Let Freedom Ring: Time for College Football and for Nick Saban to Retire

Welcome back to college football. Thursday begins five straight days of football, cheerleaders, marching bands and what I believe to be America’s favorite sport [footnote]The NFL has nothing – well maybe gambling and fantasy football – on college football’s superiority[/footnote]. Today, I’ll tell you why the Big Ten East is the most competitive division in college football, the best time for Nick Saban to walk away and four games you need to watch this weekend.

The Big Ten East

The Big Ten’s East division is easily the most competitive division in college football right now. It was the most competitive in 2015 and I expect it to be as competitive in 2016. Between its three major competitors, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, the road team won every game last season.

This season underrated Michigan State and underappreciated Mark Dantonio have both Michigan and Ohio State in East Lansing. To me, they have the toughest row to hoe, but I believe Dantonio to be the best in-game coach of the three.

I give the least amount of weight to Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, and not because I’m sick of hearing about him when he hasn’t won anything at Michigan while Dantonio continues to be the best (football) coach in the state (we know Izzo is the best coach in the state), but because of the losses last season. The last-second punt returned for a touchdown against Michigan State and the embarrassing blowout against Ohio State. I know the Wolverines lost to Utah in the beginning of the season, but those early games don’t count, right? RIGHT??

The last and continual favorite to win the East are the Ohio State Buckeyes and Urban Meyer who some say is currently the game’s best coach. We’ll save that argument for another day, but what’s important is that in the short time he’s been at Ohio State he’s been the best coach in the conference and has recruited the best talent, and when you have the best talent with a good coach there’s a very good chance you’ll win more games than everyone else. What also helps is that Ohio State has not lost a road game under Meyer and face both Michigan and Michigan State on the road. Ohio State’s only home game versus a division opponent is against Rutgers on October 1. Who draws up these schedules?

Here’s where I make a complete ass of myself:

The predicted order of finish of the Big Ten East – Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland.

Most likely to be fired – James Franklin, Penn State.

Most likely to have the craziest ending in at least two games – Michigan.

Most likely to lose an important game because of an interesting officiating decision – Michigan State.

When Will Saban Go?

I talked with Bird and Seth about Nick Saban in last week’s SEC 411. Other than Bird, who is an Auburn fan, almost every other college football person I know agrees the SEC West is Nick Saban’s to lose until he retires. The obvious question becomes, when will Saban retire? My guess is, only God knows. The 64-year-old from West Virginia shows no signs of slowing down heading into his tenth season in Tuscaloosa, and really that’s a shame. Not that I want Saban to slow down, because getting old isn’t fun, but because I like to see new challenges and really, there’s no challenge for him in T-Town anymore. Although, Paul Finebaum and Dan Wolken disagree about the lack of challenges this season.

I’m an admitted Alabama fan, and though the Tide hasn’t won the championship every year Saban has been there, it certainly feels like it has. So, when’s a good time for him to retire? Well, if you ask me it's 66 so he can collect Social Security, or after he wins the championship this year. Shots fired.

Four Games in Five Days

There are four really important games to watch this weekend, so put these on your calendar and watch the rest of the nonsense when you can.

Oklahoma at Houston (Saturday, 12p) There are three games between ranked teams on Saturday and this is the biggest one. This game is between two of college football’s proven commodities. Houston begins its second season with Tom Herman leading the way and welcomes Bob Stoops and Oklahoma to NRG Stadium to start the day. Oklahoma lost in the semi-final last season to Clemson. Houston beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl. This game will be entertaining and flashy, but Oklahoma wins it. And Oklahoma wins every other game this season except for the last one.

USC at Alabama (Saturday, 8p) Everyone wants this to be the biggest game of the weekend, but it isn’t. It isn’t close to the biggest game. The Notre Dame people will be surprised it's not them for once, but USC is the most overrated, over-ranked and over-appreciated team in college football. The Trojans are the poster boys for shooting their load early. USC continually beats easy teams at the beginning of the season then shits the bed when it’s time to play real teams. Well, that won’t happen this season because Nick Saban and former USC head coach Lane Kiffin are making this game personal. Roll. Damn. Tide.

Louisiana State University vs. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field (Saturday, 3:30p) This is the only Big Ten-SEC matchup on the board this weekend, so I’m hoping it’s decent. Living in Big Ten country, I always hear the natives complain that SEC teams won’t travel to the north because of X and Y or this and that. Well, here it is, LSU making the trip north to play one of the Big Ten’s bellwethers in its home state. No, this game isn’t at Camp Randall, but beggars can’t be choosers. As long as LSU has Leonard Fournette and Darius Guice to carry the ball, then I don’t imagine there’s a ton Wisconsin can do. Wisconsin's best prayer is that LSU’s Les Miles does something stupid and the Badgers can capitalize.

Notre Dame at Texas (Sunday, 7:30p) A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have given Texas a chance to win this game, but now the Longhorns could win it. Six Notre Dame players were arrested last week and while I’m not 100% sure what their impact would have been, enough has been made of it to make me reconsider blindly giving this game to the Irish. Texas lives on its football tradition, but it doesn’t compare to Notre Dame’s and at the end of the day, I think tradition, hard work and Brian Kelly overcome any obstacles those arrests or related distractions may have caused. I love Charlie Strong, but he isn’t long for Texas, which is too bad because I think he’s a very good football coach. It’s them, Charlie, not you.

Links of Love

Q&A: How ESPN's Week 1 college football TV lineup came together [Daniel Uthman/USA Today] I know this type of stuff isn’t always sexy reading, but it’s interesting. ESPN is broadcasting all five of the big neutral site games this weekend. And my guess is all five will be good enough. The best one is listed above. Scroll up, then scroll down.

History says Huskers must get tough at the top (administration, too) to return to the peak [Lee Barfknecht/Oklahoma World Something or Other] The line that says everything about championship-winning football teams, “I’m a firm believer that coaches win games while administrations clear the way for championships.” I think it’s safe to say a few things about Nebraska: it’s doubtful they’ll win another national title in their current form and the administration needs to do what it can to help football be great again. Start with a great coach and stay out of his way. P.J. Fleck seems like the perfect youngster to lead that team. Hire him tomorrow.

With a Friend Nearby and a Big Job Ahead, Brady Hoke is Ready to Fix and Oregon Defense in Serious Need of Repair [Lindsay Schnell/Campus Rush] I like Brady Hoke. He seems like a solid guy who was on the path to be a successful head coach before he landed at Michigan. People rarely turn down their alma mater, especially when that alma mater is Michigan, so I get it [footnote]I didn’t forget about Less Miles or this infamous presser [/footnote]. And to be fair to Hoke, the expectations at Michigan were unreasonably high considering what Rich Rodriguez left for Hoke and the people at Michigan can be unreasonably arrogant.

Sources: NCAA's Ole Miss investigation expands beyond Laremy Tunsil [Pat Forde/Yahoo!] I’m really just getting caught up here, and well, this can’t possibly end well for Ole Miss, can it? Although North Carolina has managed to avoid the brunt of any sanctions from the NCAA, I don’t think Ole Miss will be as evasive. The texts about $300 for Tunsil’s mom aren’t good and the fact that investigators are offering immunity is worse. I suspect the NCAA will do whatever it needs to ensure that this case doesn’t end up like Nevin Shapiro and Miami, but I’ll say this, if anyone on the current roster is part of this then the entire team should be sanctioned immediately. I’m not a fan of imposing bowl bans on student-athletes that weren’t part of the problem, but if there are some here that were, then thanks for stopping in Ole Miss and Mr. Freeze here’s your show cause.

Last, I’d like to thank Kristen Botica, Mitch Gatzke, Bob McDonald, and Seth Merenbloom for taking over a lot of the day-to-day stuff that I used to try and do on my own at Campus Pressbox. They’ve stepped up to give me hours, days and soon a week completely detached to focus on life outside of Campus Pressbox. The entire staff of Campus Pressbox has been exceptionally great also and now begins the chapter where everyone knows our name.

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E-mail me at damien.bowman@campuspressbox.com, follow me on Twitter at @damienbowman, and if you’re crazy enough to disagree with me then join the staff.