Friday, October 12, 2018

Football 2018: Week Seven

The second half of the regular season gets started tomorrow, and Texas A&M (4-2) plays the first of three consecutive road games against South Carolina (3-2) at 2:30 PM on the SEC Network. I still don't have a firm grip on the Aggies. They lost a game they could've won (against Clemson), and won two games they could've easily lost (against Arkansas and Kentucky). They seem to be sticking close to the formula for winning games in the SEC: run the football on offense, stop the run on defense.

The guys who talk about Aggie football on the radio generally agree that A&M could go 3-0 on the road against South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn. But they could go 0-3 just as easily. The Aggies are a slight favorite (two points) tomorrow, and College Football News predicts they'll cover the spread in a 24-20 struggle.

Update 4:15 PM Saturday: Another struggle, with A&M leading 13-0 at halftime. This should probably be a 20-0 lead, but missed field goals and missed TD opportunities in the red zone continue to be an issue. The defense is playing well, and got an interception in the end zone to keep the shutout alive.

Update 5:06 PM Saturday: End of third quarter, score tied 16-16. Got outplayed on both sides of the ball. Shit.

Update 6:04 PM: Texas A&M won 26-23 in a third consecutive game that looked like it would get away from them late in the 4th quarter. After I thought the Aggies had iced the win at 26-16 with under two minutes to play, their penalty yardage helped the Gamecocks score a last minute TD that made it scary at the end.

The penalties against A&M gave Gamecocks 36 of the 78 total yards on the drive, plus three automatic first downs, and the drive only used 48 seconds of the remaining 1:36 in the game. To sum it up, the Aggies are good enough to win SEC games, but not good enough to win them easily.

Of the four SEC teams that A&M plays after the Gamecocks, one (Mississippi State) has an open date this weekend. The other three will be on television, and here's how College Football News expects them to finish:
  • Tennessee (2-3) at Auburn (4-2) at 11:00 AM on SEC. Auburn is favored by 15.5 points, and should cruise past the Vols easily, 34-16. Update: Tennessee pulls off the stunning upset of the day in the SEC, winning 30-24.
  • Georgia (6-0) at LSU (5-1) in the CBS showcase game at 2:30 PM. The Bulldogs are 7.5 point favorites, and will have a hard time covering the spread, winning a 27-19 slug fest. Update: LSU may be more than A&M can handle after beating Georgia convincingly, 36-16.
  • Ole Miss (4-2) at Arkansas (1-5) at 6:30 PM on SEC. The Razorbacks are 6.5 point underdogs at home, and will lose 41-31. It will be interesting to see if Ole Miss has an easier time with them than A&M did. Update: Ole Miss scored more points against the Arkansas defense than A&M did, but Arkansas scored more points against Ole Miss than they scored against A&M. The Rebels won a 37-33 shootout. Does this tell me anything about Texas A&M vs Ole Miss? Probably not.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Football 2018: Week Six

It's hard to believe that Texas A&M's regular season will be half over when they finish the game against Kentucky tomorrow night. In July, I checked the schedule and mentally circled this game as one of maybe six the Aggies could probably win. In October, the Wildcats are 5-0, have already beaten future A&M opponents South Carolina and Mississippi State, and handed the Florida Gators their only loss. Kentucky is ranked in the top 15, and A&M hasn't done well at home against ranked teams since joining the SEC.

I've listened to the pundits chatter on the FM sports talk station, and they've made Kentucky sound unbeatable. I expected A&M would be an underdog at home, and was surprised to see the Aggies are a 5.5 point favorite instead. College Football News expects the game will be close, with A&M covering the spread 26-20. They might pull off a win, but not unless they play a lot better than they did against Arkansas last Saturday.

UPDATE 9:37 PM Saturday: Damn. That game was an ordeal, a major pain in the ass, a classic defensive struggle. I was pretty sure A&M had snatched another defeat from the jaws of victory when a fumble on a play that should have iced a 14-7 win for the Aggies resulted in a 14-14 tie and overtime instead. The A&M defense gave up one long TD in the first quarter, but basically shut Kentucky's offense down the rest of the night, and it may be their defense and special teams that keep them alive the rest of the season. Assuming Kentucky is really as good as everybody said they were all week, this was a quality win at Kyle Field, and there haven't been many of those since 2012.  Final 20-14 in OT.

PS: I like the fact that players wear traditional A&M football uniforms for home games and road games. No exotic "new looks" every week. I think the Aggies under Sumlin worried more about the style of their uniforms than learning how to play SEC-quality football. Just a personal gripe.

Another TV game I'll probably watch for at least a quarter is the annual shootout between Oklahoma U (5-0) and Texas U (4-1). I hate the longhorns even more than I hate OU, so I want the sooners to cover the 7.5 point spread and give them an ass-whipping. I also want to check out Kyler Murray, who was mostly unimpressive when he played for Sumlin as a freshman in 2015, but is lighting it up this year at OU. CFN thinks the Sooners will get all they can handle, but still squeak out a 30-27 victory.

UPDATE: The fucking sooners lost to the fucking horns, 48-45.

CFN expects Alabama will blow out Arkansas, and Ole Miss will blow out ULM. In SEC games that might have some significance for Texas A&M, here are the CFN picks:
  • South Carolina, favored by a point at home, will edge Missouri 27-24. Update: The Gamecocks eke out a 37-35 win.
  • LSU, favored by 2.5 points at Florida, will lose a close one 23-20. Update: Florida looks tough knocking off LSU 27-19.
  • Auburn, favored by 3.5 points at Mississippi State, will cover 26-16. Update: Not today, Auburn. The Bulldogs prevail 23-9.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Football 2018: Week Five

The realists among observers of Texas A&M football were 99.99 percent sure that the Aggies would be 2-2 heading into the Arkansas game at Arlington today (11:00 AM on ESPN), and that's exactly where things stand. Based on what I've seen in the first four weeks, A&M looks like a team that can be competitive in the remaining eight regular season games, and could win seven of them with a few lucky breaks here and there.

Arkansas is 1-3 and has been smoked in games they were expected to win. The Razorbacks are 20.5 point underdogs in the game today, and College Football News predicts the Aggies will roll (37-17).

Update 2:26 PM Saturday:  The game started with a 100 yard kickoff return and a 7-0 lead for A&M, and the Aggies were dominant until they'd increased the lead to 17-0. At that point, the team apparently decided the game was in the bag, and they started playing sloppy football. With just under two minutes remaining, the score was 24-17, and Arkansas had the ball with decent field position.

Arkansas and A&M have played five consecutive games in Arlington, and A&M won three of the first four in overtime. I had a sick feeling this game was also headed for a 24-24 tie, and started trying to estimate the odds against winning four OT games in a row against the same opponent. A late interception by Donovan Wilson made it a moot point. Maybe this will be a wake-up call for Jimbo's team. They'll have to be much better to beat Kentucky and South Carolina. I'll just say I'm not as confident now that A&M can compete with the best teams in the SEC West.

Other SEC games on TV that involve future A&M opponents, with predicted scores from College Football News:
  • South Carolina (2-1) at Kentucky (4-0): Texas A&M's next two games will be against these teams, both of which appear to be at least as good as the Aggies, if not better. CFN expects the Gamecocks will squeeze out a narrow 23-20 win on the road. Update: Kentucky is the real deal, beat South Carolina 24-10.
  • Ole Miss (3-1) vs LSU (4-0): The Rebels are 12-point underdogs, but CFN believes they'll beat the spread in a 31-27 loss. Update: Ole Miss got pounded by LSU, 45-16.
  • Florida (3-1) at Mississippi State (3-1): The Bulldogs were dismantled by Kentucky in one of last week's major upsets, and although they're favored by a TD against the Gators, the pick is Florida in a close 24-20 win. Update: Gators win 13-6
  • Southern Mississippi (2-1) is a four touchdown underdog at Auburn (3-1), and should be on the losing end in a 40-10 blowout. Update: Auburn won 24-13
 In the CBS showcase game at 2:30, Tennessee (2-2) is at Georgia (4-0), and the Bulldogs are expected to steamroll the Vols in a 48-13 blowout. Update: Georgia takes no prisoners in a 38-12 victory.

    Thursday, September 20, 2018

    Football 2018: Week Four

    By Saturday night, Texas A&M will have completed one-third of the regular season, and will theoretically have their two toughest games behind them. The Aggies play at Alabama in the 2:30 showcase game on CBS, and they aren't getting any respect from the people who set betting lines (Bama is a 27-point favorite).

    I plan to watch as much of the game as I can stomach. Typically, I'll stick with an A&M game on TV as long as the Aggies are tied, ahead, or no more than 14 points behind (ten points behind if the game's more than halfway through the fourth quarter). I'd love to see Saban get knocked off at home, but the only time A&M pulled that off, Saban came back with five consecutive wins, including a 59-0 blowout in 2014. Kevin Sumlin went from 1-0 to 1-5 against Saban, then went to Arizona.

    The prediction at College Football News is that Alabama will win without covering the spread (40-17). If the Aggies can't get a major upset, I hope they'll play well enough to avoid a crushing defeat, and finish the game with no significant injuries to starters and key backup players.

    Update 4:50 PM Saturday: The first half started badly and ended badly for A&M, and I decided an 18 point deficit (31-13) was way more than the Aggies could overcome in the second half against Alabama's offense and defense. Based on what I've seen so far, I don't think the Tide will lose a game until the playoff, and probably not even then. They don't make many mistakes, and even when they do, it doesn't slow them down much.

    Update 6:49 PM Saturday: Final score 45-23, so the good news is that A&M beat the spread, and probably won't have to play another team in Alabama's class this season. This is a game the Aggies might possibly have won if they played virtually flawless football, and Alabama had made a few turnovers to set up 2-3 easy A&M scores. Neither of those things happened.

    Other score predictions from College Football News:
    • Georgia at Missouri (11:00): Bulldogs win 34-17 (Final score 43-29 Georgia)
    • Florida at Tennessee (6:00): Gators get by Vols 27-23 (Final score 47-21 Florida)
    • Arkansas at Auburn: Razorbacks fall 41-13 (Final score 34-3 Auburn)
    • Mississippi State at Kentucky: MSU stays unbeaten 30-16 (Final score 28-7 Kentucky)
    • South Carolina at Vanderbilt: Gamecocks edge Vandy 23-17 (Final score 37-14 South Carolina)
    • TCU at Texas: The horns lose to the Christians, 27-23 (Final score 31-16 Texas U)

    Thursday, September 13, 2018

    Football 2018: Week Three

    It seems like it just started, but after Saturday, the regular college football season will be 25 percent completed. It's still too early to expect a wide range of interesting TV games. These are the ones I'll probably spend time viewing:
    • The SEC showcase game on CBS at 2:30 will feature LSU at Auburn, with the home team favored by 9.5 points. College Football News believes Auburn's defense is better than LSU's quarterback, and expects LSU to suffer its first loss of the year (24-20). Update: I got sidetracked and didn't see any of this game. Texas A&M plays both of these teams later this season, and will be tested by both. LSU pulled off the upset, winning 22-21.
    • In a previous year, Alabama at Ole Miss might be worth watching for at least a quarter, but in 2018, the Tide is a three touchdown favorite on the road. The game is on ESPN at 6:00 PM, and I won't see more than 30 minutes of it. CFN predicts the Tide will overwhelm the Rebels in a 55-20 blowout. Update: This turkey was more one-sided than the CFN prediction, with Alabama shredding Ole Miss 62-7. Two more SEC West opponents that A&M will face. Ole Miss looks very beatable. Alabama does not.
    • Finally, the University of Louisiana-Monroe visits Texas A&M at 6:30 on SEC Network, in a classic example of a sandwich game. The Aggies are coming off a close loss to Clemson, and have Alabama upcoming in game four. In previous years, this schedule would set up a lackluster performance by A&M against a lesser opponent, with half the Aggies moping over the loss and the other half looking ahead to the reigning national champs - resulting in a final score that suggested a hard-fought game. It'll be surprising if that happens Saturday, based on the performance of the team in its first two games under Jimbo Fisher and his staff. ULM is a 26-point underdog, and CFN forecasts a comfortable 45-17 win for A&M.
    Update 10:14 PM Saturday: The first half looked a lot like the trap games I watched before Texas A&M started paying football coaches the kind of salary Jimbo earns. At the half, the score was 24-10, and one Aggie TD was scored on the return of a blocked ULM field goal attempt. The Aggies were ahead, but weren't dominating the game on offense or defense. The second half was an improvement. Final score 48-10.

    Thursday, September 6, 2018

    Football 2018: Week Two

    The second week of the new season, and there are even fewer interesting games on the tube than there were last week. One of the TV games is a big one, with legitimate national championship contender Clemson visiting Texas A&M at 6:00 PM Saturday on ESPN. The Tigers are favored by 12.5 points.

    This is one of those super-hyped games that don't usually involve A&M; the last one I recall was Texas A&M at Alabama in 2012. The Aggies beat the Tide thanks to one of the most exciting performances by a quarterback I ever saw, and it's not exaggerating much to say that particular A&M win probably had an effect on the lives of a lot a people, especially Johnny Manziel and Kevin Sumlin. In one afternoon, the bar was set so high for Sumlin that he spent the next five seasons seeking a comparable Big Win and never getting it. The win made Manziel, a redshirt freshman, a potential candidate for the Heisman, and put him on the Too Much, Too Soon track that probably explains why he's playing football in the CFL now.

    But back to Saturday's matchup against Clemson. This game has all the bells and whistles in terms of media hype, and ESPN Game Day will be on campus. Jimbo Fisher has been coaching against Clemson in the ACC, so he should have a good idea of what his team's up against, and that gives the game an element that Kevin Sumlin vs Nick Saban lacked in 2012.

    The ideal outcome would be a convincing A&M win along the lines of 35-21. The next best thing would be a narrow upset win thanks to a few lucky breaks resulting from Clemson mistakes. Neither of those possible outcomes are likely, and College Football News predicts the Clemson defense will overpower the A&M offense in a 33-17 Tiger win.

    I can't decide which would be more painful: A&M narrowly losing a game they had a realistic chance to win, or A&M being embarrassed in a blowout. The final score forecast by CFN isn't close enough to be a demoralizing near-miss, or a wide enough margin to rank as a humiliating defeat either. Maybe a 16-point loss is a reasonable compromise, assuming a major upset isn't in the cards.

    UPDATE: I didn't think it was possible, but this was a game A&M might've won if the officials hadn't made a questionable call on an Aggie fumble in the fourth quarter. As it was, Clemson was lucky to get out of town with a 28-26 win, and Texas A&M has the look of a team that's finally ready to play SEC football.

    The best early SEC game (ESPN at 11:00 AM) has Mississippi State at Kansas State, with MSU favored by 9.5 points. These two teams have combined to ruin more weekends for Aggie fans since 1996 than I want to think about. Since both of them can't lose, I guess the 34-26 Bulldog win predicted by CFN would be worth seeing. I still despise the Big 12 conference.

    Update: MSU handed K-State a 31-10 dose of SEC-style whupass.

    The SEC showcase game on CBS at 2:30 features Georgia at South Carolina, with Georgia the 10-point favorite. Many people think South Carolina will be pretty good in 2018, and CFN thinks this will be a hard-fought 26-20 win for Georgia.

    Update: Georgia proved the Gamecocks aren't in their class in a 41-17 blowout.

    Wednesday, August 29, 2018

    Football 2018: Week One

    Maybe this should be called Weak One. The new season for Texas A&M begins on a Thursday night in August against Northwestern State (SEC Network, 7:30 PM). Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Aggies have usually opened their season with a relatively tough game (Florida in 2012, South Carolina in 2014, Arizona State in 2015, and UCLA in 2016-17). In 2014-2016, wins against respected opponents made me believe A&M was much better than they eventually turned out to be. Last year's astonishing second-half collapse at UCLA was a clear omen the season would probably stink, and it did.

    Although there's a sparkling new (highly-paid) coaching staff, the team is still mostly players who were mucking around last year. The schedule adds Clemson to the usual rugged SEC West cast of villains, which suggests a regular season record in the 7-5 neighborhood is a realistic expectation, with 8-4 a reason for riotous celebration. If we assume losses against Clemson, Alabama and Auburn, can A&M win four out of five against Mississippi State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss and LSU? We'll find out.

    In the first week of a new season, there are usually a limited number of games worth watching on the tube. The SEC games that might be interesting:
    • Northwestern State at Texas A&M (no line): College Football News forecasts a 58-6 rout at Kyle Field tomorrow night. Update: Predicted score was very close, with Aggies winning 59-7.
    • Texas Tech favored by 2.5 points vs Ole Miss (Saturday at 11:00 on ESPN): CFN predicts the Red Raiders will win a 45-40 shootout. May watch for Ole Miss scouting purposes only. Update: Didn't watch much of it, but Ole Miss laid a 20-point beating on TexTech, winning 47-27.
    • Auburn favored by 2.5 points vs Washington (Saturday at 2:30 on ABC): CFN sees the Huskies pulling a 26-24 minor upset. Update: Auburn held off the upset in a 21-16 win.
    • West Virginia favored by 9.5 points vs Tennessee (Saturday at 2:30 on CBS): CFN says West Virginia covers the spread 34-24. Update: Not even close, with West Virginia cruising 40-14.
    • Alabama favored by 25 vs Louisville (Saturday at 7:00 PM on ABC): CFN believes Tide will roll in a 38-10 stomping. Update: Alabama won easily, 51-14.
    • Miami favored by 3 points vs LSU (Sunday at 6:30 on ABC): CFN predicts LSU will open their season with a 26-23 upset win. Update: I heard rumors that LSU could be in rebuilding mode this year, but they looked pretty tough tonight, leading by thirty points before giving up two 4th quarter TDs and winning 33-17.
    Other TV games feature Texas U at Maryland as a 13-point favorite, and Michigan at Notre Dame as a 1-point underdog. College Football News thinks Maryland will upset the longhorns 34-31, with Michigan flipping the Irish 26-16 (Saturday at 6:30 PM on NBC). Update: Maryland knocked off the Texas U longhorns 34-29, but Michigan lost to the Irish 24-17.

    Update 11:17 PM Thursday: Texas A&M looked more like an SEC team tonight against the Demons than they did in six seasons with Kevin Sumlin in charge of things. Yeah, it was only Northwestern State, but A&M played well on offense, defense, and in the kicking game. During the post-Manziel years, A&M under Sumlin had a tendency to get sloppy in games like this, resulting in unimpressive wins that were closer than they needed to be.