Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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04 Dec 2008

7th Day Adventure: An SEC World

by Russell Levine


The SDA Podcast

 

 

I've never been a big fan of conference title games. I feel strongly that they are made-for-TV events that can compromise the regular season. Since the BCS doesn't consider them any different than a regular-season game for the purposes of finding its 1-2 matchup, I'm not sure what the purpose is other than to put on a spectacle for the TV cameras and make a pile of money.

The argument that the Big East, Big Ten, and Pac-10 champions should somehow be punished for not having to play a 13th game holds no water with me. Nobody is forcing the ACC, Big 12, and SEC to play these games -- they're done for commerce. History is evenly split on whether they help or hurt those leagues' teams when it comes to getting into the BCS title game. For every LSU of 2007, which played its way into the BCS in the SEC title game, there's a 2000 Texas, a 2001 Tennessee, a 1998 Kansas State, etc.

That said, there will be no debate about the stakes in the SEC game this week, and while everyone is anointing Oklahoma a national title game participant after the Sooners got the BCS nod over Texas for the Big 12 South crown last week, that game may yet prove to be interesting, especially if weather is a factor. We know this: The Austin, Texas, market will watch the game with equal mixtures of intrigue and disgust, as an upset by the Tigers would put the Longhorns right back in the title game.

What about The ACC? Meh. I am impressed with the ACC's overall depth, but I could not care less who wins, nor will I pay any more than a passing interest to the game. The MAC title game is usually an entertaining, high-scoring affair and therefore worth a look on Friday night. Conference USA? Not so much.

Still, it's the final weekend of the regular season and I expect to log many hours on the couch Saturday.

This Week's Guest

With the SEC the main topic of discussion for obvious reasons, Orson Swindle of Every Day Should Be Saturday joins me once again to break down the Alabama-Florida game, as well as to discuss the coaching carousel, now beginning to turn in earnest.

As usual when Orson's involved, it's a wide-ranging discussion, one that covers topics as varied as the positional matchups between the Gators and Tide to Layla Kiffin, fast becoming the Cindy Margolis of coaching wives.

I hope you'll listen in.

This Week's Games

Louisville (+10) at Rutgers, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Rutgers, a forgotten team after a miserable 1-5 start, has played itself back to 6-5 and has a chance to clinch a winning record at home against Louisville. So, it's not quite the Thursday night national spotlight game that ESPN and the Big East probably envisioned when they made the schedule, but it's still plenty meaningful for both schools. Louisville is 5-6 and in front of only pathetic Syracuse in the Big East standings, but can get itself bowl eligible with a win (though a bid is not guaranteed at 6-6). An upset win would also help take the heat off Steve Kraigthorpe, who hasn't earned a whole lot of support after taking a team that Bobby Petrino built to national prominence and guiding it to the bottom of the conference. Rutgers' resurgence has been sparked by an impressive turnaround by senior quarterback Mike Teel. He's still prone to the inexplicable interception, but has been putting up points and yardage with regularity since midseason. He'll do it again here, and Rutgers will get to show the nation that the program is on the right track.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Rutgers| RUSSELL: Rutgers (Edelstein Lock)

MAC Championship (at Detroit)
No. 12 Ball State (-14.5) vs. Buffalo, Friday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2

No, the MAC title game doesn't rate with the other conference championships to be decided this week, but if history is any guide, this might be the most entertaining game of the weekend. Ball State is looking to put the capper on a 13-0 regular season. It gets lost in the attention paid to the Texas-Oklahoma situation, but a Ball State win would likely leave four non-BCS conference schools in the top 12 of the final BCS standings. The top 12 is important because it means a guaranteed invite to a BCS game -- for the highest ranked among the group. That bid will go to Utah, while Boise State, TCU, and Ball State receive a nice pat on the back for their efforts. In fact, Ball State's reward for an undefeated campaign might be another trip to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl. It would be much more appealing to see the Cardinals matched against Boise State in what would be the most intriguing second-tier bowl game since Boise State and Louisville hooked up as unbeatens in the Liberty Bowl a few years ago. A win won't come easily against Buffalo and coach Turner Gill, who certainly deserves a look from a major programs after building a moribund Buffalo program to this point. If Gill isn't interviewing for BCS conference jobs at this time next week, it will be hard to ignore race in the equation. As for this game, keep an eye on Ball State quarterback Nate Davis, who has NFL talent and gaudy stats: 3,095 yards, 25 touchdowns, just six interceptions, and 67.3 percent completion rate.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Buffalo | RUSSELL: Buffalo

Navy (-11.5) vs. Army (at Philadelphia), 12 p.m. ET, CBS

Navy is once again a heavy favorite in its annual battle with Army. The Middies have won six straight over Army, the longest streak by either school in series history. And the games haven't been particularly close, which is very out of character for this rivalry. During the streak, Navy has won by an average of 28 points per game. Army got off to an ugly 0-4 start, managed to win three out of four at midyear, but comes in on a three-game slide. Still, they've been competitive in most of the losses -- with two coming by a field goal and another by one score -- and have made progress overall. I just don't know that they can keep it close enough to cover the spread.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Navy | RUSSELL: Navy

Conference-USA Championship
East Carolina (+13.5) at Tulsa, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Remember when East Carolina was the darling of college football, thanks to its back-to-back upsets of Virginia Tech and West Virginia to open the season? Some people foolishly began to talk about the BCS possibilities for the Pirates. ECU's big-dollar bowl hopes came crashing down thanks to a three-game losing streak at midseason, but Skip Holtz's team rallied to finish the year on a 5-1 run and is looking at a possible GMAC Bowl bid if it can upset Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane were also considered a BCS buster before being annihilated, 70-30, in a John Jenkins-esque performance by Houston three weeks ago, but still wrapped up the C-USA West title with a win over Marshall last week.

THE PICKS -- FEI: East Carolina (Edelstein Lock) | RUSSELL: East Carolina

ACC Championship (at Tampa)

No. 17 Boston College (pick 'em) vs. No. 25 Virginia Tech, 12 p.m. ET, ABC

Let's give the ACC some credit. The league doesn't have a single great team. Its best team might well be Georgia Tech, which isn't in Tampa for the title game. But the conference might also be the nation's deepest. Ten of its teams are bowl-eligible, and there isn't a truly awful squad in the entire league. It's fitting, then, that the conference championship is a pick 'em game. Boston College won the regular-season meeting between the teams, 28-23, despite committing five turnovers and allowing a pair of defensive touchdowns. Virginia Tech's offense couldn't get started in that October game, but this time around the Hokies may have the advantage on that side of the ball as Boston College redshirt freshman quarterback Dominique Davis will be making just his second career start. The ACC might want to rethink the whole neutral-site championship thing. Without a Florida team in the game, the crowd at Raymond James isn't likely to look much bigger than last year's spartan gathering in Jacksonville. The Buccaneers were sending out "buy one, get one free" ticket offers to their mailing list at midweek.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Boston College | RUSSELL: Virginia Tech

No. 5 USC (-31.5) at UCLA, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

This doesn't look like much of a game on paper, but I'll tune in for a few minutes just to see both teams wear their home jerseys for the first time since they shared a home field at the L.A. Coliseum in the early 1980s. USC will pay for the privilege by forfeiting one timeout each half. I don't think they'll need them -- not with a defense that fields as many as eight potential high-round NFL picks and has been an immovable force ever since the Trojans' only loss of the season to Oregon State. They're on a seven-game winning streak that includes two shutouts and four other games in which they surrendered 10 or fewer points.

THE PICKS -- FEI: USC | RUSSELL: USC

SEC Championship (at Atlanta)

No. 1 Alabama (+9.5) vs. No. 4 Florida, 4 p.m. ET, CBS

It's the first de facto national semifinal since Michigan and Ohio State met as Nos. 1 and 2 to conclude the 2006 season. For all the great teams the SEC has produced in the BCS era, including four champions in the 10 seasons since its formation, never before have both participants in the SEC championship game been in position to play for the national title. The game appears to be the ultimate contrast in styles: Florida's explosive offense (53.7 points per game during its current seven-game win streak) against Alabama's stout defense and punishing ground game. During the podcast, Orson expressed concern about the strength of Alabama's offensive and defensive lines, which have the potential to dominate this game. Still, you have to figure that Florida is the more versatile team, the only one that could conceivably win a game with scores in the 20s, the 30s, or the 40s, whereas Alabama probably needs to keep things low-scoring to have a chance. Nick Saban is always looking for a motivational edge, and he must be thrilled at the point spread. I think he'll keep it a game into the second half, but John Parker Wilson will cough up the ball as Florida pulls away in the second half.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Alabama | RUSSELL: Florida

Big 12 Championship (at Kansas City)

No. 20 Missouri (+17) vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Oklahoma seems to have Missouri's number, having beaten the Tigers twice last regular season, but the Sooners have also had a disturbing history of coming up small in unexpected moments in recent seasons. Usually, the shocking loss has come right around the time writers are starting to tell us how this particular version of the Sooners is the best team of all time. The hyperbole hasn't quite gone that far this year, not with Oklahoma needed a tie-breaking miracle just to win its division. This game, coming right after the SEC tilt, will also serve as the final referendum on the Heisman campaign of Sam Bradford, who will take the field right after Tim Tebow is finishing up in Atlanta. Whoever plays better is likely to be taking home the statuette in a couple of weeks.

THE PICKS -- FEI: Missouri | RUSSELL: Oklahoma

Picks Table

The Picks
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
Visitor Spread Home FEI Says Russell Says
Louisville +10 Rutgers Rutgers Rutgers*
Ball State -14.5 Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo
Navy -11.5 Army Navy Navy
East Carolina +13.5 Tulsa East Carolina* East Carolina
Boston College Pick 'em Virginia Tech Boston College Virginia Tech
USC -31.5 UCLA USC USC
Alabama +9.5 Florida Alabama Florida
Missouri +17.5 Oklahoma Missouri Oklahoma
Season-long Results
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
  Last Week Season Total
FEI: 3-5-1 (1-0-0) 50-59-3 (5-8-1)
Russell: 5-3-1 (0-0-1) 52-57-3 (4-9-1)

Posted by: Russell Levine on 04 Dec 2008

23 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2008, 5:40pm by bowman (not verified)

Comments

1
by Tom Gower :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:29pm

I swear I haven't looked at the Louisville-Rutgers score yet. I'll add my results last week later...

This week I'll take: Louisville, Buffalo, Navy, Tulsa, Boston College, USC, Florida, and Oklahoma (Edelstein).

2
by peachy (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 10:24pm

I believe you - even an hour ago, no-one would have picked Louisville if they had known the score.

8
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 12:59pm

That was pretty bad, wasn't it? Picking just to be a contrarian was a bad idea, and somewhat hypocritical considering I've been riding the "Kragthorpe was a bad hire" bandwagon since about 6 games into his first year.

I matched Russell's 5-3-1 last week, so I'm now 41-45-3, but at least the Edelstein is at 6-5 after Boomer Sooner came through for me again.

3
by DoubleB (not verified) :: Thu, 12/04/2008 - 10:26pm

These are the games that get you fired. I sense the Kragthorpe era at Louisville might be coming to an end.

4
by Salvi's Headband (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 12:04am

Jeez. What bowl does Rutgers go to? They look scary. They haven't just won 6 straight, they've won by 5 straight blowouts.

5
by lionsbob :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 12:26am

Collegefootballnews.com has Rutgers projected for the papajohns.com bowl (against Florida Atlantic), but that was before today's win.

6
by Salvi's Headband (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 12:51am

Good god, the Big East has bad bowls. Birmingham against FAU? I guess RU can't complain. If they hadn't lost to Navy they might not be in this predicament. NAVY! Basically, with the Gator free to take a Big 12 team this year, the BE's best bowls are Sun and Meineke. After that, nothing but dreck. Pathetic.

7
by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 1:55am

The FAU thing isn't happening - the Sun Belt only has a tie-in if the team is 7-5 or better. The Papajohns is going to be Troy if they lose to Arkansas State, otherwise N.C. State, because it's close and that's the only way they can play a team from a BCS conference.

But actually, the hot Rutgers rumor of the day is that they'll be picked by the International Bowl, and then traded to the Motor City to play Ball State - who they played in last year's International Bowl.

9
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 1:04pm

For the record, Boise State was unbeaten in that Liberty Bowl, but Louisville had a loss-the game against Miami where they dropped an INT then gave up a TD pass to win the game.

10
by CuseFanInSoCal :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 3:11pm

I'm with you on the Pac 10 and Big East not needing championship games. The Big Ten, though, is the only conference in I-A/FBS which has neither a round-robin schedule nor a championship game, and so has co-champs that didn't play about a third of the time.

Of course, if I were running things, Penn State would be in the Big East (as would BC, though USF wouldn't), and we wouldn't have this problem...

--
My new CuseFanInSoCal blog

11
by Will :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 5:56pm

I am a Big Ten fan and agree with you wholeheartedly. I don't want to see a conference championship game, but they should have every team play everyone else. Of course, that only leaves two non-conference games, but I would be happy if they all played one "Big Six" and one other FBS team (which could be Big Six), and then 10 conference games every year.

Will

12
by pete (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 6:11pm

i disagree wholeheartedly, as a college football fan this is one of my favorite days of the year. Sometimes it leaves you unfulfilled (05), sometimes it leaves you shocked (98), but it always leaves you completely drunk. Imagine if the NCAA's instituted a 16 team playoff, and the winners of these title games earned a bid march style

13
by Dennis :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 12:27am

How cool would it be if Buffalo was going to the playoffs instead of the Motor City Bowl or wherever they'll end up.

14
by lionsbob :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 2:13pm

Plenty of good seats available at the ACC championship game.

15
by joe football (not verified) :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 2:25pm

Be sure to join a star-studded cast of your favorite FO posters for IRC football chat! There's a change this week, due to a power-hungry Fnor forcing a move to his server. The new server is bendenweyr.dyndns.org, channel still #fo

Brief tutorial for the IRC-shy:

- Download mIRC from mIRC.com
- type /server bendenweyr.dyndns.org into the status window
- type /join #fo

16
by Rocco :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 3:05pm

Where the heck has this VT offense been all year? They actually have a clue for a change.

17
by Rocco :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 3:07pm

Okay, I jinxed things. My bad.

18
by roguerouge :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 5:05pm

Wow. I'm watching the ACC championship and nobody's been in the stands. They have the stands in the background in a number of shots and there's like 1/3 of the seats filled. What happened?

19
by Rocco :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 5:40pm

Two teams that are based nowhere near Tampa made the title game.

Yes, I know the ACC is fairly mediocre, but VT winning the conference this year is remarkable given all the talent they lost from last year's team. They lose a couple guys from this year's team but for the most part they're going to be better at almost every position. Most of their tough games will be at home as well next season.

20
by ChrisH :: Sat, 12/06/2008 - 10:54pm

This OU game is really, really boring. I wanted something good for a nightcap, but it's almost half and I'm thinking that going to sleep sounds good.

21
by Kevin Eleven :: Sun, 12/07/2008 - 11:07am

1. Oklahoma (12-1)
2. Florida (11-1)
3. Alabama (12-1)
4. Texas (11-1)
5. Utah (12-0)
6. Penn State (11-1)
7. USC (11-1)- they could go as high as #2 after the bowls. This might really be the best team in the country, and that Thursday night loss to Oregon State must keep SC fans up at night.
8. Texas Tech (11-1)
9. Oklahoma State (9-3)
10. Ohio State (10-2)
11. TCU (10-2)
12. Cincinnati (10-2)
13. Boise State (11-0)
14. Georgia Tech (9-3)
15. BYU (10-2)
16. Georgia (9-3)
17. Missouri (9-4)
18. Virginia Tech (9-4)
19. Oregon (9-3)
20. Michigan State (9-3)
21. Ole Miss (8-4)
22. Northwestern (9-3)
23. Pittsburgh (9-3)
24. Boston College (9-3)
25. Iowa (8-4)

22
by ChrisH :: Sun, 12/07/2008 - 8:18pm

I bet what USC hates is that, had Oregon State scheduled some total cream-puff teams to open the years instead of road games at Penn State and Utah, they would have wound up 10-2 and USC's loss would look far, far better than it does now (this wouldn't have affected OSU's bowl). A 4 game playoff right now would be great, so would 6/8 teams.

23
by bowman (not verified) (not verified) :: Mon, 12/08/2008 - 5:40pm

4 team playoff = Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Penn State? Texas would still be left out...

8 team playoff = Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Penn State, Texas, Alabama, Utah, Texas Tech? Better, but Boise State has some complaint, and you'd have to do something about the Conference Championships - do we really want the opportunity to watch the same teams play each other 3 times? (granted, not this season)

16 team playoff = vat of ridiculousness