Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BCS Discussion: End of October

As promised, with two iterations of the BCS Standings released, it's time for my first real discussion of how our final set of BCS bowls are being shaped.  While many point to the controversies that have surrounded the system, and I agree wholeheartedly with the frustration over those controversies, I'll be the first to give credit where it's due.  USC-Texas, Miami-Ohio State, Oklahoma-Boise State, Wisconsin-TCU??  Would have never happened without the BCS.

National Championship
Now, looking at 2013, each of the five "power conferences" remains in the hunt for it all, with the ACC figuring out its final undefeated in this weekend's Miami-Florida State game.  If exactly two of these teams finish unbeaten, they're in.  Alabama, Oregon, FSU/Miami winner, Ohio State, and Baylor: you are indeed the targets!  The interesting thing will be seeing if more than two remain perfect (or...if all of them lose) - but I'll get into that in greater detail next time I do this (probably in another 2 weeks).

BCS Buster
This is easy - a good ol' fashioned two-team race between Fresno State and Northern Illinois. 

Early in the BCS era, Fresno looked like the program working toward that BCS-busting tier.  However, they could never quite get over that last hurdle.  With one final chance to do it, the Bulldogs have a lead in the polls - which is highly significant since only one non-AQ champ is guaranteed a BCS spot if it finishes in the Top 12 (or Top 16 and ahead of an AQ champ).

But don't count out Northern Illinois making a 2nd straight BCS bowl (and strengthening their case as a "power non-contract team" in the new Playoff era).  Even if they're slightly behind in the polls, their computer numbers might end up higher than Fresno's.  A one-loss Ball State still remains on the Huskies' schedule, and possibly a MAC Championship Game against a Buffalo team that *might* end up 10-2, only losses to highly-ranked Ohio State and Baylor.

Just like the Boise/Utah and Boise/TCU races in years past, I look forward to seeing if either or both of these teams can go all the way...and how their final rankings end up.

BCS At-Large
Just as each major conference remains alive for the National Championship Game, each still has a team alive for a BCS At-Large berth.  A breakdown follows:
Best bet: 11-1 Clemson. 
Other possibilities: 12-1 Florida State (upset in ACC CG), 11-2 Miami (2 losses to FSU), 12-1 Miami (beat, then lose to FSU)
Big 12:
Best bet: 11-1 Oklahoma, with Texas winning the Big 12's automatic BCS berth
Other possibilities: 11-1 Baylor (loss to Big 12 Champ Oklahoma or Texas) or 11-1 Texas Tech
PAC 12:
Best bet: 10-2 Stanford
Other possibilities: 12-1 Oregon (loss in PAC-12 CG) or 11-1 Oregon (loss to Stanford)
Big Ten:
Best bets: 11-2 Michigan State - Michigan winner, or 10-2 Wisconsin
  Michigan State route: Finish 11-2, with losses to Notre Dame and B1G CG
  Michigan routes: Finish 10-2 (lose to Michigan State) or 11-2 (beat, then lose to OSU)
  Wisconsin route: Win out, resulting in a 10-2 finish (with many believing the Arizona State loss "shouldn't have happened")
Best bets: 10-2 Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU, or South Carolina, or Missouri
Other possibilities: 12-1 Alabama (loss in SEC CG) or 11-1 Alabama (loss to Auburn)
Comment:  It's possible NONE of these SEC teams finish with only 2 losses.  So, while we could have seven ranked teams, they could all (besides Alabama) be 9-3 or 10-3 and miss out on the At-Large.

Other At-Large Contenders:

Notre Dame.  With only 2 losses, and a season finale against Stanford, the Irish are in perfect position to play themselves into BCS consideration. I look forward to seeing if that ND-Stanford matchup is between two 9-2 teams both contending for that final At-Large BCS spot.

Non-AQ Team.  If the rankings are crazy enough, it's always possible that Fresno State AND Northern Illinois get BCS bowls (a la Boise State and TCU in 2009).

Louisville.  A long shot, but a remote possibility nonetheless.  If the rankings are indeed crazy enough (i.e. clogged with multiple teams from a conference that can't be picked due to the rule of 2-teams-per-conference), and Central Florida goes as the American's automatic bid, the Cardinals could find themselves in position to pull it off.  Imagine the gnashing of ESPN teeth!

With six weekends left to go, so many things can still shake up.  I look forward to doing this again in a couple weeks, and seeing which teams come, go, and remain in the discussion.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 10

With this Saturday being the first one in November, it's hard to believe we're coming around the home stretch already!  With half the Top 10 idle, waiting for big games in Week 11, several games could be considered "under the radar".  Here are my five weekly picks...trying to avoid the obvious ones (Michigan-Mich St, Florida-Georgia, and the biggie Miami-FSU).

1. Northwestern at Nebraska.  I remember watching ESPN Gameday at the beginning of October, excitement all around, and a good game against Ohio State that the Wildcats came so close to winning.  Now, 4 losses later, it's possible the boys in purple don't even go to a bowl game.  However, given Nebraska's loss to Minnesota this past weekend, I'm forced to reconsider that last statement.  With the on-and-off comments about Bo Pelini swirling this season, could Northwestern salvage its season - and possibly keep the Cornhuskers going into a slide of its own?

2. Nevada at Fresno State.  November is upon us, and a BCS-busting effort is on the line.  As in years past, Nevada finds itself on the other side.  In 2006, Boise was able to defeat the Wolfpack late in the season to clinch a BCS bowl spot...in 2010 the Broncos weren't so fortunate.  At least this game's in Fresno and not Reno...but with a few close games already, the Bulldogs have little margin for error.  As a little bonus to the "other" FSU...a Nevada upset over a strong Fresno team could give a small boost to the Seminoles' strength of schedule, with Florida State having demolished Nevada in Week 2.

3. Clemson at Virginia.  Clemson's good, despite the FSU loss, and the term "Clemsoning" has been declared archaic by Rece Davis and the crew.  Plus, UVA flat-out sucks this year.  Why could this game possibly matter?  Well, it's really more about UVA's ability to come out of nowhere around this time of year and stun a team on its way to something good (Miami last year, FSU in 2011, Miami again in 2010).  As long as the Tigers continue to show that "Clemsoning" is indeed extinct, this game should be an easy Clemson blowout, and the FSU game could end up just being a statement of how great the Seminoles are.

4. Navy at Notre Dame.  This Notre Dame team has a feel of the one from 2009, but with a clearly superior head coach who's quietly got the Irish working toward another BCS bowl.  Four years ago, the Irish began Game #9 with 2 losses and a favorable season-ending stretch.  The end result: four straight losses to end the season - and Charlie Weis's tenure - beginning with Navy.  Perhaps Navy can pull off the upset again, sending Brian Kelly and company into another skid.  But if the Irish prevail, and I predict they do, then they could end up in a season-ending battle at Stanford that could determine who finishes 10-2 and in line for an at-large BCS Bowl.

5. Colorado at UCLA.  Similar to Clemson-UVA above, there's a sizeable disparity between these two teams.  However, I look back to Washington a few weeks ago - after losses to Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks, the Huskies were simply too gassed and found themselves at the wrong end of a convincing loss to Arizona State.  If UCLA wants to avoid a similar fate, and move toward a potential showdown of its own with the Sun Devils for the PAC-12 South crown, the Bruins had better regroup fast (and, on the bright side, I suspect the Bruins do).

Big 12 Roulette: Week 9 wrap-up

So, this conference got tilted a little bit this weekend.  Again, with it being a full round robin, there could be more chances for multi-way ties.

Baylor (4-0) and Texas (4-0) now lead the conference and control their own destinies.

Oklahoma State (3-1) is the only team with a loss that controls their own destiny, since they have yet to play the teams above them, or with equal loss records.

Oklahoma (4-1) jumped back into the mix, but they still need Texas to lose two.

Texas Tech (4-1) lost control of their destiny while losing to Oklahoma this week.  They need Oklahoma to lose another one to gain it back, or to potentially force a 4 way tie of 1-loss teams.

Kansas State (1-3) finally won a conference game, but for it to matter, they need Baylor and Texas to lose 4 games, and Oklahoma State to lose 3.

West Virginia and TCU (both 1-4) probably have a distant chance at the conference title, but a lot of other teams need to lose.  Since they play each other next week, the loser will get knocked out of contention if either Baylor or Texas win.  (Loser would be 1-5, Baylor and/or Texas would be 5-0 with a worst case conference record of 5-4.)

Kansas and Iowa State are both 0-4, so we won't worry about them until they win one, but it might not come in time for it to matter.  Like the loser of the matchup above, if either team loses next week while one of the two leaders wins, they would be eliminated.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

SEC Road to Atlanta: Week 9

For some of the teams further back, I'm just coming up with the scenarios for them to even start to think about taking their division.

SEC EAST Missouri (3-1) still controls their destiny.
South Carolina (4-2) needs a Georgia loss, and a Mizzou loss.
Florida (3-2) and Georgia (3-2) each need 2 Missouri losses.
Tennessee (1-3) needs 2 Georgia losses, 2 Florida losses, and two additional Mizzou losses.
Vanderbilt (1-4) needs 4 Mizzou losses, 2 Georgia losses, and 2 South Carolina losses.
Kentucky (0-4) is one loss away from officially being out, but we can probably call it now.

Alabama (5-0) obviously controls their destiny.
Auburn (3-1) also controls their destiny.
LSU (3-2) needs an Auburn loss, and an additional Alabama loss.
Texas A&M (3-2) needs 3 Alabama losses and 2 Auburn losses.
Mississippi State (1-2) needs an LSU loss, two Auburn losses, and an additional loss by Alabama.
Ole Miss (2-3) is probably out.  If the SEC West imploded and caused a multi-way tie with three losses, Ole Miss has already lost to three teams in the division.
Arkansas (0-4) is officially out.

Key games for the SEC:

November 2
Georgia vs. Florida
-The winner would potentially gain some ground and put themselves in position to take control of the division if Mizzou does stumble.

November 9
LSU @ Alabama
-This is pretty much LSU's last chance to stay relevant in the division.  If Alabama wins, at least two teams get knocked out of contention.

November 16
Florida @ South Carolina
-If Mizzou stumbles again, this game could determine the East.

 November 30
Alabama @ Auburn
-If certain things hold out, this could determine the West champion.

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 9 wrap up

VT lost to Duke.  In a game that rivals only last year's Russell Athletic Bowl (VT vs. Rutgers) in terms of offensive incompetency, VT lost to Duke.

Anyway....on to the Wheel....

Atlantic FSU (5-0) controls their destiny.
Clemson (5-1) needs 2 FSU losses.
Syracuse (1-2) needs a Clemson loss and 2 additional FSU losses.
Wake Forest (2-3) needs 2 Clemson losses, a BC loss, and an additional 2 losses by FSU.  More than likely, they are out of contention anyway.
Boston College (1-3) and Maryland (1-3) are most likely out of contention.  They've both lost to FSU and Clemson, and would need a multi-way tie of 3 loss teams to even stand a chance.
NC State (0-4) is out of contention.
Magic number: 4

The only two teams with a realistic chance of winning the Atlantic division are FSU and Clemson.  Clemson's only chance is for FSU to lose two games.  The remaining teams are all relying on complicated multi-way tie scenarios which are too much for me to figure out right now, but I'm pretty sure since most of them have lost to FSU and Clemson, they don't stand a chance.

Miami (3-0) controls their destiny.
Virginia Tech (3-1) still controls their destiny, even with the loss.
Georgia Tech (4-2) needs 3 losses by Miami and 2 by VT.
Pitt (2-2) needs 2 losses by VT, and 2 additional losses by Miami.
Duke (2-2) needs a Pitt loss, a GT loss, a VT loss, and an additional loss by Miami.
UNC (1-3) needs 3 VT losses, 4 Miami losses, and 2 GT losses.
UVA (0-4) needs 2 losses from Pitt, and an additional 2 losses each by VT and Miami.
Magic number: 6

Bowl eligible:  Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Duke
One win away: Maryland, Georgia Tech
Two wins away: Wake Forest, Pitt
One loss away from not going to a bowl:  UVA

The Road to the ACC Championship Game:

November 2:
Miami @ Florida State
-A cross divisional matchup, but it has impact on both sides, as the losing team would level the playing field for their division.  Moreso for the Coastal side, where 5 teams still have some sort of a chance.

November 9:
Virginia Tech @ Miami
-While it has lost its luster as being the Coastal equivalent of FSU/Clemson, it still looks like this game will determine the leader of the division.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Big 12 Roulette

If I'm reading everything right, the Big 12 (of only 10 teams) is the only major conference with a true round robin schedule.  They have 10 teams, and 9 conference games.  Since you can't play yourself during the regular season (but it's perfectly fine in the spring), it works out nicely for this former championship game based conference.

Even with 9 conference games, the Big 12 is a slow burn conference, because they have an extra week of games, which leads to an extra bye.  Since this is a year where everyone gets at least 2 byes already because of where Labor Day fell on the calendar, the Big 12 teams get three weeks off during the year.

Texas Tech currently leads the conference with a 4-0 conference record, which means that mathematically, no team is eliminated until they get at least 5 losses.

Baylor (3-0) and Texas (3-0) are also undefeated in conference play.  However, Baylor doesn't play TTU until mid-November, and then Texas in December, so the conference battle could continue deep into the season.

Oklahoma (3-1) needs Texas to lose at least 1, preferably two.  Their next two games are against TTU and Baylor, so they will know really soon if they have a chance in the conference.

Oklahoma State (2-1) has one loss from West Virginia.   They have yet to play any of the teams ahead of them, so they still control their own destiny.

West Virginia and TCU (both 1-3) probably have a distant chance at the conference title, but a lot of other teams need to lose.

Kansas State, Kansas, and Iowa State are all 0-3, and we don't need to worry about them until they win one, if they do.  Of course, two of them is guaranteed to get a win, since they play each other.

With these round robin conferences, it can become more of a situation where you play it by ear as you go along.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 9

What a wild couple of weekends we just had..the outlook for several conferences has been jumbled.  The stakes continue to be high for a number of games (UCLA-Oregon, Texas Tech-Oklahoma, South Carolina-Missouri), and there are some clear "trap" games (FSU - NC State, Miami - Wake most notably).  Here are five that aren't necessarily the center of conversation, but could prove quite interesting or important in some unforseen way.

1. Duke at Virginia Tech.  A bit of deja vu from a year ago: a 5-win Duke team coming into Blacksburg looking for the 6th win to clinch bowl eligibility.  Last year, the Hokies prevailed after finding themselves down 20-0 (though Duke would get its 6th win a game later against UNC).  This time around, Duke's out to show that last year's bowl-bound team was not merely the end of a streak but rather the beginning of one.  For the Hokies, now in the Top 15, a major showdown with Miami is just 2 weeks away - but with the offense continuing to improve and the defense strong as ever, I'm sure plenty of focus will be on David Cutcliffe's crew in blue.

2. Louisville at South Florida.  Not just under the radar, but buried pretty deep.  After a crushing defeat at the hands of UCF, Louisville better be careful not to let one loss become two.  As for the Bulls, I'm getting vibes of Willie Taggart's Western Kentucky team from two years ago: blowout loss against an FCS team, but with a nice turnaround into a second-place conference finish.  If a currently-perfect-in-conference-play USF can take advantage of a down-beat Cardinals team, a similar (or even better) fate may be in play for the Bulls.

3. Michigan State at Illinois.  For several years now, I've seen the Spartans as the state of Michigan's Virginia Tech - defensively superb, but with issues on offense if not mitigated by a star athlete like Kirk Cousins or Tyrod Taylor (among others).  And like the Hokies, Michigan State is quietly racking up wins after an early season out-of-conference loss.  Conference contention is indeed what MSU has in mind, but it will not come easy in Champaign against an improved Illinois team looking to get back in the bowl eligibility discussion.

4. Boise State at BYU.  When VT's 10-win season streak ended last year at 8, Boise State became the active leader in this metric (going back to 2006, marking 7 straight for the Broncos).  But that streak is now in serious jeopardy, with 2 losses already on the season against Washington and Fresno State.  And BYU did a fine job last weekend taking out previously-undefeated Houston, and 10 wins could become a reality for the Cougars if they keep on their roll (how did they lose to UVA again?!?).  After last year's defensive slugfest (or offensive ineptitude...take your pick), which Boise won 7-6, I see this a game where truly anything can happen.

5. Baylor at Kansas.  Baylor in the Top 10...wow!  I've been a huge fan of this team under Art Briles, and I think he's making a great case for National Coach of the Year (and could be a prime candidate for it if he can land Baylor in a BCS Bowl) with yet another 70-point performance this past weekend.  However, Kansas has been nibbling on the edges of a Big 12 win, and competed well several times this year only to come up short.  I trust Baylor not to overlook the Jayhawks, or any team for that matter, considering how it was not too long ago that the Bears themselves were anchoring the conference.

Games to Watch: Week 9

While it's still too early for teams to clinch championship berths, we're entering the time where the bottom dwellers can get officially eliminated.

12:00 PM
Wake Forest at Miami, ESPNU.  In the two weeks following this one, Miami faces Florida State and Virginia Tech in two games that will quite possibly seal the ACC championship races.  Wake Forest is sitting near the bottom.  Could this be a trap game?

3:30 PM
Tennessee at Alabama, CBS.  Tennessee just upset South Carolina, could they be thinking they have a shot at greatness?  Or, we could just have Alabama completely dominate.  Either way, it's the late afternoon game on CBS, so it can't be ignored.

Duke at Virginia Tech, ESPNU.  What's this, a VT game not at noon?  Anyway, look for the Hokies to make it ten straight against Duke.  That's right, as VT wraps up their first decade in the ACC, they are looking to make it a decade of dominance.

NC State at Florida State, ABC/ESPN2.  FSU is coming off of a big win, Bowden's coming back for a visit, and they're ranking #2 in the BCS.  But....they're playing NC State, who is notorious for never playing like they are supposed to; a team that will lose to an FCS one week, and then beat a single digit ranked team the next.   Meanwhile, a loss by NC State would make them the first team to be officially disqualified from ACC Championship contention.
7:00 PM
UCLA at Oregon, ESPN.  I'm learning not to sleep on the Pac-12 (not literally, though, since a lot of their games are coming on after primetime and I can't quite handle the all-nighters like I used to).  UCLA can look to upset the BCS and conference standings if they beat Oregon.

South Carolina at Missouri, ESPN2.  If Mizzou wins this one, they clearly pull away in the SEC East race.  While SC is going to be angry after losing last week, a win for them won't seal anything.  Either way, Mizzou will stay at the top of their division after this week, but SC could make it interesting for all of the teams sitting behind them.

8 PM
Penn State at Ohio State, ABC.  PSU has nothing to lose, as we saw when they played their butts off against Michigan.  Meanwhile, Ohio State has been looking shaky the last few weeks, despite having the longest winning streak in the country.  They have been quietly slipping down the rankings.  I see upset potential here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 8 wrap up

First, a note to Clemson:  When playing in big primetime games where both teams are ranked in the top 5, it is customary to keep the game close, at least for a while.
That being said, we have a major shakeup in the ACC Atlantic, and have actually added to our road to the championship.  It's still too early to worry about multi-way ties, but certain losses by certain teams would open the race right back up.

FSU (4-0) controls their destiny.
Clemson (4-1) needs 2 FSU losses.
Maryland (1-2) needs 2 FSU losses and a WF loss.
Syracuse (1-2) needs a Clemson loss and an additional FSU loss.
Boston College (1-2) needs 3 losses from FSU and 2 from Clemson.
Wake Forest (2-2) needs 2 Clemson losses, 2 BC losses, and an additional loss by FSU.
NC State (0-3) needs FSU and Clemson to lose out, 2 WF losses, and 2 Syracuse losses.  On the flip side, their next game is against FSU, and if they lose, they are officially out.
Magic number: 5

Virginia Tech (3-0) and Miami (2-0) are still undefeated and control their destiny.
Georgia Tech (3-2) needs 3 losses by both VT and Miami.
Pitt (2-2) needs 3 losses from both VT and Miami.
Duke (1-2) needs a Pitt loss, a GT loss, and an additional loss each by VT and Miami.
UVA (0-3) needs 2 losses from Pitt, and an additional 2 losses each by VT and Miami.
UNC (0-3) needs 4 VT losses, 4 Miami losses, and 2 GT losses.
Magic number: 6

Bowl eligible:  Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami
One win away: Duke, Maryland
Two wins away: Georgia Tech, Wake Forest

UVA and UNC are still in danger of losing out of bowls, as both have 5 losses.  Syracuse is close behind with 4 losses.
The Road to the ACC Championship Game:

November 2:
Miami @ Florida State
-A cross divisional matchup, but it has impact on both sides.  A loss by FSU would get Clemson back into the mix.  A loss by Miami would give the edge to VT, but that would lead to . . .

November 9:
Virginia Tech @ Miami
-This game is shaping up to be the Coastal equivalent of FSU/Clemson, at least in terms of consequence within the division.  As of now, it looks like the winner of this game will control the division.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

SEC Road to Atlanta: Week 8 wrap up

So the SEC managed to have itself a topsy turvy ACC style weekend.  It was great.  I have to admit, the divisional races in the SEC are quite entertaining.  In fact, it would be more fun if Alabama would lose, to keep things interesting.

Missouri (3-0) controls their destiny, and has a 2 game lead on everybody.
Florida (3-2) and Georgia (3-2) each need 3 Missouri losses.
South Carolina (3-2) needs a Georgia loss, and 2 additional Mizzou losses.
Tennessee (1-2) needs a Georgia loss, a Florida loss, and two additional Mizzou losses.
Vanderbilt (1-3) kept their slim hopes alive this weekend, but still need 4 Mizzou losses, a Georgia loss, and 2 South Carolina losses.
Kentucky (0-3) needs -- wait, how about they win one first, and then we worry about it?  They still have an outside shot, but a lot that they don't control needs to happen.

Alabama (4-0) obviously controls their destiny.
Auburn (3-1) also controls their destiny, which could set up the Iron Bowl at the end of the season as a de facto playoff game.
LSU (3-2) needs an Auburn loss, and an additional Alabama loss.
Texas A&M (2-2) needs 3 Alabama losses and 2 Auburn losses.
Ole Miss (2-3) needs 4 Alabama losses, 3 Auburn losses, and an LSU loss.
Mississippi State (0-2) needs an LSU loss, two Auburn losses, and an additional loss by Alabama.
Arkansas (0-4) is officially out.  Even if Alabama loses out, they would have the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Yes, we did see a case of a team that had previously lost control of their destiny get it back.  LSU had already beaten Auburn, but since LSU lost today while Auburn won, Auburn took control.

Key games for the SEC:

October 26
South Carolina @ Missouri
-A South Carolina win would bring Mizzou down closer to the rest of the division, and also help SC get an edge over Florida and Georgia.
-A Mizzou win would put them even further ahead and almost knock SC out.

November 2
Georgia vs. Florida
-The winner would potentially gain some ground and put themselves in position to take control of the division if Mizzou does stumble.

November 9
LSU @ Alabama
-This is pretty much LSU's last chance to stay relevant in the division.

November 30
Alabama @ Auburn
-If certain things hold out, this could determine the West champion.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 8

The second half of the regular season begins...with so many games, I've really enjoyed finding some of these games which aren't the big ones of the week, but have shown the potential to carry an impact on the story of this college football season.

Five such games this week are as follows.

1. Texas Tech at West Virginia.  The Red Raiders are near the top of the polls amongst Big 12 teams, while the Mountaineers are mostly an afterthought.  Contrast this to a year ago, when WVU rolled into Lubbock ranked # 5, championship dreaming, and then got blown back into reality with a dominating TT blowout.  I'm sure West Virginia has revenge on their minds, and just like Oklahoma State saw a few weeks ago, these Big 12 teams had better stay on their toes over in Morgantown.

2. BYU at Houston.  An all-Cougars matchup.  BYU has had a decent season so far, while Houston is undefeated yet getting nowhere near enough votes to earn a Top 25 ranking.  I suspect that would change if Houston emerges victorious against a BYU team that has looked impressive in convincing wins against Texas and Georgia Tech.  The men from Provo, meanwhile, could move closer to the Top 25 themselves with a win, perhaps giving them a push beyond a state of mere "decency".

3. Maryland at Wake Forest.  I won't lie, the Terps were very fortunate to escape with a win against UVA.  But most importantly, they did win, and are now one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time under Randy Edsall (and their last time to go bowling as a member of the ACC).  Wake had a nice win themselves 2 weeks ago against NC State, and a win here would help them rebound from a somewhat ugly start and move closer to that elusive 6th win.

4. Washington at Arizona State.  After 2 straight defeats to strong PAC-12 foes, I wonder how much Washington has left in the tank for this long road trip to Tempe.  The Sun Devils are good enough to hang around, and if they get just the right break (gotta love those PAC-12 refs), they may just be able to pull off the win.  With each team having 2 losses, the winner of this matchup looks to regain hope for an improved and memorable season, while the loser moves one step closer to stagnation and disappointment.

5. Indiana at Michigan.  A sure-fire Michigan bounceback, right?  Perhaps...but consider a few three quick things.  First, the Wolverines must surely be gassed (physically and emotionally) after its 4OT loss to Penn State - a team that Indiana defeated only one week earlier.  Second, with all of Michigan's struggles against other less-than-dominant teams, are they really going to just go out there and handle an Indiana team that probably would have taken care of Akron and UConn with ease?  And third, don't forget Indiana and its efforts.  The Hoosiers are quietly making their way back into the bowl eligibility discussion, and would love to inch one step closer and notch a powerful statement win in the process.

Games to Watch: Week 8

Thursday7:30 PM
Miami at UNC, ESPN.  At the beginning of the season, this could have been one to watch for the ACC Coastal race.  Now, UNC's only chance is to play spoiler.

12:21 PM
Florida at Missouri, SEC TV.  This matchup got a lot more meaningful for the SEC East race after last weekend, but the SEC had already locked it into its syndicated package.  (SEC TV is the service formerly known as the SEC Network, since that name is being used for the upcoming full channel next year.)

3:30 PM
Auburn at Texas A&M, CBS.  Ole Miss nearly got the upset on A&M.  Perhaps Auburn has a chance?  Either way, it's the late afternoon game on CBS, so anything's possible.

UCLA at Stanford, ABC/ESPN2.  One of those surprising matchups that could determine a lot of fates in the Pac-12.

7:30 PM
USC at Notre Dame, NBC.  Night games at Notre Dame?  When did this start?  Unfortunately, I don't think this will live up to the 2005 matchup, where ND should have won to knock USC out of the #1 spot.
8 PM
Florida State at Clemson, ABC.  This is the one.  It's basically the ACC Atlantic playoff game.  The winner will be the last team left to control their destiny, and also position themselves for a potential national championship run.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: Week 7 wrap up

We finally have some separation going on in the divisional races, and a perfect set up for the Atlantic side brewing next week.

Clemson (4-0) and FSU (3-0) are still undefeated, but play each other next week.
Maryland (1-1) needs 2 FSU losses.
Syracuse (1-1) needs 2 Clemson losses.
Boston College (1-2) needs 3 losses each from FSU and Clemson.
Wake Forest (1-2) needs 3 Clemson losses, 2 BC losses, and an additional loss by FSU.
NC State (0-3) needs Clemson to lose out, 2 Wake Forest losses, and 2 additional losses by FSU.  They are also the closest to getting knocked out, as a Clemson win would pretty much take care of business.  Either way, NC State plays FSU on 10/26, the week after the big Clemson/FSU matchup, so the Wolfpack will most likely be out of contention by November.

Virginia Tech (3-0) and Miami (1-0) are still undefeated and control their destiny.
Pitt (2-2) needs 3 losses from both VT and Miami.
UVA (0-2) needs 2 losses from Pitt, and an additional loss each by VT and Miami.
Georgia Tech (2-2) needs 3 losses by both VT and Miami.
UNC (0-2) needs 3 VT losses and a GT loss, plus an additional loss by Miami.
Duke (0-2) needs a Pitt loss, a GT loss, and an additional loss each by VT and Miami.

Magic number:
Atlantic: 5
Coastal: 6
Bowl eligible:  Virginia Tech, Clemson
One win away: Florida State, Miami, Maryland
Two wins away: Duke

No one has denied themselves a bowl, but UNC and UVA look to be trying real hard.

The Road to the ACC Championship appears to run through these games:

October 19:
Florida State @ Clemson
It's probably too early for the Atlantic to clench on this game alone.  But, the current 1-loss teams have already played the teams in this game.

November 9:
Virginia Tech @ Miami
There is a chance that this game could clench the Coastal, in certain scenarios.

You'll notice that I have eliminated some games (other than those played) from this list as the season has progressed the last couple of weeks.  We're down to the last two teams on either side that control their destiny.  Depending on the outcomes of those games, other teams might get a second chance, but it's still too early to see.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What to Watch: Week 7

Let's just get right down to it this week.

7:30 PM
Rutgers at Louisville, ESPN.  Louisville is definitely a rising star in the college football world.  Unfortunately, they are hampered by a weak schedule, which will probably keep them from getting that crystal football.  But here they have a primetime national showcase which can get them some extra eyeballs, and also give ACC fans a preview of what to expect next year.

Oklahoma vs. Texas, ABC.  Here in Virginia, I've avoided the state fair for almost 30 years.  But if we did it like they did in Texas, I might go every year.  This game is the centerpiece of the state fair, and always gets a national spotlight.  It's also pivotal for the career of Mack Brown.  I don't think he'll lose his job midseason if he loses this game, but I think a loss here will guarantee his retirement from Texas.

Pitt at VT, ESPNU.  Of all the teams VT has played multiple times in the 12 seasons that I've been watching, Pitt is one that they've never beaten.  Each time, the loss to Pitt was the beginning of a downhill season.  Last year, VT lost their ranking after the Pitt game, and this year, they achieved their first ranking prior to the game.  Hokies, let's give Pitt a proper welcome to the ACC, just like they got from Florida State.

3:30 PM
Boston College at Clemson, ABC/ESPN2.  This game could seal BC's conference fate, or keep them alive.  Clemson should keep on rolling.  But something tells me this could be one of those surprise games.

Florida at LSU, CBS.  I don't have anything on this game in particular, but I've learned now to not sleep on the CBS/SEC late afternoon games.  Based on the last few weeks, this time slot is always worth a look, especially since we're getting in the second half of the season, and it's easier for CBS to cherry pick the best matchups.

Virginia at Maryland, ESPNU.  Maryland got shown up as a pretender last week against Florida State, and UVA lost to Ball State.  This could be one of those awesomely bad games.

4 PM
Oregon at Washington, FS1.  This could be Oregon's first real test of the season.  A win for Washington could even out the Pac-12 playing field.  There's a reason Gameday is coming here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Under the Radar Games: Week 7

With conference games continuing to separate contenders from pretenders, it's easy to look at the ranked matchups or national spotlight games.  But with bowl eligibilty, placement, or championship tiebreakers that could be at stake with any random game, here's a look at games I feel might not be well-publicized yet provide significant impact to the season as a whole.

1. Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech.  The Hokies squeaked back into the rankings, though I wish it had been a week later.  The last 4 times VT played Pitt, VT was ranked, and the Panthers pulled off the upset (granted, 3 of those times were back in the Big East a decade and 3 Pitt coaches ago, and VT had a disastrous season by its standards last year).  This win would be huge for either team, looking to take control of the Coastal Division and say "I'm back!" with a nice win streak after being dominated by Alabama and Florida State in Week 1.  And if VT wins, look out Miami...a bye week, Duke, and BC would be all that stands between the Hokies and a potentially epic showdown on November 9 in Sun Life Stadium (possibly in Prime Time, as ESPN/ABC's answer to LSU-Alabama)!

2. South Carolina at Arkansas.  Arkansas is on a 3-game losing streak, though they haven't looked too bad in any of those losses.  South Carolina has won their last 3, but they continue to look unimpressive.  This would be a big win for Arkansas, trying to show that Auburn's not the only improved SEC team in Year One of its new head coach (though I would still argue Auburn is having the better turn-around).  And for the Gamecocks, a loss would quite likely drop them out of the SEC Championship race once and for all, and bring even more unwanted attention to Spurrier, Clowney, and the overall motivation/direction of this preseason Top 10 team.

3. Oregon State at Washington State.  This matchup has seen some of the most unexpected results.  In 2010, Wazzu kept the Beavers out of a bowl game by pulling off a key upset (not that the Cougars were anywhere near bowl eligible themselves).  And with solid wins over USC and Cal, there is no reason to think Mike Leach's team can't continue their improvement and knock off this offensive-minded Beavers team.  Speaking of the Beavers, they joined VT and Michigan as a team that was FBS-ranked yet lost to an FCS team.  Now, 2007 Michigan was actually a decent team (beat Heisman winner Tim Tebow in the Capital One Bowl), as was 2010 Virginia Tech (swept and won the ACC, but lost to Stanford in the Orange Bowl) - this leads me to believe that Oregon State may still have a worthwhile season; a win here would go a long way in getting there.

4. Baylor at Kansas State.  Baylor has shown glimpses of brilliance; Kansas State has not.  But the Wildcats do have two things working for them.  One: the best defense Baylor has seen so far this season.  The other: revenge.  The Bears ruined K-State's perfect season last year and kept Bill Snyder and Co. out of the BCS Title Game.  If Baylor can work through both of these stong points for K-State and continue their dominating ways, they could find themselves in an epic showdown of their own with Oklahoma on Thursday November 7 (same day as Oregon-Stanford, same weekend as VT-Miami and LSU-Alabama).

5. Navy at Duke.  This is an interesting Navy team, looking like they could finish with anywhere from 6 to 10 wins (nice wins over Indiana and Air Force, questionable loss against Western Kentucky).  Duke, meanwhile, has been a bit more up-and-down.  Despite having yet to find an ACC win, a win against the Midshipmen would be huge for the program.  If Duke can pull off the win, and net a perfect 4-0 nonconference mark, then the Blue Devils can really start aiming for their second straight bowl with very winnable games against Wake, NC State, and UVA still ahead of them.

BCS Thoughts - Early October

In addition to highlighting under-the-radar games each week, I'll take a few looks at the landscape of the BCS Picture as we head into the final set of BCS games.  It's still early, with a few weeks to go before the BCS Standings are first released.  Even so, based on the first few weeks of play, I'll go ahead and share my initial thoughts on the first stretch of this final race.

BCS Championship Picture

With 17 teams still undefeated after Week 6, there are so many things that can happen between now and the first weekend of December.  Each Power Conference still has at least two teams amongst the unbeatens, and even the lower-ranked ones like Missouri and Texas Tech could hypothetically work their way into the picture if they could run the table.  Even Louisville has a shot, though the mightily week schedule might be too much to overcome.

Due to the extra week in the calendar, the season's progressing a little bit slower than before.  But in a few weeks, we should be down to roughly half a dozen unbeatens to consider for the annual Halloween "Odd Man Out" debate.

A few one-loss teams remain in the Top 10.  Given how early it is, it's hard to say just which teams will even be in contention amongst undefeated teams, much less one-loss teams.  I'll go into more detail next time I do one of these posts (probably right around Halloween).

BCS Non-AQ Berth

We're down to two unbeaten non-AQ teams: Northern Illinois and Fresno State.  Practically speaking, it's probably Unbeaten or Bust this time around.  And just like Utah vs Boise in 2008, and Boise vs TCU in 2009 and 2010, I'm looking forward to one last non-AQ battle for the polls - and just seeing if both can remain undefeated long enough for the battle to matter.

Furthermore, only a handful of teams with a single loss remain from this group, further reducing the likelihood that NIU or Fresno would sustain a "good" loss that would keep them in BCS range.  I would guess that if someone could do it with one loss, and it is a longshot as far as I can tell, it would be East Carolina.  With a respectable loss early to Virginia Tech, a 12-1 Pirates squad might be able to make their way into the BCS with 2 other wins over ACC teams and competent opponents in Marshall and the C-USA Championship Game.

BCS At-Large Picture

Given how early it is, and with so many undefeated and one-loss teams, so many possibilities still exist.  Notre Dame could hypothetically run the table and finish high at 10-2, though I predict they stumble again.  In addition, each Power Conference is alive and well so far.

Next time, I'll dive into specifics on how each conference can find itself with 2 BCS bids for this final go-round.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

ACC Wheel of Destiny: After Week 6

Everyone has started conference play, and lines have already been drawn.

Sorry, Maryland, but it looks like you were pretenders this year, and FSU handed you your first going away present with a  63-0 blowout.

Here are this week's scenarios.  They all assume the team wins out, and do not account for any multi-way ties (it's still too early to worry about three way ties).  All records listed only refer to conference records.  "Additional loss" refers to a loss in addition to the one that the mentioned team would hand out while winning out.

Clemson and FSU (both 3-0) are still undefeated.
Maryland (0-1) and Boston College (1-1) each need FSU to lose two games.
Syracuse (0-1) needs 2 Clemson losses.
Wake Forest (1-2) needs 3 Clemson losses, 2 BC losses, and an additional loss by FSU.
NC State (0-2) needs 3 Clemson losses, a Wake Forest loss, an additional loss by FSU.

Virginia Tech (2-0) and Miami (1-0) are still undefeated.
Pitt has one loss, but from the other division, so they still control their destiny.
UVA (0-1) needs a Pitt loss.
Georgia Tech (2-2) needs 3 losses by both VT and Miami.
UNC (0-2) needs 3 VT losses and a GT loss, plus an additional loss by Miami.
Duke (0-2) needs 2 Pitt losses, a GT loss, and an additional loss each by VT and Miami.

We're bringing back our magic number, which is the number of losses to guarantee elimination.  It is determined by taking the number of conference games left by the leader of the division, subtracting their wins, and adding one.

Atlantic: 6 (the 3-0 teams have 5 games left, so their worst record would be 3-5)
Coastal: 7

As you can see, we've still got a lot more football to play to solidify anything.

We're finally at the point of the season where bowl eligibility can be obtained.  No one in the ACC has gotten to that point yet, because the undefeated teams have all had a bye.

One win away: Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami
Two wins away: Maryland

No one has denied themselves a bowl, but UNC looks to be trying real hard.

The Road to the ACC Championship appears to run through these games:

October 12:
Pitt @ Virginia Tech
Boston College @ Clemson

October 19:
Florida State @ Clemson

November 9:
Virginia Tech @ Miami

November 29:
Miami @ Pitt