Saturday, November 22, 2008

On The Heisman, the Rose Bowl, and the BCS Buster

Shortened post this week, as reporting is on-location from a not even close to top three Ohio State-Michigan game. The three games this week are pretty clear.

#2 Texas Tech at #5 Oklahoma. Definitely shaping up to be the biggest regular game all year. Texas Tech puts themselves in the Big 12 title game, and probably the national championship game, with a win. Oklahoma would create a three-way tie at the top of the Big 12 South, although it's anybody's guess whether they'd take the tiebreaker away from Texas. For losing last, Texas Tech would probably be out.

As a side bonus, it might help decide the Heisman. If Oklahoma wins convincingly, Sam Bradford probably takes the lead. If Texas Tech wins, Harrell gains—although his top receiver Michael Crabtree could make a run if he gets a signature play against both Texas and Oklahoma. Style-wise, we already know they're both all about passing.

#14 BYU at #7 Utah. This decides the minor conference representative to the BCS. Win and in for Utah; lose and in for Boise State. Also, I have no idea who would win the three way tie in the Mountain West. Hopefully TCU, who I still think is the best team.

#15 Michigan State at #8 Penn State. Rose Bowl trip on the line for Penn State, and possibly Michigan State too, if Michigan upsets Ohio State earlier in the day. The key, as always for Michigan State, will be whether they can pass well enough to open space up for Javon Ringer. The Iowa game is the only one, including Ohio State, in which Penn State has really had a problem defending the pass.

Predictions: BYU is a good example of ranking inertia. They have played more close games than either of the other Mountain West elite, haven't beaten anyone close to a good team, and lost by 27 to TCU, but they're a team with tradition and a preseason ranking, so they're still ranked 14th. Utah has wins over TCU and Pac 10 leader Oregon State. I'm taking the Utes. The other two games are trickier. Oklahoma and Penn State are more talented and at home, so they should be favored, but I think both are bigger favorites than they ought to be. Go, upsets.

Picks: Texas Tech (30/70), Utah (69/31), Michigan State (14/86).

LW: 27-96

Overall Adj. WPct: 920-503, .647

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On The Pitiful ACC, and Technicalities

The first sentence of my last post is shamefully unclear. When I wrote "I didn't mean to leave this till now, but I might as well have," what I meant was "I forgot I was going to write about the Thursday game until half an hour before kickoff, but that has to do with the fact that neither this Thursday game nor the Saturday games this week are very exciting." And they're not. Nobody plays anybody. Except kind of in the ACC, where there are enough mediocre teams that half the conference is still in it, so it's almost impossible not to match some of them against each other. When College GameDay is broadcasting from unranked Boston College at #19 Florida State, and you can't really blame them, you know it's a bad week.

#16 North Carolina at Maryland. This is big because of tiebreakers. In one half of the ACC, Maryland is tied with Florida State and Wake Forest with two ACC losses. In the other half, UNC and Miami have two losses. But Maryland has beaten Wake, and UNC has beaten Miami. So the winner of this game controls their fate.

Another quick point I'd like to make about the ACC. One of my friends, a Virginia fan, and I had a serious discussion about whether winning the ACC title is even a good thing. Would you rather be a 20 point underdog in the Orange Bowl or drop to one you might actually win? We were on the verge of deciding it might be best to lose the ACC Championship Game or something until he said something like, "Who am I kidding? We'd get crushed in a reasonable bowl anyway." So the ACC may end up sending a team that wouldn't like their chances against someone like the SEC #5. Thank God it's finally basketball season.

#11 Ohio State at Illinois. I could have put another game here, but there's no unequivocally better one, and this gives me a chance to talk about a fun BCS technicality. Conventional wisdom is that only one small conference team has a chance of making the BCS, because no matter how worthy a second team is, they'll never be a draw on par with a comparable major conference team. But the BCS at-large teams must come from the Top 14, and no conference can send more than two teams.

This is currently Alabama, Texas Tech, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Utah, Penn State, Boise State, Georgia, Ohio State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Ball State. Assuming two of the four at large will come from the SEC and Big 12, the other two must be filled by some combination of Ohio State and small conference teams. The next five offer no help. There's Michigan State, who will drop if they lose to Penn State, North Carolina and Florida State, who will either lose and drop or win the ACC and be in automatically, and BYU and TCU, who are in the Mountain West.

So if Ohio State loses to Illinois or Michigan, the BCS may be forced to take two small conference teams. On the flip side, if they win out, they are almost guaranteed an at-large bid. So if you are a Boise State, Ball State, or Cinderella fan, you should root against the Buckeyes.

Predictions: North Carolina has lost to Virginia Tech when their QB got injured and the backup turned the game over, and to Virginia in overtime after giving up the tying score in the final minute. Maryland has lost to Middle Tennessee State, 31-10 to Virginia, and after being almost doubled up in yardage to Virginia Tech. I know who I'm taking. Illinois is dangerous, as one of those teams who should be much better than they are. But after losing last year, Ohio State can't take them lightly. Coupled with the Buckeyes' dismantling of Michigan State and Northwestern recently, it's hard to pick the upset. Besides, Ohio State-Michigan needs a good plot, and can the Wolverines knock Ohio State out of the BCS is a good one.

Picks: North Carolina (57/43), Ohio State (73/27)

LW: 81-51

Overall AdjWPct: 893-407, .687

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On the National Bye Week, Part I

I didn't mean to leave this till now, but I might as well have. VT/Miami is tonight, and both are 3-2 in the ACC Coastal. Embarrassingly, this makes it a huge game for ACC title implications. Since no top 24 teams play each other this week (25 South Carolina at 4 Florida is all we get), it's definitely top three. I'm not really excited about this week.

I don't really know much about these teams, except that my friend the VT alum says the Hokies haven't thrown a TD pass to a wide receiver all year. They're due, right?

Pick: VT (39/61)

LW Results, Real Post: Forthcoming.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On Six Teams With Four Total Losses, Soon To Be Seven

There are several good games this week. But they start tonight, so this is going to be relatively short.

#9 Oklahoma State at #2 Texas Tech. By now, you know all about the Big 12, so I'm just going to add a couple of thoughts from the Texas/Texas Tech game. First, Texas Tech outgained the Longhorns by 200 yards, including 25 more rushing yards on the same number of attempts. TTU outrushing anyone is crazy enough, but Texas? Second, after their touchdown with :01 left, what possible reason did Tech have for kicking the extra point? You'd rather be up six for sure instead of going for seven? How do you possibly justify that? What if Texas had somehow scored? Coupled with the fact that the students had already rushed the field twice, that might have been up there with the most painful losses ever. Why kick? Why?

#1 Alabama at #16 LSU. Both of the top two have difficult games this week (and Penn State at Iowa's no freebie, either). Alabama hasn't been overwhelming since the first half of the Georgia game, playing close games against Kentucky and Mississippi before beating up on reeling Tennessee and hapless Arkansas State. Still, even in their close games they ran out to early leads. Alabama hasn't had to keep their composure in a tight road game, and the fiercely anti-Saban LSU crowd is one that could cause problems. LSU has struggled, but SEC teams, particularly ones with this much raw talent, are always dangerous.

#12 TCU at #8 Utah. For the second time this year, TCU matches up with a team from the Beehive State who has a perfect record and the inside track for a BCS bid. Unlike Brigham Young, Utah knows how good TCU is. The Utes have a very balanced team, with a solid offense and defense, both passing and running. However, unlike the 2004 version, who went unchallenged through the whole season including the bowl, they aren't great at anything. This has shown through in that four of their nine wins have been by one score. Still, they do consistently find a way to win, and they have home field. TCU is more one-dimensional on offense, but unlike Utah, they are great at something. They're only giving up 11 points a game, even counting Oklahoma's 35. They've held seven of ten opponents to a single score.

Predictions: Don't expect a letdown from Texas Tech. If you remember this is the matchup that resulted in 1328 total yards last year. Also remember, Harrell threw for 646 of those yards, but TTU lost anyway on a last-second drop by Crabtree. Those two will remember. This feels like a tough game for Alabama, but that assumes LSU is actually good. Before the Georgia game I argued they weren't, and their 52-38 home loss didn't really change my mind. And when Jarrett Lee makes up for his three picks that game, one of which was returned for a TD, by going 8/20 for 99 yards against Tulane, well, that doesn't inspire confidence. To pick tonight's game, ask yourself one simple question. If TCU had scheduled Weber State and Utah had scheduled Oklahoma on September 27 instead of the reverse, would anyone actually think Utah is nearly as good as TCU? Of course not, because TCU would be undefeated and outscoring teams by like 40-8, whereas Utah would have been considered to have been exposed by the only good team they've played so far, and be lucky to have just one loss.

Picks: Texas Tech (60/40), Alabama (59/41), TCU (51/49)

LW: 131-0

Overall Adj. WPct: 812-356, .695