Sam Burnham, Curator
I detest preseason polls and most preseason predictions. Getting too specific in choosing a champion or four particular playoff teams strikes me as hubris. I look at how many times the preseason #1 has fallen, sometimes completely out of the poll compared to how infrequently that chosen favorite has lived up to the expectations and won the title.
But discussing possibilities and predictions can be fun and the allure can be hard to resist. The trick is to not get silly or predictable with it. It is easy to say you are going to pick your playoff teams and then put Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon in a hat to draw out 4 names. That surprises no one. It's predictable. But one thing fans love about college football is that it is unpredictable. Something crazy is bound to happen.
There are teams in each conference who will likely play a major role in the way this season plays out. While writers, TV personalities, radio call-in show hosts, and other specialists are focusing on Bama, UGA, Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma, I would like to point out the others, the upsets, the spoilers, the dark horses, those who can make a difference in one of the favorites making or missing the playoffs.
This conference in general is a dark horse. With the talk mostly circling around the SEC and the Big Ten, the ACC is being left in the shadows. Back in the 1980's, The conference was not a collegiate football powerhouse. The football season consisted of Clemson and some basketball schools. Occasionally Georgia Tech or another school might have a decent or even a strong year. But the only consistent power was Clemson. In the 1990's, Florida State joined up, Clemson seemed to falter a bit and the one team scenario continued. But expansion brought in Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Louisville. With two divisions and a championship game, the ACC took on a new importance.
While Clemson is the obvious favorite, they aren't going to go unchallenged.
Mark Richt has resurrected his alma mater's program and I expect the Hurricanes to be competitive for the ACC title this year.
With Florida State and Virginia Tech opening the season facing each other, the ACC will have an early jockeying for position in the dark horse race. Justin Fuente is going to have the Hokies ready. With Willie Taggart getting an opportunity with his dream job, he's going to want to make a strong first impression as well.
North Carolina State always hangs around. They usually disappoint the faithful before the season ends but not before messing things up for another contender. Head Coach Dave Doeren's staff has been hard at work strengthening the Wolfpack depth chart. If they have been successful, this could be the difference between playing spoiler and becoming an actual contender.
Don't write Clemson in ink yet, but pencil them in.
The talk in the conference is, understandably, all about Bama and UGA. If I just go with my gut, that's who you'll see in Atlanta, and perhaps at Levi's Stadium in January. But the ball bounces funny.
Jeremy Pruitt comes into Knoxville for his first head coaching assignment. No one can argue that he is one of the finest defensive minds in college football. His work as DC at Georgia and Alabama speaks for itself. But we've seen a lot of defensive coordinators that didn't pan out as head coaches. Will he be able to rise to the challenge? I think he will but I'm not expecting the sort of miracle that will be needed to get him to Atlanta in his first season.
Speaking of genius defensive coordinators that made poor head coaches, Will Muschamp has made some progress as South Carolina. But how long can it last before we see what we've already seen at Florida? Looking at his calloused and angry responses to the recent questions about the D.J. Durkin situation at Maryland, where one of the "unhappy players" is the one who died, I'd say it is a matter of time before Coach Boom melts down in Columbia. He's a strategic genius but lacks the people skills to be successful as a head coach. You just can't get players to win for you with that mindset at the helm.
Dan Mullen is looking pretty promising in Florida. He had Mississippi State looking stronger than expected and drew the attention to get one of the most coveted jobs in the sport. But his work in Starkeville, while impressive, did not return the Bulldogs to the level they enjoyed under Jackie Sherrill. To succeed in Gainesville (and stay employed there) he has to get beyond gloating around a celebratory cigar about sweeping recruits out from powerhouses like "UT-Chattanooga." Florida will offer him excellent opportunities to prove himself. That all being said, I think he has the best chance to play spoiler in the SEC this year.
I love Ed Orgeron. I mean, who wouldn't? And he seems like a fantastic fit in his home state of Louisiana. But he's been tossed around the conference before. And I am concerned that we've seen this story before at Ole Miss. The Tigers are hoping we'll see more of the interim head coach from Southern Cal. Frankly, I'd love to see that myself. I want to see him win at LSU. But I'm skeptical. We'll see how this season goes for him.
That's a good start on this topic. I'll be back to go through some more in the near future.
I was a proponent of a college football playoff...until there was one. Please don't dismiss this as just a manifestation of my contrary and curmudgeonly nature. This is more of a finding out what it really was and then saying it wasn't a great idea after all. Now there is a tendency to want to add more games. Jim Harbaugh has suggest 16 teams. I'd point out that his team still wouldn't make that field. I'd also like to point out that there's a much better way.
What the bowl system did was it made big regular season games de facto playoff games. In the 80's it was Notre Dame-Miami and Oklahoma-Nebraska. In the 90's it was Florida-Florida State. Recently, it has been the SEC Championship game. Teams finished the regular season, beat their rivals, and won their conference (or sometimes not) and then made their case to the bowl people. This usually left one bowl winner and then that number 3 team that had a case and then a bowl win. So the reasonable idea became a "Plus 1" game where that third team gets their shot. The problem is, the way things are now, there will always be one more team that deserves a shot.
There is one way to fix this problem. It will require cooperation and a true spirit of competition from the big teams, the perennial powers. I'm going to use an odd example here but I think it will help us to see what needs to be done. Let's look at this year's schedule for Notre Dame. Now, I'm no fan of the Fighting Irish and never will be. But their attempts to build a stronger football schedule are starting to bear fruit and potentially makes several new regular season playoff games.
It's not necessarily the strength of the schedule as much as it is the variety of the schedule. The Irish have begun playing a truncated ACC schedule that will have them facing, among others, Florida State and Virginia Tech. They open their season against Michigan. They also will have games vs Stanford and arch-rival Southern Cal. Throw in Vandy for good measure. On this schedule we see opponents from the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, and SEC. Throw in a Texas, Baylor or TCU and you play all of the "Power 5" conferences. They aren't always playing the toughest teams in the conferences but they are playing different conferences.
That being said, I'm a fan of conferences. They allow teams to keep some regional rivalries and also, in most cases, allow teams to keep most of their travel in a region of the country. Establishing clear conference champions usually (read: should always) narrow the playoff field thereby creating a sort of regular season playoff. The trick is to mix things up a little between the conferences.
Last year we saw the Auburn-Clemson game early in the season. Bama took on FSU in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Florida and Florida State are going to play every year. So are Georgia and Georgia Tech. Likewise with Carolina and Clemson. There are some other long standing rivalries that cross conference lines. But go back a few years and look at Bear Bryant and Joe Paterno leading Bama and Penn State in some fantastic match ups. Then there was Earle Bruce bringing the Buckeyes to face Mike Archer's LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. These are games that fans want to see. These are also games that will shake up the regular season and straighten out the playoff a little more thoroughly.
Think of how rekindling old rivalries could help. Conference realignment has been given as an excuse for discontinuing Texas-Texas A&M, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Georgia-Clemson, Miami-Florida.
What is the deal that the Aggies and Longhorns quit playing? The fans were upset when a tragedy cast a pall on the bonfire tradition at A&M. Now they don't play at all? What does this say about the tradition of football in the State of Texas that these two just don't play each other?
Do you realize that from Sanford Stadium Clemson Memorial Stadium is only five miles further than Bobby Dodd? Sanford is half, HALF, the distance from Clemson compared to Williams Brice. These two have played 64 times since 1897. Von Gammon played in the first UGA-Clemson game, that's how old the rivalry is. Put these two on the field this season, someone has to win and someone gets eliminated. It cleans up the playoff picture. You can still schedule Furman and Arkansas State. You just might have to cut out Louisiana-Monroe and The Citadel.
You think the Midwest and the West Coast fans wouldn't get excited about more regular season games between the Big Ten and Pac-12? Ohio State opens with Oregon State. That's a start. But where's the beef? How about a Southern Cal-Michigan home & home?
In short, the fans want to see these games. These games will generate incredible revenue for the programs, the playoff picture could get much more defined, and so many of the potential games just make sense. There are a lot of lame excuses for why it can't be done but there are no good reasons. Put down one cupcake and pick up one steak.
For the last several years there has been a growing conversation about compensation for college athletes. We hear the explanations of how many millions of dollars players earn for the schools and how they get nothing in return, that this is some modern day plantation where executives are made wealthy on the backs of slaves.
But there are are other considerations that must be made. There are truths that this broad brush approach may whitewash over but that can’t be removed.
1) Not every school is raking it in.
Alabama, Florida State, Southern Cal, Norte Dame, there are schools that are making millions of dollars. A constant supply of money flows in in torrents .
But then there’s another category. Louisiana-Monroe, UAB, Akron, Utah State, these schools get big paydays when they get scheduled to play one of those big names. These big check games make the difference in a school’s athletic budget.
2) This money is spent elsewhere.
Once a decision is made that players are to be paid, all of them have to be paid. Tennis, track, golf, swimming. These sports, including almost all women’s sports at every NCAA school, have expenses that far exceed any revenue they may generate on their own. These sports are typically funded by the money made by the football program.
Thats not a popular fact, but it’s a fact. When it comes to collegiate athletics, Title IX is bankrolled by football. So while it’s easy to look at Alabama or Ohio State and see dollar signs everywhere, you have to consider how Toledo is going to pay their football players, and every other athlete, and still fund their women’s tennis program.
3) The players are paid. Handsomely.
You're 18 years old. You have no post secondary education. You land a job that will cover your housing, your food, much of your healthcare, Grant you admission to a university you have neither the grades nor the test scores to be admitted to otherwise, and you’ll have tutors to assist you with every class, and the position will pay that tuition in full. You have the opportunity to leave with a degree that you don’t owe anyone a dime for. It’ll be paid for. Completely.
How many people can say that? No loans. No student debt. If you factor in a degree from the likes of Duke, Stanford, Norte Dame, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, when you only met the minimum NCAA requirements that’s quite a deal. A degree from one of these schools could set someone back by a couple hundred thousand dollars, easy. Not many 20 year old high school graduates can afford that kind of price tag. But an athlete can.
So don’t listen to the lies that players aren’t paid. Are there some problems with NCAA regulations? Yes, there are some serious ones that need to be addressed. These include the licensing and marketing of a player’s likeness, autograph, etc. And yes, there are more. I suspect we’ll address those further in the future. But for now you can rest assured knowing that your favorite Heisman candidates are getting compensated justly.
With players reporting for practice and preparations being made for the opening kickoffs, it is time to start talking college football again. So I want to go ahead and dive in and talk about a few topics. We'll offer no stupid preseason polls, although we will have a new poll once we have some measurable standards to base a poll on. We probably won't be picking any conference champions or even a national champion at the point. We're gonna shoot straight with you.
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New Coaches to Watch
While I don't want to get into too many predictions, there are some things we can point out as interesting things to watch as this season progresses. With coaches, you might want to make that the next few seasons as these guys build their programs.
1) Chip Kelly - UCLA
Chip Kelly didn't pan out in the NFL. I completely understand that. I am of the belief that coaches are either pro or college coaches. Very few are able to find success in both. Ok, I'll be honest, only Jimmy Johnson does it.
Kelly was able to put an exciting brand of football on the field during his tenure at Oregon. He brought in some talented kids who carried his program to the highest levels of the sport. While he didn't win the big trophy, he was always in the hunt. All of this at a school where it rains 14 months of the year. Now he will be recruiting the same level of players to come play in Southern California, the'll play their home games in The Rose Bowl.Their road games are in The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in Arizona, Even without Phil Knight's endless stream of cash, he'll have a great budget. It's an amazing situation for him to recruit in.
Chip Kelly has a bright future in Pasadena.
2) Dan Mullen - Florida
Dan Mullen is coming into the job at Florida with high hopes from the Gator faithful. There is an expectation that he can replicate, with exponential increases, the success he had in Starkeville. The reasons I listed above for Chip Kelly are applicable to Mullen. To be honest, I've been on a lot of college campuses and towns and I can't think of any that could be much better for recruiting than Gainesville. A beautiful campus with top notch facilities in a vibrant town is a strong draw for high school aged young men looking to make a decision for their next four or five years. I'm not sure the difference between Starkeville and Gainesville are as pronounced as those between Eugene and Pasadena but they are still there.
Dan Mullen has an incredible opportunity. We'll see what he does with it.
3) Josh Heupel - Central Florida
With Scott Frost leaving to take the head coaching job at Nebraska, the self-proclaimed "national champions" have hired Heupel to pick up where Frost left off. This is going to go one of two ways. Heupel is going to excel and the Golden Knights are going to see continued success, or he is going to fail, the team will tank and the heavy expectations now present in Orlando will crush the new coach and lead to his abrupt exit. I don't see much in between in this scenario. Heupel likely has the most unrealistic expectations to deal with due to the delusional claims of not only his fan base, but the institution itself.
Speaking of Nebraska, think of How long the Cornhuskers have been trying to replace Tom Osbourne after he retired immediately after winning the 1997 title. UCF thinks they won a national title and their coach didn't retire, he left to take a job at a school where he might very well win a real national title.
Out of these three coaches, I envy Heupel's position the least. His is the biggest challenge. Fortunately, he has a lot of talent coming back. That's his strongest asset at this time.
By Sam Burnham, Curator
With National Signing Day now behind us, we are beginning to see the lists emerge about which teams had the best recruiting classes. This team locked down this many "five stars" or that one with so many "four stars" and all that jazz. And here we find ourselves once again deciding who did better than who and no one has even seen the field yet.
Coaches have pulled out all the stops. I actually met Kirby Smart at an airport the other day as he exited a plane to get in a helicopter to go land near recruits. Mark Richt and Manny Diaz had been in town just the week before that. Will Muschamp had been in town a few days before them. I'm up to my neck in FBS coaches and these are just the ones I've seen. This doesn't include who may have gotten in without me seeing them. Y'all, this ain't no big town.
Coaches are chasing stars, writers are chasing coaches, recruits are choosing schools that make their mamas mad, and now these coaches are being ranked by what sort of recruiting season they had.
But the truth is, no one knows what sort of recruiting season anyone had.
Oh there have been plenty of number crunchers that are assigning star rating to 18-year-olds and prognosticating about how well these kids will perform in college. I'm not sure the system is much more reliable than throwing dice. We do not know how any of these kids will do once they aren't sleeping in their own bed, eating mama's cooking, being the biggest fish in the pond, or taking high school classes. This is still very much a waiting game.
I remember one fall when two-a-days were beginning a lot of eyes were one "Mr. Alabama Football" or whatever title is was that this kid had won. It was supposedly an absolute coup that this kid had agreed to sign with us. Everyone thought he'd choose Bama or Auburn. But there he was at our fall camp. We had an intense morning practice and then went to breakfast before the meetings and other session between practices.
We never saw that kid again. He didn't even say bye.
We had another. Transferred in from an SEC school. SEC Freshman of the year. Amazingly talented on the field. Finished the fall semester with a D in PE and failing everything else. Ineligible.
I also saw many kids that had to burn a year making up academics. Getting on track. Seeing these kids make it and do well on the field and in the classroom was one of the best parts of working there. But one thing I learned is that we do not know what a kid will do on the field or in the classroom until they actually show up in those two places. College is a big step, especially for a lot of kids who may be the first people in their family to ever go to college.
Long story short, we don't know what those stars mean. Say what you want about recruiting classes. We want know if they are accurate until at least fall.
At the close of bowl season we now present the final ABG CFB Top 10 poll of the season, reflecting all the bowls and the playoff final scores:
1) ALABAMA (2)(20)
2) GEORGIA (18)
3) CENTRAL FLORIDA (15)
4) (TIE) CLEMSON (13)
6) WISCONSIN (10)
7) OHIO STATE (9)
8) PENN STATE (6)
9) AUBURN (4)
10) MIAMI (2)
By Sam Burnham, Curator
Had you told me this morning that the Rose Bowl was going to end 54-28 in two overtimes, I'd have called you crazy. Had you told me that Oklahoma would have been up by 17 at any point in the game, I would have called you a liar. But we saw both of those things happen in Pasadena on Monday night.
But what we saw happen, with The Sooners up 17 and the Dawgs looking to be in trouble, was nothing short of amazing. These young men kept their cool, regrouped, trusted their coaches and did what no one would have expected. They won.
And the young men who did this are the reason that we do ABG CFB. While we love the old stories of Erk, and Herschel, and Von Gammon, we love how the tradition plays out in thee new generations. we love that new heroes arise like Lorenzo Carter from Norcross in Gwinnett County, Rodrigo Blankenship from Marietta in Cobb County, Nick Chubb from Cedartown in Polk County, and Jake Fromm from Warner Robins in Houston County (note: Houston County, despite ESPN claims, is not in suburban Atlanta. It is 100 miles south, through Macon, if you get to Perry you went too far.) And there's Roquan Smith from Montezuma in Macon County (no, Macon is not in Macon County) There is even Sony Michel, the son of Hatian immigrants from Plantation, Florida. There are so many kids on this roster. A similar writer in Oklahoma could list you their kids as well.
There is something about these young men, many of whom are from all over Georgia, carrying the state's name on their jerseys and coming home with wins. It gets people in every corner of this state excited and talking. It really is a unifying thing. I joked on Twitter earlier that the response from Georgians over this game makes the Falcons playing in the Super Bowl look like a pick up game at a company picnic. And it is true. This team has made this state excited. And even if you are not a die-hard Georgia fan, there is some pride in the moment - maybe even from Tech fans if they are honest.
In the next week it will be fun to see how this state reacts to not only hosting the College Football National Championship Game, but to see the Dawgs playing in the game against fellow SEC member and perennial power Alabama. It is going to be a wild week in the Peach State. But it should be lot of fun.
This is the final poll before bowl season begins. There was some discrepancy on the ballots between Alabama and Ohio State, just as there certainly will be among the committee members. The Top 3, however, are consensus.
1) CLEMSON (2)(20)
2) GEORGIA (18)
3) OKLAHOMA (16)
4) ALABAMA (13)
5) OHIO STATE (12)
6) WISCONSIN (10)
7) CENTRAL FLORIDA (7)
8) AUBURN (5)
9) (TIE) MIAMI (3)
PENN STATE (3)
Also receiving votes: Southern Cal (2)
This week's poll is about as mixed up and mashed up as this season currently is. There is true consensus in the top three places and then a bit of a bubble for the next spot. With the conference title games this weekend, it'll be interesting to see it all shake out. Only four will be standing after this week. Who will it be?
1) CLEMSON (2) (20)
2) WISCONSIN (18)
3) AUBURN (16)
4) (TIE) ALABAMA (11)
7) MIAMI (10)
8) (TIE) CENTRAL FLORIDA (4)
10) OHIO STATE (3)
Also receiving votes: Stanford (1)
It was a relatively slow week with very little movement in the poll. Expect “Rivalry Week” to stir things up a bit:
1) (TIE) ALABAMA (1) (19)
MIAMI (1) (19)
:) WISCONSIN (16)
4) CLEMSON (14)
5) (TIR) AUBURN (10)
7) GEORGIA (9)
8) (TIE) CENTRAL FLORIDA (4)
OHIO STATE (4)
10) NOTRE DAME (3)
Also receiving votes: TCU (2)