What To Watch Thurs. 11/20 – Sun. 11/23

All times are PST

Thursday November 20th

Kansas St at West Virginia – 4pm FS1: K-ST and WVU may not get into the College Football Playoff but this should still be one heck of a game.

LA Clippers at Miami Heat – 5pm TNT: Still a fun game even without LeBron.

Friday November 21st

Chicago Bulls at Portland TrailBlazers – 7:30pm ESPN: Battle of two of the top teams in NBA.

Saturday November 22nd

Minnesota at Nebraska – 9am ESPN: Key game in the Big Ten West. Both teams coming off of embarrassing losses last weekend.

Arsenal vs Manchester United – 9:30am NBC: The game may not decide the Premier League but it’s still a lot of bad blood between the two.

Yale at Harvard – 9:30am NBCSN: It’s one of the longest running rivalries in College Football. This year the winner walks away with the Ivy League title. It’s also signifies the beginning of the end of the College Football season.

Ole Miss at Arkansas – 12:30pm CBS: Arkansas finally broke through and got their first SEC win in what seems like forever. Now they welcome Ole Miss to town in a must win for both but for different reasons.

Arizona at Utah – 12:30 ESPN: Think the SEC West is tough? Try the Pac 12 South.

Stanford at Cal – 1pm FS1: THE BIG GAME! Winner goes bowling. Cal QB Goff has 4 INT’s all year.

Louisville at Notre Dame – 12:30pm NBC: Notre Dame is reeling and Louisville is no joke.

Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins – 4pm NHLN: An original 6 match up for your Saturday night.

Missouri at Tennessee – 4:30pm ESPN: Mizzou is looking to wrap up their second straight SEC East title. Tennessee needs to win one of the next two to go bowling.

USC at UCLA – 5pm ABC: Battle of LA.

Frankie Edgar vs Cub Swanson – 9pm(ish) FS1: This is a heck of a fight in the Featherweight Division.

Sunday November 23rd

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots – 10am FOX: Can anyone stop the Pats?

Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-Cats – 10am ESPN: Eastern Conference Final.

NY Red Bulls vs NE Revolution – 10:30pm NBC: Can the Red Bulls get Thierry Henry to an MLS Cup before he retires?

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks – 1pm FOX: This could decide the NFC West.

Edmonton Eskimos at Calgary Stampeders – 1:30pm ESPN3: Western Conference Final, a chance to get to the Grey Cup and the battle of Alberta all wrapped into one.

LA Galaxy vs Seattle Sounders – 2pm ESPN: Game 1 of two in the Western Conference Final.

A Not So Silly Season

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Over the last two years this time of year has been a proverbial revolving door when it comes to head coaches in college football. This year, not so much. The main reason is that nearly all of the major college football programs have hired a new coach within the last three years.

Look at the major college football conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Sec. After the 2012 and 2013 seasons there was a total of 24 coaching changes. Between those five conferences this year there will be three coaching changes (give or take).

This is the first time since 2006 that the SEC isn’t changing out a coach. The man who changed that in 2007, Nick Saban at Alabama.

Most people felt back in September that the two biggest job openings this year would be USC and Texas. USC has already been opened and filled. Lane Kiffin was fired (not surprisingly) by USC back at the end of September. He’s been replaced by Washington Head Coach and former USC assistant Steve Sarkisian.

Steve Sarkisian

The Texas job, as of this post, will open possibly by the end of the week if the reports are correct. This will be the biggest job out there by far with all of the resources, money and pressure one could want.

Next year could bring a back the typical ‘silly season’ but let’s hope, for the coaches and the fans, that it comes around as often as the World Cup because it can drive people, well, silly.

The Shifting Tide

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

It may go down as the most amazing end to a College Football game in history and it may also signify the end to SEC dominance. Auburn beat Alabama on the last second of the game in the most improbably way, a missed field goal returned 100 yards for a touchdown. It will probably end Alabama’s chances for a third straight National Title and also end the SEC run of National Championships at seven. It could also mean the rise of the PAC-12.

PAC 12

The SEC has had a lot going for it. It has some of the best coaches in the country, some of the best players and generally speaking the most money. Like all dynasties it has to end sometime. If the beginning of the end is on the horizon its first significant step wasn’t Saturday but when the then PAC-10 hired Larry Scott to be it’s commissioner.

Since his hiring the conference has increased to 12 schools, signed new TV deals with ESPN & FOX (totaling some $3 billion) and created it’s own network.

The network is the key part. It’s 100% owned by the conference unlike the Big Ten Network (51% Big Ten and 49% FOX) or the SEC (wholly owned by ESPN). When you own 100% of the network you take on 100% of the problems but also get 100% of the revenue.

The PAC-12 title game is still in it’s infancy. It is not yet the spectacle that the SEC Title game is. Partially because the location changes every year to the best conference record. That means you don’t know where it is going to be, officially, until the week before. Once the league decides on a place to put the game on the regular basis then the event level status should be raised.

To those who claim the SEC is still better. You’re right but the PAC-12 plays nine conference games a year vs the eight played by the SEC. A point that even Nick Saban has pointed out at this past years SEC Spring Meeting. This creates more meaningful games vs the non conference cupcakes most schools schedule.

The tide is also shifting in the quality of its teams. Three notable SEC schools are home this bowl season (Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas). Call it coaching or injuries or what not but those teams with all of their money and all of their fans are at home this postseason. That’s a shot to the belly for the SEC.

Georgia didn’t live up to expectations and Florida’s collapse has been nothing short of spectacular. While Auburn and Missouri’s turnarounds have been nothing short of amazing the turnarounds at USC, Arizona State, and Washington State are not something to laugh at.

The SEC will not go quietly into the night nor would anyone expect them to. However, the level of play in the PAC-12, the number of NFL prospects in the next three drafts and their TV deal could spell a whole lot of trouble for the folks down south.

 

Simply put, the SEC can not stay on top forever. The country is too big and other conferences have too much going for them.

Why We Go To The Game

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

There was a recent WSJ article about how the attendance of students at college football games is down. If you really look at it you can see why but if you attended the Georgia at Tennessee game this past Saturday you can’t understand why someone wouldn’t go.

Georgia ended up beating Tennessee 34-31 in overtime in what was possibly the best game of the college football weekend. While it was fairly one-sided in the first half the second half and overtime was nothing short of phenomenal.

Neyland stadium was nearly at its full 102,455 person capacity on Saturday and a the student section was in full voice. Did it make a difference? It certainly seemed like Georgia’s offense was having problems at times communicating at times especially down towards the student section. You have to imagine that the 17-25 year old demo had some effect.

While the sea of humanity, heat, lines for the bathroom, and lack of cell service are enough to get on anyone’s nerves this day and age the rollercoaster of emotions and energy from the crowd are irreplaceable. If the game was a one-sided blow out for either side these things would seem like more of a hassle. But it wasn’t. It was great game and leaves you wanting to go to another game.

The ups, downs, joy and sorrow.These are why we go. Why we spend for the hard-earned money and hours in traffic. We do this with the hope that our team will prevail and if they don’t at least it will be one hell of a ride.

 

 

The Coach and the Microscope

All sports have a name for the leader of the team. The man or woman has been referred to as manager, skipper, and field general among others. One term comes out over and over again, coach.

While all leadership positions come under tremendous scrutiny, there are two that come under more scrutiny than the others;  President of the United States and Head Football Coach for an SEC team.

While America will vote for the next President in the very near future but the future is an uncertainty for two coaches in the SEC, Derek Dooley at Tennessee and Gene Chizik at Auburn. Both schools have a tradition of winning and a very vocal/loyal fan base.

Say what you may about their styles, game plans, and decision making skills but both have gotten to where they are because at some point they convinced someone that they were the right man for the job. Now comes a time in their lives and careers where they will receive a lot of negative attention. This will be felt by them, their staff’s, players and families.

On one of the major sports radio stations in Nashville, Tennessee this past Monday fans were calling in and literally throwing out names of other people they felt could or should be the next head coach at the University of Tennessee. Some logical but most ridiculous. One can only imagine what it would be like to be the person they are talking about replacing.

Coaching changes happen all the time in every sport. It goes with the territory. Changes at the top of any business happen with some frequency for that matter. What is rarely considered though, especially by a rabid fan base, is the emotions of the coach or their family. Can you imagine what it must be like for Coach Dooley’s wife or Gene Chizik’s kids to have to listen to the constant talk about their father losing his job?

Nowadays even contract information comes out. The Knoxville News Sentinel combed through the Tennessee coach and his assistants contracts in an effort to figure out how much it would take to get rid of everyone. The number is pretty big (Coach Chizik’s is even more). It’s also important to note that these are public universities and not professional football teams. Is all of this private money or will some of it have to come from the cash strapped states of Tennessee and Alabama?

While coaching changes are a way of life in the coaching profession one would hope that it would be handled with a little more class. A little more consideration. We’re talking about people’s jobs and their families lives. While none of these men or their staff’s will starve by any means it should give fans pause to know that these are real people and not some emotionless robot walking the sidelines. Their families shop at the same grocery store as the fans do and their kids attend the same schools. While on one level this is a business decision on another it’s matter of human decency.

Next Generation Defense

There was an article on the Wall Street Journal not too long ago talking about how the no huddle offense is ruining Television. If the WSJ thinks that a pro no huddle offense is ruining TV they must hate College Football.

Oregon is known for their no-huddle, quick-snap offense. They try to snap the ball as quickly as possible. On one scoring play against Washington they scored 9 seconds after the previous play. 9 seconds! You didn’t see the scoring play because ESPN was showing a replay of the previous play. The announcers did ask the question, “Who can stop Oregon?”

TV can’t but the Next Generation Defense can.

Every Saturday you see Defenses getting caught with penalties for too many men on the field or just not lining up correctly before the ball was snapped. They’ll never stop Oregon or another fast paced, high-snap team like Arizona with these tactics. Defenses have to change in two fundamental ways.

First, they have to stop approaching defense with a ‘well it worked in the past’ philosophy. While there are lessons that can be learned and schemes poached, there has to be a fresh approach to the basic practicies. The best place to start is with the substituions. Stop them. While several years ago substituting in players for certain defensive packages worked it won’t when you play teams like Oregon or Arizona who never huddle and snap the ball quickly. If you want rotate players to keep them fresh throughout the game you’re going to need 22 players and not 11.

Defenses can stay fresh by rotating the starting 11 between series. While this may leave some playmakers on the sidelines for a couple of series it will, in the long term, keep those players fresher to make plays throughout the game.

Second, defensive players have to now be the most conditioned athletes on the field. Rotating super giant lineman to clog the line of scrimmage isn’t going to work. Having well conditioned athletes with great technique is. Anticipate having to leave 11 defenders on the field for an entire series.

These changes will help keep pace with a team like Oregon or another fast paced team like Arizona. Arizona keeps getting brought up because in the first 6 games of the season Arizona is averaging more plays per game than Oregon (93 to 85). To put this in perspective, the defending National Champions Alabama are averaging 63 plays per game and the high octane attack of West Virginia averages 76. Oregon runs 20 more plays a game than Alabama and Arizona runs 30.

Neither Oregon or Arizona have won a National Title since they’ve begun their fast-paced offensive attack. They are garnered a lot of headlines but haven’t one the big one. Meanwhile traditional offenses like Alabama and LSU have walked away with the National Title in the last couple of years. While the past still works it may soon be swallowed up by the future with teams like Oregon, Arizona and West Virginia leading the way.

The Next Wave

 

By Brad Hubbard

Coaching changes are nothing new in football. In the professional ranks, replacing a coach in the middle of the season isn’t ground breaking but in college, it’s pretty earth shattering. More importantly the cracks are there for it to happen more often.

After a 30-13 at home in Week 1 the University of Houston fired their Offensive Coordinator. After a 10-7 loss at Oregon St the University of Wisconsin fired their Offensive Line coach. Before a battle against Washington the Portland State Vikings relieved their Defensive Coordinator of his duties. This is an unprecedented rate in college football.

The results haven’t been good for any of the three schools since the move. Houston has yet to win a game, Wisconsin had to rely on a missed Utah State field goal at home for a W and Portland State got taken behind the proverbial woodshed by Washington in Seattle.

Two of the three coordinators were in their first season with the schools and to last a grand total of three games is mind boggling. Coaching changes happen a lot. The past few offseason’s they seem to be happening later and later giving coaching staff’s even less time together before coaching in the limited time frame that is college football. It’s also giving them less time to recruit fickle high school athletes.

If Coordinators are being fired so quickly at the start of the season what does that mean for the Head Coaches at the end of the season? After three weeks you could argue that the SEC could see as many as four coaching changes by the end of the year. Is it too far off to believe that a Head Coach could be fired after game four or five?

I don’t believe it is.

We’ve already seen it last year in the PAC-12 when Arizona kicked Mike Stoops to the curb after a 1-5 start. This time the change will either be in the SEC or a mid-major conference like the Mountain West or Conference USA.

There is too much money on the line for schools and too much talent to go around on the field. At some point in the near future an Athletic Director will realize that they just paid a smaller school some ridiculous amount of money to be fodder and then that school turned around and played like the 1989 San Francisco 49ers. There are too many examples to go around but here are a few:

-Appalachian State upset of Michigan in 2007

-Wyoming defeats Tennessee in 2008

-UNLV beats Wisconsin in 2003

-Richmond beats Duke 2011

-Sacramento State beats Colorado 2012

-Cal Poly defeats Wyoming 2012

-Texas State beats Houston 2012

While this is still college athletics it’s about as much of a business as you can find. When a school like Colorado in a major conference like the PAC-12 gives up 55 points by halftime against a school from the WAC you have to think that the Athletic Director and even the school President have to look at making a change. If I was alumni or a major donor the last thing I would do is give money to a school that gets embarrassed like that. If I was quality player I would reconsider my options.

Whether you like it or not college football is a major promotional tool for the school.  It’s also a massive revenue generator. If the football team is being upset by a smaller school or being blown out on national TV it hurts the school financially. Head Coaches are on the hot seat like never before and they better realize it. If the losing continues after the assistants have been let go there is no one left to pin the blame on. 2012 may end up being the year the flood gates opened on in season firings.