Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Final BCS Push Preview.

Camo is pretty much a South Mississippi tuxedo, so this seems appropriate.

We touched on it a bit Monday morning, but with TCU's Bowl destination coming down to the last weekend of the season, it makes sense to dig a little deeper into things. But first, a reflection: How absolutely stunning is it that TCU, a team took a hit night one on ESPN against Baylor of all teams, and then lost a CLUNKER to SMU, is scoreboard watching this late in the season in hopes of being included in a BCS Bowl for a third straight year Think about how low you felt after the SMU game. Personally, due to the relocation of the visiting locker room during construction, I got stuck in a throng of cheering SMU fans whooping it up as their team made their way to their trailers. I was actually IN the team procession at one point. It was absolute insult to injury and at that point I doubt anyone saw TCU even sniffing a Conference title, let alone a potential Top 16 ranking, although the Big 12 invite the following week admittedly helped my emotions. The fact that TCU has that kind of clout and recognition shows how much of a debt of gratitude we owe to GP and his staff and furthers the fact that he's the best coach in America.

I've been thinking a lot about these BCS scenarios this week and, amidst all the clutter, one thought keeps arising: When the BCS made the stipulation that a non-AQ receives auto bid if they're in the Top 16 as long as they win their Conference AND are ranked ahead of one AQ league champion, do you think they ever REALLY thought it'd come to that? Back then, the Big East was riding the success of Bobby Petrino coached Louisville, Rich Rodriguez coached West Virginia and Brian Kelly coached Cincinnati. Heck, even Pitt hadn't yet gone into their Wannstedt induced death spiral. Remember when Rutgers, USF and WVU were all gunning for the #1 overall ranking in the country? Yeah, that was pretty weird. At the time, it looked like the Big East had survived the earlier defections of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Now? All of those coaches, save Greg Schiano at Rutgers, are gone, only one program ranks in the Top 25 and there's a very real possibility of a 2 loss TCU team going to the Sugar Bowl while higher ranked schools like Arkansas, South Carolina and Kansas State go to lower tier bowls. I'm not saying the BCS system is going to get blown up after this season... but yeah, the BCS system is going to get blown up after this season.

But you know what? I'll take it!

First though, we need fate on our side. Here's a closer look at the weekend's games that will matter the most:

The Big 'Un:

#6 Houston vs. #24 Southern Miss. Saturday, 11:00AM. ABC.

Why Houston Will Lose. Isn't it funny how Houston, despite being undefeated, hasn't even been jokingly mentioned in national title discussions? After all, even Boise and TCU typically get play in an undefeated season, even if its all the most cruelly teasing of lip servicing. But Houston? Nada. Part of it is because of the seasons Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and Stanford have been having. But most of it? It's because Houston has played NO ONE and hasn't been all that convincing in the games they have played. They squeaked by a BAD UCLA team that just fired their Coach by 4 points in week one, required a 28 point comeback to beat Louisiana Tech by 1 and only beat UTEP by a TD. Along the way they've beaten up on the likes of Tulane, Rice and UAB to pad out their bruising conference slate. I know you can only beat the teams on your schedule, but at least make it nasty. Southern Miss will be the best team Houston has played this year to date, and it's not even really a discussion.

So why should you believe that USM has any chance at all? It's simple - they're the best defense Houston will have faced all year by a mile. The Golden Eagles bring in the 25th ranked scoring defense in the country, only allowing 20 points per game; the highest ranked UH has faced to date is Louisiana Tech's 37th ranked unit, and you saw how that went. USM has also picked 16 passes on the season, good for 10th in the entire NCAA. Of Keenum's three picks this year, 2 came in that same game against LT. Southern Miss isn't turning many heads, giving up 220 yard per game though the air, but while you'd think that's a death knell against Houston, think again. Louisiana Tech and UCLA both rank far worse in that area, and they held Cougar High to their lowest scoring outputs of the season. That's not to say Houston's offense is a one trick pony, ranking 55th in the nation in rushing behind backs Charles Sims and Michael Hayes, but it goes without saying that as Case Keenum goes, so goes Houston's chances of winning. Keenum is going to get his yards, but it's the ability of the defense to create a few turnovers and keep him out of the end zone that will determine the outcome. USM is built to do just that.

Besides that, the Brett Favre's have been tested, going on the road to beat a Virginia team that was a win away from making the ACC Championship and dismantling SMU's lofty expectations following the TCU game when they were at their peak. Seriously, the Eagles single handedly turned JJ McDermott from the Aaron Rogers we made him out to be, into his current status as Ryan Leaf and I mean that in the sense that Ryan Leaf is currently out of football and a bit of a drug addict. And they're not all defense - the USM's are averaging over 36 points per contest as well. Senior QB Austin Davis is putting together a nice year leading the NCAA's 32th ranked passing defense, as are backs Jamal Woodyard and Kendrick Hardy, piling up a 24th ranked 207.8 yards per game.

The bottom line here is USM has a team capable of forcing Keenum into making mistakes and putting points on the board. They may be a 2 TD underdog, but I wouldn't count out the Golden Eagles by any means.

Why Houston Will Win. For one, because the BCS won't want to deal with the backlash of having a 2 loss non-AQ participant in a game. For the other, Houston is pretty damned potent as of late. Yes, they had their early season struggles - unsurprisingly, that is when they played their toughest competition - but have rolled off win after win, capped by Saturday's pasting of a Tulsa team that was thought to be a legitimate threat. Case Keenum, partly thanks to a 12th year of eligibility, has shattered all NCAA career passing records known to mankind, and sports a mildly impressive 43-3 TD:INT ratio. Mildly. The Cougs are 1st in the NCAA in points scored with 52.1 per game and, believe it or not, have a defense to match, ranking 30th and 0nly giving up 21. In other words, even if you do the unthinkable and shut down Keenum, the Cougars defense has been able to do enough to keep them in games, which is not something you could say about their past teams.

Gut Feeling. The good news about USM's chances are that they match up fairly well with Houston on offense and defense. The bad news is, if this becomes a shootout, Cougar High is capable of piling up yards unlike any other team in the nation. In all truth, I think this one will be closer than the experts expect and not nearly has high scoring. I see it playing out a lot like the Cougars game against Louisiana Tech, albeit without the 28 point deficit for the home team. However, and I say this with the deepest of regrets, I think Houston is a team on a mission and, playing in front of the most raucous home crowd in school history, they pull off the win and book their ticket to New Orleans.

Fortunately, this one will be over about the time the second half of our game starts so we'll know for certain where our bowl destiny lies and can just focus on the game at hand. Win or lose for Houston, let's hope Gary can keep the guys motivated and their eyes off the scoreboard.

The Lit'ler Uns. If Houston wins, the rest of this post will self destruct.

#23 Texas @ #17 Baylor. Saturday, 2:30PM. ABC.

Why Baylor Will Lose. Because they're BAYLOR. The same Baylor team that had one WON Big 12 road game until last year. The same Baylor that has been dragging down the Big 12's RPI ever since they backdoored themselves an invite. The same Baylor that has never had a plus .500 record in the Big 12 until this year. The same Baylor that has rushed the field TWICE this season. Aren't they due to revert to their old selves?

As for tangible reasons, as you all well know by now, Robert Griffin the turd (zing!) went head banging last weekend against Tech, although it wasn't so much the kind you do at a Metallica concert and more the kind you do when a large being wearing colors opposite of your own slams your brain into the turf. Seriously - Cowboys Stadium is more dangerous for potential NFL prospects than cocaine was for potential NBA prospects in the 80s. Griffin says he's going to play this week, and I am sure he will because this is probably the biggest UT/Baylor game in school history, but will he be 100%? To our dismay, Terrance Ganaway has mostly backed up his shit talk from Week 1 to the tune of 1200 yards and 14 scores, but it's no secret that Griffin is the only reason Baylor has had success. If he's not out there making plays, the Bears can pretty much mark it 8-4.

And on the other side of the ball, Texas, a team that has had some SERIOUS ups and downs this year, may have finally found a signal caller just in time for the last week of the season. Yes, Colt McCoy the third, after being benched earlier in the year in favor of David Ash, seems to have taken control of the starting spot after leading the Horns to a comeback win over aggy this past weekend. You laugh and say, "yeah, but... it's aggy. they are TERRIBLE" but keep in mind that the game was in College Station, it's the last one that will be played between these two schools for a LONG time barring a bowl matchup, and that the ags always give UT their best performance of the season, no matter the circumstances. In other words, McCoy had a lot to overcome Thanksgiving night and still managed to pull out a victory. The UT defense has been no slouch all year and would've won them a few more games had the offense showed up to play every week. Perhaps now is the time it will all come together? And besides that, UT lost 6 games last year in conference, but has bounced back to beat two of those teams. Don't you think they'll be extra fired up not only to avenge the loss to Baylor last year in Austin, but to push their revenge tour back to .500?

Why Baylor Will Win. Because Texas, even though they're going up against a TERRIBLE Baylor defense, may not have the offensive fire power to hang. As a refresher, this is the same UT team that held Kansas State to 121 yards... and lost. Tech scored 42 against the Bears... and still lost by 24 points. Oklahoma is the best defense Baylor has faced all season, and the Bears doubled up their season average. The Longhorns are about on par with the Sooners points-wise, although they give up about 75 fewer yards per game. Griffin may not have one of his 400+ yard, 4 TD days, but presuming he's healthy, the Bears should be able to move the ball effectively enough to keep the game out of reach. Besides, in my experience, when you REALLY want Texas to lose they don't, and when you need them to win, which ONLY becomes an issue when it involved gambling or rankings, they don't. It'd be SO UT for Houston to lose Saturday AM only to have the Horns follow it up with a loss in Waco and the Frogs finish 17th and out of the BCS.

Gut Feeling. I'm an optimist - Texas wins in a low scoring game.

#15 Wisconsin @ #13 Michigan State. Big Ten Championship Game @ Indianapolis. Saturday, 7:17PM. Fox.

Why Wisconsin Will Win. Clearly the football gods frowned on Bret Bielma's get rich quick scheme of importing QB Russell Wilson to Madison because if a team has had a more gut wrenching path this season, I dare you to name them. The Badgers started the year as a dark horse national title contender, ramped up the talk with blowout wins, and then lost to Michigan State on a last second hail mary play after battling back from a 14 point fourth quarter deficit in the last minute of regulation. Then, THE VERY NEXT WEEK, they battled back from a 12 point fourth quarter deficit at Ohio State to take the lead in the last minute of regulation and lost on a last second hail mary play. Just... ouch. Bret Bielma is a total asshat and deserves what he got, but man, that's just painful stuff.

Since those two games, though? Wisconsin has outscored their opponents 177-54, including a 45-7 blowout of Penn State last week to win their division. And that's the thing about Wisconsin - they score a lot of points, good for 4th nationally, but they also have the 4th ranked scoring defense, only giving up 15 points per game. Seriously, if the games were only 59 minutes long, there would be no discussion of a Bama/LSU rematch and LSU would by no means be an overwhelming favorite. RB Montee Ball has been an absolute machine this season, rolling up 1622 yards and an NCAA leading 29 TDs and will probably get an invite to NYC later this month. Michigan State has only allowed 8 TDs on the ground this year, 2 to Wisconsin, so it's unlikely Ball will be blasting through the Spartans defense in goal line situations, but would you bet against it?

Wisconsin knows they're capable of beating MSU and actually held a 2 TD lead of their own in the first quarter of that game. They clearly understand they let one slip away and will be out for blood. The most important thing Wisconsin has going for it is revenge. Revenge for the way they lost the last one to MSU. Revenge for the way they lost the Rose Bowl last year and wanting a shot at redemption. Wisconsin has played up to their talent since the losses to OSU and MSU. They feel like a dangerous team.

Why Michigan State Will Win. Mostly because they already have against Wisconsin in the regular season. They flustered Russell Wilson better than anyone, picking him twice - he only has 3 for the season- and held him to 223 yards. They only allowed Ball into the end zone once. Kirk Cousins had one of the better games of his career, passing for nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs. The Spartans have a defense to match that of the Badgers, ranking 6th nationally, and are among the top 15 in rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed and INTs. They're also playing with confidence, bringing a 4 game win streak of their own into Indianapolis.

Gut Feeling. I'll be honest - I realize Michigan State has already beatenWisconsin once this year, but it took an absolute miracle, complete with booth review, to pull it out. Michigan State is a nice team, but I can't see them beating Wisconsin twice in the same year, not with the way the last one ended. If the Spartans are able to throw a few punches and keep it close in the first half, this one could be very interesting. However, I think Wisconsin comes out firing and this one gets away from the Spartans a little bit. I'm not sure if one team winning is preferable over the other, but a convincing Wisconsin win should be enough to do the trick for TCU in the rankings.

#1 LSU vs. #14 Georgia. SEC Championship Game @ Atlanta. Saturday, 3:00PM. CBS.

Why Georgia Will Lose. Because, to paraphrase Stewart Mandel, LSU devours teams souls like nothing he has ever seen before. Sure, the Dawgs are on a 10 game win streak, but they've played two current top 25 teams all year. Guess what? They lost to both of them. LSU has played three teams in the top ten and beaten them all. Besides, are you going to bet against the Hat when he has destiny on his side?

Why Georgia Will Win. First and foremost, and to completely belittle my point above, Georgia DOES enter the game on a ten game win streak. No matter the competition, you can't deny that they're a hot team you don't want to tangle with right now. And, they're seemingly getting stronger, crushing then-ranked Auburn and Georgia Tech in two of their three most recent outings. The Bulldogs also have the inherent advantage of having the SEC Championship game played in Atlanta, their largest alumni base and a mere stones throw from Athens. LSU fans are going to travel in huge numbers, but Georgia will outnumber them to some extent. Sure, they've only played for the Championship in the Dome twice, but in those two games they outscored LSU and Arkansas by a combined 64-17 en route to the Sugar Bowl. The Dawgs haven't had many opportunities, but they have definitely made the most of the ones they've been given.

But, and this is for the conspiracy theorists among you all, here's an added kicker. Current BCS rules stipulate that a Conference can only send two teams to BCS games in a given year. However, if Georgia were to win the SEC Championship, they would automatically be sent to the Sugar Bowl, which would slot Alabama into the National Title game, and more than likely, LSU. In this case, the SEC would be the first Conference ever to send three teams to the BCS, which would mean an increased financial windfall as well as more fuel for the "S-E-C!!" fire. Since Bama and LSU are more than likely going to go to the Championship anyway, would the Tigers turn it down a notch for the good of the Conference?

Gut Feeling. Yeah, no - to answer my question, that's not happening. I suppose it's entirely possible that Georgia is a much better team that we give them credit for, and that LSU could be caught sleeping knowing they have a Title game spot locked up win or lose, but I just think LSU is way too good to lose this weekend, and there's no reason to chance it. The home crowd could very well spring the Bulldogs to an early lead, but recall Arkansas jumped out 14-0 in the blink of an eye and all LSU did was outscore them 41-3 the rest of the way. It might not be that lopsided, but here's to LSU completing perhaps the most challenging regular season in NCAA history unscathed en route to New Orleans.

The Undercards.

Sorry, I've totally exhausted my previewing interest above, so these aren't getting much play, especially since I'm not sure any of them will matter. You're probably pretty tired of reading, too.

#3 Oklahoma State vs. #10 Oklahoma. Saturday, 7:00PM. ABC. We only care if OSU beats OU, although there is a significant gap in points to make up between us and the Sooners, so I'm not even sure a loss to the #3 team in the nation bumps them too far. The voters, they like visible schools.

#5 Virginia Tech vs. #20 Clemson. ACC Championship @ Jacksonville, FL. Saturday, 7:00PM. ESPN. Oh the ACC Championship, the most unloved, unattended Championship game in all of sport. Seriously, check it out Saturday - the attendance numbers will make Jaguars Stadium look like an SMU home game. For those of you who don't follow college football, Virginia Tech is a team that has flown under the radar this season due to their early season loss to this exact Clemson team, a 23-3 meltdown. Without that loss, you might be talking about the Goiter vs. the Head in New Orleans come January. However, since then Virginia Tech has reeled off 8 straight while Clemson has stumbled a bit, losing three of their last four. As I said earlier this week, I'm not sure Clemson jumps us with a win, but why take the chance? With momentum on their side, VT wins by double digits.

And with that, the Movement/BCS/Weekend Preview posts for the 2011 season are complete. I hope you enjoyed them. If the cards fall our way, this could be one for the refrigerator. If not, well, it was a fun ride while it lasted. In any case, see you next year!


VikingFrog said...

I find it funny that you have to be the conference champion if you are a non AQ in order to make a BCS bowl, but you don't have to be the conference champion to make THE BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.

If LSU were to lose to Georgia we could possibly see two teams in the national championship that aren't conference champs.

Lyle Lanley said...

I would assume that a rule requiring a conference championship to participate in the national championship game was tossed around at some point, but that the SEC folks batted it down because they knew this situation would eventually present itself.

Travis said...

LSU devours team's souls much like Ross Evans devours front doors!

Sorry, still not over this quite yet, wrong type of publicity.

EdK said...

You know, it's easy to bash the BCS, but actually, it has always served TCU pretty well.

Two BCS bowl games with probably the two TCU teams that deserved to go. I don't think TCU ever really got screwed by the system. There are plenty of Big Six schools that can claim to have been hurt by the system as much -- or more -- as any other TCU team.

Like it or not, LSU and 'Bama are probably the two most deserving schools for the Big Game. I mean, who else really?

I don't think any of us think TCU is one of the top ten schools in the country, seriously. And when Houston wins out and winds up playing whatever team and gets its butt kicked, then that's just the way it goes. Hawaii got creamed too.

But Utah, TCU, Boise -- with really good teams -- won their BCS games because they were among the best in the nation. Not because the BCS was forced to have them play and they got lucky.

The only reason the BCS system will change is because of all the realignment, not because it doesn't work. The fact that a TCU team with two losses has an outside shot at a major bowl is proof that everybody can get to a BCS game if the cards fall into place.