Climbing to the Summit League

The only place where a Bison could ever meet a Jaguar.

The only place where a Bison could ever meet a Jaguar.

Life in the Summit League is not luxurious nor is it respected by the national media. Teams are scattered across the middle of the country from Indiana to Colorado, making it tough to form a regional identity. None of the nine teams are in the RPI top 100 and only one is in the top 150 (South Dakota State). That doesn’t mean there are not quality teams here. North Dakota State knocked off Oklahoma in the first round of the tournament last year and that NDSU team is looking good this season.

IUPUI homecourt

Nice looking court.

I knew  that traveling to IUPUI, here in Indianapolis, was going to be a battle for them. And this past Thursday ended up being an overtime affair. Thank you to IUPUI SID Edgar Holdaway for the photographer credential to the game this past Thursday.

Jags DJ

Meet a DJ with eyes on the back of his shirt.

IUPUI in its first season of playing in Pepsi Coliseum at the state fairgrounds and it appears to be a good fit. The first thing I noticed is that IUPUI students are the ones who sit courtside here. How many other schools can say that about their student body? This is partly because the Pepsi Coliseum is built more for hockey, leaving space for the band and student body behind the baskets. The cheerleaders also stand by the sidelines like a football game while most schools have them positioned along the baseline. Little things like this make an IUPUI game unique and it gives the Jags support having the young spirited fans close to the court. They also have this type of DJ yelling “Lets go JAAAAGs,” every 10 minutes to keep people awake.

North Dakota State was the favorite and I got the impression they were the better team. The Jaguars were pressing a full-court defense most of the night trying to force turnovers. IUPUI got some but also let NDSU score easy baskets once their guards broke through the initial pressure. The Bison had more blocks and rebounds as the Jaguars had to settle  for jumpers in its half-court offense.

At the same time though the Bison seemed to struggle to finish their drives to basket. Quite a few misses came at point-blank range from offensive rebounds. NDSU also only made 10 out of their 18 free throws.

IUPUI had a chance to win the game in regulation as guard Mason Archie had an open 3 with .8 seconds left but the shot went long. North Dakota State would outscore IUPUI 16-8 in overtime to put the game to bed.

No. 2 for three and the win is guarded by No. 2. This ended up being IUPUI's best chance for victory.

No. 2 for three and the win is guarded by No. 2. This ended up being IUPUI’s best chance for victory.

NDSU would lose two days later to IPFW, who came in 1-5 in Summit League play. That’s how hard it is to win back-to-back road games in any conference within a 48 hour span. IUPUI would win against South Dakota Saturday to move to 4-3 in conference; just a game back from NDSU and 1.5 back from South Dakota State.

The Summit League bid is up in the air but don’t be surprised if these meet again in the conference tournament. Here are more pictures from Thursday.

DSC_1726DSC_1683 DSC_2222

First Saturday of Spotlight for College Basketball

This is the first Saturday of the season where basketball is in full control of the sports calendar. Sunday will be taken up by the NFL playoffs but will still have some fun games.

Saturday is expected to be a great day in the middle of the country as three Big 12 games between top 25 teams will take place. There will be bedlam in Oklahoma and West Virginia will make the journey to Texas. The nightcap will be Kansas at Iowa State to face some Hilton Magic.

Duke at Louisville is losing luster quickly after the Blue Devils took some losses in ACC play. Kentucky traveling to Alabama will be the game with the most upset potential as the Wildcats have been shaky on the road in SEC play so far.

Here is my navigation solution for wall-to-wall basketball this weekend.
Jan 16 Navi Sol

13 Overlooked Stories from the College Football Bowl Season

Yep, the MAC just went Willy Wonka on the Sun Belt.

Yep, the MAC just went Willy Wonka on the Sun Belt.

College football is down to its final game tonight as the postseason has been underway for weeks. We all know the main headlines such the top SEC teams going down, TCU dominating and Florida State combusting into humiliating defeat in the Rose Bowl. There are facts that are not so prominent like leaving tickets for a celebrity. Trust me, it will make sense soon. Here are 13 overlooked stories from the college football bowl season.

13. Oklahoma Tries to Stay Positive

Oklahoma was pounded by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6, but found a way to stay up beat on this Clemson touchdown.

When Oklahoma is clinging to hope of a play being reversed, you know it’s a blowout.

No. 12 Randomly meeting your favorite team on the beach

It was a great New Years for Georgia Tech with its Orange Bowl win, but a Georgia Tech fan had an even better time as she had this chance meeting with her favorite Yellow Jackets.

No. 11 Arkansas and People Watching

Arkansas really enjoyed its 31-7 Texas Bowl win over Texas and that deserves bonus points when you beat a team the bowl is named after. The Razorbacks began giving shout outs to fellow athletic teams and signs from fans that trashed their opponent.

Seriously, you don’t see any other athletic department people watch like this, but when you’re winning you can do whatever you want.

No. 10 Pep Rallies upon pep rallies

Bowl games always try to have some pep rallies for the fans, and there is also the chance of having the pep rallies turn into a band duel. Like here in the Fiesta Bowl between Arizona and Boise State.

I guess the Boise band did better as the Broncos won a close Fiesta Bowl game.

No. 9 Underdogs Dominate

It was not a good bowl season to be the favorite.

No. 8 Oregon Football Reflected in Rose Bowl Commercial

The Ducks were winners in another area too, promotional advertisements. This ad that aired during the Rose Bowl was among the best commercials for a school during bowl season as it matched the football team to the university seamlessly.

No. 7 Bowl Banners

It’s always interesting to see how the mid-majors promote their bowl teams. It’s pretty much their season for some of these teams. The Mountain West celebrated its postseason thanks to their record number of bowl teams.

Just don't mention how bad Colorado State, Fresno and Nevada looked.

Just don’t mention how bad Colorado State, Fresno and Nevada looked.

The American Athletic Conference went to the photo route to promote its 5 bowl teams. The AAC went 2-3 in bowls.
AAC bowl banner

The best mid-major conference was actually Conference USA who had a 4-1 mark in bowl season.

No. 6 West Virginia and the King

West Virginia play Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. You can’t visit Memphis without an Elvis joke and that’s what West Virginia did here.

Good thing the King didn’t show as the Mountaineers lost.

No. 5 Missouri Valley Monopoly

The Missouri Valley Football Conference had its way in the FCS playoffs, as MVFC schools North Dakota State and Illinois State met in the FCS Championship game. Now that is a conference that should be boasting more than SEC fans.
North Dakota State would win a close game 29-27 to earn its 4th straight national championship. Check out the trophy presentation. Where else do the fans gather on the field and the players gather in the stands for the celebration.

When you win four straight, a football game turns into a rock concert.

When you win four straight, a football game turns into a rock concert.

No. 4 Coconut Shrimp and Bloomin’ Onion

The Outback Bowl was all about giving away bloomin’ onions or coconut shrimp based off of the winner of the bowl game. They even went so far to have people dress up as both foods.

No. 3 Marriage at the Rose Bowl

This Oregon couple had more than just a Rose Bowl victory to celebrate.

No. 2 Houston’s Comeback to Retweet

Houston had a triumphant fourth quarter comeback against Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars wanted everyone to know they came back from 25 points.

No. 1 #MACtion vs. #FunBelt

The MAC and the Sun Belt have all the fun in bowl season. These bowls games are what the conferences are all about in the postseason to the point where it has become a bit of a rivalry. The MAC and the Sun Belt met twice with Bowling Green vs. South Alabama and Toledo vs. Arkansas State. Both games yielded fantastic barbs between the two leagues.
Here is an example of what the Sun Belt did when South Alabama scored a touchdown on Bowling Green.

Here is the MAC after a Toledo touchdown.

In the end the MAC won both games and went into boast mode.

An Objective Way to Rank the Conferences 2015

The SEC still has plenty to say for itself.

The SEC still has plenty to say for itself.

Last year I used the Sagarin ratings to find a quantitative method of determining the best conference of college football. I like the Sagarin ratings because it gives a score and ranking for every team in both FBS and FCS levels. Sagarin splits conference rankings into divisions so I had to do some work to see how the conferences stack up.

I found a conference average and median then split the difference to determine a total score.
Sagarin ratingsThe results are going to make SEC fans very happy. The Southeastern Conference had 13 of its 14 teams in the top 50 leaving Vanderbilt was the weak link as an outlier. Eight teams were in the top 15. That’s right, over half the SEC is ranked in the top 15 of the Sagarin rankings.

Alabama’s loss to Ohio State only dropped the Tide to No. 4 but the big surprise was Georgia at No. 5. That is because the Bulldogs went 6-2 against top 30 teams including wins over Clemson and Louisville from the ACC. This doesn’t mean that everyone should view Georgia as a top five team, but it does mean Georgia beat many quality teams this season that should not be overlooked.

While SEC critics will point to the elite teams losing on New Year’s Day the conference did go 7-5 in bowls. While the front of the pack teams in Mississippi State and Ole Miss lost, they couldn’t fall far because teams they beat in the regular season (Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Tennessee,) all won. Ole Miss blew out a Boise State squad back in August and that win looks better after Boise won the Fiesta Bowl over Arizona.

Arizona’s loss is a blemish on a great bowl season for the PAC-12, who went 6-2 in the postseason. The PAC-12 is the SEC’s biggest competition just like last season as half the conference is among the top 25 teams. The PAC-12’s issue is the bottom half with Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado outside the top 80. Washington State dropped to two games out of conference and Oregon State won but struggled with Hawaii and FCS Portland State. Colorado had a dismal 2-10 season with close calls to UMass and Hawaii as well. This pulled the PAC-12 down just enough to give the SEC the edge.

The Big 12, ACC and Big Ten pretty much evened out. Although it’s important to note TCU is the No. 1 team here. I doubt being the No. 1 Sagarin rating team is going to make up for missing the playoff. All three conferences had too many teams dragging their rankings down. Looking at you Iowa State, Kansas, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Indiana and Purdue.

The most surprising find was the Missouri Valley Conference of the FCS being ahead of all five FBS mid-major leagues. Half the Valley made it to the 24-team FCS playoff and the league did well. North Dakota State will meet Illinois State for the title tomorrow in a battle between conference rivals.

NDSU defeated Iowa State handily to boost the valley. Northern Iowa was competitive enough with Iowa and Hawaii to make an impact as well. Middle of the pack Indiana State won at Ball State. The result is a FCS league with 70 percent of the teams with winning records.

I thought the Mountain West would be a little higher but Boise State was the only team in the top 50 at No. 37. Little things like Air Force struggling to beat Georgia State, Colorado State getting pasted by Utah, and UNLV having a dismal year added up. It’s not good win Fresno State carries the West division despite a loss to the No. 172 team in UNLV.

The American Athletic had the largest variety with teams in the top 50 like Memphis and teams outside the top 200 in SMU. Little improvement among the back of the league will go a long way next season.

Conference USA may feel cheated to learn that Marshall had the highest ranking among mid-major teams but did not get to play in the Fiesta Bowl. The problem for CUSA is the bottom eight of the 13 teams were outside the Top 100.

It’s hard to rate the Sun Belt with two of its top four teams being denied bowl opportunities (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State) but it somehow rated higher than the MAC. Northern Illinois was the highest ranked in the MAC at No. 71 and that’s lowest ranking for any No. 1 team of a conference. The entire MAC East was a disaster with Bowling Green being the best at No. 120.

Instead of UMass, or some other team back East, the Mid-American Conference should be looking at the Missouri Valley for expansion. Go west young MAC. Go west.

The Sagarin rankings could change a tiny bit after the championship games this weekend but not much as Oregon and Ohio State are both secured in the top 3. For that I have to go with Oregon and North Dakota State in the FCS title.

Christmas in the World of College Athletics

Christmas Eve was not only a night of anticipation for kids all over the country but was also a rare night of teamwork among athletic departments too. Division 1 athletic departments went back and forth telling “The Night Before Christmas” in as many words 140 characters would allow.

Georgia Tech got it all started with this tweet.

Kansas State, one of the best accounts to follow, also jumped in on the early stages of the reading. Look at how they connected their locker room to the story.

ACC rival North Carolina was one several schools who sprung into the Twitter reading. Note all the accounts the Heels tagged in tweet just to say “I sprang from my bed.”

You can see the whole result of all the tweets on this link.

Other schools tweeted out their Christmas wishes in more traditional ways. A few that caught my eye included the American Athletic Conference as I finally know all the schools in the league thanks to these snowflakes.

Not to be outdone, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference had the same idea. Don’t care who came up with it first.

If Photoshop is your thing than shout out to Wisconsin Volleyball for their obvious elf hats to a team picture.

Arkansas State went to the comedy route as the Red Wolves played off their starting tight end Darion Griswold for having the same last name of family from the best Christmas movie ever.

Siena may be favorite of all them as the Saints took Christmas as a time to reflect and of course… to boast.

Graduating 7 Miles Above Earth

I knew many people in college who hated the idea of having to go through a commencement ceremony and walk on stage for their degree. I wonder if they would have approved of a short commencement on an airplane during a flight to a FCS playoff game? Sounds too specific to makeup doesn’t it? You can thank Sam Houston State for that.

Three members of the Bearkat football team walked the aisle for their diploma as the team flew to Villanova for a FCS quarterfinal. The game took place during winter commencement but the school wanted to make sure the three semester grads could walk like every other student. You could see the players walking into the restroom to change into their cap and gown during the video in the back of the plane.

The ceremony was a snapshot of Sam Houston State’s surprising run in the playoffs. In the first round, it survived what many viewed as a coin-flip game with Southeastern Louisiana 21-17. On December 6, Sam Houston had the biggest upset of the bracket, taking out 3 seeded Jacksonville State 37-26. The result gave the team a shot at 6 seeded Villanova on Saturday as Sam Houston scored another upset win 34-31 to advance to the semifinals.

Take a look at the locker room before the team prayer. Man the FCS playoffs are fun.

Texas Hate: What Went Wrong For TCU and Baylor

The most depressing set of rankings in college football this year.

The most depressing set of rankings in college football this year.

Under the BCS, people complained that the college football title was being decided by a number crunching computer. Today in 2014, under a selection committee, is the system better?

The committee had to pick four teams, and what we learned on Sunday afternoon is that crunching numbers is still in charge. Just look at the records for the top six teams and you see right away why teams 5 and 6 were left out.

1. Alabama 12-1
2. Oregon 12-1
3. Florida State 13-0
4. Ohio State 12-1

5. Baylor 11-1
6. TCU 11-1

See the problem. The Big 12 schools had one less game. The top four schools all played an extra game against a quality team this week. TCU and Baylor were just finishing up their regular schedule.

SEC fans and coaches thought the Big 12 had an advantage by not having a championship game. It turned out to be a weakness. It’s not easy to put a team that’s 11-1 over a team that’s 12-1. A computer would not have cared about winning a conference championship. Instead it would have just calculated the strength of schedule to figure out how a C-USA regular season game between losing teams impacted the SEC elite. Stuff us humans don’t really care about. That’s how Alabama and LSU played each other again in the title game in 2011.

Humans do care about conference championships. Humans do care about having one more win than another team. The past month we were waiting for Baylor’s victory over TCU to mean something as the committee continued to put TCU ahead of Baylor. Baylor’s weaker strength of schedule, especially in non-conference play was the reason given.

But on Sunday afternoon, strength of schedule didn’t mean squat. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State all won an extra 13th game that Baylor and TCU didn’t even play. The result was Texas Christian and Baylor splitting the Big 12 title as Co-Champions. The problem though is how do you let one Co-Champion into the playoff without the other?

You can’t.

Instead the committee just doled out bids to the teams that truly won its conference in the order that its conference is perceived as. SEC is first (Alabama), PAC-12 second (Oregon), ACC third (Florida State) and Big Ten fourth (Ohio State). If the committee truly valued strength of schedule then Ohio State would have been out as its home loss to Virginia Tech was worse than TCU’s defeat at Baylor and Baylor’s defeat at West Virginia.

If TCU and Baylor played each other again this past Saturday it’s hard to see the winner of that game missing the playoff. But they didn’t play each other again, and the conference that was all about “One True Champion” is stuck with two champions on the outside looking in.

This doesn’t mean that a Big 12 team can’t make the playoff. Just means it is a little bit tougher. TCU or Baylor would have had to go undefeated like Florida State to secure a spot. For a one loss team from this league to get into the playoff a championship game will go a long way to keep pace with the other leagues. Either apply for a waiver from the NCAA to get a title game with just 10 teams, or steal two more from another league. Seriously, what does Boise State have to do and how many Big 12 teams does North Dakota State have to beat?

SMU Gets a WinSensor Scans

While TCU is wondering what else it has to do get a title chance, nearby SMU is happy to say it won a game. The winless Mustangs traveled to a UConn team that gave up football season for basketball weeks ago. The result was SMU overcoming a 20-6 halftime deficit to score three unanswered touchdowns for a 27-20 win. It was just the third time this season SMU scored over 13 points. You have to start somewhere I suppose. The game was really a three-hour billboard for how the American Athletic Conference is a mess of teams who don’t fit. Memphis, Cincinnati, and Central Florida all share the conference title. Begging the question, when you share a league championship with two other teams did anyone really win it?

FCS Shocker

I predicted Jacksonville State would win the FCS championship before the playoffs started and whoops. The Gamecocks let me down big time losing to Sam Houston State 37-26 in the second round at home. It was the first loss Jacksonville State has had to a FCS team all year. Give credit to the Bearkats for forcing two interceptions and keeping Jacksonville State scoreless in the second half. I wrote off Sam Houston State after it was blown out by a division II team at home back in September but have gone 9-1 since then.

Jacksonville State’s defeat reflects badly on the Ohio Valley Conference as the league went 0-2 in the FCS playoffs.

No Upsets in Volleyball

The first two rounds of women’s volleyball tournament were completed this week and 15 of the top 16 seeds have made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Only Kansas, the 16 seed, failed to make it out of the weekend. The last underdog team left is Oregon State and it’s hard to call a PAC-12 team Cinderella.

The good news is that the best teams from the regular season are going to fight it out the next two weeks. The bad news is that my bracket looks pretty stupid for all the upsets I was hoping for.

Florida State is the Queen of Soccer

In an ACC battle for the Women’s Soccer Cup, congratulations to Florida State on its 1-0 win over Virginia. It was the first national championship in women’s soccer for Florida State and probably couldn’t have come at a better time given all the allegations the school has had to deal with the past year.

If you think this is not a big deal at a football school like Florida State then check out this scene.