Football Friday 11/9/18

It is time once again for Football Friday.  As is custom in these parts I shall begin with a report on Linfield College football.  The Wildcats extended their record to 6-2 last week with a 47-41 win over Pacific Lutheran.  The game was not your standard back-and-forth-shoot-out as might be indicated by the score.  With about 11 minutes left in the game, Linfield led 37-13; then the Lutes managed to score 22 unanswered points in the next 6 minutes and took the lead at 41-40 with a minute left on the clock.  That created the opportunity for Linfield to hit a 59-yard TD pass with about 20 seconds left to win the game.  Demonstrating the comeback made by Pacific Lutheran, the Lutes ran up 516 yards of offense and 432 of those yards came in the second half.

The Wildcats finish their conference play this week at home against Pacific University.  Go Wildcats!

I am not going to make any friends among Notre Dame alums with this next observation:

  • Using only the eyeball test in the games I have seen on TV so far this year, my top 4 teams for the CFP would be Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Michigan.

Sorry; just my opinion…

While on the subject of the CFP and my eyeball test, here is what I think about UCF and its cry for attention from the CFP Selection Committee:

  • Temple – I said Temple – scored 40 points on UCF last week.  What parting gifts do we have for the Golden Knights, Johnny …?

As more and more college teams run spread offenses and have the capacity to score from anywhere in the field, it is worth noting the first possession by Army in its game against Air Force last week:

  • The drive went 75 yards for a TD.
  • The drive consisted of 21 plays.
  • The drive consumed 12 minutes and 55 seconds off the clock.
  • Woody Hayes approved this message…

Speaking of Georgia above, the Bulldogs beat Kentucky 34-17 last week in a dominant performance.  That win clinches the SEC East championship for Georgia setting up what should be a great SEC Championship Game against Alabama.  The Crimson Tide assured itself of the SEC West championship by shutting out LSU 29-0.  Alabama had been blowing people out on offense all year long; last week their defense was on display.  Consider these two stats:

  1. Total offense for LSU was 184 yards.
  2. LSU is a power running offense; in the first half, LSU had minus-2 yards rushing.

We know who will play in the SEC Championship and it will be a game to see.  In a few other conferences, the Championship Game looks as if it will be bland as porridge.  The ACC Coastal Division, the Big-10 West and the PAC-12 South will be represented by a champion in those three Conference Championship Games.  The problem is that every team in all three of those divisions already has 3 losses on the books.

The Big 12 Championship Game will avoid that possibility for a simple reason.  There are no divisions in the Big-12; that Championship Game takes place between the two teams in the conference with the best records.  However, here is what could happen there:

  • Oklahoma and West Virginia will play in the final game of the season.
  • It is possible – even probable – that these are the two teams with the best records in the Big-12.
  • That means they would play one another a second time 8 days later.

Such is the state of Conference Championship Weekend in the Power 5 conferences…

Auburn rallied late to beat Texas A&M in a game the Aggies seemed to have in hand in the 4th quarter.  It appeared as if the Aggies just stopped playing defense in the final 10 minutes or so of that game.  Strange.

West Virginia beat Texas 42-41 as the Mountaineers’ QB, Wil Greer, put on a show.  The Mountaineers have TCU at home this week followed by a road game at Oklahoma State before that showdown against Oklahoma on November 23rd.

Pitt beat Virginia and the Panthers now lead the ACC Coastal Division with an overall record of 5-4.  If they win out – and who is to say that a team flirting with a .500 record might actually do that – they would get to play Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.  Be still my heart.

Duke beat Miami 20-12.  That sets the Hurricane’s record at 5-4 and puts them on a 3-game losing streak.  Recall in early October, we were wondering if we were witnessing the re-emergence of Miami as a national powerhouse.  Mark Richt is not on a hot-seat there, but it is warming not cooling.

Clemson embarrassed Louisville 77-16.  Louisville has 2 wins this season – at the expense of Division 1-AA Indiana State and potential SHOE Team, W. Kentucky.  Lamar Jackson may not be doing anything important for the Baltimore Ravens this year, but when he was at the helm for Louisville, they were not torched by Clemson anything like what happened last week.

Purdue was back to playing strong football beating Iowa last week; meanwhile, Ohio State did not look good at all despite beating a mediocre-at-best Nebraska team

Michigan simply manhandled Penn State; there is no more polite way to put it.  The last 3 games for the Wolverines have been against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State; the combined score for those 3 games is 101-27.

  • [Aside:  People have criticized Jim Harbaugh for his poor record against major rivals Ohio State and Michigan State.  To be fair, why don’t folks look at James Franklin’s record against top Big-10 rivals as scrupulously?  Franklin’s Nittany Lions are 1-4 against Michigan, 1-4 against Michigan State and 1-4 against Ohio State.  Not particularly pretty.]

Illinois beat Minnesota 55-37 last week.  In case you are wondering how Illinois managed to score 55 points on any team more recognizable than Disco Tech, here is how:

  • The Fighting Illini averaged 12.4 yards per running play in the game.

Out west, Washington State won an ugly game over Cal 19-13.  It was raining and windy in Pullman last Saturday.  It was pouring on the Palouse…

Arizona State beat Utah 38-20.  If the Sun Devils win out, they will represent the PAC-12 South in the PAC-12 Championship Game.  Utah has played excellent defense all year; they were ranked 7th in the country in total defense allowing only 287 yards per game.  Arizona St. produced 536 yards of offense last week, which is almost double what Utah had been allowing.

UTEP won its first game of the year over Rice last week by a score of 36-24.  That means two things:

  1. There are no winless teams in college football this year.
  2. Both teams will be part of the SHOE Watchlist below.

The SHOE Watchlist:

There are 9 teams that have only won 1 game this year – more than enough to fill up the SHOE Tournament field.  Nonetheless, I will continue to put twelve teams on the SHOE Tournament Watchlist this week…  Call them the Dirty Dozen if you wish:

  1. Bowling Green 1-8
  2. Central Michigan 1-9
  3. Kent St.  2-7
  4. Old Dominion  2-7
  5. Rice  1-9
  6. Rutgers  1-8
  7. San Jose St.  1-8
  8. UConn  1-8
  9. UNC 1-7
  10. UNLV  2-7
  11. UTEP  1-8
  12. Western Ky  1-8

NCAA Games of Interest:

Louisville at Syracuse – 21 (69.5):  Talk about two teams and two programs heading in opposite directions…  If Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals get blown out here, maybe someone should tell him to start packing up his stuff in the sidecar of his motorcycle.  Too soon …?

Clemson – 19.5 at BC (57):  BC has been a giant-killer in the past (often against Notre Dame) but I doubt they have the horses to pull off a huge upset here.

Michigan – 39 at Rutgers (48):  Yes, Michigan is an elite team; nonetheless, what does this say about a Rutgers team to be a 39-point dog at home?  Well, last time Michigan traveled to New Jersey to play the Scarlet Knights, here is what happened:

  • Michigan won 78-0.
  • Rutgers did not make a first down in the entire game.

Wisconsin at Penn St – 8.5 (53):  Here we have two VERY unreliable teams.  Add to the inherent unreliability that both starting QBs are less than 100 %.  Wisconsin can run the ball (sometimes) and Penn State’s run defense is not nearly as good as it usually is.  Maybe that is a key to the game?   Might be interesting to watch but no wagering please.

Illinois at Nebraska – 17 (67):  One of the low-points in the Big-10 schedule for the season ranking up there – or down there – with a Rutgers/Maryland game.

VA Tech at Pitt – 3 (54):  Remember in Week 1 when everyone was so high on VA Tech because they beat Fla St. 24-3?  Well, that doesn’t look like such a big deal now that Florida State will have to fight just to be bowl-eligible.

UNC at Duke – 10.5 (58):  Big rivalry game here.  UNC has lost 5 in a row; the record is 1-7 and it looks like another 3-win season for the Tar Heels at the very best.  Can Larry Fedora survive that?

Kentucky – 6 at Tennessee (41):  This game is a coaching challenge for Kentucky.  They had a chance to be the SEC East champ until they were crushed by Georgia last week.  Can they bounce back?  Tennessee is not nearly as good as Georgia; in fact, Tennessee is a sub-.500 team and Kentucky is still ranked in the Top 15.  That makes this an interesting spread on this game…

Auburn at Georgia – 14 (50):  Georgia is assured of playing in the SEC Championship Game.  This is a warm-up for them.

Miss St. at Alabama – 24 (53):  Alabama is in the SEC championship Game.  This is a warm-up for them.  Is there an echo in here…?

Oregon at Utah – 4 (54.5):  The PAC-12 games are really random this year.  Utah is better at home than on the road.  If you bet this game, make it a venue call but better not to have any action riding here.

Washington St. – 6 at Colorado (60.5):  Wash St. is still in the driver’s seat for the PAC-12 North crown – – remembering that they have a date with Washington upcoming – – and I think Colorado is not up to stopping the “Air Raid Offense.”  Would take this bet if it were in Pullman, WA but will pass on the game in Boulder, CO.  The Buffaloes have lost 4 in a row…

Oregon St. at Sanford – 24 (61.5):  Oregon St. pulled an upset over Colorado – – actually, I think they simply exposed the fact that Colorado’s “gaudy” win/loss record was built on the backs of a horribly weak schedule.  The Beavers will not do that again here.

Cal at USC – 5 (47.5):  I would not be surprised to see either team win by 2 TDs here…

Florida State at Notre Dame – 16.5 (50.5):  I expect this line to move even more than it has already.  The spread opened at 18 and the Total Line was at 55.  I expect it to continue to move until kickoff.  There was a report late in the week is that Irish QB, Ian Book, injured his ribs in last week’s Northwestern game and will not play.  It would not surprise me to see this line closer to 14 points by game time.

Kansas at K-state – 10.5 (47):  This will be the first game for David Beaty as a lame-duck coach at Kansas.  The AD announced that Beaty was fired last week but that he would coach the team until the end of the season.  I guess that makes sense in some parallel universe.  I guess this gives Kansas a “head-start” in terms of a coaching search; if that is not the objective here, I do not get what the purpose might be.  This is a rivalry game so a loss for K-state would sting under any circumstances; however, under the status quo, a loss would be a big embarrassment in front of a home crowd.

  • [Aside:  Kansas said they want a coach with “head coaching experience”.  I’m not sure this is a job too many folks will want – – unless of course there is a big overpayment in the contract offer or maybe a 7 or 8-year deal with a fat buyout in it.  There is not going to be a quick fix for Kansas football unless the school can hire Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.  I heard a talking head on one of the sports shows throwing out names for the job.  I must admit, I did not know half of the ones he mentioned but there was one that made me perk up my ears.  He said Les Miles – former head coach at LSU who won a national championship there – would be on Kansas’ list.  It is BIG step down in the football pecking order from LSU to Kansas!]

NFL Commentary:

To say that Jon Gruden 2.0 is having difficulty gaining traction is about as polite as I can be.  I am not going to rehash what has gone down in Oakland in the last 10 months or so, but I think there is a parallel to be drawn here and the outcome is a far better place than is the current place.  Consider the NFL coaching path trod by Dick Vermeil.

  • Vermeil coached the Eagles from 1976 to 1982.  His teams made the payoffs 4 times and played in the Super Bowl once.
  • Vermeil left coaching to go to the announcing booth for about 15 years and returned to the sidelines in 1997 with the St. Louis Rams.
  • His first two seasons with the Rams were dismal; the combined record for those two years was 9-23.
  • In his third season, the Rams went 13-3 and went on to win the Super Bowl.
  • Connect the dots…

Having offered a rosy scenario for Raider fans above, let me throw just a splash of cold water on Jon Gruden here.  He said that lots of players were calling him telling him that they want to play for the Raiders – – and by extension for him.  All I have to say about that is I hope Gruden did not take the calls he is talking about and is only saying what some assistant told him the calls were about.  The reason for that is simple; if Gruden is talking to active players on other teams about playing for the Raiders, that would be tampering.

When the Browns named Gregg Williams as their interim coach for the rest of this year after firing Hue Jackson, I ran across an interesting bit of NFL history researched by Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

  • Since 1960, there have been 87 interim coaches in the NFL.
  • Only 10 interim coaches had a record over .500.
  • Only 2 interim coaches saw their teams make the playoffs.

My conclusion:

  • Interim coaches generally take over bad teams after owners fire the head coach in the middle of a season.  The reason the team is bad is that the players are not good enough.  Changing the coach usually does not alter that situation.

The Buffalo Bills have the worst offense in the NFL this year; there is little doubt about that.  There is more to this than just the eyeball test; there is an interesting statistical lens through which you can gain some clarity here.

In the 2018 season, there are 44 players who have thrown 10 passes or more.  Here are the 5 QBs at the bottom of the list in terms of QB Rating:

  • 40th Tyrod Taylor QBR = 64.5  The Browns via the Bills.
  • 41st Sam Bradford QBR = 62.5  Just released by the Cardinals
  • 42nd Josh Allen QBR = 61.8  The Bills’ QB of the future
  • 43rd Derek Anderson QBR = 56.0  The Bills’ recent signing
  • 44th Nathan Peterman  QBR = 30.7  The Bills’ interception machine

About the only thing one can say here is “Great googamooga…”

The Niners’ dismantling of the Raiders last week was all the more surprising given the debut of Nick Mullens at QB.  He’s been a clipboard holder and film studier for a year and a half, but he looked like a grizzled vet against a Raiders defense that could not pressure him and could not cover a corpse in the secondary.  Here is Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle on the poise of this first-time starter:

“A couple more things you didn’t know about Nick Mullens: He sleeps under the roller coaster at Great America to practice being calm and relaxed while everyone is screaming and panicking.  Mullens is a volunteer barista at a Starbucks, because doing that helps him learn to shout out complicated, playbook-type terminology under pressure.”

The Steelers beat the Ravens 23-16.  James Connor seems to have embraced the concept that he is the starting RB.  I am not so sure the Steelers are worrying about if/when LeVeon Bell reports to the team – – or if he reports at all.  The Ravens were out of sync offensively for much of the day.

The Falcons 38-14 win over Skins was not a fluke.  The Falcons dominated on offense and defense; the Skins’ defense seemed unable or unwilling to adjust; it could not decide if it was going to stop the run – – there were plenty of chunk plays in the run game last week – – or if it was going to stop the pass – – and it did not – – or if it was going to pressure Matt Ryan – – and it did not – – well you get the idea.  None of it worked.  Two Falcons’ RBs averaged 6 yards per carry or more.  The Falcons were 10 for 13 on 3rd down.

The Bears trounced the Bills 41-9.  Believe it or not, the 9 points scored by the Bills here is VERY close to their average scoring output for the season; they average 10.7 points per game over 9 games; they have not yet scored their one-hundredth point for the season.  This game was never a contest.  Making it worse, the Bears’ defense provided 14 points in the rout.  The Bears managed only 190 yards of offense and still scored north of 40 points; that is not easy to do.  Nathan Peterman started at QB and threw 3 INTs (including a Pick-6); no surprise there.

The Dolphins beat the Jets 13-6.  Sam Darnold imploded here with 4 INTs (one was a Pick-6); he never led a Jets’ drive that resulted in a snap inside the red zone.  The Jets held the Dolphins to 168 yards total offense – – and lost.

The Panthers beat the Bucs 42-28.  The Panthers led 35-7; then, the Bucs tried another furious comeback.  They closed the score to 35-28 but that was about all they could muster.  The Bucs gave up 179 yards rushing; they have the worst run defense in the NFL.

The Vikes beat the Lions 24-9.  Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times in the game, so it is not all that surprising that the Lions only produced 209 yards of offense.  Dalvin Cook returned to the Vikes’ backfield here and contributed 89 yards of offense.

The Chiefs beat the Browns 37-21.  This game was never in danger of going into OT as has been the Browns’ wont this year.  Patrick Mahomes had 375 yards passing and 3 TDs; the Chiefs total offense was 499 yards.  There was a bright spot for the Browns; RB, Duke Johnson, caught 9 passes for 78 yards and 2 TDs.

The Chargers prevailed over the Seahawks 25-17.  Melvin Gordon was back in the lineup for the Chargers and he ran for 113 yards in the game.  The Chargers missed two PATs in the game and released their kicker on Monday morning.

The Texans squeaked by the Broncos 19-17.  The Texans lost their first 3 games of the season by a total of 15 points.  The Texans have now won 6 games in a row and 3 of those wins came by 3-points or less.  The Texans are used to playing in close games!  Demaryius Thomas contributed against his former mates and DeAndre Hopkins was his normal outstanding self (10 catches and a TD).  The Texans lead their division by 2 games.

The Saints handed the Rams their first loss of the year by a score of 45-35.  This was a great game.  The Saints ran out to a big lead – 35-14 – and then the Rams tied the game before the Saints put it on ice.  Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and 1 TD.  Alvin Kamara was a thorn in the Rams side in the run game and the passing game.  Drew Brees threw for 346 and 4 TDs.

The Pats beat the Packers in a battle of two future first-ballot Hall of Fame QBs 31-17.  The game lived up to its billing.  The takeaway from this game is that the Pats have more players who can make big plays than do the Packers – – on offense and on defense.  Josh Gordon was a great pick-up for the Pats; now, all they have to do is to keep him eligible and off the suspended list.

The Titans beat the Cowboys 28-14.  Simply put, the Cowboys laid an egg here.  It seemed to me that they spent the entire night working to force the ball to Amari Cooper.  They ran on first down most of the time and then threw short passes on most of the other downs.

NFL This Week:

Buffalo at Jets – 7.5 (6.57):  Lose this one at home and Todd Bowles will feel his currently warm seat start to sizzle.  This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  Sam Darnold has not played well for the Jets over the last several weeks; this is a “show-me game” for him as well as the Jets’ coaches.  Then again, the NY Daily News reported that Darnold was in a walking boot on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, for the Bills, Josh Allen is “day-to-day”, and Derek Anderson is in the concussion protocol, so we may just see Nathan Peterman once again.  The team that makes the last mistake will lose this game.

Atlanta – 6 at Cleveland (50):  The Falcons have been on a roll for the last several weeks.  If they can maintain that level of play, they will dominate here.  The Browns are not the same inept set of bumblers they have been for the last several seasons, but I doubt they are ready to beat a team like the Falcons.  This game is big for the Falcons; they are 4-4 after a miserable start to the season but they are in a division where they are 3 games behind the Saints and 2 games behind the Panthers.  A loss here would be devastating…

New Orleans – 6 at Cincy (54):  The spread opened the week at 4.5 points and has been climbing slowly all week long.  If there were ever a formula for let-down game, it would be this one.  The Saints just handed Rams first loss of the season in a nationally televised game that was a shoot-out.  Now they go on the road (Saints are much better at home) and play on grass (Saints are a dome team) against a team that is not nearly as highly regarded as the Rams.  Just saying…  The Bengals are coming off a BYE Week which is good for the Bengals; AJ Green is out with a foot injury and is doubtful for the game which is not good at all for the Bengals.

Washington at Tampa – 3 (51):  This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game.  Then came news that the Skins lost 3 starters to season-ending injuries last week and the spread shot up to 3.  In addition, one other starting O-lineman for the Skins will probably miss this game.  Ryan FitzMagic is starting at QB for the Bucs, so you have no idea what sort of game he will put out there.  The Bucs’ defense is 32nd in the NFL in terms of yards allowed and they are the favorite here; that tells you what the oddsmakers and the betting public think about the rash of injuries recently encountered by the Skins.

Miami at Green Bay – 10 (47):  The weather forecast is for the high temperature to be 36 degrees on Sunday.  That is not Miami weather…  The Dolphins are futilely chasing the Pats in the AFC East; the Packers cannot afford a loss if they want to stay within hailing distance of the Bears and the Vikes in the NFC North.  By the way, please don’t forget; this is Aaron Rodgers versus Brock Osweiler.

Jax at Indy – 3 (46.5):  Talk about falling from grace.  The Jags had a 4th quarter lead on the Pats in the AFC Championship Game last year and fell short to a Tom Brady rally.  Now halfway through this year they are a 3-point dog to the Colts.  Wow!  Both teams are 3-5 and Jax has lost 4 in a row.  The loser here is pretty much out of the playoff picture- – even in a weak division.  Here is the fundamental question:

  • Can Blake Bortles figure a way to avoid tripping over his own two feet sufficiently often in this game to give the Jags’ defense and running game a chance to win it?

Detroit at Chicago – 7 (44):  The Total Line opened at 47.5 and has been dribbling downward all week.  The Lions gave up 10 sacks last week and so, this week they fired their special teams’ coach.  Why not?  Makes perfect sense to me…  Oh, by the way, the Lions’ defense ranks 31st in the NFL – – but they fired the special teams’ coach.  Cleveland is just across Lake Erie from Detroit and the only reason we do not focus on the dumpster fire that exists in Detroit is because the dumpster fire in Cleveland has been bigger and messier for the last 10 years.  But make no mistake, the Lions are a hot mess…  The Bears lead the NFC North; this game means a lot to them.  The Bears lead the division with 5 wins but if you look at the opponents they have beaten, it is not all that impressive.  Four of the 5 wins have come at the expense of the Cards, the Bucs, the Jets and the Bills.  That is not exactly Murderer’s Row …

Chargers – 10 at Oakland (50):  I hate laying double digits in NFL games and I cannot bring myself to take the Raiders at this point.  The Chargers beat the Raiders 26-10 earlier this year.  Since that game, the Raiders have gotten worse and the Chargers have surged.  If Nick Mullens could carve up the Raiders’ defense last week, what might Philip Rivers do to it this week?

(Sun Nite) Dallas at Philly – 7 (43.5):  Philly comes off a BYE week and Cowboys come off an embarrassing showing on MNF last week.  This is an important division game for both teams.  If Cowboys lose here, they will drop to 3-6 with upcoming schedule of:

  • At Atlanta
  • Vs. Washington
  • Vs. New Orleans
  • Vs. Philly

This is a make-or-break game for the Cowboys’ season.  The Eagles are at 4-4 – – a game behind the Skins this morning – – and need to win here to keep pace in the NFC East.  The rest of the schedule for the Eagles is difficult with 4 division games after this one and “outside games” against the Rams, Saints and Texans.  This is the Game of the Week.

(Mon Nite) Giants at SF – 3.5 (44):  The only reason this is not the Dog-Breath Game of the Week is because I want to see if Niners’ QB, Nick Mullens is a one-hit-wonder or not.  Other than that, this game is insignificant.  The teams bring a combined record of 3-14 to the kickoff.  The only reason to watch this game is that there are no playoff baseball games left to watch and the NBA games in November don’t mean much and the college basketball games in November mean even less.  Maybe if you go channel surfing, you may find a nice motocross race to watch…?

This Week’s Six-Pack:

Ohio St. – 3.5 at Michigan St (52.5):  A loss for OSU would eliminate them from CFP consideration with 2 games left to play.  Who would have thought that could possibly be the case back in August?  Remember the famous line from Hamlet:

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”

It seems to me that something is amiss in Columbus, OH; the Ohio St. team is just not playing like an Urban Meyer OSU team.  Purely a hunch here, I like this game to stay UNDER.

Texas – 2 at Texas Tech (63):  Absent a major weather problem, I like this game to go OVER.

Northwestern at Iowa – 11 (43.5):  These are both good teams that tend to rely heavily on their defensive units.  I think this will be a low scoring game.  If I am correct, that line looks awfully fat.  I’ll take Northwestern plus the points.

New England – 7 at Tennessee (46.5): This is another Belichick vs. ex-Patriot in a coaching duel.  The last one of this type for Belichick was against Matt Patricia and it did not end well for the Pats.  The Titans defense is for real.  In terms of a trend, the last time Titans beat the Pats was in 2002; the Pats have won the last 7 games between these teams.  I think the spread here is very generous, so I’ll take the Titans plus the points.

Arizona at KC – 16 (50:):  The spread opened the week at 17 and has stayed in that neighborhood all week.  I would not touch that number in an NFL game for any reason.  I like this game to go OVER because the Chiefs’ defense should allow the Cards’ anemic offense to score enough points to encourage Andy Reid to keep his foot on the gas.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



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