Wednesday, December 9, 2015

FOOTBALL NEWS AFTER WEEK THIRTEEN

FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER

Hello Football Fans,


The college football playoffs have been finally determined, and the full slate of bowl games has also been set up.  There is only one college game this weekend - Army vs. Navy.

In the NFL, there are only four weeks remaining in the regular season.  Yet, only one team has clinched a playoff spot; the other 11 teams are yet to be determined.

Enjoy,

The Fugitive Commissioner of the FFHL, on the lam from the gambling police


COLLEGE

All EIGHT of the betting favorites won their conference title games straight up (outright); against the spread, those 8 winners were 5-3 ATS (62.5%).

The CFP playoff schedule has been determined – four teams were chosen, and in the end there was little if any controversy over the selections. The controversy in the media seems to be whether the playoffs should be expanded to eight teams (more on that in future weeks).

The New Year’s Six major bowl invitees have also been announced (eight teams in addition to the four CFP playoff teams).

There will be three teams with 5-7 records getting bowl invitations. Ugly.

Coaching changes for next year are rampant right now.

The Football Championship Subdivision playoffs (the FCS; old Division I-AA) are down to the quarterfinals (eight teams remaining).

There is now only one undefeated team in college FB – Clemson, since Iowa was beaten by Michigan State, 16-13, in the Big 10 title game.

RESULTS OF POWER 5 CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES

SEC TITLE GAME: Saturday, Dec. 5th at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
AP#18 Florida (+17h) vs. AP#2 Alabama
RESULTS: ALA 29, FL 15


Alabama repeated as SEC Champion, having beaten Missouri 42-13 in the title game last year. It was the first time any SEC team had won back-to-back titles since Tennessee in 1997-1998 and before that Florida in 1993-1996.

PAC-12 TITLE GAME: Dec. 5th at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA
AP#7 Stanford (-4) vs. AP#24 USC
RESULTS: STAN 41, USC 22
By winning the PAC-12 title, the Stanford Cardinal earned a spot in the Rose Bowl to be played on January 1st in Pasadena.

ACC TITLE GAME: Dec. 5th at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC
AP#1 Clemson (-5) vs. AP#8 North Carolina
RESULTS: CLEM 45, UNC 37
With the win, Clemson remains undefeated and is seeded #1 in the CFP Playoffs.

BIG 10 TITLE GAME: December 5th at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis
AP#4 Iowa (+3h) vs. AP#6 Michigan State
RESULTS: MSU 16, IOWA 13
The winner was nearly assured of getting a spot in the CFP, and the Michigan State Spartans’ victory in fact gave them the #3 seed in the playoffs and the unenviable task of facing #2 seed Alabama in the CFP semifinals.

HAWK TALK
Just for the record: I’m just a fan (and alumnus), not an expert.
Ironically, Iowa may have played its best game of the year in losing for the first time this season. Two key plays were big contributors to the loss – the RB Canzeri injury early in the game, and the interception in the Spartans’ end zone that fell on the back of a fallen MSU defender and was then scooped off of him by another MSU defender before the ball hit the ground.


The winning Michigan State TD drive at the end of the game was obviously devastating. It lasted an excruciatingly long 9 minutes on 22 plays for 82 yards, ending with the Spartans’ first TD of the game with only 27 seconds remaining. On that drive, Sparty converted on 5 of 6 third-down plays, and the one they didn’t convert was another successful first down on a 4th down play.

“Moral victory”??
Not really, but in the final analysis the Iowa Hawkeyes ended up ahead of one-loss Ohio State in the final CFP rankings (I’m starting to like that committee), giving the Hawks a Rose Bowl invitation in a season with relatively low expectations.

It always seems to work that way for HC Ferentz; when expectations are low, he and his staff seem to elevate the team’s effort and results.

And from me, thank you to the offensive play-callers who didn’t get too conservative; that 85-yard TD pass to take the lead in the 4th quarter was exhilarating (at the time).

THE CFP PLAYOFFS
Following are the semifinal matchups for the four playoff teams; both games will be played on New Year’s Eve.

Thursday, DEC 31st 4PM Eastern
ORANGE BOWL in Miami Gardens, FL
#1 CLEMSON (+3h) vs. #4 OKLAHOMA
Thursday DEC 31st 8PM Eastern
COTTON BOWL in Arlington, TX (Cowboys’ Stadium)
#2 ALABAMA (-9h) vs. #3 MICHIGAN STATE

CFP CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
The semifinal winners on New Year’s Eve will play for the national title on Monday, JANUARY 11th at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ (site of the Fiesta Bowl on Jan 1st and home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals).

ODDS FOR TEAMS TO WIN THE CFP NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
The Las Vegas SuperBook (www.vegasinsider.com) has posted odds for teams to win the NCAA title (updated as of 12/7/15):

This week                               Last week                            2 weeks ago
ALABAMA 10/11 (-110)       11/10 (+110)                        3/2 (+150)
OKLAHOMA 9/4 (+225)         5/2   (+250)                       7/1 (+700)
CLEMSON 11/2 (+550)           6/1   (+600)                       4/1 (+400)
MICHIGAN ST. 15/2 (+750)  10/1 (+1000)                    12/1 (+1200)


IOWA NA                               15/1                                   20/1
OHIO STATE NA                   20/1                                   20/1
N. CAROLINA NA                20/1                                      NA
STANFORD NA                     50/1                                     NA
NOTRE DAME NA                 NA                                      8/1
BAYLOR NA                           NA                                      8/1
Bottom line: Alabama is the “odds-on” favorite to win the title.

“GROUP OF FIVE” CONFERENCES

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE (AAC – “AMERICAN”)
AAC TITLE GAME: Saturday, Dec. 5th
AP#20 Temple (+6) at AP#17 Houston
RESULTS: HOU 24, TEMP 13
The Houston Cougars not only won the AAC title, but also got one of the 12 spots in a New Year’s Six major bowl game as the highest-ranked non-Power Five conference team (CFP #18 ranking, three spots ahead of #21 Navy and six spots ahead of #24 Temple; the HOU Cougars had beaten both of those teams at home in the last two weeks).

MOUNTAIN WEST (MW)
MW TITLE GAME: Saturday, Dec. 5th
Air Force (+6h) at San Diego State
RESULTS: SDSU 27, AIRF 24
SDSU won its first outright conference title since capturing the WAC in 1986.
The San Diego State Aztecs won their ninth game in a row. SDSU QB Maxwell Smith had suffered a torn ACL in the regular-season finale against Nevada and was unable to play in this game. He was replaced by redshirt freshman QB Christian Chapman, who performed well in the Aztecs’ ground-oriented attack. He completed 9 passes in 14 attempts for 203 yards (22+ yards per reception) and 1 TD (no interceptions), and rushed for 32 yards on six carries.

CONFERENCE USA (C-USA)
C-USA TITLE GAME: Saturday, Dec. 5th
Southern Mississippi (+7h) at Western Kentucky
RESULTS: WKU 45, USM 28

MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE (MAC)
MAC TITLE GAME: Friday, Dec. 4th at Ford Field in Detroit, MI.
Bowling Green (-12) vs. Northern Illinois
RESULTS: BGSU 34, NIU 14

SUN BELT CONFERENCE (SBC)
Three teams had a shot at the conference title going into the final week of the regular season on Saturday.
Arkansas State captured the outright SBC title with a home win over Texas State, 55-17, and finishing with an 8-0 conference record. The ASU Red Wolves have won four SBC titles the past five years, and amazingly with four different head coaches.
Appalachian State (7-1), who won at South Alabama, 34-27, was the SBC runner-up.
Georgia Southern (6-2) was upset by visiting Georgia State, 34-7.

CFP FINAL RANKINGS
The College Football Playoffs selection committee released its FINAL rankings on Sunday, December 6th.
For comparison purposes only, I’ve included the Associated Press (AP) Poll rankings, the USA Today Coaches Poll rankings, and the preseason AP rankings (August 2015).

CFP Rankings Rankings
TEAM (record)                 AP/Coach/Pre             Comment
PLAYOFF TEAMS:


#1 Clemson (13-0)              #1/#1/#12               Plays Oklahoma at Orange Bowl in Miami
#2 Alabama (12-1)              #2/#2/#3                Plays Michigan State at Cotton Bowl in Dallas
#3 Michigan St. (12-1)        #3/#4/#5                Plays Alabama at Cotton Bowl in Dallas
#4 Oklahoma (11-1)            #4/#3/#19              Plays Clemson at Orange Bowl in Miami

OTHERS:
#5 Iowa (12-1)                    #6/#7/NR               Plays Stanford at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
#6 Stanford (11-2)              #5/#6/#21               Plays Iowa at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
#7 Ohio State (11-1)           #7/#5/#1                 Plays Notre Dame at Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix
#8 Notre Dame (10-2)        #8/#9/#11               Plays Ohio State at Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix
#9 Florida State (10-2)       #9/#8/#10               Plays Houston at Peach Bowl in Atlanta
#10 N. Carolina (11-2)       #10/#11/NR            vs. Baylor in Orlando, FL
#11 TCU (10-2)                  #11/#10/#2              vs. Oregon at Alamo Bowl in San Antonio
#12 Mississippi (9-3)         #16/#15/#17            vs. OK State at Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
#13 Northwestern (10-2)    #12/#12/NR             vs. Tennessee at Outback Bowl in Tampa
#14 Michigan (9-3)            #17/#17/NR              vs. Florida at Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
#15 Oregon (9-3)               #15/#14/#7               vs. TCU at Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX
#16 Oklahoma St (10-2)    #13/#13/NR              vs. Ole Miss at Sugar Bowl in New Orleans
#17 Baylor (9-3)               #18/#19/#4                vs. UNC in Orlando, FL
#18 Houston (12-1)           #14/#16/NR   TOP GROUP OF 5 team; Plays FSU at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta

#19 Florida (10-3)            #19/#18/NR               vs. Michigan at Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL
#20 LSU (8-3)                  #22/#21/#14                vs. Texas Tech at Texas Bowl in Houston
#21 Navy (9-2)                 #21/#22/NR                vs. Pittsburgh at Military Bowl in Annapolis
#22 Utah (9-3)                  #20/#20/NR                vs. BYU at Las Vegas Bowl on Dec 19
#23 Tennessee (8-4)          NR/NR/#25                vs. Northwestern in Tampa, FL
#24 Temple (10-3)           #24/#24/NR                 vs. Toledo in Boca Raton, FL
#25 USC (8-5)                   NR/NR/#8                  vs. Wisconsin at Holiday Bowl in San Diego
NR Wisconsin (9-3)         #23/#23/#20                vs. Southern California in San Diego, CA
NR W.Kentucky (11-2)     #25/NR/NR                 vs. South Florida in Miami, FL
NR Georgia (9-3)             NR/#25/#9                  vs. Penn State in Jacksonville, FL
NR Auburn (6-6)              NR/NR/#6                   vs. Memphis in Birmingham, AL
NR UCLA (8-4)               NR/NR/#13                  vs. Nebraska in Santa Clara, CA
NR Arizona St (6-6)        NR/NR/#15                  vs. West VA in Phoenix, AZ
NR Georgia Tech (3-9)    NR/NR/#16                 Not qualified for bowl game
NR Arkansas (7-5)           NR/NR/#18                 vs. Kansas State in Memphis, TN

COMMENTS:
The AP preseason poll was not a very accurate measure this year. The four CFP playoff teams were ranked #3, #5, #12, and #19 by the AP Poll before the season started.

And, ten teams that ended up in the final CFP Top 25 rankings were not even ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 (including three Big 10 schools-Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern). Three SEC schools ranked in the preseason Top 25 did not make the final CFP Top 25 rankings.

The final CFP rankings were pretty much in line with the AP and Coaches Polls through the Top 11, and then there was some disparity. The CFP Committee liked Michigan more than the AP & Coaches Poll voters, while Oklahoma State and Houston were less liked by The Committee.

And just to repeat from last week’s letter, the following excerpt from the CFP guidelines may have influenced the final rankings:
The CFP Committee has several guidelines to “obey”, including the following language:
“Conference champions have the advantage over non-champions and independents, providing enough flexibility and discretion to select a non-champion or independent under circumstances where that non-champion or independent is unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country.”
Interpretation: conference champions will presumably have “priority” over non-champions.
RESULTS: PAC-12 Conference Champion Stanford was left out, probably because the Cardinal had two losses and there were five other one-loss teams in the “Top 8”.

THE NEW YEAR’S SIX MAJOR BOWL GAMES
In addition to the two CFP playoff games mentioned above, there are four other major bowl games, with one spot automatically reserved for a “Group of Five” conference team (i.e., non-Power Five conference team).

Thursday, DEC 31st
PEACH BOWL at Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
#9 Florida State vs. #18 Houston (non-Power 5 automatic qualifier)

Friday, JAN 1st
FIESTA BOWL at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ
#8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State
Friday, JAN 1st
ROSE BOWL at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA (Big 10 vs. PAC-12)
#5 Iowa vs. #6 Stanford
Friday, JAN 1st
SUGAR BOWL at the Superdome in New Orleans, LA (Big XII vs. SEC)
#12 Mississippi vs. #16 Oklahoma State

OTHER COLLEGE BOWL GAMES
After Week #12, there were still only 75 teams that had become bowl-eligible (generally requiring six or more qualifying wins). South Alabama (5-6) still had a chance to qualify last Saturday with a win over heavily favored Appalachian State (-17h), but the SAU Jaguars barely lost, 34-27, to finish the regular season at 5-7 and miss out on a bowl game invitation.
Kansas State (5-6) also had a chance on Saturday, hosting favored West Virginia (-5h); the KSU Wildcats upset the WVA Mountaineers, 24-23 and qualified for a bowl game.
And huge ‘dog Georgia State (+21) pulled off a big upset at GA Southern, winning 34-7 and qualifying for the postseason with a 6-6 record.
.
That leaves THREE invitations for teams with 5-7 records to fill the required 80 spots for the postseason bowl games.

The priority for these 3 bowl invitations will be determined by….. believe it or not…take a guess…………….. Academic Progress Rate (APR) of the schools involved in the “tiebreaker”.
Following is this year’s order for 5-7 teams with the best-APR:

Priority Team APR
#1 Nebraska 985
#2 Missouri 976
#3 tie Minnesota 975
#3 tie San Jose State 975
#5 tie Illinois 973
#5 tie Rice 973
Missouri is going to decline an invitation (coaching transition), which means 3 of the other 5 teams on this list are going to be playing in a bowl game, with presumably both Illinois and Rice being left out.

UPDATE:
The three 5-7 teams going bowling are: Nebraska, Minnesota, and San Jose State
The 5-7 teams staying home: Mizzou, Illinois, Rice, Texas, Kentucky, East Carolina
FL Int’l, Old Dominion, UTEP, Buffalo, South Alabama, KSU and GA State
The Georgia State Panthers started the season with a 2-6 record before winning four straight games to close out their regular season and become bowl-eligible. The Kansas State Wildcats, meanwhile, won their last three games after starting the year with a 3-6 record to also gain bowl eligibility.

FBS ACTION – UNDERDOG WINNERS
This week FOUR underdogs won outright in 15 FBS games for an upset rate of 26.7% (22.4% last week), and none of them involved a conference title game.


Texas (+20h) won at #12 Baylor, 23-17. The BU Bears through attrition were down to their 4th string QB in this game.

SHOCKER
Georgia State (+21) blew out host Georgia Southern, 34-7, to gain bowl eligibility.
Kansas State (+5h) beat visiting West Virginia, 24-23, and the Wildcats became bowl eligible.
Troy (+2) won convincingly at Louisiana-Lafayette, 41-17

FCS PLAYOFFS
There were EIGHT playoff games over the weekend; each of the 8 seeded teams hosted the winners from last week’s Round 1 games (the seeded teams had gotten a “bye” in the first round).
Three of the eight seeded teams were upset on Saturday (the #4, #5, and #6 seeds).

RESULTS FROM LAST SATURDAY’S PLAYOFF GAMES
FCS#8 Chattanooga (9-3) at #1-seed FCS#1 Jacksonville State (10-1)
RESULTS: #1 Jacksonville State 41, Chattanooga 35 in overtime.
The JSU Gamecocks tied the game on a 75-yard TD run by Troymaine Pope with 4:40 remaining in regulation play, which ended up sending the game into overtime.
In the extra period, JAX State (Alabama) intercepted the UT-Chattanooga Mocs in the end zone and then clicked off two running plays culminating in the winning TD.
RB Pope ended the game with 234 rushing yards on 17 carries and he scored 3 TD’s.

FCS#29 Western Illinois (7-5) at #2-seed FCS#4 Illinois State (9-2)
RESULTS: #2 Illinois State 36, Western Illinois 19

FCS#17 Montana (8-4) at #3-seed FCS#3 North Dakota State (9-2)
RESULTS: #3 ND State 36, Montana 7

FCS#10 Sam Houston State (9-3) at #4-seed FCS#2 McNeese State (10-0)
UPSET RESULTS: SHSU 34, #4 McNeese 23
The McNeese State Cowboys suffered their first loss of the season.

FCS#35 Colgate (8-4) at #5-seed FCS#6 James Madison (9-2)
UPSET RESULTS: Colgate 44, #5 James Madison 38

FCS#14 Northern Iowa (8-4) at #6-seed FCS#5 Portland State (9-2)
UPSET RESULTS: UNI Panthers 29, #6 Portland State 17
Northern Iowa QB Aaron Bailey rushed for 200 yards, including two TD runs of 61 and 69 yards.

FCS#13 William & Mary (9-3) at #7-seed FCS#11 Richmond (8-3)
RESULTS: #7 Richmond 48, William & Mary 13

FCS#18 The Citadel (9-3) at #8-seed FCS#7 Charleston Southern (9-2)
RESULTS: #8 Charleston Southern 14, The Citadel 6

FCS QUARTERFINALS
Following are this weekend’s matchups in the FCS Playoff Quarterfinals:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11TH
#8 Charleston Southern at #1 Jacksonville State (Jacksonville, AL)
#7 Richmond at #2 Illinois State (Normal, IL)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12TH
Unseeded Northern Iowa at #3 North Dakota State (Fargo, ND-Noon ET, ESPN)
Two unseeded teams: Colgate at Sam Houston State (Huntsville, TX)


NFL
There are only FOUR weeks remaining in the regular season.
Only one team has clinched a playoff berth – CAROLINA captured the NFC South Division title for the 3rd year in a row. The Panthers survived in New Orleans to remain the lone undefeated team in the NFL. And, they have a decent chance to finish the regular season 16-0, with the following games still on their schedule: Atlanta, at NY Giants, at Atlanta, Tampa Bay.

Did you know? Through Week #12, the average length of an NFL game had increased by 3 minutes, 45 seconds from last year.

NFL ACTION – UNDERDOG WINNERS
Only THREE underdogs won outright in 16 NFL games this week for a paltry upset rate of 18.8% (43.8% the previous week).

San Francisco (+7h) won at Chicago, 26-20 in overtime.

Philadelphia (+8h) won at New England, 35-28. The NE Patriots jumped out to an early 14-point lead, but the Eagles tied it up with a blocked punt return for a TD just before halftime. In the 3rd quarter, New England was threatening to take the lead, but QB Tom Brady threw an interception at the Eagles’ goal line and it was returned 99 yards for a Pick 6 touchdown. The Eagles scored again in the 3rd quarter on an 82-yard punt return TD. Philly scored again with an offensive TD early in the 4th quarter to lead 35-14, but the Pats came back with two TD’s and still 3 minutes remaining in regulation. On the next possession, the Eagles were basically running out the clock, but fumbled and gave New England one last chance with one minute to go at their own 25, but were eventually stopped on downs.
The Patriots were playing without star TE Rob Gronkowski in this game; QB Brady had done quite well this season after losing many of his targets during the year to injury; however, losing Gronk was a different problem altogether.

On Monday night, Dallas (+4) won at Washington, 19-16, after a successful Cowboys’ FG from 54 yards out with only 10 seconds remaining in the game. It was a relatively boring game that was tied at 9-9 (six FG’s) until the Cowboys scored the first TD of the game with only 1:14 remaining in regulation. But Dallas unadvisedly scored early, mismanaging the clock by leaving way too much time for the ‘Skins to retaliate. Dallas would have been well-advised to run off some clock and kick the winning FG with roughly only 20-something seconds to go. But then Washington scored the tying TD and used up only 30 seconds on the 4-play drive, which left plenty of time for the Cowboys to get into field goal range for the game-winner.

“NOT QUITE”

ANOTHER TRAVESTY

Detroit (+2h) hosted Green Bay and the Lions led at halftime, 17-0. It was the first time in 56 games that the Packers had been shut out in the first half (last time was the “Fail Mary” game in Seattle, an irony you will see if you continue reading the game summary).
The DET Lions extended their lead in mid-3rd quarter to 20-0, but left the door open for a Green Bay comeback. The Packers scored two TD’s in the 3rd quarter and another TD with 3 minutes remaining in the game, but still trailed 23-21. Detroit ran six plays, but had to punt and the Pack had one last chance with 23 seconds remaining in regulation from their own 21-yard line and no time outs. After two incomplete passes, there were only six precious seconds on the clock – enough time for one play, which was a multi-lateral play that ended up in QB Aaron Rodgers hands at the GB 39 with nobody to lateral back to.
As he was tackled to presumably end the game, the defender grazed Rodgers face mask and then grabbed his shoulder pad to drag him down. Out came the yellow flag from the referee behind the play, who didn’t have the correct angle to actually see whether a facemask penalty should have been called. But nonetheless, the penalty stood and gave Green Bay one untimed down, since the game cannot end on a defensive penalty.


And I suppose you have already heard what happened after that.
From their own 39-yard line, The Pack threw the “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone, where the reception was made by TE Richard Rodgers (no relation) with little resistance from the incompetent Detroit defense for the winning TOUCHDOWN.
FINAL: GB 27, DET 23 and the Packers also covered ATS.

Bad facemask penalty call, or not?
The NFL Rule:
“No player shall grasp and control, twist, turn, push, or pull the facemask of an opponent in any direction.”

The rule comes with an important caveat: “If a player grasps an opponent’s facemask, he must immediately release it. If he does not immediately release it and controls his opponent, it is a foul.”

DET Lions’ defender Devin Taylor grazed the facemask of Aaron Rodgers, at worst. If there was any grasping (and there wasn’t), Taylor immediately released the facemask.

The Fugitive says: “Bad call, man, bad call”, and it directly resulted in underdog Detroit not winning the game (my rival Jimmy K may disagree).

Comment from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk at NBCSports):
"If the NFL wants seasons to hinge on such arbitrary outcomes, so be it. But those who prefer that the officials always get it right will always have the ability to complain when the correctable frailties of human perception give a team an unwarranted opportunity to win a game."
[Editorial Comment: Yeh, you guessed it; Florio is an attorney].

Solution to this travesty:


To reiterate, my buddy Bill Belichick and I both want to give coaches the ability to challenge penalty calls (with the same restrictions as for other “red flag” challenges). There would be a few complexities to work out, but it rules should be changed.

STILL UNDEFEATED
New Orleans (+7) hosted undefeated Carolina on Sunday. The NOR Saints never trailed in the first half and led 16-13 at intermission. The CAR Panthers asserted themselves early in the second half and led 27-16 after a TD with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. New Orleans responded with two TD’s and retook the lead early in the 4th quarter, 31-27. Carolina recorded another TD with 12 minutes remaining in the game to retake the lead, but the Saints responded in kind with 5:21 on the clock. But on the ensuing drive, Carolina ran 11 plays and gained 75 yards to score the game-winning TD, leaving only 1 minute on the clock. FINAL: CAR 41, NOR 38 (but the Saints covered the spread)

NFL Trivia:
There were 8 extra-point kicks missed in NFL Week #13, but the one in New Orleans was historic.
Since the NFL rule was changed last offseason, defenses are now allowed to score on an unsuccessful point-after-touchdown (PAT) or “extra point” try. And it happened for the first time on Sunday, with the NOR Saints blocking a Carolina PAT kick and returning it all the way to paydirt for 2 points, giving New Orleans a 16-13 lead over the Panthers just before halftime.
It was an 82-yard return, and the first such score since the league moved extra-point kicks back to the 15-yard line.

AFC

AFC EAST:


NEW ENGLAND (10-2) lost for the second straight week and now has “only” a three-game lead over the NY Jets (7-5), who beat the NY Giants in overtime on Sunday, 23-20. Buffalo (6-6) beat visiting Houston on Sunday, 30-21, to remain in the Wild Card race.

AFC NORTH:
CINCINNATI (10-2) maintained its lead at three games over Pittsburgh (7-5) after the Bengals won easily at Cleveland on Sunday, 37-3, while the PIT Steelers demolished visiting Indianapolis on Sunday night, 45-10.

AFC WEST
DENVER (10-2) won at San Diego on Sunday, 17-3 to maintain its three-game lead over the KC Chiefs (7-5), who came back with three unanswered TD’s in the 4th quarter to win at Oakland on Sunday, 34-20. The OAK Raiders dropped to 5-7 and its chances for a Wild Card berth are now slim (but still alive).

The Mediocre AFC SOUTH (no teams over .500)
The Indianapolis Colts (6-6) and Houston Texans (6-6) are still tied for the division lead after both teams lost in Week #13. Jacksonville (4-8) lost at Tennessee on Sunday, 42-39, and missed out on the opportunity to close the gap in the division race.

NFC

NFC SOUTH:
CAROLINA (12-0) wrapped up the division title with a tough win at New Orleans on Sunday, 41-38.
NFC NORTH:
The division is tied up again after Minnesota (8-4) got smoked by visiting Seattle on Sunday, 38-7 and Green Bay (8-4) got the gift win on Thursday night at Detroit, 27-23. The CHI Bears (5-7) lost ugly at Soldier Field on Sunday to San Francisco, 26-20 in overtime and are now a longshot in the Wild Card playoff race (two games back with four to go).

NFC WEST
Arizona (10-2) retained its division lead of three games over the SEA Seahawks (7-5), as both teams won on Sunday.
The Hapless NFC EAST (all teams under .500)
There is a 3-way tie for the division lead among three mediocre teams, all sporting 5-7 records -- NY Giants, Washington, and the PHI Eagles. In the cellar is Dallas at 4-8, only one game out of the division lead, after winning at Washington on Monday night.
What a mess.

NFL PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
With only 4 games remaining in the regular season, following is a snapshot of how the playoff picture looks at this point:

NFC SEEDINGS PROJECTION
#1 Carolina (12-0)
#2 Arizona (10-2)
#3 Minnesota (8-4) or Green Bay (8-4)
#4 Washington, NY Giants, or Philly (5-7)
#5 Green Bay/Minnesota division loser (8-4)
#6 Seattle (7-5)
Lurking for #6 Wild Card spot:
Tampa Bay (6-6)
Atlanta (6-6)

Longshots:
WSH/NYG/PHI losers (5-7)
Chicago Bears (5-7)

AFC SEEDINGS PROJECTION
#1 Cincinnati (10-2)
#2 Denver (10-2)
#3 New England (10-2)
#4 Indianapolis (6-6) or Houston (6-6)
#5 & #6 Kansas City (7-5), Pittsburgh (7-5), NY Jets (7-5)
Lurking:
Buffalo Bills (6-6)
IND/HOU division loser (6-6)

Longshots:
Oakland Raiders (5-7)
Miami Dolphins (5-7)

FFHL RESULTS – WEEK THIRTEEN

Overall, we FFHL’ers posted a record to barely cover the bookmaker’s juice at 44-40-0 ATS (52.4%). In college games we were a solid 27-20-0 ATS (57.4%). But in the NFL, we were mediocre with a record of 17-20-0 ATS (45.9%). We selected 18 underdogs and posted a record of only 8-10-0 ATS (44.4%). With the college ‘dogs, we were 8-4-0 ATS (66.7%); but the NFL ‘dogs let us down and we were a perfect 0-6-0 ATS (0.0%), as most of the NFL favorites covered ATS.

FFHL LOP-SIDED and CONTESTED PICKS AGAINST THE SPREAD (ATS)
Listed below is a breakdown of some of our significant picks.
We had 12 contrary picks in college out of 47 total picks (26%).
We had only 5 contrary picks in the NFL out of 37 total picks (14%).

ATS Picks
Team                     For-Against                     Result / Unsolicited comments
Houston -6             vs. Temple 8-0       WIN, UH Cougars win 24-13 to cover by 5
Stanford -4h           vs. USC 6-1           WIN, Cardinal wins 41-22 to cover by 14½
Michigan St -3h     vs. Iowa 3-1           LOSS, Spartans win only 16-13 to miss by the hook
KSU +5h               vs. W.VA 3-2          WIN, Kansas State wins outright, 24-23
Alabama -17h        vs. Florida 3-2       LOSS, Tide decides not to score at end, wins 29-15
SDSU -6h              vs. Air Force 2-1    LOSS, Aztecs win only 27-24 & fail to cover by 3½
W.Kentucky -7h     vs. S.Miss 2-1        WIN, WKU Hilltoppers win 45-28 to cover by 9½
New Mex St (PK)   vs. ULM 2-1          LOSS, LA-Monroe wins the game 42-35
Clemson -4h            vs. UNC 2-2          WIN by CU Tigers 45-37 to cover by 3½

CAR Panthers -7     at NOR 7-0            LOSS, Saints succumb late but lose only 41-38
CIN Bengals -9        at CLE 5-1            WIN, Cincinnati crushes inept Browns, 37-3
NE Patriots -8h       vs. PHI 3-0            LOSS, Philadelphia wins outright over Pats, 35-28
WSH ‘Skins -4        vs. DAL 3-0          LOSS, Cowboys win outright in mediocrity, 19-16
HOU Texans +3h      at BUF 3-2           LOSS, Houston loses 4th quarter & game 30-21

COLLEGE
This week – FFHL Week #13:
                          ATS                           STRAIGHT-UP
                          Record                         Record
FAVORITES     6-8-0 (42.9%)               10-4 (71.4%)
HOME TEAMS 6-4-0 (60.0%)                6-4 (60.0%)
There were five neutral site games and one “Pick’em” game (i.e., no ‘dog or favorite).

COLLEGE - CUMULATIVE after fourteen weeks:
                             ATS                                  STRAIGHT-UP
                             Record                              Record
FAVORITES    364-344-13 (51.4%)            566-155 (78.5%)
HOME TEAMS 317-374-11 (45.9%)          406-296 (57.8%)

NFL
In the 13th week:
                              ATS                                   STRAIGHT-UP
                              Record                               Record
FAVORITES        11-5-0 (68.8%)                  13-3 (81.2%)
HOME TEAMS     5-10-0 (33.3%)                  5-10 (33.3%)
Note: I didn’t consider the NYJ-NYG a home vs. away game, since both teams play their home games in the same stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

NFL - CUMULATIVE after thirteen weeks:
                                      ATS                           STRAIGHT-UP
                                      Record                        Record
FAVORITES             86-99-7 (46.6%)            119-73 (62.0%)
HOME TEAMS          87-94-7 (48.1%)          101-87 (53.7%)
The favorites made a big move this week in bringing the cumulative win percentage ATS closer to the “expected” 50% mark. With the Week #13 results, the win %-age moved a full 2% from 44.6% to 46.4% for the year.

FOOTBALL NEWS and MINUTIA

NFL TEAM(S) IN LOS ANGELES???
A final decision from the NFL owners may finally be forthcoming on or about January 13th, two days after the college CFP Championship Game. There are probably five viable options at this point, with another three options that are longshots or quite unlikely. I’ll try to rank them in order of likelihood:
1. St. Louis moves to Inglewood, CA
2. St. Louis moves to Inglewood with the SD Chargers
3. San Diego and Oakland move to Carson, CA
4. San Diego only moves to Carson, CA
5. St. Louis and Oakland move to Inglewood

Most unlikely:
6. Oakland only moves to Carson, CA
7. Oakland and San Diego move to Carson and St. Louis moves to Inglewood
8. Nobody moves to LA; all three teams stay in their present locations Stay tuned, and thanks to Mike Florio at www.profootballtalk.nbcsports.com for his knowledge and insight.

NFL – RACE FOR THE #1 OVERALL DRAFT PICK
The #1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is still up for grabs.

Here is the latest list of contenders:
Cleveland 2-10
Tennessee 3-9
San Diego 3-9
Lurking with 4-8 records:
Baltimore, Jacksonville, Dallas, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, and San Francisco

THE HEISMAN TROPHY RACE
On Saturday night, December 12th after the Army-Navy game, the Heisman Trophy winner will be announced. The heavy favorite is the Crimson Tide running back.

Following are the three finalists announced on December 7th:
RB Derrick Henry ALA Heavy favorite
RB Christian McCaffrey Stanford All-purpose back made a late move
QB Deshaun Watson Clemson QB’s have been winners in 13 of last 15

Left out:
QB Baker Mayfield Oklahoma
QB Keenan Reynolds Navy
RB Leonard Fournette LSU Early season front-runner

COLLEGE COACHING CHANGES

Miami of Florida
The new HC is Mark Richt, formerly the HC at Georgia for 15 years (145 wins). Richt played QB for the MIA.FL Hurricanes from 1978-1982, and was at one time the backup to Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly.

Georgia
The new HC is Kirby Smart, who played safety for UGA from 1995-1998, and most recently was the DC at Alabama (2015).

Maryland
The new HC is D.J. Durkin (age 37), who was most recently the DC for Michigan (2015). Previously, he had been the DC and special teams’ coordinator at Florida.

Illinois
Fighting Illini interim HC Bill Cubit, who took over after Tim Beckman was fired a week before the 2015 season started, was signed to a 2-year deal by the school.

Virginia
Bronco Mendenhall is the new HC for the UVA Cavaliers; he signed a 5-year contract for about $3.25 million per year. He previously had been the HC of BYU for 11 years, posting a 99-42 record. Mendenhall will coach the Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 19th.

Missouri
After HC Gary Pinkel retired, the new HC is former DC for the MU Tigers, Barry Odom (age 39, a Missouri alumnus). Prior to last year, he had spent three years as DC under Justin Fuente at Memphis. Fuente will be the new HC at VA Tech.

Memphis
With Fuente’s exit, Memphis hired former Arizona State OC Mike Norvell (age 34) to be the Tigers’ next HC. Missouri’s new HC Odom was probably first in line for this job, but presumably the school did not make him an “acceptable” offer.

East Carolina
HC Ruffin McNeill was just fired last Friday after six seasons at the helm for the ECU Pirates.

Tulane
HC Curtis Johnson was fired after four years with the Green Wave.

South Carolina
SC hired Will Muschamp to replace the retired Steve Spurrier as the Gamecocks’ head coach. Muschamp was most recently the DC for Auburn, and was formerly the HC at Florida.

Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights’ new HC is Chris Ash, who had been the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State.

Syracuse
The Orangemen’s new HC is Dino Babers (son of Fred Flinstone), who most recently was the HC at Bowling Green for two years, posting an 18-9 record and claiming one MAC conference title.

LSU
I mentioned last week that HC Les Miles will not be fired and will return in 2016. His buyout would have been in the $15 million range, but that may not have been the deciding factor. The school may want to keep its new recruits. Following is a list of the
Top 5 colleges in recruiting premium high school players (it is based on the number of recruits that were signed who made the ESPN300 list):
# of ESPN300

College Recruits for 2016

LSU 13
Ohio State 10
Florida State 9
Penn State 9
Alabama 9

IOWA HAWK TRIVIA Jordan Canzeri (256), Akrum Wadley (204), and LeShun Daniels (195) have each rushed for at least 195 yards in a single game this season, making Iowa the first FBS team since LSU in 1997 to have at least three different players rush for 195-plus yards in a single game in the same season.
[Editorial Comment: By the way, the last time in Vegas I played craps at the downtown Fremont with Wadley’s brother. What are the odds of that happening, or the odds that I even found out who he was? Nice kid (I think the casino ID’d him because he looked so young), and we talked a little football.]

LOOKING AHEAD – selected games, not the full slate

COLLEGE FOOTBALL - FFHL WEEK #14
Saturday Navy (-22h) vs. Army in Philadelphia, PA
Dec 12th
The first postseason bowl games will be played on Saturday, December 19th and then 39 additional bowl games will follow through January 2nd leading up to the CFP title game on Monday, January 11th.

NFL WEEK #14 – SELECTED GAMES
Thursday Minnesota (+7) at Arizona
Dec 10th

Sunday Divisional Matchups:
Dec 13th Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati
Atlanta (+7h) at Carolina
Indianapolis (NL yet) at Jacksonville
San Diego (+10) at Kansas City
New Orleans (+4) at Tampa Bay
Oakland (+7) at Denver

Others:
Washington (+3h) at Chicago
New England (-3) at Houston
Dallas (+7) at Green Bay
Monday NY Giants (-1) at Miami
Dec 14th

FOOTBALL QUIZ QUESTIONS

QUESTION #1: Who was the only FBS player to generate at least 100 yards from scrimmage (rushing & receiving combined) in every one of his team’s games this year?
HINT: It is a running back from one of the Power 5 CFP Top 25 teams.


QUESTION #2A: Which FBS team has the longest active winning streak right now?

QUESTION #2B: Which FBS team has the longest active losing streak right now?

HINT: Both are Power 5 conference teams.


QUESTION #3: Name the only FBS team that won six road games this year.
HINT: This team is a member of a Group of Five conference (i.e., non-Power 5).

BONUS: There were 10 FBS teams that did not lose a true road game this year, including the team in Question #3. See if you can get at least 7 of the 10 teams.
HINT: Eight are Power 5 conference teams, two are Group of Five teams.


ANSWER #1: Oregon RB Royce Freeman.

ANSWER #2A:
Clemson’s 16-game winning streak is the longest in the FBS. Alabama and San Diego State have currently won nine in a row, while Arkansas State has won eight straight (Oregon six).

ANSWER #2B:
The nation’s longest losing streak belongs to the Kansas Jayhawks with 15 straight losses, followed by Central Florida (13), UNC-Charlotte (10), Eastern Michigan (10), Oregon State (8) and Boston College (8).

ANSWER #3:
The Bowling Green Falcons are the only FBS team to have won six road games this season.

BONUS:
BGSU was one of just 10 FBS teams that didn’t lose a true road game in 2015, with the others being Clemson, Iowa, Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Toledo and Wisconsin.

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