College Football Spoiler Alert; Championship Week
It's here! College Football's version of Selection Sunday comes to us this week, and what a joy (for a select four) it will be. For some teams, like Stanford and Iowa, it's a chance to prove to the playoff committee that they really belong amongst the elite quartet. For others, like Clemson, it's a prime opportunity for to stumble out of it. Let's take a look at the title games, plus a few others to keep an eye on....
(All times EST, all ranking reflect CFP poll)
Texas (4-7, 3-5) @ #12 Baylor (9-2, 6-2)
As ridiculous as it is, Texas could very well be playing for a bowl bid here. The NCAA already announced that several 5-7 could be going bowling, and the Longhorns would love a bowl appearance after all they've been through this year. However, not only are they facing a Bears that, regardless of the fact their CFP chances are probably over, is probably FURIOUS that said chances are gone and boast one of the best offenses in the nation. Sure, the Longhorns have shown bursts of respectability (remember, they did beat Oklahoma), but Baylor is simply too furious to let this one get away.
The Pick: Baylor
#22 Temple (10-2, 7-1) @ #19 Houston (11-1, 7-1)
There could, potentially, be much more riding on this game than a mere AAC title. The winner could be potentially the Group of Five champion that's allowed to join in the New Year's Six, college football's version of the adults table at Christmas dinner. Frankly, it comes down to who has more momentum right now...and despite a loss to UConn two weeks ago, that's Houston. Not only did they beat the previous AAC favorite, Navy, but they crushed them by the tune of 52-31. Sure, Temple beat Memphis, another darn fine AAC school, but they still have the look and feel of a "year away" team. One thing's for sure...the scoreboard operator will be getting a workout. Combined, the two teams average 74 points per game.
The Pick: Houston
Southern Miss (9-3, 7-1) @ Western Kentucky (10-2, 8-0)
Another matchup where the statkeeper will get a workout, it's so nice to see these two teams meet up for the Conference USA title. Just three seasons ago, Southern Miss was 0-12 (!), and in the two season after that they won just four games, so major credit to Todd Monken. Meanwhile, WKU has built itself a nice reputation amongst FBS newcomers, making its 3rd bowl appearance since joining FBS play in 2008. The C-USA title game has seen its share of upsets (remember poor Marshall last season?), but I don't see the Hilltoppers falling victim to that. I just can't look at WKU's undefeated conference record, as well as QB Brandon Doughty's 4,184 yards and 42 TDs and pick against it. It'll be a wild one, but WKU will truly be Hilltoppers after this one.
The Pick: Western Kentucky
#18 Florida (10-2, 7-1) vs #2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) (@Atlanta, GA)
Can you even begin to imagine the way Nick Saban would react if the Crimson Tide ever played the way Florida has against lesser competition this season? Let's focus on Florida's last three games, wins over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida Atlantic. Yeah, they've all been wins, the first two are conference foes who are sitting home till August (the latter lost to The Citadel for crying out loud!) while FAU is not only not bowling but a Conference USA also-ran. Saban would've lost his mind. Yet somehow, call it SEC Bias, Florida has established itself as a legit threat to Bama's playoff run. If the Tide wishes to get out of Atlanta with their sanity in tact, they'll make sure they get Coach Nick a win today.
The Pick: Alabama
West Virginia (7-4, 4-4) @ Kansas State (5-6, 2-6)
Here's a couple of teams playing for respect. KSU can guarantee themselves a bowl bid with a win, while WVU can improve that conference record that got roughed up by playing four consecutive ranked conference foes. Both teams have had their flashes of brilliance this season, but KSU's has been way more sporadic. This is a team that got crushed by Texas and had huge trouble with Iowa State. The Mountaineers will end their season on a happy note, while KSU has to pray some bowl welcomes in a sad 5-7 team.
The Pick: West Virginia
Appalachian State (9-2, 6-1) @ South Alabama (5-6, 3-4)
ASU! Good to see you again! Let's give these Mountaineers, yes, they of that famous upset at The Big House, some love. Hey, I needed to find 10 games this week, so why not this Sun Belt tilt? USA made their first ever bowl as an FBS program last season, and will be looking to repeat the feat, while the Mountaineers are already locked into Camellia Bowl. ASU is also searching for a 10 win season, which would be pretty cool to witness. Who better to do it against than the Jaguars, who laid down a 47-21 beatdown down in Boone last year?
The Pick: Appalachian State
Air Force (8-4, 6-2) @ San Diego State (9-3, 8-0)
Who would've thought we'd be seeing San Diego State in this position back in September? The Aztecs dropped games to overrated Penn State and Cal teams, and then things got downright bizarre with a loss to South Alabama. However, they've been hot, hot, hot since Mountain West play began, and now find themselves in the conference title game, even hosting it to boot. You can't say enough about what Air Force has been able to accomplish this season, ranking 3rd in the FBS in rushing yards per game, but the stingy Aztecs D has let up a mere 95 rushing yards per game, which will cause problems for the Falcons offense that relies so heavily on that ground game.
The Pick: San Diego State
#20 USC (8-4, 6-3) vs #7 Stanford (10-2, 8-1) (@Santa Clara, CA)
In another "What are they doing here?!?!" moment, you have to give USC a lot of credit. They could've folded over in the wake of the Steve Sarkisian debacle, but instead have regrouped to play some great football, including a huge win over rival UCLA to get themselves in this PAC-12 title game. However, they're going up against a Stanford team that just might have a little something to play for. Should a few things fall in their favor and they beat USC by enough, the Cardinal juuuuuuuust might be able to move up those three precious rungs up to the playoff quartet. First things first though...they have to take care of business here. And I think they will.
The Pick: Stanford
#5 Michigan State (11-1, 7-1) vs #4 Iowa (12-0, 8-0)
Well, this is it Iowa. You want to prove you're big time? Beat big bad Michigan State. Which, let's face it will be tough. Connor Cook, injured or not, will be looking to end his career the right way, and what better way than leading his beloved Spartans into the College Football Playoff? Iowa's defense has been notoriously strong this year, but have they really faced a quarterback of Cook's caliber? The Hawkeyes will keep it surprisingly close, but they're first test comes at the worst possible time.
The Pick: Michigan State
#10 North Carolina (11-1, 8-0) vs #1 Clemson (12-0, 8-0) (@Charlotte, NC)
We got a small hiccup last week from Clemson, when they squeaked by South Carolina by a mere 5 points. You know who studied that game film more intently than anyone? The Tar Heels. If the depleted South Carolina offense could put up 32 on Clemson, what could the mighty UNC offense do? Look, I'm not taking anything away from Clemson and what they've done this year. Heck, even if they lose you could say they're worthy of a playoff spot. But they just don't strike me as "perfect". And, unfortunately, the trend of "Clemsoning" will strike at the worst possible time. The UNC offense, finally on a huge national stage, will be unleashed to great effect.
UPSET SPECIAL: North Carolina
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