by Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
Oregon. Flippin’ Oregon.
Turn on the tube the other night and we got ESPN talking heads going back and forth about the Ducks’ chances at the College Football Playoff — Are they out? Do they still have a shot? What has to happen for them to make it?
Ummm, how about a stay of execution from some higher power … or, better yet, a time machine to take Mario Cristobal’s bunch back to when things started to crumble Saturday night at Autzen Stadium against Pac-12 rival Stanford. Get it right this time, and maybe, just maybe, there could be a shred of hope for Oregon.
What in the world are people smoking? In this new day and age of major college football, if you ain’t an elite — or viewed as such — you ain’t got no shot.
Frankly, came away more impressed with Oregon that, well, ever have been. These Ducks, to me, looked better — a lot better — than any outfit Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich ran out there, with or without Marcus Mariota, national title in the balance or not. Even a little better than the 2001 edition under Mike Bellotti that finished No. 2 in the country back before Nike made Oregon the poster child for hideous uniforms that somehow “speak” to the nation’s youth.
That, for me, was the program’s standard.
After watching Justin Herbert sling it — and run it — against the Cardinal, with toughness, grit and power showing all around him throughout the contest, no more.
But, seriously, the Ducks are out as of now.
They’re not viewed as elite anymore — whether they actually are or not. They went into that contest ranked 20th in the country, lost and now stand at No. 19.
The upward movement there isn’t so much a sign of respect for how they played vs. Stanford, but, rather, a reality check to how far they had fallen from 2014 season national finalist — needing a near-win against a quality opponent to actually be recognized as decent, if not good.
Make no mistake, Oregon is good. Damn good.
But it wasn’t seen as being at that level, and it lost. To a team, while ranked No. 7 in the nation now, that just might lose this week at No. 8 Notre Dame.
For the record, those two soon-to-be South Bend combatants represent only a fraction of the unbeaten obstacles that currently stand in the way of Oregon being to battle its way back into contention — a contention it never was in anyway.
Face it. Here are the facts:
-There are four berths in the playoffs.
-Two of those, save for the apocalypse, are reserved for the SEC champion and the Big Ten champion.
-Unless Clemson stumbles somewhere along the line against what appears to be a shockingly weak ACC slate, it’s in, too.
That leaves very little room for error, never mind a mountain of others’ perceptive doubt or non-belief to climb, in order to grab a spot.
It’s called a stacked deck, and it’s working against the Ducks these days, just as much as it may have been working for them under Kelly and Helfrich.
Of course, things could be worse for Oregon.
It could be Central Florida, which hasn’t lost since 2015 and can’t crack the nation’s top 12, not to even to surpass one-loss Auburn, a team it beat not 10 months ago in the Peach Bowl.
Or California, a conference colleague that has yet to lose and counts ballyhooed Brigham Young among its victims, yet somehow stands behind the Cougars — and Oregon — in the AP poll at No. 24.
There really are only a handful of teams that will be considered for the CFP, with an outlier having only the minute of chances.
Oregon was never in the first group there — that’s only for the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma — and, now, having lost, no matter what type of fashion, it isn’t in the second, either.
MY HEISMAN FRONTRUNNERS
Will Grier, West Virginia QB
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State QB
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma QB
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson QB
MY PLAYOFF FRONTRUNNERS
GAME OF THE YEAR?
Not sure No. 4 Ohio State at No. 9 Penn State is worthy of that billing, which seems to have swept the college football media nation this week. But it’s big, no doubt.
Whichever team wins is in the driver’s seat to grab that “reserved” CFP bid for the Big Ten. Then again, the Nittany Lions topped the Buckeyes two years ago, won the conference title … and still didn’t get the bid — the powers that be irrationally and illogically opting for Ohio State to go instead.
Looking at the entire campaign, PSU probably was the Big Ten’s best again last year, losing squeakers at Ohio State and Michigan State by a combined four points, but didn’t get the nod again.
It will this time. If it beats Ohio State, and wins the conference.
Ohio State? It still may get in, even if both of those things happen … and PSU quarterback Trace McSorley goes all Baker Mayfield and wins the Heisman.
TEAM OF THE YEAR ... SO FAR
It’s Kentucky. Not only did the Wildcats exorcise decades-old demons against then-No. 25 Florida three weeks ago, they manhandled then-No. 14 Mississippi State this past Saturday night in Lexington while improving to 4-0 and earning a place in the polls at No. 17 in both.
Fellow basketball powers Duke and Syracuse are turning some heads with spotless records, too. But Kentucky stands out most with its style of play and quality of competition. In short, the Wildcats’ tough-defense, ground-dominated game plan is a winner anywhere — no matter how ugly it may look at times.
Mississippi State had been giving up just 85 rushing yards per game, at 2.5 yards per pop, and had yet to give up a touchdown on the ground before facing Kentucky. Wildcats junior running back Benny Snell Jr. promptly went off for 165 yards (at 6.6 yards a pop) and four TDs against the Bulldogs.
Yeah, Kentucky looks legit.
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Upon further review …
For the fourth straight week, my two schools went a combined 1-1. How positively “meh” of them.
With Illinois, still waiting for Lovie Smith to walk out the door — by his choice or not. At this point, excusing the players’ inexperience is not an option anymore. Nor is pointing at their lack of talent. That ain’t the issue. Coaching is. Game-day coaching.
Exhibit A: Friday night, at home, against then-No. 10 Penn State, the Illini are keeping pace behind the tag-team running of Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin. They’re down 21-17 at half. Epstein, coming off back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, has 72 yards on 12 carries. Has a couple receptions, too. First possession in the second half, he gets a break and before OC Rod Smith can get him back in there, Illinois manages to pull off a 75-yard drive to take a three-point lead. Fair enough.
But then the kid doesn’t see the field the rest of the third quarter, even as the wheels start coming off faster than you can “three-and-out” while the Lions catch fire. By the time Smith goes back to him, it’s too late. Damage done.
The Illini had no “feel” for using him against South Florida a week earlier, either, which resulted in them blowing a 19-6 lead in the fourth.
Can we stop rejoicing over M.J. Rivers II play at QB, too? Great, we get it, he’s a freshman. Can’t expect too much. Yeah, but we can expect him to feel pressure once in a while, and this guy can’t even sense the sharks circling a step away and the blood swirling all over.
Temple? Yo, take the win and just keep running Ryquell Armstead. Enough said.
This upcoming weekend may be the best for big-time matchups thus far, and could serve as the “yay” or “nay” final say for several teams with playoff hopes.
No. 4 Ohio State travels to No. 9 Penn State in the featured, prime-time contest Saturday night, but it ain’t the only one with major implications. No. 7 Stanford visits No. 8 Notre Dame the same night (and time) as well. No. 12 West Virginia has to go on the road at No. 25 Texas Tech, which just dismantled then-No. 15 Oklahoma State on its own field, and No. 11 Washington hosts No. 20 Brigham Young, which already dropped then-No. 6 Wisconsin at its place this season, in the other biggies.
by Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
It caught my eye.
Despite the futile track record, my daily scan at warp speed through social media continued in earnest Tuesday to see if anything popped out at me … and, much to my surprise, something did.
Wasn’t anything deep or detailed. Just a graphic courtesy of Fox Sports that pointed out the remaining unbeatens after three weeks of college football action this autumn of 2018.
But it got me thinking …
Which teams are capable of crashing the four-team party to settle the national champion that already seems to have sent out invitations, pending committee approval, to the current top five-ranked ranked squads: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma?
Five? Three? Any?
Let’s be honest here. In this day and age, any outfit not named above that has a loss is out of the running — save for, maybe, Notre Dame … and that’s big MAYBE anymore anyway.
Those five are so far above every other program the difference defies description, and Alabama is, by far, the elite of that elite.
Frankly, Clemson, with its NFL-caliber defensive line and freshman phenom Taylor Lawrence looking like he may get forced into being “the man” faster than head coach Dabo Swinney had planned, seems to be the only legit competition to the Crimson Tide defending its crown.
But it’s nice to dream, or just wonder … what if?
Outside of that Fab Five, a whopping 29 teams have yet to taste defeat, or even a tie, offering hope of the improbable, if not impossible, to an awful lot of fans sports an awful lot of colors.
THE NO SHOTS
With apologies to many of my fellow Group of Five followers, if not alums, while this sport may love its “underdogs,” it very rarely rewards them. Central Florida not only was the nation’s lone unbeaten last season, it gave the country two of the most entertaining games in for-the-ages thrillers against South Florida and Memphis, won its conference and topped Power Five foe Auburn in a New Year’s Day bowl game — all while performing under the uncertainty of whether program builder Scott Frost would stay or leave.
For its efforts, UCF got a pat on the head with a No. 6 ranking, behind four teams with two losses each, mind you, and a ton of mockery thrown its way by stuck-in-their-ways experts and Joe Six-Packs alike for having the audacity to claim it had earned more.
With that in mind, watch out for the door hitting you in the face, North Texas, Louisiana Tech and Marshall of Conference USA, UCF, South Florida and Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference, and Buffalo and Akron of the Mid-American Conference.
Boston College, Syracuse, N.C. State and Duke of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Minnesota and Indiana of the Big Ten, Kentucky and Missouri of the Southeastern Conference, and the Pacific 12 Conference undefeated quartet.
None of them — not Stanford, California, Washington State, Colorado or Oregon — have what it takes. Nice teams. But nothing special, even if Bryce Love returns to Heisman favorite form for the Cardinal.
Pretty much the same story with the rest mentioned right here, and in some cases, such as with Minnesota, Indiana and Missouri, that may be generous.
Iowa of the Big Ten, Louisiana State of the SEC and Oklahoma State of the Big 12. Oh, yeah, Notre Dame, too. Sorry, Irish backers, but your guys are brutal to watch — even in victory. ND, currently ranked eighth in the country, could be 0-3 right now very easily and with a stretch of five straight weeks against quality competition starting with road game No. 1 Saturday at Wake Forest, it can forget about an undefeated season.
Iowa, just, well, doesn’t impress anyone. Nine teams ranked with losses, and the Hawkeyes are 3-0, unranked and not even leading the way in “others getting votes.”
As for Okie State, will be forever grateful that it put the kibosh on another Boise State darling tale before it ever really got started, but, they look to be the third wheel in a two-team conference.
LSU? Puh-leeze. That offense still stinks. To high heavens.
THAT LEAVES ...
If memory serves, Virginia Tech of the ACC, West Virginia of the Big 12 and Penn State of the Big 10 — and, really, they’re all wing-and-a-prayer wildcards to do anything.
The Hokies, led by two brilliant DBs in Caleb Farley and Reggie Floyd, have the stingy defense while the Mountaineers and Nittany Lions have the gunslinging QBs in Will Grier and Trace McSorley. Incredibly impressive strengths for each team, but none of them are complete or balanced.
If any were to shock the elite, never mind the nation, Tech seem the one for several reasons — even beyond that incredibly ranging and athletic stop troops. Schedule, special teams and a few threats at the skill positions. In that order.
ND is Tech’s toughest regular season game left and the Hokies get the Irish in Blacksburg, Va. Its next two toughest games — Boston College and Miami — are also at Lane Stadium.
Conversely, Penn State has four ranked teams remaining on its slate, starting with No. 4 Ohio State on Sept. 29. West Virginia, meanwhile, closes its season with this stretch: at Texas, vs. Texas Christian, at Okie State, vs. Oklahoma. Good luck coming out unscathed from that.
At this point, just can’t see any team challenging the top 5 for a spot in the CFP. But Tech sure looks like the best bet to put that to the test.
Unless, of course, Mississippi State somehow shocks Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the SEC West under first-year coach Joe Moorhead, who has the Bulldogs playing their best ball since a magical run to No. 1 in 2014.
OK, now memory has served ...
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
If there is one word to describe the early stretches of the 2018 college football season, that’s it.
Yep, any uncertainty here, any weakness there, teams, players and coaches are gonna pay.
Can’t ever recall, well, frauds being found out so fast.
This week’s casualties included:
Big Ten Conference. Yo, it just ain’t that good. All that hullabaloo about overtaking the Southeastern Conference for “we’re the best in the country” chest-thumping last season was more than a tad premature. This past weekend’s seven-loss effort to nonconference competition — six of ’em against non-Power 5 teams — offered compelling evidence to that fact.
Wisconsin. Chief among the B1G’s disappointments on Saturday was Paul Chryst’s club. Frankly, the Badgers hadn’t looked so hot the first few weeks against a couple lightweights. Stepping up in class to face middleweight Brigham Young, No. 6 Wisconsin failed. Miserably. At home. It’s still hamstrung by Alex Hornibrook at QB, and, truth be told, the D isn’t as good as it usually is.
Boise State. Full disclosure — am pretty pleased about this development. The “noise” about the ever-overblown Broncos already had reached deafening annoyance, with talking heads across the country suggesting they had a shot at the College Football Playoff. Pardon my chuckle after the 44-21 dismantling Boise endured at Oklahoma State the first time it faced a legit squad.
Arizona State. One week after startling then-No. 15 Michigan State,16-13, in the desert, the Sun Devils saw the “Herm Edwards still can coach” tour run off the rails at San Diego State.
Southern Cal. Just in case you weren’t sure, the 22nd-ranked Trojans got their asses kicked a second week in a row on the road, this time at unranked Texas by a 37-14 score.
Hawaii. Was starting to wonder if we were getting shades of Colt Brennan in Cole McDonald with the Warriors’ strong, 3-0 start against decent competition. Then they visited Army.
JURY STILL OUT
Notre Dame. The Irish are 3-0 and looked bad in each game. At home, no less. May seem crazy, but they could lose at Wake Forest this Saturday, and will lose to Stanford and/or at Virginia Tech right after.
Indiana. Yeah, the Hoosiers are 3-0 and as the Big Ten Network’s Gerry DiNardo keeps saying, playing well. But against who? They host Sparty this coming Saturday night. Count on an “L.”
Auburn. The Tigers, for some reason, were a prohibitive favorite against LSU for Saturday’s SEC West title. Not sure why. They lost to LSU last year and now, again, this year.
LSU. Can’t honestly these Tigers are any better than the aforementioned Tigers, even with the last-second win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Duke. Can’t take the basketball program or its relentlessly elitist fan base, but the Blue Devils may have something going on the gridiron this fall and, thankfully, we haven’t had that shoved down our throats. Nor will we any time soon. Still, three nice wins against Army, Northwestern and Baylor — all in convincing fashion.
Oklahoma. The “quietest” No. 5 team in the country in recent memory. Not for nothing, but Kyler Murray has way more athletic tools than departed Heisman winner Baker Mayfield … and less baggage. The Sooners may be a problem for expected CFP qualifiers Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Scott Frost. Sorry, use the outdated, blinders-wearing, pretzel logic all you like, but the guy made a mistake, a massive one, leaving Central Florida for his beloved Nebraska. The Huskers are so far below the Knights, even in CFP potential, it’s stunning. Even Nebraska Nation is letting him have it after an oh-2 start. At home, to boot.
Willie Taggart. Kinda thought he made a mistake leaving South Florida for Oregon last year. Have no doubt now, though, that he screwed up by departing Eugene for Tallahassee. Florida State is circling the drain at this point, and taking him with it. Fans already are pushing for a buyout.
Jeff Brohm. That buffer with being at supposedly less-pressure Purdue and positing a winning season in Year One there will only go so far. The Boilers already are 0-3 and staring down the gauntlet at the very possible winless season.
Temple demolished Maryland, 35-14. Nothing to gripe about there. Both lines looked good for the first time this season — against better talent than they faced in a pair of losses to open the season. The Owls got the rock to Ryquell Armstead (26 carries, 118 yards) and Philly area product Anthony Russo (Archbishop Wood) was impressive in his first start at QB.
Illinois lost to South Florida, 25-19, in what will be termed a heartbreaker, or morale victory, or some PC-twisted combo of the two. But not buying that here. The Bulls are what they were last season, and the Illini surrendered 600-plus yards to them once again, and this time blew a 12-point, 14-quarter lead. QB M.J. Rivers cannot feel pressure. At all. RB Mike Epstein is a talent. Get him the ball. More. A lot more. RB Reggie Corbin is a talent, too. Only he needs balance lessons. Immediately. Desperately. Never seen such a skilled player fall so easily before. Routinely.