|59||North Carolina State|
|63||Middle Tennessee State|
|68||San Diego State|
|94||San Jose State|
|126||New Mexico State|
In honor of Bill Elliott’s birthday yesterday, and along with his son Chase’s attempt to put the Elliotts with the Labontes, Pettys, Jarretts and Earnhardts as the only families to have multiple winners of a NASCAR national series championship, I thought it was a good time to remember the greatest moments of the elder Elliott’s career as we look forward to the second generation carrying on the proud Elliott name. So here are the twenty greatest moments from the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and 16 time voted most popular driver, Bill Elliott.
20) 2000 Gatorade Twin 125 Mile Qualifier – Even if unofficial, considering that he hadn’t won a race of any kind since 1994, the victory at Daytona gave a glimpse of hope that foreshadowed things to come in the next chapter of his career. It would be the first and only time Elliott would drive his number 94 McDonald’s car into victory lane.
19) 1988 Pepsi 400 – Elliott started 38th at Daytona and nearly lost a lap. It didn’t matter, this was a championship caliber team, and they would beat Florida native Rick Wilson across the line by inches to take the victory.
18) 2003 Pop Secret 400 – It was the final Winston Cup season as Nextel was set to take over the title sponsorship that Winston had held for so long. Matt Kenseth, who began his career five years earlier subbing for Elliott at Dover in 1998, was clinching the championship. And it was the final race to be run at Rockingham, the very track Elliott made his own first career start at back in 1976. Everything seemed to come full circle as Elliott would win what would be his final race. And he did it in style. Starting 43rd because of an engine change, Elliott charged through the field and out dueled some guy named Jimmie Johnson for the win.
17) 1988 Valleydale Meats 500 – The victory in the spring of 1988 at Bristol not only was the first victory of his career on a short track, it served notice that the team had cleaned up their biggest weakness from previous years and was a legitimate championship contender
16) 1991 Pepsi 400 – The victory would be his fourth, and final, win at Daytona, but more importantly, it would be his final victory in the number 9 Fords prepared in the family shop in Dawsonville, as he would leave for Junior Johnson’s famous number 11 team in Ingles Hollow, North Carolina the following season.
15) 1992 Hooters 500 – It is considered perhaps the most pivotal turning point in the sports history as it was Richard Petty’s first race, Jeff Gordon’s last, six drivers had a chance at the championship, and for two of them, tragedy awaited within the next eight months. As a result, being the winner of that race carries a lot of weight. Unfortunately for Elliott, it’s a hollow weight. The difference of one lap led at Atlanta that afternoon cost him a second championship as Alan Kulwicki, by virtue of leading one lap more than Elliott, took home the crown.
14) 1992 TranSouth 500 – The win at Darlington tied a modern-day record that still stands by becoming the fourth straight win for Elliott. It came in just the fifth race of the season, establishing the Bill Elliott/Junior Johnson/Tim Brewer combination as a championship contender right out of the box. In addition, it was the 100th time that Junior Johnson’s no. 11 had gone to victory lane.
13) 1994 Southern 500 – 1993 had been the first time since 1982, the last time Elliott didn’t run the full season, that Elliott went through a season without finding victory lane. With it being established that Elliott would return to Dawsonville in 1995 to form own his own team, Elliott snapped the long losing streak. In doing so, he won his third Southern 500, considered by most the second biggest race on the schedule, and also won the last of the 102 wins amassed by Junior Johnson’s famed 11 car. For Elliott, his three Southern 500 victories had come by way of out dueling Cale Yarborough, Rusty Wallace and now, Dale Earnhardt, no small feat at “The Track too Tough to Tame”.
12) 1987 Daytona 500 – The second Daytona 500 victory of his career put him in rare company with other multi time winners of “The Great American Race” and firmly established his place among racing royalty
11) 1987 The Winston – It was The Pass in the Grass, it put the all-star race on the map, and helped cement the legacy of Dale Earnhardt, even if Elliott came out on the losing end of it. It also marked the only time the very mild-mannered Elliott used his racecar for retaliation, especially during a cool down lap.
10) 1986 The Winston
In 1986 NASCAR and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company decided to try out the idea of rotating the sports All Star race. Bill Elliott may be the reason it returned to Charlotte in 1987 and never left. As mentioned above, the 1987 Winston cemented the events place in the sport at Charlotte, but it may have been the thoroughly dominating win by Elliott at Atlanta in the 1986 edition that brought the event back to the hub of NASCAR. 1986 wasn’t a particularly memorable year for Elliott. Rule changes aimed at slowing his Ford down, as well as the let down factor from the 1985 season all contributed to what was a down, by his new standards, year. But despite that, he earned his lone victory in the sports all-star race, and did so at his home track.
Clearly this list would be woefully lacking without the first career win that got the ball rolling in Elliott’s career. It took a fortuitous set of circumstances, including Darrell Waltrip and Tim Richmond tangling while racing for the lead, for Elliott to finally break through after being the bridesmaid eight times already in his young career. The first of Elliott’s 44 career wins came in 1983, his first full season, and the win at Riverside would be the only road course victory of his career. Though, let it be known, Elliott continued to be a very effective racer on the tracks that turned left and right. It would be Elliott’s final race in a Melling sponsored car, as Coors would come on board in 1984, and the rest, the rest they say is history.
From 1995 thru 2000 Bill Elliott was hardly recognizable. His attempt to come back home to Dawsonville and run for his own team turned out to be a case of biting off more than he could chew. Zero wins, and only two top ten finishes in points marked his time in the McDonald’s car. As a result many people thought Ray Evernham was crazy for asking Bill Elliott to come drive for him while starting his new race team that would lead Dodge back into the sport after an absence of more than two decades. Elliott was thought to be washed up, and wouldn’t be able to offer much. All Elliott did was put Dodge on the pole for the Daytona 500, a Daytona 500 that garnered as much attention as any race in the sports history.
Up until this point, Elliott was considered a rising star, but he hadn’t arrived yet. He’d been consistently near the front, having been on the edge of competing for a championship each of the past two seasons. An utterly dominating 1985 Speed Weeks that culminated with a thorough butt whipping of the field in the Daytona 500 signified his arrival. And he of course spent the rest of 1985 making sure people knew he wasn’t going anywhere.
Look at any NASCAR all time qualifying speeds records list and Bill Elliott’s name dominates the list. But it’s the one atop the list that clearly stands out above all the others. 212.809. It’s a number forever etched in NASCAR lore. No official lap has been clocked faster, and thanks to restrictor plates, none ever will. Holding the record for the fastest lap turned in a stock car puts you in elite company, and by elite company, company that is void of all other company. It makes you alone as the fastest man in NASCAR history.
There are certain achievements a complete career in NASCAR must have, and since the inaugural running in 1994 the Brickyard 400 has become one of those jewels needed to fill out ones crown. The list of winners is a who’s who of modern-day NASCAR royalty. Even during his lean years of the late 90s, Elliott ran well and contended at Indy. You could tell he wanted this one. In 2002, in a throwback battle with Rusty Wallace reminiscent of the late 80s, Elliott capped off a dominating performance with a victory to claim the biggest prize missing from his resume. Having been considered washed up and no longer able to compete at the highest level less than two years ago, taking home one of the biggest prizes in the sport was sweet redemption. And perhaps making it more special, unlike his championship, Winston Million, and Daytona 500s, this one was celebrated with son Chase.
As mentioned, by the conclusion of the 2000 season Elliott had a losing streak that stretched nearly five and a half seasons. Despite the season opening pole at Daytona, Elliott struggled for a good portion of 2001 with his new team, but at the final race of the year, everything clicked. Elliott beat his rookie teammate Casey Atwood for the pole, and then in the waning laps used his experience and veteran savvy to slip past his younger teammate and put an end to a very, very long, and very, very dry, spell of futility. For those of who kept buying the McDonald’s gear, and who kept monitoring from about 16th thru 24th place every week out of loyalty for their driver, their hero, it was validation that their faith wasn’t misplaced. It was relief. It was reward. It was emotional. I can still get choked up watching it today. But mostly, it was awesome.
It’s the crowning achievement in NASCAR, being the champion at the peak level, the highest level of motorsports in America. After seeing a championship fizzle away in 1985, Elliott made sure there would be no repeat in 1988. To make things even better, he secured the championship at his home track in Atlanta. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s the first pro championship won by a team in Georgia, and still to this day, it’s the truest Georgia championship won in this state. And will remain that way forever.
I’m going to catch flack from people for putting this just at two, but I have my reasons. Regardless, Bill Elliott went from NASCAR driver to legend at Darlington that Labor Day weekend. It’s when he went from Bill, to “Million Dollar Bill”. But it wasn’t just what Elliott did for himself that made this moment so big, it’s the way he elevated an entire sport. Few people are truly transcendent in sports, but when Elliott won the Winston Million and became the first NASCAR driver to ever make the cover of Sports Illustrated, he joined that elite fraternity.
I know, the championship or the Winston Million belongs here to many, but not me. If the Southern 500 is when he became “Million Dollar Bill”, then that spring day at Talladega was when he became “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville”. Never has a racecar been as dominate as Elliott’s Fords at Talladega and Daytona in the mid 80s. To overcome 5 miles, under green, is simply unfathomable. It’s not only easily the most incredible comeback in NASCAR history, but all of motorsports. And while many great comebacks involve an element of collapse, or choking, if you will, by one team, in this case Elliott’s rally had nothing to do with what his opponents couldn’t do and everything to do with what he was able to accomplish. And for that, it has a case to be the greatest comeback in sports history, period.
I’m not here to tell you that Georgia absolutely must win against Missouri to keep their hopes for the playoffs alive, and really, their hopes for the SEC East. Just as I’m not going to tell you the importance of the games in the SEC West. Everyone knows what’s on the line with the big games around the country. I’d rather talk about some of the other action across the country where there may be more riding on it than meets the eye.
ULM at Kentucky- I know that Kentucky is feeling real good about themselves after beating South Carolina. And considering they’ve gone 4-20 overall and 0-16 in the SEC over the past two years, their 4-1 start that includes a 2-1 SEC record is certainly worth celebrating. However, they better hope the celebration extends no further than the fanbase. Don’t forget Kentucky wasn’t overly impressive in their wins against Ohio and Vanderbilt, two teams arguably in the bottom 20% of the entire country. Todd Berry’s Louisiana-Monroe squad has struggled to score points this year, but they’ve been pretty solid on defense in getting off to a 3-2 start. Should they be able to go into Lexington and win? Of course not. But it doesn’t mean they can’t. They’re arguably better than both Ohio and Vanderbilt, and Kentucky, being a young team not used to being in this position, is ripe for a potential let down. The fact that LSU awaits next week only amplifies this possibility. It’s a let down Kentucky can ill afford to have as they try to return to the postseason. Tennessee, Missouri, and aforementioned LSU still await on the road. Mississippi State, Georgia, and Louisville still have to come to Lexington. None of those games are games you can just check a “W” beside if you’re Kentucky. And even if they do beat ULM, Kentucky will still need to win one of those six to make a bowl. Lose to ULM and the ‘Cats need to win at least two of those final six games, and that’s a tall order. It’s an order you dont want to put on a young program just now learning to compete and play in the SEC.
Penn State at Michigan- Making a bowl seems like a pretty big stretch for Big Blue at this point, but lose at home to Penn State, and that “big stretch” becomes pretty much an impossibility. The program is in flux as it is, so nobody is expecting anything from this season, but falling to 2-5 would just further smear the mud all over this once proud program. For Penn State, with postseason restrictions lifted, they’ve got something to play for, even if you couldn’t tell in that performance against Northwestern. The only two truly daunting games left on the schedule are Michigan State and Ohio State, and both are at home. So there’s a faction of Penn State that thinks this can still be a pretty special season. Lose to Michigan though, and that is all over.
Northwestern at Minnesota- The Wildcats victories over Wisconsin and Penn State have propelled the Wildcats back into the discussion in the Big 10 Western division, and Minnesota, at 4-1 isn’t out of it. Northwestern has Nebraska at home next week in a pivotal two game stretch for the Wildcats while Minnesota follows this battle up with Purdue and Illinois on their schedule. Both teams know they’re still a contender in the division, but both teams know they can’t afford to lose this one and hold to that belief. Northwestern particularly is on a slippery slope, two disheartening losses in non conference play to open the season still leave them just 3-2. Considering Nebraska still awaits, as well as trips to Iowa and Notre Dame, another slip up against a non elite team could start a downhill trek that ends with the Wildcats missing out on the postseason a second consecutive year.
Louisville at Clemson- Louisville is the only team left that has a remote chance at dethroning Florida State in the Atlantic division, but with a loss already in hand to Virginia, a second conference loss to Clemson would end those dreams before Florida State even steps foot in Papa John’s Stadium. Clemson meanwhile has gotten new life under freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, and when looking at their remaining schedule sees an opportunity to finish the year at 10-2, and still make their way into a playoff rotation bowl. They know at 9-3, any hopes of crashing that party are over. The Cardinals easily represent the best defense the young Watson has faced this year, so this one could be interesting, and the flickering hopes of both teams getting into a marquee bowl rest on the outcome of this one on Saturday.
North Carolina at Notre Dame- A fourth straight loss, with Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Miami in successive weeks to follow, would spell doom to the Tar Heels season. Even at 0-2 in the ACC, even with a home loss to Virginia Tech, North Carolina isn’t done in the ACC Coastal race. And while losing to Notre Dame wouldn’t impact their standing within the ACC at all, an already low-level of morale in the locker room would hit desperation levels of empty with another loss. The fortunate thing is that the three games that follow could still enable the Tar Heels to salvage the season, but when you start the season ranked, 2-4 at mid October just isn’t acceptable. Larry Fedora is feeling the heat, and beating a highly ranked Irish team who is in the thick of national title discussions would go a long, long way to cooling his seat down some. Speaking of being in the national title race, disappointing years by Stanford and Michigan have helped devalue the Notre Dame schedule, essentially turning this into a one game season for the Irish…in principle. The problem is, you can’t play 7 of the other 8 games on the schedule “in principle”. There was a thought that if the Irish went 11-1 with a loss to Florida State, that their schedule would be strong enough to still warrant playoff consideration. There was a thought that if the Irish beat Florida State, they could afford a slip somewhere else and still receive strong consideration for a playoff spot. Unfortunately the schedule doesn’t look as strong as it once did for Notre Dame, and what was supposed to be a schedule boosting game against ACC favorite North Carolina has now turned into a lose-lose situation for the Irish. If they win, they’ve simply defeated a 2-5 team. If they lose though….. they can kiss the playoffs goodbye.
Duke at Georgia Tech- A loss to Miami already in hand, Duke can’t afford to go 0-2 in the division by losing to Georgia Tech and still have a chance to head to Charlotte for a second straight year. Yes, it’s true they started 0-2 in the division last year, but the losses came to two teams who didn’t factor into the division race at season’s end. That’s not going to be the case this year. Miami is expected to be there, and right now Georgia Tech is in complete control. A third division win would put the Jackets even more firmly in the driver’s seat before two road division games await them. If Tech can enter that pair of games at 3-0 in the division, they can feel real, real good about their chances. But if they lose to Duke, they open the division back up to pretty much everybody, and give hope to teams who might be about to lose it.
Washington State at Stanford- Washington State is a lot better football team than people realize. Their losses to Rutgers and Cal could easily, easily have gone the other way, particular last week’s loss to Cal. They also played very well against Oregon. They’ve also been a better team away from home, than at home thus far this year, so the fact that this game is in Palo Alto isn’t overly concerning. Stanford is a very, very uninspiring 3-2. I thought from day one this year they were an overrated team, and their fledgling offense has shown no indication that they’re going to prove me wrong. It’s entirely possible that Washington State finds a way to win this game and Stanford finds themselves 3-3, with two conference losses, something that with the expectations that program now has, is unacceptable. The narrow misses have been adding up for Washington State, and another loss would be the fifth of the year, putting them well behind the eight ball in their quest to reach a second straight bowl for the first time in over a decade. When it comes to the goals each had coming into this season, this is a must win for both. And what’s surprising, is that it’s actually winnable for both.
West Virginia at Texas Tech- Texas Tech has had one losing season over the past 21 years, but if they want to keep that streak in tact, they’re going to need to find a way to beat a West Virginia team that is better than most thought at the outset of the year. The Red Raiders, simply put, cannot stop anyone. They have a defense that rivals that of the Atlanta Falcons and the North Carolina Tar Heels, and that’s not a comforting feeling hosting an offense that’s scored at least 33 points in each of its last four games. With TCU, Oklahoma, and Baylor still left on the Texas Tech schedule, suffering a fourth loss this early in the season could prove fatal to any post season hopes they may be fostering.
Toledo at Iowa State- The warmth of Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads’ seat was documented earlier this week, and losing at home to Toledo and dropping to 1-5 will probably make it too hot for him to withstand through the end of December.
Houston at Memphis- As mentioned last week, East Carolina and Central Florida are both conspicuously absent from Memphis’ schedule this season, and Houston represents the toughest opponent left on it. If Memphis can find a way to get past the Cougars, and in my opinion they should, not only would the Tigers be 4-2, they’d be in position to achieve the first double-digit win season since…. since… ever. Yes, that’s right, Memphis has never reached double-digit wins in a season. Beat Houston, and suddenly that becomes a very, very realistic goal. Not to mention, so does a conference championship.
Pack Your Bags:
Will Muschamp, Florida- Other than Brady Hoke, is there a more dead in the water coach than Muschamp? His only saving grace was going to be Treon Harris and the ability to still win a very watered down SEC East. Now that Harris is suspended indefinitely, the Gators are once again the team that couldn’t do anything against Tennessee’s defense, and the team that will struggle to make a bowl game. Add to that, a second backup quarterback is getting in fights with freshmen defensive linemen, and the Gators program is one giant mess. Being Florida, the list of potential replacement will be long, and full of top flight coaching talent. Personally, I think Doc Holiday is who they should go after. Either way, unless Florida wins the division, which with Driskel at the helm simply won’t happen, Muschamp is gone. He might be gone regardless. The program is in flux, and it’s not winning. That’s a bad thing if you’re a head coach.
Brady Hoke, Michigan- As mentioned, he’s the only one on Muschamp’s level right now. Like Muschamp, Hoke went 11-2 in his first year, and like Muschamp has overseen a steady nosedive ever since. Their yardage differential in conference play has gotten worse by about 55 yards per game in each of the last two seasons, and one can only shudder to think what it will be in 2014. Getting dominated by Minnesota was bad, being Rutgers first conference win, even worse. On top of that there is the bizarre handling of Shane Morris’ injury. Hoke won’t be back. Muschamp at least has ways he can save his job, potentially. Hoke? He’ll be lucky if Michigan doesn’t lose 10 games this year.
Bobby Hauck, UNLV- You would think taking a program to just their second bowl in two decades, and first in 13 years, as Hauck did a year ago, you’d reap some rewards. And Hauck did. He’s still there. Hauck went 6-32 in his first three years years at UNLV, a mark that gets you fired just about anywhere, but he was retained for a fourth year and the program was rewarded with a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Unfortunately, that was a mirage. They’re winless to begin 2014, and the most competitive they’ve been was a 14 point loss to Northern Illinois. They’ve scored more than 17 points just once in five games, while allowing 33 or more every single time on the field. They’re not just losing, they’re completely uncompetitive. Losing 33-10 to San Jose State alone should be considered fireable, but when that’s the second most competitive you’ve been in a game all season long………
Have a Good Real Estate Agent On Speed Dial:
Kevin Wilson, Indiana- It’s put up or shut up time in Bloomington, and to date, it’s still hard to tell which Indiana is going to do. There was the terrible loss to Bowling Green in week three that was followed by the huge win in Columbia against a ranked Missouri team. Do the two cancel each other out? Probably, and the win might even carry more weight. But that win only carries weight if Indiana, in the very, very least, makes a bowl game this season. At 3-2, with Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers and Purdue among those on the remaining schedule, if Indiana can’t get the necessary six wins to be in the post season, there’s no way Wilson is brought back for a fifth year. Seventeen starters returned from last year year’s team, if he can’t get it done in 2014, he’s not going to get it done.
Tim Beckman, Illinois- Illinois has faced two quality opponents (Washington and Nebraska) this year, and allowed 44 plus points to both of them in games they were never even remotely competitive in. They’ve also allowed 34 to Western Kentucky, 35 to Texas State and 38 to Purdue. There’s not an FBS team they’ve played that hasn’t put at least 34 points on the board against them. The Purdue game is the most damning, as the Boilermakers are just plain bad this year. Losing by 11 at home to Purdue is not something you can afford to do when trying to convince people that in your third year you have the program moving in the right direction. A 5-7 season likely grants Beckman another year, but if finish the year losing 8 in a row, or 9 of 10, I’m not sure he gets that fourth season.
Larry Fedora, North Carolina- This was supposed to be the year the Tar Heels took the proverbial next step and became legitimate ACC contenders, or at least, champions of the Coastal division. Instead, they’re a punch line. The Tar Heel basketball team would likely yield fewer points to East Carolina and Clemson than did the football team, and in a year of heightened expectations, that isn’t acceptable. To be fired, Carolina would have to go in to full on implosion mode, but with Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Miami as their next four opponents, and only the Yellow Jackets being in Chapel Hill, full on implosion isn’t too far-fetched. If North Carolina is 2-7 when they begin their final three games of the season, all games they could potentially lose as well, the cries for Fedora’s job will ring louder than the victory bell Duke will be ringing for a third straight season.
Al Golden, Miami- It’s too early in the year to throw dirt on his grave, but he’s a lot closer to packing his bags than he is renewing that country club membership. Miami hasn’t won double-digit games in over a decade, Golden was supposed to fix that. Instead he’s lost two of his first three ACC games, in the process getting clubbed for a second straight year by Louisville, and losing to Georgia Tech for the first since 2008. They still have to play both Virginia schools on the road, and Florida State still comes Sun Life Stadium. At this point, Miami will be clawing to finish .500. Of course, it’s still possible they win this division. Possible though, doesn’t mean likely.
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia- At 3-2, the Mountaineers are one win away from equaling last year’s total, so they’re showing a great deal of progress, especially when you consider their losses were respectable showings against Alabama and Oklahoma. But when you consider the program hadn’t lost more than 4 games in a season for seven consecutive season before Holgorsen’s taking over as head coach, “improvement” may not be enough. West Virginia fans are mad they ever fell far enough that finishing .500 was indicative of improvement. Obviously the change in conference had a lot to do with that, but TCU seems to have adapted quite nicely in this, their third season in the Big 12. Unfortunately for West Virginia, their home conference schedule drew Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, and Kansas State, the toughest teams in the league. So the road schedule is where the majority of their winnable games lie. Finding three more wins on this schedule is tough, and without them, finding Holgorsen here in 2015 seems equally as tough.
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State- I’ve been championing Iowa State as a team that’s better than their record indicates, but at 1-4, at the end of the day, you are what your record says you are. Rhoads won seven games his first year in Ames, and then proceeded to lose seven in each of the next three seasons before slipping to 3-9 last year. As they enter the second half of the season, 3-9 seems a lot more likely than 6-7. Having Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Texas and Toledo left on the schedule though does leave hope that they can find six wins, but it’s a flickering hope that’s fading fast. Winning all five of those is beyond daunting, but not as daunting as beating Oklahoma or TCU seems at this point. Rhoads isn’t packing his bags yet though because there is still hope. Lose at home to Toledo on homecoming though, and the hope is gone.
Bill Blankenship, Tulsa- The only reason I don’t have him as effectively gone is that I don’t have as much access to people in the know with the Tulsa program to know exactly what the mindset is over there. What I do know is he’s taken a team that was 11-3 two years into his reign, and just two years ago, and turned them overnight into a 3-9 squad. He’s turned that 3-9 squad into a team who has started this season 1-4, the only victory coming over a Tulane team who has only managed to beat SE Louisiana to this point. Tulsa lost by 29 to Florida Atlantic, and by 25 to Colorado State. They’re not even competitive with the solid mid major programs anymore. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the success achieved in 2012 was due far more to Todd Graham than it was Bill Blankenship. Memphis, Central Florida, and East Carolina still remain on this year’s schedule, making returning to a bowl less and less likely. What is likely is a return to 3-9, or worse. If that happens, the Golden Hurricane will be searching for a new coach. If they don’t win at Temple, and at home against South Florida in the next two weeks to get back to 3-4, I’d wager Blankenship is as good as gone.
Norm Chow, Hawaii- Does this need explanation? 3-9, 1-11, and now, 1-4. Yes, they were competitive against Washington, Oregon State and Colorado. But Northern Iowa was competitive against them, and they lost by two touchdowns to Rice. Chow was brought in because of his offensive prowess. His offenses have averaged 21.2, and 27.4 points per game. This season, they’ve scored 16 or less in three of their five games. They play three of their next four at home. If they don’t go at least split their next four, the writing will be on the wall. Really however, they need to take three of the next four.
Renew the Country Club Membership One More Year:
Randy Edsall, Maryland- If the Terps really wanted to make a change, it would have been done prior to moving into the Big Ten, so for Edsall to be fired, Maryland would have had to absolutely fall apart this year. That hasn’t happened. But Ohio State’s dominating victory at Byrd Stadium showed just how far Maryland is from really being competitive in the conference. With Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State still on the schedule, getting more than 7 wins this year seems a very tall task, so Edsall will enter next year with a warm seat and expectations of improvement.
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech- The way things look, not only can Johnson renew that membership for another year, he can go ahead and put himself down for several. Much to the chagrin of many Tech fans, myself included, it appears Paul Johnson is safe, and getting safer. Suddenly, this team who struggled with Wofford and needed a miracle to beat Georgia Southern (a far better team than initially credited for) is in complete control of the ACC Coastal division. At 5-0, barring a complete collapse, Johnson has assured himself of returning for at least one more year. If he wins the division, he probably buys three more.
Mike London, Virginia- No coach needed a fast start more than Mike London. At 4-2, with narrow losses to two ranked teams (at the time BYU was ranked, and with an all stars candidate quarterback) Virginia has shown the marked improvement that they had to show to give London any chance at keeping his job. However, he’s not out of the woods yet. The schedule does him no favors. Four of the next six are on the road, and all but one are divisional foes that were picked ahead of them in the pre-season. The only non divisional opponent is Florida State. In other words, even a bowl isn’t a guarantee at this point. While I don’t foresee them collapsing to that degree, finishing around 6-6, or 7-5 is still very, very possible, and that’s only going to buy London one more year. On the flip side, it’s also almost equally as likely they finish 8-4 or 9-3, and that, that would buy him a good deal of rope.
|43||North Carolina State|
|66||Middle Tennessee State|
|87||San Diego State|
|100||San Jose State|
|121||New Mexico State|
Everybody and their mother knows at this point the college football schedule this weekend is jam packed with big time games in big time conferences with big time teams. But the gluttony of top 25 matchups though isn’t all that makes this weekend so spectacular. It’s the depth. The second, and even third tier games this weekend, are games that would have been in competition for prime time slots, or more national coverage during one of the earlier lackluster weekends in September. Your remote should be busy this weekend. And if you’re watching with someone who wants to see every game, and you don’t, you might want to find a separate television set.
We’ll start right off in the Big Ten with a couple of conference newcomers who thanks to Braxton Miller’s injury, Michigan’s implosion, and Penn State forgetting how to play football last weekend against Northwestern, find themselves relevant in the Big Ten’s Eastern division.
I don’t think anyone would have expected Rutgers to end the first half of their first year in the Big Ten at 5-1. Yet, that’s precisely what they can do if they defeat a Michigan team that, in addition to not being a very good football team, is also dealing with internal strife that makes any Bobby Petrino run program seem functional. Embattled athletic director Dave Brandon has said he would only consider firing coach Brady Hoke after the season is over. Yeah, tell that to maize and blue if they’re sitting at 2-4, 0-2 in the conference with the losses coming against Minnesota and Rutgers. The Knights though have to be kicking themselves, they know full well they should be playing to remain unbeaten, save a meltdown at home in the 4th quarter against Penn State. The Knights get into the real meat of their schedule in two weeks, and it’s still conceivable (no, I’m not a full believer in them yet) that they could lose as many as 4, 5, or even all, of their final six games. Making the postseason in their first year in the Big Ten was a reasonable lofty goal for the program, losing to Michigan would be a huge blow.
Meanwhile, Maryland is gaining believers by the week. Their only loss is to a better than advertised West Virginia team. Ohio State is not going to have an easy time in there. The first Big Ten home game too for the Terps? Gonna be a big deal in College Park. If Maryland pulls the upset, it turns the division on its ear, and welcomes a new contender to the mix. Personally, I’m not sure Maryland is quite there yet, as I think Ohio State is getting better and better each week. However, Maryland would do themselves, and the ACC, proud, by putting up a good fight. And if it’s close, late, the inexperience at quarterback for Ohio State could very well rear its ugly head.
The SEC schedule gets all the focus because of what’s going on in the west, but the east isn’t chop liver. Wait, I couldn’t say that without laughing, so yes, yes it is. It does not mean however there’s nothing compelling about the matchups Saturday.
Florida vs Tennessee is, well, Florida vs Tennessee. The East is such garbage, both still have a shot to win it. As of Today. When this one is over, we can pretty much eliminate one of them. And even for the victor, they’re still not going to be considered a favorite in the division, as South Carolina, Missouri and Georgia, for the time being, still lay claim to that title. But what is perhaps the more intriguing plot line here is the postseason fate of these two once proud programs.
Tennessee has only been to a bowl in four of the past nine years. Staying at home over the holidays this year would be the sixth time in a decade. The last time that happened? From 1955-1964. Yeah, it’s been fifty years since the Vols have seen that kinda of desolation. A loss to Florida drops them to 2-3, meaning even if we assume, and that’s a dangerous game at this point with a Vanderbilt team they’ve lost two straight against, and an improved Kentucky team, they beat Vandy, Kentucky, and Chattanooga, they must get a victory against either Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, or Missouri. Now, if I were a betting man, I’d still bet the Vols get the required six wins to play in a bowl game, but with the first three of that quartet all in succession following Chattanooga, it’s not a risk Tennessee wants to take, or pressure they want to be under.
While I’d still bet on the Vols to make a bowl, even with a loss, I don’t feel the same way about Florida. Galen Hall was coaching the last time the Gators had successive seasons end in November, and that was only because probation denied them the postseason despite a 9-1 campaign in 1984, prior the a 6-5 1985 season. The last time Florida legitimately didn’t qualify for bowls in successive years? 1978 and 1979, the final year of Doug Dickey, and the first of Charley Pell. Because of the situation regarding the Idaho game, which Florida would be wise to find a way to play if they want to make a bowl, the Tennessee game is huge for Florida. Drop it, and they’ve seven games to find five wins. Do you see five wins against LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and Florida State? In this case, I wouldn’t bet on it.
As mentioned, the East is a dumpster fire, meaning Kentucky hosting South Carolina takes on new meaning. The Wildcats have shown great improvement this year, and the talent level is as high as it’s been in a long time in Lexington. South Carolina has only been impressive in one showing this year, and that was against a Georgia defense that is rivaled only by North Carolina and the Atlanta Falcons for ineptitude. You want a potential upset? Circle this one. The loss to Missouri means South Carolina is facing elimination with basically every SEC game they play from here on out, so the pressure is on.
The ACC Coastal division is a lot like the SEC East. Every game matters. But unlike the SEC West where they all matter because of how good everyone is, in these divisions it’s simply because nobody has shown to be good enough to separate themselves from the pack.
North Carolina and Virginia Tech both are approaching this game as a must win, though depending on the angle you’re approaching it from, you could argue either way in regards to who it is most important for. In terms of just the division race, the Hokies absolutely cannot afford another loss. Division tie breakers are likely to play a major role in determining who plays Florida State in December, and opening with two division losses is an easy way to put yourself well behind the eight ball.
On the Tar Heel side you have a team who is reeling from a lack of confidence, caused completely by a lack of defense. They’ve allowed 120 points in their last two games, not in any way looking the pre-season favorite to win the Coastal. The return of seven starters on defense had people thinking the Heels could make the leap this year. Unfortunately, of the four they lost, they lost three of their top four tacklers, including their best pass rusher, and team leader in interceptions. And it’s showing.
They’re fortunate that their ACC loss came out of the division though. Meaning, if they can scrape themselves off the ground and find a way to beat Virginia Tech, at home, where the Heels are 16-5 the past three years, they still are in complete control of their ACC championship hopes. But if the defense gets trounced by the Hokies, Larry Fedora might want to get a good real estate agent.
What makes the Carolina and Virginia Tech game even more important is that each of them already has a conference loss, something Pittsburgh and Virginia cannot say, and those two meet in Charlottesville, where one will come out still unscathed, and two games up on the loser of the Carolina, Virginia Tech tilt.
This one is hard to call. Pittsburgh has the nice win over Boston College, though their victory over USC is looking more flukish by the second, but has looked worse and worse in the two subsequent weeks, following to an uninspiring Iowa team, and then an embarrassing loss to Akron. Being at home, this is one Virginia absolutely must win if they’re serious about a big bounce back season. The Cavs have played three ranked teams this year, losing by 8 to each UCLA and BYU (who are both still unbeaten) and emerging victorious over Louisville. Is Virginia ready to contend in this division? That remains to be seen. But they’re not the same team they’ve been the last four years under Mike London while amassing an 8-24 conference record. These are the games programs like Virginia have to learn to win to keep rising. Fall here, and you look at the rest of the schedule, and it’s possible you don’t see another victory. There’s no way London survives the year if the Cavs don’t make a bowl game, and to do that, they absolutely cannot enter the second half of their season at 3-3.
Even with the intrigue surrounding the other two games, Miami at Georgia Tech is bigger than both. Georgia Tech knows they’re in the catbird seat, they have a win in hand against Virginia Tech, they know they get Duke and Virginia at home. They know they’ve pretty much had North Carolina’s number in recent years. The thorn in their side? Miami. The Jackets have dropped five in a row to the Hurricanes, and simply seem overmatched every time they meet. But none of that matters if the Jackets grab a win at home.
For Miami, they have to win this game to win the division. It’s that simple. The Hurricanes suffer from the unfair scheduling practice of matching up one cross division opponent with a permanent rival. Theirs of course is Florida State. Granted, it’s not impossible to suggest Miami can beat Florida State, especially with the way the Seminoles have played this year, but let’s be real, it’s not likely. Making matters worse this year was the fact they drew Louisville to pair with the Seminoles, and a 31-13 beat down at the hands of the Cardinals at Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville’s first ever SEC game put Miami in a hole. Overcoming one cross division loss can be done. Overcoming two in a division where you know the race is going to be tight, much more daunting. And to do so, you must take care of the head to head battles with the strongest competition. Personally, I think Miami wins and keeps this race wide open. But if they lose Saturday night, you can go ahead and eliminate them.
On the other side, despite both having already lost to Florida State and effectively eliminated themselves from contention for the division title, Clemson vs N.C. State is still important. Neither is gonna beat Florida State for the division, the only team with even a chance of that is Louisville. That said, both teams can reasonably set goals of a 10 win season. Clemson has a chance to be favored in every game from here on out, and they’d need to win every one of them to finish 10-2, or lose one and win their bowl game, but they can still put together a really strong season, and something to build on with standout freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson. Not to mention, four straight 10 win seasons is nothing to scoff at. The Wolfpack schedule might be even easier after this week. Survive Clemson at 5-1, finishing 5-1 is really, really doable. After losing nine a year ago, a nine win season would be considered a rousing success in Raleigh.
Out west, everyone knows who the contenders are matched up with this week, but there’s one more game that has caught my eyes. The Washington State Cougars are a much better team today than they were early in the season. I don’t think they’re going to go win any conference titles, but they’re going to play spoiler. Granted, the Oregon loss last night takes some of the shine off their strong showing against the Ducks, two weeks ago, but not much. If they could make a bowl after their lackluster start, that would be impressive. They’ll need to win Saturday to do that I believe though, the conference is too good, and too deep, to be able to survive losing to bottom tier teams and still make a bowl.
And basically, the same thing can be said about Cal, though they’ve actually begun 3-1, and are defending a hail mary away from 4-0. Arizona’s win over Oregon last night probably makes the sting of Cal’s last second loss to the Wildcats hurt even more. But Cal cannot dwell on that loss. What they can do is get off to a 4-1 start, something they haven’t done since 2009.
Kansas State showed some moxie, going toe to toe with Auburn a couple of weeks ago, and followed that up with a business as usual dismantling of a bad UTEP team. Saturday Kansas State will try to win a fourth straight meeting with Texas Tech for the first time in school history. The Wildcats have an off week after this, and then a trip to Norman to face Oklahoma, with essentially, everything on the line for them. The worry has to be keeping Kansas State focused on the Red Raiders. Texas Tech isn’t going to stop much of anything on defense, but they put up a good fight against Oklahoma State last week. The question, is that because J.W. Walsh is down, or because Texas Tech is getting better as a football team. After what Arkansas did to them on the ground, I expect Kansas State to do more of the same and set themselves up for a showdown with Oklahoma.
Speaking of Oklahoma State, they better be real careful this week at home against Iowa State. I know the Cyclones are 1-3, but if there’s such a thing as a solid 1-3 team, I think it’s this bunch. There is no shame in losing to North Dakota State, they’d be a legitimate top 25, maybe even top 15 team, in the FBS. They took Kansas State to the wire, and thus far, are the only team to stay within three scores of Baylor. Paul Rhoads is now 28-39 in Ames, and he knows the clock is ticking. Upsetting a name program like Oklahoma State may be the only way to catapult this team into a bowl, and perhaps save his job. With Toledo, Texas and Kansas among their next four games, a victory Saturday could certainly springboard a mid-season surge that gives them meaningful games to play in November.
East Carolina is THE favorite in the American conference, there’s no question about that. But should something happen to the Pirates, the line of teams behind them who could pounce is long. Last night Central Florida took a big step elevating themselves above the crowd and emerging as the chief threat to East Carolina by winning a hard-fought physical game in Houston.
On Saturday, either Cincinnati or Memphis will join them. Cincinnati is a very difficult team to read. They opened with two straight off weekends, and haven’t exactly been impressive in their wins over a pair of MAC foes, including a seven point win over a Miami of Ohio program that seems to spend every other year as one of the ten worst teams in the country. They were trying to use Ohio State as a measuring stick, and they were run out of the building in a matter of minutes. We’ll find out a lot more about them taking on a very game Memphis team.
The Tigers may be 2-2, but ask 20% of the top ten teams in the country what they feel about Memphis, and they’ll all tell you that when they played Memphis, they know they were in for a game. After nearly shocking UCLA in Pasadena, the Tigers three weeks later gave Ole Miss everything they wanted. Sure, 24-3 doesn’t look competitive, but that wasn’t the case at all. Until fourth quarter this game was very competitive. The Rebel defense was just too strong for Memphis, and eventually, the depth on the Tigers wore down. Don’t expect the same to happen with Cincinnati. The Tigers avoid Central Florida and East Carolina in an unbelievable gift from the scheduling gods, and with the only remaining conference road games being SMU, Temple and Tulane, if Memphis can win in Cincinnati, this is a team who becomes a very, very real threat to win the conference in their first year as a member.
The western version of the American Conference, the Mountain West has a pair of games this week that will help clear up where the contenders reside. The Boise State loss to Air Force last week was just further proof that the Broncos are no longer the program they once were. They’re staring down a second straight conference loss this week when they visit Nevada. Does anyone know the last time Boise State dropped consecutive conference games? Anybody? Bueller?
Nevada, is one of three teams who entered the year with legitimate hopes of winning the West division, and thus far, might have proven themselves the most capable. They’ve beaten Washington State and suffered a narrow loss at the hands of Arizona thus far in their two biggest tests to date. They would love to help throw some more dirt on Boise State’s dominance’s grave, but they’ll have to do something they’ve done once in their last 14 attempts, and that’s beat the Broncos. Of course, that one time they did….
Staying in the same division Fresno State and San Diego State play on Friday in what is a rather underrated rivalry. The Aztecs are still smarting from a loss to North Carolina that they’d really like to have back. Unlike Fresno State, the Aztecs were at least competitive in one of their losses. The Bulldogs have beaten up on the cupcakes on their schedule, but for any team with a pulse, they have been the cupcake. Little is known about these teams to this point, but the winner gets a big leg up in the division.
Another MWC team ventures out of the conference, fresh off the aforementioned upset of Boise State, as Air Force begins the battle for the Commander In Chief trophy by taking on Navy. Navy has yet to top 27 points in a game this season, a surprising lack of offense for the Midshipmen, especially considering the talent at quarterback with Keenan Reynolds. On the other side, Air Force could hardly have been a less impressive 2-1, but the victory over Boise State has lifted spirits out in the Wild Blue Yonder. At 2-3, Navy needs to get a win, the schedule isn’t brutal down the stretch, only Notre Dame seems unwinnable, and after that, Georgia Southern might be the only team they aren’t favored against. Nevertheless, they don’t want to enter the second half needing to 4-2 to extend their bowl streak. For Air Force, the schedule lightens up after Navy, a win to get to 4-1 could be great momentum to propel them through October and into a very meaningful November.
Lastly, ULM takes on Arkansas State. Both have taken their lumps against ACC and SEC foes, but handled their business against everyone else, though close wins over the likes of Troy and Utah State aren’t exactly impressive. Early season struggles by Louisiana, and Georgia Southern being ineligible for the conference championship in year one are signs that point to this game possibly being the deciding factor in the conference when all is said and done. The ULM offense has been abysmal this year, and they better figure things out quickly because the Red Wolves have long been one of the better defensive teams in the conference.
Before the attacks begin and the questions of my sanity, take a second to realize how I devise my own personal rankings. And also, take a second to realize, they mean absolutely nothing, and the only purpose they serve is to spark debate. Well, that and in December just see what kind of feel I had on the season back at the one third mark.
To begin with, this is not a ranking of who has the best resume, from the worst. A 5-0 team may very well be behind a two loss team in the same conference. A team who has but one victory may be above someone who has only lost once. On the flip side, a team who is 5-0, and deemed not to have played anyone, isn’t necessarily penalized for the lack of a schedule. In other words, I only use what a team has done to aide in evaluating that team in a vacuum. I don’t rank them based simply on what they’ve accomplished, or not accomplished, this year. They’re ranked in order from who I think, on this date, is the best team in the country, to who I think is the worst.
This means there may be cases where a team is ranked behind a team they’ve already beaten. Upsets happen. That’s why they’re upsets. Being the better team two weeks ago, doesn’t mean that I think you’re the better team today.
I also don’t look at it in the, “on a neutral field, who will win?” manner either. These outcomes are often predicated on matchups, a team may be a bad matchup for someone I rank them above, but a good matchup for someone above them. So, I don’t play that card. On paper, in a vacuum, is team A better than team B? That’s what I ask myself. Who do I think is the better football team right now.
Obviously, there are cases where I’ll use head to head matchups if two teams are extremely close to one another, but they’re not the end-all-be-all tiebreaker. Season results, strength of schedule, what you’ve done against that schedule, injured players returning, injured players going forward, bad luck, suspensions, weather, there’s a whole litany of factors I take into consideration. But, “so and so beat so and so, there is no way you can have them below them”, isn’t going to spawn much discussion.
Based on the manner I do these rankings, they’re very, very subject to change. They’ll be quite fluid. Which is why I’m really looking forward to this upcoming weekend. Of course, my ego would like it if the results on Saturday reflected accuracy on my part today. But really, what fun would that be in college football?
|26||North Carolina State|
|64||Middle Tennessee State|
|81||San Diego State|
|100||San Jose State|
|120||New Mexico State|