Your New Year’s Weekend Bowl Preview

These previews will get us through Sunday.  I’ll have a big column Monday morning previewing the Playoff and other bowl games that day.  Enjoy the weekend!

Cotton Bowl: No.8 USC vs. No.5 Ohio State

This game is going to be awesome.  There’s so many variables, so many what-ifs, and so much talent.  I can’t wait.

Say what you want about Ohio State and the Playoff.  I thought the committee got it right, but I understood the other side of the story.  However, the concerns the committee had about the Buckeyes are going to show again in this game.

USC was the team always on the cusp.  They were good, but never quite good enough.  A lackluster defense hurt them, and so did sometimes-mediocre play from quarterback Sam Darnold.  If I’m him, I’m staying another year.  This wasn’t nearly his best season.

This is a great matchup.  On paper, these are two powerful, talented offenses with multiple ways of putting up points.  They can run effectively and get big plays through the air.

But for the Buckeyes, that hasn’t exactly been the case.  Effort and execution has plagued them this year on both ends, with effort being main the problem offensively.  They start slow, or J.T. Barrett is off, or there’s a laziness to their game plan.  It was always something this year, and I think the committee saw that and passed.

That can’t happen against USC.  While the Trojans are also mediocre on that side of the ball, they can also explode at any moment.  You can be down 14 like that.

The stats love the Buckeyes defense for whatever reason, but they were quite bad in situational moments this season.  I don’t trust them a bit.  They’re talented enough to give Ronald Jones lll some trouble, but if Darnold is coming out and wants to make scouts way too excited, then this game would be the time to do it.

Ohio State’s offense on a perfect day should torch the Trojans.  But there haven’t been many perfect days for the Buckeyes on that side of the ball this year.  You really think I can trust any aspect of this team?

We’ve gotten to the point with this offense that I’m not sure I want J.T. Barrett with the ball in his hands all the time.  With that being said, I’m feeding J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber and am letting them take over this game, giving the Trojans as few possessions as possible.

If I’m USC, I’m attacking immediately, trying to limit the confidence of Buckeyes defenders as early as possible.  Once they give up, they are done (Except for the Penn State game, but that had some other crazy things happen).

I’ve been critical of them all year, and because of that I’m hesitant to trust them in big games.  I’m taking USC.  I can’t put any faith in Ohio State, and I think Darnold can go off against this defense.

Prediction: USC-38  Ohio State-30


Fiesta Bowl: No.11 Washington vs. No.9 Penn State 

Do you like points?  Well, then this is the game for you.

These are the 10th and 11th ranked teams in offensive FEI per Football Outsiders.  Penn State torched teams all year with Saquon Barkley running down people’s throats, and then cap drives off with Trace McSorley touchdown passes.

Washington runs a similar offense with running back Myles Gaskin, who ran for 19 TDs and caught three more.  Jake Browning’s less talented than McSorley, but has still managed to get the ball out effectively.  It helps when you have Dante Pettis and Hunter Bryant as wide receivers.

The only reason the defenses may matter is because, like the offenses, they’re top in the nation too.  FEI has the Huskies defense ranked 6th, and Penn State’s 12th.

Both defenses have an insane amount of weapons to worry about, which why I think this game comes back to offense at the end of the day.  So who outscores who?

As good as Washington has been, Browning’s a tad concerning.  He’s got a big arm, but accuracy remains an issue.  Even though he averaged 8.26 yards per attempt this year, Browning’s not the gunslinger the stats make him out to be.  He only completed 212 passes all year!

Penn State’s more complete offensively, but you have to wonder if Joe Moorhead’s exit will have an effect (By the way, that was the best coaching move this offseason by Mississippi State).  The history of teams switching offensive coordinators before big bowl games in recent years isn’t great (Cough, Alabama).  But, the Nittany Lions’ offense isn’t the Crimson Tide’s.  When you have Saquon Barkley, it may not matter.  It’s something to keep an eye on though.

The Huskies won’t be able to stop Barkley, but can limit him significantly with their run defense, which is the best in the country by yards allowed.  That’s gonna force McSorley to throw, which isn’t necessarily a bad plan either.  This isn’t the Washington secondary from last year; you can throw on them.  Washington allowed a 63.8% completion percentage against opposing QBs.  They’re gonna have to hope Browning steps up to keep them in this game.

Penn State’s pass defense isn’t great either, so it’s gonna take a flop for Washington to struggle.   We’ve seen the Nittany Lions have poor defensive performances against so-so offenses earlier this season.  No offense they’ve faced has been as good as this one.

This is a tough game to pick.  I think it comes down to the final possession.  Both teams are gonna be able to throw the ball well, as Barkley isn’t going to be as effective against the Husky front.  Washington will attack a weak Lions secondary.  In these games, you usually take the better defense or the better quarterback.  Washington’s D is better, but McSorley is the guy I want in a shootout.  I’ll take him.

Prediction: Penn State-48  Washington-45


Orange Bowl: No.6 Wisconsin vs. No.10 Miami

The committee nailed the four non-playoff New Year’s Six games.  What great matchups.

However, this is probably the most lopsided.  Miami’s been a fun story, with a bunch of people hopping back on the bandwagon from 20 years ago and the Turnover Chain lighting up Twitter, but on the field it hasn’t been as happy.  Though ranked 10th in the 2nd-to-last rankings, the Hurricanes are carried by their defense, and are screwed in any game if quarterback Malik Rosier doesn’t play well.

That’s not saying Wisconsin’s all that better.  They’re both very similar teams, with great defenses and offenses that are capable of stalling during any game.  Badgers QB Alex Hornibrook is just as likely, if not more likely, as Rosier to make a terrible decision.

Wisconsin had no chance against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.  The only reason they were in the game was because of the turnovers they forced.  Part of it was the classic, nonfunctional offense of the Badgers, part of was terrible throws by Hornibrook, and part of it was the Ohio State defense taking advantage of it (I just can’t give the Buckeyes more credit than that).

Miami’s defense is ranked 11th in FEI, one behind Ohio State.  Shouldn’t the Badgers struggle mightily again?

Not necessarily.  The Hurricanes offense ranks a paltry 39th in the country.  This should be easy money for Wisconsin’s defense, which is far and away the top dog on that side of the ball.  In fact, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Rosier has completed 54.8% of his passes, and only threw 25 TDs with 11 interceptions this year.  Not great!  Rosier will have Braxton Berrios, but being without Ahmmon Richards once again bites.  He’s a downfield threat the Hurricanes miss.  Wisconsin’s defense is too good; they’ll be able to take Berrios out of the game, leaving Rosier to force balls.  That’s how Wisconsin wins games, and it’s how they’ll win this one.

Offensively, Wisconsin should give Jonathan Taylor the ball as much as possible.  Miami’s the 44th best team in the country against the run.  Taylor and the Badgers have that matchup all day, and if Hornibrook can make a couple big throws, then the Badgers should ease to an Orange Bowl win.

Prediction: Wisconsin-24  Miami-10

Previewing Thursday’s Bowl Games

What a fun day of games!  All of these teams were never real playoff contenders, but were at least interesting to watch and could make any game entertaining.  At the same time, it also means they underperformed (Cough, Oklahoma State).  But hey, it at least gives us some good matchups in meaningful bowl games.  Let’s preview them.

Valero Alamo Bowl: No.13 Stanford vs. No.15 TCU

Usually the Alamo Bowl features two high scoring offenses that go at each other for 60 minutes straight, leading to a 60-58 final score.  That’s half the case here.

TCU’s offense comes in waves.  They’ve had a mediocre year, ranking 47th in FEI, but have also put up a ton of points on teams.  They struggled against the top guns like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but waxed crappy conference opponents like Texas Tech and Kansas.  Essentially, the Horned Frogs are ranked exactly where they should be.

If TCU’s offense has been mediocre, then Stanford’s has been plain bad.  Sure they have Heisman contender Bryce Love, but as I pointed out in the PAC-12 Championship Game preview, he’s their whole offense.

The Horned Frogs defense has been top 20 in the country like usual, but they have problems containing high powered offenses.  That’s not the case with the Cardinal.  TCU should be able to limit K.J Costello’s passing game.  Let Bryce Love beat you, but make sure you’re getting output on the other end; Love is the type of guy who can carry a whole offense and beat you with it.

The Horned Frogs have big, strong receivers on the outside.  They can catch almost any crappy pass by Kenny Hill.  Stanford’s struggled everywhere defensively, but the secondary has been the weaker spot.  As long as Hill doesn’t meltdown, TCU should be able to get a win.  This game could go a lot of ways depending on which Horned Frog team shows up, but there’s no doubt that TCU is more complete.

Prediction: TCU-28  Stanford-13


Camping World Bowl: No.22 Virginia Tech vs. No.19 Oklahoma State 

I cannot wait for this game.  This should have been the Alamo Bowl just for offense’s sake.

Though neither had a shot at the Playoff, these were two of my favorite teams all year.  So up and down, so one way or the other.  They were a pain in the butt to analyze, but also presented a challenge.

Matchup wise, this is kind of a gridlock.  It’s Oklahoma State’s offense vs. the Hokies defense.  Virginia Tech has been annoying on offense in certain games; winning by small margins when they should be blowing teams out.  But hey, quarterback Josh Jackson is a true freshman, and two of the Hokies losses were close ones to Clemson and Miami.  Not bad!

Plus, the Cowboys defense isn’t good in any way.  It has kept opponents in games all year.  Mason Rudolph is good, but you have to give him a lot more credit when you consider what he was working with on the other side of the ball.  There was not a lot of help.

Though Virginia Tech’s defense is 17th in FEI, they’re facing an uphill battle with this Cowboys offense.  Rudolph is a gunslinger, and it helps when his receiver are always open.  Seriously, James Washington is always open.  He’s going very, very high in this Spring’s draft.

Justice Hill has been a monster out of the backfield this year too.  It’s only another weapon the Hokies have to worry about.  They might be able to get by on some possessions, but this isn’t going to be a game where the Hokies will be stopping Oklahoma State on third downs.  The Hokies will have to rely on their offense to keep them in it, and those odds are long.

I’d be a little more hopeful if Cam Phillips was playing, but he’s out with a hernia.  Yikes!  Josh Jackson needs him in this game.  He’s been great all year, but in a matchup like this, I’ll take explosiveness and experience.

Prediction: Oklahoma State-45 Virginia Tech-27 


San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: No.18 Washington State vs. No.16 Michigan State

Why does this bowl name have to be so long?  Seriously!  When ESPN comes back from a commercial break, they aren’t gonna say EVERY TIME “Welcome back to the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl,” they’re gonna say, “Welcome back to the Holiday Bowl, on ESPN presented to you by Vizio”, or whatever second sponsor they have that’s not eight words long,  Why did San Diego County Credit Union decide to sponsor the game when their name is gonna be said once the entire broadcast?

Anyways, I feel like the committee got the final rankings a little backwards here.  Despite a couple weird losses, Washington State passed the eye test.  Luke Falk was a joy even though the offense couldn’t produce a lot else, and the Cougars defense was a brick wall.  Meanwhile, Michigan State did their typical ground and pound, and pulled off a couple big wins (Penn State, Michigan… but congratulations on those.  Those two teams only got worse after their respective losses.), but ultimately still ended up a tad underwhelming.

Washington State can win this game on their defensive performance alone.  If you stop L.J. Scott, you’ve shut down the Spartan offense.  Simple as that.  Scott’s good; he’s been in college a long time and is always one of those guys who you’re reminded of every year as a “Oh yeah, he’s awesome” player.  But this isn’t the Michigan State team of Scott’s previous years, and I expect the Cougars to take advantage of that.  Scott’s gonna have to do it all in this game.

The Spartans’ defense hasn’t been one of best in the country, but they’re still top 25 in FEI.  However, Luke Falk has receivers like Tavares Martin Jr. and Renard Bell who are great downfield and can make big plays.  That’s the difference tonight.

Prediction: Washington State-30  Michigan State-20

The Case For New Orleans And Green Bay To Make The Super Bowl

If there was anything close to a sure thing this NFL season, it was Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles.  They had the most talent, they were the most consistent, they were the best team top to bottom.  Even though most didn’t see it coming, they were the one team we could agree on.

Now, that’s all gone.

With his ACL torn, Wentz commanded four plays before heading to the locker room limping Sunday.  One of the four turned out to be a touchdown, a two yard pass to Alshon Jeffrey in the back of the end zone.

If Wentz’s season was gonna end in any way, that’d be the way it would.  And it did.

The injury turns the NFL completely upside down.  We’re now dangerously close to Case Keenum or Jared Goff starting in the Super Bowl.  The AFC was already a mess, and though Wentz’s injury doesn’t totally affect the conference, it makes the likelihood of two mediocre teams playing in the Super Bowl even greater.

However, there’s a couple teams that feel better than others heading into Week 15.  Record and stats may not agree, but these teams earn a high grade when it comes to the eye test and knowing what matters in the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints

New Orleans may not win their division, and could struggle to get in.  I would assume NFL defenses are hoping that holds true the remaining three weeks.

Drew Brees has been a monster once again, throwing for 3,569 yards this season.  His yards and touchdowns have declined a little bit, but when you have a running game like New Orleans does to rely on, then that’s expected.

New Orleans has a million guys a defense needs to cover, as Alvin Kamara is just as good out of the backfield as he is a runner.  Michael Thomas doesn’t do anything besides catch touchdowns.  Brees has even turned Ted Ginn Jr. back into a NFL player (Who else could do that?).  The Saints have gone to their 5th and 6th receivers, using guys like Tommylee Lewis and Brandon Coleman occasionally.

The defense is the cause for concern for most people, but their poor performances have been the result of injuries or ridiculous performances by dudes who are really, really good (Cough, Tom Brady.  He’s kinda good.).  Yeah, they gave up 29 points to Sam Bradford, but that was Marshon Lattimore’s first game as a pro.  Give him a break.  (I was there.  Minnesota’s receivers torched the secondary.  But both happenings make sense: The Vikings’ receivers have turned into some of the best in the league, and it was game one for a young secondary.  They’ve pieced it together since.).  Brady, as I said above, torched them in Week 2.

But since then, New Orleans’ defense has been awesome.  They didn’t have a performance cost them a game until the Rams showdown two weeks ago, and Lattimore didn’t play.  The Saints should have the Offensive and Defensive Rookie(s) of the Year.

The loss to Atlanta was a weird, flukey game.  I wouldn’t read too much into it.  Thursday games are weird for multiple reasons; but really nobody plays their best (I wonder why?!  Maybe it’s because they played four days before?  Does that sound reasonable, NFL?).  Those games gotta go.  It’s time.

So what makes New Orleans one of the teams most fit to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?  Well, for one, name the quarterbacks starting for NFC teams you trust in a playoff game: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers (More on him later), um… Jared Goff?  Case Keenum?  Nick Foles? … What’s the text property you’re supposed to use after italics to say something sarcastic? Anyways, whatever it is, that’s what Nick Foles’ name should be highlighted/styled in.

I know you’re probably wondering where Matt Ryan and Cam Newton’s names are. Look, when they’re hot and playing well, they’re near unstoppable.  But it’s really hard to instill trust into either offense this season.  Atlanta’s still recovering from the Super Bowl loss on both ends, with their defense capable of blowing any game and the offense making frequent dumb plays and dropping passes.  Carolina may or may not show up half the time, taking a whole half to get their offense going.  That can’t happen in the playoffs.  They won’t be able to catch up.

Secondly, New Orleans’ defense is a menace when healthy.  They get clutch turnovers and ball-hawk.  Up front’s a little bit of an issue, but the offense and secondary can make up for it.

Green Bay Packers

This scenario was in the works for awhile, and Tuesday night it became a reality.  With Aaron Rodgers back, the Packers return to at least above average.  There’s a lot of issues, and a lot of holes in a potential run, but the most important piece to the puzzle is back.

First, lets lay out the Packers-making- the-playoffs scenario.  They’re 7-6 with three games left, tied for 2nd place in the division with Detroit.  The remanning schedule is tough:  @Carolina, home for Minnesota, then at Detroit.  But worst case scenario they go 2-1 over that stretch; losing the Lions game would be an embarrassment even if their hopes are dashed at that point.  They simply aren’t good.

2-1 wouldn’t get Green Bay into the playoffs though.  Minnesota will get to at least 12 wins with Cincinnati, Green Bay and Chicago left, so winning the division is out of the question.  Carolina, one of the current wild-card teams, has Green Bay, Atlanta and Tampa Bay left; they’re getting at least 10 wins.  Atlanta, the 2nd NFC Wild Card, has their whole division left (Yikes!).  That’s not ideal for the Falcons, who as we know by now doesn’t do well in critical spots and hasn’t shown up in all their games this year.  Currently sitting at 8-5, they’re probably only getting one more win.  And that’s if they don’t pull a Super Bowl 51 against the Buccaneers.

That will be Green Bay’s spot if all goes right.  There’s a couple outsiders who still want in: Dallas, Seattle, and even Detroit is still mathematically alive.  But screw math for now, who’s the best team? Seattle’s offense is essentially Russell Wilson doing as much as he can and the defense is completely ravaged.  The Lions are the “How are they 7-6 team?, so you can cross them both off.

And then there’s the Cowboys, who haven’t totally gone away despite a pitiful offense without Ezekiel Elliot and a defense whose performance totally hinges on whether Sean Lee plays or not.  They get Elliot back in Week 16.  If anyone’s gonna steal a spot from Green Bay, it’s them.

Now that we’ve got the scenarios figured out, let’s use our brains to make some calls.  I’ve written all year that Carolina and Atlanta are mediocre and can’t be taken as true threats.  If they make the playoffs, it’ll be Case Point No.1,346 as to why the country needs a sports czar.  Seattle is always fun in the playoffs, but this team seems like one that just wants the season to end as soon as possible.  Cross them off.

It comes down to Green Bay and Dallas.  We’ve heard that one before.

If Green Bay wins out and makes it in, there’s no telling me that that’s not the scariest team in the playoffs.  They would have won three straight with Aaron Rodgers running the table and would probably be the hottest team coming in.  Despite a terrible defense, Rodgers is someone good enough to do it on his own.  He is a bad, bad man.  I hinted at it above, but I’ll take him over any other NFC quarterback in the current playoff field.  That alone is why the Packers have to be taken seriously.

So can this actually happen?  Well, here’s how I see Green Bay and Dallas’ season playing out.

Packers

@Carolina-W

Home for Minnesota-W

@Detriot-W


Cowboys

@Oakland-L

Home for Seattle-W

@Eagles-W

 

The Vikings fans aren’t gonna believe I have the nerve to do that, but I do and I just did, so get over it.  Look, the Vikings are really freaking good.  But you can’t tell me the win against Green Bay in Week 6 was legit:  Your linebacker made an illegal but not dirty hit which knocked out Rodgers, who was replaced with Brett Hundley.  Brett Hundley!  How did he do the past two months?  We don’t really know if Minnesota is the better team.  On paper, yes.  But truly?  We’ll see.

As for Dallas, Sunday night’s game could go either way.  Those two teams couldn’t be more identical.  They’ve came close to having or are in the midst of a lost season. They’ve both have sputtering offenses and terrible defenses.  I really have no idea.  This feels like it should be a game that you shouldn’t watch, but it’s actually somehow important.  Welcome to this NFL season!

If the games go the I way predicted, both teams would end up at 10-6.  The Packers have the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they’d get in.  Both are in similar spots and are similar teams.  But one has Aaron Rodgers.  And besides a couple outliers, history tells us that’s all that matters.


Lets do a couple quick hits before Week 15…

  • The AFC is a disaster.  There’s two Super Bowl teams (New England and Pittsburgh) and they both have serious defensive issues.  The Patriots’ has been bad all year, but has improved slightly lately.  I’m still not convinced.  Pittsburgh really misses Ryan Shazier.  God, I hope he plays again.  Looks like a shootout in the AFC Championship Game.
  • I would fire everyone on the coaching staff in Oakland and Tennessee.  There’s no excuse for those teams to be as bad as they are.
  • I trust John Dorsey in Cleveland.  I’ve also said this about two other Browns GMs.

The “Is Kerryon playing?” SEC Championship Game Preview

Putting this preview up 20 minutes before kick probably isn’t the best marketing strategy, but the information needed to write wasn’t provided until now.  Here’s to an awesome game.

SEC Championship Game: No.6 Georgia vs. No.2 Auburn

This is the best game of the weekend by far.  ESPN’s Football Power Index has an Auburn victory at a 50.5% of happening.

Jarrett Stidham has invoked a vertical passing game that Auburn hasn’t had in years.  He’s completed 68.5% of his passes, averaging 9.09 yards an attempt.  Darius Slayton’s been a big part of that.  He’s only caught 22 balls all year, but is averaging 25.2 yards a catch and has five touchdowns.  That calculates to a 22% touchdown rate!

The Auburn and Georgia defenses are practically identical.  Auburn’s 1st in FEI, Georgia 3rd.  Auburn gives up 3.3 yards per rush attempt, Georgia gives up 3.5  Both teams allow 5.7 yards per pass attempt, 3rd and 4th in the country.  You can’t even throw screen passes on these teams.

They couldn’t be more equal.  And this pick couldn’t be harder.   The Bulldogs won’t be as unprepared as they were in November.  It was a shockingly poor performance, with dropped punts and missed coverages.  It was such an outlier of their season, that there’s no way it happens again.  That makes things tougher for Auburn.

Even though Kerryon Johnson will play for the Tigers, it’s hard to say how effective he’ll be.  He’s a massive part of their offense, and though Auburn dominated Georgia in every way earlier this year, having Johnson gives them a more equal distribution.  Given that he’s a game-time decision, he’s probably not gonna be a 100%.  Georgia’s defense will take advantage of that.

Again, this pick was excruciating, but I’m gonna go with the safest team.  Right now, that’s Georgia.

Prediction: Georgia-28  Auburn-24

Championship Week Preview

We’ve made it to the biggest weekend in college football:  Championship weekend.  It’s the weekend where the College Football Playoff committee actually has to watch all the teams and evaluate them based on their conference placement, schedule, record AND passage of the eye test.  That last one is very important.

As always, the games are great this week.  In fact, one of them is so great that you’re gonna have to wait till tomorrow to find out who I’m picking.  OK, that’s not the reason.  Star Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson is a game-time decision, and with Auburn-Georgia already being an impossible game to pick, his possible absence isn’t making it any easier.  So, I’ll wait to publish my preview on the SEC Championship Game until we know whether he’s playing.  For now, here’s the rest of the power five conference championship previews.

PAC-12 Championship Game: N0.12 Stanford vs. No.10 USC

It’s questionable whether this game has playoff implications, but it’s a power five, top 25 matchup.  And if all hell breaks loose, then USC could find itself in line for a playoff spot.

The Trojans have been pretty up and down.  Though 10-2, they’ve won games they should have and lost their tougher matchups.  Washington State, who was one of those fun, “don’t count us out in any game” teams beat them closely on the scoreboard but pretty convincingly on the field.  It was one of Sam Darnold’s rough games, and USC’s defense couldn’t shut down Luke Falk.

However, the Trojans did beat Stanford in Week 2.  The Cardinal are a weird team.  Their whole offense is Heisman candidate Bryce Love, who’s impossible to bring down and can break away at any time.  Usually, Stanford is a classic ground-and-pound, stout defensive team like Wisconsin.  Not this year.  The Cardinal’s defense hasn’t been its best this season.  Ranked 53rd in FEI, they’ve struggled to make up for the loss of Solomon Thomas.  Yet, they’ve gotten wins against Washington, Notre Dame and Utah.  Let’s take those wins with a grain of salt though.  Notre Dame and Washington have been two of the most choke-prone teams in the country, and Utah always ranked no higher than 15th.  They’re like the cute girl the committee will never ask out.

I’d be tempted to go with Stanford if they posed a threat to Sam Darnold, but the Cardinal defense’s down year sways me against that.  The Cougars defense that gave Darnold trouble earlier in the season is 8th in FEI.  Wazzu was legit.  Stanford just isn’t.

It’s gonna be hard for Stanford to stop Ronald Jones lll too.  He’s ran for an ungodly 16 touchdowns this season with 1,346 yards.  Since Jones has gashed every average-to-good defense he’s faced, I expect him to do the same against Stanford.

Now, let’s not act like USC’s defense is all that either.  But Bryce Love is the only thing they have to focus on.  Stanford’s been through some QB turmoil this season, benching Keller Chryst for K.J. Costello after the USC loss in Week 2.  Costello’s played well, but again, Stanford’s wins haven’t been due to their QB play.  Their 3.01 FEI rating, 16th in the country, can be attributed to Bryce Love.

This game feels like offense vs. offense, and even though Darnold’s not my QB1 in this upcoming draft, he’s good enough to power USC to a PAC-12 Championship.

Prediction: USC-34  Stanford-20


Big 12 Championship Game: No.11 TCU vs. No.3 Oklahoma

Speaking of offense vs. offense…  This could turn into a shootout real fast.

When they played in Week 10, it came down to a couple possessions, though the score wouldn’t suggest that.

With the way these Big 12, high-powered offense matchups work, you have to score every possession.  Or if you don’t score, you better hope your opponent doesn’t.  It seems simple, but it actually is only that simple.  You have to match or improve on whatever your opponent does.

For TCU, it was hard.  And it will be again.  Kenny Hill struggled immensely, not because of a good performance by Oklahoma’s 67th ranked defense, but because Kenny Hill is… well, sometimes he’s Kenny Hill.  He’s essentially the J.R. Smith of college football.

It was a dysfunctional offensive day for the Horned Frogs.  It was one of their two for the season.  Against Iowa State on October 28th, the offense sputtered again, though that could be blamed on the Cyclones’ weird mid-season hot streak where they took out TCU and Oklahoma in a four week stretch, officially earning themselves the frisky label and is probably the reason for Matt Campbell’s extension.

So will it happen again?  That’s impossible to predict.

The Sooners will show up.  Baker Mayfield’s emerged as a serious Heisman contender after the trophy seemed destined to be in Saquon Barkley’s arms all year. Oklahoma is 1st in FEI by a huge margin over Bedlam rival Oklahoma State due to Mayfield’s dominance, a monster duo (and sometimes even a trio) at running back, and receivers who are picking up what Mayfield is putting down.  But really, it’s all Mayfield.

My trouble with picking TCU is that even if they do show up, they lack the sheer explosion the Sooners do on the offensive end.  TCU’s wide receivers are big and strong, and may give trouble to Oklahoma’s average defense.  But that’s gonna require an impeccable game from Hill.  That’s tough to bet on.

Prediction: Oklahoma-38 TCU-24


ACC Championship Game: No.7 Miami vs. No.1 Clemson 

Even this late in the season and after giving them playoff consideration, I still don’t trust Miami.  They’re built on defense and quarterback Malik Rosier playing well.  Oh, and they’ve had a pretty easy schedule.  The Notre Dame win doesn’t look all that impressive now, and Virginia Tech fell off the map quickly.

Clemson’s the best team in the country.  No question about it.  Their defense has played like they haven’t lost anyone.  The offense moves as methodically as last year, with Kelly Bryant leading them downfield with similar poise that DeShaun Watson possessed.  Though they’re 22nd in FEI, there’s been no difference.  The defense has their back if anything falters.

Tomorrow night will be the defense’s night.  Stacked up front and daring you to throw on them, Clemson’s defense is in consideration for the best in the country.  Their defensive line will ravage anyone.  Rosier might have no chance, especially considering wide receiver Ahmmon Richards is now out with a torn meniscus.  Clemson’s gonna be missing Tre Lamar, but they’re so talented that they can make up for it quite easily.

Miami’s defense is stout like the Tigers’, ranked 9th in FEI.  They shut down Josh Adams, but Clemson has many more weapons to throw at them than Notre Dame did.  Kelly Bryant’s just as good on his feet as he is through the air, and the duo of Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster has been unstoppable (Feaster has the best name ever for a running back).  Oh yeah, and good luck stopping Deon Cain down the field.

I think Clemson’s offense will muster enough, and the defense will give Rosier a hard time.  The Tigers are a lock for the College Football Playoff.

Prediction: Clemson-36  Miami-14


Big Ten Championship Game: No.8 Ohio State vs. No.4 Wisconsin

Ohio State should be extremely lucky to find themselves in this spot.  Sure, the Big Ten is a super tough conference.  But the Buckeyes have struggled in certain areas without their record showing it.  First of all, they’ve had a weird effort/not showing up bug about them.  It takes a whole half for them to get going.  That’s not always a bad thing if you can recover from it, which for the most part the Buckeyes have.  But once you start playing the big boys, like Wisconsin or whomever from the Playoff (possibly), that can’t happen.  They won’t let you get away with it.

Wisconsin is also lucky to be here.  Despite being in the toughest conference in the country, the Badgers have been blessed with one of the easiest schedules possible.  Congrats on beating Iowa!  That’s seriously the Badgers’ best win.  You could play the “Well, Iowa beat Ohio State” card, but as I’m about to explain, even that win by Iowa wasn’t all that impressive.  The Hawkeyes were hot and frisky and the Buckeyes were just being the Buckeyes.

Ohio State hasn’t shown up in multiple games this season.  They were down 14-0 to Michigan before coming back last week.  They were blitzed by Oklahoma in Week 2, though I’m not sure you can totally blame the Ohio State defense for being bad when faced with that arsenal.  They failed to show up at home against Penn State before some crazy college football stuff happened.  The defense has been bad considering its expectations, though points per game won’t tell you that (They’re extremely un-clutch; 17th in FEI).

Now, it’s not like stopping Wisconsin’s offense is a very hard task.  They rank 25th in FEI.  Alex Hornibrook is their quarterback.  Like, if Alex Hornibrook beats you, you’ve got a problem.

The Badgers are going to do what they usually do though:  Ground-and-pound with Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor and let their defense do the rest.  Taylor has a ridiculous 1,806 rushing yards on the season with 13 touchdowns.  He’s the Josh Adams to Wisconsin’s offense, since both Notre Dame and the Badgers have below average quarterbacks and skill position players.

Ohio State can and should be able to contain it given their talent, but this season has stoked too many concerns for me to put confidence in that.  If the defense falters, where does the just-as-mediocre offense’s confidence go?

It’s been both sides of the ball for Ohio State.  J.T. Barrett hasn’t been phemonemal even when he’s been healthy.  Now, after a strange incident with a cameraman on the sideline of the Michigan game, Barrett’s playing hurt after undergoing arthosocpic surgery on his knee.

That seems hard to believe.  Doctors have cleared Barrett; it seems more like a procedure rather than a full-on surgery.  If ligaments were damaged there’d be no way he’d play tomorrow.  Urban Meyer casted some doubt today about Barrett’s status, questioning whether he’d start.  Honestly, starting Dwayne Haskins isn’t as bad as it sounds considering where we’re at with our trust level in Barrett.  Haskins was great against Michigan, giving the Buckeyes offense some explosion.  But if he’s forced to play most of the game, then don’t think the Badgers won’t have a plan.  A true freshman (possibly) making his first start against this Wisconsin D in the Big Ten title game shouldn’t go well.

Even with Barrett in, I struggle to believe the Buckeyes will get enough.  This Badgers defense is the best in the country.

Prediction: Wisconsin-28  Ohio State-17

Is There A Best Team In The NFL?

This NFL season has been a weird one.  We’re through Week 10 and no one’s that good.  Practically every team has an issue, which means we might get the Rams in the Super Bowl.  Yeah, Jared Goff in the Super Bowl!  I’m ready, and you should be too.  It seriously might happen.

For every team that’s worthy of a mention, I’m gonna make a case for and a case against them being the best in the league.  Let’s go!

New England Patriots

Case for: The case for is a pretty obvious one: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and the feeling of being an idiot when you doubt them.  So your best bet is to not do it.  Also, New England’s remaining schedule is the Mexico City game vs. Oakland, which could go either way for multiple reasons, against the Steelers, and two games each against Miami and Buffalo.  I guess you can count the Jets game as a win too.

Case against: The defense is still a disaster.  Some are gonna say “They’ve only given up 36 points in their last three games!!!”  OK, congratulations on shutting down Brock Osweiler, a Chargers team that can’t do anything right, and an Atlanta team whose defense is still young, inexperienced and pretty mediocre (Actually, bad!  29th in DVOA!).  They have no pass rush, and the secondary has been frustrating (The Stephon Gilmore signing was terrible when it was made and is still terrible).  The defense could be a fatal flaw.  Can they shut down the Eagles?

Philadelphia Eagles

Case for: I told you guys this team was gonna be good!  I’m so proud of myself.  I thought Carson Wentz was in for a monster season (He was my target QB in fantasy).  This defense was loaded with talent, and the offense had weapons.  Now, it’s all coming together.  Wentz has it.  The defense is top ten; don’t even try running the ball on this team (They’ve allowed 598 rushing yards all year.  598!).  They’re hot, but the schedule is about to get tougher.  Now comes reality.

Case against: Um…  that nobody thought they’d this good?  Is that why we can’t admit it?  Is that our best case?  Doug Pederson is the head coach?  Wentz has no playoff experience and is only in his 2nd year?  That the schedule gets hard? (Two games vs. Dallas, @Seattle, @Rams, vs. Oakland)  If they’re the best team though, they need to win three of those five games.  Besides those possible reasons, there is no case against.

Los Angeles Rams

Case for: Did I actually just type that?  My God, what a weird season.  Anyways, Los Angeles’ defense is as good as we expected it to be.  They’re ranked 3rd in DVOA.  The Rams defense is clutch.  They’ll give up points and big plays, but when it matters, they get it done.  The offense has been explosive, as Sean McVay has turned Jared Goff into a NFL player.  Robert Woods is 13th in receiving yards in the league.  Todd Gurley is back, and is tied for first in the league with seven rushing touchdowns.  The offense is legit.  They can keep up with practically anyone.

Case against: What if this Jared Goff season is just a big hot streak, and we’re due for an epic, complete nuclear meltdown from him and the Rams?  What if the real Jared Goff is still lurking?  The schedule is gonna get harder; they have Minnesota this weekend in the Case Keenum revenge/Oh my God how are these QBs good game, and Philadelphia (That game is gonna be 50-40 or 14-10), and a Seahawks team that I don’t really know what to expect out of.  So, we’ll see.  But don’t take these Rams lightly.  The odds of them being good as opposed to bad are high.

Minnesota Vikings

Case for: Minnesota has a fantastic defense that’s probably still a little underrated (Personally: It’s the best league.  Vikings fans can stop saying I don’t respect them.  It’s just Case Keenum).  The defensive line is a menace, and Anthony Barr knocked out Aaron Rodgers, which might be one of the biggest reasons Minnesota is as good as they are.  The offense has become not only relevant but scary, with Stefon Diggs getting back on track and Adam Thielen turning into one of the league’s “How did he reel that in?” receivers.  They still miss Dalvin Cook, but the emergence of a passing attack has covered that up.  Oh, and Teddy Bridgewater might be coming back.  Watch out.  He’s hungry.

Case against: This is a hard one to make.  Essentially, it begins and ends with the quarterback.  Case Keenum has been playing out of his mind, but we can’t forget that he is in fact Case Keenum, and that math and logic tells us there’s a drop-off coming.  There’s no way he can keep this up.  The good news is that if he regress to the mean, the Vikings have Teddy Bridgewater locked and loaded.  I’m on the Bridgewater Bandwagon.  If he’s healthy and can be the guy he was before the injury, Minnesota will be home for the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Case for: Pittsburgh doesn’t pass the eye test, but a 7-3 record has them in decent position.  They’re a second half team, still have Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, and a super underrated defense (4th in DVOA!).  Martavis Bryant did some things Sunday, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has been just as exciting as we’d hope he’d be.

Case against:  Maybe that this team has looked and played like crap for 75% of the minutes they’ve been on the field this season?  What about the fact that they’ve almost lost to Cleveland and Colts?  What about actually losing to Jacksonville and Chicago?  Do we really trust this team?  This has been the most inexplicable Mike Tomlin coaching season yet; it really doesn’t feel like these players have any confidence left in him.  Oh, and what about the locker room?  Are they all the way in  on each other?  What about Ben Rothlisberger?  He hasn’t been totally fantastic this season and considered retirement in the offseason.  Is he all the way in?  I’m waiting for this team to fall apart.

New Orleans Saints

Case for: Drew Brees will never die, Alvin Kamara is unstoppable and the Saints defense actually isn’t a flaming disaster!  That’s really all there is to it.  New Orleans’ offense lights up scoreboards, with Kamara and Mark Ingram creating a deadly 1-2 punch and Brees turning dudes like Ted Ginn Jr. into reliable receivers.  Also, Willie Snead came back; he’s a beast and will probably end up with 50 catches.  The defense has been stunningly good; ranked 5th by DVOA, the secondary has shut down top receivers thanks to rookie Marshon Lattimore and Vonn Bell, another Ohio State product who’s having a breakout year.  New Orleans isn’t being talked about enough.

Case against: The Panthers are their best win during this seven game win streak, and they were beat pretty soundly by Minnesota (A game I was at.  Then, it seemed like last year’s issues would plague them) and New England.  The other issue is similar to a bunch of teams:  It just doesn’t feel right.

Kansas City Chiefs

Case for:  Alex Smith is a MVP candidate, Kareem Hunt (like Alvin Kamara) has been unstoppable, and Tyreek Hill is a “Let’s run this defensive package and hope we catch him” type player.  The offense has gone to levels we didn’t expect, and they can hang points on anyone.  They also have wins over Philadelphia, New England and a good Houston team.

Case against:  The defense, which has been a mainstay over the past three years, is 26th in DVOA and has been plagued by a terrible secondary.  The loss of Eric Berry has killed them.  They’ve been even worse up front, struggling to get to the quarterback with what seems like an aging group of guys.  Also, don’t we have to ask the Keenum question here too?  What happens if this is just one long hot streak by Smith?  What if he regresses to the mean?  KC has the offensive weapons to survive it, but a streak like this would regress to Blake Bortles-like levels.

Carolina Panthers

Case for:  If the offense can be at least average, then the defense should be able to carry them.

Case against:  They’ve been incredibly inconsistent.  You can’t watch any Panthers game and actually expect them to win.  The offense has been mediocre and is now being torn apart by trades and injuries; Curtis Samuel was their primary receiver after the Kelvin Benjamin trade and now he’s gone.  That’s leaving Russell Sheppard as the main target (Though Ed Dickson can catch balls like it’s nothing) and will increase Christian McCaffrey’s role, as if he needs the ball more.  They still have Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta left on their schedule.  Yeah…  Carolina should be lucky they got a spot on this list.

Seattle Seahawks

Case for: Russell Wilson can do anything.

Case against: Wilson has been on the run all season due to a faulty offensive line, which can’t even protect him from the fronts of Tennessee and Washington (Though the Redskins’ line is underrated).  The defense wasn’t the same at the beginning of the year and is now tattered by injuries, which now includes Richard Sherman being out for the year.  Due to these issues, they’re always gonna be in close games and will look like crap for at least the first half.  Can they get away with that in the playoffs (if they even make it)?


Those are the teams with the best cases.  Since this is a weird year, most of them are surprises and don’t really seem fit to be there.  But they have to be; like, the Rams are 7-and-freaking-2.

Here’s a couple teams I left out:

  • The Falcons have gotten poor play out of their receivers, with multiple crucial drops.  Matt Ryan hasn’t passed the eye test, and Atlanta seems to have the Super Bowl in the back of their minds (not surprising) because they cannot be trusted with any lead.
  • The Cowboys’ defense isn’t what people are making it out to be.  They have a pass rush (which is important), but it doesn’t mean much if the rest of the group can’t get it done.  Dallas’ D is 22nd in DVOA, and stack up pretty average against the run and pass.  But the difference is a big one; in their four losses, Dallas has given up over 30 points three times.  They can contain bad teams, but don’t stand a chance against average-to-good ones. The loss of Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliot has been detrimental to the offense, as Adrian Clayborne proved.  Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are in pretty similar spots.  It’s hard to see them escaping it.

Predicting The CFP Committee’s Next (Probably Idiotic) Move, And How To Avoid It

Photo credit Matt Cashore

With senior year, college admissions and everything else kicking my butt right now, college football hasn’t found its way to a column yet this season.  If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve been watching the biggest games every weekend, so I’m in tune. But I just haven’t had the time to write a column yet.

Today, that changes.

There’s been a lot of parallels from this college season to the NFL season so far.  How many good teams are there?  Can you really trust anyone?

The College Football Playoff Committee’s first rankings infuriated me.  There were some atrocious decisions, like Iowa State, Notre Dame, Georgia and LSU.  But there were also some correct placements:  Wisconsin, TCU and Virginia Tech were all properly ranked coming into this past weekend.

But with all this, there’s a bigger conversation that needs to be had.  Should we really be arguing over whether Wisconsin is No.9 or No.10?  Should we need to watch and analyze Stanford-Washington State, a game that’s between two ranked teams but won’t matter at the end of the season?

Right now, there’s too few teams that matter and too many teams stuck in the middle.  Let’s run an exercise real quick:

Who’s the top four after Week 10?  Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and… Notre Dame? Oklahoma?  TCU??  It’s certainly not Ohio State or Penn State, who have serious adversity issues, and probably murdered the Big Ten’s chances of a Playoff berth.  It’s not Miami, who like Notre Dame and Oklahoma, probably have the cushion of the Playoff’s PR staff, but wouldn’t stand a chance against Alabama or Georgia.

All year, we’ve been in search of that 4th team.  Early in the season, the top looked like 1) Alabama, 2) Clemson, 3) Ohio State..  Penn State was the favorite for the 4th spot, but AP voters wouldn’t let go of Florida State (Now, they’re not ranked) and wouldn’t dare put TCU that high (Smart).

A month later and we’re still in the same spot.  Here’s my top four after Week 10:

  1. Alabama
  2. Georgia
  3. Clemson
  4. Oklahoma

I feel really good about the top three.  I get Georgia’s schedule is a little more impressive, and they’re more complete offensively (Still don’t trust Jalen Hurts), but ranking the Bulldogs No.1 in the first ranking last week was totally insane.  Haven’t we learned to never go against and/or piss off Bama?

Clemson’s played some really good teams, but this isn’t last year’s squad and I worry about Kelly Bryant in a big, big spot.  Also, their defense is a tad concerning.

Oklahoma’s probably the best candidate for the last playoff spot.  Unlike the NFL, college football is more about having an explosive offense rather than a good defense.  Quarterback is equally as important.  The Sooners have both of that, making them the most-qualified for the last playoff seed.

Why wasn’t there more outrage about Notre Dame being ranked No.4 last week?  It looks better now, since the Big Ten is effectively out, and there’s not a lot of options left. But at the time, it was pretty clear this was a total ratings push by the committee.  You rank a team high now so it 1) Gets the media to fall in love and 2) Makes them harder to push out down the road.  Like me, they didn’t have a better option for No.4

I don’t want to totally crap on Notre Dame.  Josh Adams is a beast, and their defense doesn’t give up big plays.  The advanced metrics love the Irish defense.  They’re 7th in FEI, which is Football Outsiders’ college football DVOA.  That looks better than 18th in the country, which is where the simple scoring defense stat has them ranked.

My problem is 1) It’s Notre Dame.  They’re a ratings darling and it’s not hard to see what the Committee is doing here.  2) Their offense is practically all Adams.  Quarterback Brandon Wimbush averages only 6.47 yards per attempt, which isn’t even top 80 in the country.  Sure, their offense is fine for now, and it’s not costing them.  But against a defense like Alabama or Georgia, it’s gonna find issues quickly.

The Notre Dame/No.4 seed in the Playoff is part of a bigger issue that’s emerging.  As I mentioned above, there are parallels to the NFL season.  There’s a lack of really good teams, so much so that we’re considering teams like TCU, Miami and Wisconsin for the last Playoff spot.  Yikes.

So how do we solve this?  Rehash this…  Remember the biggest criticism about the Playoff besides it being on New Years Eve?  It was the lack of teams.  Some said they should expand to eight, some to 16.  I wanted to give it a few years.

It’s been a few years.  We need more spots.

So what if we blew it up?  A 16 team playoff might seem odd if we can’t even find four good teams, but with this, we have to change our thinking.  The scale is different.  There’s a lot of more options.

It’s a little hard to tell on the bracket, but the seeds across the top row of teams are 1,2,4,3.  The 2nd row is 16,15,13,14.  The 3rd row is 7,8,5,6.  And the 4th: 9,10,12,11.

Say what you want about my top 16.  That’s not the point here though.  The point is that no one should feel good about Notre Dame, Oklahoma or any other team getting the 4th seed in the Playoff.  If we blow it up, it’s much easier to accept a team like Virginia Tech or USC being one of the 16 best teams than Notre Dame or Oklahoma being one of the best four.

Obviously, if the Playoff were to expand, some things would change:  A 16 team playoff means four extra games a year for the Champion.  Do 10 game regular seasons become standard for all of Division 1?  How does that affect conference matchups?

Secondly, how can we trust that the committee’s gonna do a better job and not fall for ratings darlings?  If a new Playoff were enacted this season, most of the media favorites are already taken care of.  The only tough omission for the committee would be Michigan.

It’s much more likely an expansion goes to eight teams first.  But even then, you’re still leaving out Penn State and Ohio State, who despite embarrassing losses are still probably two of the best eight teams in the country.

But think about a 16 team playoff this season…  Look at that bracket!  A defensive grudge-match between Alabama and Michigan State?  Washington and Penn State each scoring 60+ points?  A Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Wisconsin?  Bedlam 2.0?!!?  Sign me up!

A 16 team playoff isn’t necessary.  This year is probably just an outlier.  We’ve seen some crazy things happen.  Florida State’s unavoidable meltdown really threw things in a monkey-wrench.  I can guarantee you that’s the 4th team we’re missing.  But the NCAA loves attention and money (They really love money).  If they want to make college football more like the masterpiece that March Madness is, then this is the way to go.