2014 NCAAF Week 15 Weekend Preview

December 4, 2014

It’s here.

Championship Week of the first year of the College Football Playoff. Eventually, this week will become somewhat of a “first round” for the playoff. But even this year, the prospect of at least five games this weekend having an impact on who we’ll see playing in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl in less than a month is pretty damn good.

In the head-to-head prediction game, I’ve taken a one game lead after taking care of Zach last weekend. Heading into the final weekend of play (the Army-Navy game is not included in the final record), the overall records stand:

K. Becks: 41-24

Guests: 40-25

This week the final former roommate to make this season will look to steal a win for the guests. Only this time, a win wouldn’t just mean bragging rights for Matt Bidinger. It’d also be a win for the 13 other people who have made picks this season.

And by the way, a big thank you to everyone who made picks this year. You’re the reason I continue to write this blog, and I’m glad that there are people out there interested enough to take the time to make picks. Hopefully you’ll all be interested in playing Bowl Mania this month as well.

Here are my top five games to watch this weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#7 Arizona vs. #2 Oregon [game in Santa Clara, CA] (Friday, 9 PM ET)

The Pac-12 Championship brings together two teams that played in one of the sloppiest Thursday night showdowns of the season. Both Arizona and Oregon have been impressive for most of the rest of this season, though and have been the best the Pac-12 has to offer. The Ducks are certainly in the playoff with a win, and with the Wildcats as their only loss Oregon would be able to say it beat every team on its schedule. Arizona isn’t necessarily in with a victory, but is one of the few teams playing this weekend that can put pressure on the Committee to make a tough position.

Statistically, there was not much to separate these two teams in the game played on October 2. Marcus Mariota actually had a superior day through the air, and neither Mariota nor Anu Solomon was able to get much done on the ground. But for some reason, the play of Oregon’s offensive line was atrocious. There will be a lot of scoring in this game, but the battle between Oregon’s offensive line and Arizona’s pass rush will set the tone for this one. Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright is a monster and has been terrorizing offensive lines all season. In order for Arizona to have a chance in this one, it will have to disrupt the offensive flow of the Ducks. The good news for the Wildcats is that they’ve already managed to do it once this season.

Each team has so much film on the other that this one is bound to be a chess match between coaches. Unlike Pac-12 title games of the past, there is no home field advantage and the teams are pretty evenly matched. I expect this one to come down to the wire, but when it matters most my pick to win the Heisman will have a chance to lead his team to victory. Marcus Mariota gets the job done with a second chance at the Wildcats and Oregon survives.

My Pick: 34-31 Oregon

Matt’s Take: As the soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner, Mariota is not going to let the same team beat him twice in a year and ruin his season. Oregon 42 Arizona 36

#1 Alabama vs. #16 Missouri [game in Atlanta] (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

Perhaps the biggest surprise about this game is that Alabama is not the team making back to back trips to Atlanta. Gary Pinkel should be commended for the job he has done with Missouri, elevating the former Big 12 school into a perennial SEC title contender in just two seasons as a member of the conference. A victory for the Tigers in this year’s SEC title game will be just as difficult as in was in 2013, but Missouri is well aware that a win would send the entire college football world into a tizzy. Sounds fun, right?

The Tigers are going to have to win this game with a nearly perfect defensive effort, because the offensive production just hasn’t been there during the second half of the season. Only once since October 19 have the Tigers scored over 30 points, and not since the Florida game has Missouri beaten an opponent by more than 10 points. With last weekend’s Iron Bowl as proof, the Alabama offense is clicking at the right time and Missouri will have a tough time slowing down the Crimson Tide rushing attack. But the Tigers will have to find a way if they want to remain competitive in this one for all four quarters.

It would be natural to feel a bit sorry for the Georgia Bulldogs. Missouri was torched by Mark Richt’s squad 34-0 earlier in the season, and the Bulldogs finished second to the Tigers in the SEC East. However, Missouri has nothing to lose by doing anything and everything to try to win this game. Even with a victory, the Tigers aren’t going to be in the playoff. Alabama isn’t the type of team to get nervous from the pressure, though, and I don’t see the Crimson Tide letting up in this one.

My Pick: 35-17 Alabama

Matt’s Take: My only rule when picking college football games in never pick against Bama. Nick Saban is not going to let the first college football playoff be without him. It’s simple, Bama rolls. Alabama 45 Missouri 27

#9 Kansas State at #6 Baylor (Saturday, 7:45 PM ET)

If everything holds this weekend, the Baylor Bears will not make the playoff, but a team that it beat will. Art Briles will be out to prove a point this weekend, but the Bears couldn’t have gotten a peskier foe had they asked for it. Kansas State could be the undoing of a team looking to make a statement on championship weekend, putting to rest all the arguments about head-to-head matchups and body of work conversations in the Big 12 Conference.

Most college football fans are well aware that Bill Snyder’s Kansas State teams are annually one of the most disciplined defensive squads in the country. That is no different this year, as the Wildcats lead the Big 12 in total defense. Offensively, Kansas State is similarly disciplined, turning the ball over fewer times than any other team in the conference. Put simply, Baylor will not win this game by forcing mistakes. But what the Bears can do penetrate the Kansas State defensive front, the one area where the Wildcats aren’t rock solid. With Bryce Petty returning from a concussion suffered in the victory over Texas Tech last weekend, Baylor may opt to lean on a run game led by Shock Linwood. Lots of time will run off the clock if this is the case, which favors Kansas State’s philosophy of keeping games close.

Baylor’s style of play is the exact opposite of Kansas State’s, and normally I would argue that the Bears are ripe for an upset playing with such reckless abandon. Additionally, the current No. 6 team in the country hasn’t looked particularly impressive in recent weeks. But the Bears know that it will take a loss from at least two teams ahead of them to make the playoff, a reality they probably view as an injustice. Therefore, the up-tempo style of play supports what Baylor will set out to do this weekend: make a statement.

My Pick: 38-28 Baylor

Matt’s Take: Baylor has won most of its games and this matchup the past two years behind its high powered offense. Last year, Kansas State had the right gameplan and held Baylor to 35 points in a loss. This year Kansas State is a better team and will execute that gameplan even better. Kansas State 35 Baylor 34

#4 Florida State vs. #11 Georgia Tech [game in Charlotte] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Take on all comers, and barely beat them. That may as well be the motto of the Florida State Seminoles this season, which is a complete 180 degree shift from the way things went down in 2013. Yet as nearly everyone outside of Tallahassee rolls their eyes and is waiting on the edge of their seat for the Seminoles to finally lose a game, Florida State is just four quarters away from almost surely making the field of four. Georgia Tech presents a tricky final hurdle, however, and one that many people would like to see the garnet and gold stumble over.

Unless Florida State’s coaching staff has been taking a break over the past four weeks, do not expect Georgia Tech’s triple option offense to take the Seminoles completely by surprise. And even if it does, Georgia Tech’s defense is one of the worst in the ACC, so the game will turn into a shootout. Yes, Florida State has not looked very impressive this season. And yes, the ACC has looked every bit the fifth best Power Five conference in the country. But the Seminoles are finally going to get to play a team that the rest of the country feels is one of the top fifteen in the nation. Seldom this year have there been conversations before the first quarter of a game about whether Florida State should worried about its chances. Those conversations are being had this week and Jimbo Fisher knows it.

Georgia Tech is a solid football team, but is suspect defensively. Florida State isn’t great on defense either, but no one has been able to stop Jameis Winston for four quarters since No. 5 has been the starting quarterback in Tallahassee. I expect to see a lot of scoring in this one and the Yellow Jackets will keep things interesting, but much to the chagrin of fans in Columbus and Waco, the Seminoles will pull out yet another victory.

My Pick: 38-33 Florida State

Matt’s Take: It seems Florida State has the inability to lose more than they have the ability to win. Every week someone picks against them saying they are finally playing a team that can hold onto a lead. This week, that person is finally me. Georgia Tech thrives on the run game and that will help it control the ball and burn the clock in the second half. Georgia Tech 28 Florida State 24

#13 Wisconsin vs. #5 Ohio State [game in Indianapolis] (Saturday, 8:17 PM ET)

Ohio State is in an unenviable position this week. The Buckeyes are the first team on the outside looking in as far as the playoff picture is concerned, and last week their savior J.T. Barrett went down with a season ending ankle injury. But all if not lost for Urban Meyer’s squad, which is still very much in the playoff conversation with a victory in this game. The Big Ten title features two of the most improved teams in the country.

J.T. Barrett may have put up Heisman-like numbers despite being slated as the backup quarterback until August, but to assume that Cardale Jones is incapable of running Ohio State’s offense is silly. Firstly, Jones is a beast of a man, topping out at 6’5″ and weighing 250 pounds. He’s like a second coming of Terrelle Pryor (with about the same passing skills). Secondly, Urban Meyer’s offense isn’t designed to have the quarterback make the plays. The athletes around Jones will be running the show as much as Cardale himself. Don’t expect Ohio State’s offense to suffer a severe drop off in this one with so many weapons in the backfield. Rather, Ohio State’s run defense will need to step up to the task of stopping Melvin Gordon & Co. The Buckeyes will be the best Wisconsin has faced in the Big Ten with regards to stopping the run, but not by much. Ohio State cannot afford to let the Badgers milk the clock. With Jones at quarterback, the Buckeyes will be a bit more predictable and may not have the ability to break big plays for a quick touchdown.

Like nearly all of the Power Five conference title games, this matchup figures to be a tight one. Ohio State has played and beaten tougher competition, but the Badgers have improved mightily and seem to have found a rhythm offensively, something that they lacked to begin the season. The winner of this game will have deserved it, because there should be a heavy dose of the run game on both sides and there will be lots of bumps and bruises suffered on both sidelines.

My Pick: 30-26 Ohio State

Matt’s Take: All the talk is about the quarterback situation for Ohio State, as it should be. And although I’m probably too emotionally invested to make the right pick, I believe Ohio State is the better team. At this point, the coaches know what Cardale “School” Jones is and what he is not. He is not going to thread the needle like J.T. and he’s not going to dance around and make people miss like Braxton. His upside is he is 6’5″ and 250 pounds with a rocket launcher for an arm. The plays need to be simple one read plays where School either throws it deep or takes off with it and makes multiple defenders take him down. Ohio State 35 Wisconsin 28​

5 Games to Flip To

Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green (Friday, 7 PM ET)

The MAC title game isn’t as tasty as it has been in prior years, but it’s still a Friday night game in a dome which makes me happy.

Houston at Cincinnati (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

There aren’t a lot of games on Saturday and this one features two teams with a winning record.

Iowa State at #3 TCU (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

If the Horned Frogs win, they’re probably in the playoff.

Louisiana Tech at Marshall (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Thundering Herd wanted to be the highest ranked Group of Five team at the end of the season. But after a loss to Western Kentucky last weekend…

Fresno State at #22 Boise State (Saturday, 10 PM ET)

…Bryan Harsin can take the Broncos back to a big bowl game with a victory. Likely that one in Scottsdale, Arizona.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Matt did this week, please let me know in one of the following ways: email me at kbecks@aroundthecorn.com, send me a message on Around The Corn’s Facebook page, post a comment under this article or send me a tweet @KBecks_ATC. Opportunities to become a guest prognosticator will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Thanks everyone.

– K. Becks

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