SEC Cupcakes, Najee, Big Game, Basketball Frauds
We've written before about the SEC's cupcake schedule in mid-November, and this year is no exception. While every other conference is playing important rivalry games this weekend, SEC teams are feasting on the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Here are some of this week's exciting SEC matchups: The Citadel at Alabama, Liberty at Auburn, Chattanooga at South Carolina, U Mass at Georgia, Idaho at Florida, and UAB at Texas A&M.
How can this happen? Well, it all stems from the fact that SEC (and ACC) teams play only eight league games, while the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences play nine.
From a rankings standpoint, it isn't fair for teams in 14-team leagues to play only eight league games, while teams in 10 or 12-team leagues play nine. Why? Because an extra league game means that half the teams in those leagues will have one additional defeat. SEC and ACC teams, meanwhile, can pick up an easy win and get healthy for upcoming traditional matchups and league championship, bowl and playoff games.
It should come as no surprise, then, that in the four years of the College Football Playoff, the SEC has had five participants, the ACC four, the Big Ten three, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 only two. From this corner, until that scheduling disparity is eliminated, the CFP rankings will never be totally legit.
Where’s Najee? Two years ago, Antioch running back Najee Harris was the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit. The Chronicle ran an outstanding season-long series on his senior season, documenting his on-the-field exploits along with the pressures of his recruitment, which ended with Harris signing with Alabama.
Harris didn’t play much as a freshman (only 61 carries) and considered transferring after the season. But an eye-opening performance in the national championship game, in which he ran for 64 yards to help spark Alabama’s come-from-behind win, raised expectations for 2018.
But nine games into the season, Harris remains part of a three-back rotation with another Harris, Damien, getting the most touches, and Joshua Jacobs having established himself as the top goal-line and receiving option. As a result, Najee has just 87 carries so far this season. The good news: Damien is a senior and Jacobs a junior, so Najee’s workload should increase if he chooses to return to Tuscaloosa next season.
Bears Are Bowl Eligible: Just a month ago, Cal had dropped three straight games and was reeling. Fourteen turnovers in the three losses—11 by quarterback Brandon McIlwain—had proven too much for a stout defense to overcome.
As they headed into a tough stretch that included matchups with Washington, WSU and USC, few gave the Bears (then 3-3) much of a chance to find three more wins to gain bowl eligibility.
But Coach Justin Wilcox made the wise decision to go with Chase Garbers as his primary quarterback and Garbers has led his team to wins over OSU, Washington and USC. Were it not for an ill-advised substitution in the WSU loss, which resulted in a fatal interception by McIlwain, the Bears might've won all four.
Last Saturday Cal beat USC for the first time in 15 years, coming back from a 14-0 halftime deficit to prevail 15-14. The Bear defense, led by linebacker Evan Weaver, shut down the Trojans in the second half and created two turnovers that led to touchdowns—a 29 yard pass from Garbers to Vic Wharton III and a short Garbers scoring run.
Big Game: Saturday's Big Game matches two 6-4 teams hoping to improve their resumes and their bowl bids. (Stanford also became bowl eligible Saturday with an impressive 48-17 win over Oregon State. Tight end Colby Parkinson caught four touchdown passes from C.J. Costello to lead the way.)
Last year the Bears gave Stanford all it could handle, with the Cardinal prevailing 17-14 in Palo Alto. I think this year’s game in Berkeley will also go down to the wire, but Stanford’s offensive weaponry—a healthier Bryce Love, an improving Costello, and outstanding receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trent Irwin, Kaden Smith and Parkinson—will prove to be the difference.
Pac-12 bowl eligibles: It wasn’t that long ago that the Pac-12 struggled to fill its bowl commitments. A top-heavy conference and USC’s three-year bowl ban were the primary culprits, causing many a sleepless night for bowl executives like me.
This season, as many as 10 Pac-12 teams could become bowl eligible. Seven teams are already in—Washington State (8-1), Washington and Utah (both 7-3), Stanford, Cal, Arizona State, and Oregon (all 6-4). Three 5-5 teams (USC, Arizona and Colorado) need one more win to qualify.
Basketball Frauds: Last week's game between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 4 Duke illustrated much of what is wrong with college basketball.
It wasn't that many years ago that coach Mike Krzyzewski ran an admirable program at Duke. He preached the "student-athlete" ideal. Recruited good students, almost all of whom stayed for 3-4 years. Decried the growing "one-and-done" phenomenon. Yet managed to win championships.
Not any more. Coach K has fully bought in to the one-and-done approach. And this year, he was able to recruit three of the top five recruits in the nation. In their first game against favored Kentucky—ironically, the program that introduced and perfected the deplorable one- and-done scheme—Duke's rookies were magnificent. RJ Barrett, projected by many to be the first pick in the NBA draft, scored 33 points, dunker extraordinaire Zion Williamson added 28, and Cam Reddish chipped in with 22.
And who was over on the other bench? None other than Reid Travis, a graduate transfer from Stanford. Travis, who left one of the top schools in the world to find a program that "aligned his athletic and academic interests," ended up at Kentucky, ranked as America's 147th best college by US News and World Report.
Travis certainly seems to be doing well athletically, scoring 22 points against Duke.
No doubt he's also enjoying the challenging academic environment at Kentucky.