Traditional Powers are Reeling in College Football Plus My Latest Playoff Prediction

Brian Kelly's Irish have dropped four of five and Irish fans aren't happy.

It wasn’t that long ago that both Notre Dame and Nebraska were sitting in good shape for a potential playoff spot if things broke right for them. Both teams had started their respective seasons undefeated and even when both finally lost their first games, they were still in contention for some really good postseason news.

Nebraska’s loss was at Michigan State. The Cornhuskers fell behind but rallied late and nearly pulled off the comeback in East Lansing before losing by five points. It was a loss, but it was widely regarded as a “good loss” because at that point, Michigan State had lost only to Oregon in Eugene so losing to the Spartans was nothing to be ashamed of.

In South Bend, the feeling was that the Irish had been robbed in Tallahassee when their late, game-winning touchdown was called back because of a controversial pass interference call. So much like Nebraska, the Irish were still very much in play for a playoff berth should they run the table.

Things change quickly in collegiate athletics and college football is the prime example.

I imagine the Huskers will see lots of this face this week at practice.

Just weeks later, both of these traditional powers find themselves searching for answers. Nebraska has now dropped two straight games to Wisconsin and to Minnesota. Ironically, those two teams will be playing for the Big Ten West Division title next week in Madison while the Huskers will be playing for pride and bowl position against Iowa.

For the Irish, it’s been even worse. They struggled to put away Navy following the FSU loss since the win over the Midshipmen, Notre Dame has lost three in a row. The first of those was a sloppy loss at Arizona State and the last two have been at home to Northwestern and Louisville yesterday. The Fighting Irish are now 7-4 and still have USC to deal with.

Questions were already swirling about Bo Pelini’s fate in Lincoln and that will intensify this week. Brian Kelly can only ride the trip to the National Title Game so long before he starts to feel more pressure as well. His last two losses will not sit well with the Irish faithful.

Another traditional power on the outs is of course Michigan who dropped to 5-6 following a fourth quarter collapse and eventual loss to Maryland in what is sure to be Brady Hoke’s final game in Michigan Stadium.

The Wolverines now face the prospect of having to go to Columbus and defeat the Buckeyes in order to go to a bowl game and that ain’t happening. Michigan has suffered from horrible quarterback play and untimely defensive failures all year.

Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett announced yesterday that the decision on Hoke’s future would be his to decide. Firing Hoke isn’t easy because he’s a likable guy and a ‘Michigan Man’ through and through but the evidence is overwhelming in favor of terminating him. The only thing that can save Hoke is a win over the hated Buckeyes but I can’t see it happening.

I expect Hoke to join Will Muschamp on the unemployment line very soon.

My Playoff Predictions for this week

1. Alabama – Revenge week begins as Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa.

2. Florida State – Yes, they struggled again but the name of the game is winning and they are doing that.

3. Oregon – Another ho-hum blowout this time over Colorado.

4. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs bounced back from their loss to Alabama by crushing Vanderbilt 51-0.

Still in the running… TCU, Baylor, Ohio State

College and Pro Football Lead the Way on Tuesday

Stops and Castiglione
Stops and Castiglione
Roger Goodell could learn a thing or two about discipline from Oklahoma's Joe Castiglione and Bob Stoops.

Hopefully you’ve been able to peel yourself away from the coverage of Johnny Manziel long enough to do some reading today. I’ve got both college and pro football on the docket so let’s not waste anymore time huh?

The University of Oklahoma did something yesterday that should be getting much more attention. In fact, the institution that should be paying the most attention to it is the National Football League because Oklahoma has shown us the right way of disciplining athletes.

In a joint statement, Head Coach Bob Stoops and Athletic Director Joe Castiglione announced that running back Joe Mixon was suspended for the entire season. What could Mixon have done that was so bad? What could he have done that would deserve such harsh punishment and why would the NFL care?

Mixon has been charged with a misdemeanor assault after being accused of punching a 20-year old Oklahoma student. The assault resulted in four broken bones in the young lady’s face. According to police, the incident occurred at a Cafe on July, 25th. Mixon’s attorney says his defendant was “protecting himself” from the intoxicated and troubled young woman.

Kudos to the University of Oklahoma for doing what should have been done by Roger Goodell and the the NFL when they suspended Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice for just two games after he was videotaped decking his then fiance.

I understand that there is a clear difference between how a university can handle things versus a professional sports’ league but the lesson should still serve it’s purpose. This is yet another reason why Goodell is the worst commissioner in sports.

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly just can't seem to catch a break lately.

Academic Undoing at Notre Dame?

The Fighting Irish need to be careful because they might end up being called the Cheating Irish if this alleged academic scandal grows more serious. Right now four players are sitting out practices and team activities while the University investigates. Common sense will tell you that anytime, especially at a private institution like Notre Dame, players are accused of academic fraud that it will most likely center around cheating of some sort.

Talk to anyone “in the know” in South Bend and they’ll tell you this is exactly what was going on with QB Everett Golson last year. If you recall, he missed the entire season after admitting academic fraud.

Three of the four players are starters for the Irish and include top receiver DeVaris Daniels who started in the BCS Title game loss to Alabama. If this thing grows, it will get far worse before it gets better.

QB Setbacks in Cleveland?

Hopefully the performances of Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel last night in Washington will slow down circus that has become the Browns this preseason. Hoyer went 2 for 6 passing while Manziel went 2 for 7. Neither guy looked like a competent NFL quarterback and for Manziel, the poor showing only solidified his comments earlier in the week that “he wasn’t ready for the Pittsburgh Steelers yet.”

I’ve said all along that I believe Johnny Manziel will open the season with a helmet on rather than a baseball cap and I still feel that way. The only other plausible scenario is that Hoyer starts the first three games, struggles, then gives way to Manziel following the team’s bye week in week four.

The Browns didn’t bring in Rex Grossman this week just to be a third string QB. He knows what it’s like to be a hot shot young QB in the NFL and could perhaps tutor Manziel while not being a threat to his starting spot.

Regardless of who Browns’ Coach Mike Pettine chooses, they better darn well play better than they did last night.


Irish National Title Hopes Take a Dive With Loss of Golson

Everett Golson
Everett Golson
With Golson suspended for the season, who can Notre Dame turn to at quarterback?

The chances that the University of Notre Dame was going to make a return trip to the BCS National Title Game were slim enough heading into the past week but now the chances have dwindled even further. It was reported and later confirmed by Everett Golson himself that the star quarterback for the Irish had indeed been suspended and will not play in 2013.

The official announcement from both Notre Dame and Golson is that he is no longer enrolled at the University. The official reason is “poor academic judgment.” Let’s be really honest here shall we? Do any of us really believe that’s what this is really about? Notre Dame and every other major college football program will do anything and everything to make sure their respective players are eligible with very few exceptions.

I’m not suggesting the Golson was involved in anything criminal, but I am hinting at the possibility that this is much larger than just failing a class or two. Starting QBs at the top schools in America are not “ineligible” everyday ya know and I smell something far greater than what is being offered. Believe me, I hope I’m wrong but something just isn’t right here.

The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino SportsBook almost immediately dropped the Irish from 30-1 all the way to 50-1 and we are still 100 days or so from the start of the 2013 college football season. Certainly sports books like this one will alter those odds as the season approaches and a lot of that will depend on who Head Coach Brian Kelly goes with as his signal-caller.

Brian Kelly
Kelly has few solid options as he looks to replace Golson.

Kelly has a couple of different options and is sure to play the decision as close to his vest as possible heading into the season. The options right now for Kelly aren’t all that enticing but do offer him some different skill sets and experience with each.

The odds-on-favorite right now would have to be senior Tommy Rees who has started 18 career games but has often been in and out of Kelly’s doghouse. Behind him would be fourth-year junior Andrew Hendrix and then Spring enrollee Malik Zaire. Hendrix has career numbers of 23 of 44 for 304 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

In Rees’ career, he has thrown for over 4,400 yards and has 34 touchdown passes to 24 interceptions. I have to believe he will be the starter for the August 31st opener against Temple in Notre Dame Stadium but stranger things have certainly happened. In terms of what Zaire brings to the table, he’s a much more athletic guy than Rees and is a true dual-threat QB although he is all that fast. His forty time is clocked at just under five flat.

The question with Zaire is does Kelly burn his redshirt that he had planned to use on the youngster this year? Notre Dame was the thirteenth most bet on team so far in terms of winning the national title this year which tells us a lot of people felt like they still had a lot of talent around them despite losing Tyler Eifert, Manti T’eo and company.

There is one long-term option in Wes Lunt, a QB looking to transfer from Oklahoma State. He listed Notre Dame as a potential landing spot, but would not be eligible until next season.

Regardless of the direction Brian Kelly chooses to go, Notre Dame will still be a good football team in 2013. Will they be in the hunt for the National Title? I say “no” and I really never felt they were anywhere due to the losses I mentioned as well as those on the offensive line. Not a good day to be an Irish fan that’s for sure.

Notre Dame, Alabama Meet for National Championship

It all comes down to this...

After a bowl season that tallied up 37 days, 34 games, 12 upsets, and three SEC bowl losses, it’s finally time for the big one; the Discover BCS National Championship Game.

No. 1 Notre Dame meets No. 2 Alabama at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Monday night, with kickoff scheduled for 8:30 PM ET.

The two storied schools – winners of 25 national titles between them – will each look to leave South Florida as the number one school in the country. For Alabama (14 national championships) a win would mark a third title win in four years. For Notre Dame (11 national championships) a win would mark a first title in 24 years – the longest stretch in the school’s history without a championship – and a first in the BCS era. Both teams will be looking to win a ninth AP title.

Alabama’s advancement to the season-closing game was little surprise to fans and experts alike. The Crimson Tide began the season ranked No. 2 in the polls behind a Southern California side once again postseason eligible. Whilst the Trojans inexplicably imploded, Alabama marched through the regular season and onto an SEC championship, recording just one loss on the way.

Bettors taking Nick Saban’s side at 5/1 to win the title ahead of the season could be smiling come midnight.

Notre Dame meanwhile was never expected to make it this far. Preseason championship odds of 40/1 saw the side fail to make the initial polls, but Brian Kelly’s team put such distractions to one side and proceeded to finish out the regular season undefeated.

Now all that’s left for both teams is 60 minutes of football under the bright lights on Sun Life Stadium.

Defense will be the name of the game when the two schools do take to the field. Notre Dame was No. 1 in the nation at stopping opponents scoring, allowing just 10.3 points per game. Alabama was a close second, giving up just 10.7 points per game.

Both Alabama’s rush and pass defense outranked the Fighting Irish this season. Alabama allowed 166.2 passing yards per game (4th) compared to Notre Dame’s 194.4 (21st). The Crimson Tide allowed 79.8 rushing yards per game (1st) compared to the Irish’s 92.4 (4th). But Notre Dame was a beast in the Red Zone, putting the halters on opponents all season. The Irish dominance was never captured better than on a fourth quarter goal line stand against USC that ensured the team would remain undefeated.

Offensively Alabama has the edge. The Crimson Tide outmatched most teams it opposed, scoring 38.5 points per game (14th). Notre Dame’s offense was less prolific, tallying 26.8 points per game (74th), which is why Manti Te’o and the defensive unit became such an important factor in the team’s season.

Both schools excelled in the running game, with Alabama averaging 224.6 rushing yards per game (19th) and Notre Dame averaging 202.5 (29th). Notre Dame has a slight advantage over the Tide in the passing game, with an average of 218.8 passing yards per game (76th) compared to Alabama’s 214.5 (82nd). Expect the running game to play a huge part in this game.

The championship showdown on Monday night will mark the first time the schools have met since Nov. 14, 1987, a game which Notre Dame won 37-6.

Notre Dame is 5-1 all-time against Alabama, including a win in the 1973 Sugar Bowl, which decided that year’s AP national champion. Alabama’s one success against the Irish came in a 28-10 win on Oct. 4, 1986.

Notre Dame may have had historical success over Alabama, but the school’s recent bowl record has been less than stellar. The Irish’s last bowl appearance was an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2011. That loss is part of a 2-10 bowl streak that dates back to the end of the 1994 season.

Coach Kelly will hope that history does play its part though. Former Notre Dame Head Coaches Frank Leahy (1943), Ara Parseghian (1966), Dan Devine (1977), and Lou Holtz (1988) all won a national championship in their third year coaching the school. This is Kelly’s third year with the Irish.

With 44 days since defeating USC, Notre Dame will certainly have had the time to prepare for Alabama, but such long layoffs have a habit of impacting games in the strangest of ways.

Alabama (12-1, 7-1 SEC) opened as favorites over Notre Dame (12-0). Whilst that particular nugget shouldn’t come as a big surprise to most, what is a surprise is the point spread.

At opening, the spread stood at eight points in favor of the Tide. Eight points seems a high number against a team that only gave up 10.3 points per game. Bettors haven’t been scared off though, and the spread has subsequently risen to 10.

Alabama did not fare well against the spread this season, posting a 6-7-0 record. Notre Dame was marginally better, tallying a 7-5-0 ATS record.

The total opened at 43, a somewhat miserly figure compared to most bowl totals this season, which is testament to the prowess of the defenses that will be on display on Monday night. That number has dropped to 41 ahead of kickoff.

Whilst Alabama saw the total go over seven times on the season, Notre Dame was involved in only two games that tipped the total over. A whopping 10 games went under the total, which might be the best indicator on any line in this game.

All that remains is for us to sit back and see if Notre Dame can make history and return to a former glory, or whether the Irish will go the way of Louisiana State and Texas, and fall to an Alabama side that was crowned the national champion by many after a Week 1 victory over Michigan. Either way, this is one championship game that truly feels like a championship game.