The Road Report is College Football America/RoadTripSports.com Publisher Kendall Webb’s weekly review of the college football landscape – from the major colleges of the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision to the small colleges of the NCAA’s Division II and III along with the NAIA and the junior colleges of the NJCAA and CCCAA.
Week 3 of the major college season turned out to be a remarkable week with several unexpected surprises – none bigger than Northern Illinois’ shocking 21-17 upset over Nebraska in Lincoln. The win earned NIU the FWAA Team of the Week honors, and made Mike Riley’s seat that much hotter. There was also Florida’s Hail Mary win versus Tennessee, and we won’t soon forget the double-overtime classic that Texas and USC staged late Saturday night in Los Angeles. Throw in Mississippi State’s 37-7 dismantling of LSU and San Diego State’s 20-17 shocker over No. 19 Stanford, and it was college football at its unpredictable best.
Of course, as I write this, yet another hurricane (Maria) has destroyed Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland isn’t in the clear yet. Most models predict Maria will turn north after a brush with the Dominican Republic, but hurricanes have a mind of their own. Hurricane Maria could still head for the East Coast at some point creating more problems for areas that are still recovering from the damage caused by Irma. And from a football standpoint, it’s worth keeping an eye out for more cancellations if Maria does not follow the current models.
College Football America Associate Publisher Chuck Cox had the weekend’s biggest agenda taking in UAB’s 30-23 win over Coastal Carolina at Legion Field in Birmingham followed by a nightcap featuring Colorado State at Alabama. CFA Editor-in-Chief Matthew Postins, meanwhile, was in Abilene for Hardin-Simmons’ home game against Louisiana College followed by the opening of Wildcat Stadium where the hosts from Abilene Christian christened their new stadium with a 24-3 win over the Houston Baptist Huskies.
Meanwhile, I was up in Kentucky with a Friday night high school game featuring the Kentucky Country Day (Louisville, KY) Bearcats at the Bethlehem Eagles of Bardstown. My Saturday agenda took me to Frankfort for Kentucky State’s home game against in-state rival Kentucky Wesleyan followed by Point University at Georgetown College in Georgetown. Finally, I made my way down to Barbourville for Lindsey Wilson’s big 68-26 win over Union College.
Usually we’d recap the week in one of our fine RoadTripReplay: College Football America Podcasts hosted by Matthew and featuring Chuck in the passenger seat, but Matthew’s business trip to Southern Oregon made that impossible this week. But we’ll plan on having another episode ready for you next week.
Our game/team count to date:
31 High School and College Football Games
NCAA FBS: 24 out of 130 teams
NCAA FCS: 7 out of 124 teams
NCAA D2: 3 out of 169 teams
NCAA D3: 3 out of 249 teams
NAIA: 7 out of 88 teams
Juco’s: 3 out of 135 teams
NCAA FOOTBALL BOWL SUBDIVISION
There are plenty of other intriguing matchups, and No. 14 Mississippi State at No. 12 Georgia became probably the second-biggest matchup of the week after the Bulldogs blasted LSU 37-7 last Saturday. I’ll be shooting that game for our friends at the AFCA, and that game should be one of the first big showdowns of the SEC season.
We’ll also have our eyes on No. 5 USC at California to see if the Trojans remain sluggish after their double-overtime win over Texas late Saturday night. There’s also No. 7 Washington at Colorado which surprisingly isn’t receiving any love from voters yet in the FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll.
And, sure, what the heck, we’ll take a peek at No. 1 Alabama at Vanderbilt which is receiving votes in the latest poll just to see if the Commodores can outperform expectations (the spread is 18.5 points).
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
We rolled out the first edition of our College Football Playoff Pool last week with 75 teams still in the running. Fourteen of those teams, however, were unable to stay alive in Week 3, and we enter this weekend’s contests with just 61 teams in the running. We also ran a column earlier this week looking at 33 teams that have won a national championship in the poll era, and it’s worth taking a look at the 27 teams on that list that are still among the 61 teams in our Playoff Pool. Somebody from that list is likely to be your 2017 national champion in major college football.
Group 1 teams
We entered last weekend with 35 teams in Group 1 (undefeated teams from Power 5 leagues), but seven of those teams suffered their first loss to drop to Group 2. Overall, however, the Pool did a good job of identifying which teams were most likely to survive the weekend as the Top 15 teams in this group emerged from the weekend unscathed.
No. 16 LSU was the top-ranked pool team to lose as we expected they could face a stiff challenge at Mississippi State. We weren’t too surprised then when they lost, although the 37-7 margin certainly was an eye-opener. No. 17 UCLA also lost at Memphis in a 48-45 barnburner while No. 22 South Carolina was beaten at home 23-13 by Kentucky. No. 25 Kansas State, meanwhile, became Vanderbilt’s latest victim in a 14-7 defensive battle.
Less shocking, perhaps, was No. 28 Louisville’s 47-21 implosion at home at the hands of the Clemson Tigers in the Game of the Week. No. 32 Tennessee’s 26-20 loss at Florida was only surprising for the way it happened, and USF’s 47-23 win over No. 35 Illinois was about what we expected.
Those seven teams aren’t completely eliminated, yet, but they’ll have to make a run as a one-loss contender from Group 2.
At the top of this week’s pool are Wisconsin and Minnesota as the two Big Ten squads have a week off. That means they’re guaranteed to make it to Week 5 undefeated. There are six teams, however, guaranteed to fall out of Group 1 this week – the losers of our six Group 1 eliminators below. That means we are guaranteed to have no more than 22 teams in Group 1 next week, and possibly fewer, if there are other undefeated teams in this Group that lose. All Group 1 losers will automatically move to Group 2 next week. The dividing line is right around No. 20 this week; that is, expect most of the Top 20 teams in the pool to remain undefeated whereas the Group 1 teams in Nos. 21 through 28 are in danger of suffering their first losses.
Group 1 Eliminators
- No. 1 Alabama (3-0) at No. 28 Vanderbilt (3-0)
- No. 8 USC (3-0) at No. 27 California (3-0)
- No. 12 Washington (3-0) at No. 25 Colorado (3-0)
- No. 13 Penn State (3-0) at No. 23 Iowa (3-0)
- No. 22 Mississippi State (3-0) at No. 14 Georgia (3-0)
- No. 24 TCU (3-0) at No. No. 15 Oklahoma State (3-0)
Group 2 teams
Group 2 (Power 5 teams with one loss) had 25 teams last week, but eight of those teams suffered their second loss of the season to fall to Group 3 including No. 42 Nebraska, No. 44 Stanford, No. 51 Arizona State, No. 52 Missouri, No. 55 Pittsburgh, No. 56 Texas, No. 57 Boston College and No. 58 Kansas. Seven Group 1 losers, however, have taken their place meaning Group 2 still has 24 teams this week.
There are four teams this week ranked at the top of Group 2 that are idle including No. 29 Kansas State, No. 30 Northwestern, No. 31 Iowa State and No. 32 Illinois. The other 20 teams in this group, however, are in action this week, and there are three games between Group 2 teams this week.
The losers of these three Group 2 eliminators are virtually eliminated from the playoff with only the most extreme scenarios allowing for them to get back in the mix. The three losers here will fall to Group 3 for teams that might be considered if there aren’t enough Group 1 and Group 2 teams to fill the playoff spots. The most interesting matchup here is No. 50 NC State at No. 40 Florida State as the Seminoles will be playing their first game since losing to Alabama in the season-opener three weeks ago thanks to the busy hurricane season.
Group 2/Playoff Eliminators
- No. 52 Syracuse (2-1) at No. 36 LSU (2-1)
- No. 50 NC State (2-1) at No. 40 Florida State (0-1)
- No. 45 Texas A&M (2-1) at No. 46 Arkansas (1-1)
Group 3 teams
We won’t list any Group 3 teams until it becomes apparent they might receive consideration for the College Football Playoff.
Group 4 teams
There were 15 teams in Group 4 (undefeated teams from Group of 5 conferences) last week, but six of those teams suffered their first loss of the season to drop out of the playoff pool. That included No. 67 UConn, No. 69 Central Michigan, No. 70 Old Dominion, No. 71 SMU, No. 74 Air Force and No. 75 Army West Point.
There are no Group 4 (undefeated teams from Group of 5 conference) eliminators this week between any of the nine remaining teams in this group.
Other games involving undefeated teams
There are a handful of games involving undefeated teams from Group 1 against undefeated teams from Group 4. These are elimination games for the Group 4 teams who can’t afford the loss while any Group 1 teams that lose here would fall to Group 2.
- No. 21 Texas Tech (2-0) at No. 56 Houston (2-0)
- No. 60 UCF (1-0) at No. 16 Maryland (2-0)
- No. 61 Toledo (3-0) at No. 9 Miami, FL (1-0)
Other Playoff Eliminators
This category is for games between Group 2 and Group 4 teams. Any Group 2 losers in these games would move to Group 3 where they would only receive playoff consideration under the most extreme circumstances while the Group 4 losers would be eliminated from playoff contention. These games are essentially playoff eliminators. There aren’t any games in this category on the schedule this week.
FWAA-NFF SUPER 16 POLL
As members of the FWAA, we rely on the FWAA-NFF Super 16 Poll as our official rankings at RoadTripSports.com. Alabama is still No. 1, but the Crimson Tide lost seven first-place votes to Clemson this week. Those first-place votes allowed the Tigers to move up to No. 2 from No. 3 switching places with the Oklahoma Sooners.
FWAA-NFF Super 16 Schedule
- No. 1 Alabama at Vanderbilt
- Boston College at No. 2 Clemson
- No. 3 Oklahoma at Baylor
- No.4 Penn State at Iowa
- No. 5 USC at California
- No. 16 TCU at No. 6 Oklahoma State
- No. 7 Washington at Colorado
- No. 8 Michigan at Purdue
- No. 9 Wisconsin, idle
- UNLV at No. 10 Ohio State
- NC State at No. 11 Florida State
- No. 14 Mississippi State at No. 12 Georgia
- Old Dominion at No. 13 Virginia Tech
- No. 15 Auburn at Missouri
GAME OF THE WEEK
TCU is only 1-4 against Oklahoma State since joining the Big 12, and the way the Cowboys are playing with quarterback Mason Rudolph emerging as an early Heisman candidate, it’s hard to picture the Horned Frogs reversing that trend in 2017. Granted, the Horned Frogs probably have the better defense, and it was on full display against the Arkansas Razorbacks two weeks ago in Fayetteville. Rudolph has put up huge numbers early against the likes of Tulsa, South Alabama and Pittsburgh, but the Horned Frogs’ defense is only yielding 172 yards per game through the air. And it’s not like TCU’s offense is all that shabby either hanging 63 on Jackson State in the season opener before erupting for 56 against SMU last Saturday.
But the Frogs haven’t had to defend a quarterback like Rudolph, yet, and they haven’t had to defend a receiver like Biletnikoff Award candidate James Washington (28 yards per catch), yet, either. Yeah, the best they can hope for is to probably slow the ‘Pokes down a bit, and then hope their own offense can get the job done against Oklahoma State’s defense. It feels like a Frogs’ win on the road in Stillwater, however, might be just a little too much to ask for.
THE BOWL PICTURE
Nope, it’s still a little early for this. Just be aware that we track the bowl status of all 130 major college teams throughout the season with our Bowl Eligibility List. And our Associate Publisher Chuck Cox will begin issuing a weekly report as soon as the first FBS teams reach five wins.
NCAA FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SUBDIVISION
It’s still James Madison for now as the Dukes collected 25 out of a possible 26 votes this week in the FCS Coaches Poll. The only vote keeping JMU from being a unanimous No. 1 went to North Dakota State. The rest of the Top 10 is Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Youngstown State, Richmond, Jacksonville State, Villanova, Wofford and The Citadel.
As for the FCS Game of the Week, well, last week we went with No. 10 North Dakota at No. 23 South Dakota, but it ended up not being much of a game. The underdog hosts made quick work of their visitors from the North in a 45-7 blowout. South Dakota was rewarded with a nine-position jump in the polls to No. 14 while North Dakota dropped nine spots the other direction settling in at No. 19.
There aren’t a lot of big matchups this week either, but Nicholls State has looked great early on even taking Texas A&M to the wire. They’ll get a shot at No. 3 Sam Houston State this week in our FCS Game of the Week.
NCAA FCS Game of the Week: No. 23 Nicholls State at No. 3 Sam Houston State
SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL
NCAA Division II
Northwest Missouri State is still a unanimous No. 1 pick here earning all 34 votes in the latest AFCA Division II Coaches Poll. The rest of the Top 10 is unchanged as well with Ferris State checking in at No. 2 followed by Texas A&M-Commerce, Shepherd, California (PA), Indiana (PA), Sioux Falls, Minnesota State, LIU-Post and North Alabama.
Our D2 Game of the Week last Saturday featured two in-state rivals squaring off in Minnesota, and ultimately Minnesota State held on for a 38-23 win over No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth. Minnesota State remained at No. 8 when the polls were released this week, but Minnesota-Duluth was booted from the rankings.
There are no matchups involving Top 25 teams this week, although No. 2 Ferris State will hit the road to face an Ashland team that is listed as the top team receiving votes in the poll outside the Top 25. Essentially, that’s No. 2 against No. 26, and that’s our game of the week.
NCAA D2 Game of the Week: No. 2 Ferris State at Ashland
NCAA Division III
The first AFCA Division III Coaches Poll has been released, and defending national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor is in the pole position at 2-0. The Crusaders received 45 first-place votes while No. 2 Mount Union picked up seven.
The rest of the Top 10 is Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wheaton, North Central, St. John’s, Hardin-Simmons, Johns Hopkins, Delaware Valley and Wisconsin-Platteville.
Wheaton, by the way, is facing a hazing scandal that is making national headlines. Five players have been implicated in a violent hazing incident that now reportedly has two victims. All five have been suspended from the team, and two of the players are in custody as of Wednesday night.
Last week’s D3 Game of the Week saw top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor extend its recent streak of dominance over Linfield with a 24-3 win over the Wildcats on their own home turf. The Cru beat Linfield twice last year en route to their first national title.
This week’s NCAA D3 Game of the Week, meanwhile, is the big clash between No. 6 Saint John’s and No. 11 St. Thomas. The game will be played at Target Field in Minneapolis, and CFA Associate Publisher Chuck Cox will be on the sidelines to capture the action. The game is the first football game to be played at Target Field, and it’s possible that the game might set a Division III attendance record. Cox reported to me earlier that the game has sold more than 30,000 tickets already.
NCAA D3 Game of the Week: No. 6 Saint John’s vs. No. 11 St. Thomas
Last week’s NAIA Game of the Week featured the No. 19 Benedictine (KS) Ravens in a 55-20 road win over the No. 16 MidAmerica Nazarene Pioneers. The big rout allowed Benedictine to climb five spots to No. 14 in the latest NAIA poll, and the Ravens are featured for the second straight week in our game of the week this weekend when they play host to No. 2 Baker.
Saint Francis (IN) is still the No. 1 team in the NAIA collecting all 16 first-place votes in the latest poll. Baker is still in the No. 2 slot followed by Reinhardt, Morningside, Montana Tech, Lindsey Wilson, Doane, Grand View, Marian and Southeastern in the Top 10.
NAIA Game of the Week: No. 2 Baker at No. 14 Benedictine (KS)
No. 11 Snow jumped seven spots this week after beating the previous No. 11 Mesa 59-36 in our NJCAA Game of the Week while Mesa dropped to No. 20 after the loss. No. 6 Riverside is up three spots, meanwhile, after beating No. 14 Bakersfield 28-26 in our CCCAA Game of the Week. Bakersfield retained its No. 14 spot in our latest rankings.
This week, however, there are two Top 10 matchups on the schedule – both of them in California. No. 2 Butte beat Chabot 31-21 last week, but the top-ranked team in the CCCAA has a tougher challenge this week with a road trip to face No. 9 San Mateo. San Mateo, meanwhile, is coming off a hard-fought 21-19 win over No. 19 Fresno City.
The other big California matchup is our CCCAA Game of the Week. No. 3 Mt. San Antonio, fresh off a 41-6 win over Santa Monica, will hit the road to take on No. 5 Fullerton, a 42-28 winner over Canyons last weekend. It should be an exciting matchup between two of the top three teams in California’s juco ranks.
Beyond those two premier matchups, California’s schedule also includes No. 6 Riverside at No. 23 Ventura, No. 7 Saddleback at No. 13 El Camino and No. 19 Fresno City at No. 22 American River. We’ll know a lot more about the state of California juco football after this weekend as the contenders get a chance to separate themselves from the pretenders this weekend.
In the NJCAA, East Mississippi is still the nation’s overall No. 1-ranked team, and the Lions will take on a 1-2 Itawamba squad Thursday night that pulled off a big 27-24 upset over Northwest Mississippi. The lost dropped Northwest from No. 6 in our rankings to No. 21, and the Rangers will try to get back on track versus Mississippi Delta Thursday night.
There aren’t a lot of high-profile matchups in the NJCAA this week so No. 16 Blinn at No. 25 Kilgore is our top matchup.
NJCAA Game of the Week: No. 16 Blinn at No. 25 Kilgore
CCCAA Game of the Week: No. 3 Mt. San Antonio at No. 5 Fullerton
ODDS AND ENDS
Now the hard part … it’s impossible to write a column about football like I did here, and shift gears to a topic as tragic as Robert Grays’ death this week without seeming insensitive. In case you haven’t heard, Grays, a cornerback for Midwestern State, died due to injuries he suffered while playing for the Mustangs last Saturday against Texas A&M-Kingsville.
My mind, however, has been on the news of Mr. Grays’ death ever since I first heard about it Wednesday morning, and so I decided to deal with it here at the end of this column. It didn’t feel right to mention it, and then casually shift to talking about football, but even so, I don’t know that I have the right words to say. I don’t know that anybody does when something this tragic occurs. I think anybody involved in promoting the sport of college football suffers from a bit of guilt when something like this happens, and I am not immune to that. I know it happens in other sports, too, for other reasons. Basketball players have collapsed and died on court in front of everybody, and the feeling is no different then. It’s happened to track athletes and soccer players, and it’s not something you can prevent entirely in athletics. But the violent nature of football compared to those other sports maybe makes that feeling a little stronger.
I think we all know the risks, and ultimately, I believe it is up to each individual to decide whether to play – just as it is up to an individual who decides to participate in other dangerous sports. From mixed martial arts to rodeo to auto racing, athletics and sports in general are often dangerous endeavors, and football is no exception. I don’t think that means you do away with them, but that doesn’t ease the pain I feel for Mr. Grays’ family. And I still feel sick for the coaches and teammates who witnessed his injury first-hand and, perhaps, knew that his chances weren’t good. I still feel terrible, too, for the fans including the ones who brought their children to the game and had to witness what happened. I don’t know any of these people personally, and yet, I feel sad for all of them. I’ve seen players carried out before on backboards and placed in ambulances, but to my knowledge, none of them ended up being critically injured. I try to follow up on any of these kinds of injuries, and as far as I know, they all walked away from the game.
Robert Grays didn’t.
Just a week before Mr. Grays was injured, I went to Syracuse, New York, to see Middle Tennessee play the Syracuse Orange. Before the game, I went up to a high school north of Syracuse called John C. Birdlebough High School in a little town called Phoenix. Like I always do, I read a little about the school’s football team – the Phoenix Firebirds – before I made the trip. And I knew there was something more important than football there that day.
On a small building next to the football field that houses the coaches’ offices there is a little rectangular, gold-trimmed plaque that says:
To the right hand side is an illustration of a football with the number 70 below the laces.
No. 70 Ridge Barden was a 16-year-old defensive tackle for the 2011 edition of the Phoenix Firebirds, and on an otherwise ordinary October night, Barden suddenly collapsed on the field, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Ridge Barden didn’t walk away from the game either.
Barden’s death had such a profound effect on his Head Coach Jeff Charles that night that he coached one more season before deciding he couldn’t do it anymore. He hasn’t coached since, and I can understand how he feels. Like I said, it’s hard not to feel a bit of guilt when something like this happens, and I’m sure there are a lot of teammates and coaches of Robert Grays that are struggling with those feelings now. I don’t think you’re being entirely honest with yourself if you say it doesn’t make you stop and ask the question, Is football too dangerous?
Ridge Barden and Robert Grays suffered different types of injuries, but the end result was the same. From everything I’ve read on the internet and via social media, they were both popular guys who were well-liked and respected by their teammates with a strong circle of friends. And while Barden’s death is now six years past, Grays’ passing is a fresh reminder that we can never stop asking the important questions about what we can do to make football safer. #24Strong #70Forever
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