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College system exploits amateurism!

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By Larry Fitzgerald
November 27, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@FitzBeatSr

 

I have had issues over many years with the NCAA. They are headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, and they answer to no one. They run college athletics, and the millions and billions of dollars generated annually are earned on the backs of amateur athletes.

The recent scandal that hit college basketball brought down one of the biggest names in college basketball history, Louisville’s Rick Pitino. This should be a lesson to all that the NCAA gives all the authority and power in college athletics to the coaches.

It varies in football, but it’s the head coaches who make the really big money, four to six million dollar contracts per year. And the players are all amateurs, student athletes; the four-year scholarship rides are the rewards or compensation for the players. But that’s where the exploitation of the athlete begins.

The athletic programs are built to generate revenue from donors, alumni, ticket and game sales, and marketing of sports apparel — hats, shirts, jerseys, etc. There is also the sale and marketing of games on radio and network TV. This is pure exploitation managed by a corrupt NCAA with no oversight.

The stronger the school’s brand and athletic programs, the larger the following. The sports organizations like FOX, ESPN, Turner, Learfield Sports and others build their businesses around the conferences and bowl games and tournaments, and before you know it they are generating hundreds of millions of dollars on the major sports like baseball, football and basketball. This concept works and has for many decades because the schools never have to worry about unions or labor costs.

In professional sports, the team owners place values on franchises. Then rich owners buy in, and that allows each organization the chance to succeed. Each league has a talent pool of players and athletes that comes from the college draft and free agency. The Pitino scandal was created by coaches doing shoe deals with players who project to be stars or high draft picks after one, maybe two years of school and who have contracts with the shoe company agents.
The contracts that the sports shoe companies make with the schools always go through the head coaches. The players never see any of the shoe contract money until they become professional players.

The coaches get the compensation from the shoe companies because the NCAA does not allow amateur athletes to receive funds. Only the member schools and their coaches and the NCAA can benefit from the generation of revenue from games, gifts, tickets, shoes and other apparel, etc.

In recent weeks Georgia Tech and UCLA made huge financial deals with China to stage games in China and expose the programs to Chinese culture. Three UCLA basketball players were arrested and charged with shoplifting.
As bad as that is to have three American players caught stealing in a communist country, both schools after the games decided to leave the players accused of shoplifting in China, abandoning them to the hands of Chinese authorities. This exposes why this system of corruption is out of control and wrong and has to stop. It took President Donald Trump, who just happened to be in China at the time, to intervene.

 

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line (9-21-17)

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By Jonathan Lowe
September 21, 2017

There are some interesting clashes involving Group of 5 schools this weekend.  Houston hosts former Southwestern Conference foe Texas Tech.  Toledo heads to Miami to face a Hurricanes team that hasn’t played in weeks thanks to one of its namesakes.  Likewise, Central Florida returns to the field for the first time since Week 1 (they travel to Maryland).  As the saying goes, though, I put those matchups aside to go “straight chalk” this time around.  I’ll keep checking in on the Mid-Majors during the season.  In the meantime, the bigger names will start to dominate the spotlight.

Split Ends
Michigan at Purdue:  The bad news for the Wolverines is that they had a bit of a tense time putting away Air Force last week.  The good news is that they won’t have to face that triple-option attack for the rest of the regular season.  This upcoming matchup should be more to the Maize and Blue’s liking.  However, I don’t know if I would sleep on the Boilermakers just yet.  Purdue hung with Louisville deep into the fourth quarter in the opener.  Last week, (sigh) they walloped Missouri on the road.  Now, neither of those teams have the defense Michigan sports.  But, if the Wolverine offense is still sputtering (5 offensive TD’s to Purdue’s 14), then we may have a tight game a little later than expected.

Alabama at Vanderbilt: In the SEC, late-September conference games between two undefeated teams isn’t unprecedented.  It appears to be an annual norm, actually.  One happened only days ago (LSU at Mississippi State).  Multiple games will follow the same rules this weekend.  It just so happens that one of them will occur in Nashville.  For the Commodores, this is a position they haven’t been in too often.  There have been 3-0 (and better) starts.  Even with that past, when was the last time that an opponent of this magnitude came to Tennessee’s state capital with the home team having a shot at getting to 4-0?

For the Crimson Tide, this is old hat.  The following is a Public Service Announcement to one Nick Saban…YOU COACH A JUGGERNAUT!  It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to hear it.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t want your players to hear it.  Since your second season in Tuscaloosa (2008):

*Your program has won at least 10 games every season.
*Your teams have competed six premier bowl games.
*Your squads have taken part in the last two College Football Playoffs.
*You have led the school to four national championships.

Now, if we’re comparing your run against those of Knute Rockne, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osbourne, Red Blaik, or Bear Bryant, then that’s a valid discussion.  But, save one contemporary (Urban Meyer), you are the guy that has dominated the field since the mid-1990s.  The other big-name programs (Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Penn State, Florida, LSU, Florida St.) have had, at least, one brief lapse of mediocrity over the last ten years.  You haven’t, because you coach a juggernaut.  Does this mean you’re invincible?  No.  But your pretty durn close.  And that makes a big difference going against a team that may be looking for the program’s biggest win in its 113-season (115-year) history.

 

Guards

USC at Cal: It’s nice to see some of the programs in the Pac-12 revive their glorious past (two of those examples are coming up later).  Could the Golden Bears be one of them?  There was a period about 10-15 year ago when the Berkeley school was producing a football program that had numbers next to their name and sniffs on conference title contention.  You can pinpoint 2004 as the prime example.  Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, and the Bears visited Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, and the Trojans in a top-10 showdown.  As much fun as it is to reminisce on that matchup, this instance isn’t the same.  Justin Wilcox is in his first year running the Cal program.  They’ve racked up wins over Ole Miss and at North Carolina.  To get to 4-0, though, they might have to depend on a USC hangover after the Trojans’ OT win against Texas.

Penn State at Iowa: Are the Nittany Lions truly back?  They’ve looked the part, with three dominant wins to start the season.  There also seems to be a bit of overconfidence – arrogance, to some – coming from the sidelines.  Whether James Franklin is throwing a wet blanket over a deep-seeded state rivalry or “icing a kicker” in a 56-0 pasting, something’s working.  The reputation of a top-ten program has returned this season.  The program has won 11 straight regular season games.  Oh, and let’s not forget that they’re the defending Big Ten champs.  This  run won’t last forever.  It very well may not even last the whole season.  But going into conference play, the Nittany Lions are pouncing.

There’s a magic to night games in several locales.  However, living in the Upper Midwest, you see Big Ten fans embrace contests under the lights.  Whether it’s Columbus, State College, Madison, or others, these events are well-received.  The same can be said for Iowa City, where the Hawkeyes have pulled off some special results (including last year’s upset of second-ranked Michigan).  This is the third time I’ve featured a Hawkeye game in this weekly blurb.  They smothered Wyoming and survived against Iowa State.  Am I becoming a good-luck charm for them?  As a Cyclone alum, I sure hope not.

Tackles
Mississippi State at Georgia: In a conference full of Tigers, it’s a couple of Bulldogs that are making some early noise.  The ones that hail from Starkville made a huge statement while hosting one of those Tiger squads (the Bayou one).  The blowout win over LSU marked a potential spark of the magic that vaulted this program to a #1 poll ranking (for several weeks) in 2014.  Just like that season offered a breakout campaign for QB Dak Prescott, this one looks to provide a similar path for signal caller Nick Fitzgerald.  The next two weeks could do a lot to vault this team to their own top-five status.

The first matchup for the “Bell” Dogs comes Between the Hedges.  The other ‘Dawgs are flying high after their victory at Notre Dame a couple of weeks back.  That (plus a Week 3 win over Samford) vaults them into the league schedule to come.  Now, as has been the case the last few seasons, UGA is a player for the East Division title.  They just didn’t expect to be running alongside their current 3-0 counterparts.  We knew that Tennessee or Florida would cannibalize the other early on.  The fact, though, that Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the other unbeaten teams in the division is a bit surprising.  This may be the shot for Georgia to make their push back to Atlanta…and beyond.

Washington at Colorado: Last season, it looked like a return to 1990.  Around that time, these two “outpost” squads were prominent players in the national championship picture.  It’s taken a while for the Huskies to get back to that level, but they appear to be close, if not there.  This was signified last Winter, when the Huskies made a trip to the national semifinals.  Chris Petersen hopes to reach loftier goals this season.  The schedule, however, will come into question again this year.  With Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State in the rear view mirror, they’ll need the Pac-12 to really step up their game…as they try to shut their peers down.

The Buffaloes are seeking a measure of revenge.  They lost to UW in last year’s conference championship.  Perhaps the biggest feel-good story of the season, CU has also been on the fast track to program revival.  Mike MacIntyre returned the favor for the time the university allowed him to build the program back up.  And they’re trying to build off of the school’s first 10-win season since 2001.  A win over the Huskies would provide a large building block in the program’s efforts to return to national contending status.

 

Center
TCU at Oklahoma State: A couple of weekends ago, the Horned Frogs showed their road mettle with a win in Fayetteville.  Last weekend, they turned around an early 19-7 deficit to run away from longtime, crosstown rival SMU.  This weekend, they can crash the Big XII party, where the Oklahoma schools are set to stand above the fray of everyone else.  It may be a bit troubling that the Mustangs were able to get 36 on that defense (it limited Arkansas to seven a week before).  This is definitely the week you would want the defending 11 to shore things up.

The Cowboys haven’t really been challenged yet this season.  Their offense put up its second straight 59-point effort last Saturday at Pitt.  Of the schools that have played three contests, Ok State is trailing only one school in scoring at 54.0 ppg (that would be Oregon’s at 56.0 ppg).  But we know this about the Pokes.  Mason Rudolph is just another reminder of the explosive offense this program has.  It’s about gaining more for Mike Gundy’s squad.  It’s about national respect and conference supremacy.  They received a taste of that in 2011, and the folks is Stillwater have waited a while for that sensation to return.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line (9-15-17)

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By Jonathan Lowe
September 15, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

For the first time in almost twelve years, we get to relive one of the greatest games college football has ever seen.  Sure, Texas ain’t what it used to be.  Yes, USC had to go through a rough patch of its own.  But you would think that all this pomp and circumstance surrounding the 2005 national championship game would guarantee us a stirring revival, right?  Eh, maybe.  There are some big, brand-name matchups this week.  However, this may also be the best week of the season for “Major v. Mid-Major” games.  For example:

Split Ends
The Service Academies vs. The Midwest Titans: Please indulge me for a moment. I’d like to bring up two games that will probably be blowouts, but may provide some intrigue on this Saturday in September. The Service Academy schools have all had their flirtations with success. Sure, this isn’t the same type of success that surrounded these programs from the late 1960s backward. However, there is winning football taking place among those ready to serve the country. Navy has had the most success recently. Air Force has been consistently solid since the early-1980s. Now, even Army appears to be getting in on the fun. With last season’s Heart of Dallas Bowl bid, they made just their second postseason appearance since 1996.

All of the above success is well and good, but it pales in comparison to the rung Michigan and Ohio State are on. Yes, comparatively speaking, the bitter rivals are the best football factories of the Midwest. There are academic standards that do stand above many. However, where the Academies may be taking an upperclassmen course in Pigskin Dynamics, these two institutions are expected to deliver their doctoral theses around Thanksgiving…when they play each other. When schools from these differing groups meet, the sophistication levels aren’t supposed to be close, so to speak.

This weekend, two of those Academies (Air Force and Army) will visit the two football behemoths (Michigan and Ohio State). Of course, the home schools are heavy favorites going into these contests. But how will they handle those triple option attacks that the Academies are so known for? Could either of the visiting teams keep it close at the half? Maybe going into the 4th quarter? Whatever happens, it’s a good time for Academy football. And it could get even better on Saturday.

 

Guards
Illinois at South Florida (Friday): Is the Lovie Smith era showing a bit of progress? The Illini needed a late touchdown to beat Ball State in its opener. The defense shut down Western Kentucky last week. Now, it’s to the road to see where they stand ahead of the conference season. Getting halfway to bowl eligibility would be a big boost this early in the season. For South Florida, it’s a hopeful return to normalcy.

Hurricane Irma left a trail of tragedy and devastation across the state. Football is one of the lowest rungs on the totem pole of importance, but this sport was effected as well. The Bulls did not travel to Connecticut for a conference matchup against the Huskies. This week, they’ll get back on the field, despite the news of more games involving teams across the state being cancelled or postponed. Will this event provide inspiration? Will it show the signs of fatigue and disruption? In any case, let’s hope that it brings a bit of relief.

Oregon at Wyoming: The Ducks have started well in the first year under Willie Taggert. They’ve taken care of business at home. Now, this team heads to unfamiliar territory. But this isn’t the first time this program traveled inland to take on a smaller-branded school. In 2009, the program played on the Blue Turf of Boise. A lot of swagger fell short as the Ducks lost that night, 19-8 to Boise State. Oh yeah, that was the time LeGarrette Blount socked a Bronco player after the game. Ah, memories. I’d be stunned if anything that bizarre happens this time around. The Ducks better be on their guard, though.

Josh Allen had a bad effort in his showcase at Iowa City. The Cowboys couldn’t muster any offense against the Hawkeyes. Allen was smothered by the Iowa defense (23-40, 174 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs). The team got to gain some confidence with a 27-0 win over Gardner-Webb. Allen led the way with 328 passing yards and 2 TD tosses. So, with a chance to host a Power 5 opponent, can momentum filter through from last Saturday? One apparent theme? Allen can’t beat the Ducks on his own (the Cowboys are only rushing for 62.0 ypg).

 

Tackles
Wisconsin at BYU: With their status as an Independent, the Cougars can design the schedule they like. That includes matchups that will keep them on a national stage. Sometimes, it turns out great. Sometimes, it may bite you. The latter seems to be happening right now. Yes, they beat Portland State to begin the year. That, though, has been followed up by being shutout/routed by LSU and falling at the hands of bitter rival Utah. On the heels of all that, in steps Bucky Badger.

Personally, I give kudos to Wisconsin. BYU isn’t as strong of a program as their heyday, but Provo isn’t an easy place to swipe a victory. And this situation isn’t exactly win-win for the Badgers. If the Cougars came into this game with a 3-0, the stakes would be quite better. However, the way things have developed so far, a win for the visitors doesn’t provide a lot of juice. A loss? That would probably slide them way down in the pack of contenders for the national semifinals. It’s a risk that, I believe, more colleges are actually taking (playing true road games against Mid-Majors). In that same vein…

UCLA at Memphis: When was the last time the Bruins made a trip to the Liberty Bowl? The answer (thanks to the UCLA football website) is 1976. This will be the first time that they’ve played in this venue as a true visitor. Last weekend was rather subdued for guys from Westwood. Of course, most any game is hushed after the epic comeback they had against Texas A&M. Josh Rosen put himself back in front of the nation, and hopes to continue that rebound through a Saturday morning kickoff.

We’re not completely sure about the Tigers, yet. They did hold on to beat Louisiana-Monroe two weeks ago. They didn’t play last weekend (game at UCF was cancelled due to Irma). So, they are rested for what could be a huge opportunity. In a division that features Navy, a seemingly improved SMU, and a Houston squad that won at Arizona, there could be a lot of showdowns over the conference run. A win over a storied program with a pro-“stuff” QB would keep them up with the Joneses. Again, I give kudos to the visitors for taking on the matchup. Don’t expect the scoreboard to provide any favors, though.

 

Center
Clemson at Louisville: Last season, Lamar Jackson came into Week 3 looking to prove that he was worthy of the early accolades. See, rolling up big numbers against Charlotte and a rebuilding Syracuse was one thing. If he could do the same to Florida State, the second-ranked team in the country, then things might get serious. Jackson took the sport by storm after the first two performances of 2016. He had the world in his hands after leading the Cardinals to a 63-20 drubbing of the Seminoles. By the end of December, the sophomore won the most coveted individual prize in the game…the Heisman trophy. Now, less than a year later, he has a shot at even more.

Clemson is the defending national champions. They had to battle to return to the title game. They had to figure out a way to beat mighty Alabama. And, along the way, they had to hold off a game Lamar Jackson. The 42-36 thriller not only kept the Tigers alive in the playoff chase. It, for all intents and purposes, shut off the Cardinals’ path to the same goal. This win made sure that Clemson could slip up once (which they did) and still keep a hold of the lead in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. That meant a berth in the league title game, which led to a spot in the national semifinals, which led to…well, you know the rest.

Getting back to the present, the Louisville quarterback again has the opportunity to show he’s worthy. This time around, it’s not just the Heisman race that’s peaking his interests. If he can knock off a defending champ, while achieving some “get back” in the process, then we may be following him much closer through the Fall.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line (9-9-17)

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By Jonathan Lowe
September 9, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

OK.  I didn’t leave you folks much time to chew on this week’s games.  Heck, if you’re a regular to the site, you may not see this until after kickoff.  But in all of this revelry, there are more important issues at hand.  Some of the games scheduled for today had to be postponed or cancelled due to the impending threat of yet another catastrophic hurricane set to hit American shores in less than two weeks.  While most of the country gets to sit back, sit up, and cheer vociferously, we should keep the people of South Florida in mind as they get ready to deal with the behemoth that is Hurricane Irma.  And let’s not forget those in Southeast Texas starting to get lives back on track after the devastation that was Hurricane Harvey.  As tough as it is to move forward in this post, here are today’s highlights.

Split Ends
Utah at BYU: I’m going to spend a a brief amount of time on this (and the next) matchup.  Most rivalries are built on proximity and conference affiliation.  This is one of those cases.  After the brief hiatus a couple of years back, the “Holy War” got back on the regular-season stage last season.  For the better part of 90 years, these programs fought over conference supremacy.  More recently, this game has been setup for later-season status points and year-round bragging rights.  But I’m glad that it’s still kickin’.  This rivalry just feels natural.  Really, it’s about as natural as…

Iowa at Iowa State: Some rivalries are, well, just built on proximity. As many of you readers know, I have a personal stake in this game. Spending four years of my life in Ames, this day was marked on the calendar every year. Many of my peers would make the trek to Iowa City every other year, while making our home site as uncomfortable as possible on those other occasions. And while only about a two-hour drive lies between the two campuses, the football programs only spent four years battling it out in the same conference (1907-1910). This game is purely for bragging rights. And, truthfully, that’s probably the way it should be.

Guards
Boise State at Washington State: For quite a while, WSU was a bit of an outpost. Sure, the University of Idaho is a stone’s throw away. However, when you looked at college football in that part of the country (from the Cascades to the Bitterroots), you relied on the Cougar program for your fix. Then, a little-known school in the city of Boise said, “Hmm, why don’t we give this D-IA football a try.” The Bronco program has been building for a long time. From Junior College to a short NAIA stint to lower divisions of the NCAA, BSU had a pretty good history before stepping into the higher division of college pigskin. Once the move was made, the program quickly gained attention. First, it was for their trademark Blue Turf. After a while, it was due to them being able to rack up a ton of wins and some pretty impressive bowl trophies. This weekend, could the Broncos take a step toward becoming the place to go for college football in the Inland Northwest?

TCU at Arkansas: No, it’s not Oklahoma-Alabama. This game, though, could be a launching (or stall-worthy) point of the early season for each team. That appeared to be the case for the Horned Frogs last year. They entered this particular matchup a top-15 team. After the double-overtime loss in Fort Worth, Gary Patterson’s team didn’t look quite the same. Yeah, they rebounded against Iowa State and SMU. However, the team lost 5 of their last 8 to finish with a pedestrian 6-6 record (6-7 if you include the Liberty Bowl loss to Georgia). On the other side, the win was supposed to be a coming out party for the Razorbacks. They rose into the Top 25 that next week, then inside the Top 20 before alternating wins and defeats for the rest of the regular season. As these teams head into the rematch in Fayetteville, the Horned Frogs look to return to their above average standards, while the Hogs try to finally turn the corner under Bret Bielema.

Tackles
Stanford at USC: This game may not ask the “What’s Your Deal?” question anymore, but it is still a BIG deal when speaking to the importance of West Coast pigskin. The Cardinal got a week off after their trip Down Under. The Trojans got out of the gate slowly, needing a big finish to prevail against Western Michigan. Now, it that was last year’s MAC-champion Broncos, OK. But the new-look WMU — minus quarterback Zach Terrell and coach P.J. Fleck — should have been a little easier to handle for USC. But Sam Darnold has a chance to boost his Heisman stock again if he carves up the Cardinal’s stingy defense. And a victory here might mean more for Trojans in the long term. Both teams will play Notre Dame. Both will travel to Pullman. However, Stanford has a regular season edge by hosting Washington in early November.

Auburn at Clemson: When these two squads opened the 2016 season on the Alabama Plains, one set of Tigers were “reeling” while the other set was “smarting”. The team that sports mostly navy had folks wondering if its head coach had lost the magic that guided the program to a national title game. The team that sports mostly orange looked to turn the bitter loss of that championship opportunity into positive momentum. Auburn, the losing squad, found out that it could still play with the top of the title-contending list. Clemson, the winning squad, discovered a propensity for nail-biting finishes. This year, one set of Tigers should be back, while the other set of Tigers should be reloaded. This game will let us know which Tiger narrative is closer to the truth.

Center
Oklahoma at Ohio State: Just a few months ago, this was being touted as a battle of coaching legends. Bob Stoops had the chance to save some face against a man that didn’t just beat him on the Oklahoma plains, but also in a national title game. But Stoops’ sudden retirement now brings a matchup of “Grizzled Veteran vs. Rising Rookie”. Lincoln Riley began his Sooner head coaching career with a runaway victory over UTEP. The second stanza will be a little trickier to write. All the while, Urban Meyer has been rolling along. The Buckeyes had first-half struggles at Indiana. The second half proved a little more fluid on offense, easing any tension that may have been around in the first thirty minutes. A win at the Shoe should provide an answer, although muted, to Alabama’s win over Florida State.

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Jonathan Lowe

College Football: Seven on the Line (2017 Opening Weekend…sort of)

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By Jonathan Lowe
September 1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

With the beginning of the college football season happening last Saturday, this does feel a bit awkward (even though I missed getting this out by Thursday’s games anyway).  You can’t say “Happy College Football New Year!”  There aren’t enough fireworks yet to compare it to the Fourth of July.  Of course, Thanksgiving actually falls in the sport’s calendar.  So…happy College Football President’s Day?  We promise lots of touchdowns and half off of a new mattress?  Sounds plausible.  Anywho, tonight (Friday) kicks off my list of intriguing games for the first full week of the season.

Split Ends
Colorado State vs. Colorado: This may be one of the most underserved rivalries in FBS.  Sure, the Rocky Mountain Showdown has really been a Rocky Mountain Beatdown over the decades (the Buffaloes lead the series 64-22-2), but the “brotherly” animosity stretches the roughly 45 miles between campuses.  Last season, the Buffs used a 44-7 whuppin’ as a spark plug to its most successful season in 15 years.  It resulted in a 10-win campaign, a Pac-12 South title, and a top ranking of 9th in the country.  But CU graduated its all-everything QB, Sefo Liufau.  This means that the Rams, who blew out Oregon State in one of the few “Pre-Opening Week” openers, could be in line to institute a little get-back on Saturday.  CSU QB Nick Stevens now becomes the veteran signal caller in this matchup, and he’ll look to rebound from a disastrous performance (6-20, 31 yds., 2 INTs, 0.6 QBR) last season.

Appalachian State at Georgia: One year ago, the Mountaineers pushed Tennessee to the bitter end in Knoxville.  In my estimation, they missed a big opportunity to get the biggest victory of its FBS lifespan.  Now, App State has another chance to knock off a historical SEC brand name in its own backyard.  They don’t return as many starters as they did off of their 11-2 2015 season, but key starters are back from last year’s 10-3 campaign (including QB Taylor Lamb and leading rusher Jalin Moore).  On the other sideline, the Bulldogs have their own multi-punch offense, with QB Jacob Eason and the backfield tandem of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.  You’d also have to think that Kirby Smart will have his guys on edge.  They know that a well-hyped Volunteer squad had to pull out last year’s victory in OT.  The Mountaineers couldn’t provide another scare, could they?

 

Guards
Wyoming at Iowa: A year ago, I thought that Craig Bohl needed one of those breakout seasons to feel safe about another season (and beyond) in Laramie.  Boy, did he deliver.  The Cowboys finished with a share of the MWC’s Mountain Division crown and, based on tiebreakers, earned a spot in the conference’s championship game.  The program also made its first bowl appearance since 2011.  Going into this season, Cowboy signal-caller Josh Allen is not only an All-American candidate.  He’s being looked at as the potential #1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.  Plus, this team is headed to a place that’s lost some of its mojo over the last few years.

I don’t know if many folks know what to expect from the Hawkeyes this season.  Two years ago, they shocked everyone (admit it die-hard Hawk fans, you too) by riding an undefeated regular season into the Big Ten Championship game.  Last year was good, but still a slide back at 8-4.  The real problem, though, might be the expectations of holding serve at Kinnick Stadium.  Since 2012, the Hawkeyes have lost an early-season, non-conference home game four out of five years.  That includes last year’s walk-off stunner at the hands of North Dakota State.  And what should happen the next season?  In walks the same coach that built the Bison program which knocked you off the season before.  Hmmm…

Troy at Boise State: I’m just going to continue down my list of MWC Mountain Division contenders, if you don’t mind.  The Broncos have been voted the favorites (yet again) to represent the de facto East Side in the league’s title game.  But they welcome in another worthy Mid-Major opponent to open the season.  The Trojans aren’t the favorites to win the Sun Belt, but they are in the mix, ranking second in the league’s preseason poll.  Both teams come into this matchup with proven quarterback play (Brandon Silvers for Troy; Brett Rypien for BSU).  Both teams will also hope to get a leg up on the other.  We don’t know if Colorado State, Appalachian State, or Wyoming can knock off their Power 5 opponents.  We do know that the winner of this game should have a quality win on its resume be season’s end.  That would be a helpful factor when parsing through candidates for the Group of 5 spot in the New Years’ Six bowls.

 

Tackles
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: In this part of the world, it’s more about the Backyard Brawl (WVU-Pitt) and the Commonwealth Cup (Va. Tech-UVA).  However, this battle for the Black Diamond Trophy has some history to it as well.  The two programs have met 51 times going into Sunday night’s matchup.  They played every season for 32 consecutive seasons, but their 2005 meeting was the most recent in the series.  This matchup features two teams coming off of 10-win seasons and sporting new leaders under center.  The Mountaineers will rely on Florida transfer Will Grier.  The Hokies announced that redshirt freshman Josh Jackson will take the helm.  Neither team is considered a favorite in the top-heavy conferences that play in.  Va. Tech will play Clemson and at Miami later in the season.  WVU will have to contend with the Oklahoma schools.  A win, though, could be a good kickstarter to another successful season.

Michigan vs. Florida: I’m not quite sure what to make of Jim Harbaugh.  At times, his eclectic outlook of life provides a chuckle.  At times, that same aloofness makes him somewhat insufferable.  I believe it’s the latter feeling that Jim McElwain has toward the Head Wolverine at this point.  Besides the verbal back-and-forth about which players will make it on the field Saturday, there’s opportunity for each program in this game.  Both are trying to re-establish themselves as rightful owners to their respective conference crowns.  To get there, both will have to overcome their most bitter (and, right now, more talented) rival.  The winner of this game in Jerry Jones’ palace will at least get their momentum headed in the right direction as they ultimately eye the end of the season.

 

Center
Florida State vs. Alabama: I’m sure you already know that Nick Saban has never lost to one of his former assistants.  Thanks to SB Nation, I’m certain that you’re aware of the thrashings that have taken place in these matchups.  That includes Bama’s 38-0 victory over Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State team in a national semifinal and two wins (by an average of 26 ppg) over McElwain’s Gators in SEC title games.  You already know this.  But you also know that Jimbo Fisher might be different.  He’s already done a fabulous job of following the legendary Bobby Bowden, amassing a 78-17 record since taking over (an .821 winning percentage).  And that notation comes after his national championship and subsequent semifinal appearance.  The Seminoles have the talent to guide Fisher to another title.  However, the mystique of Saban is potent, and the command in these situation is powerful.  We’ll see which team gets a leg up on the rest of the country after Saturday’s showdown.

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Eric Nelson

SPORTS NUGGETS: The Minnesota Twins best move with Brian Dozier was no move

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By Eric Nelson
August 22, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the home of Post-It Notes...

•Status Quo: Sometimes the best move is no move. That is true for new Minnesota Twins bosses Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. Despite all the trade rumors swirling around 2B Brian Dozier, he is still wearing a Twins uniform – which is a good thing…

•Brian’s Song: It’s preposterous that Dozier was ever on the trading block. The guy is a cornerstone player and a key part of the Twins young foundation of talent. This season Dozier is batting .264 with 26 home runs, 71 RBI and 71 runs scored. He has also been solid defensively (just 4 errors in 534 chances) and is a leader in the clubhouse…

•Tater time: Dozier now has 143 career home runs, which is 10th on the Twins all-time list…

•Speed Thrills: Minnesota CF Byron Buxton has to be one of the fastest athletes in team sports. In a 100 meter sprint I would take Buxton over any of the Viking wideouts…

•Blair’s Revenge: It’s great that Seattle K Blair Walsh connected on a pair of 52-yard field goals last week against Minnesota and it’s great that Walsh apparently has his mojo back. Walsh even taunted his old team, gesturing to the Viking sideline after both kicks. But, the real test for Walsh will come in key regular season and post-season games. That’s when the kicks really count – not in the pre-season…

•Time Warp: According to ESPN.com, Atlanta HC Dan Quinn has a clock on his office wall with no numbers. Each of the 12 spots are replaced by the word “now,” reminding Quinn to stay in the moment…

•Dinkytown Depression: ESPN.com also ranked the happiest and most miserable college football fan bases. Minnesota is 107th on the list. Ohio State is number 1 and Texas State is last at 128…

•Long Trip: Rice and Stanford open the season on Saturday and it’s not in Houston or Palo Alto. Instead it’s in Sydney, Australia. For some odd reason the NCAA wants the Owls and Cardinal to travel to the other end of the globe to play a football game…

•Smart Move: Kudos to Notre Dame and Wisconsin for scheduling a home and home series. In 2020 the Irish and Badgers play at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and in 2021 they meet at Soldier Field in Chicago. It’s great to see teams play nonconference games with some juice…

•Badger Ball: Give Wisconsin credit, the Badgers usually face at least one power program in their non conference schedule. In recent seasons Wisconsin has played Alabama and LSU, and this year travels to BYU on September 16th…

•No DC for KD: No one should be surprised that Golden State’s Kevin Durant is not going to the White House if the Warriors are invited. Why go where you are not wanted or welcome? KD’s decision could open the flood gates for other athletes to ignore the polarizing POTUS…

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Larry Fitzgerald, Sr.

Coach Richard Pitino on his Gophers

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By Larry Fitzgerald
December 8, 2016
GAMEDAY GOLD

 

Truth in disclosure: Since Tubby Smith was fired unfairly three years ago by Norwood Teague, the ex-Gophers athletic director, I felt so strongly about how bad that decision was that I stopped covering men’s Gophers basketball. Last year was the worst year in school history at 8-22.

Two weeks ago I ended my protest by covering the Gophers vs. Arkansas at Williams Arena. They won. Before that game, I sat down with Richard Pitino (RP), now in his third season as head coach.

MSR: Congrats on a great start to the season!

RP: Thanks, it’s been a kind of quiet, challenging start to the season.

MSR: The Gophers are better. They are 7-1 and play New Jersey Institute of Technology next at Williams Arena. How are you selling your program and the keys to it?

RP: I would hope that when you talk about playing for the University of Minnesota, you’re obviously talking about a tremendous college experience. And tremendous opportunities outside of basketball if you get your degree from here with all the Fortune 500 companies. To play in the Big Ten if not the best one of the best basketball conferences. And to play in front of our loyal fans.

You talk about all those things. You talk about style of play and the commitment to getting these guys better on and off the court. And, hopefully, winning follows that too. You’re constantly talking about those things with our guys. Our guys love going to school here.

I think that’s kind of an underrated thing here. And they love playing in this arena as well.

MSR: Your dad Rick, head coach at Louisville, is a Hall of Fame coach. Is your goal to achieve some of the things he’s accomplished over the years?

RP: I’m 34 years old and I’m new at this, and to try and mirror a Hall of Famer’s career would make me pretty unhappy. I try to take it day by day.

Richard and Rick Pitino

Like father, like son?

I’ve been provided a tremendous opportunity to be the head basketball coach at a great school a Big Ten school, at a young age. I’m just trying to get better every day and pour myself into our team, my family, and do my best there. The whole trying to be like your dad…you really don’t think about those things.

MSR: Much was made of recruiting and the number of talented in-state high school players that got away from Minnesota. You did get one of the best in Amir Coffey. Can you talk about that?

RP: What’s difficult about local kids is you can’t take them all. You only get 13 scholarships, and you have to identify with the ones that you need. Amir was a guy that we needed. It was extremely important to get him.
It’s early, obviously, but he’s playing well. When you get a local kid and it works — and hopefully it does continue to work — that might be the best local recruiting tool that you can have. We’re going to continue to try and do our best and put him in the position to succeed.

I know the fans locally, they love him if you can see a local kid have success.

MSR: You have a more physical team in 2016-17. Is that what you wanted?

RP: Yes, we’re a much bigger team. If you look at our team, we’ve got more size [with] Amir at 6’-7” at the three spot. That helps. Your four spot is bigger. Reggie Lynch is bigger. That helps in defensive rebounding, and that puts pressure on the defense when you can play inside to out.

I don’t know too many teams in this league if you’re not big that are going to win. If we stay healthy — knock on wood — we’ve got the size to compete. I really do like our size a lot.

Richard Pitino in action court side

Minnesota Gophers head coach Richard Pitino

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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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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GDG rundown for Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 25-Nov. 27)

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The turkey is consumed (for the most part), and much of the sports world got a nice break for Thanksgiving Day.  Now, the teams are back at play, and our hosts get us caught up.  Eric and Larry bring you this week’s program from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.  They look at the good start on the ice for the hometown side, the continued struggles of the Timberwolves, the Vikings’ loss in Detroit, and Gopher football’s odds to finally get the Axe back.  Plus, get insight in the great start by the Gopher hoops team.  Richard Pitino stops by to explain the team’s hot start.

Soaring Starts Continue For Some TC Teams

Segment 1: The Minnesota Wild continue to pile up the points in this early portion of the NHL season.  Eric and Larry saw it in person on Wednesday night, and they comment on what impressed them.  Plus, we hear a little bit about the unbeaten Gopher basketball team.

 

What Made Green Gold To Many

Segment 2: This week, Larry was asked to participate in the nationally-broadcast piece on the life and career of former Vikings coach Dennis Green.  That allows the fellas some time to remember the coach and his impact on this area’s sports culture and more.

Arizona Cardinal wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. stands at attention on sidelines

In honor of Dennis Green

 

An Axe and A Division On the Line

Segment 3: The Gopher football team heads east on Interstate 94 to meet up with an old friend.  Our hosts preview the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe between Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Can the Gophs upend Bucky’s shot at a division title?

 

The Wobbly Wolves Continue To Slide

Segment 4: The Timberwolves lost another lead late during Monday night’s game against Boston (a potential prelude to Wednesday’s big loss at New Orleans).  Where’s the defense that fans hoped for under the new regime?  The guys get into the issues with the team.

 

Gopher Guru: Richard Pitino Talks Unbeaten Gopher Hoops

Segment 5: The Gopher men’s hoops team is off to a 5-0 start this season.  Is this the turnaround fans of the program have been waiting for?  Coach Richard Pitino gives us some insight on how the team is finding some early success.

 

Vikings’ Effort Turns Into A Turkey on Thanksgiving

Segment 6: The Vikings didn’t have a very happy Thanksgiving after losing in Detroit on Thursday.  Our hosts look at where the Purple stands in the NFC North race.  Then, they expand their reach across the rest of the NFL.

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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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Gameday Gold Radio – November 10, 2016 – s.3

Grander Sights for the Gophers & the Wolves Keep Plugging Away

Segment 3: The Gopher football team is still in the Big Ten West hunt.  Can they take advantage over the next three games and grab a surprising division title?  Then, the Timberwolves get their first road win of the season.  But why is this young roster struggling during the early part of the season?

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Gameday Gold Radio – November 3, 2016 – s.2

Maroon & “Bowl”d for the Gophers

Segment 2: The Purple may have the headlines on the gridiron, but the Maroon and Gold have quietly qualified for a bowl game.  The fellas try to see if better things might come for the Gophers down the regular season stretch.  And the Big Ten has decided to play some Friday night football games (starting next season).  Is it a good idea?