Four Downs – November 20th: Is RichRod back on the hot seat? Seriously…

Only two blogs this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday (none on Friday) so look for a GIANT column previewing the huge football weekend ahead on Wednesday…

FIRST DOWN: If ASU beats UofA, should the Wildcats be looking for a new head coach?

As a diehard University of Arizona football fan / alumnus of the university, I like to keep my eye on the pulse of the program throughout both the good times and bad times. On Sunday morning I was reading the 24/7 Sports UofA message board where I found multiple threads discussing Rich Rodriguez’s job security.

Earlier in the year I made it known that I was in favor of RichRod to move on after the season. And then came the emergence of Khalil Tate. Let it be known now, in light of Oregon’s 48-28 blowout win over the Wildcats on Saturday night, that I don’t feel the same way. Rich Rodriguez deserves another season at the helm of the Wildcats’ football program regardless whether Arizona wins or loses at ASU on Saturday.

I didn’t expect this team to achieve seven wins this season much less beat a ranked Washington State squad by three touchdowns on Homecoming Saturday in late-October. I thought Khalil Tate might be a difference-maker but I didn’t expect him to be a Heisman candidate (though that suggestion is likely finished after Saturday’s game). Through 11 games in 2017, Arizona football has exceeded my expectations.

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Now if ASU wins on Saturday, will I be upset? Of course. If the Wildcats get steamrolled by the Sun Devils and in their bowl game, could Rodriguez be on the hot seat to start next season? Absolutely. But he deserves another chance with Tate as his starting QB from Day 1. Assuming USC’s Sam Darnold leaves for the NFL as expected, it’s conceivable to think that UofA could be the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. 9-10 wins or bust in 2018.

Finally in terms of the lack of fan support in Tucson – I challenge Arizona’s athletic department, especially the marketing folks to get creative and find ways to fill the old stadium on game days as we saw fairly often in previous seasons.

And oh yeah…one more thing…BEAT ASU!

SECOND DOWN: Does potential Big 10 conference champion, a two-loss Ohio State team belong in the College Football Playoff?

To answer this question – let’s see how the Buckeyes stack up with the teams ranked ahead of them:

1. Alabama – win or loss vs. Auburn and the potential SEC Championship Game, the Crimson Tide are in the CFB Playoff all the way.

2. Miami – Let’s say the currently undefeated Hurricanes beat Pittsburgh but lose against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, I’d probably vote the Buckeyes in over them as Miami’s lack of impressive road wins wouldn’t stack up to Ohio State’s wins at Michigan (this Saturday) and over Wisconsin (neutral site Big 10 Championship Game).

3. Oklahoma – Unless the Sooners lose to West Virginia on Saturday AND in the Big XII Championship, I’d choose them over the Buckeyes due to the teams’ head-to-head result in Columbus in September.

4. Clemson – The Tigers are in if they beat South Carolina and Miami. If they lose to the Hurricanes especially, their chances in the CFP are next to zero.

5. Wisconsin – The Badgers are undefeated based on a schedule that would’ve made ASU and UofA likely 10 win teams. They must beat the Buckeyes or they’ll miss the playoff at 12-1.

6. Auburn – Must beat Alabama AND Georgia to get in the playoff…otherwise out.

7. Georgia – Must beat Georgia Tech then Alabama / Auburn to get in the playoff…otherwise out.

8. Ohio State

9. Notre Dame – Based on the eye test, Ohio State >> Notre Dame. And the lack of a conference title game (or being in a conference period) generally eliminates the two-loss Fighting Irish from playoff contention.

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Arguments can be made for teams like TCU and USC…but Ohio State’s playoff chances are pretty darn good if (a) they win their last two games and (b) Alabama wins the SEC. It would be strange having a team who lost by 34 on the road at Iowa make the Final Four…but the Buckeyes certainly look the part based on 9 of the 11 games they’ve played thus far this season plus the two difficult matchups they face in the coming Saturdays.

THIRD DOWN: Blaine Gabbert played well in Houston – but a loss is a loss. So what’s next for Arizona at the QB position?

First of all, Gabbert should be named the starter for the remainder of the season by coach Bruce Arians. For three quarters, he was razor sharp and looked to be a significant upgrade over Drew Stanton. His 22 of 34, 257 yard, 3 TD, 2 INT performance was, in my opinion, arguably as good or better than Carson Palmer would’ve done on most days.

While I’d like to stick by my preseason prediction that the Cardinals start Gabbert in early-2018 while grooming a drafted rookie replacement at the position, I think there are at least two better veteran options I’d prefer Arizona explore in the offseason.

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Alex Smith and his Chiefs started out 5-0 before losing four of their next five games including on Sunday to a historically bad Giants team. The pressure will be on soon for KC coach Andy Reid to play rookie 1st round pick, Pat Mahomes over Smith. If so, it would make sense for Arizona to part with let’s say 3rd and 5th round draft picks in the offseason to acquire Smith. He would be an ideal quarterback for the final year(s) of Larry Fitzgerald’s and Bruce Arians’ (if he comes back at all) careers. It would also reduce the pressure of finding that quarterback of the future this offseason.

While Washington’s Kirk Cousins might command a free agent contract of $30 million a year, it’s not feasible for the Cardinals to spend that heavily on a player who’s won a grand total of ZERO playoff games. Instead I’d like Buffalo’s recently deposed QB, Tyrod Taylor, whose mobility would take some of the heat of the Cardinals’ currently lousy offensive line. While Taylor also can’t be constituted as a QB of the future in Arizona, he’s also a worthy stopgap until the long-term successor is established.

Either way, it’s fairly safe to say that quarterback will be the #1 story in Cardinals circles from now through April’s draft.

FOURTH DOWN: Random thoughts from around the NFL

-OK I’m finally done with the Packers for 2017. Don’t bring back Aaron Rodgers in Week 15 and just play out the string with Brett Hundley. But please (GM) Ted Thompson, bring in a backup QB worth a darn in the offseason. Sunday’s performance against Baltimore, a 23-0 loss was downright embarrassing.

-What the hell was Bills coach Sean McDermott thinking by starting rookie 5th round pick, Nathan Peterman against the Chargers? He ended up completing six passes to his own team and five to L.A. in an embarrassing blowout. Bills fans have waited 18 years to get back to the playoffs and their new coach decides to screw up a 5-4 team? Ridiculous.

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-As I’ve written for weeks now – DO NOT fade the Jaguars and their incredible defense during the odd numbered weeks. Watch out AFC South rivals, Colts (Week 13), Texans (15), and Titans (17)! There is no question that Jacksonville’s defense and its emergence has been one of the big stories of the 2017 season.

-The Broncos started out 3-1 and now sit at 3-7. Obviously they need a new stable of QBs in the offseason but I wonder how long of a leash coach Vance Joseph has in 2018.

-The Raiders have also been a major disappointment this year and while I would think coach Jack Del Rio’s job is safe come ‘Black Monday,’ he most certainly will have among the warmest seats among head coaches in the league next season.

-The Eagles are really, really good. The Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee are not. Could coach Jason Garrett be on the hot seat as I suggested in August?

To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @eacohen83.

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