Friday, December 5, 2014

College Football's Playoff Field Comes Into Focus This Weekend

There aren't many games involving Top 25 teams this week. We're down to mostly the conference championship games — with a few regular–season finales for those who play in conferences that do not have championship games.

But just about every game on the schedule could conceivably influence the Final Four that will meet in January.

There are several schools that are deserving of at least being given a chance. If it was up to me, I would double the number of participants to eight. Winning this weekend won't necessarily propel those teams into the playoff, but it could easily deprive the losing team of a slot.
Idle: #7 Michigan State, #10 Mississippi State, #13 Ole Miss, #15 Georgia, #16 UCLA, #17 Arizona State, #19 Clemson, #20 Auburn, #21 Louisville, #23 LSU, #24 Utah, #25 Nebraska

  • Pac–12 Championship: #8 Arizona vs. #3 Oregon at Santa Clara, Calif., 8 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Try to imagine how the Oregon Ducks must feel.

    Oregon has won 16 of the last 21 games with Arizona. But Arizona handed Oregon its only loss of the season — so far — on Oct. 2, 31–24. No other team held Oregon under 38 points this season — and, were it not for the Wildcats, Oregon might well be ranked #1 right now and might have been ranked #1 for several weeks now.

    Is the time for retribution at hand?

    Oregon has the fourth–best offense in the land. Neither defense has been impressive this season, and it is hard to imagine Arizona's holding QB Marcus Mariota and the Ducks in check again. It is so difficult to beat a team twice in one season. I don't think it will happen this time. I pick Oregon to win.
  • SEC Championship: #14 Missouri vs. #1 Alabama at Atlanta, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The first time these two teams met was on a neutral field. Of course, that was the 1968 Gator Bowl. Missouri won on that occasion, 35–10.

    Missouri faced Bear Bryant a second time &mdashl and a third, actually — before he retired. In 1975, Missouri beat Alabama in the season opener; the Crimson Tide didn't lose again for more than a year.

    Bryant beat Missouri a few years laterThis could be a defensive struggle. Both defenses are ranked in the Top 20.

    Alabama's offense is in the Top 20, too, which should make for some very entertaining viewing when the Crimson Tide has the ball. But Missouri's offense is barely in the Top 100. I will be very surprised if Missouri puts very many points on the board.

    I can't see Missouri generating enough offense to win. I pick Alabama.
  • #12 Georgia Tech vs. #2 Florida State at Charlotte, N.C., 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is a rematch of the ACC title game from two years ago. They haven't met since Florida State's 21–15 triumph.

    The Seminoles have won 13 of their last 15 games with Georgia Tech.

    Don't look now, though, but Tech might prove to be more than a handful for Florida State. Tech has a higher rated offense, and its defense hasn't compiled stats that are impressive, but the overall performances have been comparable.

    It wouldn't surprise me if Georgia Tech wins this game, but I'll still pick Florida State.
  • Iowa State at #4 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Iowa State has only beaten TCU once — but that was in 2012, the last time the Cyclones traveled to Fort Worth.

    Iowa State has seldom had a winning season in football. Basketball is more the Cyclones' style.

    TCU is kind of a newcomer to the world of big–time football. The Frogs are probably in the national championship playoff unless the Frogs find a way to blow it against an Iowa State team to which they are clearly superior. The margin isn't as crucial to TCU as it is to Baylor.

    I will take TCU.
  • #9 Kansas State at #5 Baylor, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: If Baylor is to make a run at the college football playoff, the Bears need to beat the Wildcats — decisively.

    That may be hard for Baylor to accomplish. Both teams have pretty good defenses — K–State's is ranked #23 while Baylor's is ranked #39.

    Baylor has the top–ranked offense in the land, which should make things interesting when the Bears have the ball. It ought to be a pretty even match when the Wildcats have the ball. Their offense is ranked #47.

    K–State's coaching staff would probably feel a lot better about this game if it was being played in Manhattan, where KSU holds a 4–1 all–time advantage in the series. In Waco, the teams are tied, 3–3. In fact, Baylor has a three–game winning streak at home against the Wildcats. Kansas State hasn't won in Waco since October 2002.

    I get the feeling that Baylor will win this game. Will the Bears win convincingly enough to get into the playoff? Time will tell.
  • Big Ten Championship: #11 Wisconsin vs. #6 Ohio State at Indianapolis, 7:17 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This might be the most entertaining game of the weekend — because, without QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State's offense will be winging it.

    Barrett is the third–most efficient QB in the country. He plays in one of the nation's power conferences, which means his numbers are not suspect. It would be absurd to think that Barrett could be taken from the equation and Ohio State's offense wouldn't miss a beat.

    Both teams are in the Top 20 in offense, but Wisconsin has the second–best defense in the land. Barrett might have struggled, anyway. Ohio State has a pretty good defense, too. It is ranked 19th.

    But, if Ohio State has trouble moving the ball with a largely untried backup QB calling signals, points may be hard for Ohio State to come by. I'm guessing Wisconsin will win.
  • Oklahoma State at #18 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This game between in–state rivals is known as Bedlam. Has been for years. I don't know the story behind it. I only lived in Oklahoma for four years as an adult. I didn't grow up there — and that, I have come to believe, is necessary if one is to be acquainted with all the legends and lore surrounding football programs, especially the OU football program, in Oklahoma.

    I only heard it referred to as "the Bedlam series." I'm sure there must be a good story behind that. I just never heard it.

    Historically, OU wins nearly 80% of the time. In fact, that is current OU coach Bob Stoops' winning percentage against the Cowboys. He has won 12 out of 15 with Oklahoma State, and he is 6–1 when their game is played in Norman.

    Oklahoma has played better on both sides of the ball. The gap is not as huge on defense as it is on offense, but neither unit seems likely to produce an unlikely road victory for OSU. I pick Oklahoma.
  • Mountain West Championship: Fresno State at #22 Boise State, 9 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Boise State is 11–2 against Fresno State since the dawn of the 21st century, and Boise hasn't lost at home to Fresno in more than 30 years.

    That includes their most recent meeting in Boise — on Oct. 17 when Boise State prevailed, 37–27.

    Boise State probably expected to be playing San Diego State, which was marginally better than Fresno State but lost in their head–to–head clash two months ago.

    It would be more appropriate, really, for Boise State to face Colorado State for the conference championship. Both are 10–2; Fresno State is 6–6. But Boise State and Colorado State play in the same division, and Boise State won their head–to–head meeting in early September.

    Boise State has a better offense and defense than Fresno State. It really shouldn't be as close as it was in October. I pick Boise State.

Last week: 14–5

Season: 200–48

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