Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pursuing Clarity in College Football's Playoff Picture

All eyes — or almost all — will be on the election results tonight.

But for college football fans things are coming down to the wire.

Who will be in college football's playoff? Most folks believe Alabama, Michigan and Clemson will take three of the spots. The fourth is more iffy. Until last weekend, Texas A&M was the pick to take the fourth spot, but it is up for grabs following the Aggies' loss to Mississippi State.

Baylor and Oklahoma meet in the only game featuring two ranked teams, but the other games in the top 25 should provide some clarity on the playoff picture.

  • #14 Western Michigan at Kent State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These teams have been playing each other since 1962. Until the late '90s it was an annual event — one that Western Michigan usually wins.

    But not in three of the last four meetings. Kent has won those games.

    But Kent is 3–6 while Western Michigan is 9–0. Western Michigan is the clear choice.
  • #15 North Carolina at Duke, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Even in football, this is a huge rivalry. It just never means as much in football as it does in basketball.

    The Tar Heels win more than 60% of the time, and it's been especially bad for the Blue Devils of late. The Tar Heels have won 10 of the last 12, and they have only lost once at Duke since 1988.

    Picking North Carolina to win this one is easy.
  • #13 Utah at Arizona State, 8:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: The historical momentum is with Arizona State in this one. While the Utes did win last year's game, they had lost the previous 11 — and they haven't won at Arizona State in 40 years.

    History changes this year. I choose Utah.
  • Boston College at #20 Florida State, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Florida State comes into this game riding a six–game winning streak against Boston College.

    Florida State hasn't been as impressive as many people expected before the season began, but the Seminoles should have enough for this one. I pick Florida State.
  • Mississippi State at #1 Alabama, 11 a.m. (Central) on ESPN: Alabama has only lost to Mississippi State three times since the dawn of the 21st century.

    It is a series the Crimson Tide has almost thoroughly dominated, winning more than 80% of the time.

    Mississippi State is coming off a stunning win over Texas A&M. I don't think the Bulldogs can pull off a second consecutive upset. The pick is Alabama at home.
  • #2 Michigan at Iowa, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: Historically, Michigan has dominated this series, but Iowa has held the upper hand, winning four of the last five meetings.

    But Michigan is a much improved team this year. I pick Michigan to prevail in what could well be a close contest.
  • Pittsburgh at #3 Clemson, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ABC: These teams have met only once before — in the 1977 Gator Bowl. Pittsburgh won that one by 31 points.

    Clearly, the teams are different today. Clemson is the national power while Pitt is struggling. It's a no–brainer. Clemson will win.
  • Southern Cal at #4 Washington, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Fox: Southern Cal has won 63% of its meetings with Washington, but the momentum is with the Huskies, who find themselves on the brink of qualifying for college football's four–team playoff.

    My pick is Washington.
  • Wake Forest at #5 Louisville, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Wake Forest is 0–3 against Louisville.

    Not much chance of snapping that streak. I choose Louisville.
  • #6 Ohio State at Maryland, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: Ohio State has won both of its previous games with Maryland. The Buckeyes usually double whatever Maryland's score is. Sounds about right.

    I pick Ohio State.
  • Illinois at #7 Wisconsin, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: Wisconsin has won 10 of the last 11 games with Illinois and hasn't lost at home to the Illini twice in the last quarter of a century.

    I pick Wisconsin.
  • #8 Auburn at Georgia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on CBS: This will be the 112th meeting in what has been a remarkably tight series.

    In fact, an intriguing trend in this series is that the home team usually loses. That should favor Auburn. But Georgia has won eight of the last 10 games it has played with Auburn.

    Georgia has had a rough year, but I think the Bulldogs have enough left in the tank to handle the Tigers. In an upset special, I pick Georgia.
  • #25 Baylor at #9 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Until 2011, Oklahoma had never lost to Baylor.

    But Baylor has now won three of the last five games with Oklahoma.

    However, the Bears have lost their last two games — narrowly to Texas week before last and then by a huge margin to TCU. It is safe to say Baylor is struggling right now.

    Meanwhile, OU has won six straight. Make that seven. I pick Oklahoma.
  • Ole Miss at #10 Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on SEC Network: Texas A&M leads what is a short series — only eight games played between these schools going into Saturday night's tilt — but Ole Miss has won the last two.

    The Aggies didn't look particularly good last week, and one must wonder if they have slipped a bit.

    In an upset special, I pick Ole Miss on the road.
  • #11 West Virginia at Texas: The series between these schools is tied 2–2 since West Virginia joined the Big 12, but Texas won the last time they played in Austin.

    Even when the Longhorns are having a down year, Austin is a tough place for visiting teams to play.

    I think West Virginia will win, but it will be a battle.
  • #12 Penn State at Indiana, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC or ESPN2: Indiana has only beaten Penn State once, but the Hoosiers were the home team on that occasion, just as they are this time.

    Still the Nittany Lions are playing surprisingly well this season. I have to pick Penn State.
  • #16 Colorado at Arizona, 9 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Colorado leads the series but has lost the last four to Arizona.

    I can't see 2–7 extending that streak against 7–2 Colorado. I choose Colorado.
  • Texas Tech at #17 Oklahoma State, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: Oklahoma State has beaten Texas Tech seven straight times and hasn't lost to Tech in Stillwater since 2001.

    Oklahoma State is probably better than the rankings suggest. Oklahoma State has been paying the price for a fluke loss earlier in the season. I pick Oklahoma State.
  • Georgia Tech at #18 Virginia Tech, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPNU: Georgia Tech has lost five of the last six games it has played with Virginia Tech and seems ill–equipped to win on the road.

    But it is worth noting that Georgia Tech's only win in those last six games came at Virginia Tech.

    I don't think lightning will strike again. Virginia Tech is 7–2; Georgia Tech is 5–4.

    I pick Virginia Tech.
  • #19 LSU at Arkansas, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: When I was growing up, Texas was Arkansas' big rival. Since the Razorbacks joined the SEC, LSU is probably their biggest rival.

    And Arkansas has won its last two games with LSU. In fact, the last time the game was played in Arkansas — in 2015 — Arkansas shut out the Tigers.

    I don't think this will be a shutout, but I will pick Arkansas as an upset special.
  • Minnesota at #21 Nebraska, 6:30 p.m. (Central) on Big Ten Network: These teams have met 56 times, but only a handful of those games have been as conference foes.

    Minnesota leads the all–time series, which goes back to November 1900, but the Cornhuskers have dominated since 1963, winning 17 of 19 confrontations.

    Nebraska is coming off a crushing loss to Ohio State, but the Cornhuskers should get back on track. I choose Nebraska.
  • South Carolina at #22 Florida, 11 a.m. (Central) on CBS: Florida beats South Carolina more than three–quarters of the time, but the Gators have lost four of their last six meetings with the Gamecocks, including two of the last three games played at Florida.

    I just can't see 5–4 South Carolina winning this game. The pick is Florida.
  • California at #23 Washington State, 9:30 p.m. (Central) on ESPN: California leads the all–time series with Washington State, but the Cougars have the advantage when the game is played on their turf.

    Washington State is in the hunt for the Pac–12 North crown. On top of that, a victory over Cal would give Washington State its eighth straight win in a single season, something the Cougars haven't done since 1930, and the school's first–ever 7–0 start in conference play with Colorado and in–state rival Washington remaining on the schedule.

    I think Washington State will win.
  • #24 Boise State at Hawaii, 6 p.m. (Central) on CBSSN: Boise State has beaten Hawaii five straight times and has won more than 78% of the games they've played.

    But it has been rough for Boise State at Hawaii. Every time Hawaii has beaten Boise State the game was being played in Hawaii.

    So Boise State is battling history in this one. I think the Broncos are up to it. I pick Boise State.
Last week: 17–5

Overall: 142–47

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 1–4

Overall upset specials: 7–18

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