We begin this week with an “Indian Summer” day, a note on climate change, a recruiting tool, and a coach who works in the cold, cold north.
When a mid-October heat wave settled over much of the country it brought summer-like warmth to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that’s when the Wolverines eccentric coach Jim Harbaugh went into recruiting mode.
“Now we’re the new Mediterranean; a lot of coastline, and how about that out there today? Eighty-degrees out there. It is so beautiful here, it’s awesome.”
“Global warming is good for Michigan, it’s good for recruiting,” said the former Michigan QB who played under Bo Schembechler.
This weekend, let’s see which teams sweat out another close victory, and which leave its alums longing for the lazy, hazy days of summer, when the thoughts of a winning season by the alma-mater was better than an ice old beer.
No. 3 Clemson at No. 12 Florida State (Ch. 5, 8 p.m.) Both teams are coming off a bye adding to the intrigue of this defacto playoff elimination game for the “Sons of Strom Thurmond.”
The South Carolina Senator, Clemson Class of ’23, who graduated with a degree in horticulture, was a 39-year old decorated WW II officer, serving in the 82nd Airborne, and on D-Day landed a glider in the Battle of Normandy helping to liberate the town of Ste. Mere-Eglise.
Despite the preseason clippings of invincibility, in reality,s the Clemson offensive machine has sputtered more than the support for Obama’s Affordable Care Act. (Talk about an oxymoron.)
The undefeated Tigers have been living dangerously turning the ball over 16-times in its seven wins, and a whopping five in its last two. It is a recipe ripe for disaster for a team that before the season started was slotted in as a playoff participant.
Even its magical, dual-threat Heisman contender, QB Deshaun Watson (20 TDs – 8 Ints -63%) has been affected by the mysterious malaise, missing open receivers almost as often as Donald Trump stiffs another small contractor.
The “Clemson Catalyst” is assisted by struggling tailback, Wayne Gallman, and a trio of future Sunday field stretchers: Mike Williams, Ray-Ray McCloud, and tight end Jordan Leggett, who have also had their share of the dropsies.
And despite its youth, the nation’s ninth stingiest (15) D, led by backers: Ben Boulware, Kendall Joseph, and tackle Christian Wilkins (8.5 tfls – 3 sacks), has been tougher to penetrate than the penthouse which sits atop Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library in Fayetteville, and have kept the Clemson playoff drive alive.
In Tallahassee, “Tomahawk Nation” has been shakier than Ed Ames (played TV Daniel Boone) tossing his axe at the wooden cutout on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” (For you young’uns you-tube it – and listen for Carson’s classic response.)
The “Sons of Fred Biletnikoff” led by its r-s freshman QB, Deondre Francois (10 TDs -3 Ints -62%), with assists from tailback Dalvin Cook (900 yds. – 5 yds. a pop), and receivers Travis Randolph, and Jesus Wilson, are searching, like Diogenes, for a consistent identity.
The D, led by end DeMarcus Walker (10 tfls-8.5 sacks), backer Matthew Thomas, and corner Trey Marshall, have been burnt more than the toast at a local neighborhood breakfast joint, surrendering an unacceptable 28-points a game.
In the spirit of Strom, we think Clemson, in a hard fought game, eventually finds a gliding path to victory.
No. 4 Washington at No. 17 Utah (Fox Sports 1, 3:30 p.m.) Coach Chris Petersen has put the bite back into the Huskies.
UDub is riding a ten-game winning streak, and scores quicker than the time it takes a spawning Coho salmon to climb the 21-step fish ladder at Seattle’s Chittenden Locks.
The lead musher on the nation’s fourth highest scoring (48) eleven, is its Heisman contending QB Jake Browning (26 Tds-2 Ints -68%), who has surgically slices the opposition by operating as the country’s second most efficient pigskin spinner.
The peppermint-cool second-year rifleman is assisted by tailback Myles Gaskins (727 yds. – 6.3 yds-6TDs – no relation to King), along with a trio of touchdown makers; John Ross (9 TDs), who possesses Road Runner 4.25 – 40 speed, Dante Pettis (8 TDs), and Chico McClatcher (4 TDs).
The fearsome D of the “Sons of Hugh McElhenny, the nation’s sixth stingiest (14), hammers its opponents with the force of a show forging Smitty, and is anchored by end Joe Mathis (7.5 tfls – 5 sacks), backer Azeem Victor, and an All-America missile seeking safety Budda Baker.
In Salt Lake City, Kyle Whittingham’s Utes have operated as stealthy as its shadowy neighbor; the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints.
The “Chief Preacher” of this pedestrian (63rd scoring) bunch is QB Troy Williams (7 TDs-5 Ints – 55%), who gets a huge boost from his cannonball tailback, Joe Williams, who returned to the team two weeks ago (he gave up the game earlier this season due to injuries), but because the Utes tailbacks are all in sick-bay, Williams returned to help out, and his two-game presence has been dominant.
When the Salt Lake QB has his GPS in working order, he can lock onto a pair of twin-tower wideouts: Tim Patrick, 6-foot-5 (5 TDs), and his 6-foot-3 partner; Raelon Singleton.
The D of the “Sons of Larry Wilson” led by backer Sunia Tauteoli, end Hunter Dimick (9.5 tfls – 6 sacks), and safety Chase Hansen, is as tentative defending against the pass, as Hillary negotiating a set of stairs, and that’s a loser’s hand against the Huskies.
This will be Washington’s toughest test, but unlike the Keolis Commuter service, UW keeps its playoff hopes steaming on the right track.
No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin (ESPN, 7 p.m.) The Huskers are 7-0 for the first time since Stanley Kubrick’s “A Space Odyssey” year: 2001.
But as the faithful in Lincoln are well aware, its offense, with apologies to the great state of Maine; “So goes Tommy Armstrong, so goes Nebraska.”
The senior Big Red QB (11 TDs-5 Ints – 55% – 6 rushing touchdowns) does most of his damage with his legs and continues to give the Lincoln brethren a better late game magic show than a David Copperfield encore.
But the “Sons of Johnny Rodgers” suddenly finds itself hamstrung by injuries to its offensive line, as well as its steady big-play receiver Jordan (back – might play) Westerkamp.
On a positive note, the Husker running game has shown some renewed life, courtesy of tailback Terrell Newby, and if it holds up, it will at least add a rhythm section to Armstrong’s band.
On D, the “Black Shirts” featuring backer Josh Banderas, safety Nathan Gerry (7-tfls), and end Ross Dzuris (8 tfls-4.5 sacks), has some issues defending the pass (55th), but as the nation’s 14th stingiest (17 pts.), has managed to keep the “Boys of the Corn” perfect in every game.
In Madison, the “Sons of Elroy ‘Crazy Legs’ Hirsch” are facing its fifth Top – 10 ranked opponent of the season.
And despite the fact that the Badgers have more offensive (96th in scoring) issues than John Kerry attempting to use a self-checkout scanner at a Home Depot, its brilliant D is worthy of a Mensa Society acceptance.
These defensive wizards, anchored by backers; T.J. Edwards, T.J. Watt (9.5 tfls-7 sacks, JJ’s brother), and safety Leo Musso, are ninth overall, fourth in points allowed (14), and have lock downed the opposition better than the guard battalion at Guantanamo.
[Note: Wiscy’s linebacker and tackling machine Jack Cichy is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle – and his loss is significant.]
But as dynamic as the D’ performance, the offense (96th in scoring 24 pts), is as mundane as a policy discussion between Mitch McConnell, and Jeb Bush.
R-s freshman QB Alex Hornibrook (5 TDs -6 Ints – 56%) remains the starter, but his relief, Bart Houston (3 TDs – 2 Ints), has performed like Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians.
The Badgers signature ground attack, missing most of the season, is beginning to find his groove with Corey Clement, while a trio of solid chain-stretchers; tight end Troy Fumagalli, Jazz Peavy, and Robert Wheelwright, provide welcoming targets.
In a game that may determine the representative of the Big Ten West, we’ll take the “Mad-Town” Cheese Heads to drive the visitors back home in a “Red” Lincoln.
No. 10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State (Fox, Noon) With apologies to John Denver, what in the “Mountain Moma” is going on in Morgantown?
The “Rodney Dangerfield’s” of college football are 6-0 for the first time since W was struggling with the word nuclear (2006). And roll with a shut-down D, a phrasing not uttered in these parts with any seriousness, since HOF coach Don Nehlen was prowling the WV sideline.
And unlike his previous squads, Holgorsen’s offense is as balanced as; Nik Wallenda.
These “Sons of Sam Huff” are under the command of QB Skyler Howard (12 TDs- 4 Ints -66%) who has operated as quietly, and effectively, as a sniper on an Aleppo rooftop.
The silent assassin is assisted by a pair of quality tailbacks; Rushel Shell, and Justin Crawford, and a quartet of game-breakers: Daikiel Shorts, Ka’Raun White, Shelton Gibson, and Jovon Durante who have combined for; 103-grabs and 9 TDs.
The aforementioned D, the nation’s 15th stingiest (17), is anchored by backers Justin Arndt, Al-Rasheed Benton, and corner Kyzir White, and has forced more turnovers than the presidency of Suffolk University, while earning the respect of the coaches throughout the league.
In Stillwater, at “Boone Pickens U,” aka Oklahoma State, it’s homecoming for the alumni of the Cowboys.
It’s also a homecoming for West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, who was on the staff of Ok State Coach Mike Gundy (2010), before taking over the Mountaineers the following year.
But Oklahoma State, in the words of Dan Rather, is a team that is: “All hat and no cattle.”
Its offense is as unbalanced as Bogart’s “Captain Philip Francis Queeg” character in the “Caine Mutiny,” (he won the 1954 Academy Award for best actor), combined with a defense that is as porous as the Iraqi Army without US air support.
QB Mason Rudolph (14 TDs – 2 Ints – 62%) with assists from wideouts; James Washington, Jalen Mccleskey, and Jhajuan Seales (a combined; 96 catches – 13 TDs) is the Stillwater bombardier, who puts more balls in play, than Chrissie Evert. But that’s the Pokes only option for success, as its ground game bottoms out with a 99th muckraking ranking.
But what makes the Big-12 unwatchable, (at least from our football purist eye), is the flag-football aspect of a league, where 70-combined points is the norm for a single half, and Ok State, fits that profile like a finely tailored Joseph Abboud suit.
The Cowboys D, with apologies to the ’85 Bears, (104th overall, 82nd against the run, 106th defending the pass) is led by backers Devante Averette, Jordan Burton (13 tfls), and safety Jordan Sterns, displaying numbers not seen since; George McGovern faced Richard Nixon in 1972. (Massachusetts was the only state poor Ol’ George captured; hence the classic bumper sticker: Nixon 49 – America 1).
All that said, there does remain a Dangerfield quality to these Mountaineers, but respect, or not, we’re going with the “Mountain Momas” to carry the day by walking, running, and passing down a country road.
No.13 Boise State at Wyoming (CBSS, 7 p.m.) The Blue-Field turf monsters are like the swallows returning to Capistrano, always firmly perched in the rankings.
The unblemished Broncos are under the command of Boise’s next great gunslinger, QB Brett Rypien (15 TDs – 5 ints – 62%) who gets a huge assist from the nation’s sixth ranking road-grader Jeremy McNichols (915 yds. – 12 TDs) who is also explosive catching passes (4 TDs) out of the backfield.
When the Boise dart-thrower goes aerial, touchdown makers Thomas Sperbeck (7 TDs), and his partner Cedrick Wilson (6 – TDs), are comforting targets.
The D anchored by the backing threesome; Ben Weaver, Tanner Vallejo, and Darren Lee isn’t vintage, but has been stouter in the red zone than sweater-wearing Ken Bone, surrendering a respectable 20-points a game.
In Laramie, after enduring a pair of rebuilding seasons, Coach Craig Bohl of North Dakota Bison fame, has his Cowboys once again lassoing its way to victories.
Wyoming has done it almost exclusively with a prairie turning ground assault, because its aerial attack featuring QB Josh Allen (10 TDs – 6 Ints -58%) has been drier (102nd) than the Ipswich River.
The diesel driving the Cowboys wagon train is tailback Brian Hill (1010 yds -11 Tds), the nation’s second ranked rusher, who plows under an opponent with the same animosity as Gore Vidal toward William F. Buckley, or Bobby Kennedy toward Herbert Hoover. (Read: “Collision Course.”)
The D, featuring safety Andrew Wingard (he leads the team in tackles), end Carl Granderson (6 tfls-4 sacks), and backer Lucas Wacha, has struggled like the Egyptian Tourism Bureau defending (123rd) the pass, which is a losing proposition against the Boys from Boise, who remain in the hunt for a New Year’s Day bowl invite.
Last week: 4-1 Season record: 24-16.
That’s it from cyber-space. We’ll be up and running with our recap by Sunday a 1 p.m. Until then, Peace, and listen to the music. pk