BOZICH | Monday Muse: Wounded Houston dangerous for Louisville; Trolling Harbaugh
Houston is not ranked but the Cougars remain a dangerous obstacle for Louisville Thursday night. James Blackmon reminds everybody that Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby aren't Indiana's only stars.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville basketball Monday night. Kentucky basketball Tuesday night. Indiana basketball Wednesday night. Louisville basketball and football Thursday.
I'd better stop looking at the stuffed calendar or you won't have the necessary time to enjoy this Monday Muse.
Three, two, one …
1. Why Houston is dangerous for Louisville
Point spreads have been difficult to find for Louisville's trip to Houston Thursday night. The Cougars have injury issues at quarterback. That always makes Las Vegas nervous. Brian Edwards of VegasInsiders told me last week that he expected Bobby Petrino’s team to be favored by 10 1/2 points.
Make no mistake, this is a dangerous game for Louisville. The Cardinals are playing for a spot in the national playoff. Houston is playing for the credibility of its season. This is the Cougars' bowl game.
The game has been blinking on the Cardinals' itinerary since the schedule was announced.
It was touted in the pre-season magazines, selected for national coverage by ESPN and confirmed as a mid-November game with playoff implications for both teams.
There was a time I wasn't sure if Tom Herman would be coaching Houston, Texas, LSU, Oregon or the New England Patriots when I arrived in southeast Texas this week.
That's the kind of respect Herman was stirring on a national basis.
There was no dissent about how good this Houston football team was supposed to be. In case you have forgotten, here is the rundown of where the Cougars were ranked in August.
Sports Illustrated 8; Lindy's 12; USA Today Coaches Poll 13; The Sporting News 14; AP writers' poll 15; Athlon 16; ESPN 18; Phil Steele 20.
Houston and Sports Illustrated truly have a slobbering love affair. Not only did SI rank the Cougars higher than any publication, they backed up that coverage with a behind-the-scenes story of the Cougars' opening week win against Oklahoma and another piece about how Herman and his wife make the coaching life work.
Instead of greatness, Houston is unlikely to win the American Athletic Conference. The Cougars are ranked No. 30, behind Troy and South Florida, in the Massey composite numbers.
Houston is 8-2, 5-2 in its non-Power 5 league.
The Cougars' rushing offense is blah, merely 73rd in the nation. Turnovers have been an issue -- nine fumbles, 10 interceptions. They've had injuries, especially at quarterback, losing their backup while trying to nurse starter Greg Ward through shoulder issues.
The Cougars could not stop Navy’s running game. They could not contain SMU quarterback Ben Hicks from throwing three touchdown passes.
That, for the record, is 5-5 SMU.
They've been unable to return to the Top 25 in the AP or USA Today polls, but the Cougars are close.
The dangers for Louisville are apparent: The Cardinals are traveling on a short preparation week to play a program that won in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium last season.
This game was announced as a sell-out on Sept. 19, two days after the Cards flushed Florida State. Standing-room only tickets have been sold.
It's a critical game for Louisville's playoff push. But it’s a critical game for Houston's credibility.
2. More Love For Lamar
I'm having a difficult time understanding how much in demand U of L quarterback Lamar Jackson was at Boynton Beach (Fla.) High School two years ago.
Depending upon who you believe, Florida State was extremely interested in Jackson or considered him a back-up plan. Florida was in the chase, but either lost or gained ground during a coaching change.
FIU interim head coach Ron Cooper told me two weeks ago that he recruited Jackson as one of Willie Taggart's assistant coaches and thought the Bulls had a chance to get Jackson to Tampa.
The latest update comes from the coach who has to defend Jackson on Thursday -- Herman of Houston.
Herman told Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston (the link) that he recruited Jackson as an assistant coach at Ohio State. Herman said he knew Jackson had talent but "we wound up not going on him … but you knew from high school the talent level was there."
So Ohio State passed on Number 8.
3. Listening to 538
Last Tuesday was not a great night for Nate Silver and his previously top-seeded prediction team at 538.com.
But this is not a political column, it's a sports column. In the spirit of bringing everybody together, I'm prepared to give Silver another chance, especially since I believe his sports analysis is cutting edge and insightful.
What does Silver's formula currently project for Bobby Petrino's team?
538 places Louisville fourth in the nation, behind Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, just ahead of Michigan and Washington. (The link.)
Here is the important number: Louisville's chances of making the four-team playoff are slotted at 48 percent, with a 10 percent chance of winning the national championship.
I'm guessing Petrino would be happy to worry about the latter if he can upgrade the former to 51, 75 or 99.9 percent.
4. Poll Results I
Where would you vote Louisville in the next College Football Playoff Top 25 poll?
Third -- 56.2 percent
Fourth -- 32.6 percent
Fifth -- 8.8 percent
Sixth -- 2.5 percent
5. The Return of Jimmy Buckets
Jason Anderson of ESPN680 in Louisville asked me for the most important players to watch at Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana this season.
The toughest call was at Indiana. Center Thomas Bryant earned the magazine covers. OG Anunoby has cornered the NBA Draft Hype.
I did not pick either player.
I picked James Blackmon, the junior guard on Tom Crean's team.
Blackmon is the guy who can take the basketball and get buckets. Blackmon is the guy determined to prove his injured knee is healthy. Blackmon is the guy who has the purest three-point stroke in the Big Ten.
And, like it or not, Blackmon is the guy who must prove the Hoosiers can win the way they won without him during Big Ten play last season.
The early results: Blackmon 1, Skeptics 0.
Blackmon played one of the best games of his career as the Hoosiers toppled Kansas, 103-99, in overtime in Honolulu Friday. He made big shots, including four of eight from distance, while leading the Hoosiers with 23 points.
He grabbed six rebounds. He played 39 minutes. He defended better than he defended last season. His ball-handling looked solid.
Rob Dauster of NBC Sports recognized Blackmon's performance and named him the national Player of the Week. Blackmon earned it. (The link.)
6. Charlie Strong Weekly Update
I'm not certain how I'm going to fill one item in the Monday Muse after Texas officially makes its decision on Charlie Strong's return for a fourth season in Austin.
But until that happens, it's time for the Weekly Charlie Update.
Kirk Bohls, the respected columnist at the Austin American-Statesman, says the decision remains too close to call, even after Strong and the Longhorns slipped to 5-5 by losing a home game to West Virginia Saturday. (The link.)
Bohls noted what most reasonable observers understand: A 5-loss season three years into your career at Texas isn't going to convince anybody you're the next Darrell Royal.
But the Longhorns are this close to having a very good football team while playing a large string of underclassmen. Four of the Longhorns' five losses have been by seven points or less. (Of course, three of their five wins have been by eight or less.)
So for now, no decision. Check back next week.
7. Poll Results II
Do you believe that margin of victory matters to the College Football Playoff Committee?
Yes -- 97 percent
No -- 3 percent
8. Trolling Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh believes the well-placed zinger has its place in college football. I believe that means incoming as well as outgoing.
If not, all I can say to the folks in Ann Arbor is this: Duck.
The Wolverines finally played a road game against a team with a winning record on Saturday. It was not a lovely plane ride home from Iowa City after Michigan failed to run out the clock and lost to Iowa on a last-second field goal, 14-13.
The Wolverines can play their way into the four-team playing by beating Indiana, Ohio State and the West Division champion in the Big Ten title game.
Until then, it should be noted that North Dakota State and Northwestern both succeeded where the Wolverines failed. They won in Iowa City.
I know that because I saw this Tweet by the North Dakota State program.
9. Neal Brown to the Hot List
Before Eddie Gran and Shannon Dawson, Neal Brown ran the Kentucky offense for the first two seasons under Mark Stoops.
Brown, a former UK player from Danville, was considered a rising star in the game when he joined Stoops in Lexington. But the production of his offense was inconsistent, about what you’d expect the numbers to be in a rebuilding situation.
Fortunately for Brown, another program still considered him a guy with impressive skills and a winning game plan. Brown took over at Troy last season. His team started 1-5 and finished 4-8.
Look at Neal Brown today. He has coached Troy into the No. 25 spot in the latest Associated Press Top 25. His 8-1 team has won seven straight, beating Southern Miss and Appalachian State.
The only team to beat Troy was Clemson -- and that was by six points in Death Valley.
Look for Neal Brown to land a Power Five coaching job near you.
10. Poll Results III
Which team would you like to see Louisville play in a bowl game if the Cardinals fail to make the playoff (question asked before last weekend's games)?
Ohio State 80 percent
Auburn 7.3 percent
West Virginia 4.7 percent
Penn State 2.8 percent
Oklahoma 2.6 percent
Texas A&M 2.5 percent
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