Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and (sometimes) what to drink while doing it. This week: #wereback
The calendar says it’s time to give thanks. Given the state of our respective college football teams—Michigan State is 3-8 and Oregon is 4-7—it might be a little hard to find thanks to give this particular season. That, combined with a state of near-total status quo in the standings that finds Michigan and Ohio State again dominating the Big Ten, Alabama seemingly on its way to another joyless national title game and Baylor’s weekly demolition of the importance of consent, makes the sport a little less loveable this year.
Despite that, I’m bound and determined to find a few things to be grateful for about the 2016 college football season to this point. Let’s recount them:
Ohio State-Michigan. Yes, you’ll have to sit through hours of aging CTE cases blathering on about noted physical abuser Woody Hayes and that neck gobbling asshole Bo Schembechler (who never won a title AND fired Ernie Harwell when he took over the Detroit Tigers for a brief period in the ‘90s), but at the end of the day, somebody will lose. One of these sanctimonious, partial-qualifier admitting “academic” powerhouse fart-huffing fanbases will watch their playoff hopes choke and die in the Horseshoe in Columbus. Let’s give thanks for that.
USC is back. An 8-3 and coming Trojan team is actually a good thing for USC haters, as well, because again you’re jihading against an actual power and not just a fading empire. For West Coast football fans, it’s a godsend: without competent USC (and, to a lesser extent, UO) football, nothing else draws the national spotlight. Every accomplishment—from Washington to San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey’s run at a Doak Walker and darkhorse Heisman bid—is enhanced by the success of the Men of Troy. Good USC football makes UCLA relevant, makes Southern California, greater California, the West Coast and the West in general relevant to the sport’s conversation. Like it or not, nobody else can move the needle like the Trojans do when ABC pans down from the San Gabriels and into the Coliseum. It’s good for the gander.
Western Michigan. Whether the 11-0 Bronco football team’s train ride ends Friday against Toledo, a team they’ve always struggled against, or keeps rolling into the Cotton Bowl, I’m happy to say that I’ve been adjacent to the season’s most heartwarming story. It’s been fun—actual, sincere fun—to see my hometown school and dad’s alma mater in the national spotlight. Whether you come for P.J. Fleck, their lightning-in-a-bottle batshit crazy coach, or the narrative that even small, regional schools in small, regional leagues still have a place in this rapidly stratifying sport, it’s been enjoyable.
Texas Football Sucks. Texas sucks. Texas A&M sorta sucks and definitely sucks more than they were expected to. Baylor sucks in the most righteous way imaginable. TCU sucks. SMU never stopped sucking even when they purposefully tried to be good at football again. Texas Tech sucks. Houston is OK but I’m alright with that because they upend the rural plantation model of success that permeates the rest of the oil-money soaked institutions in that state. This all feels cosmic and right to me, and for that I give thanks and will hope the Cowboys catch an ass-kicking Thursday at the hands of Kirk Cousins.
AJ, I’ll have picks in UM-OSU, Toledo-WMU, the Iron Bowl and Florida-Florida State on the turn.
Thanks for bringing me back around. It’s been a rough couple weeks with some personal stuff going on on top of the election (or is it the other way around?) and while I have to say I can usually count on college football to bring me out of all sorta funks, this fall has definitely been a challenge and the exception to that.
I am currently in the midst of figuring out whether college football for me is going the way of the NFL. It is well chronicled on this site and in this column the slow then sudden break-up with professional football and now it’s to the point where I avoid it when it’s on. In spite of the giant animated robots on the cutaways, the product is sloppy, poorly presented and not at all entertaining.
My eyes aren’t as jaundiced when it comes to the college game and I have all kinds of rationalizations around that. The players don’t hit as hard. Some programs, the smaller ones especially (your Western Michigan comes to mind) can groom homegrown talent and have dinner banquets at the local buffet and make a town turn out with pride all in the name of parity and love for the game and in spite of all the Dabos and Urbans and Jimbos out there. And, well, that still makes me feel pretty darn good.
But then I think about it more, especially in the context of the marketing juggernaut that was Oregon—currently in the midst of its best Shrinky Dink impression this season—and I wonder if there is much love left in the game, or if it’s all just a money maker that leaves more than half its players without degrees, fewer than two percent with realistic prospects of making a living doing it and the other 40-something percent who get that “free” diplomas unaware that they will be paying for till the end of their lives. (Then again, that’s still better than most student loans.)
Of course, the big catchphrase these days is not any one group is monolithic and I know plenty of guys who enjoyed middling to spectacular collegiate careers and did so knowing exactly what the short- and long-term challenges and dangers would be. To a person they would all do it again, 1,000 times over. They would trade in any night out or work bonus or bro trip just to take the field one more time with their guys. There’s something about that that should stick with me, I guess. The reality and the finality for most of the seniors this week is this is the last time they will get to be on a team of that stature. Pharmaceutical sales doesn’t quite measure up. And that means something, no?
And not to get too existential about it, but that’s kind of what we try to capture here, really? Isn’t it? If someone asked me what I would give to be back in a functioning newsroom again—in spite of the long hours and low to no pay and daily grind chasing elected officials around and poring through 500-page EIRS and waiting by the phone to ring for that one quote to come through three minutes before deadline while the old-coffee-smelling copy editor hangs over my shoulder breathing heavily and shaking his little canister of desk Tums—I would do it in a second.
Sometimes we love what’s worst for us for a reason.
And so, in the spirit of the season, I too will give thanks for the following:
Oregon’s disaster season: I’m not sure whether Mark Helfrich saved his job with maybe the most signature win of his tenure last week on the road in Utah. And I’m not sure that matters. Oregon has been outshined and outclassed in recruiting for a solid half-decade now and that includes, Kyle, the aforementioned LA schools plus Cal, Stanford, the Washington schools and even the erstwhile stepchildren of the expanded league Colorado and Utah—both look to be top-20 programs for the foreseeable future. There is talk of Uncle Phil kicking down $10 mil/season to cherry pick some top coaching talent. But really, beyond Saban, who would that be? And more importantly—why? If anything, the Oregon media’s call for the Ducks to make a big splash in the off-season is the wrong one. Alex Molden, a former Duck corner and first-round pick, has an Oregon-raised son Elijah who just committed …to UW. So that’s the state of things with the program. My hope is that Justin Wilcox returns to Eugene where he was raised as the youngest son of the family that’s closest to a football dynasty the state has. Wilcox has done an incredible job with Wisconsin’s defense and could come or perhaps only $3 million a year. Bargain. Oregon needs its defense back and it needs homegrown recruits to stay Ducks. .500 seasons to ensue? Sure, why not? Let Eugene heal and let the shattered slipper get swept away. Let it become Kalamazoo bathed in patchouli once more. And let the vacated mega press box space at Autzen be used for Saturday morning yoga class. Om.
Doctors and nurses: I alluded to a little personal emergency above and while this space is not the place for full exposition, I would be remiss if I did not express thanks to the men and women who will be eating their turkey off a paper plate straight out of the hospital breakroom microwave this Thanksgiving—I’m looking at you acute pediatrics unit at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. They will not be at their family’s table because they are too busy checking vitals, taking blood, looking at CT scans, making rounds and helping all those who have had a little too much or a little too little who come into the ER. Those of us who are lucky enough take for granted our health to instead focus more on whatever creature comforts or sins in moderation that keep us happy do not often consider these folks who answered the most important call of all. Until, of course, we need them. When something does happen and you end up under their care you realize, quickly, how dedicated, talented and actually really funny these individuals are. I also want to say that it doesn’t matter what shade your skin is or what god you worship or what language you speak or what part of the world you are originally from in a hospital. Whether you’re a patient or an expert hand, in a setting that is distilled down to putting basic human needs first, we are all the same.
And I am, most of all, thankful for having recently been reminded of that.
Second first tier West Coast rivalry action on the other side: The Apple Cup, Utah/Colorado and Nevada/UNLV on the other side to take us home.
Let’s get to the main course.
Toledo +9.5 @ Western Michigan
This should be solid #Maction for turkey sandwich day. The weather will probably suck in Kalamazoo, which will push the Broncos into their run game, which is worse than their passing game but in a way that it’s actually just their second-best competency. Running back Jarvion Franklin hasn’t been the explosive rusher in November that he was earlier this year, but coach PJ Fleck is finding him more in the passing game with five catches last week and a touchdown. I’d look for a steady diet of Western’s short game, which will prohibit them from running away with it. Toledo’s defense should also have a hand in that—the Rockets hold opponents to 31 percent on third-down conversions and haven’t given up more than 31 points in their last five contests. The weather should be rainy and in the high 30s, so don’t look for a lot of movement up and down the field.
Auburn @ Alabama -18.5
Figuring out Auburn is like figuring out your most manic family member. Are you getting the brilliant conversationalist who can rap about your favorite movies, rag on your brother and sister, and wax poetic about those early 00s Cincy teams who Huggy just rolled the balls out to? Or are you getting the argumentative ass with the blackest of black moods who calls to notify the host they won’t be attending just as you’re killing off the last appetizer? Auburn is that guy. Marquee wins include an 18-13 stand-in-the-middle-of-the-ring-and-trade-blows knockdown against LSU and a 40-29 Big 12 sim against Ole Miss. They also include losses at the hands of every other respectable program on the schedule–A&M, Clemson, a 55-3 laugher to Arkansas and a close loss at Georgia. I’d expect the 8-3 Tigers to phone in the Iron Bowl at Bryant-Denny against the NFL’s 32nd franchise.
Michigan @ Ohio State -7.5
Michigan harbors two dirty-ish secrets I think Ohio State will exploit.
The Wolverine passing defense breaks infrequently but catastrophically.
Michigan’s red zone defense is pedestrian.
Ohio State’s JT Barrett will be facing down a pass defense that allows 13.7 yards per catch, mainly on yards after catch. While they hold opposing QBs under 50 percent completion percentages by-and-large, when those signal-callers get the time they need to unleash they can generally find a target with room to run. Secondly, Barrett and the OSU offense are no ‘mindless rabble of orcs’ in the parlance of Gandalf. Michigan allows opponents to score on nearly 70 percent of their trips to the red zone, 42 percent of which turn into touchdowns, as opposed to 30 for the Bucks. You can’t give a team with this many players who have been in big games the chance to finish, because they will. OSU covers.
Florida @ Florida State -8
I have no basis for this pick besides the fact that FSU is 3-3 ATS in Tallahassee and the Gators are 1-3 ATS on the road. Go ‘Noles!
Pass the stuffing.
Washington State +6 vs Washington
Who would have ever thought that the road to the Pac-12 North title and an outside shot at the college playoff would roll through Pullman? Well, Mike Leach for one. The savant coach who first gained national exposure in a flourish with Texas Tech’s revolutionary Air Raid offense left the Lubbock in a whirlwind of controversy as he was fired on the eve of an Alamo Bowl appearance for allegedly mishandling a player with a concussion. The outspoken Leach denied any wrongdoing and the school never substantiated the claims. Texas Tech faded back into oblivion and Leach was sequestered to the hinterlands of the West Coast, where all embattled coaches seem to end up. I call it Manifest Destiny. Fast forward a few good recruiting classes and buy-in from the Cougar faithful and Leach is back on top. Wazzu (8-3, 7-1) will face the Chris Peterson-coached Washington Huskies (10-1, 7-1) Friday. Winner goes to the Pac-12 Championship Game to likely meet Colorado. And let’s pause on that for a second: Washington/Colorado …sure does feel a lot like 20 years ago. For the Huskies a decisive victory on Friday plus a win against Colorado puts them back in the fourth hole for a college playoff spot. For the Cougs, it’s about proving the program’s newfound legitimacy, and, well, pouncing on their rival. While both Petersen and Leach put their players off limits to the media this week, that hasn’t ebbed the buzz about the battle of the quarterbacks. Washington State’s junior under center Luke Falk (a Logan, Utah product) has mastered Leach’s system and is the best in the nation for completions per game (34.6) and completion percentage (71.4). Washington’s Jake Browning meantime leads the conference with 37 touchdown passes and has a ridiculous passing efficiency rating with 180.7. Falk has Gabe Marks to throw to (he’s the Pac-12’s career leader with 301 receptions) and Dante Pettis on the other side who thus far has assembled a quartet of 100-yard receiving games this season. The Huskies counter Wazzu’s air attack with a running game featuring Myles Gaskin, one of the elite running backs in the conference, who keeps Washington in the conference’s top two with time of possession. This ball-handling ability is especially important in that it keeps the Huskies’ defense, maybe the best this side of Tuscaloosa, rested and ready to go. The Huskies’ D-ends can pass rush every down without having to blitz and their DBs are NFL-ready. The Cougars, led by defensive end Hercules Mata’afa (go ahead, say it “Hercules, Hercules”) are first in the Pac-12 against the run, allowing 129.7 yards per game. WSU also got back senior nose tackle Robert Barber last week which should shrink up any holes on the line. Washington’s secondary had not been tested till they met up with Sam Darnold and USC a few weeks back. The results did not go down in the Huskies’ favor and I think that was predictive in Washington State’s favor. Though the Huskies may prevail in Pullman, I think Wazzu keeps it a one-possession game and something for you to nosh on as you crack open the fridge Friday afternoon to reveal all its blessings.
Final Prediction: Washington 33, Washington State 28
Utah +12 @ Colorado
If the ninth-ranked Buffaloes (9-2, 7-1) can beat No. 21 Utah and remain undefeated at home Saturday they will win the Pac-12 South outright. Remember, Colorado finished 1-8 in conference play last year. Trojan nation, however, will be rooting for Utah (8-3, 5-3) to play spoiler as a Utes win puts the USC (7-2 in conference play with the tiebreaker over the Buffs) in the Pac-12 title game. After years of struggle against ranked opponents (23 consecutive losses) there is recent precedent that Colorado can pull it off as the Buffs were able to quiet Washington State in the air and get its own offense going in a 38-24 victory last Saturday. Utah’s fates swung mightily from occupying the pole to take the league’s southern division to losing on a last-second corner end zone touchdown toss to heavy underdog Oregon at home last week. Now it’s Utah’s turn to play spoiler. Both schools, it should be noted, have been the undercard matchups since entering the league in 2011 and the final game, “The Rumble in the Rockies/Wasatch(?)” has been something of an afterthought. No more. The Buffaloes’ offense led by senior QB Sefo Liufau has been lethal when Liufau is healthy. He became the second player in school history to throw for 300 and run for 100 against Wazzu so he seems to be dropping it into fifth just in time. Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay (1,051 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, the latter leads the conference) balances the Buffaloes attack. Colorado is a staggering +8 in turnover margin this season thanks in large part to eyes on Sundays linebacker Jimmie Gilbert who has forced five fumbles. Utah’s NFL-ready defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei and Marcus Williams, a potential first-round pick at free safety, however is a defensive package the likes of which Colorado hasn’t yet faced this season. It will be the Utes’ stingy defense and the steady play of quarterback Troy Williams (14 touchdowns/5 ints) that should keep the Utes competitive and, once more, down to a single possession game in Boulder. Though it will be closer than the spread, I see Colorado solidifying themselves as the class of the league’s southern division to set up that UW/Colorado throwback championship game.
Final prediction: Colorado 37, Utah 29
UNLV +7 vs. Nevada
Call this the disappointment bowl for the Battle Born states. Both Nevada and UNLV had high hopes entering the season with solid recruiting classes and new-look offenses. Of course, as in all things Nevada, many best-laid plans vanish with the roll of the dice or the flick of the wrist. Both schools are 4-7 with Nevada being the better squad that has gotten the worse breaks. After a win over Fresno State Oct. 8, the Wolf Pack dropped four straight to San Jose State, Wyoming, New Mexico and San Diego State…before getting some groove back at home vs. Utah State last weekend. UNLV hasn’t fared much better in November. A triple-OT win against Wyoming at home was signature for the season, but soon to follow were a rash of injuries and consecutive losses to Colorado State, San Jose State and Boise State. It’s important to note they failed to cover those games as well. UNLV QB Kurt Palandech showed he’s much more effective with his ground game in the loss to the Broncos and the rest of the Rebs’ rushing attack, Xzaviar Campbell and Charles Williams are also liable to have big games against a depleted Wolf Pack defense. Nevada quarterback Ty Gangi (13-of-26 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown) vs. Utah State has been serviceable if not a little lackluster. Though running back James Butler, who lead the team in receptions with 52 years as well as 119 yards on 26 carries, could prove to be a factor in this game that portends to be won in the trenches. Indeed it’s going to be one of those 10-7 type days at Sam Boyd Stadium, all in prep for the always-legendary Las Vegas Bowl in late-December.
Final Prediction: Nevada 10, UNLV 7
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you’re traveling, travel safe and be patient. Be kind to your loved ones, even if they’re total
alt-right white (meat) supremacist wack-jobs …and enjoy those leftovers.
Last Week: 2 and 2
Overall: 17 for 35
Toledo +9.5 @ Western Michigan
Auburn @ Alabama -18.5
Michigan @ Ohio State -7.5
Florida @ Florida State -8
Last Week: 1 for 3
Overall: 22 for 40
Washington State +6 vs Washington
Utah +12 @ Colorado
UNLV +7 vs. Nevada