Football is about to begin for real. There have been a few college games so far, but the meat of the college season starts this weekend. The NFL pretend games have mercifully ended with kickoff for the games that matter scheduled for 6 September at 8:20 PM EDT. With the arrival of football season, I will commence Football Friday which is not to be taken literally. Here is what I hope to do with Football Friday:
- Starting with the week of Sept.29, follow the progress of the Division 3 Linfield College Wildcats as they seek yet another winning football season. They have done that every year since 1956.
- Present some general comments related to college football and the NFL pertinent – hopefully – to some of the upcoming games on the weekend.
- Comment on wagering opportunities for games of interest in college and NFL football.
- Present two “Six-Packs” … six college games and six NFL games worthy of a “sporting investment”. That is likely going to be a stretch for me since I rarely think there are 6 NFL games worth betting – – but I’ll give it a shot here.
The reason I said above not to take Football Friday literally is because I already know that life events are going to intervene to force schedule changes. Sometimes, these offerings will be out on a Thursday; sometimes, they will not happen at all as I will be about 6 time zones away from Curmudgeon Central on a trip with my long-suffering wife. I’ll just take them a week at a time – – the same way that football coaches always take things one game at a time.
It is fair to say that there are more than a few folks out there who believe that Urban Meyer dodged a bullet when all he got was a 3-game suspension from Ohio State. One of the university trustees has resigned that position in protest. If you care to read the case for why Urban Meyer should have been fired from his job, here is a link to Sally Jenkins’ column today in the Washington Post. As is her wont, Jenkins pulls no punches in this column; here is her lead sentence:
“Read the public documents Ohio State collected in its investigation of Urban Meyer and you will never again be able to view him as anything but boneless.”
And that is the nice part of her column…
Tomorrow on FOX, the game between Oklahoma and Florida Atlantic should be entertaining – unless of course you like defense dominated games where field position dictates the action. Lane Kiffin and Lincoln Riley are generally regarded as offensive innovators. Kiffin has most of his offensive starters back from last year’s team that won its final 10 games of the season and scored 40 or more points in a game 8 times last year. Riley’s offense was piloted by Baker Mayfield last year; to say it was prolific would be to soft-pedal the praise. Mayfield is gone now – the first overall pick in the NFL Draft – and he is replaced by Kyler Murray. Normally, that would signal caution on the part of coaches and fans, but Murray brings an interesting résumé to the field:
- Two years ago, he began the season as the backup QB at Texas A&M but won the starting job in mid-season.
- He transferred to Oklahoma at the end of the 2015 season and was Baker Mayfield’s backup last year.
- He is also a baseball player who was drafted #9 overall by the Oakland A’s and he has signed a contract with the A’s that gave him a $4.5M signing bonus. After this season, he plans to forego his senior season of eligibility for football and report to Spring Training with the A’s.
The Oklahoma/FAU game opened with a Total Line of 65.5; this morning the Total Line is 72. People are expecting offensive fireworks here despite the fact that is the first game of the year for both teams.
There is a game this weekend that might qualify as the Game of the Week if it were on the card sometime in late October or early November. Both Michigan and Notre Dame have lofty aspirations for the 2018 season. They play each other tomorrow at Notre Dame; the losing side here will be very disappointed. The oddsmakers see a close game and a defensive game. Notre Dame is favored by 1.5 points and the Total Line is a very modest 46.5.
Louisville visits Alabama tomorrow night. In a press conference a couple of weeks ago, Louisville coach, Bobby Petrino said flat out that Louisville was going to beat Alabama in Game 1 of this season. Tomorrow is Game 1. The oddsmakers have a different view of this game. As of this morning, Alabama is a 24-point favorite and if you want to take Petrino at his word and bet Louisville to win the game outright, the Money Line is at a cozy +1425.
[Aside: If you like trends, the last time Alabama lost its opening game of the season, it was 2001. The game took place 10 days before the hijacked aircraft took down the twin towers in NYC.]
I understand why some schools take on games where the team is overmatched to generate revenue for the athletic department. However, I think that New Mexico State has taken that tactic and raised it to an art form. The Aggies are one of the Independents in Division 1-A football after they were invited to leave the Sun Belt Conference at the end of last year. Filling a schedule for an Independent school is not a trivial undertaking – unless the school is Notre Dame – but here is what New Mexico State did for this season:
- Last Saturday, August 25th, the Aggies played Wyoming and lost 29-7. Looking at the stats for the game, it was probably not that close – but I did not see the game, so I cannot be certain of that.
- Last night, August 30th, the Aggies traveled about 1500 miles to play Minnesota in the Twin Cities. Not surprisingly, they got hammered 48-10.
It is one thing to take on bigger opponents for a payday and another to schedule your team to play 2 games in 5 days in August with 1500 miles of one-way travel involved…
For the NFL, this is “Cutdown Weekend”; lots of roster movement and player movement will happen in the next 24-36 hours as teams must be down to the 53-man roster by 4:00PM EDT tomorrow. There were trades this week involving backup QBs in advance of the free-agent scrum that will happen as soon as the cuts are announced.
- The Packers sent backup QB, Brent Hundley to the Seahawks where he will carry a clipboard for Russell Wilson instead of Aaron Rodgers. Hundley showed last season that he might someday become a journeyman QB who will not throw up on his shoes. The scary thing about this trade is that the Packers chose to keep DeShone Kizer over Hundley. Hundley was hugely unimpressive, but Kizer looked even worse.
- The Jets sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints. With Sam Darnold named as the starter for the Jets and with Josh McCown uninjured in the exhibition season, there was no need for the Jets to keep Bridgewater and by trading him – vice releasing him tomorrow – they scored a 3rd round draft pick next year. The Jets need draft picks; that roster is anything but “loaded”. The Saints’ decision here tells me that the braintrust in New Orleans thinks they have a shot to go deep in the playoffs this year and are willing to spend a draft pick to buy some insurance.
From reading various “camp reports”, there are several players who could be free agents as of tomorrow and who ought to be able to find homes somewhere in the NFL. Here are five of them:
- Ameer Abdullah – RB: He came to the Lions in the second round of the 2015 draft. He has been with the Lions for 3 seasons and has never rushed for 100 yards in a game. [Aside: The last Lion to rush for 100 yards in a game was Reggie Bush and he did that in 2013.] The team signed LeGarrette Blount in the off-season to be the “big back” and they drafted Kerryon Johnson too.
- Josh Dobbs – QB: The Steelers are not likely to keep 4 QBs on the roster. Ben Roethlisberger is the starter and the team just drafted Mason Rudolph 4 months ago. The other two QBs on the roster are Dobbs and Landry Jones. I doubt that teams would want to give up anything to get Jones, but Dobbs might attract offers because he is only 23 years old. If Dobbs is cut, I suspect he finds a job somewhere in the league.
- Mike Gillislee – RB: The Pats signed him to be their “big back” last year after LeGarrette Blount signed with the Eagles. Somehow, Gillislee worked his way lower and lower on the Pats’ totem pole to the point that he was not even dressed for about a half-dozen games at the end of the season. He is only 27 years old, so he should find a home somewhere.
- Robert Griffin III – QB: The question for the Ravens is simple. Do they carry 3 QBs or only 2? Joe Flacco is the starter; Lamar Jackson is a first-round pick from this year’s draft for whom the Ravens traded up to get. They are making the team. RG3 played well in the exhibition games so maybe his career gets extended somewhere?
- Paxton Lynch – QB: The Broncos only have 3 QBs on the roster and Lynch appears to be the odd-man out. While his performances to date have been tepid-at-best, he is only 24 years old and he fits the mold of a “developmental asset” that many teams use for their backup QBs.
College Football Games of Interest:
(Friday Nite) San Diego St. at Stanford – 13.5 (48.5): This is a revenge game for Stanford; last year they visited San Diego St. and lost 20-17. The Aztecs had the nation’s leading rusher last year in Rashaad Penny; he is gone. The Cardinal still have Bryce Love carrying the football for them. I think the Aztecs are in for a long evening of football…
Ole Miss at Texas Tech – 3 (67): Ole Miss is still on probation and cannot go to a bowl game this year; they are “playing for pride” in Oxford, MS this year. Texas Tech has been disappointing the last several seasons and more than a few commentators think that Kliff Kingsbury could be out of a job without significant improvement this year. The game could be interesting…
Texas – 13.5 at Maryland (53): This is a revenge game for Texas; they lost in Austin last year to Maryland 51-41. The Maryland program is in turmoil with the coach suspended and an investigation ongoing into an alleged “toxic culture” in the football program that may have played a part in the death of a young athlete during a practice.
Army at Duke – 13.5 (46): Army won 10 games last year; this is a game of interest specifically to see if they are on track to do that again.
College Football Six-Pack:
- [Make no mistake, these picks do not derive on the basis of any inside information or hours of research. No one should risk any real money on any of these picks solely on the fact that they are here. Anyone who did that would also think that “fast food” is what you get when you run over a deer at 75 mph.]
West Virginia – 9 at Tennessee (63): Tennessee cleaned house after last season and then went through the most bizarre coaching search ever leading to student protests over the announced hire leading to the withdrawal of the offer to hire. The new coach is Jeremy Pruitt and he comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree; that is the good news. The bad news is that Tennessee does not have the same level of talent that Alabama does. Meanwhile, West Virginia is led by QB, Will Grier who is an early contender for the Heisman Trophy and who averaged 300+ yards per game passing last year. I like West Virginia to win and cover.
Washington vs. Auburn – 2.5 (48) [Game is in Atlanta]: If the Michigan/Notre Dame game is not the best game of the week, then this one surely is. The Huskies look to be the class of the PAC-12; they have experienced leaders on offense and a very good defense. Auburn is a top-shelf SEC school and will win plenty of games this year. Interestingly, Auburn played 2 games in Atlanta last year and lost both of them. I like Washington plus the points here.
Florida Atlantic at Oklahoma – 21 (72): I mentioned this game above. Call this a “Chris Christie Line” – – it looks fat to me. I’ll take FAU plus the points.
(Monday Nite) VA Tech at Florida State – 7.5 (54.5): Florida State has a new coaching staff and a new system while VA Tech brings one of the top-rated defenses to the field. I like Tech plus the points here.
Miami – 3 at LSU (46.5) [Game is in Arlington, TX]: If this game were in Baton Rouge as the opening game of the season, I would jump on LSU immediately. However, on a neutral field, I like the Miami defense to throttle the typically bland LSU offense. I’ll take Miami and lay the points.
Appalachian St. at Penn St. – 24 (54): Saquon Barkley is not in Happy Valley anymore. I do not expect Penn State to lose this game, but I do think that is a boatload of points to give to one of the better teams outside of the Power 5 Conferences. I’ll take App St and the points.
Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times was clearly looking ahead into the college football season with this comment:
“The Cactus Bowl has been rebranded the Cheez-its Bowl.
“You’ve got to like Wisconsin’s chances of getting the first invite.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………