Wednesday, November 19, 2014

College Football Playoff Field Isn't Adequate

Last week was easily my worst week for predictions this season. Lots of upsets. I picked some of them, missed most of them.

I don't know if my picking Alabama over Mississippi State really qualified as an upset, except from the perspective of the AP rankings — which is what I follow. I believe Alabama was the favorite going into that game even though Mississippi State was ranked #1.

As a graduate of the University of Arkansas, I was, of course, pleased to see the Hogs beat LSU, even if I didn't predict it. The Razorbacks will be bowl eligible if they beat Ole Miss this weekend.

There are some real mismatches this weekend, but there are also some intriguing clashes and some old–fashioned rivalries. And there are games with implications for the national championship playoff.

According to the selection committee, Alabama has moved into the top spot following its victory over Mississippi State. Oregon is second. Florida State is third. Barring an unexpected upset or two, those three seem to be headed for the national championship playoffs. But who will be the final member of college football's first Final Four?

Depending upon how games this weekend and the two weekends after that turn out, that fourth team could be Mississippi State or TCU. Or it could be Ohio State or Baylor. Actually, it supports what I have been saying all along — that a national championship tournament in college football needs at least eight teams.

But that is just my opinion.

Idle: #5 TCU, #17 Georgia Tech

  • #12 Kansas State at West Virginia, 6 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Kansas State has beaten West Virginia in both of their meetings since West Virginia joined the Big 12.

    West Virginia's offense (#12 in the nation) has been better than Kansas State's (#54), but Kansas State's defense (#30 in the nation) has been better than West Virginia's (#56).

    Perhaps no other college football season in my memory has had so many beneficiaries of the proverbial "any given Saturday."

    Anyway, I'm going to pick West Virginia. The way things have gone in the Big 12 this year, it makes sense, doesn't it?
  • North Carolina at #25 Duke, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Between 1990 and 2011, North Carolina only lost once to Duke. But Duke has beaten North Carolina in the last two meetings — first time that has happened in a quarter of a century.

    North Carolina has the better offense, Duke the better defense.

    The Tar Heels lost four straight games, but they have bounced back and need only one more win to be bowl eligible for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

    I'll take North Carolina.
  • Boston College at #1 Florida State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC and ESPN2: Florida State has won the last four meetings with Boston College. Historically, Florida State wins two–thirds of the time in this series.

    Boston College boasts the 16th best defense in the nation (FSU's is #57). Florida State has the statistical advantage on offense, #40 to #65.

    It really ought to be a pretty good game. It also ought to be fairly easy to catch Florida State napping. The 10–0 Seminoles have overcome every obstacle this season — and that impresses me because I have always believed that it is more challenging to repeat as champion than it is to win the championship the first time.

    I don't think Florida State will be undefeated when the season is over. They might lose the ACC championship game (their likely opponent will be #17 Georgia Tech or #25 Duke), or they might lose in the national championship playoffs.

    But I don't think they will lose to Florida next week, although you never know about those rivalry games — and I really don't think they will lose to Boston College. But it might be close.

    I'll take Florida State.
  • Western Carolina at #2 Alabama, 3 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: This is one of a handful of mismatches on this weekend's schedule.

    There is simply no way Western Carolina will win this game. I pick Alabama.
  • Colorado at #3 Oregon, 3:30 p.m. (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Oregon hasn't lost to Colorado since the Aloha Classic on Christmas Day 1998. They have played four times since then, and Oregon has won all four.

    Colorado has the #5 offense in the land with the nation's best QB, Marcus Mariota and running back Royce Freeman. To be fair, Colorado has the #29 offense — and neither defense has accomplished much this season.

    I'll go with Oregon. The Ducks have only lost four times at home since 2008.
  • Vanderbilt at #4 Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN or SEC Network: Mississippi State needs to shake off last weekend's loss to Alabama. Ole Miss is coming up.

    Actually, Vanderbilt might be just the tonic the Bulldogs need. Mississippi State has won 12 of its last 15 games against Vandy and hasn't lost at home to the Commodores since 1971.

    The numbers from this season clearly favor Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are in the Top 10 in both offense and defense. Vanderbilt's offense is one of the worst in the country. The defense is better but not in Mississippi State's league.

    I pick Mississippi State.
  • Oklahoma State at #6 Baylor, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Oklahoma State has won seven of its last eight meetings with Baylor but lost the last time the teams played in Waco.

    Statistically, Baylor has huge advantages on both sides of the ball. With QB Bryce Petty, running back Shock Linwood and receiver Antwan Goodley running the nation's 1 offense, it is hard to imagine Oklahoma State's defense keeping up beyond halftime.

    I pick Baylor.
  • Indiana at #7 Ohio State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: In 21 games played between these schools since 1989, the closest that Indiana has come to winning was a 27–27 tie in 1990 — and the Hoosiers had the home field advantage in that one. The Hoosiers have lost 11 in a row in Columbus, with their last road victory in the series coming in 1987.

    That would be enough of a reason to pick the Buckeyes, but wait, there's more. Ohio State has been better on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes have the #10 offense (featuring QB J.T. Barrett and RB Ezekiel Elliott) and the #17 defense.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • #8 Ole Miss at Arkansas, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: To me, Ole Miss–Arkansas always seemed like a natural border rivalry, but the two teams didn't meet during the regular season for 20 years, then revived the series about a decade before Ole Miss and Arkansas became conference rivals.

    The Razorbacks lead the all–time series, but the Rebels have been gaining on them with four victories in the last six years.

    Arkansas has the #22 defense in the nation. That could make for some fireworks when Ole Miss has the nation's #38 offense on the field. Arkansas' offense is ranked 47th — and probably will have problems against the 10th–best defense in the nation.

    As much as I want to see Arkansas become eligible for a bowl, I have to pick Ole Miss to win this one.
  • Charlotte Southern at #9 Georgia, 11 a.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Here's another mismatch. I'm sorry that Todd Gurley is out for the season, but he won't be necessary for victory this week.

    Georgia will win.
  • Rutgers at #10 Michigan State, 11 a.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: The history of this series has been that the winner of the last encounter loses the next one.

    Of course, only five games have been played between these two teams since 1988 so I suppose you can't derive much from that. Still ...

    Michigan State has been much better on both sides of the ball. The Spartans are in the Top 10 in both offense and defense. They're playing at home.

    I have to pick Michigan State.
  • #24 Southern Cal at #11 UCLA, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: I remember watching this rivalry game when I was a child. I lived two time zones away so I had no rooting interest in the game. I just enjoyed the color. It was like the Rose Bowl, which was always the most colorful bowl, no matter who was playing in it.

    UCLA has had the upper hand in the last two meetings, but Southern Cal has dominated the series, especially in recent years.

    UCLA has the #17 offense, and Southern Cal has the #32 offense. Neither defense has played particularly well so it is a matter of which offense is more capable.

    I'll pick UCLA.
  • Washington State at #13 Arizona State, noon (Central) on Pac–12 Network: Arizona State has dominated this series, especially the games that have been played in Tempe. Washington State has lost the last five games played there.

    The marquee unit in this game, though, is Washington State's offense — currently ranked sixth in the nation. Arizona State's offense is pretty good, too (#27 in the nation). As neither defense has been very impressive, I have to think this will be an offensive game, and the best offense (statistically, anyway) plays for Washington State.

    Washington State really is an enigma to me. The Cougars are 3–7. They got eliminated from bowl eligibility a couple of weeks ago so they went out and beat an Oregon State team that proceeded to beat Arizona State (8–2) last week.

    Comparing scores against mutual opponents can be inconclusive, though. Both of these teams have played Stanford this season. Arizona State won by 16; Washington State lost by 17.

    I'll go with Arizona State at home.
  • #14 Wisconsin at Iowa, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC and ESPN2: This will be the 88th time these teams have faced each other — in a series that dates back to the 19th century. In a series that old, there are bound to have been several patterns, and the most obvious one lately has been that one team wins two in a row, then the other team wins two in a row, then the first team wins two in a row again and so on.

    If that pattern holds true this year, it is Iowa's turn to win. Wisconsin beat Iowa in 2012 and 2013.

    But wait a minute. Wisconsin (8–2) is rated higher on both sides of the ball than Iowa (7–3). Wisconsin has the best defense in the nation (Iowa's ain't bad — #18).

    True, but Wisconsin could experience a letdown after last week's victory over Nebraska. Could Iowa pull off the upset?

    Maybe, but I just think Wisconsin will find a way to win.
  • #15 Arizona at #20 Utah, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: This could be an important game in the Pac–12's South Division. If Southern Cal beats UCLA, the Trojans probably will win the division. But if UCLA wins, that opens the door for the Arizona schools as well as UCLA.

    The Arizona–Utah series has been a close one. Arizona has won the last two meetings and will even up the series with a win in Salt Lake City.

    Arizona brings the better offense into the game, but Utah has the better defense. I would consider those to be offsetting factors anywhere outside the Pac–12. But this is a Pac–12 game, and offense is more highly valued than defense. For that reason, I have to go with Arizona.
  • Samford at #16 Auburn, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: And yet another mismatch.

    Frankly, I can't understand why anyone would pay to see this game — unless it is to scout the youngsters when they come in to mop up in the second quarter.

    Auburn will win.
  • #18 Marshall at Alabama–Birmingham, 11 a.m. (Central) on American Sports Network: Marshall leads the all–time series, 7–2, but lost the last time the teams played in Birmingham.

    Marshall has the second–best offense in the country, thoroughly capable of grinding through UAB's defense. And Marshall's Top 20 defense should be able to stop UAB's offense — most of the time.

    I'll take Marshall.
  • #19 Missouri at Tennessee, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network or ESPN: These two have only been playing each other since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. Tennessee hasn't been up to its usual historical standards in the last few years so, of course, Missouri has won both encounters.

    Can we expect anything different this time? Missouri won a shootout the last time the Tigers came to Knoxville, 51–48.

    Well, actually, I expect a much lower score. Neither offense has been particularly strong. Tennessee does have a pretty good defense, but Missouri's is better.

    A couple of touchdowns might be enough to win this one. I pick Missouri.
  • Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: This series goes back to 1900 — and Minnesota actually leads it. The Golden Gophers piled up early wins over the Cornhuskers, losing only five times in the first half of the century. Since the midpoint of the 20th century, the Gophers have only managed to win five times against Nebraska.

    One of those Minnesota victories came last year. It snapped a 16–game winning streak for the Cornhuskers, who haven't lost to Minnesota in Lincoln since September 1960.

    Minnesota (7–3) has the better defense, Nebraska (8–2) has the better offense. It's shaping up to be a duel of running backs — Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah vs. Minnesota's David Cobb.

    This could be one of the best games of the day. In the end, though, I think Nebraska will win.
  • New Mexico at #22 Colorado State, 12:30 p.m. (Central) on ROOT Network: Colorado State has won four straight in this series and three straight at home.

    Neither team has been impressive on defense so my thinking is that it will come down to a battle of offenses — and, for that, Colorado State is better equipped with the 19th–best offense in the country. New Mexico's offense is #62, not bad and certainly capable of outplaying Colorado State's defense (#85), but New Mexico's defense is one of the worst in the country.

    I think Colorado State will win a shootout.
  • Kansas at #23 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on FS1: The Sooners have dominated this series, and they have won the last nine meetings. Kansas hasn't won in Norman since 1996.

    The numbers don't favor Kansas. Oklahoma ranks higher on both sides of the ball than Kansas. The Sooner defense isn't what it used to be, but Oklahoma's offense is ranked 20th in the nation while KU's is 100th.

    I can't see Kansas winning this one. Have to go with Oklahoma.

Last week: 8–7

Season: 168–40

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