The 2018 college football season starts a week from this Saturday. In addition to the normal stories about Spring Practice and over-the-top ravings about prep signings, this off-season has seen big time schools changing coaches, big time schools putting their coaches on administrative leave and – of course – Larry Fedora going into orbit about the downfall of America coming because of his imagined war on football. The latest coach to be put on administrative leave is DJ Durkin at Maryland.
I want to take the same position here that I took at the outset of the Urban Meyer Saga.
- Durkin is innocent until proven guilty in a legal sense, but this is the court of public opinion and some folks are already calling for his head on a plate.
- I prefer to wait and see what other facts come to light before dropping the hammer on Durkin.
- Given what has been alleged to date, Durkin – and his strength coach – appear to be Neanderthals at best. [Aside: Before you jump on that train as it seems to be leaving the station, please remember these three words: Duke … Lacrosse … Team.]
- The real tragedy here is that a young man – a Maryland football player – is dead apparently due to heat stroke suffered at a practice.
Maryland football is not even a speed-bump in the Big-10; whatever happens or does not happen to DJ Durkin will have no “conference consequences” let alone “national fallout”. And it was because my mind went on that vector heading as I read stories about Durkin and his alleged “toxic culture” that I realized it was time to look at the upcoming season and to try to point out what we might look for.
So, let me take a lap around the major conferences and give a thumbnail sketch of what is there:
- Big 10: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn St. and Michigan St. will all be good; they are all in the East Division. In the West Division, it looks like an old doo-wop group, Wisconsin and the Wannabees.
- ACC: Looks to me like Clemson – – and then a pretty significant drop off to Miami and Florida St. The Seminoles have a new coach, Willie Taggert, who will be under scrutiny in Tallahassee.
- SEC: Alabama, Georgia and Auburn will all be very good – – but watch out for Mississippi St. As usual the SEC West is the killer division and the easier path to the SEC Championship Game is in the East.
- PAC-12: Washington looks to be the class of the field in the North; maybe Stanford gives the Huskies a run? In the South it sure looks like USC to me. Chip Kelly returning to college football at UCLA will be interesting for me to watch. Did defensive coaches catch on to his offense during his hiatus?
- Big 12: Can Oklahoma repeat after Baker Mayfield’s departure? Is Lincoln Riley an offensive genius – – or did Mayfield make him look better than he really is?
- Indies: Notre Dame will be the best of the lot here.
That is the kind of overview one should expect from a typical college football summary essay. However, here in Curmudgeon Central, we look at the world from the other end of the telescope and so here are some comments about which teams should be the bottom feeders in the major conferences:
- Big 10: I’m pretty sure that Illinois and Rutgers will be doormats in the conference. Circle October 6, 2018 on your calendar because Illinois visits Rutgers that day. It will surely be a game to miss.
- ACC: Looks as if either Syracuse or Virginia will be at the bottom of the league looking up at everyone else.
- SEC: Tennessee has a new coach and it will behoove him to make sure the Vols do not finish last in the SEC East. Vandy should be the one to finish at the bottom of the easier division in the conference. Out west, Arkansas may struggle with the schedule it draws.
- PAC-12: Oregon State looks like “conference patsy” for 2018.
- Big 12: Who else but Kansas?
- Indies: Liberty and UMass have the potential to be awful.
[Aside: I mentioned one of Rutgers’ scheduled games above. Looking at their non-conference schedule, I found Texas State (should be awful this year), Buffalo (maybe not awful but certainly not good) and Kansas (all you can say here is OMG). Rutgers gets those 3 teams plus Illinois in the first 6 games of the season. They had best make hay then because here is how they end the season:
- @ Wisconsin
- Penn State
- @ Michigan State]
Long term readers here know that I try to identify the worst teams in the country at the end of the season and to seed them into an imaginary tournament to find the worst team of all. The way to do that is to have them play one another and the loser in the early rounds has to keep playing. I call that the SHOE Tournament where SHOE is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.
Before the first kickoff, here are possible entries in the SHOE Tournament:
- C-USA: Rice, UTEP and Florida International can all contend in the race to the bottom.
- Sun Belt: Georgia St., Louisiana-Lafayette and the aforementioned Texas State are on the radar.
- MAC: Ball State, Central Michigan and Kent State look like possibilities.
- MWC: Hawaii and San Jose State???
- AAC: Tulane, Tulsa and UConn may make the field.
- Indies: Liberty and UMass may be bad enough to make it to this level of ignominy.
And before I wrap this up, let me do a very cursory look at college coaches who are on a hot seat this season – – and I do not include Urban Meyer or DJ Durkin in this commentary. These are coaches that could be fired because of on-field performance not meeting expectations. In alphabetical order so that no one will think I am ranking or prioritizing any of this:
- Chris Ash (Rutgers): This will be his 3rd year at Rutgers and his record to date is 6-18. Given that schedule, he ought to win more than 3 games this year; if he does not…
- David Beaty (Kansas): In his tenure in Lawrence, KS his record is 3-33. Enough said…
- Larry Fedora (UNC): In addition to his ridiculous war on football rant and the fact that 13 of his players are suspended for selling shoes they were given by Nike, the Tar Heels were 3-9 last year. If they are 3-9 again this year, he will need to contact a moving company.
- Jim Harbaugh (Michigan): The Wolverines were 8-5 last year and that is not the sort of record that was expected when Harbaugh “came home” to Ann Arbor. Even worse, in his 3 years at Michigan, his record against Ohio St. and Michigan St. is 1-5. QB, Shea Patterson arrives from Ole Miss and Harbaugh is a “QB whisperer”. Fans in Ann Arbor will be looking for results this year.
- Tom Herman (Texas): In his first year, Herman’s Longhorns finished at 6-6; he inherited a mess so that was a honeymoon year. I’ll be surprised if the honeymoon carries over much into 2018 if the Longhorns are not competitive. Last year they lost at home to Maryland (not a powerhouse by any means) giving up 51 points.
- Ed Orgeron (LSU): His problem is that fans in Baton Rouge expect national championships at least 2 years out of 5 and LSU is not nearly that good. His record at LSU is 15-6 but the team has never even been mentioned even as a national championship afterthought. Hey, those yahoos in Baton Rouge ran off Les Miles even though he did win them a national championship.
- Jeremy Pruitt (Tennessee): I know he is a first-year coach, but he got the job after the most bungled coaching search in history; now he has to prove that Tennessee did not get a booby-prize for all that bumbling. The Vols better be competitive this year AND not finish dead last in the SEC East.
- Lovie Smith (Illinois): The good news for Coach Smith is that he has a 6-year contract, and this will be only his 3rd year on the job. However, he enters 2018 with a 5-19 record and that does not put the boosters anywhere near football Nirvana. The selling point when they hired him was his “NFL experience”. Maybe they should have looked closer to see that his NFL record was a pretty bland 89-87 over 11 seasons.
I want to mention three other coaches here who are not in danger of being fired but who face huge expectations from the schools that just hired them
- Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M): He signed a 10-year contract worth $75M. I suspect that the alums and boosters around College Station, TX have lofty hopes for the team – and I doubt they think they should have to wait until the 10th year of the deal to see those lofty hopes realized.
- Dan Mullen (Florida): They hired him away from Mississippi St. with the idea that he can give the Gators a semblance of an offense – something that has been absent from Gainesville recently. Oh, and the folks at Florida cannot be too happy to see the ascension of Georgia within the SEC East at Florida’s expense…
- Willie Taggart (Florida State): He took Jimbo Fisher’s job. Read the FSU fan boards and you will see that just about everyone in Tallahassee is looking for an instant resurgence from the Seminoles this year after a highly unusual 7-6 season last year.
Enough with the overview, what about Week 1. There is a full slate of games that week but here is a six-pack of games that ought to be interesting to watch and ought to give you a glimpse of things to come:
- Oregon St. at Ohio St.: This will be a blowout no matter who coaches Ohio St. on that day. You or I could run the show and win the game by double-digit points. However, if Urban Meyer is not on the sidelines that day and there is not yet any certainty around if/when he might return, this game could be an interesting indicator.
- Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma: Lane Kiffin and Lincoln Riley are young coaches who have been anointed as offensive gurus. Take the OVER?
- Cincy at UCLA: I said above that I am interested to see how Chip Kelly’s offense works this year. Here is its first test…
- Texas at Maryland: This is a revenge game for the Longhorns after losing 51-41 at home to the Terps last year.
- Michigan at Notre Dame: This is a renewal of a very old rivalry – and I am glad to see it back on the schedule. Here is the thing that will happen when the final whistle sounds. One coach will be exalted as someone who belongs in the pantheon of great coaches of all time; the other will be a candidate for being hanged in effigy.
- Washington vs. Auburn (in Atlanta): Washington is the powerhouse of the PAC-12 and Auburn is a top-shelf team in the SEC. This should be a GREAT game and the best game on the card for opening week.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………