2015 Week 14 NCAAF Weekend Preview

December 3, 2015

It’s hard to believe that the final weekend of the 2015 college football regular season is upon us. It seems like just yesterday that I was messaging my college buddies in our Groupme about how excited I was to head back home and watch opening weekend with them.

Time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose.

This regular season has been a lot of fun, but it’s far from over. Championship Weekend brings with it a ton of drama. There are those teams looking to essentially secure a spot in the College Football Playoff with a victory in their conference title game. There are others crossing their fingers that the cards will fall in just the right way so that they can sneak in despite sitting at home this coming Saturday.

In other words, no one is tuning out just yet.

Technically, the same can be said of Around The Corn’s head-to-head prediction game. Coleman won for the guests last weekend, which leaves me in the unenviable position of being three games down which just six games to go (including the Army-Navy game next weekend). The overall standings now look like this:

K. Becks: 36-29

Guests: 39-26

This week by buddy Nick Ackison will try to wrap things up for the guests. If Nick can pull through, it will be the first time since 2012 that the guests have beaten me in this game. Even the best can have an off year, I guess.

The slate isn’t as full this weekend, but there are still plenty of exciting matchups. Here is a list of Around The Corn’s 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

#22 Temple at #19 Houston (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

Both of these teams are likely thrilled to be playing in the AAC title game. Two seasons ago the Owls finished 2-10. Now Temple is in the midst of one of its best seasons in school history. Two weekends ago the Cougars not only lost their first game of the season but also lost control of the AAC West Division. Now Houston is hosting its conference championship matchup. Most likely, the winner of this game will earn an automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

If you think Houston was upset about losing two weekends ago, imagine how Ohio State fans felt last Friday if they watched this Cougars football team. It was quite clear in their thrashing of Navy that Tom Herman uprooted his offensive scheme in Columbus and took it with him to his new home. The Cougars are a mirror image of the Buckeyes from last season, only with less talented players. Greg Ward Jr. is as difficult to stop as anyone in the country and much of that is due to Herman’s system. If Temple’s AAC leading defense is to stop Houston, it will need to find a way to get to Ward before he has a chance to find one of his (normally) four or five receivers. Generally, it’ll mean that the Owls have about two seconds to react.

Houston is as dangerous as anyone in the country on offense. Navy was no slouch on the defensive end and the Cougars ran and threw all over the Midshipmen. Unless the Owls can put at least 35 points on the board, this is Houston’s game to lose. As long as Ward Jr. stays healthy, the Cougars are the Group of Five’s version of the 2014 Buckeyes.

My Pick: 37-27 Houston

Nick’s Take: Houston (big) 35-14

#18 Florida vs. #2 Alabama [game in Atlanta] (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

The operation is simple for the Crimson Tide: win the SEC title game, and you’re in the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. Florida, on the other hand, has fallen out of contention completely and stands to play spoiler not only for Alabama but for the entire SEC. If the Gators pull off the upset, the conference is likely out of the playoff picture. Wouldn’t that be a juicy water cooler conversation?

Here’s some food for thought: Florida will be only the third squad currently ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings that Alabama has played this season. So where exactly is the evidence people have been citing as arguments that the Crimson Tide is the best team in college football right now? Is it the offense, which is ranked sixth in the SEC in total yards per game this season and has produced only four passing touchdowns and two since October 17? Clearly not, so it has to be a combination of Derrick Henry and the defense, which is indeed very solid. Put simply, Alabama is one dimensional offensively and getting away with winning close games against fairly modest competition thanks to a stout defense. This will be exposed in the playoff.

The more detail oriented readers already know that I think Alabama will win because of the previous sentence. Florida also makes its bones on the defensive end and has been woefully inept offensively in more than one game since losing Will Grier at quarterback mid-season. The Crimson Tide will stifle the Gators and waltz into the playoff, but don’t equate that to meaning they should be the favorite once there.

My Pick: 33-13 Alabama

Nick’s Take: Alabama (even though I want those bastards to lose) 31-3

#7 Stanford vs. #20 Southern Cal [game in Santa Clara] (Saturday, 7:45 PM ET)

The Cardinal did nothing more than survive Notre Dame last Saturday, needing a gutsy 45-yard field goal from Conrad Ukropina as time expired to beat the Fighting Irish. But from a Pac-12 perspective, it would not have mattered much either way as Stanford was already a lock to be in this game. Southern Cal has long been out the playoff picture, but it would be fitting if a Pac-12 underdog destroyed the last semblance of hope the conference has of earning a spot before the committee has a chance to do it itself.

If you’re still under the assumption that Stanford is a roughneck, defensively motivated football team, you’re clearly part of the East Coast bias. The Cardinal have not failed to score at least 30 points since the season opener against Northwestern. Since that time, Stanford has become one of the Pac-12’s most consistent offenses, which only seems hard to believe since half of the conference racks up more yards per game than the Cardinal. Only Oregon averages more points per game and no one in the Pac-12 has the ball more than Stanford. If you watched the first round of Stanford/Southern Cal this season and believe that this game could produce more than the 72 points scored last time, you’re in good company. My company. This one will be a shootout and Santa Clara will be rewarded with two different offensive schemes producing similar numbers.

The Cardinal were able to upset the Trojans the first time around, but this game is at a neutral site and it’s very difficult to beat an opponent twice in one season. Additionally, Southern Cal recently hired Clay Helton as its permanent head coach, meaning that the players will be motivated to continue playing hard. Although Stanford is the one true hope for the nation’s toughest conference (this year) to receive a playoff bid, the Trojans will get their revenge.

My Pick: 45-42 Southern Cal

Nick’s Take: Southern Cal (because Ohio State) 28-24

#10 Clemson vs. North Carolina [game in Charlotte] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

There are two college football games featuring undefeated teams this weekend, but only this was has the undefeated team as the favorite. The Tigers have been the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings the entire season and are just 60 minutes away from presumably becoming the No. 1 need in the playoff. The only thing separating them is a team that is four points from being undefeated itself.

There is no denying that Clemson deserves to hold the No. 1 spot right now, having taken on all comers and dispatching them accordingly. The Tigers have already beaten the current No. 8 and No. 9 team in the country and will need to beat No. 10 to remain at the top of the heap. But there have been chinks in the armor along the way. Closer than predicted games against N.C. State, Syracuse and South Carolina in which the defense allowed over 30 points in all three contests highlights the somewhat hidden weakness. Statistically Clemson is solid, but less than stellar squads have been able to score anyway. The Tar Heels are a stellar squad and have an offense to match, bringing an extremely balanced attack to the table which should test the Tigers mightily. The running game has been particularly strong the past few weeks and will be key to North Carolina’s success.

Neither one of these teams has any fear in engaging in a shootout, so that is likely what this will end up being. Clemson’s defense has been pretty good, but keep in mind that they are young and this is the most important game of their careers up to this point. The Tar Heels are experienced and confident offensively and have come a long way since their loss to South Carolina at the beginning of the season. In a shocker, I believe that the ACC will lose its playoff contender on Saturday night.

My Pick: 42-38 North Carolina

Nick’s Take: Clemson 28-17

#4 Iowa vs. #5 Michigan State [game in Indianapolis] (Saturday, 8:17 PM ET)

This year’s Big Ten Championship Game is likely a preview of the near future – when conference title games serve as a de facto playoff game and each of the Power 5 champions receive an automatic bid to an eight team bracket. In the interim, this much is true for this game – the winner will be headed to the College Football Playoff.

College football, like many high profile sports, is a “what have you done for me lately” ordeal that casts off last week’s flavor as quickly as it accepts a new one. So while the Michigan State Spartans did nothing to assume the position of “win and you’re in” for the better part of the first two and a half months of the season, in the last two weeks the team has asserted itself as a force to be reckoned with. The victory over Ohio State was ugly but deserved, and the Penn State beatdown last weekend showed the country just what can happen when Connor Cook gets a little help offensively. Meanwhile, Iowa barely survived a Nebraska team that threw four turnovers and still had a chance to recover an onside kick that would have set up a potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Yet, it doesn’t seem like a David vs. Goliath matchup. Iowa is as good defensively as Michigan State has been this season and has a consistent run game. If the Hawkeyes can keep the ball out of Cook’s hands, they just might have a chance.

Michigan State may not actually be the best team in the Big Ten, but they are the better team in this game. Connor Cook and a slew of seniors for the Spartans have been so close in prior years and finally have a chance to cash in on a season where luck finally was on their side. Iowa has had an interestingly successful season, but they will not be able to contain the ultra-focused Spartans in this one.

My Pick: 33-17 Michigan State

Nick’s Take: Michigan State (big) 42-10

5 Games to Flip To

Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois [game in Detroit] (Friday, 8 PM ET)

The MAC title game is the belle of the ball on Friday night – a nice preamble to Championship Weekend.

Texas at #12 Baylor (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

This may be the final chance to see Charlie Strong in burnt orange.

Southern Mississippi at Western Kentucky (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Conference USA title game often gets overlooked, but this could be a fun game to watch if both offenses show up to play.

Georgia State at Georgia Southern (Saturday, 2 PM ET)

Once FCS rivals, these two Georgia schools have been making headway in the FBS and Georgia Southern is bowl bound.

Air Force at San Diego State (Saturday, 7:30 PM ET)

No Boise State in the MWC title game means that this one may get more overlooked that the C-USA championship.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Nick 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. Although, you’ll be signing up for the 2016 season at this point. Thanks to everyone who participated this season and I hope to see even more of you in the annual Bowl Mania group.

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