Thursday, December 5, 2013

Auburn's Aura of Inevitability

A couple of weeks ago, I was willing to let Auburn's miraculous, last–minute, game–winning touchdown against Georgia fall under the heading of "one of those things."

But then an even more miraculous finish occurred in last Saturday's Iron Bowl against two–time defending national champion Alabama (see attached video).

And I had to conclude that maybe there is a sense of inevitability around the Auburn football team this year.

Currently, Florida State and Ohio State are the picks to advance to the national championship game. But they both have to play conference championship games this weekend, and it possible that one or both could lose.

If either team loses, Auburn could sneak in to the national championship game — but Auburn must face Missouri in the SEC's championship game this weekend. An Auburn loss coupled with a loss by Florida State and/or Ohio State could throw the whole BCS into chaos.

In the past, that would not have bothered me. But the BCS' days are numbered, and we know a playoff system is going to be implemented. No useful purpose could be served by the kind of chaos that would be created by a long–running debate over whether one or both of the teams chosen to play for the national title deserve(s) to be there.

Idle: #4 Alabama, #8 South Carolina, #12 Oregon, #13 Clemson, #14 LSU, #17 UCLA, #21 Wisconsin, #22 Texas A&M, #25 Georgia

  • #19 Louisville at Cincinnati, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Cincinnati has a chance — albeit a slim one — to play in a BCS bowl if the Bearcats can upend the Cardinals and Central Florida loses on Saturday.

    That's a longshot, though.

    It isn't necessarily a longshot historically. These teams have faced each other 44 times and, were it not for a tie back in 1977, they would be even at 22–22. Louisville did beat Cincinnati last year, but Cincinnati won the four games played prior to that.

    The teams are deadlocked in Cincinnati (11–11).

    And it isn't even a longshot statistically. Cincinnati's offense (ranked 18th) is better than Louisville's (32nd).

    But it is defense, they say, that wins championships, and Louisville's is second only to Michigan State's. Cincinnati's is ranked eighth, though.

    It should be a good game, and Cincinnati might win, but I'll still take Louisville.
  • Mid–American Championship — Bowling Green vs. #16 Northern Illinois at Detroit, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Bowling Green leads the all–time series, but Northern Illinois has had the upper hand in four of the last five meetings.

    The stakes are high for the Huskies in this game, but the Falcons won't be pushovers.

    And the most exciting football of the night might be played when Northern Illinois' fourth–ranked offense takes the field against Bowling Green's seventh–ranked defense.

    Bowling Green's offense (ranked 23rd) might have an easier time of it against Northern Illinois' defense (73rd).

    I'm tempted to pick Bowling Green because of its defense, but instead I will pick Northern Illinois by a field goal.
  • ACC Championship — #20 Duke vs. #1 Florida State at Charlotte, N.C., 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have met 18 times, and Florida State has won them all.

    But this is a golden opportunity for the Blue Devils, one that might never come their way again. Long known for their prowess on the basketball court, the Blue Devils can win an ACC championship in football — and knock off the top–ranked team in the nation at the same time. What better way to cap the Cinderella season they've had in 2013?

    Except it ain't going to happen.

    Florida State has the fourth–best defense in the nation and the seventh–best offense. Duke, on the other hand, is in the Top 60 (barely) in both categories.

    It would be fun to see Duke win the ACC — and I will be pulling for the Blue Devils — but I still pick Florida State by 10.
  • Big Ten Championship — #2 Ohio State vs. #10 Michigan State at Indianapolis, 7:17 p.m. (Central) on FOX: Historically speaking, the odds are against Michigan State.

    The Spartans have lost 70% of all their games with the Buckeyes — and more than 80% of the time they have met since 1991. Ohio State, it is fair to say, owns this series.

    The question is, will they win this time? To do so will require Ohio State's offense (ranked sixth) to take it to Michigan State's top–ranked defense.

    And my guess is that the Spartan defense will have to do some scoring because the 84th–ranked offense cannot be expected to do much against Ohio State (ranked 30th on defense).

    I pick Ohio State to claim a narrow win.

  • SEC Championship — #5 Missouri vs. #3 Auburn at Atlanta, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS: It has been nearly 40 years since the first — and, until this Saturday, only — meeting between these schools.

    It was in December 1973 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Auburn won on that occasion, 34–17.

    This one looks like a pretty even match. Both teams have Top 20 offenses and defenses — with Auburn holding very narrow advantages in both.

    And, as I said earlier, Auburn has taken on that aura of inevitability. We may be in for another incredible finish. I pick Auburn to win.
  • #18 Oklahoma at #6 Oklahoma State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: They call this the Bedlam Series in Oklahoma, and OU has had the upper hand in it for a long time.

    The Sooners have won nearly 80% of the time they have played the Cowboys. OSU did win the last time the teams met in Stillwater (a notoriously tough place for visitors), but the Sooners won the previous five of six meetings there.

    Statistically, OU has the better defense, and OSU has the better offense. Which will emerge as the more dominant?

    I'm going to go with Oklahoma State.
  • Pac–12 Championship — #7 Stanford at #11 Arizona State, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Stanford owns a two–game winning streak against Arizona State.

    But they haven't met in three years. Consequently, Arizona State hasn't beaten Stanford since 2008 — but that game was played at Arizona State where Saturday's game will be played.

    Stanford hasn't fared too well at Arizona State. The Cardinal did pull off a 17–13 win when they played there in 2010, but that snapped a four–game home winning streak for the Sun Devils.

    But that is what happened in the past. What about the immediate future?

    Stanford has a better defense, but Arizona State is ranked in the Top 25 in both offense and defense. And, in the Pac–12, defense has been rendered virtually irrelevant.

    I'm inclined to think that Arizona State may be better equipped to play a complete game than Stanford, but my instincts tell me Stanford will find a way to prevail.
  • #23 Texas at #9 Baylor, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FOX: Texas has won nearly three–fourths of its games with Baylor, but the Bears have played better when the game has been played in Waco, as it is this year.

    In fact, the Bears won the last time they played the Longhorns in Waco, snapping a six–game home losing streak against Texas.

    Baylor also has higher–ranked offensive and defensive units than Texas. The Longhorns might make it interesting for awhile, but Baylor should win at home.
  • #15 UCF at SMU, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: In five previous meetings, UCF has beaten SMU four times.

    It is possible that SMU could win this time. The Mustangs have a decent offense (ranked 40th, four spots ahead of UCF), but UCF has, by far, the better defense (#18 to #83).

    I expect UCF to win.
  • Mountain West Championship — Utah State at #24 Fresno State, 9 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Fresno State has seized the lead in this series with eight wins in the last nine meetings. In fact, Utah State hasn't beaten Fresno State since 2006.

    Also in Fresno State's favor is its offensive ranking (second) although Utah State does have the 11th–best defense in the country. The football figures to be a lot less polished when Utah State's 49th–ranked offense takes the field against Fresno's 100th–ranked defense.

    I'll take Fresno State by a touchdown.
Last week: 12–6

Season: 217–43

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