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Another NCAA season in the books

The 2017 Division I college baseball season, and the entire 2016-17 NCAA athletic calendar for that matter, ended at 10:26 p.m. Central Daylight Time last night when Florida recorded the final out of its 6-1 victory over LSU in the second game of the College World Series championship series. 

The Gators won their first baseball national championship, joining a very select list of schools which have won national championships in football, men’s basketball and baseball. 

Only four have done it since the Associated Press began its major college football poll in 1936. Two of the four are Big Ten Conference archrivals Michigan and Ohio State. UCLA, which has one championship each in football and baseball and 11 in men’s basketball,  was the third until Florida. Two of UCLA’s Pacific-12 Conference rivals, California and Stanford, each claim national championships, but those were retroactively awarded by math formulas or other polls. 

Florida, Michigan and UCLA have also won national championships in softball. 

LSU, which won national championships in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97, 2000 and 2009, came up short for the first time when making the CWS final round. The end of the CWS in the full double-elimination era (1950-87) depended upon how many teams were left after 12 games. The series could end in 14 games if one team went undefeated, or 15 if nobody did. In 1988, the format was changed to a single championship game contested between the winners of two four-team brackets. The best-of-3 series began in 2003. 

The Bayou Bengals were left for dead in Omaha after losing 13-1 to Oregon State June 19. The Beavers improved to 56-4 and won their 23rd consecutive game. LSU defeated Florida State to stay alive, but then would have to beat Oregon State twice to reach the championship series. 

Not only did LSU end Oregon State’s winning streak with a 3-1 decision last Friday, it completed the comeback the next day, 6-1. The Beavers collected only five hits over two games. FIVE. Thus Oregon State finished the year with a .903 winning percentage, but did not even play for the title.

LSU did this before. 

In 1989, LSU was in the regional at College Station, where Texas A&M entered the tournament 55-5. The Aggies, who smashed the Southwest Conference that year, outscored their first three regional foes (Jackson State, BYU and South Alabama) 65-13. LSU lost its second game to South Alabama, and thus had to defeat UNLV and the Jaguars on day three to advance to the final round,  where it would need to defeat A&M twice.

The Bayou Bengals pulled it off somehow. They won the first game 13-5 behind Golden Spikes Award winner Ben McDonald. In the winner take all game, McDonald came on in relief in the 10th inning and earned the win as LSU prevailed 5-4. 

LSU didn’t win the championship this year, but the season was far from a failure. Quite the opposite.

When Bill Franques and I parted company at 5 p.m. ET in Lexington the afternoon of April 23, neither of us had much confidence LSU would be one of the eight to make it to Omaha. LSU was 27-15 overall and 10-8 in the SEC after dropping two to Kentucky and needing an eighth-inning rally to pick up the one win it got. Some projections had LSU going on the road for a regional, and its chances of hosting a super regional were slim and none. 

Yet LSU steamrolled its way through the rest of the regular season (winning a share of the SEC championship) and the SEC tournament to earn the #4 national seed, one spot below Florida. The Bayou Bengals went 5-0 at home and were on their way to Omaha for the 18th time. 

I didn’t get emotional over the CWS this year. There were times in the past where I would get upset that I wasn’t in Omaha. I would let jealousy get the best of me, because people I knew were there and I wasn’t.

This year, I felt fine with being at home. I did not want to pay exorbitant prices for hotels (a halfway decent hotel costs over $200 per night during the CWS, and if you want to stay close to TD Ameritrade Park, you can expect to pay at least $350 a night), fight all the crowds and the heat just to sit in the bleachers. Reserved tickets on the secondary market for LSU games ran anywhere from $150 to $700. LSU games were twice as much as other games. The only other school I can see driving ticket prices that high is Nebraska. Of course, the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t like the Cornhuskers in the CWS, because their fans will commute back and forth from Lincoln. 

If I ever go again, I’ll probably have to stay in Kansas City or St. Joseph and commute the 2 1/2 hours up Interstate 29. But I don’t see it happening.

Here’s the good news for LSU: if history repeats tself, it will win it all in 2018.

Since winning their first title in 1991, the Bayou Bengals have won every nine years. They did it in 2000 and 2009, so 2018 is ripe. 

Need a break from college sports. Football hype is too much for me to take in late June. It’s only going to get worse. 

Goalposts stay upright

The goalposts at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence are intact.

TCU rallied to defeat Kansas 24-23. The Jayhawks missed three field goals in the fourth quater, although to be fair, the last one of those was from 54 yards, which is difficult for a pro kicker to make, much less a college kicker. 

The Horned Frogs are 5-0 vs. the Jayhawks since joining the Big 12, but the last three of those wins have come by a combined 11 points. What is it about Kansas which gives TCU fits? Maybe Gary Patterson needs a few tips from his mentor, Bill Snyder, whose K-State teams always seem to beat Kansas by wide margins. 

Florida continues to look mighty stupid for calling off its game with LSU.

The Notre Dame-North Carolina State game in Raleigh was played as Matthew was paralleling the coasts of South and North Carolina. The field at Carter-Finley Stadium was flooded, and wind gusts at close to hurricane force were  felt throughout the stadium at times. The Wolfpack won 10-3, dropping the Fighting Irish to 2-4.

The game in Raleigh won’t be the only one today played in horrendous conditions. 

NC State’s Golden Triangle rivals, North Carolina and Duke, are home as well, vs. Virginia Tech and Army, respectively. Those games will also be negatively impacted. Wake Forest hosts Syracuse, too, and although Winston-Salem is farther west than Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, it won’t be much better. 

Currently in Gainesville, it’s sunny and 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). A little too warm for football for my taste, but in Florida, it’s as good as it’s going to get for October 8. Yet Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is deathly silent. Crickets are chirping. 

Nice work, Jeremy Foley. You suckered SEC commissioner Greg Sankey into postponing the game at the behest of your football coach, Jim McElwain, who was deathly afraid of facing LSU without a few starters. 

If Sankey forces LSU and Florida to play Nov. 19, the SEC should reimburse LSU $6 million–$1.5 million to buy out South Alabama, $3.5 million in lost ticket revenue, and another $1 million for expenses to travel to Gainesville. 

Even the money won’t help LSU on the field. if the game is rescheduled to Nov. 19, LSU will have to play three consecutive road games vs. Arkansas, Florida and Texas A&M, which all come after a home game vs. Alabama. Nice job, SEC. 

LSU fans don’t need much of a reason, if any, to hate Florida. Foley gave even the most mild-mannered Bayou Bengals fan a reason to loathe the Gators. 

Les Miles was dead on. It is high time the SEC eliminate permanent cross-division opponents. It is time the LSU-Florida series take a scheduled break. I’m sure the Bayou Bengals would not complain if Florida was replaced with Kentucky and/or Vanderbilt every so often, or the Gators would feel the same way if LSU was traded out for Auburn and/or Mississippi State. 

At least Missouri has an open date today, too, so it doesn’t have a disadvantage when traveling to Gainesville next week. The Tigers need all the help they can get after last week’s meltdown in Baton Rouge. 

Hurricane Matthew has also affected the MLB playoffs, Game 2 of the NL Dvision series between the Dodgers and Nationals in Washington was rained out. The game is now set for 1 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, and then the teams must fly to Los Angeles for Game 3 Monday. If the teams were flying commerical, yikes. But they fly on spacious chartered planes, so it isn’t nearly as bad. 

Jeremy Foley & Mother Nature KO LSU

LSU will not be playing football tomorrow.

The Bayou Bengals’ game at Florida, which was supposed to kick off at 11 a.m. Central, was called off due to the threat of Hurricane Mathew, which is currently paralleling Florida’s east coast about 80 miles (130 kilometers) offshore. Gainesville is receiving heavy rain now and will continue to have rain the rest of the evening.

LSU offered to move the game to Baton Rouge, and play Saturday, Sunday or Monday. LSU went so far as to procure hotel rooms in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and offered to pay for all of Florida’s expenses, including the charter flight.

Florida flat out refused. The Gators also refused the idea of a neutral site, such as Birmingham, Nashville or even Atlanta. Florida was bound and determined to play the game in Gainesville, even though as early as Monday night, it appeared the city would receive some significant effects from Matthew.

Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, who is now in his last month in the position, dithered and farted around until it was too late to do anything but call off the game. I’m sure his football coach, Jim McElwain, told him to stall as long as he could. Florida currently has many players injured, including several defensive linemen and starting quarterback Luke Del Rio.

Foley and McElwain got their true wish: no game this Saturday. Even though LSU is now led by interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Gators were well aware facing the Bayou Bengals would be a difficult task fully healthy, even more so without the injured players, although the Bayou Bengals were going to be without All-American running back Leonard Fournette, who missed last week’s game vs. Missouri with an ankle injury.

Florida wants to play the game Nov. 19. The Gators and Bayou Bengals both have non-conference home games that day. LSU would have to pay South Alabama a $1.5 million buyout if cancels, and would lose over $3 million in ticket revenue, not to mention parking, concessions and gift shop sales. LSU has every right to want to honor the contract with the Jaguars. It is not at fault here.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey should have stepped in. He should have done something Tuesday, or at the latest, Wednesday by noon. He should have told Florida in no uncertain terms the game would be played in Baton Rouge Saturday, or in Gainesville Sunday or Monday. In the professional sports leagues, the commissioner has the power to change the site and/or date of the game if a natural disaster is imminent. It’s too bad the SEC presidents and athletic directors haven’t vested the same power in the commissioner.

On the other hand, Sankey hasn’t been in the job too long. He doesn’t carry the clout of his predecessors, Roy Kramer and Mike Slive, who were among the most powerful people in college sports during their tenures. Kramer nor Slive would have let this drag out. They would have forced Foley’s hand and gotten something done.

I don’t understand why it would be so hard to move the SEC championship game back one week to Dec. 10, then have the College Football Playoff selections made that night or early the next morning. Start the SEC title game at 11 a.m. Central (prior to Army-Navy), then make the CFP selections at 6 p.m. Not hard.

If anyone knows about moving games due to hurricanes, it’s LSU.

The Bayou Bengals postponed their 2005 season opener vs. North Texas to late October. The game was scheduled to be played Sept. 3, which turned into the Saturday following Katrina’s landfall.

The next week, LSU moved its scheduled home game with Arizona State to Tempe. LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Fieldhouse were being used as emergency medical centers, and helicopters were landing on the infield at Bernie Moore Stadium, the track facility across North Stadium Drive from Tiger Stadium. It would have been very easy for LSU to cancel the game. Arizona State would have understood. But the new LSU coach that season, Les Miles, knew playing the game, even if it was in Tempe and kicked off after 9 p.m. Central, would be a unifying influence and a way for refugees to forget about their miserable situations, even if only for three and a half hours.

LSU’s new home opener vs. Tennessee had to be pushed back to a Monday night due to Hurricane Rita, which devastated southwest Louisiana and dropped heavy rain on the rest of the state. College Gameday was supposed to broadcast from Baton Rouge, but moved to Virginia Tech.

Last year, South Carolina moved its scheduled home game with LSU to Baton Rouge when flooding hit the Palmetto State hard. LSU rolled out the red carpet from the Gamecocks, and the Golden Band from Tigerland even played the Carolina fight song.

See, Florida? It’s not that hard. All of the blame for this situation belongs to one man: Jeremy Foley. Hopefully Scott Stricklin, Foley’s predecessor, won’t be so stubborn if this happens again.

LSU returns to the field Oct. 15 at home vs. Southern Mississippi. I hope the Bayou Bengals pour it on. I have never been a USM fan, thanks to Curley Hallman’s disastrous four-year tenure in Baton Rouge after he went 23-11 in three seasons in Hattiesburg (thank you, Brett Favre).

(Bad) football feast

For those hoping for exciting football games, the first day of 2016 has been a huge disappointment.

All four bowl games so far have been one-sided, to put it mildly. Oklahoma State and Ole Miss face off in the Sugar Bowl starting at 7:30 CT, the last chance for excitement today.

The two bowls in Florida were total laughers. The combined score? 86 points for the winning teams, 13 for the losers. It was a split decision for the Big Ten and SEC, as Tennessee mauled Northwestern 45-6 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, and Michigan stomped Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando.

The Fiesta Bowl was just as bad. Ohio State led 14-0 early and Notre Dame never got closer than 10 points. The Buckeyes ended up winning 44-28, despite playing all but the first nine minutes of the game without All-America defensive end Joey Bosa, who was ejected for hitting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer with the crown of his helmet. Bosa has already announced he is leaving Ohio State for the NFL Draft, and some project him as the No. 1 overall pick, and all mock drafts have him in the top five.

Iowa, which was 12-0 in the regular season but lost the Big Ten championship game to Michigan State, was all pumped up about playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.

Too bad the Hawkeyes no-showed in Pasadena.

Stanford is taking Iowa to school. The Cardinal led 21-0 after less than 11 minutes and 35-0 at halftime. Iowa finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but it’s far too little, far too late.

The Hawkeyes have not won the Rose Bowl since the 1958 season, when the legendary Forrest Evashevski was still coaching in Iowa City.

Florida ended up losing its last three games to finish 10-4. Yes, the Gators were improved in their first season under Jim McIlwain following two bad seasons under Will Muschamp, who somehow got the head coaching gig at South Carolina last month. However, the Gators were absolutely putrid offensively this season, the worst Florida’s offense has been since Ron Zook coached the team from 2002-05, and maybe as bad as 1986, the year before Emmitt Smith arrived in Gainesville.

Northwestern’s stinker makes me wonder how the hell the Wildcats beat Stanford, especially in light of how bad the Cardinal are beating Iowa. And the Hawkeyes won 40-10 in Evanston in October.

Iowa scored another touchdown. Yippee. Brent Musburger just said the Hawkeyes are winning the second half. Come on, Brent, we all know football games are SIXTY minutes, not thirty. Stanford could care less.

 

 

Goodbye, Ball Coach

Steve Spurrier woke up this morning as a former football coach (and full-time golfer).

Spurrier, AKA “The Ole’ Ball Coach”, announced his retirement last night. He is stepping down immediately from his post at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks are 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Spurrier’s final game on the sidelines was last Saturday in Baton Rouge, where South Carolina lost a “home” game to LSU 45-24. The game was originally scheduled to be played in Columbia, but due to severe flooding across much of the Palmetto State caused by Hurricane Joaquin and a stationary front, the decision was made last Wednesday to shift the game to Louisiana.

In nearly 26 seasons of coaching college football, Spurrier won 228 games at Duke (1987-89), Florida (1990-2001) and South Carolina (2005-15). In between Gainesville and Columbia, he had two-year stint with the Washington Redskins, where he went 11-21 before resigning at the end of the 2003 campaign. Spurrier led Florida to the 1996 national championship and five SEC championships, and guided South Carolina to back-to-back 11-win seasons, the first in school history.

Spurrier was an All-America quarterback for the Gators under the late Ray Graves, winning the 1966 Heisman Trophy and guiding Florida to victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl in what turned out to be the final game for the Yellow Jackets’ legendary coach, Bobby Dodd, whose name now adorns Tech’s stadium in Atlanta. Spurrier didn’t reach his pro potential with the 49ers and Buccaneers, but he stuck around 10 years because he certainly a cut above quite a few bozos who played quarterback in the NFL at that time, and he could also punt.

Those who are old enough to remember (read: 40 or closing in on 40) recall Spurrier coached for three seasons in the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits. The Bandits were arguably the most successful team in the spring league, at least at the box office, where the team routinely outdrew the Buccaneers, whose fans were beyond fed up with cheapskate owner Hugh Culverhouse. How bad was it for the Bucs? After winning the NFC Central in 1981, they would not experience another winning season (the 1982 strike-shortened season notwithstanding) until 1997, the year AFTER Spurrier coached Florida to its first national championship. I’m betting some of his better Gator teams would have been able to keep up with the Bucs of the mid-1980s, at least for a half.

When he was with the Redskins, Spurrier was ridiculed for not working hard enough, for playing too much golf, for delegating too much to his assistant coaches. That’s what I really like about Spurrier: he knows his limits. He knows that football is still a game, even where it is a religion, as it is at every SEC school, save Kentucky. He knows the importance of family, and always made sure his wife, Jeri, and the spouses of his assistant coaches were always welcome on the team charter. You certainly won’t find that in Manhattan, Kansas, where Bill Snyder works at least 20 hours per day and demands his assistants do the same. You won’t find it in Tuscaloosa, where Nick Saban wants his assistants to eat lunch at their desks like he does. Gerry DiNardo was a classic workaholic when he coached LSU from 1995-99. It didn’t get him far.

I thought of something last night when I heard the news. I realized Spurrier is the most notable coach who coached his last game at LSU.

Ironically, Spurrier’s predecessor (at least, permanent predecessor) in Gainesville, Galen Hall, also coached his last game in Baton Rouge, when Florida, led by Emmitt Smith, defeated LSU 16-13 on October 7, 1989. Hall was forced to resign four days later due to numerous NCAA rules violations. Those violations landed Florida on probation, and Spurrier was called in by then-Florida athletic director Bill Arnsparger, LSU’s coach from 1984-86, to clean up the mess. Spurrier not only cleaned up the mess–Florida was never investigated by the NCAA during his tenure–he won and won big. For that, he will always be revered in Gainesville, save for those Florida State and MIami alumni in the city, and rightly so.

The last LSU coach to coach his final game in Death Valley was Mike Archer, who was forced to resign with two games left in 1990. The Bayou Bengals defeated Tulane 16-13 to send Archer out with a 27-18-1 career ledger.

Speaking of the Green Wave, five coaches have ended their tenures in the Big Easy in Death Valley. Two, Andy Pilney and Tommy O’Boyle, were on the wrong end of 62-0 games in their finales in 1961 and 1965, respectively. Vince Gibson, meanwhile, led 28-point underdog Tulane to a 31-28 victory in 1982 over an LSU team which was going to the Orange Bowl and one week removed from routing Florida State 55-21.

Houston Nutt, like Hall and Gibson, won his last game coaching Arkansas in Tiger Stadium. The Razorbacks won 50-48 in three overtimes, yet LSU somehow won the BCS national championship, defeating Ohio State in New Orleans less than seven weeks later. It took losses by Kansas (KANSAS??!!!!!), Missouri (not even a tiny dot on the SEC’s radar in 2007) and West Virginia (not remotely interested in the Big 12 yet) for it to happen, but nobody’s coming to Baton Rouge requesting Les Miles relinquish the crystal ball.

South Carolina became the third Power 5 school to change coaches in less than three days. At least Spurrier left of his own volition.

That wasn’t the case at Maryland and USC, where Randy Edsall and Steve Sarkisian were terminated.

Maryland’s program got much better for kicking Edsall to the curb. He is a grade-A TURD. He left UConn without telling the Huskies face-to-face following their Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma on New Year’s Night 2011, instead flying directly from Phoenix to College Park for his introductory press conference with the Terrapins.

Edsall is such an uptight douchebag he makes Nick Saban look like the second incarnation of Bob Hope. He is all about rules, rules and more rules, and a coach can get away with it when a coach wins as much as Saban has at LSU and Alabama. When someone does it at a mediocre program, which Maryland is, it’s petty. Edsall would have made a former Maryland coach named Paul Bryant blush.

The Terps got what they richly deserved when they fired Maryland alum Ralph Friedgen following a 9-4 season in 2010. Edsall was 22-33 in College Park, and nobody in the Big Ten “Fears the Turtle”.

Sarkisian was fired after only 19 games at USC due to a substance abuse problem. Rumor has it he was intoxicated during the Trojans’ Sept. 26 game at Arizona State. It’s a sad ending for the former BYU quarterback and Washington coach, who called USC his “dream job”.

Don’t cry for Mr. Spurrier. I’m sure he’ll be spending plenty of time at Augusta National, where he is a member. Maybe someone will ask him to caddy for The Masters in the near future. That would be a sight to see Spurrier in one of those white jumpsuits.