Football Friday 9/17/21

Last week’s opening volley in what will be a series of Football Friday rants felt a bit choppy as I was doing it.  This week, the goal is for it to go from head-to-keyboard a bit more smoothly – – and hopefully with a better record for the Six-Pack.  So, let me begin with those Six-Pack results from last week:

  • College Games:  1-1-0
  • NFL Games: 1-2-1
  • Overall Games:  2-3-1


College Commentary:


The Linfield College Wildcats opened their season in McMinnville OR with a convincing win over Simon Fraser University by a score of 56-20.  The Wildcats go on the road this week for one more out-of-conference game on the schedule; Linfield will play in Redlands, CA against the University of Redlands Bulldogs.  So far in 2021, the Bulldogs are undefeated having outscored two opponents by a combined 84-24 score.  Go Wildcats!

I know the season is early and there is plenty of time for change to take place, but in my curiosity to track what I call the Brothel Defense – where all the opponents score at will – I found that there are two Division 1-A schools that are giving up more than 50 points per game this year:

  • Georgia State has given up 51.0 points per game
  • Akron has given up 52.5 points per game

In terms of Total Defense so far, those two teams are not at the bottom of the list.  Three teams give up more yards than Akron and eleven teams give up more yards than Georgia State.  Amazingly, Oregon – the team that upset Ohio State last week – has given up 12 more yards per game than Georgia State has.

Speaking of Akron football, the Zips host Bryant University – a Division 1-AA team from the Northeast Conference.  If Bryant hangs “half-a-hundred” on Akron, I will consider Akron a strong SHOE Tournament candidate…

Back in Week 1, the University of Washington suffered an embarrassing loss at home to Division 1-AA Montana.  Here is how Art Thiel reported on that happenstance at

“In 2020, the University of Washington football team played in front of cardboard fans.

“In 2021, University of Washington fans watched a cardboard team.

“Unable and unwilling to muster the gumption to conduct business as a standard Power 5 conference team, the Huskies, attempting to celebrate the season-opening return of fans (64,053) to Husky Stadium, instead stunned them with a 13-7 defeat to a second-tier University of Montana team that played with an intensity absent in the big boys.”

There is no way to label that as “homerism” …

I mention that because Washington went on the road last week to play Michigan in Ann Arbor.  The Huskies lost that game too by a score of 31-10.  The stats from that game are interesting when juxtaposed:

  • Michigan had 387 yards offense – – 44 yards passing and 343 yards rushing.
  • Washington had 343 yards offense – – 293 yards passing and 50 yards rushing.

The biggest upset from last week was Oregon beating Ohio State 35-28.  The Ducks were a 15.5-point underdog at kickoff and the game was in Columbus, OH where the Buckeyes had not lost a game since 2017.  Those factors added to the fact that most folks had Ohio State penciled in as a CFP participant come January made this a huge surprise.  Ohio State marched up and down the field amassing 612 yards on offense, but the Buckeye’s defense needs plenty of work.  Oregon had a very balanced attack gaining 236 yards passing and 269 yards on the ground.

This week, the two teams face interesting games:

  • Oregon will host Division 1-AA Stony Brook.  Obviously, this is simply a payday for Stony Brook but how much of a letdown might Oregon suffer?
  • Ohio State will host Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane lost its opener to Division `1-AA UC-Davis and then lost by only 5 points to Oklahoma State last week.  [Edit:  A reader pointed out correctly that I have confused Tulsa with Tulane.  Please ignore this bullet item.]

Virginia beat Illinois 42-14.  Unless Virginia emerges as one of the ACC’s power programs this season, that is not a good look for the Big-10 at all.

Rutgers won its second game of the season beating Syracuse 17-7.  The game was scoreless at halftime.

Purdue beat UConn 49-0. It looks as if making the defensive coordinator the interim coach for the rest of this season at UConn might not have been a great idea.  Look ahead to October 9th  when UConn goes on the road to play UMass in what has to be The Stink Bowl Game of the Day.

Penn State beat Ball State 44-14.  This was total domination from the start for the Nittany Lions.  As a Big Ten East team, they probably want to study closely the Oregon/Ohio State film for their upcoming game against the Buckeyes on October 30th.

Nebraska beat Buffalo 28-3.  My hunch that Buffalo could keep this one close was not a good hunch.  C’est la vie!  The Huskers will see a large step up in class this week when they travel to Norman, OK to play the #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners.

Iowa beat Iowa State 27-17.  Iowa is 2-0 for the season and both wins were over teams ranked in the Top 20.  For the next two weeks, Iowa is at home against seemingly easy competition as Kent State comes to town followed by Colorado State.

Another big story from last week involves a team from “out west”.  Stanford beat USC 42-28.  Stanford was a 17.5-point underdog and won the game outright.  The score looks a lot closer than the game actually was; the score was 35-13 at the start of the 4th quarter.  I made a note to myself on my college football clipboard that said:

  • “Find screeches from USC fanboys about firing Clay Helton”

About 24 hours after penning that note to myself, I learned there would be no screeches to find because USC had indeed fired Clay Helton just two games into the 2021 season.  [Aside:  USC is no stranger to firing coaches in mid-season.  That happened to Lane Kiffin and also to Steve Sarkisian in the last 8 years.]  The interim coach is one of the assistants named Donte Williams.  Helton had been the head coach at USC for the last 5 full seasons; his record then was 39-19.  For a coach that won 67% of his games, Helton was never “embraced” by the USC fanbase.

BYU beat Utah in The Holy War by a score of 26-17.  BYU is now 2-0 for the season…

TCU beat Cal  34-32.  Other than the Oregon win, it was not a great week for the PAC-12.

In SEC country, Auburn beat Alabama State 62-0,  I guess that was an enjoyable game for some fans somewhere.

Pitt beat Tennessee 41-34.  The Panthers scored 27 points in the second quarter alone.

Georgia beat UAB 56-7.  The game was not as close as it looks…

Alabama beat Mercer 48-14.  That game was a tune-up for Alabama who face Florida this week.

Florida beat USF 42-20.  That game was a tune-up for Florida who face Alabama this week.

Arkansas beat Texas 40-21.  The Razorbacks ran for 333 yards and 4 TDs in the game.  Texas is destined for the SEC and Arkansas has not been one of the SEC powerhouses in recent years – – although it is ranked #21 this week after starting out the season with 2 wins.  As has been the case at Texas for several years now, they need to shore up their defense significantly.

Texas A&M beat Colorado 10-7.  “Strange game” does not begin to describe this one.  The Aggies were held to 3 points until the final minutes of the game when their offense put together an 82-yard drive taking 5 minutes off the clock using 11 plays.  Where was that offense hiding until that point?  Absent that last drive, the Aggies only had 206 yards total offense.

Mississippi St beat NC State  24-10:  I said last week that I was tempted to take OVER 55.5 for the Six-Pack.  Glad I resisted that temptation…

Kentucky beat Missouri  35-28.  Kentucky is 2-0 to start the 2021 season.

In ACC action, Notre Dame eked out another nail-biter of a win over what was perceived to be a lesser opponent.  First there was a 3-point OT win over Florida State (see below) and last week there was a 3-point win over Toledo at home in South Bend.  I know that a win is a win (Tautology alert!), but these are underwhelming showings by the Irish so far.  They actually trailed Toledo at the start of the 4th quarter.

Jax State beat Florida State 20-17 on a 60-yard Hail Mary play in the final seconds of the game.  Jax St is a Division 1-AA team from the Ohio Valley Conference.  The Seminoles paid Jax State $400K to come to Tallahassee with the idea that the Seminoles could play a “feelgood game” for its fans and alums.  That did not work out very well.  However:

  • Recall that Florida State took Notre Dame to OT in Week 1.
  • So, did Florida State take this opponent lightly?
  • Or is Notre Dame not that good?

Miami beat Appalachian State 25-23.  Miami was pushed around by Alabama in Week 1 and just beat a Sun Belt opponent by 2 points last week.  The Hurricanes were ranked in the Top 20 to start the season; that looks as if it was quite a reach.  Too bad Miami is not a city in Texas; if it were, I could say they have been all hat and no cattle.

Air Force beat Navy 29-3 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack.

Temple beat Akron 45-24.  Both teams took a shellacking in Week 1; the Owls had a better time of it last week.

Coastal Carolina beat Kansas 49-22.  Jayhawks beat South Dakota by 3 points in Week 1 possibly leading to “irrational exuberance”  (h/t to Alan Greenspan) in Lawrence, KS.  Now back to reality folks…

Boise St. beat UTEP 54-13.  UTEP was 2-0 going into this game.  Perhaps another “irrational exuberance” situation was set straight last week.

Vandy beat Colorado State 24-21.  Both teams came to the kickoff having lost to Division 1-AA opponents in their opening game.


Games of Interest:


Michigan State at Miami – 6 (55.5):  After the way Miami has performed in the first two weeks, I would not touch this game with a fork.  Sparty is not the class of the Big-10 by any means, but this game is unpredictable.

UConn at Army – 34 (48.5):  Army is a 5 TD favorite?

Va Tech at W. Virginia- 3 (50):  I think the wrong team is favored here.  I like the Hokies to win the game so I will take them plus the points as gravy; put it in the Six Pack.

Nebraska at Oklahoma – 23.5 (63.5):  Many moons ago, these teams played each other, and the game was labeled as The Game of the Century.  Nebraska won that game 35-31.  If you think they can do that again, you can find the Huskers on the Money Line as high as +1150.

Cincy – 3.5 at Indiana (49):  Indiana was disappointing in its opener two weeks ago against Iowa; they were ranked in the Top 20 to start the season.  Cincy is not a soft spot in the schedule.  This should be a good game.

New Mexico at Texas A&M – 30 (49):  The Aggies scored all of 10 points last week against Colorado and the oddsmakers think this is a 30-point spread?

Nevada – 1 at K-State (50):  Kansas State is tough at home…

Purdue at Notre Dame – 7 (58):  The Boilermakers are 2-0 against marginal competition.  The Irish are 2-0 and both wins were unimpressive (see above).

Ga Tech at Clemson – 28 (52):  Clemson needs to win big when it can to stay in consideration for the CFP.

USC – 8 at Washington St. (62.5):  Washington State beat a Division 1-A team last week; USC has a new head coach already.

  • Memo to new USC Coach:  If you lose this game, hire a food taster.

Alabama –  14 at Florida (60):  I think this is the Game of the Week in college football.

Florida State at Wake Forest – 4.5 (62):  Wake is 2-0 against very questionable competition so far; Florida State is simply an enigma.

Tulsa at Ohio State – 24.5 (61):  Like Clemson, Ohio State cannot afford another loss nor can it eke out wins over ordinary opposition.  I think the Buckeyes will be primed to kick ass and take names here.  I know it is a lot of points, but I will take Ohio State to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack.

Arkansas State at Washington – 16.5 (57.5):  The Huskies have not come close to meeting expectations this year; they were ranked #20 in the country before losing at home to Montana and then on the road at Michigan last week.  If they lose here, things could get very ugly in Seattle…

Auburn at Penn State – 5 (53):  This would be the Game of the Week were it not for Alabama/Florida…

Virginia at UNC – 7 (67):  The Cavaliers dispatched Illinois handily last week; UNC threw in a clunker in Week 1.

Stanford – 12 at Vandy (49):  Is this the SAT Bowl Game of the Day?

Northwestern – 2.5 at Duke (49.5): Or is this the SAT Bowl Game of the Day?

Oklahoma State at Boise State – 4 (57):  Cowboys against Broncos; why not?

Arizona State – 4 at BYU (50):  Two good teams square off here…

Fresno State at UCLA – 10 (62):  The Bruins beat up on Hawaii in the opener and then beat LSU two weeks ago.  They had a BYE Week last week. Fresno St. clobbered UConn in the opener and then lost to Oregon by only a TD two weeks ago.  They too had a BYE Week last week.  I see lots of scoring in this game so I will take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.


NFL Commentary:


I learned something when I went hunting for something else.  When the Jags lost to the Texans in Week 1, I realized that the Jags had now lost 16 games in a row.  After they won the opener last year, they went 0-15.  I could not remember how many consecutive games the Tampa Bay Bucs lost in a row when they entered the league with a roster of flotsam and jetsam, but I figured it would be an easy Google search.  I entered:

  • “longest nfl losing streak ever”

And that is where I learned that the Bucs only have the second-longest NFL losing streak.  Here are the data:

  • Chicago Cardinals lost 29 games in a row from 1942-1945
  • Tampa Bay Bucs lost 26 games in a row from 1976-1977.

The Jags have four of their next five games at home against the Broncos, Cardinals, Titans and Dolphins; the Jags will be underdogs in all those games, but at least they are at home.  Moreover, the only road game is at the Bengals which is not quite the same as visiting the Chiefs or the Bucs.  Only two NFL teams have ever lost 20 or more games in a row.  The Jags had better use this “home game cluster” as a way to snap their streak lest they join a list no team wants to be on.

Texans 37  Jags  21:  The good news for Jags is Trevor Lawrence threw 3 TDs;  the bad news for the Jags is just about anything else you might imagine.  The Jags got bum-rushed by a bad team; such a bad omen.  The Texans just signed Danny Amendola about an hour before game time and Amendola is not the second coming of Jerry Rice.  Not to worry, even he diced up the Jags defense with 4 catches and a TD.   I only saw the highlights here, but I could not find a lot to tell me that Trevor Lawrence is even remotely close to comfortable behind that OL.  Jags’ failure to address a weak offensive line already looks problematic and they’d better find a way to keep the first-overall pick in downs and distances that aren’t conducive to him taking a beating.  This is a potential Shakespearean tragedy.

I binged on NFL football in Week 1.  Of course, I saw the Bucs/Cowboys on Thursday night.  On Sunday, the games in my viewing area were Eagles/Falcons, Steelers/Bills, Packers/Saints, Chiefs/Browns; Sunday night was Rams/Bears and Monday night was Ravens/Raiders.  Here are some positive impressions from the weekend:

  • Jalen Hurts’ “escapability”
  • Steelers’ defense
  • Baker Mayfield’s accuracy – – until the final moments of the game
  • Patrick Mahomes being Patrick Mahomes
  • Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp being in sync

And, of course, here are some negative impressions from the weekend:

  • Packers’ everything
  • Chiefs’ defense in first half
  • Bears’ offense – – particularly the OL
  • Cowboys’ play calling – – 58 passes ?  Really?
  • Cowboys’ DL

When Cam Newton was released, there was no rush to sign him by teams who needed a backup QB and/or teams who were not thrilled by their current starting QB situation.  In an interview, Newton said he was ready and more than willing to play NFL football saying ,”I still have a lot of football in me.”  Given that he is in his early 30s, I can buy into that assessment.

However, here is why I think he does not have a job today – – even with Ryan Fitzpatrick going on IR in Washington where his former coach is in charge of football matters.

  • Cam Newton is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

That is certainly his choice.  The issue here is more than “ability”; it is the likelihood of “availability”.  No team wants to find out on a Friday that their starting QB cannot play on Sunday for any reason on Earth.  Given the NFL’s testing regimens and the protocols for isolation after “close contact” with someone who fails a COVID-19 screening, an unvaccinated player is at a greater risk of having to sit out a game.  The probabilities here are not high, but they are higher for an unvaccinated QB than they are for a vaxxed one.

The same argument holds for backup QBs.  A coach wants to have the guy he has invested in as the backup QB on the sidelines with him every week.  Were that not the case, the coach would surely expend the time and effort it took for him to “find his guy” for that job.  After all, backup QBs are not nearly as difficult to find as compared to “franchise QBs.”  I am not remotely surprised that no one in the NFL has even hinted that Newton’s unvaccinated state is in play here, but I believe that it is.

Bengals 27 Vikes  24 (OT):  the Bengals were the “disciplined team” here; that is not the label they used to wear in the past; the Vikes had 12 penalties for 116 yards in the game.  Joe Burrow did not have any eye-popping stats but when they needed a clutch throw, Burrow delivered.  Cautionary note here: the Bengals’ OL surrendered 5 sacks.  That must not become a recurring game story for the season.

Niners 41  Lions  33:  For backers of the Niners, this was a bad beat indeed.  The Niners led 38-10 giving 8 points.  The game wound up as a Push.  The Lions did not quit; that game had the look of the Lions and their new coach opening the season giving up “half-a-hundred” or more.  Deebo Samuel had a TD and 189 yards receiving in the game for the Niners.  Nonetheless, the Lions are tied for first place in the NFC North because all four teams lost.   On the other hand, the Niners’ defense gave up 33 to the Lions?  Is that an ominous sign or what?

Chargers 20 Football Team 16:  Washington’s defense gave up lots of yardage in the middle of the field but kept the Chargers out of the end zone in 4 of 6 trips to the Red Zone.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that Ryan Fitzpatrick was lost in the second quarter and that the Washington defense allowed the Chargers to covert 14 out of 19 third down tries.  The WFT defense is good, but it ran out of gas in the second half. The Chargers held the ball for 21:11 of the first half on a late summer day, and Washington couldn’t get enough pressure on critical third downs against Justin Herbert.

Panthers 19  Jets  14:  Sam Darnold got his “revenge” on his former employer.  There.  I said it.  Such nonsense.  The Jets’ running game was AWOL gaining only 45 yards on 17 tries.  The most important point here is that Sam Darnold did not play like a stumblebum; he was efficient and effective even if he was not “All-Pro Caliber” in his play.  Here is one of those NFL Facts that is not going to change any time soon:

  • The Jets’ OL is a mess.

Cards 38 Titans 13:  Kyler Murray threw for 4 TDs and ran for another, and Chandler Jones recorded 5 sacks and forced a fumble in this game.  Imagine trying to pick a “Star of the Game” for a post-game local radio show…  The Titans got their asses kicked; there is no polite way to put it.

Steelers 23  Bills  16:  The Steelers won this game by playing excellent defense, efficient offense and efficient special teams.  The Bills got into the Red Zone 4 times and managed only 1 TD.  The Steelers’ defense is for real; if they can get that offense balanced and productive, they can go a long way in 2021.

Dolphins 17  Patriots 16:  Neither team played well here.  The Dolphins played “less worse” on this day…

Seahawks 28  Colts 16:  Russell Wilson threw 4 TDs in the game – – two to Tyler Lockett.  Seattle’s  defense was even more impressive.  From 5 minutes to go in the second quarter until 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, here are the Colts’ possessions:

  • Punt
  • Turnover on downs
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Lost fumble
  • Turnover on downs

Broncos 27  Giants 13:  Teddy Bridgewater was the “Star of the Game” here with 28 for 36 for 264 yards and 2 TDs as his stat line.  As important is the fact that the Broncos were 3 for 3 on 4th down conversions.  The Broncos’ defense also corralled Saquon Barkley who was held to 26 yards rushing on 10 tries.

Eagles 32  Falcons 6:  The Falcons’ DL was dominated here; the Eagles averaged 5.6 yards per run attempt.  The Falcons’ OL held its own in the first half but was worn down in the second half when the Eagles inside pass rush scored 3 sacks in the 4th quarter.  The Falcons’ offense was productive until the red zone in the early part of the game.  In the first quarter the Falcons held the ball for eleven-and-a-half minutes; they ran 29 plays; they gained 146 yards – – and that produced only 6 points.  After that, the Falcons punted on the next six possessions and turned it over on downs on the next two possessions.  This was a sloppy game with a total of 26 enforced penalties.  The Eagles are alone in first place in NFC East.  Jalen Hurts played very well here.

Saints 38  Packers 3:  Here is an oddity of a stat line for just about any NFL QB – – and particularly for Jameis Winston who loves to “go long”:

  • 14 for 20 for 148 yards and 5 TDs with 0 INTs.

Winston just picked apart the Packers’ defense on those occasions when the Saints’ running backs were not running through the defense to the tune of 171 yards.  Meanwhile the Packers were a complete no-show for the day.  The Packers’ running game was all of 43 yards in the game and Aaron Rodgers threw 2 INTs.

Chiefs 33  Browns 29:  The Browns seemingly had this game in hand but three turnovers in the second half plus a miraculous 70-yard TD pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill cost them the game.  Hill had 11 receptions for 197 yards and a TD for the day.  Here is a big change I noticed for the Browns.:

  • They have adult supervision on the sidelines; Kevin Stefanski is in charge and the players know it.

The Browns are for real; they will be a tough opponent week after week in 2021.

Rams 34  Bears 14:  Let the chants for Justin Fields begin…  The Bears’ offense was pedestrian here.  Not all of that was Andy Dalton’s fault; the Rams’ defense is really good, and it played well as a unit.  On offense the Rams had two TD passes of 56 yards or more in the game by Matthew Stafford.  Try not to blame those plays on Andy Dalton…

Raiders 33  Ravens 27:  The Ravens prefer to run the ball; the Ravens had better figure out how to do that without the presence of their top 3 running backs who are out for the season.  Their replacements are clearly – – replacements.  Derek Carr came up big in the 4th quarter with scoring drives to send the game to OT and then tossing the winning TD in that OT session.  For the night, Carr amassed 435  yards through the air.  Before the game started, Bruce Buffer welcomed the crowd to “the entertainment capital of the world”.  Las Vegas?  Really?


NFL Games:


New Orleans – 3.5 at Carolina (45):  The oddsmakers are obviously not blown away by the Saints 5 TD margin of victory over the Packers last week.  The Panthers sacked Zach Wilson 6 times last week; I suspect they cannot match that number against the Saints’ OL.  Nevertheless, the Panthers’ defense is a solid unit and should keep the game close.

Houston at Cleveland – 13 (48):  This could easily be a trap game for the Browns.  They had the Chiefs on the ropes last week and let them get away; now they have their home opener against the NFL’s rag-tag team.  Meanwhile, the Texans – who have heard nothing other than how bad they were going to be – went out and won their opener.  A buoyant Texans squad combined with an emotional letdown by the Browns could make this a close game.  But make no mistake, the Browns are the better team by a lot.

Cincy at Chicago – 2.5 (45):  This is my Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  The only saving grace for this game is that it appears as if it will be a close game meaning it could be interesting and entertaining down to the end.  Having said that, neither team is really worth watching unless the only option available to you is to watch reruns of My Mother, the Car.  Here is something surprising to me:

  • The spread has moved from 1-point to this level in the last day and a half.
  • That must mean that there are lots of people betting lots of money on this game.
  • If I met such a person, I would ever so politely ask, “WTF?”

Las Vegas at Pittsburgh – 6 (47):  Both teams played well last week winning their openers.  I was more impressed overall with the Steelers win on the road in Buffalo, but I was also very impressed by the resilience of the Raiders against a good Ravens squad.  I think this is a defensive game; unless there are short fields presented to these offenses, I do not see a lot of scoreboard activity; I will take the game to stay UNDER; put it in the Six-Pack.

Buffalo – 3 at Miami (47.5):  The Dolphins were the only AFC East team to win in Week 1.  I suspect that will change this week once Josh Allen realizes that this is not the Steelers’ defense he is playing against.

Rams – 3.5 at Indy (48):  The Colts did not look like a precision instrument against the Seahawks last week and the Rams’ defense is at least as good as the Seahawks’ unit.  Moreover, the Colts’ defense did not look like an elite unit against Russell Wilson whereas Matthew Stafford threw for 321 yards and 3 TDs.  I like the Rams to win and cover on the road; put it in the Six-Pack.

SF – 3 at Philly (50):  This is two games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone for the Niners.  There are plenty of question marks in this game, but I do think there will be plenty of points on the scoreboard.  I was tempted to take the OVER – – but took my “OVER selection” elsewhere (see below).

Denver – 6 at Jax (45):  This  is two games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone for the Broncos.  They won last week with their defense.  If unit shows up and plays similarly here, they should come away with a win.

New England – 6 at Jets (43):  Two QBs taken in the first round back in April will face each other in this game.  I think the Pats have the better roster, but they made a crucial mistake late in last week’s game that cost them a chance to win.  That is not the “Patriot Way.”  I lean toward the Pats here but not enough to put them in the Six-Pack.

Minnesota at Arizona – 4 (51):  I honestly do not know what to make of this game.  The Cards were dominant last week in ways that they have not shown recently.  The Vikes started out in a fugue state, then came to life to force OT and then stunk it out again.

Atlanta at Tampa – 13 (52):  At least the Falcons’ defense will not have to worry about chasing Tom Brady all over the field here; that unit showed it was not all that good at chasing Jalen Hurts last week.   However, the Bucs present a similar challenge that the Eagles exploited:

  • The Eagles’ have several defensive tackles that pressure the QB well and they wore down the Falcons’ OL to get 3 sacks and more than a few QB hits.
  • The Bucs have Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle.
  • Let me just say that Matt Ryan is not exactly “Mr. Scramble” …

This game could easily get out of hand quickly for the Falcons but I really hate double-digit spreads in NFL games so I will pass up this selection opportunity.

Tennessee at Seattle – 6 (54):  The spread for this game is all over the place.  I can find it as high as 7 points and I can find it as low as 5.5 points.  This seems to be the middle ground there.  The Titans were not impressive at all last week against the Cardinals and going n the road to play in Seattle is hardly the way to “get right”.

Dallas at Chargers – 3 (54.5):  If you like offensive football, this should be the game for  you.  Dak Prescott and his receiving corps will move the ball against just about any team.  Similarly, just about any team will be able to move the ball against the Cowboys’ defense – – and the Chargers’ offense under the direction of Justin Herbert should do it very well.  I think this is a scoring fest so I will take the game to go OVER; put it in the Six-Pack.

(Sun Nite) KC – 3.5 at Baltimore (54.5):  This is my Game of the Week in the NFL.  Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes by themselves make this game exciting but there is an added angle here because the Ravens lost last week and surely do not want to start the season at 0-2.

(Mon Nite) Detroit at Green Bay – 11 (48.5):  Last week, the Packers lost to the Saints by 35 points and were dominated in every phase of the game.  The Lions also lost last week, and they found ways to yield 41 points to the Niners.  But how many teams that lost by 5 TDs one week show up as double-digit favorites the next week.  So:

  • Is that a knock on the Saints dominating win?
  • Is that a statement about how bad the oddsmakers think the Lions are?
  • Is that a sense that Aaron Rodgers will not have two clunkers in a row?

So, let me review the Six-Pack for this week:

  1. Va Tech +3 against W. Virginia
  2. Ohio State – 24.5 over Tulsa
  3. UCLA/Fresno State OVER 62
  4. Rams – 3 over Indy
  5. Pittsburgh/Las Vegas UNDER 47
  6. Dallas/Chargers OVER 54.5

Finally, here is an observation by Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle:

“How many pages are there on that flip chart the 49ers’ quarterbacks wear on their left wrists? It looks like they’re getting ready to order off the TGI Fridays menu.”

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



Baseball, Basketball And Football Today…

Lots of folks who live in the so-called “fly-over states” think poorly of what they call the “coastal elites” to the east and to the west of them.  Because I cannot get into the mindset(s) of those folks, I choose not to try to consider if their political view(s) are right or wrong.  However, when it comes to MLB in 2021, the baseball fans in the heartland need to take a deep breath and focus their attention on those “coastal elite” strongholds.

A quick look at the standings this morning says that the tension/drama left in this year’s MLB season will happen on the coasts.

  • In the NL Central, the race has been decided for a while now; the Brewers aare12.5 games ahead of the Cardinals with 15 left to play.
  • In the AL Central, the White Sox have an 11.5 game lead with 17 games left on their schedule.
  • The AL West has a team in so-called “Middle America”; however, the Astros hold a comfortable 7 game lead with 17 games left.

Here is where MLB’s drama will be:

  • In the AL East, the Rays are comfortably in the lead; but as of now, the two wild card teams would come out of the AL East and the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox are in a dead heat.
  • In the NL East, the division winner will be either the Braves, Phillies or Mets.  Only 5.5 games separate those three teams and only one is likely to make the playoffs.
  • In the NL West, the Giants lead the Dodgers by 1.5 games.  The Giants have clinched a playoff spot and the Dodgers have clinched at least one of the wild card slots.  The Padres are 19.5 games behind the Giants but are in the running for that other wild card position.

Out in the AL West, there is not likely to be much drama; but there is an interesting situation.  The Seattle Mariners are a half-game behind the second place Oakland A’s this morning with a record of 78-68.  As of this morning, the Mariners’ run differential is minus-65.  Compare these stats:

  • Mariners are 78-68 (.534) with run differential minus-65.
  • A’s are 78-67 (.538) with run differential + 60
  • Tigers are 70-76 (.479) with run differential minus-47
  • Braves are 76-68 (.528) with run differential + 98
  • Marlins are 62-84 (.425) with run differential minus-41

In news from the NBA offseason, John Wall has asked the Houston Rockets to trade him away.  Last offseason, Wall and Russell Westbrook were swapped in what was called a blockbuster; it was more like dull thud.  Westbrook is gone from the Wizards after one season landing in LA to play with LeBron James for a year or so; now Wall wants out of Houston.  So, here is the burning question of the morning:

  • How will Houston Rockets’ fans remember and commemorate the John Wall Era?

Wall joins Ben Simmons as a commodity on the “Trade Me Market”.  In a way, they are similarly – if not oppositely – flawed.  Wall is an offensive-minded player who relies on speed to score; he is not a good outside or mid-range shooter, and his defense is marginal at best.  Simmons is a defensive-minded player who is much better amassing assists than he is scoring points.  His ability to shoot is embarrassing for someone who has made it to the NBA, but his defensive game is elite.

Obviously, one could draw the conclusion that the Rockets and Sixers should trade Wall for Simmons, and all would be well in the NBA universe.  I doubt that will happen, and I am confident that trade would be one where neither team comes out ahead.

Moving on … The numbers are in from the first week of NFL football and the folks who were predicting the decline of the NFL about 5 years ago when ratings temporarily sagged are looking worse than they did last year.

  • The opening game last Thursday between the Bucs and the Cowboys drew an audience of 26.5 million viewers.  That represents a 19% increase over last season’s opening game.
  • [For reference, the TV show with the largest average audience in 2020 was NCIS which drew 15.4 million viewers.  In 2020, only 6 programs drew more than 26.5 million viewers.  Five of those six were NFL games and the other one was The Masked Singer premiere that aired right after the Super Bowl.]
  • Taking Week 1 as a whole, the average audience for the 16 games was 17.4 million viewers which represents a 7% increase over last season.

Since I mentioned “coastal elites” earlier on, let me close with these two observations by Truman Capote:

“In California, everyone goes to a therapist, is a therapist, or is a therapist going to a therapist.”

And …

“It’s a scientific fact that if you stay in California you lose one point of your IQ every year.”

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



The Peyton And Eli Show…

So, did you watch the regular telecast of Monday Night Football, or did you check out Peyton and Eli doing their brand of “commentary”?  I wanted to see how they were going to present the “chat-version” of this NFL telecast; so, I flipped over to ESPN2 to check it out.  Here is my Bottom Line:

  • I loved the Peyton and Eli show!

Let me put that assessment of their first presentation into context here.  I enjoy the regular broadcasting team that ESPN offers up on Monday nights; while they are not  a modern equivalent of the original MNF team with Dandy Don and Howard Cosell and either Keith Jackson or Frank Gifford, the current guys are very good:

  • Steve Levy is a sports lifer; he is solid in his delivery, and he does not have any annoying schtick that gets in the way of his play-by-play.
  • Louis Riddick is – in my opinion – a rising star.  He knows football and he expresses his thoughts and opinions clearly and concisely.
  • Brian Griese is the “weak link” here by comparison – – but he is as good as the color analyst on any network’s #3 broadcast team.

Please do not interpret anything I say here as a denigration of that announcing team.  The presentation by Peyton and Eli was refreshingly different.  They mixed it up; sometimes they “called the play as it happened”; sometimes they called it – or the defense – before the snap; sometimes they just chatted with their guests.  It was a different experience, and it was enjoyable.  Over and above different and enjoyable, it was educational; even if you rooted against both Manning brothers in every game they ever played, you must acknowledge that they know something about football.  And they shared lots of that with the audience; it was a football education sans tuition.

Next Monday will be the Lions at the Packers and I will once again check out Peyton and Eli’s presentation of the game.  Here is what I do not yet know:

  • Is this format sustainable?
  • I know that the format of a play-by-play guy along with one or two pleasant and knowledgeable sidekicks has been around for more than 50 years.  While I loved the first “show”, I have no idea if this new way of presenting football will be as enjoyable come Christmas time.
  • So, I am just going to “take it one week at a time” and see how this format evolves or stays the course.

[Aside:  One of the “guest commentators” was Russell Wilson.  I think Wilson should save copies of his contributions to this coverage if he aspires to a broadcasting slot once his playing days are over.  He was really good too.]

Moving on … here is a comment from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Moldy oldie: Proof that there’s no bottom to boxing — at least not in Florida — is allowing almost 59-year-old Evander Holyfield to climb into a ring Saturday for a potential eight-rounder against 44-year-old Vitor Belfort. The thing smacks of elder abuse.”

The prescience of that remark is demonstrated by the outcome.  The bout was scheduled for 8 rounds (two minutes each in lieu of the normal three-minute rounds).  The bout was originally supposed to have Oscar de la Hoya as the aged boxer in the match, but Oscar came down with COVID-19, so Holyfield took the bout on short notice – – as if everyone knew that a 58-year-old man would assuredly keep himself in shape to undergo such an activity at the drop of a hat or a positive coronavirus test.

The folks in California where the bout was supposed to happen would not sanction that switch; it is not clear if they would have sanctioned it without the “short-notice situation”.  But the promoters/organizers found that Florida would sanction the “fight” and so they moved it there.  [Aside: Score another point for Florida and common sense with that decision …]

Mercifully, the fight lasted less than one round.  The referee declared a TKO and Holyfield was the loser.  I hope the folks who paid to see this spectacle realize that they could just as well have set that amount of cash on fire and received similar levels of entertainment.

Switching gears …  I ran across an item in the Raleigh News and Observer reporting that the NC State Athletic Department “will reduce the traveling parties for away games in hopes to minimize exposure or the spreading of COVID-19.”  The only folks traveling to game venues away from campus will be “those who are vaccinated or who have an exception from the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity (OEID).”  To get an exemption from OEID, there needs to be a claim of a religious or medical reason why vaccination is out of bounds.

While I applaud NC State for incentivizing vaccination, it does beg the question a bit.  If indeed the goal here is to “minimize exposure or the spreading of COVID-19,” then how are those minimization goals kept in play for home games and practices at NC State facilities?  Senator Hiram Johnson once said, “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth.”

If a “war” is not a shooting war but merely a “political war” – and vaccination has become a political war zone –, I would argue that the first casualty is logic because truth has no place in any sort of political matter be it war or simple discourse.

Finally, here is another absolutely accurate analysis from Bob Molinaro:

Bad takes: Nobody can deny Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame credentials. But even as a Cooperstown shoo-in, Jeter’s enshrinement is being greeted online with wildly fluctuating assessments of his talent. Overrated, say his detractors, who may suffer from Yankee envy or are weary of media godding up of The Captain. But those who anoint him the game’s greatest shortstop have also strayed far enough off base to be tagged out.”

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



A Tale Of Two Emails…

Let me begin today with an erratum.  Last week, while discussing the demand by Ben Simmons to be traded from the Sixers, I said that maximizing the return to the Sixers would fall to GM, Daryl Morey.  Over the weekend, a long-term reader of these rants from Philly sent me a note to inform me that Daryl Morey is the Sixers’ Team President and that the Sixers’ GM is Elton Brand.

Thanks for that correction…

I got another email from a reader over the weekend posing a question related to the issue of the Big-12 poaching 3 teams from the AAC as part of its expansion.  Here is the pertinent text of that email:

“You said that the AAC was the big loser in all of this.  So, what can or should the AAC do to continue to survive?”

Obviously, if I had an air-tight plan to keep the AAC relevant in football, I would be in touch with its Commissioner, Mike Aresco.   The fact that I am not trying to get through to him tells you that I consider these remarks only slightly above the level of superficial.  Let me start by setting the college football landscape.

  • The so-called Power 5 conferences are the ACC, Big-10, Big-12, Pac-12 and SEC.  That is where the big money is in terms of TV rights deals; that is where most Division 1-A football programs would prefer to be.  However, membership in that echelon of college football is “by invitation only”.
  • The so-called Group of 5 conferences are the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt.  Until the AAC lost Cincy, Houston and UCF, the AAC was the best of these second-tier football conferences.

Imagine that all the transfers out of the Big-12 and then subsequently into the Big-12 that have been announced so far took place tomorrow morning.  That is not the case, but just pretend it is.  The effect on the AAC is that it would be down to 8 teams and would be looking to expand.  It could “entice” other programs to join it by selling the fact that it has been in recent times the best of the Group of 5 conferences – – but that selling point could be very fleeting if no other competitive programs jump at the opportunity to be part of the AAC.

At first glance, the AAC could turn to the “Independents” to try to coax them into signing on.  After all, those schools would suffer no financial penalty for breaking off an existing conference affiliation and since money is the driving force for all this realignment, the lack of an expense is a selling point.  Then you take a look at the seven Independents and realize that this is a relatively barren field:

  1. Army:  They could join Navy in the AAC and that might entice the folks at Army to give this serious consideration.  Army and Navy are not football powerhouses as they once were, but both schools have a large national following.  For the AAC, this should be “Priority Number One” as an acquisition.
  2. BYU:  Forget it.  BYU is the fourth school invited to join the Big-12 along with the 3 departing AAC schools.
  3. Liberty:  An intriguing thought …  Importantly, Liberty fits in the geographical footprint of the AAC schools.  If I were Mike Aresco, I would be on the horn to the AD in Lynchburg as soon as I finished pitching the AD at Army to come aboard.
  4. New Mexico State :  The Aggies do not fit in the conference geographical footprint and the football program there has been a weak sister in recent times.  They are an independent because their previous conference affiliation ended when the conference did the moral equivalent of showing them the door.
  5. Notre Dame:  Don’t be silly…
  6. UConn:  The entire program there is a hot mess; I have suggested elsewhere that it either abandon football entirely or drop down to Division 1-AA.  On the other hand, some of the schools in the AAC might want to invite a doormat to join to make their records a bit better…
  7. UMass:  Ditto what I just said about UConn…

Maybe, the AAC could coax Army and Liberty to join it bringing its membership up to 10 schools.  Now, where to find another two teams?  Well, the idea would be to poach two schools from lesser Group of 5 conferences – – preferably ones that are geographically convenient to the other schools and ones that have some TV interest attached to them.  Here are a couple of possibilities:

  • UTSA:  With SMU and Tulsa already in the AAC, UTSA fits geographically, and this is a program that has been ascending in the past several years.  The San Antonio TV market is not nearly what the Houston TV market is, but the team is competitive and therefore attractive.  UTSA is now in C-USA.
  • Air Force:  This is a real stretch – – but if the AAC can entice Army to join Navy in the conference, maybe they could also poach Air Force from the Mountain West?  Colorado Springs does stretch the geography a bit, but might it work?
  • Coastal Carolina:  The program is growing in visibility, and it is in the right geographical spot.  Coastal is currently a Sun Belt team.
  • Appalachian State:  About 15 years ago, they went to Ann Arbor and beat a top ranked Michigan team.  That upset was so stark that Appalachian State will be a recognizable name to college football fans for another 20 years.  App St is also a Sun Belt team
  • La- Lafayette:  La-Laf is geographically where the AAC might want it to be, and it has been upgrading its football program for the last several years.  La-Laf is also a Sun Belt team.

From my vantage point, the optimal quartet of teams for the ACC to acquire to get to a 12-team conference would be:

  1. Appalachian State
  2. Army
  3. Liberty
  4. UTSA

So, that is my recommendation for the AAC going forward; it is a scenario where the AAC is a “buyer”.  But there is another factor for the AAC Commish to keep in mind:

  • Has the Big-12 decided to remain a conference with 12 teams, or does it aspire to a larger size?

The PAC-12 says it has no expansion plans.  The Big-10 is not likely to try to acquire any of the AAC schools.  The ACC seems uninterested in expansion and the SEC would not look twice at an AAC school.  But might the Big-12 want to take another bite out of the so-called Group of 5 conferences?  In that case, the AAC and the Sun Belt and C-USA had better batten down the hatches because things could get very rocky very quickly.

The question posed by the reader involved what the AAC can do and should do.  What I have listed here is what I think they should do.  Can the AAC pull it off?  If it hopes to remain as the best of the Group of 5 conferences, it had better do so.

Finally, a football conference is sort of like an extended family.  So let me close today with an observation by the satirist, Alexander Pope:

“A family is but too often a commonwealth of malignants.”

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



Football Friday 9/10/21

Last week was the full-blown start of the college football season; this week has both college and NFL football being played in earnest.  Therefore, today is the first full-fledged Football Friday for 2021.  So, let’s get it rolling…

The Linfield College Wildcats open their season this week at home against Simon Fraser University.  Neither school played any football games in 2020 but Simon Fraser opened its season last week in a less-than-impressive manner.   Simon Fraser was on the short end of a 68-0 loss to Idaho.  Go Wildcats!


College Football Comments:


Six Division 1-AA teams beat their bigger brothers in last week’s games.

  1. Holy Cross beat UConn 38-28 and the Huskies coach “retired” after the game.
  2. Montana beat Washington 13-7; Washington was ranked #20 in the nation.
  3. E. Tennessee St beat Vandy 23-3; could be a long year for the Commodores.
  4. UC-Davis beat Tulsa 19-17.
  5. E. Washington beat UNLV 35-33 in double OT.
  6. S. Dakota St. beat Colorado St. 42-23; a late TD by the Rams made this less horrific a loss.

Washington was not the only Top 25 team to lose out in Week 1.  Some of these games will be mentioned later but Indiana, UNC, Miami, LSU and Wisconsin all lost as ranked teams – – and Oklahoma looked anything but the #2 ranked team in the country beating Tulane by only 5 points.  The Sooners were supposed to play Tulane in New Orleans – – but Hurricane Ida forced the game to be moved to Norman OK.  Nevertheless, the Sooners were only able to eke out a win 40-35.  Oklahoma led 37-14 at the half but could only manage a field goal in the second half.  One major hang up about Big-12 football has been its lack of defense.  OK, so OU gave up 35 points to Tulane; that should put a stop to that narrative…

Indiana – ranked #17 – opened the season with a 34-6 blowout loss on the road against Iowa – ranked #18.. Indiana QB, Michael Penix, threw two Pick-Sixes, and that did not help the Hoosiers’ cause even a little bit. Indiana was the only Big Ten East team to lose last weekend.

Penn State opened with a nice road win at Wisconsin 16-10.  If you like defensive football, this was a game for you; the score was 0-0 at the half.

Rutgers opened its season with a thrashing of Temple by a score of 61-14.  Yes, Rutgers was the team delivering the ass-kicking here.

Texas-San Antonio beat Illinois 37-30.  Recall that Illinois beat Nebraska the week before last.  It is going to be a long season in Lincoln NE.

Alabama opened its season taking on one of the ACC’s better teams in Miami.  Some folks in the South Florida media had high hopes for an upset – or at least a competitive game here.  Sorry about that but the final score was Bama 44-13.  Alabama gained 510 yards for the day; Miami gained 266.  Alabama QB, Bryce Young  was tremendous with 344 yards passing and four touchdowns.  His passing yardage was 78 yards more than Miami’s total offense for the day.

Mississippi St. trailed La- Tech 31-14 at the start of the 4th quarter.  However, the Bulldogs rallied for 3 TDs in the final quarter to scratch out a 35-34 victory.

Auburn beat Akron in a mismatch 60-10.  The score was 54-0 at the start of the 4th quarter.  This game should not have been scheduled in the first place.

Georgia beat Clemson 10-3.  Georgia got its TD on a Pick-Six.  You simply had to like the defensive play in this game.  Georgia held Clemson to 2 yards rushing for the game and Clemson’s total offense was 180 yards.  Kirby Smart was the defensive coordinator for 8 years at Alabama under Nick Saban; it looks as if he brought his dominating style of defense to Athens, Ga this season.

UCLA beat LSU 38-27 last week.  UCLA’s defense held LSU to 53 yards rushing for the game and only 1,9 yards per carry for the Tigers.  The Bruins’ offense was balanced gaining 210 on the ground and 260 through the air.

Tennessee dominated Bowling Green 38-6 from start to finish in Josh Heupel’s opening game in Knoxville.

La-Lafayette was ranked 23rd in the country last week and went to Texas to play the 21st ranked Longhorns.  The spread was a meager 7.5 points, but Texas put a hurting on the Ragin’ Cajuns 38-18.  Texas  Bijan Robinson had 24 touches in the game and produced for 176 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs.

E. Illinois surprised Ga Tech 22-21.

Va Tech beat UNC 17-10.  This is a big win for the Hokies over the Tar Heels who were ranked 10th in the country at the kickoff.  Tech had 3 INTs in the game and held UNC to only 2 for 10 on third down conversions.

UNC-Charlotte beat Duke 31-28.  The Duke defense was very bad last year, and this result does not indicate to me that it got a whole lot better over the summer.

Utah St. beat Washington St.  26-23.  Is this a bad omen for the entire state of Washington?  Here the Cougars lost their opener, and the Huskies lost their opener to a Division 1-AA team.  Not a happy weekend in the Greater Northwest…

Notre Dame beat  Fla St.  41-38 (OT).  ND played very uncharacteristically here.  The Irish gained only 71 yards rushing and allowed 269 yards rushing.  The Irish led 38-20 starting the 4th quarter and gave up 18 points in the 4th quarter to send the game to OT.  Is Fla St. that good – – or is ND not as good as had been advertised?

Kansas won its season opener last week beating South Dakota 17-14.  South Dakota actually outgained Kansas in the game 263 yards to 244 yards.  The game was about as even as the score and the offensive outputs would indicate.  Neither team turned the ball over and neither team had even a single yard in the return game.

San Diego State beat New Mexico State 28-10.  New Mexico State led 10-0 at the half but were blown away in the second half.  The stats for the game are out of balance.  NM St had more offense for the game; and almost all of it came in the passing game; Aggies were held to 48 yards rushing.  On the other side, San Diego State gained only 76 yards passing and ran the ball for 252 yards.


College Games of Interest:


Oregon at Ohio State – 14 (64):  This is a big interconference game.  It is my second choice as the Game of the Week.

Pitt – 3 at Tennessee (57):  This will be an interesting test for Tennessee and an important game for Pitt to uphold the “honor” of the ACC.

Tulsa at Oklahoma St – 12.5 (51):  Tulsa lost to UC-Davis last week; I would have expected this line to be north of 21 points.  This is a very strange line…

Rutgers – 2 at Syracuse (52):  Rutgers may not be the doormat they have been in recent years.

Air Force – 6 at Navy (41):  On the 20th anniversary of 9/11…

Temple – 6.5 at Akron (53):  Both teams were humiliated in Week 1.  What happens now?

Buffalo at Nebraska – 14.5 (54):  Buffalo is one of the MAC contenders – – but if Nebraska loses to them at home this week, there could be an uprising in Lincoln…  I doubt that Buffalo can win this game, but they just might be good enough to come in comfortably under that spread.  I’ll take Buffalo plus the points.  Put it in the Six-Pack.

Iowa at Iowa St. – 4.5 (47):  This will be Iowa’s second ranked opponent in two games this year.  The Hawkeyes blasted Indiana last week; I think that can propel them this week.  I’ll take Iowa plus the points.  Put it in the Six-Pack.

Appalachian St at Miami – 9 (54):  Alabama was way too much for Miami last week.  Appalachian St. had better not be too much for the Hurricanes this week…

NC State – 2 at Mississippi St (55.5):  I was tempted to take the OVER in this game…

Vandy at Colorado St – 7 (51):  Both teams lost to Division 1-AA opponents last week.  One of them is going to be extremely unhappy on Sunday morning…

Utah – 7 at BYU (49):  The “Holy War” is my the Game of the Week in college football.

San Diego St at Arizona – 2.5 (46.5):  State had problems with a less-than-fearsome New Mexico State team last week (see above), but they won the game.  Arizona had a win total prop bet of 2 games for this year and struggled on defense in their opening game.  That line is mysterious to me…

Alabama State at Auburn – 51.5 (57.5):  Auburn clobbered Akron last week.  This week they will clobber Alabama State.  Are they playing schools that begin with the letter “A” as a way to prepare for Alabama later this year?


NFL Comments:


Of course, I watched the Bucs beat the Cowboys last night and here are my takeaways from that experience:

  • I think I am going to like Drew Brees a lot as a TV commentator.
  • I think NBC has too many “faces” and “voices” at the studio end of their programming.
  • I said I did not think Dak Prescott really had a shoulder injury.  Last night did nothing to change my mind.
  • The Cowboys’ offense is indeed potent, and their defense is still porous.
  • The Bucs’ running game was unimpressive at best.

Quarterbacks get inordinate amounts of attention considering that football is truly a team game.  Nevertheless, I think there are several NFL QBs who will have a chance this year to “change the narrative” that surrounds them.  Let me suggest four of them here:

  1. Sam Darnold (Carolina):  He has been under intense scrutiny and has taken a ton of criticism in his first several years in the NFL.  The media and the fans in NYC soured on him rather quickly and never missed an opportunity to point out that Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Nick Chubb were all available when Darnold was taken at 33.  I do not think Sam Darnold is the second coming of John Unitas nor do I think he is a stumblebum.  I think he can change the way fans see him in 2021.
  2. Matthew Stafford (LA Rams):  He has spent what must feel like an eternity playing with rosters that were outmanned from the start.  Because the Lions were often way behind early in games, Stafford’s stats are inflated to some degree by game circumstances.  Some have even dubbed him as “Padthew Statford” because the think he has been the motive force for padding his stats.  I do not think that is the case and I think Stafford will lead the Rams to the playoffs this year.  Time will tell…
  3. Carson Wentz (Colts):  He has developed a reputation as a diva and as a player who does not always get along with teammates.  Last year, his game fell apart and he was benched – as he should have been.  However, according to reports, his reaction to being benched was to stop talking to his coaches.  Winning cures almost all ills and Wentz heeds to show fans and teammates in Indy that he is a winner and not a pain in the ass.  This season would be a good time for him to start on that quest…
  4. Jameis Winston:  His narrative is simple; he throws the ball to “the other guys” far too often; he “makes bad decisions”.  Well, now he is working under the tutelage of a certified offensive maven in Sean Payton, and he has the makings of a running game that will take some of the offensive burden off his shoulders.


NFL Games:


Pittsburgh at Buffalo – 6.5 (48):  I think the Steelers are a good team if they have a sound and solid Ben Roethlisberger at QB.  I am confident that the Bills are a very good team so long as Josh Allen does not regress significantly from last year’s performance level.  The Steelers’ defense will make the Bills earn their points; I do not know what to expect from the Bills’ defense here.  Last year the Bills’ defense was mediocre until about mid-season and then became a very good unit.  Is that the formula for 2021 too …? 

Jets at Carolina – 4 (44):  When the Jets’ defense takes the field, they will see Sam Darnold’s face smiling back at them.  This is a game ripe for fan over-reaction at the end no matter who wins or which QB “shines” or “struggles”.  I think the Panthers are the better team all around, but I am not confident in either of them enough to put this game in the Six-Pack. 

Jax – 3 at Houston (46):  Indubitably, this is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.  I am about to offer a litmus test for the sanity of any and all football fans who play in survival pools.

  • Any one of them who takes either the Jags or the Texans as their Survival Pool pick of the week should be institutionalized.

One of these two teams will be in first place – or tied for first place – in the AFC South as of Monday morning.  Imagine that… 

Arizona at Tennessee – 3 (52):  There should be points aplenty in this game; neither team is going to succeed this season based on its defensive prowess. 

Chargers at Washington “pick ‘em” (44.5):  I gave this game consideration as the Game of the Week.  This will be an early season test for Justin Herbert and the new Chargers’ staff and system.  The Washington defense is for real… 

Philly at Atlanta – 3.5 (49):  The question I would like to begin to answer here is simple:

  • The Eagles have used first round picks to acquire speedy WRs in each of the last two Drafts.  Are Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith going to “pay off” in the NFL?

The Eagles’ OL is a team strength and the Falcons’ DL has been a team weakness over the past few years.  If those trends continue to obtain, the Eagles can control the game with a running attack and a short passing game utilizing their two excellent tight ends.

Seattle – 3 at Indy (49):  Call this the “Oscar Game”.  The two starting QBs here created an over abundance of drama in the offseason and raised passive-aggressive behavior to an art form.  One of them will be victorious here so we can give them an “Oscar” for their performance.  Russell Wilson is the better QB; the Colts’ defense is the better unit. 

Minnesota – 3 at Cincy (47.5):  The return of Joe Burrow is a plus for the Bengals, but he did not get a lot of playing time in the Exhibition Games as he should not have.  I like the Vikes to control this game with Dalvin Cook grinding out yardage.  I’ll take the Vikes on the road to win and cover.  Put it in the Six-Pack. 

SF – 8 at Detroit (45):  Cutting to the chase here…  I think the Lions are the worst team in the NFC.  While I do not think the Niners are the best team in the conference – or not necessarily the best team in their division – I am picking against the Lions competency here.  I like the Niners to win and cover on the road.  Put it in the Six-Pack. 

Cleveland at KC – 5.5 (54):  The Total Line opened at 52 points and shot up to this level very quickly.  I cannot see either defense asserting itself here.  If the Browns decide to slow play the game with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt controlling the clock, the game could go Under but if both teams come out winging it, this game go OVER by the end of the 3rd quarter.  The only reason this is not the Game of the Week is because the Packers/Saints game is on the same week. 

Miami at New England – 3 (43.5):  The word is that the Patriots have “revamped the defense”.  That is not all that surprising to me since Bill Belichick cut his teeth as a defensive coach and the Pats’ defense for the last two years has not been as good as at times in the past.  If that defense is truly revamped and noticeably better, I think the Dolphins will struggle here.  So, on  a hunch, I’ll take the Pats at home to win and cover.  Put it in the Six-Pack. 

Denver – 3 at Giants (41.5):  Absent a bunch of turnovers giving offenses short fields, this game should not produce a lot of points.  It will, however, produce a lot of punts because these are good defenses and mediocre offenses. 

Green Bay – 3.5 vs New Orleans (49.5) Game is in Jax:  This is my Game of the Week.  This game has playoff implications, and this game will start to give insight into questions about how the season will unfold for both teams.  Is Aaron Rodgers’ head in a good place after an offseason full of nonsense?  Has Jameis Winston begun to learn from his new coaches? 

(Sun Nite) Chicago at Rams – 7.5 (46.5):  I think the question here is basic:

  • Can the Bears protect Andy Dalton against the pass rush of the Rams?

The Bears’ running game is not going to distract the Rams’ defense; so, the onus is on the Bears’ OL.  I think the Rams can run away and hide in this game, so I’ll take them at home to win and cover; put it in the Six-Pack. 

(Mon Nite) Baltimore – 4 at Las Vegas (50): One of the football gods has obviously decided to hex Ravens’ RBs this year.  Before the first snap of the season, the Ravens have lost their top two RBs to season ending injuries.  The two projected workhorses here are LeVeon Bell and Latavius Murray and both have been signed in the past ten days or so.  Before this rash of injuries, I would have taken the Ravens in this spot but now, I shall pass on that opportunity.

So, here is the first Six-Pack of the year:

  • Iowa +4.5 against Iowa State
  • Buffalo +14.5 against Nebraska
  • Vikes – 3 over Bengals
  • Niners – 8 over Lions
  • Pats – 3 over Dolphins
  • Rams – 7.5 over Bears.

Finally, here is a view from Bob Molinaro regarding one of the “burning questions” in the NFL for 2020:

“The whittled list of new names for the Washington Football Team, according to CBS Sports, includes Armada, Brigade, Commanders, Defenders, Presidents, Redhogs and Redwolves. This is an easy one for me. I hate them all.”

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



The Big-12 Expansion

Earlier this week, I said that the Big-12 conference needed to poach a few teams from other conferences if it wanted to remain one of the so-called Power 5 Conferences.  I thought these four made sense:

  1. Boise State
  2. BYU
  3. Cincy
  4. UCF

Well, I got three out of four.  Yesterday, the Big-12 “invited” four teams to join them and substituted Houston for Boise State.  The addition of those four schools gives the conference 12 members and there are rumors that it might seek to expand beyond that.  Before I get into my interpretation of why the Big-12 chose to do what it did, please allow me to point out a minor hypocrisy here.

  • When the SEC poached Oklahoma and Texas from the Big-12, the conference commissioner squealed like a stuck pig and filed lawsuits against ESPN for “tampering” with the welfare of the Big-12 schools.  However, today it is simply business when the Big-12 poaches 3 schools from the American Athletic Conference.

As usual, the Big-12 decision making is all about money.  College football is the money maker for athletic departments and the big bucks come from television contracts.  So, the Big-12 probably looked at the eight teams it still had under control and realized that it was going to have a dickens of a time securing its next national TV contract.  The reasons are simple:

  1. None of the remaining 8 schools is in a large TV market on its own.
  2. None of the remaining 8 schools has a large “national following”.

TV networks hand out the big bucks in those media rights contracts to attract viewers; and so, the Big-12 needed to get hold of a lot more “TV market potential” to dangle in front of networks that might want to buy their game rights.  I think it is that simple to explain why Houston was “invited” instead of Boise State.

  • Houston:  8th largest TV market in the US with 2.6 million TV households
  • Boise:  101st largest TV market in the US with 312 thousand TV households.

[Aside, to give you an idea of the smallness of that Boise TV market as compared to Houston, consider the size of Boise’s “neighbors” when it comes to TV market size.  Boise is slightly smaller than Myrtle Beach, SC and slightly larger than Greenville, NC.  However, Boise is a larger TV market than Lincoln, NE or Lubbock, TX.]

So, besides potential TV eyeballs for games, what might these four schools bring to the newly expanded Big-12?

  • BYU:  This is the big fish in the Big-12’s net.  In addition to a large national following, BYU has a strong football tradition.  Since 1974, BYU has had only 3 losing seasons and in that same time span it has had 17 seasons with double-digit wins.  Moreover, with its religious affiliation, the school has a strong – and loyal – national following.  The only downside that I see is geographic; BYU is not near any of the other Big-12 schools, and it is really distant from West Virginia and Cincy.
  • Cincy:  In recent years, Bearcats’ football has been at or near the top when it comes to schools outside the Power 5 conferences.  As of this morning, one of the ranking services has them as the 10th best team in the country.  The downside that I see here is sort of geographic; in terms of college football, Cincy is never going to be the dominant program in Ohio.  So, how many of those eyeballs in that TV market are going to pay attention to Cincy instead of Ohio State?  Cincy is a plus for the conference in basketball; it is always a relevant program in that sport.
  • Houston:  The Cougars have been successful in football recently and as noted above it is a large TV market.  However, it is sitting in the middle of an SEC footprint with Texas A&M and Texas to its north/west and with LSU to its east.  That TV market is very big, but it is going to be fragmented.  Like Cincy, Houston will be a good addition to the Big-12 come basketball season.
  • UCF:  This is the wild-card addition in my mind.  Like BYU, UCF is not close to any of its new conference-mates.  However, UCF is a huge school – more than 60,000 students – meaning there is potential here for alums to spread out around the country and provide more “national following”.  [Aside:  After all, that number of graduates cannot all stay in Orlando and work for Disney.]  The downside is that while  the football program has been successful recently, there is no real history there.  And, UCF football is sitting among those fans who follow Miami, Florida and/or Florida State passionately.

Looking at a big picture view of the newly constructed Big-12, the biggest problem that I see is that there are no rabid rivalry situations.  Yes, Kansas and Kansas State is a rivalry — – but it is not USC/UCLA.  And that is probably the biggest and longest-lived rivalry situation in the conference.  Look at the other “Power 5 Conferences and you will always find a nice inventory of longstanding rivalry games to promote and televise.

The big loser in all of this is the American Athletic Conference.  It lost arguably its three best football programs leaving Memphis and possibly Navy as its football standard bearers.  Navy of course has great national following but not necessarily the potential for being a strong team year after year.

Finally, since much of today’s rant had to do with television, let me close with this view of television by the critic, Clive Barnes:

“Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want.  The most terrifying thing is what the people want.”

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



Fading Fame

Over the past week or so, I have seen a variety of reports with headlines that follow this line of thinking:

  • Ben Simmons demands a trade … Ben Simmons will not report to training camp … Superstar wants out of Philly

After the way the Sixers exited the playoffs a couple of months ago and given the way the fans and sports media in Philly have “dealt with” that debacle, I am sure that Ben Simmons has gotten the message that the fans do not want him back on the team.  I am not the least bit surprised that he wants to be traded nor would I be surprised to learn that the Sixers will be looking to move him.  What confuses me is that some folks who report on the NBA consider Ben Simmons to be a “superstar”.  I do not.

Simmons is an excellent passer, and he is as good a defender as there is in the NBA these days.  However, basketball is a game that requires players to be able to put the ball in the basket on a more than occasional basis; NBA games do not end with scores of 21-18.  Ben Simmons lack of scoring ability keeps him from being a “superstar” because of the seriousness of that hole in his game.

Certainly, the Sixers’ front office will try to maintain a narrative that Simmons is a superstar and that the Sixers will demand a heavy ransom from any team that wants to take on his services.  If GM Daryl Morey can pull that off, he has a great retirement gig waiting for him as a used car salesman.

Speaking of retirement, a strange sequence of events over the past couple of days has placed former UConn football coach, Randy Edsall in retirement.  Eleven days ago, UConn was pantsed by Fresno State to the tune of 45-0; last Saturday was even worse.  At least Fresno State is a Division 1-A team and they showed well in their second game of the year losing to Oregon by only a TD.  UConn was not nearly so competitive in their second outing of the season.

Last week was supposed to be a cupcake game for the Huskies as they took on Division 1-AA Holy Cross.  The final tally had the Huskies on the short end of a 38-28 score.  Moreover, this was not a fluke win by the Crusaders on some sort of lucky bounce of the football.  Holy Cross gained 100 more yards on offense than UConn did.

On Monday morning, Randy Edsall said that he was going to retire at the end of the 2021 season – presumably to spend more time with his family.  I remember thinking at the time that he might have come to that decision as a means of avoiding being separated from the school before the end of the season, but that did not matter all that much.

Then yesterday came the news that Randy Edsall had retired and that the defensive coordinator would be the acting head coach for the rest of 2021.  The irony in that situation from my perspective is that the defensive coordinator is the guy in charge of the team unit that yielded 38 points to Holy Cross.  For that, he gets a “promotion”?

Here is the PR statement regarding this retirement situation from the UConn Athletic Director:

“Upon further reflection by both Randy and I (sic), and after having the opportunity to visit with Randy today, we are both in agreement that it is in the best interest of our student-athletes to have a new voice leading UConn football,”

Here is what I think is the best outcome for UConn:

  • Either drop back down to Division 1-AA … or …
  • Eliminate football entirely.

There is no great tradition of UConn football; college football as an activity is not important in Connecticut or in New England – possibly apart from the campus of Boston College.  I am sure there is a rich alum of UConn or two who dream of big things for UConn football; even if they bankroll the program to keep it in Division 1-A, it will be decades before anyone utters the phrase:

  • UConn is the Alabama of New England.

I want to take a moment here to make two quick statements:

  1. Randy Edsall was one of my College Coaches on a Hot Seat just two weeks ago.
  2. Randy Edsall will probably enjoy retirement more than he would have enjoyed being on the UConn sidelines for the rest of 2021.

Moving on…  About a month ago, I mentioned here that Clinton Portis was facing some serious legal issues.  He owed a woman about $150K in child support and had defied a court order related to that matter; that got the judge in Florida to issue an arrest warrant for Portis.  Simultaneously, Portis and a half dozen other defendants were indicted in Federal court for insurance fraud.  That trial ended in a hung jury and Portis’ lawyers must have gotten a reasonable deal from the prosecutors because Portis subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

These charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of not more than $250,000 or twice the gross financial gain from the fraud. He will make restitution of $99,264 to the Gene Upshaw NFL Players Health Reimbursement Account Plan.  Portis admitted that he took part in a scheme to defraud the plan through “false pretenses, representations, and promises.” Basically, he admitted that he made false claims for benefits under the health plan for retired NFL players.

Finally, the three protagonists of stories related today can see their fame fading just a bit.  So, I will close here with Mark Twain’s view of “fame”:

“Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.”

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



NFL Predictions Team By Team For 2021

Last week saw the start of the college football season; this week, the NFL makes its entry onto the US sporting scene.  As has been customary in these parts, I try to do a bunch of predictions before things get underway for real just to demonstrate the wisdom in the adage:

  • Prediction is very difficult – – particularly when it involves the future.

But I am not one who is ashamed of being wrong, so I shall continue to “give it a go” again in 2021.  In the process of forecasting the future, it is inevitable that I will be wrong about many team performances.  When I underestimate the success of a team, there are two things you must keep in mind:

  1. I do not hate that team, its coach, its fans and/or the city it represents.
  2. I do not owe that team, its coach, its fans and/or the city it represents an apology because all that took place is that I made an error which I will readily acknowledge after it happens.

I begin these predictive pieces with my list of eight NFL Coaches on a Hot Seat.  I do not expect all of them to be canned at the end of the year, but I do think all will come in for some pointed critiques along the way in 2021.   I will present them here in alphabetical order:

  1. David Cully (Texans):  Yes, I know this will be his first season in Houston and I also know that the Texans are going to be awful this year through no fault of Coach Cully.  Nevertheless, I doubt that he will be a fan favorite there and while he will likely survive into the 2022 season, his seat starts out warm and will only increase in temperature as the season progresses.
  2. Vic Fangio (Broncos):  The Broncos are 12-20 over the past two seasons with Fangio in charge.  I think a winning record and serious contention for a playoff spot – if not the playoffs themselves – will be necessary for him to be the coach in Denver in 2022.
  3. Kliff Kingsbury (Cardinals):  The Cards are 13-18-1 over the past two seasons with Kingsbury in charge.  His offense led by Kyler Murray has been splashy and exciting – – at times.  However, overall success has not happened.  I think he will need a playoff appearance to survive into 2022.
  4. Matt LeFleur (Packers):  I put him here not because of his record in Green Bay; it is a good one.  His problem is Aaron Rodgers and Rodgers’ “happiness” with the team.  If that relationship becomes strained – or goes in the dumper entirely – LeFleur might find his job in jeopardy.
  5. Mike McCarthy (Cowboys):  The Cowboys were 6-10 last year – McCarthy’s first year in Dallas.  The team is highly regarded this year; they have plenty of offensive weapons – enough to win shoot-out games.  Can McCarthy and his staff piece together enough defense to be a playoff team?  I think that is what Jerry Jones expects…
  6. Matt Nagy (Bears):  In his first season in Chicago, he led the Bears to a 12-4 record and the NFC North title.  In the next two seasons, the Bears have been 8-8.  Nagy’s seat is not nearly as hot as some others on this list – – unless things come apart at the seams and the Bears finish at something like 6-11.
  7. Zac Taylor (Bengals):  I put him here even though I am confident he will be the coach in Cincy next  year.  The basis for his position here is that reports lead me to conclude that expectations for the Bengals are sky-high with the return of Joe Burrow and the maturing of the young roster – – notwithstanding a Bengals’ record of 6-25-1 over the past 2 seasons.  But the Bengals play in a very difficult division and are not going to meet sky-high expectations.  The reason Taylor will be back in Cincy in 2022 is that he has time and money left on his contract there and the Bengals notoriously do not like to pay coaches not to coach.
  8. Mike Zimmer (Vikings):  He has been the Vikes’ head coach for 7 seasons now; he has been in the playoffs 3 times; his coaching record in Minnesota is 64-47-1.  I put him here because there is no positive trend to his teams’ performances, and it may be that fans and ownership in Minnesota may want to “go in a different direction.

Before getting into specifics about the upcoming 2021 season, let me present an observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot from several months ago:

Looking back: The next NFL schedule won’t have more than three exhibition games per team. It’s incredible that before the league moved to 16 games in 1978, teams played six preseason dates. Six!”

Given the injury-phobia that is clearly exhibited by many teams/coaches around the league, try to imagine who would be on the field in six Exhibition Games in 2021.  But Molinaro is absolutely correct; there used to be 6 of those meaningless games prior to every season.  When – not if but when – the NFL and the NFLPA come to an agreement on how much more of a percentage of revenue needs to go to players to accept an 18th regular season game with 2 Bye Weeks in the regular season schedule for each team, I hope they cut the Exhibition Game schedule to one or two games at the most.

NFL players have an adage:

  • Father Time has never missed a tackle.

Before anyone leaps to inform me that Tom Brady is 44 years old and is still “going strong”, that adage is something fans and coaches need to keep in mind.   So, let me list here six players who just might feel Father Time’s presence as the season wears on.  Please note, all the players I have here are ones who have had laudatory careers; they are ones who I think might be coming close to entering the “next phase” of their lives:

  1. Calais Campbell: He is 35 years old and that is pushing it for a defensive lineman and pass rusher.
  2. Ezekiel Elliott:  He is not old – 26 years old to be specific.  However, he has had almost 1700 touches in his career to date; that is a lot of pounding on his body.
  3. Derrick Henry:  He is not old – 27 years old to be specific.  However, he has led the NFL in rushing attempts for each of the past two seasons carrying the ball a total of 681 times in those two seasons; that is a lot of pounding on his body too.
  4. AJ Green:  He is 33 years old and entering his 10th NFL season.  He may have lost a step because in 2020 he caught 47 passes for 523 yards in 16 games.  Just two seasons ago in 2019, he caught 46 passes for 694 yards in only 9 games.
  5. Ben Roethlisberger:  He is entering his 18th NFL season at age 39.  He appeared in 15 games last year, but his yards-per-completion  were the lowest of his career by a significant margin save for an injury season in 2019.
  6. Andrew Whitworth:  He will be 40 years old in early December when he and the Rams hope to be playing meaningful games.  Go to Google Images and check out a recent photo of Whitworth and you will understand why the term “gray-beard” is appropriate…

Before I leave the “Father Time” portion of this piece entirely, here is another item I found in a column by Bob Molinaro:

“Tidbit: Tom Brady is only the second quarterback to start an NFL conference championship game in three decades. The other: Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts.”

Now it is time for my predictions team-by-team in the 8 NFL Divisions.  I shall start in the AFC East:

  • Bills: I think they win this division handily with a 13-4 record.  As far as I can see, the only weakness I see is a mediocre running game.  Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs by themselves make for a potent pass offense; adding Emmanuel Sanders to the roster makes it even better.  The Bills’ defense played well in the final months of last season and should be strong again this year.  One cautionary note I would point out is that the Bills have an outspoken and hard-over contingent of ant-vax players.  Should that cause game difficulties, that problem might become a serious locker room issue.
  • Patriots:  I think the Pats finish second in this division at 10-7.  I am not ready to anoint Mac Jones as a star QB at the NFL level – and truth be told he does not have an outstanding set of pass-catchers with him – but I do believe that he can operate in the Josh McDaniel offensive milieu.
  • Dolphins:  I think the Fins come third here with a 9-8 record.  I know that others are much higher on the team than I am.  I worry about their QB situation.  The proclamation has been that Tua is their guy; then there have been persistent rumors that the team is talking with the Texans about trading for Deshaun Watson – should he ever be allowed on an NFL field again.  Those two things just do not go together, and I think the Dolphins will underperform the high expectations many folks have for this team in 2021.

[Aside:  Personally, I think Tua is not the answer at QB for an NFL team that aspires to serious playoff participation.  He just does not give me confidence when he drops back to pass.]

  • Jets:  I think the Jets will finish last in the division at 3-14.  The team has had a bunch of training camp injuries and the effect of those injuries on a thin roster to begin with will prevent the Jets from showing much improvement.  Zach Wilson shows a lot of promise, and many folks think he will be a star in the NFL for a decade or so.  Even if that is completely correct, it is not going to matter much in 2021; he will see lots of pressure behind an offensive line that was damaged by an injury to Mekhi Becton.

Moving on to the AFC North – this is going to be a very strong division in 2021 and the strength of the division opponents could make some of the strong teams appear to be less successful:

  • Ravens: I like the Ravens to win this division at 12-5.  The loss of RB, JK Dobbins for the season is a challenge for the Ravens’ offense, but I still think the rest of the roster is strong.  Lamar Jackson took a half-step back last year; I think he takes a full step ahead this year.  The Ravens are a balanced team being strong on offense, defense and special teams.
  • Browns:  I like the Browns to finish second in the division on a tiebreaker; the Browns will also go 12-5.  The schedule-maker has an interesting angle for the Browns and Ravens in late November and early December.  The Browns play at Baltimore, then get a BYE Week, then host Baltimore.  Over the same three weeks, the Ravens host the Browns, play at the Steelers and then at the Browns.  The Browns’ defense should be improved with the return of Greedy Williams to the defensive backfield.  The Browns also acquired Jadeveon Clowney; that may or may not be a blessing.  What the Browns need most is for that defensive unit to improve from last year; the offense was fine, but the defense was just okay.  The RB tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is as good as any in the league.
  • Steelers:  I think the Steelers go 9-8.  That prediction is based on the soundness of Ben Roethlisberger’s arm/elbow.  I said above that he may be on the precipice of his career but if his arm is healthy enough to make defenses worry about a pass more than 8 or 9 yards downfield, the Steelers can be a tough out because of the Steelers’ defense.  However, if Roethlisberger is ineffective or injured again and the Steelers have to turn to Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins, my prediction of a 9-8 record should be wildly optimistic.  Remember, the Steelers started last year with an 11-0 record and finished at 12-4 when it became obvious in December that they could not stretch the field.  The Steelers running game should be better with the addition of first round pick, Najee Harris.
  • Bengals:  I think the Bengals finish at 5-12 which shows improvement but not excellence.  The schedule-maker was not kind to the Bengals back-loading the team schedule with a difficult final six weeks.  Over that stretch the Bengals host the Chargers, host the Niners, at the Broncos, host the Ravens, host the Chiefs, at the Browns.

Next up is the AFC South.  There are two good teams in this division and two pretty miserable teams too:

  • Titans:  I like the Titans to win the division at 11-6.  The Titans have a tough stretch on the schedule in October/November.  In that time, the Titans play home against the Bills, home against the Chiefs, at the Colts, at the Rams, home against the Saints.  Ryan Tannehill can now seek out Julio Jones AND AJ Brown on pass plays; presumably, that will offset the free-agency losses of Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis.  If the Titans improve their passing game, it will take some of the load – and the wear and tear – off Derrick Henry.
  • Colts:  I think the Colts finish second here at 9-8.  When the Colts acquired Carson Wentz to replace the retired Philip Rivers, I thought the Colts might take over this division but Wentz’ foot injury and his COVID quarantine make me wonder about his availability over a 17-game schedule.  The Colts’ defense is good; the team needs to be able to score points and to do that they need their QB to be ready and able.  The early part of the 2021 season could be “make or break” for the Colts.  Here are the first 5 weeks: host Seahawks, host Rams, at Titans, at Dolphins, at Ravens.  Ouch!
  • Jags:  I think the Jags finish third in the division at 3-14.  Don’t sneer, that is three times as many games as the Jags won in 2020.  I think Trevor Lawrence will play well – so long as he can stay uninjured behind a sub-standard offensive line; he may need to run for his life to stay healthy.  I do not expect miracles from Urban Meyer, but I also did not anticipate the screw-ups that have happened already under his regime – – the Tim Tebow distraction and the outrageous hiring of the strength coach just to name a couple.  The day after Christmas, NFL fans in NYC will get the scheduling equivalent of a lump of coal in their stockings.  On the 26th of December, the Jags travel to NYC to play the Jets.  At stake will likely be draft position for next April.
  • Texans:  I think the Texans will finish dead last in the division – and in the NFL – with a record of 2-15.  I think the Texans will split with the Jags in divisional games and will win a home game against the Jets in last November.  That prediction is based on my guess that Deshaun Watson never sees the field in 2021 as his criminal and civil actions related to sexual assault wend their way through the US legal system.  Without Watson, the Texans could challenge the Jags and/or Lions for the worst offense in the league.  The defensive unit is nothing to write home about either…

[Aside:  The legal issues surrounding Deshaun Watson are not of the Texans’ doing but the new regime there did not cover itself in glory during the offseason.  This is a team that needs to overcome the giving away of DeAndre Hopkins for a bag of donut holes and the defection of JJ Watt.  So, there is how the new guys approached their roster rebuild.  They traded to acquire Shaq Lawson from the Dolphins in exchange for linebacker Bernardrick McKinney.  They revamped Lawson’s contract converting salary to signing bonus to the tune of $7M.  That was in the Spring; in the past two weeks, they sent Lawson off to the Jets in exchange for a 6th round pick next year.  Is that how you rebuild a devastated roster?  The Texans’ Front Office reminds me of those glorious days when Danny Boy Snyder was a hands-on owner and he had Vinny Cerrato as his “consigliere”…]

Finally for the AFC, here is the AFC West:

  • Chiefs:  I think the Chiefs win this division comfortably at 14-3.  The schedule starts out rough for the Chiefs.  For the first 7 weeks they host the Browns, at the Ravens, host the Chargers, at the Eagles, host the Bills, at the Football Team, at the Titans.  I think the Chiefs will be 5-2 at that part of the season and then assert themselves in the mid-season and down the stretch.  The Chiefs are potent on offense because they are fast; they have a great QB and TE and they can run the football.  The offensive line is revamped with acquisitions via trade and free agency plus the return of a lineman who opted out of the 2020 season.
  • Chargers:  I think the Chargers will finish second here with a record of 10-7.  Justin Herbert is for real; it will be fun to see him go against Patrick Mahomes twice a year for the foreseeable future.  Free safety, Derwin James, was an All-Pro first team selection in his rookie year in 2018; he played 5 games in 2019 and missed all of the 2020 season.  If he is healthy, the Chargers’ defense just gets better.
  • Raiders:  I see the Raiders finishing in third place here with a 7-10 record.  There is just too much drama associated with this team and with the coach and with the GM and with the owner.  The final 7 games on their schedule are not easy.  They play at the Cowboys, host the Football Team, at the Chiefs, at the Browns, host the Broncos, at the Colts host the Chargers to end the season.
  • Broncos:  I think the Broncos finish last in the division with a 5-12 record.  That is going to get their coach fired.  In their continuing search for a quality starting QB – something they have been doing ever since Peyton Manning retired in 2015 – the Broncos acquired Teddy Bridgewater.  That is an improvement over the days when they were trotting folks like Paxton Lynch and/or Brock Osweiler out onto the field.  However, Teddy Bridgewater is not a franchise QB now or ever.

[Aside:  I ran across this stat somewhere but did not note where I got it.  According to whomever, the Broncos’ Teddy Bridgewater will be the 11th starting QB they have used since Manning’s retirement.  I think that is correctly referred to as a revolving door situation.]

So, here are the AFC playoff teams:

  • Chiefs – #1 seed, BYE week in the playoffs, home field in the playoffs
  • Bills – #2 seed
  • Ravens – #3 seed
  • Titans – #4 seed
  • Browns – first wildcard
  • Chargers – second wildcard
  • Patriots – final wildcard

            And now over the NFC, where I will begin in with the NFC West.  Top to bottom, this is the best division in the NFL; the team that finishes last here would likely win the NFC East.

  • Seahawks:  I think they will win the division with a 13-4 record.  The schedule-maker was kind to the Seahawks in December/January giving Seattle games against the Texans, Bears and Lions in the last five weeks.  There was far too much hyperbole and drama in the offseason abut Russell Wilson demanding to be traded.  That did not happen; I seriously doubt it was ever close to happening; he is back with the Seahawks and will lead them to the playoffs.
  • Niners:  I think they finish second in the division at 10-7.  They were injury-riddled in 2020 and the “return” of players like Nick Bosa and Dee Ford should improve the defense significantly.  Deebo Samuel only played 7 games for the Niners last year and his return will be a plus for the offense.  Jimmy Garoppolo and/or Trey Lance should be good enough to provide a winning season for the team.
  • Rams:  I think the Rams finish third in the division with a 10-7 record losing out on a tiebreaker to the Niners.  Matthew Stafford is a significant upgrade for the Rams at QB, but the team lost its defensive coordinator to a head coaching offer in the offseason.
  • Cardinals:  I think the Cardinals finish last in this division with a 9-8 record.  The Cardinals are a good team, but they are scheduled into the toughest division in the league.  As I mentioned above, I think this season will be one where people are looking for the Cards’ offense to take a big step forward with Kyler Murray at the controls.

Moving along to the NFC South:

  • Bucs:  I think the Bucs will win this division with a 14-3 record.  Somehow, the Bucs managed to win the Super Bowl last year and also to “keep the band together”. In fact, the Buds’ defense may be even better this year because they will get Vita Vey back from the injured list to play nose tackle.
  • Saints:  I think the Saints will take a stop back this year with the retirement of Drew Brees but there seems to be enough residual talent for the team to have a winning season at 10-7. Jameis Winston won the starting job in New Orleans; he has weapons around him, and he has Sean Payton as the offensive guru there.  This is a time for Winston to show that he can lead a team efficiently and minimize his abundant turnovers.
  • Panthers:  I see the Panthers climbing out of the division basement to finish third with a record of 6-11.  Matt Ruhle has had a couple of years to acquire “his guys” on the roster and I think that will start to pay off this year.  I am not nearly as sour on Sam Darnold as many other commentators seem to be; I think he was saddled with a mediocre roster and a goofy coaching staff in NYC.  The end of the schedule for the Panthers is not kind and gentle.  In their last 4 games they get a trip to play the Bills, home against the Bucs, away at the Saints and away at the Bucs.  Ouch!
  • Falcons:  I think the Falcons finish last here with a 5-12 record.  I know Julio Jones is “old” for a WR and that he had a burdensome contract but losing him from the offense will not help the Falcons’ cause at all.  I do have a cautionary sense here, however.  Last year, the Falcons were 4-12 but their point differential for the entire season was only minus-18 points.  There were 8-8 teams with comparable or worse point differentials.  If there is going to be a surprise team in the NFC, it just might be the Falcons.

Moving onto the NFC North:

  • Packers:  I like the Packers to win the division with a 13-4 record.  The Packers have won 13 games in each of the last two years; why not keep going on that sort of streak?  There was far too much offseason drama surrounding the team, its front office and Aaron Rodgers, but I think Rodgers can and will put that aside and lead the team to the division title.  An important game on the schedule is November 14 when the Seahawks come to Green Bay to play the Packers.  I think that game will have specific playoff tie-breaker significance.
  • Vikes:  I think the Vikes will finish a distant second in this division at 8-9.  From Halloween through the end of November, the Vikes’ schedule is difficult.  They are home against the Cowboys, at the Ravens, at the Chargers, home against the Packers and at the Niners.
  • Bears:  I think the Bears will finish third in the division at 6-11.  Then, the Bears will be looking for a new head coach in the offseason.  Maybe Justin Fields is their QB of the future, but Andy Dalton is their QB of the present and with what is around Dalton that is a ticket to mediocrity.
  • Lions:  I see the Lions trailing everyone in the division – – and in the NFC – – finishing with a 3-14 record.  When I look at the Lions’ roster, I find myself not looking for stars at various position; I am looking for people who I think are average players at their position.  Dan Campbell got a 6-year contract to sign on with the Lions; he may need that long – if he survives that long – to purge this roster and build a new one from scratch.

And the final division to consider is the NFC East.  I think there are some potentially good teams here, but none are outstanding.  All four teams have serious question marks going into the season; my selection as to the order of finish represents the teams with the fewest significant question marks attached to it.

  • Football Team:  I like the Football Team to win the division with a 10-7 record.  Ron Rivera has completely revamped the roster with young players who are fast and who seem to play intelligently.  That was never the case for this team more than 2 years ago.  The question mark here is the quarterback.  Is Ryan Fitzpatrick good enough at age 38 to play an entire season under center effectively?  He need not be a star; he needs only to be steady and effective.  I think he can get it done.  The Washington defense will keep them in almost any game; this is a defensive unit that could be one of the four or five best in the league this year.
  • Cowboys:  I think they finish second here with a 9-8 record.  There are 2 question marks attached to the Cowboys.  Is Dak Prescott ready to resume his level of competency after a major ankle injury last year and a mysterious sore shoulder that kept him out of all the Exhibition Games?  Is the Cowboys’ defense going to be able to keep opponents out of the end zone this year?  The team has a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn, and he has a good track record as a defensive coach…

[Aside:  I have NO inside information here, but I do have a hunch.  I think the Cowboys had a plan all along not to play Dak Prescott in any Exhibition Games and that Prescott went along with that plan.  Then, to keep reporters from harping on his “recovery status” they manufactured the “shoulder injury” as a distraction. I will be watching for his first 50-yard pass attempt to Cee Dee Lamb on Thursday night.   As I said, just a hunch…]

  • Giants:  I think the Giants finish third here with a 7-10 record.  The question marks surrounding this team involve the recovery status of Saquon Barkley, the effectiveness of the offensive line and whether Daniel Jones takes another positive step in terms of his development as a QB.  There were too many stories regarding fights among the Giants’ players at training camp.  This situation just could blow into smithereens.
  • Eagles:  I think the Eagles will trail the field here and finish at 5-12.  There are plenty of question marks here including who their QB is, the game management skills of their new head coach, the corps of wide receivers and the corps of linebackers.  I am not a “Jalen Hurts-hater”, but I am not sold on his ability to be a #1 QB in the NFL.  Joe Flacco’s days as the QB of a contending NFL team are in the past.  Gardner Minshew is Jalen Hurts with a better arm and worse legs.

So, here is my projected NFC playoff structure:

  • Bucs – #1 seed, BYE Week in the playoffs, home field in the playoffs
  • Seahawks/Packers – #2 seed, goes to the winner of the Nov 14 game
  • Seahawks/Packers – #3 seed, goes to the loser of the Nov 14 game
  • Football Team – #4 seed
  • Saints – first wildcard
  • Niners – second wildcard
  • Rams – final wildcard

            Finally, since I have foretold the outcome of the upcoming NFL season, I feel like refreshing myself with an adult beverage.  And that feeling leads me to close here with an observation by the legendary dipsomaniac, W. C. Fields:

“My illness is due to my doctor’s insistence that I drink milk, a whitish fluid they force down helpless babies.”

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



Ruminations On A Labor Day Weekend…

Happy Labor Day to all.  The plan for today in and around Curmudgeon Central is to attend a good ol’ All-American cook-out later in the day.  However, before setting off for that event, I want to take a moment to review happenings in a sport that is far more important elsewhere in the world than in the US.  That would be soccer – or futbol in some other locales.

I have no interest in starting an argument here about the greatest living soccer player, so let me assert that both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo can be considered to be in the Top Five should that discussion begin anywhere on the planet.  Both players are on new teams for this year for very different reasons.

I mentioned before that FC Barcelona somehow got themselves in a financial situation where they could not re-sign Lionel Messi based on the salary rules in place for La Liga.  How they allowed themselves to get into that situation is certainly not clear to me.  They had to have known what the rules were, and they surely knew years in advance when Messi’s contract would expire and be in need of renewal.  No matter: Messi wound up being signed by a team in the French League, Paris-Saint Germain

Ronaldo was a different story from all reports.  He had been playing for Juventus in Serie-A in Italy since 2018; after appearing in one game for Juventus this year, he reportedly told the coach/manager that he had no intention of staying with the club.  Juventus reached a deal with Manchester United in the English Premier League and Ronaldo thus returned to the place where he began his rise in the world of international soccer back in 2003.  The EPL season has just begun; Manchester United has won two of the first three games of the year.

Normally, I like looking at the bottoms of leagues to see how the downtrodden are doing.  Unfortunately, in the early stages of this year’s EPL table, there is a minor discontinuity for me.  I have a grandson who lives in Dublin, Ireland; I have previously referred to him here as The FOG – – the First and Only Grandson.  His adopted English Premier League team is Arsenal and the Gunners – – as they are called – – are not doing well at all this year.  Arsenal have played 3 games; they have yet to score a goal in any game; they have yielded 9 goals to opponents.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but Arsenal has “stunk out the joint” so far in 2021.  Not good for The Fog…

Switching gears…  Three MLB teams have been eliminated from playoff participation with a month left in the season.  You can look for lots of empty seats when the Orioles, Rangers and/or D-Backs play home games.

  • The Orioles are 42 games out of first place in the AL East.  They have the worst record in MLB (43-92) and happen to be in the same division with the team in possession of the best record in the AL – – the Tampa Bay Rays at 86-51.  Against the other four teams in the AL East, the Orioles record is a miserable 15-44.  They also have the worst run differential in MLB at minus-234.
  • The D-Backs are similarly situated in the NL; they are 42.5 games out of first place in the NL West.  They have the worst record in the NL (45-93) and happen to be in the same division with the team in possession of the best record in the MLB – – the SF Giants at 87-50.

It appears as if the folks who make programming decisions at ESPN have chosen the new direction for First Take and the show’s mainstay, Stephen A. Smith.  Max Kellerman is out, and Smith will now “debate” a rotating cast of ESPN talking heads on the program.  Two names stand out from what is a lackluster list:

  1. On Mondays, former Cowboys WR, Michael Irvin will join Stephen A. for debates about NFL football.  Irvin will be there for the entire 2 hours of the program and according to ESPN hype, “He and Smith will debate the week’s key on-the-field moments and under-the-radar stories, while also providing fans with insider news and can’t-miss analysis heading into that week’s Monday Night Football matchup and week ahead.”  If you are someone who has run low on hyperbole and/or someone who needs to hear even the most mundane point blasted at you at deafening decibels, these Monday programs are for you.
  2. On Fridays, Tim Tebow will join Stephen A. for debates about college football.  If you told me to take a week and come up with a pair of “guest debaters” who are more different from one another as are Tebow and Irvin, I am not sure I could do so.  Irvin is all bombast; he might start ventilating in the course of telling you what month of the year we are in.  Tebow is generally low-key except when he is talking about or experiencing something exciting.

I doubt that I will be able to endure two solid hours of Smith and Irvin yelling at each other on Mondays.  I shall try it out one of these weeks; I set the OVER/UNDER at 35 minutes before I move on to something else.  At the other end of the spectrum, I am genuinely interested to see how Smith and Tebow work together.  I may or may not be able to hang in there for an entire two-hour show, but I am intrigued by the possibilities there.

Some of the rotating guest debaters that ESPN would have you believe are all “A-List sports personalities” include:

  • Paul Finebaum – He has forgotten more about college football than Stephan A. Smith ever knew.
  • Keyshawn Johnson – Another bloviator from the Michael Irvin school of broadcasting.
  • Mina Kimes – I have enjoyed seeing her on much lower-key programs on ESPN.
  • Kimberley A. Martin – Meh…
  • Monica McNutt – Meh…
  • Jessica Mendoza – Between her and Stephen A. Smith, there is not even the possibility of “dead air”.
  • Chiney Ogwumike – I like her on ESPN Radio
  • Dan Orlovsky – Meh…
  • Kendrick Perkins – Sometimes I think he is provocative for the sake of being provocative.
  • Marcus Spears – I have liked him on various NFL studio shows.
  • Brian Windhorst – I can take him or leave him.
  • Damien Woody – I like him.

Finally, I’ll close with an observation by satirist Karl Kraus:

“Journalists write because they have nothing to say and have something to say because they write.”

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



Football Friday 9/3/21

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Top teams:

  • Alabama – – 11.5 wins
  • Clemson – – 11.5 wins
  • Georgia – – 10.5 wins
  • Ohio State – – 11 wins
  • Oklahoma – – 11 wins

Bottom teams:

  • 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.

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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………