The Open Man Q&A: College Football Sleepers; Orange is the New Pac-12

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Welcome back, college football.

No surprise that The Open Man Q& ahead of Week 0 focuses heavily on the gridiron, but here’s why I love readers of this site so much: The questions touch on a wide range of different topics. Sleeper teams, service academies, Orange is the New Black; just a truly top-notch effort this week, people. Way to kick off the 2018 college football season strong.

Checking out No. 15 in the current AP Poll provides a nice little preview. Current holder of that position, USC, may be one of the most difficult teams in the nation on which to get a beat. The Trojans defense is stacked, and if the offense figures it out while replacing a few vitally important pieces, USC is a Playoff contender.

If the offense is an issue, 2018 could be reminiscent of 2009 — in which case, the Pac-12 South is prime for a dark-horse winner. I like Utah to win the division, and the Utes landed on the upper end of Others Receiving Votes. Kyle Whittingham has a typically outstanding defense, but the turning point for Utah in its pursuit of a first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game appearance is Tyler Huntley leading what should be an improved offense.

Utah also benefits from drawing each of USC and Arizona at home in the division, and odds-on favorite Washington out of the division.

Beyond the Pac-12, whichever Group of Five program earns the New Year’s Six bid will finish somewhere in the Top 15. If it isn’t Boise State or UCF, it could come from the Others Receiving pool of Houston, which — like USC — needs to solidify its offense to become truly dangerous; Memphis, a sneaky contender in the American; or my long shot favorite, Troy.

Troy earned a pair of votes after finishing last season 11-2. The Trojans sneaked into the Top 25 in 2016, and really deserved to be ranked at the end of 2017; keep in mind, they beat LSU, a Top 20-ranked team, at LSU.

Full disclosure: I have yet to watch the latest season. This was a program my wife got me into, but she binged the newest episodes shortly after the birth of our second son. I am terrible about watching TV series on my own, as I tend to spend my down time more on books or movies.

With that said — and acknowledging the very loose FAU connection thankfully avoided a few years ago when the university opted not to accept private prison money — here goes:

RED is…Stanford

Presiding over their domains with a quiet toughness, commanding respect from all around them. Also, the color scheme fits.

PIPER is…USC

Ostensibly the main character of the entire production with a tendency for their own egocentricity landing them in trouble.

ALEX is…UCLA

Forever intertwined into Piper’s life and vice versa, their love-hate relationship headlines the early seasons in much the same way the USC-UCLA rivalry in the 1960s provided the catalyst for the growth of the old Pacific Coast Conference into the modern era.

CAPUTO is…Utah

Caputo finds himself in difficult situations frequently — often of his own doing — and thus his good intentions built an angsty exterior.

SUZANNE is…Washington State

The moniker “Crazy Eyes” just seems to fit. If any character from OITNB was to share a ridiculous conspiracy theory, she’s the most likely.

PENNSATUCKY is…Oregon State

Ag school joke! Also, for the sake of this exercise, I am comparing her runs-in with Piper during the early seasons to the unlikely rivalry Oregon State cultivated with USC in the mid-to-late 2000s.

Completely unrelated: Actress Taryn Manning attended San Dieguito Academy, from which I live in walking distance. She landed a role as one of Britney Spears’ pals in the 2002 box-office flop, Crossroads, shortly after graduating.

SOSO is…Cal

Always up for a social cause.

TAYSTEE is…Arizona

Taystee is a fun-loving free spirit and one of the most entertaining parts of OITNB. I draw the parallel due to Arizona’s exciting brand of offense, which promises to take on a new dimension under Kevin Sumlin. However, Taystee’s insecurity manifests in a tangible fear of success that keeps her from reaching her potential.

MENDOZA is…Washington

The counterpart to Red, Mendoza is a no-nonsense de facto leader at Litchfield. Stern yet caring, her leadership style probably best compares to that of Chris Petersen.

JANAE is…Oregon

With a positive reputation stemming from their respective speed, one unfortunate misstep marred the future for both profoundly.

NORMA is…Colorado

Remember when Norma sang at the Christmas pageant? Just as unexpected as Colorado’s run to the 2016 Pac-12 Championship Game.

NICKY is…Arizona State

Quirky and entertaining, Nicky also has a penchant for taking two steps backward with every step forward. Arizona State’s arc in the Pac-10/12 has followed a similar path, with the Sun Devils never quite reaching their potential and hitting sometimes self-inflicted downturns.

Revelation time: So in the winter, I shared my harrowing tale of attempting to eat vegan but it becoming eating vegetarian due to circumstance. Adhering to a vegetarian diet wasn’t at all difficult beyond late-night car rides from football and basketball games, but I cannot say the same for becoming a father for the second time.

My son Jack was born on April 18. He’s the second addition to our family, and while I feel more comfortable raising a baby on the second go-around, having two kids is certainly a lot more work than having one. In particular, the first few weeks can be brutal; stepping out of the house to do anything feels virtually impossible.

We were fortunate enough to have great friends deliver food as part of a meal train for the first month. While I maintained my vegetarian diet for a bit, it reached a point that we had so much gifted food — a lot of it meat-based — that I had to acquiesce.

I honestly did not miss meat for any of the 10 months when I completely abstained, but I didn’t lose my taste for it once I was in a situation in which I had to eat it.

I love reading up on college football history, and World War II years make for one of the sport’s one of the most fascinating eras. Army and Navy were national powerhouses, with Army in particular boasting one of the most dominant dynasties ever in college football. So what I’m saying is…

OK, while I don’t think the answer is that simplistic (nor is my effort to pander), combining the best elements of each of the service academy programs in 2018 and playing a schedule comparable to the most difficult (that of Navy) would yield some impressive results.

Begin from the starting point that Navy and Air Force both routinely exceed expectations under Ken Niumatalolo and Troy Calhoun. Add that Army has begun to do so likewise under coach Jeff Monken. They’ve done so with great coaching. I choose Niumat for my hypothetical team.

The option attack is especially difficult to game plan for on just a week’s time. With the best players from each of the three teams — including Navy quarterback Zach Abey, Army running Darnell Woolfolk, and versatile Air Force slotback Ronald Cleveland — the degree of difficulty for opposing defenses ticks up a few notches. Combining rosters also gives something that comes at a premium for programs with recruiting limitations: depth.

Being able to line up Abey and Air Force’s Arion Worthman in the backfield together gives the option an almost unprecedented look. I dare say this would be one of the most entertaining and prolific offenses in the country.

Playing Navy’s schedule puts this combined Armed Forces team against some stiff competition: namely Notre Dame, Houston and Memphis. Navy’s impressive track record against Notre Dame in the Brian Kelly era suggests it could pull off the upset, however. The cut-blocking style of the offensive line against Houston’s Ed Oliver presents an intriguing dynamic.

No college football team is a shoo-in for a perfect season. We have not had an undefeated national champion since Florida State in the 2013 season, and Auburn in 2010 is the only other this decade. This is a lineup I’m penciling in for a 10-2 finish, however.

Yes. That or he doesn’t care. Wendell Barnhouse touched on this quite well with the allusions made in his column: Ohio State’s handling of this situation smacks of 2018 attitudes. Accountability exists not as a moral imperative, but an annoyance only to be employed to get critics off your back.

And even then, accountability is accepted only with serious limitations, rooted in total hogwash. The lies coming out of Washington on a daily basis

But then I wonder: Are sports following culture, or did sports help set the path? In so many other positive cultural milestones, sports ushered society to pivotal junctures: Gerald Ford and his Michigan teammates refusing to play in a segregated game; the USF Dons football team sacrificing the program’s very existence to stand up for their black players; Jackie Robinson.

Perhaps it works similarly in the negative. Western Kentucky hired Bobby Petrino eight months after he was fired from Arkansas for having an affair with the mistress to whom he had given a well-paid university position, and lied about it in one of the most ridiculous press conferences ever staged. That he made a return after just one season, without working his way back up as an assistant or in a lower subdivision, set an unsavory precedent.