Don’t Miss It – Be There!

Have you attended a college football game lately?

Notice the question is not whether you have “watched” a college football game lately, but whether you have been to one. If you get the chance to go to a game, don’t miss it … be there!

On Atlanta television stations back in the 1960s and 1970s, that “don’t miss it” line was the signature phrase of an announcer and sportscaster named Freddie Miller. He used it to promote live sporting events, primarily wrestling house shows, but his call for attendance certainly holds true for football games today.

The attractions of watching a game from home are many. You eliminate the hassles of travel, parking, and crowds for the convenience of time, leisure, and comfort. You avoid ballpark prices for concessions and lines for easy and free access to your fridge and your restroom facilities. You trade the confines of small seats, loud noise, and limited Wi-Fi coverage at one game for a remote with fresh batteries, a lineup of games from daylight to dark, and the ability to text, tweet, and talk on the phone as you watch your big screen, high definition television.

Still, you miss something by not going to games.

The smell of burgers grilling wafts across campus as you meander past tailgate parties on the way to the stadium. The sights and sounds of pretty co-eds and flask-toting frat boys provide entertainment that the camera never catches at home. The roar of a riled up crowd when the good guys rally, or the muffled tension as the home team falters, provide emotion that is not duplicated from your living room. The communal revelry at a local tavern after a big victory trumps the solitude of sitting home and celebrating alone.

So, if you get a chance to attend a college football game … don’t miss it. Be there!

Around the Nation

The season is at the end of the first quarter as we drive toward the first college football playoff. Here is a quick analysis of the leading contenders for the four playoff spots.

Florida State … the Seminoles have looked only decent so far, but it is tough to see them losing more than once (which should get them in unless you believe four teams will go unbeaten).

Oklahoma-Baylor Winner … these two teams can light up the scoreboard and in today’s offense driven game that might be enough to get the winner to the playoff. The teams meet on November 8th.

Oregon … the Ducks look unstoppable on offense right now, but must solve their Stanford dilemma.
Alabama-Auburn Winner … the SEC West is brutal, but it is not unreasonable to see these two squads come into the Iron Bowl with no more than one loss each. If that is the case, a playoff spot might be on the line (pending a win in the SEC title game obviously).

This week’s big games include Auburn at Kansas State (Thursday). Virginia Tech hosts Georgia Tech in a game that often determines the ACC Coastal. Florida visits Alabama in a huge SEC game. Finally, Miami travels to Nebraska. The two had storied post-season games in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is the first regular season meeting of the two schools since 1976.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 4; Sept 18-20 2014)

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Conference Cakewalk

Remember the old “cakewalk” contests played at carnivals and fairs and school festivals?

You pay a dollar or two to enter. Music starts playing, everybody walks around these numbered placards placed on the ground, and when the music stops one lucky number wins a cake or some other prize. Win or lose it is a fun game.

The conference realignments of the past couple of years remind me a bit of those old cakewalks, only with winners landing in lucrative conferences that pay out millions to members, and losers feeling left out when the music stops. The conference cakewalks have not been fun for everyone.

We are still a week away from full conference play in college football, but one matchup caught my eye this week and brought to mind the winners and losers of the conference cakewalk: West Virginia at Maryland at 12:00 ET on the Big Ten Network. In my mind, those two schools epitomize some of the silliness and surprise of conference realignment these past few years.

West Virginia was a solid member of the Big East, a decent football league and an excellent basketball conference. On the gridiron, the Mountaineers annually played traditional geographical foes like Pitt and Cincinnati, they faced opponents with historical significance such as Syracuse, and had developed a recently formed league rivalry with Louisville. The program perhaps did not rate top five or even top ten status, but the Mountaineers played solid big-time football and boasted a strong fan following.

So, when the conference cakewalk music stopped, West Virginia ended up in … the Big 12? Uh oh.

This season Mountaineer faithful might traverse the Lone Star state with trips to play Texas Tech in Lubbock and Texas in Austin. They can sojourn to Stillwater, Oklahoma the week of Halloween to watch the OK State Cowboys, and then finish up the season out in Ames, Iowa, for the Iowa State game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Bundle up for that one. Oh, and have your 401K ready to cash in just to pay for the privilege.

The Big 12 is a fine football conference, and landing there was a pretty nice consolation for West Virginia; but there are no natural rivals to play and the travel is daunting from Morgantown to all those schools in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It is just not a good fit. Maryland in the Midwest-based Big Ten does not make much more sense.

But, Maryland was still luckier than the Mountaineers.

The Terps were a founding member of the ACC way back in 1953, but bolted for the big money of the Big Ten in 2014. Goodbye tradition, so long rivalries, see you later school heritage. Hello BTN (that’s Big Ten Network … and that is what the move was all about). The Big Ten schools will pull in around $31 million each this year, but Maryland will have to wait six years to get its full membership share. By that time, the league expects to be paying out more than $45 million annually to members.

Maryland gets a lot of money and stability from joining the Big Ten … but what does the Big Ten get from accepting the Terps into the fold? Not much other than the television sets along the Eastern seaboard and in the Washington, DC, market (that’s why Rutgers – and the NYC market – got the Big Ten call too). These conference television deals are all about getting the subscription fees from the conference footprint. The bigger and more populous the geographical footprint, the bigger the financial windfall (even if no right-thinking football fan in New York City or Washington, DC, watches Maryland play Rutgers on the same day of the Iron Bowl).

The Big Ten may not beat the other power conferences much on the football field these days, but the league is still the conference cakewalk champ.

Around the Nation

There are several intriguing intersectional games this week. Jim Mora has UCLA back in national contention as he takes the Bruins to the hill country of Austin to play Texas. First-year Longhorns coach Charlie Strong has been suspending people faster than you can keep count in establishing a tone of toughness and discipline. Another Big 12 teams hosts an out-of-conference opponent when Oklahoma welcomes Tennessee to Norman. The Volunteers are speedy but very young, while the Sooners are a popular pick to make the college football playoff. Arkansas plays at Texas Tech in another SEC-Big 12 pairing that might be worth a peek. The biggest conference game on the docket takes place in the SEC East, where South Carolina hopes to jump back into the division race against Georgia. The Bulldogs are coming off a bye week.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 3; Sept 11-13 2014)

In A Hurry

In a Hurry

“I’m in a hurry to get things done; I rush and rush until life’s no fun”
I’m in a Hurry – Alabama 1992
 

Nick Saban coaches Alabama – the Crimson Tide not the old country music boys from Fort Payne – but you know he probably hums that tune on his way to the practice field.

A whole bunch of college football teams are hurrying to get things done on offense, and the no-huddle, up-tempo, NASCAR-fast attack is making life no fun for defensive wizards like Saban.  While casual fans might envision hurry up offenses as throwing the ball all over the field, the most successful such teams do like the song says.  They rush and rush (run the football!) until life is no fun for the defense.

The Ducks and the Tigers are poster teams for hurry up offenses.  After each play, they hustle to the line, read the defense, and snap.  Part of the strategy of the up-tempo attack is certainly to snap the ball quickly and often.  Doing so limits to an extent the amount of substitutions a defense can make (Saban, for instance, loves to substitute by situation), and it tires them out because it is difficult to simulate such pace in practice.

However, at its core the hurry up is based on perhaps the most old-fashioned principle in football – run the ball up the gut.  It is simply a numbers game.  The offense spreads the field by sending backs and receivers wide, forcing the defense to commit a certain number of players to “the box” (area near the line of scrimmage) and to the secondary.  If the number of defenders in the box is equal to or less than the number of offensive linemen (guards, tackles, and tight ends), expect a dive option up the middle.  If the box defenders flow toward the running back, the quarterback simply pulls the ball and runs wide.  Using that simple strategy last year, Auburn RB Tre Mason gashed opponents for more than 1800 yards and scored 23 touchdowns, while his QB Nick Marshall sprinted for over 1000 yards and ran for 12 TDs.

By the way, the Tigers beat the team coached by a fellow named Saban.
This week’s top game (see Game of the Week column) features a terrific matchup of hurry-up flash (Oregon) hosting slow-down smash (Michigan State).  Regardless of who wins that game, a lot of college football teams are in a hurry to get things done, and they are making life no fun for defenses.

Around the Nation

Friday night features a Big East … oh, wait a minute … an ACC pairing of Pitt at BC.

In Big Ten country, the Ohio State Buckeyes welcome Beamer’s Boys from Virginia Tech to the Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy.

That is worth a look, as is the last Michigan-Notre Dame game for a while.  The Wolverines travel to the Irish.

Out West, Saturday offers up PAC-12 contenders battling in Palo Alto when USC takes on Stanford in the first big test for new Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian.

The premier tilt in the Southwest features BYU traveling to the Lone Star state to tangle with Texas.

Around the SEC

Conference pickings are mighty slim this week, but how about the debut of Kenny Hill for Texas A&M!  The Aggies shredded highly regarded South Carolina to open the season in the biggest conference game of Week 1.  The only other SEC school to lose on opening weekend was Vanderbilt, and the Commodores looked terrible against Temple in a 37-7 loss.

SEC GAMES FOR SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6

Florida Atlantic (0-1) at Alabama (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UA leads, 1-0
11 a.m. CT • SEC Network
Tuscaloosa, Ala. • Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Arkansas State (1-0) at Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UT leads, 1-0
Noon ET • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
Knoxville, Tenn. • Neyland Stadium (102,455) Sirius: 112 • XM: 192

Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC) at Toledo (1-0)
Series: MIZ leads, 1-0
11 a.m. CT • ESPN
Toledo, Ohio • Glass Bowl (26,248) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

UAB (1-0) at Mississippi State (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: MSU leads, 1-0
1 p.m. CT • FSN
Starkville, Miss. • Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field (61,337) Sirius: 146 • XM: 200

Ohio (1-0) at Kentucky (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UK leads, 3-2
3:30 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Lexington, Ky. • Commonwealth Stadium (62,093) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

Eastern Michigan (1-0) at Florida (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UF leads, 1-0
4 p.m. ET • SEC Network
Gainesville, Fla. • Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field (88,548) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Nicholls (0-1) at Arkansas (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
3 p.m. CT • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
Fayetteville, Ark. • Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) Sirius: 137 • XM: 192

Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC)
Series: UM leads, 48-38-2
3:30 p.m. CT • ESPN Last Meeting: UM, 39-35 (2013 at Nashville)
Nashville, Tenn. • LP Field (69,143) Sirius: 134 • XM: 201

San Jose State (1-0) at Auburn
(1-0, 1-0 SEC) Series: First Meeting
6 p.m. CT • ESPN2
Auburn, Ala. • Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) Sirius: 138 • XM: 191

East Carolina (1-0) at South Carolina (0-1, 0-1 SEC)
Series: SC leads, 12-5
7 p.m. ET • ESPNU
Columbia, S.C. • Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250) Sirius: 119 • XM: 203

Sam Houston State (1-0) at LSU (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
6:30 p.m. CT • SEC Network
Baton Rouge, La. • Tiger Stadium (102,321) Sirius: 93 • XM: 190

Lamar (1-0) at Texas A&M (1-0, 1-0 SEC)
Series: First Meeting
6:30 p.m. CT • SEC Network (Alternate Channel)
College Station, Texas • Kyle Field (106,000) Sirius: 137 • XM: 192

OPEN: Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC

See the full conference release at … http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2014/0902/Week%202%20Release%20(2014).pdf

NOTE: Portions of this column were first published in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 2; September 4-6 2014), a subscriber college football publication for which I will be writing a weekly feature this season.  If you are interested in The Blitz please contact jimgumm.blitz@yahoo.com