Monday, September 30, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 6

With only three matchups of ranked teams, quite a bit of games could be considered "under the radar" this week.  Still, I'll take this over the mess that was Week 4 and all those 70-point blowouts.  Plus, as Chip mentioned, conference play is under way - leading to a little more "unpredictability" in terms of matchups and results.

My "under the radar" matchups for this week are as follows:

1. Clemson at Syracuse.  Some might not consider this "under the radar" at all, given Clemson's lofty #3 ranking, Syracuse's first ACC conference game, and the Orange's recent upsets of eventual conference champs Louisville and West Virginia.  But with the three ranked matchups (MD-FSU, Washington-Stanford, Ohio State at Northwestern in the "Musburger/Herbstreit Bowl") on ESPN networks, Notre Dame - Arizona State on NBC, TCU-Oklahoma on FOX, and Georgia-Tennessee on CBS, I feel this one could be unwisely overlooked.

2. West Virginia at Baylor.  What a rebound for the Mountaineers, upsetting Oklahoma State just a week after getting massively shut out by Maryland!  It seems their offense and defense have switched places from 2012.  And Baylor certainly has looked the part in the early part of 2013, putting up over 200 points in only 3 games and giving up only a handful!  With 2 bye weeks now behind the Bears, it's up to Art Briles and his crew to get rolling in conference play.  The results of this game will paint a better picture of how the Big 12's contenders really shake out.

3. Fresno State at Idaho.  It seems I always have a Fresno State game in this list, even if the opponent is no good.  And last week's game at Hawaii nearly saw a 30+ point Fresno collapse against the winless Rainbow Warriors!  This game provides a HUGE opportunity to compare this year's last 2 undefeated non-AQ teams.  Northern Illinois played at Idaho a couple weeks ago, but needed a strong comeback effort to pull off the win.  The Bulldogs can help distinguish itself from the Huskies this week by defeating the Vandals in a convincing fashion.  And while Fresno and NIU may both very well be within BCS Range (Top 12, or Top 16 and higher than an AQ Champ) if they go undefeated, only the higher of the two within that range is guaranteed a BCS Bowl.

4. Arkansas at Florida.  This game has implications on a few levels.  Within the game itself, Arkansas and Florida are in great need of this win.  For the Razorbacks, a rebound after two straight losses in respectable efforts against Rutgers and even Texas A&M would surely go far in demonstrating the program's growth.  For the Gators, a win would signify that Florida can indeed compete against just more than the bottom-level SEC teams.  Also of significance is how each team can impact the greater picture; Florida represents Miami's signature win and could help the Hurricanes in a Strength-of-Schedule debate further down the road, while Arkansas represents a solid win for Rutgers and the American Conference (and, by extension, Fresno State and its BCS-Busting aspirations).

5. Texas at Iowa State.  I almost didn't put this one down, thinking "surely Iowa State isn't going to threaten a resilient Longhorns team."  But just how resilient are these Longhorn players?  After the sudden firings at USC and UConn this week, I think we'll get a chance to see just how "in it" Texas is with Mack Brown - especially with Oklahoma right around the corner.  If the Longhorns are truly with their coach, and play focused, then my initial thought should be proven correct with a decisive Texas win that would put them 2-0 in the Big 12.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Games to Watch: Week 6

Big weekend, as conference play is fully underway and conference races start to form.  However, we don't have a lot of flashy matchups that generate interest outside of the conference, but become important down the road.

At least it's October, and that means that Homecomings start happening around the country!

Nothing of note on Thursday or Friday, unless Tony finds one under the radar.

Normally, I try to focus on the games that I would be flipping around if I were able to just sit on the couch and watch football all day.  Since I know I'll be in Blacksburg and probably only watching the Tech game, this week's list is largely following the ACC divisional races.

11:30 AM
Air Force at Navy, CBS.  This one is often overlooked in favor of the big Army-Navy game in December, but this one usually determines who wins the Commander-in-Chief trophy.

Maryland at Florida State, ESPN.  The ACC Atlantic has four teams that control their destiny, and these are two of them, primarily due to Maryland not playing any ACC games up to this point.  After a couple of strong starts followed by major sizzles the last few seasons, Maryland looks to be improved this year, even achieving a ranking.  FSU hasn't missed a step while breaking in a new QB, who could be one of the hottest underclassmen in the country.

12:30 PM
North Carolina at Virginia Tech, ACC Network.  VT's Homecoming, so I'll be in Lane Stadium for this one.  Hopefully, VT builds on their momentum from the big Thursday night win at Georgia Tech.  The defense is top notch, and the offense seems to be making steps.  This is also big for UNC, who is looking to stay in contention.  Getting a second conference loss can seriously hurt that.

3:30 PM
Georgia Tech at Miami, ESPNU.  GT is looking to rebound from their first loss, while Miami is looking for a strong start to their conference schedule.  This game will play a big role in the ACC Coastal race.

Clemson at Syracuse, ABC/ESPN2.  Poor Syracuse has to play their first ACC conference game against the team favored to win the entire conference.  Between this and the Maryland/FSU matchup, we should start seeing some separation in the ACC Atlantic.

8 PM
Ohio State at Northwestern, ABC.  Another test for Ohio State to see if they're the real deal.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Heading into Week 6

By the end of week 6, all of the ACC teams will have started conference play.  However, we already have an interesting set of scenarios.

No team has been officially eliminated yet, but a couple have dug really deep holes.  Below are the scenarios for each team to win their division.  These are the quickest and easiest scenarios, which basically relies on each team to win out their remaining ACC games.  There is a possibility some of the teams near the bottom have easier paths, but that would require multi-team ties.  It's too early in the season to worry about a 3 way tie between 2-loss teams.

Any records mentioned below only refer to conference records.  Any losses mentioned as needed below are in addition to however that team already has, if any.

Clemson and FSU are sitting at the top undefeated.  Maryland and Syracuse have not started conference play.  If any of those four teams win out, they take the division.
Boston College (1-1) needs to win out and have FSU lose two games.
NC State (0-1) needs to win out and have Clemson lose two games.
Wake Forest is in the biggest hole with 2 losses.  In addition to winning out, they need 3 Clemson losses, 2 BC losses, and a loss each by FSU, Maryland, and Syracuse.  For those last three losses, it is in addition to the hypothetical loss WF would be handing each of them while winning out.

Virginia Tech (1-0) is the only team in the division that has started conference play and not lost.
Miami has not started conference play.
Pitt's (2-1) only loss comes from FSU.  So, if they win out, they still have 1 loss, but would win all of the head-to-head tiebreakers.
Georgia Tech (2-1) needs 2 VT losses.
UVA (0-1) needs a Pitt loss.
UNC (0-1) needs a GT loss.
Duke (0-2) needs 2 Pitt losses, 2 GT losses, and a loss each by VT and Miami (in both cases, in addition to the loss Duke would need to hand them).

Short version:
Clemson, FSU, Maryland, and Syracuse control their destiny in the Atlantic.
Virginia Tech, Miami, and Pitt control their destiny in the Coastal.
Wake Forest and Duke are just about screwed.
Everyone else has a little bit of a chance.

Each week, I will present a list of key ACC games that will shape the road to the conference championship.  As the season goes on, games will be added, and I'm sure some will be removed as circumstances change.

The Road to the ACC Championship begins in earnest on October 5:
Georgia Tech @ Miami
Maryland @ Florida State
Clemson @ Syracuse
North Carolina @ Virginia Tech

At this point, we'll see some separation in the conference race, especially as the final 3 teams start their conference schedule.

October 12:
Pitt @ Virginia Tech
Boston College @ Clemson

October 19:
Florida State @ Clemson

November 9:
Virginia Tech @ Miami

November 14:
Georgia Tech @ Clemson

November 29:
Miami @ Pitt

It'll be fun to see which team gets eliminated from contention first.  It will probably still take a few more weeks to officially eliminate anybody, as we saw last year.  GT should have been done after their third conference game, but they were helped out by sanctions on two other teams.

And the wheel keeps turning...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 5

Last week, Chip was the one who went to a live game, a triple overtime Hokie win over Marshall.  Virginia Tech is now 2-0 in overtime games in Lane Stadium, and he happened to be present at both (the other being the 2012 opener against Georgia Tech, which I also attended).

This time around, I'll be the one hitting the road.  For the 2nd straight year, I'll be at the VT-GT game, this time in Atlanta at historic Bobby Dodd Stadium.  And although Chip already mentioned it in his Games list, I've got it down as a "national" under-the-radar game of the week.

1. Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech.  As a Hokie, my interest in the game is obvious.  It's no secret that major steps are needed in the Hokie offense if they want to go toe-to-toe with the Yellow Jackets.  The defense remains stellar, however, and should do its part in making this yet another ACC Classic.  For Georgia Tech, a win here would mark the 3rd straight conference win, all over Coastal opponents, make a great case for them to get ranked, and give them a sense of confidence heading into a serious showdown with Miami the following Saturday.

2. Fresno State at Hawaii.  After netting solid, albeit nail-biting, wins over Rutgers and Boise State so far this season, Fresno State is looking like it will be a legitimate contender in the game of BCS Busting.  And Hawaii's pretty bad, so one may see this as a walk-over for the Bulldogs. out.  Fresno has a history of beating some significant teams, and then finding a way to lost to inferior conference competition.  This weekend begins the run - can Fresno beat the teams they're supposed to, starting this weekend over in the islands of Hawaii, and find their way to the BCS?

3. Northern Illinois at Purdue.  After nearly losing to an FCS team last Saturday, and Idaho before that, Northern Illinois is NOT going to win favor over Fresno in this year's race to bust the BCS (assuming both continue undefeated), but as long as they do remain unbeaten, two road wins against Big Ten teams will still look impressive once all is said and done.  Purdue has what it takes to rebound and deliver the killing blow to the MAC's busting hopes - and for two reasons.  First, their game against Notre Dame showed that they're on the rise, even if it is a slow and gradual one that misses a bowl game.  Second, Darrell Hazel, head coach of Purdue, was last year's Kent State coach, who got knocked out of BCS contention in its triple overtime loss against NIU (albeit with a different head Huskie).

4. South Carolina at UCF.  The Gamecocks have looked good so far, but not quite as "in it" as they were a year ago.  They travel to Orlando to take on a UCF team that is poised to make a statement - particularly after knocking off Penn State.  South Carolina and the SEC need this one to keep one of its title contenders alive in the national race, while the American could greatly use this win to at least help the cause of UCF or Louisville, should either go 12-0, toward any realistic national title consideration.

5. Arizona at Washington.  A PAC-12 North vs South battle, between two undefeated teams.  The Huskies have the benefit of a strong game against Boise State, while the Wildcats seem to be looking for some respect.  As much credit as the North gets with Oregon and Stanford running the show, it's easy to overlook some talent on the other side.  UCLA is my personal favorite in the South, but Arizona looks to be one of those "tricky" teams that could give the rest of the conference a run for its money.

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 5

Both divisions are still wide open, but some teams are already in a hole.

Any records mentioned in this post only refer to conference records.

FSU, Clemson, and BC are undefeated in conference play.
Maryland and Syracuse haven't started conference games.
Wake Forest and NC State each have one loss, both to division foes.

Controls destiny:  FSU, Clemson, BC, Maryland, Syracuse
Needs 2 losses from another team:  WF, NC State.

GT has the undefeated lead.
Pitt is 1-1, with the loss coming from the other division.
Miami, VT, and UVA haven't started conference play.
UNC has lost 1 game, and Duke has lost two.  Both lost to GT.

Controls destiny:  GT, Miami, VT, UVA, Pitt
Needs 2 losses from another team:  UNC
Needs 3 losses from another team:  Duke

No one is officially out at this point, since the ACC is known for wild and crazy finishes.  At least there are no sanctions this year.  Although it looks like Duke is pretty much screwed.  Pitt has the shakiest control of their destiny.  Because their loss is from the other division, they can still run the table on the Coastal side and win all of the tiebreakers.

Week 5 has four conference matchups, which should cause some separation on both sides.

Games to Watch: Week 5

Okay, so we're finally through the first four weeks, which means most teams are fully into their conference schedules.  We shouldn't have any more weeks of multiple 70 point beatdowns.

7:30 PM
Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, ESPN.  This game has always mattered for the ACC Coastal.  Until last year, the winner won the division.  This is the only VT game on Thursday nights this year, and it's away.  Unfortunately, it's also five days after a 3OT marathon against Marshall.  I don't know why ESPN and the ACC didn't extend these teams the courtesy of a bye before their Thursday game as they have done in years past...especially when there are two byes built into this season.

Oklahoma State at West Virginia, ESPN.  I had a hard time picking this game, because WVU seems so uneven this year.  But a lot of familiar faces have left the Big 12, so the entire conference could be up for grabs.

12:30 PM
Virginia at Pitt, ACC Network.  Another spin of the ACC Wheel of Destiny.  Last week, Pitt edged out Duke by 3 in a game that was allergic to defense.

3:30 PM
LSU at Georgia, CBS.  This game is pivotal for the SEC, and possibly national championship.

Oklahoma at Notre Dame, NBC.  ND has been scheduling a lot of ranked teams close to them in the polls, and it could go either way.

6:30 PM
Ole Miss at Alabama, ESPN.  Alabama's second conference game, and second game against a ranked team.  This could be fun.

8 PM
Wisconsin at Ohio State, ABC.  Ohio State is in an interesting position.  They looked a bit shaky in the first couple of weeks, and then their backup quarterback has been blowing it up the last two weeks.  Might there be a controversy?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 4

Without too many high-profile games this week, it could be an interesting one for teams that might be looking ahead to bigger things.  Add a couple "prove it" games, and I think this could be a great weekend yet.  I have a few on tap for this week...enjoy!

1. Boise State at Fresno State.  A key Mountain West matchup on Friday night, when anything can happen.  The mid-2000s saw this as a fierce rivalry, but it's been rather one-sided in Boise's favor since they began BCS-busting back in '06.  Fresno has a very real shot at being this year's BCS Buster, and this game will be key in the Bulldogs' chances.

2. Arkansas at Rutgers.  Two teams that have something to prove.  Even though Rutgers lost narrowly to Fresno State on opening night, they did beat the Razorbacks last year in Arkansas.  I think the winner of this non-conference game should get a good bit of confidence heading into conference play.

3. SMU at Texas A&M.  After such a wild game with Alabama, one that ended in a loss, I have to wonder where the Aggies go from here.  Perhaps they'll be motivated, knowing that they hung 42 on the near-unanimous #1 team in the land and their "legendary" defense.  But on the other hand, I can see the potential for a bit of a hangover, against an SMU team that will surely be motivated for them.

4. Utah at BYU.  BYU's big win against Texas is looking just a bit dimmer, after Ole Miss accomplished a similar beatdown of the Longhorns just one week later.  But after dropping a few in a row to their bitter rivals from Salt Lake City, the Cougars are looking to get back on track against a rebuilding Utah team.  With the game in Provo, BYU could be looking for its second big win of this young season.

5. Purdue at Wisconsin.  Wisconsin figures to vent some serious frustration after last week's controversial loss at Arizona State.  But, if they instead opt for the hangover, then they could find themselves in trouble against a Purdue team that kept it a bit too close for Notre Dame.  Remember Wisconsin's talented 2011 team...after a heartbreaking last-second loss to Michigan State, they turned around and lost to Ohio State the following week (an Ohio State that finished 6-7).  Hopefully this Badger team can learn from that mini-disaster from 2 years ago.

Pac-12 officials have standards?

From a Yahoo! Sports article:

''This was an unusual situation to end the game,'' Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement on Monday. ''After a thorough review, we have determined that the officials fell short of the high standard in which Pac-12 games should be managed. We will continue to work with all our officials to ensure this type of situation never occurs again.''

What high standard?  Pac-12 refs have shown time and time again that they can't properly officiate a game.  Just ask Danny Coale in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Games to Watch: Week 4

We have more conference matchups creeping in.  It's still early to get excited about a lot, but this is the week that a lot of the groundwork for the late season drama gets laid.

7:30 PM
Clemson at NC State, ESPN.  I don't see this being a real test for Clemson, but it is their first conference game.  Cue the ACC Wheel of Destiny, although I don't see it being too crazy for the Atlantic Division.

UNC at Georgia Tech, ESPN.  The ACC Wheel of Destiny spins on the Coastal side.  GT went to the championship game last year, but UNC should have if they weren't sanctioned.

Marshall at Virginia Tech, ESPNU.  I finally switched TV service this summer and now get ESPNU HD.  Figures that the first VT game on that channel is one I'm going to.  Tech's last non-conference game.

12:30 PM
Pittsburgh at Duke, ACC Network.  These teams could be wildcards for the ACC Coastal.  Or, it could be the toilet bowl of the division.  Both of these teams have been on the rise, although very uneven, over the last couple of years.

3:30 PM
Tennessee at Florida, CBS.  The SEC on CBS picks some really obvious games sometimes.

West Virginia at Maryland, ESPNU.  I don't know why this one jumps out at me, other than on conference realignment merits.  I'm all for ACC teams beating non-ACC teams, but Maryland has lame duck status in the conference, since they leave for the Big Ten next year. 

Michigan State at Notre Dame, NBC.  For some reason, I kind of like Michigan State, and Notre Dame has a way of making any game interesting this year.

7 PM
Arizona State at Stanford, FOX.  This could be a key Pac-12 battle.

8 PM
Michigan at UConn OR Kansas State at Texas, ABC.  We have ourselves a split primetime game.  I'm intrigued by the choice of the first matchup, because UConn appears to be pretty horrible.  And in the second matchup, we could be see the fall of Texas.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Under-the-Radar Games: Week 3

Under-the-Radar Games: Week 3

Another slate of games that may not be highly regarded, but could prove interesting in the long run.

1. Bowling Green at Indiana.  A team from the MAC against a "lesser" Big Ten team?  Sure, considering the roll the Falcons are on.  If they can get by the Hoosiers, then the "BCS Buster" whispers least until their game against Mississippi State.  Alternatively, if Indiana is truly a program on the rise, they NEED the win (esp. after their loss to Navy).

2. Boston College at USC.  A solid win for BC against Wake Forest a week ago.  An ugly loss for the Trojans against Washington State.  BC certainly has the capability of pulling off the upset, and if they do, I imagine the wheels really come off for USC's season.  Lane Kiffin's time as USC head man might be soon to expire!

3. Ole Miss at Texas.  Similar to BC at USC.  If Texas drops a second game in a row, this time to a team the Longhorns curb-stomped a year ago, the mood in Austin is sure to take a steep drop (as will Mack Brown's job survival chances).

4. B1G vs PAC-12.  Only four items this week, but this last one contains four games within itself.  4 games between the Rose Bowl conferences, evenly split between 2 home and 2 away for each conference.  Interestingly, the higher-ranked team happens to be the road team in all four cases.  Which conference will gain the edge?  Don't forget, the Big Ten already has a 1-0 head start, thanks to Northwestern's Week 1 win at Cal.
As for those four games, those would be:
UCLA at Nebraska
Washington at Illinois
Ohio State at Cal
Wisconsin at Arizona State

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Games to Watch: Week 3

Here are the games I will be keeping an eye on during week three.  Again, still early in the season, so it's harder to pick out the big games beforehand.

Virginia Tech at East Carolina, Fox Sports 1.  Obviously, I'm only interested in this as a Tech fan.  Hopefully, Tech's offense will show some improvement, and of course the defense is already top notch.

3:30 PM
Alabama at Texas A&M, CBS.  The way ESPN's been hyping it, you would almost think this is the only game this week.  Regardless, this game is key in determining the postseason this year.  It definitely has implications for both the national and SEC titles.

Tennessee at Oregon, ABC.  I'm intrigued by this matchup.  Oregon really seems to be stretching out for its opponents, which can only help them.  Even if they are playing teams from the middle or lower ends of the ACC or SEC, it's still better than Whosheardofme U.  It's definitely a good alternative if I get tired of the SEC game.

7 PM
Ohio State at California, FOX.  Another matchup that intrigues me.  Ohio State has been winning, but sliding in the rankings.  And there's still questions about the health of their QB.

8 PM
Notre Dame at Purdue, ABC.  ESPN/ABC really loves to show Notre Dame whenever they can.  Since I'm not as familiar with ND or Big Ten history, I don't really know why this game gets played every year.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 2

For the past few years, I've found myself taking great enjoyment in watching some of the most random games at the most random times.  Starting in Week 2, I'll highlight five "Under the Radar" games of the week, and why I feel they are worthy of my attention and typing time.

1. Buffalo at Baylor
  -  Some, including myself, see Baylor as a Big 12 dark horse this year.  Can the Bears take care of business against this same Buffalo team that capitalized on some Buckeye mistakes and put up 20 points on BCS Championship contender Ohio State?  A Baylor win, even a big one, won't tell much.  But we could get an idea of whether or not Baylor's defense really is improving since its upset of K-State late last season.

2. Western Kentucky at Tennessee
  -  If the Sun Belt wants to even entertain the thought of a BCS Buster, then the Hilltoppers are its best bet.  They won convincingly against a rebuilding Kentucky team a week ago - can they claim another win against a rebuilding SEC team?  What a program-defining moment that would be, even if the two SEC teams are truly awful.

3.  Syracuse at Northwestern
  -  A matchup of "Power 5" conference schools, one of which is ranked, is flying surprisingly low here.  If the Wildcats can prevail here, and I predict they do (though Syracuse has been known to pull some upsets), then they should be looking at a very special first weekend in October.  4-0, hosting Ohio State, quite possibly a GameDay appearance for the first time since 1995.  Just like Baylor, I LOVE watching programs like this grow!

4.  Washington State at USC
  -  USC has been known to blow its share of conference games, especially early in the season.  After a respectable performance at Auburn (albeit a losing effort), I'm interested to see if Mike Leach can go the next step, and pull off a win against a team that may not see them as much of a threat.  Anti-Lane Kiffin fans might also be rooting for the Cougars, to help with their "get someone else" campaign.

5. San Jose State at Stanford
  -  In a bit of a scheduling quirk, Stanford managed to have a bye in Week 1, and the Cardinal start their Week 2 game at the latest time slot of the week - officially starting their season after many teams have two games in the books.  As for the game itself, I'm interested to see how Stanford performs with such high expectations, even against an opponent it's highly favored against.

Games to Watch: Week 2

Another mix of tune up games with some big matchups thrown in.  Not much on Thursday or Friday, but Saturday has a decent game in each major timeslot.  In fact, it might even be better than the week 1 lineup.