Michigan & UW Win CFP Classics; Stanford's Surprising Success; Ole Miss Rising; RIP Bill McColl
Like most of you, we were glued to the TV yesterday and witnessed two terrific semi-final games in the College Football Playoff. Michigan beat Alabama, 27-20, in overtime and Washington held on to beat Texas, 37-31.
Both games were thrillers that went down to the last play. Incredible, edge-of-the-seat stuff. In my mind, this was the best pair of semi-final games in CFP history.
Most of the time, one of the two semis is a blowout. Almost every game involving Notre Dame or Oklahoma, for example. This year was everything you could hope for in terms of excitement and tension.
I rarely make predictions, but the Inside Track did pretty well in its bowl preview two weeks ago, pegging Michigan to win 23-17 and Washington 34-31.
UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. proved once again that he's the best player in the country and should've won the Heisman Trophy, passing for 430 yards and making it look easy.
Coach Kalen DeBoer, who has done such a magnificent job at Washington, nearly blew it in the final minute as the Huskies were running out the clock, choosing to hand the ball off three times rather than just taking a knee.
It almost cost him the game. His running back Dillon Johnson was injured on the third down play, forcing a clock stoppage and giving Texas a last ditch attempt. The Longhorns got down to the 12 before the final pass was batted away in the end zone.
So now we have the old Rose Bowl matchup of Big Ten vs. Pac-12. Ironically, both teams will be in the Big Ten next year and are scheduled to play each other in October.
I like the Huskies in the championship game Monday. They always find a way to win. And as always with UW, it'll be close. 27-24.
What more fitting ending to the long, storied history of Pac-12 football than a national championship! The only thing that would make it better would be to play it in Pasadena.
Bravo Bo: With all the players missing their teams' bowl games by entering the transfer portal or opting out to prepare for the NFL draft, it was refreshing to see Oregon quarterback Bo Nix play in his team's Fiesta Bowl game against under-manned Liberty.
Nix, who has been around since the Paleolithic Era, set a college football record by starting his 61st game. More importantly, he set an NCAA record by completing over 77.4% of his passes this year.
Stanford Scores Big: Few would've predicted that Stanford football, coming off a 3-9 season and offering below-market NIL compensation, would have an excellent recruiting year.
But coach Troy Taylor and his assistants signed a strong class of 23 recruits to rank 30th nationally, third in the soon-to-be-dissolved Pac-12 behind Oregon (6) and USC (18).
The Cardinal class is led by quarterback Elijah Brown from Mater Dei, two-time California state champion, and defensive linemen Benedict Umeh from Avon Old Farms, Connecticut, and Dylan Stephenson from Columbus HS in Miami.
Listening to Taylor at his signing-day press conference, I was struck by how much detail he knew about each of the recruits and his passion for selling Stanford's impact on these young men post-football. He's clearly very involved in the recruiting process, and he clearly believes in the long-term value of a Stanford education.
Better days are ahead for the Cardinal.
Bottom Feeders: Several Pac-12 schools had dismal results, including Oregon State and Washington State, understandably, with their futures in limbo. But Cal and UCLA also bombed.
The Bruins signed only 10 players and have lost some stalwarts to the transfer portal. Chip Kelly's first year in the Big Ten promises to be a rude welcome.
Ole Miss Rising: Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin, he of "fired by USC on the tarmac" fame, has earned his chops at Florida Atlantic and now at Ole Miss. Kiffin's 2023 Rebel team ended the season at 11-2 after dispatching Penn State in the Peach Bowl.
Kiffin has made a living in the transfer portal, and already has signed a number of top defensive players for 2024. His additions so far include former Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen, the most coveted non-QB in the portal, a pair of veteran edge rushers from Tennessee and Florida, and a trio of defensive backs from Mississippi State, Tennessee and Oklahoma. All are projected as starters next fall and come from other SEC (or soon to be SEC) schools.
None of them came cheap, to be sure. Ole Miss's Grove Collective is one of the most aggressive and well-funded outfits in the country, giving Kiffin the NIL guarantees to attract the studs needed to challenge Alabama and Georgia. With his top offensive players, QB Jaxson Dart and RB Quinshon Judkins, returning, at the very least, Ole Miss should make the expanded 12-team playoff.
Top Forde: Despite the decline of Sports Illustrated, there is still one great writer for the magazine, Pat Forde, who covers college football.
Just this week he penned a scathing description of the current state of the sport:
"King Football is at the greediest point in its 150-plus year history--lacking in self-discipline, immune to shame, accustomed to getting its way from feckless university presidents, unwilling to work for the common good, addicted to the injections of TV money, divorced from the rest of campus, gripped by the fear of falling behind in the arms race.
"The destruction of much of what made college athletics great in the first place has gone up-tempo. Conferences are collapsing, regionality is a joke, Olympic sports are in peril, the academic underpinning of higher education is endangered by the increasingly real prospect of unlimited transfers."
And Forde's prediction for the future is similar to our take as written in this space:
"It might soon be time to kick football off-campus, making it a truly professional sport. License out nicknames, school colors and other trappings associated with the universities, rent the stadiums on Saturdays and practice facilities during the week, but otherwise the players and coaches would have nothing to do with actual college."
A sad, but accurate, projection of where things are headed...
RIP Bill McColl: One of the greatest players in Stanford football history passed away last Thursday. Bill McColl, 93, was a two-time All-American and college football Hall of Fame inductee who later played eight years with the Chicago Bears.
Many regard McColl as the first prototypical tight end. He had size, speed, and great pass catching ability.
McColl played both ways for the Indians, as they were known in those days. As a sophomore, he made the All-Coast team as a linebacker. As a junior and senior, he was named first-team All-American on offense, finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, an unheard-of accomplishment for a tight end, after leading Stanford's '51 team to a 9-2 record, No. 7 national ranking, and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
He finished his college career with 106 receptions for 1,556 yards and 14 touchdowns and was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1973. His senior year totals--42 receptions for 617 yards and 7 TDs--were all Pacific Coast Conference records.
McColl was drafted by the Bears in the third round and over 8 years caught 201 passes for 2,815 yards and 25 touchdowns. His best season was 1958, when he had 35 receptions for 517 yards, a 14.8 per catch average, and 8 touchdowns.
While playing for the Bears' legendary coach George Halas, McColl earned his medical degree at the University of Chicago. Rumor has it that Halas thought so much of McColl's impact on the team that he moved practices from the afternoon to the morning to allow McColl to attend medical school.
An orthopedic surgeon, he began his career as a medical missionary in Korea, treating patients with leprosy. He continued an active orthopedic practice until age 65 and also often served as an expert witness.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to state that few families have contributed as much to Stanford as the McColls. In addition to his football accomplishments, Bill later served on the university's Board of Trustees. He met his wife, Barbara Bird, at Stanford, and all six of their children followed their parents to Palo Alto and obtained undergraduate degrees.
Two of his children were football stars in their own right. Defensive end Duncan McColl was an All-American in 1976, while younger brother Milt McColl was a linebacker on Bill Walsh's 1977-78 teams and later played for Walsh in the NFL, where he was a two-time Super Bowl champion with the 49ers. Milt also followed his father into a medical career.
I got to know Bill in the mid and late 1970s when I was Stanford's Sports Information Director while his sons were playing on the Farm and his daughter, Bonnie, was a Stanford dollie. He was an interesting man who loved to discuss the major topics of the day, challenge your knowledge and ask tough questions. Chatting with Bill McColl was always a stimulating conversation.