As the Army-Navy game came to a close Saturday evening, so to did the 2021 college football regular season.
Let’s look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the season gone by and look ahead to how I think the playoff will go down.
- Pitt. More specifically, Kenny Pickett. Pickett finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting, and was responsible for Pitt’s win total of 10. Without Pickett, Pitt is no more than a 6 or 7 win team. Unfortunately it appears Pitt’s return to a New Year’s Day bowl will happen without Pickett and his offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple. A sure first round choice, Pickett will skip the Panthers bowl game and focus on preparing for the NFL Draft. Whipple jumped ship to become the OC at Nebraska. At least now Pitt fans won’t have to watch their quarterback sprint to the sidelines to get the next play like it’s a high school game in 1975. Regardless, Pitt fans should cherish a season like this under Pat Narduzzi. There doesn’t figure to be many of them.
- Wake Forest is the kind of team that has a breakout year once every millennium, and 2021 was it for the Demon Deacons. Dave Clawson did a great job developing a high powered offense, but the Deacons defense should be on the ugly list.
- The rest of the conference. Really. It was bad. We got used to Clemson dominating the ACC, and that simply didn’t happen this year. The defense was still stout, but the offense was weak. Trevor Lawrence left and DJ Uiagalelei was not up to the task of replacing him.
- The state of Virginia was so bad this year that both Virginia and Virginia Tech will have new coaches next season.
- North Carolina was the worst bad team in the ACC, especially in the eyes of a guy who picked them to win the league. Sam Howell is a rare example of a kid who cost himself money by coming back to school. His season —and it certainly wasn’t all his fault— was rocky and his draft stock has dropped.
- The state of Florida. For the ACC to become the football conference they want to be, Miami and Florida State need to wander their way back to prominence. Miami will now have its best chance in recent memory after hiring home town guy Mario Cristobal. He should be able to rebuild the ties with Florida high schools that seem to have eroded over the years. Florida State played Notre Dame to overtime on Labor Day. It appeared that maybe they were inching their way back to where they want to be. Then they lost to Jacksonville State a week later, on their way to a 5-7 season. Mike Norvell will have a very short leash going forward. Miami and Florida State need the results to match the swagger they still, for some reason, have.
- Well, a lot. The obvious is Georgia and Alabama, both playoff participants. Georgia’s defense was elite until Alabama solved them. Alabama was wobbling like a drunken sailor to the finish line, but once they got there the Tide sobered up and slapped Georgia back to reality.
- Mississippi and Arkansas were my favorite stories in the SEC this year. Lane Kiffin has transformed Ole Miss into a legitimate challenger. We will see if he can maintain that level next year without star quarterback Matt Corral. Sam Pittman has worked miracles with the Razorbacks, and he did so with an absolutely brutal schedule. Winning 8 games was better than good.
- Tennessee had a good rebuilding year. Josh Heupel has given the Volunteers hope, something they haven’t had at Rocky Top in a while.
- Is it finally time to admit Jimbo Fisher ain’t all that? Fisher is a great recruiter. Fisher is a great coach. Yet, Texas A&M went 8-4 and had a revolving door of below average quarterbacks. If not for a stunning upset of Alabama, the Aggies season would have been a complete wash.
- Things went off the rails for LSU and Florida. Two teams who assumed they would be in contention were quickly shuttered to the back of the pack. By season’s end both were searching for new coaches. At LSU, Ed Orgeron’s big personality and proclivity for his lady friends finally wore out its welcome in Baton Rouge. In Gainsville, Dan Mullen’s eccentricities wore out their welcome. Not to mention both just lost too many games for schools that view themselves as perennial contenders.
- Easy. Baylor. Dave Aranda is part philosophical and part professorial. It works. He took a Baylor team not loaded with high end talent and won the conference. Aranda put himself in the spotlight, where he clearly doesn’t like to be. He staved off overtures from other teams looking for a new coach and will remain in Waco. Once Oklahoma and Texas leave for the SEC, Aranda could have Baylor dominating the Big 12.
- Oklahoma just never got rolling this year. Heisman front runner Spencer Rattler got benched for a second straight season. This time he stayed there in favor of freshman Caleb Williams. Williams was good, but not good enough to make Oklahoma’s offense it’s usual dominant self. Lincoln Riley is off to USC, and Brent Venables is coming home to coach the Sooners. Could Oklahoma become a defensive minded team under Venables?
- I boldly picked Iowa State to make the playoffs this year. They have one of my favorite coaches in Matt Campbell. Unfortunately for anyone who went with my pick, the Cyclones crashed back to earth with a mediocre at best 7-5 season. We will see just how good Campbell is when he has to replace stud running back Breece Hall, who will most likely head to the NFL early.
- Texas went to the recycle bin for its head coach. They hired Steve Sarkisian, who had little success and much embarrassment at his first two head coaching stops, Washington and USC. Things started okay in Austin this year. The Longhorns got off to a 4-1 start, racking up big point totals. Then ugly came calling. After jumping on Oklahoma early, Texas proceeded to choke that game away. It would lead to a six game losing streak including a loss to Kansas. At home. Only a win over Kansas a state in the season finale prevented a season ending seven game losing streak. The oil barons in Austin won’t put up with ugly for very long.
- Utah is a feel good story. Kyle Wittingham is a coach perfectly happy where he is. He reminds me of Kirk Ferencz at Iowa. Maybe they never get to the playoffs, but they run a steady program where 8 or more victories is, well, a victory. Utah has lost a player each of the past two seasons to gun violence. By season’s end, the Utes were playing as well as anyone in the country.
- USC hires Lincoln Riley. This is a great thing for the entire conference. The PAC-12 needs USC to be good. There just aren’t enough other teams that can carry the banner. Oregon can to a certain extent, and Washington —also with a new coach— used to be able to. The wild card is UCLA. But USC is the program with a golden history of championship football, Heisman Trophy winners, and NFL players galore. Lincoln Riley may not be perfect, but he is the absolute best possible hire the Trojans could make.
- Washington State makes this list. The Cougars had to tolerate former coach Nick Rolovich’s anti-vax crusade that eventually got him fired. The players righted the ship after that and went on to have a very nice season. Good for the players and the coaches who didn’t make it about themselves.
- Stanford’s football is eroding before our eyes. David Shaw is a steady hand at the helm, but when does Stanford expect more? Shaw is ultra conservative and that style has slowly made Stanford look archaic. Plus, he hasn’t had the players he did in his early years, particularly at the quarterback position. I would think, even though they love Shaw, Stanford administration won’t be able to tolerate this slide going much further.
- Oregon putting itself in position for a playoff berth and then doing the usual Oregon thing in losing a game it shouldn’t. Mario Cristobal’s game coaching was bad, and his JV quarterback was worse.
- USC…no, wait. Clay Helton. For the same reason that I put USC with Lincoln Riley in the good category, I have them here because of Helton. Helton allowed this program to deteriorate to record lows. This was the least talented, least disciplined, and least organized USC team I have ever seen. Their 4-8 record doesn’t even do justice to how bad it was. All time ugly.
- Jim Harbaugh took way longer than anyone in the state of Michigan thought he would to get the Wolverines in to playoff contention. And he did it his way. He doesn’t have a star quarterback, but rather a game manager in Cade McNamara. They run the ball and play stout defense. I have doubts as to whether Harbaugh can maintain this level of success, but for one year he shut everyone up.
- Michigan State was down and out when Mel Tucker took over. It only took Tucker two years to bring the Spartans to new heights. Nobody in the state of Michigan thought Tucker would be this good this fast. As an added bonus for Tucker, he got a huge added bonus…as in 10+ million dollars.
- Penn State was looking for a bounce back season after their Covid shortened disaster a year ago. It looked like they were on their way. Then James Franklin got distracted. His coaching staff failed to have a backup quarterback prepared, or they just totally misjudged the readiness of Christian Veilleux. They stumbled. They staggered. They mysteriously gave Franklin more money and more years and more guarantees. They finished 7-5, and the Big Ten needs the Nittany Lions to be better.
- The Big Ten needs to seriously consider some type of realignment. The Big Ten West is ugly. Nobody plays any semblance of modern offense. I love running the ball as much as the next guy, but c’mon. Nobody in the West has a legitimate quarterback. Wisconsin has put together a couple of good teams, albeit still conservative in nature. You can’t have Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State on the same side. The Big agent West is essentially the ACC, and as I said earlier that is ugly.
- Well, duh. Cincinnati is in the playoffs, and have a coach that —at least for now— seems interested in sticking around. I don’t think Cincinnati is one of the four best teams, but undefeated is undefeated.
- BYU has become a steady force under Kilani Sitake. Sitake is one of the best coaches nobody east of the Mississippi knows. Ten more wins for the Cougars.
- Notre Dame played an easy schedule, as things played out this year. They only lost one. The real plus here is Brian Kelly is gone. I have no idea how Irish fans could stomach this guy. I’m not sure how Marcus Freeman will do, but the players may actually enjoy playing football for him.
- The Mountain West had two 10 win teams(Utah State, San Diego State) and two 9 win teams(Fresno State, Air Force). That is some good football being played out west very quietly.
- Tuesdays and Wednesdays in November are MACtion time. The MAC was willing to sell their souls to get exposure for their teams. Does anyone actually watch these games? Now, if they would just have some good teams for us to not watch. If you want MACtion to take off, you better get better.
- UConn and UMass went a combined 2-22, causing me to ask the question why these teams are still playing Division I football. Worse yet, UConn hired Mr. Personality, Jim Mora, to be their next coach. Have fun with that.
It was a year for parity in college football. It seemed Georgia ruled the world until they had to play old nemesis Alabama. Alabama seemed vulnerable until they played Georgia. Michigan stayed under the radar until they thumped the defenseless Buckeyes and moved center stage. Cincinnati was just hoping for enough turmoil to sneak in to the playoffs.
Parity won, and the committee was forced to bring Cincy to the party. The question for the playoffs will be which Alabama team shows up. The one that played the final five quarters this season or the one that took the field for the 11 quarters prior to that. Eh, who am I kidding. Cincinnati has no chance either way. It will be another championship game with Alabama playing.
The other semifinal got more interesting with Georgia’s meltdown versus Alabama. Prior to that Georgia looked unbeatable. Michigan is playing really well, but Georgia matches up better against the Wolverines run first style.
Even though my brain is saying Alabama, the Two Cent Cracked Crystal Ball would never let me change my mind now. So with that threat in mind, I will stick with the Georgia Bulldogs winning it all.
Until then, signing day(Wednesday) will give us a peek to the future, while we wait to finish the past.
Maybe someone will finally realize how stupid that is.
Two Cent Takes
~Manny Diaz was named new defensive coordinator at Penn State. Just like I said with the Lincoln Riley hire at USC, this is the best Penn State could have expected. The bigger question with the Diaz hire is will he bring the turnover chain with him from Miami.
~Speaking of Lincoln Riley, he attended the USC basketball game Sunday afternoon and hit USC fans with what they wanted to hear.
New USC head football coach Lincoln Riley is introduced at the Galen Center pic.twitter.com/5x8S5gmXiC— Adam Grosbard (@AdamGrosbard) December 12, 2021
“We came here to win championships.” Sounds good to me.
~Then there is this…
Brian Kelly is the new in-law trying really hard to fit in at Thanksgiving https://t.co/QmMa0ELO1A— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 13, 2021
Maybe Brian Kelly isn’t just a jerk. Maybe he has a drinking problem or some other type of mental impairment. Here is to hoping this turns into a crash and burn.
~Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide. The big surprise was Aidan Hutchinson, a defensive player(gasp) finished second. I love Young as a player, but check out this quote from his acceptance speech.
Bryce Young wanted to prove it to himself 💪 pic.twitter.com/pl9706B8To— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 12, 2021
Bryce Young was being recruited when he was in the eighth grade. He was the number one recruit in his class. He was a verbal commitment to USC since ninth grade. He allegedly received one million dollars in NIL money this past summer. Absolutely nobody doubted him, and certainly nobody counted him out. I know it makes a great sound bite —and the kid is smart enough to know that— but let’s come back to reality, Bryce.
~Just for my good friend, Eric, who happens to be a huge Flyers fan, congratulations. The Flyers are now just 1-10 in their last 11 games.
~The Penguins are getting such good goaltending, and now it is Casey DeSmith chipping in, too. They continue to stay above water awaiting an actual full roster at some point in the near future.
~I typically hate douchy moves, but Nate Oats gem at the end of a great one point win for Alabama over Houston was outstanding. With Houston coach Kelvin Sampson chasing referees down after not calling a goaltending on the buzzer tip in attempt by his Cougars, Nate Oats went for the pseudo handshake grinning like a Cheshire cat. It was especially funny considering Oats had been T’d up earlier in the game.
Incredible clip https://t.co/zQ7WCsQFYA— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 12, 2021
My guess is that Oats won’t be getting a Christmas card this year from Sampson. My other guess is he doesn’t really care.
~Basketball is a long season, but endings like this keep the juices flowing until March arrives.
HALFCOURT SHOT AT THE BUZZER TO BEAT THE NO. 1 TEAM— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) December 10, 2021
Ron Harper Jr. 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/WuIe4mOWeh
Purdue’s stint at number one was short lived.
~Baylor beat Villanova on Sunday 57-36. It was the best defensive performances I have ever seen. Baylor will be tough to beat with defense like that. Their offense is adequate, but doesn’t have to be much better.
~Remember, basketball season means more of this guy.
That’s a good thing.
~If this does happen to be Pete Carroll’s last season in Seattle he sure is still having fun.
~When you are 6-6 and coming off a poor performance in a home loss, maybe you shouldn’t do this to the best team in your division.
Raiders stomp on the logo at midfield. Chiefs stomp on the Raiders 48-9. The stupidity of teams, players, and coaches never ceases to amaze me.
~Folks, folks, Merry Christmas. Oh and if any of you still had doubts, Urban Meyer isn’t going to work out in Jacksonville.
Dissing a Buckeye like that? Ooof. https://t.co/nzOWXikvvK— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) December 12, 2021
Plane is out of gas and not near an airport. Everyone just waiting to watch the crash landing at this point. pic.twitter.com/KxohNvYiww— Ben Koo (@bkoo) December 12, 2021
This week reports out of Jacksonville had Urban getting into it with some of his players, including highly respected vet Marvin Jones. Meyer also rolled his assistant coaches under the bus. When asked, Meyer said he is always hard on his coaches. The two video clips above seem to indicate that Meyer has had enough of the NFL. Maybe he should follow his own rules.
~There are probably 20 teams or more that wish this guy was their quarterback.
Justin Herbert has a rocket arm. Holy moly, as he was about to get hit. pic.twitter.com/rSpCP2EggP— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 12, 2021
That is Chargers QB Justin Herbert. That is 65 yards in the air, right on the money, while being hit from behind. That is impressive.
~Teo more overtime games, and two more pieces of evidence that if you win the coin toss in overtime you better go down and score a touchdown or have a ten minute drive.
~Once again officials are screwing up games. This textbook hit was called a penalty.
Very poor officiating. Calls like this can change the outcomes of games. Football is a violent sport. People will get hit hard legally. Receivers running across the middle know what they signed up for. It’s a part of the game. https://t.co/07wFfOxLa1— Minkah Fitzpatrick (@minkfitz_21) December 11, 2021
~The Steelers tie with the Lions could really come back to haunt them. Of course, the Steelers could very well lose out the rest of the way. But if they win three of four(they have three winnable games) that tie with the Lions could keep them out of the playoffs. They probably have a better chance to win the division than get a wildcard. More to come on the Steelers in my Final Thought.
This Week’s Shiny Penny
Above, I mentioned the crazy ending to the Alabama-Houston game. In addition to running after the officials, Sampson and some of his coaches also knocked over trash cans and acted like complete morons. When Houston player Jamal Shead saw the mess, he did this.
After his coaches tore chairs up and kicked trash cans over, University of Houston’s Jamal Shead stopped and picked up the trash after an emotional loss to Alabama Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.— Drew Maddux (@DrewMaddux) December 12, 2021
I’m a huge fan of this young man!pic.twitter.com/M3pfFyAv07
After such a heartbreaking loss it isn’t always easy to do the right thing. Good for Shead and shame on Kelvin Sampson, who is fortunate to still be allowed to coach after his checkered history.
A Penny For My Final Thought…
I am going to forget trying to predict whether the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win any more games, or for that fact, lose any more games.
What I am most astonished by is the level of stupidity I continue to see from these players, and the lack of accountability demanded from Mike Tomlin.
First is the stupidity I see from an assignment standpoint. I can’t remember another Steeler team that gets out of their gaps more often, takes the wrong angle more often, and misses more tackles than this crew.
More often than not Devin Bush is at the heart of the misses…be it assignments, gaps, or tackles. Often with him and a few others, it looks like a lack of effort. Maybe more to the point, a lack of heart.
What happened to the standard is the standard?
I don’t fault Mike Tomlin for not benching the guilty players. He is already playing with a host of players picked up off the street. I do blame him for failing to get the most out of these players. I blame him for not creating an atmosphere of accountability.
The Steelers gave up 200 yards to a running back for only the third time in their history. OJ Simpson did it in 1975 and Fred Taylor did it in 2000. Now add Dalvin Cook in 2021 to the list. So much for the Steel Curtain. So much for accountability.
The Steelers have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries and, quite frankly, just aren’t very good. They have a 39 going on 89 year old quarterback who they chose to put a young, cheap offensive line in front of. They drafted a stud runner who they chose to put a young, cheap offensive line in front of. It hasn’t gone well.
Ditto the defense. But, man, the lack of intelligence, heart, and accountability is what is frustrating to fans.
After getting down 29-0 Thursday night, the defense did make a few plays. But then they did this after one of their few good plays.
Number 25 in the center of the pose is Ahkello Witherspoon. The only reason they aren’t celebrating a pick six touchdown is because he was gassed and just stopped running on his interception.
That, my friends, is a losing culture. To be battered about the field for two and a half quarters and then celebrate a rare quality play— one that should have been better— with a me, me, me pose in the end zone is what losers do.
Enter Chase Claypool.
Claypool proved he was tone deaf last season when he taunted the Browns AFTER they beat the Steelers in the playoffs.
This year he has been flagged for eight penalties, which are three more than any other wide receiver in the league. In a blowout loss to the Bengals a couple weeks ago, Claypool got flagged late in the game for taunting.
Thursday night Claypool took it to new heights.
First he did this.
The old finger in the face mask right in front of the referee.
Tomlin did bench Claypool after this, a penalty that ruined a promising opening drive.
Then Claypool did this.
Claypool carelessly stretched the ball out right in front of a defender.
Claypool was fortunate that replay ruled him down before the ball was popped loose.
Claypool saved his best for last.
With the Steelers driving for a miraculous last second potential tying touchdown, Claypool made a nice catch securing an important first down. Clock ticking and no timeouts left, and Claypool found time to do this.
Chase Claypool cost the Steelers AT LEAST 5 seconds posing & pointing— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 10, 2021
that would have given the Steelers 1 more play… 1 more shot to tie it up
so dumb, so clueless pic.twitter.com/cy7wSkv4XE
You have all had four days to watch this over and over. I don’t need to say anything more. This guy needs to go. He has all the physical tools, yet none of the mental tools. Tomlin tried to make him accountable and it didn’t work. His teammate, Trai Turner, had to try and yank the ball away from him to get it back in play. Claypool flipped out on him right there on the field.
Players and coaches aren’t going to reach this clown. He has to go. Finish the season, hope for no more flags on him, and move on after the season.
That would be the first sign of accountability with this group and this coach in a long, long time.
Whether it is Tomlin’s message no longer getting through, the lousy roster makeup, or drafting bad characters, the Steelers have developed a loser’s culture that lacks intelligence and accountability.
Turns out JuJu Smith-Schuster was the least of this team’s concern. For all his dancing, he plays hard and never gets silly taunting penalties. They could use more guys that play as hard as he does.
Instead they have posers and mentally deficient players like Chase Claypool.
A season that amazingly could have been salvaged now looks like…
It is time Art Rooney II and Mike Tomlin start to require…no…demand accountability. Win and you can pose. Lose and you keep your mouth shut and your celebrations muted.
It is long overdue for the Steelers —win or lose— to start acting like the Steelers.
After all, that has always been the standard.