A viewer’s guide to New Year’s Day bowls and beyond

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Unbelievably — or excruciatingly given some of the lopsided results thus far — we’ve arrived at a couple of games past the midway point of the 2010-2011 bowl season.

Hopefully, as the calendar flips from ’10 to ’11, the best has been saved for last.  Honestly, though, can it get much worse than what’s been wrought thus far?

(Kansas State-Syracuse, North Carolina-Tennessee, consider yourselves excused from the criticism.)

With that as a backdrop, here’s a handy viewer’s guide to the remainder of the bowl season, both for the games themselves and for the intriguing storylines that are intertwined with some of the matchups.

Must-See TV
For all of the obscenity-laced ridicule the BcS has received — and rightfully so, might we add — the cartel has blind squirreled its way into one helluva title nut.  Simply put, the two best teams in college football this season have been Auburn and Oregon, and they will square off in Glendale in a championship game that has all the makings of an instant classic. A once-a-decade, worth-the-money talent in Cam Newton on one side of the offensive equation, a fast-break Oregon offense that would make Paul Westhead say “dayum” on the other.  Toss in neon green socks as a fashion accessory, and how can you lose?

Must-Flee TV
Somehow, it’s morbidly appropriate that GoDaddy.com is the title sponsor of the bowl game featuring Miami of Ohio versus Middle Tennessee State.  The RedHawks lost their head coach to Pittsburgh, and lost their starting quarterback to a spleen (thanks random broadcasting guy who thinks it’s cool to refer to someone being “out with a knee”).  Provided he can replicate last year’s New Orleans Bowl magic, MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher might be this game’s saving grace.  Then again, based on how his season has played out, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ticket City Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech has two quarterbacks – Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield – that they can use at any point in the game. Both Potts and Sheffield were vying for the starting gig in the preseason before Potts ultimately won the job. Northwestern, on the other hand is using their backup quarterback, Evan Watkins, after Dan Persa went down on the final play of a victory over Iowa with a foot injury. While there’s no official word, we’re hearing rumors that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has asked Tommy Tuberville if he could borrow Sheffield for a game. Our guess? Not gonna happen.

Progressive Gator Bowl: No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan
As if there were any other story lines. All the rumors swirling out of the greater Ann Arbor area point to Rich Rodriguez’s head on the guillotine. It’s just a matter of whether AD David Brandon pulls the rope or not. Rodriguez’s buyout falls from $4 million to $2.5 million on the Jan. 1, and given the unceremonious firings in Maryland and West Virginia, it wouldn’t be a terrible surprise if RichRod was simply asked “not to return home with the team”. There is one guy, however, who can save Rodriguez’s job. That would be Denard Robinson, who probably prevented his coach from being fired already.  Speaking of which…

RichRod, standing on the precipice of…
Another season at Michigan?  The unemployment line?  It’s hard to believe that how the Wolverines perform in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State will be the be-all, end-all for Brandon’s decision on Rodriguez and the football program’s future.  An embarrassing loss, however, could serve as the final nail in a coffin that’s already four feet under.  It will take a minor miracle, regardless of how the game with the Bulldogs turn out, to keep it from dropping the remaining two feet.  And waiting above ground, with shovel in hand…

Out of Luck on head coach, quarterback front?
You’ll have to pardon Cardinal fans if they seem to be a bit on edge these days.  Yes, they are in a BcS bowl (see below) for just the second time in the school’s history, and the first since the 2000 Rose Bowl.  That’s the positive.  The negative is the attrition looming on the horizon.  Will head coach Jim Harbaugh head back home to Ann Arbor to take over a stumbling and bumbling Michigan program in dire need of change?  Will Andrew Luck take his considerable quarterback talents off The Farm and into the NFL draft?  Not much riding on the answers to those questions; just the immediate future of the football program is all.

Discover Orange Bowl: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech
For as much criticism as Boise State has received for their lack of a “signature win”, these two teams haven’t been much better. Stanford’s best win came in the waning moments against a bowl-less, 8-5 USC. Virginia Tech has wins over Florida State and North Carolina State, both of whom showed flashes of greatness this season, but also pillow-fought and prissy-slapped their way through the ACC Atlantic.  To be honest, this game seems pretty evenly matched. Both have amazing coaches in Jim Harbaugh and Frank Beamer (who should get more recognition than he does), and both have really great quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, who could be jumping to the NFL afterward, and Tyrod Taylor. This could be a game decided on who gets the ball last.

Will the Big 12 wake up any time soon?
There’s the bottom dropping out of something, then there’s what has happened to the Big 12 thus far this bowl season.   Coming into the postseason with high hopes, it appears instead those hopefuls were high as the conference has stumbled their way to a 1-4 mark out of the gate.  Just to get back to the .500 mark, the Big 12(-2) will need to win all three of their remaining games.  So, yeah it’s not so good for commissioner Dan Beebe and his league.  Combine the rocky bowl start with losing two schools to other conferences via expansion and Texas’ inexplicable implosion, and it’s been a really, really bad last six months or so for the ten-member Big 12.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UConn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
After losing to underdogs Boise State and West Virginia in successive Fiesta Bowls, you’d have to think third time’s the charm, right? Certainly, Oklahoma can’t lose 3 Fiesta Bowls in a row, can they? “Big Game Bob” Stoops hasn’t won a BCS game since the 2002 Rose Bowl and playing 8-4 UConn certainly gives him a chance. But, I’ve counted out UConn more than a couple of times this season, and each time, I’ve been wrong. If the Huskies can win this game, or even make it frighteningly close, the Big East might be able to stop some of the massive PR blood loss from this season.

Ya get it?  He’s that freaking old!
What’s the over/under on how many times we hear some derivative of the “JoePa’s 84 years old, and he’s not the one retiring” joke during the Outback Bowl matchup between Penn State and Florida?  I’ll just go ahead and set the line at “ad nauseam” and be done with it.  But, yes, this game marks the Gator swan song for Urban Meyer, although it’s pretty well established that this likely won’t be the last time Meyers prowls a football sideline.  Unbelievable, though, that Meyer is stepping down, while Coach Paterno will still… dammit, got sucked into the vortex as well.

Didja know that Coach Woodcock used to coach the Spartans?  Didja?
Speaking of running things into the ground,  Alabama head coach Nick Saban used to hold the same title at Michigan State.  The two schools will square off in the Capital One Bowl, so you can see which direction talking heads will take this one.  What we’re more interested in, though, is Mark Ingram.  Specifically, will this be his final season in Tuscaloosa?  The running back has already won a Heisman and a national title; he’s also dealt with injuries this season that gives a glimpse into the relatively short shelf life a tailback possesses.  Add all of that to the presence of Trent Richardson on the depth chart, and what better way for Ingram to ride off into the collegiate sunset than with a win over the school he grew up rooting for?

AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M
During the latter half of the season, there may not have been a hotter team in the country than Texas A&M, who after a 3-3 start, reeled off 6 straight wins – including 2 over Oklahoma and Nebraska – to end at 9-3. The question mark here is how a layoff that spanned over a month will affect the Aggies. LSU has the speed on defense to match up with Ryan Tannehill and the A&M offense, so the Aggies better be sharp.  A&M can’t afford to fall asleep on defense, either, with Les Miles prowling — and chewing on — the sidelines.

Can tOSU remove “Property of the SEC” from their backsides?
Forget the Buckeye Five and their five-game suspensions to begin the 2011 season; the main storyline is whether or not Ohio State can get the SEC bowl monkey gorilla off their backs.  The Buckeyes have played Those Schools Down South nine times in the postseason, and lost every single one of ’em, including, you may have heard, a pair of embarrassing national title game blowouts.  The Sugar Bowl against Arkansas will allow the Buckeyes a shot at regaining a little bit of their lost and battered manhood.  Or further neuter them in the eyes of the national media.  One of the two.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs, Pittsburgh
In a lot of ways, this game is eerily similar to the Champ Sports Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State. Earlier this month, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt  was fired – excuse me – “resigned” and it will be interesting to see just how the Panthers respond against a decent, but not great, Kentucky team.  Pittsburgh began as the preseason favorites to win the Big East. Now, they’re 7-5. Will the disappointment be too much? After all, we all saw how West Virginia reacted to distractions in their bowl game.  The “X Factor” in this game has to be Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, who has thrown, caught, and rushed his way to an All-American season. Pitt has the talent on defense, but they will have their hands full trying to contain Cobb.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College
While it might not blow up the Nielsen Ratings, this has to be the most feel-good bowl of the season.  Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick has been an absolute stud throughout his entire career and has never received the praise he deserves. During his time at Nevada, he has accounted for over 10,000 yards of total offense.  On the other side of the ball will be BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who as many of you probably know by now, successfully recovered from a battle with cancer. Herzlich has been an amazing inspiration and I know all (two) of us here at CFT wish Mark nothing but the greatest success at the next level and throughout the rest of his long life.

(Many, many thanks to the mighty Ben Kercheval for his help in compiling this viewer’s guide.  And direct any complaints to him as he wrote all of the really crappy/mean ones.  Thanks in advance for your cooperation.)

Nearly three-fourths of 2017 first-round NFL draft picks were 4- or 5-star recruits

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For those who completely dismiss recruiting rankings, the NFL draft showed again last night that they do mean something.

The 2017 version of the annual player selection meeting kicked off Thursday night in Philadelphia, with a total of 32 players selected in the opening round.  Of those 32, nearly 75 percent — 22 to be exact — were either four- or five-star recruits.  Nine were the latter, 13 the former.

Four of the first six selections, and three of the first four, were five-star recruits.  Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, the No. 1 overall pick, was the No. 2 player in the 2014 recruiting class; LSU’s Leonard Fournette, drafted fourth by the Jacksonville Jaguars, was the top recruit in that same class.

Just two of the 32 selections came from non-Power Five conferences, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis and Temple’s Haason Reddick.  Davis was one of two two-star recruits, Missouri’s Charles Harris being the other, while Reddick began his career with the Owls as a walk-on.

There were also six three-star recruits drafted, the highest being Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 overall.  He was also the second quarterback taken, behind only Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina (four-star).

Add all of those up, and you get 31 of the players selected last night.  The 32nd?  Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk, who had an interesting, to say the least, route to major college football.  From Ramczyk’s NFL.com draft profile:

Ramczyk (pronounced RAM-check) is a rare case of a Division III student-athlete making the jump to major college football. Even though he was an all-state pick from Wisconsin, he chose to turn down offers from FBS and FCS schools (one from Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst, who was at Pitt at the time) to attend a local technical college. After a year off, he decided to play at his hometown school, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. Ramczyk was a two-time all-conference pick there at left tackle before deciding to transfer to play for Chryst at Wisconsin.

Appropriately, Ramczyk was the last player selected in the first round, taken at No. 32 by the New Orleans Saints.

1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M, 2014 5-star (Cleveland Browns)
2.) Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina, 2013 4-star (Chicago Bears)
3.) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford, 2014 5-star (San Francisco 49ers)
4.) Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, 2014 5-star (Jacksonville Jaguars)
5.) Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan, 2013 2-star (Tennessee Titans)
6.) Jamal Adams, DB, LSU, 2014 5-star (New York Jets)
7.) Mike Williams, WR, Clemson, 2013 4-star (Los Angeles Chargers)
8.) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford, 2014 4-star (Carolina Panthers)
9.) John Ross, WR, Washington, 2013 4-star (Cincinnati Bengals)
10.) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech, 2013 3-star (Kansas City Chiefs)
11.) Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State, 2014 4-star (New Orleans Saints)
12.) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson, 2014 4-star (Houston Texans)
13.) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple, walk-on (Arizona Cardinals)
14.) Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee, 2014 4-star (Philadelphia Eagles)
15.) Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State, 2014 4-star (Indianapolis Colts)
16.) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama, 2015 4-star (Baltimore Ravens)
17.) Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama, 2013 5-star (Washington Redskins)
18.) Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, 2014 5-star (Tennessee Titans)
19.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama, 2013 5-star (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
20.) Garett Bolles, OL, Utah, 2016 4-star (Denver Broncos)
21.) Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida, 2013 3-star (Detroit Lions)
22.) Charles Harris, DE, Missouri, 2013 2-star (Miami Dolphins)
23.) Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss, 2013 3-star (New York Giants)
24.) Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State, 2013 4-star (Oakland Raiders)
25.) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan, 2014 5-star (Cleveland Browns)
26.) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA, 2013 3-star (Atlanta Falcons)
27.) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU, 2013 4-star (Buffalo Bills)
28.) Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan, 2013 4-star (Dallas Cowboys)
29.) David Njoku, TE, Miami, 2014 3-star (Cleveland Browns)
30.) T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin, 2013 3-star (Pittsburgh Steelers)
31.) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama, 2013 5-star (San Francisco 49ers)
32.) Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin, no rating (New Orleans Saints)

SEC remains atop NFL draft’s first-round perch

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The ACC may have knocked the SEC off its postseason perch this past season, but the latter conference remains the go-to first-round conference for the NFL.

With the first round of the draft officially in the books, the SEC easily led all leagues in selections with a record-tying 12.  The only conferences even remotely within shouting distance of the SEC were the Big Ten (seven) and the Pac-12 (six).  The ACC finished the first day with four players picked.

And what of the remaining Power Five conference not previously mentioned?  The Big 12 had as many picks, one, as the AAC and MAC.   Wrap your head around that.

Individually, there were six schools with two or more first-round picks, and three of those qualified for the College Football Playoffs last season –Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.  The others were LSU, Michigan and Wisconsin.

‘Bama had four players drafted, tying the program’s record for the first round.  LSU and Ohio State had three each, with two of the former’s coming in the first six picks.

Below are a handful of draft nuggets related to college football programs, followed by the complete first-round order of selections for those whom suddenly found themselves under a rock Thursday night.

  • Myles Garrett is the first-ever No. 1 overall pick Texas A&M has produced.  Luke Joeckel, picked No. 2 overall in the 2013 draft, had previously held the record for highest-drafted Aggie.
  • Clemson’s Mike Williams and Deshaun Watson are the first wide receiver-quarterback combination from the same school to be selected within the first 12 picks since the common draft began in 1967.
  • New #DBU? The three Ohio State defensive backs selected in the first round tied the record for that positional group set by Miami in 2002.  The four defensive backs in general and three cornerbacks specifically selected the past two years sets a draft record as well.
  • Stanford had two players, Solomon Thomas (No. 3) and Christian McCaffrey (No. 8), drafted in the Top 10 for the first time since Bob Whitfield and Tommy Vardell in 1992.  Thomas and McCaffrey became the 24th and 25th first-round picks in the program’s history, with six of those coming in the six seasons under head coach David Shaw. Five of those picks under Shaw came on the offensive side of the ball.
  • Michigan’s two first-round picks this year were as many as the football program had in the last 10 years combined.
  • Derek Barnett was Tennessee’s first draft pick in any round, let alone the first, since 2014.
  • The Miami Hurricanes have had a player chosen in every draft the last 43 years, dating back to 1972.
  • Wide receiver Corey Davis, selected fifth overall by the Tennessee Titans, is the second first-round selection from Western Michigan in the program’s history, joining 27th-overall pick Jason Babin in 2004.  He’s also the 17th player from the MAC to be drafted in the first round.
  • For the first time since 2009, a player who played his high school football in the state of Florida was not selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

1.) Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M (Cleveland Browns)
2.) Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina (Chicago Bears)
3.) Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford (San Francisco 49ers)
4.) Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (Jacksonville Jaguars)
5.) Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan (Tennessee Titans)
6.) Jamal Adams, DB, LSU (New York Jets)
7.) Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (Los Angeles Chargers)
8.) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford (Carolina Panthers)
9.) John Ross, WR, Washington (Cincinnati Bengals)
10.) Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech (Kansas City Chiefs)
11.) Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State (New Orleans Saints)
12.) Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (Houston Texans)
13.) Haason Reddick, LB, Temple (Arizona Cardinals)
14.) Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee (Philadelphia Eagles)
15.) Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State (Indianapolis Colts)
16.) Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama (Baltimore Ravens)
17.) Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama (Washington Redskins)
18.) Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC (Tennessee Titans)
19.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
20.) Garett Boles, OL, Utah (Denver Broncos)
21.) Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida (Detroit Lions)
22.) Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (Miami Dolphins)
23.) Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss (New York Giants)
24.) Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State (Oakland Raiders)
25.) Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan (Cleveland Browns)
26.) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA (Atlanta Falcons)
27.) Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU (Buffalo Bills)
28.) Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan (Dallas Cowboys)
29.) David Njoku, TE, Miami (Cleveland Browns)
30.) T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin (Pittsburgh Steelers)
31.) Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama (San Francisco 49ers)
32.) Ryan Ramczyk, OL, Wisconsin (New Orleans Saints)

Michigan, UCLA to do combined football camp this summer

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A pair of teams from the Big Ten and Pac-12 have decided to combine forces for a little camping action this summer.

During an interview Thursday, UCLA head coach Jim Mora revealed that his coaching staff as well as Michigan’s will work a football camp together in a couple of months. The camp will take place in June on the UCLA campus.

Mora’s counterpart at U-M, in case you were wondering, is expected to take part as well.

“We’re going to have a camp,” Mora told the Rich Eisen Show by way of mlive.com. “Michigan is going to send some of their coaches out, (Jim) Harbaugh is coming out – we’re going to do a combined camp with Michigan. It’s going to be fun.”

Interestingly, there is a very recent coaching connection between the two programs to add to the summer marriage.

The past two seasons, Jedd Fisch had served as the quarterbacks coach/wide receivers coach/passing-game coordinator for the Wolverines. In early January, it was announced that Fisch would be the Bruins’ new offensive coordinator. He’ll also serve as quarterbacks coach.

Football meets futbol as Texas A&M’s Kyle Field trying to host Manchester Derby friendly

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Football could turn into futbol at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field this summer.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the venue is on the short list to host English Premier League giants Manchester United and Manchester City for a stateside derby on July 20th this summer.

“We firmly believe Texas A&M is a world-class university, so you’re bringing world-class Premier League soccer teams to the campus,” Aggies senior associate athletic director Kevin Hurley told the paper.

For college football fans not aware, the two teams are some of the biggest soccer clubs in the world and annually stage a Manchester derby (think home-and-home series) several times a year for supremacy in the large, industrial English city. The upcoming game between the two in the United States is set to be part of the International Champions Cup, which has hosted several other major clubs from across Europe in matches at college football stadiums ranging from the Big House at Michigan to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Perhaps most interestingly, the DMN notes that Texas’ Memorial Stadium was originally in the running to host the game but organizers had to look elsewhere because of scheduling issues. The Longhorns and Aggies used to have one of the best rivalries in all of college athletics so it just makes sense for the two to have a bit and a back-and-forth when it comes to hosting a rivalry of a different kind.

Houston’s NRG Stadium (home of the Texans) is also reportedly in the mix but playing a soccer game at one of college football’s loudest venues seems like the no-brainer choice on novelty alone. It would be worth going to alone to see A&M fans explain ‘Gig’em’ and the ’12 Man’ to those from across the pond.