The College Football Czar
Week five in review: The near upset of #1 Clemson was one of the few interesting moments in yet another weekend of uncompetition, making September college football look more like November college basketball than ever. The Tigers were nearly toppled by North Carolina, which let them escape 21-20 after a missed two-point conversion attempt. While coach Mack Brown's decision is certainly defensible, the College Football Czar thought it was incorrect. The percentages dictate that one's chances of winning in overtime are greater than those of converting a two-pointer, all other factors being normal. Going for two would make more sense if you had a great option offense, or if your kicker was injured, but neither of those was true for UNC.
The real problem the Czar has with a potential game-winning two-point call is that everyone calls it gutsy, when it's obviously not, for the very reason that people say it is. In fact, it's arguably the most uncontroversial play in the book. Succeed, and you're a hero. Fail, and you're still a hero, but your heroism just wasn't quite heroic enough.
The College Football Czar had no need to make any gutsy calls himself, but he did make some pretty good picks, compiling a season-high record of 15-4. For the season, he is now 62-33, for a .653 winning percentage.
This week's picks are being released a day early, because the Czar, who usually posts them on Thursdays, is attending the Penguins' home opener that night. Please don't tell college football that he has been seeing other sports behind its back. As usual when the Czar is working on a short week, he asks you to kindly excuse the relative brevity and grammatical ungooditude of this installment of picks.
Central Florida at Cincinnati
The College Football Czar is kicking himself for not picking Pitt to upset UCF in Week 4, because it's quite obvious that this Knight team got caught looking ahead to the final edition of the Civil ConFLiCT. In the final chapter of their involuntary rivalry with Uconn, the Knights led by seven touchdowns before letting up in the fourth quarter of a 56-21 runaway.
Not a lot of teams have played a nonconference schedule anywhere near as tough as the Bearcats have, but their only loss is to national contender Ohio State, while they have beaten UCLA, Miami Ohio and Marshall. Last week, they had plenty of discouraging words for the Thundering Herd, whom they humbled, 52-14. Nevertheless, the Cats are not only unranked, but they aren't even among "others receiving votes" in either the AP or Coaches' Poll.
Talk about disrespect. Even Gary Johnson finished among "others receiving votes."
Cincinnati 42, Central Florida 37
Pitt at Duke
If it's an even-numbered week, Panther head coach Pat Narduzzi must be on the defensive, this time because of a 17-14 scare against the Division I-AA Delaware Fighting Blue Hens. The coach rested banged-up QB Kenny Pickett, as well as the team's two best running backs. Not that they couldn't have played, but why risk it? The way the rest of the team performed, those three words must be the new team motto.
The Blue Devils led most of the way last year at Heinz Field, but yielded 37 second-half points in a shocking 54-45 defeat. The Panthers broke a tie on a 25-yard catch by Maurice Ffrench with only Ffive seconds remaining, and then unintentionally padded their margin when the Devils lateraled the ball into their own end zone on the ensuing kickoff.
David Cutcliffe's club ran the ball at will in a 45-10 at Virginia Tech last Friday, looking reminiscent of how Pitt played against that same Gobbler team late last season. Duke's only loss has been to Alabama, but how much more does it say about them that they've romped over that rudderless VT team, along with Middle Tennessee, and I-AA North Carolina A&T?
If Narduzzi puts second-string quarterback Nick Patti in the game again this week, will that make this the Patti-Duke Show? If so, the College Football Czar just might have to not watch.
Pitt 28, Duke 26
Purdue at Penn State
The Boilermakers go on the road for the first time since their opening loss at Nevada. Since then, that same UNR team has lost to Oregon and Hawaii by a combined score of 131-9. That gives PU plenty of reason for pessimism, as if their eight-game losing streak in this series weren't enough.
Last week, the Little Engine That Could Puke couldn't even keep up with a bunch of rodents rowing a boat. They did rally in the fourth quarter despite having lost starting QB Eliljah Sindelar and leading receiver Rondale Moore, but still fell to Minnesota 38-31. Big backup quarterback Jack "The Snack?" Plummer did as well as could be expected, with two TDs but also two interceptions, while his fellow freshman David Bell rang up 114 yards on eight receptions.
Because the Czar subscribes to Dish, which is fighting Fox and has therefore temporarily removed FS1 and BTN, he was unable to watch any of PSU's 59-0 blowout of Maryland last Friday, but the highlights were enough. Lopsided wins are often referred to as laughers, but the Terrapins' play actually bordered on slapstick. Anybody who watched the whole game probably felt like he'd just seen Rob Petrie trip over the Ottoman once for every episode in the series.
With typical Penn State megalomania, coach James Franklin says every game for his team is the Super Bowl. Up until now, they must have all been Super Bowls involving the Bills or Vikings.
Penn State 50, Purdue 21
Texas at West Virginia
WVU's taunting during last year's 42-41 victory should be enough to keep the Longhorns' attention from drifting toward next week's game against Oklahoma, even though there are probably none of the offenders remaining on this year's Mountaineer roster.
Eers fans were expecting this to be a long, lost season, but their team is already halfway to bowl eligibility. Their November schedule (Texas Tech, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU) is not much to fear this year, either.
The Horns haven't played a true road game since last Thanksgiving weekend, at Kansas. That's seven games ago. If they get the impression that Morgantown is what they can expect from the outside world, they'll be content to stay within Austin city limits from now on.
Texas 43, West Virginia 22
Auburn at Florida
The Tigers trounced Mississippi State 59-31 to improve to 5-0, and even roughed up the Bulldog mascot for good measure. (Take that, Iowa State!) Freshman quarterback Bo Nix had by far his most productive day yet, picking apart MSU for 335 yards and two TDs, while completing 16 of 21.
UF is 5-0 also, but does that justify a #10 ranking? They've stumbled their way to ugly wins over Miami and Kentucky, pounded a pathetic Tennessee team, and downed two Division I-AA teams. Tennessee-Martin and Towson sound more like the world's worst law firm than the worst nonconference opponents for a major college football team, but either way, they're not good.
Why, you may ask, does the Czar think Tennessee-Martin and Towson don't sound like a good law firm? Um ... because there are usually two of the same name among three law partners, whereas in this case, all three are different. Yeah, let's go with that one.
Auburn 26, Florida 14
Iowa at Michigan
The Wolverines may look wobbly, but they're on firm footing at home in Ann Arbor, where they've won ten in a row, going back to the beginning of last season. They've hosted the last two games in this series, however, and lost them both, 24-21 in 2013 and 14-13 in 2016.
Hawkeye QB Nate Stanley hails from a Wisconsin town called Menomonie (doo-doooo, da-doo-doo). He's singing a happier tune than he was a year ago, with a completion percentage five points higher, no interceptions through four games, and over 200 passing yards in every game so far.
It may be that the maize and blue are serving freshman RB Zach Charbonnet before his time, but what choice do they have? His 218 yards leads a team that ranks outside the Top 100 in almost every rushing category.
In case you think the Czar is immature for referencing a song from Sesame Street, he hastens to point out that "Mah Na Mah Na" was also a staple on The Benny Hill Show.
Iowa 16, Michigan 10
California at Oregon
With the exception of a 77-6 outburst against Nevada, the Fighting Duck offense hasn't taken off yet. This week, they get three injured wide receivers back, including Penn State graduate transfer Juwan Johnson. Not only should Justin Herbert's passing yardage improve as a result, but by stretching out opposing defenses, they should open up some lanes for their talented but slightly undersized running backs.
Cal's injury situation isn't nearly as favorable, with QB Chase Garbers going down with a serious shoulder injury during last week's 24-17 loss to Arizona State. His replacement, former UCLA quarterback Devon Modster, may sound trendy, but he'll never catch on by going 5 of 14 for 23 yards with an interception, like he did in his relief performance against ASU.
This could be billed as the Battle of the Bears, with the Golden Bears taking on Justin Herbert, whose surname, in pidgin French, could be pronounced "Hair Bear," which he still kind of resembles with his helmet off.
Did anyone ever actually sit through a whole episode of, "Help, It's the Hair Bear Bunch"? Hanna-Barbera was the Bar-S of animation.
Oregon 30, California 17
Air Force at Navy
The winner of this game earns the opportunity to take on Army for this year's Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. The best the loser can hope for is a three-way tie, in which case the Cadets would keep the prize for a third year in a row.
Last week in Memphis, the Midshipmen went 3-for-5 on fourth-down conversions. That may sound like a good percentage, but that means they had two turnovers on downs, to go along with two turnovers of the more conventional variety, in a 35-23 conference-opening defeat.
Injured Falcon quarterback Donald Hammond came off the bench to lead the AFA to a 41-24 win over San Jose State. The juking junior surprised SJSU with a 64-yard, second-quarter touchdown strike to give his team the lead for good.
When the Commander-in-Chief presents the trophy to the winners in the White House Rose Garden, do you suppose the Taliban will be invited to the ceremony? Just another question the Czar had never imagined he'd have to ask, and there are getting to be more of those every day.
Air Force 23, Navy 19
Michigan State at Ohio State
Buckeye QB Justin Fields' name makes perfect sense, for where else would he want to be? In his first five games, the Georgia transfer has completed 70 percent of his passes, while throwing 16 touchdowns and no picks.
Fields' counterpart, Brad Lewerke of MSU, has already thrown for more touchdowns than he did all last season, and should surpass last year's yardage total before the end of October. He, too, has taken good care of the ball this year, tossing only one INT, compared to eleven a year ago, on about half as many pass attempts.
It stands to reason that the green men of East Lansing would be enemies of OSU, because the Czar has concluded that the Buckeyes are part of the conspiracy. To cover up encounters with extraterrestrials, that is. If their motives are unclear, just think how devastating it would be to The Ohio State University if our little latex friends happened to have another Ohio State University on their planet? Naturally, the Bucks find it best not to venture into the forbidden zone in the first place.
Mind you, aliens could do a lot better than OSU from an academic perspective, assuming they are of superior intelligence, but why does everybody always assume that they would be? What if we finally make contact with them, only to find out that they're totally bone stupid? Sorry, it's probably considered intergalactist to even suggest such a thing.
Ohio State 41, Michigan State 27
Arizona at Colorado
When coaches talk about how their quarterbacks support each other, they're usually fibbing, but it was great to see injured Wildcat QB Khalil Tate so animated by the success of Grant Gunnell in a 20-17 victory over UCLA. Tate may be able to return, but why force a scrambler who's nursing a hamstring injury into the game, when your freshman flinger looked surprisingly polished while putting up 352 yards in his first career start?
The 3-1 Buffaloes won their conference opener over Arizona State, 34-31 in Week 5. Now they face the U of A in a surprising early battle for the catbird seat in the Pac 12 South. Each of these teams has only played one Pac 12 game so far, but each of the other four teams in the division has already taken a loss.
The Cats' defense has looked far better in its past two games than it did earlier against Hawaii and I-AA Northern Arizona, but that's partly because of the way Texas Tech and UCLA are flailing on offense. They're apt to learn that they haven't improved so much after all, when they take on senior slinger Steven Montez and this rampaging CU offense.
Why would Buffaloes and Wildcats covet the catbird seat, anyway? I mean, a catbird doesn't need much leg room, comparatively speaking.
Colorado 38, Arizona 28
Tulane at Army
The Green Wave aren't looking to rejoin the SEC anytime soon, but they did put up a respectable battle in a 24-6 loss at Auburn in Week 2, which remains their only defeat of the season.
Now that losing by three to Michigan is no longer cause for popping corks, it's time for the Black Knights to get on with their season. The Czar wonders if they're ready for a serious game at this point, coming off an idle week they didn't need, following a win over I-AA Morgan State.
Tulane left the SEC in 1965 because it wanted to de-emphasize athletics, and gain a reputation for being the Southern equivalent of an Ivy League school. It sure accomplished the first of those objectives, but TU does not generally get the same recognition for academics as Duke, Rice and Vanderbilt, the last of these ironically being an SEC school. It has clearly demonstrated its academic superiority over neighboring schools that belong to the SEC West, however. For starters, it can count all the way up to tu.
Tulane 40, Army 24
Rice at UAB
Both teams suffered tough setbacks last week in Conference USA play, the defending champion Blazers dropping their league opener at Western Kentucky 20-13, while the 0-5 Owls couldn't get off the schneid in a 23-20 overtime loss to Louisiana Tech.
Alabama-Birmingham athletic director Mark Ingram is no relation to the father-and-son NFL players by that name, but he could have become famous for the wrong reason. Ingram envied schools that have live animal mascots, so he proposed that a komodo dragon be put on display at UAB football games. Then, a zookeeper explained to him that the komodo dragon is a predator akin to an alligator, except that it has poisonous spit that it uses to paralyze its prey. So much for that bright idea.
It didn't make much sense anyway, considering that a komodo dragon does not resemble a mythical dragon. Once the fire-breathing has been swapped for poisonous spit, the critter no longer has anything to do with a team called the Blazers, really. If Ingram wanted to be on the safe side, he could have gone one degree of separation farther by just buying a commode.
The Owls are simply playing too well this season to go yet another week without recording a W. Besides, they've got to get off that schneid. Those things are terribly uncomfortable, especially when it's humid.
Rice 21, UAB 20
Baylor at Kansas State
At 3-1, the Wildcats are having a surprising degree of success, as always. They only lost their conference opener on the road to Oklahoma State, 26-13, one game after downing Mississippi State in Starkville.
The Czar doesn't watch SportsCenter enough to know who the anchors are anymore, but last Saturday night one of them explained that BU had given up 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to Iowa State, before kicking the game-winning field goal. Don't any of these guys pay attention to what things mean when they say them? Or does ESPN scour the social histories of all its employees, and immediately fire anyone who is found to have once used the word "unanswered" correctly in a tweet while in high school?
Just imagine if they ever found out that a current broadcaster, in a previous social media life, had ever explained the truth about Title IX. Whatever happened to that person would make the Clockwork Orange eye drop treatment look downright soothing.
Kansas State 32, Baylor 25
Northwestern at Nebraska
The depressing dearth of blockbuster matchups led ESPN's College GameDay to go to Lincoln last week for the Huskers� game with Ohio State, even though the home team should have been offered blindfolds to go with their corncob pipes. When there's no big game, GameDay should not waste a trip to a big school. It should have gone to Appalachian State or Toledo instead.
After scoring a touchdown to trail Wisconsin 24-9, the Wildcats went for two, and failed. They scored another touchdown, but had to chase the point they gambled with the first time, and lost, leaving themselves down 24-15, which turned out to be the final score. The second time, they needed to go for two to find out whether or not they were within one score, so they could factor that into their play calling the rest of the way. But why go for it the first time, instead of simply being within two touchdowns? Coach Pat Fitzgerald explained that critics of the decision are ignorant of analytics. "That was a no-brainer for us," he said. Perhaps next time, he should try a brainer, instead.
Back in the 2000 Alamo Bowl, the Cornhuskers needlessly and successfully ran a flea-flicker for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, to cap a 66-17 blowout that they should instead have quietly put out of its misery. Since the N-men joined the Big Ten, the series has been considerably more competitive, with the teams splitting eight games. The four the Wildcats have won have been by a total of only 15 points.
Cornhuskers? Flea flickers? The want ads in the Lincoln Journal Star must be a real hoot.
Northwestern 18, Nebraska 13
TCU at Iowa State
During the first half of the season, the College Football Czar finds himself referencing teams' records less and less frequently, mostly because he'd usually feel the need to asterisk them. Yes, Texas Christian is 3-1, but what does that really mean, when they've only beaten Kansas, Purdue, and I-AA Arkansas-Pine Bluff? In their only competitive matchup, they lost to longtime rival SMU.
Perhaps the Cyclones should protest last week's game against Baylor. For them to have lost their lead after scoring 21 unanswered points is a scenario that just screams for a review. It's probably the fault of those sinister Pac 12 officials, somehow or other.
Those ISU fans had better not hassle the opposing team's band this week. That's because Horned Frogs can defend themselves by emitting a foul-smelling substance mixed with blood, which they shoot from their eyes. Kind of like Joe Biden. Unfortunately for Joe, blood-spewing eyeballs don't poll as well as paralysis-inducing saliva. Before making his choice of projectile secretion, he should have consulted pollster Frank Luntz and his focus group of sparrow-brained people, who have nothing better to do than answer questions about how they feel, because they can't find their way out of the room.
Iowa State 26, TCU 23
UTSA at UTEP
The Miners have been splitting quarterbacking duties between seniors Brandon Jones and Kai Locksley. If that second name sounds familiar, that's because Kai, who hails from Maryland, is the son of new Maryland head coach Mike Locksley. So why has Kai not transferred to Maryland, then? There's no good answer to that, which is not bad.
If Roadrunner tailback Sincere McCormick tells you your shoe is untied, should you look? I mean, his first name could be meant ironically, in which case he's kidding, and when you look down, he'll nick you in the nose with his finger. Then again, if he really is sincere, and you don't look down, you might hurt his feelings. Somehow or other, concerns like these matter, when the game involves the two worst teams in Conference USA.
You can tell that these two programs are embarrassed by themselves, because each of them uses initials to identify itself. It's kind of like when people spell out words, because they don't want small children and Penn State alumni to figure out what they're talking about.
UTSA 43, UTEP 39
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