The Big Ten just released its conference schedules and hoo-boy, the USC Trojans have their work cut out for them.
Before we dive in—err, sink into—the proverbial three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust match-ups, let’s tiptoe into USC’s non-conference schedule, keeping in mind the Trojans close their season with Notre Dame.
Hold your breath. Tread lightly. Don’t faint.
The Trojans open up their season with a trip to Las Vegas (hooray!) to play the LSU Tigers (good feeling gone).
Remember the days when USC played Auburn and Arkansas and taught those SEC kids a lesson? Well, that was a few decades ago.
You would have thought the Trojans’ two-date disaster with Alabama would have scarred their brains enough to where scheduling any SEC team (except Vanderbilt, of course) was an act of a madman.
Alabama beat USC 52-6 in 2016 and although their second date in 2020 was scrapped due to the Pac-12’s Covid-19 paranoia, let’s give Alabama the win anyway. Before I hear any discourse, remember… Clay Helton was the Trojans’ head coach at the time.
Opening with LSU in a “neutral venue” is an interesting move. Name me a game where an SEC team played in a neutral venue and didn’t have home field advantage.
The SEC always has an advantage when it comes to neutral venues. They travel better. They drink more—okay, to be fair, the Washington State Cougars are allowed to ask the SEC fans, “hold my beer.” They scream louder. They win more.
But let’s get back to psychoanalyzing USC…
How USC finishes this season directly affects USC fans’ appetites for a potential butt-kicking by another SEC team next season. If USC beats Washington, Oregon and UCLA this season, then traveling to Vegas to play LSU looks like a fun thing to do.
Up until kickoff.
You get my drift.
USC follows up that bruising home opener with Utah State. The Aggies are no slouch. They are the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers of the Mountain West. Always an upset threat. In 2021 they upset Washington State ( a 19-point favorite) and Air Force (a 9-point favorite).
USC gets a bye week before—wait for it—its conference opener AT MICHIGAN on September 21.
At the Big House.
With Jim “What’s your deal?” Harbaugh coaching (?) in his khakis from the sidelines.
Hopefully, USC has been keeping an eye out for a strange man wearing sunglasses who records games from the Coliseum stands, am I right Trojan fans?
I know. So many questions.
In any case, this autumn game is sure to be a College Gameday venue. If USC can beat Michigan, it can go home and celebrate by playing Wisconsin on September 28.
Welcome to the Big Ten, boys.
It snowed in Madison on Thursday, according to my new-to-the-Midwest-life daughter, so getting the Badgers at home is a huge relief. The following week the Trojans play the Golden Gophers. Playing at Minnesota in early October means chilly weather, but not ice storms. That is another bonus.
So far, no weather issues for our fair weather Southern Californians.
The Trojans get Penn State at home on October 12. They then travel to Maryland the following week. An afternoon high in the low-70s is not uncommon in mid-October in College Park.
So far, so good.
USC hosts Rutgers on October 26. This game—barring any changes to the current level of play the Scarlet Knights are exhibiting—should be a bit of a welcome relief.
A road trip to Washington opens up November play. Again, Seattle in November should be cold, possibly wet, but nothing the Trojans cannot handle. Unless SC’s running game goes south, of course.
USC has a bye week and then closes out its season hosting Nebraska on November 16, playing at UCLA the 23rd and hosting Notre Dame on the 30th, two days after Thanksgiving.
Overall, USC should be thanking the scheduling gods for—weather wise—a fantastic first foray into the black-and-blue division of Power 5 football.
But there is something else to think about. USC will have to eventually play some of these cold-weather teams in November.
Madison, Wisconsin is a beautiful city. In November, the average lows are sub-freezing.
Last November, Lincoln, Nebraska spanked out two days where the lows were single digits.
Dress accordingly, fans. Try to blend in with the Midwesterners. If USC fans think their UGG boots and Abercrombie and Fitch lightweight puffer jackets will keep them warm, well, get ready for Instagram fame.
Weather delays, flight delays, 9 a.m. PT games, snow days, icy roads and yes, Dorothy… tornadoes are all in play right now.
Cheese curds, hand pies, hot dish, buckeyes, puppy chow, toasted raviolis and sugar cream pie are also in the Cardinal and Gold’s future.
And we are all for it. This is what USC needed.
For Trojan fans and their football team, a new beginning is something to behold. A fresh start. A solid future. And a championship schedule to boot.
Take a man who has had a total of three years head coaching experience at the college football level—in the FCS, mind you—and hire him to guide your football team (1-11 last year) in a Power 5 conference that is self-imploding. Oh, and dare him to somewhat match his offseason bravado and predictions without embarrassing himself.
Colorado 45 TCU 42.
You have to understand what a dumpster fire Colorado football had been. Remember when teams looked to playing the Buffaloes as a bye week? When teams saw Colorado on their schedule and prepared by watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?
Colorado stunk. They were the Pepe Le Pew of the Pac-12.
After an 0-5 start in his second year, head coach Karl Dorrell was fired. How bad were things in Boulder? Dorrell, who is known as a mild-mannered Mr. Nice Guy, once shoved a journalist’s camera as he left the field.
Instead of going with another “safe” hire, the school went all in on Jackson State’s Deion Sanders. Neon Deion. Prime Time. Coach Prime.
Prime* was a legend in the NFL with his high-stepping touchdown antics, mega-watt smile and bandana-wearing mug entertaining fans for 14 years.
He was F-U-N.
Hiring him was a risk. Big boy football experience is generally required for admission to the Power 5 coaching carousel. But Colorado had literally nothing to lose—OK, except maybe a 12th game—and instead of whiffing on a former coordinator or coaching retread, it hit a home run with Prime Time.
Colorado turned college football’s heads. Actually, it was more like a whiplash. If things work out this year—translation: six wins and bowl berth—a new algorithm may be in the works for hiring college football coaches.
Prime is still green but his ability to recruit has never been questioned. Shocking all the traditional football programs and its warlords, Prime landed the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of ’22, defensive back Travis Hunter.
Remember that name.
And having nothing to lose.
Because that is what has been missing in college football.
The vibe, culture and aura of college football is on a different level in Boulder, Colorado right now. And that’s not just the smell of weed causing that Rocky Mountain high.
At Alabama, fans are wringing their hands over A- not scoring 60 points on Middle Tennessee State, B- can more than one SEC school get into the College Football Playoffs?, C- does the country have Alabama fatigue?, D- if we lose one game shouldn’t we get into the CFP because of strength of schedule? or E- did LSU’s loss to Florida State mess up our SOS and… our season?
Waiting eight months for the season to start and then perform this mental exorcism is not fun. This is not a rip on Tide fans. But this is what happens to traditional fanbases who expect to win every year and do not take seriously fundamental changes in a sport.
Some are probably laughing at Colorado, challenging them to play their conference schedule “week in and week out” and to learn to respect their foes. There is a process a school must follow to join the elites.
Colorado is not playing by the rules.
It is so unfair, right?
Alabama has had to endure sanctions, a decade of rebuilding, questionable coaching hires and black-and-blue conference play to earn respect. Colorado lost a bunch of games and hired an enigma instead.
Alabama has had to play Games of the Century to garner respect. Colorado only had to beat TCU, the team that got walloped by defending National Champion Georgia, in week 1.
One student section is seething green while the other, well… is smoking it.
Not just because they beat last season’s No. 2 TCU on the road. Not just because Colorado won with a team that has only been playing together for a few months. Not just because no one believed in them.
They are celebrating because they have forged a new path to success. And because Colorado made college football fun again.
Not one other program in the Power 5 conferences can say that.
The Buffaloes are playing like their hair is on fire and loving every second of it. They aren’t worried about losing because no one pegged them as winners, including yours truly.
They are playing with 100 percent freedom under their wings and damn it, isn’t that refreshing to watch? Don’t tell me other players aren’t jealous.
College football has become a business. In all aspects. Heck, even the players are getting paid. And while that is something that needed to happen, the ‘amateur’ optics of college football were at risk.
The zaniness of the plays, the wild, unpredictability of players (can you say #collegekickers without a smile?) and the youthfulness of the sport are important factors that separate college football from the N.F.L.
Prime has returned that ambience to its rightful place on the sidelines.
Prime is making us appreciate the beauty of the game from a different perspective. He is making us watch a group of young men grow in confidence, believe in defying the odds and overcome fears. Playing like they have nothing to lose.
Prime is the ultimate mentor.
Now watch Alabama coach Nick Saban on the sidelines.
Does he look like he is having fun? Do his players?
There is a difference in smiling due to relief of getting the job done and smiling out of sheer joy.
Am I comparing Saban v Prime? Yes, yes I am.
Saban is the G.O.A.T., after all.
After the TCU upset, Prime did not hold back on his emotions. He gushed about how proud he was of his son and quarterback, Shedeur Sanders.
Most coaches tamp back those emotions. Prime cut them loose.
Unlike Saban—and recently, LSU head coach Brian Kelly—Prime did not publicly vocalize on what his team needed to work on, nor what the players did wrong.
He focused on living in the moment. That sweet, unforgettable moment of proving the doubters were wrong.
[cue singing angels]
He is a Christian and nowadays, that does not always translate to acceptance among the media. In fact, the media and Prime have an acrimonious relationship.
Despite his decorated athletic achievements at Florida State University, Prime graduated from Talladega College, an HBCU, in 2020. He considers himself a TC alum. And that has riled up some folks.
“Wow,” former FSU quarterback and sports broadcaster Danny Kannell posted on X.
“The lack of respect for the school that gave him his start is wild. The same school that retired his jersey. The same school that let him be ‘Prime.’ There is a way to handle this question and this ain’t it.”
Florida State wants to claim Prime as one of their own. He’s having none of that.
Coach Prime also refused to answer a reporter’s question in the TCU post-game presser because the reporter would not admit he was a doubter. Prime told that reporter he had “receipts,” referring to proof of his negative media coverage, and moved on to the next reporter.
You have to admire his convictions.
And his hutzpah. But back to Saban.
Last year, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher had a kerfuffle with Saban. Saban accused the Aggies of paying their recruits to sign with the school. Fisher called Saban a “narcissist.”
Saban reportedly also went after Prime, implying Jackson State paid $1 million for Hunter to sign.
“Coach Saban wasn’t talking to Jimbo Fisher. He was talking to his boosters. He was talking to his alumni. He was talking to his givers. He was trying to get money. That was what he was doing. He was just using us to get to where he was trying to get to.”
Saban appears to be threatened by the NIL advantages that schools in larger media markets may have. He also appears to not be a fan of the Prime Time way of rebuilding a program, all legal by the way.
Blow it all up. Hit the transfer portals. Wear a thick sweatshirt in a heatwave without sweating. Wear some swaggy accessories and treat the players like young men. The exact opposite of how the G.O.A.T. operates in Tuscaloosa.
The jealousy of Colorado’s brand of football, simmering in the SEC, will soon boil over to the rest of the elites.
Saban is now that guy, sitting on his porch, yelling at kids, “get off my lawn!”
All eyes on Saturday appeared to be on Colorado and its wild brand of football, if X (formerly Twitter) is any indication of interest.
We are still in week 1, but Alabama is not on everyone’s lips. And that is just so weird. It is like we all woke up in a foreign country without GPS.
Maybe Alabama v Texas will restore the universe and realign the planets. A victory by the Tide would return status quo. But if Texas wins, could it not make that same claim? If Alabama loses, the SEC may experience the brutal and cyclical nature of college football, like so many before it have.
Nothing lasts forever. Change is inevitable.
It’s Labor Day. Shorts, tanks, flip flops and some Bud Light [insert tongue in cheek] bid a final farewell to summer.
Colorado is wearing 6-inch Louboutin stilettos on the Red Carpet. Alabama is wearing Dr. Martens sitting in the bleachers. The Dr. Martens are more sensible, of course. And they last longer.
But the stilettos scream sexy, dangerous and fun. A wild night out on the town.
*Per head coach Deion Sanders’s request, he will be referred to as Coach Prime or Coach.
Maybe it is because she is so vast, pristine and serene. Maybe it is because she, for what I can see, has been spared destruction from human hands.
Yes, Wi-Fi does exist there.
Yes, due to tall mountains and zero cell towers in the ocean (duh), Internet service along her southwest coast is, shall we say, challenging.
No, it does not appear to be challenging for her residents. They have found a different way to pass the time or entertain themselves. They draw the drapes, open a window and watch nature do its thing.
No need for streaming. Nor apps. Nor X, formerly known as Twitter. Just two eyes and an open mind will suffice when you visit this beautiful region.
Never ever has my jaw hung for 72 hours straight. Until I visited “North to the Future.”
“The Last Frontier.”
You know, the most beautiful state in the Union.
I saw a mama black bear and her cubs. From a distance of about 15 feet. Not at the zoo. It was somewhere in a Ketchikan rainforest on Day 3 of my seven-day Alaskan cruise.
Most folks know being in the vicinity of a female bear and her cubs is a huge red flag and potentially deadly situation.
Terrified at first, I threw all trust at my high school-aged guide (honestly, did I have a choice?) and watched in awe as mama taught her cubs how to survive.
At one point, cub number 1 climbed a very tall tree. Cub number 2 ventured out on a limb that was hanging over a rushing river. He was scared. He wanted to jump in the river and join his watching-and-waiting mama. Instead, he hesitated, made a couple of mock attempts at leaving the branch and then cried. Mama just glared at him. The cub finally got the message and leaped into the river.
Moral of the story?
Let your kids experience life’s ups and downs. Give them survival skills. Do not do things for them even if they cry for your help. Let them learn from their mistakes as you watch and lead by example from a distance.
Observing bears in their natural habitat—despite our little expedition group having no weapons to protect ourselves—was an incredible experience. I was just smiling the entire time—OK, I admit, almost the entire time. The first five minutes after we spotted mama and her cubs, as previously noted, were scary. But I was hooked on Alaska thereafter.
Watching bears in an Alaskan rainforest was a bucket list item.
Was this real?
Yes, yes it was. It got more real.
A bald eagle swooped down to snatch some fish from the ocean. Right in front of me while I lounged in a chaise on my balcony reading the latest James Patterson novel. The next day a bald eagle was perched on a stoplight along Juneau’s Veterans Memorial Highway. Just hanging out, looking magnificently patriotic ‘n all.
Yeah, the tour guides left this out of their “must see or do” lists.
My advice? Just keep looking up, down or out. Perhaps you will witness a life-affirming moment. Like North America’s only indigenous eagle—our national bird—perched high above the tree line or swooping silently low, readying itself for raptor things.
Looking like a total badass.
Bald eagles can invoke a sense of pride when you see them in the wild. They represent America, after all. Regal, resilient and purposeful.
Their six-to-eight foot wingspans are incredulous. That bald eagles can see marine prey from atop a 40-50 foot coastal pine tree, dive bomb into the ocean from 500 feet away and then grab a quick meal… well, it is really amazing to witness.
Watching a bald eagle scoop-and-score was a bucket list item.
I heard a lone wolf howling near midnight as we cruised by the coastline. I also went to a Salmon Bake where I had a delicious barbeque dinner that included freshly caught and grilled salmon. While we were dining, salmon were spawning right behind our table.
That was not on my bucket list. But it should have been.
Alaskan irony: eating salmon while watching salmon spawn and then die.
After breakfast one morning, I went out to my balcony and just stared out at the water. It is one of my favorite things to do on a cruise. Out of nowhere, a pod of whales appeared. Now, most of us would normally grab our phones and take a picture, right?
I did not.
I was so moved by the whales’ graceful moves in the calm ocean, I became memorized. I took in the moment. I did not try to commercialize it on social media. Not until the pod was a good distance away did I come out of my hypnosis and yell to my friend, “Shannon… whales!”
She came rushing out—as well as some cruisers in the next balcony over—and we heard them. The whales were singing. Their lyrics echoed over those still waters.
How do you capture that with a camera?
Let me repeat myself.
HOW DO YOU CAPTURE THAT?
You do not.
You just remember God’s handiwork for the rest of your life.
Seeing whales was a bucket list item.
I saw Mendenhall Glacier. And despite all the hype and glorious pictures of this wonder, you still aren’t prepared for your first glimpse. I mean, my goodness, it is incredibly massive. And blue. And did I mention massive?
A seven-mile trek to see that glacier (and Nugget Falls!) up close was painful on a blown knee—surgery is on August 30th so be prepared for drug-induced Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, posts. But to experience that with a dear friend, my brother and his wife, well…. that was unforgettable.
Seeing Mendenhall Glacier was a bucket list item.
And all the memories?
Alaska taught me to unplug, put “the machine” away and just take in everything she had to offer. In respectful awe and silence. At times, all I could hear was my own breathing, even though Ovation of the Seas was cruising at 25 knots per hour.
I literally stopped… and smelled the roses.
Upon reflection, I realized that there are places on this rock that desperately need our attention. Not because they need to be fixed.
But because they will fix you.
I have been down lately. The first anniversary of my husband’s passing happened during this cruise. Between that and all the newscasts showing homelessness, poverty, litter, election madness and lawlessness, well… it had become overwhelming.
But Alaska fixed me, dammit. I found so much joy. I got my feistiness and mojo back. Prepare yourselves.
I am not a nature girl—more a Caribbean beach girl I’d say— but now I love the outdoors.
From a respectable distance, of course.
Alaska taught me to get reacquainted with nature and marinate in it. To appreciate everything this wonderland has to offer and leave it as pristine as when she first courted me.
You know what else?
Alaska is God’s country.
Even if you are not a person of faith, this state will change you.
The same way seeing your first born child changes you. Or when a loved one dies.
Alaska shows off her beauty in so many different ways. And I’ve only just begun to open her precious gifts.
She has changed me. In all the right ways.
I urge all of you to unplug and visit our largest state. Number 49 out of 50 in statehood, Number 1 in looks. Book an Alaskan cruise—it is not cheap, but if you sock away $200 a month for a year or so, you can do it.
Just do it.
I am going back next year. I’ll add a week in Denali National Park because what’s life without whimsy? And orcas? And grizzly bears?
Alaska spoke to me.
At first a whisper, now it is deafening.
I need her. I need more tweaking.
Americans need her.
She is what everything good about our country, is.
Now go get yourself fixed.
Note: I took many pictures. I did not post any. I want you to visualize what Alaska is all about and experience her for yourself.
Las Vegas, Nev—Last Friday, in a nightclub at Las Vegas Resorts World, the Pac-12 held its annual football Media Days.
For the record, I still cannot believe I just wrote that.
First off, the event was one day, not “days,” so the welcome sign’s subterfuge was already setting the tone before any coach or player had spoken. Did the other Power 5 conferences that hold media days —and actually take several days to hold them—notice?
Follow up: Did they still watch despite Coach Prime’s absence?
Then there were the optics of holding this event in a nightclub. The smallish, dark room matched the mood of the media. So there’s that, I guess.
The predictability of this event was not a surprise.
In true Pac-12 tradition, Wi-Fi connectivity was either intermittent or completely unavailable. Maybe they do not want us to report on things here, I mused. I gave up trying to connect through the Pac-12’s secured connection and just used the hotel’s unsecured network. [crossed fingers]
Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff took the stage and kicked things off. Actually, it was more like a shanked punt.
The predictable speech (including the mandatory mention of Stanford winning another Director’s Cup) was given. It seemed like the only Pac-12 achievement not highlighted or celebrated was a victory by the chess club.
Splashy videos, loud, booming music and an array of graphics rendered us dazed and confused. Was that on purpose? The glitzy impact temporarily distracted media from the elephant in the room. And the crappy Wi-Fi.
On to the fun. And unintentional fireworks.
A smiling Kliavkoff told us, “I think it’s fair to say this is the most highly anticipated Pac-12 media day in recent memory.” Maybe, but not for the reasons he thinks.
Reminder: in some countries, town square beheadings draw major crowds.
When asked about potential poaching from other conferences, the Commish told us with a straight face that it was “not a concern.”
“Our schools are committed to each other and to the Pac-12. The truth is we have bigger fish to fry.”
More on that fish in a bit.
Kliavkoff also touched on some pressing matters. Like, you know, what’s up with the media rights deal? Or lack of it?
“We are not announcing a [media rights] deal on purpose today because I want the focus to be on football,” the Commish announced.
Now, to most folks, that sounds an awful lot like “we have a deal, we just don’t want to announce it because we want you to talk about football.” How else could anyone interpret that? [camera pans to Colorado’s athletic director]
The media, of course, pounced. One reporter—OK, really all of us—wanted clarity on the Commish’s statement and asked/stated/challenged him.
“That would imply that the deal is done and codified and you’re just waiting until after today.”
Kliavkoff answered, “I think you’re reading too much into that.”
Reading too much into it? Nah, that’s not it.
Announcing you aren’t announcing something that hasn’t been announced because today is not the day to announce it even though today was actually the perfect day to announce it is, well… breathtakingly deceptive.
It gets better.
OK… I lied.
“The longer we wait for the deal, the better our options get,” Kliavkoff explained.
“I think our board realizes that.”
The conference is losing the No. 2 media market in the country (Los Angeles) next year with USC and UCLA off to the Big Ten and Kliavkoff thinks he has better negotiating power? With whom? Home Shopping Network?
Kliavkoff also revealed his insight into the future. In case we had any doubts about the Pac-12, err, Pac-10’s future.
“I think the realignment that’s going on in college athletics will come to an end for this cycle.”
That was proclaimed six days ago.
Today, according to multiple news outlets, Colorado will be returning to the Big XII, the conference it ditched in 2010. The Big XII issued a statement today regarding Colorado. It was just two words. “They’re back.”
You have to admire the Big XII, a conference once looking dead, now stomping all over the Pac-12, err, Pac-10, err, Pac-9’s heart.
ESPN actually has a conference realignment tracker to keep up with all the rumors and facts, thereby smacking the Pac-12 Commish’s Pollyanna prognostication into oblivion.
This is peak Pac-12.
Since the conference currently has no (err, announced) media rights deal in place, this is going to cause a chain reaction. A four-corner state dominoes effect, if you will. Better description: a 90-car pileup on the I-95.
The Arizona schools will probably leave (flee) for the Big XII and Utah will likely follow. BYU and Utah in the same conference makes sense.
So what about everyone else? AKA the collateral damage.
Oregon does not look like a good fit for the Big Ten but does for the Big XII. Why?
Big Ten football is more traditional, more un-Oregon like. It is everything Oregon is not. The Ducks’ baseball, basketball and track and field programs are top notch. Having Uncle Phil as a supporter is a nice asset too. But probably not enough for Flyover Country. Ultra-liberal values, lots of trick plays and silly-looking stuff just do not mesh well with Midwest football’s blue-bloods. (Do not come at me, people. Half my family is from the Midwest.)
Washington and Stanford would fit in well in the Big Ten, especially with the high academic standards and—that’s right—the Director’s Cup monopoly. These schools take tailgating seriously.
Cardinal fans whip out the white linen tablecloths and chandeliers—if only they would remember to enter the stadium to watch the game—while Husky fans “sterngate” on their boats grilling salmon and sipping on Chardonnay. Also, Stanford v Northwestern has a nice, mega-educated ring to it, doesn’t it?
Washington State, Oregon State and Cal may have a come-to-Jesus moment in their futures. Could they be relegated to a Group of 5 conference?
While many Cal students probably would not even notice—the Bears notched a paltry 61 percent stadium capacity last year—the Cougar and Beaver fans deserve a Power 5 conference invite. Their fans are incredible. Their programs are improving.
Nobody wants to play Oregon State this year. Reser Stadium’s attendance is ranked No. 3 among all Power 5 teams. Cal is ranked No. 97, but to be fair to Cal, UCLA is the worst in the conference at No. 122.
So there you have it.
A conference in despair, despite having bigger fish to fry. Maybe it does. With a grunion.
Many (most) pundits will point fingers at former Commish Larry Scott—I’ll take the hit for the team and be the first in line with my finger pointed—but Kliavkoff never unraveled what Scott tangled. After two years on the job, he never recognized what a mess he had on his hands until Colorado’s Ralphie dropped a deuce on the Conference of Champions this week.
ESPN is reportedly only interested in airing a few Pac-12 games this season. Amazon and Apple are potential streaming sites while ION and CW, according to the report, are mentioned as possible network suitors.
We all see what’s going on in college football. Yet, we do not say the quiet part out loud. Except for me.
I flunked being a wallflower at age 10, according to my late father.
No hate here. I love the SEC and its fans. They have elevated the game and we are all for the better of it. But for those who were not blessed enough to experience college football every Saturday south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I will speak up for you. (You’re welcome).
When will this SEC bias stop?
After USC and TCU won their 11th and 12th games, respectively, a major (unnamed, but you can figure it out) sports network’s broadcasters were discussing between themselves on air at how a second SEC team could get in the College Football Playoff’s Final Four. And how Alabama is still not out of the Playoffs.
America was rejoicing over the usual suspects out of the national championship conversation and these guys threw it right back in our faces.
How about talking about TCU’s dream season? In depth. How quarterback Max Duggan should be a Heisman finalist. How USC’s turnaround is a major story that has not really been fawned over. How Caleb Williams is now a serious Heisman contender after being ignored for 10 weeks. How Michigan and Ohio State are legitimately playing Big Boy Football.
But no, we are subjected to a network’s bias toward a conference because… it has a financial stake in that conference. To be fair, they are not the only ones. FOXSports has a stake in the Big XII and Big Ten, as well. They too propagate how these conferences are just as competitive as others.
But since FOXSports has not, until recently, made headway into competing with that other network’s programming/time slots, most fans watch the majority of college football on one of that network’s various platforms.
In other words, most fans get a weekly dose of SEC football because while those teams’ games are on different cable channels, they are under one network.
SEC Fatigue Syndrome. It is a pandemic. And the biased talking heads and influencers are rearing their ugly heads.
Arkansas was ranked in the Top 10 for two weeks before losing six of its last nine games. In week 10, Alabama was the only one-loss team ranked ahead of 8-0 TCU. LSU was the only two-loss team ranked in the Top 10 as well.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban is now campaigning for the two-loss Crimson Tide to be included in the Playoffs despite its best win being against No. 21 Texas.
A friendly reminder to those fans who count a win over a ranked opponent in real time: if your team beats a highly-ranked team, that opponent’s ranking (at that time) does not reflect how good that team is. The final ranking of that opponent does.
Case in point: Texas A&M.
The Aggies were overrated at No. 6 in the preseason rankings. Nobody learned from last year’s identical mistake.
In week three, the the Aggies dropped 18 spots to No. 24 after losing to Appalachian State, 17-14. They shot up to No. 17 after beating an overrated Arkansas (remember, Arkansas lost six of its last nine games). Mississippi State then got a ranking bump after beating a No. 17 Aggie team that promptly extended its losing streak to six. Maybe next year the pollsters will show restraint.
Better yet, let’s do away from polls until after week six.
This year an SEC team will not win the National Championship.
No disrespect to Georgia, a fine football team, but the Bulldogs look beatable. They are not peaking. Guess who is?
Michigan. TCU. USC.
Pick one. Wanna play that team?
Those three teams look hungry as hell. They look like world-beaters right now.
TCU is having itself a season behind stud Max Duggan and a nasty defense to boot. Michigan, despite all of its injuries, does not care what the odds are. Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines want to maul everyone they play. Tasting some Buckeye blood is feeding their souls.
USC beat UCLA and Notre Dame, its two rivals. While the Bruins’ contest was too close for comfort, the Fighting Irish folded like lawn chairs when the Trojans finally discovered their defense. Quarterback Caleb Williams even struck the pose.
I recognize the vibe that all three teams are exuding.
It was in January of 2003 at the Orange Bowl. No. 5 USC v No. 3 Iowa. Quarterback Carson Palmer had won the Heisman, beating out Iowa quarterback Brad Banks. The Iowa fans were salty, even saltier after the Hawkeyes took the Trojans’ opening kickoff to the House.
USC, coached by Pete Carroll, discovered its destiny while scoring 28 second-half points and won, 38-17.
You could just feel it. Like a hunger. USC was about to go on a tear through the college football landscape. It was an electric storm brewing.
That same electricity is surrounding Michigan, TCU and USC. Not so much with Georgia.
Perhaps the reason why is the continued slow decline to mediocrity of the SEC. After all, college football is cyclical. Isn’t it the SEC’s turn now?
Alabama v Auburn in the Iron Bowl used to be a College Game Day staple. The Iron Bowl’s importance took a dive this year. There was more interest in the Ole Miss-Mississippi State Egg Bowl, wasn’t there?
Because of the mediocre play of the SEC West, most eyes will be glued to USC v Utah in the Pac-12 Championship and TCU v Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship. Not the SEC Championship. Why?
Two teams—TCU and USC—will finally break the stranglehold the SEC—and to some extent the ACC—has had on national championship implications.
IF they win.
And I think they will. The talking heads and influencers have Georgia v Michigan in the national championship. Of course.
The ACC and the SEC will still field some great teams. But the conferences as a whole will not be as strong as they were once considered. Between the transfer portals and the cyclical nature of college football, the next few years are clear.
USC, TCU, Michigan and Ohio State are getting better. They have caught up to the SEC elite. So have their conferences.
November is when everything starts to make sense for Heisman voters. Early December (hopefully) is when voters whittle their candidates down to three and decide the order of placement—the numerical placements can be the most stressful part of filling out the ballot.
I will not fill out and submit my ballot until the last scheduled regular season game has been played. Too many great Heisman moments have been missed by voters who turned in their ballots early. I know of several voters who regretted not waiting until the last day to submit their Heisman ballots.
These players have earned tremendous respect from fans and voters. All are worthy of consideration.
Here are my Heisman contenders, in alphabetical order.
Max Duggan, Texas Christian University
Duggan has been overlooked—even to the point of broadcasters mispronouncing his last name—by many so-called experts but that may change this month. This dual-threat quarterback is the heart and soul of TCU. He has been a game-changer in several contests which is all the more shocking when one considers he was not the Horned Frogs’ starter in week 1’s game against Colorado—Chandler Morris was. Psssst…. his name is pronounced Doug-en.
If the Heisman Trophy were an MVP award, Duggan would win it.
Hendon Hooker, University of Tennessee
Hooker has a ridiculous 21-1 TD-INT ratio and a 191.64 quarterback rating. Oh, and he beat Alabama. As of today, he’s likely the favorite (OK, who doesn’t love this guy?) to win the most prestigious award in college football. If he has another spectacular performance at Georgia on Saturday—barring any serious missteps or injury—he can strike the pose.
Right now, it is his to lose.
C.J. Stroud, the Ohio State University
Stroud has been on my ballot twice, albeit not in the No. 1 slot. It would be something special to have him finally move to the top spot but it all hinges on November 26, when his Buckeyes host Michigan. Stroud’s stats are eye-popping: 71.3 percent completion, 29-4 TD-INT ratio and a 200.16 quarterback rating.
If Hooker stumbles and Stroud does Stroud-like things to beat Michigan, he’s a surprise Heisman winner.
Caleb Williams, University of Southern California
Williams is an incredible talent. His arm strength, particularly throwing across his body, is a highlight reel. The problem for him is that USC’s defense is so porous, it detracts from his performances. USC could win the Pac-12 but the Trojans will have to outscore UCLA and Notre Dame to even get to the conference championship.
A lot of dominoes have to fall for him to be on the majority of ballots.
Drake Maye, University of North Carolina
Bryce Young, University of Alabama
Zach Charbonnet, University of California Los Angeles
Charbonnet is currently the third most productive rusher in college football. He averages 7.53 yards a carry, 137.71 yards a game. Think about that. He’s the go-to-guy when you need at least five yards. A true weapon in the backfield, Charbonnet can also play catch—he has hauled in 20 passees for 232 yards.
Charbonnet should be invited to New York City in December. There, I said it.
Blake Corum, University of Michigan
If anyone can steal Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s thunder on November 26, it is Corum. This running back has great numbers: 1,078 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He averages 6.02 yards per carry and 134.75 yards per game. Corum is a wrecking ball and has started to get more attention from the pundits.
With one week (technically two) of college football in the books many fans may be feeling confident. This week’s slate will have you reaching for the Tums. Or Fireball.
Pigskin Grind has five—count ’em, five—games that will have the favorites going down in flames. Let the little guys (and the Big Boys, in some cases) celebrate.
There is redemption for all in college football.
New Mexico (-17) vs Boise State
The New Mexico Lobos are calling for a red out in tonight’s game against Boise State. They may have valid reasons for why they can steal this game from Boise State.
Quarterback Hank Bachmeier look rattled against Oregon State last week. Reserve Taylen Green came in and scored on a long touchdown but the Beavers’ defense was just too good and the Broncos went down 34-17.
New Mexico pitched a 41-0 shutout to Maine. Sure, the Black Bears are an FCS team, but it was still a rout. The Lobos looked good in their season opener and Boise State is 0-1 on the road.
Pittsburgh +6 vs Tennessee
Pitt had a tough time putting West Virginia away in the Backyard Brawl last week, surviving 38-31. Head coach Pat Narduzzi is an underrated coach who will have the team laser focused on the Vols. The Panthers are battle-tested. If quarterback Kedon Slovis can look off his receivers instead of telegraphing his passes, Pitt should upset the Vols.
Tennessee drilled Ball State at home 59-10 and looked good against a mid-tier MAC team. Last year Tennessee lost to Pitt 41-34 at home, despite “Rocky Top” serenades from its fans. This year Heinz Field will be “touching me, touching you” throughout the game.
UNLV +13 at Cal
This is nothing personal against Cal, but the Golden Bears looked terrible in their 34-13 victory against UC Davis. With only eight starters returning, the Bears are in total rebuilding mode and UNLV will be taking advantage of the inexperience and youth.
The Rebels beat Idaho State 52-21 last week. So while both teams played FCS teams, one team did not have a problem routing its opponent and another one did. We’re not betting on UNLV, we’re betting against Cal.
Vanderbilt +13.5 vs Wake Forest
The Commodores (2-10 last year) travelled all day to Hawai’i in week zero and beat the Warriors senseless, 63-10. Last week they beat Elon 42-31. Vanderbilt is currently in first place in the SEC East. How pumped up is Vanderbilt right now?
Meanwhile, Wake Forest has to travel to SEC Country and take on the Commodores, a team it is probably not taking too seriously. Oh yeah, this one is going to be fun to watch.
Baylor +3 at BYU
This could be the Game of the Week. It should be very close (which is why you should take the points) but I like Baylor to eke out a win here. BYU has a veteran team (19 returning starters) and the weather forecast looks perfect for an air show.
Baylor beat No. 19 BYU last year 38-24 (the spread was Baylor-5) so head coach Dave Aranda has the formula to beat BYU. This game will be played in a hostile environment and unlike last year, the Cougars are relatively healthy.
The Hunger Games
There are an additional two games you should consider for all the wrong reasons.
Kentucky +6.5 at Florida is an interesting game just because the Gators are feeling super cocky and Kentucky just loves to rain on everyone’s parade as an underdog.
Appalachian State +19.5 at Texas A&M does not need much explanation here. The Mountaineers almost pulled off a huge upset against North Carolina, losing 63-61. If their defense can figure out how to cut points allowed by 50 percent, they have a shot of humiliating Jimbo Fisher at home.
Admit it. Your team looked like a national title contender, looked not-ready-for-prime-time or just plain stunk. For some football fans, the season is already over.
Week one of college football delivered good news, bad news, confusion and a whole lotta shrugs (we hear you, Nebraska). While it is way too early to make conclusive analyses on most teams—the SEC can carry on, as usual—we still can be judgmental, critical and petty.
Honest opinion. No pussy-footing around here.
Let’s get to week one-liners.
Oregon failed to sell itself to the voters and media despite being over confident for its pending debacle against defending National Champion Georgia.
The Oregon Ducks’ story is as old as time. Get all dressed up in flashy threads and get dragged by a traditional school that believes in defense, not fancy-pants schemes.
Oregon was paid $4.5 million to play the game only to get trolled hard at the half by Georgia fans.
The Bulldogs’ 49-3 rout of the Ducks was an indictment of the the Pac-12’s waning swagger. If the Pac-12 cannot sell Oregon to most college football fans, how is Oregon going to sell itself to the Big Ten? Perhaps the Big Ten will negotiate a deal where Oregon gets less revenue sharing than its other member schools. Notre Dame is still every conference’s prime target so Oregon’s exodus to the Midwest’s Promised Land is probably “Nix-ed.”
Oregon could still contend for the conference title but a very pissed-off Utah will be waiting for a mid-November date.
Oregon is overrated. There. I said it. Time to move on.
U.C.L.A. looked atrocious in its first half against Bowling Green.
Special teams play was horrific—specifically the kick and kick return play. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson started off where he left off last season; an enigma. A running DTR is a Disneyland fireworks display. Breathtaking and beautiful. A passing DTR is a stick of TNT whose fuse keeps going out. Is it a dud or will it go off?
In the second half, it went boom. More of this, please.
Only 27,105 fans were in attendance at the Rose Bowl. The biggest excuse heard for the record low attendance was the scorching heat. Fair enough. But across town at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 60,113 fans showed up. Just sayin’.
The O-line still needs to mesh with some new starters in the mix. DTR was running for his life and forced to make plays he would rather have had back. Zach Charbonnet is one of the most underrated backs in the country—he finished with 21 carries, 111 yards and one touchdown.
The Bruins had a very solid second half by shutting out the Falcons, putting 21 points on the board and snatching victory from defeat. Overall, not a great U.C.L.A. performance but at least the Bruins didn’t fall apart after a bad first half.
USC entered the season with plenty of hype under new head coach Lincoln Riley and delivered.
Quarterback Caleb Williams is a highly-touted Heisman candidate and did not disappoint. He has outstanding pocket awareness and good wheels to get him out of trouble—that rarely happened due to solid pass protection. His arm strength and decision-making are what sets him apart from others. Williams made some filthy throws off-balance or on the run with a ball that had extraordinary velocity on it. He is special.
Speaking of Heisman, USC’s speedster Raleek Brown, the No. 3 prospect out of 2021’s class of running backs, struck the pose after scoring his first touchdown. Sooo…. fans do like to see the kids having fun. And it has been a looooong time since USC’s sidelines have produced smiling, dancing players.
But Arrogant Nation beat Rice, a C-USA team that went 4-8 last year. Next week the Trojans travel to Stanford. Unless USC’s defense figures out how to stuff runs between the tackles and get its back seven into better position on pass plays, E.J. Smith, son of that Emmitt Smith, is going to have a stellar day.
The bitch may be back but hold the applause (and poses), please.
Oregon State deserves more love.
Head coach Jonathan Smith has slowly turned the Beavers around from bottom of the barrel to that team you don’t want to play. Just ask perennial Group of Five Powerhouse Boise State.
The Beavers POUNDED the Broncos 34-17. The defense was ferocious causing five turnovers. The running-back-by-committee approach netted 178 bruising yards on the ground. The fans were completely engaged and the Beavers’ chainsaw was roaring through the stadium throughout the game.
Watch out for Oregon State.
Utah almost put the Pac-12 back in the College Football Playoff conversation. Almost.
Quarterback Cam Rising came up a tad short on a go-ahead touchdown down 29-26, on 2nd-and-goal with 22 ticks left on the clock. Score and the Utes are as special as we thought they were. Lose, and winning the Pac-12 (again) just seems a like a consolation prize. The pass was intercepted and Utah (and the Pac-12) lost.
Taking the next step in Big Boy football means beating a Big Boy from a Big Boy conference. Not almost beating a Big Boy.
Stanford walloped Colgate 41-10 in the Battle of the Almost Ivy League Schools but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Colgate is an FCS school and some FCS schools are up for a Big Boy challenge. Think North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Montana, Eastern Washington or Jacksonville State. Colgate is not in the same league athletically as the previously mentioned and that’s why allowing Colgate to score 10 points is inexcusable.
Yes, a muffed punt that led to a touchdown by Colgate has my dander up. Yes, Stanford may be a good team and did not open up the playbook because it hosts USC on Saturday. But yes, Colgate still scored 10 points on the Cardinal. That’s a big tell.
Speaking of Almost Ivy League schools, Cal struggled to beat FCS non-powerhouse UC Davis.
The Golden Bears are returning just eight starters so (my) expectations are low. With sister school U.C.L.A. becoming a full member of the Big Ten on August, 2, 2024, perhaps Cal is just depressed. The Bears were down 7-0 to the Aggies before taking a 17-7 halftime lead. They get UNLV this Saturday before a road trip to Notre Dame. Buckle up, Bears.
The rest of the Pac:
Washington beat Kent State 45-20. The offense appears to be high octane but until the Huskies play Michigan State, I’m withholding any accolades or criticism.
Washington State beat Idaho 24-17. It’s almost an in-state rivalry so maybe that’s an excuse that’ll satisfy Coug Nation. Bourbon helps.
Colorado lost to TCU 38-13. The Buffs gave up 275 rushing yards (avg 9.2 yards per carry!) so the key to beating Colorado is running the ball.
Arizona beat San Diego State 38-20. Before we jump on the Wildcat bandwagon, a reminder: the Aztecs are notorious slow starters. In 2019 they beat Weber State 6-0 and last year beat New Mexico State 28-10.
Arizona State beat Northern Arizona 40-3. Next week the Sun Devils play at Oklahoma State. Good feeling gone?
Ok, we readily admit that (for the most part) being in a stadium, beer and hot dog in hands, marching band playing and cheerleaders, well… cheerleading is the best place to watch college football.
But what if… life gets in the way?
Your BFF decides to get married in September. Sigh. Your clueless cousin decides that November is a great time to host a family reunion. Wrong! Your colleague wants to do a road trip in August. Get that resume updated!
I’ve been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt and hat (thank you, Kenny Chesney) and have concluded that college football does not sit in the corner for anybody.
The die-hard fan will not be denied.
So yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and there is a place for you to watch your football. No matter who or what tries to stop you. Just make sure you have access to satellite TV or an app that delivers the goods.
And some understanding friends and family.
A dive bar in the Tropics
I’m a fan of funky, tropical dive bars. And no, “dive bar” is not necessarily a place where the carpets get squeegeed after last call. It is “a coveted badge of honor bestowed by aficionados looking for authenticity in such establishments,” according to Google search. To recap, dive bars are cool and location, location, location makes them more swaggy.
Drinking a Hemingway’s Mojito watching the Florida Gators play the Miami Hurricanes at the end of the world, aka Sloppy Joes in Key West? Yes, thank you. Sipping a Mai Tai at Arnold’s Beach Bar in Waikiki watching any football game? Hell, yes. Pass the free popcorn popped in bacon grease, please.
If your team is winning, you get to celebrate with all the beautiful people. If your team is losing, drowning your sorrows in a Pacific archipelago isn’t all that bad.
Hey, if you can get away with it, go for it. Just remember you paid a premium for that eight-hour traffic school so your insurance premiums don’t go up. Do not mess this up.
You will not fly under the radar if you wear your team’s jersey, eye black and some Bose headphones to class. But an 11-99 Foundation tee, khaki Dockers and a secret ear piece should get you teacher’s pet points while the rest of the class feels like felons. You get bonus points galore for going to Saturday school, watching the game, nixing insurance/DMV penalties and proving yes, you really can have it all.
In an RV at a national park
Picture this: You’ve got an RV all tricked out with a widescreen TV attached to the outside of the vehicle. Your captain’s chair and remote control are beckoning as a camp fire crackles. A frosty, cold beer(s) sits in a cooler as your pulled pork slowly cooks in a tin pot. Leaves rustle in the distance. An owl hoots nearby.
Nobody can hear you scream. It’s perfect for those fans who root, root, root for the home team (sing along, everybody!), no matter how badly it sucks.
Highly recommended: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
This one is a bit tricky. First, you actually have to do something physical while watching your game. It’s called golf. But golf carts can be your saving grace.
Slap your cell phone on the seat or rent a cart that has a TV screen already installed. Now go play the most frustrating sport in the world. Lining up your birdie putt may take a wee bit longer than normal if your team is facing 4th-and-1 at the 1-yard line, down four points with a minute left in regulation.
Did you make a great shot? Throw your club in a sand trap or into the water hazard. The time it takes to fish it out allows you time to dry off and watch instant replays of that glorious touchdown or pick 6.
Golf is literally the perfect sport to watch… other sports. The 19th hole awaits.
Las Vegas casino
Hear me out. I once watched LSU v Alabama (2011’s Game of the Century) at the Orleans Hotel and was given free food and alcohol, including sub-zero tequila shots. There was actually a Patron machine there. Anyway, the casino’s sports book had that game on its big screen. The entire area in front of that screen (see above) was divided down the middle into two sections via theater rope.
Gotta keep the proverbial Hatfields and McCoys separated, right? Free hot dogs and pizza were flying. If you were sitting at slot machines, watching the game while pretending to gamble, your drinks were free. It was loud, bawdy and Southern. Best experience ever.
So here is how this works: dress like a ski bum recovering from a horrible ski accident that tore up your meniscus. Wear the awesome clothes (and a cane), but have a portable TV/smart phone nearby to watch your team play.
Park yourself behind the main lodge’s window. Order some chili con carne in a sourdough bowl, a frosty beer or Irish coffee and chill with your injured leg propped up. Your new found friends will join you shortly. During the TV commercials you have a splendid view of your fellow skiers skiing/crashing/cursing/being rescued by ski patrol in a sled.
The motive behind planning family reunions is pure. The reality of family reunions is a mixed bag of flowers and manure. Sure, it is nice to meet your wife’s second cousin but these meetings can be so awkward. Throwing complete strangers together and expecting them all to have something to talk about beside sex, politics and religion is impossible.
These reunions are usually planned over a weekend when football is being played. The nerve of these people! So run around and shake hands with everyone—the wife will be happy with your boyish charm. But bring a large TV and set up your man cave next to Aunt Ethel’s homemade potato salad and Cousin Betty’s cheese curds. You will find out quickly which relatives are the coolest—they will be the ones trying to sit next to you.
Just how good of friends are these people inviting you to a fall wedding, anyway? Clearly, they do not know you very well. I do. My friends have all been briefed and understand that any invite to a wedding held on any Saturday from late-August to early-January will promptly get a “nay” from me on the cutesy, RSVP card and sent off in the self-addressed, stamped envelope—but I’ll send a nice gift, OK?
I have attended one fall wedding. Since it was my first (and last), I remember it well. I spent the entire reception/dinner time in the bar, cheering on my team. I was perfectly content skipping the rubber-like chicken dinner and instead, noshing on martini olives and pineapple wedges. This experience led to the birth of my personal personal hashtag #StopFallWeddings and a date with the bartender later that week. Just sayin’.
You could get lucky and go to a football themed wedding but unless you live in SEC Country (see above), that isn’t happening.
If you have to go, bring your portable TV. In less time than you can blink, your entire table will be crowded with football fans. Free drinks—unless it’s a cash bar in which case why are you seriously even there?—and food aren’t so bad when you can watch football with all of your new BFFs.
If you know your team is going to lose, why not go to a place where you can stare at beautiful scenery and drink like a fish? Listen, if my team loses while I am in Paso Robles, sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the valley while drinking DAOU’s Soul of Lion Bordeaux blend, things aren’t necessarily DEFCON 1.
Watching a tight game at Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, sipping a big red [tip of the hat to 2015’s Fay] while navigating through an epic charcuterie board seems pretty on point, doesn’t it?
On a cruise ship in the Caribbean
College football’s week one used to start the Thursday before Labor Day. Now it starts the week prior and is nicknamed week zero. With only 11 games scheduled Saturday, August 27, the pickins’ are slim. There can/will be some bad football games, although for the football-starved fan, no game is technically bad—it just never reaches its potential.
In any case, laying in a lounger on the Lido Deck, watching a football game on a big screen while a Jamaican steel drum band plays near you can ease the pain of bad officiating. Maybe that targeting call was not such a bad call? Maybe the sun glaring on your glistening, tan/burned skin distorted your vision?
“A drink will make your eyesight better,” the Caribbean Queen Fairy whispers in your ear.
With smooth, white sand beaches in the distance and the palm trees swaying in the tropical breezes, the bad play-calling becomes less cringey. Hmmm, you think. Maybe this really is a good time to try out that Statue of Liberty play while inside your own 15.
“Imbibe in a Goombay Smash,” you hear CQF say.
Crystal clear turquoise water slaps the hull of your ship. Colorfully dressed servers twirl tall pineapples/short coconuts filled with cold concoctions. Their little umbrellas and plastic monkeys hanging on for dear life will make you forget… well… damn, what was I supposed to be doing here? Pickleball?
Come to think of it, watch the game if you can. But DVR it at home just in case you get lost in Paradise on August 27.
PS- I’ll be in the Southern Caribbean when the first football game of the 2022 season kicks off on my birthday. I’ll be on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas watching football with some of the best human beings on this planet: my husband—the coolest person I know beside my twin—and our dear friends Mike (go K State!) and Cindy (go K State too!)
Los Angeles—Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff kicked off Pac-12 Football Media Day at the Novo Theater on Friday with a salty question-and-answer session with the media. Why, you ask, was he salty?
Well, there’s still that elephant in the room. And it seems to have grown since its last sighting.
Kliavkoff knew that the majority of the questions were going to be about expansion. And USC. And U.C.L.A. Because … duh.
Yet, he still expressed impatience and annoyance when those questions were asked. A couple of nervous laughs and smirks were also observed.
When asked about the Big XII’s comment about it being “open for business,” Kliavkoff pulled out his quiver and delivered a first of several arrows.
“I haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not,” he responded.
Kliavkoff also talked about weapons of mass destruction. “I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend grenades from every corner of the Big 12,” he said.
“I get why they’re scared. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us.”
If “awkward” and “spicy” were on your Pac-12 Media Day bingo card, congrats. It was all that and more. It had that SEC-type vibe to it. Without the standing-room-only screaming fans, championship banners, rings and trophies, of course.
After I described the media room’s tone as a spicy hotdog, a reporter sitting next to me, Chris Karpman, replied, “Not a lot of meat on the bones. A lot of condiments though.”
Kliavkoff is clearly ticked at USC and U.C.L.A.—officially he is “disappointed”—but he also said he would “welcome [U.C.L.A.] back.”
“I personally have instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12,” he added.
Translation: Be nice, fellas. I’m trying to keep this family together even though we had a meeting with 10 schools yesterday and we didn’t invite them (because it was about the future of the conference), according to SI’s Ross Dellenger.
That really happened. But no hard feelings, right?
Once the Commish left—OK, fled—the stage, the coaches were put in the spotlight.
Pesky expansion and defection questions were being asked and the coaches were not too excited about that. They wanted to talk about their own schools, not those other two schools. Go figure.
It was like watching a hamster fight. To be fair, I’ve never seen one. But after this afternoon’s follies, I think I’ve got the picture.
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell described the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten as “shocking… but I wish them the very best.” His team was picked to finish last by the media. But he’s still No. 1 in politeness.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was the big dog in the morning—sorry, Oregon—because Utah was picked by the media to repeat as conference champion. He ended up talking a lot about the Rose Bowl and the Florida Gators, the Utes’ first opponent of the season.
Whittingham is intense and a coach’s coach. The media know better than to push his buttons. He wants to play football. And win. Everything else is minutia.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was a fresh, bright face. He was exuberant, positive and effusive at his first Pac-12 Media Day. He also spent a lot of time talking Oregon’s brand and its highly-rated games.
“Since 2010 there’s been nine teams that have played for a national championship,” Lanning said, a mere 15 seconds after being introduced by the moderator.
“Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously we had 2.57 million viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference.”
How many coaches know their per-game-average of TV ratings? Seriously?
It really sounded like Phil Knight wrote his sale pitch to the Big Ten.
“I’m excited about the direction of our program, excited about being part of the fastest-growing brand in college football,” Lanning said.
How does he feel about playing his former team, Georgia? Lanning complimented the SEC, of course. Then he went back to pitching Oregon.
“Oregon, like I said, is a national brand. It’s fun to be in a place where you get to play premier opponents like Georgia.”
Wait, there’s more.
When asked if USC and UCLA’s future move has become part of the recruiting conversation, Lanning continued to hit those selling points.
“Oregon has been always a premier team in college football. I think we’ll continue to be. Our fans are extremely passionate. Being a top-10 team when it comes to views in homes this last year, the ability to compete for championships year in and year out with coaching changes and different things.”
Phil Knight must be pleased. “Brand” was mentioned more than once and television ratings weren’t touched upon by Lanning. They were molested.
If Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was watching, well, Oregon should give Lanning a raise and a new pair of sneakers every holiday.
Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch opened up his podium speech by talking about… wait for it… the LA Rams and their Super Bowl win. When you go 1-11 your first year, sometimes you have to go back a few years to when you were a coach on a winning team—even though it was in the N.F.L.
Fisch gets Charlie Weis’s seal of approval.
Fisch was a delight. He even inner-channelled former Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
“Other coaches are telling recruits that we’re an off-season team, and we appreciate them pointing out our great off-season, but we feel like we’re going to be a really good in-season team too.”
A college football coach’s humor is so underrated.
Stanford head coach David Shaw provided his usual sportsmanship and class. But he also dropped some dog humor on us.
When asked if losing the two L.A. teams would diminish Stanford’s strength of schedule, he answered, “First of all, that’s two years from now.”
“That’s 14 years… regular people years… two college football seasons.”
With half the day’s events over, a break was in order. Lunch was an excruciating experience.
I give you my play-by-play:
We are told that lunch will be served on the fifth level terrace. We pile into the elevators after a *helpful* Pac-12 info person yells, “lunch is on the fifth floor” every 10 seconds. Everyone is uncomfortable because we had to wait awhile for an empty elevator while listening to her repeatedly tell us where to go.
We get off at the fifth level. We walk to the other side of the building and run into a dead end. A *helpful* Pac-12 info person tells us, “Yes, lunch is on the fifth level, but you have to go back to the elevators, go down to level four, then go across the building and take the elevator up to the fifth level.”
Did you get all that?
As we go back down to the fourth level, another Pac-12 info person is yelling about the fifth level lunch terrace.
Now I know why USC and U.C.L.A. are leaving. It all makes sense.
We finally make it to the terrace on the fifth floor (achievement unlocked!) and discover there are not enough tables to seat everyone. I find a fun-looking table with two open seats, sit down and pick at my salad. I chatted with a nice, young man for 30 minutes before he introduces himself as Washington State’s new head coach, Jake Dickert. [Insert sheepish look here]
I had a terrific time talking with with him (and his players) and started feeling pretty good when I headed back to the elevators.
Good feeling… gone.
We went down to the third floor. Big mistake. What were we thinking taking the most direct route back to our work stations?
We have to go back to the fourth floor, walk to the other side of the building, then take the elevator down to the third floor and enter the Novo Theater. I sit down and decide if I should take a nap or watch the pending—if you’re a pessimist, looming—speeches/comedy/fireworks/paparazzi about to take place. Wisely, I chose the latter.
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards was at the podium.
“Next thing I’m going to comment on before I open it up for questions, I’ve never taken so many elevators in a day,” he said. “I’m elevatored out right now. I don’t know what button to push, what floor I’m going to, but I know there’s a lot in this building, and they all work.”
Herm Edwards is my hero.
When he exited stage right he muttered, “Gotta go catch an elevator.”
As expected, U.C.L.A and USC were the last two schools on the schedule. Ostensibly, this is done to keep everyone here until the end so they can fight Friday traffic at its worst.
Bruins’ head coach Chip Kelly was worth the wait. The quips were fast and furious.
He was asked how far it is from his campus to Piscataway, New Jersey (Rutgers’ campus).
“It’s 2,765 miles,” he replied grinning.
“Four-and-a-half-hour flight. If you’re going west to east it’s longer because the weather goes across the country. Coming back would be a little bit longer, so… we hope that we win because then you don’t worry about how long the ride is on the way back.”
A Canadian reporter from Quebec started to ask him a question and Chip couldn’t help himself.
“We’re not going to Quebec,” he laughed.
USC’s Lincoln Riley was last man up and his presence conjured up images from the Pete Carroll era. Photographers rushed up to the stage. Shutters were clicking and lights were flashing. Just like the good old days.
Riley didn’t mess around. He made some bold statements.
“We expect to have a national championship-caliber defense here at USC,” he proclaimed. USC fans must have swarmed the ticket office website after that statement.
“The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second, he said.
“We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”
A reporter followed that up with, “What is your expectation for this year?”
“To win the championship,” Riley responded, without hesitation.
USC has its coach. U.C.L.A. has its coach. And for the next two years, it looks like the two defectors of the Pac-12 will be not only running L.A., but the entire conference. The swagger was there on display.
Overall, the day was as expected. Awkward. There were also some bizarre moments.
Between coaches’ media sessions we were “treated” to some interesting music choices. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Express” was on a loop. But instead of Mars we got dueling violins.
There were two unidentifiable, fake plants set at each side of the stage. They stood out like a rack of ribs at a Vegan brunch. One of my Twitter followers suggested it was Cannabis. That would have been the most LA-thing ever.
Finally, the Internet is apparently a newfangled thing that this conference still has not figured out. “Spotty” does not even begin to describe this mess.
Was it a coincidence that as soon as the Pac-12 Commissioner began his opening remarks, the Wifi was non-existent?
Every Pac-12 Media Day has had this problem. I’ve never experienced a Wifi problem-free Media Day.
Maybe the Big Ten or Big XII can help the Pac-12 figure it out?