College Football

Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
December 2, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

There’s not much to say.  It’s the two days of the year that provide a lot of joy and celebration.  The trophy games turn into efforts for trophies.  Yes, it’s a wild stretch.  But on Championship Weekend, a lot of wild stuff happens.  Here are the key games and my ill-fated predictions for their outcomes.

MAC Championship: Ohio vs. Western Michigan
This game usually has some flair to it.  And if you’re the statistical favorite, be anxious about raising the trophy.  Since 2000, the team with the worse of the two records won more than you would think (7-6 in favor of the worse record, with 3 years where the records were the same).  All I’m saying is that the Broncos should be weary.  The Bobcats will look to keep that trend out in front, but WMU is playing for more than just a showcase spot on New Years’ Eve or Day.  If the Broncos win, it would give them only their second outright MAC crown in program history (the other was 1988, and they shared the title in 1966).
My Prediction: Western Michigan (27), Ohio (24)

Pac-12 Championship: Colorado vs. Washington
The Buffaloes are the story of the season.  They’re looking to make the “worst-to-first” their own in a very tough way by doing it in a 12-team college football conference.  This CU team reminds many of the glory days of this program throughout the 1990s.  For the ultimate prize, they’ll look to top a program that hasn’t seen much sustained success since…well, the early 1990s.  Most feel that the Huskies should be into the national semifinals with a victory.  Everyone knows they’ll be out with a loss.
My Prediction: Washington (24), Colorado (20)

American Championship: Temple at Navy
If Western Michigan stumbles, the Midshipmen could be there to pick up the slack and represent the Group of 5 in a New Years’ Six bowl.  One question, though.  What happens if the Middies lose to Army next Saturday?  The CFP committee might delay that particular announcement until after the Army-Navy game on the 10th.  For Temple, this is the second straight season that they’ve found themselves on the road for the conference title game.  Last year was a magical season for the Owls.  This time, they’d like to show that the magic has stuck around.
My Prediction: Navy (27), Temple (20)

Big XII Championship (de facto): Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
The Sooners have rebounded very well from their early 1-2 start.  Eight straight victories have them on the precipice of another conference crown.  It appears that Bob Stoops has too much traffic in front of him to make a return to the national semifinals.  The real intrigue might come around if the Cowboys win.  Remember that Week 2 loss that wasn’t?  Could that controversial result against Central Michigan come back into question if Bedlam goes Mike Gundy’s way?
My Prediction: Oklahoma (48), Oklahoma State (44)

SEC Championship: Alabama vs. Florida
Basically, this is only a question of “Coronation or Potential Cracks in the Armor?”  The Tide are in.  If that’s not the case, I’ll sing the song “Barbie Girl” in public…in a Speedo.  No matter how much ranting Nick Saban does, I’m sure that he has a good idea his team will be playing in either Atlanta or Glendale on New Years’ Eve.  For Florida, like last week, this game is for pride.  Pride wasn’t enough to lift the Gators over Florida State.  Will it lead to a better result against the mighty Tide?
My Prediction: Alabama (24), Florida (10)

ACC Championship: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
The Tigers are in the same position that Washington is in.  If they win, Clemson will solidify their position as a national semifinalist (a return trip for them).  A loss means that they, and the ACC, will be shut out of the running.  A convincing win led by their senior QB could also put DeShaun Watson back into discussion for the Heisman Trophy.  I understand that Louisville’s Lamar Jackson still has the clearest path, but he doesn’t have another opportunity to show off his dynamic skills.
My Prediction: Clemson (41), Virginia Tech (23)

Big Ten Championship: Wisconsin vs. Penn State
The last two years, this game has had a fairly significant impact on the seeding for the CFP.  This season, it’s not that the conference won’t be represented.  It’s that this game may not even matter when everything settles on Sunday.  The Nittany Lions and Badgers weren’t supposed to be here.  However, wins over Ohio State and LSU (respectively) set the stage for this.  The Buckeyes (and, perhaps, Michigan) appear to be participating in the playoff AHEAD of the conference champ.  Does Penn State (lost big to Michigan) have a gripe?  Does Wisconsin (lost close to both) have a gripe?  Will the noise be enough to create some change to the postseason system in the near future?  Signs point to no on all accounts.
My Prediction: Wisconsin (20), Penn State (16)

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
November 24, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

Here’s to turkey.  Here’s to side dishes.  Here’s to four-day weekends.  Here’s to time for family.  Here’s to arguments, awkward, political, and otherwise.  And, of course, here’s to pigskin.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Now, on to the games!

 

Split Ends
The Big Ten West Showdowns: The last few weeks, this division has been very muddled.  Wisconsin controls its own fate.  Nebraska is hoping for one Badger slip-up.  Iowa and Minnesota are out of the running, but they could make things very confusing.

The Hawkeyes and Huskers take the stage first (Friday afternoon).  The Gophers and Badgers get a night to sleep on the results from Lincoln (they play Saturday afternoon).  If the road team’s can pull off upsets, we’ll see a four-way tie for the division title.  That would do wonders for Nebraska, whom would win a trip to Indianapolis.  It would also close out Wisconsin’s slim chances for a national semifinal spot.

Florida at Florida State: The Gators are hoping this will be a positive tune-up for next week’s SEC Championship Game.  Next Saturday, the offense will probably face the stiffer test of the two sides of the ball.  This week, that appears to be the defense’s issue.  Deondre Francois isn’t as dynamic a freshman quarterback as Jameis Winston was, but he still presents a ton of problems for opposing defenders.  And that’s before even taking Dalvin Cook into account.  The junior tailback now tops the Seminoles’ all-time rushing list.  He can also be a threat in the pass game, averaging more than 14 yards for he catch he makes.

While the Gators have bigger stakes on the line next week, the Seminoles have a lot of pride in their camp.  Funny fact I learned this week (from sources other than my brain; ahem, thank you Worldwide Leader)…if FSU wins this game, it will be the first time that a four-year senior class has defeated both Miami and Florida all four seasons (a combined 8-0 record).

 

Guards
Auburn at Alabama: Thanks to Georgia, the Iron Bowl has lost a bit of its sizzle.  Now, I wouldn’t tell that to the face of anyone from the Heart of Dixie.  However, what appeared to be another battle for an SEC West crown has turned into a shot to provide one-half of the ultimate spoiler.  The Tigers would love nothing better than to end the Tide’s repeat hopes, but they can’t.  If ‘Bama loses Saturday, they should still get into the CFP by beating Florida in a week.

I don’t believe that would matter to Tigers fans.  They would have bragging rights for the next year.  They would have overwhelming faith in coach Gus Malzahn and the direction of the program.  And the result may sew up a spot in one of the other New Years’ Six contests.  Larger goals might have been tossed out of the window, but, for some, nothing’s better than successfully pulling your rival’s goals out along with yours.

Wyoming at New Mexico: Since the beginning of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that Boise State and San Diego State would meet in the Mountain West title game.  That conclusion is still a possibility, but the foregone portion could be forbidden if Craig Bohl’s team can squeak out one more victory.  The road has been this team’s bug-a-boo, though.  All three losses have come from outside of Laramie, and Albuquerque doesn’t intend to be a friendly host to the Cowboys.

The Lobos know they’ll have to a step above to defeat a squad that has victories over EACH of the conference’s division favorites.  However, they may like the fact that Wyoming allows more yards (455.9) than they gain (447.1) on average.  The stakes all depend on Friday afternoon.  By Saturday’s kickoff, Bob Davie’s team will know if they even have a pulse for a share of the Mountain Division.  But for a team that struggled to a 2-3 start, that pulse has to feel pretty strong at this point.

 

Tackles
Washington at Washington State (Friday): There have been some important Apple Cup matchups.  The 2001 game is still the last time both teams were ranked going into that contest (Wazzu fell out of this week’s rankings after losing to Colorado).  The 1992 game was the second-to-last in the college career of Cougar QB Drew Bledsoe.  The 1983 Cougars denied that year’s Huskies a shot to go to the Rose Bowl, stunning UW in Seattle.

The most important edition of this long-standing rivalry?  That could have occurred in 1936, when the sixth-ranked Huskies shutout the twentieth-ranked Cougars, 40-0.  It turned out to be the only time in conference history that these two schools finished first and second, respectively, in the league standings.  It was the Pac-10 at that time…with the membership roster including Montana and Idaho.  With a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game at stake, this could be the biggest renewal of the series in 80 years (minus one day, to be exact).

Toledo at Western Michigan (Friday): Sometimes, the schedules just work out perfectly.  Sometimes, there’s no letdown from the schools favored to meet in a season-ending showdown.  The MAC West title comes down to these two teams.  The Rockets are one touchdown (five-point loss to Ohio) and one field goal (two-point loss at BYU) away from being where WMU is currently at.  The undefeated Broncos know that a loss in either of the next two weeks will end any shot they have at a New Years’ Six bowl bid.

With weather conditions expected to be fairly tame for Friday afternoon’s kickoff, I believe this matchup is headed for a shootout.  The Broncos are extremely balanced in their surge to 508.9 yards (262.7 passing, 246.2 rushing) and 43.8 points per game.  WMU’s Zach Terrell should top 3,000 passing yards for the season.  He has 27 TD throws to accompany 1 (ONE) interception.  And he may not be the better QB in this matchup.  Toledo’s Logan Woodside can reach 4,000 passing yards in this game and add to his 40 TD total (with only 7 INTs to boot).  What a way to decide a division title.

 

Center

Michigan at Ohio State: There’s no way to avoid this game.  Really, there hasn’t been any way to avoid this game since Labor Day.  It’s probably more of a surprise that these two teams have each lost a game rather than rolled into this contest unblemished.  The squads have some things in common.  The Buckeyes are a little better getting up and down the field (493.1 ypg to 451.1).  They each rank highly when it comes to changing the scoreboard.  Ohio State shares the fifth-best spot when it comes to scoring offense (43.8 ppg).  Michigan stands at 11th-best (42.3 ppg).

However, it’s on defense where both of these teams shine.  Both are in the top four when it comes to stuffing opponents’ driving abilities (Wolverines lead the nation at 245.6 yapg; Buckeyes are 4th with 279.8 yapg).  The same holds true in respect to keeping scores down (Wolverines top the game with 10.9 papg; Buckeyes tied for third at 13.0 papg).  Michigan will need to rely on that “D” with questions surrounding the health of starting QB Wilton Speight.

The Buckeyes have the better, healthier offense.  They have the home-field advantage.  They have the series momentum (have won the last four straight and, technically*, 11 of the last 12).  Those are just the kind of odds that Jim Harbaugh relishes.
*Ohio State’s 2010 win vacated due to ‘Salegate’ sanctions.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
November 17, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

We’re getting down to the home stretch.  Some teams are trying to scramble to get that extra game (and those extra practices) accompanying a bowl bid.  Others have bigger goals in mind.

 

Split Ends
San Diego State at Wyoming: This is a game that could take a couple of different turns.  If the Cowboys are able to win, this could be a preview of the Mountain West title game.  Yes, Craig Bohl’s team would still have to find a season-finale victory in Albuquerque, but the division crown would still be theirs for the taking.

If the Aztecs can stay unbeaten in-conference, then Boise State would have the inside track to Mountain Division representation.  SDSU has already guaranteed their place in the MWC Championship Game, three clear of the rest of the West Division with two to play.  Now, it’s about preparing for a conference title shot.  That preparation begins, and probably ends, with star running back Donnel Pumphrey.  He’s closing in on 2,000 rushing yards for the season and could get a few votes for the Heisman Trophy.  A big night in Laramie would help that effort.

Virginia Tech at Notre Dame: Despite losing to Georgia Tech last weekend, the Hokies still have the Coastal Division title on their racket.  That will be decided next week.  Saturday, though, it’s all about denial.

Will a bowl game make an offer to a 5-7 Fighting Irish team?  The generous allotment of games allowed three such squads to go last year.  But, to get there, they may very well need this game.  A trip to the Coliseum to face red-hot USC doesn’t bode well for Brian Kelly’s kids, and 4-8 wouldn’t bode well for their postseason chances.

 

Guards
Louisville at Houston (Thursday): The Cardinals continue to get “disrespected” by the CFP Committee.  Even with Clemson’s loss to Pitt, Louisville couldn’t crack into the projected national semifinals.  They would need the Tigers to slip up once more to to gain some favor.  A Clemson loss to Wake Forest (Saturday) would give Bobby Petrino’s team the Atlantic Division crown.  A Clemson loss to a bad South Carolina team (next Saturday) would be a killer when it comes to strength of schedule.  One sure thing…Louisville has to get by this game and Kentucky to have any shot.

The Cougars are hoping to gain back a sliver of the national spotlight that they earned at the beginning of the season.  They are a prime example of how hard it can be for Group of Five programs to hold the sport’s attention.  Tom Hermann has managed to steady the course after his team took on one good loss (Navy) and one bad one (SMU).  However, despite their 8-2 record, this team has become an afterthought.  Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. hasn’t been the revelation that this week’s counterpart (Lamar Jackson) has been over the last two-plus months.  But it should be fun to see what Ward can show off in person.

Florida at LSU: For Florida, this game means everything.  A win in Baton Rouge means a second straight SEC East title.  A loss on the Bayou means that Tennessee can swipe the crown away with a sweep of Missouri and Vanderbilt (think of the Vols as Penn State South).  For LSU, a win might help them garner one of the Primetime Bowl selections as the second-best team out of the conference.  And with the two defenses that will be on display, I wouldn’t be surprised if the first team to 13 points wins.

 

Tackles
Arkansas State at Troy (Thursday): The Sun Belt champion will still have work to do if they want to claim that distinction, but the Trojans would be an arms-length ahead if they hold serve again.  On Saturday, Troy answered a late go-ahead touchdown by Appalachian State with one of their own (App State scored with 3:29 to play, while Troy went back in front with 1:09 remaining).  The 28-24 Trojan victory set the stage for another showdown in southeastern Alabama.  If they can get past the Red Wolves (5-0 in the Sun Belt, 5-4 overall), then the Trojans are in the driver’s seat for the conference championship.  Yes, there are two more games that Troy would have to maneuver, but you gotta have a dream.

Oklahoma at West Virginia: The Sooners are the the Big XII’s best chance to reach either the Peach or Fiesta Bowl.  They continue to put themselves in position to make a stunning comeback into national contention.  It may be too late, though.  With four Big Ten and two ACC Atlantic Division teams ahead of OU in the committee’s standings, Bob Stoops’ squad will need help from a lot of outside forces to make the improbable possible.

They’re in better position than the Mountaineers, however.  Personally, I don’t believe West Virginia has ANY shot at making the CFP’s national semifinals.  About four weeks ago, a season-ending epic was looming between WVU and Baylor.  The Bears haven’t kept up their end of the bargain, losing their last three in a row.  The Mountaineers, while better, couldn’t stay unblemished themselves.  A win over the Sooners would help ease the sting of an earlier loss to Oklahoma State.  Then, they would turn to root for OU when Bedlam strikes in two weeks’ time.

 

Center

Washington State at Colorado: I started out by discussing one potential conference preview, so why not end with another?  If you told me that a Week 12 meeting between the Cougars and Buffaloes could be replayed on Championship Weekend, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But, after Washington’s loss to USC, here we are.  Let’s get this straight.  Unless Utah or the Huskies can’t hold their own at home, the conference championship contest will be decided next Friday in Pullman and next Saturday in Boulder.

It will be fun, though, to see what wins out.  Mike Leach’s “air raid” attack is finally established for the Cougars, with Luke Falk (3,610 yds, 33 TDs, 6 INTs) at the helm.  On the other side, Mike MacIntyre has turned the Buffs defense into the conference’s most stout bunch.  They are the Pac-12’s best in passing yards allowed (176.3 per game) and total yards allowed (308.4 per game), while sharing the honors for best scoring defense (with Washington at 17.9 points per game).  This should be intriguing.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
November 4, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

This week’s intro is simple.  The Cubs have won the World Series.  Anything is, indeed, possible.  That is all.

 

Split Ends
Boise State at Wyoming: The Broncos are in familiar territory, even though it has been a bit.  After fending off BYU, BSU is standing at 7-0, something the program achieved six times in an eight-year stretch.  The last time it happened, though?  2011.  Can the Broncos keep this momentum going as they are still eyeing a Mountain West showdown with San Diego State?

Georgia Tech at North Carolina:  The Tar Heels are still tied atop the ACC’s Coastal Division.  That’s in record only, though.  They’ll need Virginia Tech to lose somewhere along the way before a conference title game berth can be obtainable.  The Yellow Jackets are basically out of the running, but they could have a huge say in how the race finishes up.  The Ramblin’ Wreck visit both division leaders over the next nine days.

Iowa at Penn State: The Nittany Lions are starting to soar a bit.  The national ranking has them feeling good.  The fact that they’re one game back in the Big Ten East has them excited.  The hope for a 10-win season still has a pulse.  That all goes away with a loss on Saturday.  Going into Saturday, the Hawkeyes are in a three-way tie for second in the league’s West Division.  If Iowa can win in Happy Valley, and Nebraska can’t in Columbus, we could be in for a really fun finish through Thanksgiving (with Wisconsin and Minnesota also in the mix).

 

Guards
Florida at Arkansas: This game really boils down to one factor for each team. For the Gators, it’s about keeping their necks out in front of an unlikely contender. Fortunately, the only SEC opponent to beat them (Tennessee) has fallen off the table. This means that the last team that may stand in the way of the division title is…Kentucky. And with a scheduled home game against LSU now changed to a road game, any chance to stay in front of the dwindling pack will be quite appreciated.

For the Razorbacks, this is an opportunity to save some pride. The Hogs have had a mixed bag against ranked combatants this season. Their two narrow wins (at TCU, vs. Ole Miss) have been offset by two pretty big losses (vs. Texas A&M, vs. Alabama) and one embarrassing defeat (last week at Auburn). Now, they can play spoiler twice in an eight-day stretch as both Florida and LSU will visit Fayetteville. How will Wooo Pig Sooie respond?

Oklahoma State at Kansas State: Since losing in controversial fashion to Central Michigan, the Cowboys have been fighting to get back in standing. No, not in the Big XII. That race hadn’t started yet. They were looking to get back in good enough national standing to where that loss would possibly become a badge of scorned honor rather than a season-defining gash. After beating West Virginia last weekend, Okie State can start to eye Bedlam with a little more twinkle in their eyes.

The Wildcats, ever the steady ones, hope to dull that luster and earn their own reward (a bowl berth). Now, Bill Snyder should be able to forge a sixth win out of the remaining schedule (the ‘Cats still play Kansas down the road). However, a win over the ‘Pokes would only help to raise their own profile (a home win would tie them up with OSU in the conference standings).

 

Tackles
Alabama at LSU: The Crimson Tide are the overwhelming top dog in the first CFP ranking of the season. From a dominating win over USC, to a comeback victory at Ole Miss, to dispatching of three straight conference contenders, Nick Saban’s squad has kept true on the road to a repeat. This is the last of a brutal four-game stretch that has placed the Tide in four separate cities. If they can get out of Baton Rouge with a victory, there’s a chance to breathe leading up to the annual Iron Bowl.

Quietly, it appears that the Tigers have gotten over the firing of former coach Les Miles, at least on the field. After the mind-numbing loss to Auburn, interim coach Ed Orgeron has guided this team to three straight wins (with an unplanned bye week inbetween). Now, with a reworked schedule, things could get interesting for LSU. If they can somehow work up enough Bayou Magic to beat ‘Bama, they’ll end the season with a trio of games that could revive their national standing (at Arkansas, vs. Florida, at Texas A&M) and, ultimately, justify their preseason ranking.

Air Force at Army: To be honest, it feels good to discuss all of the Service Academy teams being north of the .500 mark. The Falcons have been in that mode for some time now. Since the program became affiliated with a Division I-A (at the time) conference, they’ve completed nine losings seasons. That goes back to 1980 (36+ seasons ago), when the WAC welcomed them into its league. During that span, the program has participated in 22 bowl games. A win at Westpoint would make them eligible for number 23.

For the most part, the Black Knights have mainly stayed independent of conference affiliation. They were a part of Conference USA for a brief, seven-season stretch (1998-2004). But whether this program was part of a league or not, it was far from its heyday of the 1940s. Over that same timespan (1980-Present), Army has had nine WINNING seasons and five bowl appearances. This makes Saturday’s game all the more exciting for the Cadets. One more win will give send this program to an area where it has only been once in the last two decades.

 

Center

Nebraska at Ohio State: When does your team claim a spot in the coveted position of this here blog? One such situation…when a game to essentially clinch your division leads into a game that is seen as a “loser-out” in the national semifinal picture. The Cornhuskers couldn’t succeed where the Buckeyes did, winning an overtime game in Madison. However, Mike Riley’s squad is still the team to beat in the Big Ten West. If they win out, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t be in one of those coveted New Years’ Eve bowls. But it’s a tall order asking them to recover from a grinding defeat at the Horseshoe.

While this game may mark Nebraska’s last real obstacle of the regular season, the Buckeyes still have that little rivalry match to play out a couple of days after Thanksgiving. Looking at Michigan’s schedule ahead of their trip to Columbus (Maryland, at Iowa, Indiana), OSU appears to need this result just to stay in touch of the Wolverines by the holiday weekend. Although the vaunted offense has only scored less than 30 points twice all season, those occurrences happened in the last two games. Urban Meyer is hoping to break out against the Blackshirts on Saturday night.
 

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
October 28, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

The college football in-season calendar is fairly regulated.  September gives us a peek at where teams stand on a national landscape.  The pieces figure out where they’ll line up.  October is the beginning of the “regional” shift.  Teams retreat to their leagues to find out where they stand amongst their peers.  November is a month of definition.  Conference races turn away from the jockeying phase and become more crystalized.  The 2016 campaign is about to enter that realm, as we stand on the precipice of Halloween.  Let’s just say that, this week, a lot of divisional races will be shifted.

 

Split Ends
Boise State at Wyoming: The Broncos are in familiar territory, even though it has been a bit.  After fending off BYU, BSU is standing at 7-0, something the program achieved six times in an eight-year stretch.  The last time it happened, though?  2011.  Can the Broncos keep this momentum going as they are still eyeing a Mountain West showdown with San Diego State?

In early September, I thought this was a make-or-break season for Wyoming coach Craig Bohl.  It appeared that time was running low for the man that built North Dakota State into a dynasty at the FCS level.  Turns out, the Cowboys are making the time work for them this year.  Other than understandable road losses to Nebraska and Eastern Michigan (wait…did I really just say that?!?), the posse has rallied quite nicely.  Whether they win or lose on Saturday, you should expect this program to make it first bowl appearance since…hey, 2011!  A win on Saturday could have them in line to play for their first outright conference title since 1988.  High times in Laramie could be on the way.

West Virginia at Oklahoma State: It’s the latest edition of “Coach & the Coordinator”.  I have to admit, the Mountaineers are better than I thought they’d be.  Ever since their back-to-back scares against BYU and Kansas State, Dana Holgorsen’s crew has been pretty dominant.  Holding Texas Tech’s offense to 17 points?  Beating usually stingy TCU by 24?  Those are some impressive results.  They haven’t received a ton of respect from the national media (…or even me).  They might not until they play Oklahoma on Nov. 19th (including mine).  But a win in Stillwater will go a long way toward garnering it.

The Cowboys have scored less than 30 points twice this season.  They’ve lost both of those games.  Mike Gundy’s team has surpassed the 30-point mark five time this year.  They’ve won all of those contests.  That, folks, is what you would call a “significant number.”  The Mountaineers have proven that they can slow down a dynamic offense.  Can the Cowboys find a way to do the same?

 

Guards
Navy at South Florida (Friday Night): I talked about both of these teams last week.  The Midshipmen had themselves a tussle against Memphis, pulling away from the Tigers in the third quarter to keep a comfortable edge until the end of the game.  The Bulls couldn’t keep their momentum rolling, falling in Philadelphia to a Temple team that continued turning their own fortunes around.  On Friday night, the two division leaders meet in Tampa for what could be a preview of the AAC championship.

When looking at things from the Navy sideline, this is the second in a stretch of games that is tricky to maneuver.  Sandwiched between the Bulls and Tulsa is a neutral-site game against Notre Dame.  And despite the (approaching-) awful year for the Irish, the Middies will still need to get over their bug-a-boos when it comes to facing the Golden Domers.

Tulsa at Memphis:  That’s right.  I’m once again reaching into the recesses of the American Athletic Conference.  With how the season has played out to this point, these appear to be the last two challengers to Navy’s impending division crown.  The Tigers are already playing from behind, their loss at Navy looming as a death knell if they can’t protect their home field on Saturday.

The Golden Hurricane can separate themselves as the main division contender, but they have to be a little less giving.  For a squad on the verge of a bowl game, you would think that TU would be a little more stingy than the 32.1 ppg that they allow.  As far as offense is covered, they’re good.  A balanced attack (260.1 passing, 223.7 rushing) helps to light up the scoreboard to the tune of 39.7 points a game.  But they’ll need just enough D to survive what promises to be a shootout at the Liberty Bowl.

 

Tackles
Clemson at Florida State: The Tigers just keep going.  They survive the trip to Auburn.  They get a bit staggered against Troy.  They hold off Louisville and N.C. State.  Now, after a week off, Clemson awaits what should be the last big hurdle on their way to the ACC Championship Game.  The remaining schedule should provide some pushback (Syracuse, Pitt, and Wake Forest are a combined 14-8 heading into this weekend), but not to the level of FSU.

The Seminoles aren’t technically out of the Atlantic Division race at this moment.  They will be if they lose on Saturday.  Coming into the season, this was the game earmarked as the de facto division decider.  No one could have seen Louisville disrupting that idea.  Now, Jimbo Fisher’s team is trying to avoid something that has only happened once (technically twice) in the program’s history…lose to Clemson in consecutive seasons (lost three in a row from 2005-2007).

Washington at Utah: The Huskies have put in a lot of work to become a top-five team.  Chris Peterson’s squad came into the campaign with a top-fifteen ranking.  They’ve built on that thanks to the nation’s second-best scoring margin (+33.0 ppg against FBS teams).  UW did have one close contest (a seven-point, overtime win at Arizona), but the majority of their victories have been decided long before the final whistle.  However, for all of that hard work, they’re tied with their cross-state rival for the Pac-12 North lead.

The Utes have put in a lot of work to become a top-twenty team.  Kyle Whittingham’s team started the year unranked with some big losses on the offensive side of the ball.  Quarterback Travis Wilson and running back Devontae Booker ran out of eligibility after last season, so it has been up to Troy Williams and a trio of rushers to carry the load in 2016.  The Utes haven’t missed a beat, gaining wins with a whole lot of grit (+6.0 ppg against FBS teams).  However, for all of that grinding work, they’re tied with the team that they entered the conference with.

The totality of the situation…a victory for either team keeps them a neck ahead of their respective chasers.

 

Center

Nebraska at Wisconsin: As I said at the beginning of the post, we’ve got a lot of divisional claims up for bid this weekend.  The Big Ten West is one of those divisions.  All of the worry from last year’s 5-7 regular season?  That’s gone for Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley.  The swagger has quickly returned to Lincoln.  And while, at the moment, it feels a bit like Iowa’s run last year, the Huskers could step that up a notch over the next ten days.  Before they set their sights on a trip to Columbus, though, they’ll have to put divisional priorities first.

The Badgers have the best two-loss combo in the country. Unfortuately, they both occurred during Big Ten play. An out-of-conference defeat (even to an up-and-down LSU squad) may have hurt Bucky from a national standpoint, but it would have left them in better shape to make a conference title game run. Now, they can’t just rely on great things happening to them through the rest of the regular. They have to be the recipients of a disastrous two-week stint from the Huskers to keep the championship appearance hopes alive. Paul Chryst’s team can start that stint if they can take down Nebraska in Madison.

 

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
October 20, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

Well, I guess I took my bye last week.  Funny, since I didn’t even get my thoughts started until a quarter of the way through the season.  But it’s time to hunker down.  There’s a lot of games featuring a lot of big names, along with a lot of names we haven’t really heard of in a while.  This week, though, we’ll focus on some of the lesser-known names.  There are some intriguing stories from those programs that don’t necessarily demand the spotlight.  Here, though, why not give some pixels to those teams playing for, in their minds, as much as the national contenders are.

 

Split Ends
Memphis at Navy: The Beale Street Tigers are possibly proving that they’re not a one-coach, one-quarterback program.  Justin Fuente is in Blacksburg now.  Paxton Lynch is playing on Sundays in Denver.  Quietly, though, Memphis has piled up a 5-1 record.  Granted, they lost to the only opponent most folks feel is legitimate (Ole Miss).  But in past seasons, this program would hope to not be blown by the Rebels the same way that they did to Bowling Green (to the tune of 77-3).  My, how times have changed.

The Midshipmen have already taken down one of their contemporaries (Houston) at home.  They get the chance to take down the other two contenders (Memphis and Tulsa) in Annapolis as well.  And, hey, they’re also doing it with a different leader.  Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is trying to earn an NFL paycheck.  And at his alma mater, the triple option keeps churning along.  Navy only outscores opponents by 8 points a game.  They are out-gained by their opponents (392.0 to 398.6).  But Ken Niumatalolo keeps putting his kids in position to win.  That’s all that matters.

 

BYU at Boise State (Thursday, Oct. 20th): The Cougars may have found their swagger after three straight wins.  However, Kalani Sitake’s team seems to play right on the edge.  Their three losses have come by a total of seven points.  Three of their four wins wins have come by a total of eleven points.  The only comfortable spread for BYU (in either direction)…at Michigan State, believe it or not.  The Cougars look to stretch their three-game win streak to four, along with ending the Cinderella hopes of another Mid-Major stalwart.

The Broncos just continue to win, with the Washington State victory looking better by the week.  They’ll also be seeking some revenge.  The Cougars ended BSU’s dreams of unbeaten bliss early, winning in a Week 2 matchup in Provo.  You know that the Broncos are going to score (35.3 ppg, 466.7 total ypg), but could their defense be the side that carries the night (19.3 papg, 371.0 yapg)?  They’ll need it to be stout against an extremely balance BYU attack.

 

Guards
Washington State at Arizona State: Speaking of the Palouse, did anyone realize that the Wazzu Cougars are 3-0 in the Pac-12 (well, outside of some of my friends)?  This all coming to pass after starting the season 0-2 (losses to the aforementioned Broncos and FCS neighbor Eastern Washington).  The attacking offense has an opportunity to put up more eye-popping numbers against a Sun Devil defense that allows 506 yards a game.

Is the season starting to turn into a disappointment for Todd Graham’s bunch?  They’re right where they have been over the last few years, which is right in the South Division hunt.  But last week’s loss to Colorado put them behind the eight-ball.  It’s almost assured that the program will go bowling again.  However, if they want to reach the next level, they may have to win out and get some help along the way.

 

South Florida at Temple (Friday, Oct. 21st): Who knew that the Bulls were 6-1?  The only loss Willie Taggart’s team has endured this season was against Florida State.  The 35-point total was also the squad’s worst offensive output of the year.  USF is averaging 44.1 points a game.  Leading the way, quarterback Quentin Flowers has amassed a total of 2,190 yards (1535 passing and 655 rushing) and 20 touchdowns (13 passing and 7 rushing).  Those aren’t quite 2016 Louisville numbers, but they are impressive.

The Owls had a magical season last year.  While 2016 won’t match what happened in 2015, Temple has showed a lot of resolve after their season-opening loss to Army.  That appeared to be amplified in Saturday’svictory over Central Florida.  Matt Rhule’s guys came back from a 25-7 2nd quarter deficit to stun the Knights in the last second of the 4th.  That puts the Owls at 4-3 and on track for a second straight bowl bid.  With a win on Saturday, they would also be on track to play in their second consecutive AAC title game.

 

Tackles
We all know that the SEC West is tough.  It has been apparent how competitive the ACC Coastal and Pac-12 South have been in recent years.  This year, though, how ‘bout we give a nod to the MAC’s West Division.  Entering this weekend, five of the six teams sports a winning record.  The division leader is enjoying its first-ever period of time in the nation’s Top-25. On Saturday, the top four will square off in a weekend that could boil the division down to a two-team race…or open it up into a five-team free-for-all.

Central Michigan at Toledo: The Chippewas survived a big scare from Northern Illinois.  Now, they’ll head on the road to face a Rockets squad that has been pretty great in all facets of the game.  Toledo hasn’t missed a beat under new coach Jason Candle, scoring 43 points and amassing 565 yards per game.  They’ve also been fairly stubborn on defense, allowing 23.3 points a contest (five points below CMU’s average).  The Rockets may not have their perfect season intact, but they still have a chance to put their stamp on a division crown.

 

Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan: I don’t think that this can be said enough.  The Eagles of Eastern Michigan are doing special things this year.  Their last .500 season was 2011.  Their last winning season was 1995.  Their only bowl season was 1987.  In its 42nd season of Division I play, this program sports a record of 139-321-7 (a .305 winning percentage).  The fact that they’re 5-2…the fact that all three directional Michigan schools will head to a bowl game in the same season…EVER!  Maybe the Cubs are destined to win it all.  On the other side, the Broncos are only playing to stay in the New Years’ Six bowl hunt.  No pressure.

 

Center
Texas A&M at Alabama: OK.  So, I couldn’t completely ignore the contenders.

The Aggies found magic in Tuscaloosa before.  It was Johnny Manziel’s breakout contest in his glory days.  It was Kevin Sumlin’s announcement that this program could play with the SEC’s big boys.  They haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since that Saturday afternoon in November of 2012.  Last season, ‘Bama came into College Station with the Aggies sporting a 5-0 record.  The Tide proved, once again, to be too good for “Gig ‘Em”.  Could this be the best chance for the Aggies to get past the Tide since that 2012 upset?

The winner of this tilt will be favored to win out all the way until the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.  Ole Miss, Auburn, and, most importantly, LSU will have a say in the proceedings.  However, you’d have to believe that either the Tide or Aggies will take the lead in the drive for the SEC title and a national semifinal berth.

 

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS The Minnesota Vikings are the NFL’s shining light

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By Eric Nelson
October 11, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the capital of the Purple Nation…

•Bright light: On a sun-drenched October Sunday in the Twin Cities, light was cascading through the glass roof at US Bank Stadium. This natural illumination gave everyone a clear view of Minnesota dominance, as the Vikings lit up Houston 31-13. Minnesota (5-0) is now the NFL’s shining light and the only perfect team left this season…

•Purple trifecta: In the win, the Vikings got contributions in all three phases of the game. Minnesota’s crushing defense bottled up Texans QB Brock Osweiler (184 yards passing, one touchdown, one interception) and the Texans running game (59 yards total). Their opportunistic offense was solid as Sam Bradford threw for 271 yards – including TD tosses to Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson. And the Vikings special teams was special, as Marcus Sherels returned a punt 79 yards for a TD in the second quarter…

•Purple power: The Vikings are on a roll and have morphed into an NFL powerhouse. They lead Green Bay (3-1) by 1 1/2 games in the NFC North. Minnesota has a bye this week before returning to action on October 23 in Philadelphia…

•Titletown collision: With no Vikings game to follow this week, the Minnesota fandom can focus on the Dallas-Green Bay matchup at Lambeau. Can Cowboys rookie gunslinger Dak Prescott outduel Packers star Aaron Rodgers? That will be the main focus in Wisconsin as Dallas (4-1) tries to stay hot…

•Miami makeover: Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium has a new look after a $500 million renovation. The facility now has a canopy that shields 92 percent of the fans from the South Florida heat or rain. According to the Miami Herald, Hard Rock opened in 1987 and was originally named Joe Robbie Stadium. It has also been called Pro Player, Land Shark, Sun Life and Dolphin Stadium. Miami will host Super Bowl 54 in 2020…

•Lofty ranking: Former Pittsburgh Panthers star Larry Fitzgerald Jr. is the top WR in college football history according to Sports Illustrated. Fitzgerald now plays for Arizona and grew up in Minneapolis. Marshall’s Randy Moss was ranked second…

•Carolina monsoon: That was quite the downpour Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in on Saturday in Raleigh. Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, conditions were more fit for fish than football players. The Wolfpack (4-1) splashed their way to a 10-3 win over the Irish (2-4)…

•Element ball: Weather games are one reason why football is so popular. Seeing teams play in pouring rain, blizzards, hurricane-like winds or scorching heat is always good theater. Weather translates into high television ratings because viewers like to see elite athletes cope with difficult conditions…

•Rebound game: Minnesota needs a bounce back effort Tuesday night against Los Angeles in the WNBA Finals. The Lynx lost Game 1 on Sunday 78-76 at Target Center. Game 3 of the best of 5 series is Friday night in Sol Cal…

•Breaking news: Madison Bumgarner is human. San Francisco’s post-season pitching ace actually gave up three earned runs in five innings Monday night in the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. Jake Arrieta’s three-run home run off Bumgarner in the second snapped his playoff scoreless innings streak at 24. However, the Giants won 6-5 in 13 innings and trail 2-1 in the series…

•Going, going, gone: The Los Angeles Sports Arena is being torn down. According to the LA Times, The arena was the initial home of the Lakers after they moved to LA from Minneapolis, and the Clippers after they moved there from San Diego. Muhammad Ali then known as Cassius Clay once boxed there, and Michael Jackson closed out his first solo concert tour, “Bad” in the arena…

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
October 6, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

Gotta say, this is one of the thinner weeks of the season for marquee matchups.  Because of this (and the looming presence of more postponements due to Hurricane Matthew), I’m providing a CliffsNotes© version of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend.

Split Ends
Texas vs. Oklahoma: A win over the Sooners last year may have saved Charlie Strong’s job.  If the Longhorns lose this go-round, would the Texas athletic department kick Strong out of Austin?

Iowa at Minnesota: The Gophers are looking for that win that will move the needle upward on the program success meter.  The Hawkeyes just gave Kirk Ferentz a contract extension through 2025.  If they can’t retain Floyd of Rosedale, will the higher-ups start to regret that decision?

Guards
Toledo at Eastern Michigan: It appears that Western Michigan has the early edge in the MAC’s Western Division.  But just because the Broncos took down Central Michigan, don’t think there aren’t other contenders.  Did you know that the Eagles are 4-1?  We are talking about once-in-a-generation success, folks.  It would be wise to keep an eye on this.

Virginia Tech at North Carolina: The Hokies have quietly put things together after losing to Tennessee in that epic setting known as Bristol Motor Speedway.  The Tar Heels had quietly put things together after losing to Georgia in the season opener…until they stunned Florida State last week in Tallahassee.  Larry Fedora’s squad don’t want to provide the chance for the world to re-introduce itself to Va. Tech.

Tackles
Florida State at Miami: First thing first, this game may have to be delayed or moved due to the potential damage left behind by Hurricane Matthew.  As of this post, the game is still scheduled to take place on Saturday.  Now, the quick note on the actual game.  The last time that the playful Hurricanes faced their rival this late into the season with an unbeaten record was 2013.  The last time the program did that this late in the year and stayed undefeated after their tilt with the Seminoles…2003.  That was the last year the ‘Canes had double-digit wins (11), a share of a conference title (Big East), and a premium bowl appearance (Orange Bowl, where they beat FSU for the second time that season).

Alabama at Arkansas: For all the success and trophies that Nick Saban has amassed as the Crimson Tide coach, there’s one distinction he’s only achieved once.  The only undefeated season that he authored while in Tuscaloosa was the 2009 campaign.  The Tide usually have one hiccup each season.  They’ve already gotten past a potential one in Ole Miss.  There are potential letdowns down the road (as in, the next three games on the schedule).  But could a trip to Fayetteville be the undoing for ‘Bama?

Center
Tennessee at Texas A&M: Well, now it appears that Tennessee might be on “extra” borrowed time after last week’s Hail Mary victory over Georgia.  But this game may come down to defense.  Can the Vols’ slow down the usually potent TAMU offense?  Can the Aggies’ shore themselves up to counter UT’s dynamic QB-RB combo?

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line

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By Jonathan Lowe
September 29, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

So, I’ve been a bit silent this season.  Even though I haven’t piped up with my usual brand of football non-knowledge (That phrase could be a thing.  Try it out on your friends…), that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been paying attention to the season.

I’ll start off with this…Only at LSU.  That’s what I said this past Saturday.  After another inexplicably confounding loss that the Bayou Bengals suffered during the Les Miles regime, I said that phrase several times.  In my head, to myself, to anyone that would listen at the local bar.  I kept uttering the phrase “Only at LSU.”  Keep in mind, this is coming from a fan of the program most notably known for the follies of the Fifth Down and the Fleakicker.  But, over the last handful of years, how many wild finishes could one coach lead his program into (and, sometimes, never get out of)?  Apparently enough to where, less than 24 hours later, Miles was sent packing.  If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s chutzpah.  But making hunches and eating grass can only get you so far these days.

Split Ends
Memphis at Ole Miss: This is a guilty pleasure game for me.  Last season, the Tigers vaulted into the spotlight after they defeated the Rebels at the Liberty Bowl.  That victory in mid-October was just a part of the momentum they sustained through Halloween, going 8-0 before falling to Navy in the first week of November.  A lot has changed in a year.  The quarterback of that team, Paxton Lynch in now the Denver Broncos’ rookie backup.  Most notably, head coach Justin Fuente parlayed his success on the banks of the Mississippi into the head coaching position at Virginia Tech.  It’s up to new coach Mike Norvell and new signal caller Riley Ferguson to pull yet another stunner.

Speaking of Mississippi, the Rebels might be the only two-loss team in the country with any glimmer of hope to make a Primetime Bowl push over the rest of their schedule.  Hugh Freeze’s team dusted themselves off before dusting Georgia last weekend.  They have the best two losses in the country this season, but they desperately can’t afford a third, and they direly need to avoid that in this this game.  The sour feelings finally erupted concerning Les Miles.  Would Hotty Toddy boil over if the Rebels dropped to 2-3?

Western Michigan at Central Michigan: Oh, Central Michigan.  It was all set up.  The MAC opener for these rivals was supposed to be big.  A couple of 4-0 teams set to square off, seeing which one would get a boost toward the division crown.  But the Chippewas just couldn’t play along.  Actually, it was Virginia that wouldn’t play nice.  The Cavaliers chose last week to win their first game in the Bronco Mendenhall era.  Well, I guess some would say it was karma for how CMU won at Oklahoma State back in Week 2.

The Broncos could probably care less.  They’ve got their own journey to worry about.  P.J. Fleck’s team will hope to complete their Land of Lincoln sweep (Northwestern, Illinois, and Northern Illinois) next Saturday.  Before that, though, they’ll try to stay undefeated in what should be an underrated offensive showcase.  Tell ya one thing…I need to find some time to watch the opposing quarterbacks (CMU’s Cooper Rush and WMU’s Zach Terrell) do their thing.

Guards
Tennessee at Georgia: Were the Bulldogs living on borrowed time last Saturday when they traveled to Oxford?  After three tight ballgames, UGA was downright UGLY in their loss at the hands of Ole Miss.  They spotted the Rebels the first 45 points of the game, while offering them a plate full of 510 yards of offense.  It was a crash down to Earth for first-year coach Kirby Smart.

Now, could the Volunteers be on borrowed time as they head Between the Hedges?  UT survived their scare with Appalachian State and held off a game Ohio squad.  But it may have been the reactions in their other two games that give us critics pause.  After an early 14-0 bodyblow against Virginia Tech, they took over that event at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Last week, though, was epic.  After falling behind Florida 21-0 in the first half, Butch Jones’ team found the rally button and sat on it through the second half.  The resulting 38-28 win broke an 11-game losing streak to the Gators and created a type of buzz not heard in eastern Tennessee since the late ‘90s.  All of that quiets down if the Bulldogs can hold serve in Athens.

Navy at Air Force: You know, there are some traditions in college football that I believe have been passed by for the better.  However, one that I personally like having stuck around in the fight for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy.  I think it’s great that the nations Service Academy schools face one another every year, with a whole lot of pride at stake.  This season could bring about the best race in a long time.  Army is 3-1 going into their bye week.  They have the potential to record the program’s best season in 20 years.  Hopefully, I’ll get to put them on this list later in the season.

For this week, though, we’ll focus on the Academies at hand.  Overall, this we’ll be a question of which triple-option attack is best.  The Midshipmen had the advantage over the last couple of years.  Now that Keenan Reynolds has graduated, the advantage switches over to the Falcons, who roll behind senior QB Nate Romine.  Air Force is averaging 359.3 rushing yards a game.  Navy is settled in at 316.3 per contest.  That ranks them 2nd and 5th in the country, respectively.  Know whom they’re both behind?  How ‘bout the Black Knights of Army (374.8)?  Guess I can’t leave them out of the discussion, even when they’re not playing.

Tackles
Stanford at Washington (Friday night): For the Cardinal, it’s old hat.  Take on a Big XII opponent to open the year?  Nothing to see here.  Battle USC in an early-season conference matchup?  Nothing to see here.  Travel down the coast to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl?  Nothing to see here.  Most obstacles put in Stanford’s way have been dealt with in efficient fashion.  Now, it’s another road trip to see what the newest contender has in store.  For the moment, this is the only top-25 opponent the Cardinal will face on their schedule.  Will this result need to leave a lasting impression?

For years, the Pac-12 North has come down to Stanford or Oregon.  Whether it was a cardinal-clad Andrew Luck, a neon yellow-clad Marcus Mariota, or their big-time coaches (Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly, respectively), no other program could seem to make a big dent in catching up the to heights these two had reached.  The Ducks are now in restock mode, which means someone has to fill the void.  That would appear to be the Huskies.  Chris Petersen has this program surging to a potential position it hasn’t been since 2000, when Rick Neuheisel guided his team to an 11-1 record, a share of the Pac-10 title, a Rose Bowl victory, and a top-3 national ranking.  Protecting their home turf this week sets them on the path to recreate those Y2K memories.

Wisconsin at Michigan: The Badgers could easily be called “the Stanford of the Upper Midwest.”  They just plug along, playing whichever team is placed in front of them, and, most of the team, coming away victorious.  Most of those wins aren’t real pretty, and that was the case in two of their first three games in 2016 (the Akron game did turn into a blowout).  Then, East Lansing happened.  It wasn’t just that Paul Chryst’s team scored an impressive road win over Michigan State.  The Badgers forced the Spartans to tap out.  It was a dominating performance over a (former) top-10 team.  Now, they hope to cause some Ann Arbor angst as they return to the Great Lake State.

Jim Harbaugh wasn’t supposed to make Michigan this good, this quickly, right?  Yes, he had success at the University of San Diego (7-4 in his first season).  It took until his second season to go 11-1.  Yes, he turned Stanford into a power.  But that wasn’t until his final season in Palo Alto (12-1 in his fourth as coach).  But, in his third college job, he hit the ground sprinting, finishing 10-3 in year one.  Now, he has a top-5 squad and abundant showdowns looming.  If the Wolverines can navigate their schedule (sprinkled with the Badgers, Spartans, Hawkeyes, and Buckeyes), they may get a spot in the national semis (no matter what happens in the Big Ten Championship).

Center
Louisville at Clemson: Who’d have thought that, one month into the season, that Deshaun Watson would be trying to catch up to Lamar Jackson?  The Cardinals have been this year’s revelation, with Jackson at the center of it.  The sophomore quarterback has accounted for 25 total touchdowns, and that’s just in the squad’s first four contests.  By the way, I can’t say over four full games because he hasn’t PLAYED in four full games.  His dual-threat capabilities have been off the charts (1,856 total yards and 5th in the nation in rushing), and they have his team soaring up the national charts.

Watson, one of the Heisman frontrunners going into Labor Day weekend, hasn’t had a poor year, but it hasn’t been spectacular.  The Tigers struggled when facing on of their collegiate own (Auburn).  They didn’t look overly impressive when beating Troy.  In pecking order of potential ACC supremacy, they’ve been passed twice (first by Florida State, now by Louisville).  Winning this game means a return to that prominent position of conference frontrunner…at least, for the month of October (they’ll play at FSU on Oct. 28th).  Dabo Swinney says that his team has to “Bring your guts.”  This week, the coaches better be sure to bring some defense.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: Brian Dozier’s power display is becoming historic

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By Eric Nelson
September 5, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the capital of Twins Territory…

•Tater time: Minnesota 2B Brian Dozier is producing more power in the Twin Cities than Xcel Energy. Dozier slugged three more home runs in the Twins 11-5 loss to Kansas City Monday and has 38 this season. Dozier has been scorching hot since the All-Star break, hiking his average to .279 with 91 RBI and 92 runs scored…

•Rare air: Dozier is now chasing history with his power burst. He has 36 home runs while playing 2B this season and two as a DH. The AL record for home runs by someone playing 2B is 39 set by Alfonso Soriano of the NY Yankees. The MLB record is 42 set by St. Louis’ Rogers Hornsby and Atlanta’s Davey Johnson. Johnson had 43 home runs in 1973, but one came as a pinch hitter for the Braves…

•Royal crush: Dozier has 10 taters against KC – the most any opponent has ever hit against the Royals in one season…

•Bright spot: It clearly has been a gloom and doom year for the Twins (51-87) who have given their fan base little to cheer about. However, Dozier has been a beacon of light in the darkness and is a building block for Minnesota in the future…

•Royal Nation: Give KC fans credit – they travel well. The crowd for Monday’s Royals-Twins game at Target Field was 20,992 and many of them were sporting Royal blue jerseys and caps. The Royals have definitely gotten a bounce from winning the 2015 World Series and playing in the 2014 Fall Classic. Of course, Royals fanatics have reason to watch their team play against the Twins – KC is 12-2 against Minnesota in 2016. The Royals (71-66) are 4 1/2 games out of the AL’s second wild card spot…

•Playoff-bound: The St. Paul Saints (61-39) are the American Association North champs for the second straight season. The Saints begin the playoffs Saturday night at CHS Field…

•Limited options: The Minnesota Vikings had to get a quarterback after losing Teddy Bridgewater to a freakish non-contact knee injury in practice last week. The Purple had to bolster the position because counting on Shaun Hill for the entire season would be risky. Give GM Rick Spielman credit for acquiring Sam Bradford from Philadelphia. The price tag was high (first and fourth round draft choices), but Bradford has some upside…

•Career revival: It’s a gamble to give up a lot for Bradford, who has underachieved in the NFL. But, part of that is because Bradford has battled many injuries. The 28-year old Bradford is a seven year vet and was chosen first overall in the 2010 draft by St. Louis. Bradford had a remarkable career at Oklahoma winning the Heisman Trophy in 2009…

•Boomer Sooner: The Vikings definitely have an Oklahoma flavor in their backfield. Like Bradford, Adrian Peterson also played for the Sooners. Both Bradford and AP have to be disappointed that third ranked Oklahoma lost to number 15 Houston 33-23 last Saturday…

•Slip-up: It’s taking some folks awhile to realize the St. Louis Rams now are the Los Angeles Rams. During Thursday night’s LA-Minnesota game in Minneapolis, referee Bill Vinovich twice referred to the Rams as St. Louis while explaining penalty calls on the field mic…

•TV tandem: Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk are the television analysts for Rams pre-season games. Both guys had fabulous NFL careers and are in the Pro Football HOF…

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