TCU will stun the Big 12, and soon 

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
Trevone BoykinAP Photo/LM OteroTrevone Boykin has exceeded expectations under center for the TCU Frogs.
Mark it down. One of the next two weekends, TCU is going to wreck the marquee November game that everyone believes will decide the Big 12.

The Frogs are going to beat either Oklahoma this weekend or Baylor next weekend, giving one of those conference favorites an early-season L. (Personally, I believe it’ll be Baylor.)

Here’s why.

They’ve been close

The Frogs lost eight games in 2013 by an average of 8.5 points per loss, including four in conference by two or three points in each game. Think about that. A field goal, #collegekickers and all, decided half their losses.

Two of those games were, you guessed it, Baylor and Oklahoma.

And here’s the takeaway: If you’re continually in games, you’re bound to win games.

Top candidates to replace Charlie Weis 

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Kansas is the first Power 5 head coaching job to open up in 2014, but a school in the American Athletic Conference might prove to be more appealing to those on the rise.

So what does that say about KU?

It’s not flattering, clearly, but it’s still a head coaching job in the Big 12, and that means it’ll still be highly sought.

The primary issues: Resources are so-so, the recruiting pool is even worse, and SMU -- the AAC job I was referencing -- can probably pay as much, if not more. Oh, and you’re a distant No. 10 (out of 10) in perhaps the country’s most balanced conference.

No way around it: The new coach will be starting from zero. It was a tough league to win for a long time because of Oklahoma's and Texas’ dominance, but in some ways it’s tougher now because any one of a half-dozen schools could win it every year.

Those close to the program say it’s time for KU to go after the long-term fix, rather than some “name” retread in the vein of the Charlie Weis hire. And it would be beneficial to get a PR bump with the certain trendy sex appeal of an offensive-minded coach. That could help stem the transitional growing pains.

Whomever Kansas hires can’t be worse than Weis, who was 6-22 -- and had just one victory against a Power 5 school.

Really, the first order of business should be ensuring that the Jayhawks never again wear Saturday’s uniform combo -- red jerseys and red pants, with blue shirts underneath. Those should be burned, unless Spider-Man is the new hire.

Peter Parker isn’t going to Lawrence, so here are six realistic options, according to those familiar with the program and league.

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The Aggies are not a playoff-caliber team 

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
 Jonathan WilliamsAP Photo/Tony GutierrezThe Aggies had a lot of trouble with Jonathan Williams and the Razorbacks' offense Saturday.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- I learned something Saturday during my first trip to Jerry World: The Arkansas Razorbacks are better than we thought, and the Texas A&M Aggies are overrated. Those were my suspicions entering Saturday’s SEC showdown, and they were confirmed after the Aggies had to rally for a 35-28 overtime win.

The Aggies were prematurely included in most pundits’ four-team playoff field before Saturday, but they’ll be part of very few bracket projections after their comeback win over the Razorbacks.

Listen, that’s no knock on the vastly improved Hogs; there’s no weak link in the SEC West any longer. The run game is consistent, and a few coverage lapses aside, the defense is much quicker to the ball. They’re a handful.

“That’s a good team,” one of the Aggies’ coaches told me afterward. “Better than we thought they would be, and we thought they were pretty good.”

And really, it’s no slight of A&M; it’s talented and evidently stubborn in the face of adversity, a better collective group than I anticipated it would be post-Johnny Manziel, and with a work-in-progress defense.

But one of the four best teams in America? No way. Get real.

The secondary and skill players are too inconsistent, and I’m not nearly as sold on the quarterback as the staff. Three or four more wins? Sure. I don’t see a contender, though. The 5-0 Aggies are content to prove me wrong, and they’ll have chances the next three weeks at Mississippi State, against Ole Miss and at Alabama.

“You haven’t been big on us all year, so let’s keep it that way,” OC Jake Spavital texted me Saturday night, after I floated this central thesis that I called “realistic.”

That’s where Week 5 Takeaways begin. Also included: I took it too easy on Brady Hoke when I wrote last week that he should be fired by December; it’s a subtly big week ahead in the Big 12; and coaches wonder if a "sleeping giant" job in the ACC will soon be available.

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Are Texas A&M Aggies overrated? 

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
Kevin SumlinIllustration by Sam HoKevin Sumlin and the Aggies will have a chip on their shoulders against Arkansas.
ARLINGTON, Texas – Here is the question everyone might not be asking but many are wondering as we head into Saturday: Is Texas A&M a legit playoff contender or just a Week 1 wonder?

The Aggies are being penciled into the playoff by most pundits, largely because of their punishing efforts at South Carolina in the opener.

But that was on Aug. 28, and they’ve played Lamar, Rice and SMU since then. A&M is 4-0, and it’s only fair to wonder whether everyone is drunk on the Midnight Yell punch.

“All I’ve seen is the South Carolina game,” an SEC coach said earlier in the week. “That was enough to tell me they’re pretty damn good. If they’re capable of that kind of game on the road to start the year, they’re good.”

But top-four good, or did A&M have one great game -- and game plan -- to stun the Gamecocks? Let’s put it this way: There’s absolutely no way it can fake the next month.

First, it’s Arkansas on Saturday, then at Mississippi State, then Ole Miss at home, then at Alabama. Skate through that stretch even 3-1, and believers’ sentiments will be cemented. Go 4-0, and the Ags will be the unquestioned No. 1 team in America.

(I actually think they’ll go 2-2, losing the two road games. As another SEC coach suggested, if Mississippi State's Dan Mullen can win at LSU, perhaps his big-game fortunes have changed.)

But hang on a second. Don't roll over on the Hogs. This means a great deal for an Arkansas team that wants to prove just how far it has come in a year’s time. It currently has the distinction of being the only unranked SEC West team.

“This is Arkansas’ Super Bowl,” a coach in the league said this week.

I attended the Razorbacks' win going away in Lubbock, but that pales in comparison to what a victory Saturday would do for Bret Bielema in Year 2.

Don’t fall into the trap, however, of starting to compare Texas Tech and Texas A&M just because Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury learned from A&M's Kevin Sumlin.

“I love Kliff, but we aren’t Texas Tech,” Sumlin said this week.

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Time is running out for Miami's Al Golden 

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24

While the hot-seat watch is largely focused on Brady Hoke at Michigan and Will Muschamp at Florida, there's another endangered coach at a high-profile program who has surprisingly managed to remain under the radar.

Like Hoke and Muschamp, Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden has had only three full seasons to prove he can turn around a team. Which just goes to show how short the evaluation period has become, doesn't it? The window of success opens, or begins to open -- and then it slams shut on your pinkie finger.

Take Golden. If he wins a few more games a little bit sooner in Coral Gables, he would have been a prime candidate for Texas when it was done with Mack Brown.

And now? Well, Golden's .500 team is favored at home this week against Duke, and that's somehow newsworthy. Win or lose, the Hurricanes, in Golden's fourth season, are in a glut of mediocrity that defines the ACC's Coastal Division.

They could win, they could lose -- this week and every week. But so could the other six teams in the division. Miami is no better or worse than anyone else, and that’s damning because Miami has the wealth of the state’s recruiting base. Remember, that’s why it was such a coup that the ACC got "the U" from the now-defunct Big East in the first place.

So where is that Miami payoff? Tick, tick, tick. Tick. And if Golden doesn’t produce, and soon-ish, it'll be someone else's opportunity (or burden).

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Big changes coming for the Wolverines 

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
Devin FunchessGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDevin Funchess and the Wolverines were roughed up by the visiting Utes on Saturday.
Quarterback Devin Gardner will be the first change for the Michigan Wolverines.

Coach Brady Hoke will be the second, and probably by December.

Athletic director Dave Brandon will be the next, and probably shortly after Hoke.

It’s time to start over at Michigan. There’s no “fixing it” in the middle of the season. Losing at home -- and being dominated at home -- by Utah signals the denouement, as I wrote earlier in the week. The end is near.

“Utah’s a good team -- tough, physical, well-coached,” a Pac-12 coach said Saturday afternoon, “but Michigan can’t lose at home to Utah. You’re Michigan.”

The offense again didn’t score a point, again didn’t reach the red zone against a Power 5 opponent. (It didn’t against Notre Dame, either.)

There’s a deep culture of blah at Michigan, and it has prevailed since last November. It starts with a faulty offensive line, which undermines even a seemingly talented runner like Derrick Green and forces its quarterback into poor decisions. That’s why backup Shane Morris, whenever his number is called, will offer no more solutions than Gardner. It’s still September, yes, but Michigan’s season is doomed.

With Green (the No. 38 overall prospect in 2013) as an example, it’s not as if the Wolverines are bereft of talent. They had RecruitingNation’s No. 6 class in 2013, and No. 5 class in 2012. Shouldn’t those players be hitting their stride about now? If not, why not?

The situation reminds me of Auburn when it was clear that Gene Chizik needed to go (apart from the fact that Michigan has no title year to hang its hat on). Highly ranked recruiting classes yielded little to no results. When the program started to lose the fan base and future recruits, that’s when it made the move.

Hoke is a seemingly good guy, but Michigan will soon do the same. It has no choice, because it will only get worse. Even the next three games -- Minnesota, Rutgers and Penn State -- suddenly look rife with peril.

That’s where the Week 4 takeaways begin. Later: Why Jeff Long, Condi Rice, et al, should send a gift basket to Clemson, South Carolina; Texas A&M will now resume its regularly scheduled schedule; Florida (and LSU and Clemson) needs to give its freshman QB a shot; Oklahoma’s best back emerged in Morgantown.

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Forget Jameis -- Clemson still has to score 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Deshaun WatsonJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsCan freshman QB Deshaun Watson lead the Tigers' run game on Saturday?
When it comes to actual football, the suspension of Florida State QB Jameis Winston isn’t the most important storyline in Saturday’s Clemson-FSU game. And it really isn’t close.

The Heisman-winning quarterback's absence is irrelevant if Clemson can't run on the FSU front seven. That is the Tigers’ biggest concern -- not who is under center for the Seminoles.

“It’s a mismatch,” one ACC coach texted this week. “Big one.”

In addition to new quarterbacks and receivers, Clemson does not feel great about its tackles or guards. That goes all the way back to a conversation I had with coach Dabo Swinney in January at the Senior Bowl.

“I’m more concerned with who’s going to play tackle,” he said when asked about the Tigers' then-three-way QB battle.

And the offensive line remains the biggest concern. In two games, the Tigers have averaged a very modest 3.8 yards per carry. They’re using a lot of backs, but none has shown breakout ability -- particularly behind that patchwork line, and perhaps because of it.

That’s why freshman QB Deshaun Watson, clearly a more athletic option than Cole Stoudt, has to play a big role Saturday in the zone-read game. Watson can keep the FSU defense honest.

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How Kansas State can upset Auburn 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Nick Marshall, Jake WatersGetty ImagesNick Marshall and Jake Waters lead highly potent offensive attacks in Thursday night's matchup.
The Auburn Tigers will be the most talented team on the field Thursday night in Manhattan, Kansas. There aren’t many people debating that -- not lucid ones, anyway.

The Kansas State Wildcats can beat Auburn, though. And here’s how coaches think it will play out

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Key swing games for Big Ten coaches 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
Brady Hoke Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPressure on Wolverines coach Brady Hoke is mounting in Ann Arbor.
It hasn’t exactly been a sterling September for the Big Ten. You know this.

And we still have two Saturdays this month left for it to get worse. Jobs are on the line.

The term “must-win game” can blur to cliché, but here are five examples where it’s reality for the Big Ten’s hot-seat coaches. Drop one of these, and there’s a strong possibility you’ll be claiming a buyout check by October and there will be a search for your replacement the final two months of the season.

Brady Hoke, Michigan Wolverines
Swing game: Utah (Saturday)

Michigan has already been shut out for the first time since President Ronald Reagan was in office. A loss to Utah, which would drop the Wolverines to 2-2, would be crippling for a team that lost six of its final eight games in 2013.

Those haunting memories would start to creep in.

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College Football Playoff's new problem 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Trevor KnightJ.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireTrevor Knight and the Sooners have run their record to 3-0, with a combined score of 134-33.
What do you know, a supposedly weak week in college football turned out to be meaningful. You’d think the public, and some media members, would learn not to judge the week by its schedule.

Losses by the Georgia Bulldogs, USC Trojans and Virginia Tech Hokies -- who had pulled off some of the biggest wins of the young season -- provided illustration that the upcoming 2 1/2 months are going to be wild. But what if it becomes so wacky that 2014 is counterproductive in the broader sense?

Picture this: What if the College Football Playoff's Nos. 1 and 2 seeds are mind-blowingly obvious, light-years ahead of everyone else, and Seeds 3 and 4 are so muddled that there’s great, great consternation over the committee’s final choices (as in, there are five or six teams with legit resumes for the final two spots)?

That means the new system in effect muddied the old one’s ability to decide the best teams playing for a national title. Why do you need three games if one would better determine the proper champ?

“Hadn’t thought of that,” one SEC coach told me late Saturday via text. “Wouldn’t be much point [of playing the semifinals], would there?”

The most dominant teams through three weeks have been, I’d say, Oklahoma and Oregon. Let’s just say they blow through their remaining games and look fantastic doing so. If that’s the matchup everyone’s dying to see, the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds could only foul it up. Or, what if those semifinal games are ungodly bad, because the 3- and 4-seeds have no business being on the field with the top two? That wouldn’t be good, either.

Just to be clear: I hope it doesn’t play out like this. I’m like a lot of other people, especially the playoff folks in Dallas. I want to see three great games at the end, and forward progress for the sport. But it’s worth considering that newfound headaches could lead everyone to regret the system change. Or maybe the angst would just move us closer to an eight-team bracket.

That’s where the Week 3 takeaways begin. They continue with my week in Lubbock, Will Muschamp taking the hot seat “honors” back from Brady Hoke, and Saturday’s breakout performances.

Razorbacks' running backs running wild

• The SEC East is a jumbled mess, as expected. Meanwhile, the SEC West’s seven teams have lost one game in total, and it was to another team in the division. Each week cements it as the best division in the sport.

[+] EnlargeAlex Collins
AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Tori EichbergerArkansas' Alex Collins racked up 212 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Texas Tech.
I watched as Arkansas, the West’s “worst” team -- the one with that sole loss -- go for 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground Saturday at Texas Tech. Arkansas had 14 rushing scores in all of 2013. With improving depth like that, who in the world would blame Texas A&M for going light in the nonconference schedule?

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How Tennessee can hang with Oklahoma 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Vols would be wise to blitz QB Trevor Knight and force OU to rely heavily on the passing game.
Tennessee has held steady at most Vegas books as a three-touchdown underdog Saturday at Oklahoma. It would clearly be a significant, ahead-of-schedule upset if the Volunteers were to win in Norman, Oklahoma.

Even UT coach Butch Jones was aware this week of Bob Stoops’ 88-5 home record. (I tried to be comforting, reminding Jones that three of the five losses have come since 2011.)

But c'mon, we've learned enough about college football to know that the unexpected is to be expected. Week 3 looks on paper like a dud, so naturally it will provide indelible games and impactful results. That’s how it goes.

For Tennessee, here's the game plan that can, at minimum, keep the Vols hanging around in the second half on the road against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Knight under center

Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight is the central character, after talking with Big 12 and SEC coaches about the game.

If Tennessee has designs on winning, or at least staying in the game, it needs to do the following where Knight is concerned:

Hit him: “Knight doesn’t like [to be hit],” a Big 12 coach told me. “He didn’t finish some games last year.”

Let’s be clear: No one is advocating trying to injure a player, not at all, but it’s significant to note that coaches still aren’t sold on Knight’s durability.

We know Knight became a darling after the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama -- but he could not finish the previous game against Oklahoma State. Backup Blake Bell entered and bailed out the Sooners with a late TD drive, the only offensive TD of the game for OU.

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Spartans' playoff hopes all but gone 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
Oregon Ducks Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon dealt a crushing blow to the playoff hopes of Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.
Fast-forward to Tuesday, Oct. 28. The first College Football Playoff rankings have just been released.

Here’s an important, precedent-setting question for the 13-person committee: Where will you have the highest-ranked Big Ten team in your top 25?

It cannot be anywhere near consideration -- surely not after Saturday, a debacle for the league that featured the first same-day losses for Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State since 1988.

This isn’t an overreaction because, simply, the conference’s best hopes just blew it in their biggest nonconference tests. The ink ran dry in their attempts at signature wins. It’s the second week in September, and there aren’t any more.

The Big Ten, barring a miracle, will miss the sport’s first playoff.

That’s where the Week 2 takeaways begin. Later, you’ll go behind the scenes of USC's and Virginia Tech’s big wins, as well as receive our weekly look at breakout players and the coaching hot seat. It’s a Hailstorm for the Victors

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Coaches size up MSU-Oregon matchup 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
Mark Helfrich, Mark DantonioUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesA trip to the inaugural College Football Playoff could be on the line in Week 2 of the season.
You have no doubted noticed this, but college football is rapidly moving toward two unofficial divisions: Tortoise and Hare. (Still beats Leaders and Legends, by the way.)

Saturday’s Michigan State and Oregon heavyweight bout presents not only a playoff-esque matchup but also an intriguing intersectional game between

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Ranking Week 1 overreactions 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Nate AndrewsTom Pennington/Getty ImagesA scare against Oklahoma State may have been just what the Florida State Seminoles needed.
It’s just one game.

That single sentence is a handy guide to avoid a very natural reaction -- which is to overreact.

There was plenty of that after Week 1. In several cases involving playoff contenders, it didn’t matter whether a team won or lost. The new playoff has made knee-jerk the preferred way to respond to any one game. Struggle, even in victory, and the court of public opinion will immediately dismiss a program from contention for the four-team field.

So to bring some order, I’ll break down whether an early reaction is fair.


1. Alabama Crimson Tide

The text I got from an SEC assistant during the second quarter of Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia on Saturday certainly caught my eye: “[Alabama] looks like every other team.”

See. Even coaches are subject to overreaction.

There are reasons for that perception, but those reasons could fade over the next few weeks.

Alabama has a new QB, a new OT, etc., but the most legit evidence of being pedestrian is at cornerback.

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LSU, other contenders will evolve 

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
Kenny HillardBob Levey/Getty ImagesKenny Hilliard ignited a Tigers ground game that gained 77 yards in the fourth quarter.
HOUSTON -- Let’s set something straight about the new College Football Playoff: The only teams in real danger of being out of contention after Week 1 are the ones that lost.

UCLA looked bad -- really bad in spots -- but it won. Ohio State missed Braxton Miller, but pulled away from Navy. FSU and Alabama were not great, either, but they won. Here in Houston, LSU had to come back from 17 down in the second half against Wisconsin, but the Tigers won.

You cannot even fully write off teams that did lose. But you particularly can’t relegate any 1-0 teams.

Evolution is a part of college football. The issues seen in Week 1 -- UCLA’s offensive line, Alabama’s corners, LSU’s youth -- could ultimately prevent those teams from making the playoff, but they could also be immediately correctable. For now, don’t exaggerate imperfection.

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