It was in many ways a season of change for both Arizona and BYU this year. The former swapped out coaching staffs completely while the latter re-tooled and notably hired a new offensive coordinator. We’re just one week into the young season so it can be easy to overreact but it sure seems like the Cougars have figured a few things out while the Wildcats are back at the drawing board.
Following a slow start on both sides early, BYU exploded out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns to begin the second half before holding off a late charge from Arizona on Saturday night to win 28-23 and ruin the debut of Kevin Sumlin down in Tucson.
Veteran quarterback Tanner Mangum threw for 209 yards and a touchdown as the Cougars looked vastly better on the offensive end after having one of the worst seasons in school history on that side of the ball. The senior completed nine straight passes at one point during the team’s second half outburst and he effectively spread the ball around to 10 different receivers in the game. His ability to go downfield helped open things up in the run game as BYU’s offensive line started to really open up some running lanes for Squally Canada, who finished with 98 yards on the ground and managed three trips to the end zone.
The defense was also a factor for the visitors, as they applied plenty of pressure and did a good job at the line of scrimmage too. Though there was only one sack for BYU, the team forced four hurries and generally kept Khalil Tate bottled up.
Speaking of the Arizona quarterback, one of the preseason Heisman favorites looked almost handcuffed in Sumlin’s new offense and failed to get much of anything going — certainly not any of the dazzling long runs we became used to last year. He finished with 197 yards and a touchdown through the air and hardly called his number on the ground either with just 14 yards on only eight carries. JJ Taylor broke off a handful of runs and recorded 85 yards rushing (plus a score) but the entire unit never did seem to click and averaged under five yards a play.
The performance is sure to elicit some grumbling out of the Wildcats fan base, who had high hopes coming into 2018 with Sumlin taking over the program but had to wonder what the coaching staff has been doing the past few months after keeping their playmaker in the pocket launching passes down field without much accuracy. Sustaining drives was a real issue in the game until the final few minutes and the schedule doesn’t get much easier either with a trip to Houston to face Ed Oliver looming for the team.
It was an encouraging game for BYU however, as the team looked much improved on both sides of the ball and perhaps far more capable of handling the tough upcoming slate better than expected. The defense can hang their hat on containing one of the game’s top quarterback and the offense looked surprisingly potent with a few new weapons. It’s cause for celebration in Provo deep into the night and cause for lament at Arizona as the Cougars leave town with a win.
Most of the political world may be focused on the upcoming Democratic debates this month but for a slice of the college football world, no debate looms larger than the one concerning who gets the automatic Group of Five bid to the New Year’s Six.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has been on a media blitz recently to sump for his league the past two weeks, appearing on a variety of outlets as diverse as Bloomberg to the regular national radio and talk shows that dot the landscape. His message is a pretty simple one that he backs up with plenty of strength of schedule arguments but is essentially: the winner of Saturday’s Memphis-Cincinnati game should get the invite regardless what happens elsewhere.
The Tigers have been the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s top-ranked Group of Five team recently and likely sit with a win-and-in scenario. The question is though, what happens if the two-loss Bearcats emerge victorious?
That’s what fans of Boise State and Appalachian State are hoping for as both, if they win their respective conference title games, will be positioned to grab the bit in a close race with the AAC winner.
Now it appears that both the MWC and Sun Belt commissioners are joining Aresco in getting their talking points out in hopes that they somehow make their way to the committee’s ears.
“I am disappointed that Appalachian State is not ranked higher,” Sun Belt commish Keith Gill told The Athletic this week. “They are 11-1, 6-0 on the road, the only Group of 5 team to beat two Autonomy 5 teams on the road, and I believe that their body of work deserves more respect.”
“We just let the results kind of speak for themselves,” MWC counterpart Craig Thompson added. “I think we’ve done enough. When it really gets down to it, it’s the people in the room at the Gaylord in Texas (the CFP committee) that’ll make the determination. So as long as we’re stating our case, everything else is kind of superfluous. It really doesn’t matter what others think. It’s those people that are raising their hand”
While neither are quite beating the drum like their AAC counterpart, it’s clear there’s going to be plenty of campaigning for the elusive spot — and the hefty revenue bump that comes with it — from now until Sunday.
This college football season has been a bit different from most thanks to a combination of two factors that have very little to do with the play on the field: a new rule allowing players to redshirt despite playing in four games and the NCAA transfer portal.
Amid a flurry of player movement as a result of those two, on top of unique situations like Houston’s D’Eriq King deciding to take a redshirt in what amounts to a lost year for the Cougars, it seems the powers at be are already eyeing tweaking the current status quo. West Virgnia AD Shane Lyons chairs the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and remarked on a local radio show that adjustments to the current set of rules are likely to be discussed during meetings at the NCAA convention in January.
“I don’t think it’s a good optic for college sports,” Lyons said, according to the West Virginia MetroNews. “The way it looks, a student-athlete is potentially quitting on his team.
“It’s something the committee will look at in their January meeting to make any adjustments as necessary.”
Despite the redshirt rule originating from coaches themselves, in practice it has proven to be problematic for many because players have either removed themselves from action in order to save up a season and play elsewhere or simply entered the transfer portal. Such roster management concerns have led to plenty of criticism about the unintended consequences of the changes and now it appears the adults in the room are getting together to come up with a few changes to defeat the reasoning behind both rules.
We’ll see what happens between now and the January meetings but the days of going four-and-out for some might be coming to an end with the 2019 season.
At least based on the sportsbooks, you shouldn’t expect much drama on championship weekend — which means we should all brace for absolute and utter hell breaking loose, of course.
Friday night and on into Saturday, the 10 FBS conferences will hold their respective league championship games, the results of which will not only shape the College Football Playoff but the New Year’s Six Bowls and all the way down to the lower-tier bowls. As of this posting, and by way of the BetMGM Sportsbook, nearly half of those 10 title games feature double-digit odds:
- ACC — No. 23 Virginia vs. No. 3 Clemson (-28½)
- Big Ten — No. 1 Ohio State (-15½) vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
- Mountain West — Hawaii vs. No. 19 Boise State (-13½)
- AAC — No. 20 Cincinnati vs. No. 17 Memphis (-10½)
A fifth, the Big 12 championship game, is nearly double-digits as No. 6 Oklahoma is a 9½-point favorite over No. 7 Baylor.
The other five matchups have hovered around seven points or so, including the SEC title game featuring 6½-point favorite and second-ranked LSU clashing with No. 4 Georgia, since the matchups were decided last weekend:
- Pac-12 (Friday night) — No. 5 Utah (-6½) vs. No. 13 Oregon
- Sun Belt — Louisiana vs. No. 21 Appalachian State (-6½)
- MAC — Miami (OH) vs. Central Michigan (-6½)
- Conference USA — UAB vs. Florida Atlantic (-7½)
Some history was made overnight that involves both sides of The Game.
Wednesday night, sixth-ranked Ohio State took seventh-ranked North Carolina to the woodshed in a 74-49 win, handing the Tar Heels the basketball program’s worst-ever home loss at the Dean Dome under Roy Williams. Four days earlier, second-ranked Ohio State took 10th-ranked Michigan to the woodshed in a 56-27 win, handing the Wolverines their eighth straight loss — and 15th in 16 meetings — in the rivalry.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, this marks the first time in nearly three decades and just the second time ever that one school had scored wins in Associated Press Top-10 matchups in football and basketball in a span of four days or fewer. The only other school to pull off that feat? Michigan, in 1992-93.
I have no clue what it actually all means, but it sounds pretty impressive. And fairly hilarious that it involves both sides of the greatest rivalry in all of sports.