Sunday, January 07, 2018

Old Man Yells at Playoffs (And Other Fans)

The Committee Got It Wrong

For the first time in 4 years, the Committee selected the wrong playoff field, though their error wasn't egregious. After Wisconsin fell at the hands of the Buckeyes, I said that I would put Ohio State at #4, but I expected the Committee to choose Alabama. Both choices were easily defensible (to me, at least), but I thought that Ohio State's overall resume was stronger than the Tide's, with wins over the #6 (Wisconsin), #9 (Penn State), and #16 (Michigan State) teams, along with a championship in a pretty tough league, cleansing the sins of an atrocious loss to unranked, 8-4 Iowa. Yes, 2017 Ohio State greatly resembled the memorably snubbed 2016 Penn State, but 2017 Alabama was hardly 2016 Ohio State; in fact, as I wrote a few weeks ago, they more closely resembled 2015 Ohio State, with only one loss, to a pretty good team, but no great wins or even a conference championship on which to hang their hats. I thought the lesson of 2016 was that a great resume could trump the lack of a conference title, but it turns out the lesson was even simpler: don't lose twice (and don't be a Group of 5 team). However...

The Committee - Liars One and All

That's not what the Committee was telling us all along. Going into championship week, the playoff rankings looked like this:
  1. Clemson
  2. Auburn
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Alabama
  6. Georgia
  7. Miami
  8. Ohio State
After releasing these rankings, Committee chairman Kirby Hocutt stated, "There's very little separation between teams 5 through 8." The implication was clear: Clemson/Miami and Auburn/Georgia were pairing off in championship games, with the winner of each in the playoff and the loser almost certainly out; and Oklahoma was win-and-in (maybe even lose-and-still-in), leaving one more spot to fill. Wisconsin was win-and-in, and Alabama was idle, hoping for a Wisconsin loss in order to slide into the top 4, but if there was truly "very little separation" between teams 5 and 8, Ohio State should have had the opportunity to play their way ahead of Alabama with a win over Wisconsin and a conference championship. Note that Wisconsin was specifically NOT included in the "very little separation" range indicated by Hocutt, implying that before championship week, the Committee believed that Wisconsin was clearly superior to Alabama.

You know what happened next. Ohio State beat Wisconsin and won the Big Ten Championship, and then they finished ranked #5, behind Alabama. On Selection Sunday, Kirby Hocutt followed up his earlier comments by stating that Committee's support for Alabama over Ohio State was "widespread," "strong," and "unequivocal." So much for "very little separation"; if a win over a top-4 team and a conference championship isn't enough to close the gap between the two teams, I cannot imagine a possible scenario that would, other than the higher-ranked team losing (and normally you don't need "very little separation" for a team to drop after a loss). But maybe my thinking is too "small picture." Let's look at what else happened on championship weekend:
  • Georgia blew out Auburn, diminishing the quality of Alabama's loss.
  • Oklahoma blew out TCU (again), strengthening the quality of Ohio State's loss.
  • Boise State beat Fresno State, knocking one of Alabama's ranked wins out of the top 25.
  • Florida State beat Louisiana-Monroe, giving Alabama one more bowl eligible opponent.
So there are three possibilities for what happened on championship weekend:
  1. A win over a top 4 opponent and a conference championship, coupled with crippling blows to Alabama's resume and a small boost to Ohio State's, were not enough to make up for "very little separation" between the two teams,
  2. The Committee was really, really impressed with Florida State's bowl eligibility, or
  3. The Committee is full of crap and lied about the level of separation between Ohio State and Alabama on November 28th.
As I said above, putting Alabama in ahead of Ohio State is a defensible choice. All the Committee had to say was that losing twice is unacceptable, or losing by 31 is unacceptable (not losing by 27, though, right, Georgia?). But instead, the Committee insisted on making the rankings first and coming up with compelling reasons why second. Even reasons that make no sense, like this gem from the Committee on Selection Sunday: 

"The selection committee just favored the whole body of work. As we saw Alabama play week in and week out, the selection committee believed Alabama was the better football team."

Body of work? I thought we put that to rest after Ohio State pulled out 3 ranked wins higher than either of Alabama's (#17 LSU, #23 Mississippi State) and won the Big Ten championship. Interesting point about how you "saw Alabama play" though...

The "Eye Test"

I have always hated the "eye test," by which people can supposedly just watch teams play and suddenly be struck by inspiration regarding which one is better, independent of any further analysis. All too often, it's really just the "I" test, as in "'I' think Team A is better than Team B, and 'I' don't care to give any reasons justifying why." You probably heard plenty of this from Booger McFarland and the other brain geniuses at ESPN on Selection Sunday. Well, the Committee had plenty of opportunities to feast their eyes upon Alabama once November arrived and the cupcake train ended, so what exactly did they see?
  • November 5: An ugly win over LSU that saw the Tigers outgain the Tide.
  • November 12: An ugly win over Mississippi State that saw the Tide trail into the 4th quarter and tied into the final minute.
  • November 19: A paycheck game against an FCS opponent (which Ohio State has not played this year, or this decade).
  • November 26: A double digit loss to Auburn.
Really eye-popping results there. This isn't to say Alabama hadn't often looked impressive during the regular season. They beat Vanderbilt 59-0, Ole Miss 66-3, Arkansas 41-9, and Tennessee 45-7. Problem is, all of those teams sucked. Vanderbilt and Tennessee finished 6th and 7th in one of the worst divisions in the Power 5 (the SEC East) with one conference win between them (Vanderbilt beating Tennessee). Arkansas went 4-8 with one conference win, and Ole Miss led the pack at 6-6.

Hey, guess who else blew out a lot of crappy conference teams this year? Ohio State! They beat Rutgers 56-0, Maryland 62-14, Nebraska 56-14, Illinois 52-14, and Michigan State 48-3. Wait...Michigan State finished the regular season 9-3 and ranked #16. Surely Alabama handled some ranked team by more than a couple of Huh. Better rethink that "eye test" then.

Going into the Big Ten championship game, I thought that a big blowout win over Wisconsin (remember 59-0?) would put Ohio State in the playoff, while a close win would keep them out. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought "why would it matter?" The Buckeyes already dismantled the Spartans in a win as impressive as any win by any playoff contender. Why should the Committee care if they did it again?

Take Off the Tinfoil Hats

Yes, I think the Buckeyes should have been in the playoff. No, I don't think that selecting Alabama was indefensible (even if the reasons given were). And no, I don't think UCF deserved to be within a whiff of the semifinals. Almost as annoying as the "eye test" crowd we already discussed are the "the fix is in" crowd who insisted that the Committee selected Alabama because [the bowls/ESPN/the money gods] told them to. Yes, Alabama draws lots of eyes. More than Ohio State? Not likely. And certainly not when matched up against Georgia. ESPN is heading for another SEC vs. SEC title game ratings nightmare like back in 2012, even if tickets are going for more than $2,000 a pop thanks to both teams' proximity to the title game location (Atlanta).

As for UCF, a Group of 5 team isn't going to crack the playoff absent extraordinary circumstances. The Knights had a nice campaign, but beating Maryland and ducking Georgia Tech out of conference aren't going to move the needle nearly far enough to pass Alabama, Ohio State, USC, or even the likes of Penn State, Auburn, or Miami. Someday a Group of 5 team will make the playoff, but it'll take a combination of a team like 2016 Houston, with a big marquee win like Oklahoma to cling to, with a field like this year's, lacking an obvious choice for #4.

And stop with the self-awarded National Championship. You're embarrassing yourselves.

Conference Pride

Speaking of embarrassing, how about the bowl performances from the Pac-12? East coast bias was in full effect this bowl season, as the Conference of Champions went 1-7, including giant eggs laid by USC, Washington, and Washington State against Big Ten opponents in the conference's marquee matchups. The ACC and SEC didn't do too well either, though two playoff wins took the SEC back to nearly .500, where they'll stay after going 1-1 in the championship next week. But our boys, the B1G, completed a darn near perfect bowl season, with only You-Know-Who choosing to Harbaugh an easy win away.

What does all this mean? Not much. SEC homers will complain that having two teams in the playoffs pulled the rest of their teams up a bowl slot, resulting in unfavorable matchups. But the B1G also put 3 teams into the New Year's Six, and they went 3-0 and didn't lose to a Group of 5 team. Big picture, bowls are only one piece of the conference supremacy puzzle. And conference supremacy doesn't mean much, either. Conferences don't win games; teams do. The SEC didn't get two teams into the playoff because the Committee thought the SEC was so great, or the Big Ten was terrible. Alabama and Georgia just managed to be the only teams standing with fewer than 2 losses when the dust cleared.

The New Resume Comparison - Alabama vs. Ohio State

But just for fun, in the light of such bowl performances, let's take a look at how Alabama's and Ohio State's resumes have changed since Selection Sunday:

Ohio State's opponents:
Indiana, UNLV, Rutgers, Maryland, Nebraska, and Illinois did not play
Army beat Navy, then beat San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl
Penn State beat Washington in the Fiesta Bowl
Iowa beat Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl
Michigan State beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl
Michigan lost to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl
Wisconsin beat Miami in the Orange Bowl
Oklahoma lost to Georgia in the Rose Bowl
Ohio State beat USC in the Cotton Bowl

So Ohio State notched another great win, its three top opponents all notched more quality wins, including 2 in the New Year's Six, while their top loss took a hit to Georgia.

Alabama's opponents:
Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mercer did not play
Florida State beat Southern Miss in the Independence Bowl
Fresno State beat Houston in the Hawai'i Bowl
Colorado State lost to Marshall in the New Mexico Bowl
Texas A&M lost to Wake Forest in the Belk Bowl
LSU lost to Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl
Mississippi State beat Louisville in the Taxslayer Bowl
Auburn lost to UCF in the Peach Bowl
Alabama beat Clemson in the Sugar Bowl

Obviously Alabama beating Clemson is a huge deal, but Alabama's opponents didn't score a single quality win in bowl season, other than Louisville (woo), with Alabama's top win (LSU) and only loss (Auburn) suffering upset losses.

What does this prove? Not a whole lot, other than to gently suggest to the "Alabama's win proved that the Committee was right" crowd that the picture isn't quite as cut-and-dry as they'd like to think.

Ex Ante (Or, Hindsight Is 2018)

Not that the Committee needs bowl results to vindicate their decisions. Every year (maybe less so in 2015) the Committee's selections have stirred up controversy. And every year, fans and analysts try to use playoff results to judge playoff selection. 2014 Ohio State won the playoff so they must have belonged. 2016 Ohio State and Washington got waxed so maybe Penn State was the better option. 2017 Alabama stomped Clemson so the Committee made the right choice. This is hindsight bias at its finest. The Committee doesn't have the luxury of a crystal ball showing them how teams will perform going forward; and it's not their job to pick the four teams they think have the best chance to win the playoff. Their mandate is to select the best four teams based on the performances the teams have provided. You could have a (Power 5) team that takes care of business, wins all of its games, then enters the playoff and does a total face plant (2014 Florida State). Doesn't mean the team shouldn't have been there. You could have a team hit a stumbling block, enter the field as #4 and a step behind the rest, and run the table and win (2014 Ohio State, probably 2017 Alabama). Doesn't mean that they were the correct selection, particularly if a team snubbed by the Committee also has an impressive bowl performance (2014 TCU, 2017 Ohio State). You never know how any team will perform on any given day in the future; you can only reward teams for what they have accomplished already. And speaking of not knowing how teams will perform...

Fear of...Success?

Leading up to the Big Ten Championship game, the great debate in Buckeye Nation, apart from whether Ohio State would jump Alabama with a win over Wisconsin, was whether Buckeye fans wanted Ohio State to leap into the top 4. 31-0 was fresh on people's minds, not to mention the Iowa City Massacre, and did we really want this team, with terrible [JT/linebackers/secondary/special teams/playcalling/Urban in general] to face Clemson and get slaughtered again?

Then you saw the Cotton Bowl. Then you saw the performance Clemson gave in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Anyone still want to claim that Clemson probably would have run Ohio State out of the building? Maybe; we'll never know what a game between those two specific teams would have looked like. But that's entirely the point. You can't win the playoff if you're not in the playoff, and though sometimes you get smacked down (Clemson) or pantsed by an inferior opponent (Florida) or just get solidly beat (LSU), sometimes YOU get to be the Florida, or the Iowa, ruining some other team's season. All it takes is the other team not bringing its A-game, or your defensive line getting to the QB on darn near every play, or JT playing downright unconscious, all of which we have seen this very season in Ohio State games against top opponents, and suddenly it's the Buckeyes lifting the championship trophy once again.

Do you feel satisfied with a Cotton Bowl win? Doesn't at least part of you wish you could see the Buckeyes playing Georgia this Monday?

Expansion Solves Nothing

Of course, that debate would have been moot if the playoff field had comprised 8 teams instead of 4. Every year, the fans that aren't terrified of their team making the playoff, but nevertheless find themselves on the outside looking in, demand that the playoff field expand to 8 teams. What does the Committee know, anyway (the fix is in!); wouldn't we be better off if we decided the championship on the field instead of in a board room? The expansion proposal most often bandied around these days is to give auto-bids to the five Power 5 champions, another auto-bid for the top Group of 5 champion, and two at-large bids. This is somehow supposed to create less controversy. There are several problems with this approach:
  1. Complacency. If each Power 5 champion makes the playoff regardless of how they perform on the field, there is zero incentive to schedule aggressively in an attempt to set a a team apart from the pack. But it gets worse: you know that lovely NFL tradition of a team resting its starters after they've wrapped up a playoff spot? Imagine a Power 5 team clinching its division a week early, then taking Rivalry Week off to rest up for the conference championship and a possible playoff berth. The sound you just heard was me vomiting violently.
  2. Diminishing the regular season. For all the bluster that's been spent on how Ohio State or Alabama deserved to make the playoff, just consider these teams' championship cases would look if we were under the old 2-team playoff, aka the BCS. There would've been a fierce battle for the top two spots among Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia, but Alabama and Ohio State would have been laughed out of the discussion. Like it or not, Ohio State's loss to Iowa was nearly absolved thanks to the 4-team playoff, and had Alabama taken care of business against Auburn and Georgia, Ohio State would have been in the playoff at #4 with 2 losses, including a 31 point loss to an unranked team. Part of what makes college football special is that every loss is devastating, and every playoff expansion makes losses a little more tolerable, until we reach NFL-style loss apathy.
  3. No less controversy. Oh, so the #5 and #6 teams have been complaining about being left out? That really burns your biscuits, 2014 TCU and Baylor, and 2016 Penn State, and 2017 Ohio State? Well, let's look at the top nine rankings from each playoff season, plus each highest ranked Group of 5 team, with the playoff field under the above 8 team proposal bolded.
2014                                   2015                          
1. Alabama                       1. Clemson
2. Oregon                          2. Alabama
3. Florida State                3. Michigan State
4. Ohio State                    4. Oklahoma
5. Baylor                           5. Iowa
6. TCU                              6. Stanford
7. Mississippi State          7. Ohio State
8. Michigan State              8. Notre Dame
9. Mississippi                    9. Florida State
20. Boise State                 18. Houston

2016                                    2017
1. Alabama                         1. Clemson
2. Clemson                          2. Oklahoma
3. Ohio State                       3. Georgia
4. Washington                    4. Alabama
5. Penn State                      5. Ohio State
6. Michigan                        6. Wisconsin
7. Oklahoma                      7. Auburn
8. Wisconsin                        8. USC
9. USC                                 9. Penn State
15. Western Michigan       12. UCF

In 2014, I don't think Michigan State would have been too thrilled to be left out in favor of Mississippi State. 2015 would have been pretty cut and dry, other than the outcry over three Big Ten teams making the field (though there wasn't any controversy over the 4 teams that made that year's real-life playoff field). As for 2016, remember the USC team that everyone was salivating over, the one that inexplicably ended up ranked #3 after beating Penn State by 3 in the Rose Bowl? Out, in favor of putting another three Big Ten teams in the playoff. And in 2017, Auburn would find themselves left out at #7 in favor of USC, and so would've a Penn State team that lost two games by a combined 4 points. And just look at that murderer's row of Group of 5 teams. Anyone want to claim that any of them would have hung with the #1 team any of those 4 years? The only one with a prayer was this year's UCF team, but otherwise, they would just be wasting a spot and adding another playoff snoozer (like so many crappy conference champions do in March Madness).

Two teams was too few. Eight teams is too many. Four teams is just right.

Best 4 vs. Most Deserving

But which four teams are just right? The "best" four, or the "most deserving"? What does this distinction even mean? The Committee, of course, claims to select the four "best" teams, but, as we discussed above, nothing they say matters except the final rankings. Usually, when people talk about the "best" teams, they mean the teams they would expect to give the best performance in a hypothetical future playoff game. In other words, who would be the Vegas favorites against other playoff contenders? Unfortunately, this presents the same problem as the "eye test" discussed above: judgments are made independently of the team's body of work. Remember that USC team from 2016? The one that ended up ranked #3? There's a reason they didn't make the playoff: they had three losses, including losing by 46 to Alabama. Remember 2015 Ohio State, the one that sent the best draft class ever to the NFL? They didn't make the playoff either, because they lost the one big game they played.

Of course, "most deserving" presents problems as well. Was 2016 Penn State "deserving" because they had a conference championship and Ohio State didn't? Could the same be said for 2017 Ohio State vis-a-vis Alabama? Did Western Michigan and UCF "deserve" to make the playoff after doing the best they could with the schedule they were presented?

The truth is somewhere in the middle. The playoff field should be, not the 4 "best teams," but the 4 teams that had the best seasons, taking into account who they played, who they beat, how many losses they had, and whether they won a championship along the way. In other words, pretty much the way the Committee picks the teams now (gobbledygook aside). Is the process subjective? Definitely. But what's the alternative? What's the objective way to select 4 teams out of a field of 130 teams playing schedules too widely disparate to easily compare and too short to adequately analyze? One way to make the process more "objective" would be to add computer rankings or some other analytic, but fans start to froth at the mouth when anything smacking of the BCS is proposed. After all, those "objective" computers left #1 USC out of the title game in 2004 and put Alabama in the 2012 BCS championship in a rematch with LSU. And what did the fans demand in response? That the computers be thrown out and replaced with, well, a committee of people who knew what they were talking about and had time to carefully consider the decisions they were making (not the SIDs filling out the coaches' poll because the coach doesn't have time or motivation to).

For all the controversy surrounding the Playoff Committee, they got the playoff field right 3 years in a row, and they almost nailed it again this year. Almost.

Friday, December 29, 2017

New Year's Six - Cotton Candy

Final Regular Season Standings
1. Draper (51-17, 3-11 upset)
2. Schweinfurth (48-20, 0-14 upset)
3. Seeberg (47-21, 6-8 upset)
4. Hoying (44-24, 2-12 upset)

Bowl Standings Through December 28
1. Draper (18-7)
1. Hoying (18-7)
3. Schweinfurth (14-11)
3. Seeberg (14-11)

Play us off, Jim Mora.

Fiesta Bowl: Washington Huskies vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Draper: This is an interesting matchup because no one really knows anything about Washington.  Jake Browning is really good when he's on, but has shown consistency issues.  I've heard a lot of talk about the Husky defense, but McSorley and Barkley have the talent to overmatch them.  I find it hilarious that Saquon says he hasn't decided about the next level yet (psst...he's going pro--or he's really dumb).  This is a 'motivation' type bowl.  If the Lions show up sorry for themselves thinking about what could have been, the purple and gold will be celebrating.  However, I think Franklin will get a little pride out of the Lions and they'll play for a Fiesta Bowl win and a top 10 finish.  Lions force bad Jake Browning and take care of business.  UW: 17--PSU: 27
Hoying: I don't think I've watched 5 minutes of Washington football this season. They were exposed as a playoff pretender last year against Alabama and then just kind of existed in a terrible Pac-12 this year until Stanford pulled the rug out from under them. Across the country, Penn State is possibly even better than last year's Rose Bowl runner-up, losing 2 road games to 2 ranked opponents by a combined 4 points. Saquon is looking to make one more impression before bolting to the NFL, and I just don't think Washington is tough enough to handle a punishing Lion attack on both sides of the ball. Another year for Penn State fans to wonder "what if?". Heh. UW: 20--PSU: 30
Schweinfurth: Interesting that there are two Pac-12/B1G matchups this year. Did anyone really look at this game and say, "I have to watch this?" I know I didn't. I actually forgot this game existed this year (probably because I don't care about the Kitties outside of their annual beating from OSU). Chris Peterson always gets his teams up for the Fiesta Bowl (just ask Oklahoma and TCU). I think it helps the Huskies' case that Saquan Barkley has one eye on the NFL. I'm not sold on Penn State and Trace McSorely plays "500" way too often with his receivers. Not a total blowout, but still a "meh" game to me. UW: 35--PSU: 21
Seeberg:  Making these picks after a handful of bowls have already been played lends us some important additional information.  Trying not to read too much into things, but the B1G is 3-0 thus far this bowl season.  Heck, even Purdue managed to win their bowl game over a more highly touted Pac-12 Arizona team, which provides even more credence to my pick here.  I really have a hard time envisioning the Huskies stopping Barkley and Co. often enough to stay in this game.  The Nittanys are less than a touchdown from being undefeated this year, and they should pull away from U-Dub in the second half.  UW: 20--PSU: 38

Orange Bowl: Miami Hurricanes vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Draper: One thing not being mentioned is that da U is playing at home which is an odd fluke of the bowl season.  Even with that, Wisconsin travels pretty well and should make the dichotomous crowd about 50-50.  Miami simply lived and died by the turnover all year, and I don't know if that's enough versus a blue-collar no nonsense Badger squad.  If the Badgers get Taylor and the ground game going, good things will happen for the B1G. If Hornibrook has to win it...eeeeeehhhh...the turnover chain might be doing some work.  My guess is that there is simply too many injuries on the Cane side to take advantage.  The Chain shows up, but Bucky takes the (extremely boring) game.  UM: 10 -- UW: 20
Hoying: So now that we've seen them in action against a real live opponent, what do we know about Wisconsin? They are sloooooowwwww. The Buckeyes burned them early for three long TDs (give or take a yard) before misfiring on a couple of other opportunities that could've put the game out of reach in the first half. Wisconsin was opportunistic enough on defense to stay in the game, but that shtick isn't going to work against the Turnover Chain (TM). Miami is battle tested, and while Clemson was a bit too much to handle, they've already played one team that likes to run and gets in trouble when it tries to throw (hi, ND) and had their way with them. In Hard Rock Stadium. It's like poetry, so that they rhyme. UM: 24--UW: 17
Schweinfurth: One team wins by the skin of their teeth and the other grinds the other team to dust. Miami has been very, very lucky this year until the last two games of the season. I'm not sold on them as a top team. Wisconsin is every bit a good team and that defense is nasty in the second half, but it can be beat over the top. Miami had trouble with Clemson's attacking defensive play and the Badgers are similar. This game will be peak Wisconsin. UM: 17--Wisc: 21
Seeberg:  Well, Miami went all last-decade Georgia Bulldogs on us at the end of the season.  Might not be a coincidence given, you know, the same head coach and all.  Wisconsin, meanwhile, looked competent against OSU, losing only by 6, though the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot a ton...again.  If the game is within a score at the half, Wisconsin has the horses to grind down a deflated Hurricane squad.  Given how close the B1G championship game was to getting ugly early, the Badgers will be more guarded against that this time, and the Hurricanes will be pounded into submission late.  UM: 16--Wisc: 24

Peach Bowl: Central Florida Knights vs. Auburn Tigers
Draper: It's all about who wants to be there...but Auburn is WAAAAAAAAAAY better than UCF.  Scott Frost is coaching the Golden Knights, but I don't think his heart is in it.  The Tigers are really bummed, but a big win in the Peach Bowl will keep them in the top 10.  War Eagle musters enough pride to not lose to a Group of Five team and the last perfect season comes to an end. Jarrett Stidham and Kerryon Johnson will be too much with the big uglies leading the way.  I don't see the Knights being able to stop the Malzahn offense.  UCF: 17 -- Aub: 38
Hoying: Where are these teams' heads? Are Auburn's stuck in the stadium they'll be visiting this Monday, but a month in the past, where their shot at playoff glory died at Georgia's hands? Are UCF's torn between the past on its way to Lincoln and the future swooping in from Columbia? Can anyone stop UCF's offense? What about the team that held Alabama to 14 points and generally pounded them into dust? I don't know the answers to these questions, but my guess is that Auburn will be just deflated enough to make this game interesting, but just talented enough to make a big stop late to preserve a win. UCF: 27--Aub: 28
Schweinfurth: I'll be brief on this one. Teams they lose a head coach before a bowl game tend to struggle, there is just much going on. Auburn's defense is just down right nasty. I'll roll with the Tigers. UCF: 13--Aub: 28
Seeberg:  Pretty much all you need to know about Auburn's chances is whether or not Kerryon Johnson is going to play.  He is.  Bad news for this year's group of 5 hopeful.  UCF can certainly score, but it's tough to envision a track meet here given that the mighty(?) Alabama offense managed just 14 against Auburn.  I expect UCF to scheme their way to some early scores, but the Tigers' superior horses eventually rule the day.  UCF: 17--Aub: 34

Rose Bowl: Georgia Bulldogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Draper: Perhaps the best game of the bowl season is in the Grandaddy of them All.  I was shocked to hear that UGA and OU have NEVER played before.  Honestly, the offense in the crimson and cream is fantastic led by the runaway Heisman winner, but the defense is what some may call poo.  Georgia has very good defense led by Roquan Smith and a running game that just smashes you in the mouth with Chubb, Michel, and Swift.  While OU is the flash, I lean a little to the Dawgs with a nasty D and blue collar running attack.  The Sooners have the flash, but Georgia has the smash.  I'm going with the Dawgs to slow down the Sooners and dominate the time of possession to shorten the game.  UGA: 27 -- OU: 24
Hoying: Do you know how many teams have stopped this OU offense this year? Well, none, although Ohio State was able to contain them for the first half, and Texas was able to stop them for the second. Can Georgia fare any better? You saw what they did to Auburn in Atlanta after getting embarrassed the first time around. You saw what they did to Notre Dame and Mississippi State. But they haven't seen an offense like Oklahoma's. The Buckeyes provided a blueprint for slowing Mayfield down (provided you have better linebackers than OSU does) but his powers have only increased since September. Much is being made of the factoid that Oklahoma's defense is the only Flacco-level non-elite squad on either side of the ball for all 4 playoff teams. I'll see that and raise you Georgia's freshman QB, Jake Fromm, who's long overdue for a few freshman moments to gack a game away. A true freshman QB hasn't won a national championship since Jamelle Holieway did it way back in 1985 for...the Oklahoma Sooners. Expect that streak to continue with any suspense ending a week early. UGA: 24--OU: 34
Schweinfurth: Can Georgia get pressure on Baker Mayfield? The answer to that question will decide this game. The Sooner offensive line is one of, if not the best offensive lines in the country. Kirby Smart has turned this Bulldog defense into a nasty, physical, attack monster. Add that to a tough ground and pound offense and now we have a game. Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the country and could barely touch Mayfield all night. Not sure if Georgia will get to him either. UGA: 28--OU: 35
Seeberg:  The question here is whether or not Baker Mayfield avoids the dreaded Heisman jinx.  We all know OU can score it with anyone, but even their defense has looked...competent-ish the last month or so of the season.  That is a good enough recipe to get by this Georgia team that only got into the playoff thanks to Kerryon Johnson being far less than 100% in the SEC title game.  IF Georgia runs it well they have a chance in this one, but once the Sooners go up 10+, that plan is out the window late.  Boomer Sooner.  UGA: 27--OU: 38

Sugar Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Clemson Tigers
Draper: Another fantastic matchup (have I used that word enough here).  I don't like what the committee did with Alabama in the playoff because they haven't proven it on the field which I believe should be the primary criterion.  I do think I've figured out the only criterion that matters: Be in a power five conference and don't lose (or lose fewer than others).  That's it.  OK, back to the game.  I do think that Clemson has the better talent and has beaten teams with a pulse this year and I think that will make the difference.  Bryant and Etienne are very good, and should be able to spread the solid Bama D out enough to weaken them. Hurts is very good, but if the Tigers can slow down Scarborough and cover Ridley, Dabo will take round 3.  A Nick Saban led team with a chip on their shoulder scares me, but Clemson has a more cohesive unit.  Bama: 17 -- Clem: 24
Hoying: As I was filling out my bowl picks this year, this was the only one I had to stop and consider for more than 10 seconds. Can Clemson really compete for another national title without Deshaun Watson, a generational talent at QB (although Tajh Boyd was no slouch either...grrr)? Maybe. Maybe Clemson's not quite as good as it was last year. But Alabama DEFINITELY isn't. In their last 4 games, the Tide have (i) been outgained (LSU), (ii) trailed into the 4th quarter (MSU), (iii) been essentially run out of the building (Auburn), and (iv) played a paycheck game (Mercer). Not sure what about that screams "playoff resume," but the Committee needed a 4th team and there wasn't another great option. Despite these troubles, Alabama still has the nation's top scoring defense, but Clemson's right there at #2, having played real live offenses like, well, Auburn, for starters. As long as the Tigers blanket Calvin Ridley all game, they should be fine. For now. Bama: 20--Clem: 21
Schweinfurth: Let's get this out of the way, Alabama does not deserve to be here. I thought the argument for this spot was between USC and OSU...but anyway. Alabama is going to get smoked. There I said it. Clemson had one hiccup against Syracuse and their QB got hurt. All the while, that Tiger defense just crushed opponents. Alabama is beat up and I don't trust Jalyn Hurts throwing the ball. Sorry Little Nicky, but no revenge this year. Bama: 10--Clem: 35
Seeberg:  Make no mistake about it kids, these teams are NOT the vaunted juggernauts that have met in back-to-back title games.  Clemson is a near unanimous #1 and they have a loss to Syracuse on their resume.  Backup QB or not that's just berserk.  Alabama, meanwhile, coasted through a down SEC with big wins loading.  That was all before hitting their usual stumbling block across the state in Auburn.  I understand why both teams are in the playoff, but in previous years both of these squads would be out of the top 10.  Just a lot of flawed programs this season.  In any event, this 'Bama squad seems to be less adept at getting out of its own way than usual, and mistakes are magnified exponentially against better opponents in big games.  I expect Clemson to play just a little bit cleaner which will ultimately prove the difference.  It won't be the prettiest football to watch either, but Clemson makes a 3rd straight trip to the title game.  Bama: 23--Clem: 27

Cotton Bowl: USC Trojans vs. THE Ohio State University Buckeyes.
Draper: While it's been said a million times, this could have easily been a playoff game.  Will the Buckeyes care after the disappointment of being left out of the playoffs? I think so.  There is a ton of youth on the Buckeye squad and the future is bright.  For me, this game is all about JT Barrett and a final farewell.  While the fans in Columbus don't respect what he's done enough, the team would run through a wall for their captain, and they want to send him out on top.  I really don't expect Darnold's head to be completely in the game with the draft looming on the horizon.  In addition, the Bucks defensive line causes nightmares for any opposing QB and will force questionable throws and hopefully some interceptions.  JK Dobbins and Weber versus Ronald Jones might be the biggest measuring stick.  I like the Buckeye run D more than the SC run D and that's the game.  JT goes for 100 on the ground, 200 through the air and 4 total TDs.  Buckeyes take care of business and prepare for another title run in 2018.  USC: 31 -- OSU: 45 
Hoying: I LOVE this matchup. These teams have met 23 times, including 7 Rose Bowls, with USC currently on a 7 (!) game winning streak. The Buckeyes have beaten the Trojans twice on the way to national titles (1955 and 1969 Rose Bowls) with USC returning the favor twice (1973 and 1975 Rose Bowls). Remember those recent painful home losses to Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, and Texas? Well, USC is the last team to win both games of a home-and-home against the Buckeyes, in 2008-09. The second last team? USC again, in 1989-90! The 2009 USC game is still the most amped I've ever heard Ohio Stadium, and you could feel the deathly silence of 100,000 hearts crushed when Stafon Johnson crossed the goal line with a minute to go. But enough of the history lesson, what should we expect this time? Points, and a lot of them, at least from the Scarlet and Gray. The Trojan defense has only held two opponents below 20 points this season, and one of them was 1-11 Oregon State (who still reached double digits). USC did slow down busted Bryce Love and the Stanford attack, but Notre Dame ran through them like the proverbial tin horn. And neither of those teams had Just Touchdowns Barrett slinging the rock either. The only question mark in this game is the OSU defense's back 7. We know Darnold has the ability to pick a defense apart on a good day, so it'll be up to Greg "Apparently-Not-As-Desirable-As-The-Next-Mini-Saban-Who's-Going-To-Totally-Crash-And-Burn-As-An-SEC-Head-Coach" Schiano to earn his pay scheming the defense away from TE and FB mismatches. The good news is that USC doesn't really throw to the TE that often (sounds like another team I know), so just hope that Arnette and Sheffield don't crap the bed and Darnold keeps stupidly throwing at Ward for some reason, and that the DLine dials up the pressure in the backfield. Buckeyes win to cap a great, yet oddly forgettable, season (hello, 2009). USC: 24--OSU: 38
Schweinfurth: I really hope I get to watch this game. Outside of the traditional Rose Bowl match up, (yes this is the Cotton Bowl, you know what I mean) this could easily be the #4 vs. #5 play in game for the playoff. Clay Helton has USC back to relevancy after years of mediocrity (which I enjoyed). I am just not sure they are ready for a pissed off Buckeye team. The last time Ohio State was this mad, they destroyed TTUN and then eviscerated Notre Dame. Want to see fireworks, make the Buckeyes mad. This is JT's swan song and I expect good JT to show up in front of friends and family. Bucks win a close one. The 40+ years of misery are over.  USC: 21--OSU: 24 
Seeberg:  Man, it is so bizarre to see this matchup in anything other than the Rose Bowl.  Such is our reality in 2017.  USC, as usual, is chock full of talent, but oddly doesn't really boast any wins over quality opponents not named Stanford.  Most troubling for the Men of Troy is the absolute thrashing they took at the hands of Notre Dame- a team that spreads you out to run the ball...WITH RUNNING BACKS (hint hint, Urban).  Darnold was a turnover machine early in the year, but has calmed down on the back half of the season as he saw millions of future dollars fluttering away from his bank account with each forced INT.  USC also has a very good, experienced RB in Ronald Jones, but ball control isn't exactly USC's forte, so shortening the game isn't an option.  The 7-game winning streak USC is currently on against the Buckeyes is maddening, but nobody at either program now was around for the last time USC won an infuriating 18-15 Tressel-ball game.  Last and most certainly not least, Joe.  Thomas.  Barrett.  I still shake my head at the amount of talk there was about benching him earlier this year.  Ludicrous at best.  I want to see Dobbins and Weber romp and stomp over USC all night, but what I secretly hope is that Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson have concocted some brilliant throwing scheme and J.T. goes for 400+ and 4 TDs to FINALLY shut some people up.  Regardless of how it happens, let's get that monkey off our collective backs and look forward to a fun 2018 season.  Go Bucks.  USC: 24--OSU: 42

Friday, December 01, 2017

Week 14: Step by Step

1. Draper (45-17, 2-11 upset)
2. Seeberg (42-20, 5-8 upset)
3. Schweinfurth (42-20, 0-13 upset)
4. Hoying (40-22, 1-12 upset)

Step by step, day by day
A fresh start over, a different hand to play
The deeper we fall, the stronger we stay
And we'll be better the second time around

-"Second Time Around", theme song of Step by Step (set in Port Washington, Wisconsin)

Welcome to Championship Week! Nine conferences feature conference championship games this weekend (with the Sun Belt joining the fun next year), and seven, yes, SEVEN of them are rematches. One of the few teams to face a fresh opponent is Ohio State, returning to Indy for the first time since their 2014 tilt against...Wisconsin. The Buckeyes are itching to take the final step toward their third College Football Playoff berth in 4 years, while a septet of other teams just hope to make it better their second time around.


Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal vs. USC Trojans
Draper: I was the only person that picked USC in the first matchup, but the (stupid) rematch gives me pause.  I finally got to watch a little Bryce Love last week and dude can ball.  I was extremely impressed....but...he had a few injury concerns pop up recently.  He gashed ND (like every team he's faced) unlike Ronald Jones of USC who was stuffed, but Notre Dame was a different team with hopes and dreams when they faced USC--Miami took that swagger from the Irish.  Is it actually time to call USC 'back'? No they won't make the playoff, but a conference championship for the first time since 2008? I think it's time to Fight On once again.  Stan: 20--USC: 30
Hoying: If I haven't made myself perfectly clear by now (I write most of the intros to these posts), I HATE rematches. ESPECIALLY pointless rematches (which most rematches are). And I'm generally not too keen on conference championship games either (guess why). So, this year, I am going to start every pick with a How Pointless? rating, where I weigh in on just how unnecessary the contest at hand is. Ahem.
How Pointless? Super Pointless. USC walloped Stanford back in September, then proceeded to finish 8-1 in conference play while Stanford finished 7-2. Any reason to expect something different this time? No. Bryce Love is the same Bryce Love he was back then, while Sam Darnold has eased up on the turnovers he was coughing all over the field early this season. Yeah, that game was in LA and this is in San Francisco-ish but USC is still better, games against Notre Dame notwithstanding. Stan: 24--USC: 34
Schweinfurth: This really feels like it is USC's game to lose. Stanford is beat up. Bryce Love is not the same running back he was before the ankle injury (which is frustrating to watch because the dude is probably the best RB in FBS, suck it Barkley). The only question for me is, can Sam Darnold protect the football. Darnold is a very good quarteback, but makes stupid mistakes at bad times. I think he will throw it to the Cardinal a few times, but USC really is the better team here. Stan: 28--USC: 38
Seeberg:  Pretty easy to have picked this matchup for the PAC-12 title preseason, though maybe not where the teams would be sitting, with next to 0 chance of making the CFP.  The single best player on the field will still be Bryce Love, but his 160 yards weren't nearly enough to topple the Trojans last time, despite Sam Darnold's early-season penchant for forgetting to which team he should actually throw the ball (including 2 picks against the Cardinal).  If Stanford can keep this game close it will mean Bryce Love can be a factor for all four quarters instead of being forced to throw the ball.  Unfortunately, given the 623 yards USC racked up last time, that's unlikely to be the case.  Stan: 20--USC: 35


AAC: Memphis Tigers @ UCF Knights
Draper: Haven't we seen this before? (Oh yeah, pretty much all these are rematches.)  Will the coaches and players still play for that mystical undefeated season when Scott Frost's moving van is more or less already packed for Lincoln? There has to be enough pride on the line to keep that 0 in the L column.  UCF is feeling the disrespect from the committee and a win over Memphis...won't change much, but it will help them always have the argument that they belonged.  Winner does get a New Year's Six berth so there's more than just pride on the line.  The Golden Knights finish the regular season unblemished.  Mem: 27--UCF: 40
Hoying: How Pointless? Very Pointless. UCF dismantled Memphis back in October and has been on a tear ever since. It's not like another stellar performance against an AAC team is suddenly going to vault the undefeated Knights into the playoff. The only possible storyline of interest here is UCF coach Scott Frost's focus. It's a coach's market in the carousel this offseason (although NFL coaches are apparently being turned away to keep spots open for Brady Hoke), and Frost is squarely in the crosshairs at his alma mater, Nebraska. Probably won't be enough to make a difference. Mem: 17--UCF: 34
Schweinfurth: UCF is rolling and got really lucky with that kick return last week. Memphis has been known to put up points this year. There is a HUGE cloud around this program with Scott Frost (he gone). It's not enough of a distraction right now for the Knights to blow a spectacular season, but it could be enough to keep it close for a while. Mem: 24--UCF: 35
Seeberg:  I'm not 100% sold on the Knights, but they should probably be ranked higher than #14.  They did beat a Power 5 team by four touchdowns after all (does Maryland count as a power 5 team?).  In any event, this is another rematch where one team is just too much better than the other for the familiarity to make a big enough difference.  It probably won't be a 27-point dismantling again, but I don't think the outcome will be in doubt for much of the fourth quarter.  Mem: 20--UCF: 38

Big 12: TCU Horned Frogs vs. Oklahoma Sooners
Draper: Why oh why? THe Big 12 has the most pointless championship game because it will ALWAYS be a rematch.  Who cares if you lost the first one, the second one determines the "One True Champion"-- FAAARRRTT. I truly want TCU to take down the Sooners to ensure chaos upon chaos, but OU is a juggernaut.  Baker Mayfield is an absolute lock for the Heisman and he'll put his finishing move on the Horned Frogs.  He may be a jerk, but he's far and away the best player this year.  Hot take: even if OU loses this game, they have a really good argument to still make the playoffs.  TCU: 24--OU: 35
Hoying: How Pointless? PEAK Pointless. Every team plays every other team in the Big 12. These teams have IDENTICAL wins and losses in conference play except that they had to play each other, and Oklahoma won handily. Even if the Horned Frogs were to somehow win this game, is anyone going to be impressed with "Big 12 Champion" TCU? With a win, TCU would then have the exact same resume as Oklahoma, only without the marquee out-of-conference win. I made the mistake of picking TCU last time in this game. I don't see anyone slowing down the OU offense anytime soon, and there's no way the Horned Frog offense can keep up. TCU: 20--OU: 35
Schweinfurth: TCU has defensively torched most of the Big 12 this year...except for Oklahoma. The Sooners ran up and down the field on the Frogs in the first matchup. I do believe TCU will play better this time. However, the Sooners have soon-to-be-Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and that will be all the Sooners need to move on to the CFP. TCU: 35--OU: 42
Seeberg:  Honestly, this rematch, despite being #3 vs. #11, is as yawn-inducing as any in championship week.  I'd rather watch MACtion.  Rematches have a tendency to go in the opposite direction when teams are roughly equal in terms of talent...which is precisely why this one will NOT go the other way.  Sooners big.  TCU: 24--OU: 42

SEC: Georgia Bulldogs vs. Auburn Tigers
Draper: This game and the Pac 12 title game are very intriguing.  Georgia was embarrassed by Auburn in Jordan Hare 3 weeks ago, and Malzahn had no qualms about running it up.  Auburn has been red hot (except against ULM in the first half), but is it time to come down from the extreme emotional high? The Auburn defensive line is fantastic and disruptive.  UGA was destroyed in the first meeting and will seek revenge.  The running game MUST be successful or the Auburn defense will feast.  I think the "more home-field like" confines of Atlanta will make a difference (don't forget, the two season changing wins came in a ballistic Jordan-Hare).  The injury to Kerryon Johnson is very concerning for the Tigers as well.  If he isn't 100%, I think the Dawgs get their revenge and take their spot in the playoff.  Honestly, there's not a great reason to pick UGA with how amazing Auburn's been lately, but I'm going for it.  UGA: 30--Aub: 28
Hoying: How Pointless? Moderately to Highly Pointless. Both teams finished 7-1 in conference, with Auburn holding the convincing head-to-head victory and playing in the tougher division. And now, after steamrolling the #1 team in the country (again), Auburn has to travel to Atlanta to prove that they weren't kidding the first time they blasted the Dawgs. Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson may be a little banged up, but the steady hand of Jarett Stidham and suffocating Tiger defense should be enough to keep the dream season alive for another month. UGA: 24--Aub: 27
Schweinfurth: This one will be fun, and I don't say that often about these SEC games. Auburn absolutely wrecked Georgia in Athens. That in and of it's self is enough to say the Dawgs are fighting mad (H8 Fuels the Dawg). Auburn is riding that high that comes with knocking off two number one teams. Which is nice, until you realize Kirby Smart comes from the Nick Saban school of revenge. Auburn's defense will play well, but it's the Dawg defense that steps up. It will be nice to see a non-Alabama based school win the SEC for once. UGA: 21--Aub: 17
Seeberg:  See above.  Kirby Smart has the Bulldogs playing about as well as they're capable and they still got their doors blown off by Auburn the first time around.  IIIFFFFF Georgia can capitalize on an Auburn team that comes out flat after their huge Iron Bowl win, then they could pull this one out.  But as you can see, that's a pretty big "if".  I do expect Auburn to start slow, but not slowly enough for the Bulldogs to get the revenge W.  At least one team from Alabama will make the CFP, let's just not hope for two.  UGA: 21--Aub: 31

ACC: Miami Hurricanes vs. Clemson Tigers
Draper: Of all the games this week, I have a feeling this one could get UG-LY.  It looked like the Canes were "back" with the turnover chain swagger....but did it? They were fantastic against Notre Dame, but more or less fell into wins over FSU, Georgia Tech, UNC, and to a lesser extent UVA.  The team simply thrives off turnovers (credit to Manny Diaz for bringing the chain to daU.  Clemson, when healthy, is one of, if not the most complete team in the country.  They pooped themselves against Cuse, but they have rocked on the big stage.  I don't expect anything different here.  The Canes have lost their top receiver on top of other injuries as well and Rozier is not consistent enough to overcome.  Tigers big.  UM: 10--Clem: 37
Hoying: How Pointless? Actually, not at all. Both teams enter with one (really bad) loss on an otherwise unblemished season. There were no last minute garbage heroics for Miami against Pitt last week, and now Da U has to pick itself up and face its toughest test to date, another Clemson juggernaut that's showed no signs of slowing down after last year's championship run. The Tigers should let their stifling defense choke the life out of a mediocre Hurricane O, avoid taking chances, and keep the turnover chain on the sideline. Miami is...not quite back. UM: 17--Clem: 34
Schweinfurth: Miami has been living off of turnovers all year. Which is good, until you don't get them and have to drive the full length of the field. Oh, that's what happened last week. And the Hurricanes lost, to Pitt. Clemson is the far superior team here. Mark Richt truely is this generation's John Cooper (Sorry Coop, but it's true)...he just can't win the big one. This one can, and most likely will get ugly. UM:10--Clem: 38
Seeberg:  So the U finally caved.  This is a CLASSIC Mark Richt team- playing up to the level of competition (see ND, Va Tech) but also down (see just about everyone else- remember, Toledo was beating them at the half).  I expect Clemson to bring out the best in the Hurricanes, but their mediocre QB play is just too much to overcome.  Tigers pull away late.  UM: 13--Clem: 31

B1G: THE Ohio State University Buckeyes vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Draper: How easy could this be?  The Buckeyes enter the game after defeating their bitter rival after their all-Big -Ten QB was lost due to injury to face a solid Wisconsin team with a stellar running game.  We've seen this play out before! Of course, the Badgers enter this contest with an unblemished record while the Bucks have 2 marks against them.  What that tells me is, as we all know, the Buckeyes are very inconsistent.  What people don't seem to understand is that 'inconsistent' doesn't mean 'bad'.  Which Buckeye team will show up? Will it be the team that blew the doors off the Spartans or the one that looked like second-teamers in Iowa City? The team that couldn't defend home turf vs. the Sooners or the one that fought through adversity, injuries, and an early deficit during the vaunted Wolverine defense (yes, they're really good)?  I don't know, but I have to believe that Urban will know how to get the team prepared and good to go.  The more I think about it, deserved or undeserved, the Buckeyes will make the playoff with a win over the Badgers and B1G title.  Can JT fight through it all (pain, haters, Bucky) to take everything from Wisconsin? It is excruciatingly important the Buckeye's establish a running game (could be with Barrett) and I'd love to see some short crossing routes keep the linebackers on their toes.  Defensively, the Bucks need to slow the Badager rushing attack and contain Fumigalli (easier said than done for these linebackers).  If the defensive line can turn up the heat early (they took a half before they broke through the Wolverine O-line), the Bucks should take care of business.  As for a pick? We've seen this before! It's a clear as day.  Go Bucks!! OSU: 59 -- Wisc: 0
Hoying: How Pointless? Low-to-somewhat. Wisconsin is undefeated, while Ohio State is decidedly not. One could argue that the Badgers played in the weaker division, but it was a common opponent, the Hawkeyes from the B1G West, that ran OSU out of the building. At least there's no rematch here, although the Buckeyes and Badgers did meet on this very field only 3 years ago. Wisconsin is no stranger to Indianapolis, making their 5th appearance in the 7-year history of the championship. But they haven't won it all since way back in 2012, when they snuck in behind ineligible Ohio State and Penn State in the Leaders division and embarrassed Nebraska. 59-0 is practically a lifetime ago, but don't expect these Badgers to forget the near-flawless first half they frittered away against the Buckeyes in Madison last season. How do these teams stack up this year? Well, as mentioned above, the Badgers are still undefeated after 12 games, and keep riding the disrespekt train beyond Sparty's wildest dreams. Yeah, their schedule is a little soft, but it's not like they've been falling backwards into wins like Miami has. That Iowa team that made Ohio State look like Rutgers? Wisconsin held them to 66 yards. That Michigan team that jumped out to a 14-0 lead last week? Wisconsin held them to 10 points for the whole game, and that was with a competent quarterback for a half. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers only have the only running back in the B1G outperforming Dobbins this year, Jonathan Taylor (Thomas?), who also happens to be a freshman. No one's going to mistake Alex Hornibrook for JT Barrett anytime soon, but if the Silver Slugs at LB and safety don't lock on to TE Troy Fumagalli early and often, it won't matter. There's too much uncertainty here. The Buckeyes are coming off an emotional win that re-revealed some lingering problems on defense, their star QB is a solid blow to the knee away from spending another postseason on the sidelines, and Wisconsin has just the talent and size on the O-line to negate the Buckeyes' greatest strength, their punishing pass rush. If the Buckeyes can outduel the Badgers on the ground and get big games out of Dobbins and Weber, they can return to Columbus as B1G champions, but Wisconsin is too consistent and too legitimately good. Buckeyes lose a heartbreaker. OSU: 21--UW: 24
Schweinfurth: I want to believe in this team. I want to believe that the Buckeyes are legitimately pissed off that one of their coaches was dragged through the mud. I want to believe the linebackers can cover the tight end. I want to believe that JT Barrett's knee is okay after the scope. I can keep going but it would take all day to list all of the things stacked against the Buckeyes. Here's the deal, the Buckeyes need to get the linebackers help in the secondary on Fumagalli. Watch the line of scrimmage in this one. I think the defensive front will be able to wear down the fat guys of Wisconsin. If the Bullets get at push, watch out. I don't think Taylor will go for over 100 yards. I believe Jazz Peavy, who torched the Bucks last year is out for this game. That will help. This team seams to play its best with their backs against the wall. I think the Badgers win if this game were in Madison. It's not and I think the Bucks are pissed off about Schiano. JT will play, but how much? Haskins is competent and how poetic would if be for another OSU backup to beat Wisconsin in the B1G? GO BUCKS! BEAT THE BADGERS! GET THAT RING! OSU: 30--UW: 21
Seeberg:  Okay, we all know the Buckeyes need to win this game- hopefully in style- and have some other things happen ahead of them in the rankings to perhaps squeeze into the playoffs.  Let's get down to the basics.  Wisconsin is good, very good.  Like TTUN version 3.0 with a marginal QB (though markedly better than anything the maize and blue can trot out), a MUCH better offensive line, a comparably stout defense, and a stud RB.  Granted, their schedule has been essentially paper mache, but they did hold the Hawkeye offense completely scoreless, you know, the same team that hung 48 offensive points on the Silver Not-Nearly-As-Quick-As-Bullets.  It comes down to two things.  When the Bucks have the ball, it needs to go to Dobbins and Weber, early and often.  LOTS of crosses/slants/intermediate pass routes will open up in play action if J.T. gets the ball out of his hands in the run game early.  On defense, the Bucks HAVE to cover TEs and RBs out of the backfield.  Hell, bring in a safety to cover Fumagalli I don't care, just do NOT let a TE beat us.  I believe the Badgers will impose their will to an extent, especially early, but the depth of the DL for the Buckeyes will start to wear their O-line down in much the same way their O-line is accustomed to wearing out opposing defenses.  Avoid the early letdown, take care of the football, and the Bucks superior depth and speed will eventually win the day.  Oh, and I'm still toying with the idea of going to this game Saturday night, anybody wanna go?  OSU: 31--UW: 21

Upset Special
Draper: Troy over Arkansas State
Hoying: Idaho over Georgia State

Schweinfurth: North Texas over FAU
Seeberg:  Coastal Carolina over Georgia Southern

MAC: Akron Zips vs. Toledo Rockets
How Pointless? Exceedingly pointless. The Rockets blew the doors off the Zips back in October, and now Akron is sitting at 6-2 in conference and 7-5 overall. Woof.
C-USA: North Texas Mean Green @ Florida Atlantic Owls
How Pointless? Quite Pointless. The Mean Green have one conference loss, a 69-31 waxing at the hands of...Florida Atlantic, who hasn't lost a C-USA game yet. And now North Texas goes back to Boca Raton to do it again.
Mountain West: Fresno State Bulldogs @ Boise State Broncos
How Pointless? Moderately Pointless. Fresno State lost to a UNLV team that Boise State didn't play, but these teams LITERALLY PLAYED LAST WEEK, with Fresno State earning a comfortable win.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Grading the Bucks: Week 13-- M!ch!g@n

Just. win. baby.  Short post coming here (finals suck) but here goes!

Offense: B
I don't think people realized before this game how good Michigan's defense was.  They are (by far) the best defense OSU has faced this year and they balled out.  Even with that, and the adversity of playing from behind, and losing a 3 time All-Big-10 QB, the Buckeye offense put up 31 points.  That is no small feat on the road against that defense that believes.  Major props to Dwayne Haskins for stepping in in a tough spot and delivering.  I still see some hesitancy in his mental game, but I love the potential and the future he will bring to Buckeye football.  JT, thank you.  People still don't give you credit, but you played a good (not great) game while suffering from a weird pregame and ingame injury.  All was laid on the line and the team emerged victorious.  The running backs were ok (some great some eh...) and the O-line was a Jekyll and Hyde (Billy Price had some beautiful 'sit-down' blocks and a few HUGE mental mistakes).  No matter what, 31 points against that defense with a half from a backup QB? HUGE.  I got major dejavu of one of my favorite plays in The Game  seeing Austin Mack (No.11) make that catch in traffic in the Big House.

Defense: C-
John O'Korn....really.  You let John Freaking O'Korn look competent at times. Quite frankly, had John O'Korn been competent, the Buckeyes would have been in real trouble as his consistently missed wide open receivers.  Yes, he had a few nice balls, but there were far too many defensive breakdowns for my liking.  On top of that, the number of missed tackles was astounding.  One of the worst tackling games OSU has had in a while.  Nevertheless, when crunch time entered, the Bucks stiffened up and took care of business.  Sam Hubbard had a game and he deserves the props.  The tackling needs to be fixed before Wisconsin as does the linebackers coverage (gulp, Iowa).

Special Teams: C
Made the FG, punted OK, but the first real punts returned all year gave the punt coverage units fits.  DPJ is a really good return man, but he made a play or two that gave the Wolverines hope.  That is unacceptable.  A 10 yard return? Fine.  A 50 yard return to set up a mediocre-to-bad offense up for a 4 yard TD drive? Nope.  Didn't give up a kickoff return for a TD so there's that...

Coaching: B-
Again, the playcalling has been a complete mystery.  No, I am not on the OSUTwitter bandwagon of "give it to the running back on every play and run into a brickwall", but a little variety would be nice.  Also, the lack of slant and crossing routes on early downs is bothersome.  Once again, let JT thrive with the underneath passing routes and go over the top when the safeties creep up.  It still seems that the coaches want to force JT to throw deep downfield every play (which he's competent but not specialized at) and throw passes with pinpoint accuracy.  That is not his skill set.  His best talent is his ability to mentally breakdown the defense and find the opening.  I would love a dink and dunk offense because that's the skill set.  Finally, running JT Barrett is OK (in fact, I'd like more).  His mental ability to read the oncoming rushers makes him a savant at the read option (he almost never makes a mistake).  Haskins could have sealed the game late had he pulled the ball and taken off (granted that was likely not in the playcall, but...). Yes, JT should hand the ball off on designed runs, but with backs like Dobbins and Weber, the defense collapses on the RB on the zone reads leaving JT free to take off.  If it gets me the first down, I'll take it.  Defensively, I don't know what was up.  Allowing free receivers that even O'Korn should have been able to hit (but often didn't) was frustrating beyond belief.  I think the coaches expected to get pressure on every play and didn't focus on any sort of route concepts for the defense.

Overall: A
Weird playcalling, questionable offense, defense out of position...blah, blah, blah.  What matters in The Game?
31-20 (Called by me by the way). 
It was ugly, but...
It should have been worse, but...

6 in a row.
13 of the last 14. 
All we do is complain and whine.  Imagine being in that cesspool to the North.  All the ineptitude and failure.  We are blessed.  Only one thing left to the whole thing.  Go Bucks!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Playoff Scenarios: Order vs. Chaos

Say what you want about the College Football playoffs, but it creates quite the whirlwind of thrilling controversy every year. And this season may be the worst yet. With only one more week of football until the field is selected, there are still about 8 or so teams with a realistic shot at a semifinal berth, with a couple more dreamers clinging to delusional hope. Maybe you would like everything nicely and neatly wrapped up by the time you go to bed on Saturday, or maybe you want to imagine the Committee staying up all night arguing and sweating it out until noon on Sunday. Here's your Let's Go Bucks! guide to Order vs. Chaos.

Order scenario:

Oklahoma beats TCU
Georgia beats Auburn
Clemson beats Miami
Wisconsin beats Ohio State

If the idea of conflict frightens you or you're just perfectly content with not learning anything about how the Committee narrows the playoff field to four teams, then this is the scenario for you. Wisconsin gets in as the lone unbeaten Power 5 team, and Oklahoma, Georgia, and Clemson join them as the only 1-loss Power 5 champions. 11-1 Alabama whimpers for a few minutes before fading away.

Chaos scenario:

TCU blows out Oklahoma
Auburn squeaks by Georgia
Miami grazes Clemson
Ohio State beats Wisconsin competently
(Bonus) USC annihilates Stanford

Oh boy. Now we have some problems.

1-loss teams:

  • Miami (11-1, ACC champion)
  • Wisconsin (12-1, B1G East champion)
  • Alabama (11-1, SEC West co-champion)

2-loss teams:

  • Auburn (11-2, SEC champion)
  • Ohio State (11-2, B1G champion)
  • TCU (11-2, Big 12 champion)
  • USC (11-2, Pac-12 champion)
  • Clemson (11-2, ACC Atlantic champion)
  • Georgia (11-2, SEC East champion)
  • Oklahoma (11-2, Big 12...something?)
  • Washington (10-2, Pac-12 North co-champion)

Miami's pretty clearly in as the only 1-loss Power 5 champion. That leaves 3 spots for 10 teams. And you can't put any of them in because...
  • Wisconsin played a weak schedule, beating exactly one ranked team (#20 or so Northwestern), and didn't win their conference. So you can't put them ahead of Ohio State, Auburn, or TCU (conference champions with tougher schedules), or Clemson, Oklahoma, or Georgia (division champions with tougher schedules)
  • Alabama also played a weak schedule, beating exactly two ranked teams (#15-20 or so LSU and Mississippi State). So you can't put them ahead of Ohio State, Auburn, or TCU (conference champions with tougher schedules), or Oklahoma (??? champion with better wins)
  • Auburn lost to Clemson, who has the same record. So you can't put them ahead of Clemson (who has their own problems, see below).
  • Ohio State got blown out twice, once to Oklahoma and once at an unranked opponent. So you can't put them in ahead of Oklahoma, you can't put them in ahead of TCU (who beat Oklahoma), and it's tough to put them in ahead of Alabama, who lost once, on the road, to a top-tier opponent.
  • TCU has two wins against ranked opponents (Oklahoma and #15 or so Oklahoma State), but they went 1-1 against Oklahoma, tainting their top win somewhat. So you can't put them ahead of Auburn or Ohio State (conference champions with tougher schedules). Or even Oklahoma, who has the same record, better wins, a win over TCU, the best regular season Big 12 record, and only doesn't have the Big 12 championship because of a contrived extra game.
  • USC got destroyed by Notre Dame and their only win of note is Stanford (twice). Add in that the Pac-12 is the weakest Power 5 conference this season. So you can't put them ahead of Auburn, Ohio State, or TCU (conference champions with better schedules).
  • Clemson's loss to Syracuse is the worst of any playoff contender in 4 years. And they lack a conference title. So you can't put them ahead of Auburn, Ohio State, or TCU (conference champions with comparable schedules, except maybe TCU) or Oklahoma or Georgia (forgivable losses, comparable wins)
  • Georgia lost twice to Auburn, a team Clemson beat. So you can't put them ahead of Auburn or Clemson, and you can't put them ahead of Ohio State, TCU, or USC (conference champions).
  • Oklahoma lost to TCU and didn't win their conference. So you can't put them ahead of TCU, or ahead of Auburn or Ohio State (conference champions with comparable schedules).
  • Washington's resume is bad and they should feel bad.

How would such a scenario end up? Only the Committee knows for sure (to the extent they consider hypotheticals), but my guess would be something like this:
#1 Miami (conference champ with best record)
#2 Auburn (conference champ with best wins and forgivable losses)
#3 Ohio State (conference champ with next best wins overcome losses and head-to-head)
#4 Oklahoma (1-1 vs. Big 12 champ TCU with better wins, and better wins than other contenders)
#5 TCU (similar resume to Oklahoma plus conference title minus Ohio State win)
#6 Alabama (dominant wins over mediocre teams)