College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Parker Anderson
Before we get to the Best Bets for the week, I'll use this space (and perhaps a lengthier column in the future) to salute the recently laid off employees at the soon-to-be-sold-and-renamed-and-lobotomized Comcast Sports Net Houston.

As you all are probably aware, painfully so if you're a non-Comcast subscriber, the fledgling Astros- and Rockets-owned network was never able to get distribution traction in Houston but, after a lengthy bankruptcy proceeding, is on the verge of being sold to AT&T/DirecTV fans rebranded as Root Sports Houston.

If you had a chance to watch the CSN product, then you know what I'm about to say -- the product itself was amazingly well done, as the slew of Emmy nominations for the network indicate. The crew there, on air and behind the scenes, are some of the best, most creative people I've worked with since getting into radio. I was fortunate to be a panelist several times on Sports Talk Live, and the place always had an air of fun and teamwork.

The issues that led to the network's demise were certainly not content-based; they were the product of a muddled distribution strategy and ownership partners with drastically divergent agendas. Again, the "why" of all this is another column for another time.

I just wanted to use a few paragraphs here to wish the best to all of those folks leaving CSN (and, many of them, likely leaving Houston), and thank them for making me better at what I do.

I think this seven minutes of video, a farewell between Bill Doleman and Calvin Murphy, perfectly sums up the culture of a network and a crew that deserved so much better than what they got...

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Cougars Defeat Temple, But Does It Count if No One's There to See It?

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Does a win really count if there's no one there to see it?
The Houston Cougars (4-3) defeated the Temple Owls (4-2) 31-10 on Friday night. The game wasn't as close as the final score indicates, since the Cougar defense kept Temple bottled up for most of the night. The game was a bit of a yawner as the Cougars no longer offer up the high-flying Air Raid offense, instead relying on the running game, short passes, improvisations of new QB Greg Ward Jr. and a stifling defense that forces turnovers at ease.

The game was also a yawner because the alleged "crowd" was pretty quiet. "Alleged" because the announced attendance was 21,471 for a stadium that holds 40,000. And looking out over TDECU Stadium Friday night, it appeared that 21,471 number was a bit inflated; there's just no way the stadium was half-full.

"I want to recognize our fans and our students," head coach Tony Levine said after the game. "I thought it was a terrific turnout tonight; the students have really made a difference, especially on that side of the field. It was loud there tonight and I really appreciate, eight o'clock kickoff, the game isn't going to end till eleven-thirty, twelve o'clock at night on a Friday evening. Our alumni, our fan base, our students, getting off work and coming out and supporting us, I thought it was tremendous."

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College Football, Week 8: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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A few weeks ago, we had maybe the most thrilling college football weekend of the last ten years (possibly since the 2005 weekend that included, among other fantastic finishes, the "Bush Push" game between USC and Notre Dame). It was twelve hours of dramatic endings and pinball scoring stats, everything that's great about this time of the year and the age we live in (multiple games on television, computer streaming, social media).

The great thing about college football, though, is that you don't need great finishes for the sport to be compelling. This past Saturday we had plenty of buildup to marquee match ups and potential career altering twists for some head coaches. However, in the end, there were a lot more blowouts and popcorn farts on Saturday than there were Instant Classics.

And yet, even from the ashes of numerous boring thrashings, we get storylines. Sure, we love the hits, the physicality, the game day pomp and circumstance of a football Saturday (or Sunday), but no other sport has the episodic advantage and storyline arc that college and pro football have.

The games are great, but now they're over, and now we essentially have six days to pore over what it all means. THAT'S AWESOME. So let's commence poring with the winners and losers from this weekend's college football action...

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets

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Joel Kramer
If you followed my picks last season (and God forbid, used them as your own picks), then you know exactly how painful the hit was by the end of the year. In fact, you're probably cursing me and contemplating exactly how you can dismember me without getting arrested while you stand in the welfare line.

On the other hand, if you merely decided to fade my picks last year and just go opposite, you're probably toasting me from the additional wing you've added to your home.

Well, I don't ever want to got through 2013 again, yet sadly last week was a 1-5 effort that became commonplace as last season (much like the Texans 2013) slipped away into "Bolivian" (as the great Mike Tyson would say). I can't go through that again. I won't go through that again.

So for this week's wagering pep talk, I'm bringing in the big guns. When you need words of inspiration, words to remind you that you can make it through anything if you put your mind to it...you call on your home boy...you call on your friends...you call on your (Houston) blood....you call on....

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Fan Fighting League! Red River Shootout Edition

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YouTube
In the pantheon of college football rivalries, few have the combination of tradition and bitter hatred of the Red River Shootout between Oklahoma and Texas.

(NOTE: I refuse to call it by the more politically correct Red River Rivalry, as if somehow including the word Shootout means that the irresponsible usage of guns is somehow being endorsed and encouraged by those associated with this game.)

With the State Fair as the backdrop, the Sooners and the Longhorns square off every season (usually with a way-too-early-for-most kickoff time before noon) and, more often than not, this game has some sort of impact on the national title race. For many seasons, the big-picture implications applied to both teams, but this season only Oklahoma is relevant on the national front.

Texas is clearly in rebuilding mode, and when one team has such a clear advantage over the other, it can lead to emotions boiling over. And no, I'm not talking about the players on the field. I'm talking about the frat bro douche-sters in the parking lot.

For the next Fan Fighting League installment, let's head to Dallas this past weekend where feelings were hurt and blows were exchanged...

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If You Want More Teams in the College Football Playoff, Here's What to Root For

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colorblindPICASO
Some old habits are hard to break, and as flawed as the old Bowl Championship Series (affectionately referred to and twisted into juvenile alternate acronyms as the "BCS") was, it still began to consume me right about this time every college football season.

The BCS got a lot of stuff wrong, but one thing that they did get right was that they didn't release their rankings until the week around October 15, as opposed to the other polls that came out before anyone had played a game yet. (Of course, a huge element of the BCS rankings was the coaches poll that started in the preseason, so even in the parts the BCS had right, it was still laced with flaws.)

So normally, this week would be the time where we would brace ourselves and see how exactly the Harris Poll voters and the computers would effect the BCS big picture.

Now, though, we live in a brave new college football world, a world with a four team playoff, creatively entitled the "College Football Playoff." (Side bar: I'd love to see the presentation by the marketing company that came up with that name. "After weeks of deliberation, here's what we've come up with....COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF..." Cut to Bill Hancock asking his secretary if they kept the receipt for the marketing firm's hourly charges.)

So at the halfway point of the season, it's time to examine just who's eliminated, who's still in, who's got the most work to do, and most importantly, what we should all be rooting for (independent of our own collegiate affiliations) in order make this thing bigger than just four teams (which is one consensus everyone seems to agree on...this playoff needs to be BIGGER. Eight teams, at least).

So let's take a look....

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Cougars Declaw the Tigers, Get a Much-Needed Win

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The Cougars tamed the Tigers to go to 3-3 on the season
The Houston Cougars have seemingly operated without a plan when on offense this season. There's been the running play. There's been a passing play and/or the QB running for his life depending on whether if the offensive line was able to make any blocks. Then there's generally been the punt on fourth and long after everything else failed.

Every now and then the defense would create a turnover, giving the offense the ball in great field position. Or there's been the timely penalty on a defensive player, giving the Cougars a first down and keeping a drive alive. And more often than not, the Cougars have had to settle for a field goal whenever getting in scoring position. The result's been lackluster play, a disappointed fan base, and the benching of quarterback John O'Korn.

The Cougars (3-3) got the 28-24 win over the Memphis Tigers (3-3) in Memphis on Saturday night. The offense, behind O'Korn's replacement, Greg Ward, Jr., showed more signs of life than it had at any time this season. The defense struggled at times -- the Tigers led 21-14 at the half. But the defense did what has become it's trademark, creating turnover after turnover -- the final fifth Memphis turnover of the night was an interception with under a minute on the clock to stop a Tiger attempt to regain the lead.

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College and Pro Football: This Weekend's Best Bets (Including Colts-Texans!)

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John Wardell
In betting, there are weekends where you're looking to score big, where even finishing at or slightly above .500 feels like a slight disappointment, like a running back who left yards on the field.

Then there are weekends like last weekend.

Saturday was utter chaos, like the last 45 minutes of a Transformers movie combined with the Rahad Jackson scene from the climax of Boogie Nights (and yes, I just emitted a juvenile snicker typing the words "climax of Boogie Nights," sue me). Underdogs not only covering left and right, but outright winning some of these games to where, by the end of the weekend, five of the top eight teams in the AP went down, and somehow on Sunday morning, TCU and Arizona were in the top ten.

It was like a drug-induced haze, and by the time Connor Holliday was done putting up 734 yards passing in a loss to Cal, we had blacked out long ago, then on Sunday we woke up with a Horned Frog and a Wildcat on our beds.

Truth be told, it would've been less weird waking up with an actual horned frog and wildcat in our beds than seeing what we saw on Saturday in college football. And I feel fortunate. Why?

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Zapruder Analysis of the Craziest College Football Saturday Ever

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Katy Perry's GameDay appearance set us up for one hell of a Saturday..
ESPN's College GameDay, the gold standard for all sports studio shows and maybe all sports shows period, took its road show this week to Oxford, Mississippi for the most important game in the recent history of Ole Miss football.

The Ole Miss Rebels, sitting on the cusp of the AP top ten, at number eleven in the country, were taking on the third ranked and universally reviled Alabama Crimson Tide (and actually Bama was number one in the coaches poll, but most of the coaches are idiots so we recognize the AP poll as the measuring stick in this space) in a shot at catapulting themselves into the College Football Playoff conversation.

As ESPN does every week on GameDay, they have one celebrity join the crew to help make predictions on all of the games that day. Usually, that celebrity a) knows at least something about football and b) has some sort of affiliation with the school hosting the show that week.

But Ole Miss? Who do you go get for Ole Miss? Exactly. Other than one of the Mannings, we all have no idea who you go get.

So ESPN shattered the mold into a thousand pieces on Saturday. They went and got musical phenom Katy Perry, whose affiliation with Ole Miss is that she was in town to watch the game because her manager is an Ole Miss alum, and whose football knowledge is ostensibly zero.

It went like this....

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Owls Defeat The Rainbow Warriors

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Rice handled Hawaii's Rainbow Warriors for the win
The Rice Owls offense looked to be sleeping most of Saturday night. There'd be a three-and-out and a punt. Then a three-and-out and a punt. And on, and on. The Owls had expected a tough contest from Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, and the offense expected that the Hawaii defense would throw out multiple blitzes in attempts to confuse Rice. It was just a matter of waiting, the Owls had said earlier in the week, waiting for just the right moment, the right matchup, the right play.

The score was 7-7 at the half and 14-14 after the third quarter, the Owls having never led. But the much maligned Rice defense kept Hawaii bottled up and the Owls finally got into an offensive rhythm. Darik Dillard cranked out run after run. Driphus Jackson made some big throws to his receivers, and by the time the clocked reached zero, the Owls (2-3) had defeated Hawaii (1-4) 28-14.

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