Tag Archives: ACC

Retract of a Retract, Paul Johnson MUST Go. No, Really

The last few weeks have put me back on the fire Paul Johnson train, and really, I never should have gotten off. I was blinded by the bright lights and shiny objects that were distracting us from the truth of this program while we beat Georgia and won the Orange Bowl.

Most defenses of Paul Johnson begin with bringing up the ACC championship in 2009, the two victories against Georgia (one of which occurred in 2008), and the trio of 9 win seasons culminating in a top 25 post season ranking (Two of which came in 2008 & 2009) during his tenure.

That’s wonderful. Except this is college football, where once the players under the old coaching staff leave, they must be replaced by those of your choosing. You cook and buy the groceries in college football. Being able to make gourmet meals out of what someone else brought into the kitchen is nice. But then what? What do you do when you have to buy the groceries and then make the meals? Being the sous chef in someone else’s kitchen is one thing. Running the show yourself is a different ballgame.

And what we’ve found is Paul Johnson does a fabulous job of taking someone else’s ingredients and preparing them in ways far superior to what his predecessor managed to accomplish. We’ve also found that when Paul Johnson buys the ingredients himself, he can’t prepare anything above a mediocre meal found at Applebee’s.

The numbers, simply put, do not lie. When Paul Johnson arrived at Georgia Tech he inherited a pretty talented roster thanks to Chan Gailey’s ability to recruit due to his NFL background and the fact that Tech was one of the upper echelon programs in the ACC. For the first two years of his tenure with guys like Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Josh Nesbitt, Roddy Jones, Derrick Morgan, Mario Butler and Morgan Burnett, everything was roses, or oranges, as Tech not only snapped a seven-year losing streak to Georgia in year one under Paul Johnson, but also won an ACC championship in year two as they compiled a 20-7 overall record and went 12-4 in the ACC, with the victory over Clemson in the ACC championship game.

But something happened after that. Those players that Gailey recruited were leaving. The cupboard was bare of the talent brought in by Gailey and Paul Johnson was going to have to rely on his own players going forward. To say the results have taken a nosedive off the cliff would be a slight understatement.
Just consider his numbers since beating Clemson in the 2009 ACC Championship game (which, really, doesn’t actually even count anymore, just to throw even more fuel on that fire) in Tampa.

Overall Record: 41-33

Record vs ACC: 25-15 (two ACCCG losses to Florida State)

Record vs FBS Opponents: 34-32

Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 29-31

This does include the first six games of the 2015 campaign, which, with any reasonable look at the next six games and at best one could see Georgia Tech going 3-3 in those games, with the distinct possibility of going 0-6 being a legitimate fear. But yep, you’re reading that right. Against the big boys of college football, the teams that really matter, Paul Johnson, since winning the ACC championship with Chan Gailey’s players, including the Orange Bowl loss to Iowa that season, is two games under .500 against Power 5 teams and BYU and Notre Dame.

And lets not forget who some of these losses came against. There was the loss in 2010 to a Kansas team that is the definition of atrocious program, and finished 3-9 that season. Both BYU losses came against a Cougars team that wound up 8-5. And of course there’s the real kicker, the blowout loss to Middle Tennessee State in 2012. And no, this wasn’t a Middle Tennessee State team that was a mid major school having a banner year. The Blue Raiders went 8-4 that season and lost to Louisiana Monroe and Arkansas State.

And the rivals?

vs Miami: 1-4

vs Virginia Tech: 1-4

vs Clemson: 2-4

vs Georgia: 1-4

And these numbers of course INCLUDE the 11-3 record in 2014 that looks more and more like an anomaly. Can you imagine what these numbers would look like if for giggles we just ignored them (which, you should ignore the outlier when analyzing statistics) and took them out of the equation? Well, imagine no more.

Overall Record: 30-30

Record vs ACC: 19-13

Record vs FBS Opponents: 24-29

Record vs Power 5 (ND/BYU): 21-28

Not to mention, wipe out the only wins against Georgia, Virginia Tech and Miami.

If you look back at Georgia Tech’s recent coaching history, all of it since Bobby Dodd, actually, you can see that Johnson really doesn’t compare all that favorably to the better names on that list. In his first seven seasons Johnson has had three six loss campaigns. Only William Alexander and Bud Carson have more, and once the Jackets drop their sixth game this year, Johnson will tie Carson for the second most six loss seasons in school history. And he’ll have done it in just 8 years on the job by accomplishing the feat in half the seasons he’s been on The Flats.

But perhaps even more noteworthy is to look at when the six loss seasons occur. Bill Curry lost six or more games three times while he was at Georgia Tech, but remember he went 2-19-1 in his first new years getting the program out of Pepper Rodgers’ wishbone offense (that’s what we have to look forward to once Johnson is finally let go, but that’s an entirely different animal to approach altogether), giving him 2 six loss seasons in his first two years while inheriting someone else’s players and installing his system. Curry won 29 games over the next five seasons (not a remarkable record, by any means) and only had 1 six loss season over his final five years.

Bobby Ross came in to inherit what Curry had left behind and the Jackets promptly went 5-17 in his first two years at the helm. They wouldn’t lose six games in a season again under Ross.

We’re just going to skip Bill Lewis because, well, can’t we just skip the Bill Lewis era? Let’s move onto his replacement, coming into a giant mess. George O’Leary inherited a team that had just gone 1-10, winless against Division 1-A (FBS) competition the year before. O’Leary would start his career at Tech by going 11-11. And having the only six loss season of his tenure.

Chan Gailey arrived in 2002, and as many coaches are prone to do, came with his own system. While using his predecessor’s players, Gailey lost six games in each of his first two seasons. He only lost six in a season once in his final four years at the helm.

And that brings us to Johnson. Johnson comes in, takes over Gailey’s players and wins 20 games. Remarkable. It certainly showed Chan could recruit. The problem is, whereas most coaches start to see more success once they have their players in their system, at leas the successful coaches do, Johnson has done the opposite. He’s reversed the trend. The more of his players he got, the worse the program became. Johnson’s six loss seasons have come in year 3, 5, and 6. And his fourth is going to come in year 8. That would be 4 six loss seasons in six years. The six years after the two transition years where you expect most coaches to struggle the most.

And yet, people will vehemently defend the employment of Paul Johnson. It’s astonishing, really.

One argument people will make is that the 2014 season was one of the greatest seasons in school history. Well, if you consider one of the 25 best seasons in school history to be that big of an accomplishment, then okay. After all, there was no conference championship and there was no national championship. 11 games were indeed won, by playing 14. The winning percentage of the 2014 team was only the 24th best in school history. I’m sure some of Heisman’s, Alexander’s and Dodd’s, even Ross’ and O’Leary’s teams could have benefited from playing an extra game against a patsy to bolster the record. So, you know, the whole double-digit win thing doesn’t really do much for me.

Seven different times Georgia Tech posted a higher winning percentage than it did in 2014 AND won a major bowl game. Take into account two bowl losses and that number moves to nine. And that does NOT include the national championship seasons of 1917 and 1990. So even if you REALLY stretch it out, even with your best argument, 2014 barely makes it into the top ten of Georgia Tech seasons. So, lay off the kool-aid like Johnson had the most amazing year the school has ever seen.

And we can also conveniently ignore the fact that 2015 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in school history. Should Tech manage two more victories and finish 4-8, that will be the 100th best winning percentage in school history. That would mean only 14 years were worse. I think that kind of cancels out 2014. Never mind that I’m not sure I even see two more wins on this schedule. So, if your argument is centered around how great 2014 was, you can stop there.

Others will point to the three trips to the ACC championship game. I’m just going to say right now, if you, in any way, use the 2012 season to argue why Paul Johnson should be here, you probably should never speak about the game of football again; Except to say, “I don’t know anything about football.” Yet, in a season where we only made the conference title game because TWO teams in front of us were ineligible, and a year in which we had to seek a special waiver to make a bowl game because we finished the year 6-7, with only five wins against FBS opponents, people will point to our “bowl streak” and our two trips to the ACC title game in the past three years as reasons Paul Johnson should stay. I suppose fans like that actually deserve the mediocrity of Paul Johnson.

The difference in the mindset of the fan bases in Athens and Atlanta is amazing, when you think about it. Georgia Tech goes 11-3, follows it up with a 2-4 start, and fans are still beating the Paul Johnson drum like Mark Richt beats Paul Johnson. Meanwhile in Athens, despite a 4-2 start following a 10-3 season and top ten final ranking, fans are once again calling for Mark Richt’s head. Baffling, isn’t it?

Maybe Paul Johnson is the genius after all. He manages to be mediocre year after year, yet he takes advantage of the insecurities and inferiority complex within the Georgia Tech athletic department that result in their willingness to hand out silly contract extensions to any coach who ever does anything remotely good.

What happens at Georgia Tech is the Georgia Tech athletic department becomes that guy who is love struck by someone he ultimately can do much better than. And finally, just as that guy decides he’s got to break the news to her that he’s going to have to move on from the relationship, Paul Johnson becomes that girl that gives you the best sex of your life and the next thing you know, you’re at Shane Company’s newest location in Kennesaw buying an engagement ring.

This isn’t to bash Paul Johnson, or to say he’s the worst thing to ever happen to Georgia Tech. He’s a fantastic chef who can take someone else’s ingredients and do amazing work with them. But when asked to buy his own groceries, the meals he turns out are pedestrian, at best. Occasionally he’ll stumble upon something great that makes you give him a second chance running the restaurant. At this point, it’s time to cut bait and find someone who can consistently produce a better product, it’s just that simple.

Even if Johnson somehow wins 3 of the final 6 games this year, the bowl streak would come to an end. Even more interesting would be that over the last six seasons of his tenure at Tech, Johnson will have amassed 44 wins.

Chan Gailey’s career win total at Georgia Tech before being fired after six seasons?

44

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Filed under Coaches on Hot Seat, College Football, Fire Coaches, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Desperation Time for Big Name Programs

Nicely done Paul, looks like last year's charade means we're just going to let the programs slide into mediocrity and worse just...slide.

Nicely done Paul, looks like last year’s charade means we’re just going to let the programs slide into mediocrity and worse just…slide.

Here we are, only a few days into October, and already, several big name schools have their fingers hovering perilously close to the panic button, and with good reason. The upside to having fifty gazillion bowls is that pretty much anybody with a pulse will make one. The downside of this though? If you don’t, then you’re in trouble. Real trouble. Obviously different schools view different levels of success for job security, but there’s one basic rule of thumb across the board just about everywhere; If you don’t make a bowl game, you’re going to be fired.

Obviously this is not taken literally, every single season, at every single school, but making a bowl game is I guess somewhat equivalent to the Mendoza Line. If you aren’t playing in a bowl, then you’re not just merely mediocre, or slightly below average, you’re just plain awful.

In the lower tier of programs in the country, consistent trips to the postseason aren’t necessary to remain employed, but consistently ending seasons without a trip to such a wonderful winter vacation spot such as Mobile will have you looking for a job.

But at other schools, you get one pass, if that, and if you start making a habit of not playing in a bowl game (a habit meaning it happens more than once during your tenure) you will be run out of town faster than Matt Williams after a year of unmet expectations. And this is where things get tricky with these teams. When they have this blip, is it really just a mirage, a series of unfortunate events that so imperfectly aligned that the postseason was beyond their grasp? Or is it the signs of deeper problems, and much more the beginning of the end, if not THE end already?

This is why it’s best for coaches to simply avoid this predicament altogether. Don’t miss a bowl and don’t let the questions begin to amass. But some big time coaches and some big time schools are dangerously close to opening Pandora’s Box of questions about the future of the program.

Georgia Tech has the third longest active bowl streak in the country, at 18. But barring a complete miracle, it won’t extend to 19. High school recruits of today have never seen Georgia Tech not play in a bowl game. It’s something Tech can sell to kids, but not much longer.

Everyone knew the schedule was going to be tough, but after their flukish run last season, and early season domination of patsies, it was thought they would not only be able to successfully navigate the rough waters to another winning season, but that they would be in the thick of the conference race, and possibly the national title picture. Week by week they’ve taken themselves out of consideration for all three. The Notre Dame loss squelched all talk of the playoffs. The loss at Duke the following week put the brakes on talks of an ACC championship, and then this past weekend’s loss at home to North Carolina, in which a 21-0 lead was choked away, pretty much put the kibosh on bowl possibilities.

Tech sits at 2-3, which, at first glance doesn’t appear to be a death sentence. But then you have to remember this team hasn’t beaten an opponent better than Tulane to this point. You consider that if you look at their schedule, there is only one game left on it right now where they can feel like they’d be the favorites. And that is for a trip to Charlottesville, where despite recent success, it’s been a house of horrors. They have to host Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. They must still travel to play to Miami. They have to go play at Clemson this week. And oh yeah, Florida State and Georgia come calling. Do you see four wins on that schedule? Didn’t think so. Four losses? That’s easy to come up with. What’s frightening for Tech is that 2-10 is as likely at this point as a trip to a bowl game.

The irony in all of this is that the streak should have ended in 2012, but an NCAA waiver allowed a sub .500 Yellow Jacket team that truly didn’t win the division but played in the ACC title game due to the off field transgressions of conference bad boys Miami and North Carolina to play in a bowl anyway. Tech played well against Florida State in the conference title game, and then went and beat USC in the Sun Bowl, finishing 7-7 and keeping some heat off of Johnson. 2013 wasn’t much better, another 7-6 year, another loss in a bowl game. It was obvious at this point that Johnson needed to go. The sooner the better, because the rebuilding process following Johnson will be a long and painful one.

Then, much like this year, in 2014, came back to back losses to those basketball schools in Duke and North Carolina. The ax was ready to drop on Johnson. And then something miraculous (or not, depending on how you want to look at it) and Tech caught fire, won the division, beat Georgia, nearly upset Florida State in the ACC title game and ran all over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Well done Paul Johnson, you pulled the veil back over our eyes for a moment and kept attention away from the real ugly truth at Georgia Tech. The program was ultimately, at its core, in real trouble. Many, myself included, praised Johnson after last year. I even apologized for being “wrong” about him. No, I was right. I let him convince me I was wrong.

And it looks like this year on the flats, we’re going to finally see how right I originally was. Clemson is the toughest game left on the schedule, so it’s unfair to say it’s a must win, that a loss to the Tigers completely buries the Jackets. But, they’ve used their mulligans, and they could really use some breathing room, not mention some confidence. Going up to Clemson and getting a win, which Tech has had a knack for back when Clemson was mastering the art of Clemsoning, would help. But, these aren’t those same Tigers, and these aren’t the Jackets you can believe in to go win a game like this.

Georgia Tech isn’t the only Tech however in the ACC coastal in deep trouble. Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, another program on a precipitous decline, is staring at a similar fate. From 2004 thru 2011 the Hokies won double-digit games every single year. That’s eight consecutive 10 win seasons. That’s quality work. But over the last three years they’ve only won 22 games. They’ve lost in each of the last two years to Boston College, they’ve been beaten by Cincinnati, and with their loss two weeks ago, they’ve lost in successive seasons to East Carolina. They’ve only even played six games over the past three plus seasons as a ranked team. Again, after eight consecutive seasons of 10 plus wins.

The Hokies, like Georgia Tech, cannot lose more than three more games the rest of the way. And they have to play aforementioned Boston College on the road, just like they have to travel to play Miami and Georgia Tech. They also still have N.C. State and Duke to play at home. Just like with Georgia Tech, the only game left on the schedule that you can say with confidence they could be favored in is against Virginia.

The sharp decline of the program already had many wondering how much longer Beamer would last, especially since special teams, long the calling card of this regime, had become an all out weakness of the Hokies. This year, with it looking more and more likely that a bowl isn’t going to happen, it’s looking more and more likely that this could be Beamer’s swan song.

While Georgia Tech has a game that they can lose and still back their way into a bowl game, a home loss to N.C. State to drop to 2-4 might get the vultures circling in Blacksburg.

Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, DeAngelo Hall, now Bill Cosby? Might be getting what's coming to ya, Hokies.

Michael Vick, Marcus Vick, DeAngelo Hall, and….. Bill Cosby? Might be getting what’s coming to ya, Hokies. I shudder to think what happened in this room after Beamer left it. 

Speaking of Beamer and the Hokies, wouldn’t The Battle at Bristol lose some of its luster if Virginia Tech were to find themselves coming off a season without a bowl game? Yeah? Well, what if both Virginia Tech AND Tennessee were coming off seasons without making a bowl? Don’t look now organizers, but that very well could be what takes place.

While the final five games on Tennessee‘s schedule look very, very winnable, and thus, completely missing out on a bowl game doesn’t look as likely with the Vols as it does with the two Techs, it can’t be ruled out. Kentucky is better. Maty Mauck could be back for Missouri by the time they meet, South Carolina could be fighting for their post-season lives in their own right, and Kentucky could be actually playing for something at the end of November. So if you’re Tennessee, you would like a little wiggle room.

The problem is, as they too sit at 2-3, they’ve got a very angry Georgia team coming to Knoxville this week, and then after that they have to travel to take on the Alabama team who has made this Georgia team so angry. 2-5 looks very, very possible. As mentioned, the schedule eases up enough to think that at 2-5, Tennessee could still finish 7-5. However, you have to look deeper than just the ease of the schedule. You have to look at the psyche of this program. Tennessee has lost six or more games in seven consecutive years. Yes, you read that correct, Tennessee hasn’t won more than seven games in a season since 2007.
So how much life do you think will be left in this team if it starts 2-5? Lane Kiffin bolted after a year. Derek Dooley didn’t finish his third season. Butch Jones is in his third season. Rocky Top could be about to explode….. again.

Mentioned in looking at the schedule Tennessee closes with was of course the old ball coach and South Carolina. There are two programs Spurrier likes to beat more than anyone; Georgia and Tennessee. When looking at what South Carolina has left, there is virtually no way they can survive losing to Tennessee and still make a bowl game. As bad as the remaining schedule looks for Georgia Tech, it’s even worse for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks can only afford three more losses to still make a bowl game. The problem? There are currently four teams ranked in the top 11 left on their schedule. Sure, I suppose it’s good news that three of them are at home, but home is where this team lost to Kentucky.

A bit of irony? The last time South Carolina didn’t make a bowl was 2007, as mentioned earlier, the last time Tennessee didn’t lose at least six games.

Shifting to the SEC West, Auburn isn’t in full-fledged panic mode yet, but they are one road loss in the next two weeks away from going to defcon one. With Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama as four of their final five games, Auburn does not want to enter the final five games of the season anything less than 5-2. Knowing they must win one of those four to reach a bowl game, after pre-season expectations (wildly placed, and not by yours truly) of contending for a national title would be a lot of pressure on a fragile team. Which is why Auburn is getting a bye at the right time.

Because these next two games, at Kentucky, and at Arkansas, are absolutely must win games. And neither looks like a gimme. Conference road games are always tough. But when you need overtime to beat Jacksonville State at home, and only led San Jose State by 7 at home late in the fourth quarter, is there any reason to believe you have any kind of chance on the road against SEC opponents?

Auburn is talented. More talented than their next two opponents. But, they’re also far more talented than both Jacksonville State and San Jose State, and it didn’t mean that much. The problem for Auburn, much like at Georgia Tech, is the very real possibility of finishing the season with 8 or 9 losses. If Auburn stumbles against Kentucky in two weeks, the question becomes, aside from Idaho, will they win another game this year?

I only mention Texas because, well, I have to. They are still one of the biggest brands in the country, even if the on field product has deteriorated to the point it’s unrecognizable. Texas can only afford to lose two more games and still squeak into a bowl game. And both Baylor and Oklahoma still loom on the schedule.

Granted, Texas showed some life against Cal and Oklahoma State, two top 25 teams, but all that progress seemed to get erased with the shellacking at the hands of TCU on Saturday. The schedule outside of national title contenders Oklahoma and Baylor isn’t all that daunting, though no trip to Morgantown is fun, and Kansas State is a very underrated team. The problem is the losses to Cal and Oklahoma State due to shoddy special teams play that pretty much make all of these games must win games for the Horns to make a bowl game. Because, let’s face it, there’s absolutely zero reason on this planet to think they’re beating Oklahoma or Baylor at this point.

Making matters worse seems to be the discord in the locker room that spilled out on to social media this week. The situation in Austin, Texas is messy. There’s a new AD in charge, and Charlie Strong looks more and more like a dead man walking. And if he is, Texas could be staring down the barrel of a season spent threatening to lose double-digit games. Thank God for Kansas, right?

Speaking of former Big 12 powers, someone should tell Mike Riley he’s not in Corvallis anymore. Nebraska finds themselves in as precarious a situation as just about anyone on this list. They sit at 2-3, and with their two most winnable games both being on the road, the margin for error is slim, at most. Missing bowl games doesn’t sit well with the folks in Lincoln. At all. Winning 9 games a year didn’t sit well with them, so imagine bordering on losing that many in a season.

The schedule is also much tougher than it looked a few weeks ago. Northwestern is good. Really good. Iowa is a lot better than expected. Granted, they must come to Lincoln, but that’s where BYU has already won, after losing their starting quarterback, and Southern Miss made a game of it. This is a team that was curb stomped for three quarters by Miami, today’s Miami, not the Miami you grew up hearing about, and who lost to a team who fired their coach in August before the first game was even played.

Yes, there are serious concerns in Lincoln right now. But, on the bright side, as alluded to, they get their toughest opponents all at home. Iowa and Northwestern might have established themselves as the favorites in the division, though neither possesses an offense that looks like it could bury Nebraska and leave them with no chance. Wisconsin has shown they don’t have a pulse offensively against a semi competent defense, and the Spartans of Michigan State seem to be missing that special something at this point of the season. So, with the glass half full, there’s reason to think Nebraska has a shot to win all four of these games, and, ultimately, win out and play for the division title.

But they lost to Illinois.

And there is the glass half empty. It’s also conceivable they lose all four and miss the post-season. It’s conceivable that they not only lose all four, but that they get stymied by the Minnesota defense on the road as well, and the Huskers finish 4-8, at best.

Just a a few short years ago it would have been preposterous to suggest that as we approached the middle of the college football season that programs like Auburn, Texas and Nebraska would be facing such daunting tasks just to make it into a bowl game. Such is the nature of college football though. Two of the most respected coaches in the game, Spurrier and Beamer need to pull rabbits out of a hat to try to salvage their seasons. It’s just the cyclical nature of the game. Not every program, or every coach can stay on top forever. If you’re a Tennessee fan though, you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever get on top again, or if the karma from firing Phil Fulmer and hiring Lane Kiffin is seeing to it that you never regain your place among the SEC elite. And if you’re a Georgia Tech, you’re kicking yourself for becoming a prisoner of the moment and being blinded to the reality that you knew existed.

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College Football Rankings, 1-128

We’re at about the one third mark of the college football season, and so for the first time, I’ll release my ranking of all 128 teams in the country.

I know some are going to be up in arms over having Alabama ranked above Ole Miss, but I will still say, that as of this day, if these two played again on a neutral field, I’m taking Alabama as the better football team. Five turnovers in a game is an easy way for the better team to not win, and my rankings aren’t about your “resume”, or what I think you’ll do the rest of the year, it’s based on who I think, this week, are the best teams.

The week ahead promises to be exciting, as the schedule is littered with high quality matchups that will greatly affect the landscape of college football this season. But we’ll get to that later, for now, here’s how I rank ’em.

1 Ohio State 4-0
2 UCLA 4-0
3 Utah 4-0
4 Alabama 3-1
5 Baylor 3-0
6 Georgia 4-0
7 Michigan State 4-0
8 LSU 3-0
9 Ole Miss 4-0
10 USC 3-1
11 Florida State 3-0
12 TCU 4-0
13 Michigan 3-1
14 Notre Dame 4-0
15 Clemson 3-0
16 Mississippi State 3-1
17 N.C. State 4-0
18 Oklahoma 3-0
19 Northwestern 4-0
20 Wisconsin 3-1
21 Stanford 3-1
22 Texas A&M 4-0
23 North Carolina 3-1
24 Arizona 3-1
25 Duke 3-1
26 Texas Tech 3-1
27 Florida 4-0
28 Memphis 4-0
29 Oregon 2-2
30 West Virginia 3-0
31 Tennessee 2-2
32 Houston 3-0
33 Miami 3-0
34 Oklahoma State 4-0
35 Toledo 3-0
36 Boise State 3-1
37 Kansas State 3-0
38 Iowa 4-0
39 Cal 4-0
40 Kentucky 3-1
41 Auburn 2-2
42 Louisville 1-3
43 Bowling Green 2-2
44 Boston College 3-1
45 Northern Illinois 2-2
46 Navy 3-0
47 Nebraska 2-2
48 BYU 2-2
49 Temple 3-0
50 Pittsburgh 2-1
51 Washington 2-2
52 Syracuse 3-1
53 East Carolina 2-2
54 Texas 1-3
55 Virginia Tech 2-2
56 Georgia Tech 2-2
57 Ohio 3-1
58 Penn State 3-1
59 Air Force 2-1
60 Central Michigan 1-3
61 Minnesota 3-1
62 Arizona State 2-2
63 Georgia Southern 3-1
64 Missouri 3-1
65 Iowa State 1-2
66 Tulsa 2-1
67 Cincinnati 2-2
68 Colorado 3-1
69 Indiana 4-0
70 South Carolina 2-2
71 Appalachian State 3-1
72 Western Kentucky 3-1
73 Colorado State 2-2
74 Illinois 3-1
75 Louisiana Tech 2-2
76 UConn 2-2
77 Maryland 2-2
78 Nevada 2-2
79 Arkansas 1-3
80 Marshall 3-1
81 Oregon State 2-2
82 Akron 2-2
83 Arkansas State 1-3
84 Western Michigan 1-3
85 Hawaii 2-2
86 Buffalo 2-2
87 Louisiana Lafayette 1-2
88 Middle Tennessee St 2-2
89 Southern Miss 2-2
90 Virginia 1-3
91 Louisiana Monroe 1-2
92 San Jose State 2-2
93 Vanderbilt 1-3
94 Rice 2-2
95 Florida International 2-2
96 Kent State 1-3
97 Purdue 1-3
98 UT San Antonio 0-4
99 SMU 1-3
100 Ball State 2-2
101 UNLV 1-3
102 South Alabama 2-2
103 San Diego State 1-3
104 Washington State 2-1
105 Texas State 1-3
106 Fresno State 1-3
107 South Florida 1-2
108 Wake Forest 2-2
109 Utah State 1-2
110 Rutgers 2-2
111 Central Florida 0-4
112 Troy 1-2
113 New Mexico 2-2
114 Old Dominion 2-2
115 Army 1-3
116 Miami Ohio 1-3
117 Tulane 1-2
118 UTEP 2-2
119 Florida Atlantic 1-3
120 Eastern Michigan 1-3
121 UMass 0-3
122 Kansas 0-3
123 North Texas 0-3
124 Charlotte 2-2
125 Georgia State 1-2
126 Idaho 1-3
127 Wyoming 0-4
128 New Mexico State 0-3

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Must Win Games in Week Three? You Betcha

South Carolina finds themselves in a must win situation, and would Steve Spurrier rather be playing anyone than Georgia?

South Carolina finds themselves in a must win situation, and would Steve Spurrier rather be playing anyone than Georgia?

There is still yet another weekend of September games on the schedule, but already in week three, some teams and coaches are feeling the heat. For some coaches, they’re fighting for their job. For some teams, their chance to spoil the college football playoff party as a dark horse may be dependent on a key early season victory, and for some, they’re neither here nor there, but need a win in the worst way to keep a season from spiraling out of control before it ever really gets started.

For starters, there are a few teams with a chance to make big time statements and propel themselves into the playoff discussion, while a loss this week would probably drop them too far behind the pack to be able to recover, either due to the depth of their fall, or the arduous task that would lie in front of them asking them to not lose another game all season.

#14 Georgia Tech at #8 Notre Dame– This one I went back and forth on as to just how important it is to each team, and finally decided, that if either one wants to make the playoff, they can’t lose this game. And that has more to do with their schedules the rest of the way than it does how far a loss on Saturday might drop them. The odds of either team running the table from Saturday going forward aren’t good, which is what it would require for either to get back into the playoff race. Georgia Tech faces what could amount to be one of the most daunting schedules in all of college football, and while the Irish slate isn’t as difficult, the presence of Clemson, USC and Stanford means Notre Dame would really like to have some margin for error as they head into the cooler months of the season. So while both teams potentially could recover from this loss, both teams know that their best shot at being in the college playoff conversation in November is probably dependent on getting out of September without a loss. With the ACC and the Independent Irish on the outside looking in when it comes to playoff prognostications, every win over a highly ranked foe is critical to obtain, and they can’t afford to let those opportunities slip away.

Stanford at #6 USC- Last year Stanford saw their streak of double digit win seasons snapped at four, all the more impressive considering they’d never posted back to back double digit win seasons in their school’s history. Many felt that was an aberration for David Shaw and the Cardinal however and several pundits predicted the Cardinal would be right back in the playoff mix, and even potentially dethrone Oregon in the Pac 12 North. Then the season began and the Cardinal were physically dominated by Northwestern in one of the more stunning outcomes to date during the 2015 season. While Stanford can afford to lose to USC and still win the Pac 12, they absolutely cannot afford to lose this game and still have any shot at making the college football playoff. It says a lot about where Stanford has come as a program that that is the level of expectation no only in Palo Alto, but nationwide. But a second loss in three games to start the year will have them re-evaluating those expectations very quickly.

Temple at UMass- No, I’m not crazy. And no, I’m not implying Temple is a threat for the college football playoff. However, with their dominant victory over Penn State, and then subsequent win on the road at American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati, along with a loss by Boise State to BYU, Temple suddenly has a very legit opportunity to be competing for one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. Yes, Temple, they of 4 bowl games in 67 years of existence. That Temple. But to do so, aside from the Notre Dame game, Temple simply can’t slip up. At all. Every game becomes a must win game for the Owls. But what a story that would be. And they’ve already navigated what most would have considered two of their three toughest tests. Until Temple loses, expect to see them on this page every week from here until the end of the season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of teams fighting to stay in the race for a national title, you have the coaches fighting to keep their seat from scalding their rear ends as they put for sale signs in their yard. Often times, once the whispers start getting louder, the writing is on the wall. And early season struggles for a coach who came in with the seat anywhere from lukewarm to blistering more often than not lead to a change at the top for the program.

South Florida at Maryland– Randy Edsal was not brought to College Park to go 7-6. Considering that the man he replaced at Maryland won more than 7 games in 6 of his 10 seasons as the head coach, Edsal can’t afford to begin his tenure with five consecutive seasons of failing to top the 7 win mark. After losing in embarrassing fashion to Bowling Green (who, as I’ve championed all along, as a very underrated and explosive offense) Edsal could find himself in real trouble if they slip up again to a weak Bulls program. The Big Ten schedule did Maryland no favors, so if the Terps fail to make a bowl this year and have losses to Bowling Green and South Florida on the resume, Edsal might need to start preparing his.

Illinois at North Carolina– Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels have seen a decrease in their number of wins in both his second and third year on the job, not exactly the direction you want your program to go. 2014 was supposed to be the big turnaround, and it became the biggest disappointment. But with so many starters back on both sides of the ball, and what promised to be a highly explosive, borderline unstoppable offense in Chapel Hill, many, including myself, tabbed Carolina as a sleeper this year. Then the offense slept the entire way through the South Carolina game and had us wondering why we put any faith in the Tar Heels. Illinois may be 2-0, but after the firing of Tim Beckham in August and the uncertainty with that program, along with a lack of talent, losing at home to them is unacceptable for any coach of any program that thinks of themselves as being relevant in college football. The Heels still have a favorable ACC schedule, and have yet to begin conference play, so those goals will still be out there. But it’s going to be awfully difficult to focus on those tasks with what promises to be a whirlwind of rumors and whispers surrounding the future of the program. Couple that with the seemingly never ending cloud of NCAA investigations, and a loss to Illinois could be the straw that breaks the camels back in Chapel Hill.

Virginia Tech at Purdue– This game is far more important than I think many casual observers probably think. Whispers about the future of Frank Beamer and whether or not it was time to hang it up at Virginia Tech have begun to get louder and louder in recent years. Especially as the hallmarks of “Beamer Ball”, his special teams units, have fallen drastically to the point they are no longer a strength, they’re a legit weakness. With a mere 23 wins and no top 25 rankings over the past three years have the program at a potential crossroads. Beamer and the Hokies suffered a bad break when quarterback Michael Brewer went down, but that injury may not be enough to save Beamer if the Hokies suffer to another 5 or 6 loss season. Much like the situation at North Carolina, the schedule is still favorable for conference play, and the Hokies will still control that aspect of their destiny, but losing to a Purdue team that entered the year considered among the worst among all power five conference teams would turn the whispers into full fledged open conversation, and the 2015 Virginia Tech season will be more about what the future of the program holds and less about what they can accomplish this year.

Speaking of Purdue, the Boilermakers went 13-13 in what amounted to the final two seasons Danny Hope was on the job. In the two ensuing seasons they went 4-20 while being rendered for the most part completely uncompetitive. How patient will Purdue remain? The Big Ten schedule for Purdue is disastrous, with only the home games against Indiana and Illinois really seeming to be winnable at this point, so the thoughts of sneaking into a bowl game seem slim, at best. That said, if the team can be competitive in the Big Ten, even if they go 2-6, but can come away with a victory over a team like Virginia Tech, it might be enough to give Darrell Hazell a fourth year on the job. With the Hokies still having all sorts of concerns at quarterback after the Brewer injury, this is one Purdue can get, and at home, needs to get, if Hazell is going to stick around.

Western Kentucky at Indiana– There are many, yours truly included, who just don’t understand how Kevin Wilson still has a job at Indiana. I think we’ve had him on the hot seat for successive years now, and yet, here he is, despite never finishing .500 or qualifying for a bowl in four years on the job. With games against Wake Forest, Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue still on the schedule, Hoosier fans have a glimmer of hope that this will be the year they return to a bowl game, for what would be just their second postseason appearance over 22 seasons. But after narrowly escaping against Southern Illinois, no game can be chalked up as a W. But if Indiana is going to make a bowl, which this time HAS to be the only way Kevin Wilson gets to back for another year, they absolutely must win a home game against Western Kentucky.

Rutgers at Penn State– With the Kyle Flood allegations and suspensions, Rutgers has officially become the biggest dumpster fire in college football. Just don’t tell that to Penn State fans. Getting blown out by Temple and then struggling to beat Buffalo isn’t what Penn State does. Ever. But it’s what this Penn State does. The Nittany Lions are 4-7 in their last 11 games, including losses at home to Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern, and then the opening week embarrassment at the hands of Temple. Even more disconcerting is the development, or the lack thereof, of Christian Hackenberg. While scouts drool over his physical attributes, his play has worsened since his freshmen year. Many fans wonder aloud how he fared so much better as a freshman under Bill O’Brien than as a junior under James Franklin. These fans will not settle for this. If they cannot take advantage of the mess that is the Rutgers football program and they fall to 1-2 to start the year, the heat on James Franklin, even in just his second year, will ramp up exponentially. One could look to a rather soft conference schedule as a beacon of hope, but, Rutgers is supposed to be the soft part of that schedule. If they can’t take care of business this week, the ball might begin to get rolling on James Franklin.

When a quarterback regresses to this level from his freshman year, confidence in the head coach begins to wane.

When a quarterback regresses to this level from his freshman year, confidence in the head coach begins to wane.

And finally, there are those who are fighting to salvage a season. No, there is no real job security issue with the head coach, and they were never a threat for the playoffs, but their 2015 seasons have not gotten off to the start they expected, and a loss this week could have them well behind the eight ball as we ramp up conference play.

#11 Clemson at Louisville– Personally I take great joy in seeing the Cardinals 0-2. It’s nothing against Louisville, well, it is now, but I love seeing Bobby Petrino fail. I especially love to see how he’s failed. The Cardinals are still talented enough on defense, and Petrino is still smart enough of an offensive mind that this team can still play spoiler in the ACC Atlantic Division. However, an 0-3 start could prove disastrous, because after Samford, Louisville has to play N.C. State and Florida State on the road. 1-5 is a problem anywhere, for any coach, of any program.

South Carolina at #7 Georgia- After the unimpressive win over North Carolina, and the twice as unimpressive loss to Kentucky, South Carolina looks in real trouble. The fact that Connor Mitch is out, potentially for the season, puts an even bigger damper on the inauspicious 1-1 start. The loss to Kentucky by South Carolina takes a bit of the pressure off of Georgia. In years past, an early season loss to the Gamecocks would leave the Bulldog Nation scoreboard watching the rest of the year in hopes of still recovering to play in the Georgia Dame for the SEC championship. With Kentucky already having handed South Carolina a division less, it takes some of the impetus off this game for Georgia. But staring an 0-2 start in the division in the face, it magnifies it ten fold for the Gamecocks. With a road schedule that includes Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee, a loss to Georgia suddenly makes the thought of South Carolina missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007 a real possibility.

Furman at Central Florida– Over the last five seasons, Central Florida has reached unprecedented and unexpected heights. They’ve christened their new on campus stadium by winning 47 games over that stretch, three times amassing double digit figures in wins as well as winning a Fiesta Bowl and finishing the year in the top 10. 2015 has been much different. It started with a shocking loss to Florida International. That was followed by a dreadful performance against Stanford where the Knights weren’t even remotely competitive. Hopes of returning to the postseason are already on life support, but a loss to Furman would pretty much end them all together. Additionally, rumors continue to swirl about the future of George O’Leary and how much longer he plans to remain the head coach and whether or not he moves on to an administrative role. An 0-3 start, including losses to FIU and Furman might be the most persuasive voice in his ear. Any hopes of salvaging the 2015 campaign rest on righting the ship this Saturday.

Texas Tech at Arkansas– This may not be as much about Arkansas as it is the SEC. The Hogs suffered some off-season attrition, and some of the pre-season prognostications were probably a bit over zealous. However, they still shouldn’t lose at home to Toledo. Now they get to welcome Texas Tech into town, and while the Red Raiders aren’t receiving a lot of love nationally, they have scored 128 points in two games. Of course, they always score points. But the Red Raiders would love nothing more than to earn some national respect while also pouring some salt in the wounds of the SEC from last week. And that’s why this is so dangerous for Arkansas. Texas Tech is coming in with no pressure looking to prove a point. Arkansas takes a gander at their upcoming schedule and one could reasonably ask, if they lose this game, where does their next win against an FBS opponent come from? That’s a scary proposition, and when you’re 1-2 having lost at home to Toledo and Texas Tech, you’re not exactly brimming with the confidence necessary to take on the SEC schedule that awaits. A loss this weekend to the Hogs could be disastrous.

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I Was Flat Wrong

You all know how much I love being wrong. Oh, wait, that must be someone else. I hate being wrong. I hate it more than just about anything. I hate being wrong so much I’ve become very good at not being wrong. No, that’s not me being arrogant, it’s just that in most cases, I try not to open my mouth and say anything unless I know for certain that I am right, or feel very, very strongly about my opinion and have something factual to put behind it. It’s also because even if I am wrong, often I can still convince the other party that I’m not. This I deem both a phenomenal gift, but an even deadlier curse. Anyway, I digress.

When it comes to Paul Johnson…..

Yes, Paul, it's all gravy now. You got me. I was wrong. Way wrong.

Yes, Paul, it’s all gravy now. You got me. I was wrong. Way wrong.

I was flat wrong.

No two ways about it. Shove this crow down my face, I have earned it. Boil it, fry it, stew it, whatever you want to do it, I’ll take it. And I’ll take it with a smile on my face. See, I do HATE being wrong. But I like winning a little bit more than I like being right. This is a trade-off I’m okay with.

I’ve been calling for Johnson’s job for over two years now. I think the Labor Day game against Virginia Tech and the atrocious in game strategy is when I decided I didn’t want him around anymore. And once I came to that conclusion I went looking for other reasons to validate such a stance. And I found them. Oh, boy did I find them. I found plenty. From his gruff personality, to the way he sometimes treats his players, and even the media, to his in game decisions on 4th down, to his recruiting, I found plenty of reasons he should not be the head football coach at Georgia Tech. The horrible quarterback play at an offense so dependent on a good quarterback, and the only one that he ever had that could run the offense beautifully was a guy he didn’t even recruit. The defense, it could never excel under Paul Johnson (which I’ve explained my theory on this). And then there was the record. The record that reeked of mediocrity. The same mediocrity that got Chan Gailey fired. Oh, sure, we were still the second best program in the Coastal, which, if you had told me would be the case when he was hired, I’d been on board. But today, being a superior program to Miami just doesn’t have the same pizzazz it once did.

After getting beat by Ole Miss in the bowl game last year, and subsequently seeing the starting quarterback transfer to James Madison, I thought, there’s no way he comes back after 2014. Absolutely no way. And that’s perfectly fine by me.

Then we struggled to beat Wofford.

After that we needed a late game comeback to survive Georgia Southern.

Yep, Paul Johnson has to go. The Virginia Tech win was a nice surprise, and the record was pretty, but I was still skeptical. And Virginia Tech and their inability to score a touchdown against Wake Forest later on this year proved such skepticism was alright.

But then came Miami, where we physically dominated the Miami Hurricanes, a team with supposedly far more talent, and far more athletes. I started drinking the kool-aid. I started thinking, hey, we might be on to something here.

Then the Paul Johnson led Yellow Jackets that I expected when the year began returned. In August, I honestly thought we’d struggle to win five games and make a bowl, and I thought our only shot at avoiding last place in our division was to beat Virginia. My expectations were low.

I was at Bobby Dodd Stadium for the debacle against Duke where the body of Justin Thomas was replaced by Reggie Ball. I watched against North Carolina as the 1999 Georgia Tech defense re-emerged and watched as they sat helplessly by as our ACC championship hopes that I had been tricked into believing were a real thing, seemed to vanish.

Something happened after that North Carolina game though. Paul Johnson proved his worth as a coach.

Four weeks. Four wins. None by fewer than 22 points. In back to back ACC road games the Jackets hung 56 on an opponent, doubling up Pittsburgh, and doing even more than that against North Carolina State. In between, a thoroughly dominating 35-10 victory against Virginia. Still though, even at 8-2, the season felt empty. The loss to the two squads in blue from the state of North Carolina stung. We still had Clemson and Georgia left, 8-4 was still very possible. In fact, needing Duke to lose twice to win the division, 8-4 seemed far, far more likely than going to Charlotte to play Florida State.

And Paul Johnson kept coaching. Did the injury to Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson help? Well, it didn’t hurt. Regardless, any time you whip Clemson 28-6, you feel good about yourself. Add to that, a 9th win, when I wondered if we would even get to six, no complaints here.

That afternoon Virginia Tech rose from the ashes, took advantage of a shocking miss by a reliable Duke field goal kicker and suddenly, suddenly there was a chance.

A week before Thanksgiving North Carolina went out and endeared themselves to Tech fans everywhere, absolutely steam rolling Duke, sending the Jackets to Charlotte for the third time in the past seven years. Not exactly bad for a guy I wanted fired.

There was still the matter of the Georgia game though before that. And in the second half, much like against Miami, Georgia Tech took a bigger, more talented, more gifted physically football team, and whipped them. Yes, the game went into overtime, yes it was a thrilling contest. But in the second half of that football game, the Yellow Jackets physically dominated. They did what well coached teams who play hard, play physical, an execute did. They whipped a physically superior bunch.

So this Saturday night, in about 33 hours, Georgia Tech will take on another physically superior football team. Will the results be the same? Who knows.

But whatever the results are, if you’d told me in August we’d be playing unbeaten, and defending national champion Florida State for an ACC championship, with an Orange Bowl pretty much already ensured at 10-2 (and I’ll just ignore that somehow, that it would require an act of God, we actually still have a fleeting chance at playing for the national championship), having beat Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson, AND Georgia, I’d have called that beyond a dream season. In fact, that goes so far beyond anything I could have dreamed up, I probably would have suggested you admit yourself into a mental institution.

But beyond that, regardless the results Saturday night, Paul Johnson proved me wrong.

I think I want you stay. I’m sorry. Forgive me, please?

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Big Games at the Midway Point for Surprise (Good & Bad) Teams

10070980I’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.

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Beyond the Marquee Games, Much on the Line Across the Country

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.

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