Friday, August 26, 2016

IT’S ALMOST KICKOFF TIME - PRESEASON RANKINGS

COLLEGE FOOTBALL – FROM THE DESK OF THE “FUGITIVE” COMMISSIONER

Hello Football Fans,

The college FB season starts Saturday with one game in Australia, followed the next Thursday, September 1st with 7 FBS games, then 4 more on Friday and 28 FBS vs. FBS games on Saturday, followed by 1 game on Sunday and 1 on Monday, September 5th (Labor Day).

The NFL season starts the week after Labor Day, and I'll kick out a pro FB letter next weekend, hopefully.

Kalani Sitake, new coach at BYU

I'm really trying to keep the letters short; this one is only 10 pages.  It includes preseason projections, a partial slate of games for the first week with preliminary point spreads, odds for teams to win the CFP, college rule changes and coaching changes, a preliminary Heisman Trophy watch, conference changes, various other items, and one quiz question.

Enjoy the season,

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



The preseason guesses by most of the pundits and the poll voters are quite similar. I will give you just a couple of the early rankings: Sports Illustrated Preseason Top 25 (SI) and Phil Steele (PS), since his life is devoted to college football and he gives an interesting perspective on projecting outcomes. And I’m speculating that when the AP poll comes out, the voters will have been influenced by Phil Steele’s analysis and rankings (no joke, I really believe this).

Top 25                        Rank        Rank
TEAMS                        SI            PS           Comments

Alabama                      #1             #2           Defending Champ ALA Crimson Tide faces USC in opener
Clemson                      #2             #5           Steele has FSU beating Clemson in Tallahassee this year
Florida St                    #3             #1           Seminoles to win National Championship, per icon Steele

Michigan                     #4            #12          Steele has the OSU Buckeyes beating Michigan in Columbus
LSU                             #5             #4           Alabama plays at Baton Rouge, LA this year
Oklahoma                    #6             #3           Big XII favorite

Washington                  #7             #8           PAC-12 favorite (great HC, excellent QB)
Houston                       #8            #20          UH Cougars are SI top-ranked non-Power 5 team
Ohio St                        #9             #6           After huge personnel losses to NFL, just reload and fire

Tennessee                   #10            #7           Close losses to OKLA, FL, ARK and ALA last year
Stanford                      #11           #10          3 road games in 4 weeks: at UCLA, UW, and ND
Notre Dame                #12            #9           Should bounce back after significant injuries last year

Michigan St                #13           #13          MSU Spartans get both OH.St & Michigan at home this year

Iowa                           #14           #14          “Favorable” schedule last 3 years; key games are at home
Louisville                   #15           #21

Georgia                      #16           #23
Oklahoma St.              #17           #31
Washington St.            #18           #48          Steele is not feeling the love for WSU Cougars

Mississippi                #19            #17
TCU                           #20            #11          All five of Horned Frogs’ road games are winnable
Oregon                       #21            #26          Nine straight seasons with 9 or more wins

North Carolina           #22            #27
UCLA                         #23            #15          PAC-12 South favorite
San Diego St.             #24            #28

Boise State                 #25            #16          BSU Broncos are PS top-ranked non-Power 5 team

Others beyond Sports Illustrated Top 25:

Baylor                         NR            #18          Steele likes the BU Bears even after turmoil (see below)
Miami.FL                    NR            #19          New HC Mark Richt (UGA); favorable ACC schedule
Nebraska                     NR            #22          HC Mike Riley’s 2nd year; five brutal losses last year
Texas                           NR            #24          Steele’s projected #1-ranked “Most Improved Team”
USC                             NR            #25          Ranked below UCLA, but still contender per Steele

KING OF THE HILL
Keep in mind that these rankings are quite tentative. Since 1994 (22 years), only three times has the preseason #1 actually won the national title. Last year, Ohio State was a unanimous preseason AP#1 and didn’t even make the CFP playoffs (thanks to the Michigan State Spartans’ victory in the 2015 Big 10 Championship Game).

KICKING OFF THE 2016 SEASON (not the full slate of games)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 27TH

First game of the college FB season will be played in Sydney, Australia:
Hawaii (+22h) vs. California CAL Bears have #4 toughest schedule in FBS (per Phil Steele)
Enjoy the game, mates!

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1ST

Appalachian State (+20h) at Tennessee TENN Vols have FBS #58 toughest schedule per Steele
Indiana (-8h) at Florida International
Oregon State (+12h) at Minnesota
Southern Utah (FCS) at Utah
Charlotte (+39) at Louisville
Tulane (+17h) at Wake Forest


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2ND


Georgia Tech (-3h) vs. Boston College          To be played in Dublin, IRELAND

Kansas State (+16) at Stanford
Stanford then faces USC, at UCLA, and at Washington in September, then at Notre Dame Oct 15th
Stanford has the Phil Steele #18 toughest FBS schedule

Colorado State (+8) vs. Colorado                  To be played in neutral site Denver; per Phil Steele’s
                                                                          projections, the COL Buffaloes have #16 toughest                                                                                     FBS schedule (CSU is #89, playing in Mountain West)


SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 3RD


Alabama (-10h) vs. Southern California        To be played at DAL Cowboys Stadium, Arlington

USC vs. ALABAMA
The USC campus bookstore made the questionable decision to print up T-shirts for the highly anticipated season-opening game against the ALA Crimson Tide, whose catch phrase is “Roll Tide”. The shirts are “ROLL TEARS ROLL”, and are flying off the bookstore shelves at $19.95. Alabama’s response that referenced last year’s victory in the CFP Championship over the Clemson Tigers with the heavy use of RB Derrick Henry (Heisman Trophy winner) was:
“Our O.J. only killed Clemson” (ouch)

I’m not too sure the USC Trojans’ coaching staff was happy with that bookstore decision. It will surely add to the bulletin board fodder in the ‘Bama locker room and give HC Nick Saban an additional item to help fire up his team for this game.

[Editorial Comment: Alabama’s schedule is artfully crafted by their AD; it’s amazing that every year the team avoids playing any “true” road games; this matchup is away from home, but at a neutral site where they have played previously and will probably still have the crowd advantage. Prior to three of their toughest games during the 2016 SEC season (at Ole Miss 9/17, at LSU 11/5, and home vs. Auburn 11/26), the Tide plays either a cupcake (Western Kentucky and FCS Chattanooga) or has a “bye” week.]

Phil Steele projects USC to have the #1 toughest schedule in FBS (due to PAC-12 play and tough nonconference slate including ALA and ND. He projects Alabama to have the #3 toughest schedule (due to SEC West opponents and neutral site USC game). mortabella

Oklahoma (-10) vs. Houston         to be played in neutral site HOU Texans’ NRG Stadium                                                                            The OKL Sooners’ schedule is projected #19 toughest in FBS;
                                                        HOU Cougars’ is #87 (soft, playing in the AAC “American).
                                                        Oklahoma hosts Ohio State on September 17th.
                                                        Houston will play at Cincinnati on Thursday, September 15th.


LSU (-9h) vs. Wisconsin               To be played in Green Bay, WI; Steele projects the WI Bargers'
                                                        schedule to be #9 toughest in FBS, while LSU is #11 toughest.

Clemson (-7) at Auburn                CLEM biggest ACC game is at FSU on Oct. 29th; Tigers'                                                        non-conference schedule is 3 home games vs. Troy, FCS SC                                                                    State and S.CAR, which translates to Steele’s #61 toughest
                                                       schedule in FBS.
No. Carolina (+2h) vs. Georgia   To be played in neutral site ATL Falcons’ stadium. Important ACC                                                          contest vs. SEC contest.

Missouri (+10) at West Virginia  Good SEC vs. Big XII matchup.

UCLA (+2h) at Texas A&M       Good PAC-12 vs. SEC matchup; #35 vs. #7 toughest FBS
                                                      schedules, respectively.

BYU (+1h) vs. Arizona                To be played in neutral site Glendale -- AZ Cardinals’ home
                                                      (University of Phoenix Stadium)
                                                      Teams have #37 & #38 toughest FBS schedules, respec.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 4TH

Notre Dame (-4h) at Texas         ND Irish follow this tough game with a home matchup vs. Michigan                                                         St. on September 17th. MSU starts the season with FCS Furman and                                                         a bye. The UT Longhorns have Steele’s #12 toughest schedule; ND is                                                       #22.


MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5TH

Florida State (-4) vs. Miss.         To be played in Orlando, FL (Citrus Bowl); huge game between ACC                                                     and SEC.
                                                    Steele has FSU #14 and Ole Miss #2 for toughest schedules.

COLLEGE RULE CHANGES

There were 14 rule changes for the 2016 season, but most involve replay authority, field markings, suspended games and other minutia that most fans will never notice during the administration of games.

Following are five 2016 college rule changes that you may notice during the season.

** “Tripping” is no longer allowed (that is, trying to tackle using only your leg to trip runner).
(amazingly, it had been allowed in prior years)

** The “targeting” rule has been expanded. When a runner slides to give himself up, he cannot thereafter be contacted (similar to NFL rule). A violation will at a minimum be ejection from the game (subject to replay review). The emphasis says “when in doubt, it’s a foul.”

** The penalty for low hits on the passer (normally a QB) that result in a violation has been clarified. Head or shoulder contact to the knee or below will now specifically result in a penalty when the QB is “defenseless” (not running out of the pocket).

** At least five offensive linemen on every play from scrimmage must have the numbers 50 through 79 and are ineligible receivers at all times, no matter where they line up on the line of scrimmage. There has been an exception to this rule for kicking plays from scrimmage (e.g., field goal attempts). A loophole has been cleaned up; now for the jersey number exception to apply, there must be at least one player at least 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, or two players at least seven yards behind the line. This relates to the “fake field goal”, when it is “obvious” that the offense is lining up to attempt a FG.
(when or if it happens, are we really going to notice this or understand the application of a penalty?)

** Coaches can now be ejected from the game after getting two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
(I doubt if this will ever be enforced; Bobby Knight doesn’t coach football)

COLLEGE COACHING CHANGES

There were 29 head coaching changes (14 Power 5 teams) from last year’s HC list out of the 128 FBS schools (23% turnover).

POWER FIVE (“P5”) CONFERENCE TEAMS


Georgia hired ALA DC Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt (to MIA.FL)
Iowa State hired Toledo HC Matt Campbell to replace Paul Rhoads
Illinois promoted interim Bill Cubit to replace Tim Beckman
Maryland hired Michigan DC D.J. Durkin to replace Randy Edsall
Miami.FL hired former Georgia HC Mark Richt to replace Al Golden
Minnesota hired 2015 interim HC Tracy Claeys to replace Jerry Kill (retired; health issues)
Missouri promoted DC Barry Odom to replace Gary Pinkel (retired)
Rutgers hired Ohio State DC Chris Ash to replace Kyle Flood
Syracuse hired Bowling Green HC Dino Babers to replace Scott Shafer
South Carolina hired Auburn DC Will Muschamp to replace Steve Spurrier (retired)
USC promoted 2015 interim HC Clay Helton to replace Steve Sarkisian
Virginia hired BYU HC Bronco Mendenhall to replace Mike London
Virginia Tech hired Memphis HC Justin Fuente to replace Frank Beamer (retired)
BAYLOR hired former Wake Forest HC Jim Grobe (HC Wake Forest 2001-2013; age 64) on an interim basis to replace Art Briles, who was fired in June after he became one of the central figures in a major sexual assault scandal on campus involving football players and there were alleged violations of Title IX “victim” influences. Also, University President and Chancellor Ken Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) was removed effective June 1st but stayed on at the school as a law professor; he resigned from that position as well on Friday, August 19th. The school’s athletic director, Ian McCaw, also resigned due to his involvement in the sexual misconduct and mishandling of investigations related to these allegations within the football program.

NON-P5 TEAMS

Ball State hired Saints QB coach Mike Neu to replace Pete Lembo
Bowling Green hired Texas Tech AHC Mike Jinks to replace Dino Babers
BYU hired Oregon State DC Kalani Sitake [lead-in pic] to replace Bronco Mendenhall
East Carolina hired Duke OC Scottie Montgomery to replace Ruffin McNeill
Georgia Southern hired CSU DC Tyson Summers to replace Willie Fritz
Hawaii hired Nevada OC Nick Rolovich to replace Norm Chow
Memphis hired Arizona State OC Mike Norvell to replace Justin Fuente
North Texas hired North Carolina OC Seth Littrell to replace Dan McCarney
Southern Miss hired Alcorn State HC Jay Hopson to replace Todd Monken
Texas State hired James Madison HC Everett Withers to replace Dennis Franchione
Toledo promoted OC Jason Candle to replace Matt Campbell (to Iowa State)
Tulane hired Georgia Southern HC Willie Fritz to replace Curtis Johnson
UCF hired Oregon OC Scott Frost to replace George O'Leary
LA-Monroe hired McNeese State HC Matt Viator to replace Todd Berry
UT San Antonio hired LSU RB coach Frank Wilson to replace Larry Coker

POWER FIVE CONFERENCE SCHEDULING CHANGES

BIG TEN
Commencing with the 2016 season, Big 10 teams will now play a NINE-game conference schedule, an increase from the 8-game conference schedule set up in 2011 when the conference split into two divisions after the addition of Nebraska to the conference.
  • Example: Iowa will play 9 conference games this year, all six teams within the West Division and three teams from the East Division. The Hawkeyes play 5 road and 4 home conference games this season; however, the key games appear to be in Iowa City, and all of the road games are clearly winnable (combined record of their five Big 10 road opponents had a 10-30 conference record in 2015).
By comparison, the PAC-12 and Big XII conferences had already been playing 9-game conference schedules. The SEC and ACC play 8-game conference schedules, allowing them to play four nonconference games in which they can schedule FOUR cupcakes each year.

BIG TWELVE
In June the Big XII Conference announced that it was going to reinstate the conference championship game for the 2017 season (next year). This means at least two teams (and maybe four) will be added to the current ten teams in the conference starting in 2017, after which two separate divisions will be created.

I’m sensing that an announcement will be forthcoming this autumn. The likely candidates (in order of likelihood per Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson on July 24th):
Houston (60% chance), BYU (55%), Cincinnati (50%), UConn (45%), Boise State (42%), Memphis (35%), Central Florida (20%), Colorado State (15%), Tulane (10%), and South Florida (5%) (and then maybe even raiding the big boy conferences to reacquire former Big 12 team(s) such as Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, or Missouri).

It’s a big deal because of the money grab. The conference distributed $30 million to each member school for the recently concluded fiscal year (2/3 of that annual amount, or about $20MM came from a 13-year TV deal with ESPN and FOX that runs through 2024-2025). In contrast, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) distributes about $2 million annually to each of its member schools from the conference’s TV deal with ESPN and CBS.

NON-POWER 5
SUN BELT CONFERENCE (SBC)
The SBC will begin having a conference championship game after the 2018 regular season. For 2016 it has 11 members, but will be losing both Idaho and New Mexico State after this season. Beginning in 2017, Coastal Carolina will be a transitional football member of the SBC and then become a full member of the conference in 2018. That means the SBC will have 10 members, the new minimum required in order to qualify to have a conference title game.

CFP VOTING COMMITTEE
Originally intended to consist of 13 members, the CFP Committee will have only 12 members this year (same as the last two years, for various unanticipated reasons). Former Michigan HC Lloyd Carr has withdrawn due to health reasons and will not be replaced for the 2016 season.

CFP PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
The “powers that be” have finally relented and caved in to public pressure.
The CFP semifinal games had been played on New Year’s Eve the first two years of its existence (2014 and 2015). After the first year, the decision was made to stay with the status quo, even though the viewing college football fans were not thrilled at the timing of the games (on New Year’s Eve). But the second year of the same nonsense caused a drop in the TV ratings by about 35%. Miraculously, there has been a change of heart.

For the 2016 season CFP semifinals, the games will still be played on New Year’s Eve (Saturday), but both games will start one hour earlier than in the prior two years (followed by 16 NFL games on Sunday, New Year’s Day to finish up the NFL regular season, and then four bowl games on Monday, Jan. 2nd). The first of the two CFP semifinals, the Peach Bowl, will start at 3PM Eastern, followed by the Fiesta Bowl.
The Orange Bowl will be played on Friday, December 30th this year.

Beginning after the 2017 college regular season, there will be major changes.
All semifinal games will be played either on a Saturday or a holiday (New Year’s Eve is not a holiday; New Year’s Day is a holiday.) The current CFP contract runs through 2025 under the existing 12-year deal. It appears there will be a 4-team playoff (and not an expansion of the playoffs) until the expiration of this current contract after 2025.

Following is how the CFP semifinal games will shake out:
2017: Rose and Sugar Bowls on Monday, Jan. 1st
2018: Cotton and Orange Bowls on Saturday, December 29th
2019: Fiesta and Peach Bowls on Saturday, December 28th
And then repeating this sequence.
As it turns out, the only semifinals to be played on New Year’s Eve through 2025 will be after the 2021 (Friday) and 2022 (Saturday) seasons (I’m told; this doesn’t make sense to me. We’ll worry about it in five years).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS (CFP)

Following are the approximate current odds for a team to win the whole thing – the NCAA Championship, as posted by Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook as of August 19, 2016.

                        Current
                       Westgate             Comments

Alabama          5.5 to 1       Projected winner of SEC West
Ohio State        7.5 to 1       Projected winner of Big 10 East
Clemson              8 to 1      Competing with FSU for ACC title
FSU                     8 to 1      Both FSU and Clemson may get into CFP Top 4
LSU                     9 to 1      Plays Alabama at home; could be upset winner in SEC West
Michigan           12 to 1      Should contend with Ohio State for Big 10 East
Oklahoma          14 to 1      Projected best in Big XII, but still may not make Top 4
Tennessee          15 to 1      Projected winner of SEC East
Notre Dame       20 to 1      Plays at TX & at USC, home vs. Mich.St., Stanford, VA Tech
Stanford             30 to 1      Projected winner of the PAC-12 North


Iowa                  30 to 1      Projected winner of the Big 10 West
USC                   35 to 1     Projected winner of the PAC-12 South
Florida              40 to 1      Contender in the SEC East
Georgia             40 to 1      Contender in the SEC East
Washington        40 to 1      Contender in the PAC-12 North
Oregon              45 to 1      Contender in the PAC-12 North
TCU                  45 to 1      Contender in the Big XII; hosts game vs. Oklahoma Oct. 1st

And listed below is one more set of approximate current odds for teams to get into the 4-team CFP playoff (several weren’t listed in the website I used, so I guesstimated on several teams).

Alabama        1.25 to 1
Clemson        1.45 to 1
FSU               1.45 to 1 (estimated)
Oklahoma      1.6 to 1
Ohio State     1.75 to 1
Michigan       2.35 to 1
LSU               2.5 to 1
Tennessee      3 to 1
Stanford         4 to 1
Notre Dame   4.25 to 1
USC               4.75 to 1
Iowa               8 to 1 (estimated)
Washington   10 to 1 (estimated)

EARLY 2016 HEISMAN TROPHY CANDIDATES

The numbers keep changing, but following were the hyped-up favorites to win the Heisman Trophy prior to the start of the season (as of August 4th), with three clear favorites, six players in the second tier, and then some longshots:

PLAYER (TEAM)
RB Leonard Fournette (LSU)                                              4 to 1
QB Deshaun Watson (CLEM)                                             4.5 to 1
RB Christian McCaffrey (STAN)                                       5.5 to 1
QB J.T. Barrett (Ohio State)                                              12 to 1
RB Dalvin Cook (FSU)                                                      12 to 1
QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)                                        14 to 1
QB Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)                                                16 to 1
QB Josh Rosen (UCLA)                                                    16 to 1
RB Nick Chubb (Georgia)                                                 16 to 1
RB Bo Scarbrough (ALA)                                                 20 to 1
QB Jarrett Stidham (Baylor)                                              28 to 1
QB DeShon Kizer (Notre Dame)                                       28 to 1         Two Irish QB’s; the starter
QB Malik Zaire (Notre Dame)                                           28 to 1            has not been named yet

NCAA RECENT HISTORY OF GAMES AGAINST THE SPREAD (ATS)
According to Lindy’s preseason football magazine, following are the top 10 schools and the bottom 10 schools for covering the spread in the last five seasons (2011-2015).
This is just one more consideration for you handicappers out there who may be looking for an edge.

TOP 10 (percentage wins ATS):
Kansas State           66.1%                          Handicappers, you’ve gotta love HC Bill Snyder
Vanderbilt               63.8%                          Amber’s gut instincts were right, Filter King
Baylor                    62.1%
Clemson                 60.0%
Oregon                   60.0%
Mississippi            58.6%
Washington State    57.9%
Stanford                 57.8%
Washington            56.9%
Duke                      56.7%
BOTTOM 10 (percentage wins ATS):
Kentucky                32.7% This has been one of my traditional 1st-game picks-ugh!
Virginia Tech         34.4%
Illinois                   36.4% I’m never betting on your team again, Randi!
Texas A&M           37.9%
California              39.3%
Kansas                   39.3%
Oregon State          39.7%
Arizona                  40.0%
Colorado                40.7% Watch out, former King Kenny!
Purdue                    42.9%

OTHER CATCH-UP and MINUTIA OF POTENTIAL INTEREST

The University of Mississippi is in trouble with the NCAA investigating committee. The school had self-imposed a modest penalty for its admitted violations (they only reduced the number of available scholarships for the football team by 11 total over four years). Later, 2016 first-round draft pick OT Laremy Tunsil admitted during his draft TV interview that he received money while playing at Ole Miss. The NCAA is still sniffing around campus and further penalties will likely be imposed on the program, but it probably won’t happen until after the 2016 FB season.

FOOTBALL QUIZ QUESTION

QUESTION #1: Now that Frank Beamer has retired after his 29-year tenure as the head coach of Virginia Tech, which two FBS head coaches are tied for the longest current head coaching streak (consecutive years) at the same school?

BONUS: There are seven other head coaches that have been at the same school for at least 10 consecutive years. How many of them can you name? Five are from Power 5 conference teams.


ANSWER #1:
Kirk Ferentz            Iowa                       17 years and counting
Bob Stoops             Oklahoma                17 years and counting
Gary Patterson         TCU                         15 years and counting
Frank Solich            Ohio U.                     11 years and counting
Mike Gundy            Oklahoma State         11 years and counting
Kyle Whittingham    Utah                          11 years and counting
Les Miles                 LSU                          11 years and counting
Rick Stockstill        Middle Tennessee      10 years and counting
Pat Fitzgerald          Northwestern             10 years and counting
Troy Calhoun          Air Force                     9 years and counting
Nick Saban             Alabama                       9 years and counting
Mark Dantonio       Michigan State              9 years and counting
David Bailiff          Rice                              9 years and counting
Dabo Swinney        Clemson                       8 years and counting
Paul Johnson          Georgia Tech                8 years and counting
David Cutcliffe      Duke                             8 years and counting
Ken Niumatalolo    Navy                             8 years and counting

Good guess, but not technically correct:
Kansas State HC Bill Snyder has been the head coach for the Wildcats a total of 24 years (and counting), but he had a gap in his impressive streak. He was the HC of KSU from 1989-2005, retired (temporarily), and then came back in 2009. He has a current streak of 7 years (and counting, currently he’s age 76).

Similarly (but not a Snyder-like streak yet), Louisville HC Bobby Petrino coached for the Cardinals from 2003-2006, moved on to the NFL (briefly) and then was head coach at Arkansas (2008-2011) and Western Kentucky (2013) before returning to Louisville in 2014.









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