Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week 13 College Football Picks: Why Is Florida State Locked In At #2?

There is no debate about Alabama.

If the Crimson Tide win out, they will have wins over 3 teams that will be ranked in the final Top 25 poll (Texas A&M, Auburn and Missouri/South Carolina) and potentially a fourth, depending on LSU’s fate. Their non-conference schedule, while nothing to write home about, will feature wins over bowl teams Virginia Tech (possible ACC title game participant) and a surprisingly stout Colorado State team.

Of course, Alabama is not guaranteed to win out. When will we ever learn, right? But should they, the debate will not exist. An undefeated Alabama plays in Pasadena.

bryce petty heisman
The BCS doomsday scenario, bandied about every year, seems plausible – if not likely – this year with Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor all extremely heavy favorites to finish undefeated. Baylor is favored by 9.5 this week over Oklahoma State and it should be the smallest point spread any of the three will have through Championship Saturday.

There is also the increasingly likely notion that Florida State will be in that title game by winning out, regardless of anyone else’s performance.

But why?

Florida State has been dominant this year. So has Baylor. So has Ohio State.

Florida State has crushed inferior opponents and yet to face stiff fourth quarter challenge. So has Baylor. So has Ohio State.

Depending on the fate of its ACC title game opponent – namely, if Duke can stay ranked – Florida State may go through a full season playing only one ranked team*. Baylor will almost certainly play two (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State). So will Ohio State (Wisconsin, Michigan State).

*Editor's note: I am discussing teams ranked in the final Top 25 polls. Sorry for the confusion.

From top to bottom, the ACC is every bit the mediocre mess that the Big Ten and Big 12 is. All three conferences have a surplus of teams that are incredibly average. Each conference has 3 ranked teams. Each conference has multiple putrid teams. Each conference is remarkably similar.

I understand, as we discuss this, that Florida State is #2 because their road win over Clemson far outweighs what the competitors have done. But Baylor plays on the road at Oklahoma State – wouldn’t that be comparable? What about Ohio State beating a potentially 11-1 Michigan State team?

Isn’t Baylor’s win over Oklahoma and Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin better than Florida State’s 2nd best win over…Miami? Duke? Virginia Tech?

In the end, we will likely be splitting hairs. Baylor, Ohio State and Florida State have all proved to be far superior to its competition. Their cupcake nonconference schedules revealed nothing and it’s another reason why a 13-game regular season would help, to give us more to dissect.

While this particular debate focuses on the last year of the BCS, it has more damaging effects for the doomed college football playoff. Can college football truly reach a place, like college basketball, where teams are judged for the entirety of their seasons? Where long disproved perceptions don’t carry more weight than they should? A world where Florida State’s win over Maryland isn’t still referred to as a win over a ranked opponent by ESPN?

Ohio State and Baylor deserve to have their resumes judged, in totality, against Florida State’s when the season is over.

The voters won’t do that. Florida State controls its own destiny. Even if that’s not fair. At least not yet…

Picks to Date: 70-60-2
Best Bet: 6-6
Upset Special: 7-5

Even when I’m right, I’m wrong. Last week, I said a Top 5 team would lose. I was right. But I dismissed Stanford’s chances and claimed Alabama would lose. Oops.

Northern Illinois (-2.5) over TOLEDO
I’m riding Northern Illinois until the bitter end. I’ve written about the unfair treatment NIU has received this year due to their perceived, yet factually incorrect, beatdown at the hands of Florida State in last year’s Orange Bowl.

At least, last week’s sublime performance by Jordan Lynch has kickstarted, or reignited, his Heisman campaign and he deserves, at the very least, a trip to New York. He has been the best player on the field every time he’s laced them up this year and that should continue this week.

That is not to say Toledo, by any means, is a pushover. Toledo spent about two hours last Tuesday night smacking Buffalo around something fierce before letting the Bulls make it reasonable late. Toledo is very good football team. I happen to believe Northern Illinois is a great team. In fact, many #MACtion fans believe this year’s NIU team is better than last year’s Orange Bowl team. If that’s true, they win this game.

Duke (-5.5) over WAKE FOREST
This line doesn’t seem to make sense, right? Duke just throttled Miami by nearly 3 touchdowns. Wake Forest seemed to have life about a month ago after whipping Maryland and taking Maryland to the limit. Then they laid a disgusting, horrific egg at Syracuse – you can’t get shutout by the Orange – and then took the ACC-mandated beating in Tallahassee.

The line tells you two things. First, Vegas thinks Wake Forest is a lot better than most average fans would. And second, Vegas does not trust Duke in a favorite’s role despite wins over Virginia Tech on the road and Miami.

For me, I love Duke’s attack and their style. They should zero fear in the game last week against Miami. When they played Virginia Tech, they played atrociously – turnovers on turnovers on turnovers. They should have lost that game to the Hokies, but they pulled it out late.

To me, the mark of a good team is one that can win while not playing their best. Duke wasn’t at their best when they beat Virginia Tech. They were at their best when they beat Miami. They may not be at their best against Wake Forest. But I don’t think they have to be.

Besides, it would seem fitting in a year that has Florida State pre-ordained for the BCS Title Game, that its ACC opponent is decided by the basketball rivalry known as Carolina-Duke.

angry pat fitzgerald
NORTHWESTERN (+7) over Michigan State
I could not have been more right about Michigan State against Michigan. I could not have been wrong about Michigan State against Nebraska.

Northwestern should be done. They’ve lost 6 in a row since giving Ohio State a game in a game that felt like it happened in 2009. They’ve lost in every heartbreaking fashion possible, from overtimes to Iowa, a miracle Hail Mary to Nebraska and a ridiculous, “how did that happen?” field goal to Michigan.

This pick is basically a hat tip to Pat Fitzgerald, who has his team fighting every week despite loss after loss after loss piling up. For Michigan State, this game may not matter – if Minnesota loses to Wisconsin, Michigan State clinches its division. Even if Minnesota wins, they’d still have to beat Michigan State in East Lansing next week to prevent Sparty for the Big Ten title game.

I’m not saying Michigan State is going to take a dive. I’m saying that they lack the necessary urgency to put Northwestern away early. Northwestern is playing for a season – at 4-6, they need to win this game and the finale against hapless Illinois to secure a bowl berth. Northwestern will be playing, as the Sports Guy calls it, a “kitchen sink game” in which they do everything and anything necessary to win. Maybe they don’t pull it out, but it’ll be a close one.

HOUSTON (-3.5) over Cincinnati
Two weeks and two heartbreaking one-score losses on the road for Houston against UCF and Louisville. That’s rough. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is coming off of a remarkable thrashing of a bowl-bound Rutgers team on the road.

So why am I picking Houston? Because, like with Northwestern, I feel like the losses create a renewed sense of urgency for Houston. They have a lot to play for – a win over Cincinnati could ensure a Belk Bowl berth in Charlotte and a matchup with a notable ACC team on a Saturday afternoon on ESPN. For a maturing program like Houston’s, one that had a noticeable speed bump last year, that’s significant.

Cincinnati, of course, still has BCS dreams but the lack of a UCF game – great work, Mike Aresco – has the Bearcats needed too much help. I also can’t shake the fact that Cincinnati is 8-2 yet lost to Illinois and South Florida, two of the worst BCS conference teams in the country. Houston doesn’t have a bad loss. Cincinnati has two.

Memphis (+24.5) over LOUISVILLE
To say Louisville has been sleepwalking through games after its meltdown versus UCF is to be doing a disservice to the actual effort put forth by people sleepwalking. I don’t blame Louisville players – they have just about nothing to play for. UCF is almost certainly not losing twice. Louisville holds only the remotest of remote chances of a BCS at-large berth. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t even going to get an invite to NYC for the Heisman ceremony. They are far superior to this opponent – so why try?

Memphis, on the other hand, has been playing their butts off and stand at respectable 3-6. In October, they lost to UCF by 7, Houston by 10 and Cincinnati by 13. They also played Duke close in the season opener back when they didn’t mean anything. I can guarantee you the Memphis staff wakes up in cold sweats about the 17-15 loss to Middle Tennessee that is likely the difference between Memphis and a bowl berth. Because with Temple and UConn up next, it will be that loss that prevents it from happening – unless they pull off the enormous shocker here.

I don’t think they will, but I bet it’s a game at a halftime.

MINNESOTA (+16) over Wisconsin
There is nothing that annoys me more is rehashing the ending of the Wisconsin/Arizona State game and that Wisconsin would have won if not for the referees. Did the refs botch the sequence? Yes. But so did Wisconsin – who in the hell takes a knee with no timeouts, 18 seconds left and down 2 points? That’s bad coaching. And there’s no guarantee that Wisconsin makes that kick. As much flak as the truly terrible Pac-12 officials have gotten for the fiasco, Wisconsin deserves just as much blame because they got too cute and got burnt.

With that rant out of the way, I’m not betting against Minnesota at home. Neither team has beaten anyone really good this year and both have been pretty effective running over opponents. Depending on the result of the earlier Michigan State game, Minnesota’s Rose Bowl hopes (!!) may still be alive. As with Memphis, I can’t see Minnesota getting blown on in its biggest game since…

Michigan 2003? I can’t think of one significant Minnesota game other than that meltdown.

Texas A&M (+4.5) over LSU
Well, I’m already on the record saying Johnny Football is going to win the Heisman, so they have to win here, right? I’m predicting a huge effort from A&M against an LSU defense that is so bad this year they briefly turn A.J. McCarron into a Heisman candidate. I love McCarron as a QB but, come on, he’s not even the best player in his backfield – hello, T.J. Yeldon.

The SEC on CBS game has been incredible this year – more exposure the Big Ten is sorely lacking – and I don’t expect this to be any different. I’m thinking another 49-42ish final score and Johnny Football to put up about 400 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Oregon (-20.5) over ARIZONA *Best Bet*
Arizona stinks. Oregon just got a reprieve and controls its destiny again for the Rose Bowl. This won’t be pretty.

tommy rees int pitt
NOTRE DAME (+1) over Byu
Yep, things have gotten so bad for Notre Dame that they are now underdogs to a BYU team that has 3 losses. Everett Golson being ineligible this year is actually a bigger story than previously thought. This isn’t a vintage Notre Dame team – i.e., like last year’s – but it’s not terrible either. Except for the turnover machine known as Tommy Rees. If not for Rees, Notre Dame definitely wins last week against Pittsburgh. If not for Rees, Notre Dame doesn’t fall down 14-0 to Oklahoma in a heartbeat. And if not for Rees, Notre Dame doesn’t spend the entire second half against Michigan playing catchup.

Rees has been awful. But I still think he goes out a winner. The bye last week gave Brian Kelly two weeks for his face to turn red and he ripped his team a new one.

Arizona State (-2.5) over UCLA
The emergence of Myles Jack has sort of obscured the fact that UCLA has not been playing very good football lately. They had no chance against Stanford and were wiped of the field by Oregon in the second half. They struggled mightily to defeat a very average Arizona team before winning a sloppy, turnover-plagued game against Washington.

Arizona State hasn’t lost since going down to Notre Dame in JerryWorld and, with the exception of the Pac-12-mandated struggle against Utah in Salt Lake City, they have been dominating opponents. A win here sends the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 title game. I say they get the job done on the road.

OKLAHOMA STATE (+9.5) over Baylor *Upset Special*
Remember what I wrote to begin this piece? Ignore the Baylor parts. They’re losing Saturday night. And it’s really not that much of an upset, but Baylor has reached Oregon-level respect from Vegas.

Oklahoma State is way better than you think, because you probably only watched them once against West Virginia, when they laid a terrible egg. Seriously, their performance in Morgantown may have been the worst effort by a top team all year, unless you consider Notre Dame a top team and their fiasco against Pittsburgh. Oklahoma State was far superior to West Virginia that day but a combination of turnovers and mental lapses cost them that game.

In the end, it might have been for the best. Oklahoma State has flown way under the radar, with their two biggest games against Texas Tech and Texas airing on Fox opposite better games. As an example – did anyone pay attention to their destruction of Texas while Auburn and Georgia were playing one of the greatest games ever played?

I’ve paid attention, at least a bit, and I’ve seen Oklahoma State dominate Texas Tech and Texas, on the road. They get Baylor at home. They get a national spotlight. You will be watching Saturday night. And you’ll see Baylor’s BCS title dreams go down in flames.

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14 comments:

  1. Wow. This a really poorly researched article:

    "Florida State may go through a full season playing only one ranked team."

    #25 Maryland, Oct. 5: WON 63-0
    #3 Clemson, Oct. 19: WON 51-14
    #7 Miami, Nov. 2: WON 41-14
    (Duke will probably remain ranked if they make it to the ACC championship game.)

    "But Baylor plays on the road at Oklahoma State – wouldn’t that be comparable?"

    Oklahoma State is ranked #10. They are 9-1. They lost too West Virginia. Who is 4-7. And unranked.

    Clemson was ranked #3. They were undefeated. They beat a HEALTHY #5 Georgia team.

    Not to mention the fact that Death Valley is one of the hardest places for visiting teams to win in. Boone Pickens, while great, is not a comparable venue in terms of difficulty for visiting teams.

    So no -- it won't be comparable. And Florida State absolutely deserves to be ranked above Baylor, because their accomplishments have been more impressive. Period.

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    1. First, thanks for reading. But I was talking about teams that will be ranked in the FINAL poll.

      The Maryland win was impressive. But Maryland is 6-4. FSU didn't beat a ranked team by 63 points, they beat a team going to the Military Bowl by 63 points. However, the perception remains.

      And really, that's sort of my point. It's unfair to Baylor, and a lesser extent Ohio State, that the season isn't over yet no one in the media believes FSU should get passed for #2.

      I don't know if that should happen - but I do think the debate should continue, ya know?

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    2. Boone Pickens is comparable to death valley. Fans are closer to the field than any other stadium.

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    3. Point taken. Although I don't think it was clear from the article.

      And I also think that's an unfair way to judge a team's performance. For example, Georgia was a GREAT team at the beginning of the year. They were absolutely decimated by injuries. You can't judge Clemson's victory over Georgia based on where Georgia is now. In addition, if a team is ranked #10 and an unranked team beats that team and the #10 team drops to #18 *as a result of that win*, it is unfair to say the unranked team beat a #18 team. They didn't. They beat a #10 ranked team. And that victory caused the team to drop in the polls.

      I was primarily responding to the notion that a Baylor victory over Oklahoma State would be a comparable one to FSU's victory over Clemson. It is comparable in that it can literally "be compared", but it would not be equal in accomplishment. Again, look at Oklahoma State's loss to West Virginia. Clemson simply doesn't lose that game.

      But now it's my turn to get (a little) ridiculous: Florida State is the best team in the country.

      My prediction: If FSU goes to the national championship game (and Jameis Winston is not suspended regarding the current allegations), they will beat WHOEVER they play. Alabama included.

      I will also further predict: If Ohio State or Baylor play Alabama in the BCS championship, they will lose. Badly.

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    4. The Amazing Spider Man - first off I would like to say that Oklahoma State would put the beat down on the "healthy" Georgia team. Second those teams are not all ranked. The only still ranked team you have played or will play is Clemson. Everyone else as of now is out of the top 25. It seems that will be your only accomplishment all season. Beating down on an over ranked Clemson.
      I did some comparisons today between FSU and Baylor's schedule. It showed some interesting FACTS. The average BCS ranking of FSU's opponents have been 62.36. Baylor's average opponents ranking is 57.45. The average winning percentage of FSU's opponents is .487. The average winning percentage of Baylor's opponents is .544. All of these rankings and win-loss ratios I found on CBS sports in the BCS rankings. You can take a look yourself. Baylor has and will face more quality opponents than FSU. You can ignore the facts spidey.

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    5. Because no one else has injuries...

      No one like: Northwestern, Ohio State, Florida..........etc etc.

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    6. I would like to add that Baylor(as of this week's rankings) has faced two ranked teams(OU and OSU). Which is more than you can say about FSU spidey.

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    7. anonymous#2 here.

      2 points:
      1) You need to give credit to where a team is ranked when the game is played.
      Clemson's win over Georgia is a great example.
      You can't hold it against Clemson that Georgia is now a battered 4-loss team when the Tigers helped cause that to happen.

      FSU is another example (vs. Maryland, Clemson, Miami).
      Teams come in ranked and leave reeling.
      That's the Seminole's doing, but not their "fault."

      2) Don't just look at "who" but also "how." If Baylor beats the Cowpokes, it won't necessarily comparable to FSU's win over Clemson.
      What if the Bears' win resembles ASU's over Wisconsin?
      Or Auburn's over Georgia.
      But if Baylor wins 51-17, then, yes, that's a comp all right.
      (I didn't think what FSU did to Clemson that night was legal in South Carolina...)

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    8. You can not say because Florida State beat a team then that's why they are now losing other games. Miami was horrible coming into the game against FSU. They struggled in 3 straight games that they should not have. Now they are playing better teams and losing. Wisconsin lost to Ohio State and has not lost since, so you're "they're now reeling" argument is shallow. The only * you can put beside teams that are losing a lot are teams like Georgia and Northwestern who piled up injuries because they may have done better without the losses of the players. It only works the other way when an unranked team beats a ranked team and that ranked team continues to win after the loss. If that ranked team keeps losing then it's not as good of a win. Look at Mississippi State last year, 7-0 then played three straight ranked teams and lost all three then beat a nobody and played another decent team and lost, dropping 4 of their last 5. They were not a great team and it was proven on the field. Ole Miss pretty much did the same thing this year. Then there's Texas, they got blasted by BYU and Ole Miss then played all the cupcakes of their conference and looked great. Yeah they beat Oklahoma but that's it and Oklahoma has a lot of problems on offense. When they played OK State they got blasted. If a team that's ranked continues to drop game after game then they're ranking at game time weeks before should count for little. As a Buckeye fan I do not try and make the claim that Northwestern is still a quality win.

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  2. Nice article, Sean. I keep contemplating a college football blog, too.

    I think the case can be made for any of the 4 to be in any spot in the top 4. If it weren't for preseason ranking bias it could be any 2 loss team in the top 10 instead of A&M. The SEC had 5 teams in the top 10 to start the year. It takes at least 3 losses to get knocked out of the top 25 at that point (ie: Miami). So why is A&M a top ten team while Minnesota is just cracking the top 25? A&M hasn't won an important game this year.

    I think with Georgia's win over LSU and South Carolina, LSU's win over Auburn, Auburn over A&M and Georgia, you can say that all of those teams are kind of the same. With Georgia losing to Clemson, to me Clemson is probably better or at least even to all those teams. FSU really beat up Clemson. FSU probabyl a lot better than those teams.

    So for Alabama to consistently get accolades for beating A&M and LSU doesn't make sense to me.

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  3. I am sorry that you are "annoyed" by hearing about the end of the Wisconsin/ASU game, but being screwed by the ref's is more then "annoying" to Badger fans, as it could cost us a BCS game.

    There incompetence is even more magnified when compared to the end of regulation between Michigan and Northwestern. Michigan had the ball with the 18 seconds left (EXACTLY the same as the Badgers did), completed a 13 yard pas and because the refs took control and moved with purpose they were able tie it with a field goal.

    Unfortunately, the same refs who time and time again rushed to spot the ball for ASU's fast paced offence refused to move with urgency and then didn't allow the Badgers to line up over the ball. Wisconsin deserves a little of the blame, but 90% is on the refs.

    PS - i enjoyed the rest of your article and agree with you re: florida state

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  4. Sean, BYU, who Wisconsin beat, is a really good football team.
    3 losses and all.
    You'll see Saturday vs. Notre Dame. Don't bet too much on that one.

    As for Wisconsin, 16 may be a lot to give the Gophers at home, but the Badgers should have no problem winning the game.

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  5. Thanks for the article, good one, Baylor and Ohio will have faced tough schedules, Baylor toughest, Ohio undefeated since last year, and Florida State will have faced Clemson, after the Clemson South Carolina game we'll know where Clemson should be ranked, I think they fall to 20s or out of rankings if they lose depends on score, and Duke who maybe can take the ACC champ, we'll see

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  6. Baylor wins and Baylor wins BIG. Oklahoma State is a good team, but Baylor is a great team. OkST is going to have to rely on turnovers and mistakes by the opposing side to hand with Baylor for 60 minutes. Its not going to happen Baylor's players a frothing at the mouth for this win expect the Bears to play their best game of the season.

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