The Bag Man: Sleepers, Erections, Playoff Expansion?

David asks:

I think Houston is going to make a run at an unbeaten season. I know Tom Herman has moved on to Texas, but he leaves behind a ton of Power-Five/NFL-caliber talent on this Cougars’ roster. Kyle Allen was the former #1 QB recruit in the country, who threw for 3,500 yards with a 33-14 TD-Interception ratio in two years at Texas A&M. Quinton Flowers down at USF is getting most of the hype in the AAC, but I’m betting on Allen to be the best QB in the league.

Allen’s surrounded by a talented group of veteran skill players as well. Linell Bonner caught 98 balls last year for more than 1,100 yards. Houston returns four of its top six receivers overall. Duke Catalon is a former 4-star running back who transferred from Texas. He rushed for 528 yards last season while battling through injuries. If he’s healthy, he’s arguably the best running back in that conference.

Oh, and then there’s this Ed Oliver guy, who single handedly mauled superstar quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson last year. He’s the best defensive tackle in America — maybe the best defensive player in America. It’s honestly painful to imagine the poor left guard at UConn who’s going to have to block Oliver for four quarters this year.

Looking at Houston’s schedule, it’s much more manageable than a year ago. The Cougars were known under Herman for beating the big boys but losing the gimmes. If Major Applewhite can do a better job than Herman at avoiding upsets like last year’s 22-point loss to SMU (in which they were favored by 22 points, by the way), Houston has a shot at an 11 or even a 12-win regular season. The non-conference involves a trip to Arizona and home date with Texas Tech. Those are both very winnable games. They’ll be no more than a touchdown underdog in either one of those — I actually could see them ending up as favorites in both.

If Houston makes it through September 4-0, they should be 7-0 by the time they host Memphis on October 19th. Two weeks later they travel to conference favorite USF, then host Navy, who stunned the Cougars last season, in the season finale.

I’m not sure a 12-0 record would even be enough to get Houston in the playoff picture…but I like the weapons Applewhite has at his disposal in year one at the helm.

David also asks:

Perfect segue off the Houston chatter.

A 2-loss Power Five team will almost always get in over a undefeated Group of Five team. It’s been a while since we’ve had a mid-major who had legitimate gripe to be a national title contender — Boise State in 2009 is probably the last one — and now that the Playoff is in place it’s actually made it harder for a small-conference team to make it in. The Playoff committee has done a good (not great) job of evaluating teams on the merit of their play, not simply bumping teams up when they win and dropping them when they lose. Under the old BCS system, the polls were very robotic. As long as you didn’t lose, you were going to climb the rankings week after week as teams ahead of you dropped like flies.

The committee isn’t stupid. It knows how much harder it is for a team from the SEC, Big 12, Big 10, etc. to make it through the season and win their conference than it is for a school like Houston to get up for one or two marquee games a year and pad their record against 10 cupcakes the rest of the way. Boise State was famous for that and I couldn’t stand it. Some of those Bronco teams were loaded with NFL and Power Five-level talent on the first string, but the depth didn’t come close to matching the likes of anyone in the top 10 from a Power Five school. When you’re playing Wyoming and San Jose State in back to back weeks, that lack of depth doesn’t really come into play. If you play Oklahoma, then Texas, then TCU in three straight weeks, you probably need to have a wealth of players at the ready to survive some attrition.

The only way I see a Group of Five team making the Playoff is if it comes from the American Athletic Conference, which is by far the toughest league outside the Power Five, and they win multiple non-conference games against top-15 teams. Houston had a chance last year by beating Oklahoma and Louisville, but ruined it with losses to Navy, SMU and Memphis.

As for expansion, look for the Playoff to consider a move to eight teams halfway through the TV rights deal that runs through 2026; so after the 2019 season. I wouldn’t bet on anything changing then, but if it happens that would be the time. I’ll write more extensively on this later in the season, but I am absolutely a proponent of moving to eight teams. It’s asinine to have five power conferences and only four playoff spots.

Ben asks:

Hi josh. First time long time. Great dating advice today. Found out today a girl I hooked up with may be joining our team. Do I need to tell my boss that we hooked up?

So we’re onto the weird questions, great! Thanks for the question Benny.

I guess it totally depends on your boss. First thing I’d want to know is how old is your boss? If he’s under 40, that’s a point in the “tell him” column. If he’s single, that’s another point. Now…how hot is the girl? If this girl is an 8 or higher, telling your boss you hooked up could give you instant street cred.

In business, you have to have be confident but approachable. It’s not that different picking up girls. If this is a chance for you to show your boss what you’re capable of on the dating scene, maybe it could bode well for you in the 9-to-5.

I know this all took place before she came to work with you, but my last advice would be DO NOT HOOK UP WITH CO-WORKERS. For the love of God unless you live in Moab, Utah there’s no reason to date someone you work with. I’ve seen it end well, but way way way more often I’ve seen it end badly. Personally, I wouldn’t go there. Braver men than me have succeeded. My vote is to stay away.

Greg asks:

Yes.

Greg P. asks:

Hi Josh,

I’m a happy MSU fan if we get to 8 wins a year knowing Michigan, PSU, OSU are in the division.  Given the off-field issues and dismissal of several players, how do you see MSU this year.

Hey, a Big 10 fan makes an appearance! CFB Country is already growing. Keep spreading the word, everyone. It’s going to be a great season.

I think Michigan State is going to have a very hard time this season. I trust Mark Dantonio not to suffer back-to-back losing seasons, but in my mind Michgan State’s best days are behind them. There’s too much coaching talent in the Big 10 now. Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin are dominating the recruiting trail throughout Big 10 territory. DJ Durkin at Maryland is a rising star as well. Now, Dantonio has never been one to make a big splash on Signing Day. The Spartans have been a lot like Virginia Tech in the Frank Beamer era: find diamonds in the rough, develop them for 2-3 years and then win with veteran-laden teams.

The problem is, Michigan State just isn’t built to sustain a major NFL exodus over several years. I like running back LJ Scott a lot, but this is the least experienced team in the Big 10, have a major question mark at quarterback, and a brutal schedule that sends them to Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State in addition to home games with Notre Dame, Iowa and Penn State. This is a six-win team at best. An eight-win season is not in the conversation.

Thanks as always for reading the Bag Man column. I’m always looking for questions. Tweet me @JoshParcell or e-mail me at cfbcountry@gmail.com

Also, go subscribe to the podcast now. I have Chris Fallica (“The Bear” from College Gameday) on Friday’s episode and Stewart Mandel, former Fox Sports/Sports Illustrated writer, and now with The Athletic, joining the show next Tuesday.

Have a great weekend.

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