2015-12-03

FBS - Week 14 Preview

Championship weekend is coming.
Almost every conference does field a championship game now (BIG12 and the Sun Belt are the only ones with such a game lacking the needed 12+ members to be allowed to field one) and for me this is the best week of the season, except some bowls.
The thing is, you can of cause determine a champion like the BIG12 is doing it, playing round robin and the top team is the winner. But that’s boring, at least for me.
It’s much more fun to field 1 more game in a do-or-die-scenario.
Not only is this game most of the time the game between 2 very good football teams, it not only leaves room for upsets and surprises, no, it also delivers a clear champion, which sometimes did not happened with 11 or less teams. Shared championships were and are still quite common.
So this weekend it’s do-or-die tie for several teams.
Some matchups this season are nice, some are great, some are a bit boring. But overall, some great games are coming, with great implications. For the 4 conferences of the power 5 conferences it means not only getting the championship trophy, it also means a more or less clear path to a playoff spot. Since there are only 4 spots for 5 conferences it will be interesting, which conference will be left out. Bets are at the moment on the PAC12, but upsets CAN happen and this could change the world dramatically.

The Committee did post their last list before the final rankings next week and it did not change much.
Remember their approach is different, they have an earned value approach while my list a bit later in that blog post is a "most likely to stay alive" approach.

Here is the list:
1 Clemson 12-0
2 Alabama 11-1
3 Oklahoma 11-1
4 Iowa 12-0
5 Michigan State 11-1
6 Ohio State 11-1
7 Stanford 10-2
8 Notre Dame 10-2
9 Florida State 10-2
10 North Carolina 11-1

Notre Dame did drop a few spots and since they do not play any game this weekend, their fate is final. More interesting is Ohio State at #6. Best case for Ohio State would be to see upsets by North Carolina, Florida (which is ranked at #18) and USC (ranked at #20). That would give lots of room at the top and it might happen that Ohio State can sneak into the playoffs. Maybe even an UNC win is not needed.

Highest ranked non-power-5-team is now Houston at #19 playing Temple (ranked #22) this weekend for the AAC-Championship game. The winner will get the new-years-bowl-spot.

Let’s get to my personal list.
I updated the remaining games list, including all remaining games, to get a better picture.

Remember that my approach is, that most likely a 2-loss team will not be ranked higher as the strongest unbeaten and 1-loss teams.
There is from my point of view some kind of exception to that rule, but I did NOT put that team in my list. Stanford has 2 losses and will play for the PAC12 championship this weekend. They are ranked at #7 in the committee list.
A win in the championship game and some upsets in the other championship games might push Stanford high enough for a playoff spot. I doubt it (as I do doubt such a doomsday scenario), but it’s possible.
Last weekend did drop 4 teams out of my list, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Florida.
No team got their 1st loss, so the remaining teams did just boost their win total.
There are 7 teams left in my list and some will lose next week because of the championship matchups.
Best case scenario?
Clemson beats North Carolina, Iowa beat Michigan State, Alabama beats Florida and USC wins against Stanford. That would leave Clemson, Iowa, Alabama and most likely Oklahoma for the playoffs. Probably the Stanford loss is not even needed for that.
Worst case scenario?
North Carolina beats Clemson, Michigan State wins against Iowa, Florida wins against Alabama and Stanford wins against USC. Most likely will Clemson drop behind North Carolina and Iowa behind Michigan State. I’m not sure if Alabama would drop behind Florida, but could happen. Stanford would rise. Who would be in? Oklahoma for sure, Michigan State for sure, but then it gets blurry. I think North Carolina could land a spot, but Florida with 2 losses? Stanford, also with 2 losses? Or more likely Ohio State with 1 loss, or even Iowa, also with 1 loss? That’s why it’s call worst case scenario.

The so far remaining 1-loss or better Power5 teams + Independents after week 13 are:

ACC (2 teams)
Clemson Tigers (12-0) - has to play North Carolina in the ACC Championship game
North Carolina Tar Heels (11-1) - has to play Clemson in the ACC Championship game

dropped out:
none

BIG10 (3 teams)
Iowa Hawkeyes (12-0) - has to play Michigan State in the BIG10 Championship game
Michigan State Spartans (11-1) - has to play Iowa in the BIG10 Championship game
Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1) - season finished

dropped out:
none

BIG12 (1 teams)
Oklahoma Sooners (11-1) - season finished

dropped out:
Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2) lost to Oklahoma
Baylor Bears (9-2) â€"lost to TCU

PAC12 (0 teams)
none

dropped out:
none

SEC (1 teams)
Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) - has to play Florida in the SEC Championship game

dropped out:
Florida Gators (10-2) - lost to Florida State

INDEPENDENTS (0 team)
none

dropped out:
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) - lost to Stanford

Let's have a look at my list of the

TOP8 teams for the playoff spots (sorted by likeliness) (I did drop 2 spots, since this are the remaining candidates)
#1 Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners did win their rivalry game in a big way and are now in a very comfortable spot.
They will be ranked at #3 or #4 and the championship games won’t change their spot not much. The Baylor - Texas game will also not change much, so they can sit out the last week and will very likely be part of the playoffs. Can’t see a scenario where they would drop out, hence #1.

#2 Alabama Crimson Tide
On paper the next game looks like a relaxing games. Seriously.
Florida did good in the SEC East, but I would say, any West team would give Florida a tough game, even most likely a loss. With Alabama being the strongest of all the West teams, this is almost done before kickoff. (and yes, they won against Ole Miss this season, but since then did the team decline)
Next game: Florida, neutral site
This can go either unexpected close or more likely it will become a slaughterhouse, with lots of Gator meat hanging over the goalposts.
An Alabama loss would be a SEC nightmare for the playoffs.
If the Crimson Tide wins, they will get a spot in the top 4, if Florida wins, the SEC might be left out.

#3 Clemson Tigers
For Clemson it’s the most important game of the season coming. The Irish game and the FSU games were just the prologue for this game here.
Next game: North Carolina, neutral site
The winner will be the ACC Champ and will very likely get a spot in the playoffs. In Clemsons case, this is more than true, in case the Tar Heels do win, we might see a different team in the playoffs.

#4 Iowa Hawkeyes
This will be the game it will show how good Iowa is.
Michigan State did battle already 2 of the strongest BIG10 teams and some other tough teams, Iowa did also win against some good teams, but can they win against the Spartans?
Next game: Michigan State, neutral site
One thing is sure, the winner will take a playoff spot. That’s great for the BIG10.

#5 Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans do have a clear path to the playoffs. Win and you are in.
All they need to do is to win against Iowa.
Many do see MSU already as the winner.
Next game: Iowa, neutral site
I’m expecting a big game and the winner will take the title and the spot in the playoffs.

#6 North Carolina Tar Heels
Really at #6?
Not 100% sure, but yes.
If Clemson loses, UNC will rise.
The question is, enough to jump Ohio State who do not play a game this weekend?
I guess yes, that’s why I did put them over Ohio State.
Because UNC would have won against the highest ranked team. The 2 FCS games on their schedule, the South Carolina loss? Probably not enough to void the championship title.
Next game: Clemson, neutral site
This will be a tough game. I don’t think they will win this, but it’s much more open than the SEC game. UNC will need a perfect game.

#7 Ohio State Buckeyes
For the Buckeyes it’s hope and pray weekend.
No game to play, just monitoring the crucial games and if things happen, hoping for a good committee ranking.
I did write my take already above, but the short version is, I think the ACC Champ gets a ticket, I think the BIG10 Camp gets a ticket, I think the BIG12 Champ has already a ticket. So the Buckeyes should hope for 2 things: Florida wins and USC wins.
I don’t think Florida would jump Ohio State, but it might happen that a Stanford win in the PAC12 Championship game gives them the boost to jump the Buckeyes. So to be safe, hope for a USC win.
Honestly, I don’t think this scenario will happen.
There is also a slim chance that a UNC win is NOT enough to get a ticket for the ACC.

#8 Stanford Cardinals
They are the wildcard team.
They need 1st of all to win the PAC12 Championship game. Then they have to hope for some upsets and nice rankings.
It might be enough for them that Florida wins the SEC. They might then jump Ohio State (and the BIG10 championship loser) and might land at #4. Maybe.
Next game: USC, neutral site
The USC game is very important of cause and it’s wide open. USC did lock their interims coach as permanent solution a few days ago and that will give USC a small boost. Stanford can win this game, but don’t be too sure.
Overall I think Stanfords season does have a bowl after that championship game ahead, but it’s not a semi-final.

Dropped out:
Baylor Bears â€" lost to TCU
Florida Gators â€" lost to Florida State
Oklahoma State Cowboys â€" lost to Oklahoma
Notre Dame â€" lost to Stanford

Since all conferences except the Sun Belt are decided or will play the Championship game this weekend, here just a shoot view over the conferences.

AAC
East Division winner Temple will play West Division winner Houston

ACC
Atlantic Division winner Clemson will play Coastal Division winner North Carolina

BIG10
East Division winner Michigan State will play West Division Iowa

BIG 12
Won by Oklahoma

CUSA
East Division winner Western Kentucky will play West Division winner Southern Mississippi

MAC
East Division winner Bowling Green will play West Division winner Northern Illinois

MWC
Mountain Division winner Air Force will play West Division winner San Diego State

PAC12
North Division winner Stanford will play South Division winner USC

SEC
East Division winner Florida will play West Division winner Alabama

SBC
Arkansas State 7-0
Appalachian State 6-1
Georgia Southern 6-1

Arkansas State has already secured a shared title, but a win over Texas State would give them the conference alone.
Appalachian State plays South Alabama and Georgia Southern plays Georgia State. Both teams do need wins and have to hope for an Arkansas State loss to get a share of the conference title.

The bowl worthy teams did increase over last weekend, but not enough to fill all 80 available spots.
There are only 3 teams left which could get a 6th win and there are 5 spots still available.
The 3 possible teams are

From the BIG12 Kansas State (5-6) playing West Virginia at home.
And from the Sun Belt Georgia State (5-6) playing Georgia Southern on the road and South Alabama (5-6) playing Appalachian State at home.

It looks like the remaining spots after the weekend will be filled by 5-7 teams based on their APR (Academic Progress Rate). The best teams in that category among the 5-7 teams are:
Nebraska (985)
Missouri and Kansas State (976)
Minnesota and San Jose State (975)
Illinois and Rice (973)
The Missouri Tigers already stated that they would decline a bowl invitation, they will concentrate on HC Gary Pinkels successor search.
So maximum of 5-7 teams in bowl would be 5, minimum would be 2, if the 3 remaining 5-6 teams would win out next weekend.
Kansas State is in a good position, because they could get a bowl spot anyway, being the 2nd best team on the APR list and having still a game to play.
Personally, I hope some of the bowl will fold after the season, because watching losing teams in a pitty bowl is no fun. I remember times where playing a bowl game was a honour. Now it seems like you just need to be not THAT bad to get a bowl game.

Now let's have a look at the BLOCK OF GRANITE TOP GAMES FOR WEEK 14

Fri. Dec. 4 - 8:00 pm ET
MAC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois
This is a FRIDAY GAME, so don’t miss it.
Northern Illinois got lucky. They were almost out of contention for the division title, they lost to Ohio last gameday, but an upset of Toledo by Western Michigan did create a 4 team tie-breaker inside the division, which NIU did win out.
Now they will face the OTHER division champ, which did secure his spot in the game weeks ago. But also the Falcons are not perfect inside the MAC, they lost at home against Toledo 2 weeks ago.
Never the less, Bowling Green is clearly the favourite in this game.
Vegas gives them a 12 point favourite role and that’s fair I think.
Both teams did not meet during the season, so it will be interesting.
MAC games can get very exciting, because even big time favourite can lose any day.
I give Bowling Green my pick, because they did play really good this season, while NIU did play sloppy from time to time. I expect a blowout, but maybe NIU can find their defense spirit in the locker room and make this a close one.
Anyway, Falcons win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 12:00 pm ET
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Southern Mississippi vs. Western Kentucky
I like the matchup.
Both teams did dominate their division and are therefore the right teams to play for the conference title.
Western Kentucky was perfect in the CUSA, Southern Miss did drop 1 game during the season, against Marshall on the road.
WKU did beat Marshall by big time last weekend, so it’s no wonder the Hilltoppers are 7.5 points favourites in Vegas.
The Golden Eagles will need either an explosive offense of a much better playing defense to stop that monster out of Kentucky.
I’m not saying they have no chance at all, but for me it looks like an almost perfect team meets a good team here, the perfect team being WKU and Southern Miss being ‘only’ a good one.
They had a very good turnaround compared to last season 3-9 record. I did put them in the mid field during my preview and they outplayed that by far.
WKU on the other hand I had at 2nd place inside their division, because of their brutal schedule. I said they need to win all games to get to the title game and they did.
Will such a team lose against Southern Miss?
Could happen, but I doubt it.
My expectations are they will win by a bigger margin than the Vegas line.
Hilltoppers win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 12:00 pm ET
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#22 Temple vs. #19 Houston
Here is more at stake than the trophy. The winner will get an invitation to a very well paid bowl game, the loser will very likely get an invitation worth a 5th or a 10th of that value.
Will this be crucial for the players?
I don’t think so.
I think they will play for the trophy at 1st, knowing that there is more on the horizon.
In my book, this is Houstons game to lose.
Temple did have some losses during the season, against good teams, but Houston had only 1 loss, against a good team.
It’s now clear that Houstons HC will stay at the school, which should give them a boost, Temples HC was so far not part of any coaching changes discussion.
Vegas gives Houston 1 score as favourite line and we might see the game coming down to a 2-minute-drill for the win.
The Cougars did so far playing so good, that I expect them to win this game in style.
The Owls will need a BIG game to take this over and I don’t think it’s in them.
Not under this conditions.
So my pick is on Houston.
Cougars win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 4:00 pm ET
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#18 Florida vs. #2 Alabama
The already mentioned relaxing game for Alabama.
Vegas does think the same, that’s why Florida is a 17.5 point underdog. That’s a lot.
Officially are the Crimson Tide facing, according their own statement, ‘the toughest defense’ of the season. I’m sure they are not really impressed with doors closed.
The Gators have almost lost to Florida Atlantic 2 weeks ago and Florida State had no problems scoring against that supposed to be tough defense at all. On the other hand were the Gators offense very ineffective against FAU and FSU (only points were from a safety, so the offense was scoreless) and that’s quite concerning for a team which HC was once the Alabama OC!
Alabama on the other hand did win every game since their loss against Ole Miss and all wins were at least good enough to increase their reputation from ‘almost done’ to ‘clearly #2 in the country’.
Hands on heart, who thinks Florida will win?
At least I can see that happening.
Crimson Tide win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 7:30 pm ET
MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Air Force vs. San Diego State
This will be interesting.
I think from the reputation point of view was Air Force loss in the last game against New Mexico not helpful. San Diego is now the favourite (4.5 points) and Air Force will have to deal with the underdog status.
The 4.5 points are a bit surprising, since Air Force did lose twice during the MWC season and San Diego State were perfect. I think that’s because Air Force IS a good team and it’s not really clear in which shape they will show up on Saturday.
A well prepared Falcons team will be tough to beat, even by a perfect Aztecs team.
I think Air Force can do this.
I’m just not sure SDSU will let them.
Overall I’m leaning towards the underdogs, counting on an overconfident Aztecs team and a good preparation.
Falcons win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 7:45 pm ET
PAC12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#7 Stanford vs. #20 USC
This has more in it than just the title. A bit surprising is Stanford not dead-dead at this date of the season regarding the playoff spot and a win (better a BIG win) over USC will give them a boost, probably good enough to jump the not playing Ohio State Buckeyes.
A USC win would seal the deal for them as Champion, but also for the PAC12 playoff hopes. USC did lose too many games over the season and will for sure not be in the top 4 regardless of the results in any game this weekend.
But getting the PAC12 Championship will be nice anyway.
USC is a 4.5 point underdog for Vegas, which does reflect the rise to power by USC in the last few weeks since their HC was fired and the interims coach (and now permanent coach) Clay Helton did start taking over.
We’ll might see a nice game.
Might happen, might not, because it’s hard to judge the teams.
Stanford will be sharp, but whether USC will counter that is open.
On paper, this is an even match, I just doubt that USC can stop Stanford often enough.
My pick is on Stanford with their nice mix of rushing and passing.
Cardinals win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 8:00 pm ET
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#10 North Carolina vs. #1 Clemson
Another surprising line from Vegas in this game.
UNC is only a 5 point underdog, with Clemson being ranked #1 since ages and UNC rising slowly to now #10 in the past few weeks.
I’m not sure we will see a great game here.
This could become awesome, or boring.
My feeling is, UNC is well over their head and will get buried.
But UNC could also grow on the challenge and might even be able to sink the Clemson party boat in the most crucial game.
My pick is on Clemson, giving them credit for their momentum saving strategy the last few weeks. UNC is a good team, but they will lose here by more than the 4.5 points.
Tigers win.

Sat. Dec. 5 - 8:17 pm ET
BIG10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
#5 Michigan State vs. #4 Iowa
Some do call this the quarter final, since both teams are right behind each other with ranks #4 and #5.
The loser will sink a bit in the ranks, the winner will rise a bit and be save in the playoffs.
At the moment there are several people stating that Iowa is a fake and will have to show up against the real boys this week.
That might be, since MSU had some really tough games, but on the other hand did they lose against Nebraska on a wild play, while Iowa did beat every team on their way, including Nebraska.
Vegas does see the Hawkeyes in the underdog role (3.5 points) but I do see them as the team to beat.
It might become an ugly game, so far did Iowa grow on the challenges and did beat every team, somehow.
I believe this will be a hard game and MSU will have all the chances to win.
I just believe Iowa will find a way to avoid a Spartans wins, somehow, and will win the BIG10.
Hawkeyes win.

'Til next time
Jack6 on BLOCK OF GRANITE

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