Saturday, December 1, 2007

On Conference Championships, and How They Could be Made to Matter

You might think that since three of the big six conferences have a conference championship game, it might be obvious which three games I would pick this week.


In fact, I’m only picking one of the three, because two of the three don’t really have much of a larger impact. Virginia Tech-Boston College and Tennessee-LSU are good college football games, but here’s the deal: winner is in, loser is out, and none of them are going to make the championship game regardless without a lot of help.

You might think this would be a good time to talk about how these games would be more important and thus exciting if we had my four-team playoff format.


Let’s write out clinching playoff scenarios:

Ohio State is in.
Georgia and Kansas are out (cannot win conference title).
Missouri, West Virginia and LSU clinch with a win.
Virginia Tech clinches with a win and a Missouri, West Virginia or LSU loss.
Oklahoma clinches with a win and a West Virginia, LSU or Virginia Tech loss.
USC clinches with a win and losses by two of: West Virginia, LSU and Virginia Tech.
Boston College clinches with a win and losses by West Virginia and LSU, unless
West Virginia, LSU and VT lose, and Hawaii wins their game really convincingly.
Tennessee is out, but considering they were left for dead in September, an SEC title would have to be okay by them.

Now that’s interesting. Every team with a legitimate claim at #1 can prove it by continuing to win, the teams that need help have a good reason to need it (losing to Stanford, Colorado and by 41 to LSU in the cases of USC, Oklahoma and VT, respectively), and even BC and Hawaii have a prayer.

Hawaii advocates might say they deserve more than a prayer, but look at the schedule. They have close wins, as in one score, against Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Fresno State AND Nevada. If they were playing as well as 2004 Utah or last year’s Boise State, they’d probably get in.

But that’s not the way things are now.

#1 Missouri vs. #9 Oklahoma. Mizzou, I’m sorry to say, played just about a perfect game against Kansas, at least until they went into kill the clock mode. However, Jeremy Maclin aside, it is clear their talent level isn’t quite as high as the Sooners’. They are good enough that they can win this game, but not good enough that they should. If Oklahoma had not lost to Texas Tech, they could be in the #1 spot right now, and this would probably be a national semifinal. Oh well.

Washington at #12 Hawaii. Everyone outside the BCS is pulling for the Warriors. Not only is this a probable win-and-in for a BCS berth, but a loss would be against the last place team in the Pac 10. For the “other” conferences trying to establish themselves, it would be pretty much the exact opposite of last year’s Boise State-Oklahoma game. And Washington is dangerous. They’ve beaten Boise State and Cal, and taken USC to the wire. Of course, they’ve also lost to Oregon State and Arizona.

Pitt at #2 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are in the BCS regardless, but a win puts them in the driver’s seat for the national title. They would draw either Missouri or Ohio State, and they are much better than either team. LSU would give them more trouble, but those Tigers can’t get in without a WV loss. They should send Arkansas a thank-you note.

Predictions: Chase Daniel and his O-line channeled their inner Patriots against Kansas. When KU brought pressure, Daniel made an immediate read and got the ball away. When they sat back, he moved in the pocket until someone came open. Kansas did the right things, but they weren’t athletic enough to hold out. Oklahoma doesn’t have that problem. Washington is dangerous, but as I learned during the Boise game, it’s generally not a good idea to pick against Hawaii on the island. Finally, WV-Pitt may be important, but it’s pretty much an important formality.

Picks: Oklahoma, Hawaii, West Virginia