08 December 2010

Headed toward the Finish Line in 2010

With three quarters of the National Football League regular season completed, a review of the divisional and playoff races seems timely. No team has clenched a playoff berth yet. Only a handful of teams have been mathematically eliminated from playoff possibility. The following is commentary broken down by divisions.

AFC East: New England is revving its engine as the finish line nears. In the process, the Patriots ran over the Jets to take the lead in the race. The damage will not last long. These two will both advance to the playoffs once again. The question is whether or not the Jets can overcome the Patriots one game lead with four left to play. If not, they will have to try to beat their incredibly stunning post-season performance of last season. On a side issue to ponder, are the Bills steadily creeping toward relocation to Toronto?

AFC North: With its win at Baltimore on Sunday, the Steelers are en route to claiming the division title. They hold a one game lead, both within the division and overall. Of the remaining games, only the visit by the Jets appears to be a possible loss. In contrast, the Ravens must sweep the final four games in addition to hoping for the Browns or Bengals to defeat the Steelers. We can expect to see the Ravens go to the playoffs but as a wildcard once again.

AFC South: What had been Indianapolis’ fiefdom to reign perennially has turned into a full-scale battle royale. Could the Colts actually miss the playoffs? How would the networks fill airtime reserved for adulation of Peyton Manning if his team is sitting at home in January? Considering that they trail the Ravens by two games and the Jets by three for the wildcards, the Colts must overcome Jacksonville to win the division and seize the automatic playoff berth. Their season hinges on winning the three remaining divisional games.

AFC West: After teasing their fans with stringing together the most wins in several seasons, the Raiders have slipped two games behind Kansas City. San Diego has failed to start its annual post-Thanksgiving Day blitzkrieg toward winning the division. That leaves Kansas City in position to wrap up the division assuming the Chiefs do not stumble more than once in the last four games.

NFC East: Philadelphia has a tie-breaker advantage over the other first place team, New York Giants, due to a win in their first meeting plus a superior divisional record so far. Michael Vick is a virtual lock to win “Comeback of the Year” awards. Jerry Jones has already fired its head coach to give Jason Garrett a long anticipated opportunity as a head coach. Fans would expect Daniel Snyder to do the same in Washington if this season were not Mike Shanahan’s first there.

NFC North: After sending envoys to beg Bret Favre to return this season and initiating a puzzling trade for Randy Moss, the Viking cruise back to the conference championship game ran aground soon after leaving port. Meanwhile, Green Bay has not disappointed the pundits who tabbed the Packers as the trendy pick to win the NFC’s spot in the Super Bowl. Chicago has awakened from its hibernation in mediocrity during the past three seasons. Both are slugging out the divisional race which should go the full sixteen rounds to determine the winner.

NFC South: This division has three of the strongest in the league. Any one of these would likely win any other division in the league. Atlanta possesses the most wins in the NFC. The defending Super Bowl champions trail Atlanta by one game. Third place Tampa Bay has more wins than anyone in the NFC West and as many as the AFC South leader. All three could conceivably advance to the post-season. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Saints and Buccaneers, only one will enjoy a home game for its first playoff game this season. The Falcons hold a game advantage over the Saints in addition to a win in their first meeting. The Saints must win their last four games and hope for a Christmas miracle in the form of a Falcons’ loss to Carolina or Seattle.

NFC West: Will the NFL ever consider revoking automatic playoff berths for division winners and giving them higher seeds than wildcards? If so, this year’s version of the NFC Worst will serve as a strong case for making the change. For not a single member of this division to hold a winning record in December is a disgrace. If the NFL has any sense of fair play, the team that has fewer losses than the other three should be forced to travel to the stadium of a wild card team for the first round of the playoffs.

Several exciting races remain for divisional titles and wildcard berths. The NFL could not have asked for a more compelling season in the race toward that date in early February in Jerry World. Will this season’s drama serve as motivation to settle lingering labor issues and avoid a cancellation or truncation of next season? The fans deserve a solution.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT DECEMBER 2010

17 November 2010

Pilgrims to the Playoffs and Turkeys of the Season

Less than two weeks remain before one of the most important holidays occurs. Although the plethora of d├ęcor in retail locations would lead one to assume that Christmas is rapidly approaching, the calendar indicates otherwise. Thanksgiving Day provides not only its traditional platter of National Football League’s games, it also serves as a benchmark at this point of the season.

Numerous turkeys have already appeared on the scene. Dallas made the first termination of a coach. Randy Moss has accelerated his “Alienation of the Nation Tour” by joining his third team this season; one must assume that he will jump to yet another team after this season. Fans rooting for a team to finish undefeated were all crushed by the end of the fifth week of the season. Also, the folly of players hosting their own television series has been exposed as a cause of a defending divisional champion to crumble.

American Football Conference
Eastern Division: The Jets hold a slim lead over the Patriots, based mostly on their victory at home versus New England. New York can distance itself from the rest of the division with victories in the first weeks of December. However, New England has plenty of experience to overtake New York, if they can win the rematch to keep pace with the Jets. Miami is fading fast due to its losing record within the division and the conference. The Dolphins must win on the road against both divisional leaders just to have a prayer of making the playoffs.
Northern Division: Baltimore and Pittsburgh are running neck and neck, with the Ravens ahead by a nose due to its head-to-head win. Each team plays three divisional games during the last five weeks of the season. Those will decide who grabs the AFC North title and who settles for a wildcard entry. The prima donnas in the orange and black stripes have flopped miserably.

Southern Division: The Colts no longer can claim this division as their personal playpen. Indianapolis is alone in first place by only one game, with the cellar dwelling Texans only two games back. Houston and Jacksonville have already beaten Indianapolis to remain in contention for the divisional crown. Everyone in the AFC South has at least one divisional win. This race most likely will not be settled until Week Sixteen at the earliest.

Western Division: This division is also no longer the domain of a single franchise. The Chargers have plodded to losing records, both overall and within the division. The Raiders and Chiefs have overcome their recent history of putridity to eke out records a game above .500. One must wonder if Oakland and Chiefs might become too distracted by media reports of their resurgence then falter, allowing San Diego to regain its mastery of this group.

National Football Conference
Eastern Division: The media’s favorite division is not as dominant as predicted but still entertainingly competitive. The top two teams in this division have yet to face each other. In fact, the Giants have yet to face either the Redskins or Eagles. Despite the Eagles’ demolition of the Redskins, Washington remains in contention. Cowboys’ fans can only lament Jerry Jones’ late decision to fire Wade Philips and his predictions of hosting the Super Bowl with his team participating.

Northern Division: Chicago holds multiple tie-breakers over Green Bay so their first place tie is rather deceiving. Vikings’ fans only have the never-ending speculation over Bret Favre’s retirement to occupy the remainder of the season. The Lions will have to settle for trying to win on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 2003.

Southern Division: If not for the awful presence of Carolina, this division would clearly stand out as the toughest in the league. Both NFC wildcard could easily emerge from this group. Atlanta holds the advantage over New Orleans and Tampa Bay by virtue of victories over both. However, both trail the Falcons by only one game so either one could surpass Atlanta to grab the divisional title. This race will go down to the final week and likely require multiple layers of tie-breakers.

Western Division: Could someone delve into the NFL’s by-laws to find an obscure clause precluding this division’s least odious team from the entering playoffs? The divisional leader sits one game above .500 while the rest sport losing records. Despite the hype over Pete Carroll’s arrival, San Francisco’s revival and Arizona’s recent post-season success, this is the still the “NFC Worst”.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT NOVEMBER 2010

11 November 2010

Leaves, Contenders and Excuses Continue to Fall

As foliage diversifies in color then drops across the country, college football has entered into the final third of its season. The controversies surrounding the Bowl Championship Series continue to build like piles of leaves at this time of year. The proponents of the BCS point to the regular season games as de facto playoffs. If that is true, losses by Utah, Alabama and Oklahoma have winnowed the forest of red-hued contenders for the two slots available in Glendale, Arizona, at least in the opinions of the defenders of the status quo.

However, this picturesque and orderly scene deceives those who deny the BCS's flaws. Pundits switched from mentioning Alabama’s self-determination to reach the BCS title game to speculating on what must occur for Louisiana State to finish in the top two after the regular season. Additionally, since Saturday, the media has frequently debated about which of the nine teams with one loss could or should surpass Boise State or Texas Christian in the polls. The concept of eliminating challengers each week seems spurious. Actually, the rankings appear like a freshly raked lawn, which is quickly re-cluttered by the appearance of more leaves.

Four weeks remain before the final BCS poll will determine the contestants for the mythical national title game. The presence of two undefeated teams from minor conferences in the top five of the polls has spawned a tremendous amount of debate. The acrimony will spike even higher if Auburn or Oregon lose. If the Ducks or Tigers or both drop a game, who should replace them in the BCS title game? Should a one-loss champion from Big Ten or Big Twelve leap over undefeated Boise State or TCU? If LSU finishes with only one loss but does not play the Southeastern Conference’s championship game, do the Tigers deserve a shot at the BCS title instead of the Frogs or Broncos? If the top four teams all finish 12-0, the media and fans will scream thunderously for a “plus one” game after bowls long touted by critics of the current system.

The controversy will not exist solely around the pairing of opponents for the last game of the season. If Boise State or TCU do not play in the BCS Title Game, in which bowl will they conclude their seasons? The Atlantic Coast Conference’s champion will play in the Orange Bowl despite having at least two losses. The winner of the Big East will receive an invitation to one of the four other BCS bowls despite having at least three losses. Would the four bowls prefer to choose an also-ran from the SEC, Big Ten or Big Twelve in lieu of one of those undefeated teams without a guaranteed BCS bid for winning their conferences? The debate in the backrooms among bowl executives will weigh the value of larger fan bases and more name recognition versus the allure of underdogs with perfect records. This issue will also spawn more threats of lawsuits and Congressional intervention plus calls to strip automatic BCS berths from the ACC and the Big East.

There remains one final question to ponder. Will this year’s batch of thorny issues finally kill the BCS and give birth to a true playoff system? Lovers of college football can only wait and hope that the beauty of this and future seasons will cease their annual dreary conclusions.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT NOVEMBER 2010

10 October 2010

NFL out of the Gates in 2010

The National Football League has completed the first quarter of its season. The following is a brief review of each division.

American Football Conference

AFC East: The Jets have demonstrated that their playoff odyssey as a last minute addition as a wildcard team through the AFC last season was no fluke. By sweeping their first three divisional games, they find themselves in the driver’s seat, slightly ahead of the Patriots. Bills’ fans need to continue to attend the woeful Bills’ games or the rumors of relocation to Toronto will increase.

AFC North: This group is tighter than appears at first glance. The cellar dweller, Cleveland, has a divisional victory while the second place, Pittsburgh, lost its only intra-divisional game so far. This division seems highly likely to produce at least one wildcard entry.

AFC South: The Colts’ domination of this group has officially ended. Two divisional losses buried that birthright. Fans must wonder if the Texans or Jaguars can handle success to stay ahead of Indianapolis.

AFC West: After last season’s run of two undefeated teams into December, only an amazingly clairvoyant forecaster could have predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would remain the sole team with a perfect record. Their game versus the Colts will reveal the Chiefs to be legitimate contender for the post-season or just a pretender just teasing their followers with fleeting success.

National Football Conference

NFC East: Was this the same division touted as the strongest in the NFL over the summer? None of the four teams have a winning record. If anyone could be tabbed as the frontrunner, that label would fall to the Washington Redskins. Their two victories over Dallas and Philadelphia give them an advantage in terms of tie-breakers.

NFC North: Chicago has raced out to a slim lead in the division. The Bears’ win over Green Bay gives them the edge so far. The Vikings are in third place but still easily capable of winning the divisional crown. Minnesota won its sole divisional game and is only one and a half games behind the Bears and Packers. The Lions’ fans are left with their annual thrashing on Thanksgiving Day and trying to avoid another winless season.

NFC South: This division is already a two team race. Both are 3-1 but the Falcons hold the tie-breaker with their victory at New Orleans. The Panthers’ management clearly did not care to participate in this season’s playoffs by letting go of their only experienced quarterback and declining to troll the free agent market for quality players. It seems that Carolina’s front office wants to set up John Fox to fail and just let him finish out the final year on his contract.

NFC West: This quartet has been referred to the “NFC Worst”. Its members have done little to counter that moniker. No one is above the .500 winning percentage. San Francisco is one of the five remaining winless team in the league. Does the divisional champion truly deserve an automatic playoff game at home? Objective fans can justifiably reply in the negative.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT OCTOBER 2010

29 September 2010

NCAA Football Review After September

The first month of the college football season has concluded. A few early overrated teams (Virginia Tech, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech) have already been exposed and eliminated from the polls. Likewise, underappreciated teams left out of the pre-season polls (Nevada, Arizona, Michigan State, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Michigan and Stanford) have been belatedly included. Several high-profile inter-conference games have already helped solidify the polls by reinforcing the lofty rankings of Alabama, Ohio State, Boise State, Texas Christian, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Oregon.

With the exception of the Southeastern Conference, too few intra-conference matches have been occurred so far to distinguish the likely contenders for championships. No one in the Big East or Big Ten has played a conference game yet. No team in the Big Twelve, Pacific Ten or Western Athletic Conference has played more than one conference contest so far. Based solely on non-conference games, West Virginia appears as the favorite to win the Big East while the Big Ten race has four teams, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, in serious contention for the title. This Saturday’s game between Oregon and Stanford will weigh heavily in determining the Pacific Ten championship.

Only the Southeastern Conference has played a significant number of conference matches to start to filter out the pretenders from the contenders. Nine of twelve teams in the SEC have played at least two conference games; Georgia and Mississippi State have played three already. In the Western Division, Auburn and Louisiana State have raced out ahead of the pack with two wins in their first two conference games. The two teams from the Magnolia State are already positioning themselves in the basement of the SEC West as many pundits forecasted. On the other side of the conference, Florida grabbed the early lead but South Carolina remains within striking distance. Georgia is realistically eliminated from winning the SEC East.

The Atlantic Coast Conference appears to be destined to have a conference championship game featuring two unranked divisional champions. The top two teams in the Coastal Division each have unforgiveable non-conference losses to an FCS member and to a team that lost to an FCS member respectively. In the Atlantic Division, North Carolina State is the sole undefeated team left in the ACC. If Florida State’s coaching changes can end the malaise of the past several years, the Seminoles still have a great shot at winning the ACC. Miami has the talent to contend but has not tested the waters yet in conference. It appears that the fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference have to wait once again for basketball season to restore their pride.

The question in the Big Twelve revolves around Nebraska’s and Colorado’s impending defections. Will the other four weaklings on the Northern Division manage to upset the perceived traitors? Otherwise, the task of salvaging conference pride will fall to Texas or Oklahoma to continue the Big Twelve South’s domination of the other half of the conference. One must wonder if either traditional power is up to the task. Oklahoma narrowly escaped with home wins over Air Force and Utah State. Unranked UCLA embarrassed Texas in its own stadium. The passion of the undeclared blood feud of the remaining Big Twelve teams versus the departing members may not suffice to prevent one of those two from taking the conference title on their way out of the door.

For college football fans, many questions remain to be answered. Will Alabama navigate unscathed in the SEC once again on its way to repeating as national champions? Can Ohio State remain at least second in the polls in order to have another shot at winning the BCS title and possibly end its winless post-season streak versus the SEC in the process? Will enough BCS conference members lose games to allow Boise State or Texas Christian to land in the BCS title game, assuming either will finish undefeated? Will the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences manage to convince the BCS overlords that their champions still deserve automatic bids for their champions? Will the Mountain West and Western Athletic Conferences continue to make their cases to receive automatic BCS bids for their champions? Many more games need to be played, all of which will provide more fodder for debates and controversies.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT SEPTEMBER 2010

23 September 2010

Mighty Mites

They are technically called “members of the Football Championship Subdivision”. However, people still refer to them as “Division 1-AA”. Fans and commentators often label them as “warm-ups” “punching bags” “rent-a-wins”, “tomato cans” and other demeaning monikers. However, several of these slighted teams have already scored upsets.

FCS members have already played sixty-nine matches versus the Football Bowl Subdivision in the first three weeks of the 2010 season. Six FCS members have already beaten Football Bowl Subdivision teams in that span. Four of these wins occurred versus members of the six conferences whose champions automatic qualify for the Bowl Championship Series. They have upset a member from each of these conferences: Southeastern, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big Twelve respectively. Additionally, two Mid-American Conference teams have lost to FCS opponents. James Madison, Liberty, Gardner-Webb, Jacksonville State, North Dakota State and South Dakota all deserve a round of applause for overcoming the disparity of scholarships and overall talent to topple those "Big Boys".

Considering that the FBS versus FCS games are no longer guaranteed victories, should college football fans expect to see no more of these mismatches? An optimistic fan might say that because nearly ten percent of these FBS versus FCS contests have resulted in a victory for the FCS, the formerly labeled Division 1-A members will no longer schedule FCS teams to avoid any future ignobility. A pessimistic fan would counter that FBS teams will simply lower those odds of embarrassment by lining up teams from Division Two of the NCAA.

COPYRIGHT SEPTEMBER 2010 BY CHARLES KASTRIOT

13 August 2010

Cut out the Cupcakes

Now, that the coaches’ poll has been released, start of the college football season is close at hand. While a few weeks of debate over the pre-season rankings inevitably will occur, some attention needs to be focused on the schedules.

Each program selects a handful of opponents to play in addition to the slate determined by its conference affiliation, the three independents excepted. Unfortunately, for the fans, teams load up their non-conference dance cards with outmanned teams from the five minor conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-A) or from the Football Championship Division (previously called Division 1-AA). The Southeastern Conference typically feasts on Sun Belt & Conference USA teams. The Big Ten loads up on Mid-American Conference members. The Pacific Ten Conference has Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference teams to pad win totals. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East demonstrate more variety in choosing foes.

Considering the continual climb of the cost of tickets, the fans deserve more than three to five of the games on the home schedule consisting of mismatches versus “rent-a-wins”. Obviously, the major conference members will keep the tradition of opening the season at home versus an overmatched opponent with no hope of ever playing for the Bowl Championship Series title. A second such punching bag will annually be chosen as the victim for homecoming. In order to coax the BCS conference members to play teams from other BCS conference, the National Collegiate Athletic Association could implement one or more of the following:

1. Forbid games versus 1-AA members: This surefire approach would narrow the pool of possible conference opponents to the one hundred twenty programs currently participating in the highest level of NCAA football. Of course, this step would not prevent BCS conference teams from scheduling only opponents from the five minor conferences if Division 1-A for typically boring mismatches.

Such a prohibition would affect nearly every Division 1-A program if the trend of adding 1-AA teams continues. Out of the hundred twenty FBS teams, only eleven did not invite a FCS member as a sacrificial lamb: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, Southern California, Washington, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame. This translates to over a hundred creampuffs on the menus for everyone else. Those should cause the pancreases of all college football fans to go into overdrive.

2. Make victories versus 1-AA and lower division teams not count toward bowl eligibility: A slightly less harsh rule that might actually hurt Division 1-A teams more. If a team is unable to fill in its schedule, it may have to resort to dipping into the lower division to find an opponent. However, a problem could arise if several teams finished 6-6 but each had a win over an FCS team. Given the overabundance of bowls, it is conceivable that not enough teams won six or more games against FBS teams, thus, leaving some of the bottom-tier bowls without squads to participate in their games. Would this rule have to be suspended in such a year? Would those bowls be allowed to invite FCS teams instead? Would those bowls just be cancelled?

3. Limit number of home games to seven. Hopefully, this move would force teams into home-away series w/ other BCS conference teams. Teams would have to choose between playing at small stadiums of minor conferences for meager amounts of guaranteed payments and traveling to BCS conference opponents for larger payments with games much more likely to be televised, increasing the revenue from such contests.

Those inter-sectional games are coveted by the networks, especially in September when most viewers are deciding to watch a live game instead of season premiers of series. If nothing else, it might to lead to the creation of more neutral site games like Illinois and Missouri have been playing in St. Louis or the recently established annual ACC vs. SEC game in the Georgia Dome. Notre Dame has negotiated some neutral site games which appeal to their subway alumni. The Alamo Dome & the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium (better known as “Jerry World”) in Arlington, Texas have both hosted a few non-conference match-ups.

The downside to this proposal is that some programs’ fans will not travel in significant numbers to make games on the road or at neutral sites as profitable. Instead of teams signing equitable contracts for a home game paired with a game at the opponent’s home stadium, some powerful programs may be able to bribe their way to make the “away” games to be played at a nearby stadium, thus retaining a de facto home field advantage. Such examples from this coming season are Louisiana-Monroe’s supposed home game versus Arkansas in Little Rock and Florida Atlantic’s cross-country trip to Detroit face the “visiting” team from Michigan State.

4. The NCAA could impose a rotating schedule of non-conference opponents similar to that done by the NFL. For example, everyone in the SEC and Big Twelve could have two contests, one at home and one on the road, against members from the other conference. Following the NFL’s example, the first place teams from each conference last season would have to play the first and second place teams from the other conference. That would result in some intriguing contests: Alabama versus Texas, Texas versus Florida, Alabama versus Nebraska and Florida versus Nebraska. The networks would drool over these, possibly even increasing the size of television contracts if these types of contests occur annually.

Realistically, the chances that the conferences would cede control over their scheduling to the NCAA are less likely than Paris Hilton winning a Noble Prize in every category all in the same year. Programs squabbled enough over scheduling decisions made by their own conferences such Auburn having its long time series with Florida and Tennessee terminated or annual Nebraska’s showdown with Oklahoma interrupted due to divisional formats. The amount of rancor from some programs resenting mandatory games versus others which they deliberately avoided could cause enough dissent to fracture the NCAA’s monopoly on major college football.

Alas, this writer can only dream about upgrading the all too common yawn-inducing ambushes disguised as college football games. Until a solution is found, the fans’ only solution is to shame those who pad their slates with the sport’s equivalent of junk food while applauding those who serve up feasts for the senses in the form of marquee match-ups. This writer is willing to do his part in exposing those guilty of schedule-fluffing while praising those who do not fear playing quality competition out of conference.

For the purpose of clarification, I will explain some terms and notions that I employed in this article. For the purpose of scheduling, Notre Dame is considered on par w/ a BCS conference members. Minor conferences are those without a guaranteed Bowl Championship Series bid for their champions. I included the Military and Naval Academies’ teams on par with the minor conference members.

The following BCS conference members deserve applause for scheduling by two BCS non-conference opponents without any 1-AA opponents. Their opponent affiliations are included:

Colorado (PAC Ten and SEC), UCLA (two from the Big 12), Southern California (ACC, Big 10 & Notre Dame), Washington (Big East & Big 12), Alabama (Big 10 & ACC), and Vanderbilt (Big 10, Big East & ACC)

Alabama, the defending national champs, should not need some child-sized punching bags but the game at Duke will serve as one. Vanderbilt, the one team who might be excused for needing a tomato can or two to kick around before serving as the rest of the SEC’s whipping boy declined to do so. Colorado will have a sneak-peak at life in its conference for the future with a game at California. The Pacific Ten has enough high profile games versus other conferences to bolster its claim as the strongest conference, depending on how many they win.

Also deserving applause among the minor conferences by scheduling three BCS opponents and no 1-AA opponents are the following. Maybe they are seeking to prove their worth for an invention to BCS bowl or it is just that major conferences pay bigger sum for assumed beatings?

East Carolina (three from the ACC), Memphis (two from the SEC and one from the Big East), Rice (two Big 12 opponents and one Big 10 opponent), Eastern Michigan (Big 10,SEC & ACC), Arkansas State (SEC, Big East & Big 10), Florida Atlantic (Big 10, Big East & Big 12), Florida International (two from the Big East plus one from Big 12 and from the ACC), Louisiana-Lafayette (two from the SEC and one from the Big 12) and Western Kentucky (Big 12, SEC, Big 10 & Big East).

Florida International and Western Kentucky are competing for “Most Masochistic Schedule of the Year” honors. The Panthers face two Big East members plus one from the Big Twelve and ACC respectively to start the season, three of those on the road. The Hilltoppers will endure contests versus an opponent from the Big Twelve, SEC, Big Ten and Big East in four consecutive weeks, three of those on the road. One has to wonder if the players at these and other Sun Belt programs may just prefer to compete at the 1-AA level with a realistic chance of ever competing for national titles instead of serving as others’ punching bags.

Some programs deserve a thunderous chorus of boos for their schedules. The derision comes for scheduling no BCS opponents or two 1-AA opponents. Baylor understandably chose to play two former Southwest Conference rivals but including Sam Houston State and Buffalo too? If Baylor needs to avoid any BCS opponents outside of its conference, perhaps the Bears belong in a minor conference. Texas Tech followed Baylor’s example and will host two former SWC rivals yet also included New Mexico and Weber State. Shamelessly, the Red Raiders have fattened their win totals with such an anemic level of non-conference competition in the previous seven years. Ball State’s two consecutive trips to Big Ten stadiums do not justify two home games versus 1-AA opponents in the preceding weeks. Arizona State lined up two of three non-conference games are against 1-AA teams. San Jose State’s season opener at the defending national champions does not excuse two games versus FCS members. All five of the programs should be forced to win seven games for bowl eligibility in return for such cushy slates of games.

A plethora of programs receive mixed reviews of their selected opponents since they signed on to face two major conference foes yet also slipped in a creampuff: Boston College (Notre Dame and Syracuse but Weber State), Clemson (Auburn and South Carolina but Presbyterian), Florida State (Oklahoma and Florida but Samford), Georgia Tech (Kansas and Georgia but South Carolina State), Miami (Ohio State and South Florida but Florida A&M), North Carolina(LSU and Rutgers but William & Mary), Wake Forest (Stanford & Vanderbilt but Presbyterian), Iowa (Iowa State & Arizona but Eastern Illinois), Michigan (Connecticut & Notre Dame but Massachusetts), Georgia (Colorado & Georgia Tech but Idaho State) and Louisiana State (North Carolina & West Virginia but McNeese State). In the writer of this opinion, facing two BCS conference members out of conference offsets the revolting inclusion of an FCS member.

Undoubtedly, this will not end the discussions of strength of schedules of teams. If the BCS rewarded teams facing formidable foes outside of their conference and penalized those loading up on cupcakes, maybe the fans would see more enticing contest and not have to endure visual junk food.

COPYRIGHT AUGUST 2010 BY CHARLES KASTRIOT

25 July 2010

College Football Program of the Single Digit Years

Before the first college football season of the two thousand teens kicks off in a few weeks, I think a review of the single digit years is appropriate. In the process of determining the rankings for programs, I decided, for the sake of brevity, to consider only those teams, which had advanced to the mythical national title game at least once. However, given the hopelessly rigged system of determining who plays in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) title game, I am including the programs that also experienced one or more undefeated seasons. A total of thirteen teams won a BCS title, finished undefeated or both during the past ten seasons. I ranked each of them after reviewing the following criteria:

Record versus Division 1-A opponents:
Number of winning seasons:
Number of shared conference/divisional titles:
Number of outright conference titles:
Record in bowl games:
Record in BCS bowl games:
Number of BCS title game appearances:
Number of BCS titles:

The readers should note a few elements of my rankings. First of all, they are not based solely on an objective standard like number of BCS titles or overall wins. Secondly, only wins versus Division 1-A opponents, Football Bowl Subdivision in NCAA's newspeak, are included so teams will not have inflated totals of wins playing undermanned teams from lower classifications. Also, since some conferences recognize more than conference champion while others have a conference title game resulting in one champion, I have equated a shared conference title with a berth in a conference championship game. Lastly, only teams that advanced to their conference's title games are credited as a divisional champion for a particular season. Even though they may have finished with the same record as another team, which advanced to the title game, if a team was denied a trip to its conference's championship game due to tiebreakers, then I have not counted that finish as a "divisional championship". Therefore, I presented my rankings of the programs of the decade in ascending order.

#13 NEBRASKA
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 81-44 (64.8%)
Number of winning seasons: 7
Number of divisional titles: 2
Number of outright conference titles: none
Record in bowl games: 5-3
Record in BCS bowl games: 0-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 1
Number of BCS titles: none
Summary: These past ten years saw Nebraska fall from a perennial top ten member to a perennial also-ran in the weakest division of the conferences with conference title games. A telling statement about the Cornhuskers’ performances is the fact that their most notable accomplishment in ten years was falling backside first into the BCS championship game despite not even winning their own division that season.

In addition to providing a huge store of ammunition to anti-BCS pundits, that dubious feat and subsequent mauling by Miami foreshadowed a meager decade for the Big Red. Streaks of winning seasons and bowl appearances were halted. The Children of the Corn became spoiled and grew impatient for conference and national titles under Frank Solich. Then, they saw their beloved program slid even lower as the radical experiments of Bill Callahan ended in four years of disaster. Only time will tell if Bo Pelini’s first two seasons are building a foundation to return to prominence or if Nebraska will simply exchange mediocrity in the Big Twelve for mediocrity or worse in the Big Ten.

#12 ALABAMA
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 77-48 (61.6%)
Number of winning seasons: 6
Number of divisional titles: 2
Number of outright conference titles: 1
Record in bowl games: 4-3
Record in BCS bowl games: 1-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 1
Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: The Crimson Tide ended this span of ten years as kings of the mountain. However, that one season cannot mask the preceding nine years of controversies, terminations of coaches and NCAA probation. The coaching carousel in Tuscaloosa was spinning far too often to build continuity vital to long-term success. Five different men held the position during this span.

Nick Saban has righted the most successful program in the history of the Southeastern Conference. His three years alone account for forty percent of the wins and both SEC title game appearances in the single digit years. Given Saban’s history, one can logically wonder how long will he remain at Alabama. His ego may push him back into the NFL to prove that is two-year washout in Miami was just a fluke.

#11 FLORIDA STATE
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 81-44 (64.8%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of shared conference/divisional titles: 1
Number of outright conference titles: 4
Record in bowl games: 5-5
Record in BCS bowl games: 0-4
Number of BCS title game appearances: 1
Number of BCS titles: none
Summary: A program that had assumed Atlantic Coast Conference titles and top five finishes in the polls as annual birthrights in the 90s was barely avoiding the murky waters of irrelevancy from swallowing Bobby Bowden’s hard-fought legacy as the decade progressed. Sadly, the man who lifted the Seminoles from the status of everyone’s homecoming opponent to everyone’s entry on an annual list of contenders for the national championship had to retire before he wanted to do so. Bowden became a victim of his own success; therefore, finishing one or two games above .500 and in a fourth rate bowl game would not pacify the faithful in Tallahassee, especially not in successive years.

If Jimbo Fisher cannot re-establish the level of success of the 90s, then those who forced out Bowden will undoubtedly began to pine for the “good old days”. If the excellence continues in Gainesville along with the Gators' dominance of their annual series versus Florida State, the Seminole Nation will extend Fisher even less patience.

#10 UTAH
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 84-36 (70%)
Number of winning seasons: 8
Number of shared conference titles: none
Number of outright conference titles: 3
Record in bowl games: 8-0
Record in BCS bowl games: 2-0
Number of BCS title game appearances: none
Number of BCS titles: none
Summary: Utah’s move to the soon-to-be Pacific Twelve occurred several years too late to help its program compete for BCS titles. So much of rankings in the polls depend upon legacy of sustained success over decades. Both the 2004 and 2008 squads deserved to be included in any eight-team playoffs or a “plus one” scenario after the BCS games are played. Unfortunately, Utah had to overcome decades of obscurity playing in a conference with very few large media markets and little history or nation-wide respect.

Twice finishing undefeated and dominating a major conference opponent in a BCS bowl in a span of five years undoubtedly contributed to their invitation into the Pacific Ten. The Utes built a respectable reputation for themselves over those ten years. In the preceding decade, Utah finished with eight wins and eight losses versus the Pacific Ten. When the Utes were able to lure West Coast teams to Salt Lake City, the Utes won five of the seven contests. Additionally, they grabbed wins in both bowls against Pacific Ten teams. Undercutting Utah’s case for acclaim was the Utes’ one lone victory in seven games occurring at Pacific Ten members’ stadiums. Utah also fared well in games against the other BCS conferences: SEC (1-0), Big 12 (1-1), Big 10 (3-1) Big East (3-0) and ACC (2-1). The future appears promising for Utah and the prospects of another undefeated team settling for a consolation prize of meaningless BCS bowl game seem remote.

#9 BOISE STATE
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 104-17 (85.95%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of shared conference: 1
Number of outright conference titles: 6
Record in bowl games: 6-4
Record in BCS bowl games: 2-0
Number of BCS title game appearances: none
Number of BCS titles: none
Summary: Boise State captured the affinity of fans of underdogs by barging its way into the “old boys club” of the BCS then upsetting Big Twelve champion Oklahoma in one of the most memorable college football games in history. That one game has contributed much to the growing reputation of the Broncos as a perennial power. Another opportunity to stage another seismic stunner was wrongfully denied to them last season. An invitation to play Florida in the Sugar Bowl or Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl should have been extended to the Broncos instead of the so-called “Mid-Major Bowl” in Glendale.

However, an overview of their results over a ten-year span slightly diminishes the luster of that magical evening in the Fiesta Bowl. On the bright side, the Broncos did score two wins in the only two games versus Big Twelve members, both in bowl games in addition to a 4-5 record against the Pacific Ten. However, Boise State’s four losses in four contests versus the Southeastern Conference diminished their reputation. Additionally, a third of their bowl wins took place in their home stadium. Another one of these de facto home games disguised as a bowl game resulted in a loss. Time will tell if the Broncos’ domination the Western Athletic Conference will continue in the Mountain West. If they do, that should lead to more chances to prove their worth to the BCS for an automatic bid for their new conference.

#8 AUBURN
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 74-39 (65.49%)
Number of winning seasons: 9
Number of divisional titles: 2
Number of outright conference titles: 1
Record in bowl games: 6-3
Record in BCS bowl games: 1-0
Number of BCS title game appearances: none
Number of BCS titles: none
Summary: The Tigers confounded the prognosticators throughout most years. Auburn floundered when they received much pre-season acclaim, such as in 2003 when the team started the season ranked as number six in both polls but ended the year unranked. The previous season, Auburn was listed among those “also receiving votes” yet finished number fourteen in the media’s poll and number sixteen according to the coaches. After being embarrassed by their overrating of Auburn in 2003, the media listed the Tigers as their seventeenth team and eighteenth by the coaches. That contributed to Auburn’s inability to leap over Southern California or Oklahoma into the BCS title game. Additionally, in 2008, the Tigers found themselves as number eleven in both major polls but did not receive a single vote in either post-season survey.

The 2004 Auburn Tigers serve as the poster child for the anti-BCS forces. An undefeated team from one of the six automatically qualifying conferences had to settle for a victory in the Sugar Bowl while campaigning at the last minute for Associated Press voters to give it their national title as a consolation prize. No matter how much tinkering the fossils behind the BCS perform, nothing short of additional games beyond the bowls can ever rectify this injustice from re-occurring.

#7 MIAMI
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 87-33 (72.5%)
Number of winning seasons: 7
Number of shared conference/divisional titles: 1
Number of outright conference titles: 3
Record in bowl games: 5-4
Record in BCS bowl games: 3-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 2
$Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: This other heavyweight throughout the 90s from the Sunshine State also slid into lean times as the single digit years proceeded. The Hurricanes started the decade being wrongfully excluded from the national title game in favor of Florida State whom they had beaten during the regular season. They took out their frustrations on all opponents in the next season, concluding by creaming corn in Pasadena then seemingly flinging it at anyone whom they held as responsible for their exclusion the previous season. A controversial pass interference penalty in overtime helped deny them a repeat in 2002.

Hurricane fans searching for an excuse for the downturn have grasped at few causes but none seem totally explicative. Miami struggled after its defection to the ACC, failing to win even a divisional title in its new conference. The Hurricanes only conference titles occurred as members of the Big East. The Hurricanes only lost more than one conference game in two of their thirteen seasons in the Big East. In the ACC, Miami has lost at least three conference games per season in five of it six seasons.
Larry Coker received a massive amount of blame as ill-suited to carry the mantle of Schnellenberger, Johnson and Erickson although he did serve on Butch Davis’ staff and lead the team to three straight Big East titles and one national title. The talent-laden state of Florida can prove the Hurricanes with more than enough players to succeed. The questions is whether or not coaches can be found to lead them back to greatness of the two previous decades.

#6 OKLAHOMA
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 108-24 (81.82%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of divisional titles: 7
Number of outright conference titles: 6
Record in bowl games: 5-5
Record in BCS bowl games: 2-5
Number of BCS title game appearances: 4
Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: Oklahoma started the decade by emerging from its irrelevance during the 1990s, including five straight non-winning seasons, by stunning the nation en route to the BCS title in 2000. The success continued in winning more than half of the Big Twelve conference championships in the decade. However, their trouncing at the hands of a mediocre Kansas State in the 2003 conference title game preceded losses in its last five BCS bowls caused snide whispers of “Choke-lahoma” among critics. Fair or not, fans remember results in bowl games more than all the wins in the regular season. In these past ten years, the Sooners have finished perfectly mediocre in that regard. With their conference losing two high-profile programs, Big Twelve championships will garner less respect nationally, making post-season wins increase in value in terms of respect and rankings.

Barring committing mass murder or losing again to Oklahoma State in consecutive years, Bob Stoops' job is not jeopardy. However, the Sooner Nation will expect another national title in the coming decade in addition to continued domination of the slimmed down Big Twelve.

#5 OHIO STATE
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 100-25 (80%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of shared conference titles: 3
Number of outright conference titles: 3
Record in bowl games: 5-5
Record in BCS bowl games: 4-3
Number of BCS title game appearances: 3
Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: The same problem that plagued Oklahoma has tarnished the tremendous level of success for Ohio State. Despite multiple conference titles and berths in the BCS title game, too many losses in bowls diminished the Buckeyes' view in many fans' opinions. Overlooked is their perennially serious contention for the Big Ten championship not experienced since Woody Hayes punched his way into retirement. Despite the addition of a conference championship game in 2011, no indication of a drop-off in the Buckeyes' elite status in the Big Ten and nationally appears possible.

Despite some ugly losses in bowls, Jim Tressel need not worry about his professional future. Any impatient Buckeye fans only have to be reminded of John Cooper's impotence against their archrivals from Ann Arbor plus his abysmal record in the post-season. If only Tressel could put an end to the Buckeyes' infamous futility versus the Southeastern Conference in bowls, his legacy in Columbus would be complete.

#4 TEXAS
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 110-19 (85.27%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of divisional titles: 3
Number of outright conference titles: 2
Record in bowl games: 7-3
Record in BCS bowl games: 3-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 2
Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: In 1998, Mack Brown arrived in Austin with this mission: restore Texas to a national powerhouse and perennial domination of its conference. On both counts, he has succeeded tremendously. The Longhorns developed a nasty habit of flopping late in the season just as a trip to the national title game seemed tantalizingly close. Too often for the pleasure of the fans clad in burnt orange, promising seasons ended up with consolation prize trips elsewhere. With so many trips to the Holiday Bowl, the Longhorns seemed as at home in San Diego as Shamu was.

Despite a loss in the BCS title game after the 2009 season, Mack Brown has lifted his program to sustained success throughout the decade, both in conference and on the national scene. The struggles to beat Oklahoma in the middle of the decade irritated the Longhorn faithful but not enough to seriously demand his ouster. With tons of talent within its states borders, one could safely bet that he will lead the Longhorns back to a handful more Big Twelve championships and at least two more BCS title games before retirement.

#3 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 102-26 (79.69%)
Number of winning seasons: 9
Number of shared conference titles: 3
Number of outright conference titles: 4
Record in bowl games: 7-2
Record in BCS bowl games: 6-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 2
Number of BCS titles: 1
Summary: Sure, the NCAA probation announced earlier this year called into question the Trojans outstandingly successful run throughout the single digit years. Nevertheless, USC ran roughshod over the rest of the Pacific Ten with the exception of the two bookend years of the decade. Some cynics will disparage their wins in bowls since five of their seven wins occurred within commuting distance of their campus. However, their sole BCS title was secured on the opposite side of the United States in a stadium heavily filled with their opponents' fans.

With the departure of Pete Carroll and the impending scholarship limitations, one has to wonder if the glory days have ended for the Men of Troy. If they can continue to lure in the in-state blue-chip athletes by the bushel, then no discernable decline should occur.

#2 LOUISIANA STATE
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 94-31 (75.2%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of divisional titles: 4
Number of outright conference titles: 3
Record in bowl games: 7-3
Record in BCS bowl games: 4-0
Number of BCS title game appearances: 2
Number of BCS titles: 2
Summary: After the Dark Ages of 1990s, which included only three winning seasons, LSU's program entered its Golden Age. After only having won two outright Southeastern Conference titles once within a decade (in the 1930s), the Fightin' Tigers won three in the ten year span. They won more national titles in this past decade (two) than the program had won in the previous eleven (one, in 1958). Just as critics may devalue the majority of USC's bowl victories, they could also say the same about four of LSU's bowl victories since they happened only seventy-five miles away from Baton Rouge. In LSU's defense, the Tigers defeated Georgia Tech twice in the Peach Bowl, a few miles from the Yellow Jackets' campus.

Despite winning an SEC and a national title, Les Miles remains in the shadow of the man who resurrected the struggling program in 2000, Nick Saban. With Saban now in charge of the hated Crimson Tide, every season includes a head-to-head referendum on Miles' current progress in succeeding the man who is now on the other side of the field from him. Regular victories over Alabama and trips to the SEC title game will allay most concerns over who is responsible for LSU's recent success. A few more national titles would bury those doubts.

#1 FLORIDA
Record versus Division 1-A opponents: 96-30 (76.19%)
Number of winning seasons: 10
Number of divisional titles: 4
Number of outright conference titles: 3
Record in bowl games: 5-5
Record in BCS bowl games: 4-1
Number of BCS title game appearances: 2
Number of BCS titles: 2
Summary: As much as Steve Spurrier was revered in the Sunshine State and reviled elsewhere, his level of success never attained the lofty heights as Urban Meyer has. Spurrier did lead Florida to its first official Southeastern conference championship and it first national title. However, Meyer doubled the national title total in less than half of the time Spurrier spent in Gainesville.

The Ron Zook experiment between those two coaches led to winning seasons that would have sufficed at most programs. However, a decline from the domination to which the Gator Nation had grown accustomed would not be endured for long.

Despite Meyer's health problems and persistent rumors of a departure for South Bend, he has the opportunity to surpass "Bear" Bryant's total for wins and status as greatest coach in the history of the SEC.

FINAL NOTES

Soon after establishing the criteria for inclusion on my list, I realized that several teams deserve to be rated higher than Nebraska. Georgia, Oregon and Virginia Tech spring immediately to mind. However, I had to draw a line at some point or I would end up reviewing more than a hundred ten programs. Frankly, I wish that I possessed that much time to devote to one column.

Auburn is ranked above Nebraska and Alabama, in part, based on a victory over the Cornhuskers in the Cotton Bowl and 7-3 record versus Alabama.

Although Oklahoma finished with just over two percentage points more than Ohio State, the Buckeyes did fare more successfully in BCS bowls, thus the higher ranking.

Unfortunately, LSU and USC were denied a chance to settle the question of who was the true national champion of 2003. Since they never played in the preceding ten years, I looked at their records against each other's conference to help to determine who deserved the second slot. LSU had 5-0 record versus the Pacific Ten; USC finished 4-0 versus the SEC.

To break the tie between Florida and LSU for "program of the decade", I consulted their head-to-head matches. Florida won six of the ten games over LSU.

COPYRIGHT JULY 2010 BY CHARLES KASTRIOT

01 June 2010

Greatest Cure for Insomnia

I have endured bouts of insomnia for most of my adult life. In 2002, while channel surfing in the middle of the night, I miraculously discovered a cure for my inability to fall asleep. Sadly, this remedy was only available for a few weeks. A stroke of luck occurred in 2006 when I was able to relocate that same relief but only for the same limited time. My fellow sufferers of sleep disorders can understand my joy when I found out that once again, this aid was about to reappear to alleviate my restlessness. Of course, this antidote of which I am speaking is broadcasts of World Cup soccer matches.

This event and soccer in general hold a particular attraction to those embarrassed by their status as Americans. First of all, self-described progressives automatically consider anything European as more desirable than any domestic equivalent. This neo-Eurocentrism extends to the infatuation with socialized health care. Also included in this mania are punitive tax rates for economically productive citizens, governmental subsidization of sloth by generous financial support of those refusing to work for a living, nationalization of businesses leading to governmental monopolies in transportation, retail and other sectors of the economy. Additionally, these hand-wringing types feel compelled to kowtow to any and all demands by Islamists who have infiltrated their countries. Their affinity for soccer results from the desire to morph into a twin of the bloated and tottering amalgamation known as the European Union.

The leftist insistence on prizing self-esteem above success leads to their adoration of soccer for its propensity to end in tied games. For those of whom their self-confidence has built on years of grade inflation and minimal levels of expectations in academic settings, a draw at the end of a match is ideal. In that case, no one’s feelings are hurt by losing. This extends to the trend of organizers of youth sports leagues refusing to keep score at games in athletic contests. Militant egalitarians rejoice in ninety minutes of futility resulting in a zero to zero final score. Unfortunately for a generation of children indoctrinated in such concepts, life inevitably finds ways to result in successes and failures, which no amount of self-delusion can erase from reality.

In conclusion, I would like to commend everyone responsible for this somnolent spectacle. To the players, I applaud your frequent, slow-paced jogging interspersed with episodes of jumping on the ground to clutch your legs in states of exceptionally feigned and embellished agony after an opponent’s shadow overlaps your own. To the fans, I am calmed by your incessant blowing on plastic horns for an hour and a half to generate enough white noise for my easily startled ears. To the television announcers, your repeated references to the status of the clock on the screen as “unofficial” reminds me to ignore my own clock and its ungodly ante meridiem hour. To the sponsors, I am grateful for your non-interruption of the matches with something entertaining such as any your inane commercials for the billionth time that might attract my attention and disrupt my slumber. Finally, I thank the International Federation of Associate Football, better known as FIFA, for a few weeks of intermittent yet recuperative estivation once every four years.

COPYRIGHT BY CHARLES KASTRIOT JUNE 2010