College football is winding to a close. Championship weekend and bowl games are all that is left. That means college sports fans will turn their sporting eye toward the hardwood.
One month into the season and signs are it will be a wild ride.
We’ve already seen:
- Evansville beat Kentucky in Lexington.
- Stephen F Austin beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
- Rebuilding Virginia Tech beat Michigan State.
- Unranked Michigan beat North Carolina and Gonzaga.
- Connecticut beat Florida.
Other than those five examples there have been countless last possession games, or at the very least, games closer than one would expect them to be.
The biggest story of the first month just may be Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines. In the first month of the season the Wolverines have wins over Creighton, Iowa State, North Carolina, and Gonzaga. The last three earned them the Battle for Atlantis title. Next up is a road game versus new number one Louisville on Tuesday.
Michigan may be the most underrated basketball program in the country. Johnny Orr took the Wolverines to a championship game in 1976. Bill Frieder/Steve Fisher won a championship in 1989. Fisher led the “Fab Five” to back to back title games in 1991-1992. John Beilein’s teams won two Big Ten Championships, two Big Ten tournament championships, and appeared in two national title games. Now it is Howard’s turn.
Michigan’s performance this season comes as an unranked team. This is a perfect example of why polls shouldn’t start until this week, one month into the season. Michigan should probably be a top ten team at this point.
All of these November games have revealed one thing. There isn’t any elite teams this year. Every team has flaws. This is something to get used to in the era of “one and dones”. The typical elite teams have a lot of roster turnover, while many other teams keep rosters in tact for three or four years. Veteran teams are dangerous teams. Talent is more spread out.
These facts are going to make for a spectacularly unpredictable season. If you like dominant teams like we had in the ‘70’s through the ‘00’s then you are out of luck. If you like competitive games regardless of the names on the jerseys then welcome to paradise.
If you are a gambler, good luck trying to pick winners this year. Filling out the brackets this year could be a real struggle. What fun it should be.
If Stephen F Austin, no relation to the Six Million Dollar Man, can go in to Cameron Indoor Stadium and win, then anything is possible.
It will be Hoops hysteria baby!
Two Cent Takes
~It is Louisville’s turn at number one. That has been the kiss of death to this point in the season. Will they hold the top spot for more than a week? The red hot Michigan Wolverines will have something to say about that.
~Penn State has a good roster this year. Deep. Talented. Patrick Chambers is still coaching, which means these scenes still linger.
After needing a furious comeback to beat Yale, Penn State blew a 21 point lead to lose against an undermanned Mississippi team. Ole Miss would lose its next game 78-37. This is the typical Patrick Chambers’ loss we see each year.
~Markus Howard dropped 51 points on USC last week, putting his name alongside Pete Maravich in the record books. Howard is a great scorer, and was helped by USC’s lack of defense.
~Andy Enfield can recruit, but he is highly questionable as a coach. New AD Mike Bohn thought he was inheriting a football coaching issue. He may have a couple of decisions to make soon.
~Defending Champ Virginia lost second leading scorer Braxton Key to an injury. He will be out indefinitely. Luckily for the Cavs, they are only giving up a tick over 40 points per game. So scoring a lot of points may not be necessary. Tony Bennett can really coach. It may be boring, but it’s effective.
~The Pittsburgh Pirates finally named a manager. Some individual named Derek Shelton. No word on whether he will be paid a salary, or if he will just get free ski lift passes at Seven Springs.
~In related news, Starling Marte has let it be known he would rather play elsewhere, specifically New York. The Mets have been rumored to be interested. Marte stated the Pirates roster is not close to being good enough to contend. He is correct, but not exactly a comment that will endear him to his “not good enough” teammates. Though I couldn’t agree more, comments like this coming from a guy who has set a world record for mental mistakes in his career seems wrong.
~If you work for a moving company, please contact Jason Garrett in Dallas. He is looking.
~Buffalo is close to being for real. Definitely a playoff team, the Bills are better than I gave them credit for. With New England’s loss Sunday night, the Bills still have a chance to win the division.
~The good news for the Cowboys is the Eagles apparently don’t want to win the NFC East either. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Miami Sunday.
~Nobody will go winless this season as the Bengals secured win number one against the equally hapless Jets.
Devlin “Duck” Hodges is the talk of the town in Pittsburgh. In a game the entire city of Pittsburgh wanted badly, Duck did just enough to support that devastating defense and beat the Cleveland Browns.
~I’m amazed on a weekly basis at how hard these Steeler defenders hit people. Ask Baker Mayfield how sore he is today.
~Al Riveron is either horrible at his job as a replay coordinator or he hates the Steelers. In addition to an illegal procedure call on Duck Hodges for apparently blinking too quickly, replay botched two calls. Even the usually reserved(and sometimes confused) Dan Fouts was apoplectic about the calls. If I haven’t mentioned it in the last 30 seconds, replay sucks.
~The AFC South is finally finding a bit of clarity. Indianapolis refused to cut its decrepit kicker, and now their season is ruined. Houston is looking strong, if not consistently so. Behind a rejuvenated Ryan Tanehill the Tennessee Titans are surging into contention.
~The Ravens vs 49ers game lived up to the hype. Both teams showed why they are favorites in their respective conferences. Justin Tucker won it with a last second field goal. One thing to take away from this game was how many hard hits Lamar Jackson took. If he continues to run as often as he has been, he is eventually going to get dinged. He’s a dynamic player, with a unique skill set. However, he’s not bulletproof.
~I miss the old days. Thanksgiving night was always Texas and Texas A&M, the the next day was always Nebraska and Oklahoma. Now neither rivalry is played. Instead on Thanksgiving night we got this.
Mississippi receiver Elijah Moore imitated a urinating dog in the Mississippi State end zone. It cost his team fifteen yards on the extra point, which was promptly missed. Mississippi lost by one point.
For the record, I thought it was pretty hilarious.
~I sometimes forget how much these rivals hate each other, even in games that are meaningless. Check out the brawl that erupts at the end of the Nevada-UNLV game(*language warning).
— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) December 1, 2019
~A team with a championship game to play next week will do so for a half without one of its wide receivers. Georgia’s George Pickens decided to go WWE vs rival Georgia Tech. His haymakers got him ejected, which means he is out for the first half versus LSU next week.
Rivalry weekend…craziness part II.
— Tim Clark (@TrojanTim66) December 1, 2019
~Things got chippy in almost all of the “rivalry” games, with penalties, pushes, and punches. Oh, and Jajuan Jennings of Tennessee even stepped on the head of a helmet-less Vanderbilt player.
~The Big Ten doesn’t respect Penn State. They still view them as outsiders. This is why, on rivalry weekend, Penn a State is stuck playing Rutgers. There will be more excitement come April for the annual Blue-White game. At least give them back Michigan State. It may not be a rivalry, but at least it would be more competitive.
~Pitt lost at home to a Boston College to finish 7-5. Welcome to another typical Pat Narduzzi season. A high moment here and there, a lot of lows, and an average finish to head off to a meaningless bowl game. I know Pitt doesn’t want to keep changing head coaches. Well, then maybe they should pick a good one for once.
~Two Cent Top Ten(actually 7 because that is all that matters):
- Ohio State
These are the only teams with a shot at the playoffs. Minnesota and Alabama are gone.
~Minnesota looked like a team not ready for the moment, in particular head coach P.J. Fleck. He seems to forget how good his wide receivers are. Having a game plan is great, but not adjusting to what is working isn’t so great. Ten wins is still a big deal for the Gophers.
~From my perspective, Mac Jones acquitted himself admirably. I actually don’t think the Crimson Tide missed a beat with Jones under center. As a matter of fact, if Alabama would have won against Auburn I think they would have been one of the four best teams. What do you think Coach Saban?
— Don Don (@3710d5308114408) November 30, 2019
Okay, then. Moving on…
~When did the SEC West turn into the Big 12? Defense optional.
~Baylor’s Matt Ruehle must not sleep thinking about that blown lead at home against Oklahoma. They would control their own destiny at this point. Now they must overcome the Sooners this week, then hope the playoff committee looks their way.
~I think Utah is going to lose to Oregon. Oklahoma will beat Baylor. LSU will beat Georgia. Ohio State will stomp Wisconsin. The Final Four will then be LSU, Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma.
~Ohio State is the most talented team in college football. LSU has a slightly better resume in my opinion. Clemson may be better than both, but with the ACC weaklings littering their schedule it’s hard to tell.
The committee, however, will most likely keep Ohio State as the one seed and LSU two. This is wrong. If it just about the eye test say so. Then everyone can schedule crap teams knowing they are judged by just how they look. This particular year LSU won at Texas and at Alabama. Held things down at home versus Florida, Auburn, and Texas A&M. They will also have to beat Georgia. On the other hand, the Buckeyes beat Penn State and Wisconsin at home and Indiana and Michigan on the road. They will have to beat Wisconsin again. Sorry, Buckeye fans, but those resumes aren’t even close.
~LSU and Ohio State are both in the playoffs win or lose. Where are all of those experts who said you can’t go to an eight team playoff because it will devalue the conference championships?
~Two legends on the, um, LSU sideline?
Yes, that is Marcus Allen and John Robinson on the LSU sideline. Ed Orgeron made great connections while at USC, and they remain solid. USC made a big mistake not hiring Orgeron. Speaking of…
A Penny For My Final Thought…
Tell me if you’ve seen this movie before. USC is facing a tough decision on head coach Clay Helton’s future.
This shouldn’t be a tough decision. Helton is in, and always has been, over his head. At schools like USC, 8-4 is not considered a good season. The Trojans had 11-1 talent on the roster this year.
Helton said he would fix the discipline and turnover issues this season. He didn’t. Let the numbers speak for themselves.
Clay Helton Facts
*20-17 and 2-7 against Top 10 w/o Sam Darnold at quarterback.
*12 losses by 10+ points, plus several embarrassing blowouts.
*This years wins over Cal, Stanford, Arizona, Arizona St, Colorado, and UCLA are a combined 31-41.
*2-4 against teams with winning records.
*Ranked #115 in turnover margin and #125 penalty yardage.
*Recruiting class is ranked #77.
The most important number isn’t listed, and that is the number of dollars being lost with a half filled Coliseum. Add on the fan apathy, and you may not be able to afford not firing Clay Helton. That Coliseum renovation won’t pay for itself.
USC has a new AD and a relatively new school president. Word is that they weren’t prepared to make a big change so soon. Then the big money boosters spoke up and let it be known much money would be lost if Helton is retained.
Sunday a report leaked from a Sports Illustrated reporter that Helton would be fired and negotiations had begun with Urban Meyer. USC athletic administrators vehemently denied this report. Many in the national media maintain Helton will be retained.
Once again, despite a new administration, USC is completely butchering this situation. It has become a common theme at USC and some other once prominent schools like Miami(Fla) and Florida State.
I think ultimately Helton gets fired this week. This reporter from a prestigious magazine didn’t just make all of those things up. More likely, he just jumped the gun to claim the scoop. Something that is happening far too often in sports journalism.
If Helton goes, and Meyer is not roped in, Penn State fans will have to endure another session of “Will James Franklin leave for USC?” Franklin, by most reports is at the top of USC’s wanted list.
In this playoff era coaches aren’t getting a lot of rope. Helton has gotten more rope than he deserved. It’s time to make a change. I’m not a Franklin fan, but I’m at the point of wanting someone, anyone, else coaching the Trojans.
Clay has molded this team into a soft, undisciplined team that can’t step up to the big boys, or even BYU.
Just my two cents…
Tim Clark is a columnist and editor for PennSports.LIVE, and a wonderful writer of words. He is a lifelong sports fanatic with an eclectic mix of favorite teams including USC Trojans football, Louisville Cardinals basketball, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins in pro sports.