Dear Andy: Betting on Northwestern, Pitt and UCF to win, lose and draw; plus, the kickoff time debate

You have questions that will lead me to make predictions sure to go wrong …

Dear Andy,

Here’s a fun offseason bar bet game for you. Here’s how it works. You have to pick one team for each of the following categories.

1) Team that will win the most games in 2022 compared to its 2021 record.

2) Team that will win the fewest games in 2022 compared to its 2021 record.

3) Team that will win exactly (or closest to) the same number of games in 2022 compared to 2021

You earn a point for each extra win you picked in No. 1 and each extra loss in No. 2. You LOSE a point for each extra win in No. 3.

So … which teams do you pick for these three categories and why?

Brian in Buford, Ga.

This is a really fun exercise that I’m certain all of you will be able to clip and throw back in my face at season’s end. But I think we all should make our guesses, lock them in and return to this in December to see how well we did.

For No. 1, let’s head to the Big Ten.

You might think I’d choose Nebraska after explaining back in February how mathematically unlikely the Cornhuskers’ 2021 season was. But the kind of jump I’m going to need to win this thing — probably six or seven more wins, which would put Nebraska at 9-3 or 10-2 — is not a win total Scott Frost has reached even once in his four seasons at Nebraska. But there is a program in the Big Ten that has alternated excellent seasons with terrible ones the past four years. And that team happens to open against the Cornhuskers in Dublin in week zero. (It also was the only team Nebraska beat in Big Ten play last season.)

Northwestern went 9-5 in 2018, 3-9 in 2019, 7-2 in 2020 and 3-9 in 2021. It’s a new year, and coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team has yet to be terrible two years in a row. Between the Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana (which went 2-10 last season after two consecutive seasons above .500), the Wildcats probably have the most manageable schedule.

The key is whether they’ll improve enough to score me some points. History says that improvement most likely will come on defense. Last year, the Wildcats ranked No. 106 in the nation in yards per play allowed. They ranked No. 10 the previous season. Even when they went 3-9 in 2019, their defense ranked No. 27 in yards per play allowed (one spot ahead of national champion LSU). There is only one new addition to the coaching staff on that side of the ball (cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith), but the defense is Fitzgerald’s area of expertise. It was porous in coordinator Jim O’Neil’s first season, but there really isn’t anywhere to go but up.

No. 2 is tricky and a great way to make some fan base angry. The other problem is the team that posts the most points in this spot probably will shock us all. Who prior to last season would have pegged Florida as a six-win team that would have its coach fired*?

*The 2020 Gators only went 8-4, but that was during a 2020 season that included a 10-game, all-SEC regular season. Had that team played its original schedule, it probably would have gone 10-2 or 11-1 in the regular season. So it would have racked up the points in 2021.

Michigan finally broke through in 2021 following a horrendous 2020, but I don’t expect a massive slide backward for the Wolverines. The pandemic year was Michigan’s only truly bad season under Jim Harbaugh. In most of the other years, they’ve still beaten most of the teams they’re supposed to beat. So even if the Wolverines don’t repeat as Big Ten champs, I suspect they’ll still have a respectable record.

The same goes for Wake Forest, which went 11-3 and won the ACC Atlantic Division. Coach Dave Clawson’s team has been remarkably consistent, and the return of quarterback Sam Hartman should ensure the Demon Deacons remain competitive.

But what about the 11-3 team that beat Wake Forest in the ACC title game? Pittsburgh had an incredible season with help from a first-round quarterback (Kenny Pickett) and a Biletnikoff Award winner (Jordan Addison). Pickett is coming to the same building, but he’s now playing for the Steelers. Addison will be catching passes from Caleb Williams at USC, not from USC transfer Kedon Slovis at Pitt. Meanwhile, the offensive coordinator who ran that offense (Mark Whipple) is at Nebraska. An opening gamut of West Virginia and Tennessee won’t be easy, and there is a whole lot of new in the ACC Coastal. Miami, Duke, Virginia and Virginia Tech have new coaches. The Hurricanes under Mario Cristobal especially look like a problem for the rest of the division.

The Athletic recruiting writer and podcast co-host Ari Wasserman would warn against betting on Pitt for any reason. It’s not that the Panthers always lose when you expect them to win — though that’s what happened in 2020 when I was forced to eat mayonnaise after they lost to N.C. State — it’s that they never do what you expect them to do.

MAYO ALERT

So @AriWasserman warned me not to go all-in on Pitt against NC State.

I didn’t listen. So I had to pay up.

Today, you’ll truly learn why I call mayonnaise the Devil’s Pomade.

Listen: https://t.co/07lExAZReY

Watch: pic.twitter.com/Vwr7V0NsaZ

— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) October 9, 2020

So basically I’ve guaranteed a Pittsburgh national title by putting the Panthers here.

No. 3 feels like it should be easy, but it’s not. I’m tempted to choose Florida here because the Gators have a tough opening stretch (Utah and Kentucky) and drew a trip to Texas A&M in their rotating SEC West spot. But Anthony Richardson flashed just enough in the early season last year that it’s possible he could be special and allow Florida to overcome some of the thin spots on its roster.

Cincinnati has been remarkably consistent under Luke Fickell, but 13-1 is tough to match. I’m tempted to stay in the American Athletic Conference and go with UCF, though. The Knights went 9-4 last season. They have a couple of winnable (and losable) non-conference games against Louisville and Georgia Tech, and a 1-1 or 2-0 mark in those games wouldn’t shock me. They face Cincinnati and SMU in conference play, but they don’t face Houston in the regular season. They also don’t face noted Knight-killer Tulsa, which has won eight of the last nine meetings in the series. (Yes, that stat shocked me as much as it shocked you.) UCF might win 10 or more, but that would be difficult. But I’m also pretty confident the Knights win at least eight.

Throw your choices in the comments below. Come January, we’re all getting graded.

But no matter how he does on this exercise, we all owe Brian in Buford a beer for always asking something fun.

UCF finished 9-4 under coach Gus Malzahn last season and should win at least eight games this year. (Alex Menendez / Getty Images)

With a good number of conferences working on new media deals, any chance that game times will be addressed? The current plan where many game times aren’t decided until 6 or 12 days before a game is one of the most annoying things about college football. Even an NFL model where games could occasionally be moved out of their original time would be a huge improvement. Fans should know the game times no later than a few months before the season starts.

— Mike

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin mentioned this last year when he pitched his scheduling manifesto.

Stricklin suggested that like the NFL, college football leagues should announce kickoff times in the spring and — as Mike suggested — leave a little wiggle room down the stretch just as the NFL does. The idea hit Stricklin when he was talking to a Florida fan who also is a huge Chicago Bears fan. The fan told Stricklin that he booked his flights and hotels for Bears games immediately after the NFL releases the schedule each year. But he can’t do that for Florida games even though the opponents and dates have been known for years in some cases.

I feel like the ACC (now) and the SEC (once ESPN takes over the package CBS currently televises in 2024) could do this. They’ll each be all-in with one family of networks. There would be no need to wait so the network with the first selection could pick the best game. All of the games will air on some sort of Disney/ESPN platform. So why not just set the game times? If the 2019 LSU-Alabama game — which didn’t appear in prime time because CBS selected Notre DameGeorgia before the season started — taught us anything, it’s that the viewers will find a great matchup. So there would be no harm in setting the kickoff times in April or May.

That might be more difficult in the Big Ten, which seems likely to split its media rights among multiple networks. If Fox has paid for the first choice, then it probably will want the flexibility to make that choice as the season progresses. The Michigan StateWisconsin game that looked great on paper in August could take a backseat to a Penn StateIowa matchup come October.

If a streaming service gets a package of games — as Apple TV has done with Major League Baseball and Amazon Prime Video has done with the NFL — then it could be less married to traditional windows. But if the network with the first choice needs to make that choice to determine what time and on what network everything else gets played, then we might be stuck with the same waiting game.

As for the Pac-12 and Big 12, we’ll have to see how they structure their next media rights deals before we can guess at whether they’d be able to offer kickoff times earlier. Hopefully, that will be a consideration as they make those deals because the “what time/what channel” guessing game is one of the more fan-unfriendly aspects of college football.

I’m Scottish and naturally I adore soccer and I thought about this question in light of Kylian Mbappe’s new Paris-Saint Germain deal, which seems illegal under UEFA Financial Fair Play rules but isn’t. I personally see a few similarities between how college football is as of now and how European clubs operate and how European leagues operate. There is this sudden greed and desperation from leagues and organizations to expand and change in an attempt to generate more money for themselves, the product of the sport be damned, in the face of the European super league and the very real potential they will try and form it again.

Does this relate in any way to how the SEC is conducting itself and how the other conferences are responding? With regard to NIL, teams like USC, Tennessee and Texas A&M are sort of similar to the clubs owned by gulf states (of which PSG is one) and oligarchs. The Mbappe deal is relevant to NIL as it seems it should be illegal, similar to some NIL deals, which could potentially be seen as tampering but aren’t. Both of these deals came about as a result of weak legislation and the governing bodies’ inability and ineptitude to police these things (UEFA, who govern the financial fair play, are essentially in bed with PSG’s Qatar owners, but it’s a different topic). Ultimately, though, my question is, do you see any similarities between European soccer and the direction college football is going? Is the answer to college football’s conundrums in the shortcomings of European soccer and the desperate decision-making of governing bodies in response to the super league and the sudden influx of investment, a similar earth-shattering event as NIL is being described as.

I’m asking these questions because as poorly written as the question may be, I feel it may give a different perspective to people who are concerned about the direction of college football. I don’t believe college football will become the blatant, money and greed-driven spectacle European soccer may become, but maybe it still provides a perspective worth thinking about?

— Alexander

Alexander, there’s a reason Nicole Auerbach and I pointed you to an incredible book called “The Club: How the English Premier League Became the Wildest, Richest, Most Disruptive Force in Sports” shortly after Oklahoma and Texas announced their intention to join the SEC. The book, written by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg, explains how the EPL broke free from its mom-and-pop underpinnings to become the wealthiest, most powerful league in sports.

The book also spends considerable time explaining how difficult it is to make rules regarding player movement between clubs in leagues whose rules are different from the rules of other leagues and governed by the laws of different nations.

As Alexander noted in his question — which is superbly written — there are quite a few similarities between elite international soccer and the top echelon of college football. College football isn’t going from a regional enterprise to a global one (yet), but it has quite quickly morphed from a regional sport to the second- or third-most popular sport in the United States. It also has governing bodies that struggle to create and/or enforce sensible rules regarding player movement. In soccer, that has more to do with national borders. In American college football, it has more to do with the attachment to the nation’s higher education system.

Well, guess who read The Club soon after it was released in December 2018 and loved it? SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

As (college) football season nears its conclusion I read a “football” book: The Club @JoshRobinson23 and @CleggJon is an interesting read on the background and business of the @premierleague pic.twitter.com/y7wuUlbxaN

— Greg Sankey (@GregSankey) January 3, 2019

Sankey, whose job is to create the strongest SEC he can, probably read the book with a different eye than the average fan did. He probably noticed how the teams of the EPL accumulated virtually all the power in their nation’s system and essentially formed their own gravitational pull.

That’s precisely what is happening in college football, though it’s probably more due to a confluence of circumstances than any Machiavellian master-planning by conference leaders. By virtue of media rights deals that by 2024 will dwarf those of their peers, the Big Ten and the SEC essentially will have created their own gravity.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine what change can be made to keep those two leagues from eventually drawing in the other top football programs. Maybe it’s the fact that there are two of them and not one. Maybe it’s decades of philosophical differences. Or maybe it’ll happen anyway because once the sport became a major television draw, that was always bound to happen.

But Alexander’s side-by-side comparison is spot-on. And if you’d like to understand the dynamics better, grab yourself a copy of “The Club.”

A Random Ranking

Eric would like me to rank fictional moms, and this is a spectacular idea …

Mrs. Robinson, “The Graduate”

Only kidding…

On to the real ranking.

Tami Taylor, “Friday Night Lights” (the TV series)

Sarah Conner, “The Terminator” series

Elaine Miller, “Almost Famous”

Molly Weasley, The “Harry Potter” series

Catelyn Stark, “Game Of Thrones/A Song Of Ice and Fire”*

Thelma Harper, “Mama’s Family”

Jennifer Honey, “Matilda”

Harriett Winslow, “Family Matters”

Sophia Petrillo, “The Golden Girls”

Violet Crawley (Dowager Countess of Grantham), “Downton Abbey”

*But definitely the version from the books.

(Photo of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald: Ron Johnson / USA Today)
– original source here

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