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Why We Love College Football; 49ers' Dud; A Few Recommendations

After an off-season filled with unsavory drama about NIL, conference realignment and the transfer portal, it was gratifying Saturday to be reminded of some of the things we love about college football, namely, the emotion, the last-second thrills and the stunning upsets.

The under-appreciated and little-known Sun Belt Conference had a big day, with three of its teams (Marshall, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern) taking down iconic Power Five Conference programs on the road.

Some of the highlights:

Marshall 26, Notre Dame 21. The No. 8 Irish fell to the heavy underdog Thundering Herd in South Bend. Notre Dame led 15-12 early in the fourth quarter, before Marshall drove 94 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and then sealed the victory with a pick six. New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman is still looking for his first victory, having lost to Ohio State 21-10 last week. The wolves are already starting to howl.

Washington State 17, Wisconsin 14. The Cougars struck a much-needed blow for the Pac-12 by upsetting No. 19 Wisconsin before 80,000 fans in Madison. Transfer quarterback Cameron Ward, from Incarnate Word (where the stadium seats 6,000), showed what all the buzz is about with a poised, big-play performance. The Cougars have been a different team since former special teams coach Jake Dickert took over as interim head coach halfway through last season and then got the permanent job for 2022.

Appalachian State 17, Texas A&M 14. The Mountaineers, best known for their stunning upset of Michigan back in 2007, did it again Saturday by dominating No. 6 Texas A&M before 100,000 fans in College Station. They controlled the ball for over 41 minutes, without their top running back, and completely stifled coach Jimbo Fisher's assortment of five-star recruits. This after a heartbreaking 63-61 loss to North Carolina a week earlier. It’s only fair to note that Fisher makes $9 million a year; App State’s Shawn Clark earns $425,000.

Georgia Southern 45, Nebraska 42: Georgia Southern went 3-9 last year but is now 2-0 under first year coach Clay Helton, the same Clay Helton who was fired by USC two games into the 2021 season after an embarrassing loss to Stanford. The Eagles, formerly known as the Professors, piled up 642 yards on offense. Meanwhile, embattled Nebraska coach Scott Frost fell to 5-22 in games decided by one score and 16-31 overall since taking the reins in Lincoln. He was fired on Sunday morning.

Alabama 20, Texas 19. The Longhorns came within a whisker of upsetting No. 1 Alabama. A missed chip-shot field goal and an uncalled safety proved to be Texas' undoing. Bama quarterback Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman winner, came through with some big plays down the stretch to set up the winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers, the transfer from Ohio State, showed he deserved all the hype before going out with an injury.

USC 41, Stanford 28: The Trojans might be the best offensive team in the country. They have the best receiver (Jordan Addison), one of the two best quarterbacks (Caleb Williams, shown above) and two excellent running backs (Travis Dye and Austin Jones). All transfers, by the way. And they have a real shot at getting the Pac-12’s first berth in the College Football Playoff since 2016.

Stanford can feel somewhat positive about the game after successfully unveiling a new RPO (Run pass option “slow mesh”) offense modeled after Wake Forest (I kid you not). Without three Red Zone turnovers, the Cardinal would’ve been right in the game. But to get anywhere this season, Coach David Shaw’s team has to eliminate turnovers (they have eight in two games), stiffen defensively, and get more accuracy from quarterback Tanner McKee. Too many of his passes sail high.

More Salary Insanity: Not to be outdone by Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney signed a new 10-year, $115 million contract Thursday, the largest college football coaching deal in terms of total compensation.

Swinney’s new contract runs through the 2031 season and averages $11.5 million. He’s pocketing $10.5 this year, just below Saban’s $10.7M and just ahead of Smart’s $10.2.

To give you some idea of how crazy things have become, consider that John Ralston made $30,000 when he coached Stanford to back-to-back Rose Bowl victories over Ohio State and Michigan in 1971 and ’72, which translates to about $215,000 in today’s dollars.

Niners’ Dud: The 49ers are generally regarded as a Super Bowl caliber team, but Sunday’s season opener may inspire a reassessment. Aided by several drive-extending penalties, the Chicago Bears, one of the NFL’s weakest assemblages, scored 19 unanswered second half points to beat the 49ers 19-10 in a monsoon in Chicago.

The loss spoiled the beginning of the Trey Lance Era. Lance was underwhelming, throwing two costly picks, completing less than 50% of his passes, and missing several open receivers. He did look good running the ball, but the 49ers aren’t going to the Super Bowl with a quarterback who lacks accuracy and turns the ball over.

Fortunately, the team renegotiated Jimmy Garoppolo’s contract and has the veteran QB as an insurance policy behind Lance.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve always been a Jimmy G fan—I regard him as one of the top 15 quarterbacks in the league—and I’ve always been skeptical of Lance, who really has played only one season of football in the last four years.

One must wonder how much patience coach Kyle Shanahan will have with Lance.

Kaepernick Documentary: Speaking of 49ers’ quarterbacks, be sure to check out “Kaepernick & America,” an excellent documentary film about former 49er Colin Kaepernick, produced by my old friend and Stanford man, Gary Cohen.

I really enjoyed it. The film is well-written, well-produced and well-edited. There’s lot of great footage I hadn’t seen before, and just the right amount of politics. The Kaep haters are well represented, too.

The film is available everywhere people rent films (iTunes, Amazon, Comcast, etc.). More info is available at the website,

Anatomy of a Champion: Dick Gould is one of the greatest coaches in college sports history. His Stanford men's tennis teams won 17 national championships in a span of only 28 years.

Gould has just released a semi-autobiographical book entitled "Anatomy of a Champion," which does a fine job of analyzing just how he was able to build and sustain a tennis dynasty at Stanford.

The book employs an unusual format. Rather than Gould telling his story in his own words, the main commentary comes from his former players. "Coach" sent questionnaires to 200 players and 166 of them responded. Their answers, unfailingly positive, are revealing, perceptive, and for the most part, enjoyable to digest.

Gould's own narrative is interspersed, introducing the main topics, providing lead-ins to the players' comments, and summarizing the main points. Although he is justifiably proud of his accomplishments, and there is a certain amount of well-deserved chest-thumping, there is also a healthy dose of humility, as Gould is refreshingly honest about his own mistakes.

All in all, it's great primer on coaching, mentoring, and leadership, full of valuable lessons and insights about sports, business, and life. How to build relationships, build trust, and get the most out of people. How to win with humility and lose with grace. How to represent your school or organization with class and integrity.

For more information about the book and how to order it, visit


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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