Football Friday falls on a Thursday this week. The reason for that calendar inversion is rather simple. Early tomorrow morning, I will board an airplane for a flight to Las Vegas; our “Annual Autumnal Pilgrimage” is much earlier than usual this year due to major calendar conflicts in the month of October. And so, this week’s offering is being composed at a time when the lines for some of the games – particularly NFL games – are still in a fluid state. No matter; we will make do with what we got…
College Football Commentary:
Let me start with some reflections on last week’s college football games. The teams ranked in the Top 25 in the pre-season polls did very well last week. Those teams went 24-1, and the one loss (by Oregon) was to another team ranked in the Top 25 (Auburn). There will be plenty of changes in the shuffling of the order of these teams – and there will surely be lots of “replacements” too as the season progresses. However, for the first week the pollsters seem to have “gotten it right”.
The seemingly perennial success of the SEC in football has generated a cadre of folks who in modern parlance are “haters”. Those haters can revel in the results of last week’s college football games where 4 SEC teams lost to opponents that do not have the pedigree of “an SEC team”. Let’s review:
- South Carolina led UNC 20-9 in the 4th quarter and came from ahead to lose the game 24-20. Remember, UNC was 2-10 last year. This was Mack Brown’s first game back as a coach in about 7 years. This loss is probably the least embarrassing one for the SEC since UNC is also a Power 5 school.
- Missouri lost to Wyoming – not a Power 5 school – by a score of 37-31. Mizzou outgained the Cowboys 530 yards to 389 yards and only gave up 92 yards passing. Here is the embarrassing part; the Wyoming coach earned a “six-figure bonus” in his contract for beating this SEC opponent.
- Ole Miss lost to Memphis 15-10. Memphis is a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) which is never mistaken for the SEC when the subject is football. What makes this game very embarrassing for Ole Miss and the SEC is the dominance of the Memphis defense here. For the game, Ole Miss generated a total of 163 yards of offense (83 passing and 80 rushing). In the first half, Ole Miss had a total of minus-1 yard rushing. That’s bad enough but the Rebels’ offense is now under the tutelage of Rich Rodriguez who is generally known as an offensive guru.
- Tennessee lost to Georgia State 38-30 in the most embarrassing loss of the day. Why is this the most embarrassing loss of the day? Let me count the ways… First, Tennessee reportedly paid Ga St $950K to make the trip to Rocky Top and take a beating at the hands of the Vols. That did not happen. Next, Ga St was a 26-point underdog in the game, and this was the first time that Ga St has ever beaten a Power 5 team. Third, Ga St is a Sun Belt team and Sun Belt teams aspire to become AAC teams one day. Fourth, lest you think that Ga St was some sort of lurking power among the smaller football programs, they were 2-10 last year. They were mediocre on offense (90th in the country out of 130 schools) and they were way south of mediocre on defense (125th in the country). Fifth, the Vols overhauled their coaching staff significantly in the offseason to “change the culture”; they have a new offensive coordinator and a new defensive coordinator. And all of that resulted in a loss at home to Georgia State…
Jeremy Pruitt is the head coach at Tennessee and his job security took a major hit last weekend. BYU comes calling this week and then there is another cupcake home game against UT-Chattanooga before the Vols start SEC play with games against Florida and Georgia. Pruitt came to Tennessee last year and went 5-8 in 2018; this embarrassing loss is not going to be forgotten quickly; Jeremy Pruitt’s honeymoon at Tennessee is over.
You can accuse me of piling on here if you wish – – but that is what we do here in Curmudgeon Central:
- One more home loss to a school of the football pedigree of Ga St and you can start referring to it as Rocky Bottom.
- Since Tennessee paid Ga St to make the trip and then Ga St beat them up, you might want to call this a “Jussie Smollett Game”. Too soon …?
Teams at the top of the SEC did just fine last week. Alabama beat Duke 42-3 in a game that I said would be an organized ass-kicking. Georgia beat Vandy and covered a 3 TD spread in the process. Auburn rallied to beat Oregon as noted above. Florida beat Miami and LSU demolished Georgia Southern.
In the Big 10, Ohio State toyed with Florida Atlantic winning by 24 points. Illinois beat Akron 42-3. Wisconsin dominated USF 49-0 with Jonathan Taylor rushing for 183 yards in less than ¾ of a game. Penn St. beat Idaho 79-7 in a game that should not have been scheduled in the first place. Maryland beat Howard 79-0 in another game that should never have been scheduled. Northwestern lost to Stanford 17-7, but Stanford was ranked in the Top 25 so that is not an embarrassing loss.
Nebraska beat South Alabama which was expected. What was unexpected is that it took two defensive TDs and a punt return for a TD to make it happen.
The worst loss for the Big 10 came when Purdue lost to Nevada 34-31. Purdue was cruising at halftime with a 24-7 lead. But the second half was all Wolfpack. The fact that Purdue turned the ball over 5 times assured their demise.
There was another embarrassingly bad loss last weekend; Florida State lost at home to Boise State 36-31. That may not sound all that bad – – until you know that Florida State led at halftime 31-19; that’s right; they were shut out in the second half and as embarrassing as that could be, consider that the Boise St. comeback was led by a true freshman at QB. Coach Willie Taggert – – who is not all that far from becoming known colloquially as Beleaguered Coach Willie Taggert – – said that he was not sure that his team was properly hydrated for that game.
- Memo For Coach Taggert: That’s on you! If you and your staff – in the second year of your regime in Tallahassee – cannot more properly hydrate your team than the folks from not-so-tropical Boise State, then you may not be up to the job you have signed onto.
It’s time to cut out the apologetic language for the Florida State program under Willie Taggert. It stunk out the joint last year and it did not cover itself in glory in Game One of this year. Consider that the Seminoles’ defense allowed Boise St. to post 586 yards of offense. Meanwhile, the total offense for the Seminoles in the second half was all of 51 yards. That is – – using plain language – – unacceptable…
Here is the “fork in the road” question from the outcome of the Florida State/Boise State game:
- Does this fire up the “FireWillieTaggert.com” website and its progeny?
- Does this start a media narrative that Boise St will be the team that is frozen out of the CFP this year?
Or … could it be both…
If you want a feelgood story from last week, consider that Kansas won its season opener against Indiana State. Yes, I know that Indiana St. is a Division 1-AA team but this is a win for Les Miles in his first game at Kansas; as of this morning, Les Miles is undefeated in Lawrence, Kansas; that situation will not obtain for very long, so we need to enjoy it for the moment of its expression.
In ACC action, Clemson beat Georgia Tech 52-14. Last week, I said this game would get ugly quickly; the score was 28-0 at halftime. The Clemson defense looked as if it might be a top-shelf unit once again this year despite sending 4 players to the NFL over the summer. The Clemson offense racked up 632 yards and Travis Etienne carried the ball 12 times for 205 yards and 3 TDs. Wow!
Boston College beat VA Tech in a conference game on opening day by a score of 35-28. The surprises here are twofold:
- BC actually scored 35 points in a single game?
- BC did that against the defense coached by the legendary Bud Foster of VA Tech?
So that you know that this outcome was not a fluke, Boston College amassed more than 300 yards of offense in the first half of this game…
Notre Dame beat Louisville 35-17 – – but the Irish did not look dominant in doing so. Louisville was a disaster last season giving up 40+ points every time you looked at the weekend scoreboard. The Cardinals were 2-10 for the season and 0-8 in ACC games. They turned over the entire coaching staff and this team has plenty of speed but not a lot of brute strength. Speed can – however – be lethal and after watching this first game, it would not surprise me to see Louisville win a handful of game this year. The Louisville QB runs around a lot – and he is very fast – but when he tries a pass, it is like Pee Wee Herman trying to connect with a certified hottie in a bar during Happy Hour.
Cincy beat UCLA 24-14 last week. This is not an auspicious start for Chip Kelly in his second year in Westwood. The reason I say this not auspicious is that “OFFENSE” is Chip Kelly’s calling card and in this game the Bruins managed to gain only 2.5 yards per offensive play against Cincy. Maybe at the end of the year, I will look at this differently if Cincy holds the rest of its opponents to similarly underproductive totals. However, I am not going to bet on that; I think that Chip Kelly does not have the players to run his style of offense at UCLA and that he is too stubborn to admit that and make changes.
Out west, Utah/BYU was a 9-6 game at half time in the rivalry known as The Holy War. [Aside: The intensity of this rivalry equals many of the nationally recognized rivalries but this one does not get nearly the widespread attention that it deserves in my opinion.] Utah was one of the pre-season Top 25 and the Utes pulled away in the second half to win 30-12. I said in a previous rant that I think Utah can win the PAC-12 South again this year and maybe win the PAC-12 thereby going to the Rose Bowl; their defense in Week 1 was solid; it held BYU under 300 yards total offense.
There was a meaningless game that caught my attention last week. Rutgers beat UMass like a drum. It was 21-7 early on; it was 38-21 at halftime; the final score was Rutgers 48 and UMass 21. I said last week that being a “more-than-2-TD underdog” to Rutgers might be a message to the folks who run UMass that maybe – – just maybe – – they do not belong in Division 1-A football. Losing to Rutgers by 27 points puts an exclamation point on that suggestion I made…
NCAA Games This Week: (Remember, these are lines from early in the week…)
Texas A&M at Clemson – 17.5 (64.5): The spread opened at 19 and dropped immediately to this level; the Total Line opened at 60.5 and jumped to this level by Tuesday afternoon. Let me be clear; I do not think Texas A&M is going to win this game on the road against Clemson. But that line might have a bit of fat in it. The Aggies do not have the talent level of teams like Alabama or Clemson; but they are not a bunch of stumblebums who just happened to find their way into a sporting goods store where there was a sale on shoulder pads. The Aggies should keep this closer than Georgia Tech did last week; they might keep it down to a 2-score game. Put this one in this week’s Six-Pack.
New Mexico St. at Alabama – 54 (64): The spread here opened at 55.5 and has dropped because that is a metric ton of points to lay. However, consider this… Last week New Mexico St lost to Washington St. by 51 points. So, is Alabama only a field goal better than Washington St.? Here is another question … Who has done the scheduling for New Mexico St. starting out against the likes of Washington St and then Alabama? The Marquis de Sade?
Stanford at USC – 1.5 (45): USC had a Pyrrhic Victory last week; they beat Fresno St. 31-23 but lost their starting QB for the season to a knee injury. Stanford is on the fringes of the “Top 25” and travels to LA to take on the Trojans. The spread opened at 3.5 points and has dropped quickly to this level.
Rutgers at Iowa – 20 (50): Rutgers manhandled UMass last week. Please do not confuse UMass with Iowa.
LSU – 6.5 at Texas (55): Both teams would like to think of themselves as “dark horses” to crash the CFP party this year. I am not buying into any of that; but these are two very good teams and this is probably the best game of the week in college football. The spread opened at 4.5 points and has inched up all week – – telling me that there is a heavy preponderance of money on LSU in this game. I don’t think LSU is 9.5 points better than Texas which is what the spread would be on a neutral field if the spread at Texas is 6.5 points. That means the line is fat so put LSU plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.
Cincy at Ohio St – 15.5 (55.5): Cincy beat UCLA comfortably last week. Ohio St. plays football on a higher plane than UCLA.
Army at Michigan – 22.5 (47.5): It is always interesting to watch a “big-time school” take on one of the service academies because it means the “big-time school” has to defend the triple option for the one-and-only time of the season and it has to deal with an opponent that though out-manned will not stop playing hard.
Vandy at Purdue – 7 (56): Both teams lost last week and neither loss was a pretty one…
USF at Ga. Tech – 6 (62): Last year, USF won its first 7 games. Then it lost 6 in a row and it started off 2019 with a loss last week. Not good… Ga Tech got trucked by #1 Clemson last week and has a new coach and a new offensive system. Not good…
Arkansas at Ole Miss – 7 (52.5): I am looking at last week’s results and the upcoming schedule for these two teams in the SEC West and thinking that this may be the only “Conference win” for whoever wins this one.
(Fri Nite) Marshall at Boise St. – 10.5 (57): Will this be a let-down game for Boise St, after beating Florida St last week? How will Boise St. do on a “short week” and the long trip home from Tallahassee to Boise – – approximately 2000 miles.
Ohio at Pitt – 5 (54): Ohio will try to run the ball against Pitt. If they can do so in their power run game, they will turn this game into a classic UNDER bet. Pitt gave up 129 yards on the ground last week…
Syracuse at Maryland – 2 (56): My guess is that one of these teams will win this game by at least 10 points. Which one …? If you pick the winner here, the spread should not intervene…
Nebraska – 3.5 at Colorado (65): Colorado beat Colorado St. by 3 TDs last week; Nebraska beat South Alabama by 2 TDs last week. What bothers me about Colorado here is that they gave up 505 yards of offense to Colorado State in the process of winning that game. Here are two undefeated teams that did not look all that good in Week 1.
BYU at Tennessee – 3.5 (52): This is a career moment for Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. If the Vols lose this game at home, they are looking at a 1-4 start for the season and that will not feed the bulldog with the folks in Knoxville who have humongously unrealistic expectations for their football teams.
Coastal Carolina at Kansas – 8 (52): Les Miles seeks to extend his home game win streak to 2 games here…
Miami – 3.5 at UNC: The spread opened at 6 points and has been edging down all week. This is an important game for both teams. If UNC wins, it will be 2-0 and will have matched last year’s win total before the equinox. Miami lost last week against a team considered to be in the Top 10; no one thinks UNC is of that caliber; so, if Miami wants to use the loss last week as a rallying point for the season, it needs to win this game convincingly.
Cal at Washington – 14 (43): If this is indeed a low scoring game as indicated by the Total Line, those 14 points look very attractive.
Oregon St. at Hawaii – 6.5 (78): This is the second PAC-12 team in two weeks to pay a visit to Hawaii. Last week, Arizona came home with a loss. Most folks think Arizona is a better team than Oregon State. You make the call … The Total Line here indicates that this should be a “TIO Game” where Tackling Is Optional.
As the 100th season of NFL football commences with a Packers/Bears game in Soldier Field, two very brief points of NFL history seem appropriate:
- The Packers joined the American Professional Football Association (APFA) in 1919 and that entity morphed into the National Football League. When the team was formed, Curly Lambeau got money from the Indian Packing Company – a company that packed and canned meats – to fund the team’s uniforms. That is how the team nickname became the “Packers”.
- The Bears began their existence as the Decatur Staleys. It was a “company team” for the A. E. Staley Food Starch Company and they played their games at Staley Field which was a “recreational facility” for the employees. The company hired George Halas to run the club in 1920 and turned the team over to Halas in 1921 as negotiations proceeded to give birth to the National Football League.
Back in the Spring – it was proximal to the NFL Draft as I recall – there were reports that the league and the players’ union were going to sit down and begin discussing/negotiating a new CBA despite the fact that the current one still has time to run. The reports said that the NFL wanted to have a new deal in place by the start of this season. Well, “this season” begins tonight at 8:20 PM when the Packers and Bears kick off at Soldier Field. Having heard no reports from insiders regarding major breakthroughs in said discussions/negotiations, I suspect that this will be a deadline missed.
An NFL storyline that persisted over the summer months dealt with the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and whether he was going to change his mind and come back to play with the Patriots in 2019. The fact that he has not signed on to do so as of this morning coupled with the start of the season this evening would seem to suggest that he will not be playing a full season in New England in 2019. However, his retirement does raise an interesting question:
- Who deserves the mantle of “Premier Tight End in the NFL” now that Gronk has retired?
I think there are two candidates and I will list them here alphabetically because I am certain that any of the 30 teams that do not have one of these guys on their roster would offer sacrifices to the football gods if they could acquire either one.
- Zach Ertz (Eagles): He is not quite the downfield threat that Gronk was nor can he block in the power run game the way Gronk did. He runs great routes and when he gets his hands on the ball it is as if he has magnets in those hands. Last year, he caught 116 passes for 1163 yards.
- Travis Kelce (Chiefs): Like Ertz, he cannot block nearly as well as Gronk could. Kelce is a bigger downfield threat than Ertz. Last year, he caught 103 passes for 1336 yards.
You make the call…
Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys have finally reached an agreement on a contract extension and Elliott can stop working out in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. According to reports, the deal is for 6 years (to begin after the 2 remaining years on Elliott’s rookie contract expire) for $90M with $50M of that contract guaranteed. I do not doubt for a moment that there were sticking points in these negotiations along the way, but the timing here causes my cynicism gene to activate.
- If the Cowboys can “accommodate” $90M to Elliott from 2021 through 2027 with regard to the salary cap and its anticipated levels in those years, it would seem clear to me that those calculations and accommodations could have been recognized several months ago.
- It is going to take a bit of convincing to get me to believe that this “contractual impasse” was not driven by a desire to keep Ezekiel Elliott out of harm’s way in training camp – and meaningless Exhibition Games – as much as by money and contractual language.
- The ancillary benefit that accrued to the Cowboys by making this a “contractual impasse” was to keep the Cowboys front-and-center in NFL news stories for the past several months. And we do know how Jerry Jones loves to deal with the media…
A story broke earlier this week that the Raiders have fined Antonio Brown $53,950 for missing 2 practices. There is no question that he missed the practices; there is no question that the Raiders are within the terms of the CBA to levy and collect the fines; there is no question that many teams rescind such fines for star players; there is no question that Antonio Brown is not happy with the fact that the Raiders want him to “pay up”. None of that is particularly interesting to me because there is another issue here that is below the surface:
- One of the things that was cited about Brown’s deleterious effect on the Steelers’ locker room was that he sometimes skipped practices. [Aside: Somewhere Allen Iverson smiles knowingly…].
- The Raiders gave Brown a new $50M contract with about $30M of it as guaranteed money as one of the events that got him from the Steelers to the Raiders.
- The Raiders may be a tad miffed that Brown has not shown the same respect for the Raiders that the Raiders showed to him. However, can they really be surprised here? They gave a certified prima donna $30M guaranteed and then they expected that he would change his behavior patterns? Really?
(Thurs Nite) Green Bay at Chicago – 3 (46.5): The Bears featured defense last year and they have a new defensive coordinator for this opening game. The Packers featured offense last year – and for several years before that – and they have a new coach and a new offensive system for this opening game.
Atlanta at Minnesota – 4 (48): This line has been rock-solid; no movement of any importance. The Falcons have the better QB and the Vikes have the better defense. The tipping point in this game is Dalvin Cook because the Falcons defense has been vulnerable to the run for several seasons now.
Washington at Philly – 10 (45): This is the biggest spread on the board for the weekend, and it has been getting larger as the week unfolds having opened at 7.5 points. I will not make a pick in a Week 1 divisional match-up where the spread is in double-digits, but the Eagles are a better team than the Skins.
Buffalo at Jets – 3 (40.5): Another divisional game in Week 1 but this one ought to be close. The game may be very important to these teams in terms of tiebreakers once December rolls around. The Bills’ defense was second in the league last year in terms of yards allowed; it was the Bills’ offense that did not hold up its end of the stick. Josh Allen and his buddies need to show improvement this year. I am tempted to take the UNDER here, but it is too early in the season to put that sort of trust in both of these defensive units; however, I agree with the oddsmakers that this should be a low-scoring game. In low-scoring games I like to take points so put the Bills +3 in the Six-Pack for the week.
Baltimore – 6.5 at Miami (38.5): Who knows if the Ravens’ “newfangled offense” for Lamar Jackson is worth anything? Given the opposition this week, we will likely not know the answer to that for Week 2 – – unless of course the Ravens’ total offense in this game is 125 yards. Against the Dolphins’ defense, this is a game where Lamar Jackson should shine and get people to over-react to his Week 1 stats. The Dolphins are tanking and if Ryan Fitzpatrick maneuvers a win for the team here, you can consider his “Fitzmagic” to be on a par with Harry Houdini’s. Mao Zedong embarked on “The Long March” as part of his revolution to seize control of China; the Marlins start here on their own version of “The Long March” but their destination is “Sorry-assed”.
SF at Tampa “pick ‘em” (50.5): The oddsmakers want me to pick the winner here. I prefer not to do that. I think the Niners are the better team – – but they are not yet a reliably good team.
KC – 3 at Jax (52): We can be pretty sure that the Jags’ defense will be good, and we can be pretty sure that the Chiefs’ offense will be pretty good too. The reports surrounding the Jags for this year say that the biggest improvement there is not Nick Foles at QB but rather, a new and energized running game featuring a more mature Leonard Fournette. If that is the case, then the Jags have a shot at this game because the Chiefs’ defense against the run is suspect.
Tennessee at Cleveland – 5 (45.5): This is another of those “Tectonic Lines”; there has been little to no movement. The Titans have been one of the most unpredictable squads in the NFL for several years now; the Browns are – far and away – the most over-hyped squad in the NFL now. The last time the Browns won the opening game of the season was in 2004.
Rams – 2.5 at Carolina (49.5): Assuming that Cam Newton is fully healthy on Sunday, I think this game could turn into a shootout where the losing team scores 30 points. I like the OVER in this game, so put it in the Six-Pack for the week.
Detroit – 3 at Arizona (46.5): This game opened as a “pick ‘em” game and for some reason enough people bet real money on the game to move the line. Folks, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week. Who knows how – or even if – Klif Kingsbury’s air attack offense will work in the NFL? Who in their right mind would bet on the Lions on the road and give points? File this game under the letter “I” – – for “Ignore”.
Cincy at Seattle – 9.5 (44): The Seahawks are a good team that just got better by adding Jadeveon Clowney. The Bengals are a hot mess on offense because their OL is not very good plus AJ Green is injured and he is far and away the best offensive player on the roster. It’s a large spread, but I think this one will be a blowout in Seattle so put the Seahawks to win and cover in this week’s Six-Pack.
Indy at Chargers – 6.5 (44.5): The spread here opened at 3.5 points and the Total Line was 48 points; then Andrew Luck made his announcement. Luck’s absence here has overshadowed the fact that the Chargers will play without Melvin Gordon and Derwin James. Gordon’s replacement will be Austin Ekeler. If that name is unfamiliar to you, that is because he was an undrafted free agent who went to college at Western Colorado in Gunnison, CO. Yes, this is a road game for the Colts in terms of geography, but the tiny crowd in the StubHub Center will not be any sort of intimidation here.
Giants at Dallas – 7 (45.5): Anyone who thinks the Giants are the better team here is living in a delusion; even if Ezekiel Elliott were still in Cabo San Lucas working out there, the Cowboys would be the better team on the field. The most interesting part of this game is that Elliott and Saquon Barkley will both be on display.
(Sun Nite) Pittsburgh at New England – 6 (50.5): This is the Game of the Week. I think both teams will win their division; that is not true of any other match-up in Week 1. Both teams had to make roster changes in the offseason, but these are the two most stable coaching staffs and franchises in the league. Neither team is going to make disastrous choices on that axis. I think that line is fat; I can easily see this game being decided on the last possession. Moreover, even in the decade of dominance for the Pats, they are not nearly as dominant in September as they are in December/January. I’ll put the Steelers plus the points in this week’s Six-Pack.
(Early Mon Nite) Houston at New Orleans – 7 (53): The Texans’ outstanding defense took a hit last week with the trade of Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans’ embarrassingly bad OL got an upgrade last week with the trade for Laremy Tunsil. The team may or may not have improved, but Deshaun Watson’s peace of mind must have improved.
(Late Mon Nite) Denver – 1 at Oakland (43): This line opened with the Raiders favored by 3 points at home. For the line to have moved that much – and to have changed the favorite – there must have been a preponderance of “Bronco money” that showed up early. Here is a key to this game:
- The Raiders OL has been less than good for a couple of years now. The Broncos have a pair of pass rushers in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller that will harass Derek Carr all night. Can Jon Gruden scheme a way to negate their pass rush?
Let me review this week’s Six-Pack:
- Texas A&M + 17.5 at Clemson
- LSU +6.5 at Texas
- Buffalo +3 at Jets
- Rams/Carolina OVER 49.5
- Seattle – 9.5 vs Cincy
- Pittsburgh +6 at New England
Finally, the full onset of football season will provide the opportunity for automobile manufacturers to inundate us with ads for their SUVs. You know they are coming… So, here is a pertinent entry in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:
“SUV: Sport Utility Vehicle. A type of automotive transport that has, for some unknown reason, gotten a bad rap just because, in times of world unrest, difficult economic circumstances, and impending environmental destruction, its fuel economy tops out at about 4.2 miles per gallon.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………