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5 College Football Predictions for 2015

August 02, 2015

Let's start with one of those fun lists that uses world events to make a moderate passage of time seem like eons. The last time I blogged about college football, on May 11:

- The Confederate flag flew proudly atop the South Carolina state capitol.

- Gay marriage was illegal in 13 states.

- Fortune 40 companies allowed their employees to use Donald Trump's hotels and golf courses.

- Rachel Dolezal was a black woman.

- Walter Palmer could fill a cavity without fear of PETA sniper fire.

- Tom Brady was a cheater.

While some things never change, in other ways two and a half months ago feels like a different time period, a simpler, more innocent epoch when deflated footballs and steroid kings dominated the headlines, before they were supplanted by headless lions, headless babies and crazy candidates.

Thank God football season is around the corner. Maybe if we turn our attention to the gridiron and away from the news, we can choke the crazy of its needed attention supply before it metastasizes any further.

One more order of business: Let's dispense with the notion of "surefire," "bold," or "bankable" football predictions. All sports predictions are shots in the dark, whether made by people who get paid millions for them (Simmons, Reilly); who get paid a few cents a month for them (me); or who earn nothing from them beyond the satisfaction of winning drunken barroom arguments (probably anyone bored enough to be reading this blog). 

Face it, when it comes to sports, you can spend hours scrutinizing statistics, reading scouting reports and analyzing match-ups, only to gain a nugatory amount of insight, and diminishing returns set in quickly. No one knows what's going to happen, and most of the factors that determine outcomes can't be gleaned from objective data. If I'm wrong, why do guys who pore over college basketball minutiae every March always lose the office pool to some chick who filled out her bracket based on stylish uniforms and cute coaches?

So take these predictions for what they are: the conjectures of one guy, encumbered by bias, shrouded in ignorance, and sure to be wrong. Which, really, makes me the same as the big-time sportswriters, minus the talent and the big paycheck.

Here are five predictions for the 2015 college football season.

1. Ohio State doesn't repeat.

The Buckeyes were unquestionably the best team at the end of 2014. And they return as much or more talent than any team on their heels. But several factors are working against them. The first is obvious: They're the defending champs. The target on their backs is massive. Every team on their schedule has its date with OSU circled. All it takes is one slip-up, one overlooking of an upstart team, one game where they're not 100% dialed in, on the same day their opponent plays over their heads, and Ohio State is on the outside looking in. Even with a four-team postseason, as TCU and Baylor can attest, one loss can be too many.

Then there's Urban Meyer's quarterback situation. It made for fun banter on the late night talk shows in January, but waiting until you're well into August to settle on a QB rarely turns out well. Braxton Miller, at least, appears to be out of the picture, having moved to H-back. But until either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones is named as the starter, that person is only getting half the first-team reps he could be getting. One could argue, and validly, that both guys did more than okay when called upon with little experience in 2014. But the margin for error is smaller when you're the defending champs.

Lastly, lack of team control, an issue that's hung around Meyer's neck like an albatross his entire career, seems to be taking hold in Columbus. Four Buckeye players, all starters, recently earned one-game suspensions for "violation of team policy" -- nebulous coachspeak that is almost invariably code for "positive drug test." OSU's opponent in that one game? Their 2014 conquistador, Virginia Tech. And it's on the road.

2. The trophy returns to the SEC.

This isn't a fanboy homer prediction. It's math. The SEC has the most teams with a realistic shot of winning it all. That simple fact gives the conference, at this point, the highest probability of recapturing the trophy.

Suppose we sort every Power 5 team into one of four categories: good chance of winning it all, so-so chance of winning it all, outside chance of winning it all, and no chance of winning it all. No need to list the teams in the last category, since they're irrelevant. What we want to know is how many teams from the Power 5 conferences have at least an outside chance of winning it all.


Good chance: Florida State

So-so chance: Clemson, Georgia Tech

Outside chance: Virginia Tech

Big Ten

Good chance: Ohio State, Michigan State

So-so chance: Wisconsin

Outside chance: None


Good chance: TCU, Baylor

So-so chance: Oklahoma

Outside chance: Oklahoma State, Kansas State

Pac 12

Good chance: Oregon, USC

So-so chance: UCLA, Arizona State

Outside chance: Stanford, Arizona, Utah


Good chance: Alabama, Auburn, Georgia

So-so chance: LSU, Ole Miss

Outside chance: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas A&M

That's 10 teams for the SEC that, based on preseason rankings and analysis, have some degree of chance to take home the title. Only the Pac 12, with seven, is remotely close. The SEC also boasts the most "good chance" teams (which, admittedly, I picked lazily using the top 10 of the preseason coaches' poll).

Ohio State could run the table and make this entire exercise a moot point (as well as trouncing on my first prediction). But the smart money goes to the SEC, given the conference's sheer presence in college football's subset of contenders.

3. No team finishes undefeated.

My feeling is that, moving forward, this will be the case more often than not. Sure, every few years a team will parlay some lucky breaks into a 15-0 campaign. But we'll never see another 1995 Nebraska, one of those on-another-level teams that leaves no doubt.

The explosion in college football's popularity over the last two decades, and the resulting infusion of money into the sport, has done more for parity than anything the most skilled communist dictator could devise. Add to that the move toward superconferences, all with profit-sharing policies that ensure everyone gets a piece of the pie, and no longer can the Notre Dames, the Alabamas, the Ohio States use their huge financial advantages to dominate the recruiting game.

Programs that formerly struggled to maintain pace due to sub-par facilities, unimpressive stadiums and no-name coaches are catching up quick. Texas A&M, not Tennessee or Alabama, has the largest stadium in the SEC. Oregon, for decades in the shadow of USC and UCLA, dominates the Pac 12. Ole Miss, led by a guy who coached high school a few years ago, now pulls top-five recruiting classes. Boise State (had I mentioned them in 1994, you would have replied, "who?") is a top 25 mainstay, and in 2007 beat mighty Oklahoma in an elite bowl.

Point being, there's too much competition at the top. When LSU won the 2007 title with two losses, analysts and casual fans alike called it a crazy season, an anomaly. I predict that to become the norm over the next few years.

4. A non-conference champion makes the CFP.

It has to happen at some point. There are only five power conferences, four of which feature championship games that often pit a two- or three-loss team from one division against a national title hopeful from the other. Sometimes upsets happen in those games. What if, due to such upsets, two of the Power 5 conferences crown three-loss champions? Assuming the other three conferences send their zero- or one-loss champs to the CFP, that still leaves one spot. 

That final spot, then, based on what the selection committee decides, goes either to a three-loss conference champ, or to a non-conference champ with fewer losses.

Or, they could vote for something else....

5. A non-Power 5, non-Notre Dame team doesn't make the CFP.

This will happen as well at some point, probably due to a scenario such as the above where chaos in the Power 5 leaves an opening for one of the little guys to slip in. 2015, however, won't be the year. The best non-Power 5, non-Notre Dame team looks to be Boise State, which, while ranked #24 preseason, has given no indication it can compete with the top teams.

One season in the near future, however, the emergence of a 2005 or 2009 Utah (before it joined the Pac 12), or a 2006 Boise State will coincide with a CFP opening left by a conference championship game upset or general attrition in the Power 5.

That's a surefire prediction you can take to the bank.

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Deflated Balls: Brady vs. A-Rod

May 11, 2015

It's been a few days. I hate when life gets in the way of football. But what better way to get back into the blogging groove than to analyze the just-announced suspension of one of football's most polarizing figures.

Unless your last 24 hours were spent disconnected from society (perhaps you were swimming 26 miles to shore after falling off your fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic), you've heard that Patriots QB Tom Brady, a shoe-in future Hall of Famer, has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season. An NFL investigation determined he willingly played a role in deflating footballs below league standards during the Patriots' 45-7 playoff win over the Colts last season.

Patriots fans and non-fans are livid, but for diametrically opposite reasons. Fans, not surprisingly, find the punishment draconian. Many have made the comparison to Ray Rice, whom the league originally suspended only two games for a one-punch KO of his then-fiancee (now wife) in a casino elevator. It's still murky whether Goodell or any other NFL official with decision-making cachet had seen the now-infamous video of Rice's left hook, but what happened in the elevator, video or not, was never in question. Almost universal agreement exists that Goodell's subsequent bumping of Rice's ban from two games to indefinite was a pure PR move in response to public outrage after seeing the video.

Non-fans, also unsurprisingly, think Brady got off easier than a 15-year-old receiving his first handie. I tend to agree with them, which makes sense really, seeing that I'm a zealous Patriots non-fan. To me, invoking Rice as a comparison when analyzing Brady's punishment is misguided. What Ray did was atrocious, but it's apples and oranges with Brady's misdeeds. Domestic violence is a far worse crime against humanity than equipment tampering (new masturbation euphemism?), but at the same time, it confers no on-the-field advantage. The NFL should deal with both swiftly and severely, but each should exist in its own realm, and comparisons between the two should be made sparingly.

A better Brady comparison is A-Rod. Different sport, but same crime category--blatantly operating outside the league's clearly-set parameters to gain a competitive advantage. More parallels exist: Brady's cheating, followed by a strident denial (enhanced by an impressive affectation of umbrage at the idea his honesty would be called into question), and finally a defiant receiving of his punishment while maintaining he did no wrong mirrors A-Rod's trajectory in 2013. The slugger repeatedly feigned offense at suggestions he was using PEDs, then continued to proclaim his innocence even as reality set in that his baseball career was embarking on a long hiatus.

They even have the deflated balls thing in common, at least if you believe doctors' warnings about prolonged steroid use.

So how do their punishments stack up? For starters, A-Rod was absent from 162 games (one full season), which is exactly 40.5 times as many games as Brady is set to miss. Granted, that probably isn't a fair comparison since a MLB season features 10 times as many games as an NFL season. A better measure would be percentage of season missed. A-Rod, 100%; Brady, 25%. Plus A-Rod was required to miss the playoffs. A stark contrast without question, and while vastly different means were used, they ultimately committed the same crime.

One possible justification for A-Rod's more severe punishment is that PED use presumably improved his play for more than just one game. But no definitive proof exists that he was on steroids for a full season, or that the steroids he used stayed in his system long enough to have a prolonged effect on his play, or that there weren't extended periods in which he was "clean" and therefore a regular, non-enhanced A-Rod as opposed to the A-Roid who drew the hefty punishment. Nor is it clear that Brady's transgressions were limited to the single game in which he was caught.

My stance is that MLB got it right with A-Rod, while the NFL shanked the kick with Brady. Professional sports is a multi-billion dollar industry entirely dependent on fans' emotional (which translates to financial) investment in the game. Few things have the potential to wither away fan support like the idea the league is willing to stand by idly and allow cheaters to compromise the integrity of the game. No fan wants to watch a game in which one team enjoys an ill-begotten advantage over the other. Would you watch a professional tennis match if one player were allowed to hit a foot beyond the baseline, or a golf tournament where a particular player gets a stroke shaved off every hole?

To be honest, I think the only way to level the playing field where PEDs are concerned is legalize them, with players assuming any long-term health risks from their use. Likewise, I don't see the harm in letting teams inflate or deflate footballs to whatever level they want. But everyone has to play by the same rules. And as long as a rule is in place, whether you like it or not, whether the rule even makes sense or not, it should be your responsibility to follow it lest you receive just desserts that are harsh and unbending. Cheating, whether through illegal supplementation, tampering with equipment, surreptitiously recording opponents' practices, or any other nefarious means these guys probably hire people full-time to conjure up, should mean a full season doing something else for a living for the guilty party or parties.

With that kind of disincentive applied across the board in all pro sports, I think we'd see players being a lot more honest. Missing four games for cheating is nothing, especially when your impropriety leads to a Super Bowl win and the millions in contract bonuses and endorsement deals that inevitably follows. Methinks Tom Brady would do it again. After all, it certainly wasn't the Patriots' first time under his reign.

A-Rod, meanwhile, has been a choir boy since his reinstatement.

Punish cheaters, and punish them severely. If Brady is the best ever, or even top five, he can throw a damn football with a little more hot air in it. Otherwise, any GOAT argument featuring his name is, well, hot air.

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WATCH: Top 100 College Football Plays of 2014-15

May 02, 2015

Here's another fun college football video from last season that will make you wish kickoff for 2015 wasn't still four months away.

Props to the guy who made it. Culling over 100,000 plays down to the best 100 isn't easy. And given that it's YouTube, whose comments section is notorious for drawing the dregs of society out of the gutter, I'm sure hordes of ignorant homers representing teams across the country immediately swarmed the poor guy for leaving out some three-yard touchdown run or interception where the ball was thrown right to the DB.

But I'm happy with the list, even if the top 25 or so is heavy on the throw-the-ball-as-far-as-you-can-and-hope-it-ricochets-into-the-right-guy's-hands, desperation touchdown variety. The play he picked for #1 is absolutely the right choice. I won't give it away, but if you're a CFB junkie like me who watched even the obscure bowls, you already know what it is. It happened at the end of a game I almost turned off when the team in question was down by 28 in the second half, but I was working on the computer and kept the TV on for background noise.

Here you go. The best college football plays of 2014-15, according to one guy on YouTube...

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WATCH: Best College Football Catches of 2014-15

April 30, 2015

I know the draft is on tonight and that's what anyone into football is supposed to be watching. But I haven't tuned in to a minute of it. Too much pomp and circumstance, too much manufactured suspense and, most of all, WAY too much downtime filled by uninformed bloviating from the talking heads. It's just not exciting to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm still keeping up with who goes where, especially when it comes to my team, the Titans (we got Mariota! Good luck with headcase Winston, Tampa Bay!). Luckily for me and for others who lack the patience to endure this event live, there's an app for that.

Instead of watching the seconds tick off way too slowly from that annoying countdown timer they put up between picks, how about some fun and exciting football viewing? Like, I don't know, maybe a compilation of the best, most acrobatic, most ridiculous catches from the 2014 CFB season (including the 2015 bowls)? The behind-the-back Nebraska catch against FAU is included. The Kansas circus catch for a touchdown against TCU is there. So are a couple pretty badass interceptions, like one by Miami (FL) where the ball ricochets off several body parts of a falling Cincy receiver, including his foot, before getting scooped up an inch off the ground by a Hurricane DB (who tap dances down the sideline for a TD). It's eerily reminiscent of Nebraska's 1997 flea kicker against Missouri.

So sit back, enjoy, and let your jaw drop at these feats of wide receiver prowess. But don't forget to check your phone periodically. You still need to know the identity of your NFL team's next star center.

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VIDEO: 89-Year-Old Scores Touchdown at KU Spring Game

April 28, 2015

Yet another reason why college football is awesome. Check out this video from the spring game at Kansas. Watch #28 run it in for the score. That's 89-year-old Bryan Sperry, a WWII veteran and former Jayhawk player. He played in the 1948 Orange Bowl

He may not have the same speed as 67 years ago, but look at that vision as he navigates through the openings made by his blockers.

Even better, look at the smile on the guy's face. Ear to ear, baby.

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Bruce Jenner!!!!! Bruce Jenner Transition! Bruce Jenner Courage! Bruce Jenner This! Bruce Jenner That! Bruce Jenner for Days!!!!!

April 28, 2015

Hopefully that'll get some SEO traffic in here.

This post isn't about Bruce Jenner, though. Personally I don't care if the guy is transitioning to a lemur. If he's (she's?) happy, I'm happy for him (her?), and I certainly won't judge him (her?). Live and let live. But beyond that, I have no interest in talking incessantly about Bruce and his (her?) life choices. And I'm over being inundated with Bruce, Bruce and more BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE with a side of BRRUUUUUUCCEEEEE every time I pick up a newspaper, turn on a TV or log into social media.

Consider this my attempt to change the subject.

Besides, there's so much football news! Isn't that a sign of how awesome college football is? It's coming up on May, the season ended months ago, next season isn't close to beginning, but there's still a TON to talk about. Recruiting classes! Spring games! Dark horse picks! SEC vs Big Ten! SEC vs Pac 12! SEC vs all the haters! SEC vs the world! SEC vs those idiots in Baltimore! Seriously, how awesome would it be if every six-foot-five, 320-pound Hulk from the SEC teamed up and just pounded those pathetic bastards into submission?

Maybe that should be the litmus test for conference supremacy. Suppose there's a big riot in an urban center, the National Guard is tied up with an overseas mission vital to national security, the police are gun shy on account of the torrent of bad press they've received lately, and the only hope for peace is for every football player from a major conference (kickers/punters may be excused) to descend on the city and quell the unrest. Businesses, property, even lives are at stake. Which conference do you put your trust in?

The Pac 12 lacks the size. The Big Ten, save for Ohio State, lacks the speed. The Big 12 and ACC lack the breadth of talent. That leaves the SEC. Did I just win the great conference debate using a ridiculous argument? Probably not, since it has nothing to do with football, but come on, admit that if some punks were throwing bricks through the window of your insurance agency and trying to set fire to your Kia Forte, you'd rather have an SEC defensive tackle come to the rescue than some bro from UCLA.

So how did your team look in its spring game? That's another sign of college football's eminence. The sheer number of teams that drew 60,000-plus fans for a spring scrimmage. I mean, we're talking about a game in which most of the really good players wear different colored jerseys to signify they can't be tackled, hit, or given a mean look. Yet tens of thousands come out to watch, because we can't get enough college football!!! Ohio State packed almost 100,000 into the Horseshoe, and that was just to watch Urban Meyer equivocate about his QB situation.

Tennessee looked good. Apparently so good that, as of right now, Vegas gives Josh Dobbs a better Heisman probability than J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller. I'll take it. Even though the Heisman is a joke, and the true best player rarely wins. Here's a gambling tip: Figure out early in the season who the flashiest player is that the media can't get enough of, make sure he's from an overhyped program that receives equal fawning, and put your money on him. If he dates Kardashians or similarly famous-for-being-famous bimbos, double your bet.

OK, so this post was more than a little absurd. And like Billy Madison's answer in the academic decathlon, it probably never came close to anything that could be construed as a point. But for five minutes at least, it got you talking/thinking about something other than Bruce Jenner. Consider my work here done.

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Vegas Odds for 2015's College Football Playoff Champ

April 27, 2015

No surprise here: Vegas overwhelmingly likes Ohio State to repeat as College Football Playoff champion in 2015. Vegas Insider gives the Buckeyes 11/4 odds, or better than one-in-three.

A substantial drop-off follows, with Alabama and TCU next at 8/1 and 9/1. Rounding out the top five are Auburn (13/1) and USC (14/1).

Here's the full list, all the way down to 500/1.

A few thoughts:

- OSU should drop to 4/1 or 5/1 once the money starts rolling in. No one in his right might would take that bet with the current odds. The Buckeyes are the best team, but right now a $100 bet doesn't even win $300, and it relies on OSU coming out ahead of 127 other teams in a season when EVERYONE will be gunning for them. There are too many variables--injuries, suspensions, team chemistry--and the potential reward doesn't outweigh the risk at those odds. At 5/1, OSU is a pretty good bet, the opportunity to quintuple your money justifying the possibility of loss. At 11/4, though, either save your cash, or chase a better return (e.g., Alabama).

- The list is strikingly dissimilar to ESPN's way-too-early top 25. For instance, Oklahoma, absent from ESPN's list, ranks #7 in Vegas with 18/1 odds--the same odds as Baylor, a top five team according to ESPN. Arizona appears way down Vegas's list, out of the top 25, but garners a #13 ranking from ESPN.

- Tennessee is pulling 65/1 odds! A $100 bet wins $6,500, or almost enough to buy this slick-looking Elio Car if it ever comes out. 84 miles per gallon, 0-60 in nine seconds, and one less wheel to worry about. I'll cut you a deal: Spot me the $100, and if we win, I'll drive you to the 2016 Battle at Bristol in my Elio Car.

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Who is Your School's Lawrence Phillips/Aaron Hernandez?

April 26, 2015

When the back-to-back Lawrence Phillips and Aaron Hernandez stories broke this month, my first thought was the standard one many of you probably had: Why do these guys who have everything--money, fame, talent, girls--throw it away? How difficult can it be to not murder, deal drugs, beat women or intentionally run over teenagers, especially when the benefit of abstaining from such behaviors is the chance to lead a lifestyle that 99.99 percent of the world can only fantasize about?

But then, as a college football fan, I started thinking about the schools where these guys honed their talents. A big part of following a college team is keeping up with our favorite players at the next level. That's why so many Tennessee fans pull for the Broncos on Sundays, and Michigan fans for New England. When guys who played for our college team succeed in the NFL, and especially when they exemplify class and humility in doing so, a sense of pride infuses us that, while different from the feeling we get watching current players triumph, still makes us feel good about wearing that t-shirt out to Applebee's.

But what about those players who don't do the right things, don't make the papers for the right reasons, don't reflect well on the program we expend so much energy backing every autumn? How do those guys fit into our fandom? Do we pretend they never existed or played for our school? Forget about the years we spent cheering for them? Make self-deprecating jokes at our team's expense? (I've heard some great ones from Florida fans already.)

I can still remember picking up the Knoxville newspaper one morning in 2003 and shuddering when I read the bold, 72-point headline. Dwayne Goodrich, former UT defensive back best known for a pick-six in the 1998 BCS title game that put the Vols up 14-0 against Florida State, had been arrested for DUI hit-and-run. The accident killed two Good Samaritans. When I browsed the Tennessee message boards later that day, I found dozens of fans trying to disown the guy as a Vol. I understood their anger, but if Goodrich isn't a Vol, then FSU is the 1998 champ, and I doubt most of those fans want to give up the crystal football.

Besides, I'm convinced every program has at least one major pariah, which means you shouldn't be too ashamed of yours. Some are more obvious than others, like the aforementioned Phillips (Nebraska) and Hernandez (Florida). Then there's Southern Cal, which had a Heisman Trophy winner from 1968 dominate the news during the '90s for some unsavory stuff. (Hint: his initials are also those of a popular breakfast drink.)

Rae Carruth from Colorado is another gimme. Buffs fans can scour the annals, but I doubt they find an example that tops putting a hit on a pregnant girlfriend. Ditto for Cal's Robert Rozier, who admitted to killing seven people in 1985 as part of a cult initiation.

But some examples are more nebulous. For instance, is Michael Vick the guy for Virginia Tech? He did some awful stuff, but then he served his time, stayed out of trouble, and, by some estimates, saved more dogs through his awareness efforts than he harmed/killed during his dogfighting days.

What about Ray Lewis from Miami, indicted for double homicide in 2000? A prosecutor dismissed the charges in exchange for a guilty plea for obstruction of justice and testimony against Lewis's cohorts (read: snitching). But the deceased's blood was all over his limo, the white suit he wore that night was never found, and he has stubbornly refused to give the victims' families closure by spilling everything he knows. Seems to me that he should be a shoe-in, but from the fawning I witnessed during 2013 Super Bowl week, a lot of folks around college and pro football disagree.

Even Goodrich from Tennessee is questionable. He killed two people with his carelessness, then dug himself a deeper hole with his foolish and cowardly 20-hour delay before owning up to his mistake. But like Vick, he served his time and seems to have dedicated his life to preventing others from suffering the same fate as his victims.

I could keep going, but there are 127 FBS schools, and I doubt you care who I think is the biggest pariah for each of them. But I'm interested to hear from you. Namely, what school(s) you pull for, and which player(s) you think have brought the most shame. And also, how do you react when people mention that person's name in connection with your school/team? 

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Despite Humbling Bowl Season, SEC West Still Best Division in College Football

April 23, 2015

In a Bleacher Report piece today, correspondent Tom Scurlock opined that the Big Ten East has officially supplanted the SEC West as the best division in college football. According to Scurlock, the 2015 season will be its big coming out party.

It's an interesting premise worth hearing out. After all, fans pretty much regarded the SEC West as NFL Lite in 2014. Then the division turned in a 2-5 bowl season that caused everyone to, appropriately, retool their assessments. 

Unfortunately, Scurlock devotes few of the ensuing 600 or so words in his piece to actually defending the idea that the Big Ten's golden division is straight up better than its southeastern counterpart. Instead, he takes a quick jab at notorious SEC fanboys Paul Finebaum and Mark May before segueing into a dissertation about the importance of the Big Ten winning its September out-of-conference games, something it's had trouble doing recently.

Next he highlights the big match-ups that, with the right outcomes, will prove Big Ten East supremacy. Unfortunately, only two of the games he lists actually feature Big Ten East teams--Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, and Michigan State vs. Oregon (both rematches of games lost by the Big Ten East in 2014). 

The rest involve teams from the other side of the conference, the West, which no thinking person is arguing belongs in the same echelon as the SEC. While he lists some intriguing games, most notably Wisconsin vs. Alabama, it's hard to deduce East supremacy from a game in which no East teams are playing. Unless, of course, you resort to transitive logic (e.g., Michigan State beat Wisconsin and Wisconsin beat Alabama), which has been proven over and over as useless for comparing college football teams.

So let's have some fun and do the job Scurlock should have done after making such a bold proclamation. We're going to rank the Big Ten East and SEC West, side by side, #1 thru #7, and then compare from top to bottom.

I know, I know, it's far from a perfect comparison. For starters, we're only comparing each team to one team from the other conference. Another issue: the only fair way to rank teams within each conference without relying on unfounded and ill-researched 2015 predictions is to go by 2014 results, which may or may not be a valid indicator of performance next year.

But it's still going a lot further than Scurlock went. And if my supposition is correct (I promise I haven't cheated and done this ahead of time), it should be enough to throw his assertion into serious question.

Without further adieu....

#1 - Ohio State vs Alabama

And the Big Ten East races out to an early lead! This match-up goes to the Buckeyes, and not only for its 42-35 playoff win over the Tide last year. Ohio State is bringing back most of last year's title team; Alabama is rebuilding (or, if you're an optimist with crimson-tinted glasses, reloading). OSU returns three Heisman-caliber quarterbacks; 'Bama is breaking in a new guy. At this point, it's probably accurate to say Ohio State would win seven or eight of 10 against the Tide. Big Ten East 1, SEC West 0.

#2 - Michigan State vs Mississippi State

The biggest toss-up on the list. Mississippi State was the hottest team in football for the first half of 2014, vaulting from unranked to #1 faster than any team in CFB history. But it limped down the stretch, losing three of its last four, culminating with a 49-34 Orange Bowl setback against Georgia Tech. Michigan State's trajectory looked better: a blowout loss to Oregon in September gave way to an impressive October-January run, its only loss during that period coming to eventual champ Ohio State. In the Cotton Bowl, Sparty scored a 42-41 upset over Baylor, a team many argued should have occupied Ohio State's spot in the CFB playoff. It's close, but gotta give this one to the guys in green. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 0.

#3 - Maryland vs Ole Miss

This is where it starts to get ugly for the Big Ten East. Like its in-state rival, Ole Miss petered out as the 2014 season progressed, but they were always better than Maryland and will be next year, too. I don't think anyone, even the most strident Terps fans, who actually pay attention to college football would dispute this with a straight face. Ole Miss got hammered by TCU in the Peach Bowl, but TCU was damn good. Maryland's blowout loss came at the hands of mediocre (if I'm being generous) Stanford in something--apparently a postseason college football event--called the Foster Farms Bowl. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 1.

#4 - Rutgers vs Auburn

This is where it starts to get REALLY ugly for the Big Ten East. Granted, Auburn lost in overtime to a Big Ten team in the Outback Bowl, but why was the #4 team from an SEC division playing the champ of a Big Ten division (Wisconsin)? That alone signals imbalance between the two conferences. Rutgers would be hard pressed to beat an SEC team from either division. Okay, maybe Kentucky and definitely Vandy. Other than that they're staring down 12 losses if they go team-by-team in the SEC. Their most impressive win in 2014 was Maryland. Auburn, meanwhile, beat Ole Miss, blew out LSU and notched an impressive out-of-conference win against Kansas State. This one isn't close. Big Ten East 2, SEC West 2.

#5 - Michigan vs LSU

Wolverine fans can hashtag HARBAUGH and pump their fists about what may well turn out to be a bright future, but as of right now, their team sucks. They didn't even go a bowl last year. They got shut out 31-0 by Notre Dame. At least they beat Appalachian State this time. LSU exists on a completely different plane. That they're third from the bottom in the SEC West attests to the division's strength. That team is good, and save for Tennessee, they were the youngest in the nation last year. Yes, like Michigan, they lost to Notre Dame (in the Music City Bowl), but the game was razor close, the finish controversial, and it followed a season in which the Tigers beat Wisconsin and took Alabama to overtime. They would mop the floor with Michigan. SEC West 3, Big Ten East 2.

#6 - Penn State vs Texas A&M

Once again, lopsided. Penn State beat no one good last year, and they lost to some putrid teams like Michigan, Illinois and Northwestern. The Aggies won on the road at Auburn, while all their losses except LSU came against teams that finished in the top 25. Penn State is another possibly-bright-future, definitely-shitty-present team. James Franklin proved at Vanderbilt that he can win. Theoretically it should only be easier in State College. But it hasn't happened yet, so this one goes to the College Station boys. SEC West 4, Big Ten East 2.

#7 - Indiana vs Arkansas

If you're a Big Ten fan, I already know what you're thinking. Yes, Indiana beat Missouri, but here's what I think about Missouri. TL/DR version: They're obscenely lucky in conference games, weren't the true best team in the East in 2013 or 2014, and they'll be exposed in 2015. And yes, Missouri beat Arkansas, but go back to the previous sentence about being lucky, and then farther back to my point about transitive logic. Arkansas is in everyone's preseason top 25, like this one, this one, and this one. Indiana is in no one's. I haven't even seen them pop up at the bottom of others receiving votes, where you see names like Sam Houston State and North Dakota State, or heard them mentioned in any college football discussion not about bad teams. Still not convinced? If Indiana and Arkansas lined up to play a game tomorrow, and your life depended on picking the outcome correctly, who ya got? SEC West 5, Big Ten East 2.

Final tally: SEC West 5, Big Ten East 2. The SEC West, despite recent troubles, reigns supreme from top to bottom. Last year's bowl season was bad, but this is still the division that no fans of other programs from around the country would want their team to play in. Seriously, find the most honest Florida State, Texas or Oregon fan you know, look him in the eye and ask if his team would find it easier making its way through the SEC West as opposed to its current conference and division--or the Big Ten East, for that matter. The result will be telling.

I'm no SEC fanboy. I don't pull for a conference, I pull for a team (Tennessee). I think fans who chant "S-E-C" (or any other conference) are some of the biggest tools in sports. But facts are facts. The idea that the Big Ten East or any other division, as of 2015, has usurped the SEC West's spot atop the college football totem pole is indefensible. 

That's why Tom Scurlock didn't even try to defend it.

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Two College Football Rules That Need to Change, Like, Yesterday

April 21, 2015

Every off-season, the NCAA brains (oxymoron not intended) get together and come up with ways to change the game for the following season.

Sometimes their intentions are good, though their execution is always questionable. Think about the recent rule changes for player safety. Clearly that was an elephant in the room that needed to be acknowledged, but knee-jerk reactions like moving touchbacks to the 25 to discourage kick returns (one of the most exciting plays in the game) and saddling defenses with nebulous rules hasn't seemed to reduce injuries, and they have made the game more frustrating to watch.

What exactly constitutes "launching," anyway, and how do you define a "defenseless player"? The refs can't seem to answer those kinds of questions any better than me, judging by the number of five-minute play stoppages we've seen over the past few seasons for them to discuss whether some ambiguous rule has been broken or not.

This isn't to say that rule changes are always bad. Sometimes a few tweaks here and there can make things run smoother on the field, not to mention create a more enjoyable experience for the fans. Here are two rules that should be changed, like, yesterday.

The Fumble Through the End Zone Touchback Rule

This illogical rule creates a turnover and gives the other team possession at the 20 when a player who's about to score fumbles shy of the goal line, the ball bounces into the end zone and then goes out of bounds. If the ball goes out an inch shy of the pylon, the offense retains possession and can punch it in for a score the next play. But if it takes an unluckier bounce and sneaks past the goal line, all of a sudden it's a turnover.

Tennessee has lost two heartbreakers in the last decade on this nonsense rule: 6-3 to Alabama in 2005, and 34-31 to Georgia in 2013. Sure, lingering bitterness probably explains some of my hatred for the rule, but mostly those games illuminated what I already knew to be a load of BS.

Anywhere else on the field, the defense has to recover a fumble in the field of play to win possession, the only exception being when a player fumbles out of bounds in his own end zone, which is a safety and should be. If a fumble goes out of bounds anywhere between the two end zones, the team that last had possession retains the ball.

The touchback rule punishes the offense for being as close as possible to scoring before fumbling. It makes no sense. Why should a player who fumbles a millimeter short of the goal line be handed a worse outcome than one who gets sacked for a 10-yard loss before losing the ball?

NCAA powers that be: do what you should have done decades ago and change this rule. And while you're at it, go ahead and retroactively award Tennessee those two wins.

Timeouts from the Sidelines

Timeouts should only be called from the field. If a coach is incapable of creating an effective system where he communicates with a player on the field to call for timeout, one, his name is probably Les Miles, and two, he should suffer the consequences for a lack of game management skills.

Part of amateur sports, which the NCAA still masquerades as, is teaching these kids valuable skills like communication, teamwork and leadership. Therefore, the players should assume responsibility for all communications with officials. The coach's job should be to instruct the players on what to do, not to do it for them. That's why the chain of communication should go coaches, players, officials.

Not to mention, eliminating timeouts from the sidelines would deal a blow to what is easily the most obnoxious, loathsome, abhorrent stunt coaches pull during games.

If you've watched more than 15 minutes of football in your life, you already know what I'm talking about.

The ice-the-kicker timeout.

The ice-the-kicker timeout ranks alongside toenail clipping in public, easing out an SBD in a crowded elevator and leaving an empty grocery cart in the center of an open parking space atop the hierarchy of behaviors that are despicable, repugnant and vile.

The only thing worse you'll ever see in sports is the endless procession of intentional-but-for-some-reason-not-called-that-way fouls by the team down 4 to 10 points during the last minute of a basketball game. To the fans, without whom the NCAA wouldn't exist, this kind of stuff makes the game insufferable.

That's why I love to see a kicker miss an attempt that's nullified by the opposing coach's timeout and then split the uprights on the next play when it actually counts. Even better when the game's on the line. The other coach looks like an idiot in addition to the a-hole he's already exposed himself as.

Sure, if sideline timeouts are eliminated, a player on the field could call timeout right as the other team is lining up to kick, but at least then the kicker would see it, rather than finding out after the ball sails through the goalposts that it doesn't count.

Come September, I'd like to see a new rule that does two things: bans timeouts from the sidelines, and issues swift kicks to the groin for defensive timeouts within five seconds of a field goal attempt.

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