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.

College Volleyball Tournament Preview 2014: Happy Huskies

Can Colorado State be the mid-major that breaks through in this year's tournament?

Can Colorado State be the mid-major that breaks through in this year’s tournament?

The D-1 women’s volleyball tournament is here, and I’m a little late making my picks.

The bracket was not kind to Big Ten powerhouses Penn State and Wisconsin placing them in the same region. This means a rematch of last year’s championship match will most likely occur in the regional final.

Overall, Stanford is the top seed but Texas and Washington are right behind.

Through the RPI, the matches I was able to catch, and the college volleyball social media guide I did in August, I have to pick Washington to win it all over Stanford in the final. The Huskies gave the Cardinal its only loss and can do so again. Plus, Washington was one of the best schools in promoting volleyball over social media.

As far as upsets I think Nebraska is vulnerable to Kansas State, Creighton should have a good chance over Kansas and my big upset special is Long Beach State making it to the Sweet Sixteen through UCLA. My round one upset is Lipscomb over Ohio State.

I really wanted to pick Colorado State over Texas as the Rams have been the best mid-major this season. Just couldn’t do it so prove me wrong Rams. The selection committee did the Rams no favors with a likely meeting with rival Colorado in round 2.

Here are all my picks.

VB1

VB2

VB3

VB4

Save The Blazers, Save Mid-Major Football

UAB wins

News of a FBS school considering the termination of its football program is making headlines today in Birmingham. UAB football is in trouble and fans have rallied to make a protest outside of the school’s administration building today. It’s a situation that could impact football programs all over the nation.

I’m not a UAB fan and don’t know the intricacies of its specific situation other than what I’ve read. But I am a mid-major football fan and UAB’s decision is one that more FBS schools on the mid-major level will probably face in the future. There are always pros to keeping a football team and UAB is no exception.

UAB has had a roughly a 110 percent increase in attendance this season. In week 2 UAB actually out-gained Mississippi State in a 47-34 loss in Starkville. The same Mississippi State team would reach the No. 1 ranking later in the season. For the first time since 2004, the Blazers are bowl eligible at 6-6 thanks to a 4-4 mark in Conference USA.

A winning football program can bring so much publicity to a university. To do that in other sports is a greater challenge. College basketball teams can really only bring national recognition to a school through the tournament. Baseball is only through the College World Series. East Carolina, however, brought plenty of attention to its school just by beating two ACC teams this season in football. It can be done.

The cons are there too. The Blazers have only been to one bowl game, a loss to Hawaii in 04. Having losing seasons for that long is poison to a mid-major. Southern Mississippi came in to Birmingham in the final week last season on a 23-game losing streak, and actually drilled the Blazers 62-27. That’s like getting killed 20 times on “Call of Duty” by a 9-year-old girl online.

Another problem is Conference USA. Their games are not the easiest to find as the schools that could do so moved up to the American Athletic. Even Marshall struggled to have their games seen despite being undefeated until the final week of the season. The days of Louisville and TCU in CUSA are ancient history. The result is UAB constantly trying to create new rivalries with the likes of Middle Tennessee State and Florida International. It will take time for the conference to stabilize itself.

Attendance in 2013 was a joke for a school in football obsessed Alabama at just over 10,000 fans a game. Only Eastern Michigan, the laughing stock of FBS attendance, had a poorer number in 2013. Sure, 2014 was over 21,000 but it’s tough to make that up. The UAB athletic department is operating millions into the red (over 17 million) but that is actually common for most mid-major programs.

If you keep football, does that mean you cut another sport instead? Title IX makes the women’s sports off limits, as they should be. Dropping something small like men’s golf is not going to save any money. Dropping baseball or men’s soccer will save money but those are not going to turn around the athletic department’s debt anytime soon. UAB’s soccer team went to the NCAA tournament this year. Baseball is another team with past success. Removing those sports would be a sour move.

If UAB does drop its football team the question will be who is next? The group of five conferences (CUSA, American, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) all have to reevaluate how they can compete in the new playoff system. They can’t play in a system where the power conferences make all the rules. These leagues have to work together to either make a new division or drop to FCS play. It’s hard to sell tickets when you can’t play for a national championship.

Today, UAB fans and students held a rally to save the program outside the administration building. Here are some of the tweets.

While ESPN and other networks only talk about players signing autographs and domestic assaults, UAB’s decision on its football program is a top 10 sports story of the year in my opinion. Things are just getting started for determining the future of mid-major football, and I have no idea how it will turn out.

FCS Playoff Preview 2014

It's that time of year. We're talking playoffs.

It’s that time of year. We’re talking playoffs.

Most of you will be watching your favorite rivalry game in FBS ball this weekend, but Saturday is also a big day for the FCS level. It’s the first round of the FCS Playoffs. Sixteen of the 24 teams will be in action and it’s time to break the field down.

1. Is New Hampshire really the best team?

The Wildcats went undefeated against FCS foes this year, only losing to FBS Toledo 54-20. While the CAA has three other teams in field, UNH did not play two of them. Villanova, the six seed, and James Madison were not on the schedule. Therefore, it’s hard to justify a CAA crown with that conference slate.

Its toughest opponent, Richmond, was a close three-point win. Last week, New Hampshire survived a 5-5 Maine team 20-12. Doesn’t really sound like the best team in the FCS. The Wildcats are good, you have to be to go 10-1, but the top seed seems generous.

2. What Top 8 Seeds are on Upset Alert?

There is always a team or two who go down in the second round as a top eight seed. The four/five seeds need to look out as Illinois State and Eastern Washington may have tough match-ups. Illinois State shared the Missouri Valley Football Conference (FCS best five teams in the field) with North Dakota State but may have to deal with a dangerous Northern Iowa club. UNI lost to Illinois State by 14 on Nov. 1 but the Panthers did beat North Dakota State and almost shocked Iowa.

Montana should cruise through San Diego and meet conference rival Eastern Washington in the second round. Again, EWU won the first meeting but it was close. Beating a team like Northern Iowa and Montana twice in the same year is not easy. Montana is number one in FCS in turnover margin at plus 16. Eastern Washington better protect the ball in that game.

Chattanooga, the eight seed, would be favored against the Eastern Kentucky/Indiana State winner but it will not be a cake walk. And if you think Villanova is looking forward to the winner of James Madison/Liberty you’re crazy.

3. Will North Dakota State make it four straight championships?

The Bison have the best defense in the field giving up just 255 yards per game. The question for them will be on offense. North Dakota State averaged 429 yards per game so it’s hard to see them struggling, especially at home. Their first two games should be a breeze as the semifinals and championship will be the only places for the Bison to falter. But there is one team I think can beat them.

4. The Dark Horse: Jacksonville State

The Gamecocks are number four in offense and number 14 in defense. That’s a juggernaut folks. Jacksonville State won at Chattanooga in week 2 and should be ready to challenge anyone, including North Dakota State. That’s why I’m picking Jacksonville State to win it all this year.

Now if it loses to Southeastern Louisiana in the second round then you never read this column. Here is my bracket.
FCS top
FCS Bottom

2014’s Most Depressing Team: SMU

Last year we had four winless FBS teams going into Thanksgiving. Now we have just one but there are teams who are winless in conference play too. Nothing though is more depressing than the burning hulk known as Southern Methodist University football.

SMU: 0-10 (0-6)

The good news for SMU is that they still have two games left. The bad news is the Mustangs have done little to prove they are capable of winning a game. SMU has scored less than 10 points in six games this year. In the first seven games SMU was outscored 336 – 49, those are video game scores.

SMU did not schedule a FCS school, or a cupcake Sun Belt team. With no failsafe game the Ponies were in danger from the get go but this type of collapse was unexpected. Coming off a 5-7 year and multiple winning seasons in years prior should be enough to avoid a winless year.

SMU is still fighting losing by one to South Florida at home 14-13. Still, it’s hard to stay positive for the program, even on Twitter.

What about the graphics department? I’m sure they can make a nice infographic to make SMU’s season seem cheerful.

SMU info

When you don’t have anything nice to say, just show the uniform combination.

I guess when there is nothing positive to report you spend an entire infographic on the uniforms. Not a good situation.

Will SMU win a game? Yes

SMU will play Houston at home Friday before traveling to 2-8 Connecticut to close out the season on Dec. 6. The Mustangs should have more motivation than both opponents and UConn is the best candidate. The two teams are dead even at passing yards per game and UConn is No. 119 in rushing with SMU at No. 121.

This means it will come down to turnovers. The Mustangs have turned the ball over 26 times this year, tied for the No. 118 in the nation. The Huskies have turned the ball over 21 times though so this is an even game. In that case I have to pick the team that wants it more and that should be SMU. It may be the pillow fight of the year but a win for SMU will salvage something for the 2014 season. That would be something to be thankful for.

Other depressing teams:
2. Georgia State: 1-10 (0-7) Only win came against FCS Abilene Christian.
3. Kent State: 1-9 (0-6) Winless in MAC play.
4. Vanderbilt: 3-8 (0-7) Winless in SEC action and nearly lost to FCS Charleston Southern.
5. Colorado: 2-9 (0-8) Winless in PAC-12 play but did force two overtime games.

SEC Takes the Week Off

SEC football teams are loading up on FCS cupcakes this week as the big rivalries occur Thanksgiving weekend. The result is a light weekend that is rescued by a few key games in the Big Ten West and the PAC-12 South.

On the other hand some preseason tournaments are underway in college basketball. Conference tournaments are in action for mid-major volleyball, and both men’s and women’s soccer have their postseason this weekend too. Here is the viewer’s guide. Navi Sol. 11-21