NEW YORK, N.Y.- Time is ticking. Hope is fading. For those associated with or fans of college football, the sport we love is on life support when it comes to having a season this fall. Last week, the Ivy League made the first major move in canceling all sports for the upcoming semester, only for the Big Ten and Pac-12 to send shockwaves when they announced their conference-only scheduling for this season. While this Hail Mary attempt needs a miracle to get pulled off, this is the best option for completing a season and just might be crazy enough to work.
The decision for both Power Five conferences to only schedule league games had nothing to do with lessening travel but instead was implemented with equal testing protocols in mind. College football, unlike professional sports, is without a commissioner and instead, it’s the teams and conferences that call the shots. This means there is no uniform testing policy that all 130 FBS teams are required to meet, which only causes ambiguity in a time that certainty is necessary. It’s dangerous enough to try to play a contact sport in the middle of a pandemic. Therefore, to have games between teams with different testing rules is a recipe for disaster. It’s an express train to shutdown city.
Scheduling games only within a respective conference allows each league to devise testing protocols that fit every team under their watch to ensure that when these teams take the field on Saturdays, there isn’t a question of whose sick or if the other team’s testing is up to snuff. Looking at the landscape of the country, it appears that most of the Power Five conferences will require strict testing, as spikes in positive tests have soared in many college football hotbeds. It would behoove the other three conferences yet to make a decision on their schedule (ACC, Big 12, SEC) to follow suit in terms of scheduling only conference opponents so that way, proper testing is ensured.
The cost of testing is also a massive factor here as well. While the major conferences can afford to have regular testing, a lot of the Group of Five and FCS programs can’t. This is important because plenty of Power Five teams still have games scheduled against lesser opponents with smaller budgets and fewer resources to keep players safe. Canceling these games allows big time programs to avoid playing glorified scrimmages against teams who can’t afford to test as frequently and accurately as major college football programs can. The more games against teams with similar testing requirements helps to provide the players with the safest environment to play the game.
Conference-only scheduling also means there won’t be a normal 12-game regular season, which is another added benefit. Condensing the schedule to only play eight, nine or 10 games provides necessary flexibility to maneuver around the inevitability of postponed games. Fewer games allows conferences to buy more time, which is the biggest need in order to put a season on. The most vocal athletic director during this time has been Ohio State’s Gene Smith, who believes the conference-only schedule is a necessity for this season.
“We can hit the pause button and provide a window of opportunity for our student-athletes not to be put at risk. We can move games. … There’s a flexibility, I can’t say that enough, that’s significant.”
A normal season had each team slated for one bye week, which would make the cancelation and rescheduling of games almost impossible. Playing games between teams in the same conference allows for added bye weeks and the ability to reschedule games more frequently, which increases the likelihood of a respectable season getting played while also bringing in more money for these schools to make. Even the idea of pushing conference title games back a few weeks has been floated, meaning teams could try to fit in an 8-10 game season in the span of 15 or 16 weeks.
The shorter season also allows for a delayed start to the season. Currently, the season is still slated to kick off on Labor Day weekend, which is a little less than two months away. The NCAA approved a six-week training camp that’s scheduled to start on July 24th. With so many states reversing their opening policy and closing down, a shorter season allows for a delay in the start of training camp to increase the ability for schools to keep their players safe and allow the recent spikes to quell. The season could theoretically kick off on October 3rd while still having enough time to fit in an entire season.
While hope is fleeting, the biggest ally to hope right now is time. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already bought themselves some more time. The other FBS conferences will inevitably follow down the same path as well. While in reality a football season could be just a pipe dream at this point, we have seen miracles in college football happen before. And while conference-only scheduling is the last prayer at a fall season, we have seen a Hail Mary or two completed before.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- The Miami Dolphins are finally on the clock. After a year of “Tanking for Tua” and accumulating as many draft picks as possible, they can finally start addressing their needs, starting at the quarterback position. Holding the fifth pick, it seems destined that Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be sitting in their lap, waiting to put on the aqua and orange. But now that this day has finally come, the decision is harder than it seems. There is no doubting that the Crimson Tide quarterback has the talent to transcend a franchise. There is very little on the field that Tua does wrong, transforming the SEC powerhouse from a ground and pound team to one that slices and dices defenses with a lethal aerial attack. There is a major flaw with the 22-year-old and that is his health, more specifically, his durability. Which begs the question: Should the Dolphins trust Tua to be their franchise quarterback?
From a talent perspective, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Normally, the biggest question marks surrounding quarterbacks heading into the NFL Draft are their physical tools. Do they have a strong arm? Are they accurate? Can they read defenses and analyze information quickly? Can they be a leader of men? At Alabama, he aced all of those questions. The two-year starter amassed 77 touchdowns to just nine interceptions while claiming numerous accolades, including 2018 SEC Player of the Year and was a consensus All-American that same season. He holds the single season touchdown record (43) and is the career touchdown leader (87) in Alabama history.
Equally as impressive as his stats are his leadership abilities. According to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, Alabama head coach Nick Saban had a very glowing compliment of the quarterback’s effect on the university as a whole.
“Tua has probably had as much of an impact on our program as any player we have ever had,” Saban said. It’s tough to find a compliment that has greater weight than that.
While the on-field accomplishments and leadership say that the Hawaiian native can turn a franchise around, the injury concerns say he can’t be relied upon. The former Alabama star has had more than his fair share of nicks and bruises throughout his two seasons as the starter. During his three years in Tuscaloosa, there were five documented injuries that Tua suffered. Three of these injuries (broken finger in March of 2018, sprained right knee in October of 2018 and left ankle surgery in December of 2018) did not see the signal caller miss a game. The latest two injuries he suffered this past season saw the Heisman hopeful miss a total of four games, including a dislocated hip that ended his college career.
What’s even more alarming is that while five injuries in three years is significant, it’s possible that more setbacks occurred without anyone knowing. Former NFL executive Mike Lombardi reported that on top of the injuries listed above, Tua broke his wrist not once but twice. On the GM Shuffle podcast, Lombardi expanded.
“It’s not just his hip. It’s his ankle. It’s his wrist,” Lombardi said. “He broke his wrist the first day of spring ball one year. And then they fixed it and he came back and he re-broke it again.”
This is of major importance because it could be a precursor to what Dolphins fans could expect in the future if Miami tabs Tua to be their guy. At Alabama, Tagovailoa had great offensive lines in the two seasons he was the starting quarterback. Both in 2018 and 2019, the Crimson Tide were finalists for the Joe Moore Award, an honor given to the best offensive line in the country.
The junior was sacked just 10 times in 2019, while Alabama as a whole allowed the third fewest sacks in the country. In 2018, the Crimson Tide were tied for 12th with just 16 sacks allowed in 15 games. Despite having great protection throughout his college career, Tagovailoa still found himself injured. Looking at what the Dolphins possess on their offensive line, it’s worrisome that the injury-riddled quarterback will be subject to a ton of pressure and will be hit more in one year than his entire college career. Miami allowed the most quarterback hits (147) and tied for first in sacks allowed (58) in 2019, so it’s a stark contrast from the protection Tua was afforded in college to the kind of protection he’ll be dealing with in the pros.
The injury prone label that is being floated around isn’t hyperbole, as NFL teams are legitimately questioning whether the talent is worth the injury risk. Lombardi went on to say that two teams he knew of flunked Tua’s physical not just because of the questions surrounding his hip injury, but because of the total compilation of injuries suffered throughout his career. There is good news concerning his hip injury, as two doctors have said his hip is recovering perfectly and there should be very little worry that his hip will suffer the same fate of Bo Jackson’s. While the hip is encouraging, the fear for the Dolphins should be focused on his ability to stay healthy, not his current health to date.
All of these injuries and serious concerns are enough for me, if I were the Dolphins, to pass on drafting Tagovailoa. There are already examples in the NFL of talented quarterbacks getting drafted to be the franchise leader only to have injuries derail their career. The last thing the Dolphins can afford is to have another Robert Griffin III or Sam Bradford situation. While Tua’s upside is higher I believe than both of those players, the risk is even greater as well. Andrew Luck’s career arc should be enough to give the Dolphins a peek into the future if they draft Crimson Tide star and aren’t able to protect him adequately enough. Even just a year or two behind this extremely porous offensive line could be enough for the already brittle quarterback to never fully recover.
It’s an old cliché, but a very fitting one when it comes to the decision of finding the next elite quarterback. A player’s best ability is his availability, and for Tua, that’s his most questionable feature. It’s why I believe the Dolphins would be better off drafting Oregon’s Justin Herbert or even bypassing the position completely and drafting an offensive tackle. While they might not be getting the player they dreamed of drafting back in September, the good news for the Dolphins is that there are other fish in the sea.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- It’s almost here. After what feels like forever and a day since the College Football Playoff semifinal games took place, the national championship is right around the corner. The best matchup we’ve seen both on paper and on the field is set to take place in New Orleans as the top ranked LSU Tigers takes on on the defending champions and third ranked Clemson Tigers.
So which team has the edge going in? Both have identical 14-0 records and have star power all over the field. Below are three keys for each team on how they can leave New Orleans hoisting the championship trophy.
Three Keys To A LSU Win:
Touchdowns, Not Field Goals: Watching the Fiesta Bowl easily hammers home this point. Ohio State moved the ball up and down the field against Clemson, but continuously settled for field goals, which kept Clemson around. LSU has to score touchdowns once they get inside the 20, which hasn’t been a problem for them this season. LSU has been deadly in the red zone, owning the most efficient red zone offense in the country, scoring at a 97% clip. The Tigers have entered the red zone 70 times, scoring a touchdown 55 times. This is a trend that must continue, especially considering that LSU has already faced three teams with a better red zone defense than Clemson, which is tied for 16th in the country. Red zone efficiency will be a huge key to this game and is a category that favors LSU.
Defensive Confidence: Throughout the year, the Tigers defense has been a question mark and left many, including myself, believing that the defense was holding them back from being a championship level team. Things have changed as LSU has shored up their defense. A big reason for that has been availability, as safety Grant Delpit recovered from an ankle injury, K’Lavon Chaisson is back to 100% and Michael Divinity Jr. will return from suspension to suit up for the Tigers. The narrative has changed dramatically as since the Ole Miss game, where significant doubts that the defense would hold LSU back from winning a national title, the Tigers have allowed just 270.2 yards per game and 14.2 points per game. The Tigers aced their biggest test of the season, holding a potent Oklahoma offense to 200 fewer yards and almost two touchdowns less than their per-game average. The defense is playing with an extreme confidence that will carry into Monday’s game.
Feed Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The “do it all” back has been virtually unstoppable this season. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman wrote a great article this week, asking coaches who faced LSU this season how their offense has been so unstoppable. Aside from Burrow, the coaches highlighted Edwards-Helaire as who gives defenses the most problems. The junior running back has rushed for 1,304 yards while adding 50 catches for 399 yards and 17 total touchdowns. Edward-Helaire is a matchup nightmare as he’s a bruiser between the tackles, can speed past linebackers in coverage, run over the cornerbacks who try to tackle him and juke past the safeties that try to corral him. The premier running back should be close to full health after injuring his hamstring in practice leading up to the semifinal game against Oklahoma. If he’s in the mix early and often, it could be a frustrating night for Clemson.
Three Keys To A Clemson Win:
Complete Effort: While LSU has played both elite offenses and defenses at different points this season, they have yet to face a team that has both an elite offense and defense. Clemson poses that challenge as their defense is tied for first in the nation in yards per play allowed while the Clemson offense is third in total offense. This balance can put pressure on LSU like they’ve never experienced this season. The best defense against Burrow this season has been offense. While not their specialty, long drives by Clemson can not only can keep the potent LSU offense off the field, but wear down their defense to open up some big plays in the second half. While LSU is more battle tested this season, Clemson has the advantage coming out of that Ohio State game of knowing what it takes to win a game in which all three phases are needed to perform at their highest level.
Flex Offensive Firepower: Did we all forget that this is the same Clemson offense that shredded Notre Dame and Alabama for a combined 1,020 yards and 74 points in the two Playoff games last year? For all of the hype and attention Burrow and this LSU offense has received, let’s not sleep on this juggernaut of an offense that resides in South Carolina. The Tigers rank third in the country in total yards, fourth in scoring offense and 11th in rushing offense. They have superstars at every level offensively as Trevor Lawrence is the presumed number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Travis Etienne leads the nation at eight yards per carry while both Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are legitimate No. 1 receivers. LSU has only faced one offense similar to Clemson’s in Alabama and allowed 41 points. LSU has elite offensive talent, but Clemson has a real chance to give the Tigers a taste of their own medicine and put on an offensive explosion in the Superdome.
Ride The Underdog Wave: Speaking of the Superdome, this national championship game will have a totally different feel than most because of its close proximity to LSU’s campus. Located just over an hour away, New Orleans will be flooded with fans clad in purple and gold. No coach has worked the underdog role more than Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. Dabo lives to be the underdog and has “Little Ol’ Clemson” playing their best when they have a chip on their shoulder. Already underdogs in terms of the betting line and essentially playing a road game in New Orleans, Dabo gets to fire up the disrespect card one last time this season.
So Who Gets It Done?
The storybook season for Joe Burrow and LSU is leading me to believe more and more that Monday night in New Orleans will be a coronation for the Tigers. I mean even Hollywood couldn’t even write this script of an Ohio kid transferring in and after a decent first year teams up with a young passing game coordinator to produce the single greatest college football season we’ve ever seen from a player and possibly even a team if they can finish the job.
What’s made me a believer isn’t Burrow or passing coordinator Joe Brady, but the LSU defense steadily improving and peaking at the right time. This combination of a historic offense coupled with a confident defense is enough for me to drink the kool-aid and believe that LSU will get it done Monday night.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- The
stage is finally set. After months of deliberation and debate, the four teams that
will make up the College Football Playoff are set. LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and
Oklahoma will all battle it out to hoist the national championship trophy.
The College Football Playoff is in its sixth season and while
there have been some exciting games and a few shocking outcomes, we’ve yet to
have all three games come down to the wire, pit equally talented teams against
each other and have us all walk away feeling like we saw the best three games
of the year. Blowouts have unfortunately been commonplace, but this year’s
field sets up in a way that could go against the norm. The 2020 Playoff has all of the necessary
ingredients to produce the best one we’ve ever seen in its short existence.
All four teams provide household names even the casual
college football fan is familiar with: Joe Burrow. Chase Young. Justin Fields.
Jalen Hurts. Trevor Lawrence. Each quarterback has their own case of being the
best in the country to go along with the best overall player gives both
semifinal matchups a real sexiness. In fact, all four Heisman Trophy contenders
are playing in the Playoff: Burrow, Young, Fields and Hurts. This is the first
time in the six years of the Playoff that every Heisman finalist is on one of
the final four schools remaining.
On top of the great quarterback play, stars fill out every roster of the four teams. Oklahoma has the best receiver in the country in CeeDee Lamb while LSU, Ohio State and Clemson own three of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Isaiah Simmons has emerged as the next great Clemson defensive star while Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray might be the most athletic, sideline to sideline linebacker in the country. Whether it’s at running back, defensive back or offensive line, each team is loaded, providing for must-watch matchups all over the field.
Photo courtesy of Heisman.com
Because players cycle in and out every three or four years,
coaches become the face of programs. Having four big time coaches competing
against each other adds an intriguing angle to an already exciting Playoff
field. No coach has had the success that Dabo Swinney has had these last five
years, posting a .944 winning percentage, making the Playoff all five years and
winning two national titles. Ed Orgeron is the most eccentric and viral coach
you can have, as his weekly press conferences and pregame entrances flood
social media every week. He’s captivated the Bayou crowd and made them believers.
Both Lincoln Riley and Ryan Day were tasked with the impossible: replacing a legend at their school. Riley, since taking over for Bob Stoops, has led Oklahoma to the Playoff all three years and has coached three Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks, with two of them winning the award. Day, in succeeding Urban Meyer, has the Buckeyes at 12-0 for the first time since Meyer led an NCAA sanctioned Ohio State team to a 12-0 record in his first season, when they were ineligible for postseason play. All four teams boast successful, rock-star like coaches that will be fun to watch scheming against each other.
The rankings perfectly align these four teams to test what
each does well and because of that, provides the two best matchups we could
have asked for this season on paper. LSU and Oklahoma have two of the most
explosive offenses in the country, as the Tigers and Sooners come in with the
top two offenses in terms of yards per game. Both can score at will, as the
Burrow-led offense owns the third best scoring offense, while the Hurts-driven
Oklahoma offense is fifth in scoring. Both defenses have shown improvement, but
sometimes struggle as holding down the opposing offense. This could lead to offensive
explosion, as we may see a game reminiscent of the Georgia-Oklahoma 2018 semifinal
that saw the Bulldogs win 54-48 in 2 OT’s.
On the flip side, Ohio State and Clemson have proven to be
the two most balanced teams in the country. Ohio State is the best scoring
offense in the nation, while the Tigers aren’t too far behind at fourth. Each
team’s defense has been stout as well, with the Buckeyes owning the third best
scoring defense while Clemson sits at the top in college football. You can
breakdown every position for these two teams and neither has a significant edge
over the other. This Ohio State-Clemson matchup in the Fiesta Bowl will be
significantly more competitive than the last time these two teams matched up in
the Fiesta Bowl, as the Tigers bulldozed the Buckeyes 31-0.
Any way you look at these two semifinal games, it’s hard to look back and think we’ve had as exciting and balanced of matchups in the history of the College Football Playoff. While it’s widely regarded that LSU, Ohio State and Clemson are in a class of their own compared to Oklahoma, the Sooners have the elite scoring ability to keep this an exciting game. From the superstar names on the field to the brand names of the schools involved to the head coaches squaring off against each other to the even strengths on the field, we are primed for the three most exciting and well-played games the Playoff has ever seen. Is it December 28th yet?
NEW YORK, N.Y.- For fans of both Michigan and Ohio State,
this past Saturday etched the latest chapter to a storied rivalry, although the
result was all-too-familiar for Wolverine fans. The latest edition of “The
Game” saw the Buckeyes run through Michigan 56-27. The result was a historical
one for Jim Harbaugh, although not in a way Michigan fans would be proud of.
Harbaugh’s career record against the school he is paid to beat is now 0-5, becoming
the first coach on either side of this rivalry to lose their first five games.
The outgoing, brash head coach is being fairly criticized
for talking a big game and not being able to back it up against the best competition.
But the blame shouldn’t stop at Harbaugh. This problem goes beyond him and
extends to the entire football program, athletics department and University.
Ohio State has made this anything but a rivalry, winning
eight consecutive games and 15 of the last 16. The inability to beat their
hated rival has been a problem for the maize and blue for almost two decades. The
last four Michigan head coaches all have losing records against the Buckeyes,
including the legendary Lloyd Carr. In fact, Gary Moeller was the last head
coach to have a winning record against the scarlet and gray, going 3-1-1 from
On the flip side, excluding Luke Fickell’s interim season, only one Ohio State coach since 1950 owns a losing record against “That Team Up North,” as John Cooper went a forgettable 2-10-1 from 1988-2000. In that same time frame, Michigan has had five coaches with losing records to Ohio State.
Both schools view this game as their Super Bowl. The
difference is that Ohio State prepares for this game 24/7, 365, while Michigan prepares
like it’s just another opponent. Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields, who’s brand
new to this rivalry after transferring from Georgia, stated it best postgame when
he said “I think we take this rivalry more serious than they do. I think it
just means more at Ohio State.”
Herein lies the main issue at heart: There are more
important things to Michigan than beating Ohio State in football. Striving to
be the best public university in the nation is extremely important to Michigan.
So is maintaining a pristine academic reputation. Beating Ohio State is up
there, but not the biggest priority. This has allowed the Buckeyes to gain an
upper hand in recruiting, which has been the biggest reason for the domination
the last 25 years.
Harbaugh’s biggest flaw since taking over has been allowing the talent gap between the two schools to increase, as the Buckeyes have outclassed the Wolverines in every aspect the last few seasons. There should also be legitimate concern that the former Michigan quarterback is ignorant when it comes to recognizing the weaknesses of his team. When asked if there’s a talent, preparation or coaching gap between the two schools after Saturday’s game, Harbaugh responded by stating, “I’ll answer your questions, not your insults,” before crediting Ohio State for simply playing better.
The issue is right in Harbaugh’s answer, or should I say,
lack there of. There is a legitimate gap in all three phases. Ohio State has
nine more five-star and 11 more four-star recruits than their rival, something
Michigan can’t allow to happen. This goes back to the buy-in, as the Buckeyes
have used every resource possible to collect as much talent to Columbus.
Changes for Michigan need to start with recruiting, with efforts
focused on building a team to specifically stop Ohio State. For years, the
Wolverines have lacked defensive speed. This has to be an emphasis moving
forward or else Michigan fans should get accustomed to crooked numbers being
hung on the scoreboard.
While the outlook looks bleak for those in Ann Arbor, they have the ability to turn things around and become competitive with their biggest roadblock to the College Football Playoff. But it doesn’t start with Jim Harbaugh. It starts above him with the buy-in from the athletics department and administration to not only have this program continue to stay a consistent winner, but enter into that elite level that the Buckeyes have risen to since Urban Meyer was hired. If the buy-in isn’t there, then get used to having this conversation on the last Saturday in November for years to come.
NEW YORK, N.Y.-
What a weekend it was in college football. Two of the initial top four teams in
the College Football Playoff went down, including Minnesota upsetting Penn
State and LSU defeating Alabama in the “Game of the Century.” The big question
after that SEC clash was: “Where will Alabama land after this loss? Are they
still deserving of staying in the top four?”
Ultimately Georgia was slotted fourth this week while the Crimson Tide slipped to fifth to the dismay of many. The committee got it right this week, as they valued impressive wins by Georgia over a close loss to the top team with Alabama.
There is a growing notion that a “good loss” can actually
boost your resume when it comes to arguing your case to be one of the final
four teams. This can absolutely be true when the sole loss can be paired with a
few solid wins. When the biggest brag about a team’s resume is that they lost a
close game at home to the number one team in the nation, that shouldn’t trump
having wins over ranked opponents.
The biggest indictment for Georgia was their home loss to
South Carolina, a team that beat the ‘Dawgs with their third string quarterback
and likely will finish the season 4-8. An inexcusable loss for sure, but one
game doesn’t tell the entire story of their season. The Bulldogs own two top-10
wins this season, defeating No. 7 Notre Dame at home and No. 6 Florida in
Jacksonville. Two wins over highly ranked opponents should definitely outweigh
a brutal loss.
Alabama’s resume on the other hand is completely different. They have the best loss by far of any one-loss team when they fell to now top ranked LSU. Outside of that, they have nothing else to lean on. The Tide did beat Texas A&M when the Aggies were ranked No. 24, but have since fell out of the rankings. The only chance ‘Bama has left of notching a ranked win will be in the Iron Bowl at Auburn, who could have three losses if the Tigers fall to Georgia this weekend.
Alabama’s ranking will be a hot button topic for the rest of
the season because of their resume, or should I say, lack there of it. Owning
the best loss is helpful, but can only take you so far, especially when teams
behind the Tide have opportunities to pad their resumes. Oregon and Utah,
should they win out, will face each other in the Pac-12 title game and the
winner will own a conference title and a win over a top 10 team, neither of
which Alabama can claim. Minnesota still has two ranked opponents left on their
schedule in Iowa and Wisconsin plus gets a shot at most likely Ohio State in
the Big Ten Championship should the Gophers make it. Penn State has a chance to
avenge its loss by traveling to Columbus to play the Buckeyes next week.
Oklahoma and Baylor play each other this weekend and most likely again for the
Big 12 title, helping to boost one of their resumes.
Since the College Football Playoff has been implemented, two teams have made it without winning their own division: 2016 Ohio State and 2017 Alabama. The common dominator with both were their big wins throughout the season as the Buckeyes captured three wins over ranked opponents, including No. 3 Michigan while ‘Bama opened the season with a win over third ranked Florida State and tallied two other wins over ranked opponents. Their impressive victories were the reason they made the final four in those respective seasons, not their “good losses.”
This may seem like I’m just picking on Alabama, but the
truth is you could insert any team with the Tide’s resume and the argument
would be the same. I understand the eye test is a big component of what the
committee factors in when they are judging teams, but the body of work can’t be
ignored either. Wins have to matter in college football. If they don’t why are
we even playing the games?