Dale Earnhardt’s pit crew (associated press photo)
We begin the weekend before our national Thanksgiving celebration with a bunch of former college football players, a pit crew, and a NASCAR retiring superstar.
It turns out that Hendrick Motorsports employs some fourteen former college football players to work as members of the pit crews for its various drivers including Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.
One of those guys is Earnhardt’s pit crew “quarterback” or rear tire changer, Rowdy Harrrell who won three national championships as a walk-on linebacker with Nick Saban 2009, ’11, and ’12 at Alabama.
Another is “jack man” Nick Covey, an oft-injured backer at Nebraska, who said, “Now we’ve all been given something all athletes dream of, right? A second chance to compete for championships.”
This weekend, let’s see which teams drive its alums batty with another flat-tire performance, and which zoom over and around its opponent, leaving them in the distant rear view mirror.
No. 19 Michigan at No. 5 Wisconsin (FOX, Noon) If one can envision the Michigan football team as a tube of toothpaste, then Coach Jim Harbaugh has successfully squeezed about as much out of his young Wolverines as is humanely possible.
Jim and brother John Harbaugh (associated press photo)
But that doesn’t make the task of journeying to Camp Randall for the first time since 2009, and facing the undefeated and defensive dominate Badgers of Wisconsin, any less Herculean. Especially when one factors in the fact that Michigan hasn’t defeated a ranked team away from the Big House since midway through W’s second term-2006, or beaten a team with a winning record this season.
As the Ann Arbor faithful are well aware, its beloved Blue has been hamstrung by a “Jurassic-like” offense (ranked 94th) which only recently has displayed some third-rail like sparks with the insertion of sophomore QB Brandon Peters (4 TDs – 0 picks – 60%) under center.
The newbie relies heavily on the pounding of its tailback tandem; Karan Higdon (ankle), and his partner Chris Evans, who have combined for 1423-yards and 16 TDs. And when he takes to the skies over the Big House, a pair of goliath-sized tight ends; Sean McKeon (6-foot-5, 248 pounds), and his partner Zach Gentry (6-foot-7, 250), have morphed into comforting chain-moving targets.
But if its offense more closely resembles an inedible $10 steak, its D is a 5-star 100-day dry aged cut of prime.
The nation’s ninth stingiest (16 pts.) eleven, and third ranked overall, directed by its defensive maestro coordinator Don Brown, the former headman at Northeastern and UMass, features tackle Maurice Hurst (12.5 tfls – 4.5 sacks), end Chase Winovich (14 tfls – 7 sacks), and backer Devin Bush, and is harder to penetrate than the off-shore accounts of Robert Kraft or Apple Inc.
In Madison, Wisconsin sits an Elle McPherson perfect “10” (10-0), for the first time in the history of the program.
Wisconsin Heisman contender tailback Jonathan Taylor (associated press)
The Camp Randall offensive igniter and tone setter, is its freshman All-America caliber, and Heisman contending tailback Jonathan Taylor (1525-yards – 7 yds. a pop – 12 TDs) who slithers through a line better than Mick Jagger sliding past a velvet rope of a VIP room, while rumbling as the country’s third most effective earth mover.
The commander of the entire operation is QB Alex Hornibrook (17 TDs – 12 Ints – 64%) who as the faithful are well aware has become a one man turnover machine, but thanks to Wiscy’s steel curtain D, that turnover barrage hasn’t been as damaging as it would likely be for most teams.
And because of a rash of injuries, his principles in the receiving corps are tight end Troy Fumagalli, and wideout Danny Davis.
And that elite defensive eleven, directed by its former star All-Big Ten safety Jim Leonhard, displays numbers that would make a “Tiger Mom’s” drool.
These “Sons of J.J. Watt,” the nation’s third stingiest (13), and anchored by the linebacking trio; Garrett Dooley (9.5 tfls-6.5 sacks), T.J. Edwards, and Leon Jacobs, rank No. 1 overall, are tops in stoning runners (81 yds. a game), seventh deflating passes, in a dominating fashion not seen since the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War.
In Mad-Town, we think the Wolverines road-warrior woes continue, as the Badgers, with our pal “Tucker” from Dorchester looking on from the stands, continues on in its tour of perfection.
Harvard at Yale – “The Game” (CNBC, 12:30 p.m.) This is the 134th renewal of “The Game” between these POTUS producing universities, and one time football powers, making it the third longest continuously played rivalry in America.
Harvard Coach Tim Murphy (associated press photo)
This has been an uncharacteristically unbalanced season (5-4) for the “Veritas Boys” of the Cambridge gridiron, especially on the offensive side, and it will end Coach Tim Murphy’s remarkable 16-year streak (which includes 3-undefeated teams) of notching at least seven victories a season.
One of the primary factors has been the Crimson’s inconsistent performance by its QB’s, which under Coach Murph, is usually as solid and steady as Belichick and Brady, or Marty Walsh and Charlie Baker.
Neither freshman QB Jake Smith, who has thrown 4 more interceptions than touchdowns (5TDs -9 Ints – 56%), nor senior Joe Viviano (3 TDs -1 Int -55%), has been consistent enough to firmly grab-ahold onto the job.
On the ground, the Crimson churn the turf behind its relentless fireplug (5-foot-9, 200 pounds) tailback Charlie Booker (733 –rushing yards – 6 TDs), and when either signal caller is able to make a connection; wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley, and Henry Taylor have developed into quality chain movers.
On D, the “Sons of Endicott Peabody” anchored by backer Luke Hutton, safety Tanner Lee, and corner Raishaun McGhee has some issues defending against the pass, which isn’t the best recipe versus the Blue from New Haven.
The Elis (8-1) already possess a share of the Ivy League Title ending the longest title drought (11-years) in school history.
And if the Yalies, who have won five in a row, are able to defeat its “River Charles” rival, it will own the title outright, as well as a two-game winning streak against “The Johns.”
Yale QB Kurt Rawlings (associated press photo)
The Bulldogs high flying (6th overall) offense, is under the command of QB Kurt Rawlings (18 TDs – 5 Ints – 67%), who hits his target almost as as well as David Swensen, Yale’s highly regarded chief endowment money manager brings home the cash.
The New Haven dart thrower is assisted by his bell-cow 1000-yard tailback Zane Dudek (14 TDs), and lasers onto a pair of field-stretching receivers; Jaeden Graham, and Christopher Williams Lopez.
On D, these “Sons of Gary Fencik,” the nation’s ninth stingiest (17), anchored by its captain corner Spencer Rymiszewski, safety Hayden Carlson, and backer Matthew Oplinger (12.5 tfls-9.5 sacks) inhale runners, but have some fissures (88th) defending the pass, which shouldn’t hurt that much against Harvard.
With the outright Ivy title resting on the outcome, and with “The Game” being showcased in the iconic Yale Bowl, we think it’s “Boola, Boola” time for the home team, as the Bulldogs march off with the trophy to the strains of; Bulldog, bulldog, bow-wow-wow, Eli Yale!
UCLA at No. 12 USC (Ch.5, 8 p.m.) In the 87th meeting between these cross-town rivals, the pitchforks are out, as the UCLA Westwood natives are restless.
Last week a plane was hired to fly over the Rose Bowl dragging a banner which read: “No Mora” in reference to Jim Mora’s recent record as the headman of the Bruins, who at 5-5 need to scratch out one more victory for bowl eligibility.
The formula of success for the “Sons of Gary Beban,” (averaging 8-penalties and 2-turnovers a game), is simpler than the square root of 9; so goes its future Sunday showman, QB Josh Rosen (21 TDs -9 Ints – 62%), so go the Bruins of UCLA.
UCLA QB Josh Rosen (associated press photo)
The leather-tough gunslinger has the luxury of choosing from a committee of targets led by Darren Andrews (10-TDs), and Jordan Lasley, but has been hampered by a ground assault (105th), that only marginally flashes to life behind tailbacks Bolu Olorunfunmi, and Soso Jamabo.
The Bruins muck-raking (123rd) D, has been the albatross, or as former Mayor Tom Menino used to say the “Alcatraz,” that has kept UCLA locked in the basement of the Bates Motel. Its overall performance has been so debasing it almost makes Steve Bannon seem like a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” ALMOST!
These “tackling matadors” featuring backer Kenny Young, corner Krys Barnes, and safety Adarin Pickett surrender a jaw-dropping average of 38-points a game, and display more gaping holes than the recently liberated city of Al-Qaim, the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq.
USC has already captured Pac 12 South earning a spot in the conference championship game, but these Men of Troy have another mission in mind, it wants to have its first 10-win regular season since the Lane Kiffin year of 2011.
USC QB Sam Darnold (associated press photo)
The Trojans tone setter is its gunslinging blond bomber, QB Sam Darnold (24 TDs- 11 Ints – 63%), and despite his numerous turnovers has for the most part managed to keep USC on track.
He also gets a huge assist from his All-America caliber, and turbo-charged tailback Ronald Jones (1224-yards – 6.7 yds. a carry – 14 TDs) who deserves some Heisman love, and when he goes aerial chooses from a quartet of targets; led by Deontay Burnett (9 TDs), and Michael Pittman.
The D featuring backer Cameron Smith (8 tfls), end Rasheen Green (10.5 tfls – 8 sacks), and tackle Christian Rector (11.5 tfls-7.5 sacks) isn’t as weak as the candidacy of Alabama’s Roy Moore, but has enough holes (71st overall – 80 defending the pass) to keep USC’s offense on constant high alert mode.
I know it’s a cliché, but in a rivalry of this intensity, records should be shredded like Russia WikiLeaks correspondence during the Trump campaign.
Bottom line, USC has the better fight-song, the better cheerleaders, and ultimately the better team as its faithful are serenaded with the strains of: “Fight On, for ol’ SC!” as the Men of Troy capture that precious regular season ten-spot of victories.
Navy at No. 9 Notre Dame (NBC, 3:30 p.m.) In the 91st renewal of the longest continuous intersectional rivalry in America, these triple-option mavens, AKA the Midshipmen of Navy, have won 32 of its last 43, and will be bowling for its sixth consecutive season, and fourteenth time in its last fifteen campaigns.
Navy Coach ken Niumataldo (associated press photo)
Coach Ken Niumataldo has done an “admiral-worthy” job, but as the Middies, who lead the nation in rushing (averaging 369 – yards a game), get ready to set sail for South Bend they find themselves faced with a quarterback dilemma.
After last week’s near record performance by QB Malcolm Perry, who was inserted from his slot-back position to replace injured starter Zach Abey (1202-rushing yards, 13 TDs), it seemed Navy was in a good spot until the word came down that Perry is out with a severe ankle sprain.
The Navy headman must now decide between the talented Abey, who is nursing a sore shoulder, or the less dynamic, but healthy backup Garret Lewis. The Navy coach intimated that a decision may not be made until the Middies take the field on Saturday afternoon.
On D, the Blue and Gold behind backers D.J. Palmore (10.5 tfls -2.5 sacks), Micah Thomas, and safety Sean Williams (out first half-targeting penalty) is leakier (78th – allowing 30-points a game) than the rust-bucket USS Caine, the fabled Pacific minesweeper from the movie classic; “The Caine Mutiny.”
In “Domer-land” Touchdown Jesus and its faithful are hoping that last week’s impersonating performance of the “Frightful Irish” – (courtesy S. Price) was something as rare as the sighting of a Melania Trump smile.
And for its sake, it had better be, or the entire Irish season will be for “knot.” (Navy theme.)
Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams (associated press)
These “Sons of Terry Hanratty” roll as the nation’s sixth best earth movers (303-yds a game) directed by its QB Brandon Wimbush (12 TDs-4 Ints – 51% – 663 rushing – 13 TDs), and assisted by his All-America caliber tailback Josh Adams (1231-yards, 8 yds. a pop – 9 TDs) who form one of the best duos since Sonny and Cher.
When ND’s signal caller is able to hone in; wideouts Chase Claypool, Equanimeous St. Brown, and tight end Dunbar Smythe are quality field-stretchers.
On D, these “Sons of Alan Page” anchored by backers Te’Von Coney (11 tfls – 3 sacks), Nyles Morgan, and Drue Tranquill are in the pedestrian category, and won’t cause any sleepless nights for the opposition’s offensive coordinators.
It’s never easy facing a team that specializes in the triple-option, but eventually ND pulls away, ultimately buries the “Frightful Irish” moniker, and raises its sails cruising out of South Bend with its ninth victory of the season in tow.
Boston College vs UConn (Fenway Park, 7 p.m.) This week’s college football schedule hits its annual pre-rivalry breather as the heavyweights (Alabama is playing Mercer, Auburn vs La. Monroe, and Clemson vs Citadel) are simply taking the week off.
BC Coach Steve Addazio (associated press)
So in that spirit, we thought we’d shine a spotlight on the “Fighting Addazio’s” of Chestnut Hill AKA the Eagles of Boston College, who are a skinny victory away from earning that much sought after status of “bowl eligibility” with the added “eggnog” attraction of suiting up in Fenway Park a treat for the kids on both teams.
After losing its starting QB Anthony Brown (knee) for the remainder of the season, these “Sons of Mike Holovak” who are 103rd in scoring (23-points), will roll the bones behind its junior lefty Darius Wade, who at times has thrown the ball like Michelangelo’s masterpiece; Venus de Milo.
Luckily, he can lean on one of the ACC’s best, in t-freshman tailback A.J Dillion (1039-yards – 8 TDs) whose running style more closely resembles one of the bulls storming through the streets of Pamplona.
If Wade’s GPS is in working order, an occurrence that doesn’t happen all that often, wideouts Kobay White, Tommy Sweeney, and Jeff Smith, are solid, if not dynamic targets.
On D, these “Sons of Jimmy Cotter” anchored by backer Ty Schawb (7 tfls-4 sacks), end Zach Allen (10 tfls-4 sacks), and corner Will Harris (All-America end Harold Landry ankle remains questionable), has issues slowing he run (112th), but has managed to stiffen in the red zone keeping the gritty Eagles in almost every game.
UConn Coach Randy Edsall (associated press)
The poet was wrong; “You can go home again,” as Huskies coach Randy Edsall has proven by his return to the sidelines in Storrs, although with the Huskies resting at 3-7, you might want to ask the question; Why?
UConn also has injury issues at the quarterback, and David Pindell has been given the job for the remainder of the season, piloting an offense that sits 93rd in scoring averaging a miniscule 24 points a game.
Tailbacks Kevin Mensah, and Nate Hopkins are the principles of a muck filled (93rd) ground attack, while wideouts Quayvon Skanes, Traiq Beals, and Aaron Mclean are quality and dangerous targets.
On D of these “Sons of Booth Lusteg” featuring backers Junior Joseph, Vontae Diggs, and corner Tyler Coyle are a Harvey Weinstein embarrassing 128 overall, allowing an eye-popping average of 39-points a game. Yikes!
As Mr. Rodgers might ask on “Sesame Street,” Can you say pathetic?”
But as the Eagle faithful are well aware, in games that BC is expected to win comfortably, it has a disturbing tendency to almost always end up in a dog-fight.
We don’t think that happens this time, as the Eagles notch that sixth win, and punches its ticket for a holiday afternoon of bowling.
Last week: 3-2
Season record: 38-17.
That’s it from cyber-space. We’ll be up and running with our recap Sunday afternoon. Until then, Peace, and listen to the music. pk