This is a great time of year around the sports world. Not only are spring football camps opening up and ongoing around the country, giving a fans a breath of fresh air and a preview of what is to come in the fall, but basketball is marching toward a national championship. You know, if you’re in to that sport with the round ball on the hard court. There is room for both sports of course, but please refrain from attempting to draw comparisons between the two.
One of the popular things football writers like to do this time of year is defend the sport of college football as the supreme sport over its basketball counterpart. This is unnecessary of course, as most of the targeted audiences for the sports tend to overlap enough to satisfy both cravings. Another gimmick is to come up with a field of 64 football teams and determine who would win a gridiron edition of the tournament. Heck, maybe that is someone out there chooses their winners in the office pool every year.
Wichita State completed a rare undefeated season on Sunday, assuring an unblemished record when they play their NCAA Tournament opener next week and essentially locking up a number one seed. Inspired by the remarkable feat, Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated wonders if a mid-major in college football could possibly qualify for the new College Football Playoff about to kick off in the upcoming season. The answer is rather simple: yes.
It certainly will not be easy, but the formula may not stray too far from what the traditional path to busting the BCS has been made up of in recent years. Go undefeated, win the conference championship and maybe score a notable victory or two along the way to open some eyes. With four spots open at the mercy of the selection committee, there will come a year when one of the schools not from a major conference could have that type of resume that is just too hard to ignore. It will not likely happen often, but it is certainly possible.
But why do we bother drawing comparisons between college basketball and college football when discussing the postseason? What is the point? Both college basketball and college football operate differently from top to bottom. This year football will finally operate a postseason under a somewhat similar philosophy with the four-team college football playoff, but basketball has 64 (68) spots open and every conference champion gets in no matter what. Every conference champion will get a spot in the basketball tournament. There is a hypothetic possibility only one conference champion could get a spot in the college football playoff. Until football has an expanded playoff structure with similar access to the basketball variety, there is no comparison between the two sports.
Comparing college football and college basketball is essentially along the lines of comparing apples to oranges.
Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.
Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.
In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.
On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.
The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.
While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well. In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.
Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.
Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.
“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”
No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.
Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.
If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.
Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).
Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.
Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.
Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.
After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.
“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”
Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.
Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.