Thursday, October 23, 2014

Playoff Picks Get Scrambled Midway Through Season

We're about midway through the regular season, and things are really getting interesting.

College football observers have been scrambling in recent weeks to allow for upsets that seem to have altered their Final Four picks for January's first–ever Division I playoff.

If the season ended today, many people think Mississippi State and Ole Miss will be in the playoff, but Ole Miss faces LSU this weekend, and Mississippi State has a showdown with Alabama coming up next month. After that, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will wrap up the regular season with their traditional Thanksgiving Egg Bowl.

Idle: #2 Florida State, #7 Notre Dame, #9 Georgia, #12 Baylor, #17 Oklahoma

  • Connecticut at #18 East Carolina, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: These schools have never met on the gridiron before.

    There was a time, not so long ago, when UConn's football team played in bowl games — even won a couple. But UConn is 1–5 so far this season, and the Huskies seldom have meaningful road wins.

    I'll take East Carolina.
  • #6 Oregon at California, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Oregon comes into this game with a five–game winning streak against Cal.

    Both teams have Top 20 offenses and mediocre defenses (well, I guess mediocre is being kind).

    In their last three meetings, Oregon has been victorious by at least four touchdowns each time. I see no reason to expect anything less this time. Oregon will win.
  • #1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The reasons to pick the #1 team in the nation.

    The Bulldogs have the #10 offense facing Kentucky's 40th–ranked defense. That should be interesting although I really think Mississippi State will win that battle.

    Things might get a little sloppy when Kentucky has the ball. The Wildcats are ranked 61st in offense, but the Bulldogs are 88th in defense.

    Mississippi State has won six of the last seven meetings with Kentucky. I think Mississippi State will win this one, too.
  • #3 Ole Miss at #24 LSU, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This is one of the most interesting games of the week, as far as I am concerned.

    If the Rebels are seeking validation, there may be no better way to get it than winning in Baton Rouge. I don't think Ole Miss will be intimidated. The Rebels have lost the last two times they visited Baton Rouge, but they were within a touchdown both times.

    The numbers favor Ole Miss. The Rebels have the eighth–best defense in the nation going up against LSU's #62 offense. The Rebels are only ranked 49th on offense and may find the going tought against LSU's #14 defense.

    It's shaping up to be a low–scoring game. I'll take Ole Miss by a field goal.
  • #4 Alabama at Tennessee, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Alabama brings the nation's third–best defense to Knoxville — along with a seven–game winning streak.

    The Crimson Tide seemed to find its groove in its win over Texas A&M last week. Tennessee is improving, but I just can't see the Vols beating Alabama.

    I have to take Alabama in this one.
  • South Carolina at #5 Auburn, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: South Carolina has beaten Auburn once — in 1933. That game was played in Birmingham and was counted as a home game for the Tigers.

    Auburn has beaten South Carolina three straight times at home since then and seems likely to win again. The Tigers' #21 offense should have little trouble with South Carolina's #80 defense. And Auburn's #26 defense should win more than it loses against the Gamecocks' #40 offense.

    I'll take Auburn.
  • Michigan at #8 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: It really doesn't seem possible that this year's Michigan team has any chance of beating Michigan State. At all.

    The Spartans have won five of their last six against the Wolverines, and they have won the last three in a row at home.

    Statistically, both defenses are in the Top 10, but any Michigan observer could tell you the problem hasn't been the defense. It's been the offense, which is one of the worst in college football. (The Spartans are 12th.)

    I'll pick Michigan State.
  • Texas Tech at #10 TCU, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams are old Southwest Conference foes, and it was during that time that Tech rolled up most of its wins in the series, but the Red Raiders are still 3–1 against the Horned Frogs since the SWC disbanded in the '90s.

    The last time these teams played in Fort Worth, Tech won a wild one, 56–53. Anyone who watched TCU's game with Baylor a couple of weeks ago knows better than to shrug off the suggestion that such a thing could happen again. Both teams are in the Top 20 in offense, and neither defense seems capable of stopping the other team's offense.

    I'll take TCU.
  • Texas at #11 Kansas State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: The Wildcats had beaten the Longhorns five straight times before Texas ended the skid in Austin last year.

    K–State has won three straight at home against UT, and I'm inclined to think the Wildcats will win again. KSU has a huge edge in offensive rankings. The Wildcats are #48 in the nation. The Longhorns are #96.

    However ...

    The Longhorns are ranked higher in defense (#34 to #39).

    I think it might be close at halftime, but the Wildcats will pull away in the second half. I will go with Kansas State.
  • #13 Ohio State at Penn State, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: How great would it have been to see these teams play when Woody Hayes was on the Ohio State sideline and Joe Paterno was on the Penn State sideline? It didn't happen often. They only met three times, and Hayes won the first two meetings.

    That is kind of a microcosm of the all–time series. Ohio State hasn't won two–thirds of the time, but the Buckeyes do hold a 16–12 advantage over the Nittany Lions.

    Ohio State has the ninth–ranked offense, but it will have to contend with Penn State's sixth–ranked defense. That should be very entertaining, more entertaining than when Penn State has the ball. The Nittany Lions are 89th in offense; the Buckeyes are #15 in defense.

    I'll take Ohio State to win its fourth straight in Happy Valley.
  • #14 Arizona State at Washington, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Arizona State has won eight in a row against Washington, seizing the lead in the series. The Sun Devils haven't lost in Seattle since 1997.

    Arizona State has the #13 offense in the country, and that isn't even the best in the Pac–12. Three conference foes — including un–state rival Arizona — are ranked ahead of the Sun Devils. But they should be all right against Washington.

    I pick Arizona State.
  • #15 Arizona at Washington State, 5 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Arizona had won five straight against the Cougars before losing last year's game in Tucson, 24–17. The Wildcats have won three in a row in Pullman, and they lead the all–time series, 25–14.

    The game features a couple of Top 10 offenses.Arizona was undefeated until dropping a two–point decision to Southern Cal two weeks ago — just one week after Arizona stunned Oregon, 31–24.

    The Wildcats had last week off to shake off the loss. Can they revive the momentum from the Oregon win?

    Washington State is 2–5, but the Cougars have lost some close ones — three of those losses were by a touchdown or less. They're a gritty bunch.

    Nevertheless, I'll pick Arizona.
  • Rutgers at #16 Nebraska, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Believe it or not, Rutgers won its only previous meeting with Nebraska.

    Of course, that game was played nearly 95 years ago. Rutgers won, 20–0.

    This year's game appears to be no contest. This time, though, Rutgers isn't likely to shut out the Cornhuskers. Nebraska's offense is ranked 14th; Rutgers' defense is ranked 82nd.

    It isn't necessarily a sure thing that Rutgers will score. Nebraska's #28 defense is likely to challenge Rutgers's #63 offense.

    I'll take Nebraska.
  • #20 Southern Cal at #19 Utah, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: These teams have played each other eight times, and Utah actually did win one once — but the Utes have never won on either campus. That is because Utah's sole victory came in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

    As the rankings suggest, this should be an entertaining game. USC is 5–2. Utah is 5–1.

    In a conference that prizes great offenses, Southern Cal has a decisive advantage. USC is ranked 30th nationally while Utah is ranked 73rd.

    Utah has the edge on defense, but, in true Pac–12 fashion, neither team has been very impressive on the defensive side of the ball. The Utes are ranked 56th, the Trojans are ranked 68th.

    I'll take Southern Cal, but I wouldn't be surprised if Utah won.
  • Syracuse at #21 Clemson, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: This is Syracuse's first visit to Clemson.

    I get the feeling this game will be dominated by defense. Well, Syracuse (3–4) certainly should be. Syracuse's 70th–ranked offense should be unable to deal with Clemson's sixth–ranked defense. It should be a more even match when Clemson has the ball. Clemson's offense is ranked 45th, Syracuse's defense is ranked 43rd.

    I pick Clemson.
  • #22 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: West Virginia is coming off an emotional win over Baylor while OSU is coming off a blowout loss to TCU.

    West Virginia brings the #6 offense to Stillwater. On paper, it would seem to be a mismatch with Oklahoma State's #78 defense.

    In recent years, Oklahoma State was practically unbeatable at home. Maybe so. In that case, I'm taking TCU as my upset special.
  • Florida Atlantic at #23 Marshall, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: With Baylor idle, Marshall's offense is the top–ranked offensive unit in action, averaging nearly 575 yards per game.

    Florida Atlantic's defense is yielding nearly 466 yards per game. 'Nuff said. I take Marshall.
  • #25 UCLA at Colorado, 1 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: These teams have been conference rivals for three years, and UCLA is 3–0 in that time. Colorado did win two in a row against UCLA in 2002 and 2003, but they weren't in the same conference at the time.

    Colorado is 2–5 coming into this game and ranked behind UCLA in both offense and defense. I see no reason to pick anyone other than UCLA.

Last week: 11–5

Season: 116–25

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