What’s Old is New Again

If you took at look at the A.P. Top 25 this week you might have noticed some names in the poll that frankly haven’t had much success lately, but rank among College Football’s power programs.  We can debate whether, with a playoff committee picking 4 teams to participate in the playoff, the A.P. Top 25 means anything anymore, but you are naïve if you think it doesn’t.  The playoff committee is composed largely of people who have day jobs and so I don’t care what they say, they cannot watch everything and the A.P. Poll gives those people in the committee room a baseline to work from when doing their rankings.  If that doesn’t happen, then why are they so similar?  And, the A.P. still crowns a National Champion and it’s not tied to the playoff results.

In the Top 25 this week, Washington is #5, Miami #10, Nebraska #12 and Colorado #21 proving again a point I’ve long made that College Football is cyclical.  There are rare instances where a team can get and stay near the top (i.e., Alabama), but most of the time teams are going to go through peaks and valleys and in recent years, those four teams have experienced valleys.

Washington and Colorado’s resurgence may be the most surprising given how bad they have been in recent years.  Washington boasts one of the best game day atmospheres in the sport.  They’ve also turned out numerous quarterbacks to play in the NFL, Mark Brunnell and Warren Moon among them.  From 1975 to 1992 with Don James (who by the way was Nick Saban’s first boss at Kent State) coaching, the Huskies were annually in the National conversation.  James won 153 games, lost 57 with two ties in that span.  He also won 4 Rose Bowls and 1 Orange Bowl and reached the pinnacle by leading Washington to a 12-0 record and a National Title in 1991.

James resigned in 1992 when it was revealed that several of his players received improper benefits although he and his staff were not implicated.  His defensive coordinator Jim Lambright took over and did a decent job but was fired and replaced by then-Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel.  It appeared the ship had stabled and in 2000 the Huskies went 11-1 and won the Rose Bowl again.  Then in 2003 Neuheisel was fired when he admitted taking part in an NCAA Tournament pool.  That’s kind of a garbage reason to fire someone and Neuheisel sued the school for wrongful termination, eventually settling the case for $4.5 million, but his career has never been the same (now landing him a job as an analyst on CBS when he desperately wants to be a coach) and Washington went into the dumper and from 2003 to 2015 went just 67-90 with a 1-11 season in 2004 and 0-11 in 2008.

The Huskies have had winning records for the last 5 seasons, but did anyone see this coming?  This year they are 5-0 under Chris Peterson who left Boise State to rebuild the Washington program a couple of years ago.  Peterson has shown a tendency to not be a job hopper so he’s probably in Seattle as long as Washington will have him.  With a win over Stanford last week Washington sits in prime position to win the Pac-12 North and the Pac-12 for that matter which they haven’t done since 2000.  If they do, there’s probably a spot in the playoff for a team that went 0-11 as recently as 2008.

Colorado’s glory days were mostly in the Big-8 and then the Big-12.  Since joining the Pac-12, it’s been slim pickings.  This is a school that has experienced 10 consecutive losing seasons.  This year if not for a few untimely turnovers at Michigan, they might be 5-0.  Colorado’s glory days came in the late 80s and early 90s under former Coach Bill McCartney.  McCartney won 93 games and the school’s first National Title in 1990 with an 11-1-1 record.  He also knew how to fill his staff with coaching talent.  Among his assistants were Jim Caldwell (now coaching the Detroit Lions), Gerry Dinardo (who was a head coach at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana), Les Miles, former Illinois head coach Lou Tepper, former Maryland head coach Ron Vaderlinden, Gary Barnett, who before becoming the head coach at Colorado led Northwestern to the Rose Bowl, Les Steckel, who coached the Minnesota Vikings, Karl Dorrell who coached UCLA, Elliott Uzelac who coached Navy, and Neuheisel who succeeded him as head coach in 1998.

But after Barnett was let go after the 2005 season, Colorado hit rock bottom.  Dan Hawkins moved from Boise State to Colorado and could never get anything going.  Colorado booted him out and replaced him with another former assistant John Embree.  This is the classic example of hiring the wrong coach and setting a program back.  Embree – a long time NFL assistant – won just 4 games in two years.  When he was fired in 2012, then-Cincinnati coach Butch Jones flirted hard with Colorado.  So much so that his then A.D. Whit Babcock called him out in the media, and told him to decide if he was going to coach at Cincinnati or Colorado.  Jones got a stay of execution however when Tennessee couldn’t find anyone to take its job and, so when Tennessee came calling, brick-by-brick went to Knoxville, and Colorado hired Mike McIntyre from San Jose State.  They probably felt they’d made another wrong choice when in his first three years, the Buffaloes went 4-8, 2-10 and 4-9.  It’s not an easy job getting players to come to Boulder, Colorado but in the Pac-12 then can work California for players.  Success breeds success and in the case of the two former western powers, what’s old is clearly new again.

Week 6 figures to be a wet one in the Southeastern United States and so rain and wind is likely going to be a factor in what now appears (and it didn’t appear to be such at the beginning of the season) a real potential de-facto ACC Coastal Division championship game between Va. Tech and North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  North Carolina has won its last 11 home games and is coming off a win over Florida State last week in Tallahassee.  The Tarheels ruined Frank Beamer’s final home game last November with an overtime win in Blacksburg, but since joining the ACC, Va. Tech has won 9 of the 12 games against UNC and have never lost back-to-back games against North Carolina in ACC games.

The other marquee ACC games this weekend comes in Miami where the Hurricanes host Florida State.  Miami is boasting about being back among the nation’s elite and if they are then a win this week could definitely prove it.  Florida State is out of the playoff race after losing two ACC games this season, but this game has little to do with that.  Most of the players from these two schools come from Florida and familiarity breeds contempt.  Florida State has played a tougher schedule, but Miami leads the overall series 31-29 and this will mark the 28th time in the last 32 meetings between these two schools that one of them has come into the game unbeaten.

Virginia and West Virginia are off.  Tennessee is not.  Instead the Volunteers hop a plane to College Station, Texas for a 3:30 game against Texas A&M.  Tennessee is 5-0 for the first time since 1998 and all they did that year was get just about every break in the world and win a National Championship.  Sound familiar to this team?  Texas A&M is 5-0 for the third straight year.  Starting hasn’t been the problem.  Finishing has been the issue.  This is these schools’ first meeting since the 2005 Cotton Bowl (which was actually played at the Cotton Bowl) and some dude named Rick Clausen carved up A&M in a 38-7 victory.  On that day, John Chavis was calling the defense for Tennessee.  Tomorrow he’ll call the defense for A&M.

Thus brings us to a game at the  Cotton Bowl where Oklahoma and Texas meet in their annual game during the Texas State Fair.  Last year, Texas stunned Oklahoma 24-17.   If they don’t do it again, they might have an interim coach next week as the posse is startling to circle Longhorns coach Charlie Strong.  In his defense, Strong was left to clean up a dumpster fire at Texas left by Mack Brown, but this is Texas where money talks and losers walk.  This one gets started early at 11:00 a.m. Central Time.  Plenty of time to watch the game and then stop by the fair where they are known for frying just about anything, including butter.

There’s no question about the non-Power 5 game of the week.  It comes in Annapolis, Maryland where Navy hosts Houston.  Houston still has designs on the playoff and that means they can’t lose this one.  These two have played just twice in their respective histories, once in a bowl game in 1980 and last year when Houston slammed Navy 35-21.  Houston, ranked 6th is the highest ranked team to visit Navy since #2 South Carolina did so in 1984.  Navy won that game.

Our FCS Game of the Week takes us to Harrisonburg, Virginia where 7th ranked and 4-1 James Madison hosts William and Mary.  This is the 39th meeting between these two schools, their 36th meeting in a row, and their football histories couldn’t be more opposite.  This is just the 45th season of JMU Football.  William and Mary is the second oldest college in the country and is in its 123rd season of football.  William and Mary also features the nation’s longest tenured Division 1 (FBS/FCS) head coach in alum Jimmy Lacock, whose in his 37th season as the Tribe’s head coach.  Laycock has won 240 games in those 37 years and his background is pretty impressive as well.  He played at William and Mary for head coaches Marv Levy and Lou Holtz.

Division II takes us to the “Natural State” and Arkadelphia, Arkansas for a game between the 16th ranked Harding Bison and the 5th ranked Henderson State Reddies.  Both teams are undefeated at 5-0 and are the last two unbeaten teams in the Great American Conference.  Henderson State reportedly has one of the country’s best marching bands.  Among Harding’s alums is Willie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame.

Division III has familiar names at the top of this week’s Top 25 as Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mary Hardin-Baylor and St. Thomas remain undefeated and the top 4 teams.  Our game of the week takes us to the suburbs of Chicago for another undefeated team, the Wheaton Thunder who host the Big Blue of Millikin an Illinois-Wisconsin Conference game.  It’s homecoming at Wheaton where the Thunder are ranked 10th in the latest Top 25.  Wheaton has scored back-to-back 11-1 seasons and have 8 playoff appearances since 2002.  The school was started by abolitionists seeking to end slavery during the Civil War and was a spot on the famed underground railroad used by slaves to escape to free states in the north.  Among it’s alums is America’s Reverend, the Reverend Billy Graham.  They’d best not overlook the Big Blue however particularly with a monster game next Saturday against fellow unbeaten North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

Finally, we head to American’s heartland for the NAIA game of the week as the Second Ranked Baker University Wildcats host Avila University.   Baker achieved its highest ever ranking this week in the NAIA Top 25.  The school founded in 1838 counts among its alums Green Bay Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and at one point in its basketball history its basketball team was coached by Phog Allen, the legendary Kansas Coach who learned the game of basketball from its creator James Naismith.  Baker also has the distinction of being just one of two schools in the country with the one official school color being the color “Orange.”  The other is Syracuse.

Once again, I’m proving to be a caldron of useless information.  Have a good one.

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