Here in Curmudgeon Central, there is a recognition of the need to contribute to a national return to normalcy in this highly unusual year. A curmudgeon is – of course – cranky and cantankerous; but that does not mean this curmudgeon is unwilling to put forth effort aimed at some larger goal. It is in that sense pf purpose that I announce the return of the first Football Friday for 2020.
Obviously, this year’s editions will have to incorporate changes from previous years:
- Linfield College has cancelled its football schedule for the season; there will be no tracking to see if they would continue their streak of winning seasons in football which started in 1956.
- With the cancellations of multiple Division 1-A conference schedules, it will probably be meaningless to carry on the thought experiment of a SHOE Tournament at the end of the season to identify the worst team in the country.
For newcomers here, the format for Football Friday will be:
- NCAA Football – General Comments
- NCAA Football – Games of Interest.
- NFL – General Comments
- NFL – Games of Interest
- And MAYBE there will be a Six-Pack of wagers for the weekend.
I day “MAYBE” to the idea of a Six-Pack because of the reduced number of games in college football this year and because there could be several weeks in the start of the NFL season where I may not be able to find as many as 6 games worthy of wagering consideration. Last year, filling up the Six-Pack was not a daunting task; I fear it may not be possible in 2020, but I shall give it a go.
For the record, here are the results from all the wagering suggestions from last year’s Six-Packs from September through the NFL Conference Championships:
- Colleges – – 20-9-1
- NFL – – 29-25-3
- Overall – – 49-34-4
As they always say in the ads for mutual funds, past performance is no guarantee of future performance…
NCAA Football – General Comments:
In my NFL Pre-Season Analysis, I always list coaches on the Hot Seat. There is plenty of turnover in the college coaching ranks also but I only pay attention to the major college programs for this purpose. In alphabetical order, here are four coaches who might have been under pressure in 2020 but should be around next year due to season cancellations:
- Jim Harbaugh – Michigan: The decision not to play Big-10 football in 2020 is a blessing for Coach Harbaugh. According to reports, he is making about $8 a year to coach the Wolverines and the results have not been there. He has yet to beat Ohio State; he has never won his division in the Big-10 let along the conference title. If he were the coach at Texas, people would be saying his tenure has been “all hat and no cattle”.
- Clay Helton – USC: Last year, he “saved his job” going 8-5 for the year but now there is a new Athletic Director at the school who is not responsible for hiring Helton in the first place. With out-of-conference games against Alabama and Notre Dame on the schedule for 2020, Helton’s job looked to be in jeopardy. He too should be grateful for not playing in 2020.
- Chip Kelly – UCLA: If the Bruins were playing this year, I think Kelly would have had to be in contention for the PAC-12 Championship for the entire season to save his job. He has been on the job two years and the cumulative record for UCLA is a lackluster 7-17.
- Kevin Sumlin – Arizona: Had the PAC-12 chosen to play in 2020, Sumlin’s Wildcats would have begun the season having lost the last 7 games of 2019 all of which were losses by 10 or more points.
Now, here are three coaches whose teams will play this year and whose teams need to do well if the coach is going to be able to sleep soundly come December. Again, in alphabetical order:
- Tom Herman – Texas: Herman is in a situation similar to Jim Harbaugh at Michigan; he was hired with great fanfare and is being paid to deliver a top shelf product. The recent narrative has been “Texas football is back”. I think the Longhorns have a high standard to live up to in 2020.
- Derek Mason – Vandy: He took over from James Franklin five years ago after Franklin had made Vandy football sufficiently relevant that Franklin landed the Penn State job – – a huge step up on the coaching ladder. Since then, the Commodores have not had a winning season under Mason. No one at Vandy expects them to win the SEC or even their division in the SEC, but perhaps the time has come for Vandy to be relevant again?
- Will Muschamp – S. Carolina: Three years ago under Coach Muschamp, the Gamecocks were 9-4 and won a minor bowl game. Two years ago, the Gamecocks were 7-6 and lost a very minor bowl game. Last year, the Gamecocks were 4-8 and never sniffed a bowl game. ‘Nuff said…
Amazingly, after a single game, we have the first coaching casualty of the 2020 season. Southern Mississippi opened its season losing to South Alabama 32-21. After that loss, So. Miss coach, Jay Hopson, resigned as the head coach. Hopson had been in the job for 4 seasons and posted a combined record of 28-23 until this year’s opening loss. That is not eye-popping, but it is not miserable either.
I think there are a few programs that are in the ascendancy around the country. I do not mean they are national championship contenders by any means, but they are programs that have been improving in recent times. For Cal, it is a shame they will not be playing in 2020. Here is my list:
- Cal: It was not long ago that the Golden Bears’ defense was a laughingstock that gave up an average of more than 40 points a game. Not surprisingly, Cal did not win a lot of those games. Last year, Cal only surrendered 22 points per game and that produced 8 wins and a bowl appearance.
- Iowa State: The Cyclones were 7-6 last year but four of those six losses were by one score or less; that team flirted with an 11-2 season. Lots of starters are back including the quarterback. Iowa State may be a tough out this year.
- UNC: Last year, the Tar Heels moved on from a couple of disastrous seasons under Larry Fedora and brought back Mack Brown for a coaching encore in Chapel Hill. Instead of winning 3 games a year and being routinely dominated, the Tar Hells won 7 games in 2019 and then won a bowl game. With returning QB, Sam Howell, the Heels may be even better in 2020.
I hope no one here is shocked by my assertion that college football coaches are control freaks and that speaking the truth is not something they do all the time. An example of those traits was on display earlier this week when Oklahoma coach, Lincoln Riley, declared that he will not be revealing any COVID-19 test data because it might give an opponent a competitive advantage. He likened those tests to injuries and he never wants to reveal injuries or the extent of injuries for those same competitive reasons.
- Memo to Coach Riley: There is a significant difference here. If a player has an ankle injury, he may play, but that injury is not contagious to teammates or opponents. Such is not the case with the coronavirus…
I have argued for years that there are too damned many college football bowl games in December most of which are as meaningful as an Amish Microwave Cookbook. This year could be the most interesting bowl season ever. Consider:
- Technically, there are 43 bowl games on the calendar this year.
- There is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics, but if there were, I doubt the Nobel Committee would be tempted to give me the prize for revealing to you that 86 teams will be necessary to fill out those games.
- Given season cancellations – and if I have counted correctly – there are only 76 Division 1-A teams playing in 2020.
- If the NCAA “rule” is applied that a team needs to win 6 games or more to be “bowl-eligible”, the number of potential teams should shrink considerably.
- Will some teams play in two bowl games in 2020?
- Certain bowl games have contractual links to specific conferences – and some of those conferences will not be playing football in 2020.
- This should be fun…
Let me say something about the SEC West Division. For at least the last half dozen years, that division has been the strongest division in college football in the country with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M present. Starting in 2020, Lane Kiffin takes over at Ole Miss and Mike Leach comes to Mississippi State. Given the successes of those two coaches over their careers, you can only assume that the division will be stronger and deeper. That is not good news for the folks at Arkansas who get to play all 6 of those SEC West division rivals every year.
NCAA Games of Interest:
Ga Tech at Florida State – 12 (52): This line is all over the place; you can find the spread as high as 13 and as low as 11. The Total Line varies from 50.5 to 52.5. I take that to mean that there is no betting consensus on this game from sportsbook to sportsbook. Florida State has a new coach, Mike Norvill, whose calling card is “high-powered offense”, but there has been precious little practice time to install such an offense. Could be an interesting game…
Coastal Carolina at Kansas – 7 (56): This is an interesting game because Coastal Carolina beat Kansas last year at Kansas by a score of 12-7. Even at a non-football school like Kansas, losing two years in a row at home to the likes of Coastal Carolina would be shameful.
Clemson – 33 at Wake Forest (61): Interesting only because Clemson se4eks a return to the CFP again in 2020…
Duke at Notre Dame – 20 (53.5): Lots of people think Notre Dame will be a top-shelf team this year and might challenge Clemson for the ACC title. That makes this game interesting…
La-Monroe at Army – 17.5 (53.5): Army dismantled Middle Tennessee last week 42-0 by running the ball over around and through that defense. Last year, La-Monroe’s run defense was awful; of the 130 Division 1-A teams, La-Monroe’s run defense ranked 128th. I like Army to win and cover here; put this one in the Six-Pack.
La-Lafayette at Iowa State – 11 (57): I said above that I think Iowa State could be primed for a good season in 2020. I like the Cyclones to win and cover here in a home opener; put it in the Six-Pack.
Tulane – 10.5 at South Alabama (52.5): South Alabama won its opener on the road this year at Southern Mississippi – and caused the coach there to resign (see above). The Jaguars were 14-point underdogs in that game and won by 11 points. Now they are at home for a second game against a decent team – – but not a powerhouse. I’ll take South Alabama plus the points here; put it in the Six-Pack.
NFL General Comments:
It was good to see the Chiefs and Texans on TV last night. Presumably, it was the start of an uninterrupted NFL season. The Chiefs looked very impressive; rookie RB, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, made an impressive debut rushing for more than 13 yards in the game. Just what the league needed – – a running attack for the Chiefs to play with.
Von Miller hurt his ankle – tendon damage – on the final play of a practice earlier this week and will be out for the season. That has to be a significant blow to the Broncos because it was a veteran defense that the team hoped to have led it through the season.
Let me do a little more math for you here:
- Tom Brady enters the 2020 season having started 283 regular season games.
- Brett Favre holds the NFL record for most regular season starts at 298.
- There are 16 regular season games scheduled for 2020.
- Ergo, start the countdown to the record…
The Giants waived CB, DeAndre Baker last week. Just a year ago the Giants traded up to get him in the first round of the draft but an armed robbery incident earlier this year puts him on Roger Goodell’s “Exempt List” and it also puts him on a court docket for a trial that could land him a sizeable jail sentence. Considering all the “investigating” and all the “homework” done prior to an NFL Draft, it is surprising to see things like this happen
Miami at New England – 6.5 (42): The focus here will be on Cam Newton as the starting QB for the Pats and the presence of Tua Tagovailoa on the bench for the Dolphins. Also, at age 38, is there any “Ryan Fitz-Magic” left?
Cleveland at Baltimore – 7.5 (48): This is my choice for the Game of the Week. The Ravens dominated the regular season last year before flaming out in the playoffs. The Browns have another new coaching staff – – but this time it appears as if there might be some adult supervision resident in that staff. The two QBs here have very different – and yet very similar – things to prove this year:
- Lamar Jackson was the MVP last year and was a dominant player. He needs to show that was not a fluke.
- Baker Mayfield “regressed” – to put it politely – last year. He needs to show that was not a fluke.
Jets at Buffalo – 6.5 (39.5): We should get an early indication of how Adam Gase and LeVeon Bell will get along this year. Last year, the relationship was less than wonderful and this year the Jets signed Frank Gore to be part of the running back picture. I cannot imagine that sits all that well with Bell. The other interesting aspect to this game is the play of the two QBs. Sam Darnold needs to improve significantly for the Jets to do anything at all this year; if Josh Allen improves again over his positive season in 2019, the Bills could win the AFC East. I like the Bills to win and cover here; put it in the Six-Pack.
Raiders – 3 at Panthers (47.5): The spread here opened as “Panthers – 1”. Given the turnover and the turmoil in Carolina over this strange offseason, I am not sure how that opening line was set – – but even now the spread is not big. Terry Bridgewater begins his Panthers’ career here.
Seattle – 2.5 at Atlanta (49): The spread for this game opened as “Pick ‘Em”. This should be an offensive display even in an early season where there have been no Exhibition Games. The Seahawks brought in Jamal Adams – at a hefty price – and their defense should get a baptism of fire against Matt Ryan with his crews of pass-catchers.
Philly – 5.5 at Washington (42.5): The Eagles looked to shore up the defensive backfield with the acquisition of Darrius Slay; that unit needed help and he should provide some. The Eagles had a ton of training camp injuries, so team health is already an issue there. The WTFs are a work in progress; Ron Rivera must turn a dumpster fire into something attractive and that is probably going to take some time. The biggest challenge for Rivera and his staff this year is the evaluation of QB, Dwayne Haskins. Is he the stud that he appeared to be at Ohio State or is he the reincarnation of JaMarcus Russell?
Chicago at Detroit – 3 (42): Surprisingly, Mitchell Trubisky will start at QB again this year for the Bears; I would not have thought that possible last January. Matthew Stafford is back on the job as the QB for the Lions but their fortunes rest on the ability of the defense to stop opponents. This game is Bears’ anemic offense versus Lions’ porous defense. Oh joy…
Indy – 8 at Jax (45): This is the Philip Rivers show debut in Indy. If that show has a good run in 2020, the Colts can make the playoffs; if not … The Jags are going to stink.
Green Bay at Minnesota – 2.5 (45): Two interesting things for this game both involve the Vikes. They acquired Yannick Ngakoue late in training camp to give them two good edge rushers; how will that work out? They traded away Stefon Diggs and drafted Justin Jefferson (LSU) in the first round of the Draft; how will that work out?
Chargers – 3 at Cincy (42): Welcome to the NFL, Joe Burrow. You should be happy to know that AJ Green will be out there to catch balls that you throw his way. For the Chargers, they will start Tyrod Taylor at QB while QB-of-the-Future, Justin Herbert takes notes on the sidelines.
Arizona at SF – 6.5 (48): This game should be hard-fought and close. The Niners have to shake off that come-from-ahead loss in the Super Bowl and they take on a team that played them tough twice last year. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins is a plus for any team and the Cards have him now. Keep our eyes on Isaiah Simmons for the Cards; he might be the best pick from last year’s NFL Draft.
Tampa at New Orleans – 3.5 (47): The spread for this game opened at “Saints – 6”. This was my runner-up for Game of the Week simply because of the storyline of Tom Brady versus Drew Brees. I have an idea that this game will be an offensive show with the ball moving up and down the field from start to finish. I like this game to go OVER 47; put it in the Six-Pack. I can see this game being one where the first team to score 35 points wins…
(Sun Nite) Dallas – 3 at Rams (51): Cee Dee Lamb gives the Cowboys a major upgrade at WR; he just might be the best WR in Dallas since Michael Irvin. The Rams have a known quantity as a dominant player in Aaron Donald. This will be a fun game to watch.
(Mon Nite Early) Pittsburgh – 5.5 at Giants (46): The Steelers have a very good defense – probably one of the top 5 in the NFL The Giants’ offense is probably “below average” – not withstanding an improving Daniel Jones and the presence of Saquon Barkley. Ben Roethlisberger says his elbow is fully healed from last year’s surgery meaning the Steelers’ offense must be improved from last year. I like the Steelers to win and cover on the road here; put it in the Six-Pack.
(Mon Nite Late) Tennessee – 2.5 at Denver (41): Yes, I know the Titans were Cinderellas in the playoffs last year, but this game should be a slog. The Titans’ offense is nothing special and the Titans’ defense looks to be too strong to allow the Broncos to do much business. I see a lot of punting and field goal attempts here. I anoint this as the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
Let me summarize the Six-Pack for this week:
- Army – 17.5 over La-Monroe
- Iowa St – 11 over La-Lafayette
- South Alabama +10.5 against Tulane [No, I do not hate schools from Louisiana…]
- Bills – 6.5 over Jets
- Bucs/Saints Over 47
- Steelers – 5.5 over Giants [No, I do not hate NYC teams either…]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………