Adam Kramer on College Football: Why Tanking the Season Makes Sense for Houston

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterOctober 2, 2019

Houston Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Michael Wyke/Associated Press

What does D'Eriq King's decision to redshirt mean for college football? How soon will athletes get endorsements? And what are October's must-see games? Adam Kramer takes on those questions and more in a quarterback-heavy second installment of the 2019 college football notebook.

               

Looking back at them now, nearly two months later, Dana Holgorsen's comments resonate differently than they did at the time.       

Holgorsen, the first-year head coach at Houston, fresh off an eight-year stint at West Virginia, thought he had the luxury of inheriting a starting quarterback, D'Eriq King, who was coming off a 50-touchdown year. The thing he didn't have—or so he thought—was more time.

"I really wish I had two years to work with him," Holgorsen told B/R about his senior quarterback for a story published back in late August.

That would have given Holgorsen more than a few months to develop his new QB and acclimate him to a new offense. There wasn't much more to the words, at the time.

But now—after losing three of the first four games, and after it was announced last week that King will redshirt the season, taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows players to see action in four games and still defer their eligibility—the comments feel different.

Speculation over where King will land has run rampant, especially after his father indicated he planned to transfer. At least temporarily, King has squashed the idea that that's what he's planning.

"I came here to play football for the University of Houston, and that is not changing," King said in a statement. "After carefully thinking through this process with my family and Coach Holgorsen, I have decided the opportunity to redshirt this season gives me the best chance to develop as a player, earn my degree and set me up for the best success in the future. I'm looking forward to being part of the success of this program going forward."

The word "loophole" has been utilized while describing King's tactics. Originally, the spirit of this redshirt rule was meant to focus on underclassmen, affording them the option to see the field late in the season and still hold on to their redshirt.

But given the situation for the player, the coach and the program, this decision is shrewd. Loophole or not, there's no fine print disallowing it. (Although that could soon change.)

For King, a 5'11" player who hopes to crack the NFL as a quarterback, this extra year could be the difference. He's spent the better part of his collegiate career bouncing between wide receiver and quarterback while also battling injuries. The ability to redshirt offers him time that was lost. Reps. Crucial development hours and practices.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - SEPTEMBER 19: D'Eriq King #4 of the Houston Cougars is sacked by Cameron Sample #5 of the Tulane Green Wave of the Tulane Green Wave and Lawrence Graham #35 during the first half of a game at Yulman Stadium on September 19, 2019 i
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

For Holgorsen, it's a chance to regroup with one of the most productive offensive players the program has ever developed.

For Houston, it's just plain good roster management. At a time when tanking is taking over the sporting world, this is the closest thing college football has seen. (It's worth noting that Houston pummeled North Texas 46-25 in its first game without King this past Saturday.)

Sitting King won't earn Houston a higher draft pick. It simply allows the program one more year of his services—assuming he sees his commitment through.

And for those who take issue with this, for whatever reason, here's a simple question: Who does it harm? Why should we care or feel negatively if all parties are happy with the arrangement?

Call it a loophole. Fine. But at a time when an athlete's options are limited, more teams and players will and should execute this strategic manipulation.

That is if the NCAA doesn't address this first, which wouldn't be the least bit surprising.

And if for whatever reason you're still hanging on to the impression that this clouds the outdated, evolving definition of a student-athlete, I have news for you: King's redshirt is merely the beginning. If this makes you angry, you're not going to like where the rest of the sport is headed.

(Oh, and nicely done getting that second year, Holgorsen.)

           

Players are about to get paid, one way or another

On the topic of change, behold the Fair Pay to Play Act that California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed. This means that collegiate athletes in the state of California will be allowed to sign endorsement deals without penalty from the NCAA. It will go into effect in January 2023.

There will be more movement before then. Florida, another talent-rich state, has gotten the ball rolling on a similar bill. Other states will soon follow. The NCAA, meanwhile, will have to react with its walls closing in.

The governing body recently assembled a task force to assess the possibility of allowing its athletes to seek sponsors, although California's decision changes the issue's tone and ups the stakes abruptly.

There will be more bills. And there will be extensive time in court fighting over them. But the reality is that the NCAA's future existence is suddenly at its doorstep.

This is not the end. This is the start of something groundbreaking, something that has been threatening the archaic standard for some time. And whether it becomes reality in 2023 or even earlier, it's clear that the players will soon have the ability to capitalize off their stardom.

There is no running from this, NCAA. Change is coming.

(It's about time.) 

        

Death to preseason polls

They move the needle. They stir up conversation. They build interest for the season ahead.

They also linger throughout the year, skew future polls and potential playoff decisions.

The fact that Clemson is the No. 2-ranked football team in the AP poll is maddening. The fact that the Tigers still received 18 first-place votes this week is even more so.

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 28: Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers looks to the sideline during the first half of their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Ph
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

That is not to say Clemson isn't a really good football team and capable of winning everything again. It's simply acknowledging what should be obvious for this year's preseason No. 1 after five weeks of "meh" performances and a close call Saturday against North Carolina.

Other teams have looked much, much better. Alabama should be and now is ranked higher. But also: So should LSU. And Georgia. And Ohio State. And probably Oklahoma. And maybe Auburn.

I'd like to say it won't matter. But human beings are not immune to bias, and these polls will ultimately decide the College Football Playoff entrants. This, unfortunately, does matter.

The Tigers are not alone in this discussion. (Michigan and UCF, I see you.) But they do remind us how silly and counterproductive this exercise is.

There is no good reason a football poll of any kind should exist before October 1.

(Unless it's Bleacher Report's ranking. In that case, violently click on that link and share it with as many people as possible.)

         

Cancel your plans for these five games this month

October is a wonderful month. Halloween. Weather that is conducive to not sweating, at least in many places around the United States. And beefy conference games with massive implications.

It's an SEC-heavy month. That shouldn't be all that shocking given the current Top 10. In fact, the SEC could've made a case for more real estate below.

But in the interest of not having to write about the same program three times in one section, the top five games are as follows. Weeks 7 and 9 are absolute doozies.

1. Wisconsin at Ohio State, October 26 (Week 9): If Ohio State continues on its path of destruction, this highly anticipated game could end up wildly lopsided.

That's not a knock on Wisconsin, which has looked excellent for much of the year—the exception coming in a sloppy, offensively challenged performance against Northwestern. Rather, it's merely being respectful of Ohio State, which looks like the most balanced team in the sport.

MADISON, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Jack Coan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers hands ball off to Jonathan Taylor #23 in the third quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Camp Randall Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Bu
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

What the Buckeyes look like come late October will be telling. Running back Jonathan Taylor will likely be asked to do the heavy lifting for the Badgers against a gifted defensive front (and we know Taylor will be eager to do so). And Wisconsin will have to slow QB Justin Fields, who's so far shown no signs he can be slowed.

In theory, this game should be close. (In theory.)

2. Auburn at LSU, October 26 (Week 9): The environment in Baton Rouge will be nothing short of organized insanity—especially if both teams are undefeated.

It's hard not to zoom in on the quarterbacks, largely because both have created shock waves in different ways. LSU's Joe Burrow is a man transformed. His throws and decisions (and yes, the playbook) are vastly improved. It's still hard to believe that this is LSU just toying with defenses after years of boa-constrictor football.

For Auburn, Bo Nix isn't quite there in terms of his development, but he's been electric as a true freshman. While he's already played at large, difficult venues, this will be the toughest setting he plays in all year.

One of the best offenses in the country goes up against one of the nation's best defenses. Yes, please.

3. Oklahoma at Texas, October 12 (Week 7): There will be fried food. Lots of it. This much we know about the Red River Rivalry.

We also know that the QBs in this game could score 10 or more touchdowns combined. That's not meant to be a hot take. Jalen Hurts and Sam Ehlinger will put on a show.

The argument could be made that no quarterback has been better this year than Hurts, who has taken to his new football home extraordinarily well, emerging as a top Heisman Trophy contender. He finally threw his first interception against Texas Tech on Saturday, but his performance through his first four games has been nearly perfect.

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 28:  Quarterback Jalen Hurts #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners speaks to the media after the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeate
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Ehlinger, meanwhile, has been exceptional, confirming he's ready to carry the load for a Texas team that's fully emerging from its long stretch of (relative) mediocrity. The Longhorns' loss to LSU cooled the hype some, but the offense should do its part. Whether it can keep up with Oklahoma, however, is a different story.

4. Florida vs. Auburn, October 5 (Week 6), and Florida at LSU, October 12 (Week 7): Yes, this is probably cheating. But rather than showcase back-to-back Florida games individually, we're doubling up the No. 4 spot with a brutal stretch for the Gators.

Since the loss of Feleipe Franks to a dislocated ankle on September 14—and really since that sloppy Week 0 performance against Miami—the Gators have largely been overlooked. But that can change come October with matchups against Auburn and at LSU. (Florida also plays Georgia a few weeks later on November 2, which is not the nicest of gifts from the scheduling gods.)

SEC cannibalization is coming, and it will begin immediately. While Florida feels a step below Auburn and probably two steps below LSU, it is very capable team if the offense is going.

Let the conference carnage begin.

5. Penn State at Iowa, October 12 (Week 7): This matchup has produced zingers over the years, including a 6-4 Iowa win in 2004. Who doesn't love 6-4 wins?

But while offense has historically been a challenge in the series, that doesn't seem likely to be the case here.

Both teams, undefeated, seem to be trending upward as October approaches. Iowa just produced more yards in a game (644), against Middle Tennessee State, than any game in the Kirk Ferentz era, which began in 1999. Penn State, meanwhile, just blew the doors off Maryland 59-0.

Iowa will travel to Michigan beforehand, which will undoubtedly be a test and an important game in its own right. But for a series that has manufactured weirdness over the years, this feels like a natural next chapter with significant implications.

        

Final takeaways: Football, food, lawn care and other randomness

1. It's been two weeks, and I still haven't gotten over the fact that Anthony Gordon threw nine touchdowns in a single game…and lost. That Washington State-UCLA game will be burned into my brain until the end of time.

Young Kwak/Associated Press

2. Let's talk about Madison, Wisconsin. I made the drive from Illinois to this lovely football town for Wisconsin's shellacking of Michigan—hanging out with the Stick to Football crew from B/R through the weekend. What a city. What a game-day venue. I've been to Madison plenty of times before, and each time I fall more in love with that campus and everything it has to offer. Yeah, the weather sucks for a good chunk of the year. That's about the only negative thing you can offer. If you've never been to a game there, do it. The food, the people and the atmosphere are superb.

3. New (well, the show really isn't new) television show recommendation: Mindhunter. I'm late to this party but just glad to be here. For a dark and, at times, disturbing show about serial killers, it's extremely bingeable. Worth your time if you haven't seen it.

4. NFL tidbit: Why even review pass interference if you're not going to overturn blatant defensive pass interference that was missed on the field? In the college football world, we complain about the gray areas surrounding targeting calls. This is that on steroids.

5. NFL tidbit, part two: I've never seen anything like Patrick Mahomes in the NFL. The throws, the stats, the absurdity. All of it. While he was in college, we knew he was special at certain things. He once threw 88 passes in a game against Oklahoma, and I will never forget watching that game in the airport and cackling the entire time. But what he's doing now is truly unbelievable. I don't watch nearly as much NFL as college, but I will make a point to watch Mahomes whenever possible.

6. Monthly lawn tip: I am a lawn freak. When I'm not watching football or doing dad things with three children, I am doing whatever I can to make my lawn look as obnoxious as possible. I have found an elixir to make that even easier for those who share my lifestyle: Milorganite. Read up on it, purchase it and spread it across your lawn before winter kicks in. It's a game-changer for those of you looking to embarrass your neighbors in every way.

7. I've tried to think of an ascension that parallels what we've seen from Burrow this year. Not just a quarterback who improved drastically over his collegiate tenure, but one who blossomed into a legitimate Heisman candidate and potential first-round draft pick overnight. No one really comes to mind. Burrow has just been unbelievable, and the influence of Joe Brady, LSU's new passing-game coordinator, has been larger than any coaching addition this offseason. Just fascinating growth.

8. How about SMU? Once a laughing stock and one of the worst teams in college football, the ponies are unbeaten as the calendar flips. We'll see if the success holds against teams like Memphis and Temple, but SMU's been a sneaky-good early storyline.

9. Playing defensive back against Alabama looks miserable. Pick your poison: Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III or DeVonta Smith. Oh, and Tua Tagovailoa serving it up to them. Just no fun at all.

10. Untitled Goose Game: Let's talk about it. In this video game, which is very real, you are a goose essentially causing goose-like havoc around town—chasing people, stealing mail and doing other goose-related tasks. It sounds ridiculous, yes? It is. It's also an amazing thing you need to experience if you haven't already.

                     

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.

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