Conference Championships Galore

It’s the last weekend for teams to prove to the College Football Playoff committee that they deserve to be in the Top 4. For those that don’t have a chance at a playoff spot, it’s time to play spoiler. Let’s look at the conference championship games this weekend, including the two that happened last night:

MAC Championship – Northern Illinois vs. Buffalo (Friday, Nov. 30)

This game came down to the wire. NIU quarterback threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver DJ Brown with 1:09 left to go to take the lead and overcome a 20-point deficit. Buffalo failed to convert a 4th and 10 on the following drive, and NIU happily took a knee to run out the clock.

Final: NIU 30 BUFF 29

Pac-12 Championship – #17 Utah vs. #11 Washington (Friday, Nov. 30)

Each offense only scored three points.  The deciding factor was an interception returned for a touchdown by Washington’s Byron Murphy. Utah’s Jason Shelley’s pass hit Siaosi Mariner in the hands, but he couldn’t hold onto the ball and it bounced up into the air right into Murphy’s hands.

Final: Washington 10 Utah 3

Big 12 Championship – #14 Texas vs. #5 Oklahoma (Today, Dec. 1, 12pm)

The first Red River Rivalry this year was a shootout, and Texas took home the win 48 to 45. Like any Big 12 game, there was a lot of offense and very little defense, but the difference in the game was the three turnovers by Oklahoma. Kyler Murray had two of those turnovers. If the Sooners play of avenge their only loss this season and hope to have a chance to play in the playoffs, they have to hold onto the ball and not make dumb mistakes. It is also Murray’s last chance to earn his spot in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. We know Sam Ehlinger and the rest of Texas’ offense will show up, but whose defense will make that one game-changing play?

AAC Championship – Memphis vs. #8 UCF (Today, Dec. 1, 3:30pm)

Memphis gave UCF a real scare when they faced each other in October. UCF won that game 31 to 30 because one of the best quarterbacks in the country, McKenzie Milton, ran in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It’s going to be a different story this time. Milton suffered a season-ending, and possibly career-ending, knee injury in last week’s game against USF. The Golden Knights took the ball out of freshman Darriel Mack Jr.’s hands and ran for 391 yards. Memphis has a real shot to pull the upset if they can stop the running game.

SEC Championship – #1 Alabama vs. #4 Georgia (Today, Dec. 1, 4pm)

What could be the best game of the day is a rematch of last year’s National Championship Game and has the biggest playoff implications. If Bama wins, they secure the #1 spot, and Georgia falls out. If Georgia wins, they could be #2 or 3, and it is uncertain where Bama falls. This will be the biggest challenge for Alabama. It could be a struggle after what they’ve shown the last few weeks. I doubt many thought that they would be tied with The Citadel at halftime. Georgia’s defense was stronger last season, with players like linebacker Roquan Smith, and they couldn’t stop Tua’s attack in the championship. Saban will continue to stay undefeated against his former assistants if the the Tide team that played LSU shows up today.

ACC Championship – #2 Clemson vs. Pitt (Today, Dec. 1, 8pm)

I could throw a punch of stats at you, but I think the most intriguing one is that Pitt has never lost to Clemson. Pitt went into Clemson and upset the #2 team in the country in 2016 and look to do it again. The Tigers are taking the Panthers seriously this time. Pitt relies on its ability to run the ball, but they’ll have to find another way because the Tigers’ defense allows less than 85 rushing yards a game. Clemson also knows that if they win by the projected amount (27.5 points) and Bama loses, they’ll move up to #1.

Big Ten Championship – #21 Northwestern vs. #6 Ohio State (Today, Dec. 1, 8pm)

Everything last week looked like the Michigan Wolverines were going to be the Big Ten East team in this game until the Buckeyes took over The Game in the second half and embarrassed Michigan. Now, with a convincing win, Ohio State has a chance to slip into the #4 seed. They may have struggled against lower-ranked teams, but Northwestern has lost to Duke and Akron. With that being said, Pat Fitzgerald’s defense has been able to stop some really good offenses over the last few seasons. Ohio State’s Dwayne “Screen Pass” Haskins struggles when pressured. I believe this game will either be closer than the 14.5 points that the Buckeyes are favored by.

 

 

 

 

My Tuesday Take: Nov. 27, 2018

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving and like every Thanksgiving, people say what they are thankful for, and the Dallas Cowboys have a game. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones is most likely very thankful that he gave up a first round draft pick for wide receiver Amari Cooper after he had a monster game against the Redskins that night that included touchdowns of 40 and 90 yards.

Cooper was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the 2015 draft. His first two seasons with the Raiders were great. He had over 1,000 receiving yards in those two years. Cooper struggled in 2017 with an ankle injury. It looked like this year was going to be another down year for Cooper (it looks like that is the case for everyone in Oakland) until he was traded to Dallas on October 22 for the Cowboys’ 2019 first round pick, and his season immediately began to look up.

Amari Cooper has more receiving yards in four games with Dallas than he did in six games with Oakland. I would expect his numbers to keep growing as he continues to learn the offense and becomes quarterback Dak Prescott’s main target. Mr. Jones, you can sleep well at night knowing you found the missing piece your team needed to compete for a playoff spot. Continue to be thankful that everyone else was wrong.

CFP #5 Predictions

The last week of college football brought a ton of excitement and some key upsets. Not only did #8 Washington St go down on Friday to #16 Washington in the snow on Friday, but #7 LSU came up just short to #22 Texas A&M after seven overtimes, and #4 Michigan was embarrassed in The Game by #10 Ohio State on Saturday. LSU and Washington St are both expected to fall out of the Top 10. While #1-3 will stay the same, everything else is up in the air.

Some things to keep an eye on are:

  • How far does Ohio State move up after finally getting their statement win? The committee has held them at #10 for the last few weeks because they struggled against unranked opponents with losing records. With #7 and 8 going down, along with #9 UCF losing starting quarterback McKenzie Milton to a severe knee injury, this could be the week that they see themselves jump up several spots.
  • How much does the committee view teams that are going to play in their conference championships? Texas and Washington have three losses each, and both will play Top 20 teams in their championships next week. That’s one more game for each team to show the committee they deserved to be ranked higher. I specifically want to focus on Texas because they play Oklahoma next week and have already beat them. Two out of three of their losses are to unranked Maryland and Oklahoma St. I don’t have them in my Top 10, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up there.

Without further ado, here are my guesses for this week:

  1. Alabama
  2. Celmson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Georgia
  5. Oklahoma
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Michigan
  9. Florida
  10. Penn State

My Tuesday Take: Nov. 20, 2018

The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday. What should’ve been an easy win for the Jaguars and would’ve kept them in contention for first place in the AFC South, turned into a heartbreaking loss and most likely ended their chances of getting into the playoffs.

Sunday’s game started off down right awful for two-time Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions in his first 12 pass attempts. The leaders of the AFC North failed to score any points in the first half for the first time in over two years. But because Jacksonville’s offense wasn’t able to turn the interceptions into touchdowns and only scored three field goals in the first half, Pittsburgh was still in the game going into halftime.

The second half still looked ugly for the Steelers, but Big Ben was able to connect with wide receiver Antonio Brown for a 78-yard touchdown pass after Jags’ running back Leonard Fournette scored his team’s lone touchdown. Jacksonville’s offense stalled after their touchdown. Then, Roethlisberger did what he does best in the fourth quarter. He marched the team down the field and found tight end Vance McDonald in the end zone on the plus side of the two-minute warning. The Steelers’ defense came up huge with a three and out on the Jags’ next possession. Pittsburgh took advantage and marched down the field. It looked like all hope was lost when running back James Conner dropped a sure touchdown pass. After a few more plays, Roethlisberger threw what would’ve been his fourth interception of the day had the Jaguars not committed a very obvious facemask penalty that spun wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the ground. Then with five seconds left on the clock, Big Ben ran and dove around an offensive lineman for the game-winning touchdown.

Losing a game that looked like a win from the start begs the question: Do the Jaguars finally realize they need a new quarterback? This question doesn’t come up just because of this one game. It’s been a continuous thing over the last few years, including when starting quarterback Blake Bortles was benched during a game about a month ago. Now, I know that every quarterback can’t be a future Hall of Famer like Ben Roethlisberger, but the Jags desperately need an upgrade. They cannot just hope that their group of running backs will rush for over 200 yards per game, especially when Fournette is injured for half the season. Honestly, Lamar Jackson would’ve been the perfect quarterback for them in last year’s draft because he is the opposite of Blake Bortles. He’s explosive. That may have described Bortles at UCF but not now. Jacksonville has a Super Bowl worthy defense and running back. It’s time they get at least an average quarterback that will put them in a position to try to win a game. Jags, don’t be afraid to take advantage of free agency or the draft, and go get your franchise guy.

CFP #4 Predictions

Last week was the first time ever that the Top 10 stayed the same for two weeks in a row. It looked like that streak would continue for a third week until Oklahoma St ended WVU’s chances at the playoff late in the game. With WVU out, two questions now need to be answered:

  1. Does Ohio State move up to #9 after beating an unranked Maryland team, whose quarterback tore his ACL last week, 52 to 51 in overtime after the Terrapins failed to convert a two-point attempt to win the game. The committee has held the Buckeyes at #10 for close wins to bad teams before, like a then two-win Nebraska gave them a hard time, and Ohio State ended up winning by five points.
  2. Is this the week that UCF finally cracks the Top 10? The Golden Knights took advantage of a College GameDay atmosphere and handled #24 Cincinnati. UCF crawled its way up to #11 last week. I believe they come in at #10 by default because #12 Syracuse lost and #13 and below have too many losses. They will also stay behind Ohio St because of strength of schedule. OSU just has more quality wins.

My predictions for this week are:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Michigan
  5. Georgia
  6. Oklahoma
  7. LSU
  8. Washington St
  9. Ohio State
  10. UCF

Potential Super Bowl Preview

Tonight is the game that football fans have been waiting for all season. Maybe the most hyped game of the season is the Kansas City Chiefs versus the Los Angeles Rams. Tonight’s game, which was originally supposed to be played at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, could very well be a preview of the upcoming Super Bowl. Both teams are 9-1 and are currently leading their divisions. The Rams’ and Chiefs’ offenses are averaging the second and third most yards per play in NFL history, respectively, and no one has been able to slow them down. Each team’s lone loss was a shootout. The Chiefs lost to the Patriots 40 to 43. The Rams lost to the Saints 35 to 45.

These teams have playmakers at every position. Kansas City has superstars like quarterback Pat Mahomes, running back Kareem Hunt, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and tight end Travis Kelce. Mahomes has electrified this offense since the Chiefs traded former starter and very cautious quarterback Alex Smith, who broke his leg yesterday. LA has last year’s offensive and defensive players of the year in running back Todd Gurley and defensive end Aaron Donald. They also have quarterback Jared Goff, who has proved why he was worthy of being selected number one overall after a disastrous start to his career. To top it off, the Rams’ defensive line is made up of four former first round picks.

This really should be the most fun game of the year to watch. These teams match up really well on paper, too. Their offensive and defensive stats per game are very similar. The things to keep an eye on are that the Chiefs average more yards per pass (310.7 to 253.9), and the Rams average more rushing yards (144.8 to 117.6). It could be very interesting to see if Coach Sean McVay allows Goff to open up the field more or if Gurley becomes more of a work horse. Does Mahomes’ star continue to shine or is this the game that he looks like it’s his first year playing?

CFP #3 Predictions

In about 15 minutes the College Football Playoff Committee is going to release its rankings for the third time this year. Every team in the Top 10 won this week, so I can’t imagine any teams moving up or down. The committee also made two things very clear: Notre Dame will continue to be ahead of Michigan unless ND loses and strength of schedule matters. I still stand by that Michigan is the better team and deserves to be #3. Here is my prediction for this week:

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Michigan
  5. Georgia
  6. Oklahoma
  7. LSU
  8. Washington St
  9. West Virginia
  10. Ohio State

CFP Poll #2 Predictions

The second rankings for the CFP Poll are going to be released tonight. Here are my predictions for the Top 10:

  1. Alabama – They were the #1 team before this week, and all they did was easily beat #3 LSU 29 to 0.
  2. Clemson – The Tigers destroyed Louisville 77 to 16 and had three running backs run over 100 yards each.
  3. Michigan – Yes, I know Notre Dame is undefeated and beat Michigan, but that was the first game of the year. Michigan blew out #14 PSU 42 to 7 and is clearly better than Notre Dame right now. The committee forgives teams for losing a game to an unranked opponent, so why not forgive a loss to a ranked team.
  4. Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish beat an unranked Northwestern by 10 points. That’s not impressive.
  5. Georgia – They beat #9 Kentucky, who will fall out of the Top 10, 34 to 17 to take the SEC East.
  6. Oklahoma – They won an offensive shootout over Texas Tech.
  7. Washington St – They beat a Cal team that upset Washington last week.
  8. Ohio State – The Buckeyes scraped by with a five-point victory over Nebraska, who has only two wins. They move up by default because Kentucky and LSU lost.
  9. LSU – I believe they fall this far because the loss to Bama was their second lost of the season. They stay in the Top 10 because they have a strong schedule.
  10. WVU – This is a toss up between WVU and UCF, who was ranked higher last week. -This is where the strength of schedule could really come into play. WVU, or Country Roads as I like to call them, beat #17 Texas by one point. That looks a lot better than coming back to beat unranked Temple by 12 points. UCF’s schedule is their biggest opponent because it is terribly weak.

Making a Statement

Statement Saturday lived up to its name as the playoff picture began to take shape after some important match-ups took place on November 3rd. These games determined the SEC East and West winners, knocked LSU out of the playoffs, made Michigan the clear front runner for the Big Ten, and dismantled Florida’s, Texas’, and Penn State’s seasons.

The biggest takeaway from this past weekend is that Alabama showed they deserve to be the #1 team in the country after having been criticized for their “cupcake” schedule. They routed #3 LSU, whom many believed were back to their former glory, 29 to 0. The so-called “DBU” stood no chance against Bama’s high-powered and talented offense, especially with linebacker Devin White suspended for the first half because of a controversial targeting call that resulted in his ejection in the second half of LSU’s last game. The Tigers desperately needed to win this game to potentially clinch the SEC West and keep their playoff hopes alive, as no two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff. This win for Bama means they’ve clinched the SEC West and will face Georgia, who beat Kentucky to win the SEC East, in the conference championship game.

For once, the biggest event in Kentucky in November wasn’t about horse racing. It was a college football game. Georgia took on Kentucky in the most important football game in Lexington in years. The Wildcats watched their SEC champion hopes disappear as the Bulldogs ran their way to a win. Although Georgia secured the SEC East, Kentucky should be proud of the strides made by their team this year and that they are now both a basketball and football school. Several teams, most notably Florida, Texas, and Penn State, saw their once-promising seasons come to an end as each recorded their third loss. Florida was defeated by unranked Missouri while Texas lost a heart breaker to #13 West Virginia when quarterback Will Grier converted a two-point conversion to take a one-point lead with 16 seconds left. #14 Penn State was blown out by #5 Michigan at The Big House.

The convincing win for Michigan over PSU will propel them into the Top 4 and, possibly, a playoff berth. It means that Michigan holds onto first place in the Big Ten East and controls their own destiny to the Big Ten Championship and CFP. Winning their last three games, especially the last one at Ohio State, means those two goals become a reality, and maybe most importantly, Harbaugh keeps his job.

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