Part II: There You Go Again, NCAA

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Associated Press

Over six weeks ago, I told you the story of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye.

The story was about how the NCAA was trying to force him to shut down the profitability of his popular YouTube channel. I wrote that this power struggle between the kicker and the NCAA, some friends of mine who currently do the same thing De La Haye did, and how the organization was wrong to make him choose between creating popular videos and playing football. The story was a way bigger hit than I thought it would be partially because the De La Haye fiasco was, at the time, one of the biggest stories in sports.

Now, the scandal has reached what would appear to be an unceremonious end.

Yesterday, De La Haye revealed via (you guessed it) a YouTube video that he has been ruled ineligible to play for UCF because he refused to stop making money off his videos. Because the NCAA viewed him to be capitalizing on his status as a Division I football player to make a profit, which always has been a huge no-no in college athletics, De La Haye was ruled ineligible and lost his scholarship. NCAA president Mark Emmert will happily tell you that college athletes are not employees; instead, he will tell you that they are students. Inconveniently for him, though, regular students are allowed to make whatever they want through any business whatsoever; that includes, if they so desire, YouTube videos. College athletes cannot do this.

And the collective outrage about this happening? Today, it’s nowhere to be found. On ESPN’s website, De La Haye’s ineligibility did not make their “Top Headlines” banner at the top of the page. Stories that did make the site were Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski’s bumbling comparison of the Yankees to the Warriors and this story, which I can’t even properly explain without sharing part of it:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch and Detroit Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson are being sued over a $9,332 nightclub bill from March.

According to court documents filed in Los Angeles, the two players were guests of Richard James Harrington at the Hyde nightclub in Hollywood. Harrington said that when it came time to pay the tab, both players’ credit cards were declined.

Harrington agreed to pay the bill, under the condition that both players would reimburse him. Harrington said they reimbursed him $4,000 via the Venmo app and cash, but says they still owe $5,332 and are now refusing to pay.

That’s right: they’re being sued for $5,332. The lawsuit came just $332 away from being eligible to be featured on Judge JudyAnd somehow, that’s still more important than this. Currently, the top story on concerns a public dispute between UFC president Dana White and fighter Tyron Woodley. That’s also more significant, apparently.

Of course, ESPN isn’t the only outlet completely ignoring the conclusion to this story. Most sports outlets have recently paid more attention to stories like the MLB trade deadline, the NFL’s CTE crisis, or Lonzo Ball’s father, who is essentially the sports equivalent of a white Ford Bronco traveling down Interstate 405; you really don’t want to watch but you also can’t turn away.

But this is part of why the end of this story is so anticlimactic: you could see it coming from a mile away. On June 18, De La Haye posted a video announcing that he would keep making videos and refuse to demonetize his channel. Once that shoe dropped, you absolutely had to know that the NCAA would not approve of his actions. That doesn’t necessarily make his actions wrong, but with the course of action he took, there was never a chance for him to get out of this with his scholarship and football career still in tact.

That being said, there is something noble about what De La Haye did here. Remember that one of the driving forces behind his videos was to make money to send back to his financially-strapped family, one that moved from Costa Rica to Florida when De La Haye was younger. While De La Haye cited the ability to create and bring happiness to his followers as his main reason for continuing to make videos, the plight of his family likely played a role in that decision as well. While he lost his scholarship, he’ll still have the ability to make money off his channel and, in turn, try to support his family. I don’t see where the issue is there.

And remember all those times Emmert famously said that college athletes are students and not employees? Well, regular students are allowed to make YouTube videos and profit off them. Those students are also allowed to do this without the time constraints of an athlete’s everyday schedule. When Emmert says that athletes are employees and not students, he’s wrong. College athletes are not your regular students because the demands and restrictions placed on them are so irregular that they would never be able to function like a “normal student”.

This, of course, takes us back to the argument of whether or not college athletes should be paid. Many who are against paying college athletes say that those who are in favor of compensating players are not necessarily looking out for the young men and women themselves. This is what Fordham University’s Athletic Director, David Roach, said last year about paying college athletes:

I think it’s ridiculous. All this talk is being driven by the Power Five conferences.  It’s not about the student-athlete not being able to afford the cost of living, it’s about all the money being made and where it is and isn’t going.

(Full disclosure: I will be attending Fordham University in the fall.)

Roach makes an interesting point here, and I’m not just saying that because he’s the athletic director at my college. In Central Florida’s case, though, it’s very easy to dispel of this notion because UCF’s head coach, Scott Frost, is making $1.7 million per year until 2020 and the school is currently receiving $3 million per year as part of the American Athletic Conference’s television contract with ESPN. Funny how that happens. And remember, UCF isn’t in a Power 5 conference. And yet, they’re still making boatloads of money even while the football team scratched and clawed its way to a 6-7 finish last season, one that ended with a 31-13 loss to Arkansas State in something called the AutoNation Cure Bowl.

The matter at hand, though, is that Donald De La Haye was forced to choose between his two passions: creativity and football. His viral videos were a vessel for his imagination as well as a way to repay his family for supporting him throughout his young life. The fact that the NCAA shut down his YouTube business is as hypocritical as it is wrong.

Mark Emmert will tell you that college athletes are students and not employees. His organization’s decision-making, however, would suggest that college athletes aren’t even on the level of the average student.

There You Go Again, NCAA

Dave Reginek/Getty Images

As a rapper once said, “WOOP-WOOP! THAT’S THE SOUND OF THE NCAA!”

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly like that. Maybe I misheard it. But NCAA president Mark Emmert and his organization are back again, and at this point, they really do deserve entrance music for the work they do. My personal suggestion: the Jaws theme, but that’s neither here nor there.

You know very well about Emmert and the NCAA, but someone you may not be familiar with is Donald De La Haye.

Donald De La Haye is the kickoff specialist for Central Florida University (UCF, for short) and he is going into his sophomore year of college. He appeared in every game for the Knights last season and even racked up three tackles on special teams. That, though, is not what’s important about his story.

What is important is that De La Haye has a YouTube channel. His videos range from the humorous (a parody of quarterbacks in their everyday lives) to the useful (how to kick an onside). His videos are occasionally profane but otherwise harmless, and he’s obviously doing something right; because he has reached over 10,000 all-time views on his channel (2.7 million, to be exact), he can monetize off of it by putting ads at the beginning of his videos. I must admit that I did not know that until this story came out, but those rules are very significant in De La Haye’s case. He has truly turned his internet prowess into a business, and three of his videos have over 200,000 views. He is a marketing major, and his YouTube practices actually pertain to what he wants to do with his life, as his chances of making the NFL are slim to none.

But remember when I told you that he was able to make money off his channel? Well, the feds were watching, and they clearly didn’t approve of his YouTube hi-jinks.

Because of De La Haye’s profitability, UCF has decided to make him choose between football and YouTube. To be clear, that may not be exactly the case, but UCF, as a way of preempting the NCAA, has asked him to stop making money off of his videos. His reasoning for having a YouTube channel and trying to turn a profit on it is simple: his family moved from Costa Rica to Port St. Lucie, Florida, when he was a child, and even though he is getting a full scholarship to play at UCF, he still needs to help his family pay their bills. Terrible motives, right?

Of course, the NCAA has put the kibosh on that under their infamous “amateurism rules”. If De La Haye had not made money on his videos, he would be in the clear, but because he is profitable, the school had to tell him to stop. Side note: don’t be so quick to kill the UCF administrators for this. I’m sure some of them think this is ridiculous, too, and they know that everything is better if the NCAA is not involved.

Now, before you hit on the “yeah, but he’s getting a full ride to kick a football” argument, consider this: if it were anyone else, i.e. someone not on scholarship to play a sport, they would be able to cash in on their virality. Instead, because he’s on scholarship and an “amateur”, he can’t stand to profit. That’s nice; he’s actually being penalized for playing a sport.

In case you couldn’t tell, this is a story that really bothers me. Unfortunately, it kind of hits close to home, too.

I have a good friend from my high school named Miles Franklyn. He’s really good at soccer. So good, in fact, that he showed up twice on SportsCenter’s “Top 10 Plays”…. in the span of a week. So good that he’s going to play at the collegiate level for Syracuse University next fall. And, quite possibly, so good that he’s going to have to shut down his YouTube channel.

Miles and a couple of his friends recently decided to start an enterprise called “11th Street Media”. 11th Street, as many of us commonly refer to it, takes a couple of different forms; there’s the popular YouTube channel, which has just over 10,000 lifetime views (HERE COMES THAT MUSIC AGAIN), as well as 11th Street Radio, which makes SoundCloud playlists for certain occasions, like this one they did for Valentine’s Day. The YouTube channel releases videos chronicling the daily lives of him and his friends, and they literally could not be more innocuous; even curse words are censored. Virtually everyone in the senior class was in one of the videos at some point or another. From personal experience, I also remember the 11th Street people selling shirts outside of school; how much money they made is none of my business, but several of my friends bought the shirts and were happy with them. Miles and his friends, simply put, are my type of people; they say they want to do something and then they actually go out and do it. A truly novel concept.

Now, go back over that last paragraph. Assuming Miles goes through with his commitment to play soccer at Syracuse, he’d have to give up the YouTube videos and the shirt-selling. And if he put he and his friends’ playlists for sale on iTunes or Spotify, they would be illegal, too. So here you have someone taking the initiative to make something that people like and turn a profit off of it (the nerve!), and the NCAA wants to put a stop to it. Literally anyone at Syracuse, or just about any other institution, who doesn’t play a sport can do that. But he can’t. And Donald De La Haye can’t, either.

This is not something that would ever happen in the real world. But here’s the thing: the NCAA isn’t anything like the real world because it isn’t operating in lockstep with reality. While there probably was a time when their antiquated amateurism model made sense, it doesn’t anymore. The NCAA, even though it’s still a not-for-profit organization despite making a hair under $1 billion in revenue last year, can no longer justify paying coaches exorbitant salaries without at least giving the players something.

And you would figure that because the players aren’t compensated, they would be able to take advantage of their popularity (or, in De La Haye’s case, create their own popularity). But that’s illegal, too, and at this point, it seems as though the NCAA is hell-bent on making sure its athletes don’t get a fair share of its burgeoning profits.

Some of the defenders of the NCAA and UCF in this matter will tell you that UCF is not a Power 5 school and does not see nearly the revenue that schools in the Division I major conferences do (and therefore, that somehow justifies what’s going on here). Let me remind you that UCF’s football coach, Scott Frost, is making $1.7 million per year through 2020. If UCF is losing money, maybe that’s why. I don’t know.

And, without the players, there literally would be no NCAA. It would be perfectly reasonable for the institution to make these counter-YouTube rulings if it was paying its players, but it is simply unreasonable to expect players to abide by amateurism rules when they’re not playing under contract. Any reasonable person would say that players should be able to make money off themselves even if they aren’t being directly compensated. These archaic rules, made at a time before paying coaches seven-figure salaries was a rule and not an exception, simply need to go.

Until they do, though, you probably won’t be seeing Daniel De La Haye, Miles Franklyn, and their YouTube videos anytime soon.

Scholarship Reneging Is a Problem That Goes Far Beyond UConn

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Over the past week, it is very likely that you heard the national sports media talking about the story of a high school senior by the name of Ryan Dickens.

Ryan Dickens was offered a football scholarship from the University of Connecticut last June; upon this offer, Dickens (who lives in Raritan, New Jersey, roughly four hours away from the University) immediately offered his verbal commitment to the school over offers from Cornell and Monmouth, as well as interest from other Division I schools. The senior linebacker is in the class of 2017 and committed early to ensure that his future would be locked in.

Then, on December 26, the Huskies fired head football coach Bob Diaco after three years at the school. Two days later, former head coach Randy Edsall was re-hired by the school to the same position. Dickens called Edsall on New Years’ Day to ensure that his scholarship offer was safe, and Edsall reassured him that he was still wanted in East Hartford. Dickens then met with the school’s linebackers coach, Jon Wholley, to discuss his impending visit to UConn (which would have been today).

However, this past Sunday, Edsall informed Dickens that his scholarship had been taken away. He was given no reason why; rather, he was simply informed that the school decided to “go in another direction”.

Unsurprisingly, the national media absolutely pounced, and rightfully so; Edsall’s decision to renege on Dickens’ scholarship offer was collegiate greed at its absolute finest. Those other offers for Dickens? Out the window. His college future? At the time, uncertain (he did receive an offer from Rhode Island days after UConn’s reversal and will most likely play college football next year). Edsall’s job, one that has him making $400,000 this year? Safe.

Here is the problem, though, with our perfect picture of this story: what if this had been Alabama? Or any other major program, for that matter? Would the outrage be nearly this fervent?

Let me first say that this story was covered properly by the sports media. It showed recruiting for what it really is and although the story clearly cast Edsall in a negative light, it needed to be addressed. However, there is an air of hypocrisy about the reaction to this story. For example, Paul Finebaum of ESPN called the pulling of scholarships a “total disgrace” because of the reversal’s close proximity to National Signing Day, which is less than two weeks away. Finebaum is also the author of “My Conference Can Beat Your Conference”, which is a tale about just how great the SEC is. The problem is that Finebaum’s beloved conference is no better about holding their word with high school athletes.

Nick Saban has come under fire in the past for over-recruiting, or signing more than the NCAA-allowed 25 scholarship players in any one given year. In some cases, as in that of Harrison Jones, that means reneging on a scholarship offer at the last minute…. or even well after that. Before the 2010 season, Saban yanked Jones’ scholarship offer after Jones had moved into his dorm room in Tuscaloosa. Because the school had over-recruited and had player(s) become academically qualified shortly before the season, there was no room on scholarship for Jones. That same year, Ole Miss, then coached by Houston Nutt, signed 37 players and needed to rescind the scholarships of 12 of them because they had budgeted their offers that badly.

One would figure that the national response to this would be collective outrage even worse at Alabama than in this case because it happened in August, not January. Instead, there was little to no response from the sports media. This is what Finebaum, who called out Edsall for this reversal, said about Saban when talking about another recruiting fiasco:

Nick Saban has tried to circumvent every rule in the NCAA rulebook and has mostly gotten away with it. I’m not saying he’s breaking rules, he’s pushing the envelope. I once asked a recruiter ‘How do you do it?’ and he said ‘You skirt the rule, you go over the line, and then you get back when no one is watching,’ and that’s Saban, that’s Harbaugh, that’s Urban Meyer.

So when Edsall does it, it’s a “total disgrace”, but when Saban does it, he’s just “pushing the envelope”? Oh. Here’s a pro tip: if you’re going to make a total double standard out of something, don’t veil it this thinly.

Worst of all, Finebaum said this just one year ago, so it is hard to believe that his opinion could have changed this much in just twelve months. His attitudes toward this story, and the issue in general, though, are emblematic of the opinions of the rest of the media. UConn has made one bowl game since 2010 and has generally been a laughingstock of college football for the past few seasons. The fact that they have been so bad makes them a punching bag for sports punditry; after all, it is far easier to criticize a team that waited until three weeks after the season to fire its head coach than it is to to criticize a program that has won four national championships in the past eight seasons.

As for the issues with the NCAA’s amateurism rules, those are ever-present and don’t really need to be stated. Coaches are allowed to do this to student-athletes with no repercussions whatsoever while the student-athlete is left scrambling with just days to go until he must make his college decision. Yes, that seems completely fair from the institution that still claims it is not-for-profit even though its president made nearly $2 million two years ago. This institution also made nearly $1 billion in the 2011-2012 year, the last year the company was audited. Do you want to guess how many of those dollars went to student-athletes? I’ll give you a hint: it was as much as I made playing college football last year. In other words, nothing.

Paul Finebaum is right: what Randy Edsall did to Ryan Dickens is a “total disgrace”, especially considering Dickens never made an effort to rescind his own verbal commitment to the school. However, many of us, including myself, must do a self-examination of ourselves and investigate whether or not this anger would have come to the surface if it was Jim Harbaugh pulling the offer instead of the coach whose most memorable college football moment was this (I can’t embed the Vine anymore; RIP Vine).

So while the media was correct to shred Edsall for his reneging on the school’s scholarship offer, it is unlikely that the criticism would have reached the same level if and when a major program did the same.

We’ll see how the media reacts the next time a top program reneges on a scholarship offer to a high school football program. My guess is that there will be crickets abound.

Why Are There So Many College Football Bowl Games?

Photo Credit: Otto Kissinger/Associated Press

The above picture contains two teams you probably wouldn’t be able to identify unless I told you who they were, a blue field, and several completely empty sections of bleachers. If the photo does not perfectly encapsulate what college football’s bowl season is all about, I don’t know what does.

If you aren’t quite familiar with how bowl season works, here is a brief explanation. All teams in Division I with records 6-6 or better are invited to play in a bowl game and there are 41 of those (42 if you count the national championship game). Occasionally, 5-7 teams are invited (like last year, when three such teams went to bowl season and won and this year, when North Texas and Mississippi State were selected). The really significant bowl games are the ones that comprise college football’s four-team playoff, but those don’t take place until New Year’s Eve. The winners of those two games move on to the National Championship Game on January 9th. Four other games combine with the playoff games to comprise the New Year’s Six, games played around the calendar change that are widely regarded as the marquee games of the bowl slate.

So, to recap: there are 82 teams that have played or will play in a bowl game this December or January. There are 42 bowls in total, but only three really count, and only four more comprise the best teams in the sport. So why are there so many of them?

Well, the simple answer to that question is money, as it is with most other things. Television networks, mainly ESPN, are willing to pay large sums of money to the NCAA for the rights to broadcast these games; the network(s) make up this money through advertising revenue and, in the Worldwide Leader’s case, revenue from cable subscriptions. The NCAA and its institutions profit handsomely from the broadcasting of the games as well as the bowls’ sponsorships (such as the Dollar General Bowl, which is on ESPN as I write this article). The players get paid in experience and exposure. The amateurism model is terrible. I digress.

Moving right past that, the bowl games are pretty much made for television. An illustration of that fact comes in the form of this tweet by ESPN’s Darren Rovell:

That game was played earlier this afternoon between Eastern Michigan and Old Dominion in a matchup you would be more likely to equate with a Round of 68 play-in game in college basketball. Those in the Bahamas for the game came out by the dozens to witness it. So while the network and the NCAA profit off the game, the empty seats don’t exactly look attractive to the viewing audience.

Also, the quality of play in these games is not that of elite college football. While some games are fun (Idaho defeated Colorado State last night by a score of 61-50 in the Idaho Potato Bowl) and others are competitive and enjoyable, most of these games are not played at the highest of levels.

And yet, interestingly enough, people seem to be consistently tuning in to watch these contests. According to SportsMediaWatch, all five bowl games carried by ESPN/ABC last Saturday drew over a million viewers. The two highest rated games were the Celebration Bowl, which pits the SWAC champion against the MEAC champion in a battle of HBCU schools, and the Las Vegas Bowl, a San Diego State victory over Houston. Both of these games took place on ABC and were televised consecutively in the afternoon, but the numbers still tell an interesting story: people seem to be enjoying the expansive spread of bowl games.

And while the games may not be played at the competitive level of, say, a playoff game, it is still major college football. After all, Americans have demonstrated time and again that they have little to no time for substandard football; the XFL and Arena Football League learned this lesson the hard way. However, people will watch if the product is even decent; if you build it, they will come.

NFL ratings dipped earlier in the season but they have now rebounded; my guess as to the reason for this half-season dip is that some Americans were more engrossed with this year’s Presidential Election, but it’s really anyone’s guess. However, the NFL product was simply not very good to start this season, and because of this, people tuned out and looked for other options.

Another thing that seemed to kill the NFL, though, was over-saturation. With games on Thursday, Sunday, Monday, and even Saturday, many seemed to be suffering from football burnout. That is the issue that college football may have with so many bowl games in such a limited amount of time; however, this is happening over the span of three weeks and not seventeen, unlike the NFL. It hasn’t seemed to hurt the sport yet, but it will be something to follow over the next few years.

And finally, we need to keep this in context: NFL ratings are so much higher than those of college football. The two bowls I referenced earlier pulled in a combined 6.455 million viewers. On September 26th, the same night as the first Presidential Debate, a Falcons-Saints matchup on Monday Night Football drew the lowest rating in the 46-year history of the series. The game failed ESPN so badly that it only pulled in…. roughly eight million viewers.

College football simply does not have this type of ratings power; their way of making up for this is by showcasing their product as often as humanly possible. If that is what works for the sport, then the volume of bowl games is good for the game. However, I do believe that the significance of making a bowl game is significantly watered down when you consider the amount of bowl games and the fact that so many bad teams have made it to bowl season that just this past April, the NCAA placed a three-year moratorium on the creation of even more bowl games. Yes, more bowl games.

Also, the relevance of these games has to be called into question when stars like LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey choose to sit out their teams’ contests for fear of injury and hurting their NFLdraft stock. If these games were more meaningful, the chances of McCaffrey and Fournette playing in them would exponentially increase (LSU is playing Louisville in the Citrus Bowl while Stanford plays North Carolina in the Sun Bowl).

This is the central point of the debate: college football, and specifically the NCAA and the broadcasters of the games, will make a ton of money off of college football this month. So while it may seem like over-saturation, the extended bowl season is likely a good thing for the sport. Lower-level programs get necessary exposure, coaches get attention, and recruits get to see more teams in action. The players don’t benefit, but that’s a debate for another time.

There may be a lot of bowl games in the next couple of weeks, but no one said you have to watch them. If you do, know what you’re getting into. If you don’t, know that there will still be plenty of opportunities to get in on the fun this holiday season.

The Week 12 College Football Top Ten

Photo Credit: Ty Russell/Oklahoma Sports
Photo Credit: Ty Russell/Oklahoma Sports

Relative order was restored to college football last Saturday, as there was only one top-10 defeat (Louisville) and many a blowout victory to go around. However, there is still plenty of intrigue in this week’s results just as there was a week ago; the intrigue in these results comes in what they mean for the College Football Playoff. So without further ado, here are my selections for the top ten teams in college football after week 12.

10. Washington Huskies (10-1)

You may have noticed that I dropped Washington from last week’s rankings after a home loss that week to USC. Well, after getting some help from Louisville, the Huskies emerge at number ten in this week’s rankings. I do not believe that this team deserves to make the playoff, as their out-of-conference schedule was atrocious (no, really: their best inter-conference foe was Rutgers). While they are playing well, their loss to USC ended their chances, at least in my eyes. And while the Huskies may control their own destiny in the real Playoff race, there is little to no chance you will see them in my final four. I just don’t think I can do it, especially with their strength of schedule (or lack thereof).

9. USC Trojans (8-3)

Sure, the USC Trojans are 8-3 and don’t necessarily have the resume to make the Playoff. But ask yourself this: do you really want to play the Trojans right now? Although they got off to a horrific 1-3 start, Clay Helton’s squad has bounced back with seven wins in a row, including triumphs over Colorado and Washington. Sam Darnold has been terrific since being named the starting quarterback earlier in the year, and USC could legitimately be ranked higher than this strictly based on how they have played over the past two months.

8. Western Michigan Broncos (11-0)

Weekly Western Michigan rant: this team is undefeated, has soundly defeated nearly every team it has played and boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Last week, the Broncos defeated Buffalo 38-0, a visit that was punctuated by the presence of ESPN’s College Gameday. While the Broncos are ranked 21st in this week’s rankings, I believe that they should get a bonus for going undefeated, even if their schedule isn’t overly strong. And that concludes my rant. However, I will say this: I can’t see myself putting the Broncos higher than eight. So Western Michigan is not going to break the glass ceiling, so to speak, but I do believe they should be in a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

7. Oklahoma Sooners (9-2)

Oklahoma had what was easily the most impressive performance of week 12, as the Sooners traveled to Morgantown and defeated West Virginia 56-28. Granted, Oklahoma lost two lopsided contests early in the season to Ohio State and Houston, but they, just like USC, are one of the most explosive and dangerous teams in the country right now. The team has struggled defensively at times this year, as evidenced by their allowing 579 yards to the Mountaineers on Saturday. But this is a team that you can disregard at your own risk.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2)

Week 12 was quiet on the Penn State front, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Nittany Lions took care of business against Rutgers on Saturday to move to 9-2 and set up a meeting with a 3-8 Michigan State team for a chance to go to the Big Ten title game. Penn State needs Ohio State to beat Michigan, as well, for that to happen, but their chances of making the Big Ten Championship Game and potentially playing for a spot in the final four are becoming more realistic with each victory. Penn State needs some help, but their Playoff chances do have some life.

5. Wisconsin Badgers (9-2)

A quick note: my dropping Wisconsin from four to five this week does not have anything to do with the Badgers. Their solid run continued on Saturday with a 49-20 win against Purdue, a team that is winless in Big Ten play. Rather, this move has to do with the teams above Wisconsin in the standings, and one, in particular, that I am going to get to next. In my rankings, the Badgers would control their own destiny to make college football’s final four, even with two losses. Those two losses, though, came to Ohio State and Michigan.

4. Clemson Tigers (10-1)

Last weekend, Clemson really impressed me. While a road win in November against Wake Forest may seem like an ordinary triumph, the circumstances around it are what made it so pleasantly surprising. After the Tigers lost a heartbreaker to Pitt the week before, they bounced back and absolutely dominated the Demon Deacons on Saturday. The 35-13 win, as well as the quality of Clemson’s bounce-back performance, was enough for me to push them into the top four this week. It’s not that I expected them to lose, but the Tigers had their most important test of the season last weekend and they aced it. That’s enough to put them in the Playoff if it were held today.

3. Michigan Wolverines (10-1)

Not a whole lot has changed on the Michigan front, either. Even though the Wolverines stumbled to a win against Indiana last weekend, that came under adverse weather conditions and with the team starting a backup quarterback (John O’Korn) who completed a grand total of seven passes on the day. Next up for Michigan is their annual rivalry matchup with Ohio State with a win sending them to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game next weekend. The health of starting quarterback Wilton Speight will be critical for Michigan on Saturday, as playing with O’Korn might not cut it against the Buckeyes.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1)

Speak of the devil, Ohio State comes into this weekend scarred after a 17-16 victory against Michigan State. The Spartans tried to go for two late in the game to take the lead but failed, and the Ohio State defense sealed the win with an interception on the next drive. All of that can be thrown out the window in advance of Saturday’s game; however, the performance could be construed as slightly concerning for a Buckeyes team that has been slightly inconsistent at times this season. However, I sincerely think Ohio State will be fine. A win on Saturday gets them into the Playoff.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (11-0)

There really is nothing to see here. Alabama struggled to a 31-3 win over Chattanooga last week, but that may actually be good for them as they head into the Iron Bowl against Auburn. The Tide should be just fine, assuming they can escape the next two games without any severe injuries. Even a loss to Florida in the SEC title game would not knock them out of the top four. A loss to Auburn wouldn’t, either. After all, this is the best team in college football.

Departure: Louisville

New Addition: Washington

The Week 11 College Football Top Ten

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Ah, yes, there goes college football rearing its ugly head again….

That’s sarcasm, of course: this sport is as good as they come when the late stages of the season come rolling in. That was on full display again on Saturday, as the second, third, and fourth-ranked teams all went down on one day for the first time in 31 years. That means plenty of changes in this week’s rankings, and that also means new teams in the top four. So let’s get on with it; here’s my list of the top ten teams in college football after week 11.

10. USC Trojans (7-3)

Last week: NR

USC had arguably the most impressive showing of any team this past weekend, as they traveled to Seattle and easily dispatched the Washington Huskies. Redshirt Freshman quarterback Sam Darnold anchored the offense with two touchdown passes and nearly 300 yards passing; additionally, the team’s defense held the explosive Husky offense to just 13 points.  The Trojans struggled to start the season, going 1-3 and raising questions about new head coach Clay Helton’s job security. But USC is one of the ten best teams in the nation right now and would be a lot to handle for basically any team in the country. Hypothetically, they could even beat Alabama–no, never mind.

9. Oklahoma Sooners (8-2)

Last week: NR

Speaking of teams that have rebounded from slow beginnings, Oklahoma has won its last seven games after a 1-2 start. All of those seven games have come in-conference, as well, so the Sooners control their own destiny to win the Big 12. This week, they’ll be going on the road to play a very solid West Virginia team in a game that almost has Playoff implications. While the Sooners likely don’t have a realistic path to the Playoff at this point, things could get a little interesting if they win out. After all, we saw what happened last week.

8. Western Michigan Broncos (10-0)

Last week: 10

Western Michigan continues to climb up in my rankings. After starting at ten last week, the Broncos are climbing up two spots to eight this week. While they were tied in the fourth quarter last week with a 3-6 Kent State team, they were able to take care of business and score the final sixteen points en route to the victory. This shift is more of a figure of the events of last Saturday, as the Broncos continue to take care of business while other teams falter. In my rankings, P.J. Fleck’s squad would be a lock for the Group of Five berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game. They don’t have a path to the Playoff, but they do deserve their just due.

7. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-2)

Last week: 8

Quietly, Penn State staged one of the gutsiest performances of week 11. Down ten points in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions scored 24 of the final 27 points to beat Indiana, 45-31. Granted, this team is not perfect, as Saturday’s game showed, but Penn State found a way to win, keeping their somewhat dim Playoff hopes alive. James Franklin’s team can still win the Big Ten East with an Ohio State win over Michigan to close the season, a scenario that seems all the more likely now (more on that later). If Penn State were to win the Big Ten title game, they would still have a chance to get in the Playoff. Once again, anything can happen.

6. Wisconsin Badgers (8-2)

Last week: 7

There isn’t a whole lot of news to report on the Wisconsin Badgers, and with last weekend’s happenings, that isn’t a bad thing as far as they are concerned. With a routine 48-3 thumping of the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday, the Badgers stand to benefit at least some from the carnage at the top of the standings. Sure, they lack some of the bells and whistles of the better teams in the country (including, you know, competent quarterback play) but Wisconsin is poised to find itself in a New Year’s Six Bowl and potentially beyond with a little help. That is far more than anyone could have predicted at the beginning of this season.

5. Clemson Tigers (9-1)

Last week: 3

Mini-rant time: Clemson has been dicey and, frankly, unimpressive at times this season. They’ve had close calls at home against the likes of NC State and Troy and have had six games decided by seven points or fewer. Yes, they do boast wins over Louisville, Florida State, and Auburn, but the team has taken on a 2015 Ohio State vibe, and I mean that in all honesty. So after they lost to Pittsburgh at home this week, you would think that they would drop in the rankings. And yet, many pundits seem to think that they will only drop one spot (from two to three) in the real rankings. I know, I’m only dropping them two spots, but you don’t just lose at home to a 5-4 team and escape in the top four of my rankings. Sorry. I can’t put Clemson in the top four this week.

4. Michigan Wolverines (9-1)

Last week: 2

Michigan suffered a similar fate on Saturday; the only difference between them and Clemson is that their loss to a 5-4 team came on the road at Iowa. The bigger issue for the Wolverines, though, is the health of starting quarterback Wilton Speight, who is said to have suffered a broken collarbone in his non-throwing shoulder on Saturday. Coach Jim Harbaugh has since refuted that report, but it remains to be seen whether Speight can come back to the field this season. Michigan still controls its own destiny to make the Playoff, but they may have just suffered a crippling blow to those aspirations.

3. Louisville Cardinals (9-1)

Last week: 6

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Saturday’s carnage was the Louisville Cardinals, who did not look overly impressive themselves in a 44-12 win against Wake Forest last week. The Cardinals were losing that game 12-10 in the third quarter before their offense pulled it together in the final quarter and a half. Louisville should be in the Playoff if they win but that isn’t necessarily guaranteed, as they could still be jumped by Clemson if the Tigers win out; Clemson also has a tiebreaker over Louisville to go to the ACC title game. However, the Cardinals are in good shape with two weeks left in the regular season.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-1)

Last week: 5

In reality, not all that much changed for Ohio State this weekend. They took care of business in a big way against Maryland and while they have moved from five to two in my rankings, they still need to win out to make the Playoff. It’s hard to see them getting in with two losses, but it’s fairly clear the the Buckeyes are the second-best team in the country right now. It’s probably as high as they can get this season, but the Buckeyes are in a great position to secure a Playoff berth over the next two weeks.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-0)

Last week: 1

At this rate, college football is slowly becoming a story of Alabama and everyone else. What I’m trying to say is that the Tide are just that much better than the field. There is no reason that would change after Bama’s 51-3 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. Alabama is number one until they lose. And right now, I don’t think I can see them losing anytime soon.

Departures: Washington, Auburn

New Additions: Oklahoma, USC

College Football’s Top Ten After Week Ten

Photo Credit: Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times

While tomorrow is Election Day in America, the College Football Playoff committee will also have some critical decisions to make.  While this week’s rankings will not ultimately decide the teams that make the Playoff, what the Committee does this week will go a long way toward deciphering what exactly they value in a team (hint, hint: strength of schedule).

And while the Committee certainly isn’t listening to me on this one, I’ll chip in my two cents anyway.  We’ll try to make this a weekly staple until the reveal of the four teams in the College Football Playoff.  Let’s start at number ten.

10. Western Michigan Broncos (9-0)

Let’s confront this fact head-on: Western Michigan is an odd choice at number ten.  The Broncos have played a weak schedule and haven’t looked overwhelming in some of their games.  However, I’m willing to cut the Broncos some slack because they’ve beaten all of the teams they have played.  Let’s face it: the committee values strength of schedule above basically everything else in its evaluations.  But shouldn’t there also be a value on winning?  Winning is what the Broncos have done, which is why I’m happy to put them at number ten on November 7th.  And no, that’s not a misprint.p

9. Auburn Tigers (7-2)

Let’s face it: there are teams in this realm with better wins than Auburn’s.  However, it’s also important to look at their two losses, which came to Clemson and Texas A&M, both of whom were ranked in the top four of last week’s rankings.  Granted, they didn’t look overly impressive in last week’s 23-16 win over Vanderbilt, but a fairly easy next two games (at Georgia, Alabama A&M) should have them in position to play spoiler against Alabama in the Iron Bowl on November 26th.  A rushing attack centered around Kamryn Pettway (who is questionable for this week’s game) and one of the best defenses in the country have Auburn sliding into the top ten this week.

8. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2)

Penn State is a team that I have come around on over the course of this season.  After getting pummeled 49-10 by Michigan on September 24, the team has won its last five games, including a 24-21 home victory over Ohio State.  An offense spearheaded by Trace McSorley has been one of the most consistent in the country and has come on as of late.  This is a different team than the one that got destroyed in Ann Arbor in week four.  Message to the rest of college football: beware of Penn State.

7. Wisconsin Badgers (7-2)

Wisconsin is another team that has evolved since the beginning of the season; the Badgers, though, have fared far better and more consistently in their schedule than Penn State has.  The Badgers have had quarterback issues all year long, waffling between Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook.  The Badger offense, though, revolves around running back Corey Clement, who rushed for over 100 yards in last week’s win over Northwestern.  Wisconsin’s two losses have come against Michigan and Ohio State and their remaining schedule (Illinois, at Purdue, Minnesota) is rather easy.  The Badgers should run the table and likely will end up in the Orange Bowl.

6. Louisville Cardinals (8-1)

The Louisville Cardinals are a good team that has been carried all year long by human cheat code quarterback Lamar Jackson.  Jackson continued his heroics last week, throwing for seven touchdowns in a blowout victory against Boston College.  The Cards don’t have any more difficult tests on the schedule, as Houston has self-imploded (you’re welcome) and Wake Forest and Kentucky will both be coming to Louisville.  The Cardinals probably need help to make the Playoff, but they’re having an amazing season nonetheless.  That is all thanks to Lamar Jackson.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-1)

Ohio State had the most impressive performance of week ten, defeating Nebraska 62-3 at home.  J.T. Barrett is a legitimate Heisman contender who leads one of the most talented offenses in the country.  If Ohio State wins out, which would include a victory against Michigan, they would likely make the Playoff.  Even at five, the Buckeyes still control their own destiny.  Two road tests lie between them and a date with the Wolverines in Columbus to close out the regular season.

4. Washington Huskies (9-0)

While the Huskies may be jumped by the Buckeyes in the real rankings tomorrow, I am putting Washington over Ohio State because of the value I place on winning.  While Washington has not played an overly difficult schedule, they have won all of their games, and have won all but two of those games in convincing fashion.  Jake Browning has spearheaded the second-best scoring offense in the country to a 9-0 record this year, and the Huskies’ remaining games are against USC, Arizona State, and Washington State.  If Washington wins out, they’re in my playoff.  Let’s be honest: all they’ve done is win.  There’s something to be said for that.

3. Clemson Tigers (9-0)

Clemson has been tested nearly all season long and was a missed field goal away from losing to NC State on October 15.  However, they’ve come out of these trials unscathed, with close wins against Auburn, Troy, Louisville, NC State, and Florida State.  Granted, the health of quarterback DeShaun Watson will be key for the Tigers going forward.  But Dabo Swinney’s team will do things the way they always have: by bringing their own guts and pulling out close games when they have to.

2. Michigan Wolverines (9-0)

I rate Michigan above Clemson because I subjectively believe that they are just a tick better than the Tigers.  Honestly, the choice between two and three is kind of splitting hairs, but the Wolverines have blasted through their schedule with only two close calls (a week nine win at Michigan State and a 14-7 slugfest against Wisconsin on October 1st).  Tack onto that an impressive 45-28 win over Colorado in week three and you get the picture of a team with a complete resume.  That’s what the Wolverines have, and that’s why I put them just above Clemson.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (9-0)

Duh.  Alabama is in a class of its own in these rankings, as they can win any game in any fashion.  I truly believe that they are significantly better than everyone else in college football right now, and the Tide have the talent on both sides of the ball to back that up.  Barring a trip-up in the Iron Bowl or in the SEC title game, the Tide will be rolling into the College Football Playoff as the nation’s best team.  And it isn’t that close.

Let me know what I got right and wrong in the comments section!

Don’t Get Too Excited About Houston (Yet)

Photo Credit: Associated Press
Photo Credit: Associated Press

The first week of the college football season generally lends itself to overreactions and irrational thought. For example, after this year’s week one, Deondre Francois is the best quarterback in the country, Texas is back, and Les Miles is getting fired. So it’s easy to see where fans and pundits could get a little excited about the results of just one week of games.

And that’s where the Houston Cougars come in.

You remember Houston from a season ago as the team that crashed the New Year’s Six Bowl games, defeating Florida State 38-24 in last year’s Peach Bowl. The team came into this season as a runaway hype train, with everything from a Heisman contender at quarterback to a coach who wears UH grills on his teeth like he’s 2 Chainz. With many significant pieces coming back from a season ago, as well as the addition of five-star defensive lineman Ed Oliver, Houston appeared to be a formidable team heading into this year.

And they proved their believers right with their performance on Saturday. The week one test against Oklahoma would prove to be an outstanding victory and a validation of what the Houston Cougars could be: the team that crashes college football’s party and, perhaps, makes the College Football Playoff.

And really, Houston dominated the Sooners from start to finish on Saturday. The win was nearly cemented in the third quarter when Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert attempted a long field goal. He not only missed the kick but he left it short. And that’s never a good idea in college football:

I think it’s safe to call that field goal return the thirdgreatest of its kind in the history of college football. Nonetheless, it served as the turning point in the game. The Cougars later added another touchdown to expand their lead, and only a late score from Oklahoma brought the final score to within ten points at 33-23. The win was arguably the most significant in the history of the program and elevated the Cougars to the sixth ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll. And, predictably, the hype around Houston is becoming unbearable, with many around the sport suggesting that the team has passed its biggest test on its way to the College Football Playoff.

And yet, even as Houston has climbed the polls and showed it can play with any team in the country, we still need to pump the brakes here, at least for the next few weeks.

For starters, there is every chance that the Oklahoma Sooners are not that great of a team. We have seen many examples in years past of teams that have disappointed after being ranked near the top of the polls at the beginning of the season. While Oklahoma can still make the Playoff, it is possible that this win may not look nearly as good in three months as it does now.

Another component to this discussion is that Houston’s schedule is, honestly, not that strong. Aside from a November 17 tilt against Louisville that could decide the AAC and even have Playoff implications, the Cougars’ schedule consists of matchups with teams like Lamar, UConn, SMU, and Tulane. In fact, as of right now, Louisville is the only remaining ranked team on Houston’s schedule. That could change, but if it doesn’t, the Playoff committee will have to seriously consider the strength of Houston’s slate and whether or not they deserve to be among the last four teams standing, even if they do go undefeated.

About that game with Louisville: it could be very important to the Playoff and most certainly will not be a cakewalk for the Cougars. While Houston quarterback Greg Ward could make his way to New York as a Heisman finalist, the Cardinals have their own Heisman contender in quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson accounted for eight touchdowns last week and even though he did that against Charlotte, it’s still a very impressive performance that is worth noting. While Houston’s schedule looks to be fairly easy, Louisville will be no pushover. Of course, there’s also the possibility that Houston doesn’t make it to week 12 with its Playoff hopes alive.

Yes, that is still a very real possibility. While basically everyone wants to jump to conclusions and assume that Houston is just going to run the table the rest of the way, it is possible that the Cougars won’t make it through the season without losing. Obviously, any loss would virtually end Houston’s run at a national championship, so there is little to no margin for error here.

Also, what if Ward or any of the team’s other main contributors get hurt at some point during the season? While it sounds terrible to speculate on this subject, Houston’s one loss last season (a 20-17 defeat at the hands of UConn) came with a backup quarterback (Kyle Postma) at the helm. If Postma has to step in to relieve Ward in the case of injury again this season, there is no guarantee that the Cougars will come out on the other side.

There are many reasons why Houston can run the table and make the College Football Playoff. After all, if the Cougars go undefeated, even with their somewhat weak schedule, there probably won’t be any way the committee can put three (or even four) one-loss teams ahead of them. If Houston is able to win the rest of its games, there is almost no reason to suggest they won’t be playing for a national championship.

On the other hand, New Year’s Eve, the date of the College Football Playoff semifinals, is a whole 113 days away. Many things can change between now and then, which should be a reminder that Houston (and every other team in the country) is one injury away from being a very different, and markedly worse, team.

Houston looked very good in week one and their win over Oklahoma put the nation on notice. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves: they have a long way to go if they want to make the Playoff.

Predicting the College Football Playoff

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

As we saw last season, attempting to predict the College Football Playoff is normally a futile task. I tried last year, picking Baylor, Ohio State, TCU, and Stanford; none of those teams made college football’s final four. The College Football Playoff is very difficult to predict and I usually don’t get it right. So let’s go ahead and try anyway, shall we?

Here are my projections for the top four teams in college football this season.

1. Florida State

I’m not going to say that picking Florida State as my top team is a no-brainer; in fact, it’s very far from it. The team still has uncertainty at the quarterback position; while Sean McGuire should begin the year as the team’s starter, his performance last season begs some questions about whether or not he can lead the ‘Noles to the promised land. Additionally, McGuire could miss the first few weeks of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. There’s literally no certainty at the quarterback position for Florida State right now. The rest of the roster, though, is not wrought with such insecurity.

For starters, running back Dalvin Cook returns after a season in which he rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns. Also, Cook was able to do all of this in just 229 attempts, so just imagine what he could do if he stays 100% healthy for an entire season. After all, this is the complete list of running backs to rush for over 1,600 yards and rack up 19 touchdowns last season. It’s impressive:

  1. Derrick Henry (Alabama)
  2. Leonard Fournette (LSU)
  3. Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
  4. Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

So it’s not difficult to see why we should be excited about Dalvin Cook this season. He should be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and will lead a Seminoles’ offense that returns literally every starter from a season ago. A potentially game-of-the-year matchup with Clemson on November 7 might seal Florida State’s fate (for better or worse), but this team is loaded with talent.

And f they can figure out the quarterback position (and I’ll bet that they will), the Seminoles are my national title favorite.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Let me ask you a question: who will be the starting quarterback for Alabama this season? If you can’t answer it, don’t worry. You’re not alone. And if you can’t name Alabama’s new starting quarterback(s), it probably won’t matter anyway.

Because before the 2011 season, you likely had never heard of A.J. McCarron; he became a two-time national champion. Before 2014, you didn’t know much about Blake Sims; he led Alabama to the first-ever College Football Playoff. And before last season, you had definitely heard of but were still remarkably unimpressed by Florida State transfer Jake Coker; he won a national title a season ago. It’s clear that Alabama’s quarterback position has never really mattered that much, but this year might be a different story.

This season, the prohibitive favorite to start at QB for the Tide is Junior Cooper Bateman. Bateman is the only quarterback on the roster who had game action last season; he started in the team’s loss to Ole Miss and played the first half before giving way to Coker. The Bateman-related moment we all remember from that game, though, was this:

That game was widely regarded as a turning point in Alabama’s championship season. This year, it looks like Bateman will have the reins to the offense, provided he can beat out Freshmen Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts for the job.

Things are different at Alabama this year, however. The team has no established running back (although it figures to be Bo Scarbrough and he could be something special). But the Tide are stacked at wide receiver with ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley both returning after combining for 152 catches a season ago. The defense should be strong again this season and the offensive line only has Cam Robinson to replace.

And if you still don’t know who Cooper Bateman is, that’s just fine. It’s probably not going to matter who starts at quarterback for the Tide, anyway. It hasn’t before, and it shouldn’t now.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Okay, the Buckeyes lost their two best players (Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa) from a season ago and have losses up and down the roster. Theoretically, they shouldn’t be a championship contender. But just hear me out on this one.

Unlike last season, the team will have complete certainty at the quarterback position. J.T. Barrett will take over the starting job (this time, for good) and he has the potential to have a ludicrous season. I’ll even go as far as to pick him to win the Heisman Trophy because the offense is literally all his now. Remember when Barrett started basically a full season in 2014 and threw for 34 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in just 11 full games? That type of performance (and possibly even better) could be awaiting him in 2016.

Granted, this Ohio State team lost a lot from last season. Their top three receivers, three offensive linemen, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell; you name it, Ohio State lost it. This really is kind of a shot-in-the-dark prediction, but I have a lot of faith in Barrett to lead the Buckeyes into the final four this season. If he has that type of season, the Buckeyes will be going to the Playoff, and potentially, even beyond.

And now for my next trick and something completely different….

4. UCLA Bruins

I know what you’re probably saying, and I think it has something to do with me being insane. Tell me something I don’t know.

UCLA was expected to break out last season with new starting quarterback Josh Rosen. He had a tremendous season, posting 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, the team succumbed to several significant injuries en route to a disappointing 8-5 finish. Like Ohio State, the Bruins lost key players such as Paul Perkins, Thomas Duarte, Jordan Payton, and Myles Jack from last season. But the secondary returns every player from a season ago and has a chance to be something special.

If Rosen and several other key players can stay healthy, UCLA has a chance to have a huge season. A look at their schedule shows that they have USC, Utah, and Stanford all at home. Their slate does contain several land mines (at Texas A&M, at BYU, at Washington State), but UCLA could legitimately be favored in every game this season.

Rosen is also a Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy. While he’s losing his two best receivers from a season ago (Payton and Duarte), he has a chance to become a breakout start in college football this season. Oh, and he also has this going for him:

Last fall, inspired by a friend at Arizona State, he went online and paid $400 for an inflatable Lay‑Z‑Spa hot tub. (“It came down to my roommate and I saying, ‘What are we going to be able to tell our kids we did in college?'”) He installed it in his dorm room, using a 20-foot beer funnel for a hose. His mom even came over to see it. But a picture posted on Instagram by one of Rosen’s friends ended up going viral, drawing coverage from TMZ. The school forced Rosen to remove the tub. He had to write an apology paper to the school, which he struggled to take seriously.

“I’m not a social media guy, I’m not,” Rosen says. “It’s just once every three weeks it’s like, Hey, let’s shake some s‑‑‑ up,” Rosen says. “I like to be a real person and show personality. People appreciate that.”

Nice. Very nice. You may not agree with him, but you have to respect someone who’s willing to erect a hot tub in his dorm room. He’s basically become that guy from the State Farm commercial, which is awesome to see from a Division I quarterback (and a really good one, at that).

They have to stay healthy if they want to run the table, but the UCLA Bruins have a legitimate chance at the College Football Playoff. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say after picking them to go to the Playoff in 2014.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

College Football Playoff Preview

This year in college football, New Year’s Eve will be so awesome.  And while you may not necessarily be watching the College Football Playoff through confetti (or at all, because of the utterly ridiculous scheduling loophole), the Cotton and Orange Bowls will provide all sorts of intrigue this year as the College Football Playoff bowl games. Of course, the other New Year’s Six bowls (Peach, Fiesta, Rose, Sugar) all provide interesting matchups as well; this post, however, will only focus on the two playoff games.

So for now, we’ll only take a look at Clemson-Oklahoma and Michigan State-Alabama.  It’s playoff time again!  Let’s get right into it.

Orange Bowl

Last year, Clemson and Oklahoma played in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and Oklahoma got absolutely hammered with a capital h.  They’re meeting in a slightly different and more important bowl game this year in Miami, but Oklahoma will still be out for revenge.

The team’s “out for revenge” attitude can be tied directly back to transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield.  He transferred into Oklahoma in 2014 but was unable to play until this season because of the Big 12’s transfer rules against a player transferring from one in-conference school to another.  His departure from Texas Tech can best be described as acrimonious, and he’ll be more than happy to tell you about it.

In any event, the key matchup in this game will be Mayfield and the Sooner offense against that of the Clemson Tigers.  The duel between the Oklahoma quarterback and fellow Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson will be the main attraction to this semifinal.  Of course, there is more to it than this.

Another key will be each team’s surprisingly good defense.  The Tigers and Sooners are ranked 8th and 31st is yards per game allowed, respectively, in college football, and both allow around 20 points per game.  The defenses are an under-appreciated part of the Orange Bowl, and it will be extremely important for each defensive unit to play well, but particularly against the no-huddle: the defense that is on the field less will likely have the upper hand.  It’s worth noting that Oklahoma easily has the best defensive player on the field in the game in linebacker Eric Striker.

But this is really why I’m taking Oklahoma: weapons.  Talent. Versatility.  Oklahoma’s offense can kill you in many different ways, but the most devastating of all may be through running back Samaje Perine.  If Perine gets loose early in the game, you can expect a very long day for the Tiger defense.  His running will also set up Mayfield, star wide receiver Sterling Shepard and the rest of the Oklahoma passing game.

That being said, it’s going to be an excellent game.  Clemson is getting absolutely no respect from Las Vegas, the public, or really anyone covering the game.  It’s going to be as spirited a big game as we have seen in college football for quite some time, but I think Oklahoma has a slight edge.

The Pick: Oklahoma 38, Clemson 31

Cotton Bowl

This game is really a matchup of two very similar teams.  They both play basically the same offense; often under center, never hurrying up.  But what they do with their offenses is very different: while Michigan State rightfully puts their faith in senior quarterback Connor Cook, Alabama will rightfully give the ball to Heisman Trophy winning running back Derrick Henry.  And they’ll give the ball to him some more.  And some more.  And some more.

conservative estimate of Henry’s touches would likely be set at 40, and he’ll probably reach that by running the ball alone.  In Alabama’s last two games of the season, Henry racked up 46 and 44 carries in wins over Auburn and Florida.  If Alabama is to win this game, they have to give the ball to #2 and hope that he has another monster day; this is entirely possible, but the task will be tougher against a stout run defense that only allowed 113.1 yards per game on the ground this season (7th in major college football).

Another thing Alabama will need to do is to put faith in quarterback Jake Coker to make enough plays to win them game.  His sound decision making and sudden, new-found mobility has helped Alabama get to this point, and for the first time in his up and down, good and bad college career, the quarterback will get a chance to be the signal caller on a national championship team.  To have that distinction, though, he’ll have to have a solid, mistake-free game against a really good defense.

As for that defense?  It’s really well-suited for a game like this.  While it ranks a mediocre 76th in FBS in passing yards allowed per game, Alabama will have a difficult time running it on them, as the stats above show.  The main battle in this game is going to be Henry and the offensive line of the Crimson Tide against Michigan State’s defensive line, led by future NFL Draft first-round pick Shilique Calhoun.  Whichever front gets a push will win the battle, and possibly win the game as well.

Of course, Michigan State’s offense is key as well.  They will also have to be able to run the ball against Alabama’s solid defense, one that allows the least rushing yards per game of any team in America (74). Cook might have to do it on his right arm alone, and that may be a risky proposition: the Tide are also a top-20 pass defending team. Making headway will be an immense challenge for the Spartan offense, one that may be too difficult to overcome.

I’m picking Alabama.  Spread offenses do well against Nick Saban, but this is the furthest thing from a spread offense.  Mark Dantonio will have his team ready, and the Spartans will play angry.  But I just think the Tide has too much.

The Pick: Alabama 27, Michigan State 17

Personally, I believe that Oklahoma would beat Alabama in a national championship game.  However, that will be a separate post after the semifinal results.  As always, enjoy the games and have a safe, healthy, and Happy New Year!