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TGS EXTRA!!! COLLEGE FOOTBALL UPDATE..."BUYS" AND "SELLS"
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


The college football campaign moves quickly; after this upcoming weekend one-fourth of the regular season will be complete for many of the nation’s sides.

Thus, there’s no time to waste when looking to isolate and identify potential “go with” and “go against” situations. So, following last weekend’s action, here’s our latest up-to-date list on “buy” and “sell” recommendations in college football.

BUY: Air Force...The Falcs were flying more under-the-radar than usual entering this season partly because of heavy graduation losses that included record-setting QB Tim Jefferson. But filling in the gaps has been standard operating procedure at the service academies for years, and at least all of the new offense starters are well-versed in the Falcs’ unique option package. Which again gave a high-profile foe (Michigan) fits last week as the Force narrowly missed a major upset in Ann Arbor. Senior starting QB Connor Dietz, who entered this season with a bit of first-string experience while filling in for an injured Jefferson in recent years, is a serviceable replacement, and RB smallish but gutsy RB Cody Getz is a north-south specialist who reminds some longtime AFA observers of former RB Brian “The Muscle” Bream who starred for some of Ben martin’s most explosive Falcon teams (including those featuring high-flying wideout Ernie Jennings) over four decades ago. Expect the Force to continue to provide spread value and get HC Troy Calhoun back to his sixth straight bowl.

SELL: Arkansas...It’s not just that the Razorbacks looked lost offensively after QB Tyler Wilson went down with that collarbone injury last week vs. UL-Monroe, or that replacement Brandon Allen looked so overmatched (just 6 of 20 thru the air in relief) in that upset loss to the Warhawks. It was more in the body language we saw from the Razorbacks most of the night in Little Rock, much as they looked when going through the motions the week before in an unimpressive win against Jacksonville State. All of which made the loss to ULM seem less unlikely than it would have before kickoff. Those looking for answers regarding John L. Smith’s temporary appointment as head coach are getting them pretty early, as Smith appeared detached from the rest of the team when ESPN-U’s camera shots focused upon the Arkansas sideline last Saturday night. We could have sworn that o.c. Paul Petrino, and not Smith, was coaching the team. Smith (and/or Petrino) better find a way to light a fire under the Hogs in a hurry with top-ranked Alabama trekking to Fayetteville this weekend, and the schedule not easing up too much afterward. You heard it here first; Arkansas might not even get to a bowl game this fall.

SELL: Auburn...Hmmm, is anybody starting to wonder about HC Gene Chizik as we are? Sure, he’s probably got a lot of capital to expend with Tiger backers after the Cam Newton-fueled BCS title run two years ago. But Auburn dipped noticeably last fall and might be in even more trouble this season after a slow 0-2 break from the gate that puts Chizik at 8-7 straight up (and 5-10 vs. the line) since Cam bolted for the NFL. The “new” Auburn offense which was supposed to feature more two-back sets and a run-oriented look under new o.c. Scott Loeffler (hired from Temple) has thus far looked a lot less interesting than Gus Malzahn’s spread-influenced attacks the past few years. And soph QB Kiehl Frazier continues to look uncomfortable no matter what the offensive set. The only TD Auburn managed last Saturday at Mississippi State came on a kickoff return by Onterio McCalebb as the offense struggled with just 216 total yards in an eventual 28-10 loss to the Bulldogs. With plenty of banana peels left on the schedule (there’s still LSU, Alabama, and Georgia in the queue), Auburn could continue to flounder and it, too, could be in danger of missing the postseason, as we project with Arkansas. In which case Auburn boosters will be tempted to line up Chizik’s six seasons as head coach (which include two at Iowa State) and notice that only during the magical Newton season have Gene’s teams overachieved. Don’t be surprised if Chizik is on the hot seat next season...the support bases are not very tolerant at any SEC locales (even at Vanderbilt these days).

BUY: Arizona...This one is not an over-reaction to the Wildcats’ rousing win over Oklahoma State last Saturday night in Tucson. We figured that UA had a decent shot in that game for a variety of reasons, not the least of which seeing through the pointspread result in the previous week’s overtime win over a darned good Toledo team (which, by the way, proved its worth last week by winning against Wyoming at Laramie, never an easy thing for a visiting team to do). But the UA program has been re-energized by the presence of new HC Rich Rodriguez, who has hinted to anyone who would listen since his arrival late last year that holdover QB Matt Scott, a fifth-year senior, was as close to a perfect fit for the Rodriguez spread option as possible. And once a seasoned OL with all five starters returning got the hang of the blocking schemes in the Rodriguez offense, the “O” would likely begin to hum. It didn’t take long, as the Cats erupted for more than 500 yards of offense in last Saturday’s 59-38 shocker over a Cowboys team that had dominated UA the past two seasons. As for Scott, all he’s done is pass for 707 yards and run for 129 more in the first two games. There are still some defensive issues in the desert (the Cats allowed 636 yards to Ok State), but the attitude and demeanor is completely different under Rodriguez than it was under the ultra-intense Mike Stoops, tuned out by the team last fall before his ouster midway in the campaign.

BUY: Arizona State...It looks like the Sun Devils might have known what they were doing after all when luring Todd Graham from Pitt after last season. Although Graham made few friends in the manner of his departure from the Panthers, observers in the Valley of the Sun have been amazed at the crispness and execution of their Sun Devils in the first two weeks that featured blowout wins over Northern Arizona (63-6; the same NAU went on to beat UNLV last week) and Illinois (admittedly minus QB Nathan Scheelhaase but still a 45-14 victim). All of which is a huge departure from the undisciplined nature of recent Sun Devil teams udner Dennis Erickson that couldn’t finish above .500 the past four years. Whatever concerns there might have been regarding QB Brock Osweiler’s decision to bolt with a year of eligibility remaining have been erased by the early performances of new starting QB Taylor Kelly, who, like the rest of the Graham operation, has looked assured and confident and playing like he knows what he’s doing in the first two weeks; Kelly has completed 77% of his passes thus far. Things might get stickier this week at Missouri but note that Graham, who has been a solid pointspread overachiever in the past, is making a quick believer out of us again.

SELL: Central Michigan...We’re not going to dump on CMU too much for losing to last week to Michigan State, which made a rare trip to Mt. Pleasant instead of hosting a MAC team as the Spartans usually do in East Lansing. And if the Chippewas extended the contract of third-year HC Dan Enos in the offseason, maybe they intend to stick with him despite his less-than-stellar 7-19 SU mark after last week’s 41-7 loss to MSU. But may re-worked contracts for coaches who have struggled on the job are done so to reduce the terms of any potential buyout. And, for our purposes, Enos and CMU remain a golden “go-against” option, as they’ve dropped 13 of 14 pointspread decisions since last season. Perhaps the cow is already out of the barn, and we’re too late to “sell” on the Chips...but maybe not.

SELL: Colorado...The Pac-12 is rapidly becoming a “coaches league” and if that is indeed the case, then Colorado seems to be far behind the curve with 2nd-year HC Jon Embree. Regional sources have told us there was a move afoot last fall by some boosters to force the school to admit it made a mistake when hiring alum Embree (a lower-cost option) after the 2010 season and that a change might have even been forthcoming after 2011 had Embree’s Buffs not won two of their last three games to salvage a 3-9 campaign. But the chorus in Boulder is now singing a new dump Embree tune after the Buffs began their season 0-2, losing to a very beatable Colorado State in a mistake-filled opener and then allowing FCS-level, Big Sky rep Sacramento State to pull a 30-28 shocker at Folsom Field last week. Although the CU offense has shown a bit of spark with Kansas transfer QB Jordan Webb at the helm, mistakes, lack of balance, and defensive shortcomings continue to haunt CU, and some regional insiders are suggesting that Embree’s fate might already have been sealed. CU backers, who found it hard to believe they could be reliving the Dan Hawkins fiasco with a new coach, are expecting Embree to get the Turner Gill-at-Kansas treatment at the end of the season, and some wonder if Embree will even survive the season if the losses continue to mount. Remember, the school is now flush with more cash than it was when hiring Embree thanks to the Pac-12’s new and enhanced TV contracts, so don’t expect Embree to be retained simply for financial reasons as predecessor Hawkins was in 2010.

BUY: UCLA...We had come to like the hire of the younger Jim Mora as the Bruin HC even before last week’s rousing 36-30 win over Nebraska. UCLA has a different walk and attitude these days than it did in the underachieving tenure of Mora predecessor Rick Neuheisel (who, by the way, is a very good fit as a studio analyst on the newly-formed Pac-12 TV network). RS frosh QB Brett Hundley, who had a year of eligibility spared by Neuheisel (an admirable gesture, considering Rick’s hot-seat circumstances LY) a year ago, gives UCLA its first mobile QB since the days of Cade McNown in the late ‘90s and has proven a quick study in the new Noel Mazzone spread offense imported from last year at Arizona State. And with RB Johnathan Franklin looking to be UCLA’s most-explosive back since Maurice Joens-Drew after his 217-yard eruption last week vs. the Cornhuskers, plus some big-sized receiving targets, the Bruin “O” looks nothing like the Neuheisel versions that sputtered using the Pistol with limited QBs Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut the past two seasons. And the Bruins are playing with an aroused passion on defense for new coordinator Lou Spanos, who like Mora has a NFL background. The Bruins, 2-0 SU and vs. the line, apparently are back...for real.

SELL: UNLV...Before we throw the Rebels completely under the bus, let us remind all that UNLV has fared quite well, despite past shortcomings, in the home underdog role, in which the Rebs have covered 8 of their last 10 chances (including the opener vs. Minnesota) and get another opportunity on Friday night against Washington State. Having said that, it is about time to come to grips with the fact that the program has not only made no progress since HC Bobby Hauck was hired from Montana after the 2009 season, it as in fact regressed alarmingly, as last Saturday’s 17-14 shock loss to FCS, Big Sky-rep Northern Arizona (using its backup QB!) would seem to confirm. Since last season, UNLV has lost to a pair of FCS schools (Southern Utah and the Lumberjacks) as well as New Mexico, winless at the time last November and arguably the nation’s worst FBS side in 2011. We’re suddenly hard-pressed to find a win on this year’s schedule for Hauck’s team, which has already dropped the first two of a four-game homestand to begin the season and has yet to take to the road, where it has lost all 14 games (and dropping the spread decision in 13 of those) the past two seasons. Pass protection has been spotty for Colorado transfer QB Nick Sherry, and pass coverage continues to be a very sore point defensively. Outside of quality jr. RB Tim Cornett, it’s hard to isolate a star performer on either offense or defense. In fact, some MWC observers are seeing similarities between performance patterns of Hauck’s UNLV and mentor Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA sides, which could occasionally rise to the occasion but were too often seemingly unprepared for games, as has been the case with UNLV. Ironically, the tight current financial constraints of the Rebel athletic department make any buyout of Hauck a tricky fiscal maneuver. But if UNLV (now 4-23 SU on Hauck’s watch) continues to lose, will AD Jim Livengood have any other choice?

SELL: Wisconsin...This isn’t the same Wisconsin team as a year ago, or even two years ago. No, don’t expect these Badgers to get to the Rose Bowl, as they have not been able to control the line of scrimmage in the early games vs. Northern Iowa and Oregon State (Heisman hopeful RB Montee Ball stuffed last week vs. the Beavers when gaining only 61 YR), and those who believed that Wiscy would be not skip a beat with another ACC transfer QB (Maryland’s Danny O’Brien) showing up on campus either sorely overrated O’Brien or sorely underrated predecessor Russell Wilson; there is not much comparison between the two. Ball’s TD streak was also stopped at 21 straight games in the 10-7 loss at Corvallis, as Wiscy hasn’t come close to spread covers in its first two games. Early this week, Wiscy HC Bret Bielema abruptly dismissed OL coach Mike Markuson after the Badger infantry had sputtered badly in the first two games.

Other potential “buy” recommendations? Perhaps Fresno State, Kansas State, Louisiana, UL-Monroe, La Tech, Maryland, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Ohio, Purdue, San Jose State, Tennessee, Toledo, Utah State, and Western Kentucky.

Sell” recommendations? Maybe Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Kansas, Iowa, UMass, Pitt, and Washington. Stay tuned.

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