Four weeks from tonight…

…the college football season starts and we’ll be visiting my daughter, Alex, in her senior year at South Carolina, and meeting up with Dan Donnelly of Dan’s Tailgate Blog when we visit Columbia to attend the best Thursday night opener of the 2014 season. Texas A&M sans Johnny Football takes on the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. It’s a great, competitive game to start the season for both teams and for us, but going by our experiences over the years, the first game of the season depends a lot on the experience of the quarterback, especially against comparably good competition.

We think A&M’s Kevin Sumlin is a great coach with class. Rightfully, he’s dodged the Johnny Manziel questions and prefers to focus on his team’s future. Whoever his QB will be, highly-touted freshman Kyle Allen or formerly suspended Soph Kevin Hill, the limited experience against an experienced, quick defense in front to a volatile crowd on the road will be the difference in this game. Over the course of the upcoming season, the Aggies should improve with experience, but in this game, Steve Spurrier’s squad has the upper hand. Though the Aggies have to replace other key positions from a team drafted highly by the pros, replacing Mike Evans at WR, RB Ben Melena, and OT Jake Matthews will not be as critical to fill as Manziel. The QB will be the key to the offense on the first game of the season. The Kickoff Classics we attended over 22 years always looked good on paper based the teams the year before, but when a new QB was stepping in for one of the two, that made the most significant difference to determine the winning team in every game.

In the case of South Carolina, the offense last year was adroitly guided by tough guy Connor Shaw at QB. Shaw could take a beating, get wrapped up along the sideline, and come back out and dish it out to lead his team to some great comeback wins. As he went, so did the Gamecocks. When he was out though, Dylan Thompson, a fifth year senior in 2014, came in and did an adequate job but has to improve on his accuracy. With Spurrier and his staff more focused to get him ready for this season, he’ll be ready to take over for Shaw. However, if he goes down, there’s no experience to back him up. Luckily, Mike Davis returns in the backfield after gaining 1,183 yards a year ago. He had seven 100-yard games before injuries limited his action in the second half of last year. Also, four out of six starters return on the O-Line which reviews from preseason publications say will be one of Spurrier’s best. If as good as advertised, Thompson stands a good chance of making it through the season.

Defensively, we saw Jadaveon Clowney as ineffective most of last year when we watched Carolina, but the move to the pros by Kelcy Quarles will hurt. Line backing will be improved with Kaiwan Lewis (Mays Landing, NJ) and Skai Moore returning with experience and Safety T.J Gurley bringing experience to the secondary. Though the SC defense has to improve on its 20.3 ppg average a season ago and ranked next to last in the SEC in that category, A&M was far behind defensively allowing 32.2 ppg.

In the end, we’ll be giving the edge to the Gamecocks with Thompson’s experience at QB the primary reason over whatever inexperienced signal caller the Aggies call on in the opener for both teams. We can’t wait! Go Cocks!

Four weeks to go from tonight. We also plan to see South Carolina host Missouri on Parents’ Weekend (our last) on September 27 and we will visit Auburn for a game on the Plains if things work out on October 25. Hopefully, we’ll be able to follow the Gamecocks to a good bowl game in Alex’s senior year.

“What better way…”

It’s our home “advantage” living in New Jersey, The Birthplace of College Football, to have an opportunity to attend four NCAA college football games in three days – two D3 games, one FCS game, and one FBS game – all within about a one-hour drive from our home (depending on traffic, of course). We love the games at all levels when the opponents recruit on the same level and play hard against one another. At the D-3 level, you see players competing and playing for the love of the game. We pay as much attention to these guys as we do to the highest level as a tribute to players who selflessly dedicate their time and effort to play the game of football for as long as they can to enjoy the passion and glory of playing the world’s greatest sport. On three consecutive days in September with two games being played in New York and two here in Jersey, we get to attend two new venues for the first time as well as get to attend a historic game as one team makes its historic debut in its new conference.

On Thursday, September 11 at 7 pm under the Throggs Neck Bridge in New York City connecting The Bronx to Queens on the way out on to Long Island, the State University of New York Maritime Privateers (SUNY-Maritime) of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference will host the Massachusetts Maritime Buccaneers of the Massachusetts State Athletic Conference in a Division 3 clash. Both schools share the same unique mission to educate young people to prepare for careers in shore-side maritime industry related jobs and civilian sea-going employment (merchant ships, offshore drilling and mineral resource recovery, research ships, etc.) or possibly military careers. Both teams return from 5-5 seasons, and last year the Buccaneers won up at their campus in Buzzard’s Bay on Cape Cod, 24-20. A college game doesn’t look more evenly matched in tradition and recruiting than this one. SUNY Maritime’s Reinhart Field sits on a strip of land jutting out from The Bronx at the western end of Long Island Sound. We anticipate that there will be possible memorial ceremonies on the infamous anniversary of September 11 before the game. The two squads will then face off in their seventh annual Chowder Bowl rivalry (New England White vs. Manhattan Red?). Mass Maritime is coached by Jeremy Cameron entering his tenth season as HC, and the Privateers are mentored by Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, a 1992 graduate of the Naval Academy. We expect some rough seas crashing along the shore of The Sound when the hitting starts that evening. It’s a classic, small school rivalry. We’ve passed the campus under the bridge on several occasions and look forward to finally seeing a game there, especially under the lights of New York City.

SUNY Privateers

SUNY Privateers

On Friday night, we’ll attend a second D-3 game not far from home in Madison, NJ where the College of New Jersey Lions will come into town to play the FDU-Florham Devils in a nonconference game. A year ago, the Lions of the New Jersey Athletic Conference finished 5-5 and the Devils, perennial cellar dwellers of the Middle Atlantic Conference, finished 1-9 overall. However, the Devils’ only win of 2013 came at the expense of the Lions, 18-12, in their season opener. The Lions should be looking for revenge, and once again they open the week before against Ursinus College. However, an obstacle looms ahead of the Lions. The following week, they will return home to host No. 1 rated Wisconsin-Whitewater, D-3 National Champions in the last four of five seasons. Could the Lions be looking ahead past the Devils for the visit by the powerful Warhawks? It will be their dilemma which could make this a competitive game once again. TCNJ Head Coach Wayne Dickens, a Rutgers grad, returns for only his second season there after coaching close to 40 years at both the college and pro level. FDU HC Brian Surace enters his fourth season leading the Devils. His brother Bob is currently Head Coach at Princeton who we will see play Brown later this season at our Big Tailgate Party at Princeton on October 18.

TCNJ Lions

 

On Saturday, we look forward to a day/night double header. We’ll head back to the Bronx that morning and for the first time we will attend a game on the campus of Fordham University, alma mater of Vince Lombardi and the other six “Blocks of Granite”. At 1 pm, the Rams of Fordham who have eligibility once again to take the Patriot League bid to the FCS playoffs will butt horns with the Rams of Rhode Island of the powerful Colonial Athletic. However URI’s penchant for sitting at the bottom of the conference earned them the right to be Fordham’s Homecoming opponent early in the season. They finished 3-9 in 2013. Fordham finished last season 12-2 after being bounced by Towson in the second round of the FCS playoffs. Last season, Fordham soundly defeated Rhode Island, 51-26, and they do not lose any firepower, at least through the air in 2014. Senior QB Mike Nebrich returns from a stellar season with his two primary targets in twin Texans at wide receiver positions in pre-season All American Sam Ajala and the sure-handed Brian Wetzel. Nebrich completed 73.5% of his passes for 353 completions, 4,380 yards, and 35 TDs a year ago. Ajala and Wetzel both hauled in 14 receptions each for scores. Ajala totaled 1,462 yards and Wetzel captured 1,094. New URI HC Jim Fleming, stepping in as the former defensive coordinator from last year’s surprising Central Florida team, will do his best to counter with a young roster. He will start with either RS Junior QB Kolt Peavey, or possibly start one of two RS freshmen, Mack Lowrie or Luke Casey. RBs returning include Robby Delgado from an injury-shortened season and Jordan Sebastian, but Fleming may be willing to give some time to a couple of freshmen, Harold Cooper or Markey Clarke (Wayne, NJ/Depaul HS), who come in with some impressive high school pedigrees. Fleming hopes to bring some successful defensive schemes to his Rams from UCF to offset the Fordham passing game. It will be a new experience for us attending a game at Rose Hill in The Bronx and we will see a passing attack which has great potential to boost Fordham back into the FCS playoffs as a viable contender to the NCAA title.

Fordham 8

 

Before we head to the Bronx, RU grad and fan Frank Scarpa and I will pack our cooler and give it to our friend and RU football parent Frank Rafferty who will set up our tailgate at our second venue that day for the night cap of our college football twin bill. At 8 pm in New Brunswick, NJ at “The Birthplace of College Football”, Rutgers University will make its debut in the Big Ten hosting one of our two favorite teams, the Penn State Nittany Lions (Navy is our other who we will see Rutgers visit the following Saturday). Frank Rafferty’s son, Nick (Byram Twp., Lenape Valley HS), who we coached together in Little League baseball, will be on the depth chart at linebacker this season as a redshirt freshman for the Scarlet Knights. We’re hoping Nick will get some special team action at least this season and hopefully this night. He’s worked hard and led the White defense in tackles this past spring’s Scarlet-White game with eight. We’re betting on Nick to make the most of his opportunity when practice starts next week in New Brunswick. However, PSU is who we’ve rooted for all these years and we’re looking forward to seeing what James Franklin will bring to the table in his first season with the Lions. The spring game indicated that there’s work to do on the front line, but Franklin’s’ staff supposedly worked out some great things with the O-line at Vanderbilt when they started to turn that SEC bottom feeder around. O-line coach Herb Hand will be mentoring RS Junior center Angelo Mangiro (Roxbury(NJ) HS), currently listed at the top of the depth chart at center for the Lions. Rutgers will be pumped to beat PSU that tonight and the Lions are hoping to get its fourth year of sanctions waived for their outstanding compliance after the scandal so they can get back into the title hunt in 2015. Electricity will certainly be in the air. It will make for an exciting atmosphere to end our three straight days of four college football games. To paraphrase ABC’s late, great college football broadcaster Chris Schenkel, “What better way to spend three straight days in September?”

Review88

Stoop down, Bobby! Stoop down, Coach!

Tremendous article on ESPN.com by Brent Murphy interviewing Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops about one of our favorite topics, the over-rated SEC. Not only does the Sooner HC say the right things in total agreement of what we’ve attested to over the years, but he actually put a beat down on Bama last year in the Sugar Bowl to back up his previous rhetoric defeating Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, 45-31. Great job!   Because of him, we put down some of his significant comments from the interview aligned with some lyrics from our favorite band of all time, The J. Geils Band, from a recording of their song of 1982, “Stoop Down #39!”

“You’re my solid sender; you’re a real mind bender…”

He responded to Nick Saban’s comments about the Sugar Bowl being a “consolation game”: “They didn’t look like it was a consolation game on that first drive when they scored a touchdown and everyone thought they were going to rout us. I’ve been in plenty of those [non-national title games]. We’ve played in a bunch of national championship games, right? … That’s a good one.”

“You’re a real fair shaker, and you ain’t no faker.”

Said Stoops, “So that means I’ve got a built-in excuse the next time we don’t play for a national championship?” The previous day, Saban had met with ESPN and commented about the difficulty of getting his team prepared to play Oklahoma as they would have to “try to play in a consolation game.” Didn’t we also hear that when Alabama lost to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl? If the Sugar Bowl isn’t of interest to Alabama or any other SEC team who doesn’t make it to the championship game, why bother? Let some team play that’s going to play for more than just a pay check. Be honest and tell us you just don’t care before the game. This is just another SEC rubber-stamped comment by Mike Slive’s PR people to deflect the mortality of its membership.

“Don’t want no mambo, don’t want no jive, I’m riding the ropes, and taking a dive”:

Stoops was asked if he thought the Big 12 should add a conference title game. It’s the only Power 5 conference that doesn’t have a league championship game. He didn’t jive:

“Think about it: mathematically we play everybody [in our conference], they [the SEC] don’t play everybody,” Stoops said. “For instance Texas A&M. They play eight conference games. They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana Monroe. Boy those are all a bunch of toughies, right? We have nine conference games. So if [Texas A&M] was fortunate enough to be in the SEC championship game, they would play nine conference games at the end of the day and they have all those four ‘toughies’ to go with it.”

Chorus: Stoop down, Bobby! Stoop down, Coach! (I changed the lyrics a little here).

“The way you switch your eyes, you got me hypnotized!”

He’s making points with us here: “We have nine conference games and we’re playing Tennessee. In a few years we have Ohio State, we just came off a series with Notre Dame and Florida State. So that’s like 10 conference games. If you’re playing a tough non-conference schedule to go with nine [Big 12] games, that’s a tough schedule.”

Besides Oklahoma’s nine Big 12 opponents this season, the Sooners’ non-conference schedule features Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa. Check out Alabama’s: WVU at a traditional “neutral” site, The Georgia Dome, as they typically avoid playing any home and home series any longer against any FBS school (LSU plays Wisconsin at a “neutral” site in Texas). The SEC learned about the value of a neutral site when they studied the battle of Gettysburg. Then there’s Florida Atlantic of the lowly Sun Belt, Southern Miss, who’s 1-23 over the last two seasons, and Western Carolina who’s not only an FCS team, but a real tough one at that coming off a 2-10 season. I’m sure Saban’s boys don’t see that as a consolation game when they whip them 60-0 to show off that SEC strength for votes. That’ll be an outright BBQ (and he wonders why the student body is gone from their seats tailgating before halftime). The Sooners have some of the more challenging future non-conference schedules in home-and-home series against Ohio State, UCLA, Nebraska, Michigan and LSU. No neutral site like Oklahoma City or Dallas. As a matter of fact, every year they play the Red River Rivalry at a neutral site when the play Texas in Dallas!

“You’re so sweet and tasty, like the best French pastry”:

“In the end, it’s worked for us,” Stoops said. “It’s refreshing when you win [those types of games]. For the most part it’s been positive for us.” And if not, it shows he’s got the gumption to look for challenges more than he’ll look for cupcakes.

“You got me tongue-tied behind my back; you got ‘em good, that’s a fact.”

The Sugar Bowl win over Bama also was significantly gratifying for Stoops because he had previously challenged the overall strength of the SEC in a way we’ve presented many times before.

Stoops stated: “They said ‘the SEC this, the SEC that. I said, ‘You talk like all 14 teams are this, that and the other thing.’ I said, ‘You have to give credit to the first one or two that have won the national championship, but don’t act like they’re all doing that.’

“The year I said that, the bottom half of the league was like 0-36 against the top half of the league. The bottom half of the league isn’t beating anybody. So they jumped on that I was getting on the bottom half of the league. Things circle and people only say what they want to hear. What I said wasn’t false. The bottom half wasn’t beating many people. That was my only point.”

How many times have we written about the SEC’s formulation to success? Schedule four French pastries, win four games. Win at least two SEC games (usually against Kentucky and Vandy), get six wins in all, and play a bowl game in a nearby state so all your fans can easily drive to the game. There are no SEC bowl ties west of Texas if you’ll please note. Wonder why?

“You’re real fine stuff, and I can’t get enough!”

Stoops knew he’d be lambasted had the Sooners had lost the Sugar Bowl. And Saban’s comments try to offset the Sooners victory by depicting their apathy to playing in a “consolation” game as the reason for their demise. Yeah, right. It had nothing to do with playing a tough team from one of the other better conferences.

“After we won I didn’t have to hear anybody after that,” Stoops said. “That’s the bottom line. Everybody had their computers loaded and their microphones loaded, and they had to delete it. That was it. It felt good; it was positive. Because I know everybody was ready to jump on us, on me in particular, on what I had to say, if we went the other way. That all had to be deleted. There’s a little bit of validation in what I had to say. Fortunately it worked out in a positive way. I still believe in what I said.”

“There ain’t no stoppin’, you got my eyeballs poppin’!”

He summarized,”At the end of the day, we can play with anybody. And that was fairly evident. It wasn’t fluky.” He not only spoke the truth about the reality of the SEC, he coached his team to go out and prove it. We believe they’re not the only ones, and we believe he’s exposed the over-hype of the SEC. They definitely have some great teams, but they are not all on that level. It’s a sorry excuse to say we schedule lesser non-conference teams and only at home because we beat up so bad on each other every week. That’s bull, too. See how many points each one of them let up in their bowl games last season. So much for their dominating defensive stance as well. There’s a lot of hype here to show all the teams in this conference are so tough. They have their share, but others are riding on their coattails. They don’t show it on the field.

Stoop down, Bobby. Stoop down, Coach!

We’ll be rooting for him if his team makes it to the Football Four this year

(ESPN.com’s Travis Haney and Adam Rittenberg contributed to ESPN’s report. The J. Geils Band provided the lyrics about the time we started this great football adventure.)

 

We need a better definition of college football autonomy

During Day 1 of SEC Media Days, Commissioner Mike Slive , who would be the most effective NCAA commissioner if he wouldn’t show so much favoritism to the SEC, but more likely will control a potential de facto organization of … Continue reading

Audio

Favorite Our early preseason interview on Spadora on Sports

On July 5, Pete Spadora invited me for a little early college football season preview on his Saturday morning radio show, “Spadora on Sports” on WNER on Watertown, NY broadcast live in Boston, Vermont, and Canada as well as in upstate New York.

Spadoralogo

In case you missed it live on July 5, click on the link below to hear about our plans for the upcoming season and about a little tailgate cuisine.  Pete has us on his show regularly on Saturdays before some of our games during the regular season.  We’ll let you know when right here on our blog so you can join in to listen when you can.

 

USC Hall of Fame? How about the Hall of Shame?

USC plans to induct former Head Coach Pete Carroll into its Athletic Hall of Fame to recognize his “achievements” during his years there from 2001-2009 that include two National championships (one vacated), seven PAC 12 titles, and a deceiving career … Continue reading