04 Dec 2008
by Russell Levine
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.
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.
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)
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
(* - "Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week")
|Visitor||Spread||Home||FEI Says||Russell Says|
|East Carolina||+13.5||Tulsa||East Carolina*||East Carolina|
|Boston College||Pick 'em||Virginia Tech||Boston College||Virginia Tech|
("Fred Edelstein Lock of the Week" record in parentheses)
|Last Week||Season Total|
23 comments, Last at 08 Dec 2008, 5:40pm by bowman (not verified)