Quick Takes: Playoff, Heisman, Pac-12 Net, Shaw/Chryst, World Series
Playoff rankings: The College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its first set of rankings yesterday, which means that playoff speculation will dominate the national conversation for the rest of the season. This will be the fourth year of playoffs in college football and, by all accounts, they’ve been an unmitigated success. The last two years have culminated in thrilling, down-to-the-wire championship games between Alabama and Clemson, and, not surprisingly, both those teams were including in the top four yesterday—Alabama at No. 2 and Clemson at No. 4. In a mild surprise, Georgia was rated ahead of Alabama at No. 1 and Notre Dame was slotted at No. 3.
The biggest takeaway from the initial set of rankings? Three of the Power Five Conferences were not represented. There’s still a long way to go, but if two SEC teams (Georgia and Alabama), plus an independent with ties to the ACC (Notre Dame), and an ACC team (Clemson) do end up in the playoff, there will be some very unhappy folks in the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. That’s when you’ll start hearing more serious conversation about expanding the playoff to eight teams.
Heisman Update: With a month left in the season, the race for the Heisman Trophy is wide open. There appear to be five legitimate candidates at this point—Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Stanford running back Bryce Love, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, and Notre Dame running back Josh Adams. Barkley, still considered the front-runner by many pundits, may have slipped back to the pack due to the Nittany Lions’ stunning 39-38 loss to Ohio State (after leading 35-20 in the fourth quarter). Barkley had two big plays—a 97-yard kickoff return and a 36-yard touchdown run—but other than the TD run, carried the ball 20 times from scrimmage for a total of 8 yards and was completely shut down in the second half.
Mayfield continues to post big numbers week after week, and his Sooners are now ranked No. 5. Love, the national rushing leader with 1,387 yards and 198 per game, may have helped himself by sitting out Stanford’s 15-14 win over Oregon State, as the Cardinal looked completely impotent without him. Barrett surged into contention with a brilliant performance against Penn State, completing 33 of 39 passes for 328 yards (including 13 for 13 for 170 in the decisive fourth quarter) and rushing for another 95. Adams is putting up Love-like numbers. He now has rushed for 1,169 yards this year and an 8.9 average, including touchdowns of 77, 84, 73 and 73 yards the last four weeks.
Both the Heisman Trophy and Notre Dame’s spot in the playoff could be at stake when Stanford hosts Notre Dame on Nov. 25.
Making Friends: There’s a new website called The Athletic, which provides online sports reporting in several markets, including San Francisco, on a subscription basis, as well as a national college football site called the All-American. The reporting is solid, and there are several top writers involved (Stewart Mandel heads up the All-American team). Unfortunately, the Athletic’s co-founder, Alex Mather, isn’t making life easier for his startup with crass comments about the newspaper industry.
Mather, who’s been hiring sportswriters from local papers to staff the Athletic, recently boasted: “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.”
Pac-12 Potshots: The Pac-12 continues to take hits in the media relative to late starting times and the inadequacy of the Pac-12 Network. We’ve discussed how late kickoffs limit the national exposure for Pac-12 teams (notably Washington and Stanford) and players like Bryce Love, but the most unfortunate victim has been Arizona’s scintillating quarterback Khalil Tate. In four games as a starter, Tate has accounted for 1,573 yards from scrimmage (830 rushing and 743 passing) and 14 touchdowns. But all four of his games have been aired on the Pac-12 network, which reaches less than 20 million homes.
Last Saturday, ESPN play-by-play announcer Chris Fowler, one of the most respected voices in college football, tweeted from the Georgia Tech-Clemson game in South Carolina: “Our crew would be interested in seeing Tate and the Cats battle Wazzu. But here in SC they haven’t heard of Pac-12 Network.”
Aside from the network’s small distribution, it also apparently doesn’t have content sharing agreements with the CBS Sports Network, which reaches about 50 million homes. That means highlights of Pac-12 games that are televised on the conference network cannot be shown on CBSSN.
Last week CBSSN Host Rick Neuheisel, the former UCLA and Washington coach who later served as an analyst with the Pac-12 network, went off on the network on his Sirius XM radio show and later in an interview with the Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner. Neuheisel said he wanted to promote Arizona’s Tate as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but because all four of Tate’s games were televised on the conference network, Neuheisel had to scrap the segment because he couldn’t get his hands on any highlights.
Which is one of the reasons Tate’s not listed above in my list of Heisman candidates.
Shaw/Chryst: With a victory this week at Washington State, Stanford coach David Shaw would tie the legendary Pop Warner as the winningest coach in Stanford history. Warner, who coached on the Farm from 1924-32, had an overall record of 71-17-8. Shaw now has a record of 70-19 in his six-plus seasons as the Cardinal’s head man, including three Rose Bowl appearances. He’s done an amazing job and is a terrific representative of the University.
In recent days, Shaw has taken some heat for his decision not to pull struggling quarterback Keller Chryst in last week’s game at Oregon State. The Cardinal, as noted above, were playing without their big weapon, running back Bryce Love. That put added pressure on the quarterback to deliver. For 59 minutes, Chryst failed badly in that regard, throwing for only 106 yards and completing four of his last 18 passes. Several throws were well behind Cardinal receivers, and six should have been intercepted by the Beavers. Fortunately for Shaw and Chryst, Peter Kalambayi forced a last-minute Oregon State fumble, recovered by Harrison Phillips, and Chryst completed two throws for a key fourth down conversion and the winning touchdown.
As noted in previous posts, I believe K.J. Costello has much more upside than Chryst. He is more mobile, has a quicker release, doesn’t lock in on one receiver, is more accurate, and makes plays. But Costello, who has performed better than Chryst when given the opportunity, didn’t see action in the second half at OSU. I suspect Shaw’s loyalty to Chryst stems from Keller’s record as a winner (11-2 as a starter), his stature as a team leader, and his remarkable rehabilitation from a severe knee injury suffered in last year’s Sun Bowl. He’s a warrior, but Costello would give Stanford a better chance to win important upcoming games against WSU, Washington, Cal and Notre Dame.
World Series: Fittingly, a classic World Series between the Dodgers and Astros will conclude tonight with Game 7 in Los Angeles. For those who believe baseball is a dying or boring game, please take another look. This series has featured two of the most exciting games in recent memory, miraculous comebacks, controversial decisions, clutch plays, brilliant pitching, bullpen meltdowns, and lots of dramatic home runs…24 in fact, most ever in a World Series. I’m sure our San Francisco Giants are watching, and I’m sure they are more convinced than ever that they need to add one or more power hitters to next year’s lineup. This series has shown, very convincingly, that there is nothing more beautiful than a well-timed three-run homer.
Rugby, anyone? For those looking for some football-like action, without the helmets and targeting penalties, this weekend offers a great opportunity to enjoy elite-level rugby at both the international and collegiate level. The Silicon Valley International 7’s and Penn Mutual Collegiate Fall Rugby Classic—featuring 34 international and 20 collegiate matches—will be played Nov. 4-5 at San Jose’s Avaya Stadium. The international field includes squads from traditional powers like New Zealand, Japan, Ireland and Australia, as well as rising teams from Canada, the U.S. and the island nations of Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. The collegiate field includes some of the best rugby seven programs not just in the state, but in the country—USC, Stanford, Arizona, UC Davis and Central Washington, to name a few. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster, www.SevensRugby.com or by calling Avaya Stadium (408-556-7700).