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

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.