It is Football Friday here in Curmudgeon Central; and because I am a creature of habit, I shall begin today with college football commentary.
The Linfield College Wildcats assured themselves a winning season in football for the 62nd consecutive year with a 12-6 victory over George Fox University last week. Both Linfield and George Fox had been scoring machines up until this game. Linfield dominated time of possession and led 12-0 on four field goals until the final play of the game which was a George Fox touchdown. This victory was the 20th consecutive conference win for Linfield; their last loss was on November 1, 2014 to Willamette. Go Wildcats!
The way the College Football Playoff is structured now, there are four teams that get into the playoffs and there are 5 so-called Power Conferences. It does not take much mathematical mastery to recognize that one conference – at least – will be on the outside looking in every year. I wonder if that conference will be the PAC-12 this year. Consider these projected decisions by the Selection Committee:
- Alabama or Georgia – whichever is the SEC Champion – is guaranteed one of the four slots. If these two go to the SEC Championship game undefeated and the winner comes out with an overtime win, they both might get in. For now, count that as one slot filled…
- The Big 10 Championship will be decided in a game between Wisconsin and either Penn St., Ohio St. or Michigan St. If Wisconsin wins the conference, it will likely be 13-0 at that point; that will put them in the playoffs despite a lackluster schedule. If Ohio State wins the conference, it will have one loss and a tough enough schedule to get in. If either Penn St or Michigan St win the conference, they would probably be undefeated and be guaranteed an invitation. Therefore, the Big 10 will get a team in the CFP but probably not two.
- The ACC standings as of now offer too many possibilities for a champion to project. Miami and NC State are undefeated in the conference but there are 4 teams with only one conference loss. If Clemson prevails, they will probably get into the CFP as the defending champion. Otherwise …?
- TCU looks like the class of the Big 12 at this point and undefeated to this point of the season. However, there are four teams in the conference – Iowa St. Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and West Virginia – with only one loss in conference. If TCU runs the table, I think they are definitely in. If not … ?
- Notre Dame is a wild card here. For football, Notre Dame has no conference; Tony Kornheiser has called Notre Dame the “University of Football in North America”. As of this morning, Notre Dame has one loss; that was by one-point to Georgia (see above). If they run the table and beat NC State and Miami and Stanford in the process, there is a real possibility the Selection Committee will put Notre Dame in the CFP.
Just looking at the possibilities above, the CFP could be “over-subscribed” and I have not yet come to the PAC-12 where the situation is this:
- USC leads the PAC-12 South but it already has 2 losses and one of them was by 5 TDs to Notre Dame. That game is a stinker and with 2 losses, USC’s credentials are not all that strong.
- Stanford also has 2 losses already and last night they beat a bad Oregon St. team by 1-point scoring a TD in the final minute to do so. Two losses plus one of the ugliest wins ever is not much of a calling card.
- Washington and Washington St. each have only one loss but they will play each other later this year in the Apple Cup game. The loser of that game is probably out of luck so let’s look at both teams.
- I think Washington St. would be the stronger PAC-12 nominee of the two if they wind up with 1 loss because their out of conference schedule is stronger than Washington’s. I did not say it is a “strong out of conference schedule”; I said it was better than Washington’s. Washington St. will have played and beaten Montana St., Boise St. and Nevada while Washington would have played and beaten Rutgers, Montana and Fresno St. The Selection Committee professes to weigh heavily the “strength of schedule” in its rankings. Both Washington and Washington St. would arrive at the final rankings with a loss on their record; a not-so-tough conference schedule and a meek out of conference schedule. Not promising …
- Arizona and Arizona St. both have only one loss in the conference and one of them might wind up winning the conference championship game. The problem for the PAC-12 here is that Arizona St. has 3 losses so far and Arizona has 2 losses – to Houston and Utah. I cannot see either team making the CFP even as the PAC-12 Champion.
The final CFP rankings will not be out until 3 December. Far too many things can happen between now and then to do anything but label all of the above as a guess, but that is part of the fun of following college football.
I mentioned above that Stanford had an ugly win over .Oregon St. last night. Stanford won the game with 214 yards of total offense; Oregon St. outgained them on the field with 236 yards of total offense. There were 4 turnovers in the game and 14 penalties; it was hard to watch.
Last weekend, Arkansas lost to Auburn 52-20. Auburn is a good team, but Arkansas’ self-image in football is not that they are a patsy. The Razorbacks are 2-5 this year and 0-4 in the SEC; the 4 SEC losses were by a total of 96 points. Bret Bielema has been at Arkansas for four and a half seasons; so, this is “his team” with “his recruits”, and as of this morning, his overall record at Arkansas is 27-31 and his SEC record is 10-26. I was wondering if he was on as hot a seat as that record might suggest and I ran across two reports that said his buyout clause is either $12M or $15M depending on the report. Obviously, I do not have access to the contract itself, but if that clause is in there, let me say this unequivocally:
- Bret Bielema’s agent served his client VERY well…
The normal order of college football in Florida is upset so far this year. Florida St. has a losing record and will struggle to be bowl-eligible. The best way to describe the season for Florida so far is “Meh!” However, look at other Florida teams:
- Miami is undefeated at 6-0 and leads the ACC Coastal Division. They have beaten Florida St. this year.
- UCF is undefeated at 6-0 and could well be 10-0 when they host USF on November 24.
- USF is undefeated at 7-0 and could well be 10-0 when they play USF on November 24.
- Florida International is 4-2 and appears to be a cinch to achieve bowl eligibility this year.
- Florida Atlantic is 4-3 and should make bowl eligibility this year too. FAU has Lane Kiffin as its coach for the immediate term but no one there ought to think of Kiffin as a fixture with the Owls. This is a “penance assignment” for him – a “stepping stone” if you prefer – until a better offer comes along. When that happens, he is off like a prom dress…
Looking at games this week, the biggest game of them all – and probably the biggest game of the season to date – is Penn St. at Ohio St. This is a revenge game for Ohio St. for last year’s loss in State College; and with all due respect to Jim Harbaugh, Mark Dantonio, Paul Chryst, Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald, this game matches the two best coaches in the Big 10. Ohio St. is a 7-point favorite at home. I think this will be a defensive game and in defensive games I prefer to take points than give points.
TCU is for real this year. They are undefeated and they are only allowing 15 points per game while scoring 41 points per game. This week TCU is at Iowa St and the Cyclones have beaten Oklahoma two weeks ago and held Texas Tech’s offense to 13 points in Lubbock last week. TCU is a 6.5-point favorite on the road and I think they will prevail here.
Last spring when DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL Draft, Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly, said that Kizer needed to stay in school. Most everyone figured that Kelly was taking a position of self-interest with that statement, but having seen Kizer in the NFL, Kelly was probably right. However, things seem to have worked out just fine in South Bend because Kizer’s absence opened the door for Brandon Wimbush to be the Notre Dame QB. Wimbush appears to me to be as good as Kizer was last year and Wimbush is certainly more entertaining to watch. This week Notre Dame hosts NC State and the Irish are a 7-point favorite this morning. NC State is 6-1 for the season and this is an important game for them; it should be a good game.
Oklahoma St. visits West Virginia this week. As noted above, both teams have only one loss in conference; so, this is a big game for both. The Cowboys are 7.5-point favorites on the road. I think both teams will score often; the Mountaineers are tough at home; I think that line is fat.
Georgia/Florida is the rivalry game of the week. Despite the success of the Gators in recent matchups, Georgia is a 14-point favorite here on a neutral field in Jax.
Another big rivalry game this week is Kansas St. at Kansas. Kansas St. is a 24-point favorite on the road here. The situation before us regarding this game is simple. Kansas St. is an “average team”; Kansas is just plain “bad”.
Tennessee visits Kentucky this week. This is a “border war” game and Kentucky is a 4-point favorite. When I saw that Kentucky was favored, I thought this was the line for a basketball game instead of a football game.
Oklahoma hosts Texas Tech this week and the Sooners are a 20-point favorite. What has happened to the Oklahoma defense? Earlier this year, they held Ohio St. to 16 points in a major upset in Columbus OH. However, in Big 12 conference games, the Sooners are 3-1 but they have given up an average of 34.5 points per game and only one of those four opponents has a winning record this morning. Texas Tech is not a great team by any stretch of the imagination but they can score points in bunches. The Total Line for the game is 75 points. Were I in Las Vegas for the weekend, I would probably parlay “Tech plus the points” with the game to go OVER.
Virginia started the season by winning 5 of its first 6 games and then hosted BC last week. In an ugly performance at home, Virginia lost that game by 31 points. This week, Virginia goes on the road to take on a mediocre-at-best Pitt squad and the oddmakers have installed Pitt as a 3-point favorite. Verry interesting…
As noted above, Miami is undefeated this year at 6-0. This week Miami visits UNC; the Tar Heels are 1-7 and they are playing exactly the way you would expect a team with that record to play. Question:
- Is this a trap game for Miami?
Next up for Miami are two home games against VA Tech and then Notre Dame. Miami is a 20-point favorite over UNC.
Baylor is one of two winless teams so far this year; they are 0-7. However, only 2 of those 7 losses have been by double digits. This week, Baylor hosts Texas and the Texas QB, Sam Ehlinger, is questionable having suffered a concussion last week. Baylor is a 9-point underdog and is +280 on the Money Line. Is this Baylor’s first win of the season?
Wisconsin plays Illinois this week. All I can say is that this will be more difficult than a BYE Week for Wisconsin – – but not much. The Badgers like to run the football and the Illinois defense is nothing to crow about.
In the Big 10 East standings this week, there are two teams tied for fourth place. Those teams would be:
- Michigan – – and – – Rutgers.
You probably could have gotten good odds on that prop bet back in August. Well, that tie will be broken this weekend because Rutgers visits Michigan in Ann Arbor. I suspect that Jim Harbaugh’s head will explode if he looks at the newspaper tomorrow morning and sees his Wolverines a notch below Rutgers in the Big 10 standings. The oddsmakers say that will not happen; Michigan is a 23-point favorite in the game and is minus-2000 on the Money Line.
Moving on to the NFL, the Thursday Night Football game was about as exciting as watching a blinking yellow light at an intersection. The Ravens beat the Dolphins 40-0. If anyone thought that Matt Moore’s 4th quarter heroics against the Jets last weekend should generate a QB controversy in Miami, they need to look at the tape of this game. This game shows clearly why Matt Moore is now and has been for the last 10 seasons. Last night he was just awful but he remains a solid backup QB if the duration of using him as a starter is only a few weeks. Anything more than that will not end well.
There are six teams on a BYE Week this week:
- Cardinals: Last week was an unmitigated disaster; Carson Palmer broke his arm and newly acquired RB/offensive savior, Adrian Peterson, carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards. Bruce Arians says that Drew Stanton is the starting QB going forward; I suspect that when drew Stanton is the starting QB, the direction involved is going backward.
- Giants: They have to be the biggest negative surprise of the season to date, right?
- Jags: Win one; lose one; win one … That has been the Jags season to date. Now they get a week off after a win.
- Rams: They might be the biggest positive surprise of the season to date – – or would that be the Jets?
- Packers: Good time for a week off so that they can “coach up” Brett Hundley…
- Titans: Last week, these guys needed OT to beat the Browns and never scored a TD in those 60+ minutes. If there is such a thing as a moral victory, then that was an immoral victory. Fans should start a petition to Roger Goodell demanding that if the titans are involved in any tie-breaker situations at the end of the year, that win over the browns should only count as half-a-win.
This week will see the fourth and final “London game” for the season and it will be played at Twickenham Stadium on the River Thames just west of London. So far this year, the three previous games in London have been blowouts; the smallest margin of victory has been 20 points. If the NFL is seeking to grow a fanbase there, perhaps putting more competitive games on the schedule would be a step in the right direction. The game this Sunday does not seem to fit into that category.
In jolly old England this week, the Vikes will take on the Browns. If that is not sufficiently nauseating, this game will feature a QB pairing of Case Keenum versus DeShone Kizer. Be still my heart … Let me review that Browns’ QB meanderings for the last couple of weeks:
- A couple of weeks ago, Kizer was benched in favor of Kevin Hogan. That did not work out well …
- Last week, Kizer was benched at halftime in favor of Cody Kessler. That too did not work out well …
- Now, Kizer is designated as the starter once again…
Here’s a thought. Maybe the Browns can throw opponents off guard by not announcing their starting QB until game time. After warmups, the three of them can do a round-robin of Rock/Scissors/Paper in the locker room to determine who will start and who will be the one to go into the game to relieve the starter after the starter stinks the joint out. How bad can that be?
The Bears visit the Saints this week and the Saints are 9-point favorites. The Saints have won 4 games in a row and the Bears have won 2 in a row. Are those streaks mirages or are they real? I suspect the Bears’ win streak is a mirage; I am skeptical about the Saints as a winning team going forward but skeptics are allowed to change their minds. The Saints’ defense is playing lots better this year than in the recent past and the Saint’s offense is much more balanced between running and passing than in recent years too.
The Jets host the Falcons this week. Both teams lost last week; the Jets blew a 14-point lead in the second half to the Dolphins; the Falcons were dominated by the Pats from start to finish. Both teams are big surprises this year. Some folks thought the Jets would lose every game; the Jets are 3-4 as of today. The Falcons were in the Super Bowl last year with a dominating offense; this year, the Falcons are averaging 12.6 points per game less than they scored in 2016. That is a shocking drop-off – – particularly since the same personnel are on the field on offense this year as last; that speaks to coaching/play calling. Here is the nub for this game:
- The Jets’ defense is allowing 357.9 yards per game. If the Falcons cannot move the ball and score in this game, they have some real soul-searching to do and they have already had their BYE Week.
The Panthers visit the Bucs this weekend and the Bucs are 2-point favorites. Both teams have disappointed their fans this year. Cam Newton looks nothing like someone who was the NFL MVP a year and a half ago; Jameis Winston has not taken a step forward in his development despite putting up gaudy stats. Here is why this game might be interesting:
- The Bucs have the #1 offense in the NFC averaging 392.8 yards per game.
- The Panthers have the #1 defense in the NFC allowing 261.9 yards per game.
- The Bucs have the worst defense in the NFC allowing 408.5 yards per game.
- The Panthers’ offense is mediocre.
The Eagles host the Niners and the Eagles are 12.5-point favorites this morning. That line opened at 10 points and has risen pretty steadily as the week progressed. The Eagles are coming off a short week; the Niners have a long trip to the game and an early time slot. In addition to being 0-7 this year, the Niners are 2-21 since the start of the 2016 season; the problem for the Niners is clear; they have a talent deficit with regard to most of the rest of the league. Here is the question for this game:
- Is this a trap game for the Eagles? Next up for the Eagles is a visit by the Broncos and then a BYE Week…
The Raiders visit the Bills this weekend in another game where a West Coast team travels a good distance to the game venue and looks at an early kickoff. The Bills are a 2.5-point favorite here. This is one of the best games of the weekend simply because it means a lot to both teams in terms of playoff aspirations. Is it safe to assume that the Amari Cooper we got used to seeing last year is now back on the Raiders’ roster? Last week he caught 210 yards worth of passes more than doubling his output for the season to date. Oh, by the way, Raiders’ TE, Jared Cook ain’t bad either. The Raiders’ challenge here will be stopping the Bills running game and LeSean McCoy. The Bills only average 181 yards per game passing so the Raiders need to make the Bills throw the ball if they want to win here.
The Colts visit the Bengals this week and the Bengals are 10.5-point favorites. This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. The Colts stink; the Bengals just don’t stink as much. Just for perspective, if I were in a hospital bed and could not reach the TV remote and this was what was on the TV in my room, I would probably watch it rather than going to sleep in the middle of the afternoon. Other than that…
The Pats host the Chargers this week and both teams are riding 3-game winning streaks. The Total Line for this game is 48 points; it opened at 49 points; I think that is way too low. The Pats are 7-point favorites this morning; that line opened at 5 points and jumped to this level very quickly.
The Texans visit the Seahawks this week and the Seahawks are 5.5-point favorites. This is another of the good games on the card for the weekend. Texans’ rookie QB, Deshaun Watson face a top-shelf NFL defense here. The Texans got OT, Duane Brown, back on the active roster this week when Brown ended his holdout seeking a renegotiated contract; the question now is whether he is in “football shape”. Seahawks’ QB, Russell Wilson had a “breakout game” last week throwing for 334 yards and 3 TDs. The question here is simple; is that a bad omen for the rest of the NFC teams or was that simply a performance against the woebegone Giants?
The Skins host the Cowboys in a rivalry game that was listed as “Pick ‘em” to start the week but now has the Cowboys as 2-point favorites. The Cowboys have the slightly better offense statistically; the Skins have the slightly better defense statistically. Forget that; this is a rivalry games and the stats don’t mean much. Here is what I think is the key to the game:
- The Skins’ defense has had more than a little trouble covering tight ends over the middle this year. The Skins’ safeties are “big hitters” but they do not excel in coverage; the Skins’ linebackers do not cover well either.
- Jason Witten is coming to town.
- Uh-oh …
The Lions host the Steelers in the Sunday Nite Game and the Steelers are 3-point favorites. Let’s go through the issues and the contradictions involved here. The Lions are much better at home than on the road; the Steelers are also much better at home than on the road; this game is in Detroit. The Steelers have more talent on offense and the Steelers have the #2 rated defense in the NFL trailing on the Broncos by 0.2 yards per game. Matthew Stafford “struggles in prime time”; this game is on Sunday nite. The Steelers often play with no passion against non-conference opponents; the Lions are ‘in the other conference”.
The Broncos visit the Chiefs in the Monday nite game and the Broncos find themselves as 7-point underdogs. The Chiefs sit atop the AFC West despite losing their last 2 games; they do not want to lose a third game in a row especially to another division foe. Last week the Chiefs gave up 500+ yards to the Raiders and they surrendered a 9-point lead at the start of the 4th quarter. Meanwhile, teams seem to have decided that the way to deal with the Broncos is to load up to stop the run and to force Trevor Siemian to beat them with his arm. It seems to be working because after an offensive explosion yielding all of 21 points in Week 1, the Broncos have not scored more than 17 points in any game. Two weeks ago, the Broncos lost to the Giants 23-10 and last week they were shut out by the Chargers 21-0. The Total Line for this game is 43 points; it might take a defensive score somewhere during the game to take this game over that number.
Finally, since I mentioned the long trips for the Raiders and the Niners to games this week, consider this comment on team travel from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:
“I’ll sympathize with the amount of miles a team has to fly in a season as soon as they start flying commercial and sitting in coach, where the meal is a bag of stuff vacuumed off the floor in first class, the coffee is ‘Prison Reject,’ and you always get a middle seat between two sumo wrestlers, in uniform.”
Ain’t that the truth …
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………