Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tennessee Shows Signs Of Life But Still Loses By 26

Well, it was better than we all thought it was going to be. After Georgia scored their first touchdown on a fluke fumble recovery that was scooped up and ran in from 40 yards, I was prepared to get on here and write something like, “I’m running out of ways to say how bad Tennessee is every week”. Because it just looked like one of those Saturdays, a game we’ve grown all to accustomed to seeing from this program, full of weird plays, strange bounces, more physical manhandling, bad coaching, poor offense, missed tackles, and atrocious blocking.
And sure, some of that happened. The Vols screwed up a ton of tackles behind the line of scrimmage, blew some coverages, and ran the worst version of the clogged toilet bowl offense in the first half. And then there was the Georgia TD drive that put them up 31-12, which was infuriatingly bad because everyone in the stadium knew the ‘Dawgs literally had no interest in throwing it and Tennessee still couldn’t stop them. 
Then again, if I’d told you the Vols would still be hanging around in the 4th quarter, you would've taken it. With as bad as they looked last week against Florida, a 50-0 beatdown looked completely probable, with Georgia -31 looking like the lock of the year. No one thought Tennessee would be making the ‘Dawgs work hard that late in the game.
Look, I’m not excited they lost, and I’m certainly not a believer in moral victories, but they at least had life throughout an entire game for the first time since Pruitt arrived. They competed for most of the game and didn’t get completely taken out of it when seemingly all the breaks were going against them early. I'm grasping for straws here, ok? 
The flip side of all of this, of course, is that if not for a few missed Jake Fromm throws on deep passes in the first half, Georgia would’ve been up by thirty at halftime and well on their way to another depressing defeat for this Vol program. Sure, I think Tennessee did some things to make them uncomfortable, but I’ve watched every Georgia game they’ve played against a legitimate opponent this season and this was the sloppiest they’ve looked so far. They screwed up the quarterback-running back exchange a few times and Tennessee's defensive front annihilated Georgia's O-line a few times. If the 'Dawgs played the same way today as they did three weeks ago at South Carolina, or last week at Mizzou, the feel of this entire post is different and I’d start asking questions like, “Are we sure Jeremy Pruitt should be an SEC head coach?”
This is a minor point, because the Vols ended up losing by 26, but how dumb was it for Tennessee to go for two after their second touchdown when they were down 24-12? What’s the point of that? If you don’t make it (like they didn’t), you’re down 12 and you still need three scores. Just kick the extra point, make it 24-13, cut it to a two score game, and worry about the two point conversion later. If it’s 24-12 you’ve completely eliminated kicking a field goal as a scoring option for the rest of the game with as little time as you had left, which now forces you to punch it in the end zone twice against a defense you've struggled to move the ball against all day. That’s a little gym teacher-esque there Coach Pruitt. Do you even math, bro?
Highlights? A few:
Darrell Taylor became the first Vol to have three sacks in a game since Derek Barnett did it in 2016. He was disruptive up front all day, and he was the first guy on a Tennessee defense that’s really stood out in a single game since Barnett.
I don’t know if Jarrett Guarantano is the long term answer at quarterback, but I love that dude’s toughness. There can’t be a quarterback the last season-plus who has taken more brutal shots than he has, but he’s never relented or been afraid to stand in there, protected by what is still an awful offensive line. I really believe we’d think much higher of him if he had any semblance of help up front, because he’s been extremely accurate and thrown a nice ball down the field when he’s had time to stand upright.  
The rest of the season is going to hinge entirely on how well the offensive line plays. They had some stretches in the second half today where they were half-decent, but the fact that they didn’t run a single play in Georgia territory until under 9 minutes to go in the third quarter can be directly traced to the O-line’s inability to hold blocks consistently from play to play. 66 rushing yards just won’t cut it week to week, and Guarantano won’t make it through the season if he continues to get beat down like he did this afternoon. I’ve seen a lot of people whining on the internet and asking why the Vols won’t take more shots downfield. This is curious to me, because haven’t we all been watching the same offensive line? That unit is about as flimsy as paper mache, and there’s no way they'd be able to hold their blocks long enough to let anything develop down the field. Guarantano’s got rushers in his face two seconds after he gets the ball on almost every play. 
Tennessee gets their bye week next Saturday, and then has a three game stretch of at Auburn, home for Alabama, and at South Carolina. The only one of those three they realistically have a chance in is their October 27th visit to SC; Auburn’s front seven is going to eat the Vols offensive line alive, and Alabama is, well, Alabama. A 2-5 start with a trip to Columbia in late October is the most likely outcome of the next three weeks. Who knows after that? If they continue to play as well as they did for stretches of today's game, then 6-6 and a bowl game could happen. If not, we're talking about 4-8 again, or (gulp) 3-9.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Week 5 College Football Picks: The Playoff Plot Thickens

It’s Week 5 of the college football season already, and it brings us five matchups between ranked teams, all with potential playoff implications. Plus, we all get to watch Tennessee travel to Georgia and lose by five touchdowns! Fantastic! Being a Vol fan is so fun!
Let’s just start there…
#2 Georgia over Tennessee (at Georgia)
This could quite possibly be the worst Tennessee team of all time. Last year’s squad went 4-8 with what was probably 7-5 or 8-4 talent, but the 2018 Vols look like they’re a legitimate 3-9 football team. They can’t block or tackle and there’s never a threat from anyone to make a big play. I’ve never bet on the line of a football game in my entire life, but Georgia -31.5 seems like a near lock. The Bulldogs won 41-0 last year in Knoxville against what was a better, more talented Tennessee team. Why isn’t it 50-0 tomorrow? What has Tennessee shown that makes you think they won’t get blown off the field?
Here’s a fun, wildly unpopular question: if Tennessee had dealt with the scrutiny from the fanbase and hired Greg Schiano, or just said, “screw you guys, we’re keeping Butch Jones”, do they get blasted 47-21 last week? I’m not throwing the towel in on the Pruitt era yet, but Butch never got beaten that badly by Florida, particularly not a mediocre Gator team like that one. Sure, he’d lose on a Hail Mary at the end of the game, or give up a 61 yard TD on fourth and long, or lose 10-9, or start Nathan Peterman in the first half, but at least they’d have the athletes and the players to hang around before they inevitably broke my heart.
Texas A&M over Arkansas (in Arlington)
Arkansas is probably the only SEC team that should feel worse about the state of their program than Tennessee. First year coach Chad Morris has lost his last three games to Colorado State, North Texas, and Auburn by a combined score of 112-47. Ugh. A&M has shown life every week, and even though they got their doors blown off by 22 last week against Alabama, they still did some things to make the Tide work. This is a good football team that could very easily win 8 or 9 games, whereas Arkansas is on the fast track to a 1-11 season and another coaching search sometime in 2020.
#12 West Virginia over #25 Texas Tech
After getting embarrassed in the opening weekend by Ole Miss, the Red Raiders have quietly won their last three games against Lamar, Houston, and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 181-66. Their defense was particularly impressive last week; giving up only 17 points to Oklahoma State on the road when you both play in a pillow fight conference is shocking. Normally those games are all 47-45 or something.
I think the magic runs out for Kliff Kingsbury and Tech this weekend though. West Virginia has potentially the best quarterback in the country in Will Grier, and for a Big 12 team, a very good defense (they’ve only allowed 37 points in three games). The only thing Tech will be better at than WVU this weekend is the hairline of their head coaches.

#14 Michigan over Northwestern (at Northwestern)
I’m buying Michigan stock again after all you idiots jumped off the bandwagon when they got physically manhandled by Notre Dame in the opening weekend of the season. Wait a second, you’re saying I jumped off too? How dare you call me out for being both a liar and an idiot!
The Wolverines should be able to take care of Northwestern without much trouble, but like I’ve talked about before, their schedule is probably the most brutal in the country this season. They host Maryland next weekend (total wildcard), followed by a home game against Wisconsin, a game at Michigan State, and another home game against Penn State on November 3rd. Sheesh. Oh yeah, and they’ll also end the season at Ohio State. 8-4 or 9-3 is completely in play.
#23 Mississippi State over Florida (at Mississippi State)
Dan Mullen makes his return to Starkville with a definitively worse quarterback and an arguably worse roster. Seriously, the difference between Nick Fitzgerald and Feleipe Franks is about as big as the difference between Jessica Alba and Rosie O’Donnell. And despite what they did to Tennessee last week, this really is a rather unspectacular Florida team that doesn’t do much of anything well, and I’d still be shocked if they won more than seven games this year. I think Mullen’s Gators will be the better program going forward, but Mississippi State should have the better of them this weekend.
#11 Washington over #20 BYU (at Washington)
The best thing BYU has going for them is that their  head football coach Kalani Sitake looks like a guy that delivers sodas to gas stations. Like I’m 100% sure that I've seen him get out of an 18 wheeler full of Pepsi before.

The Huskies really should be undefeated right now, and would be if they didn’t screw up back to back possessions in the red zone against Auburn all the way back in Week 1. This is, in my view, a much better team and I think they’ll win by at least 14 points.
#19 Oregon over #24 Cal (at Cal)
The Ducks are going to remember blowing last week’s Stanford game for years because it may end up costing them a chance to make the playoff. The schedule broke nicely for them this season; they got both Stanford and Washington at home, with the Huskies coming to Autzen Stadium off an Oregon bye. Plus, the Pac 12 South is really atrocious, and whoever they would've faced in a potential conference championship game very well may be 8-4 or 7-5. This could’ve been their year to run through the league undefeated and make the playoff again, and with a QB as talented as Justin Herbert, why couldn’t they have? They still could I suppose, but the margin for error is completely gone.
As for their game this weekend, I’ll take them on the road against Cal to win by double digits. Oregon wowed me with their speed and playmakers last Saturday and I think they might be one of the ten best teams I’ve seen this season.
#8 Notre Dame over #7 Stanford (at Notre Dame)
The Cardinal might be the better team, but I like the Irish this weekend in what should be a physical, bruising game for three and half hours. Stanford is facing its second consecutive road game after last week’s emotional roller coaster comeback against Oregon, and now they have to fly halfway across the country for a game out of their region, against a physical Irish team with a new and improved offense led by QB Ian Book. I think the Cardinal will come out flat, rally late, but ultimately come up short and lose 24-21.
If the Irish can win this game, then a 12-0 season that ends with a playoff berth isn’t that improbable, almost likely. Here’s their final seven games:
At Virginia Tech. The Hokies just lost to Old Dominion and will be without their starting QB Josh Jackson more than likely for the rest of the year. This game looked scarier a week ago than it is now.
Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 2-2, got blown out 51-6 by Penn State, and lost to North Carolina last weekend, one of the worst Power Five Teams in the country.
Navy in San Diego. The Midshipmen are also 2-2 and haven’t played anyone with close to as much talent as the Irish.
At Northwestern. The Wildcats lost to Akron two weeks ago.
Florida State. The Seminoles are coached by Willie Taggart. That is my entire argument.
Syracuse. I think the Orange are half decent but this game will be in South Bend and the Irish will assuredly be favored.
At USC. The Trojan offense sucks, and depending on how the rest of the year turns out, they could be led by an interim head coach by that point.
Notre Dame will be favored in all of those games, and they lucked out by getting both Michigan and Stanford, their two toughest opponents, at home this season. They’ll never have a better opportunity to go undefeated and make the playoff than they do now.  
#4 Ohio State over #9 Penn State (at Penn State)
Penn State QB Trace McSorley has never lost a home game as a starter, but I expect that to change this weekend. The Buckeyes, even without defensive end Nick Bosa, have arguably the best roster in the entire country, and the Nittany Lion defense has shown themselves to be vulnerable at times this season. Dwayne Haskins might throw for 400 yards against them tomorrow. I just don’t see a path to victory for PSU against such overwhelming talent unless the crowd noise is able to completely flip the game, which could happen if Penn State catches a few breaks early or causes some Ohio State turnovers. But absent of that, I think the Buckeyes win going away.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Week In College Football: Tennessee Is Going 3-9

It was another thrilling weekend of football… unless you’re a Tennessee fan. Hell, let’s just start there.
Florida Dominated Tennessee And Demonstrated The Vols Aren’t Close To Competency
I wrote a lot about this game on Saturday, but suffice to say, it was an complete and total embarrassment. To get absolutely manhandled at home in every facet of the game by what is a really average Florida team just goes to show how bad this program is right now and how far away they are from even being 6-6. We’re talking about an extended stretch of mediocrity and ineptitude at Tennessee, the worst decade plus in school history. Since Doug Dickey arrived as the head coach in 1964 and scrapped the single wing offense in favor of the more modern T Formation, the only truly poor stretch of Vol football was a six year run from 1975-1980 where they played in only one bowl game, didn’t win more than 7 games in any season, and finished .500 or below three times.  Their modern run of disappointment/not living up to expectations is now on Year 11, with no end in sight, and its mind boggling to me that this program has been in a funk for this long. In the 27 years from 1981-2007, the Vols were at least competitive in the SEC every season except 1988, when they started out 0-6, and 2005, when they unexpectedly stumbled to 5-6. Even the 1982 team that finished 6-5-1 beat #2 Alabama.  That almost three decade stretch of success included a National Championship, five SEC Championships, five SEC Championship Game appearances, eighteen seasons with 9 wins or more, a 45-5 stretch from 1995-98, 25 bowl eligible seasons, and a 14-12-1 record against Alabama. How can that level of prowess, which wasn’t that long ago, feel completely unattainable only a decade later? They didn’t even look like they had SEC-level players on Saturday. What happened to all of Butch Jones’s fantastic recruiting classes? A ton of those highly thought of guys are still on this team. Were they not “coached up”? Or did Butch just land all of the overrated guys coming out of high school? There’s no way that’s the case. Or has Pruitt not done a good enough job of getting everyone to buy in? Or is the entire team so rattled by getting their teeth kicked in or blowing it in every big spot the last few years that they’ll need every Butch guy to graduate before they can start to field a competent team?
Here’s the thing, and Pruitt seems like a fine man, but at the end of the day, presiding over a successful football team that competes week to week isn't rocket science if you’re a competent coach, particularly when you’re at a program like Tennessee that has the resources and an administration that is all in on football. I’ve written this a million times, and I’ll write it here again; since the implementation of the SEC Championship Game in 1992, every coach that has won the SEC had at least nine victories in a year by his second season at his school. That’s 25 years of evidence of that no matter how bad the situation you inherit is, if you’re going to work out as a coach, you should be able to get it turned around quickly. Pruitt is off to quite possibly the worst start by a Tennessee coach ever, and what should be bothersome to him and all of Rocky Top is that the Vols look worse in every area than they did last season, when they finished 4-8 and completely tuned out Butch and the coaching staff. They block worse than last year, the tackling has completely regressed, and even the energy level they play with has completely evaporated. Butch took what is virtually the same Vol team to Gainesville last year, and the only reason they lost was because he committed coaching malpractice even though Tennessee clearly had the better team. This Gators team isn’t significantly better than the 2017 version, and yet, they were able to come to Knoxville and easily lay the smack down for three and a half hours.
Final note: I’m not sure this rock bottom. Saturday at Georgia is going to be much worse. And even when they lose 65-0, I’m not even sure that will be rock bottom because they’ll still have a game at Neyland against Alabama, which has a great chance to be the largest margin of victory by either team in this rivalry. The Crimson Tide shut out the Vols 51-0 in 1906; their meeting this year could easily be 67-0. There’s no end in sight to this ineptitude.
Oregon Butch’d The Stanford Game
The Ducks outgained the Cardinal 524-398, picked up 27 first downs to Stanford’s 17, won the time of possession 35:42 to 24:18, and had a ten point lead with four minutes to go. How the hell did they not win? Turnovers. Oregon fumbled twice in the red zone, including a scoop and score touchdown by the Cardinal when the Ducks were driving for what looked like the put away touchdown and 31-7 lead. And with a 3 point lead, the clock under a minute to go, and with Stanford having only one timeout, Oregon’s CJ Verdell tried to stretch out the ball for the game-ending first down, but instead had it punched out and recovered by Stanford. The Cardinal quickly got in field goal range, tied it up, and then won in overtime.
Here’s my question; why the hell are you running the ball in that situation at all? It’s not like Stanford had all three timeouts. Why risk it? Why not just take a knee three times and try to run the clock out that way? And even if you can’t completely get it to triple zeros, all you have to do is punt the ball back to them and make them go the length of the field with 15 seconds or less. How likely is it that they’ll be able to do that? Like .0001%? Mario Cristobal went full Butch Jones here; I wouldn’t be shocked if he said something about brick by brick after the game and then talked about how they just hadn’t figured out how to win yet.
Here’s the other thing; How the hell is Oregon, who is on their third different coach in three years, capable of hanging with one of the top ten teams in the country, while Tennessee, which is only on its second coach in six years, look like they don't even belong in the same conference with what is probably going to be a 6-6 or 7-5 Florida team? Sure, Justin Herbert is a great QB, but the Ducks somehow have way more talent all over the field than a Tennessee team that’s assuredly had the better overall recruiting classes the last couple of years.
Did Everyone Write Off Michigan Too Quickly?
Since the Wolverines sucked on offense in Week 1 against Notre Dame, they’ve scored 49, 45, and 56 points in their last three games, and the ass beating they put on Nebraska on Saturday had them looking like one of the ten best teams in the country. Sure, the Cornhuskers are awful, but Michigan completely controlled the game from start to finish in what was their best performance since their demolition of Florida in the 2017 opening weekend. The anti-Harbaugh narrative is a fun one, because he’s a loud and outlandish personality that carries himself like he’s Nick Saban even though he’s far from him accomplishment-wise, but if Shea Patterson can continue his strong play, they’re completely capable of beating everyone on the schedule, especially with the talent they have on defense. The schedule is going to be the problem though, because here’s their next five games: at Northwestern, home against Maryland (the Terps are an unknown week to week), home against Wisconsin, at Michigan State, and home for Penn State. They could play outstanding and still going 3-2, eliminating them from both the playoff race and a potential conference championship. And even if they go 4-1, they’ll still have to travel to Ohio State for the last game of the year, which will probably be a loss. Meaning they’re at best a 9-3 or 8-4 team again. How does that land with Michigan people? I wouldn't think well.
Kentucky Beat Up Mississippi State And Is Ranked For The First Time In The Mark Stoops Era
I’ve made fun of the Wildcats a number of times in this space due to their complete and utter lack of self-awareness about where their football team is historically inside the SEC (look no further than them proudly displaying a national championship trophy from 1950, a year that none of the major polls declared them champs), but Mark Stoops has something working there in what is now his sixth year on the job. Benny Snell Jr. might be the most underrated player in the nation (165 rushing yards, 4 TDs on Saturday), and the ‘Cats are 4-0 and well on the way to one of their best seasons in school history, thanks to this win against a Top 15 Mississippi State team and their victory over Florida two weeks ago, which snapped their 31 game losing streak to the Gators. By no means do I think Kentucky is a serious challenger to Georgia in the East (though they do host the ‘Dawgs on November 3), but there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll beat Tennessee for the second straight year when they play in November, something that hasn’t happened since 1977. Can’t wait for that one!
Georgia Went Into Mizzou And Left With A Two Touchdown Victory
The score made the game look closer than it actually was; Missouri scored a late touchdown and also blocked a Georgia field goal deep in the fourth quarter. But from the time the Bulldogs ran back a fumble for a touchdown on Mizzou's first drive, it felt like they were completely in control of the game, and I never thought they were going to lose for a single second. They shouldn’t struggle with either Tennessee or Vanderbilt the next two weeks, and there’s a great shot both they and LSU will be 6-0 when they meet in Baton Rouge on October 13.
Virginia Tech lost as a 29 point favorite to Old Dominion, the biggest upset against an ACC Team in 40 years
ODU was 0-3 coming into this one, and yet, put up 632 yards of offense and scored 49 points against Bud Foster’s defense. Here’s my question; you’re Virginia Tech, a big boy program, so why the hell are you playing this game at ODU? And how in the world do you dominate Florida State on national television with what looked like one of the best defenses in the country, and then all the sudden lose the ability to do anything on that end against a squad in ODU that has nowhere near the same level of athletes as you do? The lesson, as always: Football is a week to week, quarter to quarter, and play to play game, and you’ve got to bring your best effort every single week.  
My College Football Playoff Top 4
The Tide dominated Texas A&M and Saban remained undefeated against his former assistants. Their 22 point victory on Saturday was somehow their smallest margin of victory this season. Here’s their next 4 games: home for Louisiana-Lafayette, at Arkansas, home for Mizzou, at Tennessee. Sounds like 4 more wins easily, and an 8-0 record when they head to Baton Rouge for a showdown with LSU on November 3.
The ‘Dawgs have scored more than 40 points in every game this season and have already won two conference road games. They’ll get four of their final six conference games at home, and a berth in the SEC Championship Game seems highly probable.
Ohio State
The Buckeyes roll into Penn State this weekend in what could be a matchup between the two best teams in the division. The winner will be in my Top 4 next week and we’ll have the inside track to the playoff.
The Tigers make their first appearance in my Top 4 after I bumped Oklahoma due to them needing overtime to beat Army. LSU has two wins against top ten teams away from home, a feat no one else can claim so far this season.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tennessee Football Is A Joke

What an embarrassing effort tonight by the Vols. Good lord. I can honestly say this is the worst played game I’ve ever witnessed from Tennessee, particularly when you consider the opponent and how important this game was for the overall health of the program and the psyche of the fan base. Like I wrote yesterday, there’s a really good chance this will be the worst Florida team Jeremy Pruitt ever gets to play, and yet, the Vols got absolutely taken apart from the opening kick.
The offensive line is flagrantly bad, and it’s incredible to me that they haven’t been able to figure out that unit for the last decade. They were so awful tonight that Jarrett Guarantano literally had to come out of the game at one point in the second quarter because he’d taken about 5 million hits to the chest. They were so poor that it was almost like they played the entire game without any offensive lineman.
I can’t decide what play told the story of the game the best, so I’ve narrowed it down to these:
  • When they blocked so terribly that they gave up a safety
  • When Ryan Johnson snapped the ball off his leg and they fumbled in field goal range
  • When they fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half and killed any chance of making it competitive 
  • When Guarantano threw the ball directly into the hands of a Florida defensive lineman on an attempted screen pass
  • When Guarantano had to come out of the game in the second quarter because he’d gotten his chest caved in about 40 different times
  • When the Vols pulled off a beautiful play on 4th and 1, a play action pass to a wide open Austin Pope. Pope's trot down the sidelines for what looked like a walk in touchdown was stopped when a Florida defender came out of nowhere and met him inside the five yard line. The force from the hit caused him to inexplicably fumble the ball through the back of the end zone even though the side of his body that was carrying the ball wasn’t touched at all.

Here's what’s really concerning; the stink of the last decade plus is so strong that the fan base expects everything to go wrong at the first sign of trouble. Hell, I feel the same way. When Florida scored their first touchdown a few plays after they clocked Guarantano and forced him to give up the ball, the entire crowd looked like they just learned that their dog died. “Not again”. “I can’t believe I fell for this crap again”. “I show up here and get super excited and they’re just going to get their teeth kicked in”. You could just feel all of the energy leave the stadium. And the players felt it too. The culture of losing, of being mediocre, of getting your ass kicked, and of always blowing it is more tied to this program than General Neyland’s Game Maxims at this point.
About the only thing I liked tonight was how aggressive Pruitt was. They got off to a horrible start and the offensive line was clearly outmatched, so he knew he was going to have to take some chances, but the problem was that none of his players executed. The surprise onside kick is a perfect example of this; you’ve got three guys around one Florida player and you can’t find a way to come down with the football? Sure, LaMichael Perine made a fantastic play to recover it, but you just have to find a way to recover ball in that situation when you catch them totally by surprise and have a massive advantage. The fumble through the end zone is another one. You draw up this beautiful play that gets Austin Pope wide open and he blows it by forgetting how to hold onto the ball when he gets hit.
Again, this is not a good Florida team. Really. They got pushed around by Kentucky at home (the only good team they've played so far), Feleipe Franks is a bottom tier SEC quarterback, their defense is average, and they have no scary people at the skill positions. And they still destroyed Tennessee. The outcome was never really in doubt. 
The Vols aren't close to being good. They do nothing well in any of the three facets of the game, and there's nothing to be excited about going forward. That game against Georgia next Saturday might be 65-0. 
3-9 feels like where this season is headed. Another losing year in 2019 feels probable. And I don't see why anyone would feel good about 2020 either. 
The coaching staff obviously wasn't good enough tonight either, but even they can only do so much. I killed Butch Jones in this space for years because of how poor he was in-game, and how his awful decision making played a direct role in Tennessee losing multiple winnable games, but tonight, the majority of the blame goes on the players.  Butch Jones might’ve gotten fired, but the “Champions of Life” culture that he built is still rampant in this program. And it's on Pruitt to change that. So far, he hasn't. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Jeremy Pruitt Desperately Needs A Win This Weekend Against Florida; Plus, Week 4 College Football Game Picks

It’s Pruitt-Mullen I. It’s Tennessee-Florida. And it’s an extremely important game for Tennessee’s program and Jeremy Pruitt, outsized for how early it’s happening in his tenure. It doesn’t matter. The fan base is as apathetic as it’s ever been for a new coach; there was more buzz around Derek freaking Dooley early than there is for Pruitt. They’re tired of buying into coaches and then being let down in the worst ways imaginable every single time. No more. You’ve got to prove it on the field now.
Pruitt has a great opportunity tomorrow. The Florida squad he’s facing might be the worst one he’ll play the rest of the time he’s at Tennessee; he’s at home against a team with an abominable quarterback in Feleipe Franks, flanked by a bunch of skill position guys who scare no one. The defense isn’t anything to be afraid of either. I don’t care if it’s ugly, so gross that both teams literally take a dump on the field, he has to win this game tomorrow for his own security going forward. Because beating Florida, even if it's an awful Gator team, is how you get the fan base to buy in. 
Whether they actually will is totally up in the air. The Vols are worse than I thought they’d be; there’s nothing to get overly excited about on offense (besides MAYBE Tim Jordan), the line still sucks, and none of their receivers are gamebreakers. The defense looked good against ETSU and UTEP, but couldn’t stop a nosebleed against West Virginia, the only big boy school they’ve played thus far. Sure, the Gators don’t have a QB like Will Grier, but if Tennessee can’t move the ball on offense it won’t matter how great the defense plays unless they just hold UF scoreless.
This is going to be 10-9 again like it was in 2014, when the Vols and Gators took football back to the 1910s and crapped all over themselves for three and half hours. What made it even worse was that Tennessee lost that game. If they played god awful but still won, I would've at least been able to hang my hat on that. But losing that game in that way made me feel like former Gator coach Will Muschamp pulled my intestines out through my eye balls.
You just have to win. It doesn’t matter what happens, just win. Jesus. They’ve got to start getting things turned around there at some point right? They can’t suck forever! Getting your testicles kicked in every time by Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and every other major opponent makes me physically ill. I want to believe in Tennessee football again. I hate going into every game against a quality opponent feeling like they're going to lose, and the only thing worse than that is the impending sense of dread that pops up in every big spot. “Now how are they going to blow it this time? Hail Mary? 13 men on the field? The offense goes into the toilet? They get too conservative? They just don’t show up?”
In the world of college sports, I can't think of a more disappointing university year to year than Tennessee this century. It’s like losing the 2001 SEC Championship Game as a heavy favorite to LSU

 is still hanging over this program. Think about it: since that game, Tennessee:
  • Is 3-13 against Florida
  • Is 3-13 against Alabama
  • Is 6-10 against Georgia
  • Is on their fifth different football coach
  • Has a 115-89 overall record
  • Has had only three ten win seasons, and none since 2007
  • Has won the Eastern Division only twice
  • Has won more Life Championships than SEC Championships
  • Has currently lost the last game they played against each SEC opponent
  • Built Brick by Brick
  • Was once coached by the man in this photograph

  • Had Lane Kiffin walk out on them in the middle of the night after only 13 months on the job
  • Lost games in every imaginable fashion. There literally isn’t a way to lose a football game that they haven’t pulled off yet.

But it wasn’t just the football team; the basketball team has been infected with their stink too.
  • Bruce Pearl, the most successful coach in school history, held a barbecue at his house, invited high school juniors (a violation of NCAA rules), lied about it, and got fired.
  • During Pearl’s tenure, they blew a twenty point halftime lead to Greg Oden and Ohio State in the Sweet Sixteen in 2007, robbing the school of its first ever Elite Eight berth
  • In 2010, they advanced to the Elite Eight and lost to Michigan State by a single point. This game was 8 and half years ago and I’m still not over it.
  • After Pearl, they hired Cuonzo Martin, who did nothing but underachieve for three years with a team that had three NBA players on it. And when they snuck into the tournament during his last year in 2014, they made it all the way to Sweet Sixteen before losing to Michigan, thanks to a bogus block/charge call
  • Then there was the one “Donnie Knoxville” year in 2015 that ended when he got a ten year show cause penalty because he was apparently pulling off stuff even worse than what Rick Pitino was doing at Louisville. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot, Rick had no idea there were hookers on campus performing for recruits. Right… go back to getting extorted by the woman you met at Louisville restaurant and then bedded. And definitely give her $3,000 to get an abortion. Stand up guy right there, just the kind of person we need in college athletics. Just like Urban Meyer!
  • Rick Barnes wins the SEC regular season in his third year, gets a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, and then loses to Cinderella Loyola-Chicago in the second round after the game-winning shot hits every single part of the rim before going in.

Pruitt has the entire university, athletic department, state, fan base, and baggage from all of them on his back this weekend. He can’t lose to THIS Florida team. Not now.

Onto the game picks…
#19 Michigan over Nebraska (at Michigan)
Scott Frost needs to win this game to avoid an 0-3 start at his alma mater, a circumstance that no one would’ve predicted when he took the job back in December. This will be Michigan’s first game against a legitimate opponent since Week 1 against Notre Dame. I’m not in on the Wolverines, but I’m even further out on the Huskers, who lost at home to Troy last Saturday. Ugh. Nebraska is just not a good football team.
#3 Clemson over Georgia Tech (at Georgia Tech)
The Tigers haven’t looked like one of the ten best teams in the country so far this season despite being ranked #3 and having top level talent. I still think they need to make up their mind at the quarterback position, because they’ve had no real flow on offense the first month of the season, but Georgia Tech isn’t a scary team, and their "home field advantage" isn't much of an advantage.
#1 Alabama over #22 Texas A&M (at Alabama)
I wrote on Sunday that because of Tua, this has a chance to be Saban’s best team since he got to Alabama, despite their youth on defense. The Tide absolutely took apart Ole Miss last Saturday in Oxford and had the game well in their control by the end of the first quarter. This will be a good litmus test for the Aggies and their first year coach Jimbo Fisher, but as impressive as A&M looked at home against Clemson two weeks ago, I think there’s a good chance this game could get out of hand sometime in the first half. Tua brings a big play potential to the Alabama offense that they’ve never had before; it’s just easier for them to quickly put up points. Another point of note; Saban has never lost to one of his former assistant coaches, and he blasted Jimbo last year in their only career meeting.
#2 Georgia over Missouri (at Missouri)
I picked Mizzou to win the SEC East before the season, before I had seen either of these teams play. I think the Tigers will be able to put up points on the Bulldogs, but the Mizzou defense is so awful that I don’t see any way they’ll be able to slow down Georgia. The ‘Dawgs went into South Carolina a few weeks ago, a team with a better defense than what Mizzou has, and moved the ball fairly easily and had the game under their control by the third quarter. Not breaking any news here, but Georgia is loaded. I think this game is going to be in the 52-28 range.
Iowa over #18 Wisconsin (at Iowa)
Wisconsin left such a bad taste in my mouth last week against BYU, particularly their starting QB Alex Hornibrook, who made some awful throws and really looked like he shouldn’t be directing the offense on any level higher than high school. Plus, Kinnick Stadium is weird in night games, and this 
Iowa defense is pretty good. I think this one will play out about like how the Michigan-Iowa showdown did back in 2016, when the Hawkeyes won 14-11 on a last second field goal. Just a physical, ugly game with five or six turnovers.
#17 TCU over Texas (at Texas)
With how TCU played against Ohio State last week, I’m convinced that they might be one of the best six or seven teams in the country. If they didn't shoot themselves in the foot with dumb turnovers and a poor snap on a punt, we could potentially be talking about a top ranked team right here. Texas dominated USC last Saturday, but the Trojan offense is in such disarray that they’d make Florida and Tennessee's attack look like the 2007 New England Patriots. Don’t forget that the Longhorns lost to Maryland in the first week of the season. They aren’t “back” yet. Oklahoma and TCU feel like they’re on a collision course in the Big 12 Title Game again.
#7 Stanford over #20 Oregon (at Oregon)
Another argument against Willie Taggart working at FSU; Taggart leaves Oregon after going 7-5 in his only year, and the Ducks immediately find themselves in the Top 20 again, with College Gameday coming to town for their showdown on Saturday against the Cardinal. Neither of these squads have played a good team yet, unless you want to count Stanford’s victory over USC two weeks ago (and I don’t). They'll definitely face more of a challenge from Justin Herbert and the Duck offense than they got from J.T. Daniels, Clay Helton, and the Trojan attack, but the Cardinal have had a good track record against Oregon in recent years (they’ve won four of the last six times), and whenever I don’t have a great feel for a game, I always go with the more physical team, which Stanford assuredly is. Plus, they’ll have a healthy Bryce Love back at running back after he sat out last week.
Enjoy football this weekend, and yes, Go Vols!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Week In College Football: The Swamp Monster Strikes Again!

Week 3 of the college football season was a fantastic one, full of upsets, close finishes, coaching malpractice, and Ed Orgeron somehow shutting up all his critics despite the fact that he’s a swamp monster incapable of clearly articulating even one sentence. Hell, let’s just start there…
LSU Went Into Jordan-Hare And Beat Auburn
On Friday I picked Auburn to win because I thought the better QB + better coach + home field advantage would be too much for LSU to overcome. The problem was that I screwed up the equation because Jarrett Stidham was really poor yesterday and I forgot that Gus Malzahn had morphed from an average football coach into a guy that looks like an accountant who would do your taxes poorly.
Let’s start with Stidham; his two interceptions were just awful. The first one on the opening possession led to an easy LSU touchdown, while the other occurred in the third quarter with Auburn up 21-13 and driving for what could’ve potentially been the put away touchdown. This guy is supposed to be an NFL first rounder, but all he’s done against the best two opponents he played this season (Washington and LSU) was throw for a combined 471 yards, two TDs, and two interceptions. Nothing spectacular, or even above average, there.
And then there’s Malzahn, the supposed offensive “guru” who helped guide the Tigers to a paltry 328 yards yesterday. What does this guy do that’s really special? He seems destined for another three or four loss season in conference play, the offense has been stale against the best two opponents they’ve played this season, and if Washington doesn’t screw up back to back possessions in the red zone, Auburn is 1-2 and Malzahn is on the hottest seat in the country. Let’s be honest here, Gus has been extremely lucky with fluky plays at the end of three of the biggest games of his career; the Georgia game in 2013 that ended with a miracle Hail Mary, the Kick Six against Alabama from the same year, and the “Loser Leaves Town” game against LSU in 2016, when the Tigers had the game-winning TD called back because they didn’t get the play off in time before the clock hit triple zeros. If he loses even one of those games, he’s already out of there and doesn’t have a chance to blow another talented Auburn team’s season. If Stidham continues to play poorly, not only will their year be cooked, but so will Gus's tenure on the Plains
As for LSU, I’m shocked they’ve played as well as they have under Orgeron. I’ve made fun of him more times than anyone in this space outside of Butch Jones, but hilariously enough he’s been pretty successful there thus far. Here’s this interesting tidbit; since the start of last season, the Swamp Monster has beaten as many top ten teams, three, as both Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Les Miles didn’t leave the cupboard bare when he got fired two years ago, but Orgeron has to get some credit for keeping it from totally coming unhinged in Baton Rouge, something I never would've expected when they hired him back in 2016. When a guy goes 3-21 in conference play at Ole Miss, is impossible to understand at a random press conference on a Monday, was hired partly because 1. Tom Herman told you no in favor of Texas and 2. the whole, “WE’VE NEVER HAD A NATIVE LOUISIANAN COACH LSU” thing, and that all the supporting evidence suggests that you were formed in the swamps of the Bayou by magic Cajun voodoo, and it makes sense that everyone, including me, thought it was going to be a disaster. So far I’ve looked like an idiot. We’ll see what happens in early November when they play Alabama.
Joe Burrow was pretty inaccurate yesterday (15-34!) but still somehow outplayed Stidham. He’s by no means a superstar, but he doesn’t turn the ball over and he's been able to make some nice throws when they’ve needed it. Their game-winning field goal drive, a 14 play, 52 yarder that chewed up the remaining 5:38 of the clock was highlighted by a conversion on 3rd and 7 and 4th and 7, both on throws made by Burrow.
The problem going forward for LSU is that their schedule is still absolutely brutal. They get Louisiana Tech at home next week, but follow it up with this gauntlet: Ole Miss, at Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, bye week, Alabama. This team could be phenomenal and they could still end up losing three of those.
Ohio State Shook Off A Tough First Half And Dominated The Final Thirty Minutes
TCU whooped them up and down the field most of the first half before the Buckeyes exploded for three touchdowns in the span of four minutes in the 3rd quarter thanks to a Parris Campbell 63 yard receiving TD, an abominable throw on a shovel pass from TCU QB Shawn Robinson that was intercepted and returned for a score, and a dropped snap by the TCU punter that led to a block and a short touchdown drive by OSU. 
I was impressed with TCU, particularly their defense, which looked fast and made Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins look mortal for the first time all season, but they made so many mistakes in the second half that they blew what could’ve been a winnable game.
The Buckeyes really impressed me with how they played after the intermission, in what was basically a road game against a quality opponent outside of their region without their head coach Urban Meyer on the sidelines. They made all the big plays in the second half and looked like one of the few teams that could give Alabama a tough game. Their trip to Beaver Stadium to play Penn State in two weeks is going to be really fun.
The Big Ten Might Be Really Awful Outside Of Ohio State And Penn State
Here’s a recap: Kansas, who hadn’t beaten consecutive FBS teams since 2009 AND lost to FCS Nicholls State in Week 1, blasted Rutgers 55-14. USF knocked off Illinois, Northwestern was defeated by Akron, Nebraska lost to Troy (and started Savior Scott Frost out 0-2 at his alma mater), and Temple blew out Maryland 35-14. In other results, #6 Wisconsin lost on missed last second field goal to BYU and their coach Kalani Sitake, a guy who looks like he should be delivering Pepsi’s to gas stations, while Purdue gave up a gazillion yards to Missouri and lost again to drop to 0-3. Throw in Michigan’s offense, which was horrific against Notre Dame, the only legitimate opponent they’ve played thus far, and Michigan State, who struggled mightily with Utah State and then lost to Arizona State, and were basically down to two teams, Ohio State and Penn State, who will play each other in what might be a de facto Big Ten Championship Game in two weeks.
I think I’m pretty much done with Wisconsin at this point. Sure, sure, they’ll probably end up winning the Big Ten West, but Alex Hornibrook is probably the worst quarterback on any of the teams ranked in the Top 25. He really brought nothing to the table all game and finished with a pedestrian 190 yards on 18-28 passing and an interception. He’s just not good enough to be the quarterback of a team that wins a conference title or makes the playoff. 
Everyone outside of the South has been riding this whole “the Big Ten is better than the SEC” nonsense the last couple of years, and all of those people were idiots. The SEC has a bunch of guys coaching their teams that should be position coaches or gym teachers and it’d still be impossible for them to have a Saturday as bad as the one the Big Ten just had.
Oh, and here's a photo of BYU's Kalani Sitake. I wonder where he parked his 18 wheeler?
Which Fan Base Should Feel The Worst About Their New Coach?
Nebraska and Scott Frost are 0-2, UCLA and Chip Kelly are 0-3 (woah), Florida and Dan Mullen don’t have a quarterback and had their 31 year winning streak over Kentucky snapped last Saturday, and yet, I don't think any of those schools should be panicking yet because of the pedigree of those guys. 
Two other programs come to mind:
Arkansas isn’t the biggest, sexiest program out there, but they lost to Colorado State last week and then got destroyed yesterday at home by North Texas. Their new coach Chad Morris looks like a shady politician who just got caught up in a scandal that he has no idea how to get out of.
Are we sure this guy should be a head coach at a Power 5 program? What were his qualifications? He was the Clemson offensive coordinator from 2011-2014 when they won… nothing substantial, and then followed that up by going 14-22 at SMU from 2015-2017. His best record at SMU was 7-5, which is hilarious, because Bret Bielema, who everyone agrees was a disaster at Arkansas, won at least 7 games in three of his five years there. So you’re firing Bielema and replacing him with a guy who had a worse record at a program that plays a significantly weaker schedule every year than the job he's about to take? How does that make any sense?
But as bad as Morris has been, not even he can come close to the train wreck that Willie Taggart has been at Florida State, a disaster we all saw coming. Getting beat down 30-7 like they did yesterday by Syracuse (they hadn’t lost to them since 1966!) should be immediate grounds for firing, especially with how his first month has gone, except for the simple fact that the FSU athletic department is stupid and agreed to give Taggart a contract that would guarantee him 85% of his remaining salary should he be fired after his first year. THAT’S $20.4 MILLION. How effing dumb do you have to be to give a guy a deal like that when he’s a career 47-50 with only one ten win season?
The bad news is that the ‘Noles have scored a combined ten points in their two games against FBS opponents. There is no good news.
And the execution at the end of the first half was awful. FSU was only trailing 6-0 at that point and were driving for what should’ve been at least a field goal. On third down with less than 15 seconds to go, with the ball in the red zone and with no timeouts, their QB Deondre Francois completed a pass in bounds AND short of the first down marker, which ran the clock all the way down and kept the Seminoles from scoring at all. That’s some Butch Jones-level BS right there. I’d be near suicidal if I was an FSU fan right now. We’ve got this clown for at least another year? Holy hell.
Texas Destroyed USC And Proved Further That Clay Helton Is Nothing More Than A Traveling Tube Sock Salesman
USC took a dump on the field offensively for most of game against Texas, and yet, the 14 points they scored tonight were somehow the most the Trojans have put up in a Clay Helton-coached game without Sam Darnold since he got the job full time in 2016. And including the time where he was an interim head coach, he’s only 8-8 in games without Darnold as his quarterback. Both he and Tom Herman desperately needed to win this showdown to earn some goodwill with their frustrated fan bases, and Helton did nothing to stop the heat. The only thing that’s really helping him now is that Chip Kelly is off to such a bad start at UCLA.
As for Herman, I’m not sure if he’s got the Longhorns trending in the right direction now or not, but what I can say with 100% certainty is that he was so overjoyed after beating USC that he visited every Austin strip club he could last night.
Tennessee-Florida Next Saturday Is Going To Be 10-9
In 2014 in Knoxville, these teams played one of the worst offensive games in the history of the SEC, a 10-9 crap fest that set football back almost to the days before the forward pass. Next week’s showdown should be something similar; both teams are so challenged offensively that they’ll make the average defenses in this game look like the ’71 Nebraska Cornhuskers (that joke was for my over 50 readers). I think I’d take Jarrett Guarantano over Feleipe Franks, but the Vol offensive line sucks so much and neither team really has any game breakers.
Tennessee was mediocre against UTEP yesterday, and it was really embarrassing to watch the Vols slog around with a team that has now lost 15 straight games. There’s just no momentum around this program right now, and beating Florida next week, even if it’s ugly, feels like a really big game for Jeremy Pruitt early in his tenure. This is a bad Florida team and you’re at home; just take care of business and start your head coaching career off at 3-1. Even if you suck the next month due to your brutal schedule, at least the Florida win would be something you can hang your hat on and something that the fan base can rally around.
Ejecting Players For Targeting Is Stupid
Unless a guy commits a thuggish, dirty play, I think tossing a guy out because the crown of his helmet hit an offensive player's helmet is stupid. The game is fast as hell and the ball carrier could duck into your helmet at that last second. So I could be making the perfect form tackle and an offensive guy could be trying to avoid my tackle and drop his helmet into mine and I’d get thrown out because of that? That makes no sense. If you’re so concerned about eliminating helmet to helmet contact, just penalize the team 15 yards and move on. Because you’re not deterring anything by throwing guys out since a lot of these hits are completely accidental and the defensive players aren’t even trying to launch themselves like a missile at an offensive guys head. A guy punches someone in the face or tries to rip his head off, sure, toss him. Otherwise it’s stupid to throw him out for something he more often than not has no control over.
My College Playoff Top 4 After Week 3
1. Alabama
The Tide are like Mike Tyson in the 80s at this point; you tune in for the first round (or quarter), and it’s over almost as soon as it begins. ‘Bama gave up a long touchdown less than 30 seconds into their game against Ole Miss yesterday AND THEY STILL HAD THE GAME IN HAND BY THE END OF THE FIRST QUARTER. I thought the Rebels would at least be competitive for three quarters, but Alabama threw up 62 straight points on them like it was nothing. Tua is the best quarterback that Saban has ever had, and he gives them an explosive element in the passing game that they’ve never had before. If he continues to play this well, this could be the best Saban team even with their youth on defense.
2. Ohio State
The Buckeyes had the best win of the whole season last night when they went into Jerry World and knocked off TCU. They get Urban Meyer back next week and approach a Big Ten schedule that may be much easier than we all thought going into the season.
3. Georgia
The ‘Dawgs blasted MTSU and moved to 3-0. They’ll go on the road this weekend to play Missouri. They should be able to move the ball at will against that putrid Mizzou defense, but they may also have a difficult time slowing down Drew Lock and the Tiger offense.
4. Oklahoma
Kyler Murray is phenomenal, and if they held the vote today, I think he should win the Heisman. Iowa State threw a lot at him yesterday and he didn’t really seem fazed by it. The concern for the Sooners going forward is that their defense is below average and they really lack physicality on that end. Iowa State scored 3 points and amassed only 188 yards against Iowa last week, while they put up 27 points and 447 yards yesterday. What changed? Probably the fact that OU’s defense doesn’t do anything special.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Week 3 College Football Picks

It’s Week 3 of the college football season and there are some enormous matchups on Saturday, even with the multiple cancellations due to Hurricane Florence (stay safe everyone). Let’s jump right in…
Tennessee over UTEP (at Tennessee)
The Vols, after a shaky start, blasted ETSU last week in a win that will mean absolutely nothing for their season going forward. Neither will the game tomorrow, unless they lose of course, which would be absolutely horrific, considering UTEP has been outscored 82-34 and outgained 851-687 through the first two weeks. This isn't even an average Group of 5 team and the Vols should be able to dispatch them with relative ease and head into next week's match up with Florida on a two game winning streak.
If they did manage to lose somehow, it’s not a “Phillip Fulmer is waiting in the locker room to fire Jeremy Pruitt the second he steps in there” game, but it would be the worst opponent to beat the Vols since Wyoming defeated them in 2008 during Fulmer’s final year as coach. Plus, we’d all feel really awful about Pruitt and the program going forward because not even Butch Jones or Derek Dooley lost games like this.
#5 Oklahoma over Iowa State (at Iowa State)
Last year the Cyclones went into Norman and gave the Sooners their only loss of the regular season. I thought Iowa State would be better than 2017’s 8-5 record because they had 15 starters coming back, but last week’s offensive showing at Iowa was abominable; 3 points, 188 total yards, and only 19 rushing yards. 19!!!!
Oklahoma has blasted their first two opponents and new QB Kyler Murray might be the Heisman winner if they held the vote today. I like the Sooners big here; the defense isn’t great, but maybe better than last year, and the offense is so good that I don’t see anyone really being able to slow them down this season. Definitely not Iowa State. And even if they could make them work a little bit, I have no confidence in their offense to get to even 20 points.
Quick Tangent: Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell might have missed the best opportunity of his career to get a big time job. Iowa State is one of the worst Power 5 jobs in the country, a place that had won a combined 11 games from 2013-2016. Winning 8 games there like they did last season is like winning 11 games at a major program. Campbell’s problem was that any school who tried to hire him after 2017 would’ve owed Iowa State $9.4 million, and I don’t think any program wanted to be on the hook for something like that unless they were getting a coach like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. So as he got passed over for job after job, eventually he threw up his hands and signed another deal with Iowa State that extended him long term, but also brought his buyout down to $7 million after this season. Realistically, 8 or 9 wins is really the best you can ever do at Iowa State. They’re never going to have the players to compete week to week in the Big 12, and even the best game planner can’t scheme well enough to make up for their lack of talent. If Campbell ever wants to win a conference title, appear in the college football playoff, and make a crap ton of money, he’ll need to leave. The problem is that if he’s already peaked, and his offense isn’t going to get any better than it did last week, then it could be a really difficult season in Ames, like 3-8 level bad. And if that’s the case, and it continues, his name is going to fall out of favor as his 8 win season gets further away and passes out of athletic director’s memories.
Wisconsin over BYU (at Wisconsin)
I think this is the best Wisconsin team since Bret Bielema departed for Arkansas after the 2012 season. It’s a loaded roster with a potential Hesiman winner at running back in Jonathan Taylor and one of the best coaching staffs in the country. I wasn’t sure about Paul Chryst when he got there before the 2015 season due to his 19-19 record at Pittsburgh, but all he’s done since he showed up was go 36-7 (22-4 in conference play), capture the Big Ten West title the last two years, win two consecutive New Years Six Bowl games, and finish in the Top ten in 2016 and 2017.
The only real hole I see on this team is at quarterback; Alex Hornibrook has such a weak arm that I’m not even sure he’s actually left-handed. His delivery looks awkward and slow and I don't think anyone is scared when he drops back to pass. They really need to play from ahead every week because he hasn’t proven that he’d be able to throw his team back into a game if they were down 14 entering the 4th quarter, or needed a touchdown tying drive in a big spot. I don’t think they’ll face too tough a test from BYU this weekend, but the Hornibrook thing would be something to keep an eye on as they enter conference play because I suspect it will come back to bite them at some point.
#17 Boise State over #24 Oklahoma State (at Oklahoma State)
Next Saturday is the 11 year anniversary of Mike Gundy’s “I’M A MAN! I’M 40!” rant, the greatest coaching performance in front of the media in the history of sports. For fun, here’s the rest of the top 5.....
5. "The Bears are who we thought they were…. AND WE LET THEM OFF THE HOOK!!!"
After blowing a 20 point halftime lead to the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football, Cardinals coach Dennis Green appeared in front of the media and uttered the unforgettable and yet utterly confusing “The Bears are who we thought they were…. AND WE LET THEM OFF THE HOOK!!!” line, which included a hard smack of the podium. The best thing about this is that it’s been almost 12 years and I still have no idea what he was talking about. You thought they were a team that would let you get a 20 point halftime lead? Is that what “who we thought they were” means? What?
4. Kevin Borseth, Michigan woman’s basketball coach

I always thought this one was underrated, if only for the entrance alone, which was nothing more than a hard slam of notes onto the podium. He then yelled with the ferocity of a man who had mixed an entire gallon of coffee with about nine lines of cocaine to a crowd of what couldn’t have been more than three or four reporters. This was always the funniest part for me; you’ve got this maniac losing his freaking mind about offensive rebounds in front of a tiny crowd of reporters (because there’s no way the Michigan women’s basketball team is getting covered by 50 people) and yet, he's so passionate, just this bald guy who looks like he might be a real life alien, screaming his lungs out about a sport that so few people care about. What are those reporters thinking? They went to a women's basketball game that probably almost bored them to death. It's slow, no one is playing above the rim, and then all the sudden this zany guy comes into the postgame with more energy than was on the court the entirety of the night. It’s all just so hilarious.
3. “You Play To Win The Game! Hello?! You Play To Win The Game!”
Former Jets and current Arizona State coach Herm Edwards is always good for a quote or two, but this one was by far his best. This one works because of the cadence of his voice and the way he articulates each word. It was almost like he had a period between every word; YOU. PLAY. TO. WIN. THE. GAME. Just perfect. I also like how he answered the reporter’s question by using the word “win” five times and the word “play” six times.
2. “Playoffs? Playoffs?”
The most famous answer ever by a coach in front of the media. This one works again because the cadence of Jim Mora’s voice, the way it almost cracks in disbelief at the absurdity of his Colts team being able to make the playoffs. This one was so great that people now come up to Mora in public all the time, imploring him to say “playoffs” to them. That’s when you know you’ve uttered something special.
1. “I’M A MAN! I’M 40!”
This one is the perfect mixture of absurdity and hilarity mixed into one. You’ve got Gundy bringing the newspaper out, calling everyone liars and garbage, talking about how everyone should be ashamed of themselves, the disingenuous “where are we at in society” nonsense, and finally, the climatic “COME AFTER ME! I’M A MAN! I’M 40!” I have no idea what the point of sharing his age was, but it enabled what would’ve been remembered as a strange shouting fest into an incredibly quotable moment that has defined Gundy’s coaching career.
Anyway, I like Boise State to upset OK State this weekend. The Broncos are in the conversation for the best Group of Five team in the country and a New Years Six Bowl Game, while the Cowboys have had a lot of roster turnover from last year’s team.
#1 Alabama over Ole Miss (at Ole Miss)
After the Rebels Week 1 demolition of Texas Tech I thought this might be a challenging game for the Tide. I’m not so sure now, considering the fact that Ole Miss gave up 41 points to Southern Illinois last Saturday. Southern Illinois? Not encouraging. Not a hot take here at all, but Alabama is going to roll through them and win by at least 4 touchdowns.
Texas over #22 USC (at Texas)
I’ve pushed all my chips in on the “Clay Helton is a position coach masquerading as a head man” bandwagon. The guy looks like he should be selling tube socks or insurance you don’t want door to door. If he didn’t have Sam Darnold carrying his sorry ass the last two years, he’d have been fired by now, maybe even after the 2016 season. In his three games as a head coach against Power 5 teams without Darnold, his teams have scored a combined 19 points. 19! That’s just over 6 a game. Geez. I’m not the world’s biggest Tom Herman fan either (though he’s loved at the strip clubs), and the Texas defense is still pretty awful, but I don’t think it’s going to matter all that much since the Trojan offense strikes out more often than I did with all the girls at my high school.
#4 Ohio State over #15 TCU (at Jerry World In Arlington)
I’m fairly certain Gary Patterson has a very good team this year at TCU, I just happen to think there’s a substantial gap between the top four or five teams in the country and everyone else right now. This Ohio State team has a chance to be the best Buckeye team since the national championship winning one from 2014, and they don’t appear to have been effected by any of the controversy surrounding Urban Meyer. Dwayne Haskins looks like the real deal at quarterback, and the roster is loaded up and down with NFL guys. TCU doesn’t have that. Ohio State wins by two touchdowns.
#7 Auburn over #12 LSU (at Auburn)
The game of the weekend in my view. I don’t really trust either of these squads because one is coached by a real life swamp monster from the Bayou (LSU) named Ed Orgeron, while the other has a ridiculously talented team every year that hasn’t lived up to expectations since 2013 (Auburn). I have no confidence in Auburn, but all the important matchups go in their favor; they’re at home, they have the better quarterback (Jarrett Stidham is NFL caliber; Joe Burrow is not), and the better head coach in Gus Malzahn, though, to be fair, picking Malzahn over Orgeron is like saying you’d rather be stabbed than shot.
The loser of this game is probably eliminated from the SEC West race, while the winner will still have a difficult road to Atlanta. Both of these squads play Georgia AND Alabama this year, with Auburn playing both of them on the road. So this is basically a must win for them if they want to avoid the probable chance of losing three conference games for the fourth time in Malzahn's six seasons.  
LSU could definitely win, and they'll have the edge against Auburn's offensive line, but the idea of them ever winning the West while they're coached by Ed Orgeron is such a hilarious proposition that Dane Cook could use it to revitalize his stand up career. Even if they win tomorrow, I can't see them beating both Georgia and Alabama by overcoming the head coach+quarterback math equation. They're just inferior in both those areas. 
Enjoy football this weekend! You deserve it!