Bear Market

Before I go into this Week’s College Football, let’s give a big welcome back to College Basketball.  Friday is the opening night of the 2015 – 2016 season and I’ll have more on College Basketball next week.  It’s going to more challenging to talk about as there is a lot more of it.  There are over 300 schools with a college basketball teams playing Division I so I’ll have to narrow it down somewhat.  It’s a great game despite some of its obvious problems like one and done players and a game that at times resembles a wrestling match from old Mid Atlantic Championship wrestling days.  Likewise, it is unfortunate that with Bowl Games, NFL playoffs, Thanksgiving and Christmas, most of the country won’t know that it exists until after the Super Bowl.

First a note on last night’s Va. Tech – Ga. Tech game.  Let’s face it Va. Tech’s defense has been pretty bad most of the season, but last night they didn’t allow Ga. Tech to score any on offense in the second half.  The only points came from an interception return for a touchdown.  So now they need to beat only North Carolina or Virginia to qualify for their 23rd straight bowl game.  I would say a win over Virginia is almost 100%.  North Carolina, not so much.  One other observation.  Some new coach is going to inherit Trayvon McMillan as their featured running back.  If they can get the offensive line to be more physical this kid can literally dominate games.  If the new coach is Rich Rodriguez, he loves to run the ball and he has to be salivating at the prospects of this kid.

The headline game of the week comes in of all places Waco, Texas where the Baylor Bears host Oklahoma.  The thought of Baylor playing in a headline game just about 20 years ago was ridiculous.  From 1993 – 2007, Baylor’s football program won just 54 games while losing 116.  They played in an old stadium and once had a live bear on the field who was nearly decapitated in a late season game when a kickoff sailed out of the end zone and nearly plunked the poor fella right on the noggin.  That’s not to say that Baylor was always bad.  One of the legends of the coaching industry Grant Teaff coached at Baylor  from 1972 – 1992 and compiled a 128-105-6 record in the old Southwest Conference.  His best team was in 1980 when the Bears won 10 games,  the Conference Championship and the coveted spot in the Cotton Bowl.  His team captain was a pretty fair player, NFL Hall of Famer and the heartbeat of the 1985 Chicago Bears Mike Singletary.  Teaff also won 9 games in 1985 and 1986.  But, when he retired, Baylor dropped out of sight.  While Teaff coached 21 seasons, over the next 15 seasons, the Bears were coached by someone named Chuck Reedy, someone named Dave Roberts, Kevin Steele (whose made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator and is currently at LSU, but was just 9-36 as a Head Coach), and Guy Morriss who left Kentucky to coach at Baylor and won just 18 games while losing 40.

Then in 2008, Baylor hired a former high school coach named Art Briles who came to the school from Houston.  Briles spent 20 plus years coaching High School Football in Texas and winning 4 state championships before moving into college coaching as a receiver’s coach at Texas Tech.  After back to back 4-8 seasons in 2008 and 2009, Baylor won 7 games in 2009, 10 in 2011, 8 in 2012, and 11 in 2013 and 2014 all while producing the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.  Briles is 63-34 in his career at Baylor which already makes him the 3rd on the school’s victory list.  They do it by being innovative in their offensive approach by spreading the field to run the ball first and throw it second.  The numbers are staggering: 20 straight home wins, 665 yards per game, 57 points a game, and 10 straight wins in the Big XII.  This will be the 25th meeting between Baylor and Oklahoma and Oklahoma (as you might expect) leads the all time series 21-3, but Baylor has won 3 of the last 4.  Baylor is just 6th in this week’s college football playoff rankings – which would leave them out of the playoff if it started today – and that’s mostly because they haven’t played a team with a winning record.  That changes now.  The next three games are against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU.  Briles for his part is a grandfather of 4, will turn 60 on December 6th, and has both a son and son-in-law on the staff.  He waited a long time for his opportunity and so has Baylor. Four more wins and there’s no way the playoff committee keeps them out of the final 4.  Could anyone have imagined that 20 years ago?  That’s what makes college football great where programs like Va. Tech and Baylor can find the right person for the job at the right time and join the party with the traditional powers.  In this case, a Bear Market is a good thing.

So how about our picks for this week.  Tonight gets it started with USC trying to stay in the PAC-12 South race when they face Colorado.  Colorado is struggling and USC is just kind of holding on but the Trojans have enough to win this one.  On Saturday, I like Akron over Miami, OH, Army to beat Tulane, Duke over Pittsburgh, Middle Tennessee over Florida Atlantic, Michigan State to beat Maryland, UTEP over Old Dominion, Florida over South Carolina (but I can tell you having watched South Carolina in person, they are competing their asses off), Tennessee big over North Texas, West Virginia over Texas. There are reports that Texas coach Charlie Strong is interested in coaching at Miami. That tells me that he’s just not comfortable in Austin where the playing field is named after a legendary tort lawyer named Joe Jamail who is known for winning some big multi-million dollar cases.  I like Georgia to beat Auburn and there’s some interesting talk out there in the world that Georgia Coach Mark Richt is being targeted by Virginia as their next head coach.  Ohio State over Illinois, Northwestern over Purdue, TCU big over Kansas, Florida State always seems to struggle with N.C. State, but since it’s in Tallahassee, I’ll take FSU, Louisville over Virginia, Air Force over Utah State, UT-San Antonio over Charlotte, Washington over a tanking Arizona State team, U-Mass over Eastern Michigan, Arkansas State over Louisiana-Monroe, Ga. Southern over Troy, Michigan over Indiana, Marshall bounces back to beat Florida International, North Carolina can clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division with a win over Miami, which they should get and a Pitt loss, Nebraska stays in bowl contention with a win over Rutgers, Clemson beats Syracuse but I have a feeling this might be a little closer than expected, Oklahoma State stays unbeaten over Iowa State, Alabama over Mississippi State, Texas Tech over Kansas State, Navy over SMU, Notre Dame over Wake Forest (this is one of those ACC-Notre Dame matchups and there are contractually 5 per year that should just be skipped.  NBC has to be cringing at having to televise this), Southern Miss over Rice, Nevada over San Jose State, Ga. State over Texas State, Kentucky over Vanderbilt, Appalachian State over Idaho, Colorado State over UNLV, Houston over Memphis, Temple over South Florida, Texas A&M over Western Carolina (I’ll have more on the SEC’s November scheduling philosophy next week), LSU over Arkansas, Cincinnati over Tulsa, BYU over Missouri in a game in Kansas City, Stanford clinches the PAC-12 North by beating Oregon and I wouldn’t want to play Stanford right now.  Nice to see Minnesota give longtime Jerry Kill assistant coach Tracey Claeys a shot as the permanent head coach, although with a three year contract they didn’t show much of a commitment.  So, I’m calling it right now.  Minnesota hands Iowa it’s first loss of the season.  Frankly I’m surprised Iowa is this good.  They were so mediocre last year and frankly just god awful in their bowl game against Tennessee.  Utah over Arizona.  Remember as for coaching searches, Arizona’s season is over next Saturday a week before Thanksgiving.  I won’t be surprised to see Rich Rodriguez gone to a new job (probably Va. Tech) before the turkey even hits the oven. Boise State over New Mexico, California over Oregon State, San Diego State over Wyoming.  Let this be an example to all FCS coaches who think the FBS grass is greener.  At North Dakota State Craig Bohl won 3 straight FCS Championships.  This year at Wyoming he’s won 1 game.  UCLA over Washington State and Fresno State over Hawaii.

Our FCS Game of the Week takes us to Portland, Oregon where the Portland State Vikings host the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in a Big Sky game.  Utah State is undefeated in the Big Sky and can clinch at least a tie for the conference title by beating the Vikings and their mascot Victor E. Viking.  Portland State has a place in College Football History.  A former coach named Mouse Davis invented the run and shoot offense at the school which he passed along to one of his quarterbacks June Jones who coached in both college and the NFL.  The school’s most famous football alum is Neil Lomax who played in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals.  Just a few years ago, the head coach in Portland was former Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons Coach Jerry Glanville who was fired after going just 9 – 24.

Division II and Division III complete the regular season this weekend and will announce their playoff fields on Sunday.  Our Division II game of the week takes us to the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia where the Shepherd University Rams try to complete a perfect 10-0 season and win the Mountain East Conference Championship with a Noon kickoff against the Urban University Knights.  Shepherd is ranked #1 in Division II’s Super Region I and 5th in the Nation.  They’ve scored at least 30 points in all 9 previous games and at least 40 points in 8 of those games.  The Rams are coached by Monte Cater who walked into Shepherd the same year Frank Beamer walked into Virginia Tech.  All he’s done is win 218 games and has a winning percentage of 68 percent.

Division III takes us back to the Great Northwest, where the second ranked Linfield Wildcats try to complete a perfect 10-0 season on the road at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Washington.  Fun Division III fact: since 2005 the National Championship has been won by either Wisconsin-Whitewater or Mount Union.  The last team to win a D-III title other than those two schools was Linfield in 2004.

NAIA is also wrapping up the season this weekend and our game of the week takes us to Sioux City, Iowa where #1 ranked Morningside University hosts the 4th ranked and undefeated Doane College Tigers from Crete, Nebraska for the conference championship of the Great Plains Athletic Conference.  Morningside has just one loss this season, to the aforementioned Wisconsin-Whitewater.

On a personal note, I would like to take this moment to say Thank You to all of those in the military who are serving or who have served our country.  It’s because of people like you – no matter what your job is – that people like me can write about sports that we love.  Finally, I have received some nice comments from people who are reading this blog and say they enjoy it.  Thank You for reading and thank you for the comments.  It’s especially nice to hear from people I used to work with and for.  I’m enjoying this because I get to tell stories and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and one of things I miss about the journalism career.  That and Friday nights on the sidelines.  Have a great weekend everyone….

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