Forget the false start to the college football season from last weekend; the real season begins this week. There will be an unimportant game on Wednesday followed by a half dozen games on Thursday and then a handful of games on Friday. All that will lead up to a grand crescendo of games next Saturday. When you have lots of college football on Saturdays in the Fall, all is right with the universe.
With the arrival of football season, I need to decide what to do in terms of a writing schedule. For the last couple of years, I have done “Football Friday” rants blending college and professional football commentary and “analysis”. Having thought about it, I think I prefer to maintain that format rather than returning to separate rants on college football and NFL football on different days from several years ago. So, that will be my focus until and unless I get a better conceptual idea.
Having said all that, I do need to make some overview comments about college football in general leading up to the real beginning of the season. So, let me begin by suggesting a few college head coaches who are – or ought to be – on a hot seat in 2021.
- Randy Edsall – – UConn. Yes, he is still the head coach of the Huskies. How that continues to obtain is mysterious — – but it does. He is 6-30 since his return to UConn. The team was miserable last year and they opened the season last week against Fresno State and were blown out 45 – 0.
- Herm Edwards – – Arizona State. The NCAA super-sleuths are all over the Sun Devils’ records chasing down allegations of improper recruiting during the COVID-19 shutdown last year.
- Scott Frost – – Nebraska. It’s been a few years since he arrived at his alma mater as a savior after doing a good job at UCF. However, his Huskers have been mediocre at best while he has been in charge; the cumulative record is 12-21 and the Big-10 record is 9-18. I think the bloom is off the rose in Lincoln. If Frost does not get the team to a bowl game that boosters can go to and enjoy themselves, I think he is done. The fact that the NCAA is investigating “irregularities” and possible violations will not help Coach Frost’s cause. Losing the opening game 30 – 22 to Illinois last week when Nebraska was a 7-point favorite will not help Coach Frost’s cause either.
- Justin Fuente – – Va Tech. The Hokies were 5-6 last year; that is not acceptable; it is first time the team has been under .500 since 1992. Significant improvement is needed here if he is to keep his job.
- Ed Orgeron – – LSU. He is on this list because he won a national championship two years ago and then his team wet the bed with a 5-5 record last year. Another year with 5 losses and he will be history in Baton Rouge.
I probably would have put Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) on this list had not the Wolverines given him a 4-year contract extension during the offseason. Last year, his team was 2-4 and given how long he has been at the helm in Ann Arbor, it is fair to ask if he is ever going to beat Ohio State. But he has a new contract that runs through the end of 2025, so his seat is not particularly warm let alone hot.
There is one coach at a school where coaching changes happen more frequently than at other schools who is plenty safe for now. That would be Greg Schiano (Rutgers). This is Schiano’s second tour of duty at Rutgers and in his first season last year, his team was 3 – 6. That may not sound all that good but consider:
- For the two years prior to Schiano’s return, the Rutgers’ team record was 3 – 21.
- Moreover, 3 of the 6 losses were by one-score; Rutgers was competitive.
- The only way Schiano leaves Rutgers is if he is hired away by a bigger program.
And the mention of Greg Schiano reminds me to comment on another coaching situation – – the one at Tennessee. There is a new guy in charge again this year; the Vols hired Josh Heupel away from UCF where his teams had gone 28 – 8 over the last 3 seasons with bowl game appearances every season. Heupel takes over the Vols from Jeremy Pruitt who was fired ostensibly because of NCAA violations. The fact that Pruitt’s teams went 16-19 over his three season in Knoxville did not help his cause since Tennessee fans seem to think they should be competing for national championships in most seasons. Self-delusion is very powerful…
Recall how Puritt got the job in 2017. Butch Jones was fired for not winning enough and the AD offered the job to Greg Schiano. This caused agita in Knoxville because Greg Schiano had been on the Penn State staff with convicted pedophile, Jerry Sandusky and some folks felt that “guilt by association” was appropriate notwithstanding the fact that Schiano had never been implicated in any sort of wrongdoing. I said that self-delusion is a powerful force, and it seems to run rampant among Vols’ fans and boosters. Here is how things went down to get to the point where Jeremy Pruitt became the choice to lead Tennessee once Schiano had been dismissed out of hand:
- In 2008, Tennessee fired Philip Fulmer for going 5-7. Forget that Fulmer had won a national championship and had been the coach in Knoxville for 16 seasons.
- That led to hiring Lane Kiffin who stayed there for exactly 1 season before taking another job in college football. I am convinced that Kiffin realized the unattainable goals the fans had there, and he left town as soon as he had another offer.
- That led to the hiring of Derek Dooley for the 2010-2012 seasons – – all of which yielded sub-.500 records.
- Enter Butch Jones for the next 5 seasons where the Vols go 34 – 29. As I said, he had a winning record, but it was not “winning enough”.
- When the AD at Tennessee offered the job to Schiano and the agita caused it to be rescinded, that also led to a palace revolt where Philip Fulmer ousted the AD and took the job himself. So, Fulmer was involved at the start and the end of this reign of mediocrity at Tennessee. Now Fulmer and Pruitt are gone and the mantle falls on Coach Heupel. Mazel-tov, Coach…
l do not want to pretend that I have looked for and analyzed all the out-of-conference scheduling choices by every school in Division 1 because I did not. However, I have looked at a few and I have categorized some of them as Bold and others as Shameful. Let me start with the Bold ones:
- Georgia: Will play Clemson, UAB, Charleston Southern, Ga Tech
- Ga Tech: Will play N. Illinois, Kennesaw State, Notre Dame, Georgia
- Kent State: Will play Texas A&M, Iowa, Maryland, VMI
Now for some Shameful out of conference scheduling choices:
- Tennessee: Wii play Bowling Green, Pitt, Tennessee Tech, South Alabama
- Rutgers: Will play Temple, Syracuse, Delaware
- Syracuse: Will play Ohio, Rutgers, Albany, Liberty
- Oklahoma: Will play Tulane, W. Carolina, Nebraska
- Oregon State: Will play Purdue, Hawaii, Idaho
- Houston: Will play Texas Tech, Rice, Grambling State, UConn
Next, I would like to consider three teams that can – and should – have much better season in 2021 than they did in 2020:
- Boston College: The Eagles changed coaches last year and won 6 games in Coach Jeff Hafley’s first season. Unless that was a complete mirage, I would expect the team to be better with another year of immersion in that system.
- LSU: Not only did the Tigers finish at .500 last year, they were embarrassed on the field. The pass defense was the worst in Division 1 and it allowed an SEC record of 623 yards passing in a single game to Mississippi State’s Air Raid offense. That is atypical performance from a team in Baton Rouge. The immediate fallout is that defensive coordinator Bo Pellini was fired along with all his defensive staff. I have to think that the new staff and the current players will have to be better than that in 2021.
- Penn State: After starting 0-5 last year, Penn State won its final 4 games. That gave them a losing record for the year and that is the first time Penn State alums and fans had to endure such an ignominy since the 2004 season. The Nittany Lions had a lot of players who opted out of the COVID-19 dominated season last year; that should not be the case again this year. If Penn State can resume its long-standing identity as a team that runs the ball effectively, they should do better this year than they did last year.
The oddsmakers at sportsbooks have made their assessments about which teams will be “really good” and which ones are going to be “really awful” in 2021. Here are the preseason win total proposition bets for top teams and then for bottom teams.
- Alabama – – 11.5 wins
- Clemson – – 11.5 wins
- Georgia – – 10.5 wins
- Ohio State – – 11 wins
- Oklahoma – – 11 wins
- Arizona – – 2.5 wins
- Bowling Green – – 1.5 wins
- Kansas – – 1 win
- La-Monroe – – 1.5 wins
- New Mexico State – – 2 wins
- Temple – – 2.5 wins
- UConn – – 2.5 wins
- UMass – – 1.5 wins
- UNLV – – 1.5 wins
The oddsmakers have spoken regarding the nine teams listed above who should be awful in 2021. Anyone who has followed these rants for a while knows that I like to focus on the worst teams in a season and I think there are other teams that – perhaps – should have been on this list of under-performers:
- Akron: These guys allowed more than 41 points per game last year wining only 1 game. Moreover, they have only won one game in the last two seasons.
- Duke: If you look at their final four game last season, the Blue Devils gave up an average of 54 points per game. In that stretch, a 48-0 loss to Miami was the best defensive performance.
- Old Dominion: This team was 1-11 in 2019 and did not play at all in 2020. It is hard to imagine that a “year off” is a benefit for a team that was 1-11…
- UTEP: The Miners won 3 games last year and two losses came by a total of 8 points. That’s the good news. The Minors also lost by double-digits to Rice, UNC-Charlotte and Texas-San Antonio. This is a team with a losing tradition. They play in C-USA – – not nearly a top-shelf conference – – and in conference games in the last 4 seasons, UTEP is outrageously 1 – 27.
I will be tracking as the season progresses what I call The Brothel Defense – – that is the defensive unit in the country that allows anyone to score as often as it likes. Last year, The Brothel Defense was Kansas; the Jayhawks gave up 46 points per game. No team wants to top that in 2021…
And as usual, I am looking forward to following the football fortunes of Linfield College (McMinnville, OR). The last time the Linfield Wildcats had a losing season in football was in 1955. That is a year before Dwight Eisenhower ran for a second term as President and two years before Sputnik became a news story. The wildcats did not play in the COVID-19 environment of 2020; so, I consider that winning season streak to be intact at 64 consecutive seasons.
Linfield does not play its first game until September 11 at home against Simon Fraser University. Linfield is a Division III school and its regular season schedule is only 9 games long but there is the possibility of Division III national tournament participation as a post-season event. Go Wildcats!
Games of Interest:
Before I get to games for this weekend, let me do a very quick look back at four games from the so-called “Week-Zero” for college football last weekend.
- I already noted that Illinois beat Nebraska 30 – 22 despite Nebraska being a touchdown favorite. Remember, that is Illinois the Huskers lost to; it has been a long time before anyone confused Illinois with a football powerhouse. Next up for Nebraska is a visit by Fordham – a Division 1AA team. The Huskers are 42.5-point favorites; I suggest that they better cover if they like their coach…
- UCLA beat Hawaii by a score of 44 – 10. Was that a statement game indicating that Chip Kelly – now in his 4th year at UCLA – finally has a team that might play the way his teams at Oregon used to play? We shall see quickly because this week LSU comes calling – – and LSU is a significant step up in competition as compared to Hawaii.
- UTEP beat New Mexico State 30-3. The Aggies next game is against San Diego State and the Aggies are 31-point underdogs. Looks like another long season in Las Cruces.
- Fresno State beat UConn 45- 0. The last time the Huskies had a winning season was in 2010. Things are not looking promising after a first game like that one. This week, UConn plays Division 1-AA, Holy Cross and they are only 2-point favorites in that game! Remember, UConn took last year off to avoid COVID-19 problems with the idea of using the year as a way to reset the program.
Here are three teams that could steal the spotlight early-on in the 2021 season with a strong performance this week.
- Miami: They get to open against Alabama – the consensus #1 team in the country. As of now they are almost 3 TD underdogs, but strange things happen in college football. A win for the Hurricanes would be a seismic event; a nail-biting loss would insert Miami into discussions about the CFP and/or New Years’ Day bowl games.
- La-Lafayette: Ten years ago, no one associated with this program would have thought a season-opener against Texas was anything more than a “squash match”. The Cajuns are only a one-score underdog.
- Florida State: They open at home against Notre Dame ranked in the Top Ten. An upset here could be transformational.
(Fri) UNC – 5.5 at Va Tech (64): A win for the Hokies here could give Coach Justin Fuentes a lot of breathing room…
(Fri) Duke – 7 at UNC-Charlotte (60): The Blue Devils need to win here AND need to keep the 49ers offense under some semblance of control…
(Sat) Penn State at Wisconsin – 4.5 (50): An early test for James Franklin’s Nittany Lions …
(Sat) Indiana at Iowa – 3 (46): Indiana is ranked in the Top 25 pre-season polls this year; it’s been a while since that happened…
(Sat) Fresno State at Oregon – 19.5 (62): Remember, Fresno State won last week 45-0 over UConn. Given the respect shown here for Fresno State, you can appreciate how bad UConn might be…
(Sat) Alabama – 18.5 vs. Miami (FL) (62) [Game is in Atlanta]: Just how good is the Crimson Tide this year…???
(Sat) La-Lafayette at Texas – 8 (58): The Ragin’ Cajuns are ranked 23rd in the pre-season polls this year; Texas is ranked 21st…
(Sat) Georgia at Clemson – 3 (51.5): This has to be the Game of the Week; if you only make time to see one game start-to-finish, this should be the one. Both teams think they should be national champion caliber teams. This will be the first showing by DJ Uiagalelei as the successor to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson. Good luck with that …
(Sun) Notre Dame – 7.5 at Florida State (56): Twenty-five years ago, this might have been the Game of the Year; in 2021, the Seminoles need a good showing just to get folks believing that they have turned the program around…
(Mon) Louisville at Ole Miss – 9.5 (75.5) [Game is in Atlanta]: If history is any guide, this one should light up the scoreboard…
Once the season is in motion and I can begin to see trends, I will try to offer up a Six-Pack of wagering selections for college and NFL games. Last year’s performance for the Six-Pack was awful; I will try to do better.
At the end of the season, I will look to identify the 8 worst college football teams and put them into an imaginary “tournament” where the winning team gets to go home and the losers play on to determine the worst team in the country. I call that the SHOE Tournament because it identifies the SHOE team of the year where that is an acronym for Steaming Heap Of Excrement.
Looking forward to a fun season. Glad to have folks aboard…
Finally, let me remind you of H. L Mencken’s views on college football as an institution:
“College football would be more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students – there would be a great increase in broken arms, legs and necks.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………