Duke, UNC play Saturday for Victory Bell, Coastal Division Title

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke players celebrate with the Victory Bell trophy after their win last October against UNC.

Duke has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. A VERY long time. With a win on Saturday, the Blue Devils will win the ACC Coastal Division championship and play in their first ACC Championship Game. Only one little problem: they have to go to Kenan Memorial Stadium and knock off a surging North Carolina Tar Heels team that has won 5 straight games. It could be the biggest game Duke has ever played.

They have already surpassed many expectations under head coach David Cutcliffe. Last season they won the Victory Bell Game against UNC for the first time since 2003 and made their first bowl game appearance in more than 20 years. This season has been nothing short of great for Duke: currently the Blue Devils are on a 7 game winning streak, are 9-2 overall, and #24 in the BCS rankings (their first ever BCS appearance).

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora wants to make sure they don’t celebrate a Coastal Division title, too. According to freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer, Fedora has played the footage of Duke players spray painting the Victory Bell trophy royal blue after last year’s game nonstop in the locker and weight training rooms at Kenan Stadium. Fedora knows the importance of this victory for his team. “They’re the no. 24 team in the country and they’re on a seven-game winning streak. We’re excited for our seniors playing their last home game in Kenan Stadium so it should be a heck of a football game,” Fedora said Wednesday.

After a disheartening loss to Miami on October 17th, North Carolina has turned its season around quite nicely. The Tar Heels have won five straight games to become bowl eligible at 6-5, and North Carolina’s defense has stepped up nicely. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin currently ranks fifth in the country with 11 sacks. But more impressive for North Carolina has been their improved offense, especially from underclassmen.

Fedora broke out the trick plays once again last Saturday, and Carolina scored on a 56 yard pass off a flea flicker. Throw in a double pass TD from a wide receiver against N.C. State, a reverse pass to a quarterback for a TD against Virginia, and four punt returns in the last three weeks (all by Switzer), and you can see that Carolina is playing with confidence. UNC’s last 23 touchdowns have been scored by freshmen or sophomores, with 11 of those touchdowns coming last week in an 80-20 drubbing of Old Dominion.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

UNC freshman WR Ryan Switzer has 4 punt returns for touchdowns (1st in the country) in the last three weeks.

Both teams will use a dual-quarterback system of sorts. For Duke, both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette are expected to play. “You definitely have to be aware (of who’s under center) because they don’t do the same things” Fedora said of both Blue Devil signal-callers. Meanwhile, UNC will feature sophomore Marquise Williams, a proven threat passing AND running. There will also be talented receivers on both sides: Duke WR Jamison Crowder has over 1,000 yards receiving this season, and North Carolina TE Eric Ebron is expected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

So it’s five straight wins versus seven straight wins. If Duke wins, they win the Coastal Division. If UNC wins, they win a share of the Coastal Division (with Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Virginia Tech – who would win the tiebreaker). There are BCS standings and bowl implications on the line. And of course, the bell. As Dick Vitale would say, this game is going to be “AWESOME BABY!!!”

 

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

Top College Football Games: Week 13

We’re almost getting to the good rivalry games in the college football season, and conference titles and BCS implications are on the line for teams. Three of the top four teams in the country face inferior opponents and should win easily (Alabama vs. Chattanooga, Florida State vs. Idaho (Mashed Potatoes?), and Ohio State vs. Indiana). That can’t be said for the #4 team in America, and that brings us to the biggest game of the week.

#4 Baylor (9-0) vs. #10 Oklahoma State (9-1) 8:00 pm

This Big 12 matchup is BY FAR this week’s premier matchup. The nation’s number 1 offense (Baylor, 61.2 points per game) meets a top 15 defense and a hostile environment in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State features not one, but two 1,200 yard passers this season, but Baylor’s Brice Petty has 2,992 yards on his own. The Cowboys have two wins over top 25 teams this season (Texas Tech and Texas), and both were on the road, while Baylor has won only one such matchup (over then-#10 Oklahoma at home). This game will likely decide whether the Bears are for real, and I predict the Cowboys to give them a good run for their money.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 44, Baylor 41

#8 Missouri (9-1) vs. #24 Ole Miss (7-3) 7:45 pm

This game is essentially an SEC semifinal game for the Missouri Tigers, one of college football’s most surprising teams this year. Starting the season unranked, the Tigers have dominated the SEC East, beating #7 Georgia on the road and #22 Florida at home. Quarterback James Franklin has been excellent for Mizzou, and backup Maty Mauk has filled in nicely as well. This is a huge game for the Tigers because, if they lose, they are eliminated from the SEC Championship Game. Their lone loss was to South Carolina, who would advance on a tiebreaker if Missouri loses either of their last two games.

Prediction: Missouri 37, Ole Miss 24

#18 Arizona State (8-2) @ #14 UCLA (8-2)  7:00 pm

This Pac-12 South matchup could determine the division champion in 2013. Arizona State has one conference loss, and a win in this game would send the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 Championship Game (likely against Oregon). A loss throws a monkey wrench into the equation. UCLA faces USC next week, and the winner of that game would likely win the division. Brett Hundley has been fantastic for the Bruins, who have looked perfect on the field except against Oregon and Stanford. This is a game UCLA can’t afford to lose, and they will not.

Prediction: UCLA 37, Arizona State 30

Virginia Tech, Tennessee Will “Go Racing” in 2016

With a capacity of 160,000, Bristol Motor Speedway will become the largest college football venue in 2016.

With a capacity of 160,000, Bristol Motor Speedway will become the largest college football venue in 2016.

College football regularly draws thousands of fans per game, with many schools averaging more than 80,000 fans. Virginia Tech is known for being a perennial power in the ACC, and Lane Stadium regularly draws crowds of 66,000 fans. Tennessee also has a strong fan base in the SEC, with 6 digit crowds of over 100,000 every game. Now imagine those two crowds put together to form a giant crowd and throw in a finish line, banked turns, and pit row for show, and that’s what you’ll get in 2016.

According to reports, the Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers will play a nonconference game in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. The venue is most widely known for hosting NASCAR races twice per year, drawing crowds of 160,000 plus. Bristol will serve as a figurative AND geographic neutral site for the two teams (Virginia Tech will travel 124 miles; Tennessee will travel 113).

But perhaps the most staggering statistic is the sheer amount of people in attendance. 160,000 fans would BLOW the existing NCAA record of about 115,000 fans at the University of Michigan’s “Big House” out of the water. Considering that these two schools are steeped in tradition, history, and success (names like Peyton Manning and Michael Vick come to mind), this game has the potential to be HUGE. No pun intended.

While it is unsure how the stadium will be configured for the game, the likely assumption is that the field will be placed in the infield area between the two pit roads used by NASCAR. Engineers would likely have to construct a turf field to place over the existing asphalt. Perhaps the two teams will even bring in trailers as temporary locker rooms. The good news is that there are precedents for unique sports engineering.

In 2008, Michigan State hosted North Carolina in an NCAA basketball contest at Ford Field, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions using a specially-constructed court. In April 2009, the two teams met again at Ford Field in the national championship game (UNC won both games, thank you very much!). Several basketball games have also been played on aircraft carriers docked in harbor (again, UNC beat Michigan State in 2011). And the NHL has nearly perfected its outdoor ice rinks built on football and baseball fields in the annual Winter Classic.

Tennessee is a program in a rebuilding phase after losing star players Tyler Bray, Cordarelle Patterson, and Justin Hunter to the NFL. New coach Butch Jones (previously of Cincinnati fame) has the Vols at 3-3, and they nearly upset #6 Georgia last week. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, is 5-1 and ranked #24 in the AP Poll. Head coach Frank Beamer, who has led the Hokies since 1987, has won 10 games 11 of the past 14 seasons, and Virginia Tech has won 4 ACC Championships since 2004. So this mammoth game will feature two great programs three years from now. Wouldn’t it be appropriate if the winning team got a checkered flag?

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.

2013 College Football Preview: ACC

All eyes are on Tajh Boyd to lead the Clemson Tigers in 2013.

All eyes are on Tajh Boyd to lead the Clemson Tigers in 2013.

Okay, it’s been a basketball conference for decades now, but this year the ACC has some interesting storylines. First, Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC this year to expand the league to 12 teams, and Louisville will replace Maryland next season. Each division has its own unique path to the ACC Championship Game in December.

The Atlantic Division should be decided October 19, when preseason #11 and defending ACC Champion Florida State visits preseason #8 Clemson at Memorial Stadium. The winner of that game has won the Atlantic Division the last five seasons, so that game will have monumental consequences.

Conversely, the ACC Coastal Division is wide open. Last year, North Carolina, Miami, and Georgia Tech tied for the division crown at 5-3, with North Carolina unofficially winning the division. But the Tar Heels and Hurricanes were ineligible for postseason competition, so the Yellow Jackets advanced. Each team features a unique offensive style. Georgia Tech will continue their triple option, run-laden offense that obliterated the Tar Heels last season (68-50), North Carolina returns its senior QB Bryn Renner to run a fast-paced spread, and Miami QB Stephen Morris and RB Duke Johnson will lead a pro-style offense. Also look for Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas to impress in his final year in Blacksburg. Needless to say, it’s wide open in the Coastal Division.

Heisman Watch

Tajh Boyd threw for 3,900 yards and 36 touchdowns last season for the Clemson Tigers. He was named first team All-ACC and All-American for his efforts, and his stats in 2013 should only improve. Now a senior, Boyd is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers, a team that has top 10 talent, as evidenced by their #8 preseason ranking. He also improved his rushing total from 218 yards his sophomore year to 514 last season. In Dabo Swinney’s high-powered spread offense, Boyd is dangerous. And Clemson should have no problem giving Boyd the ball for more production. Only an intimidating Thanksgiving weekend matchup at South Carolina could hurt Boyd’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy (See: Jadeveon Clowney).

Championship Pick

As much as I would like to pick North Carolina to win the ACC, I don’t see it happening. The Coastal Division is tough to predict, but I think Miami will prevail. They play nine of their twelve games in the state of Florida, and will not leave the Sunshine State until their October 17 matchup at North Carolina. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson pack a powerful 1-2 punch for the Hurricanes, and now that they are free of NCAA sanctions, look for Miami to return to power.

Like I said previously, the winner of the Atlantic Division will be the winner of the Clemson-Florida State game on October 19. The road team is that matchup is 1-10 in the last 11 years. Sorry Florida State, but it’s not your year in 2013. Look for Clemson to win the Atlantic Division and defeat Miami in a tough matchup in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. 

2013 College Football Preview: AAC

Can anyone stop Louisville and Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater this season?

Can anyone stop Louisville and Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater this season?

With 8 days remaining until the start of the 2013 college football season, we will take a detailed look at each power conference, the best of the rest, and make predictions for the Heisman Trophy and the BCS National Championship. Each day will feature a new article with a unique outlook on the world of college football. So without further ado, meet your new Big East Conference. Kinda…

The newest conference in NCAA football is the AAC, or the American Athletic Conference. It’s a league in flux; Temple, Central Florida, Southern Methodist, Houston and Memphis joined this year, while recent powers Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) are leaving next year. Last year, four teams (Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and Syracuse) tied for the Big East title at 5-2, with Louisville representing the league in the BCS, where they upset #4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

This year, three teams shape up to contend for the AAC title. The first, Cincinnati, is in a transition year. Head coach Butch Jones left for the University of Tennessee, and former Auburn and Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville will lead the Bearcats this season. Rutgers enters its second season under head coach Kyle Flood, but the Scarlet Knights will also have new offensive and defensive coordinators this season. Finally, Louisville returns both head coach Charlie Strong and Big East Offensive POY Teddy Bridgewater to a team that won 11 games last season.

Heisman Watch

The pride and joy of the AAC this season will be Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater. After winning Freshman of the Year honors in 2011, Bridgewater threw for 1,600 more yards and 13 more touchdowns in his sophomore campaign last year. His signature performance was the 2013 Sugar Bowl, where Bridgewater threw for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns against Florida’s #1 ranked pass defense. Bridgewater is a poised, experienced player who can lead the Cardinals to great heights in 2013, and is a serious contender to win the Heisman Trophy.

Championship Pick 

Louisville is the only ranked team (#9) in the AAC this preseason, and for good reason. Bridgewater is the real deal, and I strongly believe in Louisville’s ability to not only win the AAC, but to possibly go undefeated (WHAT?!?!?). Their nonconference schedule is a joke, with their toughest test coming in Week 1 at home against the Ohio Bobcats. They also play Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky, and FIU. Oooooo, scary. Their biggest game is a Thursday night ESPN game against Rutgers at home, and I believe that only Cincinnati on December 5 poses a legitimate threat to upset Louisville. It won’t be an easy road to the BCS National Championship Game, but Louisville has the talent (and the QB) to make headlines come January.