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.

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

Damage Report: Big 12 Refs and Mississippi

Saturday is finished and we learned quite a few things this week in college football. Such as to never go for it on 4th and 3 in a tied game after burning two time-outs to think about it. That was for you Gary Patterson. Here are winners and losers from the past 24 hours.

How UCLA fans felt today.

How UCLA fans felt today.

Winner: Mississippi State and Ole Miss

Honestly, I thought both Mississippi teams would get carried away with their top rankings and have a bad game. That didn’t happen as Mississippi State jumped on No. 2 Auburn with a 21-0 first quarter lead and never looked back. Ole Miss was in control of No. 14 Texas A&M the whole way and led 21-0 at the half. The Egg Bowl has never been so enticing in October.

Loser: Big 12 Referees

The zebras called pass interference on TCU corner Corry O’Meally placing Baylor in field-goal range in the final minute with game tied at 58. Baylor would kick the game-winning three points to end the bout 61-58. Problem is the flag was bogus. Replay showed O’Meally made contact as the ball reached the Baylor receiver and even turned his head to find the ball. It was a shame that a great game ended on the result of a bad call from the refs. Then again, if TCU had simply punted instead failing on 4th and 3 maybe this would not have happened at all.

Winner: Duke

The Blue Devils knocked of the ACC Coastal leading Yellow Jackets on the road 31-25. Duke is now in great shape to repeat as division champions. With Florida State in the news for all the wrong reasons there is a legitimate possibility Duke could win the ACC in football. Yeah, I said in football.

Loser: UCLA

The Bruins went from being a playoff favorite to dropping two-straight at home. Unlike last week’s close game with Utah, UCLA was lifeless against Oregon. Don’t let the 42-30 score fool you. It was 35-10 after the third quarter. UCLA has plenty to fix.

Winner: West Virginia

Trailing Texas Tech on the road 34-20 with less than eight minutes to go it looked bleak for WVU. The Mountaineers would score two touchdowns in drives lasting only 1:37 and 2:37. They even had time to set up a 55-yard field goal for kicker Josh Lambert. The sophomore kicker drilled the field-goal to crush the hearts of Texas Tech fans everywhere. At 4-2, West Virginia has plenty to play for while Texas Tech is going to need a miracle to reach bowl eligibility at 2-4.

Loser: Fresno State

The Bulldogs were a contender to repeat as Mountain West champions but that took a hit Friday night in Vegas. Fresno lost UNLV in overtime 30-27 who was previously 1-4. The Rebels had been torched this season with a minus 131 point-differential. It was Fresno State’s first Mountain West loss who fell to 3-4, and 2-1 in conference. Instead of making a run at the conference crown, the Bulldogs will have to fight to just finish 6-6 after the bad loss.

Big Picture College Football Predictions

It’s prediction time as the college football season is here. Here are a few big picture forecasts for season, or ammo for you guys to make fun of me for in December. Take your pick.

Four teams will enter, 14 more will argue they should enter instead

Four teams will enter, 14 more will argue they should enter instead

Florida State is guaranteed to win the ACC

Simply put, the ACC is a disaster and Florida State is the only team with firepower. Clemson and North Carolina are good but don’t have the horses for FSU. The toughest conference game for Florida State will probably be at AAC import Louisville on a Thursday night. Maybe Miami can do something but FSU has everyone else outclassed on paper.

PAC-12 is more likely to have two teams in the playoff than the SEC.

The PAC-12 plays nine conference games a year while the SEC still does eight. Last season, that trait alone boosted the PAC-12’s rankings and they’ll be right there with the SEC this year. All 14 SEC schools play a FCS opponent compared with eight of the PAC-12 schools. If the selection committee values non-conference schedules then the PAC-12 has the inside edge.

SEC champ will come out of the East division

The East division has been pushed around by the West lately and I’m calling that to change this year. Georgia was banged up last season and look for them to be deeper this season as a result. South Carolina is waiting to break through after three-straight 11-2 seasons. Luck should come to one of these schools and upset Auburn or Alabama in the SEC championship. I give the edge to Georgia.

Everyone in the Big Ten will have at least two losses.

With Ohio State losing quarterback Braxton Miller the Big Ten is lacking a power team. Look at this candidate for the most depressing tweet of the year.

If Michigan State loses to Oregon (Sept. 6) and Wisconsin loses to LSU this Saturday in Houston then the conference is out of options. Will the committee select a Big Ten team with two losses? Highly unlikely. Maybe the Spartans can run the table in conference play and get in with just the Oregon loss. Hard to see that happening though.

Oklahoma is a lock to be in the playoff.

Oklahoma is coming off a huge win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and should be favored in every game this season. OU gets Baylor at home, the team in the league with the most explosive offense. With Texas rebuilding and Oklahoma State having to replace most of its team this has to be Oklahoma’s year.

The mid-majors will struggle for attention

The “Group of Five” has little chance of breaching the playoffs and that’s a problem. The top mid-major will get into a BCS level bowl but that’s not part of the playoff. Schools like Boise State, Central Florida and Louisiana have loaded up on their non-conference schedules but that will only help them if they go undefeated. Marshall is the favorite to win Conference USA but plays nobody. The MAC is the most unpredictable conference as its schools will beat each other up. These five conferences are going to have to reevaluate things soon.

The playoff format will work… for the most part.

Four is better than two but someone is going to be upset when the selections are announced. I predict that will be Big Ten fans as the odds are shaky for them in getting a spot. The mid-majors might have to make their own subdivision soon as the power conference schools are taking things over. Still, this will be better than last decade of postseasons. New Year’s Day matters again without compromising the regular season.

As for the championship I’m picking Oregon to beat Georgia. Hey, the more things you guys have to make fun of me for the better.

11 Overlooked Details of the College Football Bowl Season

ND State party

Yeah, we are North Dakota State and … we are completely overlooked.

The college football bowl season (like it or hate it) provides copious amounts of sports television opportunities during the holidays. Out of the 35 games played, 34 really don’t matter in terms of the national championship. Because of this, the other 34 games are slugging it out for media attention that just is not there. Here are some things that were overlooked.

11. Inflating attendance numbers

UNLV and North Texas were playing on New Year’s Day in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and people appeared to not get the memo. The game was on ESPNU so even the Worldwide Leader thought little of a Conference USA/Mountain West duel. Can’t blame ESPN as bigger bowl games were going on.

Only 38,380 showed up despite the contest being a virtual home game for North Texas. That didn’t keep North Texas from boasting about it.

Great crowd? Maybe for a Conference USA school but for a New Year’s Day bowl game that’s a sad turnout. I hope this bowl changes its date for the future years.

10. UNLV’s useless stat

UNLV also made a silly tweet during the game. With the scored tied at half 7-7 the Rebels went deep into the stat book and came out with this gem.

Talk about small sample size. One game makes it stat worthy? Sounds like the athletic department was bored and was trying to get out as many statistics as possible. Needless to say, UNLV was outscored 29-7 in the second half for a 36-14 defeat.

9. Team photos

Part of the bowl preparation for each team is tacking new team photos. Few tend to be noteworthy or even eye appealing, but this one from Iowa at the Outback Bowl is. How many times do you see a football team by a pirate ship?

8. Conference USA plays connect the dots

Part of the problem of being a mid-major conference is educating fans who you are. Most Americans can’t name three Conference USA schools so what does the conference do to promote its bowl games? Make a graphic a kindergartner can understand and post it as the cover photo on your Facebook page.

To passionate football fans this somewhat makes sense.  To non football fans it looks like Captain Jack Sparrow is going deep.

To passionate football fans this somewhat makes sense. To non football fans it looks like Captain Jack Sparrow is going deep.

Not sure if this is genius or incredible infantile. Probably both. Nice marketing? Maybe? Conference USA would go a respectable 3-3 in bowl season.

7. People freaking out on the SEC

A few bowl games did receive attention especially the Sugar Bowl involving SEC powerhouse Alabama. With Alabama’s defeat to Oklahoma, people on social media began unleashing jabs at the “overrated” SEC. The stats fail to back that claim up. Prior to the championship game, the SEC has gone an impressive 7-2 in bowls. Compare that to the Big 10, (2-5) and you’ll see there is nothing overrated about the best conference in college football.

6. ESPN vs. Fox

Moving to more of a media debate, Friday night saw Fox going head to head with ESPN as it aired the Cotton Bowl against the Orange Bowl. It was really the first time where the whole Fox/ESPN rivalry became more than a joke. Following the game, Sports Center did everything it could to bury the Cotton Bowl behind the Orange. I would love to see Fox broadcast more of these bowl games next year and make ESPN work for it. ESPN has been upsetting the past few years not using ABC at all. They are the same Disney company but only one bowl game aired on ABC. Network television is still carries more weight than cable and shame on Disney for not using ABC.

5. New Commercials

The Super Bowl is the big event for advertisers, but bowl season has some firepower too. Sadly, there was more bad than good.

The ugly: Any commercial for AT&T and Chevy trucks.

The bad: Rally’s featuring Terrell Owens and the infinite promos for ABC’s new show “Killer Women.”

The Good: Lay’s potato chips featuring Mr. Potato Head. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad spot with a Mr. Potato Head endorsement. I also saw this Interstate Batteries spot for the first time and it made me chuckle.

4. Buffalo loves spuds

Bowl games are suppose to be a rewarding experience to the players for a winning season. The exception being the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. That’s just pure torture. When you see the program you can tell what you’re in for.

Buffalo tried to have fun with it. Even wearing potato hats to get in the spud mood.

Buffalo would go on to lose to San Diego State 49-24. Not that anyone cared.

3. Non BCS spoilers flop

Northern Illinois and Fresno State were undefeated deep into the regular season and had BCS hopes. Late losses prevented that dream for both teams but they could make up for it in the bowl game. Not so much. Northern Illinois was blasted by Utah State and Fresno State was non competitive against USC. It was a bad reflection on the rest of the Non Automatic Qualifiers.

2. Awkward press conferences

Losing a bowl game stinks, but rubbing salt in the wound would be this scene at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Bowling Green had a tough loss to Pittsburgh yet had to stare at the trophy it lost in the press conference. Just brutal.

Those faces are common for the loser of a bowl game and they tell you two things.
1. “This blows”
2. These “meaningless” bowl games matter.

1. North Dakota State repeats as FBS Champs for the third straight year.

No. 1 is not about a bowl, it’s about a national title. The Bison dominated everyone in the FCS playoffs including Towson in the title game. North Dakota State’s three-peat is absolutely incredible. The program shows the value of competing in the FCS level as opposed to breaking the bank in the FBS.

Even more shocking is its coach Craig Bohl, after his third FCS crown he is finally leaving for a FBS job. The prestigious job of … Wyoming? The Wyoming Cowboys?

Where are all the BCS schools looking for quality coaches? Bohl is everything a booster or athletic director should want in a coach. A consistent winner. As high profile jobs like Texas and USC come off the board, I can’t help but wonder how broken the coaching carousel is. Saying FCS coaches should spend time at a lower level FBS schools before going to the big boys is a fallacy. North Dakota State defeated Kansas State this season. A Kansas State team that pummeled Michigan in it’s bowl game. He has built a team that can compete against anyone with only a fraction of the budget FBS juggernauts have.

Look for Bohl to build Wyoming into the new powerhouse of the Mountain West Conference soon. His coaching skills will not be overlooked for long.

The FCS gets it right

As the BCS rankings and match-ups were announced on ESPN Sunday night, the trinity of annoying studio commentators (Jesse Palmer, David Pollack and Kirk Herbstreit) said the BCS got it right.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

For the record, I agree Auburn should be ranked no. 2. That doesn’t mean other one loss teams are not more deserving.

Michigan State only has one loss too and folks north of the Ohio River say the Spartans should be in. Check out what Big Ten talking head Mike Hall had to say while watching the SEC championship game.

Nice sarcasm as both Auburn and Missouri were scoring at will. Even Purdue fans tried to make a case for Michigan State.

What about Baylor? The Bears only had one loss too. Heck, I still think Alabama is the best team in the SEC as Auburn won the Iron bowl in its own house. What if the game was on a neutral field? Alabama would probably be going for its third straight title.

Yes, it’s the last year of the BCS; but instead of media personalities saying the BCS got it right, we should be blasting it one final time.

Look at how much fun the second round of FCS playoffs were this weekend. Several top teams went down and its games were great.

  • Coastal Carolina had maybe the surprise win of the weekend going into a freezing Montana. Montana’s website gave detailed advice on how to handle the below zero wind chills. Now that’s extreme. Coastal Carolina came out on top 42-35 in what might be the biggest upset a road team has had in below zero conditions since the Empire took over Hoth.
  • No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois has been destroying people all year with its passing game. Even the mascot was burning calories on the sideline in its 55-10 drumming of Tennessee State.
  • Still better than "Insanity"

    Still better than “Insanity”

  • New Hampshire stunned No. 5 seed Maine 41-27 to take the important title of “Best FCS Team in New England.”
  • No. 4 seed Southeastern Louisiana survived its upset scare against Sam Houston State 30-29.
  • No. 6 seed McNeese State was not so lucky as it lost 31-10 to Jacksonville State. That’s what happens when you’re too busy putting the name of your school on the back of the jersey instead of the players.

Get in there McNeese! No not you. I was talking to McNeese.

Get in there McNeese! No not you. I was talking to McNeese.

Come on McNeese State, even Michael Bay is more creative than that.

The FCS playoffs are just juicer than the anticlimactic BCS. The regular season still matters as not that many teams get in. The idea that the BCS system protects the magnitude of the regular season is just a total fallacy.

It’s so easy to accept the BCS after the great couple of weeks of football that we’ve had. But conference championships and huge rivalry games would happen no matter what type of postseason format was in place.

At the end of the day, can you justifiably say that Auburn is better than a Michigan State or a Baylor? Like bet your car, house, and PS3 type justification? What’s the harm in having them play each other for that spot?

The excitement we’ve had in college football the past two weeks can be recreated for four more weeks if we had the eight-team playoff we should have. Sorry ESPN, the FCS gets it right.