Frank Solich

‘Too many bowl games’ excuse didn’t carry weight on Day 1 of bowl season

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By the time the final whistle blew in the New Mexico Bowl earlier this afternoon — a 37-15 route by Temple over Wyoming that was close for about the first quarter — the pre-existing cynicism I’d felt toward bowl season was already heightened to near-insufferable levels.

Heck, it was like that an hour before that final whistle blew.

“Oh, here we go. Another bowl season highlighted by blowouts, half-empty stadiums and matchups that no one cares about hosted by sponsors that sound like someone’s Mad Libs.”

“The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?”

At halftime of that Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Utah State led Ohio 9-7 in what looked, again, like another snoozer — this time of the opposite end of spectrum. Close game, but zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

But, post-halftime, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl became famous for something other than having a completely hilarious name. Ohio took advantage of Utah State’s inability to close out a second half (or, ability to perfectly mimic Texas A&M’s halftime “adjustments” routine, depending on how you view it) and came from behind to beat the Aggies 24-23 with a last-minute touchdown.

It was a good game.

So was the nightcap for the first day of bowl season. The New Orleans Bowl didn’t feature a ton of lead changes, but it had momentum swings and two, literally, last-minute scoring drives that resulted in a 32-30 win by Louisiana-Lafayette over San Diego State.

A 50-yard game winning field goal as time expired? Tough to beat that.

And, consider that all three games today had two common themes: they featured non-AQ schools, and they were milestones. Temple hadn’t won a bowl game in 32 years since the 1979 Garden State Bowl; Ohio hadn’t won a bowl game period before yesterday; Louisiana-Lafayette hadn’t gone to a bowl in 41 years, and had never as a Division 1-A school.

As someone who attended college with a less renowned football program, I can tell you those kinds of moments matter to some. Those are the achievements on which programs like Temple and ULL hang their hats.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of flaws with the bowl system. It’s nearly impossible for schools to make any kind of profit and fans are, for one reason or another, not traveling as far or as often. The money that is made from the bowl is landing in the wrong hands.

But that’s another conversation for another day.

What can be answered more instantaneously is whether or not there are too many bowl games at 35, and there are arguments for both sides. For Exhibits A, B and C listed above, I give you Exhibit D — 6-7 UCLA, which through a bowl waiver provided by the NCAA, will be going bowling in San Francisco this year — Exhibit E — nine bowl games where both teams are, at best, 7-5 — and Exhibit F — declining TV ratings.

One of the excuses by defenders of the bowl-only system has been that the game is a reward for a successful regular season. Perhaps that was true 15 years ago, but the more bowls that pop up, the less applicable that explanation becomes.

Besides, bowls equal more practice time and glorified recruiting trips (except to Idaho). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that; it’s just part of the scene.

But there is still something magical about a great bowl game when the players and coaches lay everything on the line because, well, what’s the worst that could happen?

Can you really have too much of that?

Not if there’s at least a four-team playoff to accompany it, but there’s a tree we’ve barked up far too many times.

It’s almost a parody within itself.

Report: Gus Malzahn hands play-calling reins to OC

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn reacts to a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Arkansas on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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Following yet another pedestrian performance last Saturday, Gus Malzahn took his play-calling to task.

“Hadn’t been very good,” the Auburn head coach said Wednesday. “It’s gotta be better. It’s gotta be better and it will get better.”

To get better, and avoid the further heating of his coaching seat, Malzahn has elected to fire himself.

Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, al.com is reporting that offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will call plays in place of Malzahn in what’s almost a must-win game for the coach and the team tonight against LSU.  The website writes that “[t]his isn’t the first time Lashlee has called plays in a pivotal game for Auburn… [as] Lashlee called the plays in Auburn’s 26-10 win at Texas A&M last season, the last SEC win for the Tigers.”

Since that game, the Tigers have lost three in a row in conference play.

Lashlee will be orchestrating an offense that, thus far this season, is tied for 86th in scoring offense (26.7 ppg).  Take out the 51 points AU scored against Arkansas State in Week 2, and the Tigers averaging 16 points per game against Power Five teams.

WATCH: Like his team, Mark Dantonio disappeared during blowout loss

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans looks on during warm ups against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Who knew that Mark Dantonio was into prestidigitation?

As you already know by now, No. 8 Michigan State was overwhelmed and embarrassed by No. 11 Wisconsin Saturday afternoon, then taken to the woodshed for good measure in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 30-6 loss in East Lansing.  The Spartans’ running game was practically non-existent on the afternoon (2.8 yards per carry), and its special teams weren’t much better.

Those two phases of the game essentially disappeared for the whole of the blowout, as did their head coach at one point in the contest.

Take that, Houdini. Or Whodini, if you were a Sparty fan wondering when your team was going to get to the good part…

Ken Starr describes Art Briles as ‘an honorable man who conducted an honorable program’

WACO, TX - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Art Briles of the Baylor Bears looks on as the Bears take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second half at McLane Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Oh boy.

Earlier this year, Art Briles was dismissed as the head coach at Baylor in the midst of the sexual assault scandal that rocked both the football program and the Baptist university.  Not long after, president Ken Starr followed the head coach out the door.

Briles embarrassingly began his redemption tour earlier this year with a tone-deaf interview that was overwhelmingly panned.  Starr, in an interview during something called the Texas Tribune Festival Saturday, likely trumped that level of embarrassment in the eyes of many as the former president vociferously defended his former coach.

“I believe that Coach Briles is an honorable man who conducted an honorable program,” Starr said by way of the Austin American-Statesman.

At least two of Briles’ players were convicted of sexual assault committed while they were Bears football players.  Several other players were accused of committing either sexual assault or violence — or both — while playing for Briles.

An outside review, the details of which have never been made public, accused the school of mishandling rape allegations and alleged that the football program, Briles and his coaching staff included, felt it was above the law.

In one of the lawsuits filed that stem from the rape allegations, one woman claimed that the school and the program were deliberately indifferent to her claims of rape.  Despite the appearance of a cultural issue that was pervasive at the Waco school, Starr declined to concur.

“I disagree with the sense that there was a fundamental failure,” said Starr. “I love Title IX. It has been an instrument of great, great reform … [but] the pendulum has swung much too far in one direction. …

“I’m going to resist the issue, or the characterization, that there was an endemic problem. Is there in fact a cultural insensitivity to issues of interpersonal violence? That was not the case at Baylor and is still not the case at Baylor.”

You know that feeling when you’re absolutely positive you should stop talking but simply can’t? When you have the right to remain silent but not the ability?  Yeah, that.

Rocky Slop: Tennessee comes up empty twice inside 10-yard line, Florida leads 21-3

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10: Joshua Dobbs #11 of the Tennessee Volunteers carries the ball against the Georgia Bulldogs on October 10, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.

The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.

Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.

Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.

Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.