Friday, November 17, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 12

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Mississippi State @ Arkansas (CBS): Novembert seems to be a thing of the past, especially now that the man who hired Brett Bielema was just fired. Have to like Miss State here.
  • Virginia @ Miami (ABC): Well, it'd be kind of on-brand for modern day Miami to score a huge win over a top-tier opponent and then immediately flatline against Virginia, but somehow I just don't see that happening.
  • Michigan @ Wisconsin (FOX): The best indicator of the kind of week we're looking at for Week 12 is that this is the consensus best game going. Which, well, that's probably true, and Michigan is the best team between Wisconsin and their trip to Indianapolis in a couple of weeks. That said, this still a reloading Michigan team that has some severe issues on offense that figure to be tough to overcome in Madison.
  • Texas @ West Virginia (ESPN): The Longhorns managed to break the 30-point barrier for the first time in a month last week by walloping Kansas 42-27. Unfortunately for them, West Virginia is not Kansas.
  • Louisiana-Monroe @ Auburn (ESPN2): Tigers.
  • Texas Christian @ Texas Tech (FS1): Texas Tech hasn't beaten a single Big 12 team with a pulse, a trend that doesn't figure to change now.
  • Central Florida @ Temple (ESPNU): We're only a week away from USF-UCF!
  • Southern Methodist @ Memphis (ESPNEWS): If you get tired of watching large men crash into other large men to move the ball a few yards at a time, then boy howdy do I have an offer for you! (If you get ESPNEWS, that is.) Because there will be POINTS in this game. The over/under is 110 points. Given that there's a non-zero chance that the halftime score could be 52-50, I'd say take the over. Outside of that, though, Memphis should win.
  • Minnesota @ Northwestern (BTN): I have no opinion on this game. Northwestern, I guess?
  • Cincinnati @ East Carolina (CBSS): Don't watch this unless you're flipping into the see the replay of something rare and/or dumb, like a one-point safety for something. (Which, given the announcers CBSS usually has, would be hilarious because I suspect they would have no idea what's going on.) As for who's going win? Uh, ECU I guess?
12:20: Pittsburgh @ Virginia Tech (ACC): I do so enjoy beating VPI, but they should be able to get back on track at home against a struggling Pitt team.

3:00: Arizona State @ Oregon State (Pac12): Remember those salad days of early October when the Sun Devils ripped off consecutive wins over Washington and Utah and we were all "hey, maybe they have a really good defense!" Yeah, it didn't last. They should still be able to take the Beavers, though.

  • Illinois @ Ohio State (ABC): Buckeyes.
  • Navy @ Notre Dame (NBC): Provided Notre Dame can get up for this game at all, they should be able to take this one. This Navy is good, but not as good as the Navy teams that have given Notre Dame fits in the past.
  • Kentucky @ Georgia (CBS): Kentucky is probably the second or third best team in the SEC East right now, which says more about the relative state of Florida and Tennessee football right now, but still. Anyway, it was fun to watch Georgia lose last week (and lose badly, at that), but they should be able to run over, around, and through Kentucky.
  • Oklahoma @ Kansas (ESPN): Sooners.
  • Kansas State @ Oklahoma State (ESPN2): Kansas State won't win this game, but I sort of consider it a compliment to Bill Synder that I can't just write off a 5-5 K-State completely.
  • Syracuse @ Louisville (ESPNU): The Fightin' Lamar Jacksons should be able to handle Syracuse, but the usual problem will be that Lamar Jackson does not play also defense.
  • Purdue @ Iowa (BTN): In some way, the fact that Purdue is associated with fun football again is still pretty good for Year 1. The Hawkeyes though, yeah, they're probably going to win.
  • San Jose State @ Colorado State (CBSS): Rams.
  • Georgia Tech @ Duke (ACC/RSN): It's not going to rain tomorrow. There's a lot of factors that go into whether or not you're a good rain team. To be clear, there are no good rain teams (except Michigan State). Classically, run-oriented teams are considered to be good in the rain, which may well be true. Like many assumptions along those lines, Georgia Tech is often lumped in that category, which results in announcers being shocked when Paul Johnson says things like "we're not a good rain team". This is because the stereotype imagines a bunch of guys in mud-stained, soaked jerseys, running backs being literally slippery, and just the lines crashing into other lines. But that's not really Paul Johnson's game. Remember, the option offense works on the principal of using numbers to gain leverage against the defense to hit big plays. This means you need linemen that are able to move and receivers that can hold their blocks. If it's wet, both of these things are much more difficult. And that doesn't even account for the slipperiness of a pitched ball.
    But yeah, it's not going to rain tomorrow.
    As mentioned before, beating VPI is always fun. A great relief for me especially is that we finally manged to not only get a lead in the final minutes but hold it. This team is one of the most snakebit Tech teams I've ever seen in close games and it was fantastic to finally get one in the bag. Now, though we need to win a road game for the first time this year against a team that we've generally found to be tricksy the past few seasons. Hopefully we're up to the task in Durham.
  • Maryland @ Michigan State (FOX): Speaking of the weather, the forecast for East Lansing, MI tomorrow is rain throughout the day and a temperature of about 42 degrees at kickoff. SPARTY GONNA ROLL Y'ALL.
  • Nebraska @ Pennsylvania State (FS1): Penn State's just over here, waiting to be called on, bags packed and ready for Indianapolis, you know, just in case. They just need to make sure they don't look past this one for that theoretical Big Ten title game.
  • Houston @ Tulane (ESPNEWS): This Tulane team has been feisty at times this year, but yeah, I don't like their odds against Houston.
  • Alabama-Birmingham @ Florida (SEC): My favorite college football story of the year are your University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers not only getting back up off the mat after being killed off in the dumbest conspiracy ever but then proceeding to go 7-3 and 5-2 in C-USA play. I mean, look, Florida has superior talent at every position on the two deep, and any logical conclusion has the Gators winning. But screw logic, GO BLAZERS.
6:30: Army @ North Texas (beIN): The last time Army had more than 7 regular season wins was 1996, when they went 10-1 (before the bowl game). Sitting at 8-2, that has to be the target. I like their chances of getting to 9, at least.

  • Louisiana State @ Tennessee (ESPN): LIGHTNING ROUND. LSU.
  • Texas A&M @ Mississippi (ESPN2): TAMU?
  • Boston College vs. Connecticut (@Boston, MA; CBSS): This is being played at Fenway Park for some reason. Also, BC.
  • Arizona @ Oregon (Pac12): Taking the Fightin' Khalil Tates here.
  • North Carolina State @ Wake Forest (ESPNU): Even considering that a lot of widely anticipated contests turned out to be blowouts last week, I still say the unlikeliest result was Wake Forest dropping 64 (64!) on Syracuse. They scored 24 (24!) in the fourth (!) quarter. Exclamation marks! Anyway, NC State actually plays defense, so they probably won't do that again, and one wonders if they maybe spent all their points allowance in the Carrier Dome last weekend.
  • Missouri @ Vanderbilt (SEC): Mizzou is unstoppable right now, which also coincides with the fact that Mizzou got all of the team that are obviously better than them out of the way early. (To give you an idea of how things are going in Gainesville, consider that one of the teams they steamrolled was Florida.) So yeah, I like them here.
  • California-Los Angeles @ Southern California (ABC): The weather will be perfect and both teams will be wearing their colors. That figures to be about the high point of evening for UCLA.
  • California @ Stanford (FOX): The Big Game figures mostly be a Bryce Love showcase in primetime.
10:15: Air Force @ Boise State (ESPN2): It's odd when Air Force is the worst of three academies, but here we are. Boise should roll.

  • Utah @ Washington (ESPN): We're barrelling toward a 3-way tie atop of the Pac-12 North, but in the meantime, let's consider what should probably be a crucial home win for the Huskers.
  • Nevada @ San Diego State (CBSS): Aztecs.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

2018 World Cup Update: That's a Wrap

Qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup is complete.

Knocked out since October: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, South Africa, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Greece, Italy, and Ireland.

Qualified: Australia, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Peru, Croatia, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark.

211 teams entered the qualifying tournament, starting with East Timor and Mongolia playing back on March 12, 2015. 979 days later, only 32 remain. The first team eliminated was Mongolia on March 17, 2015. The first team to qualify (other than the hosts) was Brazil, on March 27, 2017. The last team eliminated was New Zealand on November 15, 2017, and the last team to qualify was Peru, on the same date.

The status page with all teams has been updated for the final time.

This concludes our coverage of World Cup 2018 qualification. We'll be back in two years, likely for the final time as the 48-team World Cup will render the drama of qualification obsolete.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bowl Predictions 2017: Week 4

They're all right here. Let's have a chat real quick about the logic this week.

Concerning the playoff, well here was my thought process. I have Alabama defeating Georgia in the SEC championship, Clemson defeating Miami, and Oklahoma defeating TCU or Oklahoma State. So there's your top three. If Wisconsin beats Ohio State, then they'll be in as well. But... what if they don't? Obviously, if we've learned anything this season, counting on a particular version of the Buckeyes to show up for any game is fraught with danger, but nonetheless I like the Buckeyes to win. Surveying the other teams who would've just lost (like Georgia) versus the Big Ten champion, even a two-loss champion, well, it was hard to leave the Buckeyes out. Their reward, of course, would be getting to play Alabama, so good luck with that.

In other news, I just barely had enough teams. With the Big Ten still probably getting three teams into the Playoff-affiliated bowls, this leaves the rest of the Big Ten's bowls sorely wanting. And that's pretty much how you get UCLA in the Pinstripe Bowl. Elsewhere, I had to abandon my Texas-Texas A&M bowl game, but hey, there's always next year (or next week).

Otherwise, things are getting progressively more real. Expect even more details next week, which is when I start looking for actual news to inform my predictions instead of, you know, guesses.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 11

Posting this way late, so this is going to be a lot of LIGHTNING ROUND. But rest assured, this is a pretty great lineup for Week 11!

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Michigan State @ Ohio State (FOX): Oh geez this is actually at 9:00 AM? We're off to a pretty good start. I'll be distracted by my own game, but still. The line on this is making the Buckeyes an insane 17 point favorite or something, which, hey, is possible but sure doesn't seem probable right now, you know? But this site isn't about gambling advice, and I think ti's well established that I pick the winners. So, yeah, I got the Buckeyes here.
  • Florida @ South Carolina (CBS): You what you could be watching instead of this? The game before this or the game I'll take about next. Taking the Gamecocks.
  • Oklahoma State @ Iowa State (ABC/ESPN2): So how about that state of Iowa this year, eh? We should've seen it coming when Iowa State-Iowa went to double overtime back in September, I guess. Reason says stick with the Pokes, but a view of this season at the moment says go with the Cyclones.
  • North Carolina State @ Boston College (ABC/ESPN2): I still like the Wolfpack.
  • Arkansas @ Louisiana State (ESPN): Okay, so maybe the Novembert mystique has worn off.
  • Nebraska @ Minnesota (FS1): This is definitely a matchup of two Big Ten West teams that aren't Wisconsin or Iowa. Uh, Gophers?
  • Connecticut @ Central Florida (ESPNU): UCF.
  • Texas Tech vs. Baylor (@Arlington, TX; FOX/RSN): Red Raiders.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette @ Mississippi (SEC): Ole Miss... probably.
  • Rutgers @ Pennsylvania State (BTN): Nittany Lions.
  • Duke @ Army (CBSS): Army.
12:20: Virginia Tech @ Georgia Tech (ACC): What to even say? I warned you about Charlottesville? That was probably our worst played game of the season and we paid dearly for it.
Moving on this week, though, I can't figure if playing VPI the week after they got pasted by Miami is a good thing or not. Either way, what I want to see from the Jackets today is just a sense of urgency, a sense that hey, we have to seize our chances for the first this season and do what it takes to win. This team is essentially three plays away from being undefeated. It's time to harness those feelings and use them toward something productive.

3:00: Wake Forest @ Syracuse (ACC/RSN): The 'Cuse.

  • Iowa @ Wisconsin (ABC): Oh hey, it's the two relevant Big Ten teams. First, there's this year's version of #PutPittIn in Iowa, and then there's Wisconsin, who is undefeated but sports a best win at the moment of... Northwestern. Nonetheless, Iowa hasn't showed much outside of Kinnick Stadium (i.e., the place where highly ranked Big Ten east teams go to die), so I'm sticking with the Badgers here.
  • Georgia @ Auburn (CBS): I'm going with Georgia here but pulling hard for Auburn.
  • Florida State @ Clemson (ESPN): Well, uh, FSU looked kinda okay last week? Uh, yeah, stick to Iowa-Wisconsin or UGA-Auburn.
  • West Virginia @ Kansas State (ESPN2): This might also be fun, actually, in the sense this is about as far apart as two teams can be in the Big 12 and still be playing the same sport. I think this is a tossup, but I still like WVU here.
  • Virginia @ Louisville (ESPNU): Lamar Jackson should be able to do enough to win here.
  • Michigan @ Maryland (BTN): Michigan.
  • Southern Methodist @ Navy (CBSS): This could be a sneaky good game. SMU is better on paper this year, but I'm going with the Midshipmen at home.
  • Southern California @ Colorado (FOX): USC.
  • Kentucky @ Vanderbilt (SEC): Kentucky.
5:30: Washington State @ Utah (Pac12): Wazzu has looked terrible on the road, so... Utes? Not sure about this one.

6:30: Western Kentucky @ Marshall (beIN): Hilltoppers.

  • Alabama @ Mississippi State (ESPN): Bama.
  • Purdue @ Northwestern (ESPN2): Purdue.
  • New Mexico @ Texas A&M (ESPNU): TAMU.
  • Tulane @ East Carolina (CBSS): Tulane!
7:30: Tennessee @ Missouri (SEC): Tigers!

  • Notre Dame @ Miami (ABC): Why did I essentially skip to here? Because I'm pressed for time and want to go to bed, but also because that's you'll be doing. This is the irresistible force and immovable object game of the week. This is also when I think Miami's penchant for playing it close as long as humanly possible is going to bite them. I'm going with the Domers.
  • Texas Christian @ Oklahoma (FOX): If for some reason ND-Miami isn't working out, flip to FOX. If there's one team in the Big 12 that could possibly contain Baker Mayfield at home, it's TCU. But Mayfield is also playing out of his mind right now, so it's hard to pick against him.
9:30: Arizona State @ California-Los Angeles (Pac12): UCLA.

10:00: Oregon State @ Arizona (ESPN2): Zona.

10:15: Wyoming @ Air Force (ESPNU): Wyoming.

10:30: Boise State @ Colorado State (CBSS): Rams.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Bowl Predictions 2017: Week 3

I'm just going to post the link because I am so very tired. Thanks for understanding. We'll be back in force for the preview later this week and bowl predictions next week.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

2018 World Cup Update: The Final Countdown

All right folks, it's time to see this through for the last nine World Cup qualification spots.

Australia and Honduras will rack up some frequent flyer miles. The first leg will take place November 10th in San Pedro Sula, then the squads will face each other again in Sydney five days later. The winner on cumulative goals will advance, with the away goals rule applying. (The away goals rule is essentially a first tiebreaker: if the cumulative score is a draw, then the team that scored more away goals wins.)

Not to be outdone, Peru will fly to New Zealand, with the first match taking place on November 11th, and the return four days later in Lima. The same rules apply.

Nigeria and Egypt have already qualified out of Africa, so that leaves three groups to be decided.

Group A
On the next matchday, November 11th, Tunisia will advance if they win or draw against Libya, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo loses to draws against Guinea.

Group C
Morocco and Ivory Coast play each other on November 11th. Ahead by a point, Morocco can advance with a win or draw, but Ivory Coast can only advance with a win.

Group D
Group D is the wackiest for sure, since the original Senegal-South Africa match is being replayed due to South Africa using an ineligible player. That replay will happen on November 10th in South Africa, and then the teams will meet again four days later in Dakar. Senegal leads the rest of the group by two points, so they will clinch if they defeat South Africa on Friday. Any other result means the group will still be wide open, and we'll update this post once we know more.

And so the last four spots will be contested by eight European teams. Let's take a quick look. As with the other playoffs, these are two-legged ties where the cumulative results matter, with the away goals rule applying.

  • Northern Ireland and Switzerland will playoff on November 9th and 12th
  • Croatia and Greece will playoff on November 9th and 12th.
  • Sweden and Italy will playoff on November 10th and 13th.
  • Denmark and Ireland will playoff on November 11th and 14th.
That's pretty much it! By this time next week, the field will be completely set.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 10

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Pennsylvania State @ Michigan State (FOX): All right Penn State, time to get off the mat because you're going to have to get right back on the road to face a team more than happy to punch you in the mouth and dare you to do something about it. Obviously they're favored here, but it won't be easy.
  • Wisconsin @ Indiana (ABC): Wisconsin is your darkhorse undefeated playoff team, at least until they get blown out by Ohio State or Penn State in a few weeks.
  • Auburn @ Texas A&M (ESPN): Is Auburn actually, like, good? I have no idea. I'm going with TAMU.
  • Florida @ Missouri (ESPN2): For a team that was all but out of it at the beginning of the year, Mizzou has rallied, by which I mean they took a two week break from playing other SEC teams. (Pro: they won by a combined score of 120-33. Con: those two teams were Idaho and UConn.) So what does that mean for this game? Well, going by the metric of "who got beat less badly by Georgia?" then Mizzou has to be a slight favorite.
  • Kansas State @ Texas Tech (FS1): Yeah, the ebb of the magikal energyes* were at a definite low last week, with K-State only beating an awful Kansas team (but I repeat myself) by 10 points. This Red Raiders team isn't anything special, but they still have sufficient offensive firepower to overpower this version of the Wildcats.
  • Western Kentucky @ Vanderbilt (ESPNU): Vandy gets a reprieve from the rest of hte SEC here.
  • Massachusetts @ Mississippi State (SEC): Miss State.
  • Baylor @ Kansas (FSN/RSN): Ugh, Baylor?
  • Illinois @ Purdue (BTN): Purdue.
12:20: Syracuse @ Florida State (ACC): This FSU team is mailing it in so hard that there is serious stuff out there about Jimbo Fisher resigning or getting fired. I like the Orange here.

3:00: Georgia Tech @ Virginia (ACC/RSN): It's hard to win when you don't block people, and it's even worse when you can't. Last week's loss to Clemson served as a reminder of the widening gap between the us and them since that exciting pair of games in 2009. That said, even in a comfortable win for the Tigers, there were some bleak signs of progress, like actually getting over a hundred yards of offense for the first time since 2014. Yeah.
Anyway, on the Hoos. Virginia has struggled in recent weeks, losing to out-of-nowhere offensive powerhouse Boston College and then suffering a 17 point loss to a not-that-good Pitt team. It got a bit spicy during the ACC teleconference this week, wherein Bronco Mendhall declared that he "has a passion for defending option offenses" and Paul Johnson responded that he has a passion "for playing 3-4 teams". 3-4 in this case is not UVA's record, but the style of defense they play, and it's not hard to see where Johnson is coming from. With Tech's wide offensive line splits, UVA will be forced to make some tough decisions about where to put their linebackers. Keep them near the line to try to shoot the gaps in Tech's wide offensive splits and that makes it easier for all the linebackers to get caught in the wash and for plays to break out wide; play the LBs more conservatively to take away the outside plays and that's a recipe for a death-by-a-thousand-cuts procession of 3-5 yard runs up the gut. Of course, the best case scenario for the Cavaliers is that the linebacker's mobility over a traditional four-man front will allow them to defeat cut blocks more easily and prevent the offensive line from getting to the second level.
On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if Ted Roof comes out with guns blazing for the third week in a row. Long criticized for being too conservative, last week Roof decided essentially to bet the house. I don't really blame him for that, since we were massive underdogs, but unfortunately it didn't really pay off. That said, UVA is not Clemson and has not scored more than 30 points in their ACC games so far, despite having played a woeful UNC team.
Then there's Charlottesville. I'm writing this post on November 3rd, the 27th anniversary of perhaps the biggest game in modern Georgia Tech history, a 41-38 upset of then #1 Virginia. After that, Tech lost eight straight games in Charlottesville, with the 2009 ACC champions winning decisively and breaking the streak. Since then, Tech lost in 2011, won in 2013, and lost in 2015. Any pattern is over now, but it's hard not to think about.

  • Stanford @ Washington State (FOX): So there was definitely a bit of a break between when I wrote the above and what I'm writing now, so don't expect anything quite as, uh, elegant? Sure, let's go with that. Anyway, Wazzu has looked less good now that they've actually had to, you know, play away from home, and I think this Stanford team can give them fits. Nonetheless, back in Pullman I still like them.
  • South Carolina @ Georgia (CBS): My fears made manifest: yes, Georgia actually is that good.
  • Wake Forest @ Notre Dame (NBC): Closer than you think, but probably still not terribly close.
  • Ohio State @ Iowa (ESPN): Going into Kinnick is always tricky (ask last year's Michigan team, for instance) but a mid-afternoon timeslot should ultimately work out in favor of the Buckeyes.
  • Iowa State @ West Virginia (ESPN2): Secret best game at this timeslot? Heck yeah. How about them Cyclones this year? Of course, West Virginia doesn't really fit the mold of the teams Iowa State has been able to beat, that is, top-10 teams at home. So I still like the 'neers here.
  • South Florida @ Connecticut (ESPNU): This is a definitely a game that will happen, and a game that USF will win.
  • Northwestern @ Nebraska (BTN): Northwestern? Sure, why now.
  • Army @ Air Force (CBSS): The Commander-in-Chief's trophy is still in play, but I actually like Army's chances here?
  • Oklahoma @ Oklahoma State (FS1): BEDLAM! Of course, as pointed out elsewhere, for a series named Bedlam there's not actually that much chaos here, as the Sooners utterly dominate the serious. But you know what? I like Oklahoma State here, at home.
  • Mississippi @ Kentucky (SEC): This is a game that will be on TV that you can watch, but I can't recommend it. Uh, Kentucky should probably win though?
5:00: Oregon State @ California (Pac12): What's happened to Cal? Well, essentially, they had to start playing other Pac-12 teams and they're still rebuilding. They're probably still better than the Beavers, though.

  • Nevada @ Boise State (ESPNU): Boise.
  • Colorado State @ Wyoming (CBSS): If none of the afternoon games pan out, feel free to tune into this one before they end. I like Wyoming at home, but this should be fun.
  • Texas @ Texas Christian (ESPN): Texas is better, but I don't think they're good enough yet to beat TCU in Ft. Worth.
  • Central Florida @ Southern Methodist (ESPN2): UCF all the way.
  • Minnesota @ Michigan (FOX): Michigan still has offensive issues, but the sheer force of personality that P.J. Fleck possesses won't be good enough to get the Gophers past Michigan.
  • Southern Mississippi @ Tennessee (SEC): I, uh, like USM here? Mostly just to put Butch out of his misery.
  • Texas-El Paso @ Middle Tennessee State (beIN): MTSU.
  • Virginia Tech @ Miami (ABC): Hey Miami, VPI actually has a good enough defense that you won't be able to just bullshit your way to a win in the last two minutes. I still like you to win here, but I'm not feeling especially great about it.
  • Louisiana State @ Alabama (CBS): Alabama covers 21.5.
9:00: Colorado @ Arizona State (Pac12): Why not Arizona State? Well, they enjoyed a brief renaissance, but have come crashing back down in the past few games, but they should be able to take care of the Buffs at home/

10:00: Oregon @ Washington (FS1): The Ducks are back, but I think UDub is still good enough to take care of business and take the Huskies to the Pac-12 title game.

10:30: San Diego State @ San Jose State (ESPNU): San Jose State better hope the Aztecs don't know they way to San Jose, because otherwise it's going to be a long night.

  • Arizona @ Southern California (ESPN): Late kicks, but it's only 7:45 here! Anyway, Khalil Tate has been the other great West Coast player you've never heard of, and while Is still like USC, if they blink he will make them pay.
  • Brigham Young @ Fresno State (ESPN2): Fresno has been sneaky good this year.
*: See last week's Texas Tech @ Oklahoma preview.