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College Football Weekend a Charmer

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September 3, 2019

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Opening weekend of college football is like Christmas for me, only better. It’s great fun checking in on the televised games, and if I become bored I can head for a break at the swimming pool. Try diving off the outdoor high-board around Christmas time in Minnesota.

FBS Minnesota and FCS South Dakota State got things rolling last Thursday night. FCS opponents are usually scheduled by Power Five Conference teams because they are softer than political campaign promises. The Gophers, though, got the opposite against FCS powerhouses South Dakota State and North Dakota State.

The somewhat wise guy suggestion here is to try lesser FCS teams for the Minnesota opener like maybe Presbyterian from the Big South, or “The Boy & Girl” (William & Mary of the Colonial Athletic Association)—but not the Jackrabbits and Bison who hang out together in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference.

The Jacks know how to schedule nonconference games. After losing a game they should have won with the Big Ten Conference Gophers, they’re at home next Saturday against Long Island University from the Northeast Conference. Make SDSU a big favorite in that game!

If you’re picking up a favorable attitude toward the Jacks, I confess. The program’s boss is John Stiegelmeier, and I like coaches old enough to collect Social Security.

As for the mighty Bison—winners of seven FCS national championships in eight years—they destroyed Butler, 57-10, last Saturday in the second college football game ever played at Target Field. The game was the NDSU head coaching debut of Matt Entz. He’s the program’s third head guy since the national title run started and that speaks to how they know the “secret sauce” in Fargo.

It was encouraging to see the Gophers announce a near capacity crowd Thursday night. Minnesota fans, though, are a casual bunch. They routinely head for the exits in the second half, even when the game is close like against South Dakota State. At Wisconsin games, fans do the “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters. In Minneapolis they head for the dorms, the bars and the interstate.

College football is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2019. In the sport’s first game ever, Rutgers defeated Princeton “six goals to four goals” in November of 1869. The Rutgers program hasn’t done a lot to distinguish itself since then, and why the school was welcomed into the Big Ten a few years back is something that makes a lot of the league’s fans wince. Painful, too, was watching the Scarlet Knights start their game down 14-0 to UMass, an awful FBS program.

Rutgers (48-21 winners) was one of three Big Ten teams to play on Friday night. Michigan State looked intimidating while beating up on Tulsa, 28-7. Coach Mark Dantonio’s teams most always play punishing football. He demands it. The guy scowls and I jump a foot, even while watching on TV! Wisconsin embarrassed South Florida, 49-0, to give the Big Ten a Friday sweep.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago the Badger program could be on the decline. I am sure Bucky used my words as bulletin board material for motivation. And, yes, South Florida coach Charlie Strong’s seat is warm in Tampa, and it’s not because of the weather.

Hey, is there any better way to start Saturday morning than by watching college football GameDay on ESPN? Let’s put it this way: if I got stuck in an elevator for a couple of hours who better for companions than Lee Corso, Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit? Corso is a character who does strange things like picking Utah to make the playoff finals, and he brings down the house when he dons a mascot head to pick the winner of a featured game. Davis and Herbstreit are charmers with football IQ’s through the roof.

GameDay’s Desmond Howard can ride in another elevator. Not big on the Des and part of it might be he is a Michigan alum. Hard to forget the uncivil treatment our travel party received from Big Blue fans when we were at a Michigan game years ago. Apparently it was offensive to wear maroon and gold clothing.

Who says there is no security in college football coaching? Kirk Ferentz began his Iowa head coaching career in 1999 and he is still the Hawkeye boss man. Before Ferentz, Hayden Fry was the Iowa head coach from 1979-1998. That’s two head coaches in 40 years. I would tell you how many the Gophers have burned through but I can’t find my calculator.

I am picking the Hawkeyes and Northwestern to tie for the Big Ten West Division title. The Hawks might have top 10 future NFL draft choices in linemen A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs. Less is usually more at Iowa where Ferentz and staff make the most of their available talent. A big year for the Hawks gets the minds of farmers off crop prices. Iowa defeated Miami (Ohio) Saturday night, 38-14.

Ohio State put up 28 points on Florida Atlantic by midway through the first quarter and won the game 45-21 Saturday. Oh, my, a tough day for Bloomington Jefferson alum Lane Kiffin who brings his Owls to TCF Bank Stadium for Minnesota’s opener in 2020. As for the Buckeyes, they remain the gold standard of Big Ten football. How high is the bar in Columbus? Well, last year the Bucks won the Big Ten title, won the Rose Bowl and finished a 13-1 season while an air of disappointment hung over Columbus because their beloveds weren’t invited to the playoffs and to have a chance to win the national title.

What was the worst sign I saw a fan hold up over five days of viewing? “Idaho isn’t even a state.”

Honest. Saw it prior to the Penn State-Idaho game on Saturday.

Uga

Best mascot in the country? Gotta go with Sports Illustrated’s online August 12 ranking that chose Georgia’s English Bulldog, Uga.

The best game I watched during my college football weekend was Iowa State’s three overtime 29-26 win over Northern Iowa in Ames. The Big-12 Cyclones, a top 25 ranked FBS team, had to rally on their home field to tie the game at 13-13 and head for the first overtime. Substitute walk-on kicker Matthew Cook, a true freshman, made all four of his field goal attempts, including one from 50 yards for FCS Northern Iowa—another member of the Valley.

My finale was Monday night when Notre Dame played at Louisville. During the weekend I wondered whether Fighting Irish and Green Bay Packers legend Paul Hornung might attend the game. I can’t confirm his attendance, but move to the head of the class if you know Louisville was Hornung’s hometown when he went off to Notre Dame in the early 1950s. I believe he still lives there.

After opening weekend the Big Ten had won 12 of 14 games (most by big margins), but lost two of three on the road. Out West Nevada beat Purdue, 34-31, on a last minute field goal and Northwestern lost 17-7 at Stanford. The Gophers, too, head West later in the week to play at Fresno State. Be warned!

That’s my opening weekend college football saga, with just one request for assistance. Several months ago I lost a TV remote in the family room. No kidding, honest to Goldy! Never did find it. Help.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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