Monday, December 29, 2014

Bowl Games 2014: Going Out on a High Note

Let's go ahead and blow this open: nine games, three days, wrapping up in some of the best non-playoff teams of the season, and taking us through the end of the calendar year.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, December 29
2:00: West Virginia vs. Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (Liberty Bowl @ Memphis, TN; ESPN): Looking back, I'm not quite sure why I'm confident about this one. Both these teams play a lot of offense and very little defense, which bodes well if you like high-scoring shootouts. Part of it could just be that the Mountaineers looked significantly better to close their season than the Aggies, with narrow losses to TCU, Texas, and K-State, plus a resounding win over Iowa State. Since TAMU upset Auburn back in early November, they've gone 0-2 to an eminently beatable Missouri and allowed an at-times lost looking LSU offense to score 23 (a lot for them) and win. We'll see how well the eye test holds up, I guess.
Confidence: 33
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is WVU's first bowl game since the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, which they lost to Syracuse 38-14. This is TAMU's sixth straight bowl, starting with a 44-20 loss to Georgia in the 2009 Independence Bowl. They scraped by Duke 52-48 in last year's Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Announcers: Clay Matvick and Antony Becht

5:30: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (Russell Athletic Bowl @ Orlando, FL; ESPN): Speaking of ways teams closed the season, it was about as bad as it could get for Oklahoma. Basically this prediction is based entirely on the fact that Cole Stoudt is starting for the Tigers, which means that I cannot predict them to win.
Confidence: 5
Previous meetings: Just three. The Sooners won the first two meetings in 1963 and 1972, and by pretty healthy 31-14 and 52-3 margins. Clemson won the last meeting in the 1988-9 Citrus Bowl, 13-6.
Last bowl game: This is Clemson's tenth straight bowl game, going back to the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, in which they beat Colorado 19-10. Given another shot at the Orange Bowl after the 2012 debacle against West Virginia, they won last year's contest 40-35 over Ohio State. The Sooners own the fifth longest bowl streak in the land, with this being their sixteenth straight postseason game. The beginning of the streak was the 1999 Independence Bowl, which they lost to Ole Miss, 27-25. In one of the largest upsets of last year's bowl season, they beat Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl.
Announcers: Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham

9:00: Texas vs. Arkansas (Texas Bowl @ Houston, TX; ESPN): I'm not sure why I'm confident about Arkansas in this one either. I suppose I'd chalk it up to their bruising rushing attack, which propelling them to upset wins over LSU and Ole Miss and bowl eligibility in the first place, even if they drop the ball against Mizzou. Texas also got pasted by TCU in their regular season finale, but that was pretty much expected.
Confidence: 32
Previous meetings: These former Southwest Conference foes have no shortage of meetings, with a grand total of 77 dating all the way back to 1894. Texas, as one might expect, has historically dominated the series by a 56-21 margin. The last three meetings took place during the 2003, 2004, and 2008 regular seasons. Texas is 2-1 in those, and has won two straight, most recently by a 52-10 margin.
Last bowl game: This is the fourth straight bowl game for the Longhorns, going back to a 21-10 victory over Cal in the 2011 Holiday Bowl. They got wrecked by Oregon in last year's Alamo Bowl, 30-7. This is Arkansas's first bowl appearance since the 2011-2 Cotton Bowl, where they beat Kansas State 29-16.
Announcers: Dave Pasch and Brian Griese

Tuesday, December 30
3:00: Notre Dame vs. Louisiana State (Music City Bowl @ Nashville, TN; ESPN): Notre Dame has lost 5 of their 6, with the only win coming over Navy. Losses to Florida State and Arizona State were understandable. Northwestern, less so. Getting blown out by Southern Cal, well, that was not exactly a good look. If LSU can put up some points, it's hard to see how the Irish will have any success at all against their defense.
Confidence: 30
Previous meetings: Ten of 'em, and the series is an even 5-5 split. LSU won the last won, a 41-14 pounding in the 2005-6 Sugar Bowl.
Last bowl game: This the Domers' fifth straight bowl game. They kicked off the streak with a 33-17 win over Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl, and last year they beat Rutgers 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl. LSU owns the sixth longest bowl streak, with this being their fifteenth straight. The streak, unfortunately, started with a 28-14 win over Georgia Tech in the 2000 Peach Bowl. Last year the Bayou Bengals beat Iowa 21-14 in the Outback Bowl.
Announcers: Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore

6:30: Louisville vs. Georgia (Belk Bowl @ Charlotte, NC; ESPN): While I would love to use this space to gloat about their loss to us, the fact remains that Georgia is still a pretty decent football team. Louisville is solid, but they lost pretty convincingly to the two teams they played closest to UGA's talent level (FSU and Clemson). I like UGA's chances, as long as they show up.
Confidence: 31
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Louisville's fifth straight bowl game, going back to the 2010 Beef O'Brady's Bowl, where they beat Southern Miss 31-28. Last year they stomped future conference-mates Miami 36-9 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. UGA is tied with Georgia Tech for the third longest bowl streak in the land, with this being their eighteenth straight bowl. They started with a 33-6 win over Wisconsin in the 1997-8 Outback Bowl, but last year they lost 24-19 to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Announcers: Anish Shorff and Kelly Stouffer
Fun facts: This is the first time since the 2006 edition of this game (when it was the Car Care Bowl), that it has not selected a team from either North or South Carolina. (Boston College beat Navy 25-24.)

10:00: Maryland vs. Stanford (Foster Farms Bowl @ Santa Clara, CA; ESPN): Things like losses to Rutgers are really preventing me from believing in you, Maryland. Also not helping are things like your lack of wins over teams that finished the regular season above .500. Meanwhile, the Cardinal finished their somewhat disappointing regular season with convincing wins over Cal (expected, even if Stanford scoring 38 wasn't) and UCLA (a massive upset in which Stanford won 31-10). So I have to go with what is basically the home team in this one.
Confidence: 28
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Maryland's second straight bowl, after losing last year's Military Bowl to Marshall by a 31-20 margin. (In retrospect, maybe that was more of a glimpse of things to come for the Herd than it was for the Terps.) This is Stanford's sixth straight bowl, and a bit of a step down after four straight BCS-bowl games. The streak started with a 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the 2007 Sun Bowl, and last year they lost 24-20 to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Flemming and Greg McElroy
Fun facts: According to Google Maps (and they should know, given the area), it is 12.8 miles from Stanford University to Levi's Stadium. It is 42.1 miles from the Civic Center area of San Francisco to Levi's Stadium. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 31
12:30: Mississippi vs. Texas Christian (Peach Bowl @ Atlanta, GA; ESPN): This day and the next will be a day of reckoning for the Big 12. In addition to scheduling better, one way they can prove themselves is to score some big wins in bowl games. Both these teams play good defense, though by any metric Ole Miss plays great defense. But given their issues in their three losses, it seems more likely that if one of these teams is going to come up with a big play offensively, it'll be the Horned Frogs.
Confidence: 17
Previous meetings: Six, but none since a pair of regular season meeting in 1982 and 1983. Ole Miss is 5-1 all time, with TCU's only win coming way back in 1949. Ole Miss won the last one 20-7.
Last bowl game: This is Ole Miss's third straight bowl game. Two years ago, they beat Pitt in 38-17 in the Compass Bowl, and last year they won the Music City Bowl by a (sadface) 25-17 margin over Georgia Tech. This is TCU's first bowl appearance since the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (the Arizona version), where they lost 17-16 to Michigan State.
Announcers: Joe Tessitore and Brock Huard

4:00: Arizona vs. Boise State (Fiesta Bowl @ Glendale, AZ; ESPN): My pick of Boise in this one is more of a reflection of Arizona than anything else. I just had a hard time buying what Arizona was selling all year. Perhaps I'm letting recent results influence me too much, but boy howdy getting owned 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship was not a good look for the Wildcats at all. Boise also has a running back in Jay Ajayi that has declared for the draft and could make things bad for any team that potentially has issues stopping the run.
Confidence: 18
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is the third straight bowl appearance for the Wildcats. They beat Nevada 49-48 in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl, and also won last year's Advocare V100 Bowl 42-19 over Boston College. Boise, meanwhile, is tied with Wisconsin for the seventh longest bowl streak, with this being their thirteenth straight appearance. They started way back with a 34-16 win over Iowa State in the Humanitarian Bowl, but lost last year's Hawaii Bowl 38-23 to Oregon State.
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman

8:00: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State (Orange Bowl @ Miami Gardens, FL; ESPN): I worry about a lot of things. I'd say I'm pretty good at it. In terms of this football contest, though, I have the usual worries:
1) Our undersized offensive line against an SEC-caliber defensive line, that also defeated one good spread attack (Auburn) and one bruising rushing attack (Arkansas) this season.
2) Our very bad defense's ability to stop anyone from doing anything. When it doesn't generate turnovers, the results look a lot like they did against FSU. And, at least this season, Miss State's Dak Prescott has looked every bit as good, if not better, than Jamesis Winston. Miss State's loss to Alabama can be chalked up to their three turnovers, but their loss to Ole Miss was pure and simply that Ole Miss's defense is really good. The Bulldogs lost around two turnovers a game this season. I'm going to guess we'll need a margin of three to have a chance.
3) The offense after a month layoff. Not because Miss State has had a chance to prepare, but mostly because of rust. A lot of times in our bowl games, we've looked more like we do in early September than late November, which is to say that angles are off slightly, the blocks aren't as clean, and the ball perhaps a little harder to hold on to at game speed.
My usual policy is that I will not predict Tech games, and that if I'm in a situation where I have to, I will pick us to win by a slim margin. This is reflected in the confidence score below.
Confidence: 1
Previous meetings: Tech is 4-0 all-time against Miss State, with the most recent victory by a 42-31 margin. See the fun facts section below for more.
Last bowl game: Tech is tied for the third longest bowl streak with Georgia, with this being our eighteenth straight bowl game. GT its streak with a 35-30 win over West Virginia in the 1997 Carquest Bowl, and last year lost 25-17 to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. This is Miss State's fifth straight bowl game, going back to a 52-14 win over Michigan in the 2010-11 Gator Bowl. They demolished Rice 44-7 in last year's Liberty Bowl.
Announcers: Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer
Fun facts: Despite being members of the same conferences from 1921 through 1964, four all-time meetings. Yep. And only one of those meetings was in conference, in 1929. The first was in 1908, before there were really conferences, and the last two were in 2008 and 2009. Why? There's a lot of reasons, but it essentially boils down to the ability for schools to set their own conference schedules back in the day, and like many reasonable people, Georgia Tech's coaches didn't want to go to Mississippi. (We have also only played Ole Miss four times.)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bowl Games 2014: ACC-Mas

Saturday is ACC day, as four different ACC teams are all on the schedule. So Virginia Tech, Duke, Miami, and Boston College, consider yourselves on notice.

Also starting today, in addition to my score predictions (the scores are pretty much guesses, but the margins are usually indicative of how confident I am), I'll also throw in the confidence ranking I have for each game in my ESPN pick'em group. The pick'em includes the national championship game, so each game is ranked 1-39, with the latter being the most confident. For the record, I'm currently 10-3 straight-up and sitting on 172 points on ESPN.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Saturday, December 27
1:00: Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Military Bowl @ Annapolis, MD; ESPN): Well, Cincy hasn't lost since their 55-34 loss at Miami back in October. If the transitive property meant anything in college football, then this one would be easy: VPI beat Ohio State which beat Cincinnati. As we all should know by now, though, it doesn't, and the Hokies's impotent offense looks almost certain to doom them against a robust Cincinnati attack.
Confidence: 14
Previous meetings: The series record is tied at 5-5, with several meetings in the Big East. The first, though, was the 1947 Sun Bowl, which Cincy won 18-6. After that, they met regularly from 1985 to 1991, and then again in 1995. VPI prevailed in the 2008-9 Orange Bowl 20-7, and the last meeting was a regular season contest in 2012. Cincinnati won 27-24.
Last bowl game: This is the fourth straight bowl appearance for the Bearcats, who kicked things off with a 31-24 victory over Vandy in the 2011 Liberty Bowl. They lost to UNC last year in the Belk Bowl 39-17. By going 6-6, VPI preserved the second longest bowl streak in college football. This is their 22nd consecutive bowl appearance, going all the way back to the 1993 Independence Bowl, where they beat Indiana 45-20. They lost 42-12 to UCLA in last year's Sun Bowl.
Announcers: Beth Mowins and Joey Galloway

2:00: Duke vs. Arizona State (Sun Bowl @ El Paso, TX; CBS): Two 9-3 teams will go at it in this game, but this is a pretty good demonstration that not all 9-game winners are created equal. Arizona State's best wins include USC, Stanford, and Utah. Duke's best win, singular, is over Georgia Tech. Either way, it's hard to see how Duke will keep up, but hey, that's what we said about them last year, too.
Confidence: 15
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: Thanks to the dark magicks of David Cutcliffe, Duke has made three straight bowl games now. It started with a 48-34 loss to Cincinnati back in the 2012 Belk Bowl, but last New Year's Eve they gave Texas A&M everything they wanted in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. They came up short, though, losing 52-48. This is the fourth straight bowl appearance for the Sun Devils,
Announcers: Verne Lundquist Carter Blackburn and Gary Danielson
Fun facts: We have the Blue Devils and the Sun Devils here. The latter is pretty easy to explain, but where did "Blue Devils" come from? According to Wikipedia, the name was one of several the-then Trinity College officials were considering after World War I. In 1922, the student papers started referring to the college's athletic teams as the Blue Devils for lack of an official decision. The name itself originates with the Chasseurs Alpins, a French military unit nicknamed les diables bleus.

3:30: Miami vs. South Carolina (Independence Bowl @ Shreveport, LA; ABC): From 9-3 and 9-3 to 6-6 and 6-6. The four-point margin and confidence rank both indicate the same thing: I have no idea who will win this game. Steve Spurrier is generally more amusing if he wins (in contrast to, say, the Jim Moras of the world), so we're pulling for that.
Confidence: 3
Previous meetings: Fifteen, but none since 1987. Miami leads the all-time series 8-5-2. South Carolina won the first four meetings, all between 1936 and 1940. Miami turned it around since 1941, and the schools met intermittently through the 1960. After that were just two regular season contests in 1986 and 1987. Miami won them both, by margins of 34-14 and 20-16.
Last bowl game: This is Miami's second bowl game since their self-imposed bowl ban sanction. Last year they showed they might've wished it'd lasted another year, as they lost 36-9 to Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. South Carolina has now made seven straight bowl games going back to the 2008 Outback Bowl, wherein they lost 31-10 to Iowa. Last year they defeated Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Neal and Andre Ware

4:30: Boston College vs. Pennsylvania State (Pinstripe Bowl @ New York, NY; ESPN): In a matchup of two solid defenses, the tiebreaker is generally the offense. Neither offense is great, but Penn State's is downright anemic, while Boston College has the ability to run all over people when the mood strikes. Either way, I just don't think Penn State will be able to score enough points.
Confidence: 34
Previous meetings: Twenty-three, count, twenty-three of 'em! Penn State, suffice it to say, has dominated the series with a 19-4 record. From 1949 through 1992, Penn State went 19-2. However, in regular season contests in 2003 and 2004, Boston College won 27-14 and 21-7.
Last bowl game: Boston College lost last year's Independence Bowl (well, technically the AdvoCare V100 Bowl but whatever) 42-19 to Arizona. This is Penn State's first bowl bid since their NCAA-imposed sanctions took effect after the 2011-12 Ticket City Bowl, where they lost 30-14 to Houston.
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Matt Millen

8:00: Nebraska vs. Southern California (Holiday Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): It's always really hard to tell how a team will react to a coach being fired, but here I feel pretty okay with saying that the Cornhusker players aren't particularly thrilled about the situation. Meanwhile, USC is coming off a thorough route of their second biggest rival, and things are generally looking up again in Los Angeles.
Confidence: 16
Previous meetings: Four, and somewhat surprisingly, none in bowl games between these two historic programs. They met in 1969 and 1970, where USC won 31-21 and tied 21-21. They met again in 2006 and 2007, and USC won 28-10 and 49-31.
Last bowl game: Nebraska's seven game bowl streak dates to the 2008-9 Gator Bowl, where they beat Clemson 26-21. They played Georgia in last year's Gator Bowl and won that one as well, 24-19. This is USC's third straight bowl game. They lost (still not tired of saying this) 21-7 to Georgia Tech in the 2012 Sun Bowl, and then beat Fresno State 45-20 in last year's Las Vegas Bowl.
Announcers: Rece Davis, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack

Friday, December 26, 2014

Bowl Games 2014: The Day After

It's over. It's done. The gifts are out, and in some cases, put away or consumed. The wrapping paper is in the trash. The decorations are still up, but their days are numbered.

What does this mean? Today is the day bowl season truly begins. I'm currently sitting at 8-2, which is pretty good, but today and Saturday we'll have eight more games so that can change rapidly. Since yesterday was Christmas, I was too busy doing, you know, Christmas stuff to update, so I'll just be covering today's games here and then Saturday's in a separate post.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Friday, December 26
1:00: Louisiana Tech vs. Illinois (Heart of Dallas Bowl @ Dallas, TX; ESPN): Here's a game that will test several notions of statistical validity versus the notion of relative conference strength. By virtually every objective measure, LaTech is a better team than Illinois, and that this game probably shouldn't even be close. I also have the Bulldogs. Basically, Illinois will be doing well to keep it close. If they prevail, it will be an upset.
Previous meetings: The all of once, back in 2012. Louisiana Tech won 52-24.
Last bowl game: This is the Bulldogs's first bowl game since teh 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, which they lost to TCU 31-24. Illinois last appeared in a bowl game in 2011 as well, in the Fight Hunger Bowl. In a matchup of a 6-6 team coming off six straight losses and a 6-7 team coming off a title game loss, the Illini prevailed 20-14.
Announcers: Mike Corey and Charles Arbuckle
Fun facts: I'm not sure I know who those announcers are, but if they use the phrase "Zombie Cotton Bowl" even once they will rocket straight up to the top of my favorites list.

4:30: North Carolina vs. Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl @ Detroit, MI; ESPN): Carolina's defense is still awful, but Rugers's defense isn't so great themselves and plus their offense isn't nearly as potent as the Tar Heels's. Thus, I have Carolina as slight favorites, but their defense is really just so bad this could go either way.
Previous meetings: The all-time series is even at three apiece. The first meeting of these two goes all the way back to 1894, where Rutgers won 5-0. The two met again in 1919, and Rutgers won again, that time 19-9. It would be 87 years before thy met again, but Rutgers would prevail again in 2006. However, Carolina has won the last three, including a 24-22 win in their last meeting in 2011.
Last bowl game: Carolina defeated Cincinnati in last year's Belk Bowl 39-17. This is Rutgers's fourth straight bowl game. They lost last year's Pinstripe Bowl to Notre Dame, 29-16.
Announcers: Mark Neely and Ray Bentley
Fun facts: This is the first matchup of the bowl season between two Power-5 conference teams.

8:00: Central Florida vs. North Carolina State (St. Petersburg Bowl @ St. Petersburg, FL; ESPN): Well, had Central Florida beat UConn, there's a pretty good chance they would've been in a major bowl game. Alas for them, they did not. UCF was also last seen coming up with a miracle Hail Mary to beat ECU. NC State, meanwhile, won their last two games pretty convincingly, with a 42-13 rout of hapless Wake Forest and a 35-7 defanging of UNC. Jacoby Brissett will test UCF's highly rated defense, but I don't think they have enough punch of their own to win at the end of the day.
Previous meetings: Two, and the series is even. UCF's victory came in 2007 with a 25-23 margin. NC State won the last meeting in 2010, 28-21.
Last bowl game: This is Central Florida's third straight bowl game. It's a bit of a let-down after last year's, though, when they beat Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl. The Wolfpack's last post-season apperance was the 2012 Music City Bowl, where they lost to Vanderbilt 38-24.
Announcers: Adam Amin and John Congemi
Fun facts: The temptation to come up with a Bitcoin joke is strong, but the easy ones are already taken and I'm not clever enough to come up with one of my own. Besides, it's a pretty good joke in and of itself.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bowl Games 2014: Pre-Christmas Bowls

Let's take stock of the remaining five games before Christmas.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, December 22
2:00: Memphis vs. Brigham Young (Miami Beach Bowl @ Miami, FL; ESPN): This season has been nothing short of miraculous for the Tigers. Perhaps the first sign that they could be better than anyone would have guessed was a narrow 7-point loss to UCLA back in September, and the game was tied in the fourth quarter. They haven't lost since October 11th, in a 4-point loss to Houston. They dodged the other solid teams in the American conference, but nonetheless finished as co-champions with UCF and Cincinnati. So all that said, I have BYU has a narrow favorite. A lot like Utah State, BYU also lost their all-everything quarterback and lost four straight in a rough October, but they've recovered since and are coming off a 42-35 victory over Cal.
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Memphis's first bowl game since 2008, when they lost to South Florida 41-14 in the St. Petersburg Bowl. This will be BYU's tenth straight bowl game, dating back to the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl. They lost to Washington 31-16 in last year's Fight Hunger Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Flemming and Danny Kanell

Tuesday, December 23
6:00: Northern Illinois vs. Marshall (Boca Raton Bowl @ Boca Raton, FL; ESPN): Marshall probably didn't really have a shot at that access-bowl bid, but they probably would've at least liked to have had a shot. They won Conference USA, setting up this matchup against fellow mid-major champion NIU. These are both solid teams, but it still speaks to the quality of the Thundering Herd's schedule that this will be their toughest test. Nonetheless, I expect them to prevail.
Previous meetings: These two have met seven times intermittently going back to 1969. Marshall won the last won 37-15 in 2001, but NIU owns the overall series 4-3.
Last bowl game: This is NIU's sixth straight bowl game, going back to the 2008 Independence Bowl. They lost 21-14 to Utah State in last year's Poinsettia Bowl. This is Marshall's first back-to-back streak of bowl games since the streak they had 1997-2002. They beat Maryland 31-20 in last year's Military Bowl.
Announcers: Dave Lamont and Desmond Howard

9:30: San Diego State vs. Navy (Poinsettia Bowl @ San Diego, CA; ESPN): Well, this matchup lacks any real sense of intrigue, but hey they're selling a lot of tickets at least. I expect Navy to win.
Previous meetings: Three, in 1994, 1997, and the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. San Diego State has won all three, the last by a 35-14 margin.
Last bowl game: This is the Aztecs's fifth straight bowl game, a streak started with a 35-14 win over... Navy in this very bowl game. Last year they beat Buffalo 49-24 in the Potato Bowl. As I'm sure I've said a few times now, Navy would have a much longer bowl streak if not for the 2011 season, but thems the breaks. This is their third straight game now, and they beat Middle Tennessee State 24-6 in last year's Armed Forces Bowl.
Announcers: Tom Hart and Mike Bellotti

Wednesday, December 24
Noon: Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky (Bahamas Bowl @ Nassau, Bahamas; ESPN): This game pits one of the worst defenses in major college football against an extremely pedestrian offense, but hey at least it's placed in a semi-exotic locale. I like the Hilltoppers in this one.
Previous meetings: Central Michigan won the only meeting back in the 2012 Little Ceasars Bowl, 24-21.
Last bowl game: That last meeting was also the last bowl game for both these teams.
Announcers: Steve Levy, Lou Holtz, and Mark May get an expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. I guess that would make me able to put up with Holtz and May for a day or two.
Fun facts: The highest point in the Bahamas is "Mount" Alvernia. At only 207 feet high, it should be relatively easy for the Hilltoppers to top it.

8:00: Rice vs. Fresno State (Hawaii Bowl @ Honolulu, HI; ESPN): This is probably one of the bowl games on the slate, but it has a slight chance of being more exciting than the Yule Log channel. Maybe. Fresno is coming off a loss to Boise State in the Mountain West championship (and consequentially has a 6-7 record) while Rice's last game was a 76-31 thrashing at the hands of Louisiana Tech. Neither team ranks in the top half of Division I FBS in offense or defense, so, again, maybe check in on that fire every once a while, something might happen.
Previous meetings: Six, all from when both teams were members of the old WAC from 1999-2004. Fresno won all six by an average of 16.5 points, and they won the last meeting 52-21.
Last bowl game: This is the third straight bowl game for the Owls. They lost to Mississippi State 44-7 in last year's Liberty Bowl.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick and Rod Gilmore

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bowl Games 2014: Opening Slate

Welcome to the opening of Bowl Season 2014-2015. This year's slate is larger than ever with 38 games, and it also features the first ever play-off in major college football. As usual, I've got all my predictions available here, and I'll be publishing these previews in chunks. (Getting the scores in for all the games may take a bit, but I assure you as of this writing I've at least picked all my winners.) Get a fire going (if you've got a fireplace and stuff), sit down in your favorite chair, enjoy a warming beverage, and get ready for a ton of football.

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Saturday, December 20
11:00: Nevada vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (New Orleans Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): This is effectively a home game for UL-Lafayette, but Nevada plays in a tougher conference, has done better against Power 5 foes, and otherwise has numbers comparable to the Ragin' Cajuns, so I'm going with the Pack.
Previous meetings: Just one, in 1995. The Wolfpack won 38-14.
Last bowl game: Nevada snapped an 8 consecutive bowl streak last year by going 4-8, so their last appearance was the 2012 New Mexico Bowl, where they lost 49-48 to Arizona. This the Ragin' Cajuns' fourth straight appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. They beat Tulane 24-21 last year.
Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Mack Brown

2:20: Utah State vs. Texas-El Paso (New Mexico Bowl @ Albuquerque, NM; ESPN): Despite the loss of their star quarterback, Utah State has managed to find a way this year, going a respectable 9-4. UTEP has had a good year, but all things considered Utah State looks like a stronger team.
Previous meetings: Two, way back in 1960 and 1961. Utah State won 20-7 and 21-6, respectively.
Last bowl game: This is the Aggies' fourth straight bowl game. They beat Northern Illinois 21-14 in last year's Poinsettia Bowl. This is the Miners' first bowl appearance since the 2010 edition of this game, where they got blown out 52-24 by BYU.
Announcers: Mark Neely and David Diaz-Infante

3:30: Utah vs. Colorado State (Las Vegas Bowl @ Las Vegas, NV; ABC): Colorado State was one of the darlings of the mid-majors this year, and with their wins over Boston College and Colorado I still think they were one of the best. However, their loss to Boise and an upset by Air Force left them in the cold. Utah, meanwhile, enters ranked. While this isn't their first bowl as a Pac-12 member, things have to feel like they're on the up-and-up. That will be but to the test against a very tough foe. I like the Utes, but not by much.
Previous meetings: These former conference foes have played 79 times going back to 1902. They met regularly from 1926 until Utah joined in the Pac-12 in 2011 (though there was a gap between 1965 and 1971). Utah won the last five meetings in a row and holds a pretty good edge overall, 55-22-2.
Last bowl game: This is Utah's first bowl game since the 2011 Sun Bowl, where they beat Georgia Tech 30-27. The Rams broke a bowl-less streak last year with a 48-45 win over Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl.
Announcers: Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer
Fun fact: Provided you don't care for your liver, take a shot every time Uncle Brent makes an oblique (or not-so-oblique) gambling reference during the course of the game. This game should be pretty good anyway, but this definitely adds an additional layer of intrigue.

5:45: Western Michigan vs. Air Force (Potato Bowl @ Boise, ID; EPSN): This is a toss-up for me. Going with Air Force, but I can't say I have a whole bunch of confidence.
Previous meetings: This is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: Western Michigan was last seen in the 2011 Little Ceasars Bowl, where they lost 37-32 to Purdue. Last year's 2-10 debacle snapped a pretty good bowl streak for the Air Force Academy. Back in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl, they lost 33-14 to Rice.
Announcers: Eamon McAnaney and Dan Hawkins

9:15: Bowling Green vs. South Alabama (Camellia Bowl @ Montgomery, AL; ESPN): South Alabama is rapidly turning into a refuge for UAB's cast-offs, but that's not immediately relevant to this game. What is relevant is me finding scant reasons to pick a 7-6 MAC team over a 6-6 Sun Belt team, but that's what I'm doing anyway.
Previous meetings: this is the first meeting between these two teams.
Last bowl game: This is Bowling Green's third straight bowl game. Last year they lost 30-27 to Pittsburgh in the Little Ceasars Bowl. As you might've guessed, this is South Alabama's first ever bowl game.
Announcers: Dave Lamont and Joey Galloway

Friday, December 12, 2014

This Weekend in College Football: Week 16

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

8:00: Chattanooga @ New Hampshire (Division I Football Championship Subdivision Quarterfinal; ESPN2): I like to do these games, because, hey, playoff football on TV, but I don't know enough about the teams in question to really even give you a good breakdown, much less make picks. So I'll let you know that the Mocs (that is, UT-Chattanooga) are 10-3 on the year and are a primarily run-oriented team, ranking 24th in the FCS in rushing. They have the 21st best scoring offense and 11th best scoring defense. The Wildcats are much more of a passing attack, ranking 13th in the FCS, but they'll be going against one of the pass defenses in the nation. Should be a good one.

Noon: Coastal Carolina @ North Dakota State (Division I Football Championship Subdivision Quarterfinal; ESPN): The Bison (I think you can figure out which one is which) are of course semi-famous at this point for basically being the 11th member of the Big 12, having beaten Iowa State this year after beating Kansas State last year. They did suffer a lost to Northen Iowa, but they still boast one of the best defenses in the country and are playing at home. The Chanticleers boast a pretty balanced offense, but their defense is pretty average, which may get them into trouble.

3:00: Army vs. Navy (@Baltimore, MD; CBS): One of these days, I'll get to make this post and Army will actually have a chance. But again, it's hard to fathom just how they'll be able to win here. Army is 4-7, so if one result had gone their way they could be playing for a bowl game. The tempting thing would be to say "oh, they shouldn't have lost to Yale". And that's true, because while the win wouldn't have counted for them (they also played FCS Fordham) the loss still does. This isn't exactly a powerhouse edition of Navy, though, and both these teams lost to Western Kentucky over the course of the season. But again, based on everything else, I just can't pick the USMA here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Bowl Prections 2014: Final

It's the final weekend of the season, and the last set of bowl predictions where in I predict who goes where are here. Of course, since the Committee will unveil their rankings at noon Eastern, most of you won't see this, but those are the breaks I guess.

Let's get down it.


Here's that image again, one last time:
Here's my projected top three:
  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
So the problem is that number four slot. Based on the above, I consider TCU and Baylor to have virtually identical resumes, except for the part where Baylor, you know, beat TCU. The problem is that I have been saying that for as long as I've been doing these predictions this year, and the Committee has not agreed with me one bit.

Ohio State's utter annihilation of Wisconsin makes them much more likely to jump into the #4 slot than previously slot. Also hurting TCU (and Baylor) is Oklahoma being upset by three touchdown underdog Oklahoma State.

The challenge here is thinking like the Committee. In a fair and just world where I rule over everything, Baylor is in. Since this world is unfair and cruel, Baylor almost certainly has no shot.

That leaves us with TCU and Ohio State. So let's go to a tale of the tape:
Ohio State Texas Christian
Record 12-1 11-1
Best Win Michigan State Kansas State
Worst Loss Virginia Tech Baylor
vs. >.500 teams 7-0 4-1
Opponent win % 0.574 0.529
MOV vs. >.500 26.3 9.2
Yard Margin vs. >.500 186 9

The mental block for me is still Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is not a team that should be a confused with a good one. Also, I still think Ohio State's Big Ten competition was weaker than TCU's competition, even considering that Ohio State faced more teams with winning records. (Worth noting that the Big Ten only has eight conference games compared to the Big 12's nine, which means that Big Ten teams only need three conference wins to get to better than .500 rather than four.)

Frankly, based on the Committee's votes so far, I have to predict that it will be TCU in the playoff. Florida State's win over us should put them back at #3, but TCU has been consistently above Ohio State in every poll. I don't really know what criteria they're looking at, but at this point my gut says that they're going to say it's TCU.

As though that's not confusing enough, there's another issue. Regardless of what the top four looks like, the following teams are virtual locks to play in either the playoff or one of the access bowls:
  1. Alabama (SEC Champ)
  2. Oregon (Pac-12 Champ)
  3. Florida State (ACC Champ)
  4. Ohio State (Big Ten Champ)
  5. TCU (Big 12 Co-Champ)
  6. Baylor (Big 12 Co-Champ)
  7. Boise State (highest ranked Group of Five team)
  8. Georgia Tech (highest ranked non-playoff ACC team, Orange Bowl)
  9. Michigan State (Orange Bowl selects highest ranked Big Ten/SEC non-champ or Notre Dame)
  10. Mississippi State (ranked #10 this week and didn't play)
There are two playoff bowl games and four access bowls for a total of 12 teams.

So I need two more teams. Arizona (#7 going into the week) was a pretty good bet, but they got blown out by Oregon. Kansas State was #9 and lost. Both these losses will almost certainly put Ole Miss (#12) into a game. Now the question is, how far does Arizona fall? Kansas State is probably out of the picture now. #13 was Wisconsin, but their demolition at the hands of Ohio State puts them out. Are #14 Georgia and #15 UCLA now also in play?

The Committee has executed large drops before. Ole Miss dropped 11 spots after getting blown out by Arkansas. Of course, Oregon is a slightly better opponent than Arkansas, and Arizona did beat them earlier in the season. I don't think Arizona will be ranked behind Georgia. The worry for the Wildcats, though, is UCLA, who beat Arizona. UCLA also beat Arizona's second-best win, Arizona State. However, UCLA was last seen losing in dominating fashion to a pretty mediocre Stanford team.

So with that, I'm going to stick with Arizona. I've placed them in the Fiesta against Boise State. The rest of the access bowls are pretty interesting. Ole Miss has been to the Cotton Bowl a couple times in the past five years, so I sent them to the Peach instead to face Ohio State, leaving Baylor to face Mississippi State in the Cotton. (Talk about two teams who wish their seasons had gone just slightly different.)


The top of the ACC is fairly orderly as long as nothing happens to Florida State. Since a Big Ten team will appear in the Orange Bowl, the ACC will take its slot in the Citrus Bowl, and that team would most likely be Clemson. This leaves Louisville to gobble up the Russell Athletic Bowl bid.

Did that seem too easy? Well, don't worry, it gets weird. Apparently the ACC's "first tier" bowls have entered a lottery to see which one gets Notre Dame. Oh boy. Drawing on some Internet "news", it seems like the Pinstripe will take Duke. I put Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl, but since the drawing is random they could really end up anywhere. As a result of that, though, I sent Boston College to the Sun Bowl and NC State to go Belk it up.

I'd seen some news that a Virginia Tech-Cincinnati Military Bowl matchup was pretty likely, so I did that and pushed some of the other teams down a slot.

Big Ten

In Big Ten news, these two articles demonstrate the hard part of this business. The Minneapolis Star Tribune thinks that Nebraska and Wisconsin will occupy the Big Ten's more prestigious bowl slots, while the Lincoln Star Journal thinks it'll be Minnesota and Wisconsin. I wound up going with the Nebraska paper, and besides, Nebraska did just fire that coach while Minnesota is enjoying one of their best seasons ever.

Trying to figure out who went where in the Big Ten's second tier bowls is a bit of a nightmare, especially since they're short a bid with the Citrus Bowl going to an ACC team. Another way this hurts is that Illinois is forced to scrounge for an at-large bid somewhere, though that could just easily be Maryland. I did see some news, however, indicating that Penn State is a good bet for the Pinstripe Bowl.

Big 12

The Big 12 is pretty straightforward, and they even get to fill their Cactus Bowl slot thanks to Oklahoma State's upset. I don't think anything too wacky will happen here.


Note that this all hinges on Arizona getting an access bowl bid as detailed above. If UCLA gets you can swap Arizona for them, but if it goes to a team from another conference then all hell breaks loose in these predictions.

UCLA/Arizona is a good bet for the Alamo Bowl, which picks first. Next up is the Holiday Bowl, which apparently pretty badly wants USC, even at the expense of Arizona State, so it'll probably happen. This puts the Foster Farms Bowl in a bit of a bind, as they've made it known they want Stanford. Apparently the Pac-12's two-win rule applies to conference victories. Stanford is okay if Arizona State drops this far, but if Arizona does (by virtue of being left out and not getting picked earlier) they cannot fall past here.

The Internet tells me it's pretty likely Washington falls to the Cactus Bowl, so that sends Utah to Vegas.


I don't think Georgia will go to Orlando, as that would cause a re-match with Clemson, so I've slotted Mizzou there instead. Some news I found indicates that LSU is a strong possibility for the TaxSlayer Bowl. Some news I did find had UGA officials saying their preferred destinations were Orlando and Tampa, so I've somewhat reluctantly slotted them into the Outback Bowl, again. (At least they won't face Nebraska this time.) I've slotted Auburn into the Music City Bowl, so I think that leaves South Carolina as a strong possibility to go Belking.

That leaves the Texas and Liberty Bowls and four teams: Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl just has to happen, right? I'll be very disappointed if it doesn't, along with the rest of the Internet. I think that point Tennessee winds up in the Liberty.

Next up in the SEC's pecking order is the Birmingham Bowl, which I'd guess would take Florida, leaving Arkansas for the Independence. But wait! I have Miami in the Independence Bowl. And Arkansas has definitely had a better end to their season, which may make them the more exciting bowl prospect. So, just for fun, I've switched the two around. We'll see how it really shakes out pretty soon anyway.

Everyone Else

Some of the bids for the Mountain West, American, and other conferences are based on news, but a lot of it (more than usual) at this point is guesswork. Hopefully next year there'll be more bowl officials leaking news like they used to.

There is one game that needs an at-large team, the Armed Forces Bowl. Their backup conference is normally the Big 12, but there is not an extra Big 12 team. I think it will be the extra Big Ten team, which in this case is Illinois.

That leaves the following teams eligible but without bids: Texas State, Temple, Middle Tennessee State, Ohio, and Alabama-Birmingham.

A quick aside on UAB: what happened this past week is awful. They're bowl eligible for only the second time ever, but with the school pulling the plug (for frankly what I think are entirely petty political reasons), they've alienated Conference USA (so they're unlikely to get one of the conference's bids, even at the expense of another 6-6) team and there are not enough at-large slots otherwise. I'm predicting the Blazers have played their last game.

Well, we'll see how wrong I am very shortly. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

This Weekend in College Football: Week 15

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

7:30: Central Florida @ East Carolina (ESPN): This has wound up being a disappointing season for both these teams, but regardless I still think ECU is a pretty decent team. I like them here.

7:00: Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois (Mid-American Conference Championship @ Detroit, MI; ESPN2): The MAC title game has had some wacky upsets in its short history, but that's what they are: upsets. Northern Illinois is 10-2 and hasn't lost a game since early October, dispatching many of their MAC rivals with ease. I like them to do the same to Bowling Green.

9:00: Oregon vs. Arizona (Pacific-12 Championship @ Santa Clara, CA; FOX): This game is full of intrigue. Arizona has an outside shot at the playoff, while Oregon is pretty safely ensconced with a win. Of course, there's also the tidbit about Arizona's win earlier in the season. I don't really expect a repeat of that game. Since then, Oregon has gotten healthier on the offensive line, which was their main downfall to the Wildcats back in October. With a healthy line, it's hard to see how Arizona will be able to keep up this time around.

  • Iowa State @ Texas Christian (ESPN): Baylor fans at this point have to be hoping against hope that the Cyclones can keep this close, maybe repeat what Kansas did to the Horned Frogs two weeks ago. I'm, well, not optimistic.
  • Louisiana Tech @ Marshall (Conference USA Championship; ESPN2): Louisiana Tech is easily the best team Marshall will have played at this point. I still like the Herd to win, but after last week's loss to Western Kentucky it's not hard to see the wheels coming completely off.
  • Houston @ Cincinnati (ESPN/ESPN2): Since getting blown out by Memphis back in early October, Cincy has cruised to six straight wins against AAC competition. I think they'll make it seven, but the Cougars are certainly game to make it a little more difficult.
  • Southern Methodist @ Connecticut (CBSS): UConn is really, really bad, but fortunately for them, SMU is worse.
3:30: Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (FS1): Far from being Florida State's best win, Oklahoma State has had a very disappointing season that looks like it's about to be a 5-7 campaign unless something weird happens. Then again, this is Bedlam.
4:00: Alabama vs. Missouri (Southeastern Conference Championship @ Atlanta, GA; CBS): Thanks to an incredibly soft SEC schedule that saw them miss all SEC West teams except a reeling Texas A&M and Arkansas, Mizzou wound up winning the SEC East despite such sins as getting blown out 34-0 by Georgia and losing to Indiana. It is very, very hard to see how they will keep up with the Crimson Tide, much less beat them.

7:30: Temple @ Tulane (ESPN2): Like many great plans, Temple's season has failed to survive contact with the enemy. The Owls have lost 5 of their last 6, with the win being that still flukey win over ECU. But their losses have all been to the other respectable teams of the American. Tulane is below .500 and should provide the springboard Temple needs to get to 6-6.

7:45:  Kansas State @ Baylor (ESPN): The most intriguing game of the day, in my mind. Baylor not only needs to win now but win big. I'm still a Bears advocate and I think that if Baylor beats K-State than their resume will be largely similar to TCU's. But it's worth remembering that this will be a quality win for a reason.

8:00: Florida State vs. Georgia Tech (Atlantic Coast Conference Championship @ Charlotte, NC; ABC): Where to even begin? It's been odd this week as my team has essentially become America's favorite team to dispose with the annoying, not-very-good Seminoles. The problem is that the latter is largely a matter of perception, as they're still pretty good. Are there logical arguments that they're not one of the top four teams in the country despite being undefeated? Yes. However, if they're not one of the top four, they're certainly one of the top eight or so. If they've won twelve games this year solely on luck, then they are either supremely lucky still really good and just a tad lucky. The latter seems more likely.
This will be the best defensive line we've seen since the Clemson game. (After watching what we did to Georgia in the second half last weekend, I've got to say I wasn't very impressed by UGA's line play. We owned them.) They have at least two linemen that can get in and disrupt the exchange, which may limit the dive. Florida State is still fast on defense and can fly to the ball if they know where it's going. That said, there should still be opportunities (see: the Boston College game) and Tech will have limit turnovers to have any chance. Our defense will need to continue to get turnover-lucky and I suspect we'll need a +2 or +3 turnover margin. Winston has been obliging this season in that department, but he's still a pretty good quarterback and I don't think we should be banking on him through four interceptions again.
I doubt we can win this one going away, which means we have to bank on it being a very interesting night in Charlotte. The keys for Tech are the usual: limit the amount of time the opposing offense is on the field, score (touchdowns) every time we have the ball, and try to get a turnover or three.

8:00: Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (Big Ten Championship @ Indianapolis, IN; FOX): The main headline going into this game is the Ohio State quarterback situation. Are we quick to forget, though, that J.T. Barrett originally was the unproven backup? Of course, the counter-argument would be that it was Barrett who got the job and not the starter for this Saturday, so even if it is Ohio State it stands to reason that the third string quarterback going into the season may not be their best option. I honestly have no idea who will win this one, but I still feel somewhat irrational in that I'm picking the Buckeyes.

10:00: Fresno State @ Boise State (Mountain West Conference Championship; CBS): And here's your nightcap. Unfortunately, it features a Fresno squad that is likely to be overmatched against a Boise team that's had a pretty good run of form lately.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Bowl Predictions 2014: Week 7

First off, once again, woo! We beat Georgia!

Second, we'll have an unprecedented week 8 of predictions this year, since everyone is so tight-lipped this year. I'll have a new set up next Sunday before the new rankings are released.

With that out of the way, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.


I won't post the image I've been posting again, but Miss State's loss probably knocks them out of contention. My arguments for Baylor remain the same, but they definitely didn't help themselves by struggling against Texas Tech on Saturday. I expect the committee's top four tomorrow to be Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and TCU. If everything goes as expected Saturday, the main question will be if a Baylor win over Kansas State is enough to lift them over TCU. I think it should be, but I'm not entirely sure it will be. I'll have to make that call again next week.

The other teams in the top three also play this weekend, all in conference championship games. Oregon has a chance to avenge their loss to Arizona, and with a healthier offensive line and a now fully effective Marcus Mariota I'd say they're poised to do just that. I don't think Alabama will have any problem with Missouri. As for Florida State, well, anything can happen, huh?

As for the other committee-affiliated bowls, Georgia Tech is pretty much in the Orange win or lose in the ACCCG (unless the committee really lowballs our ranking). The Orange then needs to select the next highest-ranked SEC or Big Ten team, which I think is going to be Ohio State. The other bowls are pretty much a guess in terms of what the teams are going to be ranked and how the committee will match them up. Yes, that is still three SEC teams. Also, Boise State pretty much has the Group-of-Five bid sewn up with Marshall and Colorado State losing last weekend.


There was no news from any ACC school this week, but if Ohio State or Michigan State does indeed wind up in the Orange Bowl, this has the potential to trigger a situation where the Citrus Bowl must select an ACC team instead of a Big Ten team. This means I was able to slot Clemson into the Citrus instead of the Russell Athletic. I figure Louisville will slot above Duke in terms of desirability at this point. I then tried to place the above .500 teams next. Pitt's upset of Miami also got them in, which means that if the Citrus Bowl thing doesn't happen the ACC will have an extra team.

Big Ten

No news from Big Ten country either. Without the Citrus Bowl slot, I figure Wisconsin will get sent out west (that may happen anyway). This also has the knock-on effect of Illinois probably needing an at-large bid somewhere, but as an eligible team from a major conference they shouldn't have an issue.

Big 12

The Big 12 is relatively easy. The only question is Texas-Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl will happen (probably everyone but the schools involved want it to happen, I'd guess), but that's more on the SEC's plate since there's less play in terms of what Big 12 teams go where.


The Pac-12 is pretty easy as well, though there's some question in terms of how many teams they can get in to the access bowls (i.e., it could be Arizona State or UCLA instead of Ole Miss). There's some shuffling that may go on between the 7-5 and 6-6 schools, which a situation that will bear watching throughout the week.


Twelve of the fourteen SEC members are bowl eligible, and if the SEC gets three teams into the access bowls and/or playoffs, then they should be golden. Of course, an SEC team sure as heck isn't going to be left out in the cold at the end of the bowl selection dance, but still. There is a bit of question of just where each team and the conference office will want particular teams to go at the end of the day. If you're hoping against hope that Texas-Texas A&M will happen, then directing your prayers toward Birmingham on Sunday would be your best bet.

That's about it. Tune in again late Saturday/early Sunday for my last stab at this before Sunday evening. Now that I think about it, this is a bit more like bracketology now, though at least we have a couple decades of precedent in terms knowing how the NCAA basketball tournament committee thinks.

Saturday, November 29, 2014




THWG Thought of the Day: 11/29

Men, Georgie's a fine football team, a very fine football team. Georgie's bigger and faster than we are. Probably a little tougher, too.

That's okay, because we're smarter than they are.

Now, let me tell you what's going to happen. That Georgie team's going to come running out of the tunnel screaming and foaming at the mouth and smashing one another upside the head just to get warmed up.

We won't do any of that. While they waste their energy, we'll conserve ours. I've told you that they're bigger, faster, and tougher than you. That's true. But we do have that one big advantage.

We ... are ... smarter.

Think about what I teach you. Play field position. Play great defense. Make no mistakes on offense. Be great in the kicking game. Do that and we'll keep it close.

As the game goes on, they'll start to get tired because they wasted so much energy in the beginning. Because we're smart, we'll have plenty of energy left, and at some point in the fourth quarter they'll make a mistake.

When they do make that mistake, we'll get the football. And when that happens, I'll think of something and we'll win!
Coach Bobby Dodd, as told by Bill Curry

Friday, November 28, 2014

This Weekend in College Football: Week 14

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Michigan @ Ohio State (ABC): It's hard to see Michigan really doing anything to win this game. Their offense is simply too bad, and Ohio State is firing on all cylinders right now.
  • South Carolina @ Clemson (ESPN): This pick is basically conditional on Deshaun Watson's status. If he plays, and preferably, starts, then I think Clemson can snap their losing streak. Otherwise, the Gamecocks should prevail.
  • Kentucky @ Louisville (ESPN2): Louisville's had a good run so far this season. Up in Lexington, the good times were rolling, including two SEC wins and a narrow overtime loss to Florida, up until they got dismantled 41-3 by LSU back in mid-October. They've lost five straight since then, and none of them where close. Louisville will probably make it six.
  • West Virginia @ Iowa State (FS1): Really the only surprising result for the Fightin' Holgos in their current three game losing streak was the semi-bizarre loss to Texas. Other than that, they gave TCU and K-State way more than either wanted. They should get off the schnide against Iowa State.
  • Illinois @ Northwestern (ESPNU): In a battle for bowl eligibility, there can only be one winner. And that winner will probably not be Illinois.
  • Cincinnati @ Temple (ESPNEWS): Temple's surprised me before, but it's hard to see how they stack up against Cincy.
  • North Texas @ Texas-San Antonio (FSN): Absolutely no clue. I was going to go North Texas but F+ says UTSA has a 76% chance of winning, so...
  • Rice @ Louisiana Tech (CBSS): This is the vastly more interesting C-USA West fight than the one above, as the winner gets the right to face Marshall. That winner seems much more likely to be LaTech.
  • Georgia Tech @ Georgia (SEC): To Hell With Georgia.
  • Purdue @ Indiana (BTN): With two in-state teams with identical 3-8 records and 5+ game losing streaks, this is basically a tossup to me. Purdue, I guess?
  • North Carolina State @ North Carolina (ACC): UNC's offense figures to just be too much for NC State.
  • Syracuse @ Boston College (ACC/RSN): I think BC is a pretty solid team, and they figure to handle the 'Cuse pretty easily.
1:00: Utah @ Colorado (Pac12): The Pac-12's newest members face off, but as I've mentioned before, their trajectories since joining the conference are vastly different. This Colorado team, despite being 0-8, isn't as awful as it's been, but they're still pretty bad. The Utes should win easily.

  • Notre Dame @ Southern California (FOX): Notre Dame has been exposed a bit in their current three-game losing streak. While Southern Cal isn't great or anything, they do have the talent to compete and I don't think Notre Dame is good enough at this point to punish them for their lack of depth. I have the Trojans as a slight favorite.
  • Mississippi State @ Mississippi (CBS): Speaking of collapses, what happened to Ole Miss last weekend? Well, for starters, they managed to turn the ball over six times, which is a pretty good way to ensure that you'll lose 30-0. Miss State still only has the one blemish on their record, while the Rebels are playing only for pride now with three losses. This Egg Bowl doesn't look as appetizing as did two weeks ago, that's for sure. At any rate, I have the Bulldogs in this one.
  • Michigan State @ Pennsylvania State (ABC/ESPN2): One team not suffering a post-big-loss hangover is Michigan State. Since losing to Ohio State, they've pounded Maryland and Rutgers into a fine dust. They figure to do the same against Penn State.
  • Baylor vs. Texas Tech (@Arlington, TX; ABC/ESPN2): I'd say it's getting weird at Texas Tech vis-a-vis the situation with their former defensive coordinator, but weird stuff happens there a lot, so let's say it's getting downright ugly. Baylor should win easily.
  • Florida @ Florida State (ESPN): It's tempting to say that Florida will get up for this rivalry game the same way they did against Georgia, but let's face it: that one game is the only time all year Florida has displayed any sort of offensive competence. (Well, and against Eastern Kentucky last week, but that doesn't count.) Florida's defense is good enough to keep it close, but FSU will probably keep doing what they've been doing.
  • Rutgers @ Maryland (ESPNU): Maryland, probably.
  • San Jose State @ San Diego State (CBSS): I don't have any good reason to pick San Jose State here, so I won't. I do bet that Boise wishes any of the teams on this side of the MWC table were better going into next week's title game, though.
  • Minnesota @ Wisconsin (BTN): It's hard to see how Minnesota is going to be able to stand up to Wisconsin's brutal rushing attack.
  • Kansas @ Kansas State (FS1): It's hard to see how Kansas will put up a fight against K-State at all.
  • Connecticut @ Memphis (ESPNEWS): Given that they're favored to lose to Memphis, that Fiesta Bowl must seem like a distant memory to Husky fans.
  • Tennessee @ Vanderbilt (SEC): I continue to lack an explanation for how awful Vandy is this year, so I'll just stick to picking against them.
4:30: Brigham Young @ California (Pac12): I've been calling for Cal to win this one in the bowl predictions, mostly because that makes things slightly easier. In reality, this one projects to be pretty close. I'll stick my guns and lean toward Cal.

  • Pittsburgh @ Miami (ESPN2): Dear Miami: what the hell happened against Virginia last weekend? Obviously you're still favorites and still my pick in this one, but seriously.
  • Wake Forest @ Duke (ESPNU): At least what happened to Duke last week is somewhat explainable, and trust me, I'm quite happy it happened. Duke's been sliding a bit, but a game against Wake Forest is a decent way to right the ship, as it were.
7:45: Auburn @ Alabama (ESPN): Barring another crazy special teams play, as hilarious as it was, it's difficult to see Auburn getting a win here. Auburn's defense just isn't good enough to provide the resistance to Alabama's offense that they need to have a chance.

8:00: Oregon @ Oregon State (ABC): Weird things can always happen in this Civil War, but believe me that doesn't really project to be the case this year.

10:15: Utah State @ Boise State (ESPN2): Boise has improved as the season's gone on. Utah State has been putting on a pretty brave show for most the season in light of what happened to their all-everything quaterback, but the dream figures to end on the blue turf.

  • Washington @ Washington State (FS1): It's been a rough second year for Mike Leach out in Spokane, and UDub doesn't figure to make it any less so.
  • Nevada @ Nevada-Las Vegas (ESPNU): It's not often you can say a 6-5 team is obviously better than another, but when your opponent is 2-10, this is one of those times. Nevada.

THWG Thoughts of the Day: 11/28

First, a classic:

Like Wake Forest or Maryland or somebody... 

And some selections from our last victory in Athens...

And some quality animated GIFs, though from unrelated bouts of UGA misery:

To Hell With Georgia

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This Week in College Football: Week 14

It's a special Turkey Week edition! As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

7:00: Ohio @ Miami (ESPN2): The Bobcats need this one to get to bowl eligibility. I think they'll get it.

  • Louisiana State @ Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (ESPN): If this were last year's TAMU team, then I'd probably have them in this one. Of course, LSU's offensive woes came to a head last week when they lost 17-0 to Arkansas. Oh, the Tigers' defense did the job, as they held the bruising Arkansas rushing game to under 100 yards, but the offense just did nothing the entire game, only producing one trip to the red zone. (The result was a missed field goal.) TAMU, meanwhile, followed their potentially season-saving win over Auburn with a loss to Mizzou. With their offensive inconsistency, it seems entirely possible that they will be shut down by LSU's still pretty good defense entirely.
  • Texas Christian @ Texas (FS1): Texas is certainly playing a lot better in the back half of this season, but good enough to beat a regrouped TCU? Probably not.
11:00: Northern Illinois @ Western Michigan (ESPNU): Friday morning MACtion! A potentially good one too. NIU wins the MAC East outright if they win, due to having a tiebreaker over Toledo. WMU would need some help, as they have a head-to-head loss against the Rockets. Make that a lot of help because Toledo plays relatively hapless Eastern Michigan, so it's unlikely they'll lose. I like the Huskies just slightly here.

  • Nebraska @ Iowa (ABC): The heat is on Bo Pellini after last week's loss to Minnesota, but another 9-win season looks rip for taking against the Hawkeyes.
  • Central Florida @ South Florida (ESPN2): UCF's offense isn't great, but USF's is even worse. Should be an easy win for the Knights.
  • Western Kentucky @ Marshall (FS1): Marshall definitely had took close of a call against UAB last weekend, but they should have less trouble here. They'll face Rice or Louisiana Tech next weekend to see if they can reach 13-0.
  • Houston @ Southern Methodist (CBSS): SMU still possesses the worst scoring offense in major college football. How bad is it? They're averaging less than 10 points per game. That's pretty bad. Houston should have no trouble with their cross-town rival.
2:30: Arkansas @ Missouri (CBS): Arkansas did it again last weekend, and they did it in style with a 30-0 demolition of Ole Miss. And you know what? I think they'll do it again against Mizzou.

  • Arizona State @ Arizona (FOX): I've actually had the Sun Devils all the way since I started doing bowl predictions, so no reason to back off now I suppose. Otherwise, this one projects to be very close.
  • Stanford @ California-Los Angeles (ABC): Cal was bad enough and Stanford's defense good enough for the Cardinal to prevail, but UCLA is good enough that I don't think that's going to work again.
  • Colorado State @ Air Force (CBSS): While Air Force always presents a challenge, I think Colorado State is legitimately good team at this point.
8:00: Virginia @ Virginia Tech (ESPN): Honestly, I think this game is around a coin flip, except for last week's 0-0 debacle against Wake Forest by VPI. (Wake won 6-3. In double overtime.) Based on that, I pretty much have to take the Cavaliers, don't I?

8:30: East Carolina @ Tulsa (ESPNU): The season started with such promise for the Pirates, but alas. They should still be able to handle Tulsa though.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bowl Predictions 2014: Week 5

They're hot and fresh, that's right, it's another edition of bowl predictions.

Unfortunately, there wasn't as much news as I'd hoped, mostly because a lot of bowls are apparently going to wait until December 7 to reveal their picks. Hopefully there will be some more news next week. Until then, let's continue to speculate!


I have another helpful graphic:
It's in alphabetical order this time, so it doesn't reflect the current rankings or the order in which I do the conferences or anything. Based on this, I'd still generally agree that Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State are going to be the top three (but boy howdy are FSU making it hard on themselves).

The question, really, is that #4 slot. And I think there are four candidates:
  • Mississippi State: the current leaders in the clubhouse, but I'm writing this before this week's rankings. They can't be real excited about Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU's play of late.
  • TCU: currently ahead of Baylor, but that could change if Baylor beats Kansas State this weekend.
  • Baylor: needs to beat Kansas State, but I think that point their win over TCU just has to count for something, right? We'll find out in due time, I guess.
  • Ohio State: sort of playing their way in, especially with Minnesota playing well. Problem for them is that they still sport by far the worst loss on this list, so they still need a lot of help.
I still like Baylor the best, but if they beat Kansas State like I project and then are still out next week, I will have to revise my predictions.

After that, I started trying to logically do the access bowl spots. It's still a guess (other than TCU, Ohio State, and Mississippi State), but I did at least use this week's rankings to get an idea. The question of how to treat championship game losers is still around, though, but that's why I have things like Clemson in the Orange Bowl over Georgia Tech. (GT can do themselves a large favor by beating UGA, though.)

Other Things of Note

Let's do this bullet-point style.
  • Sorry, Marshall, but it's just not going to happen. 
  • That said, I'm going with Colorado State because they are a) currently higher ranked and b) have better wins than Boise. Problem for the Rams is still that pesky loss to Boise that will keep them out of the Mountain West title game. We'll see what happens if and when the committee decides to rank either of them.
  • Texas Bowl: Texas-Texas A&M. It has to happen. Has to!
  • Speaking of former Big 12 rivalries, how about Missouri-Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl?
  • It's difficult to tell how teams that are going to fire their coaches will fare in the new bowl scenarios. I bumped Florida down because of this.
  • I feel like I really need a year with this thing to figure out how it will shake out. Hopefully next year will have a little less uncertainty. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Weekend in College Football: Week 13

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Quick note, though: there several teams playing FCS opponents this week. I will list those games, but they will have no or very short summaries.

  • Minnesota @ Nebraska (ESPN): I don't think the Gophers have anyone prone to rushing for 400 yards, so the Cornhuskers should be safe in this one.
  • Pennsylvania State @ Illinois (ESPN2): I suspect this will be Tim "Eight Wins" Beckman's penultimate game as head coach of the Illini.
  • Kansas @ Oklahoma (FS1): Good on you for winning last week, Kansas. This one is likely to be a bloodbath.
  • Northwestern @ Purdue (EPSNU): I'm not going to lie, this weekend's slate of games is pretty brutal. I have Northwestern in this one, but not by a lot.
  • Southern Methodist @ Central Florida (ESPNEWS): I actually watched the end of SMU's game against Tulsa last weekend, because it was on TV and SMU had a wire-to-wire lead going into the last minute of the fourth quarter. They then proceeded to lose. I suspect they will lose again.
  • Texas-San Antonio @ Western Kentucky (FSN): Western Kentucky all the way in this one.
  • Fordham @ Army (CBSS)
  • Eastern Kentucky @ Florida (SEC)
  • Charleston Southern @ Georgia (SEC)
  • Rutgers @ Michigan State (BTN): Sparty took down the Terps 37-15 last weekend, now the other Big Ten newbie is probably about to get tthe same treatment.
  • Indiana @ Ohio State (BTN): Does Indiana have another surprise in it? Probably not.
  • South Alabama @ South Carolina (SEC/FSN): South Carolina.
  • Virginia Tech @ Wake Forest (ACC): First, hats off to Virginia Tech and North Carolina. While both were picked to finish ahead of us in the ACC, they did their parts by chipping in and giving Duke their second and third conference losses, and allowing us to advance to Charlotte. Thanks! Anyway, Wake is still awful, but the Hokies are so offensively inept that they'll probably make it closer than it should be.
  • Yale @ Harvard (NBCSN)
1:00: Washington State @ Arizona State (Pac12): While I'd love a crazy upset here, I'm not banking on it.

  • Louisville @ Notre Dame (NBC): They don't really have manuals for how to recover from losing to Northwestern in overtime. Louisville will probably not provide any sort of closure, but I think the Domers will escape with a win and then get wrecked by USC next weekend.
  • Mississippi @ Arkansas (CBS): Well, Arkansas finally pulled off their upset last week. I'd think it's likely that things will be back to normal in this one.
  • Boston College @ Florida State (ABC/ESPN2): FSU is a nineteen point favorite, so you definitely want to take BC to cover here. Otherwise, I imagine FSU will do its usual thing, i.e., trail for a substantial portion of the game and then wake up and win.
  • Wisconsin @ Iowa (ABC/ESPN2): I have a feeling it may be Iowa's turn to have their rush defense statistics get obliterated.
  • Arizona @ Utah (ESPN): The numbers are slightly in favor of Utah, and while I like the Utes plenty, I just like the Wildcats a little better.
  • Syracuse @ Pittsburgh (ESPNU): Pitt's running back has been in awesome in their past three games. Problem? They've lost all of them. That said, Syracuse is the easiest game in this stretch and should give the Panthers a ray of hope for bowl eligibility going into Miami next weekend.
  • Texas Tech @ Iowa State (FSN): I'd say the wheels are coming off for Texas Tech, but at least they didn't lose to Kansas. I'll stick with the Raiders.
  • Georgia State @ Clemson (ACC/RSN): Clemson's offense is terrible without Deshaun Watson, but they won't need him here.
  • Maryland @ Michigan (BTN): Maryland is thoroughly mediocre enough that Michigan can probably get a win here, but I'm not confident about it.
  • Stanford @ California (FS1): This one might be worth watching just because it's a match up of total opposites. On one hand, a team that can't stop anyone to save their lives. On the other, a team that can't score. Which will prevail? Can Cal gut out a close win, or are they capable of shredding the Cardinal like Oregon did and making it a moot point? I'm going with the Bears in a slight upset.
  • South Florida @ Memphis (ESPNEWS): I'm having trouble adjusting to this universe where Memphis is a 19-point favorite over anyone, but here we are. Already at 7-3, I think they'll get to 9.
  • Western Carolina @ Alabama (SEC)
4:30: Colorado @ Oregon (Pac12): Very quietly since the loss to Arizona, Oregon has looked like, well, Oregon again. This trend should continue against the Buffs' awful defense.

  • Miami @ Virginia (ESPN2): As long as they're not too deflated by allowing FSU to come back last weekend, this should be an easy win for the 'Canes.
  • Samford @ Auburn (ESPNU)
  • Oklahoma State @ Baylor (FOX): This one probably looked better at the beginning of the year than it does now. The Bears should win in a romp.
  • Missouri @ Tennessee (ESPN): I think it says a lot about the year South Carolina is having that both these teams beat them. It's not really a safe pick, per se, but I'm still taking Mizzou.
  • Vanderbilt @ Mississippi State (SEC): Still trying to figure out what happened to Vandy, because the same thing seems to be happening at Stanford (though at least they still play pretty good defense). Clanga in a romp.
  • Southern California @ California-Los Angeles (ABC): Like all three of USC's loses, I suspect in this one their lack of depth will come home too roost and UCLA will be able to eke out a win the end.
  • Cincinnati @ Connecticut (CBSS): They're very thankful that basketball season has started over in Storrs.
10:15: Boise State @ Wyoming (ESPN2): A win here will ensure that Boise continues to confuse what Group of Five team will get into the big-money bowls, so I'm sure that's what'll happen. But also tune-in because hopefully Wyoming will be wearing some horrendous combination of brown and mustard yellow.

  • Fresno State @ Nevada (ESPNU): Nevada just looks like a better all-around team than Fresno does. This will probably end the Bulldogs' shot at a bowl.
  • Oregon State @ Washington (Pac12): UDub is still searching for that elusive seventh win (which they need for bowl eligibility since they're playing a 13-game schedule). The odds look good they'll find it here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bowl Predictions 2014: Week 5

The predictions are up. Let's discuss them briefly.

The Playoff
Here's that chart again:
This chart isn't really in any sort of order. The predictions page reflects my final seeds. FSU is basically only in because I figure the committee will lend considerable weight to an undefeated schedule. If FSU loses at all their resume will put them definitively out. The fact that the team they play in the ACC Championship Game will have the best record of any team they face all season is a huge problem for the Seminoles.

At this point no team other than Oregon is going to get in from the Pac-12.

Overall, I don't think there's room for a two loss team unless all hell breaks loose, and well, that could happen, but I'll deal with it if we get there.

I personally value the number of "good wins" above all else, so the seeds are a combination of what I think is important and what I'm guessing the committee will think is important. Since they haven't shown a willingness to put FSU at #1, and indeed dropped them to #3 last week, I think they'll be in the top four if they win out for sure, but anything other than that isn't guaranteed. So I put them at #3, behind Alabama and Oregon.

Then the question is, who is #4? Your contenders are Baylor, Mississippi State, TCU, and Ohio State. This is a horrifically close call, but figures that in year one of this new thing we'll already get a pretty strong case for an eight-team playoff. (Then again, that probably just means we'd be arguing about who #8 is.) I went with Baylor. The following arguments are in their favor: they're co-Big 12 Champions with TCU, they beat TCU head-to-head, and also have the same good wins TCU has. I like them over Miss State and Ohio State because they have better wins than both (in TCU) and Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech becomes more inexplicable every week.

A lot can happen, though. Here's each team's remaining schedule:
  • Alabama (projected #1): West Carolina (W), Auburn (I'm predicting a win), if they finish tied or better than Miss State, they will go to the SEC Championship where they will probably play Missouri or maybe Georgia. They will be favored against either, but neither provides a huge resume boost at this point. (Hey, remember that time Mizzou lost to Indiana? The Hoosiers are probably going to be transitive SEC East Champs.)
  • Oregon (projected #2): Colorado (probable win), @Oregon State (probable win, but on the road in what is sometimes a wacky rivalry game), Pac-12 title game, probably against UCLA, but also could be against Southern Cal, Arizona St, or Arizona. For best win purposes, Oregon probably would prefer to face UCLA. Facing USC is probably the worst case.
  • Florida State (projected #3): Boston College (probable W), Florida (probable W), Duke or Georgia Tech. FSU probably really wishes that Oklahoma State wasn't have a down year, as that would really help them in the strength of schedule department. 
  • Baylor (projected #4): Oklahoma State (probable W), Texas Tech (W), Kansas State (very tough W). TCU handled K-State pretty easily, but nonetheless that gives them the biggest potential prize on anyone's remaining schedule. The flip side of that, of course, is that gives them the hardest schedule in this group.
  • Texas Christian: Texas (probable W), Iowa State (W). Not much else to say about this one, but boy howdy did TCU make it interesting against Kansas last weekend or what? For now, I'll chalk that up to playing a bit down to their opposition, but they won't be able to get away with that against Texas.
  • Ohio State: Indiana (W), Michigan (probable W), Big Ten championship game, probably Wisconsin. The Buckeyes stalled a bit against Minnesota last weekend, but they'll be able to get things tuned again with their remaining regular season schedule. That said, I suspect they will really wish that, say, Baylor and FSU lose. Probably Miss State too, for good measure.
  • Mississippi State: Vanderbilt (W), Mississippi (?), SEC championship only if they win out and Alabama loses to Auburn. The game against Ole Miss will be tough, but I have them winning it. Playing in the SEC Championship wouldn't give them a boost in and of itself, it would just give them the title "SEC Champion", which may count for a lot at the end of this thing.
As for the other "access bowls", they remain a guesswork. East Carolina's loss to Cincinnati last Thursday eliminated them from contention for a spot, so for now I've slotted Colorado State there. Who and where they will play remain a mystery to me.

Next week I hope that research will enable to start eliminating a lot of the guesswork, but with conferences holding more of the cards now, even the usual "representatives from these bowl games were there" articles won't help as much as they did in the past.

Friday, November 14, 2014

This Weekend in College Football: Week 12

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

  • Ohio State @ Minnesota (ABC): With last week's solid win over Michigan State, Ohio State is now solidly a contender. The loss to Virginia Tech will continue to dog them, though. However, they should have no such issues with the Gophers.
  • Clemson @ Georgia Tech (ESPN): The first time we play Clemson at home since 2011 and it's... at noon? I mainly don't like it because that means it starts at 9:00am out here on the west coast, but still, I never much cared for noon starts as a student either. If this were a night game, I bet it'd be sold out.
    At any rate, let's analyze the game itself. By most measures, this appears to be a tossup. Vegas has the visitors by three and the advanced stats have us by by around a touchdown. The average score in this series over 77 games has a margin of about 6 points. Of course, last year Clemson won by 24 (and it wasn't really that close), and the year before by 15, which arguably has much more of a bearing on this year's result. For starters, last year's Clemson defense that forced 6 punts is largely back, especially in the all-important defensive line. Even though I don't think it makes a difference, but Clemson this year didn't get a lot of extra time to prepare for the offense (just an extra day, basically). The main key for us that we're much more efficient offensively this year. Last year, we only rushed for 248 yards, due partially to the talented defensive line of the Tigers but also simply because we were in a 20-0 hole in the 2nd quarter and started throwing the ball. That said, if we rush for less than 300 yards again, we'll probably lose again.
    And then there's the defensive side. If you didn't know better, you'd think the defense has improved over the course of the season, but they really haven't. Our defense at this point has pretty much started relying entirely on generating turnovers. Interceptions are a matter of skill, but fumbles are a matter of luck. This defense still has trouble generating pressure, and still has trouble covering anyone. As usual, our hopes are pinned on the offense, which will be praying for the defense to generate just one stop, in all likelihood. (One or two defensive stops was basically the balance in the Carolina game, as you might recall.) The defense's job will be that much tougher with Clemson's dynamic freshman QB (Deshaun Watson) back in the mix after an injury.
    Really the only thing I've seen over the past six years that really stops this offense other than itself is elite defensive line talent. Our offensive line does not employ the beefiest men, valuing some measure of agility over the portly run blockers of a traditional offense. They can block most of the guys they face, and since we do run the option, that means they can leave a guy unblocked and either scamper up to the second level to block a linebacker or defensive back, or they can throw a double-team on a particularly troublesome guy. Problem is when you have elite talent, event the usual refrain of "just option the guy" (i.e., just don't block him and use him as the option key) has problems because these guys can be fast enough to either chase the play from behind or blow up both options at the point of attack.
    This is a fun game (well, in retrospect usually) and a fun rivalry, usually, although it seems like we always win close in this series and lose big. Let's hope it approximates something closer to the former tomorrow.
  • Temple @ Pennsylvania State (ESPN2): I think Penn State's got this one.
  • Virginia Tech @ Duke (ESPNU): We need Duke to lose this one very badly, but I just don't see how it will happen.
  • Army @ Western Kentucky (CBSS): It's not a good year for Army when they're not the favorite against the Western Kentuckys of the world.
  • Iowa @ Illinois (BTN): Iowa, probably?
  • South Carolina @ Florida (SEC): Florida has put together by far the best two games of their season the past two weeks. The first, the rout over Georgia, was a genuine surprise; the win over Vanderbilt, less so. That said, this has been something of a lost season for the Gamecocks, with people even starting to whisper about Spurrier's job security. I really have my doubts about that, but what I thought was a sure South Carolina win a few weeks is now completely up in the air after last week's overtime loss to Tennessee. I don't think this one will be very high scoring, but I will give a very, tiny slight edge to the Gators.
12:30: Pittsburgh @ North Carolina (ACC): Pitt is back after a bye week but still sitting on two straight losses to us and Duke. Pitt is probably the better overall team, but if that Carolina offense gets rolling Pitt may not be able to stop them. I'll take Pitt though.

2:30: Rice @ Marshall (FSN): Marshall should still remain undefeated, though this will instantly be their best win of the season. With East Carolina's loss to Cincy, the race for that non-Power 5 spot is now wide open.

  • Texas Christian @ Kansas (FS1): I fear for Kansas in this one. TCU are 29 point favorites. I would probably still pick them.
  • Wake Forest @ North Carolina State (ACC/RSN): NC State may have less trouble with Wake than Clemson did last week, if I had to guess.
  • Washington @ Arizona (FOX): Thanks to an extra home game due to the Hawaii Rule, UDub is not bowl eligible yet at 6-4. They probably won't get it here.
  • Northwestern @ Notre Dame (NBC): Notre Dame finally did the courtesy of picking up their second loss, and even to Arizona State like I had predicted. That was nice of them. They will probably be pretty ready to vent some frustration on Northwestern, though.
  • Mississippi State @ Alabama (CBS): Well, the rubber meets the road here. I've been calling for Alabama to be #1 in the Playoff, and it hinges a lot on getting this victory. Miss State's defense is good, but Alabama should find a little more breathing room for their attack than they had last week at LSU. I think this game will actually be relatively wide open, but in the end the Tide defense will make more stops and gut out the win.
  • Nebraska @ Wisconsin (ABC): Nebraska is the 1-loss team no one is talking about, unless they're talking about teams that no one is talking about. Others have also presciently pointed out over the past few weeks that Nebraska may regret the conference move a bit in hindsight, after all, TCU and Baylor are generating way more national buzz than Nebraska or anyone else in the Big Ten for that matter. What would really help the Huskers though is to get a win here. They're slight underdogs but I've had them winning here in the bowl predictions for a while now.
  • Oklahoma @ Texas Tech (ESPN): Texas Tech sports one of the worst defenses in the country. This... may get ugly.
  • Memphis @ Tulane (ESPNU): Memphis is poised to be one of the American's co-champions, and I suspect Tulane will be able to do little to stop them.
  • Georgia Southern @ Navy (CBSS): Folks, I think Georgia Southern is pretty legit. They're going to win the Sun Belt this year, except that they're technically still in transition and thus not even bowl eligible unless there aren't enough teams. They will almost certainly give Navy a run for their money but I'm not sure I can quite pull the trigger on saying they'll win.
  • Indiana @ Rutgers (BTN): These are two extremely mediocre teams. I'm go with Rutgers by a nose.
  • New Mexico @ Utah State (ESPNEWS): When he was a broadcaster, Bob Davie said he would run an option offense, and by golly if he isn't running an option scheme out of the pistol formation, Chris Ault-style. Utah State is probably going to beat them, though.
  • Kentucky @ Tennessee (SEC): This seems like a good occasion to give a quick shoutout to my Mom, who waited in line in unseasonably bitterly cold temperatures for a chance to get some extremely rare products of Kentucky on my brother and I's behalf. Even worse, it didn't work out. Sorry. At any rate, I actually have Kentucky in this one, but these teams are pretty even I think.
6:00: Utah @ Stanford (Pac12): I think Stanford's lack of offense will let them down again in this one.

7:00: Nevada-Las Vegas @ Brigham Young (ESPNU): Not a lot of hope for UNLV in this one.

7:15: Auburn @ Georgia (ESPN): The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry is back. Who will win? I have no idea, really. Both these teams can move the ball, that's not really the issue. Georgia's defense was solid all year until the nigh-inexplicable collapse against Florida, while Auburn hasn't really slowed anyone down since September. Of course, it's worth pointing out that Georgia has yet to face any of the elite offenses in the SEC, and they did give up 70 points in two weeks against teams that ran the ball down their throats (Arkansas and Florida). Auburn's attack is the strongest and most well-rounded they've faced all year, so I'm giving a slight edge to the Tigers.

  • Texas @ Oklahoma State (FOX): Speaking of things I didn't imagine a few weeks ago, I've actually got Texas here.
  • Missouri @ Texas Agricultural and Mechanical (SEC): Mizzou's best win of the year is still the not-as-good-as-it-looked at the time win over South Carolina. TAMU beat Auburn last week, but it wasn't a sure thing. The key for these Tigers, as it was for the Tigers before them, will be trying to exploit TAMU's woeful defense, but it's not clear to me that they can. I've actually got A&M in this one.
  • Florida State @ Miami (ABC): All Miami has done since losing to us is, well, look like Miami, really. They've dominated their opposition since, and in 9 games Duke Johnson has over 1200 yards rushing. (I still think he was sorely underutilized against us.) I've said it before, but I'll say it again: this is not last year's Florida State team. I still think they're going to win, though.
  • Louisiana State @ Arkansas (ESPN2): I still say Arkansas is going to beat someone they shouldn't this year, but I lack the guts to actually make that call.
  • South Florida @ Southern Methodist (CBSS): SMU is bad enough to even lose to the USFs of the world.
  • Michigan State @ Maryland (BTN): Sparty will be out for blood against the halfway-decent Terps, and I suspect they'll get it.
10:00: North Texas @ Texas-El Paso (FS1): A national audience? Sure, why not, it'll give you some live football during the half-time of FSU-Miami. Also, I have UTEP.

10:15: San Diego State @ Boise State (ESPNU): Boise gets a chance to continue to make their case for the Other 5 spot.

10:45: Arizona State @ Oregon State (ESPN): The Beavers aren't really very good this year. I would definitely think Arizona State covers the nine points here.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Bowl Predictions 2014: Week 4

Okay, the new predictions are up. Let's do a quick overview.

The Playoff
So this is the scenario I was faced with when I was done projecting everyone's record:
You can see what I wound up with on the page. I decided that taking the four best teams would be the committee's top priority, and given that, I had to take Mississippi State over Oregon.

As for the other access bowls, this week I put Clemson in over Duke. With Auburn loss this past weekend, my projected loss to Alabama will give them three losses overall, and I think the committee will probably eschew 3-loss teams if there are enough 2-loss teams. So I matched Clemson up with Nebraska.

East Carolina is still my best guess for the Group of Five slot. They'll have two losses but they will still have the best resume of any of the available teams. It pains me to see Marshall not get a chance, but those are just the breaks. (Speaking of Marshall, for the past few weeks I've tried to use the Heart of Dallas Bowl to give them a matchup with a major conference foe, but that may not work out if there aren't enough Big 12 teams.)

The other access bowls were about matchups. I liked the idea of having a "Rose Bowl in Exile", if you will, between Ohio State and Oregon, so I put that in Dallas. The Peach will wind up falling on the sword, as for lack of better ideas I gave them UCLA and East Carolina. Hopefully the next couple of weeks will clear things up on this front.

I'm now projecting Notre Dame to lose three games, which means they fall into the ACC's bowl hierarchy. Notre Dame doesn't get a lot of games against SEC teams, so I figure they'll slot into one of the ACC's matchups against a SEC team. In this case, I sent them to the Music City Bowl.

This causes headaches for the rest of the league, but in the end I was able to accommodate everyone. As a side note, I think this will be a very tough year for the Belk Bowl to get a North Carolina team, but then again the matchups are out of the hands of the bowls now anyway (for most conferences). With Utah slotting into the Sun Bowl, one of my goals was definitely to avoid a rematch of the 2012 Sun Bowl with them and Georgia Tech. Also, Miami went to the Sun Bowl in 2010, which is still relatively recent.

Big 12
Right now the Texas-Oklahoma State looks like it will determine which team gets to go a bowl game. Based on recent play, I picked Texas to go to... the Texas bowl.

Big Ten
I tried to avoid sending Rutgers to the Pinstripe bowl because they went there last year, and besides, I figure Penn State is close enough. (Also, Penn State fans should be happy about getting to go to any bowl, considering.)

I tried to create a Washington-Boise State matchup in the Las Vegas Bowl, except it causing other issues. I also then had the bright idea to look up Boise's upcoming out-of-conference games, and sure enough they're going to kick off the 2015 season against the Huskies. So that's out.

Otherwise, with three Pac-12 teams getting into the Committee-controlled bowls that throws a bit of a wrench into the works. It's worth noting that the way the whole thing is set up every year there will be at least one of the Power 5 conferences getting three teams in.

Missouri (you know, the team that lost to Indiana a while back) is probably going to win the SEC East, mostly because (like Duke in the ACC) they dodge all the contenders from the SEC West. Georgia, meanwhile, has a permanent rivalry game against what I'm sure will be a pissed-off Auburn team this coming weekend.

(Dear Mike Slive: before you retire, consider my advice. It would have really helped your conference this year!)

So what's probably going to happen is this awkward situation where Missouri is going to get blasted by Alabama or Mississippi State in the SEC Championship game, but they'll still be 10-3 at that point so out of obligation the Citrus Bowl will take them. Meanwhile, the SEC West, having beat each other up to the point where LSU and Ole Miss have three losses (and Auburn four) probably won't send any more teams to the Committee bowls.

But hey, there's still four weekends of football left to be played. A lot can happen, and this will probably all be different next week.