College football fans get to dip their toe in the water this weekend as the season begins with an abbreviated list of games. In addition to a bunch of games that have precisely zero national interest, the Big-10 begins its conference schedule with a game between Nebraska and Northwestern in Dublin, Ireland. For the record, the Huskers are a 13-point favorite; the Total Line is 50.5.
- [Aside: Nebraska was a 7-point favorite in last year’s opening game against Illinois and lost outright. Just saying …]
Imagine if you will that a “big-time football game” were scheduled to be played in Backwater USA for some reason. The local press in Backwater – – The Backwater Bugle – – would likely fall over itself to glorify the game and the participants; it could be the big event of the year in town. Not quite so with sports coverage in Ireland, columnists/reporters there do not contort themselves to be laudatory in such circumstances. As an example, please take a moment or two to read this piece from The Irish Times about the upcoming game this weekend. I suggest that it takes a different slant than would The Backwater Bugle.
I would like to think that my commentary here would fall somewhere between “The Bugle” and The Irish Times – – albeit closer to The Irish Times. As has been the custom here for the past several years, I will try to do a Football Friday rant each week where I am “on the air” for a Friday. Those offerings will begin in earnest over Labor Day weekend and hit full stride the week after that as the NFL begins its regular season. Such will be the case until the Super Bowl weekend on February 12, 2023.
But today, the focus in on college football in general and I want to start with my list of major college coaches that are on a hot seat this year. For the record, I named five coaches in that condition last year; three of them are gone; the other two will be on the list again this year. Here is my list in alphabetical order:
- Marcus Arroyo – UNLV: This one is simple. He has been on the job for two seasons and his record is 2-16. That will not feed the bulldog…
- Geoff Collins – Georgia Tech: He has been on the job at Tech for 3 seasons and the cumulative record for that time is a less-than laudatory 9-25. Under previous coach, Paul Johnson, Tech went to bowl games in 9 of his 12 seasons; Coach Collins needs a big improvement this year.
- Herm Edwards – Arizona St.: He is the first of the two carry-overs from last season on this list. There are all sorts of investigations about improper recruiting that supposedly happened during the dark period associated with COVID restrictions. That’s not good by any means – – but if you are going to “push the envelope”, you should be winning a lot more than the Sun Devils have done in Edwards’ tenure there.
- Scott Frost – Nebraska: He is the other carry-over from last season. He too has gotten crosswise with recruiting irregularities and practice times, and he too has not been a winner; last year’s record was 3-9 and I suspect that his stature as the QB of an “old-time great Nebraska team” saved his job through until this season. I do not think that status will save him again this year without a bowl invitation.
- Willie Taggert – FAU: He spent one year as the coach at Oregon and that stint got him sued by several former players about the brutality of his practices there. That kind of stain tends to stick on coaches who do not have huge success on the field – – and Taggert does not have much success at all let alone “huge success”. In 2016, he was the coach at USF and the team went 10-2; notwithstanding that one season, Taggert’s coaching record at five schools is a less-than gaudy 66-73.
In the spirit of full disclosure, there is way too much ground in the college football space for me to follow closely. Whereas there are 32 NFL teams, there are 130 Division 1-A college teams. I will not try to predict records for college teams the way I try to will try to do for the NFL in a couple of weeks, and I will focus my attention all season long on the major schools and conferences. In fact, I tried to think about the Sun Belt conference as a minor conference and tried to name the schools in it.
- I thought there would be 12 schools there; actually, there are 14.
- I did name 5 of them correctly – – but I had three on my list that belonged elsewhere.
With that as background, I did try to focus a bit on the PAC-12 this year simply because the defection of USC and UCLA put the PAC-12 as an entity under a microscope. And in case you missed this, the PAC-12 teams have not won a bowl game since 2019; they were 0-5 last year and 0-2 in 2020. Here is a thumbnail sketch for seven of the current PAC-12 teams:
- Arizona: The Wildcats have been awful for the last two seasons with a cumulative record then of 1-16. If they win only 3 games this year, it will be a significant improvement.
- Colorado: The Buffaloes’ offense in 2021 would have to have been 50% more efficient to be listed as “bleak”; they only scored more than 20 points 4 times last year. That can’t happen again – – can it?
- Oregon: The Ducks lost their coach, Mario Cristobal, who went back to his alma mater in Miami. He is replaced by Dan Lanning who was the defensive coordinator at Georgia for the last several years leading great defenses there. But this is his first time as the head coach. Should be interesting to watch.
- Stanford: David Shaw’s teams have been going through a rough patch over the last several years going 11-19 since 2018. He is too good a coach for that to continue, right?
- USC: Lincoln Riley moved from Norman, OK to Los Angeles CA. I have spent some time in both cities; let me just say there is a different vibe between the two. I am sure the USC alums are expecting a return to glory under Riley.
- Utah: Kyle Whittingham has been the coach at Utah since 2005 when he took over the program from Urban Meyer. The Utes were in the Mountain West at the time; Whittingham guided them through the transition into the PAC-12 in 2011 and last year the Utes went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history – – and the football program dates to 1905.
[Aside: Speaking of Urban Meyer, he is back on FOX as a studio analyst for CFB games. I wonder if any of his colleagues there will ask him about how much fun it was to be the coach in Jax for a couple of months.]
- Washington: There is a new coaching staff in charge of the Huskies this year; Jimmy Lake was fired in mid-season last year after a shoving incident between lake and one of his players. The new guy, Kalen DeBoer, comes to Seattle from two years at Fresno St. That is a step up for him.
One of the unpleasant features of college football is the “Cupcake Scheduling Practices” of many of the big-time programs. Too many of them schedule games that are nothing more than glorified scrimmages. So, what I would like to do here is to highlight some of the schools that have assembled a relatively difficult out-of-conference schedule:
- Florida: They will play Utah and Florida St. out of conference.
- Georgia Tech: They will play Georgia and Ole Miss out of conference.
- West Virginia: They will play nearby rivals Pitt and Va Tech out of conference.
Compare those scheduling choices with some of these “Cupcake Schedules”:
- Michigan: They will play Colorado St., Hawaii and UConn out of conference
- Minnesota: They will play Colorado, New Mexico St. and Western Illinois out of conference.
- Duke: They will play Kansas, North Carolina A&T, Northwestern and Temple out of conference.
- UCLA: They will play Alabama St., Bowling Green and South Alabama out of conference.
Here are two teams that appear on paper to be poised for good seasons:
- Houston: The Cougars made it to the AAC Championship Game last year losing there to Cincy – – a team that was invited to the CFP. No shame there. This year, most of the players from that team will still be in school. This will be the final year for Houston (and Cincy and UCF) in the AAC before moving to the big 12 in 2023.
- Kentucky: The Wildcats have been to bowl games in each of the last 6 seasons and finished 2021 with a 10-3 record. Half of the starters on that team will be back this year. The only problem is that Kentucky is in the SEC with the likes of some monster football programs.
In Las Vegas, one of the futures bets you can make is on the total number of wins that any college team will have in the 2022 season. It is interesting to look at how the oddsmakers have assessed the upcoming season by looking at the teams with the highest number of wins projected and the ones with the lowest. Here are some of them:
- Alabama – – 10.5 wins
- Clemson – – 10.5 wins
- Georgia – — 10.5 wins
- Ohio St. – – 10.5 wins
- Oklahoma – – 9.5 wins
- USC – – 9.5 wins
- Boise St. – – 9 wins
- Cincy – – 9 wins
- Houston – – 9 wins (I really like the OVER here)
- Utah – – 9 wins
And these …
- Arizona – – 3 wins
- Colorado – – 3 wins
- Duke – – 3 wins (I like the OVER here – – check the non-conference schedule above)
- FIU – – 3 wins
- New Mexico St. – – 3 wins
- Akron – – 2.5 wins
- Kansas – – 2.5 wins
- La-Monroe – – 2.5 wins
- New Mexico – – 2.5 wins
- Temple – – 2.5 wins
- UConn – – 2.5 wins
- UMass – – 2.5 wins
- Vandy – – 2.5 wins
Before closing out this synoptic view of the upcoming season, I must take a moment to say that the events of the past 6 months or so have changed college football to its core. It has been decades since anyone could realistically believe that college football was an “amateur sport” played by “student-athletes” who participated in the games for the love of the games and the glory of their schools. College football is a major business; television rights fees for the Big-10 conference alone are larger than the ones for MLS and the NHL. Players are now able to profit from selling their name/image/and likeness to others who seek their endorsement.
- College football has become semi-pro football – – and it is not going to go back to what some people wished it was.
Dwight Perry had this cogent observation in his column in the Seattle Times last weekend:
“With NIL deals in place, shouldn’t the NCAA replace the term ‘student-athlete’ with ‘athlete-entrepreneur?’”
Let me pose some questions and offer a few thoughts on where college football is headed and maybe how it should be viewed in the future. First, the toothpaste is out of the tube, and it is not going back. “Follow the money” is the best advice one can get regarding the whys and wherefores of future college football decisions. And that leads me to wonder why college athletics continues to be a tax-free enterprise? It is a business just like General Forge and Foundry was a business in Kurt Vonnegut novels and just like the Grace L. Ferguson Airline and Storm Door Company was a business in Mad Magazine. Business enterprises – especially ones with billions in revenue – should be taxed. The Congress just passed a new law imposing a minimum tax on corporations; maybe college football is not “incorporated” but it is a revenue generating machine that ought to be paying taxes.
- Memo to US Congress: Get working on this right away – – if you have the “onions” to do so…
The CFP remains at 4 teams playing 3 games to determine the national champion for a year. The CFP poohbahs said that would stay the same until 2026 – – but that pronouncement was before the stratospheric TV deal struck by the Big-10. Expanding the CFP to 8 teams will slightly more than double the games to be put on TV and that means big money for the CFP beneficiaries. Do not be surprised when that decision to stand pat at 4 teams is “revisited”.
The morphing of college football from the “student-athlete era” to the current semi-pro status means that players really need no longer pretend to be college students who live in dormitories and go to classes where they will receive grades and an education. Some will of course choose to do that, but others can now come out of the shadows and proclaim themselves as mercenaries – – as they have been for the last 25-40 years. Moreover, the “transfer portal” only enhances the reality of mercenary behavior allowing players to move from school to school with aplomb.
As pressure mounts for players to “get a piece of the pie” from all this revenue they are generating, it is going to create an adversarial relationship between management (the schools/conferences) and workers (the players). So, what is the over/under on how many years it will be until we hear about a threatened strike by college players if they don’t get a better deal? It will eventually happen; it always does. The question is how soon…
Since the linkage between “playing football” (or men’s basketball for that matter) and pursuing a real or imagined degree from a university has been severed, is there any reason to limit “eligibility” to 4 years? What if an athlete has a sweet NIL deal and wants to stay on at his school for 5 or 6 or 7 years and live on the NIL money? Remember, he is a mercenary not a “student athlete” anymore. Moreover, if the charade of being a college student is no longer in vogue, what does “eligibility” even mean? I guess it would mean that the player is not a felon at large – – but not much more than that.
Finally, I like to have fun with players’ names; and so, I will close today with two that I have already run across for this year:
- Decoldest Crawford is a wide receiver for Nebraska. If he had been half of a set of twins, his sibling might have been named Dehottest Crawford.
- Major Burns is a safety for LSU. Obviously, his fiancée would have to acquire the nickname “Hot Lips”. No?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………