Friday, December 2, 2016

Are Conference Championship Games the Path to College Football's Playoff?

Alabama and Florida have faced each other for the SEC Championship eight times since meeting in the first one in 1992. Each school has won four times. The winner of Saturday's game will be 5–4 in title games against the other.

No one else in the Southeastern Conference has even been in the conference championship game more than five times — let alone won it that many times.

The conference championship game has been in existence for a quarter of a century, and it is hard to remember now that there was a time when people said the conference championship game wouldn't last. It was seen by some as something of a fad — which is what a lot of people thought about the Super Bowl at first. The NFL was too good for the AFL, the experts said. Joe Namath broke the glass ceiling for the old AFL with the Jets' win over the Colts in Super Bowl III; ironically, it was Broadway Joe's alma mater, Alabama, that broke the conference championship game's glass ceiling.

College football's postseason playoff began with the 2014 season, and it has been a given that conference championship games are the route to the the playoff — but that hasn't necessarily been the case. Last year, for example, Oklahoma was the fourth seed in spite of the fact that the Big 12 does not have a championship game.

And this year, there is talk that Ohio State will be in the four–team field in spite of not playing in the Big Ten's conference championship game.

Lately, though, there has been more emphasis on strength of schedule, which has led to more quality nonconference games early in the season. It has been said that strength of schedule is one of the first things — if not the first thing — considered by the selection committee.

Idle: #2 Ohio State, #5 Michigan, #10 Southern Cal, #12 Florida State, #16 Louisville, #17 Stanford, #18 Auburn, #21 LSU, #22 Iowa, #23 Nebraska, #24 (tied) South Florida, #24 (tied) Pittsburgh

  • Pac–12 Championship: #9 Colorado vs. #4 Washington, 8 p.m. (Central) on Fox: These teams first met more than a century ago, but they weren't annual foes until they became conference rivals a few years ago.

    Ironically they haven't faced each other this year — until now. Another irony — both teams lost to Southern Cal, whose losses to Stanford and Utah kept the Trojans from playing for the league title.

    Washington has won six straight against Colorado. The Huskies haven't lost to the Buffs since the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 30, 1996. Oddsmakers have made Washington a 7½–point favorite to beat Colorado for the seventh straight time. I also think Washington will win (and secure a berth in college football's four–team playoff), but it might be closer than 7½ points.
  • Mid–American Championship: #13 Western Michigan vs. Ohio, 6 p.m. (Central) on ESPN2: These schools first faced each other in 1962. This will be their 44th meeting.

    The momentum in the series has belonged to Western Michigan with five wins in the last six confrontations.

    The oddsmakers favor Western Michigan by 19 points. I agree. The pick is Western Michigan.
  • SEC Championship: #1 Alabama vs. #15 Florida, 3 p.m. (Central) on CBS: The things that Florida needs in order to have a chance of winning this game are simply too improbable. The Gators need a couple of scores from their defense and a couple of scores from their special teams. It wouldn't hurt to get a score or two from the offense, but that may be the most unrealistic expectation of them all. Florida had a good scoring defense (second only to Alabama), but every team in the SEC West scored more on offense than did Florida.

    Alabama is favored by 24 points. I find it hard to imagine anyone beating the Crimson Tide. Alabama may not win by 24, but Alabama will win.
  • ACC Championship: #3 Clemson vs. #19 Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. (Central) on ABC: This is the second time these schools have played for the ACC title. The first time was five years ago to the day, and Clemson won by four touchdowns.

    Tech performed better in scoring defense in conference play, but Clemson's scoring offense was much better. The Tigers come into the game favored by 10 points. I'm inclined to think Clemson will win, and the margin might be larger than that.
  • Big Ten championship: #6 Wisconsin vs. #8 Penn State, 7 p.m. (Central) on Fox: This is the championship game that no one saw coming — at least not until recently.

    Everyone probably expected to see Ohio State or Michigan representing the Big Ten East. Certainly not Penn State.

    Wisconsin was probably one of the favorites in the Big Ten West, but most people may not have expected the Badgers to be second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (behind Michigan).

    Penn State, on the other hand, was tied for second (with Michigan) in scoring offense.

    If the title game turns into an offensive show, Penn State will win. But I have always believed that defense wins championships so I pick Wisconsin, a 2½–point favorite, to win.
  • #11 Oklahoma State at #7 Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m. (Central) on Fox: I worked on the OU campus for four years, and when they call this matchup Bedlam, that is precisely what it is — especially if Oklahoma State happens to win.

    Oklahoma has won nearly 80% of the time when these teams have faced each other, but it has been more balanced of late. OSU has beaten Oklahoma two of the last five times they have met — including the last time they played in Norman.

    Few schools have beaten OU twice in a row at home, which is what Oklahoma State will be trying to do. In fact, OSU has won two in a row in Norman, but it was more than 20 years ago. Oklahoma State is good enough to do it this year, but the Sooners are pretty good, too. Oddsmakers have concluded that the Sooners are too good for the Cowboys, making Oklahoma a 12–point pick.

    I think Oklahoma will win, but I feel like the margin will be closer than that.
  • Baylor at #14 West Virginia, 2:30 p.m. (Central) on FS1: This is the fifth time these teams have met. In the brief history of the series, the home team always wins.

    Before the season began, I thought Baylor was overrated. And I have been proven correct. Turned out West Virginia was underrated. Not anymore. Oddsmakers are picking West Virginia by 17 points.

    I pick West Virginia, too, but I think Baylor has enough left in the tank to keep it closer than 17 points.
  • American Athletic Championship: Temple at #20 Navy, 11 a.m. (Central) on ABC: Navy has won five of its last six meetings with Temple.

    But Navy is only favored by a field goal. Why? Well, Temple is better than you think. After starting the season 1–2, the Owls won eight of their last nine to get into the championship game. Temple is riding a six–game winning streak — and the Owls won the last time they played in Annapolis.

    It should be a good game, and it wouldn't surprise me if the margin turned out to be three points, but I do think Navy will prevail.
Last week: 12–5

Overall: 189–63

Postponed: 1

Last week's upset specials: 1–1

Overall upset specials: 12–21

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