposite problem. UConn 14  Marshall 38.

Hyundai Sun Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 1:00 PM CST)

Miami @ Washington State (-2.5) [O/U 61.5]  - If you've never seen Wazzu play you're in for a treat here. Despite being a fairly unlikable man Mike Leach designed offenses have never met a pass they can't, or won't throw. Miami has talent, but has been a disaster area all year long. That said, I'm expecting Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson to be making bad analysis of a lot of scoring (for two teams they haven't paid any attention to all year long) all game long.  Miami 35 Washington State 49.

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 1:20 PM CST)

Washington (-8.5) @ Southern Mississippi [O/U 55] - The Huskies have been called, by many, the "best 6-6 team in the Country" which is all well and good until you realize, they're still 6-6, are young, and make mistakes that come with being young. Southern Miss is given no chance here, which I think means they are in with a small chance.  Watch the line-move here, I think this is a TD game. So if it moves toward Southern Miss you want to go the other way. Washington 28 Southern Miss 21.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 2:30 PM CST)

Indiana (-2.5) @ Duke [O/U 71] - I think the O/U here is elevated, and I think Duke is underrated. I've seen both teams play multiple times and it looks, to me, like the Blue Devils are the better all-around team. Coaching edge to Cutcliffe. Indiana 24 Duke 27.

Camping World Independence Bowl. (Saturday, December 26th, 4:45 PM CST)

Tulsa @ Virginia Tech (-14) [O/U 61.5] - Frank Beamer's last game is sure to be an emotional one, and I think the public sentiment is moving this line too-far the Hokie's way. I think Virginia Tech wins, but Tulsa has enough offense to do some damage.  Tulsa 35 Virginia Tech 38.

Foster Farms Bowl (Saturday, December 26th, 8:15 PM CST)

UCLA (-6.5) @ Nebraska [O/U 61] - This game will be a long trip for Nebraska, to what is basically a home game for UCLA.  Add to that fact these are two of the worst coached teams in major college football and you have, what I think is, a crap-shoot.  I expect this line to move toward the Bruins a little bit as time passes.  I don't think it matters. UCLA 49  Nebraska 20.

Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman (Monday, December 28th, 1:30 PM CST)

Pittsburgh @ Navy (-3.0) [O/U 53] - This will be the going away party for Navy QB Reynolds, the all-time leading touchdown scorer in NCAA Div 1 history by the end.  One thing to be careful about. Pitt head coach Narduzzi is going to have 3-plus weeks to prepare for Navy's option offense, and tape from the UH game providing a blue-print for how to beat it.  Pittsburgh 27 Navy 31.

Quick Lane Bowl (Monday, December 28th, 4:00 PM CST)

Central Michigan @ Minnesota (-6) [O/U 48] - The Minnesota motto here is going to be "win one for Jerry" referring to retired former head coach Jerry Kill. Central Michigan is going to be ecstatic to get to play a bowl game against a B1G opponent. Joy only goes so far, Minnesota is way more talented. Central Michigan 14 Minnesota 27

If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to watch all of these games you might be suffering from football fatigue leading into the big games starting on Tuesday. In short, don't overdo it.  Take advantage of line moves when you can and, as always, bet legally and responsibly.

So, go and eat too much, drink too much (but don't drive while doing it) and have a generally good holiday. We'll see you on the other side of Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2015

College Football: The Opening weekend bowls were exciting anyway.

But, as has gone the entire season. Not too good for my reputation as a handicapper. (Not that you should give me any reputation anyway, but hey)

One last note: the lines presented here are where they were when I made my picks on the games. I think some of them did move closer to game day.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl (December 19th 1:00 PM CST):

Arizona (-7.5) @ New Mexico [O/U 65] -
I had New Mexico and the under. Arizona covered by a half-point and the game went (way) over. For about 3 quarters it looked as if the Lobos were going to make a game of it. Then they lost it at the end.  In the end: Arizona 45 New Mexico 37. Ah well. (0-2)

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (December 19th 2:30 PM CST):

BYU @ Utah (-2.5) [O/U 51.5]
- BYU started the game like they forgot how to play football. And they STILL almost came back and tied it up.  It's hard to feel confident when your upset pick falls behind 35-0 with over 6 minutes left in 1Q.  BYU 28  Utah 35. I did call the over here which took a little sting out of it.  (1-3)

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (December 19th 4:30 PM CST):

Ohio @ Appalachian State (-7.5) [O/U 55] 
- App State's defense was horrible. Not even close to the team that ranked in the top 10 in total defense, which was a surprise to me. In the end I was saved, again, by the over. Ohio 29  App State 31. (2-4)

AutoNation Cure Bowl (December 19th 6:00 PM CST)

San Jose State (-2) @ Georgia State [O/U 68]
In the end, I called this one right it was one of the few games that played out exactly as I thought it would.  Go me (I guess). San Jose State 27 Georgia State 16. (4-4) [Yay .500!!!!]

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (December 19th 8:00 PM CST)

Arkansas State @ Louisiana Tech (-2) [O/U 68]
  - LaTech was much better running the ball against the Red Wolves than I thought they would be. Kenneth Dixon and Boston Scott gashed Arkansas State defense, and suddenly Jeff Driskel remembers how to play football?  At least I called the Over correctly.  Arkansas State 28 Louisiana Tech 47. (5-5)

So, after 5 bowls I'm sitting firmly at .500 and looking to stay either there or better. Picking the number has been a help, and calling the Cure Bowl correctly was a help as well.  (Take that Forde).  Which just goes to prove, when handicapping, it's not wise to exclude any of the games if you have a solid take on them. (Granted, that was the only game here that I had a solid take on anyway, but you get the point). Next year I'm changing up my analytics to include FPI and other metrics, but this bowl season is my one last shot at picking from my gut.

Friday, December 18, 2015

College Football: The first batch of 40 (!!!) Bowls starts soon.

It is just about that time. The most wonderful time of the year.

College Football Bowl Season.

Given that I ran out of time during the season to continue my more than pathetic Five this year I thought I'd give you some further insight into the mind of a square by handicapping and picking (or trying to) all 40(!!!) Bowl Games. (OK, 41 but who's counting)...

We're going to break this up into pieces, and the first piece, for me, will be the games occurring before Christmas which start tomorrow in the afternoon.

Gildan New Mexico Bowl (December 19th 1:00 PM CST):

Arizona (-7.5) @ New Mexico [O/U 65] - Arizona under performed this season and New Mexico is showing signs of continual improvement.  Early games like this can, and often are, settled on motivation. I expect New Mexico to have a lot of it and Arizona to have little. I like New Mexico to cover here, and maybe even pull off a (mild) upset.  I also like the under due to the return of Scooby Wright who makes the Wildcats defense much more dangerous. Arizona 23 New Mexico 20

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (December 19th 2:30 PM CST):

BYU @ Utah (-2.5) [O/U 51.5] - The return of the Holy War is the early season bowl match-up for which I am most excited. Unlike most early games, this game is a rivalry that should not suffer from one team going through the motions.  The Utes have no running game right now and were sputtering down the stretch.  BYU has lost Bronco Mendenhall so who knows what their game plan will be? I think it will be a higher scoring affair and BYU will pull off the upset. BYU 36 Utah 31.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl (December 19th 4:30 PM CST):

Ohio @ Appalachian State (-7.5) [O/U 55] - As a Michigan fan, I'm morally opposed to anything Appalachian State. Plus, I really think that Ohio coach Frank Solich is good at these types of games. Saying all of that, I think App State is much, much the better team. Ohio 14 App State 42.

AutoNation Cure Bowl (December 19th 6:00 PM CST)

San Jose State (-2) @ Georgia State [O/U 68] - If you're planning on watching this game (I am) then you are either an alum of the two universities, are hopelessly addicted to college football (guilty) or have money riding on the game.  Either way I think the Spartans are going to get up early, and score often on a Georgia State team that I think is overmatched despite having the marginally better record. San Jose State 49 Georgia State 10

R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (December 19th 8:00 PM CST)

Arkansas State @ Louisiana Tech (-2) [O/U 68] - The Bulldogs get a lot of run despite being a team that can't win the Conference USA title. Compare that to Arkansas State which did win the Sunbelt Conference title, a conference that does well here. I like the Red Wolves to pull off the upset in a high scoring game that might be the most exciting game of the day.  Arkansas State 47  Louisiana Tech 45.

Miami Beach Bowl (December 21 1:30 PM CST)

Western Kentucky (-2.5) @ South Florida [O/U 66] - The Hilltoppers have been one of my favorite teams all year. They have a good offense and an underrated defense. While the Bulls are better than last year, I don't think they have enough firepower to outscore Western Kentucky. This game has the misfortune of being played when most people are at work so few will have the chance to see it. Western Kentucky 38 South Florida 24.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (December 22nd 2:30 PM CST)

Akron @ Utah State (-6.5) [O/U 47.5] - This is a matchup between two teams that I picked, in pre-season, to win their respective conferences. Both underperformed. Utah State gets back QB Chuckie Keeton who many believe will go out a winner. I think so too, but I think that the Zips are going to be good enough to keep the game close. The line I like best here is the total. I think 47.5 is way too low. Akron 35 Utah State 38.

Marmot Boca Raton Bowl (December 22nd 6:00 PM CST)

Temple (-2) @ Toledo [O/U 51] - Call this the Group of 5 disappointment bowl, as both teams thought that they might be playing on New Year's Day in a major bowl.  I expect this to be a sloppy, poorly played game that swings to victory based on fundamentals. With that being the case, I give the edge to the Owls. Temple 21 Toledo 10.

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (December 23rd 3:30 PM CST)

Boise State (-8) @ Northern Illinois [O/U 56] - At the beginning of the season the Broncos were considered to be a shoo-in to be the Group of 5 representative in one of the Big Six New Year's Day Bowls. Then they went and lost badly to Utah State (without Chuckie Keeton). Northern Illinois is a perennial top team in the MAC, and they would have won the championship were it not for Dino Babers and Bowling Green. I think Boise State is overrated. So I think the line is skewed their way. I also think both teams are going to score in bunches. Boise State 42 Northern Illinois 38.

GoDaddy Bowl (December 23rd 7:00 PM CST)

Georgia Southern vs. Bowling Green (-8) [O/U 66] - First, both teams are replacing their coaches from 2015. Willie Fritz is heading to Tulane and Dino Babers will be manning the Syracuse sideline next season. So that's a wash.  What's not a wash is the Georgia Southern rushing offense. They rolled up 4267 yards this year, averaging 355.5 yards per game.  Bowling Green gave up an average of 408.8 yards per game this year, almost half of them on the ground.  On the other side of the ball Bowling Green has Matt Johnson, one of the better non-Power 5 quarterbacks and someone who's expected to be drafted into the NFL. Georgia Southern was ranked #21 in total defense this year. I think this game is a blowout however, because Southern has nowhere near the speed and athleticism of the Eagles. Georgia Southern 13 Bowling Green 38.

Popeye's Bahamas Bowl (December 24th 11:00 AM CST)

Middle Tennessee State @ Western Michigan (-4) [O/U 63.5] - Middle Tennessee State has a problem, they have a one-dimensional offense that can throw the ball around, but cannot run. Western Michigan is more balanced, but neither team has a thousand yard rusher on the roster. Both teams gave up between 4500 and 5000 yards all season on defense. I think we have a high, high scoring game here and I think both of these teams are close enough that the last one to possess the ball could win.  MTSU 42 Western Michigan 45.

Hawai'i Bowl (December 24th 7:00 PM CST)

San Diego State @ Cincinnati (-1.5) [O/U 56.5] - I'm excited for this game, because I think the Aztecs are one of the better Non-Power five conference teams that nobody knows about. They have the 5th best defense in terms of total defense in all of Division 1 and they have an offense that moves the ball both running and passing. They finished 10-3 for the year, and beat a pretty good Air Force team to win the Mountain West.  Cincinnati finished 7-5, 3rd in their division in the American Conference and barely beat a collapsing ECU team to make this bowl. San Diego State 41 Cincinnati 13.

The biggest problem with selecting bowl games is that you never know how teams are going to view them.  For some, it's just a chance to have additional practices after a season and they don't actually do much in preparation for the game itself. For others, it's a chance to shine on the National stage where, sometimes, they'll be the only game on TV.

There are good, and bad, bowl games on the schedule prior to Christmas. Some I think will be close, and some I think will be laughers.  Either way good luck in your plays and remember, these picks are for informational purposes ONLY.  No offers are made or given for solicitation of bets.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gambling Options for Houstonians: Might as well just shut this one down. (Texas Leadership Vacuum)

The idiots (more on that later) of the Texas Racing Commission met today to try, once again, to reverse their decision on so-called "historical racing" which has enraged those legislators with demagogue tendencies....

Horse Racetrack shut-down looms across Texas. Jordan Rudner, John Thornton's Texas Tribune.

The board voted 4-4 to maintain guidelines for historical racing, at least until the February meeting. Victoria North, who attended the meeting as Comptroller Glenn Hegar's representative on the Commission, abstained. 

The vote itself, although potentially a death-knell to the on-life-support-anyway industry, is not why the Commission members are idiots. Neither is the fact that they disagree on whether or not this type of gaming approval is Constitutional or not. In fact, reasonable people should be able to disagree whether or not gambling is a good enterprise for the State to allow. While the voters have already approved horse and dog racing, it's less than a clear issue as to whether or not historical racing terminals are consistent with this mandate.

By voting to keep alive the authorization for the terminals the Commission is, in effect, bowing to the wishes of those it regulates, at the risk of putting them out of business permanently. The Track's reasoning here is that it's better to be euthanized quickly than to die a slow, painful death. And it appears that the Texas Legislature, powered mainly by the personal policy preferences of the Lt. Governor appear ready to do this. This is concerning and should worry you regardless of your party preference. Texas was not meant to operate in such a manner where the whims of a demagogue can shut down a 36K person industry and the Legislative Budget Board was not designed to be a political cudgel with which the Lt. Guv beats his enemies about the head.

This is where we are however, and this is what it's come to. I fully expect Texas to lose it's racing industry, for even more jobs and money to leave the State and for (unfortunately) hundreds of horses, suddenly un-affordable, to be humanely destroyed.

In the meantime, the idiots on the Commission have this to offer: (from the linked story at the top)

Commissioner Gloria Hicks, from Corpus Christi, said the emotional testimonies resonated with her — as did allegations that legislators had bullied the industry. 
“We did what we thought would help the people in the racing industry in our state, and it is an industry worth saving,” Hicks said. “I feel like I have been bullied.” 
‘I have an elementary school named after me, and we have bullying sessions,” Hicks added. “I know what it is like.” 
Oh Good Lord.  Just shut it down now, shut the commission down, and let's allow State's who know what they are doing run operations.  Delta Downs anyone?

Cross Posted to: Your Drink Order Please

Monday, December 14, 2015

Houston Texans: Still unable to solve the Patriots riddle.

In the end, the result of Sunday Night's NFL tie between the Houston Texans and the New England Patriots was deja vu all over again.

New England 27 Houston 6

In reality, the final score was closer than the actual game.  Appearances to the contrary the Texans defense did put up some fight, especially in the 3rd quarter, but the anemic offense was unable to score against a banged-up Patriots defense who was doing it with coaching, and street free-agent pickups.

The link above directs you to John McClain's "grades" for the Texans in last night's game. I do so because his analysis of the Texans is either too negative, or too positive depending on the outcome, and is one of the funnier post-game reads in Houston.

All of the above said, for people who are clamoring for the Texans to draft a "franchise quarterback" (as true as that need is) there are other positional needs on this team which, left unaddressed, are going to limit the team's ability to ever seriously contend for a playoff spot.

That said, let's take a look at the positions of need for the Texans in order of importance:

Quarterback: This is, and has been for a while, a critical area of need. While it's very easy to say that the team "needs a top-line quarterback" actually finding one is difficult. The chalk money has the Texans trying to get Penn State signal-caller Christian Hackenberg with the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Hackenberg was an O'Brien signal caller during his time at Penn State is considered to be "NFL ready" because he played in a pro-style offense in College.  He has a strong arm and Scouts say he "can make all of the throws" which are viewed as positives.  There are questions regarding his pocket presence and decision making abilities, which I believe are more critical factors in a QB's ability to make the leap from College to the NFL.  Other candidates include Cal signal caller Goff (who comes from an Air Raid offense [huge negative]) and Memphis QB Paxton Lynch (questions about his durability and just how good he really is) One dark horse candidate could be Michigan State's Connor Cook, he appears to be a game-manager type but he does have a strong arm and a history of winning. The problem is he's about as mobile as a glacier and will struggle behind the Texans O-line.

The fact is that the 2016 Draft Class at Quarterback might not have the top-tier franchise QB that the Texans need so desperately.

Offensive Line: Not only is this a huge need, but it's a critical one for the development of a quarterback as well. Ben Jones seems to be OK at Center, and Duane Brown is a capable, Pro Bowl caliber, Left tackle. At the two guard positions and at Right Tackle however the Texans are incredibly weak.  Xavier Sua-Filo and Derrick Newton are going to get a quarterback killed. Last night Newton was especially weak, and his week ahead is unlikely to be pleasant.

Fortunately, this is projected to be a strong hear for both Offensive Tackles and, to a lesser extent, guards. If the Texans do as expected and draft QB in round 1 then both rounds 2 & 3 need to be spent finding quality starters who can provide the new "face of the franchise" with a clean pocket.

Tight Ends: The O'Brien offense, which is really a carbon-copy of the Belicheck offense, needs three things to run successfully, a quarterback with a quick release, accuracy and superior decision making, an O-line that keeps him clean, and tight ends who can block, and who provide match-up nightmares for opposing defenses.  The Patriots have Gronkowski, who I believe is the best TE in the game today, while the Texans have, nothing. Looking forward to the draft the pickings are slim. But I think that either Jarell Adams or David Morgan II could be viable 4th round options if available. 

It might not hurt the team to look at the FA market as well, to find some depth at a position that requires it.

Linebacker: Aside from Jadeveon Clowney this is a position of need. While Whitney Mercilus is playing well, he will be a FA at the end of the year and will probably take the money and run.  Brian Cushing is a shell of his former self and Benardrick McKinney was exposed as lacking strength last night as he was repeatedly ran-over by "just guys" running backs.

Sadly, the linebacker class of 2016 is incredibly weak. And the Texans have a host of needs on the offensive side that they have to address before looking to defense. James Burgess of Louisville or Joe Schmidt of Notre Dame might be late-round fliers who could pay off in the short-term.

Other: There are more needs, depth at CB, new starters at S, depth on the DL, a replacement for suddenly old-looking Vince Wilfork at NT but the team only has so many draft picks to use. I've said before that, although it seems unthinkable, a JJ Watt trade for a bushel-basket of draft picks could be the only way to fix this mess quickly. There is also the possibility that the Texans could take advantage of the free agent market, but that assumes that the teams biggest need of all gets addressed:

General Manager: It's pretty clear that something within the Texans' player evaluation model is off-kilter. The team has too many busts in the 2nd-5th rounds to truly be competitive. While they can claim first round successes, it's the next four rounds where teams are built, where depth is established, and where starters can be had for cheap.

In order to proceed the Texans need to reassign current GM Rick Smith to a ceremonial role and turn over player evaluation to someone new. It needs to happen sooner, rather than later, to allow the new man a chance to evaluate the team in advance of the upcoming draft.

Conclusion: The worst possible thing for this Texans team might be sneaking into the playoffs at either 9-7 or 8-8, or even (unlikely) 7-9. That would delay the beginning of an inevitable review of what's needed and convince part of the fan base that the current plan is working.

Unfortunately, the Texans are a member of the worst division in the NFL, the lowly AFC South. Currently they are in 2nd place behind an Indianapolis team who just surrendered 51 points to Jacksonville.  The Colts lead the division at 6-7, the same record as the Texans but with a win in Houston breaking the tie. The Jaguars are one game back at 5-8 (Houston would have the tie-breaker over Jacksonville right now). Going forward, Indianapolis is a disaster, Houston struggles to score points, and the once-lowly Jaguars appear to be the team with the inside path to the playoffs.  Jacksonville gets the free-falling Atlanta Falcons next, followed by the not-very good New Orleans Saints, and then finishes the season in Houston.  The Texans have to travel to Indianapolis (where they've never won) then to Tennessee (where they struggle) before finishing the season at home against the same Jaguars. The Colts have the most favorable schedule (Texans at home, at Miami, Titans at home) but are such a dumpster fire right now it's not hard to envision them going 1-2 over the closing stretch.

At this point, my favorite in the division to make the playoffs is Jacksonville. As crazy as it sounds I think the season-ending game in Houston will be a de-facto playoff game for the division title at 8-8.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

College Football: A look at the 40[1](!!!) Bowl Games: The early games.

Now that the regular College Football season is, almost (Go Army! Beat Navy!) over it's time to peek ahead in the month, a little closer to Christmas, and start talking about the many, many Bowl games that are coming our way.

As I stated before the title of this post says that there are 40(!) games to be played but there are really 41(!!) if you include the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. (Which we will).

Before we start to take a look at the individual games however let us get something out of the way first.

There are too many damn bowl games.

Period.  We've reached the point where there are mow bowl games than qualifying teams. In fact, three teams with losing seasons are going to be playing in games this year. That's right, Nebraska, San Jose State and Minnesota are in with a losing record. To solve the problem of not enough eligible teams, and to prevent people from thinking it is all about money, the NCAA decided that something called "academic progress" would be the determining factor in who gets awarded for a losing season with a bowl game.

It's time to cut, to take a straight-razor to the number of games and, for the love of it all, STOP authorizing new bowls. I think the correct number is around 30.  Given that there are now, 128 schools currently playing at the Division 1 (FBS, whatever) level, half of that number is 64.  That means that, with 30 bowls on the schedule, potentially 4 could get left out every year.  Of course, the true number will be higher than that due to the fact that several bowl eligible teams will sweeten their record playing Division II (FCS, whatever) schools.

I would take it a step further.  Bring bowl eligibility back to 7-5. A winning record.  To me that is the minimum level that you need to attain to receive a bowl invite.  If all of the 7-5 teams are taken, then open up the chocks and let the bowls operate free from conference affiliation and bring in the 6-6 teams that they want.

For the remaining .500 teams, you let them conduct the same number of extra practices (the REAL benefit of a bowl game) that the other .500 received by being selected to play in a bowl.  This rewards the non-selected teams for not finishing with a losing record, and doesn't punish schools for having a small-alumni base that doesn't travel.

The Question becomes which 11 bowls should get the ax?  Here's my top choices and my reasoning behind letting them go.  Also, I'll mention a couple of bowls that were on the bubble so to speak but which I think deserve a place on the schedule.

1. Raycom Media Camellia Bowl: A middling bowl with no history to speak of, and a relatively low payout.  Also, it's owned and operated by ESPN, which is having to fire people to make ends meet.  Get rid of this bowl, maybe save some behind the scenes jobs.

2. AutoNation Cure Bowl: Another middling bowl with good intentions, finding a cure for breast cancer, but poor execution.  Why not require all of the bowls to make donations to cancer research instead?  With it's poor conference tie-ins this bowl is never going to amount to much.

3. Miami Beach Bowl: With no title sponsor and a weak matchup this bowl is one that can go without much nostalgia.  Truthfully, does anyone remember that this one was played last year?

4. Marmot Boca Raton Bowl: Yet another ESPN owned and operated bowl whose resources could be better used elsewhere in the network.  If you want to kill any of these put the First Take crew in the announce booth.  Ratings would plummet.

5. GoDaddy Bowl: This bowl never had any serious history. First known as the Alabama Bowl it morphed into the GMAC Bowl before becoming the Bowl and then just the GoDaddy Bowl. It's just a vehicle for to unveil another horrid commercial, which they can do during the SuperBowl anyway. The price difference on ad prices might just spare us all the weak sexual tension between Jillian Michaels and Danica Patrick.

6. Hawai'i Bowl: I realize that Hawai'i is a heck of a bowl trip for the players, and coaches, and their families. However, Hawai'i is seriously considering getting rid of their football team. I think we speed them along by getting rid of their bowl game first.

7. Popeye's Bahamas Bowl: We don't need a Bowl game in the Bahamas. We just don't.

8. St Petersburg Bowl: The day after Christmas, after I've eaten too much (again) is not a day that I want to wake up and watch a sub-par College Football game. Especially when there are compelling matchups later in the day.

9. Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl: While I LOVE the Cotton Bowl as a College Football venue, I hate that this game is here. It reminds me of what the Cotton Bowl once was in advance of the travesty currently being played at Jerry's World.  (Note: I would vote to keep this if Jerruh would agree to swap names)

10. Foster Farm's Bowl: It was useful as the Fight Hunger Bowl, now it's just another middling bowl that you're going to have to stay up late to watch.

11. NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl: I've a feeling this one is going to take care of itself. It barely got a title sponsor and it's the only bowl that won't be on TV. On top of all that, it's matchup is two teams from the Mountain West Conference.  Instant death penalty.

Bowls that just (barely) made the cut.

1. Gildan New Mexico Bowl: It does have some history, and a fairly secure title sponsor. It is also the only bowl game played in New Mexico so there's that.

2. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: This bowl can produce some good matchups. See: this year's return of the Holy War. It's also a bowl game in Las Vegas which should always happen.

3. R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: This bowl has a pretty good association with the Sun Belt Conference and it'd be a shame to take that away.

4. Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Gotta give the MAC and Mountain West conferences a chance to go head to head. Also, see New Mexico as this is the only game in the State.

5. The Quick Lane Bowl: After all the City has been through, I just didn't have the heart to take something away from Detroit.  Besides, it's been around for a while now and typically provides entertainment. This year's travesty notwithstanding.

Monday, December 7, 2015

College Football: An Early Look at the 40(!!!) Bowl Matchups (CFP Edition)

OK, 41, if you consider the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl to be a bowl game, which I do. I'm going to start with the two Playoff games because they're the biggest and, to be honest, the only games that have actual relevancy.  The other Bowl games are rewards to teams for season's well played or, in some cases, bowl slots because the bowl organizers had to fill their roster and these teams should travel OK.

One: The two most compelling games are the CFP Semifinal games being played in the Orange & Cotton Bowls.  Well, OK not in the ACTUAL Orange and Cotton Bowls but in Sun Life Stadium and Jerry's World. (The old Orange Bowl is, sadly, no more and the Cotton Bowl now hosts the Red River Shootout and the Heart of Dallas Bowl.) But, sticking with naming conventions (because the other gets too darn hard) we'll refer to the Bowls by their chosen names.

One A: The College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capitol One Orange Bowl (seriously, that's the official name)

4. Oklahoma (-3) vs. 1. Clemson

I'm not entirely surprised that OU is a favorite here, and I actually expect the line to move more in their favor as time goes on.  They are the hot team and the team that didn't have its warts fully exposed in a Championship Game because the Big XII is the dumbest of all the Power 5 conferences.

Because OU didn't play they fell in the rankings to #4, where they got, IMO a much tougher matchup in the Semifinals than they'll find in the finals.  OU has the sizzle, I think Clemson has the steak. But, there's the "Not Big Game Bob" factor vs. "Clemsoning" to consider.

Prediction:  TBD

Gaming options: To be honest, I hate this game for betting purposes. At least, right NOW I hate it.  If the line slides further to OU then I like Clemson coming back, but it's going to need to get much closer to -6 or -6.5 to interest me. Given that we're still a LONG WAYS away from the 31st I think it might get there. The O/U in this game is currently sitting at either 65 or 65 1/2 depending on the book.  I think that right there the number is right and I'm loathe to mess with it much.  I'll be watching the movement however because I think this game will have the more volatile line. (It's already moved from -2.5 to -3 toward OU.)

One B: The College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl (I mean c'mon)

3. Michigan State vs. 2. Alabama (-9)

This game has the potential to set College Football back to the 1960's era, or maybe to the days before Notre Dame unveiled the forward pass.  Despite that, this is my favorite matchup because it has the potential to be one of those games where the two teams knock seven bells out of each other until one of them falls down.

It also pits two of the best coaches in the game up against one another (Alabama's Nick Saban and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio) with over three weeks to prepare.  Granted, Alabama might be missing Kirby Smart for this game and time will tell if coaching attrition will effect Michigan State as there are still a handful of jobs open.

Prediction: TBD

Gaming Options: Right now I'm very enamored with Michigan State at +9.  I think that number is going to come down so if you can jump on it I might think about it right now. I'm also interested in the O/U for this game, which currently sits at 49.  I think, as bettors start to get a handle on this game, it's going to move up.  If it heads North of 52 I like the under.  If not, I'll pass.

Is four enough?

The big argument surrounding the CFP now is whether or not four is enough.

CBS, happy that the SEC is getting represented, is making the case that 4 is plenty. I would expect this changes the second a 2-loss team gets eliminated and their only TV contracted conference gets omitted from the playoffs.

Fox, who has the television contract with the omitted Pac12: Is starting to push for an expansion to 8 teams. For a network that's trying to challenge the hammer-lock that ESPN has on College Football having their marquee conference excluded is a big jolt.

ESPN, who has the CFP contract itself: Is not-so-quietly pushing for eight because more high-profile games means more advertising revenues which means more MONEY. For a network that's sorely in need of it.

NBC, who carries SOME ND games still: hasn't published an opinion yet and to be honest, what they think doesn't really matter.  My thought is that NBC is going to all but abandon high-level College Football altogether over the next couple of years and focus instead on growing NBCSN using soccer, auto racing, golf and other sports including Olympic tie-ins while NBC focuses on Sunday Night Football, BPL games and Olympic sports.

Other sites, including many online sports sites, are advocating for expansion. They include:

Eleven Warriors (Ohio State Fansite)
For the Win (USA Today)
The Student Section (On-line football blog for online sports site The Comeback)
And Baylor (Big XII [X])

You can add The Public Money to that list arguing for.  As a matter of fact, I'm going to argue for expansion to 16 teams, even IF the major conferences expand to 4 16-team super-conferences as I have been predicting.

Why 16?

Because we currently have 10 conferences in Division I college football (FBS, whatever) and 5 of those conferences have no realistic shot to ever play in the College Football Playoff.  And, while I understand the arguments against their inclusion (You're right, they can't compete on the field of play OR financially) excluding them from the party only increases the disparity.

And before you gripe about "Hey, aren't you free market? Why do you want football socialism?" I'll counter that the NCAA is not a free market at all, but a protected monopoly where finances are currently being handed out to an exclusive minority at the expense of the vast majority of teams.

So, here's my suggestion:  EVERY Conference champion gets a nod, plus the next six highest ranked teams as at-large bids.

This year the line-up (with seeds) would look like this:

1. Clemson (ACC Champion)
2. Alabama (SEC Champion)
3. Michigan State (B1G Champion)
4. Oklahoma (Big XII (X) Champion)
5. Stanford (Pac 12 Champion)
6. Iowa (at-large)
7. Ohio State (at-large)
8. Notre Dame (at-large)
9. Florida State (at-large)
10. North Carolina (at-large)
11. TCU (at-large)
12. Houston (AAC Champion)
13. Western Kentucky (C-USA Champion)
14. Bowling Green (MAC Champion)
15. San Diego State (MWC Champion)
16. Arkansas State (Sun Belt Champion)

So, in my system 9-3 Ole Miss is the "first team out" and I can't imagine anyone suggesting they should be included.

Not surprisingly, this would give us some spectacular week one matchups:

8 Notre Dame vs. 9 Florida State
5 Stanford vs. 12 Houston
7 Ohio State vs. 10 North Carolina
6 Iowa vs. 11 TCU

And while there would be, on paper, the usual blowouts, March Madness logic comes into play and you have to assume that, more often than not, there would be a major upset in the works.

I realize that there is no way that this will ever happen.  The Power 5 Conferences are basically being allowed to run rough-shod over quality sports TV and have been allowed to by the toothless and ineffectual NCAA for years now.

But still, one can dream right?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

College Football: Good News for Houston

The news that recently came out that University of Houston and Tom Herman have reached "a deal in principal" to keep the coach at the school for, at least, another year is great news. Provided they ink the deal and no big-name, blue-blooded school comes along and snatches him away that is.

Even if they don't sign the deal however, I think UH might be in OK shape to keep Herman given a couple of recent developments.

 - Georgia, it appears, is going all-in on Smart.
 - LSU decided, rightly, to keep Miles.
 - South Carolina and Herman have stopped talking.
 - Miami seems to be making eyes at Butch Davis.

Outside of those four schools I don't think any of the other available jobs, even the ones at Power 5 Conference schools, represent a marked increase from the job at Houston.  So, ignoring the 4 above, let's take a look at the remaining Power 5 openings and see what they bring to the table, and why Herman would be better off choosing Houston.

1. Missouri.
Plus: It is, technically, a SEC school. It has a winning history in the East and Pinkel, while revered, was not a legendary coach that would be difficult to replace in the hearts and minds of fans. Provided you win of course.

Minus: The talent cupboard is bare, and the atmosphere inside the university is toxic right now. Whoever the next coach is will need to navigate a racial minefield so strewn with potential blow-ups that it will make the DMZ in Korea look like Central Park.

2. Maryland.
Plus: Again, it's Power 5 with some recruiting opportunities and a much more stable athletic department than Missouri or Rutgers (more on them in a minute).  I think the right coach can win the division at Maryland, but not the conference. Still, doing the former might open doors to a better job in the future.

Minus: Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State.  Those 4 schools will always be better than you. Plus, you are saddled with horrific uniforms, and you could fail massively, which would close the door on those bigger opportunities mentioned above.

3. Virginia.
Plus: They have tons of money, and they're on the easier side of the ACC.  Given that and the fact that they have top notch facilities, winning the Division can be done within a couple of years.

Minus: They've been historically awful. There's little winning tradition and you're going to be recruiting against both the ACC and the SEC.

4. Syracuse
Plus: You're in New York, which is a pretty good base of operations for recruiting and you really don't have that much top-tier in-state competition. Again, you're on the clean side of the ACC which means that division titles are doable.

Minus: You have an awful stadium, and the fan-base will stop paying attention to you once Midnight Madness rolls around.

5. Rutgers
Plus:  Other than conference affiliation, not all that much.

Minus: The athletic department is a mess. The school has a bigger presence on the police blotter than on the football field it seems and there's almost no money in the till.

For comparison sake: Let's take a look at Houston:

Plus: Big fish in a Group of 5 pond. Great recruiting base, improving facilities, prime geographic location and an administration that is on-board with moving the program to the big time.

Minus: The American Athletic Conference.

Now, the good news.  Houston's administrative leadership is bound and determined to put their best-foot forward in order to snag a Power conference assignment. Once the rebuild of Hofheinz Arena is done Houston will have facilities on par with some of the mid-to-lower level Power 5 schools and will be in a television market that certainly doesn't hurt, but doesn't help to the level boosters, and local media, suggest it does.

Even IF Houston doesn't gain entry into the Big XII (and I've long been on record as saying they won't [and really shouldn't, were the Big XII smart]) the fact is Houston is pumping big-time money into a mid-tier program which means that you will have the resources to win, and win often, in what many consider to be the best Group of 5 Conference right now.  That means that your name is going to be on the list for every top-tier coaching job that emerges next year, and for a few years afterwards.

If you keep winning at Houston, which is an easier thing than at the schools listed above, you could find your self coaching at one of College Football's blue-blood programs before you know it.

Most likely candidate:  LSU, who barely performed a cranial-rectal extraction on themselves and kept Les Miles as coach this year. Given the abject stupidity of the AD and other school officials that job might be available soon.  Other candidates include USC, who hired Helton but might not like that decision next year, and even Alabama or OU, who's coaches some think may be considering retirement in the next year or two.

One more school to consider:  Texas aTm, who is starting to question whether or not they made the correct hire in Sumlin, who has never won a conference title, and who has never proven the ability to either field a quality defense or win with his own recruits.

Regardless of which jobs open up I think Herman has a better chance at UH winning often and keeping his name out there than he does at any of the other open positions.

A side-benefit for UH: This allows Major Applewhite a year (or two) more to gain experience from Herman so that he can take over upon latter's departure. If UH is smart they'd already be in discussions with both Herman and Applewhite to ensure this is so.  Given that we know Herman is looking, it would be a major surprise if he took that the wrong way.

Of course, should UH get accepted into the Big XII (as the 11th or 12th member of the conference once the NCAA denies an exemption for a championship game) all bets are off.  Because Herman might think that he can win big where he is.  History has not proven that to be entirely wrong.

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