Want to Fix the College Football Playoff? Pay the College Football Players.

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File:College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy Jan 2018.jpg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you who watch college football know that we’ll be seeing Clemson take on Alabama in the College Football Playoff (CFP) for the 4th year in a row (3 out of those 4 times, including this time, that meeting will be in the National Championship game). Clemson steamrolled Notre Dame 30-3, and Alabama generally controlled Oklahoma 45-34.

The Clemson-Alabama matchup is becoming a lot like the Cleveland CavaliersGolden State Warriors matchup in the NBA–repetitive and boring. Now, a lot of people (myself included) have been quick to point the finger at the selection committee for the CFP, and to a certain degree, that is fair. For example, UCF deserved to be in the CFP this season after two straight undefeated seasons, including a bowl victory over last season’s Auburn team that beat eventual National Champion Alabama. However, I probably would have picked UCF to replace one-loss Oklahoma, who actually put up a better fight than undefeated Notre Dame. Interestingly enough, the team that may have put up the best fight is actually two-loss Georgia, who had Alabama on the brink of defeat in the SEC Championship.

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File:Alabama Crimson Tide logo.svg; Image via Wikipedia

Which leads me to my point: I don’t think the selection committee is at fault here. Sure Georgia gave Alabama a fight, but they still lost. Who’s to say that result would be different if they played again? No, I think the problem lies in the fact that Georgia is the best fight for Alabama, but they can’t ever seem to quite get the victory. Much like Golden State in the NBA, Alabama is a super team that is very nearly impossible to beat because they have the best talent in the country.

It’s not just Alabama, either. Consider this: Of the four CFP teams this season, ALL OF THEM have changed their starting QB in the past year. And yet, the only slip up any of the four teams had during the regular season was Oklahoma’s 3 point loss to a high-quality Texas team, which they later avenged (by 12 points) in the Big 12 Championship.

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File:Golden State Warriors wordmark logo.svg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

The Warriors’ NBA super team was created by the one-time massive boost to the salary cap a few seasons ago, which gave the Warriors the cap space to sign the five All-Stars they have on their roster. That problem should be rectified as soon as the upcoming offseason, when at least one of Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green will likely be suiting up for another team. In college football, however, it’s not about money.

College athletes don’t get paid. Therefore, recruits commit to universities based largely on three factors: winning, pro potential, and playing time. In theory, the best recruits are going to get good amounts of playing time no matter where they go because smart coaches find ways to get great players on the field, even when they have multiple great players at the same position (see: Alabama with QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts).

So, it’s down to winning and pro potential. Technically, pro scouting teams are supposed to be scouting ALL college athletes, so if an athlete plays well enough at any university, that athlete will get drafted. However, playing at Alabama gives an athlete better pro potential for two reasons. 1) They get to play in a pro-style system with a coach who has coached in the NFL, so he knows what NFL teams are looking for. 2) They get to play in a conference that has many programs with pro-style systems and high-level coaches, which attracts more high-level, NFL-caliber competition for them to play against. Players at Alabama have a MUCH better shot at going pro, even if they are bench warmers for the majority of their college career.

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File:San Jose State text logo 2006-2012.svg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

In terms of winning, yes, even a team like San Jose State could potentially go undefeated and win a conference championship with the right mix of coaching and roster talent. But even if they did, the best they would get out of that season is a New Year’s Six Bowl, which ISN’T EVEN GUARANTEED IF ANOTHER GROUP OF 5 CONFERENCE CHAMPION FINISHES WITH A HIGHER RANKING. But even if they are the undefeated, highest ranked Group of 5 Conference Champion, they wouldn’t get to compete for a National Championship (see: UCF for TWO STRAIGHT SEASONS.). So, obviously, if you want to win a National Championship you are at least going to a Power 5 team, and you’re going to shoot for one like Alabama or Clemson who has a history of playing at that level.

If you want a more competitive CFP, there needs to be a way to level out the recruiting field so not all of the top recruits go to Alabama and Clemson. One way to do that is to abolish the “Power 5” and “Group of 5” conferences and just say the four teams with the best records will play each other, regardless of conference. This alternative would solve the problem with the “winning” component of recruiting. That way, even San Jose State could compete for a National Championship.

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Money|by free pictures of money; Image via Flickr

However, the best way, in my opinion, is to solve the problem in the same way I expect the Warriors superteam problem to be solved: the restrictions of a salary cap. Yes, I’m suggesting PAYING COLLEGE ATHLETES. I know you’ve heard it before a billion times for a billion different reasons, many of which are (admittedly) kind of bulls***. Some are actually valid. One of the valid ones is helping to level out the playing field. Recruits care about Alabama’s ability to get them to the pros because they want to make money playing their sport. But, if they can do that at the college level, the pro potential advantage becomes less advantageous, and teams like San Jose State can reel in five-star recruits with the promise of a big paycheck. Just like in professional sports, a team would only be able to afford to pay so many stars under a salary cap, meaning teams like Alabama and Clemson would not be able to stash five-star backups on their roster all the time. Ergo, star athletes would be more evenly distributed across college football, meaning any team could have the talent to win a national championship at any time (again, just like in the pros).

The College Football Playoff won’t be fixed by changing the system as a whole, but rather by changing pieces within the system. The first piece that needs to be addressed is the disparity in talent, caused by the disparity in recruiting. In my opinion, that piece has a price.

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Trail Blazers Win OT Thriller @ Warriors Behind Nurkic Double-Double and Lillard Clutch 3

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File:TrailBlazers.svg.png; Image via Wikimedia Commons

It took an extra period for the Portland Trail Blazers to upset the Golden State Warriors, 110-109 in Oakland. Despite getting out-rebounded (54-59), out-passed (20-36 assists), and out-defended (7-10 steals & 4-9 blocks) the Blazers found themselves on the winning end of this contest due to out-shooting the Warriors from the free throw line (91.3-40 %) and from behind the 3-pt arc (32.5-29.5 %). Blazers PG Damian Lillard sealed the deal, drilling a 3-pointer with just 6 seconds on the clock in overtime before Warriors SF Kevin Durant missed a shot on the other end in the final second.

C Jusuf Nurkic led the way for the Trail Blazers with a double-double (27 points, 12 rebounds). Four other Blazers had a double-digit scoring output: SG CJ McCollum (24), Lillard (21), SF Maurice Harkless (11), and SG Seth Curry (11). PF Al-Farouq Aminu was the only other Blazer with double-digit rebounds (12).

On the Warriors’ end, Durant had a triple-double (26 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds), and PF Draymond Green added a double-double of his own (15 points, 11 rebounds).

The Warriors (23-13) and Trail Blazers (20-15) play each other again on Saturday at 10pm ET (NBATV) in Portland.

One 2019 Pro Bowl Snub From Each AFC and NFC West Team

This is the 2nd of 4 posts covering the biggest 2019 Pro Bowl snub from each NFL team.

*All stats and rankings are from before Week 16

A complaint many have about the NFL’s Pro Bowl is that it is largely a popularity contest, rather than a true measure of the players playing the best football in the league. So, who are the players playing the best football in the league who did not get voted to the 2019 Pro Bowl? Here is one from each franchise in the AFC and NFC West:

AFC West

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File:Desmond King (American football).JPG; Image via Wikimedia Commons
  • Los Angeles ChargersDesmond King, CB
    • This one may surprise a lot of people, but King is the 2nd-ranked CB in the NFL according to PFF. Teammate Casey Hayward is the top CB on the depth chart and is considered one of the better CBs in the league today, but it’s the King on the other side of the field who shares the team crown for most interceptions (3) with Pro Bowl-bound rookie S Derwin James. King is also the only Charger with a pick-six this season.
  • Oakland RaidersRodney Hudson, C
    • The Raiders suck, but Hudson does not, as he’s PFF’ 3rd-ranked C.

NFC West

  • Arizona CardinalsChandler Jones, DE
    • Jones has 12 sacks on the season, which is tied for 8th most sacks in the NFL. His consistent pressure on opposing QBs certainly helps his team’s 5th-ranked pass defense, including the team’s lone Pro Bowler: CB Patrick Peterson.
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File:Rob Havenstein.JPG; Image via Wikimedia Commons
  • Los Angeles RamsRob Havenstein, OT
    • It’s QB Jared Goff and RB Todd Gurley who get the praise and the Pro Bowl nods for leading the league’s most electric offense this season, but they couldn’t do it without their offensive line. 4 of the Rams’ 5 starting offensive linemen are ranked in the top 10 in their position by PFF. Havenstein is the highest ranked of the group, coming in at #5 among all OTs.
  • San Francisco 49ersRobbie Gould, K
    • Gould is 39-40 on field goal attempts this season, including 2-2 from 50+ yards.
  • Seattle SeahawksRussell Wilson, QB
    • I firmly believe there is no player more fun to watch in the National Football League than Russell Wilson. He has kept the Seahawks in the thick of the playoff hunt even with the disbanding of the Legion of Boom over the last couple of seasons.

One 2019 Pro Bowl Snub From Each AFC and NFC North Team

This is the 1st of 4 posts covering the biggest 2019 Pro Bowl snub from each NFL team.

*All stats and rankings are from before Week 16

A complaint many have about the NFL’s Pro Bowl is that it is largely a popularity contest, rather than a true measure of the players playing the best football in the league. So, who are the players playing the best football in the league who did not get voted to the 2019 Pro Bowl? Here is one from each franchise in the AFC and NFC North:

AFC North

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Justin Tucker|Saints at Ravens 8/13/15|by Keith Allison; Image via Flickr
  • Baltimore RavensJustin Tucker, K
    • Yes, he missed the crucial PAT that cost his team the game against the New Orleans Saints. Realistically, the Ravens would have lost that game even if he’d made that kick because the Saints are the best team in the NFL (by record). Also, he’s still 28-30 on field goals this season, including 4-4 from 50+ yards.
  • Cincinnati BengalsTyler Boyd, WR
    • Boyd probably deserves to be in the Pro Bowl more than the team’s only actual Pro Bowler (DT Geno Atkins). Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranks him as the 12th best WR in the league. He has amassed over 1,000 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns playing across from one of the league’s best in AJ Green.
  • Cleveland BrownsBritton Colquitt, P
    • Colquitt is tied for 2nd in the NFL in punts inside the 20 (32).
  • Pittsburgh SteelersTJ Watt, LB
    • The youngest of the three Watt brothers in the NFL leads his team in sacks (11) and forced fumbles (4).

NFC North

  • Chicago BearsRoquan Smith, LB
    • This one’s a bit of a reach because the Bears did get so many players in the Pro Bowl this year (5), but I’m going with the rookie, who is the team’s leading tackler (107) and third-leading sacker (4).
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File:Damon Harrison 2016.jpg; Image via Wikimedia Commons
  • Detroit LionsDamon Harrison Sr, DT
    • As a Giants fan, I was devastated when ‘Snacks’ was traded to the Lions this year. He’s been one of the best run-stuffing interior linemen for years. He’s the 3rd ranked interior lineman this season according to PFF with a season grade of 92.1. Also, he has NEVER MADE THE PRO BOWL. He gets snubbed EVERY YEAR because fans only care about sacks from their defensive linemen. Wake up, voters! See the tackles, technique, and size that make Snacks great!!
  • Green Bay PackersAaron Jones, RB
    • I’m chalking this snub up to the fact that it took the Packers half the F***ING season to realize they had one of the most talented young RBs sitting on their bench! Jones has had 9 total touchdowns this season, 7 of which came in a 6-game stretch after fellow RB Ty Montgomery was traded to the Ravens. It’s a shame his breakthrough half-season ended last weekend with a knee injury. If you wanna know why coach Mike McCarthy was fired, it’s probably because it took him so long to give Jones the football.
  • Minnesota VikingsAnthony Harris, FS
    • Harris is tied with Pro Bowl-bound teammate Harrison Smith for the team lead in interceptions (3). However, PFF ranks Harris ten spots higher than Smith among all safeties this season, where Harris is ranked 2nd with a 90.5 grade.

College Football Group of 5 Shout-Outs! 2018 Conference Championship Week

This is my weekly college football shout-out to Group of 5 teams. Change is needed in the structure of college football to allow Group of 5 teams a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff. Until a Group of 5 team makes the College Football Playoff, I will compose this post every week of the college football season to celebrate the accomplishments of the underappreciated teams in college football. The numbers in parenthesis are the scores, and the bolded games are games won by Group of 5 teams.

American Athletic Conference

Games against Power 5 foes this week:

  • East Carolina (3) @ ACC’s North Carolina State (58)

Conference-USA

Games against Power 5 foes this week:

  • Marshall (20) @ ACC’s Virginia Tech (41)

Mid-American Conference

Games against Power 5 foes this week:

  • Akron (3) @ SEC’s South Carolina (28)

Mountain West

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

Sun Belt

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

 

 

 

Group of 5 Team of the Week

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File:UAB Blazers wordmark.png; Image via Wikimedia Commons

UAB Blazers (27) @ Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (25)

There are five Group of 5 Conference Champions worthy of this spot, but I can’t think of one more deserving than the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Blazers won the Conference-USA by beating Middle Tennessee at their house just one week after losing to the Blue Raiders on the same field. They were one of two Group of 5 teams to win their conference championship in a rematch of a game they lost during the regular season (the Mountain West’s Fresno State was the other).

The Blazers accomplished that feat by two points thanks to a mental mistake from Middle Tennessee at the end of the game. UAB was set to punt the football back to the Blue Raiders with over a minute left and a 2 point lead, but Middle Tennessee was called for twelve men on the field on fourth down. The 5-yard penalty was enough to give the Blazers a first down, allowing them to kneel out the clock.

UAB’s Conference-USA triumph is more impressive when you consider that this season was the program’s second season back from a two-year absence. The football team was briefly nixed after the 2014 season due to lack of funding. It is also the first conference championship in program history.

One notable alumnus is long-time Atlanta Falcons WR Roddy White, a former 1st-Team All-Pro and 4-time Pro Bowler.

Chargers End 9-Game Losing Streak vs Chiefs with Final-Second 2-Pt Conversion

 

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File:Philip Rivers 2016.JPG; Image via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you like the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs or not, you have to admit…

They DO NOT know how to play a boring football game.

Despite only having a 14-7 lead at halftime, the Chiefs controlled the Chargers during the first half. The defense intercepted Chargers QB Philip Rivers on just the second play from scrimmage (and his first pass of the game) and the offense capitalized by scoring a touchdown on their drive. The Chiefs offense achieved the same result on their next drive of the game, and the Chiefs defense picked Rivers off a second time in the red zone with less than a minute to go before halftime.

Coming out of the halftime locker room, the Chargers looked like the version of themselves we’ve been treated to all of this season. Despite finding themselves down by 14 points twice during the second half, including being down 14-28 with just 8 minutes left in the game, they kept fighting back. Rivers & Co. scored the game winning TD and 2-pt conversion with 4 seconds left on the clock, and the special teams locked up the Chiefs attempt to Miami Miracle to seal the Bolts first victory over their AFC West rival since 2013. (Yes, I’m now officially referring to the desperation laterals play as the ‘Miami Miracle’ from here on out. The Dolphins earned that last weekend.)

Here are a few of my takeaways from this week’s Thursday Night Football game:

  1. Chargers QB Philip Rivers is doing everything in his power to seal up the hole in his Hall of Fame resume. The one doubt I think most people (myself included) have about Rivers when it comes to the ‘Should he be in the Hall of Fame?’ argument is that he hasn’t really proven he can win when it counts. That might change this year, with the Chargers having clinched a playoff berth by winning this game. Kansas City is the exact caliber of team the Chargers will need to beat in the playoffs if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history, and they beat them ON THE ROAD in one of the most difficult places to play in the National Football League (except during the playoffs).

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    File:Anthony Lynn total access.jpg; Image via Wikimedia Commons
  2. There is a special energy that Chargers coach Anthony Lynn possesses. It showed last year when the team rallied from their usual rash of injuries and special teams woes to fall just short of the playoffs. This year, the injury bug has not bitten as badly and the Bolts might just have a long-term placekicker in Mike Badgley, and Anthony Lynn has clinched a playoff berth for his team, which is now tied with the Chiefs for best record in the AFC. There is also a legitimate argument that he out-coached Andy Reid tonight, who is one of the better coaches in the league. That 2-pt conversion was gutsy, but exactly what I (and I’m sure many others) expected out of Coach Lynn.
  3. Who needs starting RBs? Heck, who needs a RB1 OR a RB2? The Chargers and Chiefs don’t seem to need them. Both teams had ground attacks led by guys who were third on the depth chart during this season, and both ground attacks got into the end zone twice. The Chargers also gained over 100 rushing yards (119).
  4. The Chiefs defense got the takeaways, but I was more impressed by the Chargers defense’s ability to keep two of the league’s biggest receiving threats quiet in WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Both were held to fewer than 70 receiving yards (Kelce had 61 and Hill had 46) and neither one found his way into the end zone. That’s how you beat the Chiefs.
  5. Chiefs DE Chris Jones continued his tour-de-force this season with 2.5 sacks tonight. He now has 14 sacks on the season.
  6. Punter Shout-Out! Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt averaged 50.8 yards per punt on his four punts tonight. Way to boot!

The Battle for Florida: Will UCF and UF Duel on the Gridiron?

UCF versus Florida

No.

Okay, I’ll go into some detail…

Heading into college football bowl season, the state of Florida has two teams ranked in the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff Poll (Florida is the only state with two teams in that Top 10). Those two teams are the UCF Knights of the Group of 5 American Athletic Conference, and the Florida Gators of the Power 5 Southeastern Conference. Therefore…

No.

Not enough detail? That’s fair…

UCF is ranked 8th after a 12-0 season and Florida is ranked 10th after a 9-3 season. A lot of people were expecting the Knights and Gators to get matched up in one of this season’s New Year’s Six Bowls. When that didn’t happen, many UCF fans were quick to jump to the conclusion that the Gators are scared to take on their Knights…and they are.

All Power 5 schools are scared to take on the top-tier teams from the Group of 5, such as UCF and Boise State. The reason for that is simple: the Power 5 team gain nothing from playing the Group of 5. If a Power 5 team defeats a Group of 5 team, they don’t move up the rankings because playing a Group of 5 opponent doesn’t improve their strength of schedule, which voters for the College Football Playoff Poll find important. If a Power 5 team loses to a Group of 5 team, however, they will not be able to recover to make the College Football Playoff for the same strength of schedule reason.

To Florida’s credit, AD Scott Stricklin has said he would be willing to schedule UCF in football, but only to a 2-for-1 deal, with two games to be played in Gainesville at “The Swamp,” and the other game to be played at a neutral site such as Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While those match-ups would certainly help boost UCF’s resume, UCF AD Danny White has been opposed to that deal because the Knights would not receive as much revenue playing at a neutral site versus playing at home.

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File:College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy Jan 2018.jpg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

As a fan of a Group of 5 team, I understand UCF’s frustration. That said, I’m also frustrated with UCF. In the last year, UCF has claimed their football team *national champions* despite not making the College Football Playoff, and they’ve repeatedly argued that the American Athletic Conference is the sixth of the ‘Power 6’ conferences…

…Quick interjection: To be perfectly candid, that second argument INFURIATES me! I actually hate the American Athletic Conference more than any of the Power 5 conferences because that argument belittles the efforts of the other Group of 5 conferences to prove that all teams deserve an equal shot to compete for the national championship!!…

…Sorry, I’ll spare you my full rant on that subject. The bottom line is: Yes, the 2-for-1 deal is unfair. But with college football structured the way it is, those kinds of deals are the only way UCF (or any other Group of 5 team, for that matter) will be taken seriously enough to maybe give their players, coaches, and fans a real shot at winning the national championship (the actual game, not the title that UCF made up for themselves)…

…Another side note: Boise State has had two undefeated seasons that culminated in BCS Bowl victories since the turn of the century. They did not claim themselves national champions either time, and when they did it, it was harder to earn a spot in the national championship game because back then the playoff did not exist. It was just #1 versus #2 in the final rankings…

…Maybe in the future we will see a Knights-Gators football match-up, but as long as UCF is putting revenues before championships (which is the logical prioritization, I might add, because universities are businesses), the answer to this article’s titular question is…

No.

Titans Beat Jags Behind Historic Effort from Henry

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File:Derrick Henry 2018 08-09.jpg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

In a season dominated by new-era, high-octane passing games, the Tennessee Titans went to an old school running game to take down their AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-9. Titans RB Derrick Henry tied a franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a game (4), set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game (238), and tied an NFL record for longest touchdown run (99 yards) to literally carry the Titans to victory; He had just 17 fewer yards than the entire Jags offense (255).

With the win, the Titans move to 7-6 on the season to keep themselves in the thick of the hunt for the AFC’s sixth and final playoff seed, as they are just a half game back from the Baltimore Ravens (7-5), who currently own that spot (however, the Ravens also own the tiebreaker over the Titans, having won the match-up between the two teams earlier this season).

The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, fall to 4-9, which all but eliminates them from playoff contention this season. Should the Ravens win at the Kansas City Chiefs (10-2) on Sunday, they will officially become mathematically eliminated.

Here are a few of my takeaways from the Titans’ latest win over the Jaguars:

  1. I mentioned Derrick Henry’s dominance above, but he was so dominant that I need to mention it again. Of course, he scored four touchdowns and this is only the second time I’ve mentioned him so…
  2. Derrick Henry is a monster. I chuckled when I saw that the boys down at EA Sports chose to make him a MUT Monster during Most Feared season this year, but clearly they knew what they were talking about. He will almost certainly be the offensive hero of the MUT Team of the Week for Week 14. Three times so far, one more to go…
  3. Derrick Henry has the performance of the season for RBs. Not Todd Gurley. Not Saquon Barkley. Not Run Christian McCaffrey. Derrick Henry.
  4. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jaguars WR Dede Westbrook is one of the most underappreciated, up-and-coming wide receivers in the National Football League. He was one of the lone bright spots for the Jags in this disaster of a game, tallying 7 receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown (a rather spectacular touchdown, I might add. Very impressive toe-drag.) If the Jaguars can get a half-decent QB during the offseason to throw the ball to him, watch out. He’s oozing WR1 potential both in real life and in fantasy football.
  5. Speaking of QBs, Jags QB Cody Kessler actually played a decent game considering he was under siege ALL GAME. 25/43 for 240 yards with a touchdown and no picks is not a bad stat line for a guy who went 0-8 during his time as a starter in Cleveland two seasons ago. Fun fact: the FOX Sports team mentioned during the broadcast that Kessler is 1-8 (now 1-9) as a starter. His only win? The game last week in which his offense scored just 6 points, the fewest points any of his offenses have put up with him starting under center.
  6. What exactly do I mean by “under siege”? Well, Kessler was getting hit on nearly every play because the Jaguars have three starting offensive linemen on injured reserve. They played tonight’s game with Ereck Flowers at LT and Patrick Omameh at LG. You know where those two were earlier this season? They were starting for the New York Giants, who have been under constant fire the last several seasons for having one of the worst offensive lines in football. If offensive linemen get cut by the o-line desperate Giants in the middle of the season, they should NOT be NFL offensive linemen.
  7. The Titans’ special teams should be a concern. K Ryan Succop missed an extra point and PR Cameron Batson muffed a punt, scooped it up, then inexplicably ran backwards into his own end zone, where he was tackled for a safety. If they want to reach the playoffs, the Titans can’t afford those kind of mistakes from their special teams because their offense doesn’t usually play well enough to cover those up (and QB Marcus Mariota still didn’t play well enough to cover those up, though luckily that didn’t matter this time around, either).

College Football Group of 5 Shout-Outs! 2018 Week 13

This is my weekly college football shout-out to Group of 5 teams. Change is needed in the structure of college football to allow Group of 5 teams a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff. Until a Group of 5 team makes the College Football Playoff, I will compose this post every week of the college football season to celebrate the accomplishments of the underappreciated teams in college football. The numbers in parenthesis are the scores, and the bolded games are games won by Group of 5 teams.

American Athletic Conference

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

Conference-USA

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

Mid-American Conference

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

Mountain West

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

Sun Belt

No games against Power 5 foes this week.

 

Group of 5 Team of the Week

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File:UCF Knights logo.svg; Image via Wikimedia Commons

#9 University of Central Florida Knights (38) @ University of South Florida Bulls (10)

This week I’m picking UCF to make them the first team to appear twice in this segment. Despite losing star QB McKenzie Milton during the second quarter while they were up 10-0, UCF carried on to dominate their biggest rivals to the tune of a 28 point differential. As such, they will head into the American Athletic Conference Championship Game undefeated, ranked eighth in the country, and with the easiest route to the Group of 5’s New Year’s Six Bowl spot.

Un-Fun Fact: The last week has been a rough week for UCF QBs. In addition to current Knights starter Milton getting injured, former UCF star QB Blake Bortles has finally had the rug pulled from under him in Jacksonville, as the Jaguars have elected to bench the former 3rd overall selection in favor of Cody Kessler this weekend.

NFL Thanksgiving Day Primer

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Happy Thanksgiving – 1; Image via Public Domain Pictures

Family, Football, and Food. The three greatest things in life. Well, maybe not exactly, but pretty close. Thanksgiving is a fun day in my household. My dad is a Lions fan so he gets to cheer for his team, I’m a Giants fan so I get to cheer against the Cowboys, and my mom is a Jets fan so she gets to watch the Mark Sanchez butt fumble replays on Thanksgiving every year. So much to be thankful for.

Speaking of Sanchez, he’s now playing for the Washington Redskins. He’s been announced as Colt McCoy‘s backup with starter Alex Smith out for the season. We’ll see how solidified that depth chart is when we get our first look at McCoy and possibly Sanchez running the ‘Skins offense tomorrow when they travel to Dallas. Here’s what else you should watch for tomorrow while you’re chowing down on turkey and pie:

  • The Redskins aren’t the only team playing without their starting QB tomorrow, as the Chicago Bears announced today that QB Chase Daniel will start at Detroit in place of Mitchell Trubisky, who’s dealing with a shoulder injury. He’ll hope that his defense will help him out the way they’ve helped Trubisky this season, which may be easier than usual because…
  • The Lions are also dealing with offensive injuries. They will be without starting RB Kerryon Johnson and starting WR Marvin Jones. They’ll have to overcome those injuries if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive because they are currently at the bottom of the NFC North, trailing the division-leading Bears by 3 games. Winning this game will cut that gap to 2 games, while losing it will increase it to 4 games. Don’t be surprised to see an intense, defensive battle to kickoff Thanksgiving 2018.
  • That trend may continue into the second helping of NFL action, as the Redskins will have to find a way to score points with a different starting QB (see intro). McCoy or Sanchez absolutely must play well if the Redskins are to win because the Cowboys are ranked 5th in run defense this season, so don’t expect to see Adrian Peterson feasting on that stout front seven. Meanwhile…
  • The Cowboys are finding more of an offensive groove with WR Amari Cooper in the fold. They’ve scored at least 22 points in each of their last two contests, a feat they accomplished in just two of their eight games before that. The ‘Boys will need a heavy dose of Amari Cooper with RB Ezekiel Elliott matching up against the league’s 6th-ranked run defense.
  • If you love offense, don’t fear because dessert will feature an NFC South duel with plenty of it. The Atlanta Falcons have been trending in the opposite direction from the aforementioned Cowboys, as they’ve been held under 20 points in each of their last two contests. Luckily for them, the New Orleans Saints defense might be the cure to their ills, as the Saints own the 6th-worst pass defense in the league. That said…
  • The Saints defense is on the rise after holding Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz to just 156 yards while forcing 3 interceptions. They also have arguably the hottest offense in the league, led by MVP candidate Drew Brees and accompanied by the best RB duo in the league (Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram), along with one of the league’s most dominant receivers in WR Michael Thomas (who has the highest catch rate among receivers with at least 10 targets this season at 90%). The Saints have scored at least 21 points in all 10 of their games this season. When the Falcons and Saints met in Atlanta earlier this season, the game went to overtime. Will we get extra dessert this time, on Thanksgiving? Let’s hope so.

Enjoy tomorrow’s divisional matchups, stay safe this Black Friday, and, most importantly, have a Happy Thanksgiving!