It's the midway point of the college football season, more or less, which means it's time to do what? Why, look at next year's schedule, of course. The 'Book hasn't quite knocked out its slate for next season. It just decided this week that Crawford is heading to Bowling Green and Bozich is covering Louisville-South Florida this weekend. But the University of Kentucky knows what it has coming, and U of L's schedule is a hot topic among Cards fans with a potential Top 10 team expected back. So let's get moving . . .
SCHEDULE TALK: UK GETS (ANOTHER) PREMIER OPPONENT, U OF L LOOKING FOR ONE
The Southeastern Conference released its 2013 slate this week and UK football got what it needed like a hole in the head -- a visit from Nick Saban and Alabama on the conference schedule next season. It also gets Missouri, Florida and Tennessee in Commonwealth Stadium in SEC play, with road games at South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Mississippi State.
UK will open with Western Kentucky in Nashville, and will play Miami of Ohio and Louisville at home.
Meanwhile, U of L fans kicked up a storm on Twitter when asked how they would approach a recent opening in the Ohio State schedule. Vanderbilt abruptly canceled a series with the Buckeyes, leaving OSU in search of a game for next season. Ohio State has said that it's not considering a BCS conference opponent (though why that was, out of preference or logistics, wasn't made clear.)
When the question was put to U of L fans as to what they'd like to see -- the Cards play a one-time game in Columbus, a game on a neutral field or approach Ohio State looking for a home and home -- the response, which is totally unscientific, came back like this: 72 percent said try to make the game happen, even if it's a one-shot deal in Columbus; 18 percent said pursue the game only as part of a home-and-home series; 10 percent said try to get a game at a neutral site, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
THERE'S ONE SIMPLE SOLUTION TO SCHEDULING ISSUES . . .
UK just needs to pick up the phone and join the Big Ten. It's a more manageable football landscape -- but still gets you some major marquee opponents and keeps you in the national discussion -- very much so -- in big years. Plus, UK could sell its status as the southernmost team in the Big Ten to talented players in Georgia, Alabama and Florida as an entry into the Big Ten Conference. The basketball would be much-improved, with schools like Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State and the like coming in.
From a financial standpoint, the SEC is the gold standard, without question. But the Big Ten is right there with the SEC, and the Big Ten Network is a big consideration. You'd be talking about, maybe, a few million dollars difference in revenue. And maybe not even that. But wouldn't that price be worth a new start for football?
Just saying . . .
Of course, that would leave a spot in the SEC for Louisville. (I know, everybody would say Clemson, etc.) U of L would fit. It would be a major step up, but from a budget standpoint, U of L would jump into the league right in the middle of the pack in athletic revenue.
Won't ever happen, but that's what The 'Book is for, right?
WKU BRACING FOR MAJOR WEEKEND
It's probably the biggest game in Sun Belt Conference history. Louisiana Monroe will visit Western Kentucky on Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern, and it will mark the first time that two league teams will play when they both are receiving votes in national polls.
WKU is 12-2 in its last 14 games, and the losses are to Alabama and LSU. The Sun Belt has it going -- actor Vince Vaughn even gave the league a shout-out on ESPN a little while back in talking about Louisiana Tech. Now, Tech isn't in the Sun Belt, but good pub is good pub.
And lest anyone think that WKU is building wins and momentum against lesser competition, let's look at how the Hilltoppers have done against BCS automatic qualifier competition this season. Overall, WKU rushing defense ranks 28th in the nation in rushing defense.
But if you rank the teams according to rushing defense against teams from BCS automatic qualifier conferences, WKU's rushing defense fares even better. It ranks sixth.
Hilltoppers coach Willie Taggart, however, isn't playing the hype game with his players.
"This is just another ball game," Taggart said. "We know that we are playing against a good opponent and probably one of the better opponents that we have played this year, other than Alabama. It is just that next game. We always talk about not playing up or down to the competition level. That is what I talked to our guys about. No matter who is coming in here and how well they are playing, it is about us. It is about us going out and playing well and playing our best ball game. That is something we know that we haven't done yet. We are still looking to try and do that. We have another great opportunity to try and do that here at home this week."
WKU: MONEY AND THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW IT
All right, we couldn't reference Vince Vaughn without an obligatory "Swingers" reference. And then there's this.
From Pregame.com and ESPN, R.J. Bell has the stat of the year on the WKU football program. The Hilltoppers have covered in 15 consecutive football games.
If you'd put $100 on WKU for the first game of that run and let it ride every game since, your winnings would now total $1.63 million.
The 'Book, by the way, operates for entertainment purposes only.
TIME OUT FOR AN 'I TOLD YOU SO'
The 'Book needs to send a special commendation to reader Chris Miller. He responded to a Crawford column during Steve Kragthorpe's second season at the University of Louisville saying Kragthorpe didn't have any NFL talent on defense. Miller said there was more talent than anyone was giving U of L credit for, and mentioned Greg Scruggs as a potential pro. Crawford dismissed it.
Thursday night, Miller couldn't resist sending an email. (The man deserves credit for long memory!) Here's the full email:
First off I want to tell you how much I am enjoying you and Rick being with WDRB. Love the expanded columns. Love the blogging. Love the TV and video work. Great stuff. It's nice to have good, comprehensive sports coverage in this town. Having the cuffs off has really let both of you show off your talents.
However, several years ago you wrote a column about Charlie Strong's first season and said fans should not expect much because of the lack of talent on the team. I sent you an e-mail and took exception. I claimed there was talent on the team and with good coaching they could do well. You challenged me to name one player on the defense who was anywhere near NFL talent and I picked Greg Scruggs. You basically laughed at me and called him a small tackle / slow end hybrid who had no shot of playing in the NFL.
Don't know if you're watching, but Greg is playing defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks. He just had a QB pressure and a sack on prime time Thursday Night Football (Yeah, I know, it's just the NFL Network. Still the only pro football on). There are several other players from that team playing in the NFL.
Just had to point that out. ;)
Other than that, keep up the good work!
Thanks, Chris. Scruggs is one of those I'm happily wrong about. A first-class person who has worked as hard as anybody for that chance. Good call.
AND THE WINNERS ARE . . .
Chris Dufresne is the national college football writer for the Los Angeles Times. With the season near the mid-point, he thought it was a great time to analyze what has gone on – and gone wrong. The 'Book agrees.
Dufresne makes his picks in several categories – and The 'Book makes even better selections right behind him.
Biggest Surprise Dufresne: Notre Dame, Oregon State, Kansas State The ‘Book: Oregon State, Rutgers, Iowa State
Biggest Disappointments Dufresne: The Big Ten, Auburn, Alabama, USC's offense, Texas' defense. The 'Book: The Big Ten, The Big Ten, The Big Ten, The Big Ten, The Big Ten.
Half-Season Heisman Dufresne: Geno Smith, West Virginia quarterback The ‘Book: Manti Te'o, Notre Dame linebacker.
Newcomer of the Year Dufresne: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel The ‘Book: Tired of arguing. Give it to Johnny Football.
SPECIAL TEAMS THAT ARE REALLY SPECIAL
The 'Book has taken grief for suggesting that unbeaten Rutgers, with its three Big East wins and rugged run defense, is a legitimate threat to block the University of Louisville from winning the conference title.
And when The 'Book says block, it means block.
When the Scarlet Knights defeated Syracuse, 23-15, last Saturday in Piscataway, N.J., the key play was a 75-yard touchdown Rutgers scored after blocking a field goal. Mark it down as the 27th kick Rutgers has blocked in the last four seasons since Robb Smith arrived as the special teams coach.
It's also the 11th touchdown Rutgers has scored with a blocked kick during that period.
THIS NOTE APPROVED BY CANDY CROWLEY
President Obama's credentials as a sports fan are difficult to question. He's picked the entire men's bracket of the NCAA Tournament for the last four years. He's attended the major-league baseball all-star game, wearing a Chicago White Sox hat. He plays a mean game of pick-up basketball.
And the President is also a college football fan who has been a vocal critic of the Bowl Championship Series system. He reminded voters of his position during a battleground-state appearance at Ohio University in Athens on Wednesday:
"I came here today because I heard you've got a pretty fun football team to watch. Undefeated, if I'm not mistaken. A shot at the MAC championship, maybe a BCS bid. I just want to point out that I was pushing for a playoff system — we got a playoff system. One more promise kept for those of you who are following college football."
The 'Book will try to get a response from Republican candidate Mitt Romney – or minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell -- before Election Day. The 'Book isn't sure The President is a regular reader, but is certain that Sen. McConnell knows that WDRB.com is The Place for college football news.
Crawford went 5-0 last week to pull within a single game of the esteemed Mr. Bozich, who is 28-7 overall. Crawford is 27-8. This week's selections, from the ever-popular Sports Page Live webcast, which airs at WDRB.com every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., and on-demand all week:
SOUTH FLORIDA at LOUISVILLE Rick says U of L 33, USF 14 ERIC says U of L 38, USF 31
GEORGIA at KENTUCKY Rick says Georgia 37, Kentucky 10 Eric says Georgia 45, Kentucky 14
LOUISIANA MONROE at WKU Rick says WKU 27, ULM 20 Eric says WKU 28, ULM 24
INDIANA at NAVY Rick says IU 37, Navy 36 Eric says Navy 41, IU 38
SOUTH CAROLINA at FLORIDA Rick says South Carolina 24, Florida 21 Eric says Florida 28, South Carolina 24
If you are really, really, really, really, really into college football, you know about the web site, www.PreSnapRead.com. It's written by Paul Myersberg, who used to work at the New York Times, but has moved to USA Today.
Myersberg loves college football the way The 'Book loves a great piece of Derby Pie. Or a White Sox cap. He wrote 2,000-word previews on all 124 FBS teams before the season – and ranked them from 1-to-124. The 'Book gets exhausted just thinking about writing 2,000 words.
Guess what? At the season's mid-point, Myersberg has decided it's time to re-rank the teams. And this is where he placed the locals – and where they were at the start of the season.