Football Friday 11/30/18

After a discombobulated schedule last week, it feels as if cosmic order has been restored as Football Friday falls on Friday this week.  So, let me tee it up and kick it off…

In college football, the dominant stories of the past week fall into two distinct categories:

  1. The Conference Championship Games upcoming this weekend and the implications of those games for the CFP.
  2. Coaching changes at schools that are nowhere near sniffing a place in a Conference Championship Game.

Let me start with the coaching changes.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Paul Johnson will retire after whatever bowl game Georgia Tech plays in this season.  Johnson is 61 years old and has been in the coaching business for 40 years.  His first job was as a high school coach the year after he graduated from Western Carolina.  His first head coaching job was in 1997 at Georgia Southern where he was most successful winning two national championships in the division 1-AA playoffs.  After that he was the head coach at Navy before taking over at Georgia Tech.  His overall record as a college head coach is 198-89.

Via con Dios, Paul Johnson.

Another coaching change took place at UNC – to the shock of almost no one.  Juxtaposing Larry Fedora’s nonsensical remarks at the ACC coaches pre-season media day with two consecutive horrid seasons made it a no-brainer to put him out to pasture.  The surprise from UNC was the announcement that Mack Brown would leave the TV studio and return to UNC to take over the program there.  Brown had been very successful in Chapel Hill prior to leaving to take the Texas job.

Hiring Mack Brown raises an interesting question.  Is there a mini-movement within college football to seek out old-timers as coaches as opposed to seeking out the latest/greatest hot-shot coordinators who are still working on their second razor blade?  Consider:

  • Mack Brown is 67 years old.  His last time on the sidelines was in 2013.  He won the BCS national championship in 2005 and has a career record of 244-122-1.
  • Les Miles is 65 years old.  He just took the job at Kansas a couple of weeks ago shouldering the burden of trying to make Kansas football into something better than a laughingstock.
  • Herm Edwards was 63 years old last year when Arizona State pulled him out of a TV studio to run the football program there.  Edwards had never coached at the college level and had been on TV for the 9 years before his hiring.
  • Bill Snyder is 79 years old.  He was 70 when K-State hired him back for a second stint on the sidelines there.  Last year, K-State signed him to a 5-year extension to run through the 2022 season when he will be 83 years old.

If this is a trend, when should I expect to hear rumors about Lou Holtz (age 81) and or Lee Corso (age 83) taking over the football program at Whatsamatta U?

Lovie Smith is a youngster at age 60.  Moreover, his tenure at Illinois over the past 3 seasons has been “less than outstanding”.  His record there is 9-27 overall which is not nearly “good”, and his Big-10 conference record is 4-23 which is fairly described as “pathetic”.  Notwithstanding that record, Illinois just extended Lovie Smith’s contract for two more years meaning he will be there for the next 5 years.  Clearly, Illinois administrators are hoping that their football fortunes will take an upturn as Lovie Smith “matures” into his late-60s…

NCAA Conference Championship Games:

(Fri nite) Northern Illinois vs Buffalo – 4 (51):  In MAC-country, this is a big game – meaning it might actually draw 25,000 fans if the weather is decent.  Northern Illinois has lost two games in a row and is still in this championship game.  I just cannot get excited about this one.  If pressed, I would take Buffalo and lay the points, but no one is pressing me…

(Fri nite) Utah vs Washington – 5.5 (44.5):  The winner of this game will play in the Rose Bowl as the PAC-12 champion.  Washington beat Utah 21-7 two months ago.  Both teams rely on tough defense to win games.  I agree with the oddsmakers that the game will be low-scoring and because I believe that I will take Utah plus the points.

UAB vs Middle Tennessee St. – 1.5 (45):  UAB killed its football program and then revived it a couple of years ago; already UAB is in the C-USA championship game.  Other than that, I don’t find much to command my attention.

Memphis vs UCF – 3 (64.5):  The Total Line opened the week at 70 points and has dropped steadily all week long.  The winner is the AAC champion; and if that winner is UCF, it will require a certain set of college football observes to say once again that UCF belongs in the CFP as one of the 4 best teams in the country.  Hi-ho…  I think the falling Total Line is a recognition that the loss of UCF’s starting QB will likely change the way UCF approaches the game.  Purely a hunch, but I’ll take this game to stay UNDER.

Texas vs Oklahoma – 8 (77):  The winner here will be the Big-12 champion.  I like the format of the Big-12 here pairing the two teams in the conference with the best records in the championship game rather than two divisional champions where the strength of the two divisions might vary widely.  Texas won the previous meeting between the teams this year; it was Oklahoma’s only loss of the season.  The stat that is being widely disseminated about this game is that Texas coach, Tom Herman, is 10-1-1 as an underdog over the last 4 seasons.  I do not think Texas will beat Oklahoma again in this game, but I also cannot put any faith in the Sooners’ miserable defense to keep the game inside that number.  I’ll take Texas plus the points.

Louisiana-Lafayette vs Appalachian St. – 16.5 (57):  The winner here is the Sun Belt champ.  I’m sure that matters to alums from the two schools…

Georgia vs Alabama – 13.5 (63):  This is clearly the NCAA Game of the Week.  My first thought was that this spread was a mistake.  Almost 2 TDs in the SEC Championship Game???  Then I went and did some math; Alabama has won its SEC games – not counting the out-of-conference games against Louisville and The Citadel – by just over 32 points per game.  Since I can do that math, so can lots of other folks and that is why the oddsmakers have to put the number that high; if not, the books would be hugely unbalanced.  I think Alabama will win this game and Alabama may indeed blow out the Bulldogs much the same as they blew out other good teams this year such as LSU.  But lay that many points against a very good Georgia team at your peril…

Fresno St. vs Boise St. – 2 (53):  The winner here will be the Mountain West Conference champion; I’ll go out on a limb here and say that “State” is gonna win this game.  These teams met 3 weeks ago; Boise St. won that game at home by 7 points and the total points in that game was 41.  It seems to me that the Total Line here is inflated.  I like the game to stay UNDER.

Pitt vs Clemson – 27.5 (53):  The Panthers have pulled off some stunning upsets over the past couple of years, but if they win this game it will shake the college football structure to its foundations.  Frankly, I was not particularly interested in this game until I saw the spread open at 24 points and jump to this level almost overnight.  I think I’ll tune in just to see how the Panthers approach the game when everyone seems to have given them up for dead.

Northwestern vs Ohio St – 14.5 (61):  If the Wildcats win here the CFP folks will have to do some soul-searching.  They do not want to stage their tournament with no team from the Big-10; that would write off a large college football audience.  But if the Wildcats are the champions, they would bring 4 losses to the CFP.

One more NCAA Game of Interest

Stanford – 3 at Cal (46):  This game was postponed because of the poor air quality in Northern California due to the wildfires there.  This rivalry is sufficient that the game must be played even though it is “meaningless” with regard to any conference championship.  I like Cal at home plus the points in this game.

NFL Commentary:

Two weeks ago, there were lots of close games in the NFL.  This week there were more than a few games that were not in doubt in the 4th quarter.  Let me start with the games that were not exactly nail-biters…

The Bucs beat the Niners 27-9.  Jameis Winston threw for 312 yards and 2 TDs in the game.  More importantly, he did not turn the ball over even one time.  The Bucs’ defense is hardly fearsome and yet the Niners could not ascend to “double-digits” on the scoreboard.  Maybe – – just maybe – – Nick Mullens is not the second coming of Brett Favre.

The Pats beat the Jets 27-13.  The Pats ran the ball for 215 yards and amassed a total of 498 yards total offense.  This game was not nearly as close as the score would make it appear.

The Ravens beat the Raiders 34-17.  Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to this win playing like an NFL QB instead of a helter-skelter college QB.  He still has a lot to learn about being an NFL QB, but he outplayed Derek Carr in this game.  The Ravens had 242 yards on the ground; they scored on a punt return; they scored on a fumble recovery returned for a TD.  The Raiders have lost 6 of their last 7 games and all 6 of those losses have been by double-digits.  Shudder…

The Browns beat the Bengals 35-20.  The Browns ran off to a 28-0 lead and had it on cruise control for the second half.  The Browns broke a 25-game road losing streak with this win; the last time they won on the road was in 2015.  Both Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb had excellent games against a Bengals’ defense that just plain stinks.  Andy Dalton suffered a hand injury late in the game and will be out for the rest of the season.  The Bengals season is finito.

  • [Aside:  Reports say that Marvin Lewis will be “moved upstairs” at the end of the season and that Hue Jackson – late of the Browns and with a recent coaching record of 3-36-1 – will take over the Bengals.  Good luck with that…]

The Chargers beat the Cardinals 45-10.  Midway through the first quarter, the Cards led this game 10-0; then came the deluge.  Philip Rivers completed 25 consecutive passes in this game; that might be easy if the defensive backs were all peg-legged pirates, but this was nominally against an NFL secondary.  Rivers ended the day 28 for 29 with 3 TDs.  The Chargers are only a game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West and – even if they do not catch the Chiefs – they are solidly in command in the AFC wildcard race.

The Texans beat the Titans 34-17.  The Titans looked good early in the game and then collapsed like a cot under a sumo wrestler.  The game turned with the score 10-7 and the Titans with 4th and 1 inside the Texans’ 5 yardline.  The Titans went for it; they got stuffed; the Texans took over and ran 97 yards on the first play for a TD; the Titans never recovered from that.  The Texans ran the ball for 282 yards on 33 carries.  That is 8.5 yards per carry.  Even if you subtract that 97-yard run from the total, the Texans gained 5.8 yards per carry.

At least there were some close games last week.  The Vikes beat the Packers 24-17.  After the game, Aaron Rodgers tried to indicate that the Packers’ season was not over and that the team merely needed to get to work and win out for the rest of the year.  Not meaning any disrespect for Aaron Rodgers, but that is not happening; the Packers are cooked.  As I watched this game, the Packers seemed to be going through the motions more than anything else; and I include Aaron Rodgers in that category.  Kirk Cousins had a nice game here on a national stage; he threw for 343 yards and 3 TDs with no INTs.

The Broncos beat the Steelers 24-17.  The Steelers certainly left points on the field in this game.  A runner fumbled the ball out of the end zone before crossing the goal line and Ben Roethlisberger threw a brutally ugly INT from the 1-yardline late in the 4th quarter.  Both were self-inflicted wounds.  The Steelers had 527 yards total offense – – and lost because they turned the ball over 4 times.  The Broncos are 5-6 as of this morning but look at their remaining schedule; it looks pillow-soft to me:

  • at Cincy – – winnable game
  • at SF – – winnable game
  • vs Browns – – winnable game
  • at Raiders – – winnable game
  • vs Chargers – – suppose the Chargers have their playoff slot locked up here?

The Broncos might post a final record of 10-6 this year.  From this vantage point, they should finish at 9-7 at the worst.

The Colts beat the Dolphins 27-24.  The Colts are making a serious run in the AFC South.  The Texans are in control there for now, but given the way the colts are playing, the Texans need to maintain their focus and keep on winning.  Andrew Luck threw for 343 yards and 3 TDs in this game, but he also threw 2 INTs to keep the game close.  This has not happened often in recent years, but the Colts’ defense came up big in the 4th quarter.  With the game in a one-score situation, the last two Dolphins’ possessions resulted in 3-and-out.

The Eagles beat the Giants 25-22.  It was a “tale of two halves”.  The Giants dominated the first half leading 19-11 at the break.  The Giant’s offense ran up 346 yards in the first half and then went into hibernation.  The Eagles ran the ball well in second half to set up key passing situations that Carson Wentz converted when needed.  The Giants had a 2-game win streak coning into the game, but it may have been a mirage; they beat two cellar-dwellers (Niners and Bucs) by a total of 7 points.

The Seahawks beat the Panthers 30-27.  The Panthers have now lost 3 in a row and this was the first home loss this year for the team.  Russell Wilson seemed to be running for his life for much of the game, but he still threw for 339 yards and 2 TDs.  Christian McCaffrey was outstanding in the game with 237 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs.

The Bills beat the Jags 24-21.  The Jags are not only a bad team, they have no discipline or focus.  That is very odd for a team assembled by Tom Coughlin, but it seems to be the case.  For what it is worth, I am now convinced that Blake Bortles does not deserve any more chances to be the starting QB in Jax or anywhere else.  This is the Jags’ 7th loss in a row and they fired their OC, Nate Hackett after the game; Hackett is a scapegoat and nothing more; the problem is at QB and the commitment the team made to that QB in the last off-season.

The lack of focus/discipline for the jags was in plain view on a play you must have seen a dozen times by now.  With a Jags receiver tackled at the Bills’ 1-yardline, a scuffle broke out and Leonard Fournette – who was not in the game and was on the far sideline from the scuffle – ran about 50 yards to insert himself in the melee and arrived throwing punches.  He was ejected from the game and is suspended this week.

Oh, but it gets worse…  The Jags had the ball with first down at the Bills’ 1-yardline once order was restored.  Carlos Hyde – in for Fournette – lost a yard on 1st down.  Ok, that is not the end of the world…

  • Next came a false start putting the ball back at the 7-yardline.
  • Then, a TD pass was nullified by a holding call that put the ball at the 17-yardline.
  • On second and goal from the 17, Blake Bortles ran for 1 yard.
  • On third and goal from the 16, Bortles took a sack back at the 24-yardline.
  • Kicker, Josh Lambo, then put coal tar on this ice cream sundae by missing a 42-yard field goal.

The Cowboys win over the Saints last night was a classic example of a let-down game for the Saints.  With their record at 10-1 and with a 10-game win streak where they had covered the spread in their last 9 games, the Saints came out at half-volume.  Meanwhile, the cowboys were flying all over the field on defense and never allowed the Saints to generate any rhythm.  The Saints’ offense had been in a position to break the all-time NFL record for points in a season; they were averaging over 38 points per game; last night they scored 10 points.  The Cowboys are in a good spot to win the NFC East and make the playoffs.

NFL Games this week:

Indy – 4 at Jax (47):  The Colts have won 5 in a row; the Jags have lost 7 in a row.  The Jags will sit Blake Bortles (a good move) and replace him at QB with Cody Kessler who is 0-8 in his starts at the NFL level.  Leonard Fournette is out too on a suspension.  I’ll take the Colts even on the road and lay the points even on the road.

Carolina – 3 at Tampa (54.5):  This is a must-win game for the Panthers.  They are on a 3-game losing streak and could lose their inside track to a wild card slot in the playoffs with another loss here.  The Panthers are a miserable 1-4 on the road and they are only 1-6 against the spread in their last 7 road games.  The Bucs are not a factor when it comes to the playoffs; they are already playing out the string.  Tread carefully here if you are tempted to make a wager…

Baltimore at Atlanta – 1.5 (49.5):  This will be Lamar Jackson’s first start on the road.  The Falcons’ defense is not a great unit, but it is better than the defenses that Jackson has faced so far this year (Bengals and Raiders).  The game has more playoff meaning to the Ravens, but this is a dicey call.  If I had to make a prediction, I would suggest taking the game to go Over.

Cleveland at Houston – 6 (47):  These teams do not play one another all that often.  The Texans are 4-0 straight up and against the spread against the Browns over the last decade.  The Browns are certainly playing better under Gregg Williams than they were under Hue Jackson but not as good as the Texans whose 8-game win streak should be extended here.

Buffalo at Miami – 3.5 (40):  This game is in a dead-heat for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The Bills are on a 2-game winning streak and they were the underdog in both of those victories.  They are the underdog here too; is that an omen?  Have the Bills finally put some of the pieces together or have they just been fortunate the last two weeks?  Dolphins are hardly a top-level opponent; we shall see…

Chicago – 4 at Giants (44.5):  Is this a trap game for the Bears?  They are on the road; their starting QB may or may not play this week because he suffered a shoulder injury two weeks ago AND the Bears host the conference leading Rams next week.  Meanwhile the Giants season is over, and the Giants’ offense should be stifled by the Bears’ defense.  Unless, the Bears are looking ahead to next week…

Denver at Cincy – 5 (45):   Both teams are 5-6 but they are headed in opposite directions.  The Broncos’ schedule gives them hope to be a playoff contender late in December; the Bengals can start to plan their Caribbean cruise vacations for early January.  The interesting thing to look for in this game is how Jeff Driskel plays taking over for Andy Dalton.  Other than that, …

Rams – 10 at Detroit (55):  Neither team here is on a hot streak relative to the spread:

  • Rams are 1-6-1 against the spread in their last 8 games
  • Lions are 1-4 against the spread in their last 5 games

These teams are headed in opposite directions.  The Rams are on track to have a BYE Week in the playoffs.  The Lions are on a vector heading to their familiar spot as the cellar-dweller in the NFC North.

Arizona at Green Bay – 14 (44):  I know the Cardinals are bad; you need not work hard to convince me on that issue.  However, the Packers of 2018 are not nearly a juggernaut and they are a 2 TD favorite here?  I know that the Packers are undefeated at home this year (4-0-1), but a 2 TD favorite?

KC – 15 at Oakland (55.5):  Here is another monstrous spread; the Raiders are 15-point dogs at home against a division rival.  Al Davis just choked on his morning bagel at the Celestial Starbucks when he saw that in the Cosmic Post.  Andy Reid specializes in coming back strong off a BYE Week and the Raiders are just a flat-out mess.  Since Andy Reid took over in KC, his teams are 15-5 against division rivals.  If you ask me to justify that 15-point spread, all I have is this:

  • Name a team in the AFC that is clearly better than the Chiefs
  • Name a team in the AFC that is clearly worse than the Raiders

Jets at Tennessee – 10 (40):  This game is in a dead-heat for the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The Jets are not a good road team over the past two years and they are 1-4 against the spread on the road this year.  The Titans need this game to remain playoff-relevant; the Jets have no such motivation.  Having said all that, this line looks awfully fat for a game where points ought to be hard to come by.  Just a hunch, but I’ll take the Jets plus the points.

Minnesota at New England – 5 (49.5):  This is a very important game for the Vikes if they hope to catch the Bears in the NFC North race.  However, the Pats are undefeated at home this year making this a tough road spot for the Vikes.  The Pats ran the ball a lot last week; I doubt they will do a lot of business against the Vikes’ defense with the run so expect Tom Brady to be airing it out a lot here.

SF at Seattle – 10 (46):  This was the game that Richard Sherman circled on his calendar back in July when training camp started.  This would be his return to Seattle and the game was going to be meaningful because Jimmy G was still the Niners QB and the team was not shredded by injuries.  The Niners are 0-6 on the road and only 2-4 against the spread in those 6 games.

(Sun Nite) Chargers at Pittsburgh – 3.5 (51.5):  This is the NFL Game of the Week.  The game was flexed to prime time from a 1:00PM start.  It is an important game to both teams who have their eyes squarely on the playoffs.  There are two interesting trends at work here:

  • Steelers are 12-1 in prime-time games – – 9-4 against the spread
  • Chargers are 2-8 in prime-time games – – 4-5-1 against the spread

The Chargers will be without Melvin Gordon here, but I like Philip Rivers with a hot hand in this game.  I like the Chargers plus the points.

(Mon Nite) Washington at Philly – 6 (45):  The Skins need this game to keep pace with the Cowboys – at least for the moment – in the NFC East.  I proclaimed the Eagles as “done” a couple of weeks ago and I stand by that projection here – – even if they win on Monday night.  From a wagering perspective, here are two things to keep in mind:

  • Eagles are 3-8 against the spread this year
  • Skins are 7-4 against the spread this year

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had this perspective on the Jets’ season so far:

“A motorist arrested on a DUI charge in Wayne, N.J., blamed his .13 blood-alcohol reading on the fact ‘I drank too much because the Jets suck,’ according to the police report.

“On the bright side, oddsmakers say he just might have a better chance of winning than the Jets do.”

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