We’re going to do things just a little bit differently this week, given all of the amazing news and events that happened this past weekend. So, this will be part Silver Bullet Points, part Monday Morning Commentary, and the usual chunk of random observations from Saturday’s events in the world of college football. Here’s something to listen to while you’re fighting the urge to tl;dr- we’ve certainly got a lot to be Thankful for.
In this year’s edition of the Battle For Los Angeles, the upstart UCLA Bruins jumped out to a quick lead and held on to “upset” the Trojans by ten points on a gray day in Pasadena. While the Bruins obviously have been playing much better football this year, you’ve also got to wonder if the trajectories of the programs have now crossed, particularly given some of the issues that continue to swirl at Southern Cal.
As the team that was picked by many to contend for the national title, the frustration for many SC fans has been swirling since the loss to what we now know is a pretty good Stanford team. That game highlighted the Trojans’ issues with depth; injuries since then have continued to create problems and have certainly didn’t help in their back to back losses to Arizona and Oregon. The defeat by the Ducks made things even more problematic, since SC’s defense was a point of strength for them under current coordinator Monte Kiffin; their being gashed turned up the heat on the current coaching administration. And now, to lose to “little brother” has many wondering if it’s not time to make a change.
Coach Kiffin’s actions certainly haven’t helped this season- cutting media opportunities short, banning reporters outright… it certainly makes sense that he’d not want to leave the Rose Bowl via the obvious entrance on Saturday night. Other controversy swirls around Lane as well; while possibly not related, it’s definitely not helping matters at all. You may remember “inflation-gate” and the termination of a student manager following the revelation that game balls for kickers were under-inflated against Oregon. For those not infatuated with special teams- a “flatter” pigskin has a much larger “sweet spot”; as a great Buckeye Planet poster pointed out, the Trojan’s kicking game has not been anywhere near as efficient ever since they were penalized for this “mistake”.
In addition, earlier this week Tennessee was dinged for recruiting issues that occurred under Kiffin’s one year tenure in Knoxville- issues that involved Chip Kelly’s favorite videographer, Willie Lyles. Given the length of the investigation into Oregon’s program and this new decision at UT involving Lyles, you’ve got to think that there’s more than a few million good reasons for Kelly to take the Pete Carroll route and jump to the NFL ASAP.
What does this mean for Kiffin? At this time, it’s difficult to say, but losing Matt Barkley for the matchup against Notre Dame this weekend, combined with the continuing scholarship losses for the next couple of years would certainly be reason to wonder how warm his office chair will be getting this winter.
Interestingly enough, the other two programs involved in “affair du Lyles” also had difficult weekends. Derek Dooley’s Volunteers lost to cross-state foe Vanderbilt, and it wasn’t even close. The win ensures that UT will have a losing season for the third time in as many years, and was only the second victory for the Commodores in 35 years. Following the game, the inevitable happened… Dooley was fired, effective immediately. If you’re an Ohio State fan, you’ve got to wonder if this might have an impact on current recruits looking at both programs… Vonn Bell is the name that pops up, but there may be others in the 2014 class. This year’s season ending clash between the Vols and ‘Kats will feature both coaches in either interim or lame duck status… it’s going to be a fun coaching carousel for the SEC this season.
Lyle’s third “partner” in all of this felt the sting of their first loss on Saturday, at home, to a Stanford team that should be in the conversation about the top programs in the nation. Remember, they’re a botched call from extending overtime in South Bend and possibly ending the Irish Nightmare that we are currently facing. I was most impressed with The Cardinal’s defense on Saturday- disciplined, aggressive, and never seemed to give up the big play to an offense that most often looks like throwing kerosene on a bonfire… one blink, and it’s over. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. Ahem.
The loss can easily be attributed to a lot of things- Oregon being too confident, and this being the Duck’s annual brain fart game; Questionable officiating, A “trap” game, with the resurgent Beavers looming Thanksgiving week… But all of these would not do a service to the great work that the coaches at Stanford, starting with Jim Harbaugh, have done in building a program that can certainly play with anyone in the country. It’s also why I think that Alabama, if given the usual bowl prep to face Oregon, would beat them- I believe that the Tide’s defense is more athletic and much more disruptive than Stanford’s… and the template we’ve seen in the Ducks’ losses over the past four years is now pretty well known. You just need to have the horses to pull it off; Stanford did on Saturday, and now control their PAC12 destiny. They’ll need to beat UCLA twice in two weeks to do so, but doing so may have the Oregon Ducks on the outside of the BCS championship game AND the automatic Rose Bowl berth… along with USC. It’s been that kind of year.
Oh, and on Saturday Northwestern, Stanford, and Vanderbilt all won. Nerds, y’all.
Commentary: Polls and Playoffs
Much of Buckeye Nation was freaked out on Sunday when the AP rankings came out and still had the undefeated Ohio State team ranked behind two teams with losses, both from the Southeast Conference. Our friend Grant Edgell took a look back at the last ten seasons, and at no time was an undefeated team from a power conference ranked behind one loss teams this late in the season. The Dispatch and the Plain Dealer will have articles about the “situation” on Monday, and Lori Schmidt pointed out that for every voter that has the Buckeyes second, there are others who have them lower than fifth.
Here’s my take: I. Don’t. Care.
Two reasons for this, before you start going to your local torch and pitchfork emporium. First- It’s Game Week. There’s one goal this week for Ohio State, and it’s within their control. There’s nothing that they can do about voters or media members or computers… just win the game, THE GAME, and worry about where the chips will fall after that all settles.
That’s been the plan for Ohio State all season, and shouldn’t change just because people are now getting their knickers in a knot. Plus, it’s not like any Buckeye will ever need a reason to get excited and play with just a little more heart this Saturday… and all this talk about rankings and such might actually be a distraction. So forget it. Focus on the job at hand- Beat Mich1gAAn.
Second reason that I’m not getting all in a tizzy about this story- it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately for those of you who enjoy brevity, there are subpoints here- It doesn’t matter because the University and the NCAA chose to keep Ohio State on the sidelines this postseason… right or wrong, without a wrinkle in the space/time continuum or a presidential edict, it ain’t changing. It also doesn’t matter because we’re still dealing with an imperfect popularity contest- always has been that way and always will be.
These types of things are subjective in nature, and short of a tournament with multi-game series at neutral sites, we’ll never really be able to tell. This weekend is a perfect example: Just as Oregon and KSU had off nights, it’s quite possible to have the same matchup problems or hiccups in a “one and done” championship game. These types of things only prove who’s the best on a given night; it may be the team that’s best overall, but it might not be.
Finally, this doesn’t matter because it shouldn’t change our pride and passion for the Buckeyes. We’ve talked about this before- other than bragging rights for fans and “lifetime moments” for the players, there’s not really much gained for a “championship”. Well, unless you’re an athletic department who’ll make a shirt for just about anything- that can make things pretty lucrative. Recruits will go to great programs no matter their final rankings (how else do you explain Notre Dame?), and fans and booster will still support their schools- sometimes even more robustly when they’ve felt “slighted”.
So, allow me to conclude by paraphrasing scripture- If you do well, will you not be accepted? And you would be wise to do well- evil is crouching at your door, and you must master it. Beat Mich1gAAn.
We talked about this already, but Kansas State bombed enormously against Baylor; you can bet there were plenty of Honor Code Violations going on Saturday Night in Waco. I have a ton of respect for what Bill Snyder is doing in Manhattan, and this was only strengthened by his post game comments… professional, responsible, gracious, forthright. The Wildcats are in good hands, even if portions of their fanbase are more than likely chemically imbalanced. In the best of ways, of course.
A coach I get a kick out of that is the anti-Snyder is Les Miles, whose LSU Tigers were able to overcome both Old Miss and their own press clippings… watching the game was fascinating, as the crack staff at CBSEC continued to tout the Tigers as candidates for the national title consideration as they trailed for much of the game. Miles’ work after the game, though, was quite possibly one of the most… uh… interesting press conferences that I’d ever seen; I’ve never witnessed such range of emotion as he wandered through the good and bad of a very exciting victory of his team. Seriously, take a second or three to watch the whole thing and then imagine your company president choosing to respond this way at the next corporate gathering.
LSU’s win over Old Miss was anchored by an amazing punt return from Odell Beckham Jr., which wins both our “play of the week” and “hit of the week” award- check out the block at the beginning that clears two Rebel defenders:
Miles’ squad was one of only three games in the mighty S!E!C! to be intra-conference… other “powerful” matchups from the week included Kentucky beating Samford, Alabama rolling Western Carolina, Florida handling Jacksonville State, and other amazing wastes of season ticket money. Kudos to Auburn for finally winning; shame and blame to Missouri for dropping their game against Syracuse.
Time to check in with the amazing fans that go to college football sporting events! Here’s the amazing crowd at the Kentucky/Samford game, and the always festive and raucous crowd at Miami’s intra-state clash against South Florida. Even closer to home, as Yost continues to highlight, the student section in Ann Arbor is quite incredible! Hooray for HD TV, right?
In a bit of a preview for The Game, things are certainly getting interesting up north- Denard has finally moved to tailback and ended the fairy tale that he was a quarterback, and Devan Gardner has overcome his debilitating back injury to develop into a solid quarterback. I’m most impressed with the defensive effort that TTUN has put up recently, although this week it was against Iowa, where Kirk Ferentz has been stealing money for about three years now. They’ll be without running back Fitz Toussaint this coming Saturday, though… watch this if you really want to see why. It’s not pretty.
The Spartans sparted something fierce against Northwestern, Indiana got wiped out by Penn State, Purdue squeaked by Iowa, Rutgers beat Cincinnati, while Maryland got hammered by Florida State.
What’s that you say? You don’t know how some of those teams got into your B1G coverage? Well, that means it’s time for another…
Commentary: Conference Expansion
As you’re reading this, I’m on a plane headed back to the motherland for a week of feasting and being Thankful. As you’re reading this, there’s probably a great chance that Maryland has joined the B1G, and Rutgers is not far behind. Yup, we’re doing that again.
There are a lot of reasons that these are dumb moves- lack of athletic prestige for both of these programs, yet another need to entrust scheduling and conference naming to the people who threatened to move The Game and gave us “Leaders and Legends”… but the fact of the matter is that this has been inevitable for a while.
Both programs need funding to survive- they are in the “have not” category, subsidized by state budgets in states that are looking for places to make cuts. As Vico suggests (read that article… as always, it’s great), this deal will effectively trade state funding for BTN revenue sharing. It also helps the conference fight the “landlocked midwestern” stereotype, particularly in relation to two huge television markets: NY/NJ and Baltimore/DC.
In addition to the research possibilities that this move will open up (and the B1G is as much about academics as it is athletics) the expansion into the NY/NJ market alone will help strengthen the conference’s ability to grow further. As other conferences disband or shift, wouldn’t you want to be in a grouping that had a solid footing in the largest media market in the country? And this week’s agreement between YES (Yankees Network) and Fox (major stakeholders in the BTN) certainly didn’t hurt the powers that be who were trying to make this move.
It may also have some interesting ripples- if it destabilizes the ACC, the FU/Clemson move that we heard about all summer might finally come to pass. Notre Dame could find themselves on the outside again, joining a conference that’s on the verge of another set of exoduses. Other ACC schools might head to the B1G as well- I’ve heard Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, Duke all mentioned… as well as bigger fish on the western border of the conference.
We’re headed for the 2014 playoff model, consolidating power and money in ways that will keep the machine rolling. I’m coming to learn to live with that, since I really don’t have a choice… given all of this as well as the criticism that college sports is getting regarding the economic issues for players and smaller programs, perhaps once this all settles we can start talking about decoupling athletic programs from Universities so both can honestly thrive: semi-professional sports and academic institutions. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Also well worth the read:
Since we’re welcoming our new turtle-y overlords, it’s time to talk uniform updates! Here’s the “Black Ops” look that the Terps wore against Florida State. For a program that wants to be the “Oregon Of The East”, they certainly have the “bunches of goofy uniforms” thing down to a science. Maryland doesn’t win this week’s “Fashion Nightmare” award, though… that honor goes to the folks at Virginia Tech, who decided for some crazy reason to have Warner Brothers’ Henry the Chicken Hawk as their helmet logo for this past weekend. Brave.
Also, by the time you’ve read this far, Ohio State has more than likely “announced” their rivalry gear for The Game this year… we got a look earlier, and I know that the retail vendors in Columbus have the tshirts and sweatshirts. We’ll have more on this later, but keep an eye on our friends at the Buckeye Room for the best updates on fan apparel.
As classy as the Ohio State stuff looks, I really like what Nike has geared up the Midshipmen in for the game against Army… the gold stripe is pretty classy- what do you think?
Another program that likes to mix and match their gameday gear is peaking at just the right time- T Boone Pickens University stomped Texas Tech on Saturday and heads into the Bedlam game with Oklahoma on a nice streak. OU isn’t doing so poorly offensively as well, managing to beat West Virginia y one point after the Mountaineers managed over 700 yards of offense. If TBPU can get one or two defensive stops, they’ve got what they need offensively to beat the Sooners.
Oh, and Notre Dame won. Wheee. They’re undefeated, and will play Southern Cal next weekend, minus the Trojan’s senior QB. Wheee. Personally, I’m hoping that the Mayans were right, should Notre Dame end up in the MNC game. I’m still of the mindset that Oregon/Alabama would be the “best matchup”… but, as I said before, it really doesn’t matter.
Commentary- Kids Today
The news on Sunday from Minnesota involved Gopher wide receiver A.J. Barker quitting the team, in spite of being the team’s leading offensive weapon. In a lengthy and open letter that was posted on the internet, Barker claims that his decision to quit and transfer was based on his frustration with the way he was treated by Coach Jerry Kill, alleging emotional abuse and lies from the coach all season long. Barker has been recovering from an ankle injury recently.
Reading both Barker’s letter and a follow up post that puts a bit of perspective into the matter, I was struck by the similarities to the letter that was made public earlier this week from Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson, who also said that Coug coach Mike Leach was abusive toward him during his time in Pullman. In the WSU case, the University has committed itself to investigating the matter fully; I’m confident that a similar follow up will occur in Minneapolis as well.
In both cases, I wish nothing but the best for the young men in question and corrections made within both programs should adjustments or disciplinary action be necessary. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, particularly when they are sacrificing so much of their lives to participate in college sports.
That being said, two things came to my mind as I read these two accounts. The first is the way that the internet has flattened the communication chain- in the past, player/coach issues would be handled “in house”; for better and for worse. Now, with the access that everyone has to blogging and social media sites, it’s easy to get an account out to the public- and also difficult to get it back once it’s been released.
The second thing is a realization that times have certainly changed in dealing with young adults. I’m sure many of us have stories of coaches and the awful things that happened under their tutelage to “build character”… heck, ESPN even made a movie about it. In a climate where some young people are walking away from jobs because they’re not “having fun” or it’s not convenient for their schedule, it highlights the importance of working to connect in a meaningful way- and that the “old school” style might not be cutting it anymore.
I’m not, under any circumstances, blaming these two young men for having “bad attitudes”- instead, I’m pointing out how challenging coaching is these days. We’ve all heard stories about players who were told they were the greatest from the moment they stepped onto the court or field; heck, some of us might have our favorite programs on probation because of these types of wunderkinds. But to find a way to get these people to achieve and develop into something bigger than themselves… and to do so in the context of a team sport, is pretty challenging.
It’s Thanksgiving week, and we’ll have some special things coming up for you as we get closer and closer to The Game. It’s the week of Rivalries across the country; the Shillelagh, the Oaken Bucket, the Commander In Chief Trophy, Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Bedlam… all happen this week, for which we are thankful.
This year’s favorite high school tradition is once again a JV affair, since Kirkwood finds themselves in the Missouri State Championship again. I’ll be in St. Louis, so may head over to the Dome to watch them play as well as catching Ohio State commit Ezekiel Elliott as the Bombers seek a state title.
But today we close with a tribute to someone that my wife is very thankful for, and a person who’s had a deep impact on college sports- particularly football. From this week’s BTN broadcast, here’s Dr. Tom Osborne’s last “Tunnel Walk” with the Huskers: