Even though we're approaching the wire in the college football season, nothing has really been decided. So much can change, or it can stay the same. On today's ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning show, there was a great debate about whether the playoff should be expanded to sixteen teams. I have to agree with Mike Greenberg who feels that it would ultimately diminish the regular season. My opinion has always been that the right number is eight, with the five power conference champions advancing with three at large teams. I even reference this scenario in my book "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" that takes place over ten years in the past. This would in no way take away from the weekly drama of the regular season. For instance, this week's Alabama - Mississippi State game would still be just as important, as would Florida State - Miami, TCU - Kansas, Ohio State - Minnesota and so on. Sixteen is too many and would make the games I just mentioned less meaningful, with as many as three teams getting in from some conferences. Now for my picks.
Thursday (from an earlier blog):
East Carolina (6 - 2) 38 @ Cincinnati (5 - 3) 27: ECU's loss
to Temple in their last game took them out of the running for a major
bowl, but they still have a lot to play for. There are currently four
teams in the American Conference with one loss and a lot of football
left to be played. The conference doesn't have a championship game and
there is not a round robin schedule, so there are some interesting
possibilities for ties at the top of the standings. After getting
thrashed in three straight games, Cincinnati has rebounded by winning
their last three contests. ECU basically handed the game to Temple,
committing numerous turnovers and losing the game despite holding the
Owls to under 200 yards of offense. I like the Pirates speed on the
outside to scorch the Bearcats and get ECU back on the winning track.
California (5 - 4) 31 @ USC (6 - 3) 40:
Cal can really score and USC has one of the better defenses in the
Pac-12. Something will have to give tonight and it will most likely be
the Golden Bears' defense. However, if it's a shootout, anything could
happen. I still like USC's balance and overall their defense should be
better enough than Cal's to prevail. In addition, the Trojans are still
in the hunt for the Pac-12 South crown, with a win setting up a big
showdown with UCLA next week.
(1) Mississippi State (9 - 0) 16 @ (5) Alabama (8 - 1) 20: Obviously this is the game of the week. No extra hype is required. The winner stays in the playoff hunt and the loser, especially if it's Alabama, will be on the outside looking in. I think a one-loss Mississippi State team could still be in the mix, especially if Alabama stumbles and the Bulldogs win the SEC championship. I know the Tide has looked lethargic on offense at times this season, but Nick Saban has cut his teeth on these games and frankly, Mississippi State is new to the dance.
(3) Florida State (9 - 0) 27 @ Miami (6 - 3) 24: It's been awhile since Miami has been relevant in the ACC...oh, wait, they haven't been relevant since joining the league. No conference championships, not even a Coastal Division crown. Even with a win over the Seminoles, they would still need significant assistance to meet Florida State again in Charlotte for the title. The 'Canes have developed a strong running game to complement a solid defense. The 'Noles have cobbled together an undefeated record with close wins over Clemson and Notre Dame, neither of which were deserved in the eyes of many. I still find it difficult to go against Florida State as long as they have the one thing no one else has: Jameis Winston at QB.
(4) TCU (8 - 1) 37 @ Kansas (3 - 6) 13: If TCU was traveling to almost anywhere else, I could make a case for a letdown after their big win over Kansas State. But the Jayhawks haven't shown that they have close to what it will take to upset the Horned Frogs.
(6) Arizona State (8 - 1) 34 @ Oregon State (4 - 5) 20: The Sun Devils used five Notre Dame turnovers to rout the Irish last week. Oregon State is mired in a four game losing streak, three of them at home. There have been times when the Beavers were an upset machine at home, but this group can't seem to stop anyone, and Arizona State still has a lot to play for. With some of the wild finishes to college football seasons in recent years, they're still very much in the playoff mix.
(8) Ohio State (8 - 1) 26 @ (25) Minnesota (7 - 2) 17: Until their big win over Iowa last week, the Golden Gophers hadn't beaten an FBS team with a winning record. Of course, Iowa still hasn't, so despite those glossy records and competing for the Big Ten West title, anyone outside of Nebraska and Wisconsin are pretenders in that division. Even with a bit of a letdown, the Buckeyes should have more than Minnesota can handle, even in bad weather in Minneapolis.
(9) Auburn (7 - 2) 34 @ (15) Georgia (7 - 2) 38: What a great game that will determine if the Bulldogs stay in contention in the SEC East. They should have suspended RB Todd Gurley back in action and are looking to take advantage of what has become a porous Auburn defense. Georgia is the only SEC East team to record a win over a team from the other SEC division, but that was against last place Arkansas, who hasn't recorded an SEC win in over two years. If they hope to make it 2 - 0 against the West, they'll need to find a way to control the ball, which they can do. For Auburn, it's about somehow coming up with some defensive stops. I don't think they can.
(12) Michigan State (7 - 2) 26 @ Maryland (6 - 3) 21: Maryland has been able to win some games this season without gaining a lot of yards. Despite getting gashed by Ohio State last week and Oregon earlier in the season, the Spartans still have a formidable defense that shouldn't be overwhelmed by the Terrapins. I think they'll bounce back, even on the road in a very hostile environment.
(17) LSU (7 - 3) 20 @ Arkansas (4 - 5) 24: Thirty degrees at kickoff, a chance of winter precipitation, a young, talented team hungry for a league win, an opponent from the warm weather and coming off a brutal overtime loss...it really couldn't stack up any better for an Arkansas team that always plays their rivals tough. The Hogs probably should have won at least two conference games, maybe three, and I think they'll finally break through against LSU, giving coach Bret Bielema his first SEC victory.
Northwestern (3 - 6) 17 @ (18) Notre Dame (7 - 2) 30: As much as Mike Greenberg of ESPN's Mike and Mike show is pulling for his alma mater, his co-host's former school has a much better chance at victory. Irish coach Brian Kelly told a national radio audience this morning that his team gave the game to Arizona State last week, and he's right on target. Five turnovers against a very good team on the road will spell defeat on almost every occasion. The fact is that Notre Dame is just plain better than a young Northwestern team and will take care of business on Saturday.
Washington (6 - 4) 27 @ (14) Arizona (7 - 2) 26: Upsets get a little less frequent late in the season, but this is one I just have a feeling about. Washington hasn't beaten a ranked team and Arizona has played as well as anyone in the Pac-12, with just two close losses and a win at Oregon. But call me crazy...
(16) Nebraska (8 - 1) 23 @ (20) Wisconsin (7 - 2) 27: I've thought for a few weeks that the Cornhuskers have been unnoticed and underrated. They have a win against Miami and their lone loss was by less than a touchdown on the road at Michigan State. But Wisconsin has been on a roll since an inexplicable loss at Northwestern. They give up just over fourteen points a game, which ranks third in the nation. The winner will have a leg up in the Big Ten West race. I have to give the Badgers the edge in Camp Randall.
(19) Clemson (7 - 2) 31 @ (22) Ga. Tech (8 - 2) 27: This is the last of the matchups between ranked teams. Clemson is all but eliminated from the ACC Atlantic race, needing Florida State to lose to Miami and Boston College in its final conference games for the Tigers to have a chance. A Tiger loss wraps up a spot in the ACC championship game for the 'Noles. On the other side of the league, Georgia Tech also needs to win and get a lot of help. The Yellow Jackets need Duke to lose and Miami to win, forcing anything but a two way tie with the Blue Devils. Not likely, considering Duke's opponents have a combined record of 10 - 17 and none of them have a winning record. If it appears that I'm doing a lot of writing and avoiding making a pick, it's because I'm doing a lot of writing and avoiding making a pick. Georgia Tech hasn't beaten a team with a winning record since defeating Miami in Week 6. Clemson has won six in a row since losing to Florida State in OT. I'll take the Tigers... finally.
Virginia Tech (4 - 5) 24 @ (21) Duke (8 - 1) 23: My Hokies have lost five of their last seven since shocking Ohio State in the Horseshoe. Only one loss was by more than a touchdown, an embarrassing loss to Miami where the team appeared to quit. If Va. Tech is going to show up, this would be the week. Frank Beamer's teams have appeared in 21 consecutive bowl games, and with games left at Wake Forest and at home versus rival Virginia, a loss to Duke would mean they would need to sweep their final two to keep the streak alive. This is a pure homer pick despite what is obviously Duke's superior team.
(23) Utah (6 - 3) 27 @ Stanford (5 - 4) 24: Stanford is clearly not as strong as in recent seasons. Utah has clearly shown the ability to not only compete, but win in the Pac-12. I just think the Utes have too much for the home team.
Missouri (7 - 2) 34 @ (24) Texas A&M (7 - 3) 27: I'm a bit surprised that the Aggies re-emerged at number 23 in the committee's ranking this week, after a gift from Auburn. Missouri was ranked earlier in the season and with only two losses, I would think they might garner more consideration. That probably speaks more to the opinion of the SEC East than the Tigers themselves. In addition, their two losses were ugly: To a 3 - 6 Indiana and then a 34 - 0 drubbing at the hands of a Georgia team playing without suspended running back Todd Gurley. Texas A&M, barring a miracle comeback to beat Arkansas in overtime, would have dropped four in a row to SEC West opponents. I just don't like the Aggie defense and Missouri has straightened things out since the Georgia loss. I can't believe I'm picking two SEC teams over the West.
Texas (5 - 5) 34 @ Oklahoma St. (5 - 4) 27: These are two teams headed in distinctly different directions. Charlie Strong's Longhorns have shaken off some early season criticism to even their record at 5 - 5, needing a win in one of their last two games to get into a bowl. Considering that their final game is against TCU, Texas ' best chance at the post season is win in Stillwater against the Cowboys. Oklahoma State had the misfortune of a backloaded schedule where Baylor and Oklahoma still remain. I like Texas to get bowl eligible, leaving OSU with a lot of work to do.
Iowa (6 - 3) 37 @ Illinois (4 - 5) 28: Illinois beat Minnesota who drilled Iowa, therefore Illinois should beat Iowa, right? Not really. As much as I'm not a real believer in Iowa, the Illini really can't stop anyone, so I'll go with the Hawkeyes.
South Carolina (4 - 5) 38 @ Florida (5 - 3) 34: Oh my, the old ball coach against his former team...again. So outside of their stunning win over Georgia at the world's largest outdoor cocktail party, Florida has beaten 2 - 7 Eastern Michigan, 5 - 5 Kentucky in the Swamp in 3 overtimes, 4 - 5 Tennessee by a point and 3 - 7 Vanderbilt. Along the way they lost at Alabama by three touchdowns, then to LSU by three points and Missouri by twenty-nine, both at home. South Carolina isn't much better, but Florida's record doesn't warrant much enthusiasm about a big turnaround. I'll take Spurrier to find a way to stick one to the Gators.