Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Epilogue

Okay, we've gone through each conference, so where does that leave us? Well, first, if you'd like to view them all again, then click here to see all the posts under the "ooc schedules" tag.

Otherwise, we've got this part down to a ritual, so let's get started with the List of Shame, which consists of teams that played more than 1 FCS school. Once again, we have just one member of this club this year: Arkansas, thanks to them playing transitioning FCS-to-FBS team Coastal Carolina.

Ordinarily, this is where I'd put the list of schedules I really like. The problem is this year the only ones that come close are Florida State, Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. See the problem there? Yeah, they're all only on there because they have a rivalry game against another team on the list, other than the Gamecocks. I feel like that defeats the purpose of the list. Honestly, while the playoff has given us more marquee out-of-conference games, at the same time conferences like the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 have gone to nine conference games. While I think that's great for those conferences, it's not great for the world of out-of-conference scheduling. That's basically 36 less out-of-conference games that happen every year, which means a better chance for better schedules. I may need to rethink my criteria for this list, but for now, I'm going to skip it.

Instead, let's see how the conferences all did a whole. This is an average of an average to account for the differences in the number of games each conference plays.
  1. ACC (0.226)
  2. SEC (0.192)
  3. Big 12 (0.158)
  4. Pac-12 (0.153)
  5. Big Ten (0.151)
Last year the ACC was second on this list, and really it's more of a case that everyone got worse while the ACC stayed about the same. There's something to be said for consistency, though, so hopefully the Pac-12 can recover dropping from first to fourth.

And that does it for this year's preview! Up next, we've got the guide for this weekend's games!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: SEC

Do as I did: pour yourself some Bourbon and take some sips of these out-of-conference schedules.
  1. Florida (2 legit, 1 FCS): N-Michigan, Northern Colorado, Alabama-Birmingham, Florida State. Going on the road to play a lesser opponent is something you won't see the Gators do, that's for sure, so savor this rare inter-section matchup. Also, this is the first appearance of UAB in our preview, so even though they're going to get pummelled, let's give a hearty shout-out to the Blazers: they're back!
  2. Georgia (1.75, 1): Appalachian State, @Notre Dame, Samford, @Georgia Tech. Georgia's going to South Bend, eh? Let's christen that the Unrealistic Expectations Bowl. Oh, wait, does Miami play them this year? Yes they do! Oh, the continuing delicious irony if Richt's new team betas the Domers and UGA can't... I actually don't know if that's ironic, but it's something that will make me happy as a GT fan, that's for sure.
  3. South Carolina (1.25, 1): N-North Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, Wofford, Clemson. Before you get too excited about USC-NCSU, let's look at the scores from the last three times they played: 7-3, 34-0, and 10-0. Well, we can always hope they'll lose and beat the Bulldogs they play this year in the most amusing way possible, at least.
  4. Auburn (1, 1): Georgia Southern, @Clemson, Mercer, Lousiana-Monroe. Unfortunately, this isn't really spicy Georgia Southern anymore, so you mostly have the return trip to Clemson to look forward to. Not that's a bad thing.
  5. Alabama (1, 1): N-Florida State, Fresno State, Colorado State, Mercer. Well, outside of FSU this doesn't really do anything for the Tide, but when have they ever needed the boost a good out-of-conference slate can provide?
  6. Texas A&M (1, 1): @California-Los Angeles, Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico. Again, we applaud the inter-sectional matchup, but y'all just got beat out by the returning national champions and a national title favorite for this year. That's fair, I'd say.
  7. Tennessee (0.75, 1): N-Georgia Tech, Indiana State, Massachusetts, Southern Mississippi. Remember, I ranked Tennessee above Kentucky because Kentucky plays Louisville every year, not because we're better than Louisville.
  8. Kentucky (0.75, 1): @Southern Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Louisville.
  9. Arkansas (0.75, 1.5): Florida Agricultural and Mechanical, Texas Christian, New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are moving up to FBS, so Arkansas gets the increasingly rare "half FCS" there. Also thanks to TAMU I had to double check that FAMU was still spelled out in the full name of the school. Oh yeah, they also play TCU which we fully applaud: SWC forever, baby! (Said no one.)
  10. Vanderbilt (0.5, 1): @Middle Tennessee State, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical, Kansas State, Western Kentucky. Alabama A&M also spells it out. Was that so hard, TAMU? Also, @MTSU is only a road game in the technical sense, as Murfeesboro isn't that far away. Though there'd probably be more Blue Raider fans there either way...
  11. Louisiana State (0, 1): N-Brigham Young, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Syracuse, Troy State. I wasn't able to watch it last week, but I hope some time during last week's national broadcast of a UTC game they replayed the clip of Dan Mullen saying "Uuuuu-Teeeee Chattanooga!"
  12. Mississippi (0, 1): South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, @California, Louisiana-Lafayette. The people watching that weekend in Berkeley might be spectacular, so we'd like to wholly encourage continuing SEC-Pac-12 matchups.
  13. Mississippi State (0, 1): Charleston Southern, @Louisiana Tech, Brigham Young, Massachusetts. Yeah, I don't think Dan Mullen is going to be able to make Charleston Southern roll off the tongue quite like he did with their FCS opponent last year. Also, going on the road to Ruston? That's spicy.
  14. Missouri (0, 1): Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho, @Connecticut. There's bad OOC schedule, and then there's... this. Oof.
Okay, that's it! On to the wrap-up!

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Pac-12

Okay, moving on to the West Coast, let's talk the Pac-12.
  1. Stanford (1 legit, 0 FCS): N-Rice, @San Diego State, Notre Dame. This was a tough decision. I have, elsewhere, docked teams for having a team that they play every year, but as you can see from going down the list there's just not much here this year for the Pac-12. Also, San Diego State should be pretty good again this year, and Rice is still technically better than a FCS school.
  2. Oregon (1, 1): Southern Utah, Nebraska, @Wyoming. Still, though, you could consider the Ducks tied for first. A good inter-sectional game and a road trip to Laramie? I'm down.
  3. California (1, 1): @North Carolina, Weber State, Mississippi. You could even make an argument for Cal, which has the only schedule with two other Power 5 teams on. But then you consider that, well, it's Cal and you start thinking about their defense that is likely to remain a raging inferno this year (not in a good way).
  4. California-Los Angeles (0.75, 0): Texas A&M, Hawaii, @Memphis. I guess we're just going to have to get used to these wacky road games, because even considering the vagaries of scheduling other FBS teams these days why in the world would UCLA ever go cross-country to play Memphis?
  5. Southern California (0.75, 1): Stephen F. Austin, North Texas, @Texas Christian. USC usually is the team here with a tough OOC schedule, but instead this year I guess they decided to see if they could go 3-0 against the state of Texas. At least it's thematic!
  6. Washington State (0.5, 1): Montana State, Boise State, Nevada. If the past two years have taught us anything, Wazzou could very well go 2-1 against this slate in just about any possible combination.
  7. Arizona (0.25, 1): Northern Arizona, Houston, @Texas-El Paso. Both 'zonas figure to be miserable this year, and the misery could get ramped up real quick-like for the Bearcats. Depending on this shakes out, it could be a race to see which of their coaches makes it out of September.
  8. Oregon State (0.25, 1): @Colorado State, Portland State, Minnesota. I could try to pretend that I don't know the result of that Oregon State-Colorado State game, but I don't think it was really that much of a surprise, and it's hard to take anything away from it as this is still the rebuild phase for the Beavers. That said, the rest of this schedule may not help.
  9. Arizona State (0, 0): New Mexico State, San Diego State, @Texas Tech. Folks have tried to set Arizona State-Texas Tech as a sort of "who's gonna get fired?" Bowl, 2017 edition, and maybe that's the case, but the real test for the Sun Devils might be the San Diego State game. That, and Todd Graham isn't exactly known for letting the situation get to him before he gets out of the situation...
  10. Utah (0, 1): North Dakota, @Brigham Young, San Jose State. The Holy War is back on the schedule, so that's good. The rest of it? Eh.
  11. Washington (0, 1): @Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State. We're still scratching our heads at the "@Rutgers" part there, especially since it's not going to do UDub any favors if they're on the edge of the playoffs.
  12. Colorado (0, 1): N-Colorado State, Texas State, Northern Colorado. I keep having to remember that Texas State is FBS now and it's been several years since that happened. Ask me about trying to remember which conference Maryland is in some time...
All right, we're trying to truck though these to finish before the season proper starts, so expect the SEC right on the heels of this one!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 0

We interrupt our out-of-conference preview to bring up this special preview of ACTUAL FOOTBALL! A quick introduction to the way the weekly previews work:
  • Unless otherwise noted, games are on the Saturday of the week the preview is posted.
  • The network is given in parenthesis. Most are straightforward, but ones that aren't are ACC (not an actual network (yet), but syndicated content usually on local stations), CBSS (CBS Sports Network, which you may or may not have), and ACC/RSN (ACC games on regional sports networks, like FS South or NBC Sports Bay Area).
  • I give predictions for all the games except for ones involving my alma mater, Georgia Tech.
  • The list of games, generally, will only include matchups between FBS teams. I mostly do this because most FBS vs. FCS games are not interesting, and I don't know enough about FCS teams to predict FCS vs. FCS matchups.
As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.


Noon: Texas Southern @ Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (EPSNU): an exception to the above is that I will list FCS games for this sort-of week since there's not a lot else going on and they're on national TV. That said, I will just list them without providing commentary.

2:30: Oregon State @ Colorado State (CBSS): Arguably the most interesting game of the weekend (involving FBS teams, anyway), this will be an early test of both the progress the Beavers have made in year 2 of the current regime and whether or not the Rams will be for real Mountain West Mountain division contenders this year. This one could go either way, so I'm going to give CSU the edge since this is also the debut of their shiny new home stadium.

3:00: Portland State @ Brigham Young (ESPN)

6:30: Chattanooga vs. Jacksonville State (@Montgomery, AL; ESPN)

7:00: Colgate @ California Polytechnical (ESPNU)

7:30: South Florida @ San Jose State (CBSS): This is also a chance for San Jose State to show they've made strides, but I still think USF is going to be too much for them.

10:00: Stanford vs. Rice (@Sydney, Australia; ESPN): This one could get ugly, most likely due to being a Stanford blow out, or due to just being two rusty teams that flew halfway around the world to play a game in a strange land, under which Rice still won't have a chance, just the score will be 20-0 instead of 51-10.


7:00: Richmond @ Sam Houston State (ESPNU): We feel obligated to note that Hurricane Harvey is currently bearing down on the Texas Gulf coast. Football aside, hopefully Huntsville, TX is far enough inland to avoid the worst.

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Big 12

Okay, Big 12, you're up!
  1. Texas (1 legit, 0 FCS): Maryland, San Jose State, @Southern California. This is a fun schedule. You've got a Maryland team that won't be good or anything this year, an increasingly plucky San Jose State, and then we go party like it's 2005. Sounds good to me.
  2. Oklahoma (1, 0): Texas-El Paso, @Ohio State, Tulane. Well, when your conference only plays 3 OOC games, outliers like having an Ohio State on your schedule count for a lot.
  3. West Virginia (0.75, 1): N-Virginia Tech, East Carolina, Delaware State. I already ragged on the game against VPI being in an NFL stadium, so instead let's focus on, uh, well I don't think ECU is supposed to be good this year. Also every time I look up and down this list WVU being here just still seems strange. Can the Big 12 and SEC arrange like a Mizzou-WVU swap? I think that'd work better for everyone.
  4. Texas Tech (0.75, 1): Eastern Washington, Arizona State, @Houston. I've gone to the "hey Eastern Washington has a red field!" well too many times, and they lead off with these three in the first four weeks, so it's likely Kliff Kingsbury will still have a job at the end, so I can't use that either. Houston could (should?) still be good enough this year to make it interesting, so maybe "likely" is a bit too strong there.
  5. Oklahoma State (0.5, 0): Tulsa, @South Alabama, @Pittsburgh. Huh, scheduling two out-of-conference road games out of three is definitely a thing you can do, but it's not something you see too often. They do get 5 home conference games this year, but it's still odd.
  6. Iowa State (0.5, 1): Northern Iowa, Iowa, @Akron. I think the Cyclones will go 3-0 or 0-3 against this slate, setting the tone for the rest of their season. After all, they did lose to UNI last year, and if you can lose to your in-state FCS rival, then you can definitely lose on the road to a MAC team.
  7. Baylor (0.25, 1): Liberty, Texas-San Antonio, @Duke. This is certainly a schedule.
  8. Kansas State (0, 1): Central Arkansas, Charlotte, @Vanderbilt. Depending on how feisty Vandy is this year, this may give K-State some trouble, but this slate should be no trouble. Also, as far as I know this marks the beginning of a stretch that will see none of my extended relations playing for the best football team in the Little Apple. I imagine things will be back to normal in 15 years or so.
  9. Kansas (0, 1): Southeast Missouri State, Central Michigan, @Ohio. Most of what you need to know about Kansas football is that they'll be doing well to go 2-1 against this slate. If they somehow go 3-0, it will be the first time KU has won 3 games in a season since 2009.
  10. Texas Christian (0, 1): Jackson State, @Arkansas State, Southern Methodist. Between games at Houston, South Alabama, and Akron it's like the Big 12 is trying to do its best ACC impersonation. But they still can't come close to the champs.
Up next, we head over to everyone's favorite mostly-west-of-the-Rockies conference, the Pac-12! See you then.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Big Ten

Onward, to the Land of Meat and Cheese, aka, the Midwest!
  1. Michigan (1 legit, 0 FCS): N-Florida, Cincinnati, Air Force. The netural-site game against Florida is intriguing for reasons probably best saved for when we get to the Gators, so for now let's wonder why we didn't get a 10th anniversary Michigan-Appalachian State matchup. They're not even FCS anymore!
  2. Ohio State (1, 0): Oklahoma, Army, Nevada-Las Vegas. The return game for Ohio State-Oklahoma almost got the Buckeyes to #1 here, but I liked Michigan's other opponents better.
  3. Nebraska (1, 0): Arkansas State, @Oregon, Northern Illinois. Nebraska at Oregon is precisely the kind of inter-sectional matchup we like here at asimsports. More of this, please!
  4. Maryland (1, 1): @Texas, Towson, Central Florida. Okay, Maryland-Texas lacks some of the, well, cachet of Nebraska-Oregon, but we'll still take it.
  5. Michigan State (1, 0): Bowling Green State, Western Michigan, Notre Dame. "Wait", you're saying, "why is Sparty ranked below Maryland even though they don't play an FCS team?" This was a call on my part, knowing that Michigan State plays Notre Dame basically every year, so it's not as interesting as Maryland's game at Texas.
  6. Purdue (0.75, 0): N-Louisville, Ohio, @Missouri. There's new management in West Lafeyette, but that doesn't figure to help against the Cardinals. The Boilermakers are in Year 1 of a rebuild and are half-liable to go 0-3 against this slate.
  7. Rutgers (0.75, 1): Washington, Eastern Michigan, Morgan State. Rutgers was probably one of the worst major conference teams in the history of college football last year, and starting the year off with a game against UDub doesn't figure to help them get pointed in the correct direction. Kudos for scheduling it, though.
  8. Pennsylvania State (0.5, 0): Akron, Pittsburgh, Georgia State. Penn State should play Pitt every year, which makes any time it does happen special. Not much else going on here, though.
  9. Northwestern (0.25, 0): Nevada, @Duke, Bowling Green State. I feel like there's something snarky to say about Northwestern at Duke, but I can't think of it right now. Luckily, I've got a few weeks before they actually play.
  10. Minnesota (0, 0): Buffalo, @Oregon State, Middle Tennessee State. Minnesota at Oregon State seems random, but again, we'll take it.
  11. Wisconsin (0, 0): Utah State, Florida Atlantic, @Brigham Young. It was a real debate between whether to put Minnesota or Wisconsin at #10, but ultimately BYU suffers again for not being in the Pac-12, which you know has to annoy them.
  12. Indiana (0, 0): @Virginia, Florida International, Georgia Southern. But if it's any consolation BYU fans, you still managed to get ranked above a schedule that includes a trip to a major conference team.
  13. Illinois (0, 0): Ball State, Western Kentucky, @South Florida. Illinois will do well to win two of these, or heck maybe one depending if this is one of those years Ball State isn't horrible.
  14. Iowa (0, 0): Wyoming, @Iowa State, North Texas. Everything that you need to know about modern day Iowa football is by far the most interesting NFL prospect on their out-of-conference schedule is Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, which is also something you can tell your friends to sound really smart, especially if Wyoming wins.
And that's that. Up next, the conference of the land Americans love to argue about whether or is the Midwest, the Big 12!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: ACC

Let's start off our review with the Atlantic Coast Conference. An explanation of the rating system can be found here. FCS teams are indicated by italics. "N-" prefixes indicate neutral site games.
  1. Florida State (2 legit, 1 FCS): N-Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Delaware State, @Florida. The ACC will get off to a crackin' start on Labor Day weekend, and it's not a coincidence the two teams that will play in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium are at the top of this list. (Which reminds me: is there a funny name out there for the new Dome? In Dallas there's Jerry Jones's Intergalactic Space Palace, so what would the Atlanta equivalent be? Arthur Blank's Pan-Universal Fun Dome? I'm open to suggestions.) Of course, don't let the realization that it's entirely possibly FSU and Bama will meet again, probable even, in the college football playoff. Especially not that they could meet in the very same stadium again.
  2. Georgia Tech (1.75, 1): N-Tennessee, Jacksonville State, @Central Florida, Georgia. Us Tech-types have been aching for years to get into the party that takes place every Labor Day weekend a mile from campus, so the the chance to make it four straight against the SEC East is just gravy. Meanwhile, I'm as against it as anyone else, but I will at least note that when you see major conference teams play games at Group of Five stadiums it's usually as part of a multi-game deal or the major conference team is saving money. Hopefully I remember this when the return game comes around in 2020.
  3. Pittsburgh (1, 1): Youngstown State, @Pennsylvania State, Oklahoma State, Rice. This is an OOC schedule that checks all the boxes. 1) Does it involve a non-mandatory rivalry? Check. 2) Does it feature a geographically distant major-conference foe? Check.
  4. Clemson (1, 1): Kent State, Auburn, Citadel, @South Carolina. Clemson's fate this season has vastly more to do with their in-conference games with Florida State and Louisville, but nonetheless the return game of this Tigers-Tigers series is rife with implication, provided Auburn is any good. Also, it gives us something to look forward to in the desert that usually is Week 2.
  5. Boston College (1, 0): @Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Central Michigan, @Connecticut. Okay, one road game against a G5 opponent I can understand, but how do you manage to get two on the schedule at once? Nonetheless, the Golden Eagles get credit for ducking a FCS opponent this year, depending on how you feel about UConn. (Which for most, I suspect, is nothing.)
  6. Syracuse (1, 1): Central Connecticut State, Middle Tennessee State, Central Michigan, @Louisiana State. So this year I switched the spreadsheet to a system that allowed the "legit" points to be grabbed from another sheet and automatically calculated. There were some occasional mistakes, but this is a good example of one I didn't catch until I was putting the rankings together. "Yeah, let's see, FCS, MTSU, Central Mich... oh right, LSU, yeah that should probably rate higher than 13th."
  7. North Carolina State (1, 1): N-South Carolina, Marshall, Furman, @Notre Dame. It's hard to know what to do with Notre Dame on an ACC team's schedule these days, since it's not really an organic matchup. So that's how you get a game at LSU counting better than a game at Notre Dame and a neutral site game against South Carolina.
  8. Miami (1, 1): Bethune-Cookman, @Arkansas State, Toledo, Notre Dame. Miami continues its tour of random G5 campuses, this team flying to... whereever you fly to get to Jonesboro, Arkansas. Memphis, I guess? Anyway, I decided to stay consistent with my earlier assessment of the Notre Dame thing.
  9. North Carolina (1, 1): California, @Old Dominion, Notre Dame, Western Carolina. Okay, seriously, what is up ACC teams? Did everyone get together at Media Days a few years ago and decide "yes, let's schedule all of our road games against non-major opponents in the same season"? That's four out of nine so far!
  10. Wake Forest (1, 1): Presbyterian, Utah State, @Appalachian State, @Notre Dame. 5 out of 10!
  11. Duke (0.5, 1): North Carolina Central, Northwestern, Baylor, @Army. 6 out of 11!
  12. Virginia (0.5, 1): William & Mary, Indiana, Connecticut, @Boise State. 7 out of 12!
  13. Virginia Tech (0.5, 1): N-West Virginia, Delaware, @East Carolina, Old Dominion. 8 out of 13!
  14. Louisville (0, 1): N-Purdue, Kent State, Murray State, @Kentucky. Nine out of... oh, right, Kentucky's in the SEC.
Click below to see my closing thoughts.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Prologue

And we're back!

Let's start with the usual explanation. Since 2008, each summer, my brother and I surveil all of the Power 5 teams and selected Group of 5 teams and assign each a "legit" rating. This rating is on a scale of 0 to 1 in increments of .25. The rating system is extremely subjective: a third party reading would probably reveal our biases. However, we don't declare the work done until we assign a rating for 72 different teams and agree on it. An explanation of the ratings:
  • 0: these are generally teams that aren't and haven't been very historically good, or otherwise do not generate any excitement when you see them on your non-conference schedule. Examples include Iowa State and Rutgers. This year 24 of the rated teams earned zeroes. It's worth noting we didn't use this rating until 2012. Last year 19 teams were rated at this level.
  • 0.25: these are teams that might generate some excitement if you're college football geek, or we think they may be interesting this year. Examples this year include Washington State and Minnesota. We rated 10 teams at 0.25 this year, down from 11 last year.
  • 0.5: This is the passing lane of ratings, featuring either teams on an upswing (like Pittsburgh and Utah) or teams on a downswing (like Mississippi and Michigan State). Boise State also appears here, as our highest rated Group of 5 team. 10 teams were also rated at this level, down from 14 last year.
  • 0.75: this is usually the domain of power conference teams that have stagnated that are still interesting, or teams that we'd probably like to see play but feel like would be underrated by the community at large. Teams of this stripe include Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. Full disclosure: this is also where we put Georgia Tech, because as noted above these ratings are subjective. We also rated 10 teams at 0.75 this year, up from 7 last year.
  • 1: These are the blue-bloods impervious to changes, or teams that have been really good to national title contenders over the past 10 years or so. Essentially, this is Notre Dame: it doesn't matter if they went 4-8 last year, they're still a 1 because they're Notre freakin' Dame. There were 18 of them this year, down from 21 last year.
As usual, we list all the teams that earned a 1 this year: Alabama, Auburn, California-Los Angeles, Clemson, Florida, Florida State,  Georgia, Louisiana State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Southern California, Stanford, and Texas. The teams in bold have been 1's every year we've done the rankings. Yes, even Notre Dame got pipped from the 1's one time, pulling a 0.75 in 2012, but I don't think what I wrote above is a contradiction.

Other than Notre Dame, the other non-Power 5 teams to earn ratings this year were Boise State (0.5) and Houston (0.25). The average overall rating was 0.4583.

With that, let's close with the rating of each conference:
  1. Southeastern: 0.536
  2. Pac-12: 0.521
  3. Atlantic Coast: 0.482
  4. Big 12: 0.472
  5. Big Ten: 0.429
I guess we don't go in for gray skies and the Iowas of the world. At any rate, the first up will be the home of the defending national champions and the banes of the SEC East: the ACC.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

2018 World Cup Update: I Ran (So Far Away)

Okay folks, it's time to run down the results and implications from the June international window. The September window is fast approaching, so we'll break down things there while we're at it.

First, let's welcome Iran to the stage for their second straight appearance. Next, let's say adios to the following countries: Iraq, Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Luxenbourg, San Marino, Malta, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Finland, and Kosovo.

As usual, let's go in alphabetical order. Asia, you're up!

The Asian Football Confederation is currently contesting its third round of qualification. There's two groups of six teams. In Group A, Iran qualified directly for the World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Elsewhere, China drew Syria and South Korea suffered an upset with a loss to Qatar in Doha. Nonetheless, with two matches to go, the group seems to be setting up for a do-or-die match in Tashkent for Uzbekistan and South Korea on September 5th. Right now, the Koreans are a point ahead in the standings, but a lot can change. For the penultimate match, Korea plays Iran at home, a game that could go any way. The Koreans should well in at home, and some of it will depend on who Iran brings on the road, since they've already qualified. Uzbekistan has to go on the road, but they get to play China, a decidedly easier opponent. Again, I expect the scenarios going into the at Tashkent to be very interesting, and I may update if the situation warrants. The outcomes there are either direct qualification to the World Cup or a play-off against the third-place team in Group B.

So speaking of Group B, things are still tight. Japan leads the group with 17 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia are just behind with 16. (The UAE is 6 points behind the Socceroos.) Australia won a crucial home game 3-2 against the Saudis, but Japan wound up drawing Iraq 1-1 on the road. Japan and Australia will play in Japan on August 31st, with Saudia Arabia going on the road to the UAE. Australia gets Thailand at home to close things out, while Saudi Arabia will play Japan. So... pretty much anything can happen.

The Confederation of African Football will finally resume qualification after being on hold since November 2016. There's five groups of four, with the group winner advancing directly to the World Cup. With only two matches played so far and four to go, it's hard to really make any predictions at this point, but there'll be a lot more to say after the next week of qualifying.

The (clears throat) Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football is contesting its fifth and final round of World Cup qualification. The top three teams of six qualify directly to the World Cup, while the fourth place team will have face a team from the AFC in a two-legged playoff in November. Let's go in order.

Suffice it say, Mexico (in qualification, at least) has shrugged off whatever demons haunted them from the qualifying disaster of four years ago. Mexico is undefeated so far and faces only one difficult road game, at Costa Rica on September 5th. On the 1st, they get Panama at home, which could be challenging, but they should win. Currently three points ahead of Costa Rica at 14, they should wind up topping the group.

Costa Rica has 11 points, three behind Mexico and three ahead of the US. That could change in a hurry, though. The Costa Ricans go on the road to Harrison, New Jersey on September 1st and then get Mexico at home four days later. A result from either game would be absolutely fantastic for Los Ticos. Back in June, they drew Panama at home, but did get 3 points from a 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

The US did exactly what they needed to do back in June. Christian "The Prince" Pulisic did his thing:

Then just three short days later, Micheal Bradley did his best Carli Lloyd impersonation:
Look, your voice would crack too if you saw an American chip the keeper from 40 yards out at the Azteca.

Anyway, the Americans have a pair of tough but winnable games in September. First off, they face a bunch of Costa Ricans who probably haven't forgotten about the SnowClassico from four years ago. Of course, the Americans hopefully haven't forgotten about the 4-0 beatdown last November that was the final straw for Jurgen Klinsmann. The US should be favorites at home, though. They will then go on the road to face Honduras, which is always tough but the Hondurans have continued the slide they've been on since the 2014 World Cup.

Next up is Panama, who at seven points are a point behind the US. Panama figures to split the upcoming games, with a visit to the Azteca and a home game against Trinidad and Tobago. Their most crucial qualifiers appear to be in October, but for now they look pretty good to finish fourth and advance to the playoff.

Minding the bottom are Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, with 5 and 3 points, respectively. Both are in trouble. If Honduras can't win at Trinidad and Tobago, then they will badly need a result against the US, though that game is at home. For T&T, things look pretty bleak. They're not out, but they still have to play Costa Rica and Mexico on the road. The rest of the field figures to leave these two behind entering October.

Next up is the Confederation of South American Football. The format is as elegant as it is simple: nine teams play home-and-home matches. The top four at the end go to the World Cup, while the fifth place team goes to an international playoff against a team from Oceania in November.

Qualification resumes August 31st with four matchdays remaining. Brazil ran away in the competition and has already qualified. Meanwhile, the second through eight placed teams are all within six points of each other. In order, they are Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (23), Argentina (22), Ecuador (20), and then Peru and Paraguay (18). With so many teams and four matchdays remaining, it's hard to say anything definitive at this point. Let's check back in a about a month or so.

The Oceania Football Confederation recently whittled down its teams to just two: New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. They'll play home-and-home on September 1st and 5th, with the winner moving on to the international playoff against a South American team. The Kiwis would have to be, and are, heavy favorites.

The Union of European Football Associations divides its 54 members into nine groups of six each, whereupon they play a double-round robin. The group winners advance automatically to the World Cup and the eight best runners-up are drawn into pairs and play-off for the last four spots. They've got four matches left in each group, so we'll do a quick overview of each because there's still a lot of wiggle room, as it were.

Group A
Sweden is tied with France with on 13 points, with the Swedes currently ahead on goal differential. Also helpful was a 2-1 victory over France at home back in June. In third and fourth are the Netherlands and Bulgaria, with the Orange in serious danger of not even making the playoff. But hey, they got their groove a little bit by pasting Luxembourg 5-0, but, still, they really need to get a result in France at the end of this month.

Group B
Switzerland currently sit 3 points ahead of Portugal, both of whom have pretty much pulled away from the rest of the pack. Go ahead and check back in on this group for the last day of the first round, when Portugal and Switzerland play each other in Lisbon.

Group C
This could get weird. So Germany, as you might expect, are leading the group with 18 points. Northern Ireland are in second, with 13 points. The problem for the Northern Irish is, well, the first tiebreaker: Germany has an insane +26 goal differential, while Northern Ireland's is "only" +9. Germany has had the benefit of playing San Marino twice already (so a combined +15 margin right there), but also the Germans' narrowest result so far was a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the Irish only beat San Marino 4-0, so... I don't know if they're going to go out and try to win 17-0 or not, but if they don't, they'll be in real trouble: if Germany gets 4 points out of its next matches against the Czech Republic and Norway, which it should, they'll clinch the group. The Northern Irish are four points ahead of the Czechs, though, so they're at least in good shape for the playoff.

Group D
Who wants to win Group D? Serbia and Ireland are tied at 12 points, followed by Wales and Austria on 8 points each. The results from June made this pretty much clear as mud, as every team in the group drew the other. Looking at the September matches, it doesn't look like it'll get any better, so let's punt this one to the new edition of this column.

Group E
Poland isn't, well, running away with this group, but they have a six point lead over Montenegro and Denmark. Fortunately for the Danes, they'll get a shot at home against Poland on September 1st. Meanwhile, Montenegro will have a chance to make up some ground. They have to go on the road to Kazakhstan, but they should still win, and then they get Romania at home. So still plenty of play here.

Group F
England are topping the group currently, but not by much: with 14 points, they're two ahead of Slovakia, three ahead of Slovenia, and six ahead of Scotland. You might look at this and think "they should be ahead more, I mean, they just drew at Scotland?" Yeah, well, it could have been worse:
Again, though, we don't stand to gain a lot of clarity here in September. The group is still tightly packed, and England's road game is at Malta, which despite their best efforts they'll probably win. Slovakia and Slovenia are each probably expecting to get somewhere between two and four points, and Scotland may walk away with six. It's still anyone's group.

Group G
Not so much anyone's group: Group G. Spain and Italy both have 16 points, with Spain ahead on goal differential. Both are 7 points ahead of Israel and Albania. The fun part is that Spain and Italy will desperately not want to finish in second, and they'll play in Madrid on September 2nd.

Group H
Group H features a Belgian side coming into its own and on 16 points, followed by Greece with 12 and Bosnia and Herzgovina with 11. A match between Greece and Bosnia that would've provided some much needed clarity ended with a 0-0 draw back in June, so we'll have to see how the remaining matches shake out. Belgium will have a chance to clinch by pounding Gibraltar into the dirt and then getting a crack at the Greeks on the road. Bosnia, meanwhile, will play Cyprus and Gibraltar, so the Greeks might get left behind going into October.

Group I
Iceland beat Croatia back in June, but they're still behind due to goal differential, and they probably won't have a chance to make up for it in September. They're going on the road to eliminated, but game, Finland and then they have a home match against Ukraine. Turkey and Ukraine sit just two points behind the group leaders, so it's still anyone's game, and I think it'll still be tight going into October.

And that's finally it! I think things are setting up well for an extremely fun last round of qualifying in most confederations. It's a shame we'll lose all this in a bloated 48-team World Cup, but at least that isn't until 2026. Until then, this column will return in a month in change. Meanwhile, I know there's at least one person out there waiting for the college football preview. Fret not! I have the ratings in hand, I just need to find time to write the darn thing before Week 0.