Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Making a Case for Inclusion in the Playoff

Rivalries operate outside the norm.

I guess that is true for games that are merely scheduled during rivalry week — even if the games themselves do not qualify as rivalries.

Take Miami (Florida), for example. The Hurricanes have longstanding rivalries with Florida and Florida State and had a pretty intense rivalry with Notre Dame in the late '80s. They also have a rivalry with Virginia Tech.

The 'Canes played Pittsburgh last week. The schools had met three dozen times since 1950, but it wasn't really a rivalry game — at least not from Miami's point of view. Maybe the folks at Pitt see it differently.

It's likely the folks at Miami will see Pitt differently when the schools face off again. Pittsburgh knocked off previously unbeaten and second–ranked Miami last week, potentially knocking Miami out of the national championship playoff.

But you never really know about these things. A few weeks ago most people thought Alabama and Georgia would grab two of the four slots in the college football playoff. I was skeptical that two teams from the same conference could be included in a four–team field. Then Georgia lost to Auburn, and all such talk ended — until people started zeroing in on Miami and Clemson, who will meet for the ACC title this weekend.

Miami, of course, is coming off the loss to Pitt, which immediately ended the talk of Miami and Clemson holding half of the spots in the playoff field.

Speaking of Alabama, the top–ranked Crimson Tide took it on the chin last week, too, dropping the Iron Bowl to sixth–ranked Auburn 26–14.

Thus, the top two teams fell last week, and it's hard to say what will happen as far as the college football playoff is concerned. The possibilities appear to be endless, and with so many sure things going down in flames in the last few weeks, there are no guarantees that this weekend's conference championship games will pan out as expected.

The same people who thought Alabama and Georgia were locks for the playoff, then thought the same thing about Miami and Clemson, now believe Oklahoma will be in the final four — but the Sooners could very well lose the Big 12 championship game to TCU. The Frogs, after all, lost to the Sooners a few weeks ago and would love to even the score.

And if they do, the Frogs would be Big 12 champs with two losses. No two–loss team has been selected for the college football playoff field yet. The Sooners, who lost to Iowa State a couple of months ago, would also have two losses.

Most people think the winner of the Miami–Clemson game will be in the playoff since that winner will have only one loss. But what about the SEC? Auburn beat Georgia a few weeks ago, and the Bulldogs would love to avenge that defeat. If they do, they should be headed for the playoff with only one loss, but Auburn has two losses. If the Tigers beat the Bulldogs, will they be in the final four? Or will the committee select one–loss Alabama, even though the Tide did not play for the conference title?

Granted, these outcomes are long shots. But wasn't Pittsburgh's win over Miami a long shot, too?

The selections will be made in a few days. Stay tuned.

Idle: #5 Alabama, #9 Penn State, #13 Washington, #15 Notre Dame, #17 LSU, #18 Oklahoma State, #19 Michigan State, #20 Northwestern, #21 Washington State, #22 Virginia Tech, #23 South Florida, #24 Mississippi State

  • Pac–12 Championship: #14 Stanford vs. #11 Southern Cal, 7 p.m. (Central) on ESPN from Santa Clara, Calif.: When these teams met early in the season, Southern Cal won by 18 points.

    That is roughly the margin of victory the Trojans have enjoyed in three of the last four games in the series. The one exception was USC's 10–point triumph in 2015.

    That kind of margin appears to be a rather recent phenomenon in this series. Although Southern Cal enjoys a wide lead in the series, previous scores tended to be much closer.

    The Trojans are favored by a field goal this time. I'll take Southern Cal.
  • ACC Championship: #7 Miami (Florida) vs. #1 Clemson, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC from Charlotte, N.C.: This series is not extensive. The teams played a few times in the '50s, then didn't play again until 2004 after the teams became conference rivals. They don't play each other every year, though, so Clemson holds a 3–2 edge in games played since 2004.

    The top–ranked and defending national champion Tigers are pretty solid favorites to win again. Oddsmakers favor Clemson by 9½ points. I also pick Clemson.
  • Big 12 Championship: #10 TCU vs. #2 Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on Fox from Arlington, Texas: TCU only lost twice this season, but both of those losses came in the Big 12, and one came against the team the Frogs face for the conference crown this weekend — Oklahoma.

    The Sooners won their earlier encounter this season by 18 points, which is higher than the norm for this series. Six of the previous seven meetings were decided by seven points or less.

    Oklahoma is the favorite by ... seven points!

    Good enough for me. I take Oklahoma.
  • Big Ten Championship: #8 Ohio State vs. #3 Wisconsin, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox from Indianapolis: Ohio State has thoroughly dominated Wisconsin in their all–time series.

    The Buckeyes lead the series 58–18–5, whipped the Badgers (59–0) when they played for the Big Ten crown in 2014 and have only lost once to the Badgers in their last nine games. It really seems as if Ohio State has Wisconsin's number.

    Speaking of numbers, the oddsmakers have made the 10–2 Buckeyes 6½–point picks over the 12–0 Badgers.

    And while I would really like to see an undefeated team with a chance to be national champion, I just don't think the Badgers can pull this one off. My pick is Ohio State.
  • SEC Championship: #6 Georgia vs. #4 Auburn, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS from Atlanta: Auburn slammed Georgia 40–17 when they squared off a few weeks ago.

    Before that, though, Georgia had won nine of the previous 11 encounters with Auburn. Given that kind of history, the Bulldogs can be forgiven for treating a date with Auburn as a foregone conclusion.

    But the oddsmakers don't see it that way. They made Auburn a 2½–point pick.

    If you use the game a few weeks ago as your guide, the choice is obvious. But I think it will be a hard–fought, down–to–the–wire battle. And I make Georgia an upset special.
  • American Athletic Championship: #16 Memphis at #12 Central Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Unbeaten Central Florida is the only team to beat Memphis this season.

    In fact, Memphis has only beaten Central Florida once — in the teams' first meeting in 1990. Central Florida has won all 10 of the subsequent meetings including all five played at Central Florida. What is more Central Florida is favored by a touchdown.

    Central Florida is my pick.
  • Mountain West Championship: #25 Fresno State at Boise State, 6:45 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Until last week, these schools had not faced off since 2014.

    They met twice that year, too, as they will this season. The second game was for the Mountain West title.

    Boise swept the games in 2014. Now Fresno, fresh from last week's 28–17 triumph, hopes to return the favor. But Boise comes into the game a 9½–point favorite.

    A program's history becomes important at this stage of the season. Boise State has been quite successful in recent years; Fresno was 1–11 last year and 3–9 the year before that.

    Fresno has had some success but not as much as Boise, and I expect the more experienced Boise State to prevail.
Last week: 16–4

Overall: 206–48

Postponed by Hurricane Irma: 4

Last week's upset specials: 2–1

Overall upset specials: 13–23

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