Saturday, November 14, 2015

Speculation About Who Will Win the National Title

Well, we're approaching the end of the regular season.

As usual, football season has flown by — and, while I know the pros will be playing through December, followed by the playoffs in January — and we'll be getting about three dozen college bowl games plus the national championship game — it still signals the end of a time of the year I have always loved and always miss when it is gone.

For the next several weeks, I suppose, there will be rampant speculation about who will be in college football's Final Four. In fact, it has already started. I guess it never really stops.

The New York Times, for example, writes that the Big 12, home of the Baylor Bears and Oklahoma Sooners, who square off in Waco tonight, is likely to be left out again.

"If No. 1 Clemson wins the Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 Alabama the Southeastern Conference and No. 3 Ohio State the Big Ten, and if No. 4 Notre Dame wins the rest of its independent schedule," writes Victor Mather, "they are likely to be the four teams in the playoff."

USA TODAY ran a simulation and concluded that Alabama, not Clemson, would win the national title. Some things never change, huh?

It was an interesting simulation. Clemson won more often than anyone else, but Alabama beat Clemson head to head. As John Ewing wrote, "Clemson is the most likely champion, but Alabama is the better team."

Which is a concession to the fact that footballs take crazy bounces, and games don't always come out the way you think they will.

If you want to compare the teams, they will be playing at the same time on different networks this afternoon. Make sure you know where your remote is!

Idle: #23 Wisconsin

  • #1 Clemson at Syracuse, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams first met in the 1996 Gator Bowl, then they didn't meet again until 2013, when they were in the same conference. Clemson lost that Gator Bowl but has won the last two years.

    It really doesn't look too hopeful for 3–6 Syracuse in this game, either — and you would have to figure that Clemson, having just ascended to the top of the AP poll, would be vulnerable. The Tigers might well be — but not today and not against this team. I pick Clemson.
  • #2 Ohio State at Illinois, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Ohio State dominates this series no matter where the game is played, but, in fact, the Buckeyes have been even more successful on the road against Illinois.

    Ohio State has won 75% of the time on the Illini's turf, and they have won the last 10 times the teams have faced each other there. Illinois' last home victory over Ohio State came on Oct. 12, 1991.

    No reason to expect anything different from 5–4 Illinois against 9–0 Ohio State. I pick Ohio State.
  • #3 Alabama at #20 Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: Alabama has won seven straight against Mississippi State, and over the years the Crimson Tide has routinely beaten MSU — more than 80% of the time.

    In recent years, Mississippi State has been ranked when the Alabama game came around. But 'Bama has won seven in a row — and 12 of the last 14.

    That's dominance. And, while I know that Ole Miss finally got the Alabama monkey off its back earlier in the season, only one of those is permitted per season. I'll take Alabama.
  • #12 Oklahoma at #4 Baylor, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Until Baylor plays TCU the day after Thanksgiving, I guess this qualifies as the game of the year in the Big 12.

    And it ought to be a good one.

    The 8–1 Sooners' only loss was in their annual shootout with Texas. The Longhorns have been struggling this year, but, as I observed at the time, the OU–Texas game really is one of those games in which the records do not matter.

    Oklahoma won its first 19 games against the Bears, but Baylor has won three of the last four and has its eyes on the national championship playoff in January. There is plenty of motivation in this game since the Sooners obviously have their eyes on a national championship playoff berth as well — and a win over Baylor would go a long way toward securing that.

    I pick Baylor, but I think it will be close.
  • #5 Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Iowa State seldom has a competitive football team so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Oklahoma State has won six of its last eight meetings with the Cyclones.

    The Cyclones do play better against the Cowboys when the game is Iowa State's turf, but I don't think even that will help the 3–6 Cyclones.

    I pick Oklahoma State.
  • Wake Forest at #6 Notre Dame, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on NBC: This is a fairly new series, with these teams having played twice in the last four years. Notre Dame won both games.

    It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the 3–6 Demon Deacons can win this game. They could qualify for a bowl if they win their last three games — all of which are against teams that are currently ranked or have been ranked recently (including top–ranked Clemson next week). It is a daunting assignment.

    I pick Notre Dame.
  • Oregon at #7 Stanford, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Historically, Stanford wins this game nearly 60% of the time, but, in recent years, when Oregon was a national title contender, the Ducks have been more successful. In fact, since 2002, Oregon is 10–3 against Stanford.

    But the Ducks enter this game 6–3. Michigan State and Utah upended them in September, and Washington State beat the Ducks in overtime last month.

    Meanwhile, Stanford has bounced back after its opening weekend loss to Northwestern. I take Stanford.
  • Minnesota at #8 Iowa, 7 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: Minnesota leads the all–time series, but Iowa has the upper hand at home, where the Hawkeyes tend to beat the Gophers about 55% of the time.

    Iowa has been dominating the series in the 21st century, too. Since (and including) their meeting in 2000 (which was won by Minnesota), the Hawkeyes have been victorious two–thirds of the time.

    The Gophers have plenty of motivation. At 4–5, they need to win two of their last three games to qualify for a bowl. Unfortunately for them, two of those three games are against teams that are currently in the Top 25 — and Minnesota is 0–4 against ranked teams this season.

    Make that 0–5. I pick Iowa.
  • Arkansas at #9 LSU, 6:15 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: I'd love to see my alma mater win this game and secure a bowl bid, but the Razorbacks blanked the Tigers last year, and Arkansas almost never beats LSU in back–to–back years. That, of course, would require them to win in Baton Rouge, which is where they play this year. Arkansas has only won in Baton Rouge twice. It is safe to say I'm not expecting the Razorbacks to win.

    I expect LSU to win.
  • #10 Utah at Arizona, 9 p.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: Before the season began, this game probably looked intriguing. But Arizona has struggled this year. The 5–5 Wildcats come into this game mired in a three–game losing streak, and they have given up at least 31 points 70% of the time.

    The 8–1 Utes have only given up 31 points or more once — in their loss to Southern Cal last month.

    Arizona might keep it close through the first half, but I expect Utah to prevail.
  • #11 Florida at South Carolina, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Florida has already punched its ticket for the SEC Championship game next month. The Gators are 6–1 in SEC, and South Carolina is their last conference foe in 2015.

    The Gators hold the tiebreakers over everyone else in the SEC East, and the Gamecocks can't possibly tie Florida for first place, even if they win this game.

    Which they won't. I pick Florida.
  • Kansas at #13 TCU, 11 a.m. (Central) on Fox Sports 1: TCU's loss to Oklahoma State last week was disappointing for TCU fans, whose rallying cry had been "Fear the Frog!"

    That is probably what Kansas should be doing — fearing the Frog — for TCU hasn't lost consecutive games since 2013 — and then it was to a couple of good football teams, Kansas State and Baylor. Oklahoma State qualifies as a good football team, but winless Kansas doesn't. The Jayhawks had a few good seasons a decade ago, but they have secured their seventh straight losing season.

    I expect TCU to be feeling better by midafternoon.
  • Maryland at #14 Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN 2: These teams played each other five teams by 1950, then didn't play again until Maryland joined the Big Ten. Last year's game was their first in more than 60 years, and the Spartans won by three touchdowns.

    Maryland really doesn't figure to put up much of a fight. The Terps are 2–7 and winless in Big Ten play. It's going to stay that way. I pick Michigan State.
  • #15 Michigan at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: You have to go back to 1987 to find the last time Indiana beat Michigan in football. That is 19 straight wins for the Wolverines, who appear likely to win this game simply because Michigan always beats Indiana, in good years and bad.

    This is a good year for the Wolverines so far, and I expect Michigan to win convincingly.
  • #25 Memphis at #16 Houston, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Most folks expected this to be a battle of unbeaten teams, but Navy kept the Memphis Tigers from holding up their end of the bargain with a 45–20 triumph last week.

    Houston will wrap up the regular season with a game against Navy. That could be a pretty impressive game, especially if the Cougars beat Memphis.

    And I do expect Houston to win at home.
  • Miami (Fla.) at #17 North Carolina, 2:30 p.m. Central on ESPNU: This will be the 19th meeting in this series, and both teams have won nine of the previous 18.

    The 8–1 Tar Heels steamrolled Duke last week — and on paper the 6–3 Hurricanes look like a good challenge, but the truth is that Miami has been erratic in 2015. The same team that knocked off Duke by a field goal got crushed by Clemson, 58–0, the week before.

    Even though Miami has won four of the last five times these schools have met, I'm going to take North Carolina.
  • Washington State at #18 UCLA, 9:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: UCLA has a winning record on both campuses, but the Bruins have been particularly dominant on their own field, winning more than 70% of the time.

    The Bruins come into this game having beaten Washington State five straight times. But the Cougars could be a problem for the Bruins. They lost to Stanford by only two points a couple of weeks ago, and they snapped an eight–game losing streak against Oregon.

    The Cougars could very well win this one; in fact, I think I will make Washington State an upset special.
  • North Carolina State at #19 Florida State, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on ESPN3: The 6–3 Wolfpack might give the unsuspecting Seminoles fits. N.C. State looked a lot more imposing in September, when the Wolfpack boasted an undefeated record. Then October came, and the Wolfpack lost three of four.

    But Florida State has now lost two of its last three.

    Even so, the Seminoles have beaten the Wolfpack in six of their last eight meetings, and the Seminoles win nearly 80% of the time when they host the Wolfpack.

    I'll take Florida State.
  • #21 Temple at South Florida, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: This is only the second meeting between these schools. The first was at Temple in 2012, and Temple won.

    South Florida is 5–4 and could be a problem for Temple — but I think Temple will take care of business.
  • SMU at #22 Navy, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS Sports Network: This series has been played a lot longer than you probably think. These schools first met in 1930, and the Mustangs reeled off four wins in the first five meetings — including a 32–28 win over Navy in Roger Staubach's Heisman–winning season.

    But Navy has won eight of the last nine contests. SMU hasn't beaten Navy since 1998 — which also happens to be the last time the Mustangs won at Navy.

    In theory, SMU could end both streaks this week. But the Mustangs won't. I pick Navy.
  • Purdue at #24 Northwestern, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: It wasn't so long ago that Purdue beat Northwestern regularly and routinely.

    But Northwestern has won five of the last eight meetings with Purdue, and the Boilermakers are 2–7 and coming off a big loss to Illinois. The folks on the Purdue campus probably can't wait for basketball season to start.

    I am certain Northwestern will win.

Last week: 14–8

Upset specials last week: 1–3

Season: 143–33

Upset specials overall: 4–12

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