Ah sadness, my old friend
Want to know something crazy?
When this thing is posted at 10 a.m. Wednesday, it will be something like 82 hours since the college football season ended last Saturday.
Yes, there are bowl games (more on that in a moment) and yes there's Saturday's Army-Navy game. (Side note: This side of an annual TCU-Oregon showdown, the Army-Navy game has secretly become the leading annual showdown of cool alternative uniforms; check this year's duds.)
But for the most part the weekly back and forth that is a dash of euphoria mixed with a cup of anxiety stirred with a handful of tradition and flooded with a wave of joy is done. In the books. Put on ice. And, less than four days after the fact we already miss.
Sigh. There's the conclusion to the NFL. Yay. (Side note: Saw this morning that 10 of the 13 late Sunday afternoon national windows have hit multi-year lows in viewers and 11 of those 13 have failed to top a 13.0 rating. For comparison, a sub-13.0 rating in that national 4:25 window has happened 10 times in the previous five seasons combined.) There's pre-Christmas NBA, which feels an awful lot like preseason NBA. There's regular-season college hoops
But last night we tried to sit down and watch a ranked-on-ranked college basketball game. Nova and the Zags. Home of Stockton and Morrison vs. the school that Rollie built and Jay Wright and Scottie Reynolds renovated.
And it was impossible to feel anything. Sure the action was OK. (Dude, Gonzaga can play offensively and the big lefty inside has skills, and Villanova under Wright has consistently had two key aspects: They can guard the perimeter and they will have a point guard who can play.) And the rankings were akin to say, a preconference meeting of maybe Oklahoma-THE Ohio State or Notre Dame-Georgia. And, we're pretty sure we watched almost every play of those football games.
Last night, we tried, we really did. And it simply did not take. (And, yes, we have arrived at a place in life where college football is our favorite sport, but know that we grew up a monster college hoops fan, and it was easily our favorite in the 1980s and into the early 90s.)
So we got to thinking about it and the changes and last night was the epitome of how expanding the championship tournament waters down and dilutes the regular season, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. The high-profile match-ups that serve as grand exclamation points during the regular season of college football would become as forgettable as Villanova-Gonzaga was last night. Simply put, four teams creates scarcity, and scarcity creates demand and anxiety and pressure and the need to be excellent. Gonzaga has lost pre-Christmas games to Florida and Villanova and will roll through an easy conference. In college hoops that makes them a two seed. In college football, and yes, the season sample is smaller, but a similar resume makes them Holiday Bowl bound. And that's OK. Everyone does not need a ticket to the tournament. Everyone does not need to be a trophy.
And please do not come to us with fairness. College basketball's expanded super-fun and roller-coaster bracket ride is as much about fairness as Fidel Castro. It's about money and TV eye-balls and trying to please as many as possible while pressing the palms of the powerful with five- and six-bid seasons. Fairness? PUH-lease. If fairness is about trying to find the best team to crown a champion, expanding the field is the antithesis of that goal.
Expansion is about inclusion more than fairness. Expansion is about avoiding controversy more than fairness, and let's be really clear, eight does not end the controversy. Expansion is about checks — both in boxes of the conferences and the bank accounts of everyone involved that is not actually playing.
And if you are for expansion and not for paying the players, then we have to wonder how you can stand on equal sides of that? We have forever said the education part of the scholarship deal is undervalued, but if/when they add another round of ESPN-shown college football playoffs — and as Jimbo Fisher gets $75 million guaranteed and Gus Malzahn gets almost $50 million because, you know he is the only guy in the league with multiple wins over Nick Saban — and the revenue grows by fractions of billions of dollars for the schools and the conferences, then the rationalizations of not paying the players becomes harder and harder to make and defend.
Want to know another thing that will be completely marginalized if/when the college football field expands to eight? Conference title games. Sure, we will still have conference title games because they make tens of millions of dollars for the leagues, free and clear, but man, if winning the SEC in Atlanta comes close to what it means to win the SEC basketball tournament, then Whoa Nelly, that would be awesomely terrible. And the only way that matters is when you have a 7-seed trying to get into the draw, and that's fun all for basketball. In football it means that a three-loss Stanford or an LSU team that lost to Troy could find their way into the playoff. Yay, a three-loss Stanford in the title game. Hooray. Heck, now by expanding the playoff not only have you watered down the regular season, you now have watered down the actual tournament. (And know this: Expansion when it happens, absolutely should not automatically include some Group of 5 wannabe. Sure it's easy this year because Central Florida is unbeaten with the hotshot coach, but guaranteeing a spot in the field for a team that would, in most years finish no better than fourth in most power five divisions not named the SEC East is silly and borderline communist. Sports, at this level should not be everyone gets a shot, a trophy, a what-have-you. Yes, Central Florida is a great story, and the Knights may wax Auburn in Atlanta in January if the Tigers show up not interested, but last year the Group of Five invitee would have been Western Michigan that needed a last-second TD to lose to a three-loss Wisconsin team by eight in the Cotton Bowl. Again, PUH-lease.)
And please remember this college basketball tournament lovers — and I count myself chief among the — the primary reason the country cares about March Madness is not the tradition or the action or any number of basketball-related items. It's the brackets people. The brackets and office pools and torn up sheets have made March Madness the giant it.
Now that's fairness, right? Look at the five power five conference title games from last weekend for example. Clemson would have been in an eight-field team either way, so the title game was meaningless to them in the big picture. Same likely could be said for Wisconsin. Auburn need to win to get in, but Georgia, with only losses to what would have been no worse than No. 2-ranked Auburn would have been in. Oklahoma likely needed to win. So of the 10 teams in the conference title games last week, at least three could have rested their players and another — Alabama — was better served by not being there than by being there if the national title is goal No. 1.
Simply put, when (and yes, we still believe it will be when) the college field expands, it will make the magnitude of the every Saturday, from the start of the season to the end of it. Or, to get back where we started: Ask yourself the last time you were sad the college basketball regular season ended.
College football leftovers
It's almost like the roller coaster that was the tumultuous University of Tennessee coaching search has been closed for renovations.
Yes, Phillip Fulmer is the new foreman on the crew and he's looking for help. He was in NYC Tuesday at the college football Hall of Fame ceremonies because some dude named Peyton was inducted. Maybe you've heard of him.
Anyhoo, as Tennessee tries to close the circle and the loop on what appears to be a well-known coordinator from a well-known SEC locale for its next head coach, let's look back at all the hires, shall we? (Side note: Want to feel the power of the calming influence that Fulmer brings over John Currie and the Greg Schiano craziness of 10 days ago? If Currie had brought back a finalists lists of Pruitt, Steele, Tucker and Chad Morris, the Johnny Vols Fans Nation would not have been pleased. To that point, if we posted the blind resumes of THE Ohio State DC Schiano, Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt, Auburn DC Kevin Steele, and Georgia DC Mel Tucker, Schiano's would be the choice 99 times out of 100. Now the Penn State thing is certainly a factor, but it's worth pointing out.
There also this: Because of his history and pedigree — and those things are important — Fulmer gets 100 percent of the benefit of the doubt. And we understand that.
And, before we get to all the hires that have been made, we will list our final big board of candidates that we believe still are at least tangentially in the conversation. (We think Mike Leach is out because of style, and we don't think Fulmer would embrace the Pirate's persona. We firmly believe Fulmer would never hire Lane Kiffin either. And we believe Kevin Sumlin is looking at different places and likely would take a year off before getting back into the looney bin that is the SEC.)
1. Jeff Brohm, Purdue. We make this dude say no to $5.5 million per, a raise of $750,000 and double his assistant pool to more than $7 million. If he says no — and he may already have — then so be it.
2. Chad Morris, SMU. Great offense. Head coaching experience. Has great Texas roots — he got a math and statistics degree from Texas A&M as wellin the early 1990s — to help the Vols recruiting get back to a national place.
3. Of the various defensive coordinators above, we'd likely go Steele, Pruitt, Tucker in that order, and feel free to add Brent Venables, the Clemson DC into that mix too. But they all feel rather interchangeable in a lot of ways. We give Steele the edge because of his Tennessee ties and think Pruitt has a little better track record.
And while we are here, here's a story of the six candidates national college football writer Barrett Sallee tossed out less than a month ago before this thing started spinning and went straight to ludicrous speed. Please note that his six were Gruden, Mullen, Fuente, Kelly, Kiffin and Mike Norvell, and while Gruden always seemed like Melville's White Whale, back in the early post-Butch days, none of the others seemed too much like a longshot. That might be the biggest testament to how far this search has dropped UT's program, at least in the eyes of the hottest candidates and those considering the next wave of stars in the coaching world. As for the hires that have been made, let's take a quick spin, shall we:
UCLA made the best hire of the offseason by landing Chip Kelly. Plain and simple. Grade: A+
Nebraska made the best hire it could have possibly made in Scott Frost. We think Frost is great, and a perfect fit at his alma mater, but Kelly's ceiling in L.A. is much higher than Frost's in Lincoln. Grade: A
Florida hires Dan Mullen, the former Mississippi State coach who was the OC for the Gators when they were rolling under Urban Meyer. We thought Mullin should have been the coach UF picked when it went with McElwain, but better late than never. Mullen vs. Smart for the next decade will be a lot of fun at Cocktail Parties to come, and those names magnify how important this hire is for UT. Grade: A
Oregon State hired Jonathan Smith, the former Beavers quarterback who has been working under one of the best in the BID-ness, Chris Petersen, for the last six years. This is a great example of fan's choice overlapping with right pick, and if anyone knows the challenges of what it takes to win in Corvalles, it would be Smith. Grade: B+
Texas A&M hired Jimbo Fisher from FSU. Hiring a coach with a Natty certainly gets an AD bonus points and headlines. But he overpaid to get a guy that was 27-1 with Jameis Winston at quarterback and 56-22 without him in a place that absolutely recruits itself. Grade: B+
FSU hired Willie Taggert to replace Jimbo, and here's betting Florida State does not miss a beat. (Side note: Taggert added Jim Leavitt, the former South Florida coach who was fired for putting his hands on his players. Where was the morality mob on that one?) Grade: B+
Central Florida hired Josh Huepel, the former Oklahoma QB and Missouri OC. We love that hire to replace Frost to be honest and think he's a very good fit. Yes, Central Florida is attractive at the moment, but who wants to be the guy to replace the guy, you know? Grade: B with room to grow.
Ole Miss made Matt Luke the Rebels full-time head coach, removing the interim tag. We like this hire more than a lot of the national guys apparently, because we know that Ole Miss has a difficult road ahead and Luke is in this like few other candidates they could have found. Plus, with the NCAA opening the transfer doors to rising seniors, the best chance for Ole Miss to keep as many of those cats as possible is to promote a guy that is beloved in the room. Luke is that guy. Grade: B
Mississippi State hired Joe Moorhead, the former Penn State offensive coordinator. Lots of national folks seem to love this hire, and there's some of the UCF, "guy who replaced the guy" thing here as well and makes you wonder who all was interested. Moorhead has a good offensive mind and Mullen left a lot of talent, but we're not as high on this one as most. Kudos for not turning the search into a complete mockery, though, as the MSU administration made the move quickly and decisively. Grade: B-
Georgia Southern removed the interim tag on Chad Lunsford after the Eagles, who had spiraled to among the worst teams in the FBS under Tyson Summers, won two of their final five with Lunsford leading the way. Grade B-
Rice hired Mike Bloomgren, who has been a Stanford assistant for the last seven years. Grade: C
Arizona State hires Herm Edwards, the former ESPN analyst and NFL head coach back in the Oughts. Whether Ol' Herm was playing a joke about the Sun Devils nickname or not, this one is simply puzzling and was made because the AD was Edwards agent in a previous career. We will give ASU credit for trying something different because the same-old, same-old has left ASU in a state of perpetual underachievement. Grade: Incomplete, but we can all agree that this will be either an F or an A with little option for anything in between.
Jobs open: Tennessee, Oregon, Arkansas, South Alabama, UTEP, Kent State.
It's that time. And thanks for all the suggestions and ideas to make our bowl contest even better.
Without further ado, let's get to it. Ladies and gentlemen, here's the eighth annual Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Success (Bowler optional) official sheet.
Best of luck, and the winner shall receive one of the renown 5-at-10 prize pack, that will include at least something somewhat puzzling from our garage as well as lunch and some other goodies, as well as the eternal honor of calling yourself and Champion. (Being a Champion of the Bowling for Bowls of Bowl Success ((Bowler optional)) contest falls somewhere between State champion and Champion of Life on the ol' sliding Champion scale.
Couple of rules and talking points:
All picks are against the spread, and these spreads are what we will use. Yes, a lot of them will change between now and kick off, but that's how this goes. These numbers are what we will use. Got it? Good.
You will get points for the correct pick, but will not — repeat will NOT — lose points for incorrect picks. All picks must be in by end of BID-ness on Friday, Dec. 15.
Entries must be emailed — yes emailed — to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That's pretty much it, and if you have any other questions, either post them in the comments or you can email me. Deal? Deal.
We ran short of time — primarily because we were not prepared to have to hunt down as many lines for a lot of games that still have not been set — to put the form here this morning.
We will publish the entry sheet for sure Thursday and run it daily until the end of next week.
This and that
— We spoke some on this during Tuesday's Press Row, but how Rob Gronkowski and JuJu Smith-Schuster got he same suspension for what transpired this weekend is puzzling.
— What's also puzzling is Steelers coach Mike Tomlin saying that Smuth-Schuster taunting Vontaze Burfict after the blindside hit that left Burfict knocked out cold is dumb. It was an illegal and dirty play, and the fact that showmanship is more important to one of the game's most recognized head coaches than safety speaks volumes about how those in the league truly view the safety measures that everyone outside the game are worried about. Why should we be worrying about the safety of NFL if the players lie about it and the coaches are more worried about image than actual safety?
— We are now to the point where people can start wondering if LaVar Ball's parental decisions are in the best interest of his sons. As for us, we've been pretty happy with the LaVar-free space we've crafted, but if you want to discuss it, go crazy.
— Speaking of another hot button sports topic, Colin Kaepernick won the Ali Legacy Award from Sports Illustrated on Tuesday. Here's the story and you can have the first word.
The first edition of the "Encyclopedia Brittanica" was published on this day in 1768. (For those of you whipper snappers wondering what an encyclopedia is, well, its the book form of Google.)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is 23 today.
Otto Graham would have been 96 today. So there's that.
Hey, did you know that Johnny Manziel turns 25 today.
Do you think Johnny Manziel ever plays in another NFL game?
And if we are going to do a Rushmore, let's do a Rushmore of First-Round Heisman busts. Go, and remember the mailbag.