Friday, October 28, 2011

Week nine: College football predictions

Last week: 7-3
Season to date: 69-23

Texas over Kansas. The Longhorns are favored by 28 at home. Is there any reason to believe that Kansas can beat the spread? It’s not likely—UT by 30.

Game of the week--Oklahoma over Kansas State. ESPN’s College Game Day bypassed Manhattan, KS this weekend, likely because of Oklahoma’s loss last week to Texas Tech. That should in no way diminish the importance of this game. OU needs a win badly to maintain hopes of a Big 12 championship. Undefeated Kansas State will play in front of a wild home crowd and wants this win to not only prove the doubters wrong but to also keep pace with Oklahoma State in league play. OU by nine.

Texas A&M over Missouri. Call this the “defector bowl”—two probable future SEC foes do battle in College Station and A&M will prevail by 10.

Texas Tech over Iowa State. I’m tempted to go with this as an “upset special,” but the Red Raiders are at home and I doubt that Tommy Tuberville will allow his team to gloat over the OU upset win for too long. Look for Tech to start slow and then pull away for a 14 point win.

Oklahoma State over Baylor. No one has stopped OSU’s offense yet and it surely won’t be Baylor’s porous defense. This is one of those Big 12 games where the offenses are likely to put up a combined 90 points. Oklahoma State by 17.

Florida over Georgia. It would be easy to pick the Dawgs in this one—they’ve won five in a row and are due to beat rival Florida. But, John Brantley is back at QB for the Gators and that will help their inconsistent offense. Florida by four at the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”

Wisconsin over Ohio State. Wiscy was ready for overtime at Michigan State last Saturday night and then the wacky batted ball touchdown gave Sparty the win. The Badgers will rebound tomorrow with a 10 point win on the road in Columbus.

Stanford over USC. This will be billed as the Quarterback Bowl—Andrew Luck of Stanford against Matt Barkley of USC. But, that misses the story line of Stanford’s relatively quiet rise as a football power—the nation’s longest winning streak (15 games), the first team in 75 years to win 10 games by at least 25 points, and winner of three of the last four against perennial power USC. The Trojans have won three straight but Stanford’s overall, balanced offense coupled with their stout defense will be too much—Stanford by 10.

Clemson over Georgia Tech. This is a tale of teams headed different directions. Clemson is ranked fifth in the country, is undefeated, and is very much in the national title chase. Georgia Tech was off to its best start in years before blowing a gasket against Virginia Tech and Miami. This will be a tough road test for the Tigers but look for them to win a by a touchdown.

Nebraska over Michigan State. The hottest team in the league—Michigan State—plays a team who still has hopes of making the inaugural Big Ten conference championship game. I think Michigan State’s killer October schedule will trip them up, finally, this week. Nebraska by four.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dead man walkin'

There's no way Turner Gill can survive this loss. There's no way that Sheahon Zenger, Kansas' athletics director, can ignore the howls of frustration from alums who witnessed a second straight embarrassing defeat to in-state rival Kansas State.

Let's re-state the obvious--Gill is a good man. Gill is a fine representative for the University of Kansas, he genuinely cares about the young men that he is coaching, and there is much about him to like.

What cannot be ignored is his record at Kansas (5-14 in one and a half seasons), the points scored against his team over the past five games (287--an average of 57.4 per game) or the third quarter meltdowns against Georgia Tech (28-0), Texas Tech (21-0) and today against KSU (21-0.) He has one win against a conference opponent and that team--Colorado--is now in a different league and is 1-7 this year.

Gill's fate was sealed today right before halftime. After Kansas scored to pull within 14, with less than a minute to play, Gill and his special teams staff elected to squib the ball on the ensuing kickoff. A KSU lineman returned the ball 10 yards. That set up a long Collin Klein completion and Wildcat field goal with one second left. Halftime score: 31-14...and any Kansas momentum was quickly kaput. Predictably, to those of us who have watched this season of frustration, KSU then came out and ran back the opening kickoff for a TD. Those in Memorial Stadium then got to witness a Kansas kickoff return that featured not one but three penalties. A KU fumble turned into a Wildcat touchdown drive and the rout was on.

Is there anything keeping Zenger from making this move? Sure--$6 million as that's the amount Kansas will owe Gill if he is fired at the end of this season. It's a lot of money for any athletics program, much less the one at Kansas. But, can Zenger afford another year of this? It's hard to imagine KU winning another game this season--only the contest at Iowa State looks close to winnable. Interest in the program is in free fall, fans are disenchanted and that will hit hard at season ticket sales next year.

This is Zenger's first major coaching decision at Kansas. After today, that decision became much clearer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Week eight: College football predictions

Last week: 7-3
Season to date: 62-20 (.756)

Kansas State over Kansas. Let's see if you can follow this flawed logic--every week I've picked against Kansas State and what's their current record? Why, 6-0! So, why not pick them over Kansas in hopes that my team can pull off the upset and, at least momentarily, pop KSU's bubble? Kansas hung with Oklahoma, at least for a half, last weekend and faces yet another undefeated opponent in this season which has already included Georgia Tech, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and OU. Kansas State just finds a way to win each week by playing Bill Snyder's brand of fundamentally sound, don't-turn-the-ball-over football. This is a huge game for KU coach Turner Gill. A win Saturday cements another year for his tenure, a close loss likely does the same, but a three touchdown or worse defeat could likely be the impetus for his firing. KSU by eight.

Oklahoma State over Missouri. Oklahoma State is 4th in the BCS standings and features perhaps the most exciting offense in the country. Missouri's no slouch on the offensive side of the ball but the tale of this game will be whether MU can at least slow OSU and hold them to field goals versus touchdowns each time the Cowboys touch the ball. After this week, OSU faces Baylor and Kansas State, both at home, and goes on the road to Texas Tech and Iowa State. This is by far the Cowboys' toughest test before the Bedlam game at home against OU on December 3. I think this one will be tight--OSU by nine in Columbia.

Oklahoma over Texas Tech. OU will take their solid second half from last week as momentum into this home game against Tech. Oklahoma by 21.

Texas A&M over Iowa State. This game features two teams headed opposite directions--A&M beat Baylor in surprisingly easy fashion last week and Iowa State lost big to Missouri for their third straight loss. The Aggies will roll by 18.

Notre Dame over USC. Remember when this game was "the game" of the weekend when these two traditional powers faced off? No more. Neither team is ranked and the Lane Kiffin era in Los Angeles is still working to regain past glory. Notre Dame by 10 in South Bend.

Stanford over Washington. How about this Stanford team and Oliver Luck? They own the nation's longest winning streak--15--and while Luck gets the publicity, the defense is quietly holding opponents to 11.2 points per game. Stanford by 17 at home.

Nebraska over Minnesota. When's the last time Minnesota has been relevant in football? NU by 18.

Clemson over North Carolina. Another undeafeated team--Clemson--will extend that streak in Death Valley over UNC. Let's see if Clemson's D can improve this week in stopping the run as they gave up 291 rushing yards to Maryland last week. Clemson by 12.

LSU over Auburn. Speaking of Death Valley, this game takes place at the "other" Death Valley in Baton Rouge. This game will be close for a half then the Tigers' superior talent will make it a two touchdown win for the number one team in the country.

Game of the week--Wisconsin over Michigan State. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin's QB, is the real deal and is making a Heisman Trophy run. Michigan State is fresh off a big win over arch-rival Michigan and did it by holding the Wolverine's Dennard Robinson to 42 yards rushing and 123 passing. Wiscy by eight.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dirty rivalries

Here's more ammunition for the disbelief among local fans that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry may be going away should the Tigers move to the SEC, as many are suggesting is inevitable.

The Wall Street Journal published a piece today on the "dirtiest rivalry in college football." The Journal tallied how many conduct and roughness penalties have been assessed in the last five meetings of 40 well-known rivalries.

Here's their list:

1. Auburn-Georgia: 5.4 per game; biggest offender - Georgia (59%)
2. Duke-North Carolina: 5.2 per game; biggest offender - UNC (69%)
3. UCLA-USC: 4.8 per game; biggest offender - UCLA (54%)
4. New Mexico-New Mexico State: 4.6 per game; biggest offender - NM (65%)
5. Kansas-Missouri: 4.2 per game; biggest offender - MU (76%)
6. Michigan-Michigan St.: 4 per game; biggest offender - MSU (80%)
7. C. Michigan-W. Michigan: 3.8 per game; biggest offender - WM (58%)
8. BYU-Utah: 3.6 per game; biggest offender - Utah (61%)
9. NC State-North Carolina: 3.4 per game; biggest offender - UNC (59%)

Clearly, North Carolina has issues as they are noted twice as "biggest offender." And, Missouri's 76% "offender" rate trails only Michigan State, in the Spartans' rivalry versus Michigan.

Really--do we want this Border War thing to go away?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Week seven: College football predictions

Last week: 9-1
Season record: 55-17 (.763)

Oklahoma over Kansas. The line for this game is 34. Take Oklahoma and the points as this will be a replay of Kansas' blowout loss last weekend at Oklahoma State--it's just a question of when Bob Stoops pulls his starters, and given his need for BCS points, don't expect that to happen before the end of the third quarter. For Kansas, every game is about "progress," as in, is there any? Next week, the Jayhawks face Kansas State at home. If KU loses that game in ugly fashion, a la 2010, then the howls for Turner Gill's job will escalate to a level that can't be ignored. OU by 38.

Missouri over Iowa State. MU is 2-3 in the conference so there's no better antidote than getting Iowa State at home. And, it's Homecoming, that event which Missouri claims it invented (but so does Baylor and so does Illinois.) MU should roll in this one yet fans will be watching to see if the Tigers can score in the third quarter--a 15 minute period where the offense has generated all of 16 points this year. Win convincingly and MU could carry some momentum into next week against Oklahoma State, also in Columbia. Tigers by 17.

Texas Tech over Kansas State. I know, I know--I keep picking against Kansas State each week and all they've done is go undefeated. So, for the benefit of my K-State friends, I'm picking against the Wildcats again this week. The story of the 'Cats season has been the turnaround of their defense and that will be a key tomorrow--can KSU force Tech turnovers? Texas Tech by four.

Oklahoma State over Texas. Look, Texas just isn't that good. They lost badly against Oklahoma last week and will face an even higher-powered offense this week. OSU by 14.

Texas A&M over Baylor. The game is at Kyle Field thus "advantage A&M." However, if the Aggies cannot fix their pass defense this game could easily swing in Baylor's favor. Texas A&M by a touchdown.

Auburn over Florida. Florida is favored but Auburn's playing at home. War Eagle--Tigers by two.

Georgia Tech over Virginia. The Ramblin' Wreck is off to its best start in 45 years. And, these next two weeks are critical--"trap" games at Charlottesville tomorrow and at Miami next week. Georgia Tech then returns home to face Clemson and Virginia Tech. Tech by 10.

Illinois over Ohio State. Illinois has lost nine straight to Ohio State at home. That should change tomorrow as the Illini look to stay undefeated. Kansas Citian and Rockhurst High alum Nathan Scheelhaase is having a great year for Illinois. Illini by six.

Michigan State over Michigan. Michigan State has a defense which stopped Denard Robinson last year. Let's see if they can do it again as the winner here could be the favorite in the division. Michigan State by three.

Game of the week - Virginia Tech over Wake Forest. Something's in the water in the ACC this year--Georgia Tech is off to its best start in 45 years and Wake Forest is off to its best start ever. Wake Forest is tied with Clemson in the Atlantic Division but is going up against a defense which forces turnover and QB sacks. The Hokies will prevail, on the road, by two.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Missouri and the SEC

It's easy to understand why the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri system have given chancellor Brady Deaton the approval to investigate other conference affiliations. The Big 12's recent instability has been a national punch line and MU is one of the--and perhaps only--Big 12 school outside of Texas and Oklahoma who appears to have interest from another conference.

However, it's my fervent hope that the decision ultimately doesn't become about MU's ability to thumb their nose at the "all about me" attitude of Texas, whose elitist ways played out so publicly over the past few months, or to say "look at me now" to Oklahoma president David Boren, who so obviously loved the flirtation with and thought of taking his Sooner Schooner west to the Pac 12.

No, this has to be about what's best for Missouri. Perhaps at the end of the vetting process, Deaton and his colleagues will determine that a move south is truly the right option. If so, so be it. But, in the wake of that decision will be catastrophic economic and regional brand ramifications for the Kansas City area.

There are a few optimistic public statements about the Big 12 Tournament still being a possibility for Kansas City, should MU leave, and that the Border War games between Kansas and Missouri can continue. Forget it--neither will happen.

The Big 12 will not hold a tournament in a state with no members--particularly one that said "see ya" to the collective remaining eight schools and new entry, TCU. Trust me, it just won't happen.

Further, what's the impetus for KU to continue playing MU in football, should the Tigers join the SEC? With TCU's entry into the league, coupled with another new school should MU depart, Kansas will have its regular rotation of nine conference games. The three non-conference games will be scheduled as follows--two guaranteed wins and one against a name opponent, e.g., the home-and-home series of 2010-2011 with Georgia Tech. The Jayhawks will not schedule a team of Missouri's current football caliber when they already will have to face Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU, not to mention Texas Tech, Kansas State and Baylor. Likewise, why would Missouri want to play KU given similar difficult foes in the SEC?

Sure, the Border War football game at Arrowhead can pull in a decent payday when the schools are good. But, from a won-loss perspective, it makes little sense for either school in scheduling non-conference match-ups. The last thing Kansas' program needs, as it tries to regain stability, is another tough foe on its schedule.

In basketball, there is more likelihood that the game could continue, given scheduling flexibility, but, in this case, why would Missouri want to schedule a game against a team that's beaten them 25 out of 35 games played during the Big 12 era? (And, Kansas has won nine of the last 10.) Don't let pride get in the way, Missouri fans. Once again, there is little reason to make this game happen.

The Mens and Womens Big 12 tournaments bring in positive economic impact to the Kansas City region in the sum of low teen millions. The Kansas City brand gets national exposure not only from the basketball tournaments but from past Arrowhead games between KU and MU coupled with the occasional Big 12 football championship.

So, Chancellor Deaton, the clock is ticking and a region anxiously awaits the news out of Columbia. Please don't let hubris get in the way of the right decision for Missouri. If a move to the SEC is warranted given your and your colleagues' analysis, so be it. I just hope that analysis weighs the merits of benefit to your state, and the second largest city in your state.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Week six: College football predictions

Last week's record: 6-6
Season to date: 46-16 (.742)

Conference play is in full swing and the Big 12 slate is highlighted by the Red River Rivalry--Texas versus Oklahoma in Dallas. Let's take a look at that and other key match-ups for tomorrow.

Oklahoma State over Kansas. It's conventional wisdom to think that this game will be ugly--the conference's best offense against the Big 12's worst defense. Yet, KU showed improvement last week in their loss to Texas Tech and, offensively, the Jayhawks have a ground game which can potentially maintain possession and keep Branden Weeden and company off of the field. Don't get me wrong, this game will still be a blow-out but I suspect it'll be like last week where it was close for a half before Tech pulled away. OSU by 22.

Missouri over Kansas State. Arthur Brown of KSU is contending for defensive player of the year in the conference but the 'Cats have not yet played a balanced offense of Missouri's caliber. Kansas State is rolling in confidence while Missouri desperately needs this game and next (Iowa State) before heading into the teeth of their schedule--Oklahoma State, at Texas A&M, at Baylor, and Texas. MU by three in a hard-fought road win.

Oklahoma over Texas. Two undefeated teams; two ranked teams. OU, at #1 in the coaches poll, takes on #11 Texas in the marquee game of the day in the Big 12. However, this game won't live up to the hype as Texas is over-ranked and OU's offense is loaded with Landry Jones winging it to Ryan Broyles and Kenny Sills. It'll still be fun as this is college football at its best--the Texas State Fair, one of the best rivalries in the game, and ESPN's College GameDay crew on the scene. OU by 10.

Texas A&M over Texas Tech. Do you think A&M will get a tough reception in Lubbock on Saturday night? The Aggies are leaving for the SEC and Tech's fans are notoriously, shall we see, an uninviting group. The Red Raiders are 4-0 but have feasted on a schedule of Texas State, Nevada, New Mexico and Kansas--not exactly murderer's row. A&M is 2-2 after last week's four point loss to Arkansas. This is rebound week for Texas A&M--Aggies by eight.

Baylor over Iowa State. Baylor lost last week in a statement game--a road win against a Big 12 opponent. The Bears could not put Kansas State away and Robert Griffin III threw a costly interception late in the game. The Bears will take their frustrations out on ISU with a 18 point road win.

Virginia Tech over Miami. The Hokies were humbled by Clemson. They'll rebound against the "U" with a 10 point home win.

Nebraska over Ohio State. Last week was embarrassing for the Huskers--after much hype with their entrance into the Big Ten, NU was shredded by Wisconsin in Madison. This week Ohio State comes to Lincoln, but this isn't your father's Buckeye team. Nebraska will win easily by 13.

Arkansas over Auburn. Auburn came back last week to beat South Carolina and now is a surprising 4-1. Better not look ahead--here comes #10 Arkansas followed by games against Florida and LSU. Razorbacks by 10 at home.

Arizona State over Utah. Pac 12 South leader ASU will manhandle first-time Utah QB starter Jon Hays. The Sun Devils win on the road by 10.

Game of the week - LSU over Florida. How'd you like to be Florida? Last week the Gators faced Alabama and this week they get LSU, in Death Valley. Look for LSU to roll by 14.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Quote of the week

This is what Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self said to the Kansas City Star in discussing Missouri's investigation of a move to the SEC: "Nobody (fans) has come up to me and said 'No matter what, whatever you do, you can't lose to Texas.' But they've come up and said that about Kansas State and Missouri."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The state of Kansas football

Here we are, four games into season two of the Turner Gill regime, and Kansas sits at the same place, 2-2, as the 2010 season. We all remember last year--the opening game debacle against North Dakota State, the redeeming win against Georgia Tech, and another non-conference win before going 1-8 in conference play. This year we've seen KU beat McNeese State, come from behind for a stirring win over Northern Illinois, get throttled at Georgia Tech and, today, squander a 20 point lead in an 11 point loss to Texas Tech.

Today's game was one of the few legitimate win opportunities Kansas has this year. And, the way they opened, it looked like the Jayhawks were tired of hearing two weeks of post-Georgia Tech negative comments from fans and media. Unfortunately, just as quickly as KU jumped to their big lead, they muffed a punt, threw an interception, and allowed Tech back in the game with four turnovers and a scoreless third quarter.

So, four games into the 2011 season, how do we assess this current Kansas squad?

- KU is poorly conditioned. Chris Dawson, the strength and conditioning coach under Mark Mangino, is practicing his development techniques down the road in Manhattan. And, the difference in KU's conditioning is noticeable. Thus far this season, Kansas has scored 21 points in the third quarter while surrendering 76. This stat is not only a sign of bad, or no, halftime adjustments but also indicates that the Jayhawks run out of gas in the second half.

- The Jayhawks have never had more potential talent at the running back position. James Sims is the workhorse in KU's young backfield but freshmen Darrien Miller, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson are the real deal, and we haven't even mentioned Rell Lewis. Bourbon gained over 100 yards today and each of the three freshmen has scored a touchdown this season. KU is loaded at running back.

- Kansas is not built to be a come-from-behind offense. Jordan Webb is a serviceable quarterback when handing off to his talented RB's and using misdirection to open up the passing game. He is not a throw-down-the-field QB.

- The 3-4 defense isn't the answer. When past defensive coordinator Carl Torbush installed the 3-4, it was under the guise of putting talented linebackers on the field. That LB play has been inconsistent, at best. Steven Johnson is having a great season but transfer Darrius Willis has, at times, struggled and Tunde Bukare hasn't proven that he's a Big 12 caliber player. The defensive line was thin to start the season and has been plagued by injuries and poor play. It starts up front and KU's defensive struggles can be pinpointed to their inability to control the line of scrimmage and to get pressure on the QB.

- Recruiting speed has been a priority at KU. Unfortunately, the recruited speed seems to only be on the offensive side of the ball. KU's lack of speed at the LB position and on the corners is being exploited.

- Looking ahead. Seriously, what game can we point to as one where the Jayhawks stand a decent chance to pick up a win? Next week KU plays #5 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, then returns to Lawrence to face Oklahoma. After that, KU gets in-state rival Kansas State who is off to a 4-0 start and gaining confidence each week. The only game on KU's schedule which looks remotely winnable is Iowa State--and that game is in Ames.

- What does Kansas need? Kansas must place a priority on recruiting defensive linemen. There are needs elsewhere (an athletic cover cornerback, a middle linebacker) but quality defensive linemen is a mandatory.

- How hot is Turner Gill's seat? The common sentiment was that KU would be hard-pressed to get more than four wins this season and that it was critical to show improvement and progress. We see definite improvement with the offense. Unfortunately, the defense is rivaling the worst in school history. Gill has the benefit of a sweetheart contract from former athletics director Lew Perkins. Yet, Gill's seat will get pretty darn warm prior to next season if the Jayhawks don't at least equal last season's three win total.