Category Archives: It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

Today, in death, taxes and mid-majors whining

Oh, look — another conference commissioner complaining about how unfair the system is.

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said the 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee has ranked the teams in his conference using a “double standard,” not just when measured against the Power 5 conferences but also the other Group of 5 leagues.

“Each time I’ve watched the release of the rankings, I’ve seen an unfortunate predictability, and why wouldn’t I be upset?” Aresco said Wednesday. “I’m not criticizing the committee personally, I’ve never done that, but what I’m doing is I’m trying to take the committee to task on their methodology and their conclusions. I want to point out the facts. My feeling is this conference has been undervalued and disrespected since the CFP began.”

Though I have to admit bitching about other mid-major conferences is a nice touch.

Look for this kind of stuff to intensify, if that’s at all possible, when the CFP expands to an eight-team field with a slot for the top Group of 5 school.  As we all know, bigger financial stakes bring out the best in college football.

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Are people still taking Danny White’s phone calls?

Not a good look, UCF.

… the Knights head back to the Sunshine State with its third loss in seven games as the Golden Hurricane, who entered the game as 17-point underdogs, came away with a 34-31 upset win…

The loss not only drops UCF to 7-3 overall but to 4-2 in conference play, two games in the loss column behind a Cincinnati squad that has already knocked off the Knights.  UCF will need to win its last two games (at Tulane, USF) and hope Cincinnati loses three of its last four (UConn, at USF, Temple, at No. 21 Memphis) in order to have a shot at claiming the AAC East.

With the win, Tulsa improves to 3-7 on the season.

White’s still got a great sales pitch working for him.

That and five bucks should get you something to drink at the Starbucks around the corner, Danny.

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King makers

In his latest The Read Option email, Banner Society’s Steven Godfrey delves into the thought process that led to Houston’s D’Eriq King’s unusual (at least for now) decision to redshirt the remainder of this season and return for 2020.

Houston wants to win big, as often as possible, and not because the school and its fans and boosters covet American Athletic Conference titles. Houston has been engaged in a years-long effort to regain its Southwest Conference glory by joining a Power 5 conference. For a while it looked like it would be the Big 12. Now maybe it’s the Pac 12, if there’s ever another round of aggressive realignment. Honestly, they’d join any of them.

They already schedule like a P5 for maximum exposure (a Sunday night opener at Oklahoma, a Friday night game vs. Washington State in the local NFL stadium), they built a brand new football stadium specifically capable of adding additional seating to meet P5 standards, and they lured Dana Holgorsen away from West Virginia with a $20 million contract.

Winning is the only currency that buys relevancy, and Houston is rightly convinced the price to become a Power 5 program is nothing less than being the most talked-about G5 team, year in and year out.

I assure you, Holgorsen took the job fully aware of these expectations. Back in the Spring, I visited him in Houston. During our conversation, he mentioned some anxiety about his new roster, specifically for the 2020 season and beyond. After Tom Herman parlayed a 12-1 Peach Bowl season into the AAC’s best recruiting class in 2016, Applewhite’s staff couldn’t keep pace. 2017 and ‘18 produced the #4 and #5 classes in the league and no top-line, Ed Oliver-type coups.

Houston has (had?) talent in quarterback D’Eriq King, who thrived in former OC Kendall Briles’ system last season (63 percent completion rate, a 36/6 TD/INT ratio, 14 rushing TDs). He is now out for the season, along with senior receiver Keith Corbin; both players announced they would redshirt after UH’s 1-3 start. In theory, the pair will return in 2020 to what Holgorsen plans on being a better, deeper roster (five Power 5 transfers are currently sitting out 2019 to become eligible at UH for the ‘20 season).

This move is a manipulation of the new NCAA redshirt rule, which was intended to give coaches more flexibility and let more incoming freshmen see playing time (in up to four games) and still redshirt. West Virginia AD Shane Lyons, Holgorsen’s old boss and the chair of the NCAA Oversight Committee, told CBS Houston’s move was “not how the rule was intended.”

In short, this isn’t about a player’s selfishness.  It’s about a program’s plan to return to relevancy and more as quickly as possible.  What’s even more interesting about this is that Godfrey is convinced tanking wasn’t part of the plan when the season started.

It’s worth mentioning that had Holgorsen intended to bomb the 2019 season from the get-go (I believe he did not) he wouldn’t have signed Murphy, a veteran lineman with a known injury history and only one year to play, at all.

Houston isn’t tanking in the traditional sense. While redshirting your best players is selling the present to pay for the future, trying to lose games offers no reward in a sport without a draft. If anything, Houston wants to win as much as they can with this thinner 2019 team to backstop their redshirts with as strong an incoming recruiting class (and transfer class) as possible.

How the Cougars got to this point is arguably more the program’s doing than the first-year coaching staff’s, plus a little bit of college football circumstance: Saturday’s 38-23 loss to Cincinnati was Houston’s fourth. The first two were to those two very good P5 opponents, Oklahoma and Washington State, scheduled years before as an attempt to keep the Cougars nationally relevant.

The third loss, the back-breaker that turned a manageable 2-2 into the alleged fire sale at 1-3, was thanks to a single trick play by division rival Tulane. It’s entirely possible we’re not talking about any of this if the Green Wave didn’t fake a kneel-down. That’s how thin the margins are in this sport, especially for any program with aspirations as outsized as Houston’s.

In terms of bigger picture consequences, though, that’s not particularly relevant.

But it doesn’t really matter if Holgorsen planned to tank and backfill his roster all along, or if a tough schedule just got away from a first-year staff. Because the second thing you have to know is that Khator and Fertita don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. They’re all in, and increasingly mindful of how fast the momentum they built with Herman in two seasons can disappear. When the next chance comes, they have to look as appealing as possible.

And that’s when you get into the troublesome aspects of college football’s latest roster management innovation.

That players like Murphy can sign away their remaining eligibility under false pretenses is yet another reason why NCAA athletes need more agency in this process. But what would that agency even be: if you can show proof that your coach is overly focused on roster-building, you receive a free year of eligibility?

Nothing in college football is proprietary. If Holgorsen’s gimmick works — keeping newly redshirted players around, keeping the rest of the 2019 roster engaged, and adding great recruiting and transfers to end up 11-1 — it will undoubtedly be copied by other programs. And especially with first-year head coaches, at least until the NCAA attempts to close the loophole with new language. There aren’t any potential NCAA violations here. Yet.

It’s hard to be surprised the Cougars have done this, either as a premeditated plan or a hasty reaction. This is Houston, a school that is determined to break back onto the biggest stage possible. What separates UH, Khator, Fertitta (and now Holgorsen) from the rest of college football is their transparency about that desire, and their transparency about what it takes to achieve it. The rest is not unique to Houston. The machine is ugly.

It’s a good thing college football hasn’t been professionalized, amirite?

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My, how the less than mighty have fallen.

In less than a month, Danny White has gone from sneering at 2-for-1 series offers from D-1 powers to wondering if they’ll still take his phone calls.

Enjoy the postseason, podnah.

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“What does that even mean?”

His team’s bragging rights smashed by a last minute upset at Pitt, Danny White is broken but unbowed.

“If it’s a power anything, it’s a Power 6,” White says. “Our conference was better than one or two of the so-called Power 5 last year.”

As Stewart Mandel pointed out, at least according to Sagarin, that ain’t even close to right.

Screenshot_2019-09-26 Stewart Mandel on Twitter Seriously, Danny White https t co fCYQhy0x2W https t co fIGY0FSKoC Twitter

But what do you expect from a guy who thinks college football’s postseason has been in “a kind of beauty pageant mode”?

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“… the NCAA probably is upset with me right now because this wasn’t the intent of the rule.”

Good luck selling this, Dana Holgorsen.

Holgorsen said anyone suggesting that the team is tanking the rest of the year is misguided.

“I can assure you that whoever is saying that was not at our practice last night, was not in our meetings on Sunday night, these long coaches meetings that we had preparing for a game,” Holgorsen said. “We’re full go ahead on playing a game this weekend. So that to me, is absolute nonsense.”

I’m not assured, but I’m not Houston’s AD, either.

Said Houston athletic director Chris Pezman to suggestions that the team is throwing in the towel: “We’ve got kids that we’ve recruited to come into program that we have confidence in that can play at a high level. … We’ve got a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and everybody else that’s on the team and in the program.”

Oh, I’m sure.  Makes you wonder what Holgorsen said when he interviewed for the job.

Holgorsen expressed a desire to get his roster older, citing a lack of fifth-year seniors on his team. Pezman said the Cougars “mortgaged” themselves with their younger players by not having them redshirt in recent years.

“My experience with this thing is when you get a team that’s old and mature and experienced, there’s something that happens to those guys who are fifth-year seniors,” Holgorsen said. “And we’ve got way too many guys on this football team right now that are not in position to be fifth-year seniors. And that makes it hard to win championships.”

Added Holgorsen: “This is Year 1 for me here at the University of Houston. I’ve identified some things that I need to pay attention to. And I’ve identified some things that need to happen for us to be able to be successful and compete for championships, which is the goal here at the University of Houston. We’re not currently in a very good spot when it comes to that, and there’s a number of reasons why.”

Should be a lot of fun for college football fans everywhere to watch this turn into a trend.

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And here’s to you, Pat Narduzzi.

A nation tired of pseudo-national championship whining turns its lonely eyes to you for this:

Man, what’s Danny White gonna bitch about for the next 12 months?

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