The Tide Is Turning, and These College Football Sleepers Can Start the Flood

The Tide Is Turning, and These College Football Sleepers Can Start the Flood

By Matt Foley

Tua Tagovailoa (No. 13) of the Alabama Crimson Tide in action against the Citadel Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 17, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
SourceKevin C. Cox/Getty


Because we’re tired of college football being predictable

By Matt Foley

This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.

With in-state rivals Miami and Florida set to kick off the college football season this weekend, it’s time for crystal ball projections to collide with real-life results. At times, the college football title race can feel predictable, particularly when Alabama and Clemson have combined to win the last four titles, and the top five ranked teams (Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State) have combined for 15 of the 20 playoff berths the last five years.

But dynasties end. The “U” can attest to that. So, who can halt another Alabama-Clemson title rematch? 

In the SEC, the obvious answer is No. 3 Georgia. The Dawgs led for 280 of 289 plays through two games against Alabama last season. They lost both, but those performances prove how close they are. Further down the polls, some interesting sleepers could unleash chaos on the college football landscape. 

Oklahoma has owned the Big 12 in recent years, and Texas lore has the Longhorns back as a national favorite, but watch little old Iowa State win the Big 12. The Cyclones have won eight games the last two seasons, including a 3-1 record against top-10 teams. In the Big Ten, No. 24 Nebraska was picked to win the West division, but it’s unranked Minnesota that will meet No. 7 Michigan in the Big Ten title game. 

Yet the best chance at ending playoff repetition rests out West. In recent years, the Pac-12 has devoured its own, juuust enough to keep the conference champ out of playoff contention. Look for No. 12 Washington, led by Georgia transfer Jacob Eason under center, to be a force in the Pac-12 North. If No. 13 Utah can roll through a weaker Pac-12 South, they’ll crash the party too. 


What to Watch & Pick ’Em

College Football: Miami at No. 8 Florida (Saturday at 7 pm ET on ESPN) 

What better way to kick off the new college football season than with a rivalry game between two of the winningest programs of the last 50 years? This could be Canes redshirt freshman QB Jarren Williams’ coming-out party.  

  • Miami (+7.5) 
  • Florida (-7.5)

Soccer: New York Red Bulls at New York City FC (Saturday at 7 pm ET on ESPN2)

The 16th running of the Hudson River Derby gets underway Saturday. With nine wins and two draws since 2015, the Red Bulls have dominated the rivalry, but NYC FC is gaining support — and talent — of late.  

  • Red Bulls (+225) 
  • NYCFC (+105)

Ones to Watch 

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Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (No. 32) of the St. Louis Cardinals throws in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers last autumn in Detroit.

Source Dave Reginek/Getty

Jack Flaherty. As we enter the final month of MLB regular season play, no division is more competitive than the NL Central. As of Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals hold a half-game lead over the Chicago Cubs. The defending divisional champion Milwaukee Brewers are within striking distance, and all three teams are wild card contenders should they lose the division. If St. Louis manages to hold on, though, they’ll likely have Flaherty, 23, and his power arm to thank. With three-time All-Star Adam Wainwright nearing the end of his career, the Cardinals have been searching for a new staff ace to emerge. In Flaherty, they’ve found one. At 7-6 with 162 strikeouts and a 3.46 ERA, Flaherty’s season numbers are solid, if not breathtaking. But since July 1, the 6-foot-4 right-hander has been utterly dominant — boasting a 1.47 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 55 innings across nine starts. In August, Flaherty is 3-0 with a 0.35 ERA in four starts. Most importantly, he’s been one of the catalysts in the Cardinals’ late-season comeback, surging from third place and a .500 record at the start of July. The Cardinals have six games against Milwaukee and seven versus Chicago remaining on the schedule. 

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Bianca Andreescu hits a shot against Karolina Pliskova during a quarterfinal match of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada.

Source Vaughn Ridley/Getty

Bianca Andreescu. After losing to No. 6 Olga Danilović in the qualifying round of the 2018 U.S. Open, Andreescu, 19, of Canada, has emerged as one of the young stars to watch next week in Queens. Andreescu, who turned pro in 2017, has struggled with lingering injuries throughout her young career. She began 2019 ranked No. 150 in the world, but with two tournament wins (Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup) on the season, the teenager enters the U.S. Open ranked No. 15 overall. As she became the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open (aka the Rogers Cup) since 1969, she proved that she can take down the best. Andreescu beat two former top-10 players (Eugenie Bouchard and Daria Kasatkina) and two current top-10s (Kiki Bertens and Karolína Plíšková) en route to a finals match with No. 8 Serena Williams. Down 3-1 in the first set, Williams retired due to back spasms, giving Andreescu the victory. According to sports betting bookmakers, Andreescu has the fifth best odds (+1,400) to win the U.S. Open. First, she’ll need to advance past the second round of a Grand Slam event for the first time in her young career. 

Trending Up

A Lakers Reunion? Oh, you thought you’d sneak through a late-August newsletter without mention of the NBA, eh? Think again. Yes, Daryl Morey did say that James Harden was better than Michael Jordan, but forget about that nonsense. The real news is the return of Superman and the revival of Dwight Howard’s Los Angeles Lakers. When new Lakers center DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins tragically went down with a torn ACL last weekend, rumors about which discount big man could fill his role began to swirl. At present, the only legitimate center on the Lakers roster is JaVale McGee. Clearly, a new, productive body is needed. At 33, Howard may not be the freshest of faces, but he could be the inside force necessary to take L.A. to the next level. An eight-time All-Star, Howard, currently under contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, has become an NBA afterthought over the last few seasons. But he compares favorably to the likes of Marcin Gortat, Joakim Noah and Mo Speights, who also recently worked out for the Lakers. Howard averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for Charlotte in his last full season (2017–18), and he remains the type of two-way talent who can anchor a defense. That’s exactly what a LeBron James/Anthony Davis–led Lakers team needs. 

Trending Down 

Golf Season. Yes, it’s true, golf season does in fact end. The month-long offseason officially begins next week. First, the Tour champion must be crowned. The top 30 players in the world tee off at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta on Thursday, each hoping to capture the $15 million mega prize when the event ends on Sunday. This year, though, winning the tournament will be more difficult than usual. In a move designed to make sure there is just one winner of both the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup Playoffs — last year, Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship, but Justin Rose was the FedEx Cup champion — the PGA Tour is staggering the scores from the start. That means that not everyone is starting at even par. For instance, Justin Thomas, the yearlong leader of the PGA points race, begins the Tour Championship at 10-under. Patrick Cantlay, currently in second place, starts at 8-under. From there, groups are tiered down to players No. 25-30 at even par. So, essentially, it’s Thomas’ $15 million to lose, with Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy rounding out the top-5 favorites. Big names like Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Speith all failed to qualify.

Read This

The Fullback Is Dead … College Fullback Killed It, by Matt Foley in OZY

The position that once epitomized football is on the verge of extinction. Only 16 percent of NFL teams carried a fullback on the roster last season, down from 48 percent in 2008. Most telling, though: Only four ranked recruits in the high school class of 2020 are listed as fullbacks. Why? Look to college football. 

We’re All Asking the Wrong Questions About the Jay-Z and NFL Partnership, by LZ Granderson in The Los Angeles Times

Ever since Roc Nation and the NFL announced its partnership around social justice earlier this week, I’ve been trying to find answers for all of the wrong questions. I’ve spent days peeling back the layers enveloping the tweets of Carolina Panther defensive back Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa.

NBA Superstar Stephen Curry Gives Howard University the Gift of Golf, by Wesley Lowery and Candace Buckner in The Washington Post

Following a January screening of Emanuel, a documentary about the deadly 2015 shooting of nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, a throng of Howard University students jockeyed for handshakes and selfies with the film’s executive producer, NBA star Stephen Curry. Otis Ferguson, then a junior at Howard, hung back for a moment before catching the ear of the Golden State Warriors guard.

Mikhail Prokhorov Leaves a Complicated Legacy With the Nets, by Chris Mannix in Sports Illustrated

Mikhail Prokhorov, whose decade-long stewardship of the Nets will come to an end this month when he officially offloads his remaining 51 percent ownership of the team to minority owner Joseph Tsai, was an awful NBA owner. The Russian billionaire attempted to buy an NBA championship, failed and then cashed out when team values peaked…. He also saved the Nets. 

Don’t Miss

U.S. Women’s National Team star, New Jersey native and Philadelphia Eagles fan Carli Lloyd stopped by Eagles practice this week. The Iggles may not be looking for a new field goal kicker, but Lloyd made it known that she could step in if needed.