A College Football Thanksgiving

Growing up in Georgia, one of my favorite sports memories of the Thanksgiving holiday was reading Furman Bisher’s traditional “I’m thankful for …” column. In honor of that Furman Bisher Thanksgiving tradition, this article is written on behalf of college football fans across the nation.

I’m thankful for …

Rivalries … and wow does this week offer a plate full of them. Michigan and Ohio State from the Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy River, with the Buckeyes contending for a national title and the Wolverines battling to save head coach Brady Hoke’s job. The Big Ten catches a lot of criticism (much of it deserved perhaps), but this is one of college football’s finest rivalries. The Iron Bowl has become a national championship play-in game the past five years, and this season is no different as Alabama tries to whip Auburn to stay in title contention. The Egg Bowl in Oxford features Mississippi State on the road at Ole Miss trying to nail down a spot in the final four. Oregon travels to Oregon State for the Civil War. The Ducks are in great position for a playoff invitation, but must get past the Beavers and the Pac-12 title game. In Athens, Georgia hosts Georgia Tech in the Clean, Old Fashioned Hate game, both teams with only two losses each. The Battle for Paul Bunyon’s Axe (Minnesota-Wisconsin) will decide the Big Ten West. Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State, Washington-Washington State, and Notre Dame-USC in a great old intersectional rivalry that retains glamour even when the squads are down. Yes, I’m thankful for rivalries.

Mascots and Nicknames … Ralphie the Buffalo (Colorado), Bevo the Longhorn Steer (Texas), Uga the Bulldog (Georgia), Chief Osceola (FSU), the Sooner Schooner (Oklahoma), Mike the Tiger (LSU), the Oregon Duck (they call him Puddles – did you know that?), Smoky the Blue Tick Hound (Tennessee), Sparty (Michigan State), Brutus the Buckeye (Ohio State), the Rattlers (FAMU), the Vandals (Idaho), the Zips (Akron), the Mule Riders (Southern Arkansas). College football fans are thankful for the pageantry of our nation’s most passion-inducing sport.

The College Campus … having seen many a college campus as a professor over the past quarter century, every one of them is special in its way. Among my personal favorites are North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Virginia (Charlottesville), Kansas (Lawrence), Clemson (Clemson SC), Georgia (Athens), Tennessee (Knoxville), Auburn (Auburn AL), Notre Dame (South Bend IN), Northwestern (Evanston IL), and small college jewels Capital (Columbus OH), and Berry (Rome GA).

Bowl Games … those who love college football cannot get enough of the bowls. The Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach are the big six right now (thank goodness for partially doing away with the corporate sponsors in the names), but I will start watching bowl games on December 20th and won’t stop until January 12th. I’m thankful for a whole bowl month.

I hope your college football holiday season provides plenty to be thankful for – Happy Thanksgiving.

Playoff Projection: As we move toward the conference championships next week, I’m sticking with the scenario that no league gets in two teams. Obviously, a lot can change. Alabama, Florida State, and Oregon still control their destinies. Of the four other one-loss teams still in contention (Baylor, Mississippi State, Ohio State, and TCU), I believe Baylor gets in by winning out. Mississippi State was not helped by the thrashing Arkansas gave Ole Miss, nor was Ohio State by Virginia Tech’s loss to Wake Forest. Since TCU lost head-to-head against Baylor, I can’t see the logic in keeping the Frogs ahead of the Bears.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 14; Nov 25-29 2014)

Calm Before The Storm

The 2014 college football season, featuring magnificent matchups and a slate of meaningful games nearly every Saturday, slows down this week. Consider it the calm before a storm of rivalry games blitzes the nation over the Thanksgiving holiday.

With nearly all the major conference contenders off or playing teams of minimal danger, it is a good week to examine rankings, remaining schedules, and simmering issues before rivalry week.

Rankings: The playoff committee releases its rankings every Tuesday in what is becoming a fascinating bit of drama for college football fans. Expect Florida State and Alabama to sit atop the rankings, and those two teams control their own destiny to reach the semifinals. If the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide win out, they make the playoffs. The same is probably true of Oregon. Should the Ducks keep winning all the way through the Pac-12 conference title game, the one-loss champs would in all likelihood make the final four. That leaves one slot. The main contenders are Baylor, Mississippi State, Ohio State, and TCU. If any or all finish with only one blemish, that squad could make a legitimate claim to belonging in the playoff.

Remaining Schedules: Ignore FSU, Alabama, and Oregon for the moment (remember if any of them win out, they are in the playoffs), and focus on those one-loss contenders who may need some help from the playoff committee. Ohio State and TCU face the easiest schedules, Mississippi State will need to get by Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, and Baylor has the toughest road. If all win their remaining games, Baylor might slip in past Mississippi State. Of the four teams that control their destiny, FSU has the easiest path (but the Noles need to watch out if Georgia Tech slips into the ACC championship game).

Simmering Issues: Three topics figure to garner attention as the committee determines its final ranking on December 7th. First, will the committee give preference to a team’s full season of work, or favor a team that is playing its best ball at the end of the campaign? Ohio State is a good case in point. The Buckeyes suffered a bad loss at home to middling Virginia Tech early in the year, but have played like gangbusters since. State backers could argue their team is peaking at the right time, while to detractors a bad loss in early September should count as much as a bad loss in November. Another issue is head to head results. Baylor beat TCU and the squads have the same record, yet the committee ranks TCU over the Bears. In an illogical way, the Horned Frogs are getting an advantage by losing to Baylor because that loss is a better one that Baylor’s loss to West Virginia. Go figure. Finally, don’t think regionalism is off the table. While Alabama’s victory over Mississippi State increased the SEC’s chances of getting two teams into the playoff, it’s no sure bet. Every fan knows the SEC schedule is brutal, but a hunch is the selection committee may well give more weight to conference champions than conference strength.

Playoff Projection: FSU (1) vs. Baylor (4); Alabama (2) vs. Oregon (3)

Around the Nation

This would be a good weekend to get your yard squared away for winter, but USC –UCLA could be fun, and Oklahoma State might challenge Baylor. Tennessee will send Georgia to the SEC title game if the Vols beat resilient Missouri.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 13; Nov 18-20 2014)

November to Remember

November and college football go together like turkey and dressing. The sport’s very origins trace to this month back in 1869, when Rutgers hosted Princeton and won a 6-4 contest more closely resembling a rough soccer match (or an Alabama-LSU game) than a modern football game. In all those 145 years, with all those wonderful seasons, college football has never had a November like this one. This month will be one to remember because the big-time schools are vying for a trip to the first ever college football playoff, and the calendar has blessed us with five full November football Saturdays to sort out the contenders.

Here is what we know about the playoff picture as of now. The four playoff teams will all come from the so-called “Power Five” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC). Four of those conferences crown their champions with a title game, while the Big 12 winner is determined solely by regular season record. The playoff selection committee (now a group of twelve since Archie Manning recused himself for health reasons) will name the four semi-finalist teams on Sunday, December 7, 2014.

Here is an analysis of the conference races, followed by a prediction for the playoff.

ACC: Unbeaten Florida State can wrap up the Atlantic Division by beating Miami this week or Virginia the next. The Seminoles have perhaps the smoothest path to the four-team playoff. Their toughest Coastal Division opponent would be Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets need to win out and have Duke lose two of its last three games.

Big Ten: Ohio State throttled Michigan State on the road and looks to be the class of the conference. Nebraska may come out of the West Division, but it’s tough to see anyone in this league beating the Buckeyes.

Big 12: This conference may be the league to garner two playoff spots. TCU has a favorable schedule, but if Baylor wins out the Bears would get the nod due to a head-to-head win and a conference championship. If both finish with only one loss, how will the committee keep either out of the playoff?

Pac-12: Arizona State from the South and Oregon from the North appear on a collision course to the conference championship clash, which would likely become a de facto play-in game to the final four.

SEC: Alabama’s Houdini-like escape of LSU propels the Tide into a showdown with top-ranked Mississippi State this weekend in Tuscaloosa. It would appear Bama and State are the only SEC teams with a chance to make the playoff, but each also has to finish the season with rivalry games in the Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl. That is not an easy road.

Playoff Projection: Mississippi State vs. Baylor; FSU vs. Oregon.

Around the Nation

The SEC features Mississippi State at Alabama. State wins the West with a victory, while the Tide would control its destiny by washing away the Bulldogs. Georgia hosts Auburn in the South’s oldest rivalry, while Missouri continues a quest for a second consecutive East Division title on the road at Texas AM. In the ACC, Florida State takes its talents to South Beach to play Miami, and Clemson goes to Atlanta to face surging Georgia Tech. The Big Ten West will shake out this week when Nebraska plays at Wisconsin, and Ohio State visits impressive Minnesota.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 12; Nov 11-15 2014)

Fall Back

The “fall back” weekend is one of my favorites of the year. The late autumn air turns crisp and bracing, the leaves change colors and scatter over our yards, and the clocks fall back gaining us another precious hour of rest.

The college football world seems to have fallen back too because even the new playoff committee rankings are rekindling old controversies.

The playoff committee released its initial rankings last week amidst charges of SEC bias. The league boasted three of the top four teams, aggravating fans of other conferences. Then Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher piled on by inferring that negative coverage of his Seminoles was a result of ESPN’s relationship with the SEC Network.

Fans of a certain age recognize that all this noise hearkens back at least to the 1960s. Then the charge was northern bias, particularly in favor of Notre Dame. In 1966, the Fighting Irish outpolled unbeaten Alabama for the national championship despite the Irish settling for a 10-10 tie on the road at #2 Michigan State. In 1977, #5 Notre Dame leapfrogged the Tide and other schools after the bowl season to claim another disputed national championship.

Claims of bias are not limited to the Irish, nor are the current complaints the first leveled at ESPN. In 2006, the four-letter network’s Kirk Herbstreit and his GameDay buddies lobbied long and hard for an Ohio State-Michigan rematch for the national title. Florida narrowly edged out Michigan to get a shot at the Buckeyes, then trounced them 41-14 in the national championship game to trigger the first of seven consecutive SEC titles. That streak would never have started had Herbie and the rest of his Big Ten-centric crew had their preference.

So, the charges of favoritism and unfairness are nothing new, they are simply fall back positions that have been around a long time.

By the way, SEC fans should not gloat. The conference is very unlikely to land two teams in the playoff. Expect the committee to increasingly move toward regional representation as the SEC West teams continue to knock each other off. A one-loss conference champion from any of the other four Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) will get the nod over a two-loss SEC that doesn’t win the league (and perhaps even a two-loss champ).

Here is a projection of the four teams most likely to land in the playoff: 1) The SEC champ assuming the team has only one loss. 2) Florida State – the Seminoles must win out though. 3) Oregon – the Ducks look like the class of the Pac-12 after finally handling Stanford. 4) TCU – the Horned Frogs have a charmed (lucky?) season going.

A question remains however. How does the committee rank TCU over Baylor when the Bears beat the Frogs head to head? If both finish the season with one loss, shouldn’t Baylor get the nod?

Around the Nation

What a wonderful weekend of games we have in store. In the Big 12, Kansas State plays at TCU in a game that could decide the conference and a playoff spot. Baylor faces a test at Oklahoma. The Big Ten’s premier matchup of the year takes place in East Lansing when Michigan State hosts Ohio State. Notre Dame travels to Arizona State as the Irish need some luck to stay in playoff contention. Finally, the SEC West gantlet continues when Alabama travels to LSU.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 11; Nov 4-8 2014)

Trick or Treat

What a nice way to end the month of October. The first college football playoff rankings come out Tuesday, Halloween falls on Friday, and clocks get set back on Saturday. So we will have ample time to talk college football before, after, and during our candy gorging. Hopefully your team has provided you plenty of treats and very few tricks this season.

This week we get into the spirit of the season by passing out a trick (bad) or treat (good) to a few college football notables.

Treat to the SEC West. The nation’s most dominant division included four of the top five teams in the nation last week, before Ole Miss lost a thriller to LSU in Baton Rouge. From a pure football standpoint, a playoff amongst the top four teams that emerge at the end of the season from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, and LSU would probably provide fans the best teams and entertainment. But we are getting that in the regular season, so enjoy. Never has one division been so far superior to the rest of the nation.

Trick to Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. This rotten egg is not because the Seminoles have played poorly (they are unbeaten and unlikely to lose in the listless ACC); instead it is because the defending champs have coddled their star quarterback. Jameis Winston is a great talent, and stays unruffled on the field, but he is a bonehead off it. Where there is smoke there is fire, except in Tallahassee. Fisher and FSU will keep Winston on the field regardless of his behavior.

Treat to Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge. For my money, this is the most professional and informative broadcasting duo in college football. Nessler is smooth without condescension; Blackledge is knowledgeable without arrogance. They are terrific.

Trick to Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. This pair gets great SEC games every week, but they add little to the drama. My mute button is more popular than Nick Saban masks in Tuscaloosa at 3:30 ET on Saturdays.

Treat to the Pac-12 and Big 12. The league scheduling for these two is sweeter than the Twix bars I’ll pass out Friday. Both play nine conference games, meaning outstanding matchups each week and truer championship races.

Trick to the Big Ten. Michigan State is head and shoulders above everybody else in the heartland, and should the Spartans get past Ohio State in early November, they remain in contention for a playoff spot.

Treat to Ameer Abdullah. The Nebraska tailback should receive significant Heisman attention and is only 825 yards behind Ron Dayne on the Big Ten’s career all-purpose yards list.

Around the Nation

Halloween weekend features some frightful challenges for several of the nation’s best squads.

Florida State travels to Louisville in a key Thursday night game. This is probably the toughest regular season game left on the FSU schedule. In the SEC, Will Muschamp may be coaching his last Cocktail Party game when Florida faces Georgia. Ole Miss plays at Auburn in what may well be a national championship elimination game.

The top Big 12 game of the week takes place in Morgantown when TCU travels to West Virginia. Keep the scoreboard lights ready in that one because they will be blinking.

In the Pac-12, Arizona takes on UCLA in a South Division battle, and up north Stanford travels to Oregon. The Ducks typically struggle mightily with the Cardinal as contrasting styles make this an interesting matchup.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 10; Oct 28-Nov 1 2014)

The Villains

Been to a movie this week? Is so, you probably got a healthy dose of villains along with your popcorn. Bad guys (and girls) are run amok on the big screen right now.

Gone Girl, Dracula, Annabelle, The Maze Runner, Left Behind … these movies feature more villains than the last time Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin sat down to lunch together.

Nick Saban probably ranks as the foremost villain in college football these days. He’s won four national titles overall (three at Alabama and one at LSU), yet seems perpetually perturbed and sports a fuse shorter than a fifteen cent firecracker (he blew up last week when complaining about the expectations put on his Crimson Tide). His Bama teams, winners of three out of the past five national championships, are the closest program to a national nemesis since the old glory days of Notre Dame when everybody either loved or hated the Irish.

Former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin might be seen simply as overmatched and petulant by many college football fans, but to the elephant-memory faithful in Knoxville this weekend, he will be about as popular as the Ebola virus. Keep in mind Kiffin is still loathed among Vols for bailing on Big Orange country several years ago. This Saturday he makes his first trip back to Neyland Stadium since jilting the Volunteers. It will not be a pretty homecoming.

Other villains anger other fan bases. Down in Florida, if head coach Will Muschamp still has a job by the time you read this, Gator fans may drain the Swamp. Florida got mashed 42-13 at home by Missouri just one week after the Tigers got shut out 34-0 (at home) by Georgia. Things are ugly in Gainesville and Muschamp is public enemy number 1. It is difficult to see him survive.

Up in the panhandle of the Sunshine State, Florida State continues on a path to a perfect season after escaping with a thrilling 31-27 victory over Notre Dame, but the Seminoles do so with a questionable character at quarterback and a head coach and administration employing enough denials to make Bill Clinton proud. From the outside, it seems head coach Jimbo Fisher and FSU higher ups are doing whatever it takes to keep Jameis Winston eligible until January. Winston would be suspended at many schools (see Georgia and Todd Gurley for example).

Of course if you think these guys are villains, just wait until the college football playoff selection committee announces the four teams and the major bowl lineup in early December. The first rankings from the committee come out October 28, and the gnashing of teeth shall commence.

Enjoy your villains this week on the big screen or the gridiron … I’ll take my popcorn buttered, salted, and served with an icy cold coke.

Around the Nation

It is a relatively tame week. The ACC offers a nice Thursday night game between Miami and Virginia Tech. The SEC has several solid pairings, including the two Mississippi schools attempting to keep their unbeaten seasons intact. Ole Miss travels to LSU in a huge test, while State plays at Kentucky.

In Big Ten country, Michigan State is very much in the playoff picture and the Spartans welcome in-state rival Michigan to East Lansing. Ohio State plays at Penn State in a prime time game.

Heading west, BYU and Boise on the blue field is good Friday night viewing.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 9; Oct 21-25 2014)

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?

“Can’t anybody here play this game?”

Casey Stengel, “The Old Perfessor” himself, supposedly asked that question of his anemic 1962 New York Mets. Stengel managed that team to 120 losses, a mark of futility unmatched in major league baseball annals dating back to the 1890s. With the baseball playoffs in full swing, that comparison seems apt with the 2014 college football season.

Simply put, it seems there are no clear championship caliber college football teams in 2014.

In last week’s issue we gave out midterm grades and listed Auburn and Baylor as the nation’s best at the halfway point of the season. Then Auburn goes to Starkville, falls behind 21-0 to a fired up Mississippi State team, and never seriously threatens the Bullies before losing 38-23. In Waco, Baylor trailed nearly the entire game against TCU, but the Bears staged a terrific comeback from down 58-37 by scoring 24 unanswered points to win 61-58 (in regulation!). But, allowing 58 points at home? That is not championship material.

So, if our top two teams from last week showed blemishes, who now leads the championship chase?

The state of Mississippi does.

With the big victory over Auburn, Mississippi State moves to the top of the heap. The Bulldogs have tough road games with Kentucky, Alabama, and Ole Miss, but offensively and defensively they are impressive. Are they a championship squad? Time will tell, but QB Dak Prescott certainly is a force.

Ole Miss makes it a Magnolia State sweep of the top spots this week. The Rebels whipped Alabama, then went on the road and handled Texas A&M. However, with trips yet to come at LSU and Arkansas, and home games with Tennessee, Auburn, and State still on the docket, it is unlikely the Rebs can run the table.

Even with the success of the Mississippi schools, Florida State still holds the top spot in most college football playoff projections. Some of that loftiness is a remnant of the 2013 title, some is hype associated with the reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and some is based on the soft schedule of the ACC . Still, the Noles must be considered a favorite to reach the football four, but they have not played like a champion (yet).

Nor has Notre Dame. The Irish escaped a home trap game with North Carolina by outscoring the Tar Heels 50-43. That win pushes ND to 6-0 on the season and sets up a big game with FSU in Tallahassee this weekend. The winning team controls its destiny in the playoff pursuit.

At this point, no team seems to be an overwhelming choice as champion.

Around the Nation

The marquee game of the week is Florida State hosting Notre Dame. The game evokes echoes of the old bloodbaths of the early 1990s, and should play a huge role in determining whether either squad makes it to the playoff. The Irish are the top-ranked team left on FSU’s schedule and possibly the last major hurdle to a Seminoles’ unbeaten regular season. Tennessee at Ole Miss, Texas A&M at Alabama, Georgia at Arkansas, and Missouri at Florida lead the SEC slate. The Pac-12 offers up Washington at Oregon and Stanford at Arizona State. OK State plays at TCU, and the loser is likely eliminated from the Big 12 race.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 8; Oct 16-18 2014)

Midterm Grades

The month of October brings to mind special memories on the college campus. Chilly mornings snap students awake for early morning classes. Leaves change colors, tumble from the trees, and rustle across the quad. Homecoming festivities welcome alums back to the alma mater for the big game.

Oh yeah, students get midterm grades.

Well, not all memories read like a Hallmark card.

What a memorable college football week we just experienced. Top-ranked teams fell like those autumn leaves following a storm. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Stanford, LSU, BYU … those are among the top teams that lost last week. Luckily for those teams, the new college football playoff allows for makeup work. So, a squad that lost for the first time is not out of the championship chase.

In the spirit of midterms, let’s assign a few marks for the season. Does your team make the grade?

Summa Cum Laude – Auburn and Baylor are the teams with highest honors at mid-semester. The Tigers probably should have won the national championship last season, and they have arguably been at the top of the class in 2014.

Dean’s List – Florida State, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, TCU, and UCLA. Those teams are listed alphabetically, but whether any of them are playoff worthy will not be determined until after fall break.

Solid Bs – Alabama, Arizona, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Do not be surprised if one, or even a couple, of teams from this group buckles down and makes the playoff at season’s end.

Gentlemen’s Cs – Georgia, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and USC. These teams can go either way during the second half; they either push through some setbacks and earn good grades and a New Year’s Day bowl, or do just enough to get by and coast till Christmas.

Failing – Michigan and Texas … although different vibes surround each program. Brady Hoke seems to have lost the program in Ann Arbor, while Charlie Strong is grabbing control of the Longhorns in Austin.

Playoff Projections – Since we are midway through the 2014 campaign, we can start projecting the teams most likely to make the four-team college football playoff. Those teams are Auburn, Florida State, the winner of Baylor-Oklahoma, and the winner of the Pac-12 (or a second SEC team). Keep in mind this projection is just one man’s opinion on the most likely scenarios to play out over the last half of the season and the conference championship games. They are not based solely on current records or rankings.

Around the Nation

While it will be difficult to duplicate last week’s zaniness, several outstanding matchups are on the docket. The SEC schedule is simply brutal for the West Division teams as virtually every game is a must win at this point. Starkville hosts a second straight huge game between unbeaten teams when Mississippi State welcomes Auburn. Alabama tries to recover at Arkansas. The Rebels of Ole Miss travel to Texas A&M hoping to return to earth after the terrific win over Alabama. Georgia goes to Missouri in a key SEC East game, while Florida hosts reeling LSU.

The Red River rivalry lost a little luster when Oklahoma fell to TCU, but anytime OU and Texas meet it is always fun. The Big 12 also offers up TCU at Baylor. Out West, the Pac-12 features Oregon at UCLA in what is now a playoff elimination game for the Ducks. USC travels to unbeaten Arizona.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 7; Oct 9-11 2014)

Go West Young Man

When the phrase “go west young man” was popularized in the 1850s it symbolized the American quest to conquer the continent. This belief in a manifest destiny – that the young nation was destined to settle lands from sea to shining sea – became a rallying cry of sorts for pioneers plodding through prairies, across plains, and over mountains. Within three decades, the wild, wild, west was all but tamed.

This college football season is a long way from being settled, but fans looking toward the first college football playoff in just a few months might do well to follow the same directive as those pioneers of yore. Go west, whether within a conference or on an actual map, to find the main contenders for the four playoff spots.

Let’s take a look at the college football playoff landscape. The Eastern Seaboard, particularly the northeast where the sport originated, is not even in the national conversation. From Maine to Miami, no contenders appear likely to emerge from the first coast.

In the ACC, the Florida State Seminoles (from the panhandle in western Florida by the way) appear a legitimate threat to reach the playoffs and earn a chance to defend their national title. But, the Noles have not played well. FSU might be able to sustain one loss and slip into the playoffs, but with a relatively weak schedule, that scenario is risky.

Moving to the SEC, the westward theme stays intact. The West Division plays each other this week, and the biggest threat to the conference landing a team in the playoffs is the very real possibility that these teams simply devour each other. It is difficult to envision a team getting through this division unscathed. In the SEC East no teams look of championship caliber. Georgia is limited at quarterback and in the secondary, South Carolina is flighty, Florida’s offense is too pedestrian. So, no SEC East team makes the grade.

The Big Ten is much maligned, but should Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, or Wisconsin somehow win out, any might generate some playoff support. The Cornhuskers or the Badgers would have to be the team to keep the westward theme going – so no dice.

As we move toward the left coast, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 have the most direct routes to the championship foursome. Baylor plays at Oklahoma on November 8. Barring an upset along the way, the winner should be playoff bound. The Big 12 has no championship game making its champion’s road to the playoff very direct. On the Pacific coast, UCLA travels to Oregon on October 11th, and the winner has a leg up in the playoff race.

Around the Nation

The best weekend of the first half of the season is upon us. Out west, Arizona plays at Oregon in a great Thursday night pairing, while Arizona State heads to LA to face USC. The bloodletting begins in the SEC West with three terrific games. Alabama visits Ole Miss to see if the Rebels are real contenders. Texas A&M travels to Starkville to play surging Mississippi State. LSU tries to get back into the race on the plains of Auburn. Oklahoma at TCU might be interesting in the Big 12, and Baylor at Texas always packs emotion. In the Big Ten, Nebraska visits Michigan State in a huge conference tilt. Finally, Stanford travels to Notre Dame in a nice intersectional rivalry.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 6; Oct 2-4 2014)

Common Sense

We are a little more than a month away from the initial meeting of the Selection Committee for the first College Football Playoff. The playoff website provides quite a list of criteria to be considered by the committee in its deliberations. That list of criteria should be narrowed to one: use common sense.

Finding examples of common sense in college football right now is a challenge.

Jameis Winston, quarterback of the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, earned himself a suspension last week against division rival Clemson. Winston jumped on a table at the FSU student union and shouted a vulgar phrase currently making the rounds as a popular internet meme. His silly act probably would not have resulted in quite so significant a punishment had Winston not already compiled a pretty long list of transgressions that range from college pranks to petty crime to an alleged potential felony.

The stupidity and knuckle-headedness is certainly not limited to players.

A big-time athletic director and member of the selection committee (Pat Haden of USC) charged down on the field to confront officials during a recent game. Another athletic director from a power conference (Julie Hermann of Rutgers and the Big Ten) committed her latest embarrassing gaffe by making a tasteless joke about the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

With common sense in such short supply, here are three quick tips for the selection committee.

Early season games count as much as those near the end of the year. Should a loss in a conference championship game hurt a team more than a September loss? No. However, historically teams are better off by failing to reach a conference championship game than reaching it and losing.

Discipline issues should hurt teams. So a star player gets suspended for one game, and his team loses that game but wins out. That loss should count just as much as any other.

Choose the four best teams – period. We might see two squads from the same conference in the playoff this season because no schools from the Big Ten and AAC seem likely to land a spot. So, expect the champs of the Big 12, PAC-12, and SEC to be there, leaving one opening. Notre Dame could potentially slide into the last slot, but it’s more likely a second team from one of the power conferences will be there this year.

Around the Nation

While summer ends, the college football season really heats up this week.

Thursday night provides fans two nice games as Texas Tech plays at Oklahoma State, and UCLA travels to Tempe to take on Arizona State. That Bruin-Sun Devil matchup will go a long way in determining the PAC-12 South champ.

The top weekend games include what could be an offensive shootout when Arkansas plays Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. That game commences the SEC West race, where so many national contenders will try to avoid killing each other’s playoff chances. The SEC East offers up Tennessee tangling with Georgia between the hedges in Athens, and Missouri traveling to South Carolina.

Out in the PAC-12, Stanford plays at Washington in the first big test for new Husky head coach Chris Petersen. Mike Riley takes his always tough Oregon State squad to LA for a game with USC. Ohio State hosts in-state rival Cincinnati in what might be an interesting game. Unbeaten Notre Dame meets Syracuse at Met Life Stadium in a primetime ABC game.

Note – this column originally appeared in The Blitz (Volume 4 Issue 5; Sept 25-27 2014)