Top College Football Games: Week 14

It’s the unofficial final week of the regular season, as most conferences play their championship games next week. Only the Army-Navy Game on December 14th remains for Week 16. But there sure are some awesome games this week with BCS Bowl implications, and any decent college football fan has good reason to be excited.

#6 Clemson (10-1) @ #10 South Carolina (9-2) – 7:45 pm Saturday

The Battle of the Palmetto State has recently favored South Carolina, with the Gamecocks winning the last four matchups against Clemson. This year, Clemson comes into the matchup as the higher-ranked team, but the two teams are combined for their best ranking in this matchup’s history (the previous record came in 1987, when #12 USC defeated #8 Clemson). Tajh Boyd is the ACC’s all-time leading touchdown passer, but he faces a big challenge in South Carolina DE Jadaveon Clowney, one of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft. Clemson’s lone loss came to then #5 Florida State, while South Carolina has lost to #11 Georgia and Tennessee. Look for South Carolina to feed off an energetic crowd and continue their push towards a BCS bowl bid. The Gamecocks will win the SEC East if Missouri loses to Texas A&M.

Prediction: South Carolina 27, Clemson 21

#3 Ohio State (11-0) @ Michigan (7-4) 12:00 pm Saturday

Ohio State has won 8 of the last 9 in “The Game” against their archrivals from Michigan. The Wolverines started the season ranked 17th, but have lost 4 of their last 6 matchups, three of them to unranked teams. Ohio State, on the other hand, has won every game it has played under head coach Urban Meyer and is trying to leapfrog Florida State to get into the BCS National Championship Game. The Buckeyes have a dynamic offense led by QBs Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton and RB Carlos Hyde, which should overpower the Michigan defense. The question is though, will this game be enough for Ohio State to inch closer to Florida State in the BCS standings? Or will Ohio State get some help (see below)?

Prediction: OSU 41, Michigan 21

#1 Alabama (11-0) @ #4 Auburn (10-1) 3:30 pm Saturday

The Iron Bowl. The SEC West Championship Game. The Biggest Game of the Year. Call it whatever you want, but this matchup of Alabama foes will determine a lot about the BCS Championship picture. The winner of this game will advance to the SEC Championship Game against either Missouri or South Carolins (if Mizzou loses this week). On one side, you have the two-time defending champs who have looked strong from day 1. On the other hand, you have an upstart Tigers team under first year head coach Gus Malzahn who have looked impressive. Auburn QB Nick Marshall is good, but Alabama beat a more dynamic Texas A&M offense earlier this year on the road, and I believe they can do it again. Nick Saban will have the Tide rolling on Saturday.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Auburn 24

Unfair Competition in College Football

Oklahoma State famously defeated Savannah State 84-0 last season, though the  Tigers made over $400,000 for their loss.

Oklahoma State famously defeated Savannah State 84-0 last season, though the Tigers made over $400,000 for their loss.

As I write this post, my beloved Elon University football team is losing to Georgia Tech 28-0. The first quarter just ended. It’s the fifth straight year Elon has opened up against a big-name Division I program (Elon is Division I-AA, now called FCS), and the closest the Phoenix came to victory was in 2010 when they lost to Duke 41-27. Last season, the Phoenix looked helpless against the North Carolina Tar Heels in a 62-0 blowout.

It’s just one example of small schools taking on their Division I counterparts in the early stages of the college football season. Much like the NFL has its preseason, many top teams schedule lesser opponents to act as a “preseason” of sorts, warming up before the toughest games of their schedules. But is it worth it to play a school you know you will beat easily? And consequently, is it worth Elon’s time to play a school like Georgia Tech in football?

Well, for the smaller schools, a date with a Division I football program is a big payday. Last season, Savannah State University opened up with #18 Oklahoma State and #5 Florida State. They received more than $850,000 to play these two schools, which greatly benefitted Savannah State’s athletics budget. But the Tigers lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State, and 55-0 to Florida State (the latter being called in the third quarter due to rain). Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said, “You get paid for certain things, but I don’t know if at the end of the day, some things are worth the payments you get.”

And on the flip side, what’s the real benefit for the Division I powerhouses? Let’s look at the 2007 Michigan Wolverines. Coming off an 11-2 season, Michigan was ranked fifth and had nigh national championship expectations. They scheduled a small school for their first week of the season, thinking that it would give their players a great chance to warm up. Of course, that small school was Appalachian State, and they famously upset the #5 Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan (and every other large school in a similar circumstance) was in a lose-lose situation. If you win, you just meet the expectations of the college football world and usually don’t look incredibly impressive in the process. If you lose, you become the butt of jokes for weeks and drop significantly in the polls. In Michigan’s case, the loss to Appalachian State completely dropped them out of the top 25, and the Wolverines would go on to lose the next week as well, essentially ending their national championship hopes.

Michigan isn’t alone, however. James Madison defeated #13 Virginia Tech in 2010, and North Dakota State has defeated Division I teams in each of the last four seasons, including an upset of Kansas State last night. Big schools have to dish out profits to these small schools in exchange for a beatdown, and they risk losing not just a game, but a chance at national championship glory. Perhaps it’s time to end the cross-divisional scheduling in college football, giving teams a fair chance to win. After all, there are 125 Division I FBS teams to choose from.

And just in case you were wondering, it’s 42-0 Georgia Tech at halftime. Thanks for your thoughts and sympathies.

Louisville Defeats Michigan to Win NCAA Championship

final4The Louisville Cardinals finished the 2012-13 NCAA Basketball season on another high note Monday night, defeating the Michigan Wolverines in the NCAA Championship Game 82-76. Louisville finished the season with a sixteen game win streak, including a Big East Championship and a flawless NCAA Tournament record to earn the school’s third national title (1980 & 1986). The Cardinals finished the 2012-13 campaign with a record of 35-5, while Michigan finished 31-8 on the year.

The Cardinals were led on the court by guard Luke Hancock, who came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points, and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Senior guard Peyton Siva scored 18 points for Louisville, and forward Chane Behanan had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Kevin Ware watched from the sidelines in a leg cast; he broke his right leg in two places in Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke last Sunday. Since going down with the injury, Ware has been a source of inspiration and motivation for the Louisville basketball community.

The win also marks the second national championship for Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who previously won a title with the Kentucky Wildcats in 1996. Earlier this week, Pitino learned that he was one of the twelve inductees into the 2013 Class of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Now, Pitino has made history by becoming the first coach to win a national championship with two schools.

Michigan was led by Trey Burke, the 2013 College Basketball Player of the Year, who scores 24 points on 7-11 shooting. Spike Albright added 17 for the Wolverines, and Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr. added 12 points apiece. Michigan shot  52% form the field in the loss, but also missed 7 free throws in the contest. The loss marks Michigan’s third consecutive loss in National Championship Game appearances (they previously lost in 1992 & 1993).

Louisville becomes the third #1 overall seed to win the national championship. Since the NCAA started naming #1 overall seeds in 2004, only three teams (2007 Florida, 2012 Kentucky, 2013 Louisville) have run the table and cut down the nets in April. Louisville was a deep, athletic, talented team in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but this championship will be remembered for the legacy of Kevin Ware, and the determination of a team to rebound from tragedy to reach great heights.

The Curse of #1

Indiana was the latest victim of an upset of a #1 team when they lost to Illinois on February 7. (Photo Source: AP Photo/John Dixon)

Indiana was the latest victim of an upset of a #1 team when they lost to Illinois on February 7. (Photo Source: AP Photo/John Dixon)

The number one ranking in college basketball is something every team strives for. The ranking carries a legacy of elite programs and championship teams. Four teams have held the #1 ranking this season, but nobody seems to stay at the top. In the past month, several teams have had the chance to prove their supremacy, and the result has been a comedy of errors.

Duke held the #1 ranking for four weeks from December 17th to January 13th. On January 12th, the 20th ranked NC State Wolfpack defeated the Blue Devils 84-76 to kick off a crazy month in college basketball. The next week, Louisville (then 15-1) took over the top spot and lost at home in the final seconds to #6 Syracuse five days later. Earlier that week #2 Indiana lost to Wisconsin, so Duke once again took the #1 ranking. Well, that didn’t last long; Duke suffered its worst loss in years to #25 Miami, 90-63.

Enter Michigan. The Wolverines gained the top spot in the AP Poll on January 28th with a 19-1 record. Their reign only lasted five days, as they lost at #3 Indiana 81-73. And to add more fun to the story, #2 Kansas (then 19-1) lost to unranked Oklahoma State, starting a three game skid that continued this past week against TCU and Oklahoma.

Last week, #1 Indiana was shocked by Illinois with a buzzer-beating layup by Illinois’ Tyler Griffey. That gave #2 Florida (then 19-2) an open path to the top spot….which they conveniently blew by losing to unranked Arkansas by 11 points. Ok, how about #3 Michigan? They too lost this week to unranked Wisconsin to drop to 21-3. With #5 Kansas on a free fall out of the Top 5, that left #4 Duke with a chance to regain the top spot. They ALMOST blew it, escaping with a 1 point victory over Boston College last night. And on top of all that fun, #25 Notre Dame beat #11 Louisville 104-101 in FIVE OVERTIMES Saturday night.

That leaves Duke with the likelihood of regaining the top spot in the AP Poll once again. The Blue Devils (currently 21-2)  have no walk in the park this week either. North Carolina (16-7) visits Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night in the Battle of Tobacco Road, and then Duke travels to Maryland (17-7) on Saturday. We could see teams such as Miami (19-3) and Gonzaga (23-2) vault into the top 5 this week.