Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Week 14 College Football Picks: The Potential for Greatness

Last year, Thanksgiving weekend lacked…well, something. The eyes of college football were focused on Los Angeles as #1 Notre Dame prepared to take on weakened rival USC in an effort to finish 12-0 and book a trip to the BCS title game.

auburn alabama 2013
Everything else….well, it lacked intrigue.

The Heisman Trophy was pretty much already sent to Johnny Football, though Manti T’eo held out slim hopes, it was doubtful that anyone but Manziel was taking home the honor.

The chances for chaos seemed remote, at best. Alabama and Georgia were taking on overmatched rivals – Auburn and Georgia Tech, respectively – as they prepared for their national semifinal a week later in Atlanta. Florida and Florida State were playing in the game prior to the Notre Dame that might be significant, but only if Notre Dame lost.

Ohio State was chasing perfection, but it didn’t matter since they were on probation. UCLA was playing Stanford – and they would play again a week later for the Pac-12 title game.

This year? Well this year, everything is different.

This week’s schedule is loaded with huge games. Ohio State and Florida State battle down rivals, but must do so on the road. Alabama and Auburn will play the Iron Bowls of all Iron Bowls. Duke attempts to make history. So does Fresno State. Likewise, Missouri.

The BCS bowl picture is as cloudy as ever, the Heisman race has devolved into chaos and absolutely nothing is settled.

The best part? This week is surely nothing more than an appetizer to what could potentially be the best Championship Saturday in the sport’s recent history of championship games. While it would lack last year’s true semifinal of Alabama/Georgia, it could give us at least 3, maybe even 4 games, with national championship implications and could decide the Heisman.

The college kids of today never got to experience a true New Year’s Day, with every top team playing in big games at neutral sites for one glorious day. Next Saturday may be the closest thing we’ve had since.

But first…I need to keep my record above .500.

Picks to Date: 76-65-2
Best Bet: 6-7
Upset Special: 8-5

TEXAS (-4.5) over Texas Tech
Lost in the hubbub surrounding Oklahoma State’s beatdown of Baylor – that I predicted! – is the fact the Big 12 is still wide open, because the Cowboys blew a game to 4-7 West Virginia early in the season. While Oklahoma State still holds the advantage, Texas and Baylor are very much still in play. The scenario for both is the same – Oklahoma State has to lose next week to Oklahoma. If they do, the Baylor/Texas game later the day could turn into a de facto Big 12 title game. But to get there, Baylor has to beat TCU (they will) and Texas has to beat Texas Tech.

They will. I’ve made my feelings clear on Texas Tech and they haven’t changed – they are a 7-5 team that had a backloaded schedule that ratcheted up expectations. They probably shouldn’t have gotten blown out by Kansas State but they are clearly a notch below Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor. I also think they’re a notch below Texas.

I just can’t imagine a scenario where Mack Brown, still fighting to keep his job, loses this game and prevents his team from having a chance for the Fiesta Bowl and a BCS berth going into the last week of the season.

Iowa (+3) over NEBRASKA
I thought Iowa was a good team when they gave Ohio State a game for three quarters in Columbus. I thought they were undervalued since they have only lost to really, really good teams (Wisconsin, Michigan State and Northern Illinois). But the weak middle of the Big Ten hadn’t given them any opportunities to really beat anyone good – or even decent. Then, last week, they beat Michigan. It had huge BCS ramifications by helping to boost Northern Illinois’ computer rankings.

So this game takes place Friday and means more to NIU, Fresno State and the BCS than the two teams playing. Iowa isn’t pretty to watch. They frustrate their own fans to no end. But they win more than they lose and a win here could set Iowa up for a trip to New Year’s Day in Florida, likely in the Outback Bowl.

Meanwhile, Nebraska is pretty terrible and it’s time to just admit that. Yeah, they beat Penn State last week but it was another in a string of awful performances. Yes, Taylor Martinez has been hurt most of the year and that doesn’t help, but Nebraska is just a very, very mediocre football team. Thanks to the Big Ten’s excellent bowl tie-ins, they could be setting up for another postseason beatdown – maybe at the hands of Oklahoma?

East Carolina (+3) over MARSHALL
This game is why I wish we had a 16-team playoff instead of the four-team college football playoff. I want every conference to get an automatic bid. Sure, the Conference USA winner would be a #16 or #15 seed and forced to travel to play Alabama or Florida State on the road, acting as a pseudo-bye. But, dammit, it’d be worth it. And people would care about this game! As the winner advances to the Conference USA title game – a division title game.

As for the pick, Vegas clearly has no idea as evidence by the “home field is worth 3 points” line. Both teams have been on fire lately, with ECU winning five in a row and Marshall winning four in a row. It should be a high-scoring shootout that could be one of those “last team with the ball wins” games. I like East Carolina because they beat UNC and NC State in the same season for the first time ever. When you have nothing else to go on, sometimes you have to go on instinct and this feels like a special season for East Carolina.

BUFFALO (+1) over Bowling Green
Another division title game! The winner here plays Northern Illinois next week in the MAC Title Game and will be in the ESPN spotlight big time for the next week. In a twist, this game is being played in Ralph Wilson Stadium and is the biggest game either program has played in a while – and for the winner, will quickly be eclipsed in 7 days.

Since opening with road games at Ohio State and Baylor (OUCH!), Buffalo lost only once, when they were run over by Toledo. Meanwhile, Bowling Green’s only conference loss also came against Toledo – shows you why NIU’s road win over Toledo helped their computer rankings so much – and they have reeled off three straight. The line is odd, which is usually a red flag. But screw it, I’m going with the best player on the field (Khalil Mack) and I want to see him match-up against Jordan Lynch next week.

SAN JOSE STATE (+9) over Fresno State *Upset Special*
Is this the most important college football game that the CBS Sports Network has ever aired? Undoubtedly, it’s the first time the cable outfit is airing a better game than the mothership, which is stuck with LSU against putrid Arkansas.

So why do I like San Jose State here? First, it’s a home game. Second, Fresno State has no defense, whatsoever. They gave up 40+ points to Rutgers. To Rutgers! And San Jose State can score, thanks to its big time, NFL-potential QB in David Fales. Thirdly, San Jose State is desperate for a win to get bowl eligible after losing in heartbreaking fashion to Navy around 2am ET Friday night.

Lastly – I don’t think Fresno State is that good. They have benefitted from a Charmin-soft schedule and its two toughest games (Boise and Rutgers) being played at home. They have played one road game against a bowl-bound team and nearly lost to San Diego State. San Jose State can be just as good as San Diego State.

Ohio State (-14.5) over MICHIGAN
Dreadful. Michigan doesn’t have a chance. I want to pick Michigan just to be contrarian and the line is suspiciously low but Michigan is done for. I know in the 1990s, Michigan used to ruin Ohio State’s season every year but those Michigan team were still Top 25-material, if not Top 15. This Michigan team is garbage.

Duke (+5) over NORTH CAROLINA
I’m a sucker for a good story. And there will be few stories more compelling than a ranked Duke team playing for an Orange Bowl berth next Saturday night (in Charlotte!) against big, bad Florida State. Also, UNC has beaten up on a bunch of bad teams in a row, including dropping an absurd 80 on Old Dominion. This is still a team that hasn’t beaten anyone good. Duke is good.

UCONN (+3) over Rutgers
HAHAHAHA!!! I just wanted to put this here to show that Rutgers is a mere 3-point favorite against a 1-9 UConn team barely playing out the string while Rutgers is playing for a bowl berth. At this point, wouldn’t you rather be a UConn fan? A new coach is coming in next year. For Rutgers, there is no indication Kyle Flood is going anywhere and you’re about to get your brains bashed in for the next 20 years by Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State. Yeesh.

I’m picking UConn just because I’m going to be there. Don’t make this bet with real money, okay? Bet on literally anything else in the world.

Alabama (-10.5) over AUBURN *Best Bet*
Look, I understand hyperbole. But this isn’t the biggest Iron Bowl ever, because that happened. Like, just 3 years ago. Do we all forget how big the 2010 Auburn/Alabama game was? It was the most-watched game of the year. It was played on Black Friday, which meant there was little competition. It featured future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Newton’s name as big as college football gets – possibly surpassing Johnny Football levels in 2012 – due to the scandal around his recruitment. I mean, damn, the game was so big that ESPN did a 30 for 30 documentary about the rivalry with the 2010 game as the focus!

Also, those two teams were great – only one team is great this year. Auburn doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this game. Alabama may win by 40. Auburn played one team that even closely resembles Alabama – and LSU smashed Auburn while running over them all day. T.J. Yeldon could gain 200 yards. This is going to be a blowout. Just saying.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-5) over Clemson
I think Clemson is a fraud. There, I said it, and I feel better about it. They played one great team and got destroyed, at home, by Florida State. I know every Clemson fan in the world will counter, “We beat Georgia when they were healthy and good!” To which I counter…was Georgia actually good?

South Carolina’s season was about run off the rails but the Miracle at Missouri (seriously, how amazing is that game in retrospect) changed everything. They still need a Missouri loss to get their shot at Alabama but they’ll settle for beating Clemson for a fifth year in a row.

Georgia is an SEC team without an SEC defense. Florida State is an ACC team with an SEC defense. Clemson succeeded against the former, was embarrassed by the latter. South Carolina is an SEC team with an SEC defense. It’s going to be a long night for the Tigers.

tj jones ndNotre Dame (+14) over STANFORD
My Dad, Notre Dame graduate, is the atypical Domer. While most Domers assume Notre Dame is going to be everybody by three touchdowns, my Dad is quite aware that Notre Dame has been more average than great for 20 years. So when I got the following email from him on Monday morning, I had to take notice:
“ND is going to beat Stanford.”

That’s good enough for me. Other factors in play include Brian Kelly lighting a fire under his team’s ass after the pathetic choke against Pittsburgh and the fact this is Notre Dame’s bowl game. The team’s real bowl game will likely come in Yankee Stadium against a terrible Rutgers team – blergh – though rumors of a Boston College/Notre Dame Independence Bowl are suddenly far more intriguing thanks to Andre Williams if still highly improbably.

In short, this is Notre Dame’s last meaningful game of the season. Stanford has a Pac-12 title game and then a possible Rose Bowl. Suddenly, this game doesn’t mean as much. Even if Stanford wins, I could see them slogging to a tight win.

Texas A&M (+4.5) over MISSOURI
Johnny Football for Heisman! Look, whether Jameis Winston is charged or not, it’s becoming increasingly clear a majority of voters are looking for an alternative. Andre Williams from Boston College is gaining momentum based on numbers but lacks a showcase. A.J. McCarron is, likewise, gaining momentum but also detractors – how can you win the Heisman if you’re not even the best player in your backfield?

The answer is Johnny Manziel. Forget the performance against LSU – it’s a toss out if Manziel can do the unthinkable and lead A&M to a stunning road victory to keep Missouri out of the SEC Title Game.

The fact remains that this year’s Heisman moment likely came in September when Manziel somehow put up 42 on Alabama. This point will be hammered home on Saturday afternoon when Alabama smothers Auburn. That performance will continue to gain stature and if Manziel comes through – in primetime, on ESPN – he will become the favorite again.

And wouldn’t that be a fitting (likely) end to Johnny Football’s college career?

Also, the worst thing for Missouri is that this is a home game. The fans remember the South Carolina fiasco. They remember the 2007 meltdown against Oklahoma. It will be nothing but nervous energy in that stadium Saturday night and that’s not a good thing.

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Is Katie Couric the Future or Did Yahoo Just Screw Up Again?

I don’t like to watch videos on my computer. That’s why I have a television.

But sometimes, I’m forced to. When UConn opened their disastrous 2013 football season, I needed to flip up my laptop and watch the fiasco stream through my computer thanks to ESPN3.com.

pretty katie couric
I watch videos all the time on YouTube – falling down the same rabbit holes we all do in 2013. I begin with one Rock trailer and end up watching The Rock wrestling on WWF Monday Night Raw from 1998. I watch a new music video and end up, somehow, at Angels of the Silences. I try to find a highlight from last week’s games and end up watching the mesmerizing intro to the 1970 Orange Bowl.

I watch videos on my computer during the workday all the time. I stream my CEO’s appearances. I watch news segments pertaining to the news industry.

So I watch a lot on my computer. Yet I don’t think I do and I certainly don’t choose to. When I’m home, when I’m on my couch, I much prefer to watch my high-def television to my laptop screen.

Or do I?

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I read the announcement that Yahoo had signed Katie Couric as its Global Anchor – who really knows what that means. The response from fellow Yahoo writers, particularly from the college football division that I see on Twitter, was of pure joy.

My initial reaction was to draft a tweet mocking Couric for her swift fall from the public eye. Less than a decade ago, she was the anchor of the nation’s most popular morning show. Less than five years ago, she was the first woman anchoring evening news on broadcast.

Now, she’s hosting a syndicated, afternoon talk show and joining Yahoo for a vague, undefined role.
But I never hit send on that tweet because I don’t want people to mock me for it if this partnership works out for Yahoo.

As a sports nut, I know the type of excellent editorial work the company has done in sports – especially Charles Robinson’s investigative work that led to the massive Miami scandal, which eventually became a massive NCAA scandal.

But Charles Robinson, in the grand scheme of things, means little. The fate of Marissa Meyer and the Yahoo brand does not rise or fall based on its sports department. Robinson could find another job. Yahoo would exist without him.

Katie Couric, though, is a different game entirely. This is a woman who carries an enormous brand – a name value nearly unmatched in the news world, particularly compared to other females. Is there a more well-known female journalist?

Does that matter?

When Couric moved to the CBS Evening News, her ratings did not show the same prowess that she had while at Today – while at Today, ratings remained strong due to her replacement.

Does Katie Couric have an audience? Does any journalist in news truly have an audience?

We have seen a change in the past 10 years – first driven by cable news, and then exacerbated by social media – to personality-driven news coverage. CNN doesn’t cover the news in primetime – Anderson Cooper does. MSNBC doesn’t discuss the politics of the night – Rachel Maddow does.

What have we learned?

We have learned consistently and constantly that the news drives ratings, over and over and over. We see ratings go up during elections – we see them crater during slow news cycles. We see people flock to cable news in the wake of tragedy, while largely ignoring it otherwise.

Is the landscape of news really changing?

As the Communications Director for the Newspaper Association of America, I see all the stats, I get all the questions and I field all the theories. Based on the number of articles written about social media, you would assume that every adult in the world gets its news from Twitter.

In reality, according to Pew Research, the number is 8 percent.

That number seems low, right?

During the Kansas/Duke basketball game earlier this month, Andrew Wiggins – the superstar from Kansas and heralded as a possible heir to LeBron – was trending. My mobile app had recently gotten an upgrade and it told me (why, I have no idea) how many tweets about Wiggins there were to make him trending. It said 5,000.

5,000? That’s it? We would find out later that 3 million people watched the game. 5,000 is such a tiny fraction of that audience – and who knows how many of that Twitter number were actually even watching.

The YouTube Music Awards were supposed to mark a huge step in the evolution of YouTube as a true alternative to television. There was a huge buzz prior to the show, with 60 million votes allegedly cast and 10+ million views on the clip announcing the show.

As the show aired, AdAge counted on average about 200,000 people watching. The MTV Video Music Awards had drawn 10 million. The streaming show was a failure, a bomb and, now, a historical footnote.

What makes the move of Couric to Yahoo so head-scratching is the age-skewing of news coverage – the average age of a Fox News viewer is 65, CNN is 63 and MSNBC is 59.

If you want to attract a digital audience, why would you go after the people least likely to watch content online? Do Meyer and Yahoo believe that the addition of a 56-year old news anchor is going to bring my parents to the Internet and away from their television – or somehow engage the youth of America in a way it has shown absolutely no interest in so far?

If you’re curious about my answer to the headline, I have none because I am so thoroughly confused by the motives on both ends. Unless her salary is astronomical, I don’t know why Couric would forsake a platform like television for an ancient, in Internet years, company. Unless her salary is non-existent, I don’t know why Yahoo would take such a bold move on building a digital news outlet online.

The biggest problem with Yahoo’s splash hire is what lies ahead for the debut. Today, the news is sunshine and roses and free publicity, such as this blog post from yours truly. Yahoo was a dead brand not less than 2 years ago, so maybe the Couric is hire if only to inject life and grab headlines again.

Yet when Couric begins her job in early 2014, the early returns will be heavily scrutinized. Whatever she is able to produce, whatever viewership follows her online, will be miniscule compared to her television days and those will be a round of headlines Yahoo must be dreading.

In 2023, Couric’s hiring may be lauded as the moment online news took the next step and started its evolution into a mainstream force.

Or, like the YouTube Music Awards, it will fade away, rendered as nothing more than a historical footnote and another string of failures written on Yahoo’s tombstone.

What do you think is going to happen?

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Monday, November 25, 2013

BCS Chaos Theory: Let It Burn

“Pff, they beat a four-loss Iowa team. Big deal.”

This was said on ESPN’s inane BCS Countdown show, where they reveal the weekly BCS rankings and engage in contrived chatter for 30 minutes while most sane people watch Sunday Night Football, Bob’s Burgers or literally anything else in the world.

baylor bcs 2013

What was the quote attributed to? Were they discussing how Ohio State’s second-best win so far came at home against Iowa?

Of course not. They were continuing the unfair treatment of Northern Illinois by badmouthing their win, on the road, at Iowa. Oh by the way, it doubles as the second-best win for NIU too.

The myth that the BCS in any way helped college football is being destroyed this year, as the system we despise so much finally meets its maker. It is a fitting end that the last non-title BCS game – the 2014 Orange Bowl – will almost certainly be out-rated by the non-BCS Cotton Bowl going on at the same time on Fox.

The BCS was never meant to make good Orange Bowl games – and it surely didn’t. It was created to give us a national champion. And whether you hated or merely disliked the BCS, it succeeded.

From 1990 through 1997 – the 8 seasons prior to the BCS – there were four split national titles and another (1996) where the two unbeaten teams did not play in the bowl game. Only 37% of the time did #1 play #2. Until 1994, we were okay with it because all the games were played on New Year’s Day and you traded the best sports day of the year for a split title.

Then they ruined that in 1995. Then the split titles became too much to bear. So Roy Kramer devised the BCS and it has, for its sole intended goal, worked out pretty week. In the first 15 years of the BCS, there has been only 1 split national title, in 2003. Maybe it wasn’t the #1 vs. #2 that people wanted – the 2001 Nebraska fiasco jumps to mind – but the national champion every year appeared to be the best team.

The problem, of course, lies in everything with the BCS. The post-New Year’s Day games. The empty seats at the Superdome. The BCS buster concept. The tie-ins. The conference limits. The hypocrisy. The fallacy. The stupidity.

That is why, in the last year of this ill-fated system, I hope it burns. I hope it devolves into unabated chaos. I hope we look back at the wreckage of 2013 as when a true college football playoff began to take shape – not the fa├žade of one we’re getting next year. But the first step to a true, 16-team, where every conference champion gets a bid, college football playoff.

Those who oppose a playoff point to the sanctity of the regular season and asks, tears in their eyes, if people would even show up to games in college football if there was a playoff. Ignoring the empty seats that plague games today. Ignoring the fact that just last night, 2 NFL teams guaranteed to make the playoffs played an instant classic in front of a packed stadium and Lord knows how many watching on TV.

But to get to there – to get to a month of December football that matters, to Ohio State hosting Clemson in December, to Alabama hosting Northern Illinois, to a championship won on the field – we must go through the mud first.

There is exactly one scenario in which the BCS works in 2013. Alabama must win out and either Florida State or Ohio State has to lose. That’s it. That’s the only one.

But, Sean, you’re saying, what if Alabama loses? Wouldn’t that make it work? No, because you’d almost certainly have a one-loss SEC champion prevented from playing for a title in lieu of two teams that had proverbial cakewalks for 12 of their 13 games.

How would you like to tell Auburn that consecutive wins over #1 Alabama and, say, #4 Missouri wasn’t enough because Ohio State didn’t lose to a stream of Big Ten cupcakes?

What if, in the most delicious disaster scenario, the top 3 all lose? Or, more realistically, Florida State finishes unbeaten with a slew of 1-loss teams behind it? What happens then?

If you think a four-team playoff is going to make any of this better, you haven’t been paying attention to college football for the past 50 years. Deciding on 1 and 2 is easy work compared to deciding between 4 and 5.

Even beyond the title fiasco, we are potentially heading for the worst slate of BCS bowl games in history thanks to archaic rules, incorrect rankings and coaches who vote for themselves.

Let’s start with the rule that’s about to go the way of the dodo – the limit on two teams per conference. The SEC has 3 top 5 teams right now. And one of them will be playing in a non-BCS bowl. Isn’t that grand?

Wisconsin could finish its season without beating a single team ranked in the final Top 25. Its reward? A potential trip to the Orange Bowl, while Auburn or Missouri is held out – what a system, right?

Then there is the last year of the BCS buster term and, again, we see how the BCS was not built for this. And never was.

UCF is ranked #19 for reasons I cannot possibly fathom. They are behind Louisville in the Coaches Poll despite having the same record and BEATING LOUISVILLE AT LOUISVILLE!  Their only loss is a home loss by 3 points to South Carolina.

So you’re saying, if UCF had beaten a cupcake by 50 instead of battling a Top 10 SEC team, they’d be in the national title race??

Now, as a UCF fans, this shouldn’t bother you. If UCF wins out, whether they are ranked #9, #19 or #39, they will play in a BCS bowl whether anyone likes it or not. Okay, maybe it should bother you, but it won’t ultimately affect you.

The criminal under-ranking of UCF does affect, well, everything else. Many people don’t think Northern Illinois and Fresno State deserve a BCS bid this year because of their ridiculously soft schedules – Fresno’s best win, no lie, may be over a 5-5 Rutgers team in overtime that was last seen getting demolished by UCF. I wonder how Fresno would do versus South Carolina?

So while the ESPNers complain, if UCF was ranked correctly – i.e., ahead of Fresno and Northern Illinois – this wouldn’t be an issue right now. But why bring that up when you can make fun of an undefeated MAC team for a month?

Also, on Sunday night, Northern Illinois jumped Fresno State based on its computer rankings jumping through the roof. Part of this is due to Iowa beating Michigan. Part of this is due to the BCS computers being forced to not account for margin of victory. Why? Because the BCS is stupid. The gurus behind the computers admit that they have BETTER rankings that the BCS bars them from using.

When do I queue up the circus music?

ohio state snowThe next system will have no computers, only old men and Condi Rice, who has already been discredited for being a woman who hasn’t played football. Why? Because of the dreaded “eye test” that somehow should decide who plays for a national title.

In college basketball, teams are chosen for the NCAA Tournament based on their merits. Who did they beat? Where did they beat them? How tough was their schedule?

In college football, Florida State gets credit for beating 3 ranked teams, despite the fact Maryland and Miami are long gone from the Top 25.

In college basketball, teams are punished for scheduling cupcakes.

In college football, Florida State and Ohio State are rewarded for playing 8 nonconference games with a grand total of 1 bowl-bound team (Buffalo).

In college basketball, there is no myth about every game meaning something, yet UConn and Indiana still light up Madison Square Garden on a Friday night in November.

In college football, the myth perpetuates despite Alabama being crowned national champions in two straight seasons with losses in November.

In college basketball, Cinderella’s are to be lauded – cue the Dunk City montage.

In college football, they are to be mocked – cue the negative NIU montage.

The BCS needs to burn a fiery, painful death because the entire system needs to burn a fiery, painful death.

The BCS was finally extinguished in 2011 because no one wanted to see LSU play Alabama again. It begat the four-team college football playoff, which is not perfect, but better.

The system will eventually crumble – there are too many teams playing too few games against each other to pick four teams logically. It’s literally impossible. There’s not even data, even if we move to 13 games. It cannot work.

That’s okay. For the good of the game, everything needs to fail.

For now, we can only root for pure chaos and bathe in its afterglow.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

What Will the 2014-15 College Football Bowl Schedule Look Like?

Read my bowl picks for 2014-15: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Bowl Schedule is now FINAL

2014-15 College Football Bowl Schedule
All times Eastern

Saturday, December 20, 2014
New Orelans Bowl, ESPN, 11 a.m.
New Mexico Bowl, ESPN, 2:20 p.m.
Las Vegas Bowl, ABC, 3:30 p.m.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, ESPN, 5:45 p.m.
Camellia Bowl, ESPN, 9:15 p.m.

Monday, December 22, 2014
Miami Beach Bowl, ESPN, 2 p.m.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Boca Raton Bowl, ESPN, 6 p.m.
Poinsettia Bowl, ESPN, 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Bahamas Bowl, ESPN, Noon
Hawaii Bowl, ESPN, 8 p.m.

Friday, December 26, 2014
Heart of Dallas Bowl, ESPN, 1 p.m.
Detroit Lions Bowl, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
St. Petersburg Bowl, ESPN, 8 p.m.

Saturday, December 27, 2014
Military Bowl, ESPN, 1 p.m.
Sun Bowl, CBS, 2 p.m.
Independence Bowl, ESPN2, 4 p.m.
Pinstripe Bowl, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.
Holiday Bowl, ESPN, 8 p.m.

Monday, December 29, 2014
Liberty Bowl, ESPN, 2 p.m.
Russell Athletic Bowl, ESPN, 5:30 p.m.
Texas Bowl, ESPN, 9 p.m.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Music City Bowl, ESPN, 3 p.m.
Belk Bowl, ESPN, 6:45 p.m.
San Francisco Bowl, ESPN, 10 p.m.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Chick-fil-a Bowl, ESPN, time TBD
Fiesta Bowl, ESPN, 5 p.m.
Orange Bowl, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Thursday, January 1, 2015
Capital One Bowl, ABC, 12:30 p.m.
Outback Bowl, ESPN2, 1 p.m.
Cotton Bowl, ESPN, 1 p.m.
Rose Bowl, ESPN, 5 p.m.
Sugar Bowl, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Friday, January 2, 2015
Armed Forces Bowl, ESPN, Noon
TaxSlayer Bowl, ESPN, 3:20 p.m.
Alamo Bowl, ESPN, 6:45 p.m.
Cactus Bowl, ESPN, 10:15 p.m.

Saturday, January 3, 2015
Birmingham Bowl, ESPN or ESPN2, 1 p.m.

Sunday, January 4, 2015
GoDaddy Bowl, ESPN, 9 p.m.

Monday, January 12, 2015
FBS Playoff Championship, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.

Original Article:

But, Sean, you’re saying – the 2013 season isn’t even over yet!

I know, I know. Let’s be honest, though, I’m not the only one with my eyes on the 2014 college football season. Sure, this year has been fun and there will be a lot of interesting games left, but we’re in a lame duck season.

2014 chick-fil-a bowl
Next year, the four-team college football playoff arrives. Will it work? I’d say it’d be better than the BCS since nothing could possibly be worse than the BCS but the powers at be in college football are good at screwing up just about everything. I mean, Texas doesn’t play Texas A&M anymore, so everything and anything can be ruined by idiots.

While most of the discussion about the future of college football – and rightly so – has focused on the impending playoff, there is an entire postseason structure that is about to change dramatically.

The bowls will remain but the tie-ins will look radically different in 2014.Here’s a great primer on the conference agreements. There are also new bowls as the non-Group of Five conferences – the American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, MAC and Conference USA – start looking out for themselves.

In short, just about everything changes.

So what will the schedule look like? Here is the 2013-14 bowl schedule. What you see there is basically how the games have been organized for the past few years.

The biggest change, and easily the best part of the new playoff, is the elimination of post-New Year’s Day BCS games. The Thursday, Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl in front of 20,000 empty seats is a thing of the past.

The playoff rotation, found at the bottom here, shows that there will be 3 BCS bowls on New Year’s Eve and 3 more on New Year’s Day. 4 will be the equivalent of today’s BCS bowls, 2 others with be true playoff games (the Rose and Sugar bowls in year one) and there will be a separate title game a week later. For next year, that game takes place on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.

So what will the bowl schedule look like? Let's dive into the questions that will shape the schedule.

The Key Questions

What other games are played on New Year’s Day?
From the moment the playoff was announced, there was the expectation that there would be other games played in the early afternoon slot, prior to the Rose Bowl. This is a vast departure from the BCS, which has played games unopposed for the past 15 years. In fact, a quirk in scheduling this year as the Cotton Bowl on Fox going up against the Orange Bowl on ESPN.

Yes, the last BCS bowl game will be the first to have another college game going up against it.

Clearly, this is going to mark a change for the future. While ESPN is not going to dare put anything against the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, the first game at 1pm will certainly not be afforded that luxury.

So what happens in that timeslot? For the past few years, ESPN has aired the Capital One Bowl from Orlando and the Outback Bowl from Tampa at 1pm on ESPN or ABC. The Gator Bowl has been on ESPN2 since leaving CBS in 2009 and the Heart of Dallas Bowl from Cotton Bowl stadium has occupied ESPNU.

Of those three, the Gator Bowl has been vocal about its displeasure with the TV positioning as it has been routinely outdrawn by millions by the other 2 bowl games. Of course, they are the ones that left CBS and decided to take the sixth-best teams from the Big Ten and the SEC but whatever – the Gator Bowl’s fate is undetermined. They could stay in that slot and move to another TV channel (see next item) or give up the ghost of New Year’s Day, where it moved to in 1995, almost 20 years ago.

The other three, however, will likely stay. The Heart of Dallas Bowl exists to give the Cotton Bowl stadium its traditional New Year’s morning slot. I think this will stay on ESPNU, though may be bumped up to 11am ET.

The Capital One Bowl will certainly stay at 1pm New Year’s Day and will likely permanently move to ABC, since ESPN will be tied up with the new playoff. This game stays in this slot through at least 2018.

The Outback Bowl has been played on New Year’s Day for 25 years – would it move? If it stays on New Year’s Day, its options are ESPN2 or, like the Gator Bowl, a move to CBS or Fox – NBC has the NHL Winter Classic. I could see ESPN moving it back to its 11am start time, which it occupied for about 20 years until being moved back in 2010. But it would have to be on ESPN2 – would they want that?

2015 fiesta bowl
What other networks get involved?
You have to wonder if ESPN really wants a true, 16-team college football playoff. This year, only 2 bowls will not air on an ESPN network – the Sun Bowl on CBS and the Cotton Bowl on Fox. From mid-December through early January, ESPN is by far the most watched cable network thanks to football on at almost all hours of the day while most of the nation is enjoying the holidays.

Funny that bowls were initially created to encourage people to travel during the quiet holiday season – they now appear to exist to encourage people to sit on their couches during the quiet holiday season. And by the numbers, most of us oblige.

But ESPN’s racket is quickly gaining company, in the form of NBCSN, Fox Sports 1 and, to a lesser extent, the CBS Sports Network. While ESPN has the playoff locked up as well as straight up buying bowls – such as the Heart of Dallas and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – there are still a few games without contracted TV homes in 2014.

We mentioned the Gator Bowl and Outback Bowl above, and those are just two examples. There are also new bowl games, such as the Miami Beach Bowl, operated by the American Ahtletic Conference, that do not have TV attached yet.

What will happen? My guess is that Fox Sports 1, at the very least, makes a move for a couple bowl games. Will CBS for their cable network or for a New Year’s Day game? Will NBCSN, which is largely void of college football, jump in? Would the NFL Network jump back into the bowl game?

What other games are played on New Year’s Eve?
I would be shocked if the CBS and the Sun Bowl didn’t continue their 40+ year relationship, which has led the game to be played on New Year’s Eve (or the Friday before) basically uninterrupted since 1989. Even if this means the game goes up against playoff games, I don’t think this will change – it’s cheap, original programming for CBS and, with the right matchup, draws a few million viewers. More people will watch the Sun Bowl, even opposite a playoff game, than a month-old repeat of The Talk.

The question then becomes – do other games go against new BCS bowls? ESPN already made it clear they will schedule bowls against the early New Year’s Day game. Will they do the same on New Year’s Eve? Say, put the Liberty Bowl against the Chick-fil-a Bowl? If other networks get involved, would they likewise counter-program with bowls? Or will Fox Sports 1 keep going with its all-Big East basketball lineup?

What happens to the post-New Year’s Day bowls?
Bowl games should be played through New Year’s Day. That’s just my opinion. It’s more fun, the crowds are better, there is a sense of it making sense (wordplay!) and the ratings are usually better. But ESPN had made pseudo-traditions of playing games around the first weekend of the NFL playoffs. That means the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham played the first Saturday in January around noon and the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile kicking off at about 9 p.m. Sunday night.

These games were pushing it, but they served as decent appetizer to the BCS title game. That opportunity will stick exist but the bowl buildup with have New Year’s Day as the end-date, not the BCS title game.

There will be a title game, yes, but it will certainly feel more like a college-style Super Bowl as opposed to what it is right now. The late games always seems like afterthoughts anyway – swept away by the NFL playoffs.

Does this matter to ESPN? There is nothing they can air at 9pm on Sunday, January 5, that will come anywhere close to the GoDaddy Bowl. Maybe that speaks more to the popularity of college football than anything else.

Will the holiday Saturday become a real college football Saturday?
The Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s Day has always been the best day for TV ratings for ESPN’s bowl coverage. Whether in 2006, 2008 or 2012, the games have always done extremely well. Does ESPN expand its coverage on this day? Is this where the other networks jump in?

Where do the new bowls fit?
The Camellia Bowl. The Bahamas Bowl. The Boca Raton Bowl. The Miami Beach Bowl. These are four new bowl games showing up in 2014. When do they air? Do they join the increasing clutter of pre-Christmas bowl games, joining other recent newcomers like the New Mexico Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl? Do they fall into the mix between the two major holidays? Or do they standout by taking place after New Year’s Day? And who airs them?

The 2014-15 bowl season is going to radically change the bowl landscape. My hope – fingers crossed – is that it returns the season to its more traditional roots of overdosing us on football on multiple channels while eliminating the empty crowds of post-New Year’s Day games.

As with most things in college football, I have my fingers crossed but I will not be holding my breath.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Better Bowl Projections: The Bowl Games I Want To See

I love college football. But I have an irrational love of bowl games.

rose bowl crowd
Back in my youth – because I’m so old – the college football bowl season was, just as ESPN’s jingle claimed, the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I was off from school. Football was always on. During my college years, I made it a point to watch every game that I could.

Did I have a life? Eh, maybe not. But I was happy, dammit. And single. But still, very happy.

There are now 35 bowl games – good luck watching all of them – and everyone makes bowl projections. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are terrible. None are right. There are all the same, though. College football writers look at the bowl tie-ins, try to figure out who the bowls would take and put some matchups together.

In 2007, I went to Charlotte for the bowl game between UConn and Wake Forest. You probably have long forgotten it. I never will. It was exciting in part because of the atmosphere – though not a full house, 50,000+ people can make a lot of noise. And there are few things that match a sporting event where the crowd is evenly divided and energetic.

I left disappointed. Even more so when my Dad and I somehow ended up at a Wake Forest victory party that night to watch the Pats chase 16-0 – maybe the name “Cans” should have given it away. Regardless, it was awesome.

So instead of just picking random bowl games, let’s make the best damn bowl lineup ever!

All of these games could happen. They almost certainly won’t. But what’s the fun in that?

To make this dream lineup happen, two major things have to happen. First, UCF has to pass Fresno State and Northern Illinois in the standings. Secondly, the national title game has to be…well, that will spoil some of the fun.

These aren’t every bowl game, just the ones where I could create a fun matchup

In chronological order:

Las Vegas Bowl: (undefeated) Fresno State vs. USC
Yes, yes, a million times yes. USC has turned into an amazing story thanks to Coach O and the remarkable turnaround. Fresno State has always been an amazing story thanks to star QB Derek Carr (younger brother to former NFL QB David) and his newborn child, which made for a heart-wrenching angle in the lead up to the season opener.

Fresno State will be piping hot mad about missing the BCS and USC could be playing for Coach O to keep the permanent job. It will be played on 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21, on ABC. Think that would attract some eyeballs? And even better if…

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: (undefeated) Northern Illinois vs. Boise State
Northern Illinois is in for a terrible bowl game. The Sun Belt has no one good to match up against in the GoDaddy Bowl. The Big Ten will likely not have a team  -- or a bad 6-6 Northwestern – available in Detroit, likely to be replaced by a 6-6 Syracuse or Pitt team. Yuck. The most promising unfilled spot – the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC – will definitely be filled by Notre Dame.

This is the MAC’s third tie-in and while Boise State is down, this bowl game is played in its home stadium. Boise State has traditionally shied away from playing in this game but an undefeated Northern Illinois would be different, right?

Better yet, this game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 21 – imagine both undefeated non-BCS teams playing at the same time? Thank you, football gods.

new orleans bowl 2013
New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Tulane
Every projection all season has penciled this game in because it’s a no-brainer. La.-Lafayette has filled up the Superdome the past two years for this game, including an insane crowd of 48,828 last year. True story: when I arrived at my parent’s house last year in advance of Christmas, the first thing my Dad said to me was, “You have to see this bowl game.” He was blown away by the atmosphere and the amount of people watching a “meaningless” game between two non-BCS schools.

Well, this would be even more awesome, since Tulane hasn’t played in a bowl game since the 2002 Hawaii Bowl. Could the Superdome sellout for its not Sugar Bowl game? Remember last year’s Sugar Bowl outdrew the New Orleans Bowl by less than 6,000 people.

Fight Hunger Bowl: BYU vs. Washington State
BYU is locked in here. They’re going to play a Pac-12 team. Most other options are unappealing teams like Oregon State, Washington & Arizona. Yawn. But Washington State playing in its first bowl in a decade? Now we’re talking!

Of course, WSU Coach/Pirate Mike Leach has a storied past with BYU, as was evident in his first game back after his post-Texas Tech sabbatical when he played BYU. That wasn’t much of a game. Washington State has come a long way in two years. And it’ll be pretty amazing to see BYU’s legendary pass-happy offense used against it, while BYU focuses on zone-reads and options.

Pinstripe Bowl: Houston vs. Notre Dame
Notre Dame is practically locked into this game without a BCS berth or, really, any other options. So let’s make the most of it. Houston and Notre Dame have played once. It was a pretty famous Cotton Bowl featuring a pretty famous quarterback making a pretty famous comeback with a pretty famous nickname. Yep, the Chicken Soup Game is the one and only meeting between these schools.

Let’s relive that for a few weeks and the Yankee Stadium setting should provide another cold weather game. Could Tommy Rees play the role of Joe Mont-…never mind, Rees fumbled the soup.

Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson vs. Louisville
It’s pretty much set in stone Louisville plays here. Clemson has been penciled into the Orange Bowl for weeks but what if they’re pushed out of that spot? A return trip to the Chick-fil-a seems remote, especially since South Carolina would be there. This wouldn’t be too bad though, right? Especially if Clemson beats South Carolina. We could have an 11-1 Clemson vs. 11-1 Louisville. Keep dreaming, right? Okay I will.

How would Clemson fall here? Pretty simply actually – Florida State would have to lose the ACC title game.

Buffalo Wild Wings: Oklahoma vs. Nebraska
This one is pretty self-explanatory, no? Even if both teams are down this year, it would be a nice rekindling of the rivalry and Sun Devil Stadium is a nice, big stadium in a desert paradise to accommodate everyone. This game, maybe more than any other here, has the most realistic chance of happening, outside of the New Orleans Bowl.

Armed Forces Bowl: Navy vs. Colorado State
Navy is going to this bowl. So it made me think, “styles make fights.” Who would be fun for Navy to play. Then I read about Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs rushing for 291 yards and 6 touchdowns last week. Sign me up right now! And let’s begin the quickest bowl game ever.

Alamo Bowl: Baylor vs. Oregon
Drooooool. Let’s begin the longest bowl game ever! Baylor beat Washington 67-56 in the 2011 Alamo Bowl with Heisman Trophy winner RG3. What could we do here? What would the over/under be? Would the Holiday Bowl, supposed to be televised after this, ever been shown on ESPN? Who wouldn’t watch this game?

This game is a long way from happening – Oregon has to lose the Pac-12 title game, Baylor likely has to lose twice – but I don’t care. I want it to happen.

Sun Bowl: Miami vs. UCLA
The Sun Bowl, unlike many other bowls, really doesn’t care about selling tickets. It’s always going to sell a decent number to the locals and its real aim is to give longtime TV partner CBS a game to drive ratings. That’s why they lean toward teams like USC, Washington and Pittsburgh – teams in major TV markets that can help boost ratings.

TV markets don’t get much bigger than Miami and Los Angeles. It feels like it’s a bowl game from 1989, right? Two teams from opposite ends of the country meeting in the middle on New Year’s Eve on CBS? Nice story of two teams that were Top 10 teams in October and stumbled (badly) down the stretch. As a bonus, these teams have not played since the legendary 1998 game when Miami returned to glory and cost UCLA a shot at the first BCS title.

Liberty Bowl: East Carolina vs. Tennessee
I like sold-out stadiums for bowl games. Tennessee fans, considering the murderous schedule its team played, will gladly come out en masse for the school’s first bowl game in three, long, Dooley-ish years. 

As for East Carolina, well I’m just rooting for the American Athletic Conference to succeed and ECU will help.

Chick-fil-a Bowl: South Carolina vs. Duke
Duke’s biggest bowl game in 20 years…when Steve Spurrier was its coach. Yeah, that’ll do.

Gator Bowl: Michigan vs. LSU
The Les Miles Bowl! Even more crazy than that, these two programs have NEVER played. How is that even possible??

Heart of Dallas Bowl: Rice vs. Syracuse
Look, the Cotton Bowl stadium doesn’t host the Cotton Bowl anymore. This game will be played in a stadium that once meant everything to Southwest Conference team. Only one former SWC team still has the potential to play in this game. So they should, because I’m a sucker for history. Since the Big Ten won’t be able to fill the slot, I want to see Rice play another team with long-ago history at the Cotton Bowl.

And on the first day of 2014, we’ll party like it’s 1957.

Capital One Bowl: Auburn vs. Michigan State
Auburn runs the ball. Michigan State stops the run. Immovable object, meet irresistible force and BOOM! POW! EXPLOSION!

This game may have less interest if Alabama whips Auburn in the Iron Bowl but Michigan State, according to many, has the best non-Alabama defense out there. Auburn’s offense has been nothing short of a revelation this year. Of all the Big Ten/SEC matchups – and this is the last year we’re getting three every New Year’s morning – this would be the most appealing from an on-the-field standpoint.

Or would it…

rose bowl rematch
Rose Bowl: Arizona State vs. Wisconsin
Yeah, I bitched and moaned about the fallout in my picks post this week. And yeah, rematches in bowl games are almost always a bad idea. The only exception I can think of is Florida and Florida State playing The Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter about 20 years ago. Yep, that’s the list. At least in my memory.

Well, this one would be right up there, wouldn’t it? Maybe Arizona State wouldn’t be thrilled but the storylines overflowing from the Wisconsin side would be incredible. First, Wisconsin would be trying to avenge their controversial loss. Second, and maybe more importantly, Wisconsin would trying to avoid be the Buffalo Bills of college football by losing its fourth Rose Bowl in a row.

As for Arizona State? Well, they haven’t been in the Rose Bowl – or any major bowl – since Jake Plummer and haven't won the Rose Bowl – or any major bowl – since 1987. Think the Sun Devil faithful would be jacked up for this?

Let’s just hope Todd Graham doesn’t find another dream job before then.

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Stanford
These two teams played one of the most exciting BCS bowls in recent years when #3 Oklahoma State downed the Andrew Luck-led Stanford team in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago in overtime. These teams are still relatively similar – Okie State likes to score, Stanford likes to punish people. Let’s do it again.

Sugar Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Florida State
So to make this work, Florida State has to lose in the ACC title game to Georgia Tech. It could happen! And if it does…wow, what a game this would be.

I think Johnny Football will win his second Heisman, so there’s no way the Sugar Bowl is passing up on him. Since Florida State, in this scenario, can’t play in the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl snaps them up. We’d have the likely top 2 Heisman finishers against each other in New Orleans. Something tells me this game draws better than last year’s Sugar Bowl.

Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. UCF
The chaos! The anarchy! The BCS!

So Georgia Tech sneaks into the ACC title game and pulls the mightiest upset of all-time by knocking off Florida State. The Orange Bowl needs an opponent but it can’t be from the SEC…or the Big Ten….or the ACC. What will they do? 

With limited options – and desperate to sell tickets – they reach out to American champion UCF, which will sell out the stadium by itself and set up a juicy storyline with George O’Leary facing its own team.

And in one final twist of the knife to the Orange Bowl’s fade during the BCS era – it won’t be the most watched college football game of the night.

Cotton Bowl: Texas vs. Georgia
This screams Cotton Bowl, no? In the last year before the Cotton Bowl rejoins the “big boy” table of bowl games, it deserves to go out of its rehab phase with the best game possible. Texas is going to be a massive story during the bowl season as the fate of Mack Brown is discussed at length.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Aaron Murray in particular deserve a fitting sendoff. Georgia hasn’t played in the Cotton Bowl since January 2, 1984, when it knocked off then-undefeated, #2 Texas and cost the Longhorns a national title. The two schools haven’t played since. That seems wrong, no?

BBVA Compass Bowl: Rutgers vs. Pittsburgh
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, this would just be so funny, right? Rutgers is almost certain to land here. The other slot should be for an SEC team, but the SEC won’t have enough teams. The ACC will have too many teams for its bowl agreements and…oh man, I’m sorry, I’m laughing too hard. A fourth-straight trip to Birmingham in January for Pitt?

In a macabre way, this is the game I hope happens the most.

BCS Title Game: Alabama vs. Ohio State
This is the title game I want to see because I think, despite what Florida State has done, that Ohio State is better. I want to see Ohio State and its 25-game winning streak play Alabama, its 17-game winning streak and the SEC’s 7-year BCS title streak. I want to see Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban – the coaches who have won 6 of the last 10 BCS titles – in arguably the most famous football stadium in the country.

This is the best game we can get – sorry Florida State. The Rose Bowl was the site where Alabama’s dynasty began four years ago. It would be only fitting that it either ends, or gets labeled as the greatest ever, in the last BCS title game at the site of the greatest BCS title game ever.

Oh, it’s all so juicy. So I’m sure none of these games will happen.

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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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