Saturday, December 21, 2013

Playoff proposal: 6 teams

Even though we have a four team playoff coming next year, I think there's a fairly easy way to ratchet the excitement up with only minimal expansion.

Now remember that there is a difference between "best team" and "champion", and we're looking for champions.

Let's limit the playoffs to conference champions only.  We'll take our five power conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC), and then the highest ranked champion from the "Group of 5". 

This might encourage the Big 12 to finally get two more teams and get their conference championship game back, because all of the conference championship games would become de facto opening round playoff games.

And come on, we all know that the playoffs are going to expand at some point.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CFP Primer: The Orange Bowl

Starting in the 2014 season, as the College Football Playoffs replace the BCS, the major bowls are adjusting their tie-ins.

The Orange Bowl is still the destination for the ACC champion.  If the ACC champion is in the semi-finals, then another ACC team will replace them in the Orange Bowl, unless the Orange Bowl is a semi-final.

For example, if we use the 2013 season, Florida State is the ACC champ, but will play for the national title.  If the Orange Bowl is not hosting a semi-final game, they will choose a replacement ACC team, as they did with Clemson.  However, if the Orange Bowl is a semi-final game, Clemson would not be guaranteed a spot in one of the other CFP spotlight bowls.  If FSU were not playing for the national title, and the Orange Bowl was a semi-final, then FSU would be guaranteed a spot in another CFP bowl.

But what about the opponent?  The Orange Bowl will select the highest ranked team of the SEC, Big Ten, or Notre Dame that is not already in the semi-finals, Rose Bowl, or Sugar Bowl.

Here's how they will determine that second team.  First, take the primary top 25 poll that will be used to determine CFP rankings. 

For our example here, we're using the 2012 BCS rankings.  Obviously, we will not have BCS rankings in the future, but that's all we have now.  Also, 2012 had a better mix of Big Ten and SEC teams in the polls, unlike 2013, where there were only two Big Ten teams, and neither would have been eligible for the Orange Bowl.

In 2012, Florida State was the ACC champ, and would not have been in the playoffs, so let's figure out who they would play.

Step 1:  Cross off any teams not in the SEC or Big Ten.  If Notre Dame is on the list, leave them on too.

1 Notre Dame 12-0
2 Alabama 12-1
3 Florida 11-1
4 Oregon 11-1
5 Kansas State 11-1
6 Stanford 11-2

7 Georgia 11-2
8 LSU 10-2
9 Texas A&M 10-2
10 South Carolina 10-2
11 Oklahoma 10-2
12 Florida State 11-2
13 Oregon State 9-3
14 Clemson 10-2
15 Northern Illinois 12-1

16 Nebraska 10-3
17 UCLA 9-4
18 Michigan 8-4
19 Boise State 10-2
20 Northwestern 9-3
21 Louisville 10-2
22 Utah State 10-2
23 Texas 8-4
24 San Jose State 10-2
25 Kent State 11-2

Step 2:  Cross off the Big Ten and SEC conference champs.  In this particular year, Wisconsin actually won the Big Ten, but was unranked, so they can't be crossed off the list.

1 Notre Dame 12-0
2 Alabama 12-1
3 Florida 11-1
4 Oregon 11-1
5 Kansas State 11-1
6 Stanford 11-2

7 Georgia 11-2
8 LSU 10-2
9 Texas A&M 10-2
10 South Carolina 10-2
11 Oklahoma 10-2
12 Florida State 11-2
13 Oregon State 9-3
14 Clemson 10-2
15 Northern Illinois 12-1

16 Nebraska 10-3
17 UCLA 9-4
18 Michigan 8-4
19 Boise State 10-2
20 Northwestern 9-3
21 Louisville 10-2
22 Utah State 10-2
23 Texas 8-4
24 San Jose State 10-2
25 Kent State 11-2

Step 3:  Cross off the teams in the semi-finals, most likely just #1-4.  Yes, in this example, the committee could decide to not put Florida in, and would choose another team, but for our purposes, we're sticking with just #1-4, even though two of those teams were eliminated in previous steps.

1 Notre Dame 12-0
2 Alabama 12-1
3 Florida 11-1

4 Oregon 11-1
5 Kansas State 11-1
6 Stanford 11-2

7 Georgia 11-2
8 LSU 10-2
9 Texas A&M 10-2
10 South Carolina 10-2
11 Oklahoma 10-2
12 Florida State 11-2
13 Oregon State 9-3
14 Clemson 10-2
15 Northern Illinois 12-1

16 Nebraska 10-3
17 UCLA 9-4
18 Michigan 8-4
19 Boise State 10-2
20 Northwestern 9-3
21 Louisville 10-2
22 Utah State 10-2
23 Texas 8-4
24 San Jose State 10-2
25 Kent State 11-2

Step 4:  If it's a year where the Rose and Sugar Bowls are not semi-finals, cross off the teams selected by the Rose and Sugar Bowls.   They would get first pick at replacements after the semi-finals.  The Rose Bowl would already have unranked Wisconsin from the B1G, and would not need a replacement.  Since two SEC teams are in the playoffs, the Sugar Bowl would select the highest ranked SEC team on this list.

1 Notre Dame 12-0
2 Alabama 12-1
3 Florida 11-1

4 Oregon 11-1
5 Kansas State 11-1
6 Stanford 11-2

7 Georgia 11-2
8 LSU 10-2
9 Texas A&M 10-2
10 South Carolina 10-2
11 Oklahoma 10-2
12 Florida State 11-2
13 Oregon State 9-3
14 Clemson 10-2
15 Northern Illinois 12-1

16 Nebraska 10-3
17 UCLA 9-4
18 Michigan 8-4
19 Boise State 10-2
20 Northwestern 9-3
21 Louisville 10-2
22 Utah State 10-2
23 Texas 8-4
24 San Jose State 10-2
25 Kent State 11-2

This will give us the following list:
8 LSU 10-2
9 Texas A&M 10-2
10 South Carolina 10-2
16 Nebraska 10-3
18 Michigan 8-4
20 Northwestern 9-3

Step 5:  Pick the team closest to the top of the list not crossed off.

In this example, it would be #8 LSU.

Step 6:  Look at the regular season schedule and see if there is a rematch.  If not, then the game is set.  If FSU and LSU had played during the season, then skip to the next team, but LSU gets to go to one of the other CFP spotlight bowls.

I'm sure the rematch rule is included primarily because of several cross conference rivals in the ACC and SEC, as well as the ACC's deal with Notre Dame, where they play 5 ACC teams a year.

There was also talk that Notre Dame might have access to ACC bowls with their status as a partial member of the conference.  It is plausible that they could take the ACC spot if the ACC champ is in the playoffs, but nothing has been confirmed on that front.

In the years that the Rose and Sugar Bowls are semi-final games, thus displacing the normal participants of those games, the SEC and/or Big Ten champ cannot be selected for the Orange Bowl.

During the 8 non-semifinal years of this first 12 year cycle, Notre Dame can only appear a maximum of twice, while the SEC and Big Ten are both guaranteed a minimum of three appearances each.  I wouldn't be surprised that by years 10-12, we'll be crossing off the SEC teams because the Big Ten hasn't gotten their three appearances in.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Final BCS predictions

The games are done, and the automatic tie-ins are set.  Here's the last set of predictions before the official matchups are announced on Sunday night.  Surprisingly, after some of the upsets, picking the at-large teams got difficult.

National title:  Florida State (ACC champ, #1) vs. Auburn (SEC champ, #2)
Well, we still can't avoid the SEC in the title game, but in the final year of the BCS, we get a matchup between the conference with the recent streak, and the team that started it all with three straight appearances.

Rose Bowl:  Michigan State (B1G champ) vs. Stanford (Pac-12 champ)
So I missed the call on the Pac-12, but I still had a feeling Sparty could take the B1G.  Although, they probably had that spot locked up regardless of the outcome of the championship game.

Orange Bowl:  Clemson (ACC replacement) vs. Ohio State (B1G, at-large)
I have to imagine with all of the shifting around among the top teams after this weekend, Ohio State will still be among the highest teams that aren't already claimed by the BCS, but still eligible to be selected.

Sugar Bowl:  Alabama (SEC replacement) vs. Oklahoma (Big 12, at-large)
There's no way Alabama gets left out of the BCS, and with Auburn in the title game, this is the only spot for an SEC team.  This at-large spot is actually the toughest.  With top teams already claimed as champions or replacements, and other teams left out due to the 2 team per conference limit, it's pretty much down to Oregon and Oklahoma as the last two teams high enough in the rankings.  This could come down to the personal preference of the bowl organizers, but I'm going with the "what have you done lately" mentality.  While Oklahoma stumbled midseason against Texas and Baylor, Oregon came crashing down hard in the final month of the season.  They lost rather embarrassingly to Stanford and Arizona, and just barely beat Oregon State.  While the idea of Oregon's high powered offense vs. Alabama's traditional SEC defense sounds like a great matchup of "what might have been" over the last two years, I just don't think Oregon has it in them to be a BCS team this year.  Oklahoma's also going to have the edge on travel and tourism.

Fiesta Bowl:  Baylor (Big 12 champ) vs. UCF (American champ)
Note to self:  The Big 12 likes to self-destruct in the final three weeks.  They get wackier than the ACC does with the Wheel of Destiny.  Unfortunately, with the American champ falling down to this game, it looks like it would be the least competitive of the BCS bowls.  But maybe Baylor can open up their new stadium next year with a last chance BCS banner to enter the CFP era.

Now, I believe the selection process will go like this:
-Orange Bowl (ACC replacement, since they are the #1 team)
-Sugar Bowl (SEC replacement, #2 team)
-Orange Bowl (at-large)
-Sugar Bowl (at-large)
-Fiesta Bowl (not really a pick, since they're stuck with UCF.)

The Orange Bowl could say the heck with the ACC and grab Alabama with that first pick, perhaps hoping that the Sugar Bowl doesn't retaliate, and they can end up with a Clemson/Alabama matchup.  Who knows if the bowls care to play nice with each other as the BCS era ends, since they won't really be depending on each other as much in the CFP era.  But, if the Orange Bowl makes the Alabama grab, then I think the Sugar Bowl takes Clemson, just because there are so few eligible teams remaining.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

BCS Predictions: Championship Day

It seems so easy now with one spot already spoken for (UCF) and one knocked out of contention (NIU).  But with so many BCS bowl combinations still possible, here's my take on who ends up where.

Rose Bowl
Michigan State vs Arizona State. 

With Northern Illinois losing, Michigan State's cushion just got softer.  Now, I'm confident that a loss to the Buckeyes will keep the Spartans in the Top 14, and that it will be a close loss.  Until last night, I had the Spartans pulling the upset, and I don't think the mindset of "Rose Bowl, win or lose" will hold Mark Dantonio and company back.  But with a tiny bit of desparation taken out, I now think the Buckeyes do just enough to secure the later Pasadena date, with Michigan State making their BCS debut.

Meanwhile, Arizona State - who is likely more motivated for the Rose Bowl and has home-field advantage - gets revenge for its early-season loss to Stanford and joins Michigan State, Baylor, Missouri, and UCF as a BCS newcomer for the last BCS go-round.  A high-powered Sun Devil offense against a strong Michigan State defense...could be one of the games of the bowl season!

Fiesta Bowl
Oklahoma State vs UCF. 

As much as the Sooners have dominated the past decade of Bedlam, it's amazing just how close several of these games have been to wins by the Cowboys.  I see a much closer game than 2 years ago, a true Cowboys domination, but still convincing enough to show that Oklahoma State really is the Big 12's best. 

The Knights, meawhile, have a fantastic story...the NCAA issued a 1-year bowl ban, which UCF chose to appeal and not take a year ago.  Well, the appeal was successful, the bowl ban overturned, and now UCF finds their way not only into a bowl, but a BCS Bowl.  As weak as the American has been this year, I think UCF is a BCS-worthy team, and it should be a fun matchup with Oklahoma State.

Sugar Bowl
Missouri vs Baylor

A Big 12 reunion, of sorts, for Missouri, and a matchup of conference champs.  After coming oh-so-close to the BCS on multiple occasions, I believe Missouri gets it done and finally wins a conference championship.  And, for the first time since 2005, the SEC Champ finds itself out of the National Championship Game.

As for Baylor, I predict they beat Texas today and claim the Big 12 co-championship with Oklahoma State.  Although the Cowboys get the automatic bid, Baylor's surely not going to complain about its situation (still officially recognized as Big 12 champs, New Orleans instead of Phoenix, playing the SEC champ instead of American champ).

Orange Bowl
Clemson vs Alabama

I'm still mad about Clemson losing to South Carolina yet again, but at least it appears it hasn't cost the ACC a BCS At-Large spot.  They have a chance to redeem themselves, both for SC loss and for its last Orange Bowl outing.  And for the 2nd straight year, it's against a highly-ranked SEC team.  A win for Clemson here, which would likely be a double-digit upset, would be huge for the program, and we could probably write the SC losses off as flukes, a hex, or simply Spurrier finding a way to get inside Clemson's heads.

As frustrated as Clemson must be about its in-state loss, I'm sure the feeling is magnified 100-fold for Alabama.  No SEC Championship, no National Championship, no historic three-peat.  This could end up like Alabama 2010, who pounded Michigan State to kingdom come in the Capital One Bowl...or like Alabama 2008, that saw an un-motivated Crimson Tide lose badly to Utah.  This was my National Championship Game matchup prediction at the beginning of the season, and I'll be interested to see just how these two teams come to play this one.

National Championship Game
Florida State vs Ohio State. 

I have Florida State beating Duke, but not quite by the 29-point spread (forget the name "Duke"...25 to 28 points over an inspired 10-2 team is still a strong victory).  The ACC will finally have a team back in the Title Game, and for Florida State, if there was ever time to say it, the time's now: THEY'RE BACK!

And so is Ohio State.  Only a fool would deny how hard it is to go undefeated two years in a row, in any conference.  In the last two years, a lesser-coached or lesser-focused team could have easily lost to Purdue or Indiana in 2012, Northwestern or Wisconsin in 2013, or Michigan in either year.  Full credit goes to the Buckeyes - if they beat Michigan State, and I now predict they do, then their spot in this game will be fully earned and deserved.

As a final note, many (including myself) thought of the second weekend in November as the end-all "pivot weekend" of the season - with OU-Baylor, Stanford-Oregon, and Alabama-LSU.  Funny how the two power conferences NOT represented by those matchups are the ones on the verge of perfection and what could be an entertaining meeting for the final BCS Championship.

BCS: Last Chance Predictions and Last Minute Chaos Theories

Well, with NIU losing on the eve of the big boy conference championships, I can shift some of the predictions around.

National title:  Florida State (ACC champ, #1) vs. Ohio State (B1G champ, #2)
In the final year of the BCS, we could finally see the SEC's streak broken by virtue of them not being in the game.  However, if either team loses, then the SEC champion would be back in it.

Rose Bowl:  Michigan State (B1G replacement) vs. Arizona State (Pac-12 champ)
I still like Michigan State better, so they might end up here on their own merits, but I just can't pull the trigger on that. 

Orange Bowl:  Clemson (ACC replacement) vs. Alabama (SEC, at-large)
Now instead of just being the highest ranked team not already claimed by the BCS, Alabama also would have to dodge the Sugar Bowl to avoid an all-SEC bowl game.

Sugar Bowl:  Auburn (SEC champ) vs. Baylor (Big 12, at-large)
Still feeling the Auburn magic.  Meanwhile, I think Baylor's high powered offense will be an intriguing choice.  Also, their proximity to New Orleans compared to a Pac-12 team gives them an edge for tourism.  Plus, an SEC-Big 12 matchup would preview the new structure of the Sugar Bowl that will begin after the 2015 season (since the Sugar Bowl is a semi-final playoff games next year).

Fiesta Bowl:  Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ) vs. UCF (American champ)
Since there is no non-AQ team left in the mix, the American champ gets dumped to the bottom of the pile.

With NIU's loss, Florida State is almost guaranteed a BCS game, even if the Chaos Theories come true.

Chaos Theory #1:  FSU loses to Duke in the ACC Championship.

Obviously, Duke would bump Clemson out of the Orange Bowl, and the SEC champ would move up to the BCS title game.

With only the Sugar Bowl left as Florida State's at-large spot, they would then get matched up with Alabama as the SEC replacement.  How ironic, seeing as how everyone was eyeing that as the BCS title game just two weeks ago.  But hey, it would mean that those bookstores in Tallahassee would be able to get some use out of the "Bring on Bama" shirts they ordered last week.

That leaves the at-large spot in the Orange Bowl.  Currently, Baylor is the highest ranked team left on the board that is eligible.  Technically, based on the current rankings, Stanford is ahead of them, but if I'm picking them to lose this weekend, they won't be.  Even though Stanford was picked in the Orange Bowl a few years ago, it was largely because it came down to them or the Big East team.  For tourism reasons, I think the Orange Bowl is going to avoid a Pac-12 team.

Chaos Theory #2:  Ohio State loses to Michigan State in the B1G game.

I don't see Michigan State jumping high enough in the polls to replace Ohio State in the title game.  So, I think they go to the Rose Bowl regardless.

Again, with either #1 or #2 losing, the SEC champ will move into the BCS title game.  As a result, Alabama slides back to the Sugar Bowl.

After that, it's a toss up as to who becomes the at-large teams.  I have to imagine it will be two of the following:  Ohio State, Baylor, or a Pac-12 team (Stanford or Oregon).  I'd say the Pac-12 teams have a geographic disadvantage, but that might not matter to the Sugar Bowl.  Also, the Sugar Bowl could surprise us and take UCF, which also opens up the Fiesta spot, which increases the odds for the Pac-12.

The one constant across all of these theories is that the Orange Bowl is not taking UCF.  They finally get first pick of the at-large teams, and they're going to get a good one.

Now, the Ultimate Chaos Theory: FSU and Ohio State both lose...

There will be rioting.  Obviously, the SEC champ moves up into the title game, but who is the new #2?  Are voters going to allow another all-SEC game, and give Alabama another chance, in a repeat of 2011?  Will Oklahoma State or Michigan State be able to jump up high enough to claim #2?  Or, is it possible that Florida State is so far ahead that a loss would only knock them to #2?

While I am curious as hell to find out what happens in this situation, I really don't want to have to worry about it.  I really don't want to see Alabama back into another national title game.

Maybe I'll have one more set of predictions between the conference championships and the official announcements on Sunday...

Friday, December 6, 2013

BCS replacement teams & conference loyalty

As part of a series of reference posts, I want to look at the history of the BCS and replacement teams when a team is selected for the national championship, specifically looking to see if there is conference loyalty.

Obviously, this was only relevant for the 2006-2013 seasons, during which there was a fifth BCS bowl.  Prior to that, the national championship actually displaced teams into other BCS bowls.

Any years mentioned in this post are referring to the season, not the calendar year in which the bowls took place.

The 2006 season started the SEC dominance, so let's look at the Sugar Bowl for their replacement.

The only year that the Sugar Bowl did not feature an SEC team was in 2011.  Because Alabama and LSU played for the national title (ironically, in a game hosted by the Sugar Bowl), and only 2 teams per conference are allowed into BCS bowls, the Sugar Bowl was required to pick two at-large teams.  They selected Michigan and Virginia Tech, from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively.

As a side note, not every SEC team chosen was the Championship loser.  In fact, that only happened twice, in 2008 and 2009.

In 2006 and 2007, Ohio State was the losing team in the national championship.  Of course, the Rose Bowl does everything it can to preserve the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, so a replacement Big Ten team was chosen in both cases.

In 2008 and 2009, the Big 12 champion played in the national title game.  While the Fiesta Bowl chose a replacement from the Big 12 in 2008, they did not in 2009.  This was mostly due to the next highest ranked Big 12 team being Oklahoma State at #19.  TCU was not only the qualified non-AQ, but they were required to be in a BCS bowl due to the 3/4 rule.

The Rose Bowl again had to chose a replacement in 2010, this time due to Pac-12 champion Oregon playing in the title game.  However, the BCS had implemented a rule that the first year that a Pac-12 or Big Ten team was selected for the national championship and there was a qualified non-AQ team, the Rose Bowl had to select the non-AQ team as the replacement, so once more TCU busted into a BCS bowl.

We've already gone over 2011 above, and independent Notre Dame was the national title participant, so there was no need for another bowl to not have their champion.

In summary...

2006-2007:  Sugar and Rose Bowls took teams from the same conference.
2008:  Sugar and Fiesta Bowls took teams from the same conference.
2009:  Sugar took an SEC team; Fiesta did not choose a Big 12 team, due to low rankings.
2010:  Sugar took an SEC team; Rose did not choose a Pac-12 team, due to contractual obligations to the non-AQ.
2011:  Sugar could not choose an SEC team since both were in the national title.
2012:  Sugar took an SEC team; no other BCS bowl was affected by Notre Dame.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chick-fil-a History

As part of a series of reference posts, I want to look at the history of the Chick-fil-a Bowl and Kickoff Game.

The Chick-fil-a Bowl dropped the Peach part of its name in 2006, and the bowl has been an ACC vs. SEC affair.

The Kickoff Game started in 2008.  While an SEC team has anchored the game, the ACC has not always participated.

It has been mentioned several times that a team's chances of getting selected for the Chick-fil-a Bowl would be hindered by their selection in that season's Kickoff Game. 

However, there have been 2 cases of a team appearing in both games in one season.

2009:  Virginia Tech lost to Alabama in the Kickoff Game, but defeated Tennessee in the Bowl.  (They also travelled to Atlanta midseason to play Georgia Tech)
2012:  Clemson defeated the Auburn Tigers in the second Kickoff Game, and came back to Atlanta on New Year's Eve to defeat the LSU Tigers.

In addition, there have been cases of a team playing in the Chick-fil-a Bowl in one year, and then starting the following year in the Kickoff Game.  In most cases, I'm sure the Kickoff Game was scheduled prior to the Bowl selection.

2007:  Clemson ended their season with an overtime loss to Auburn in the Bowl, and then came back at the beginning of 2008 to lose to Alabama.
2011:  Auburn defeated UVA in the Bowl, and then lost to Clemson to start the 2012 season.

Monday, December 2, 2013

BCS Thoughts: Week 15

No "Under the Radar" games this's Championship Week!  Sure, there are some other games that I could look for and describe, but this weekend really is all about the championships.

National Championship Game,
We've finally got our clarity - or so it seems.  Some folks have argued for a 1-loss SEC Champion (Auburn or Missouri) to leap into the #2 spot based on Strength of Schedule.  But at the end of the day, if Florida State and Ohio State both win, then they'll both be in.  After all, SOS might be a factor, but it's certainly not the entire criteria.

But entertaining the 1-loss group for a minute.  Should either the Seminoles or Buckeyes lose, then the winning SEC Tigers have the clear path.  The only catch is: the SEC Championship Game is played first, so they will have to wait and see what happens that night in Charlotte and Indy.

If the Top 2 BOTH lose, however unlikely it might be (Michigan State, maybe ... Duke, whaaaat?!?), then the SEC Champ's opponent discussion gets interesting.  I suppose the in-game performances will be factored in, but the three contending teams I would imagine in this scenario would be Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Michigan State. 
  • If Oklahoma State's loss to 6-6 Iowa State couldn't vault them past a rematch-seeking Bama 2 years ago, then an even worse loss to a 4-8 West Virginia is certainly grounds to toss the Cowboys.  And of course, the 1-loss team that lost to the Cowboys (sorry, Baylor).
  • Alabama would probably be the media "favorite" to get the #2 spot, even if Auburn wins on Saturday.  I suppose Michigan State stands a chance, particularly if they win big against the Buckeyes, or if voters are dead-set against an all-SEC rematch. 
But again, this is dependent on Duke beating Florida State , so I'll just finish the discussion right there (no disrespect to the Blue Devils, you are fully deserving of that 10-2...but FSU is just THAT good). 

Interestingly, should Florida State win, they would bookend the BCS era with Title Game appearances, and would become the only team to play in the NCG in all four places (lost Fiesta and Orange, won Sugar, TBD in Pasadena).

BCS Buster
It's Northern Illinois or nothing.  And the odds are in their favor, provided they take care of Bowling Green this Friday.  The polls give a slight edge to UCF, who the media keeps linking NIU's fate to, but the computers more than offsets that edge, keeping the Huskies in prime position. 

Currently at #14, it'll be hard to imagine a 13-0 NIU dropping out of BCS range.  With an idle Clemson and Oregon just ahead, and a 3rd loss guaranteed for Stanford or Arizona State, and a Michigan State loss possible, we could find NIU as high as #10 once Sunday night rolls around.  And should UCF still pass NIU, as long as the Huskies are #12 or better, the relationship with AQ conferences is irrelevant.

And there's also a back door for NIU, should UCF get ahead and keep NIU in the 13-16 range.  If Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State, and Texas beats Baylor, then Texas is the Big 12 Champ and becomes the AQ Champ for NIU to rest above - and play, for that matter, as its opponent in the Fiesta Bowl. 

BCS At Large
Alabama's in, most likely under the "3-4 Rule" and with a remote chance of playing for the Big One (see above).

Assuming Northern Illinois is in as the Automatic non-AQ spot, that leaves two at-large picks.  Baylor, Clemson, and Oregon are all waiting in the wings to see how things play out.  I'll discuss each one, along with another team that is still in direct BCS control right now.

Michigan State has direct control, playing Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.  Should the Spartans win, they're guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl (with a slight chance of the later Pasadena appearance should Duke also win - see above).  But if the Spartans lose, they might be going to the Rose Bowl anyway, provided they stay in the Top 14. 
Thankfully, there are several idle teams right below them (Oregon, Clemson, LSU) who all finished their regular seasons with lackluster performances (ugly wins for Oregon and LSU, ugly loss for Clemson).  Currently 10th, I can realistically see NIU and UCF passing the Spartans.  That would make the Spartans #12.  Even if Arizona State beats Stanford, and the Cardinal stay high, that's still #13 for MSU.  There's one position for wiggle room, but as long as the Spartans hold on, then the Rose Bowl spot's as good as theirs.

Speaking of Clemson, first off let me say SHAME ON YOU for losing to South Carolina yet again.  If it weren't for the 2-team-per-conference limit, the ACC Tigers could forget about a BCS Bowl.  But, as long as Florida State beats Duke, the Seminoles will be in the BCS Title Game, and the Orange Bowl can select Clemson as its ACC replacement.  Currently at #13, I can see Clemson passing the PAC 12 runner up, and maybe Michigan State.  But with the possibility of getting jumped by NIU and UCF, it'll be interesting to see if Dabo and company hold on to its spot in the Top 14.

Baylor can get back into the auto-BCS hunt if they beat Texas in their grand finale at Floyd Casey Stadium and the Sooners emerge victorious in Bedlam.   The main thing holding Baylor back is its name, but there are certainly some options to keep the 11-1 Bears in the At-Large mix.  First off, a Bowling Green upset over NIU eliminates the non-AQ spot.  In this case, I'd have to imagine a Top 8 Texas-based Baylor team being the prime candidate for New Orleans.  Or, perhaps Clemson or Michigan State stumble out of the Top 14. 

Oregon has probably played itself out of contention, with its late-season beatdown by Arizona and near-loss against Oregon State.  But there are a couple chances for the Ducks to keep their BCS streak going.  First, the hypothetical NIU loss would have the Ducks and Bears both alive for that last spot.  Again, depending on how Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson fare with the #14 threshold, it'll be interesting to see who can get chosen, much less who does get chosen.

On a final note, I will be back in a few days to deliver my own set of BCS Predictions.  Who will win this weekend's big games?  Only one way to find out - let the games begin!

BCS: Post-turkey predictions

It's time for some picks I didn't dare make last week.

National title:  Florida State (ACC champ, #1) vs. Ohio State (B1G champ, #2)
In the final year of the BCS, we could finally see the SEC's streak broken by virtue of them not being in the game.  However, if either team loses, then the SEC champion would be back in it.

Rose Bowl:  Michigan State (B1G replacement) vs. Arizona State (Pac-12 champ)
I still like Michigan State better, so they might end up here on their own merits, but I just can't pull the trigger on that. 

Orange Bowl:  Clemson (ACC replacement) vs. Alabama (SEC, at-large)
Who wouldn't pick Alabama for their bowl game if they were available?  They'll probably be the highest ranked team that's not already spoken for by the BCS.

Sugar Bowl:  Auburn (SEC champ) vs. UCF (American champ)
I'm feeling the Auburn magic right now.

Fiesta Bowl:  Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ) vs. Northern Illinois (non-AQ)
Fresno State lost, making NIU the only non-AQ team left standing.

Games to Watch: Championship Weekend

The holiday season has begun, so it's time to determine the best of each conference.

7:30 PM
Louisville at Cincinnati, ESPN.  This game might help determine the winner of the conference formerly known as the Big East.  It's not a de facto championship, but one of the final pieces of the puzzle.

8 PM
MAC Championship:  Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois, ESPN2.  This will determine the status of a non-AQ team in the BCS bowls.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, ABC.  Oklahoma State would win their conference with this game.  If they don't win, then we have one more Big 12 game to watch.

UCF at SMU, ESPN.  It's the American Conference, so no one really cares, but this is definitely the final piece of the AAC puzzle.  Probably just one to follow on the SportsCenter app.

3:30 PM
Texas at Baylor, FOX.  If Oklahoma wins, then this game becomes the Big 12 championship game.  If OK State wins, then we're just watching this one long enough to fill the time before the SEC game starts.

4 PM
SEC Championship:  Auburn vs. Missouri, CBS.  The Tigers will win this game, and be #3 in the BCS, with a good chance to jump into the national championship if #1 or #2 lose.

7:45 PM
Pac-12 Championship:  Stanford at Arizona State, ESPN.  Winner goes to the Rose Bowl.

8 PM
ACC Championship:  Duke vs. Florida State, ABC.  This game is finally back in primetime and on ABC.  My mind is being blown that Duke is in it.  This is also the game with the biggest chaos theory potential, as a Duke upset would upset the entire BCS.

8:17 PM
B1G Championship:  Ohio State vs. Michigan State, FOX.  Implications for both BCS games in Pasadena are on the line here.

Saturday, December 14
3:30 PM
Army vs. Navy, CBS.  A special bonus game here.  This game is about more than just football, and is always a great way to end the regular season and prime the bowl season.  Personally, I know more Army people, and would root for them, but in football, Navy has been dominant.  But sometimes, you just hate to root against either side.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What If...Playoff update

After an interesting turn of events, we can once more play "What if the playoffs started this year?"

The top two teams are currently set as Florida State and Ohio State.  It's very clear that the SEC champion (Auburn or Missouri) should be #3.

I think I would pick Oklahoma State as the fourth team in the playoffs.  At this point, they only have one loss, and lead their conference.  If they win their next game, they will be conference champions.

I think all four teams as conference champions have stated their case very well.  Florida State steamrolled everyone they played.  Ohio State may not have had the toughest schedule, but they won all of their games.  The SEC champs would only have one loss, and have some tough games on their schedule.  It's a toss up for me whether it's Auburn or Missouri at this point.

I know some people would try their hardest to get Alabama in the mix somehow, but I'm sorry, they lost a game to the division champions, and they had several opportunities to put that game away before Saban begged for the last second on the clock.

Now, if Ohio State loses the B1G championship game, I would put Michigan State into the playoffs, probably at #3, behind the SEC champ.

If Florida State loses to Duke, though, I would have to think about what teams would qualify.  If we went with the conference champions first, that could put the Pac-12 into play, but all of their teams have at least 2 losses, and there would still be several 1 loss teams in play.

So, round one of the playoffs would be:
Florida State vs. Oklahoma State
B1G champ vs. SEC champ

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Week 14 wrap up

I really thought I had posted a wrap up for week 13.  Anyway, all of the conference title games are set, and the conferences without title games are setting up for big showdowns next week.

Atlantic winner - Florida State
Coastal winner - Duke

The Wheel of Destiny has stopped spinning.  Now, let's wrap our heads around the thought that Duke will be in a primetime game on ABC next weekend.

West winner - Auburn
East winner - Missouri

The Tigers will win the SEC.  And major kudos to Auburn for the thrilling way they beat Alabama.

Leaders winner - Ohio State
Legends winner - Michigan State

North winner - Stanford
South winner - Arizona State

Big 12
This conference likes to upset itself the week before Thanksgiving.  I need to remember that next year.  In fact, last week, they almost set up scenarios of ACC proportions.

Last week, there were 16 possible outcomes based on four games that controlled the conference.  Oklahoma State won 12 of those; Baylor and Texas each got two.  Now there's only three outcomes.  Either Oklahoma State wins against Oklahoma, or they lose and the Baylor/Texas winner takes the conference.

All three teams in contention are 7-1 in conference.

Oklahoma (6-2) is out.  Last week, it looked like they had the record to force a 3 or 4 way tie, but they didn't own enough tiebreakers.  Now, they're out based solely on record.  We already know that the Baylor/Texas winner will end up at 8-1, which means anyone with more than one conference loss is eliminated.

Still don't care that much, I think UCF is most likely to win.  They either need to win their final game, or have Louisville beat Cincinnati.  Not sure what would happen if those games go the other way.

Just for fun, let's see what the average ranking of each conference championship is.

SEC:  4
(3) Auburn vs. (5) Missouri

B1G:  6
(2) Ohio State vs. (10) Michigan State

Pac-12:  9
(7) Stanford vs. (11) Arizona State

ACC:  10.5
(1) Florida State vs. (20) Duke

At least all of them have two ranked teams.

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Final Spin 2013

It all comes down to today, and we're down to three scenarios.

Since Miami beat Pitt yesterday, Georgia Tech is out.

If Duke wins, they're in.  If they lose, then all eyes turn to the VT/UVA game.

If VT wins, they're in.  Otherwise, Miami goes.

Duke @ UNC on ESPN2 at noon, VT @ UVA on ESPNU at 3:30.  Let the drama commence.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

BCS Predictions: Thanksgiving edition

I might have gotten a few things wrong last week.  Here are the updated predictions.

National title:  Alabama (SEC champ, #1) vs. Florida State (ACC champ, #2)
We could still get an upset with these two, but that would open an even bigger debate of who should take over.

Rose Bowl:  Ohio State (B1G champ) vs. Arizona State (Pac-12 champ)
I kind of like Michigan State better in the B1G, but I can't quite bring myself to pull the trigger on them yet.  Meanwhile, Arizona State is in a grudge match against Stanford, and most likely it will be on their turf.  They want it more.

Orange Bowl:  Clemson (ACC, at-large) vs. Michigan State (B1G, at-large)
If Michigan State upsets Ohio State in the B1G title game, then they could swap bowl spots.  Also, if the Orange Bowl just goes down the rankings and picks the highest ranked eligible team, that spot could go to Baylor.  Baylor doesn't have to worry about a conference championship game, so they could remain ranked higher if MSU loses the B1G title game.

Sugar Bowl:  Missouri (SEC, at-large) vs. UCF (American champ)
In this scenario, Missouri wins the SEC East but loses to Alabama in the title game.  While I think Louisville is the most attractive team in the American conference, I no longer feel confident that they will catch the necessary breaks to win the conference.  UCF also has a closer fanbase more likely to travel.

Fiesta Bowl:  Oklahoma State (Big 12 champ) vs. Northern Illinois (non-AQ)
NIU has jumped Fresno as the highest ranked non-AQ, but I don't think they will be attractive to anyone, and will therefore fall to whoever picks last.  I also don't see Oklahoma State losing to Oklahoma, so all of the other Big 12 scenarios don't really matter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 14

Obviously, this weekend's meant for rivalries and the high-impact matchups.  Nevertheless, here are five games that might be worth checking in on, even if conference championshps and BCS bids aren't necessarily on the line (or, at least, directly on the line).

1. Texas Tech at Texas.  The Longhorns have made Thanksgiving evening theirs, and this time around, it's the Red Raiders that come to town for the Turkey Day clash.  Even though Oklahoma State can clinch the Big 12's BCS spot with a win over the Sooners next Saturday, Texas or Baylor can still pull off a conference co-championship by winning out.  Baylor hosts Texas in the finale at Floyd Casey Stadium next Saturday, which could be a matchup for a split championship with the Cowboys (or an outright Big 12 title and Fiesta Bowl bid should the Sooners win the Bedlam game).

2. Iowa at Nebraska.  Hawkeye fans were feeling frustration at the beginning of the year, while the Cornhusker faithful were feeling hopeful of a division or conference crown.  Well, the Big Ten Legends isn't on the line here, but these two programs seem to be trending in opposite directions.  Can Iowa knock off Nebraska, accomplish a 4-game improvement from a year ago, and send Nebraska into bowl seasons with questions to consider?  This could also give a little BCS computer boost to Northern Illinois, who beat Iowa back in Week 1, who continues to need the computer love to offset Fresno's human poll edge over the Huskies.

3. South Florida at Central Florida.  Yes, the Bulls are terrible this season and should be a complete mismatch with the BCS-seeking UCF Knights.  However, the ESPN Black Friday night game has brought us some surprises over the years - none more memorable than the 2010 stunner of Nevada over Boise State.  Now, that Nevada team (who had Colin Kaepernick and finished 13-1) was a lot better than this USF team.  But with the institutional rivalry between these two schools (Orlando vs Tampa, large student bodies, former Big East vs Conference USA), I'll be interested to see just how this winds up.  This is the kind of loss that could turn into 2 for UCF and allow Louisville or Cincy right back into the BCS race!

4. Penn State at Wisconsin.  Last year, a winning record for the Nittany Lions was initially unfathomable (particularly after losing to a mediocre Ohio and awful UVA to start off 2012).  But, they pulled off a spectacular 8-4 with an impressive win against Wisconsin in the finale.  This time around, the game is in Madison, and the Badgers have their sights set on their 4th straight BCS Bowl (though Ohio State and Michigan State may have something to say about that).  In order to have any shot, it's a must-win for Wisconsin.  For Bill O'Brien and Penn State, it's their season finale once again, and they'd love nothing more than to close out at 7-5 and secure a winning record once again.

5. Boston College at Syracuse.  A win against Syracuse would complete a fantastic BC turnaround from 2-10 to 8-4...props to Steve Addazio!  Also, some folks are tabbing BC's Andre Williams as a serious Heisman candidate; a quality performance could wrap up Andre's invitation to New York.  A win for the Orange, however, would secure them bowl eligibility once again, and it would let the ACC be the first conference to have 11 bowl-eligible teams!

Chaos Theory #2

What if Auburn beats Alabama?

First thought is that we would get FSU vs. Ohio State in the title game.  Alabama at 11-1 would probably get picked by the Orange Bowl as an at-large, because who wouldn't jump at the chance to pick Alabama for their bowl game?  (Hmm...if we combine this with Chaos Theory #1, though...looks like Chaos Theory #3.)

The SEC title game would be 11-1 Auburn vs. 11-1 Missouri, or 10-2/9-3 South Carolina.

Now, what if FSU or Ohio State loses as well?  That would open up a spot in the national championship game.  Auburn and Missouri are currently #4 and #5.  If Auburn beats Alabama, I'm sure they would move to #3, and Missouri would be either #4 or #5, depending on how the BCS feels about Alabama.  That would almost certainly guarantee the SEC winner to be #3, waiting in the wings for FSU or Ohio State to lose.  (Unless South Carolina wins the East, and somehow wins the conference, but I don't see them pulling both of those off.)

Games to Watch: Week 14

It's Thanksgiving, and rivalry week, and all of the conference races are coming to a head.  Do you really need reasons to watch games?

On Thursday, if you're not into NFL action, ESPN has Ole Miss at Mississippi State, while Fox Sports 1 has Texas Tech at Texas.

2:30 PM
Arkansas at LSU, CBS.  Always a fun one, and this is like a 3:30 Saturday game on CBS.

3:30 PM
Miami at Pitt, ABC.  ACC Coastal Wheel of Destiny, part 1.  As we enter this weekend, there are four teams with a chance of winning the ACC Coastal, and three games key to the division title.  At least one team will be eliminated after each game.  If Miami loses this one, then Georgia Tech stays alive.

Duke at North Carolina, ESPN2.  ACC Coastal Wheel of Destiny, part 2.  I wonder if ESPN is betting on Duke losing this game.  If Duke wins, they win the Coastal.  If they lose, we have to keep watching for Virginia Tech to make the final determination.

Florida State at Florida, ESPN.  Probably a much more lopsided matchup than anyone could have predicted.

Ohio State at Michigan, ABC.  This is one of the biggest rivalry week games every year.

3:30 PM
Alabama at Auburn, CBS.  Winner goes to the SEC Championship.

Virginia Tech at Virginia, ESPNU.  ACC Coastal Wheel of Destiny, part 3.  If Duke loses, then this game will determine the ACC Coastal winner.  A VT win would put them in the title game, but a loss would put either Miami or GT, based on Friday's outcome.  If Duke wins, then we're only looking at this as another Commonwealth Cup matchup.

7 PM
Clemson at South Carolina, ESPN2.  Both are making cases for the BCS.

7:45 PM
Texas A&M at Missouri, ESPN.  Two years ago, a Big 12 matchup.  Now, an SEC tilt that will determine the SEC East champion.  If Missouri wins, they go.  If they lose, they send South Carolina.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chaos Theory #1

Now that we're down to the last two weeks, it's fun to think of ways for the entire national championship and BCS picture to get completely upended.

Since it's highly unlikely that Florida State will face any competition from Florida, their big chance of getting upset is in the ACC title game.

There are still four teams from the Coastal division with a shot at getting to that game, with potential final records ranging from 8-4 to 10-2.  Only one of those teams is ranked at the moment.

What if Florida State loses the ACC title game?

Assuming that there's no other major upsets, then they definitely lose out on the national title, which would most likely be Alabama vs. Ohio State.

But Florida State could very well miss out on the BCS completely.  Since the Orange Bowl would then take the ACC Champion (either Duke, VT, Miami, or GT in this scenario), they wouldn't pick a second ACC team as the at-large, especially if it would just be a rematch of the ACC title game.

Since the Orange Bowl has first pick of the at-large teams, the Sugar and Fiesta Bowls are stuck with the American and non-AQ teams.  With the Orange Bowl's recent history, they have no incentive to pick either one of those teams.  Although, if the ACC winner is VT, and somehow Louisville wins the American, then maybe the Orange Bowl would bite the bullet and pair those teams together.  It's the best matchup that can be created out of the available teams.  In that case, FSU would be available for the Sugar or Fiesta Bowls.

Perhaps FSU could back into the Rose Bowl if they only fall to #3 or #4?  The 3/4 Rule would take effect, and FSU would have to go to a BCS game.

But even in those two scenarios, a lot has to happen for FSU to get consideration in the BCS.  So, could a 12-1 FSU seriously  miss out on the BCS?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

BCS Thoughts: Two Weeks to Go

Rivalry week is upon us, and several games this weekend will have such a direct impact on this year's BCS picture.  Plus, the rivalries in and of themselves just make college football such a fantastic sport!

National Championship Game
Another week, another undefeated gone.  I really thought Baylor had something special, but Oklahoma State showed it was truly the better team in Stillwater.  Now, we're left with Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State - pretty firmly in that order should they all win out. 

If one of the three stumble, then the other two play for the national title.  If two stumble, things get interesting.  I'm highly interested in the SEC this week, with both the Iron Bowl and the Mizzou-A&M games going a long way to set the one-loss stage. 

I'll get into a serious discussion next week about one-loss teams - and we'll see if Clemson, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Michigan State can find a way to become a dark horse in the discussion.

Non-AQ Berth
The computers just love Northern Illinois...the Huskies average 7th.  It's good enough to allow them to rank higher than Fresno State, even though the Bulldogs are several spots ahead in the Coaches and Harris polls.

Last week, I was convinced that Fresno was simply too far ahead.  Now, I think it'll really come down to the wire.  And will the computers continue to anchor down the American teams, and allow #16 to be the cutoff (or, will NIU or Fresno hit #12 and make the American a moot point)?

At-Large Berths
I think it's safe to say that the SEC will get one of the At-Large spots in one of two ways: (1) Alabama goes to the Title Game and is replaced in the Sugar by Missouri or Auburn; (2) Alabama loses to Auburn or SC/Missouri and becomes the At-Large.  If Missouri wins against A&M but loses to Alabama, I'll be interested in seeing whether 11-2 Missouri or 10-2 Auburn gets the Sugar Bowl nod.

In the ACC, it all comes down to the Battle for the Palmetto State.  If Clemson can take back its edge and beat the Top 10 Gamecocks, the Tigers could finish as high as #4 - netting an Automatic "3/4 Rule" berth (though the Orange Bowl would surely take a 5 or 6 Clemson team to replace NCG Participant Florida State).  If Clemson happens to lose, particularly if the loss is respectable, there's still a chance the Orange Bowl takes a 10-2 Clemson due to the lack of other "fantastic" options.

Things are looking good for the Big Ten, which should have a whale of a Championship Game.  I personally think Michigan State is good enough to beat Ohio State and finally get back to the Rose Bowl.  If that happens, the Buckeyes should be a shoo-in for the Orange Bowl spot.  Otherwise, it'll be a nail-biter waiting to see whether MSU or Wisconsin gets it.  Like I said last week, I think it'll come down to how the Spartans lose to the Buckeyes.  If they "look" better than the Badgers, I say let the boys in green into the BCS.  If not, give it to the men from Madison.  Of course, all three of these teams had better get past this last regular-season week.

The PAC-12 and Big 12 have played themselves out of an At-Large, in my opinion.  Either Stanford or Arizona State will go to the Rose Bowl, the loser will have one loss too many, and Oregon has shown it doesn't care if it's not a championship.  Oklahoma State controls its Auto-BCS destiny, but a loss to the Sooners would be one too many.  Baylor, even with just the one loss doesn't have the "name" to get chosen as an at-large.  I suppose one of these teams could get a chance if Clemson loses big, and allvthree leading Big Ten teams all stumble during rivalry week.

Next week will answer a lot of questions, and should set up one final round of what "could" happen before the final reveal in 2 weeks of what "will" happen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 13 wrap up

After just two games being played this week, we have gone from 17 scenarios down to five.  Meanwhile, all eyes are on three games next week that are key for determining the Coastal champion:  Duke @ UNC, Miami @ Pitt, and VT @ UVA.

Duke is also the only team that can outright win the division.  Everyone else will rely on tiebreakers.

Duke, GT, and UNC are required to be in every tie scenario.  GT has already finished their conference season.  If UNC beats Duke, then both teams would sit at three losses.  However, UNC does not have enough tiebreakers to win the division.

Scenario #1:  Duke finishes 6-2
Setup:  Duke wins
Outcome:  Duke wins Coastal, best record.

Three way ties at 5-3:

Scenario #2:  Duke/GT/UNC
Setup:  Duke, VT, and Miami lose
Outcome:  GT wins, head-to-head.

Four way ties at 5-3:

Scenario #3:  GT/Duke/Miami/UNC
Setup:  Miami wins, VT and Duke lose.
Outcome:  Miami wins Coastal.  Among the four teams, Miami and GT would be 2-1, while Duke and UNC would be 1-2.  Miami then beats GT on direct head-to-head.

Scenario #4:  GT/Duke/VT/UNC
Setup:  Miami and Duke lose, VT wins
Outcome:  VT wins Coastal.  Among the four, VT and GT would be 2-1, Duke and UNC 1-2, VT beats GT on direct head-to-head.

Five way tie at 5-3:

Scenario #5:  GT/Duke/VT/Miami/UNC
Setup:  VT and Miami win, Duke loses.
Outcome:  VT wins Coastal.  Among the five teams, VT would be 3-1.  Duke, GT, and Miami would be 2-2, and UNC would be 1-3.

I was going to make a chart, but with only five scenarios it is really easy.  Here is what each team needs.

Duke:  win.
Virginia Tech:  win + Duke loss.
Miami:  win + Duke loss + VT loss.
GT:  Duke loss + VT loss + Miami loss.

Bowl eligible:  Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, UNC, Pitt
Last game determines bowl status: Syracuse
Not bowl eligible:  UVA, NC State, Wake Forest

Friday, November 22, 2013

BCS Predictions pre-Thanksgiving

Here are my slightly too early BCS bowl predictions.

National title:  Alabama (SEC champ) vs. Florida State (ACC champ)
As much I would love to see an upset in the SEC, and see one of the other hopefuls creep up into the top two, I can't logically pick against Alabama until that happens.  Also, can we come up with a bowl name for this game already?

Rose Bowl:  Ohio State (B1G champ) vs. Oregon (Pac-12 champ)
There are still chances for upsets in the conference title games, though, as the leaders of all four divisions look really good.

Orange Bowl:  Clemson (ACC, at-large) vs. Michigan State (B1G, at-large)
I think the Orange Bowl will stick with an ACC team to replace Florida State.  The only two options are an 11-1 Clemson or a 10-3 Duke, and Clemson gets the edge.  Clemson is also an attractive option despite their conference affiliation.  For the at-large opponent, since the Orange Bowl gets the first pick, I think they might just look down the BCS standings and find the highest ranked team that is qualified.  Currently, Stanford is above MSU, but I could see Michigan State jumping them as they keep winning.  Also, geography could play a role.

Sugar Bowl:  Missouri (SEC, at-large) vs. Louisville (American champ)
I'm assuming that Missouri will win out and play in the SEC championship game.  If not, Auburn would be an attractive option as well.  I'm taking a chance that Louisville can win the conference, but they are clearly the most attractive team in the American.  The other big question is if UCF would be more attractive than the non-AQ.

Fiesta Bowl:  Baylor (Big 12 champ) vs. Fresno State (non-AQ)
I'm going with Fresno as the non-AQ at this point since they are currently ranked higher.  I really think that these bowls play a game of hot potato with the American champ and the non-AQ.  It could work out in the Fiesta Bowl's favor, though, as they could have another matchup of undefeated teams not playing in the national title.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Games to Watch: Week 13

Next week is rivalry week, so this week is much more subdued.  In most cases, we either have non-marquee conference matchups or cupcake out of conference games. 

Duke at Wake Forest, ESPN2.  By itself, this game isn't all that great, but it has great consequence on the ACC Coastal race.  If Duke wins, 9 of the 17 scenarios presented earlier become obsolete.  If they lose, then 6 scenarios become obsolete.

Virginia at Miami, ESPNU.  Again, nothing great by itself, but worth keeping an eye on for the Coastal race, and to see how bad either team is.  UVA has been winless since September, and Miami has a three game losing streak.

3:30 PM
Texas A&M at LSU, CBS.  Since the state of Alabama has the SEC West locked up, this game means nothing for conference titles.  But A&M still has an outside chance at a BCS spot, and this game could get crazy.

7 PM
Arizona State at UCLA, FOX.  It's the battle of the Pac-12 South.  Arizona State will clench the division with a win, but UCLA can keep it a three way battle if they win.  That sets up an interesting final weekend, where the USC/UCLA game could determine the division title.

7:45 PM
Missouri at Ole Miss, ESPN.  If Missouri loses, then South Carolina wins the SEC East.  If they win, they still need to win next week to clench the division.

8 PM
Baylor at Oklahoma State, ABC.  The battle for the top of the Big 12.  While this game is important, I don't think it will determine anything at this point.  Both teams are known for their offenses, so if you like shootouts, watch this one.

Monday, November 18, 2013

BCS Thoughts: Three Weeks to Go

With the end of the season so close, I've decided to make this a weekly affair.  Here's where things stand, as far as I can tell, regarding the final round of the BCS.

National Championship Game
Alabama and Florida State appear to control their destiny.  While Alabama's road is certainly tougher, FSU had better make sure to keep going strong against its remaining opponents. 

Baylor and Ohio State sit patiently behind, seeing if a slip-up occurs.  If so, then the fun begins, debating whether the Buckeyes or the Bears deserve that coveted #2 slot.

Non-AQ Berth
I was surprised at how little respect Northern Illinois got for beating a respectable Ball State team.  I'm now convinced that Fresno will get the necessary poll support to remain the leading candidate, but NIU should still be in position should the Bulldogs trip up.

Anything can happen...2010 Boise State/Nevada, or 2011 Boise State/TCU are quite memorable.  Perhaps the Broncos can be on the other side of a BCS-busting upset if they meet up with the Bulldogs.

2008 Buffalo/Ball State a bit less so, when the Bulls beat the 12-0 Cardinals.  It didn't affect the BCS, but I point this out because it could be Buffalo that once again has a chance to knock off an unbeaten in the MAC Championship Game in Northern Illinois.  And if Fresno loses too, then this most certainly would affect the BCS.

At-Large Spots
Instead of simply listing teams that have the potential to finish with 1 or 2 losses, I'll list a handful of teams that appear in the best shape.  I'm done listing Louisville, or a second non-AQ team: I've come to accept that it's just not gonna happen.

It's simple: beat the Gamecocks!  It's been 5 years, the Tigers are certainly due.  Should FSU make it into the NCG, the Orange Bowl spot's got Clemson's name written all over it.  Even if Clemson loses, it's possible the Tigers remain in the Top 14 at 10-2 and get chosen anyway to replace the Seminoles.

Texas A&M, Auburn, Missouri
Of all the possible SEC teams, only the Aggies are truly aiming for the "at-large" spot at this moment.  Auburn has its winner-take-all showdown with Alabama coming up, while Missouri and South Carolina still have the SEC East in its sights (Mizzou needing 2 wins, SC needing a single Mizzou loss). 

If Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M win its last 2 against LSU and Missouri, I'd like to think they'll be the prime candidate for the Sugar Bowl (barring an Alabama loss in the SEC CG).  If the Aggies lose, however, then Missouri (10-2 by splitting Ole Miss/A&M, or 11-2 by losing in the SEC CG) or Auburn (10-2 with loss to Bama, or 11-2 with loss to SC/Mizzou) should work just fine.

Michigan State/Wisconsin
With Stanford losing to USC, it appears the Big Ten is in great position to get a second BCS spot, and at the PAC-12's expense.

I'm surprised at how low the Spartans remain in the BCS Standings, even after impressive wins against Michigan and Nebraska.  I think Mark Dantonio & Co. can actully win the whole thing and make "at-large" a moot point.  But should MSU go 11-1 and then lose to the Buckeyes, I think theythe Orange Bowl will still give them a serious look.

 I personally like Michigan State more than Wisconsin, but some voters and TV personalities seem to prefer the Badgers.  If MSU indeed loses to Ohio State to finish 11-2, compared to Wisconsin's 10-2 (with many believing the loss to Arizona State shouldn't have happened), it'll be a real toss-up to see who can get that Orange Bowl spot against Clemson.  It may come down to MSU's performance against the Buckeyes and a comparitive "eye test".

The best shot at the PAC-12 (or Big 12) getting an At-Large spot are (i) losses by the unbeatens that allows their conference champ to go the NCG, and/or (ii) losses by NIU and Fresno to take the non-AQ out of the picture.  Stanford, despite its ugly loss to Utah and upset by now-ranked USC, remains a Top 10 team in the BCS and would love to make it to a 4th straight.  But it'll be tough to overcome other eastern/southern-oriented teams with the Orange and Sugar picking before the more western-oriented Fiesta.

I don't really see the Big 12 getting an at-large, and even 11-1 non-champion Baylor could get left out due to its "new-ness" to the national stage.  But if Baylor does win out, as does Oklahoma, then it's possible the Sooners find themselves in position to compete with Michigan State/Wisconsin (or Clemson if they slip up against the Gamecocks) for that second Orange Bowl spot.

Under the Radar Games: Week 13

It's the penultimate week of November, and this time of year's made for the big-time matchups.  Even so, here are five that could play a significant role in ensuring the "big-time" nature of the final few weeks.

1. Rutgers at UCF.  Rutgers gave Louisville a run for its money earlier this year, beat Arkansas (though the Razorbacks are truly dreadful this year in the SEC), and came oh-so-close to beating Fresno State to start the season.  UCF needed a rally to beat pathetic Temple!  A loss to Rutgers wouldn't take UCF out of the BCS driver's seat, but it would almost certainly ensure that the American champ will be low-enough ranked to allow #16 to be the non-AQ champion threshold (personally, I don't think that matters...a 12-0 Fresno or 13-0 Northern Illinois should be able to clear the "truly least for the highest one" #12 spot).

2. UNLV at Air Force.  No conference championship or BCS implications here.  But a fairly long bowl drought may come to an end.  UNLV hasn't been to a bowl since 2000, but if they can pull off a road win against winless-in-conference Air Force, then the Rebels will once again be bowl eligible. 

3. Duke at Wake Forest.  Not really that far off the radar, but I've included it here nonetheless.  With Duke ranked in the Coaches and Harris polls, I'm guessing the Blue Devils missed out on its first-ever BCS ranking to Minnesota by a razor-thin margin.  I think that can be rectified if Duke prevails against a rather poor Wake Forest team.  It would tie a school-record 9 wins and most importantly, it keeps Duke in the driver's seat for the ACC Championship Game.  Nice choice for an ESPN2 Noon game! 
Now here's the true under-the-radar part: Duke would clinch at least a share of the Division with this win.  Let me repeat that: Duke Football would have an ACC Coastal Division co-Championship (and an outright one if it also beats UNC)!  I say put Cutcliffe up there for National Coach of the Year consideration, along with Art Briles and Gus Malzahn!

4. East Carolina at NC State.  Could the Pirates knock off UNC and NC State in the same season?  How big would that be for that program!  If they succeed, as does Duke, then I would absolutely love to see a way for the Pirates and the Blue Devils to meet up in a bowl game - possibly the Belk Bowl - for a "best of NC" showdown.  That would require some crafty bowl negotiating, perhaps a little to much to be realistic, but a man can surely dream.

5. Utah at Washington State.  Despite impressive upsets of Stanford and USC, these two teams are badly in need of this win in order to become bowl eligible.  For Utah, it's a must-win; the Utes have already reached 6 losses and can afford no more.  Washington State hasn't been to a bowl in a decade, and they are now "this" close.  At home in Pullman for Senior Day, this could truly be a memorable moment (and a disastrous one for Utah, which would be missing out on a bowl for the 2nd straight year).

Week 12 wrap up

As we rapidly approach the end of the season, I've condensed most of the conferences down into one weekly post.  The ACC still gets their own post, because they always have a crazy finish.

I'm leaving out the teams that are obviously out.

Alabama (7-0) and Auburn (6-1) are set up for a winner take all match in the Iron Bowl.

Missouri (5-1) is still in the lead and controls their destiny.  However, they cannot clench a spot in the SEC title game until they win both of their remaining games.

South Carolina (6-2) is done with conference play, and needs Missouri to lose a game.  SC holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Georgia (4-3) got eliminated this week by losing, and South Carolina winning.

Ohio State (6-0) is in charge here, and can clench with one more win.

Wisconsin (5-1) is just behind them, but needs Ohio State to lose two games.

Michigan State (6-0) leads this division, and can clench with just one win.

Minnesota (4-2) has a slight chance.  They play MSU in the final week of the season, so if MSU loses next week, then they set up a winner take all match.

Nebraska (4-2) is out, because they have lost to both MSU and Minnesota, so they would lose any tiebreakers.

Oregon (6-1) jumped back into the lead this weekend following Stanford's loss.  They can clench with one win and a Stanford loss, or two wins.

Stanford (6-2) clenches with a win and an Oregon loss.

Oregon State (4-3) is out.  Stanford has head-to-head tiebreakers over both Oregon schools, so even if Oregon State was able to force a three way tie at 6-3 (including a win over Oregon), they would come out at the bottom.

Arizona State (6-1) leads.  They can clench with a win over UCLA in their next game.

UCLA (5-2) has yet to play either team around them. If they win both of their remaining games, they win the division.  If they lose to USC and Arizona State also loses their final game, then UCLA still can take the division.

USC (5-2) can win the division by winning out, if Arizona State loses out.

Big 12
This conference is still a few matchups away from anybody clenching.  The earliest anyone can clench is Thanksgiving weekend, but most likely, it will come down to the Baylor/Texas game on December 7.

Baylor (6-0) leads.

Oklahoma State (6-1) controls their destiny, because they play Baylor next week.

Texas (6-1) lost to Oklahoma State, and has yet to play Baylor.  So they need Oklahoma State to lose a game.

Oklahoma (5-2) looks to be out.  If they win out, the best they would be able to do is force a three way tie of 7-2 teams (and that assumes that Baylor and/or Texas lose additional games), which would include Oklahoma State and the Baylor/Texas winner.  In this scenario, OK State would have wins over Baylor and Texas.  The three tied teams would be 1-1 against each other, so we go to the next tiebreaker or record against the next highest placed team, which would most likely be the Baylor/Texas loser.  OK State and the winner already have wins over the loser, and Oklahoma doesn't.  Now, I might be missing something, and there's some possibility that I'm missing.

Kansas State (4-3) is out.  The best record they can achieve is 6-3, and since the current 6 win teams have yet to play, we know that at least one of them will get at least 7 wins.

You know what?  I just don't care about this one anymore, and I don't think you do either.  Yes, they are still a BCS conference, but only for another two months, and then the BCS goes away, and the big 6 are turned into the power 5.  Probably the two biggest name teams in the conference (Louisville and Rutgers) are both leaving for other conferences next season.  The winner of this conference is probably going to be in a battle with the non-AQ team for who gets picked last for a BCS bowl.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny Week 12 wrap up

The Coastal division is taking this race down to the last week. 

Pitt (2-4) and UVA (0-6) are out.  UNC (4-3) is also out, but can factor into a few tie situations.

The easiest path to win the division is Duke (4-2) winning out.  They would only have two losses, which is better than everyone else.  So all they have to do is win against Wake Forest and UNC.


Scenario #1:  Duke finishes 6-2
Setup:  Duke wins out
Outcome:  Duke wins Coastal, best record.

But if Duke loses, a whole lot of possibilities open up, so let's go through them by tier.  Because GT has finished conference play at 5-3, they are involved in all ties.

Single team at 5-3:

Scenario #2:  GT
Setup:  Duke and VT lose out, Miami loses at least one game.
Outcome:  GT wins Coastal, best record.

Two way ties at 5-3:

Scenario #3:  Duke/GT
Setup:  Duke, Miami, and VT all lose one game.
Outcome:  GT wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #4:  GT/VT
Setup:  Duke loses two, Miami loses at least one, VT wins out.
Outcome:  VT wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #5:  GT/Miami
Setup:  Duke loses two, VT loses, Miami wins out.
Outcome:  Miami wins, head-to-head.

Three way ties at 5-3:

Scenario #6:  Duke/GT/VT
Setup:  Duke loses one, VT wins, Miami loses at least one.
Outcome:  VT wins on divisional record, as each team is 1-1 against each other.

Scenario #7:  VT/GT/Miami
Setup:  Duke loses two, VT wins, Miami wins out
Outcome:  VT wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #8:  Duke/GT/UNC
Setup:  Duke beats WF, loses to UNC, VT and Miami lose
Outcome:  GT wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #9:  VT/GT/UNC
Setup:  Duke loses two, VT wins, Miami loses at least one.
Outcome:  VT wins, head-to-head

Scenario #10:  GT/UNC/Miami
Setup:  Duke loses two, VT loses, Miami wins out.
Outcome:  Miami wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #11:  GT/Duke/Miami, option 1
Setup:  Duke beats WF but loses to UNC, Miami wins out, VT loses.
Outcome:  Miami wins.  These three teams are 1-1 against each other.  Duke would have 3 divisional losses vs. GT and Miami's 2, and then Miami wins head-to-head.

Scenario #12:  GT/Duke/Miami, option 2
Setup:  Duke loses to WF but beats UNC, Miami wins out, VT loses.
Outcome:  Duke wins Coastal.  The first two tiebreaker steps don't work.  I've seen a couple of different interpretation of the third tiebreaker, but all of them have Duke winning.  The interpretation I'm going with is that they will look at how the tied teams did against the team that is immediately under them, which would be VT.  Duke is the only one of the three to beat VT, so they win.

I think that takes care of three way ties.

Four way ties at 5-3:

Scenario #13:  GT/Duke/Miami/VT
Setup:  Miami wins out, VT wins, Duke loses to WF but beats UNC.
Outcome:  Duke wins Coastal.  On head-to-head among the four teams, Duke and VT would be 2-1, where Miami and GT would be 1-2.  Duke then beats VT on direct head-to-head.

Scenario #14:  GT/VT/Miami/UNC
Setup:  Duke loses out, Miami and VT win out.
Outcome:  VT wins, head-to-head.

Scenario #15:  GT/Duke/Miami/UNC
Setup:  Miami wins out, VT loses, Duke beats WF but loses to UNC.
Outcome:  Miami wins Coastal.  Among the four teams, Miami and GT would be 2-1, while Duke and UNC would be 1-2.  Miami then beats GT on direct head-to-head.

Scenario #16:  GT/Duke/VT/UNC
Setup:  Miami loses, VT wins out, Duke beats WF, UNC beats Duke.
Outcome:  VT wins Coastal.  Among the four, VT and GT would be 2-1, Duke and UNC 1-2, VT beats GT on direct head-to-head.

Five way tie at 5-3:

Scenario #17:  GT/Duke/VT/Miami/UNC
Setup:  VT and Miami win out, Duke beats Wake, UNC beats Duke.
Outcome:  VT wins Coastal.  Among the five teams, VT would be 3-1.  Duke, GT, and Miami would be 2-2, and UNC would be 1-3.

I think these 17 scenarios cover all of the possibilities. 

Of the four possible teams that can win the Coastal, here are their chances:
VT 7/17
Miami 4/17
GT 3/17
Duke 3/17

Isn't that the most ACC thing ever?  The only team that controls their destiny actually has the fewest winning scenarios.

We're beyond looking at situations to gain control.  I believe this is the bare minimum for what each team needs to win the division:

Duke:  win out.
VT:  beat UVA + a Duke loss + another Duke loss OR Miami loss
GT:  Duke loss + VT loss + Miami loss
Miami:  win out + Duke loss + another Duke loss OR VT loss

There is a chance I've missed something.  I know there are some posts floating around the internet saying there are 32 scenarios for the Coastal, but that is based on an individual game by game outcome.  Many of those scenarios overlap, because for most teams, it doesn't matter who they lose to if they lose.  Also, if Miami loses one game, they're out, so their second game doesn't matter.

Bowl eligible:  Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Boston College
One win away: Syracuse, Pitt, UNC
One loss away from not going:  Wake Forest
Not bowl eligible:  UVA, NC State

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 12 update

The race for the Coastal division got one step closer to the end, but I'm not sure it got any clearer.  After all, the number crunchers at ESPN are saying there were over a thousand different possibilities for the Coastal race prior to Thursday's game.

With Georgia Tech losing, they end their conference campaign at 5-3.  While that does not officially knock anyone out of contention, it does shift control of the division over to Duke (3-2).

This means all eyes shift over to Duke's game against Miami (3-2) on Saturday.  Now, with GT losing, this game is not an elimination game, but it is a destiny decider.

With only 3 teams left at 2 losses, and one of those guaranteed to lose on Saturday, the only tie scenarios for 2 loss teams is VT being tied with the Miami/Duke winner.  As we've already pointed out, VT has a the tiebreaker over Miami, but Duke has it over VT.

So, Duke controls their destiny.
Virginia Tech needs a Duke loss.
Miami needs a VT loss.
Georgia Tech is done with conference play, and has ceded control.
Pitt and UNC are both hoping that VT and the winner of Miami/Duke loses another game.

Perhaps we can start looking at clenching scenarios following this weekend.  The Miami/Duke game controls so many possibilities that once we get past it, the road to Charlotte should be much clearer.

BCS replacement teams

Tony brought up a good point in his latest BCS post, and that is about conference loyalty from the BCS bowls when a team is selected for the national championship.  So I thought I would look at the history of the BCS since the invention of the fifth bowl game following the 2006 season.

Of course, that is the year in which the current SEC dominance started, so obviously, the first place to look is the Sugar Bowl, which has not had the SEC champion play since the 2006 game, which was for the 2005 season.

The only year that the Sugar Bowl did not feature an SEC team was the 2012 (2011 season) matchup between Michigan and Virginia Tech.  That was also the year that Alabama and LSU played for the national title (ironically, in a game hosted by the Sugar Bowl).  Since the BCS only allows two teams from any given conference in the bowls, the national championship took up the SEC allotment, so the Sugar Bowl had to go with two at large teams.  And it was a heck of a game, too, except for the poor officiating at the end.  (Danny Coale caught the ball, dammit.)

From here on out, any years I refer to are the seasons, which means the bowls were played in the following January.

In 2006 and 2007, Ohio State was the losing team in the national championship.  Of course, the Rose Bowl does everything it can to preserve the Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, so a replacement Big Ten team was chosen in both cases.

In 2008, the Fiesta Bowl chose Texas, since Big 12 champion Oklahoma was chosen for the SEC slaughter.

2009 gave us an interesting bowl season, since Texas was in the national championship.  The Fiesta Bowl opted to go with two non-AQ teams in TCU and Boise State.

In 2010, Oregon appeared in the national championship, opening up a spot in the Rose Bowl.  However, the BCS had implemented a rule that the first year that a Pac-12 or Big Ten team was selected for the national championship and there was a qualified non-AQ team, the Rose Bowl had to select the non-AQ team as the replacement.

We already went over 2011 above, where 2 SEC teams played for the national title.  In 2012, Notre Dame was the second NC participant, so there was no need for another bowl to not have their champion.

To sum it up, it looks like the only two times that a team was not chosen from the same conference as a replacement were in 2009 and 2010, when non-AQ teams were selected.  We know that 2010 was an obligation.

It looks like a safe bet that the BCS bowls will choose replacements from their own conferences.   Let's look at the teams at the top of the polls.

Ohio State and Stanford are in Rose Bowl conferences.  If a Pac-12 or Big Ten team goes to the national title game, the runner up in either conference knows they have a rosy future.

If Baylor can make it in, there's no telling what the Fiesta Bowl will do.  They have a history of going outside the box for their matchups, and they have the last pick of the at-large teams this year.  So, the Big 12 or replacement team is most likely going to be their marquee team.

The only way Alabama doesn't go to a BCS bowl is if they just don't win anymore, and that seems highly unlikely at this point.  Even if they lose a game and miss out on the SEC and/or national title game, they will still have a good enough record for an at-large spot.  If they do completely melt down, there will be plenty of SEC teams with only 1 or 2 losses that the Sugar Bowl will be willing to select.

Florida State and the ACC can be tricky.  The Orange Bowl already has ratings problems, as it usually ends up with the lowest ranked teams in the BCS bowls.  Fortunately, they have first pick of the at-large teams this year.  More than likely, Clemson will be the FSU replacement, as they are the only team in the ACC that can have only 1 loss.  The Coastal division is spinning the Wheel of Destiny so fiercely that the only chance any of them have for getting to the Orange Bowl is by beating FSU in the ACC title game.  The only team that is attractive from a tourism point of view is Virginia Tech, but they have been very uneven the last two years, and only have a 1-3 record in the Orange Bowl.  Even if Miami somehow wins the division and ends with a 10-3 record (assuming a second loss to FSU), they are literally the home team, and can barely bring fans in during the regular season.  They certainly wouldn't be a tourism draw for the area.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Games to Watch: Week 12

We're getting close to the end, folks.  There's actually a few teams that end their conference schedule this week.

7:30 PM
Georgia Tech at Clemson, ESPN.  This cross-divisional game has been fierce several times, and even found itself in a rematch in an ACC championship game once.  This year, no team in the Coastal division controls their destiny, but GT could change that.  Ironically, they would not gain control of their destiny, but win or lose, they would help other teams.  Instead, GT will be a lame duck after this game, as it is their last conference game of the season.

12:30 PM
Maryland at Virginia Tech, ACC Network.  Nothing overly spectacular here, but VT needs to win to stay alive in their division.  Hopefully, the Hokies can find more of that offense that they found in Miami.  Meanwhile, Maryland continues their farewell tour of the ACC.  It's been going well for them.

3:30 PM
Georgia at Auburn, CBS.  If Auburn wins, they guarantee a winner take all game against Alabama.  Georgia looked like a contender 12 weeks ago, but they're beat up.  They might be wishing for a mercy killing.

Oklahoma State at Texas, FOX.  Both teams still control their destiny in the Big 12.  But a loss for OK State would drop them way back.

Miami at Duke, ESPNU.  Who would have thought that this game would be the biggest ACC Coastal game of the week?  The loser could be out of contention.  If GT wins on Thursday, the loser definitely is out of contention.

4 PM
Utah at Oregon, FS1.  This is an interesting Pac-12 matchup.  Utah beat Stanford, the current North division leader.  They also played Arizona State (the current South leader) extremely close, only losing by one.  So they seem to step it up against the "big" teams in the conference.  Even though Oregon isn't a leader in the conference at the moment, they are still a high profile team.

7 PM
Texas Tech vs. Baylor, FS1.  A more intriguing matchup a few weeks ago, where it looked like it could be a battle of unbeatens.  Instead, a Baylor win would most likely eliminate TTU from anything.

Florida at South Carolina, ESPN2.  This will have some implications in the next couple of weeks in determining the SEC East winner.  Basically, it will determine how soon anybody can clinch the division.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 12

The chill is in the air, and the feel of "late season" is upon us.  With such a slate of high-profile, high-impact games last week, we got one more calm before the final surge this week.  Some high-impact games are clear (Michigan State-Nebraska, Texas Tech-Baylor), some a bit less-so.

1. Ball State at Northern Illinois.  I almost didn't put this one on here, figuring the impact was too obvious.  But of course, a lot of folks don't follow the MAC (or the specifics of the yearly non-AQ race).  Ball State has a great record - only one loss.  This figures to provide a nice boost in NIU's computer resume if the Huskies emerge victorious at home, and it could ease the gap with Fresno State in the BCS rankings.  A loss to the Cardinals, however, and gone will go the ranking, MAC contention, and most importantly, BCS Bowl contention.  But no pressure, Huskies!

2. Washington at UCLA.  A Friday night matchup...and it looks to be a good one.  UCLA is aiming for a South Division showdown with Arizona State, but a loss to these pesky Huskies could derail that plan.  Washington, meanwhile, looks to get back to its early-season ranked ways (before its brutal stretch of Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State) out, and a 10-3 season can become a huge stepping stone for this not-unrecently-horrid program.

3. Florida Atlantic at Southern Miss.  Hard to believe that Southern Miss has lost 21 straight...with a 12-win season just before!  With Florida Atlantic in an interim coach situation, and looking pretty bad themselves, this unfortunate and bizarre streak could come to an end this weekend.

4. Michigan at Northwestern.  Hard to believe that the Wildcats were once in the Top 20, with a ten point lead against Ohio State.  Or that the Wolverines were on the verge of the Top 10, after an exciting Chicken-Dancing win over Notre Dame.  My, how the tables have turned.  What once looked like a possible division showdown has become a survival game, especially for Northwestern.  Games are running out, and the Wildcats are now in serious danger of becoming bowl-ineligible.  Michigan, meanwhile, has lost its last two, and with Ohio State not too far away, cannot afford to lose focus now.

5. Houston at Louisville.  Another survival/elimination game.  Houston is most likely out of the BCS is Louisville.  But the winner remains alive in desperate hope that it can win out and UCF can lose two of its remaining games.  On a more positive note, the winner of this game, even without a BCS Bowl, has a serious shot at an 11-win season and a final Top 25 ranking if it can win out.

BCS Thoughts: Mid November

Just a few more weeks to go, and there's still so much room for chaos.  So, without further ado, here's my latest take on how the final BCS is shaping up.

National Championship Game
The major-conference unbeatens are down to 4, with two distinct "tiers". 

In Tier 1, we'll find Alabama and Florida State.  For the Tide and Seminoles, it's simply win and get in.  But they'll both be sure to get their opponents' best - including road games against bitter in-state rivals (Auburn, Florida respectively).

In Tier 2, we'll find Ohio State and Baylor.  It seems that these teams need a loss by a "Tier 1" team to jump into Tier 1 themselves.  What's not clear is who makes the jump if only one of FSU or Bama lose.  Although Stanford is currently positioned ahead of Baylor in the  BCS standings, I believe the Bears will pass the one-loss Cardinal with another good win (possibly after this weekend's neutral-site matchup with Texas Tech).

A few one-loss teams in contention include Stanford (with their lofty current #4 ranking), Auburn, and Missouri.  I wonder if we'll even need to get serious about the one-loss teams.  But of course, as always in November, never underestimate the possibility for chaos.

Non-AQ Berth
I've also been keeping an eye on Fresno State and Northern Illinois, and it's exciting to see this wind up as a race till the end.  The polls seem to favor Fresno, but NIU could get a computer edge in the next couple weeks with matchups against a one-loss Ball State and decent Toledo team.  Should one stumble, the path should be clear for the other...if it can win out!  I still say it's too close to call, however, should both teams win out.

BCS At-Large
Best shot: Clemson (beat GT, take back the state from the Gamecocks, hello 11-1)
Other possibilities: 12-1 FSU (upset in ACC Championship Game)

Best shot: 10-2 Texas A&M, Missouri, or Auburn
Other possibilities: 10-2 South Carolina (beats SC but misses SEC Championship Game)

Big Ten
Best shots: 10-2 Wisconsin or 11-2 Michigan State
Other possibility: 12-1 Ohio State (loss in B1G Championship Game)

Big 12
Best shot: 10-2 Oklahoma/Oklahoma State winner
Other possibility: 11-1 Baylor (loss to Oklahoma State or Texas)

PAC 12
Best shot: 11-1 Oregon
Other possibility: 10-2 Stanford (second loss to USC or Cal)

11-1 Louisville
Undefeated non-automatic Northern Illinois or Fresno State

As long as it's possible, I suspect the BCS bowls remain loyal to their host conferences.  In other words, if Alabama-FSU is the NCG matchup, I believe Clemson and an SEC team are shoo-ins (provided they take care of business).  With four BCS spots not taken by AQ Conference Champs, it'll be interesting to see how this shakes up. 

What If....?

It's ironic that this year, we're playing the what if game...what if it was next season and we had playoffs?

What's more ironic is that at this point in time, it looks like we need 4 slots and we'd still be arguing over two or three teams to fill the last spot.

Obviously, no one is arguing against Alabama and Florida State at numbers 1 and 2, which is where the BCS has placed them.  I would almost make an argument for FSU to be #1.  They have only had one game that even looks "close", and that was a 14 point win against Boston College.  Meanwhile, Alabama started off with a game against VT that should have ended 14-10 if it wasn't for their special teams, and then a shootout with Texas A&M, where they started off down 14, and only won by 7.

The other two spots are a little more difficult to fill.  Ohio State (#3 BCS) hasn't lost a game since Urban Meyer took over, but they've seemed a little shaky this season.  Stanford (#4 BCS) has a loss to Utah, of all teams, but they have the inside track to win their conference after slaughtering Oregon.

But the most impressive team outside of the top two has to be Baylor, currently sitting at #5.  Their lowest score this season has been 35 points.  Granted, they don't have the competition that the other teams have, but it is safe to say that RG3 was the start of something at Baylor, and not a one time fluke.

I'd love to see Oregon (#6) in the mix, but after they stunk it up last week, I can't endorse them in any sort of playoff right now.  Besides, I am in the camp that prefers conference champions over random wildcards, at least while we have so few playoff teams.

I chuckle at the Tiger trifecta at 7-8-9:  Auburn, Clemson, and Missouri.  Two of those Tiger teams might have a shot at knocking Alabama out of the picture.  The other had their shot at FSU, but failed miserably. 

So, the four teams I "endorse" at this time in this hypothetical situation are Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and Baylor.  It's hard to argue with undefeated teams in the top five conferences (It's a "what if" scenario about next year, so the former Big East doesn't count...not that I counted it in the first place).  It's not Baylor's fault that the Big 12 isn't performing to their usual standards this year, but with the offensive production out of that team, does it even matter?

As for the one-loss teams, Oregon is completely out of the picture while Stanford remains ahead of them.  But, I can't overlook Stanford's loss to Utah.

But, all four of those teams still have to get out of their conferences first, and also worry about rivalry week.  Auburn is going to be extra hungry this year if the Iron Bowl is set up to be a winner take all into the SEC championship game.  Even though the teams in the ACC Coastal have been uneven all year, that is a dangerous mix, because whoever comes out of that divisional could have one of those nights against FSU in Charlotte.

It is November, a month known for surprises in college football.  There's a good chance we could be looking a new top four, or even top two next weekend.