Friday, November 16, 2007

On Week 12, in Brief

I'm out of town this weekend, so a quick preview:

#7 Ohio State at #21 Michigan. Lost a lot of luster thanks to upsets by Illinois and Wisconsin, but it's still a direct Rose Bowl play-in, not to mention the best rivalry outside of Army-Navy. Also, the Buckeyes retain a slight national championship hope with a win.

#17 Boston College at #15 Clemson. The first of two ACC semifinals. Clemson is playing better right now, but BC has been more highly ranked throughout the year. This is usually a close game.

#23 Kentucky at #9 Georgia. If Georgia loses, they are in serious trouble in the SEC East. If they win, Florida is out of the picture completely (but still in BCS at-large contention). Kentucky and Andre Woodson are out of the title race, but a win would put some attention back on their excellent season.

Predictions: Ohio State's loss should have them refocused and ready to win. Also, Tressel owns Carr. BC has lost two straight, but they are mentally tougher than Clemson. And we haven't seen bad-Georgia in a while. One gets the sense that sort of showing may be overdue.

Picks: OSU, BC, Kentucky

Saturday, November 10, 2007

On Hawaii, Conference Almost-Championship Games, and the SEC Again

Often, conference championship games are unofficial. At this point in the season, a number of conferences come down to one game. Alternatively, conferences with championship games often play de facto conference semifinals, as two division rivals play for the right to make the championship game.

This year, we are looking at several such games. Unfortunately, none of them are this week. This makes today a waiting action, a chance to look around and wait for the battles of the next two weeks—or a major upset that will change the landscape.

Basically, here’s where we stand now. Each conference/division—except one—has either the favorite who has already survived its main rivals, or else the decisive game to be played:

Pac-10: Oregon
Big 12 S: Oklahoma
Big 12 N: Kansas-Missouri
Big 10: Ohio State-Michigan
Big East: WV-Connecticut
ACC A: BC-Clemson
ACC C: Virginia-Virginia Tech
SEC E: ???

Not surprisingly, we’ll take two of our three games today from the SEC East.

#18 Auburn at #10 Georgia. For proof of the SEC’s depth, look at these two teams. Both were left for dead early. Auburn lost to South Florida before that was understandable and followed up by a loss to Mississippi State that still isn’t understandable. Since then, they’ve beaten Florida in the Swamp, almost beaten LSU in Death Valley, and cruised otherwise. Georgia lost an early game to Spurrier’s Gamecocks, rebounded with three wins that included the thriller over Alabama, then promptly got blown out of Neyland Stadium by Jekyll-and-Hyde Tennessee. Georgia then salvaged the season by taking out Florida, lifting them to their current place in the top 10 and tied for the SEC East lead. However, because they lost to UT, they lose the tiebreaker, despite the fact that they beat the teams (Florida and Alabama) that themselves beat the Volunteers by a combined 63 points. By the way, neither Georgia nor Tennessee has played Kentucky yet.

#15 Florida at South Carolina. Even though Tennessee is technically in the driver’s seat right now, and they also play a tough opponent this week in Arkansas, there’s a reason Georgia and Florida’s games are more important. If LSU were to win all the way into the national championship game, which is the likeliest scenario, Tennessee would almost surely not be ranked high enough after a loss to the Tigers to make a BCS bowl. But if Georgia wins the division instead and then loses a close game to LSU, they might earn a Sugar Bowl invite. Most interestingly, if Florida beats SC and Florida State, they could finish behind Georgia or Tennessee, miss the conference title game, but still be the second-highest rated team in the conference after an LSU win, backing into a BCS bid. Most fun of all, if all three said teams lose today, the six-way tie at 4-4 is still a possibility.

Fresno State at #16 Hawaii. Hawaii needs to break the top 12 of the BCS standings to earn an invitation, and so far their schedule hasn’t done them any favors. This is the first of their four toughest games, which should be enough to lift them there, provided of course none of these teams beat them. Fresno is a reasonable start, a tough team whose losses have come at Texas A&M and Oregon and at home to Boise State. If this game was on the mainland I’d like the upset. But at home, Hawaii is deadly. They have to be, because to climb the rankings, style points count.

Predictions: In the SEC, sometimes you just have to go with who has more left in the tank. Georgia’s last two weeks have been a big, emotional win over Florida and a surprisingly difficult test against Troy. Auburn has rolled over Tennessee Tech. Also, we know Auburn fears no road game. Florida drew Vandy after the Georgia matchup, while South Carolina dropped a heartbreaker to Tennessee and got steamrolled by Arkansas’ McFadden/Jones one-two punch. On Oahu, Boise or Washington might be able to pull one out, but I think Fresno doesn’t quite have enough.

Picks: Auburn, Florida, Hawaii

Saturday, November 3, 2007

On College Football Week 10 and a Playoff Proposal

The season is shaping up now. The list of conceivable national title game participants is down to eight, and even the eighth (Kansas) is a pretty big stretch.

At this point, I’d to propose my playoff system for college football. Especially since the BCS has added the national championship game the week after the other games, here’s my take:

Use the BCS standings to invite the four highest ranked conference champions (or independents). Two of the four BCS bowls host national semifinals, the other two get the other two conference winners plus at-larges. One of the semifinal hosts gets the title game the next week, and the one seed gets the same site for both games. Obviously, the bowls would work out a rotation policy for this ahead of time. The key here is that you have to win your league to get the invite, and while there are often three teams that claim a place in the BCS, there are rarely five. Obviously, this will never happen because two of the conferences would be left out every year, but it’s a nice thought and only adds one week. By the way, here’s who it would have taken the last four years:

2006: #1 Ohio State vs. #4 Louisville, #2 Florida vs. #3 USC
2005: #1 USC vs. #4 Notre Dame, #2 Texas vs. #3 Penn State
2004: #1 USC vs. #4 Utah, #2 Oklahoma vs. #3 Auburn
2003: #1 Oklahoma vs. #4 Michigan, #2 LSU vs. #3 USC

Now, I know some people will wonder about teams like 2006 Michigan, 2005 Ohio State and Oregon or 2004 Cal and Texas, who are higher ranked than teams in ahead of them. This doesn’t bother me. You should have beat the team who won your conference. College football is regional, and conference wins have to matter. The only conceivable problem is that in the Big Ten, you could have two teams go undefeated and not play each other (actually, if Wisconsin had beat Michigan, that would have happened last year, which might have broken the system entirely). However, that isn’t the BCS’ problem. That is the Big Ten’s problem.

I bring this up now because for the first time in ages, all six major conferences would be in play for a bid. Usually the ACC or Big East or both have lame duck champs, but no more. The four leaders would be Ohio State, BC, LSU and Arizona State right now, with Oregon, Oklahoma and West Virginia very much in play if they won out. I think that covers the best team claimants nicely.

Anyway, the three games of the week:

1. #4 Arizona State at #5 Oregon. Arizona State has to be the most anonymous elite team in the nation: at least KU has had a couple of ESPN games in a row. This week we’ll learn about them. On the other hand, we learned quite a bit about the Ducks after the USC win. They’re averaging 44 points a game.

2. #3 LSU at #17 Alabama. The Saban Bowl is all Bama fans could have asked for: the winner retains control of their destiny in the SEC West. Both teams have had a week off, LSU after a close win over Auburn and Alabama after a blowout of Tennessee, and have to be ready to put their best foot forward. I think Saban has the edge on Les Miles, but I think Miles’ players—many of them Saban’s—have a talent edge on the Crimson Tide.

3. #21 Wisconsin at #1 Ohio State. Another semi-test for the Buckeyes. Yes, Wisconsin is ranked, but their three road games so far have been an almost loss to UNLV, a close loss to Illinois and a terrible loss to Penn State. And with star RB PJ Hill either out or at least slowed down, they would need a huge upset. But stranger things have happened.

Predictions: Arizona State is talented, but Oregon is even better and at home. I think the Ducks take a close one. LSU will be pumped for Alabama and they have too much talent across the board to lose. Finally, Wisconsin is in serious trouble in Columbus. That should be the only blowout of the three.

Picks: Oregon, LSU, Ohio State