Friday, September 22, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 4

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon:
  • North Carolina State @ Florida State (ABC/ESPN2): NC State was a bit of hipster pick this year, but we're not quite sure how that's turned out yet. In the meantime, thanks to various weather calamities we don't really know what a Deandra Francois-less Florida State looks like quite yet. So plenty of uncertainty here, but I'm still talking about going with the 'Noles.
  • Texas Tech @ Houston (ABC/ESPN2): From all appearances, these teams appear to be rather similar. Beat a bad pair of Arizona teams and then blowout a cupcake. That said, Texas Tech's offense appears set on saving their coach's job, so I'll take them, at least for now.
  • Texas A&M vs. Arkansas (@Arlington, TX; ESPN): It's the 2017 edition of the Hot Seat Bowl! This one feels especially precarious, in the sense that both might get canned regardless of the result either way. I have no idea what to expect out of this game. Arkansas has looked listless at best on offense, while more than one observer has notice that TAMU doesn't seem o care. I'd avoid this one. I consider it essentially a coinflip, so I'm going with TAMU I guess.
  • West Virginia @ Kansas (ESPNU): Kansas is still completely awful, so the pick here is pretty straightforward.
  • Massachusetts @ Tennessee (SEC): Vols.
  • Nevada-Las Vegas @ Ohio State (BTN): Buckeyes.
  • Army @ Tulane (CBSS): ... I'm picking Army here.
  • Kent State @ Louisville (ACC/RSN): Provided he's recovered from facing Clemson's defensive line, Lamar Jackson should look like Lamar Jackson again.
12:20: Pittsburgh @ Georgia Tech (ACC): And we're back after last week's non-game against UCF. It's hard enough to know what kind of team you have here in Week 3, but it's even harder when you've played two games of wildly varying difficulty. The Jacksonville State game played out roughly as I expected, with GT struggling a bit in the early going and then pouring it on the second half. So I'm not sure we learned much. However, I expect to have the offense operating at full strength in this one after having an extra week off. Hopefully that turns out to be the case instead of, you know, the other scenario where they come out rusty.

3:00: Central Florida @ Maryland (FS1): Lack of information rules the day! Maryland has a scheduled off week last week, so they've only played two games. UCF has only played one, a romp over Florida International to start the season, so see above. In their first two games at least, this doesn't look like the hapless Maryland of the last few years, so let's go with the Terps.

3:30:
  • Southern California @ California (ABC): Texas managed to give the Trojans everything they could've wanted last week, but USC managed to pull it out. Ultimately, I view that as a battle of two teams with an awful lot of talent. "Awful lot of talent" is not a term usually used to describe Cal, though the Bears have looked pretty good early as well. I've got USC here, but my advice to the Trojans would be: watch out.
  • Alabama @ Vanderbilt (CBS): Okay so I want Vandy to pull off the upset here as much as anyone, but if we're talking about a battle of two teams that play a lot of defense and score when they can... well, it's hard to out-Alabama Alabama. (Ask Michigan State a few years ago about that.)
  • Texas Christian @ Oklahoma State (ESPN): This is quietly (or maybe not-so-quietly?) the game of the weekend. This should be entertaining. TCU features a defense-first coach who was mad at his team last week for not putting up 80. Oklahoma State's coach is celebrating the tenth anniversary of declaring his manhood and is in year two of a mullet. So yeah, expect this game to be Big 12 AS HELL. I like the Pokes here though.
  • Boston College @ Clemson (ESPN2): Boston College has no real offense to speak of, and Clemson has probably a top-two defense this year. Is it possible for team to score negative points? We may be about to find out.
  • Louisiana Tech @ South Carolina (SEC): Well, ours fears that South Carolina might have an offense were short-lived. Turns out that scoring 31 on Mizzou isn't a big deal this year. But do the Bulldogs have a chance here? Ehh....
  • Rutgers @ Nebraska (BTN): Rutgers may not be as desperately bad as they were last year, but even this flailing Nebraska team should still beat them. 
  • Cincinnati @ Navy (CBSS): Navy struggled a bit of with Tulane last week, but I'm not going to hold that against them. I like the Midshipmen here.
  • Toledo @ Miami (ACC/RSN): 'Canes.
4:00: Michigan @ Purdue (FOX): Michigan's done what they needed to this year, but will they be able to stop this newfound burst of offensive confidence down in West Lafayette? You may want to keep an eye on this one, but I'm still going Michigan.

6:00: Nevada @ Washington State (Pac12): Still waiting for the other shoe to drop for Wazzou, because it doesn't seem conceivable we'll be talking about a 4-0 Washington State hosting USC in Pullman next week, right? Right? (It does seem pretty probable, though.)

6:30: Alabama-Birmingham @ North Texas (beIN): Could we be looking at 3-1 UAB after this? That'd be really nice, but, well... actually, it's not North Texas is a bunch of world-beaters or anything, so why not?

7:00:
  • Mississippi State @ Georgia (ESPN): We're about to find out a lot more about this pair of Bulldogs. Miss State's shellacking of LSU last week confirmed what we should've already realized: Miss State under Dan Mullen has been the most consistent second-tier team in the SEC for a while now. They can cement that status between the hedges, and I think they will.
  • Syracuse @ Louisiana State (ESPN2): Okay LSU, you can recover from this! Just, you know, fend off an aerial barrage for the next four hours while you still look like you struggle to field a competent offense... oof. This one is tough to think about. I think I have Syracuse here.
  • San Diego State @ Air Force (CBSS): SDSU is living up to its spoiler billing so far, but to keep it up they'll need to win this, their toughest remaining road contest. I think they will.
  • Ball State @ Western Kentucky (Stadium): The Hilltoppers should still have enough remaining traces of Jeff Brohm to throw it around and over a still kinda-not-good Ball State team, right?
7:30:
  • Pennsylvania State @ Iowa (ABC): As is usual with Iowa, it feels like of they're going to win this game the final score will be something like 15-12, while if they lose it'll be 60-10. Penn State just seems too good so far this year, like the latter score is more likely than the former.
  • Auburn @ Missouri (ESPNU): Bill Connelly knows a lot more about college football than I do, and so when he writes a column saying that Mizzou is pretty much done for the year, well...
  • Florida @ Kentucky (SEC): On November 15th, 1986 Kentucky beat Florida 10-3. On that day, Boston's "Amanda" was the #1 single in the United States, the Iran-Contra Affair was in full swing, and I was a little over a year old. Also, it was the last time Kentucky beat Florida. This version of Kentucky looks kind of competent and Florida is scuffling, so this could be the year. But I'm not going to call it.
8:00: Notre Dame @ Michigan State (FOX): While we still try to figure out what will be this year's version of 2016's Michigan State @ Notre Dame, we'll have to deal with the reality of the 2017 version of this game, wherein there are basically no expectations for either of these teams. I'm leaning Notre Dame a bit, since they beat up on a decent Boston College defense last week.

10:00:
  • Washington @ Colorado (FS1): Here's an early test for UDub, having survived their non-conference slate with ease. The problem, in terms of predictions, lies in that Colorado also easily disposed of their non-conference slate, so we've got to go to... THE NEXT LEVEL. And the next level likes the Huskies, like, a lot.
  • Oregon @ Arizona State (Pac12): The Pac-12 is a little more fun when Oregon is good, so welcome back, Ducks! I like them a lot of get their first conference win courtesy of a somewhat hapless Arizona State team.
10:15: Hawaii @ Wyoming (ESPN2): Josh Allen needs to get his mind right, you know what I mean? I mean, in the sense that maybe all the NFL stuff and preseason hype might have placed an unreasonable set of expectations upon the erstwhile Cowboys signal caller. Fortunately, the Rainbow Warriors provide a pretty good chance to do so.

10:30: California-Los Angeles @ Stanford (ESPN): No body clock this time. UCLA comes back to the West Coast after having their bubble burst in a major way at Memphis. And, uh, Stanford maybe was up past their bedtime last weekend when they lost at San Diego State. So... I'm going with the mild upset here and going with UCLA. Don't make me regret this, Bruins.

Friday, September 15, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 3

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon:
  • California-Los Angeles @ Memphis (ABC): BODY CLOCK! Okay, with that out of the way, we're now two years removed from the Justin Fuente era at Memphis and ultimately I think the Bruins will be too much for the Tigers.
  • Oklahoma State @ Pittsburgh (ESPN): Pitt has looked like, well, they're not the fun, tricksy team from the salad days of #PutPittIn. I like the Pokes here.
  • Connecticut @ Virginia (ESPN2): Sometimes I'm given to describe cheap beer as having "certain beer-like properties". I like to think I'm less of a football snob than beer snob, but it's hard to think of this game has having anything other than "certain football-like properties". Uh, UVA here, I guess.
  • Northern Illinois @ Nebraska (FS1): Nebraska.
  • Kansas @ Ohio (ESPNU): KU already lost to another MAC team, can they make it two? Sure, why not.
  • Louisiana-Lafayette @ Texas A&M (SEC): I think TAMU will be okay, at least this weekend.
  • Air Force @ Michigan (BTN): Michigan is just going to be too much for the Falcons.
  • Iowa State @ Akron (CBSS): I'm still coming to terms with the fact the Iowa State-Iowa game was actually exciting. Hopefully the Cyclones aren't, because they'll need to be focused to prevail here.
12:30: Baylor @ Duke (ACC/RSN): Duke, I guess?

3:30:
  • Tennessee @ Florida (CBS): Is this going to be a good game? Eh, probably not. Will you watch it anyway? Yeah, probably. In fairness, there's not much else going for this timeslot. I like the Vols, since they actually play offense.
  • Wisconsin @ Brigham Young (ABC): I'll admit I was definitely thinking about whether or not Wisconsin fans could drink Provo dry. Dry is also a pretty good description of BYU's offense so far this season, which gives Wisconsin a decided advantage in this road contest.
  • Notre Dame @ Boston College (ESPN): Speaking of offensively challenged, Notre Dame should be able to pick off a team worse at moving the ball than they are.
  • North Texas @ Iowa (ESPN2): Iowa.
  • Southern Methodist @ Texas Christian (ESPNU): This old Southwest Conference matchup may be interesting for a bit, but I'm not sure SMU will be able to keep up with TCU.
  • Middle Tennessee State @ Minnesota (BTN): MTSU lost badly to Vandy but beat Syracuse on the road, so maybe they're good? Minnesota has sailed through their OOC schedule so far, but nonetheless the Gophers will need to not sleepwalk through this one.
4:00: Purdue @ Missouri (SEC): Okay, we're existing in a universe where in the middle of the afternoon we're hoping for a Purdue-Minnesota shootout. That's just the deal now. The thing is, this game may very well deliver. Considering the 3:30 slate, just flip over to this one ASAP. Also, I kinda like the Boilermakers? Picking all these road teams makes me nervous, though.

4:30: Army @ Ohio State (FOX): Buckeyes.

5:30: Oregon State @ Washington State (Pac12): Wazzou. (Seriously, Oregon State is so bad y'all. Of course, it's Wazzou we're talking about, so they could blow this after otherwise looking great, but you can't really predict that, you know?)

7:00:
  • Louisiana State @ Mississippi State (ESPN): Here's a game where the rubber meets the road for these two teams. Will Miss State be any good this year? Will Dacoacho have made acceptable progress only three weeks into his first season? That said, LSU has the edge in talent, and so far the new coaching staff seems better able to take advantage of it. Picking another road team...
  • Colorado State @ Alabama (ESPN2): Well, yeah, Bama.
  • Oregon @ Wyoming (CBSS): Come for the gloriously ugly uniforms, stay for the potentially compelling football! That said the Ducks seem to, uh, have their ducks in a row again? Yeah.
  • Louisiana Tech @ Western Kentucky (Stadium): I think I get Stadium? I'll need to check. And you may want to actually check this one out, if you can find it. I like LT here.
7:30:
  • Kansas State @ Vanderbilt (ESPNU): Speaking of games where we may learn something about the teams, boy howdy we don't have much to go on for these two. I still like K-State slightly.
  • Kentucky @ South Carolina (SEC): I'm not sure I'm prepared for the universe where a Will Muschamp team actually has a good offense, but there's enough else going on at this timeslot that I hopefully won't have to think about it. Taking USC here.
  • Georgia State @ Pennsylvania State (BTN): Penn State.
8:00:
  • Clemson @ Louisville (ABC): I like Lamar Jackson as much as the next person, and I think he'll get his shots. But if there's any defense he's going to face this year that can contain him, it's Clemson's. Clemson's superiority on the defensive line will just be too much of an issue for Louisville's line to deal with, and Lamar just won't be able escape enough.
  • Arizona State @ Texas Tech (FSN/RSN): Arizona State looks so bad, y'all. TTU.
8:30: Texas @ Southern California (FOX): The hype should be enough to get USC up for this game, and this Texas team just isn't fully formed yet. USC all the way.

9:30: Fresno State @ Washington (Pac12): U-Dub.

10:00: San Jose State @ Utah (ESPN2): Utah.

10:30:
  • Mississippi @ California (ESPN): Kind of tempted to get some tickets for this one for some prime people watching over in Berkeley. And it's a night game, too! This one could be fun, but I like Cal here just because Ole Miss is so depleted at this point.
  • Stanford @ San Diego State (CBSS): The Aztecs were definitely a trendy mid-major pick, and with good cause! But while USC was just able to straight out-athlete the Cardinal, I don't think SDSU will be able to do that.

Friday, September 08, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 2

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Noon:
  • Cincinnati @ Michigan (ABC): It's a pretty full slate of games for Week 2, so these noon-time games aren't going to get a lot of love. Unless you're a fan of one of these teams, I release you to do something else with these three and a half hours. Wolverines.
  • Louisville @ North Carolina (ESPN): Losing to Cal is, well, it's not a good look Tar Heels. Louisville wound up handling Purdue, but it was a bit too close for comfort, but going with the Cardinals is still the pick.
  • Iowa @ Iowa State (ESPN2): It's the best worst rivalry game, at least when the Apple Cup doesn't hold that title. The way I'd describe this matchups is not much happens, but when something does happen, boy howdy. That said, Iowa looks like they've returned to form, but might still be worth watching just in case.
  • Northwestern @ Duke (ESPNU): Perhaps more interesting than one might expect, but at the end of the day it's still Northwestern and Duke. Going with the Cats here.
  • Florida Atlantic @ Wisconsin (BTN): Still on here, for now. Apparently FAU plans on remaining in Wisconsin until it is safe to go home, but still: why play? Going with Wisky.
  • Buffalo @ Army (CBSS): Army had a pretty fantastic year last year, all told, and this would be a good first step toward following it up. Going with the cadets here.
12:30: Jacksonville State @ Georgia Tech (ACC/RSN): For nearly every season since 2007, I have been in Seattle for PAX. What this generally means is that I don't really catch Week 1 of college football. I occasionally miss things, but at least my team, Georgia Tech, doesn't usually play anyone. So naturally this year we play Tennessee on Monday night. Since the moment the game was announced, I'd been planning in my head how I would watch it. "Okay, the Omegathon finale is at 5:00 or 5:30, the game kicks at 5:00, so if I rush to bar immediately afterward..." What wound up happening was that one of my buddies from out here was in town, so we decamped for his aunt and uncle's place across Lake Washington afterward for dinner. Dinner was delicious, but it didn't take my mind off the game for long. Fortunately, they had recorded it, but I probably didn't start watching it until at least 2.5 hours after it'd kicked off. With my phone in airplane mode since 5:00, though, I had no idea what had happened. Naturally, the recording cut off after we scored in the first overtime, so I asked my buddy for the result and got the bad news. I told him I didn't want to see the last play and that when you miss two field goals and give up two fumbles it's hard to win, even if you out gain the other team by like 300 yards.
Basically, I really hope the team hasn't been thinking about this game all week long.

2:00: Texas State @ Colorado (Pac12): Colorado dispensed of a solid Colorado State team with ease, and they should do the same with Texas State.

3:30:
  • Pittsburgh @ Pennsylvania State (ABC): It's good to see at least one rivalry game back in this post-realignment era, but nonetheless it's hard to see this depleted Pitt offense winning in Happy Valley.
  • Texas Christian @ Arkansas (CBS): Speaking of old rivalries, it's what seems like the annual Southwest Conference Rematch game. Take a second to tune in for the CBS theme music and the realization that it'll be Brad Nessler instead of Uncle Vernce, and then switch back to Pitt-Penn State or Nebraska-Oregon, 'cause I like TCU here.
  • Fresno State @ Alabama (ESPN2): Fresno might be lucky to score.
  • Indiana @ Virginia (ESPNU): This is definitely a game that will take place and you can watch. Uh, Indiana?
  • Western Michigan @ Michigan State (BTN): Yeah, Michigan State looked competent against Bowl Green, but Western Michigan is a trendy pick due to hanging with a vastly more talented Southern Cal until the fourth quarter. In the interests of making this game interesting, I'll say that it'll hold over for a victory this week.
  • Tulane @ Navy (CBSS): Navy.
4:30: Nebraska @ Oregon (FOX): Is Oregon back? We're about to find out... maybe. That's just the way things work in Week 2, but seriously giving up 36 points to Arkansas State is not a good look. I'll take the Ducks here.

5:00: Hawaii @ California-Los Angeles (Pac12): It would be hilarious if UCLA needed another epic comeback to beat Hawaii, but... yeah no.

7:00:
  • Auburn @ Clemson (ESPN): This game should be fun! However, I'm not sure I'm as high on Auburn as national opinion seems be? Like, I'm not entirely sure where this idea that they're going to hang with the reigning national champions (at home!) comes from.
  • South Carolina @ Missouri (ESPN2): If South Carolina really does have kind of an offense now, then Mizzou is basically boned.
7:30:
  • Georgia @ Notre Dame (NBC): There's just so many other options around this time, maybe you can just watch one of them? Seriously, I can't endorse this game, which considering how much I hate Georgia should tell you something. Not as bad as UGA playing Alabama, though, so I guess I'll go with the Domers.
  • Oklahoma @ Ohio State (ABC): This game is a coin flip for me, with the a slight edge going to the Buckeyes for playing at home. I think there'll be enough talent on display here for this game to fun, though.
  • Mississippi State @ Louisiana Tech (CBSS): Probably Miss State? I dunno, the whole concept of this game is weird.
8:00:
  • Texas-San Antonio @ Baylor (FSN/RSN): Baylor surely can't lose to what should be a vastly inferior team two weeks in a row, right? Right?
  • Western Kentucky @ Illinois (BTN): Western Kentucky has to be favored here, right? If they aren't, then I'm favoring them.
  • Montana @ Washington (Pac12): I don't normally list these games, but it'll be on HD on my TV and there is an every-so-slight potential for wackiness here.
8:30: Stanford @ Southern California (FOX): As if there weren't enough fun matchups in the four hours proceeding this, have fun with this early battle of Pac-12 favorites! The trendy pick is Stanford due to USC's struggles with Western Michigan, but it's not like Western Michigan suddenly got awful because their coach left and it was Week 1. I think the Trojans just have too much offensive talent for the Cardinal to cope.

10:00: Minnesota @ Oregon State (FS1): This game may be somewhat, er, offensively challenged. You have my permission to skip this one. Going with the Gophers.

10:15: Utah @ Brigham Young (ESPN2): It's the Holy War all right, but it doesn't look like BYU has any sort of offense this year, which may make this an easy one for Utah once they settle into the game a bit.

10:30:
  • Boise State @ Washington State (ESPN): Fun fact: Wazzou is closer to Boise than it is to Seattle, so these matchups are usually fun. And indeed, something does feel amiss in that the Cougars actually managed to beat their Week 1 FCS opponent this year, but it's still tough to pick against them right now.
  • Houston @ Arizona (ESPNU): Houston is probably the better team here, seriously.
11:00: San Diego State @ Arizona State (Pac12): Arizona State made it way too close against New Mexico State last week, and the Aztecs are a better team than the Aggies. Going with SDSU here.

2018 World Cup Update: "Near Disaster" Might Be Giving Us Too Much Credit

And we're back! The September phase of 2018 World Cup qualifying just completed, so we're entering the home stretch. In this edition, we'll review the events of the past week, and then in a separate post we'll talk about qualification scenarios entering the final matches.

First, let's congratulate those who just punched their ticket to Russia: Japan, Mexico, Belgium, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia.

Next, our condolences to the countries that were eliminated: Gibraltar, Latvia, Faroe Islands, Andorra, Libya, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Hungary, Belarus, Romania, Armenia, Norway, Czech Republic, Azerbaijan, Guinea, Estonia, Israel, Solomon Islands, Venezuela, Bolivia, Congo, Cameroon, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, China, and Uzbekistan.

We start, as usual, in Asia.

AFC

The AFC Third Round concluded, with four teams qualifying, six being eliminated, and another two moving on to a playoff. In Group A, Iran and South Korea topped the group, with Syria eking out Uzbekistan on goal differential. On the one hand, Uzbekistan couldn't punch a goal at home against South Korea, but on the other this is the second qualification cycle in which the Uzbeks have come up short. (In 2014, they made the playoff round, which was tied 2-2 after both legs, necessitating penalty kicks. After nine rounds, Jordan prevailed 9-8.) China also finished only a point behind Syria and Uzbekistan, which is by far their best result since making the 2002 World Cup. 2022 hosts Qatar went out with a whimper, finishing last in the group and dropping their last two matches to Syria and China.

In Group B, the three that were expected to finish in the top three finished in the top three, but perhaps not in the order expected: Japan won the group with 20 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia finished with 19, with the Saudis prevailing on goal differential.

Thus, Syria and Australia will play two matches in October to determine who gets to play the fourth-placed team from CONCACAF. Who will that be? Well, read on.

CAF

African qualifying resumed after a nine-month hiatus, and it was a doozy. We'll cover each of the five groups.

In Group A, the bottom two teams were eliminated. Group leaders Tunisia and DR Congo played each other twice, with Tunisia coming out ahead with 4 points to DR Congo's 1. They'll each go on the road in October and then return home in November. If Tunisia can hold serve, they'll punch their ticket to the World Cup.

Group B saw the highest-rated team in Africa at the time of the draw get eliminated, as Algeria only has 1 point through four matches. Instead, it'll be either Nigeria or Zambia, with Nigeria currently up by 3 points. Nigeria gets Zambia at home in October, so they can clinch qualification with a win.

Group C is a bit tighter, with the Ivory Coast holding a one-point lead over Morocco and a two point lead over Gabon. This group will likely come down to the Ivory Coast's home game against Morocco in November.

Group D is the most competitive group in Africa, with Burkina Faso and Cape Verde tied on six points, and Senegal right behind with five. However, there was even more drama introduced recently when South Africa's 2-1 win over Senegal was annulled in a recent decision due to the referee having been banned due to "unlawful influence" of the result. The upshot of which is that the match will have be replayed in November, so if Senegal can't clinch before then, they'll have one last chance to do so, unless Burkina Faso or Cape Verde win both of their upcoming qualifiers. Either way, no one can clinch this group before November.

In Group E, the headline isn't that Egypt is on nine points and topping the group, it's that Ghana has only five points. Egypt gets a home match against last-place Congo in October, while Ghaha has to go on the road to Uganda, likely needing a win and an Egypt loss or tie to stay alive.

CONCACAF

Sigh. Things had gone well so far this year for the US national team: a 6-0 drubbing of Honduras, points on the road at Panama and Mexico, and a Gold Cup win. Relatively speaking, we'd been rolling, the shame of the losses last November nearly erased. Then we couldn't do anything offensive against Costa Rica in New Jersey and lost 2-0. For the first 84 minutes in San Pedro Sula, it looked like disaster was the order of the day. A loss would make it very hard for the US to qualify directly and even making a fourth place finish questionable. Then this happened:
And thus, our bacon was saved. At least for now.

Mexico qualified and is leading the table with 18 points. Costa Rica nearly qualified, but their 1-1 draw at home against Mexico prevented them from sealing the deal. Panama is in third with 10 points after beating last place Trinidad and Tobago, which enabled them to pass the US, who are now in fourth with 9 points. Honduras also has nine points, but the US is still ahead on goal differential.

Overall, the main surprising result was Costa Rica's 2-0 win over the US. This makes for plenty of drama in the final set of qualifiers to be played next month, which we'll discuss further as get closer.

CONMEBOL

There will be no greater casualty of World Cup expansion than the loss of the South American qualifiers. I've talked about this before, but there is a certain elegance in its simplicity. 10 teams play a double round-robin (so 18 matches). The top four teams qualify, while the fifth place team also will probably qualify, just they have to go to New Zealand first. You, as a wisecracking American sports fan, may note that half the teams will qualify, just like in the NHL and NBA's diluted playoffs. And you'd be correct. Except that World Cup bids aren't really distributed fairly, because if they were South America would probably have more bids. This article covers the intensity in better depth, but the upshot is that six of the top 20 teams in the world are in South America per FIFA's Rankings, which is better than any of the highest ranked African or Asian teams.

While order may seem restored at first, with Brazil at the top of the table 10 points clear of the next closest team, Uruguay. And yes, that's the case. But seven point is all that separates the second place team and the eight placed team, Ecuador. The current Copa America champions, Chile, are in sixth, which means if the qualification ended today they wouldn't be in the World Cup. The best player in the world might have to fly to New Zealand to see his team through. Venezuela and Bolivia are eliminated, but that doesn't mean they're just laying down. Venezuela forced third placed Colombia into a 0-0 draw at home, and then went on the road and were actually leading 1-0 over Argentina before conceding an own goal for a 1-1 draw. Bolivia? Yeah, they lost on the road at Peru, but all they did after that was beat the continental champions Chile 1-0 at home. Like I said, these two teams have already been eliminated.

In other words, unless you're Brazil in this cycle, nothing is easy. We'll talk scenarios in a few weeks.

OFC

New Zealand formalized their advancement to the inter-confederation playoffs by thumping the Solomon Islands 8-3. They'll play the fifth placed team from South America in November.

UEFA

The wheat started to separate from the chaff a little bit in Europe, but no one other Belgium clinched. Let's go over the groups real quick-like, and we'll talk shop on what the remaining teams need to do in a couple of weeks.
  •  In Group A, group leaders Sweden and France faltered a bit. Sweden lost 3-2 to Bulgaria on the road, and France somehow couldn't produce a goal at home against Luxenbourg, which has to be somewhere up there on the all-time list of international soccer upsets. Nonetheless, time is running out for the Dutch, who lost 4-0 on the road to France. Three points behind Sweden, they no longer control their own destiny going into the final two matches.
  • In Group B, Switzerland leads Portugal by three points, with all other teams eliminated. Provided nothing unexpected happens, Switzerland's trip to Portugal will be the deciding contest.
  • Group C is all but decided, with Germany and Northern Ireland advancing, and the Germans five points clear of the Irish.
  • In Group D, Serbia is certain to advance, but Wales and Ireland lurk four and five points behind, respectively. Most likely, Wales and Ireland will be playing off for the second place spot in Cardiff.
  • What's going on in Group E? Well, a lot. Poland, Montenegro, and Demark are on 19, 16, and 16 points. Montenegro probably controls its own destiny the most, since it will get to play both of its competitors in October. Nonetheless, the Poles still control their own destiny.
  • In Group F, England is probably secure, sitting on a five point advantage over Slovakia with two matches to play. Right behind Slovakia and tied on 14 points are Slovenia and Scotland.
  • Group G remains Spain, Italy, and then everyone else. Spain emphasized the point by beating Italy 3-0 in Madrid, which means that the group is almost certainly going to finish in that order.
  • In Group H, Belgium qualified, so that leaves Bosnia and Herzegovina up a point over Greece and four points above Cyprus for the possible playoff spot.
  • And then there's the Group of Chaos, Group I. Croatia and Iceland are tied on 16 points, but Croatia has the goal differential tiebreaker. Turkey and Ukraine are right behind with 14 points, and for those two you need to go the goals scored tie breaker. These teams all held serve at home in the last set of matches, which means that just about anything can happen in October.
That's it for now. The list of teams should be updated soon, most likely by the time you read this. Soon, we'll look ahead to what will be final chance for the rest of the field. Until then, stay tuned!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 1

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong:

Saturday
Noon:
  • Akron @ Pennsylvania State (ABC): It's on ABC, sure, but the Zips should give the Nittany Lions little trouble.
  • Kent State @ Clemson (ESPN): Again, this is the downside of Week 1. I hope you get Big Ten Network!
  • Maryland @ Texas (FS1): This vaguely interesting, but then you remember the talent disparity at work here and go with Texas.
  • Bowling Green @ Michigan State (ESPNU): Sparty going 3-9 last year definitely didn't seem to gain the, er, cachet that Notre Dame going 4-8 did, but still, it was a pretty shocking result for a consistently successful program. At a minimum, though, they should have this one.
  • Wyoming @ Iowa (BTN): Okay, so this is a trendy looking game, and I think it has the most potential to be fun out of all the games in this time slot. Will it be, though? Well, if it follows the typical Iowa blueprint, and it probably will, then maybe not so much.
12:20: California @ North Carolina (ACC): As noted in my OOC schedule previews, I enjoy inter-sectional matchups like this imminently. Nonetheless, one of these teams at least enjoys a semblence of a defense, and Cal doesn't provide a lot of hope that situations gotten better. So I'm going with Carolina here.

3:00: North Carolina State vs. South Carolina (@Charlotte, NC; ESPN): I'm going with the Wolfpack here, mostly because the alternative scenario where the Gamecocks win seems pretty unpalatable.

3:30:
  • Michigan vs. Florida (@Arlington, TX; ABC): I saw on the ESPN bottom line earlier today that this it the first time Florida has opened away from home since 1987. Which I knew the Gators didn't around much, OOC-wise, but that's kind of ridiculous. Anyway, while the conventional wisdom is that Michigan is a year or two away from contending again, I still like them here, especially when you factor in all of Florida's suspensions.
  • Temple @ Notre Dame (NBC): Temple is actually kinda good now, but even after using this as one last chance to remind you Notre Dame went 4-8 last year, we'll say that ND can pull this out.
  • Texas-El Paso @ Oklahoma (FOX): Not sure how UTEP has a chance here.
  • Nevada @ Northwestern (BTN): Nevada used to be decently exciting, but the chance seems to have passed.
  • Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical @ Alabama-Birmingham (Stadium): I'm listing this because UAB football is back, y'all. It's of course a fiasco that it was canned in the first place, but still. Go Blazers!
3:45: Troy @ Boise State (ESPNU): I feel like I should go with Boise all the way here, but still, my gut says Troy. But my brain says Boise, so that's what I'm going with.

4:00: Kentucky @ Southern Mississippi (CBSS): I don't think USM is actually that good, but you never know with these kinds of teams. Sticking with UK though.

5:15: Western Michigan @ Southern California (Pac12): This might be fun. Real fun. Or... it might not. Going with USC.

6:15: Appalachian State @ Georgia (ESPN): This would be hilarious, but yeah sticking with UGA.

7:30:
  • Louisville vs. Purdue (@Indianapolis, IN; FOX): This is a neutral site game for some reason? Also Purdue will have to prove itself to me, so sticking with UL.
  • South Alabama @ Mississippi (ESPNU): See "Appalachian State @ Georgia" above.
8:00:
  • Florida State vs. Alabama (@Atlanta, GA; ABC): Hopefully this turns out to be the absolute cracker of a game that it should be. I keep going back and forth on who I like in this game and I think the line (Alabama by 7) is crazy. Does the likely rematch in December hurt this one a bit? Yeah, sure. But this should still be a great game even on its own merits. I'm going with FSU.
  • Arkansas State @ Nebraska (BTN): That said, if you wanted to see if anything wacky was going on, the BTN's got you. Nebraska though.
  • Vanderbilt @ Middle Tennessee State (CBSS): Vandy improved last year, but this one feels ike a trap. Going with MTSU.
9:30: Brigham Young vs. Louisiana State (@New Orleans, LA; ESPN): I also find this one hard to pick. I think we'll find out a lot about both teams, but it's still looking good for LSU and DaCoachO.

Sunday
7:30:
  • Texas A&M @ California-Los Angeles (FOX): I find this game impossible to pick mostly because of these teams recent penchant for underachieving. For now, going with TAMU.
  • West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (@Landover, MD; ABC): By all rights, this one should be a home-and-home, not played at the NFL's most soulless venue. I really like VPI this year so I'm going with them.
Monday
8:00: Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee (@Atlanta, GA; ESPN): Tennessee is Georgia Tech's 8th most played opponent, despite this game having not been played since 1987. The Vols also lead the all-time series 24-17-2. Change is afoot for the Jackets, with a new QB and a new B-back core. It could be awesome or it could be really bad, and hopefully Tennessee's own inexperience at key positions (especially QB) looms larger than ours.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Epilogue

Okay, we've gone through each conference, so where does that leave us? Well, first, if you'd like to view them all again, then click here to see all the posts under the "ooc schedules" tag.

Otherwise, we've got this part down to a ritual, so let's get started with the List of Shame, which consists of teams that played more than 1 FCS school. Once again, we have just one member of this club this year: Arkansas, thanks to them playing transitioning FCS-to-FBS team Coastal Carolina.

Ordinarily, this is where I'd put the list of schedules I really like. The problem is this year the only ones that come close are Florida State, Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. See the problem there? Yeah, they're all only on there because they have a rivalry game against another team on the list, other than the Gamecocks. I feel like that defeats the purpose of the list. Honestly, while the playoff has given us more marquee out-of-conference games, at the same time conferences like the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12 have gone to nine conference games. While I think that's great for those conferences, it's not great for the world of out-of-conference scheduling. That's basically 36 less out-of-conference games that happen every year, which means a better chance for better schedules. I may need to rethink my criteria for this list, but for now, I'm going to skip it.

Instead, let's see how the conferences all did a whole. This is an average of an average to account for the differences in the number of games each conference plays.
  1. ACC (0.226)
  2. SEC (0.192)
  3. Big 12 (0.158)
  4. Pac-12 (0.153)
  5. Big Ten (0.151)
Last year the ACC was second on this list, and really it's more of a case that everyone got worse while the ACC stayed about the same. There's something to be said for consistency, though, so hopefully the Pac-12 can recover dropping from first to fourth.

And that does it for this year's preview! Up next, we've got the guide for this weekend's games!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: SEC


Do as I did: pour yourself some Bourbon and take some sips of these out-of-conference schedules.
  1. Florida (2 legit, 1 FCS): N-Michigan, Northern Colorado, Alabama-Birmingham, Florida State. Going on the road to play a lesser opponent is something you won't see the Gators do, that's for sure, so savor this rare inter-section matchup. Also, this is the first appearance of UAB in our preview, so even though they're going to get pummelled, let's give a hearty shout-out to the Blazers: they're back!
  2. Georgia (1.75, 1): Appalachian State, @Notre Dame, Samford, @Georgia Tech. Georgia's going to South Bend, eh? Let's christen that the Unrealistic Expectations Bowl. Oh, wait, does Miami play them this year? Yes they do! Oh, the continuing delicious irony if Richt's new team betas the Domers and UGA can't... I actually don't know if that's ironic, but it's something that will make me happy as a GT fan, that's for sure.
  3. South Carolina (1.25, 1): N-North Carolina State, Louisiana Tech, Wofford, Clemson. Before you get too excited about USC-NCSU, let's look at the scores from the last three times they played: 7-3, 34-0, and 10-0. Well, we can always hope they'll lose and beat the Bulldogs they play this year in the most amusing way possible, at least.
  4. Auburn (1, 1): Georgia Southern, @Clemson, Mercer, Lousiana-Monroe. Unfortunately, this isn't really spicy Georgia Southern anymore, so you mostly have the return trip to Clemson to look forward to. Not that's a bad thing.
  5. Alabama (1, 1): N-Florida State, Fresno State, Colorado State, Mercer. Well, outside of FSU this doesn't really do anything for the Tide, but when have they ever needed the boost a good out-of-conference slate can provide?
  6. Texas A&M (1, 1): @California-Los Angeles, Nicholls State, Louisiana-Lafayette, New Mexico. Again, we applaud the inter-sectional matchup, but y'all just got beat out by the returning national champions and a national title favorite for this year. That's fair, I'd say.
  7. Tennessee (0.75, 1): N-Georgia Tech, Indiana State, Massachusetts, Southern Mississippi. Remember, I ranked Tennessee above Kentucky because Kentucky plays Louisville every year, not because we're better than Louisville.
  8. Kentucky (0.75, 1): @Southern Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Louisville.
  9. Arkansas (0.75, 1.5): Florida Agricultural and Mechanical, Texas Christian, New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are moving up to FBS, so Arkansas gets the increasingly rare "half FCS" there. Also thanks to TAMU I had to double check that FAMU was still spelled out in the full name of the school. Oh yeah, they also play TCU which we fully applaud: SWC forever, baby! (Said no one.)
  10. Vanderbilt (0.5, 1): @Middle Tennessee State, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical, Kansas State, Western Kentucky. Alabama A&M also spells it out. Was that so hard, TAMU? Also, @MTSU is only a road game in the technical sense, as Murfeesboro isn't that far away. Though there'd probably be more Blue Raider fans there either way...
  11. Louisiana State (0, 1): N-Brigham Young, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Syracuse, Troy State. I wasn't able to watch it last week, but I hope some time during last week's national broadcast of a UTC game they replayed the clip of Dan Mullen saying "Uuuuu-Teeeee Chattanooga!"
  12. Mississippi (0, 1): South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin, @California, Louisiana-Lafayette. The people watching that weekend in Berkeley might be spectacular, so we'd like to wholly encourage continuing SEC-Pac-12 matchups.
  13. Mississippi State (0, 1): Charleston Southern, @Louisiana Tech, Brigham Young, Massachusetts. Yeah, I don't think Dan Mullen is going to be able to make Charleston Southern roll off the tongue quite like he did with their FCS opponent last year. Also, going on the road to Ruston? That's spicy.
  14. Missouri (0, 1): Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho, @Connecticut. There's bad OOC schedule, and then there's... this. Oof.
Okay, that's it! On to the wrap-up!

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Pac-12


Okay, moving on to the West Coast, let's talk the Pac-12.
  1. Stanford (1 legit, 0 FCS): N-Rice, @San Diego State, Notre Dame. This was a tough decision. I have, elsewhere, docked teams for having a team that they play every year, but as you can see from going down the list there's just not much here this year for the Pac-12. Also, San Diego State should be pretty good again this year, and Rice is still technically better than a FCS school.
  2. Oregon (1, 1): Southern Utah, Nebraska, @Wyoming. Still, though, you could consider the Ducks tied for first. A good inter-sectional game and a road trip to Laramie? I'm down.
  3. California (1, 1): @North Carolina, Weber State, Mississippi. You could even make an argument for Cal, which has the only schedule with two other Power 5 teams on. But then you consider that, well, it's Cal and you start thinking about their defense that is likely to remain a raging inferno this year (not in a good way).
  4. California-Los Angeles (0.75, 0): Texas A&M, Hawaii, @Memphis. I guess we're just going to have to get used to these wacky road games, because even considering the vagaries of scheduling other FBS teams these days why in the world would UCLA ever go cross-country to play Memphis?
  5. Southern California (0.75, 1): Stephen F. Austin, North Texas, @Texas Christian. USC usually is the team here with a tough OOC schedule, but instead this year I guess they decided to see if they could go 3-0 against the state of Texas. At least it's thematic!
  6. Washington State (0.5, 1): Montana State, Boise State, Nevada. If the past two years have taught us anything, Wazzou could very well go 2-1 against this slate in just about any possible combination.
  7. Arizona (0.25, 1): Northern Arizona, Houston, @Texas-El Paso. Both 'zonas figure to be miserable this year, and the misery could get ramped up real quick-like for the Bearcats. Depending on this shakes out, it could be a race to see which of their coaches makes it out of September.
  8. Oregon State (0.25, 1): @Colorado State, Portland State, Minnesota. I could try to pretend that I don't know the result of that Oregon State-Colorado State game, but I don't think it was really that much of a surprise, and it's hard to take anything away from it as this is still the rebuild phase for the Beavers. That said, the rest of this schedule may not help.
  9. Arizona State (0, 0): New Mexico State, San Diego State, @Texas Tech. Folks have tried to set Arizona State-Texas Tech as a sort of "who's gonna get fired?" Bowl, 2017 edition, and maybe that's the case, but the real test for the Sun Devils might be the San Diego State game. That, and Todd Graham isn't exactly known for letting the situation get to him before he gets out of the situation...
  10. Utah (0, 1): North Dakota, @Brigham Young, San Jose State. The Holy War is back on the schedule, so that's good. The rest of it? Eh.
  11. Washington (0, 1): @Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State. We're still scratching our heads at the "@Rutgers" part there, especially since it's not going to do UDub any favors if they're on the edge of the playoffs.
  12. Colorado (0, 1): N-Colorado State, Texas State, Northern Colorado. I keep having to remember that Texas State is FBS now and it's been several years since that happened. Ask me about trying to remember which conference Maryland is in some time...
All right, we're trying to truck though these to finish before the season proper starts, so expect the SEC right on the heels of this one!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

This Weekend in College Football: Week 0

We interrupt our out-of-conference preview to bring up this special preview of ACTUAL FOOTBALL! A quick introduction to the way the weekly previews work:
  • Unless otherwise noted, games are on the Saturday of the week the preview is posted.
  • The network is given in parenthesis. Most are straightforward, but ones that aren't are ACC (not an actual network (yet), but syndicated content usually on local stations), CBSS (CBS Sports Network, which you may or may not have), and ACC/RSN (ACC games on regional sports networks, like FS South or NBC Sports Bay Area).
  • I give predictions for all the games except for ones involving my alma mater, Georgia Tech.
  • The list of games, generally, will only include matchups between FBS teams. I mostly do this because most FBS vs. FCS games are not interesting, and I don't know enough about FCS teams to predict FCS vs. FCS matchups.
As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Saturday

Noon: Texas Southern @ Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (EPSNU): an exception to the above is that I will list FCS games for this sort-of week since there's not a lot else going on and they're on national TV. That said, I will just list them without providing commentary.

2:30: Oregon State @ Colorado State (CBSS): Arguably the most interesting game of the weekend (involving FBS teams, anyway), this will be an early test of both the progress the Beavers have made in year 2 of the current regime and whether or not the Rams will be for real Mountain West Mountain division contenders this year. This one could go either way, so I'm going to give CSU the edge since this is also the debut of their shiny new home stadium.

3:00: Portland State @ Brigham Young (ESPN)

6:30: Chattanooga vs. Jacksonville State (@Montgomery, AL; ESPN)

7:00: Colgate @ California Polytechnical (ESPNU)

7:30: South Florida @ San Jose State (CBSS): This is also a chance for San Jose State to show they've made strides, but I still think USF is going to be too much for them.

10:00: Stanford vs. Rice (@Sydney, Australia; ESPN): This one could get ugly, most likely due to being a Stanford blow out, or due to just being two rusty teams that flew halfway around the world to play a game in a strange land, under which Rice still won't have a chance, just the score will be 20-0 instead of 51-10.

Sunday

7:00: Richmond @ Sam Houston State (ESPNU): We feel obligated to note that Hurricane Harvey is currently bearing down on the Texas Gulf coast. Football aside, hopefully Huntsville, TX is far enough inland to avoid the worst.

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Big 12

Okay, Big 12, you're up!
  1. Texas (1 legit, 0 FCS): Maryland, San Jose State, @Southern California. This is a fun schedule. You've got a Maryland team that won't be good or anything this year, an increasingly plucky San Jose State, and then we go party like it's 2005. Sounds good to me.
  2. Oklahoma (1, 0): Texas-El Paso, @Ohio State, Tulane. Well, when your conference only plays 3 OOC games, outliers like having an Ohio State on your schedule count for a lot.
  3. West Virginia (0.75, 1): N-Virginia Tech, East Carolina, Delaware State. I already ragged on the game against VPI being in an NFL stadium, so instead let's focus on, uh, well I don't think ECU is supposed to be good this year. Also every time I look up and down this list WVU being here just still seems strange. Can the Big 12 and SEC arrange like a Mizzou-WVU swap? I think that'd work better for everyone.
  4. Texas Tech (0.75, 1): Eastern Washington, Arizona State, @Houston. I've gone to the "hey Eastern Washington has a red field!" well too many times, and they lead off with these three in the first four weeks, so it's likely Kliff Kingsbury will still have a job at the end, so I can't use that either. Houston could (should?) still be good enough this year to make it interesting, so maybe "likely" is a bit too strong there.
  5. Oklahoma State (0.5, 0): Tulsa, @South Alabama, @Pittsburgh. Huh, scheduling two out-of-conference road games out of three is definitely a thing you can do, but it's not something you see too often. They do get 5 home conference games this year, but it's still odd.
  6. Iowa State (0.5, 1): Northern Iowa, Iowa, @Akron. I think the Cyclones will go 3-0 or 0-3 against this slate, setting the tone for the rest of their season. After all, they did lose to UNI last year, and if you can lose to your in-state FCS rival, then you can definitely lose on the road to a MAC team.
  7. Baylor (0.25, 1): Liberty, Texas-San Antonio, @Duke. This is certainly a schedule.
  8. Kansas State (0, 1): Central Arkansas, Charlotte, @Vanderbilt. Depending on how feisty Vandy is this year, this may give K-State some trouble, but this slate should be no trouble. Also, as far as I know this marks the beginning of a stretch that will see none of my extended relations playing for the best football team in the Little Apple. I imagine things will be back to normal in 15 years or so.
  9. Kansas (0, 1): Southeast Missouri State, Central Michigan, @Ohio. Most of what you need to know about Kansas football is that they'll be doing well to go 2-1 against this slate. If they somehow go 3-0, it will be the first time KU has won 3 games in a season since 2009.
  10. Texas Christian (0, 1): Jackson State, @Arkansas State, Southern Methodist. Between games at Houston, South Alabama, and Akron it's like the Big 12 is trying to do its best ACC impersonation. But they still can't come close to the champs.
Up next, we head over to everyone's favorite mostly-west-of-the-Rockies conference, the Pac-12! See you then.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Big Ten

Onward, to the Land of Meat and Cheese, aka, the Midwest!
  1. Michigan (1 legit, 0 FCS): N-Florida, Cincinnati, Air Force. The netural-site game against Florida is intriguing for reasons probably best saved for when we get to the Gators, so for now let's wonder why we didn't get a 10th anniversary Michigan-Appalachian State matchup. They're not even FCS anymore!
  2. Ohio State (1, 0): Oklahoma, Army, Nevada-Las Vegas. The return game for Ohio State-Oklahoma almost got the Buckeyes to #1 here, but I liked Michigan's other opponents better.
  3. Nebraska (1, 0): Arkansas State, @Oregon, Northern Illinois. Nebraska at Oregon is precisely the kind of inter-sectional matchup we like here at asimsports. More of this, please!
  4. Maryland (1, 1): @Texas, Towson, Central Florida. Okay, Maryland-Texas lacks some of the, well, cachet of Nebraska-Oregon, but we'll still take it.
  5. Michigan State (1, 0): Bowling Green State, Western Michigan, Notre Dame. "Wait", you're saying, "why is Sparty ranked below Maryland even though they don't play an FCS team?" This was a call on my part, knowing that Michigan State plays Notre Dame basically every year, so it's not as interesting as Maryland's game at Texas.
  6. Purdue (0.75, 0): N-Louisville, Ohio, @Missouri. There's new management in West Lafeyette, but that doesn't figure to help against the Cardinals. The Boilermakers are in Year 1 of a rebuild and are half-liable to go 0-3 against this slate.
  7. Rutgers (0.75, 1): Washington, Eastern Michigan, Morgan State. Rutgers was probably one of the worst major conference teams in the history of college football last year, and starting the year off with a game against UDub doesn't figure to help them get pointed in the correct direction. Kudos for scheduling it, though.
  8. Pennsylvania State (0.5, 0): Akron, Pittsburgh, Georgia State. Penn State should play Pitt every year, which makes any time it does happen special. Not much else going on here, though.
  9. Northwestern (0.25, 0): Nevada, @Duke, Bowling Green State. I feel like there's something snarky to say about Northwestern at Duke, but I can't think of it right now. Luckily, I've got a few weeks before they actually play.
  10. Minnesota (0, 0): Buffalo, @Oregon State, Middle Tennessee State. Minnesota at Oregon State seems random, but again, we'll take it.
  11. Wisconsin (0, 0): Utah State, Florida Atlantic, @Brigham Young. It was a real debate between whether to put Minnesota or Wisconsin at #10, but ultimately BYU suffers again for not being in the Pac-12, which you know has to annoy them.
  12. Indiana (0, 0): @Virginia, Florida International, Georgia Southern. But if it's any consolation BYU fans, you still managed to get ranked above a schedule that includes a trip to a major conference team.
  13. Illinois (0, 0): Ball State, Western Kentucky, @South Florida. Illinois will do well to win two of these, or heck maybe one depending if this is one of those years Ball State isn't horrible.
  14. Iowa (0, 0): Wyoming, @Iowa State, North Texas. Everything that you need to know about modern day Iowa football is by far the most interesting NFL prospect on their out-of-conference schedule is Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, which is also something you can tell your friends to sound really smart, especially if Wyoming wins.
And that's that. Up next, the conference of the land Americans love to argue about whether or is the Midwest, the Big 12!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: ACC

Let's start off our review with the Atlantic Coast Conference. An explanation of the rating system can be found here. FCS teams are indicated by italics. "N-" prefixes indicate neutral site games.
  1. Florida State (2 legit, 1 FCS): N-Alabama, Louisiana-Monroe, Delaware State, @Florida. The ACC will get off to a crackin' start on Labor Day weekend, and it's not a coincidence the two teams that will play in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium are at the top of this list. (Which reminds me: is there a funny name out there for the new Dome? In Dallas there's Jerry Jones's Intergalactic Space Palace, so what would the Atlanta equivalent be? Arthur Blank's Pan-Universal Fun Dome? I'm open to suggestions.) Of course, don't let the realization that it's entirely possibly FSU and Bama will meet again, probable even, in the college football playoff. Especially not that they could meet in the very same stadium again.
  2. Georgia Tech (1.75, 1): N-Tennessee, Jacksonville State, @Central Florida, Georgia. Us Tech-types have been aching for years to get into the party that takes place every Labor Day weekend a mile from campus, so the the chance to make it four straight against the SEC East is just gravy. Meanwhile, I'm as against it as anyone else, but I will at least note that when you see major conference teams play games at Group of Five stadiums it's usually as part of a multi-game deal or the major conference team is saving money. Hopefully I remember this when the return game comes around in 2020.
  3. Pittsburgh (1, 1): Youngstown State, @Pennsylvania State, Oklahoma State, Rice. This is an OOC schedule that checks all the boxes. 1) Does it involve a non-mandatory rivalry? Check. 2) Does it feature a geographically distant major-conference foe? Check.
  4. Clemson (1, 1): Kent State, Auburn, Citadel, @South Carolina. Clemson's fate this season has vastly more to do with their in-conference games with Florida State and Louisville, but nonetheless the return game of this Tigers-Tigers series is rife with implication, provided Auburn is any good. Also, it gives us something to look forward to in the desert that usually is Week 2.
  5. Boston College (1, 0): @Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Central Michigan, @Connecticut. Okay, one road game against a G5 opponent I can understand, but how do you manage to get two on the schedule at once? Nonetheless, the Golden Eagles get credit for ducking a FCS opponent this year, depending on how you feel about UConn. (Which for most, I suspect, is nothing.)
  6. Syracuse (1, 1): Central Connecticut State, Middle Tennessee State, Central Michigan, @Louisiana State. So this year I switched the spreadsheet to a system that allowed the "legit" points to be grabbed from another sheet and automatically calculated. There were some occasional mistakes, but this is a good example of one I didn't catch until I was putting the rankings together. "Yeah, let's see, FCS, MTSU, Central Mich... oh right, LSU, yeah that should probably rate higher than 13th."
  7. North Carolina State (1, 1): N-South Carolina, Marshall, Furman, @Notre Dame. It's hard to know what to do with Notre Dame on an ACC team's schedule these days, since it's not really an organic matchup. So that's how you get a game at LSU counting better than a game at Notre Dame and a neutral site game against South Carolina.
  8. Miami (1, 1): Bethune-Cookman, @Arkansas State, Toledo, Notre Dame. Miami continues its tour of random G5 campuses, this team flying to... whereever you fly to get to Jonesboro, Arkansas. Memphis, I guess? Anyway, I decided to stay consistent with my earlier assessment of the Notre Dame thing.
  9. North Carolina (1, 1): California, @Old Dominion, Notre Dame, Western Carolina. Okay, seriously, what is up ACC teams? Did everyone get together at Media Days a few years ago and decide "yes, let's schedule all of our road games against non-major opponents in the same season"? That's four out of nine so far!
  10. Wake Forest (1, 1): Presbyterian, Utah State, @Appalachian State, @Notre Dame. 5 out of 10!
  11. Duke (0.5, 1): North Carolina Central, Northwestern, Baylor, @Army. 6 out of 11!
  12. Virginia (0.5, 1): William & Mary, Indiana, Connecticut, @Boise State. 7 out of 12!
  13. Virginia Tech (0.5, 1): N-West Virginia, Delaware, @East Carolina, Old Dominion. 8 out of 13!
  14. Louisville (0, 1): N-Purdue, Kent State, Murray State, @Kentucky. Nine out of... oh, right, Kentucky's in the SEC.
Click below to see my closing thoughts.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Rating the 2017 Non-Conference Slate: Prologue

And we're back!

Let's start with the usual explanation. Since 2008, each summer, my brother and I surveil all of the Power 5 teams and selected Group of 5 teams and assign each a "legit" rating. This rating is on a scale of 0 to 1 in increments of .25. The rating system is extremely subjective: a third party reading would probably reveal our biases. However, we don't declare the work done until we assign a rating for 72 different teams and agree on it. An explanation of the ratings:
  • 0: these are generally teams that aren't and haven't been very historically good, or otherwise do not generate any excitement when you see them on your non-conference schedule. Examples include Iowa State and Rutgers. This year 24 of the rated teams earned zeroes. It's worth noting we didn't use this rating until 2012. Last year 19 teams were rated at this level.
  • 0.25: these are teams that might generate some excitement if you're college football geek, or we think they may be interesting this year. Examples this year include Washington State and Minnesota. We rated 10 teams at 0.25 this year, down from 11 last year.
  • 0.5: This is the passing lane of ratings, featuring either teams on an upswing (like Pittsburgh and Utah) or teams on a downswing (like Mississippi and Michigan State). Boise State also appears here, as our highest rated Group of 5 team. 10 teams were also rated at this level, down from 14 last year.
  • 0.75: this is usually the domain of power conference teams that have stagnated that are still interesting, or teams that we'd probably like to see play but feel like would be underrated by the community at large. Teams of this stripe include Texas A&M and Virginia Tech. Full disclosure: this is also where we put Georgia Tech, because as noted above these ratings are subjective. We also rated 10 teams at 0.75 this year, up from 7 last year.
  • 1: These are the blue-bloods impervious to changes, or teams that have been really good to national title contenders over the past 10 years or so. Essentially, this is Notre Dame: it doesn't matter if they went 4-8 last year, they're still a 1 because they're Notre freakin' Dame. There were 18 of them this year, down from 21 last year.
As usual, we list all the teams that earned a 1 this year: Alabama, Auburn, California-Los Angeles, Clemson, Florida, Florida State,  Georgia, Louisiana State, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Southern California, Stanford, and Texas. The teams in bold have been 1's every year we've done the rankings. Yes, even Notre Dame got pipped from the 1's one time, pulling a 0.75 in 2012, but I don't think what I wrote above is a contradiction.

Other than Notre Dame, the other non-Power 5 teams to earn ratings this year were Boise State (0.5) and Houston (0.25). The average overall rating was 0.4583.

With that, let's close with the rating of each conference:
  1. Southeastern: 0.536
  2. Pac-12: 0.521
  3. Atlantic Coast: 0.482
  4. Big 12: 0.472
  5. Big Ten: 0.429
I guess we don't go in for gray skies and the Iowas of the world. At any rate, the first up will be the home of the defending national champions and the banes of the SEC East: the ACC.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

2018 World Cup Update: I Ran (So Far Away)

Okay folks, it's time to run down the results and implications from the June international window. The September window is fast approaching, so we'll break down things there while we're at it.

First, let's welcome Iran to the stage for their second straight appearance. Next, let's say adios to the following countries: Iraq, Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Luxenbourg, San Marino, Malta, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Finland, and Kosovo.

As usual, let's go in alphabetical order. Asia, you're up!

AFC
The Asian Football Confederation is currently contesting its third round of qualification. There's two groups of six teams. In Group A, Iran qualified directly for the World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Elsewhere, China drew Syria and South Korea suffered an upset with a loss to Qatar in Doha. Nonetheless, with two matches to go, the group seems to be setting up for a do-or-die match in Tashkent for Uzbekistan and South Korea on September 5th. Right now, the Koreans are a point ahead in the standings, but a lot can change. For the penultimate match, Korea plays Iran at home, a game that could go any way. The Koreans should well in at home, and some of it will depend on who Iran brings on the road, since they've already qualified. Uzbekistan has to go on the road, but they get to play China, a decidedly easier opponent. Again, I expect the scenarios going into the at Tashkent to be very interesting, and I may update if the situation warrants. The outcomes there are either direct qualification to the World Cup or a play-off against the third-place team in Group B.

So speaking of Group B, things are still tight. Japan leads the group with 17 points, but Saudi Arabia and Australia are just behind with 16. (The UAE is 6 points behind the Socceroos.) Australia won a crucial home game 3-2 against the Saudis, but Japan wound up drawing Iraq 1-1 on the road. Japan and Australia will play in Japan on August 31st, with Saudia Arabia going on the road to the UAE. Australia gets Thailand at home to close things out, while Saudi Arabia will play Japan. So... pretty much anything can happen.

CAF
The Confederation of African Football will finally resume qualification after being on hold since November 2016. There's five groups of four, with the group winner advancing directly to the World Cup. With only two matches played so far and four to go, it's hard to really make any predictions at this point, but there'll be a lot more to say after the next week of qualifying.

CONCACAF
The (clears throat) Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football is contesting its fifth and final round of World Cup qualification. The top three teams of six qualify directly to the World Cup, while the fourth place team will have face a team from the AFC in a two-legged playoff in November. Let's go in order.

Suffice it say, Mexico (in qualification, at least) has shrugged off whatever demons haunted them from the qualifying disaster of four years ago. Mexico is undefeated so far and faces only one difficult road game, at Costa Rica on September 5th. On the 1st, they get Panama at home, which could be challenging, but they should win. Currently three points ahead of Costa Rica at 14, they should wind up topping the group.

Costa Rica has 11 points, three behind Mexico and three ahead of the US. That could change in a hurry, though. The Costa Ricans go on the road to Harrison, New Jersey on September 1st and then get Mexico at home four days later. A result from either game would be absolutely fantastic for Los Ticos. Back in June, they drew Panama at home, but did get 3 points from a 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago.

The US did exactly what they needed to do back in June. Christian "The Prince" Pulisic did his thing:

Then just three short days later, Micheal Bradley did his best Carli Lloyd impersonation:
Look, your voice would crack too if you saw an American chip the keeper from 40 yards out at the Azteca.

Anyway, the Americans have a pair of tough but winnable games in September. First off, they face a bunch of Costa Ricans who probably haven't forgotten about the SnowClassico from four years ago. Of course, the Americans hopefully haven't forgotten about the 4-0 beatdown last November that was the final straw for Jurgen Klinsmann. The US should be favorites at home, though. They will then go on the road to face Honduras, which is always tough but the Hondurans have continued the slide they've been on since the 2014 World Cup.

Next up is Panama, who at seven points are a point behind the US. Panama figures to split the upcoming games, with a visit to the Azteca and a home game against Trinidad and Tobago. Their most crucial qualifiers appear to be in October, but for now they look pretty good to finish fourth and advance to the playoff.

Minding the bottom are Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, with 5 and 3 points, respectively. Both are in trouble. If Honduras can't win at Trinidad and Tobago, then they will badly need a result against the US, though that game is at home. For T&T, things look pretty bleak. They're not out, but they still have to play Costa Rica and Mexico on the road. The rest of the field figures to leave these two behind entering October.

CONMEBOL
Next up is the Confederation of South American Football. The format is as elegant as it is simple: nine teams play home-and-home matches. The top four at the end go to the World Cup, while the fifth place team goes to an international playoff against a team from Oceania in November.

Qualification resumes August 31st with four matchdays remaining. Brazil ran away in the competition and has already qualified. Meanwhile, the second through eight placed teams are all within six points of each other. In order, they are Colombia (24), Uruguay and Chile (23), Argentina (22), Ecuador (20), and then Peru and Paraguay (18). With so many teams and four matchdays remaining, it's hard to say anything definitive at this point. Let's check back in a about a month or so.

OFC
The Oceania Football Confederation recently whittled down its teams to just two: New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. They'll play home-and-home on September 1st and 5th, with the winner moving on to the international playoff against a South American team. The Kiwis would have to be, and are, heavy favorites.

UEFA
The Union of European Football Associations divides its 54 members into nine groups of six each, whereupon they play a double-round robin. The group winners advance automatically to the World Cup and the eight best runners-up are drawn into pairs and play-off for the last four spots. They've got four matches left in each group, so we'll do a quick overview of each because there's still a lot of wiggle room, as it were.

Group A
Sweden is tied with France with on 13 points, with the Swedes currently ahead on goal differential. Also helpful was a 2-1 victory over France at home back in June. In third and fourth are the Netherlands and Bulgaria, with the Orange in serious danger of not even making the playoff. But hey, they got their groove a little bit by pasting Luxembourg 5-0, but, still, they really need to get a result in France at the end of this month.

Group B
Switzerland currently sit 3 points ahead of Portugal, both of whom have pretty much pulled away from the rest of the pack. Go ahead and check back in on this group for the last day of the first round, when Portugal and Switzerland play each other in Lisbon.

Group C
This could get weird. So Germany, as you might expect, are leading the group with 18 points. Northern Ireland are in second, with 13 points. The problem for the Northern Irish is, well, the first tiebreaker: Germany has an insane +26 goal differential, while Northern Ireland's is "only" +9. Germany has had the benefit of playing San Marino twice already (so a combined +15 margin right there), but also the Germans' narrowest result so far was a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the Irish only beat San Marino 4-0, so... I don't know if they're going to go out and try to win 17-0 or not, but if they don't, they'll be in real trouble: if Germany gets 4 points out of its next matches against the Czech Republic and Norway, which it should, they'll clinch the group. The Northern Irish are four points ahead of the Czechs, though, so they're at least in good shape for the playoff.

Group D
Who wants to win Group D? Serbia and Ireland are tied at 12 points, followed by Wales and Austria on 8 points each. The results from June made this pretty much clear as mud, as every team in the group drew the other. Looking at the September matches, it doesn't look like it'll get any better, so let's punt this one to the new edition of this column.

Group E
Poland isn't, well, running away with this group, but they have a six point lead over Montenegro and Denmark. Fortunately for the Danes, they'll get a shot at home against Poland on September 1st. Meanwhile, Montenegro will have a chance to make up some ground. They have to go on the road to Kazakhstan, but they should still win, and then they get Romania at home. So still plenty of play here.

Group F
England are topping the group currently, but not by much: with 14 points, they're two ahead of Slovakia, three ahead of Slovenia, and six ahead of Scotland. You might look at this and think "they should be ahead more, I mean, they just drew at Scotland?" Yeah, well, it could have been worse:
Again, though, we don't stand to gain a lot of clarity here in September. The group is still tightly packed, and England's road game is at Malta, which despite their best efforts they'll probably win. Slovakia and Slovenia are each probably expecting to get somewhere between two and four points, and Scotland may walk away with six. It's still anyone's group.

Group G
Not so much anyone's group: Group G. Spain and Italy both have 16 points, with Spain ahead on goal differential. Both are 7 points ahead of Israel and Albania. The fun part is that Spain and Italy will desperately not want to finish in second, and they'll play in Madrid on September 2nd.

Group H
Group H features a Belgian side coming into its own and on 16 points, followed by Greece with 12 and Bosnia and Herzgovina with 11. A match between Greece and Bosnia that would've provided some much needed clarity ended with a 0-0 draw back in June, so we'll have to see how the remaining matches shake out. Belgium will have a chance to clinch by pounding Gibraltar into the dirt and then getting a crack at the Greeks on the road. Bosnia, meanwhile, will play Cyprus and Gibraltar, so the Greeks might get left behind going into October.

Group I
Iceland beat Croatia back in June, but they're still behind due to goal differential, and they probably won't have a chance to make up for it in September. They're going on the road to eliminated, but game, Finland and then they have a home match against Ukraine. Turkey and Ukraine sit just two points behind the group leaders, so it's still anyone's game, and I think it'll still be tight going into October.

And that's finally it! I think things are setting up well for an extremely fun last round of qualifying in most confederations. It's a shame we'll lose all this in a bloated 48-team World Cup, but at least that isn't until 2026. Until then, this column will return in a month in change. Meanwhile, I know there's at least one person out there waiting for the college football preview. Fret not! I have the ratings in hand, I just need to find time to write the darn thing before Week 0.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

2018 World Cup Update: The Field Narrows a Bit

Editor's note: I started writing this post a while back after the March qualifiers, but unfortunately I have been so busy with work and the few hours I've gotten outside of work lately that I've neglected the site. Since we're so close to the June qualifiers, I decided to finish the March post and then combine it with the preview for the upcoming qualifiers. So this post will be divided in two. Here's the review:

Just a quick update. Let's examine the action from March's set of qualifiers, leaving the June games for another post.

First, a quick farewell to the five teams that got eliminated on March 28th:
  • Thailand, which lost 3-0 at home to Saudi Arabia and currently are sitting on a single point from a shocking draw with Australia last November.
  • Bolivia got eliminated despite a 2-0 win at home over a Messi-less Argentina. How? It goes down to the matches involved. If Bolivia wins the rest of their matches, they could have 22 points, which would draw Argentina, who are currently in fifth place. It's not that simple, though. Argentina has 22 points currently and Ecuador has 20. Since Argentina and Ecuador still have one match to play, either Ecuador gets 23 points with a win, Argentina gets 25 points with a win, or Argentina gets 23 points with a draw. 
  • Venezuela's elimination, however, is much more straightforward. They lost 3-1 to Chile and simply cannot make up the remaining ground from 6 points with four matchdays remaining. Thus La Vinotinto will remain the only CONMEBOL team to have never qualified for the World Cup.
  • Down in the OFC, New Zealand swept their two matches with Fiji to get to 10 points, knocking both Fiji and New Caledonia out.
Meanwhile, we have our first team to qualify for Russia. Appropriately, they're also the only team to have played in every World Cup. That's right, it's Brazil! Last time around it was Japan during the June qualifiers. I'd say that's a job well done, especially considering the dogfight in the places below them.

Let's do a quick survey, as per usual. As noted, I'll do a preview before the June qualifiers, so no scenarios here.

AFC
This is going to sound kind of boring, but well, everything went pretty much according to plan. In Group A, everyone held serve at home except for Qatar, where a 1-0 loss to Iran helped hasten their elimination. China did score an upset of South Korea for their first win in this round of qualifying, but game was on the road. Things like that happen sometimes. (Also, China is improving. South Korea only won 3-2 at home thanks to an own goal.)

In Group B, Japan continued to take care of business. Australia slipped a little bit with a 1-1 draw to Iraq in Tehran (Iraq still plays their home games outside of the country) which still leaves the Socceroos 3 points behind... Saudi Arabia? Yep, the Saudis got to play Thailand (a 3-0 win in Bangkok) and got Iraq at home, getting themselves 6 points in the process.

CONCACAF
On March 24th, I ventured down to San Jose with some buddies wherein we watched the US pound a suddenly hapless Honduras 6-0. Or maybe they weren't so hapless, because they managed to salvage a 1-1 draw four days in San Pedro Sula? 6 goals is still a lot of goals, though... and it did wonders for the US's goal differential, which has been awful after that 4-0 Costa Rica loss.

Panama managed to lose on the road at Trinidad and Tobago, and unfortunately their resolve was stiffened once they got back home to play the US, where they were able to hang on to a 1-1 draw. Mexico took care of business with a 2-0 win at the Azetca over Costra Rica and they managed to get a goal in Port of Spain to snag the 3 points.

The picture is a little more clear for the US now, as the four points allows us to get into fourth place. Panama is in third with, then seven for Costa Rica, and ten for Mexico.

CONMEBOL
As noted above, Brazil clinched qualification by continuing their run of wonderful form with a 4-1 win over Uruguay and a 3-0 win over Paraguay. Nice.

Not so nice are Argentina's continuing struggles. They were able to hold onto a 15th minute penalty conversion by Messi at home over Chile, but they absolutely fell on their faces five days later with a 2-0 loss to Bolivia. The result is that the Albicelestes are sitting in fifth, which is probably still good enough, but not where to you expect them to be. However, they might be able to take advantage of Uruguay's struggles. In addition to the loss to Brazil, they also lost 2-1 on the road to Peru.

Only four matchdays remain in South America, and they'll take the summer (well, their winter) off and result qualification at the end of August. The teams that haven't already qualified (Brazil) or been eliminated (Bolivia and Venezuela) are all within six points of each other in the table. My prediction? Drama a-plenty.

OFC
New Zealand beat Fiji twice to clinch advancement to the finals of the OFC process. Tahiti split their series with Papua New Guinea, which leaves them in a precarious spot that I'll talk in the preview post.

UEFA
So there's nine groups of six teams each to try and cover here, so I'll try to hit the high notes. (Fortunately, each team only played one game.)
  • Group A: France and Sweden are the current group leaders, and maintained their form by beating Luxembourg and Belarus, respectively. The Dutch continue to struggle, losing 2-0 to Bulgaria and in serious danger of missing their first World Cup since 2002.
  • Group B: Switzerland is currently topping the group, and held serve at home by beating Latvia 1-0. Portugal is just 3 points behind, waiting to pounce.
  • Group C: Germany is running away with the group, 5 points ahead of Northern Ireland. The question is who is going to get second, and the answer is probably going to be either Northern Ireland or the Czech Republic.
  • Group D: This group is extremely tight. Serbia is currently ahead of Ireland on goal differential, and then four points behind them are Wales and Austria. It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out in June.
  • Group E: Poland has six points on the rest of the group and are thus far undefeated. I don't think that will change anytime soon.
  • Group F: England is four points ahead of Slovakia and five points ahead of Slovenia. That's a good lead for the Brits and they won't have to face either of those two on the road over the course of their remaining matches.
  • Group G: This group continues to be all about Spain and Italy. Both hae 13 points, but the Spanish have a commanding +17 goal differential to Italy's +9.
  • Group H: The Belgians hae a +20 goal differential, but unfortunately for them it's the points that matter, and they're only two ahead of Greece and three ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Really not helping was in their March home game against Greece, they wound up drawing 1-1.
  • Group I: Iceland is seeking to continue the feel good story of Euro 2016, and picked up a crucial 2-1 road win over Kosovo (in Albania). The team they're chasing is currently undefeated Croatia.
Having set the scene, let's proceed directly to our June preview.
AFC
Group A

  • Iran will qualify for the 2018 World Cup if they defeat Uzbekistan.
  • Qatar will be eliminated if they lose to or draw South Korea.
  • China will be eliminated if they lose to Syria.
  • China will be eliminated if they draw Syria and Uzbekistan draws or defeats Iran.
Group B
  • Iraq will be eliminated if they lose to or draw Japan.
  • United Arab Emirates will be eliminated if they lose to Thailand and Australia defeats Saudi Arabia.
  • Elsewhere, Australia and will play a crucial match with Saudi Arabia at home to try to get into a tie for one of the top two qualifying spots.
CONCACAF
No one can get eliminated or qualify yet, but there's still plenty of pressure. On June 8th, the US absolutely has to pick up three critical points against Trinidad and Tobago. Costa Rica will try to hold serve against Panama, and Mexico gets Honduras at home. Due to Mexico's trip to Russia for the Confederations Cup, they will play the US on June 11th, where the US will attempt to do something they've only done a couple of times: get a point. Two days later, Panama gets a chance to pick up some points at home against Honduras, while Costa Rica should definitely get some points against T&T.

OFC
Group A: New Zealand has already clinched advancement to the final round.
Group B:
  • Tahiti will clinch advancement if Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands draw both their matches.
  • Either Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands will advance if they win both matches, or if one match is drawn and the other is won.
  • I'm not going to get into all the goal difference scenarios, just know that Papua New Guinea is at -1 and the Solomon Islands are at -2. This will be a lot easier to figure after the first game.
UEFA
I'm not going to do elimination scenarios for Europe because there are too many right now, but let's take a quick look at what to watch for in June.
  • Group A: France is up three points on Sweden and plays in Sweden next. To stay at all relevant, the Dutch really need to pound Luxembourg. 
  • Group B: Group leaders Switzerland and Portugal both go on the road to play the Faroe Islands and Latvia, respectively. Expect both to win.
  • Group C: Germany will play San Marino, which will be a thing. More interestingly, Northern Ireland goes on the road to Azerbaijan, who might prove a bit frisky. Norway desperately needs a win at home, but they'll need to get it from the Czech Republic.
  • Group D: Remember the bit earlier about how the top two and then the next two teams are tied (on points) in this group? Well, conveniently the two last place teams play each other, so bring on first place Serbia hosting third place Wales and second place Ireland hosting fourth place Austria. These should be good.
  • Group E: Poland aims to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the group while Montenegro and Denmark will attempt to sort things out, but not against each toher.
  • Group F: Scotland host England and attempt to get payback for a 3-0 loss last year, but otherwise Slovenia and Slovakia should probably win.
  • Group G: Spain and Italy figure to remain tied on points after playing Macedonia and Liechtenstein, respectively.
  • Group H: Bosnia plays Greece at home, while Belgium figures to reap the benefits if they draw, as they have a plum road trip to go get some points at Estonia.
  • Group I: Iceland will attempt to draw even with Croatia at home and revenge an earlier 2-0 loss.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bowl Games 2016: Epilogue

Once again, I need to get this out of the way before moving to our World Cup qualifying content and a special project I've been working on for a while.

I wound up going 22-19, a solid 53.6%. That puts me at 320-258 since 1999, or 55.36% overall. I'm still slightly better than a coin flip, woo!

Again, we won't quite be on our summer hiatus yet. See you soon!

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Bowl Games 2016: Final

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, January 9th
8:30: Clemson vs. Alabama (College Football Playoff Championship Game @ Tampa, FL; ESPN): I looked over the post I made for this matchup last year and, well, most of it still applies. So let's break this down by unit.
The place to start is the unit that's been in the news for most of the past week: the Alabama offense. Coordinated by Lane Kiffin for most of the past three years, culminating with this season's relatively wide-open offense headed up by a mobile freshman quarterback. This is not the Alabama blueprint we've come to be familiar with. However, Alabama has yet to face a defensive line the quality of Clemson's, except maybe for LSU. The final score in that game? 10-0. There's also the reason they've been in the news: Lane Kiffin by all accounts wanted to continue to coach Alabama in the playoffs before heading off to his new gig, but was forced out. Subsequently, the Tide promoted one of their video room guys, former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, to offensive coordinator. Since he wasn't a coach, he wasn't on the sidelines on gamedays and (was supposed to have) had little contact with the players at all. It's easy to speculate on the impact this will have, but that's all I'd be doing. So I'll just stick to figuring it'll make some difference either way.
The Clemson offense, meanwhile, returned Deshaun Watson and virtually all their skill players from last year's team. While at times lacking focus this season, they responded emphatically when it mattered, as Ohio State found out last week. Again, the chess match in this game is the Clemson offense versus the Alabama defense.
The Tide defense is practically legendary at this point. There simply isn't a better defense in college football. But if there's anyone that's not scared of these guys, it's Clemson. They put up 40 last year and nearly won the game. Will Saban and go be prepared to counter them this year? How will they respond to things Clemson hasn't done before? We saw how that went for Ohio State last week.
The Clemson defense isn't as well know, but they're almost as good, especially on the defense line. They lived in the Ohio State backfield most of last week. I figured the Buckeyes had a giid chance in that game because they'd have the athletes to do what most ACC offensive lines couldn't, which is block them. I was dead wrong. Ohio State looked confused and disoriented most of the night along the line, which made the Buckeye offense dead in the water. The question is, can I talk myself into thinking the Alabama offensive line can block them? I'm not sure.
For all the hand-wringing about the playoffs going into this game, it definitely feels like we got the best two teams in one place. Few other teams this season were as dominant on both sides of the ball. And from watching the games last week and thinking about it for the past week, I have talked myself into a slight Clemson upset. They've got plenty of experience, and they're going to be motivated to take care of business this year.
Previous meetings: Obviously, the most recent meeting between these two was in last year's game, which Alabama won 45-40. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that still means they haven't beaten Alabama since October 25, 1905 and they're 3-13 against the Tide all time.
Last bowl game: Technically, their previous round matchups against Ohio State and Washington, respectively. See that post for the details.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit

Monday, January 02, 2017

Bowl Games 2016: Happy New Year!

As usual, all times Eastern and all predictions wrong.

Monday, January 2nd
1:00:
  • Iowa vs. Florida (Outback Bowl @ Tampa, FL; ABC): This one o'clock timeslot doesn't look terribly enticing, if I'm being honest. First, we have two offensively challenged teams, though one seems to act as though it has slightly shackles than the other. Somehow, that team is Iowa. But it's about picking your poison, and the poison for this game is that there will probably be a lot of head-scratching, over-conservative playcalling.
    Previous meetings: Three, and mostly in bowls of recent vintage. The first was a 14-6 Florida win in the 1983 Gator Bowl. The second was a 37-17 win in the 2003-04 Outback Bowl. The third was in the 2005-06 Outback Bowl, a 31-24 Florida win.
    Last bowl game: This is Iowa's fourth straight bowl, going back to the 2013-14 Outback Bowl, where they lost to LSU 21-14. Last season they got pasted 45-16 by Stanford in the Rose Bowl. As for the Gators, this will be their third straight post-season appearance. They defeated East Carolina 28-20 in the 2013-14 Birmingham Bowl, and last season they lost 41-7 to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl.
    Announcers: Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham
  • Wisconsin vs. Western Michigan (Cotton Bowl @ Arlington, TX; ESPN): Whereas the problem with this game is that, well, if it's anywhere close I'll be absolutely stunned. Yes, Western Michigan is 2-0 against the Big Ten, but that was against an undersized Northwestern and an awful Illinois team. Wisconsin is one of the biggest teams around, and their defense is elite. If the Badgers treat this game seriously (potentially a big if), I don't think it'll be close.
    Previous meetings: As one might guess, this Big Ten vs. MAC matchup has been played a few times, but not many more, with meetings in 1963, 1981, 1988, and 2000. Wisconsin has won all of them, except for a 24-14 win for Broncos in 1988. Otherwise, it's been all Badgers
    Last bowl game: This is Wisconsin's 15th straight bowl appearance, tied with Boise State for the sixth longest streak. Correspondingly, you need to go back to a 31-28 win over Colorado in the 2002 Alamo Bowl to find the beginning of this run. They edged Southern Cal 23-21 in last season's Holiday Bowl. For the Broncos, this is their third straight appearance. They lost 38-24 to Air Force in the 2014 Potato Bowl and beat Middle Tennessee State 45-31 in last season's Bahamas Bowl.
    Announcers: Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard
5:00: Pennsylvania State vs. Southern California (Rose Bowl @ Pasadena, CA; ESPN): Don't look, but it's entirely possible the best team in the second half of the season was the University of Southern California Trojans. They rolled off eight wins to close the season, including a close win over a resurgent Colorado and a score-makes-it-look-closer-than-it-was 26-13 win over Washington in Seattle. Even if you're as skeptical of "momentum" as I am, it's hard to deny this team is hot. Yet, if we apply the same metrics to Penn State, we see they won nine in a row to close the season, including wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin. The main difference would seem to the manner in which these teams earned their best wins, but that's ultimately beside the point. Both these teams are young and have all the reasons in the world to go into this game and make a statement, and I expect a contest that's the opposite of those at the 1:00 slot. I have USC, but not by much.
Previous meetings: Nine! The first was all the back in the 1922-23 Rose Bowl, which Southern Cal won 14-3. Fast forward to the 1981-82 season for their next meeting, a 26-10 Penn State win in the Fiesta Bowl. A regular season series was played six times from 1990-2000, and then their last meeting was in the 2008-09 Rose Bowl, a 38-24 USC win. The Trojans hold a narrow 5-4 series lead.
Last bowl game: This is Penn State's third straight bowl game. They beat Boston College 31-30 in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl and lost to Georgia in last season's Taxslayer Bowl. USC, meanwhile, probably doesn't like to reflect much on the 2012 Sun Bowl, what with the 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech and all. Nonetheless, that was the start of their current five game bowl streak, with the most recent entry being a 23-21 loss to Wisconsin in last season's Holiday Bowl.
Announcers: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit

8:30: Auburn vs. Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl @ New Orleans, LA; ESPN): Oklahoma is here because the Sooners won 10 games and had losses to Houston and Ohio State, which are both legitimate losses. They then Boomer Soonered their way through the Big 12, emerging unscathed with an undisputed conference title. Auburn is here because the Sugar Bowl is designated for the highest ranked available SEC team, and, well, every SEC team other than Alabama had at least four losses. Auburn's four losses wound up being the most respectable compared to Tennessee and Florida, so here they are. Suffice it to say, I have Oklahoma all the way here.
Previous meetings: Just one, and in this 1971-72 edition of this game. The Sooners won 40-22.
Last bowl game: This is Auburn's fourth straight postseason game, going back to the 2013-14 BCS Championship Game, where they lost 34-31 to Florida State. Last season they pasted Memphis 31-10 in the Birmingham Bowl. The Sooners own the country's fourth longest streak of postseason appearances, with this being their 18th consecutive one. Their streak began with the 1999 Independence Bowl, which they lost to Ole Miss 27-25. Last season, they were defeated 37-17 by Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Announcers: Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer