2016 Week 14 NCAAF Weekend Preview

December 2, 2016

It’s hard to believe that Championship Week is upon us already.

In just a few days, all of the muddiness that has accompanied the second half of this college football season will be cleared up. That doesn’t mean, however, that the controversy will be cleared up.

The Playoff Committee has an interesting dilemma on its hands if Penn State wins the Big Ten Conference, or Alabama, Clemson or Washington loses its conference title game. The Nittany Lions will have won their conference and could be left out of the Playoff in favor of a team it beat earlier in the season.

To say that the four team playoff has solved all of the issues that the old BCS system created is a delusional statement. It is clearly still a popularity contest. But would auto bids to an eight team tournament really be the right fix? In that scenario, Michigan States could face Alabamas in a playoff game on a regular basis.

Frankly, that’s a conversation worth having after this weekend has concluded and the decisions have been finalized. For now, let’s focus on the weekend ahead. Eight conference title games and one de facto title game take place this weekend, which is a convenient excuse to do nothing all Friday night and Saturday as the temperature plunges in many parts of the country.

Realistically, the head-to-head prediction game is wrapped up, as I was able to best Steve during Rivalry Weekend. The overall standings now look like this:

K. Becks: 41-24

Guests: 37-28

This week my youngest brother Kevin joins the blog for the last full weekend of regular season college football in 2016. I’m not sure whether he’ll watch any of the games, but he’s surprised me many times before.

Here’s a look at the top five games to watch during Championship Weekend, as well as five more to keep an eye on.

5 Games to Pay Attention to This Weekend

#8 Colorado vs. #4 Washington [game in Santa Clara, CA] (Friday, 9 PM ET)

Some people, the author included, aren’t surprised that the Huskies are playing in this game for a potential shot at a College Football Playoff berth. But anyone who picked the Buffaloes to reach the Pac-12 game should go and play the lottery, because you’re as lucky as you are insightful. This is the third time in as many weeks that Colorado makes the 5 to Watch cut and only the first time the Buffs are the underdog.

Colorado and Washington have the two best defenses in the Pac-12, so the age-old saying “defenses wins championships” could jokingly be uttered many times leading up to the start of this game. But in reality, both the Buffaloes and Huskies have gotten to this stage because of an ability to make the most of their offensive possessions. Washington actually leads the conference in points per game with 44.8 despite being seventh in time of possession, while Colorado isn’t far behind with 34.8 points per game. Neither team turns the ball over much but both are very good at taking the ball away. So it would not be surprising if this game was close until the final minutes, with a costly turnover or two being the difference.

Colorado is the ultimate underdog, coming out of nowhere to win the South Division and doing so with players that have scrapped and clawed their way to success. But in the end, Washington was made for this moment, with Chris Petersen getting his first real shot at a chance to play for a national title. The Buffaloes will make things interesting for 60 minutes, but the Huskies will finish the job and make a strong case for a spot in the Playoff.

My Pick: 35-30 Washington

Kevin’s Take: I have Washington winning 28-20

#10 Oklahoma State at #9 Oklahoma (Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)

The Battle of Bedlam has been a Game to Watch for the last few years, with both the Sooners and Cowboys enjoying a successful stretch under the tutelage of Bob Stoops and Mike Gundy. But while Gundy has done a lot to made this rivalry exciting from a national perspective, Oklahoma State is still the little brother in Bedlam. The Big 12 title is on the line in this one and maybe (emphasized heavily) more.

Despite losing to two similar teams in Houston and Ohio State to begin the year, Oklahoma is back as a dark horse Playoff contender after ripping through its Big 12 schedule. To their credit, the Sooners have been a different team offensively, not dipping below 475 total yards of offense since the loss to the Buckeyes on September 17. But this weekend Oklahoma will meet its match offensively in Oklahoma State, a team that does exactly what is needed to expose the Sooners defense. Mason Rudolph has become the most prolific passer in the Big 12 not named Patrick Mahomes. The junior has thrown for 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions and has the No. 12 QBR in the country. First in the nation, of course, is the guy taking snaps for the opposition in this one. Baker Mayfield has been Heisman-esque for nine games this season and will be tough for the Cowboys to stop. But the defense has been a recurring issue this season and like Mahomes several weeks ago, Rudolph has the arm to take advantage.

The Cowboys have only beaten a ranked Sooners team in Norman three times, but one of those times came two seasons ago. This series has become much more competitive since Mike Gundy took control of Oklahoma State in 2005, but it hasn’t been as apparent on the scoreboard. Rudolph & Co. are smart enough on the offensive end to give the Sooners all kinds of trouble and remind the country why Coach Stoops was on the brink of losing control of his team after just three games this season. Expect a fun shootout and a victory for the Pokes.

My Pick: 49-42 Oklahoma State

Kevin’s Take: Oklahoma winning 35-21

#1 Alabama vs. #15 Florida [game in Atlanta, GA] (Saturday, 4 PM ET)

The Crimson Tide rolled again last weekend, taking care of business against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. And although it meant nothing to the SEC race, Florida was unable to beat its in-state rival on the road last weekend. If doesn’t take a Vegas bookie to understand that this game has the Gators as major underdogs.

Giving up 31 points to an inconsistent offense one week prior to playing Alabama isn’t sending the strongest message. But that’s what happened to Florida last weekend, proving that the Gators have a major problem offensively and perhaps a more hidden issue defensively. Florida gave up 249 yards on the ground to Florida State, the third time in four weeks that the Gators have surrendered 200-plus rushing yards. Damien Harris, Jalen Hurts and Josh Jacobs have to be licking their chops heading into this one. The Crimson Tide can chew up yards on the ground with the best of them and have an offensive line capable of dominating Florida’s smaller defensive front.

This game is featured almost solely because it is the SEC title game and the Crimson Tide are the No. 1 team in the country. It would be an absolutely massive upset if the Gators were to win this one, and they most certainly did not play like a team capable of beating Alabama in the month of November. Is it possible that Saban rests his guys to get ready for the probable Playoff game? Perhaps.

My Pick: 41-16 Alabama

Kevin’s Take: Alabama winning late fourth quarter 28-24

#3 Clemson vs. #23 Virginia Tech [game in Orlando, FL] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

Justin Fuente led the Hokies back to the ACC title game in his first season as head coach, a good sign for the future of the program that had known only Beamer Ball for so long. The last time Virginia Tech played in this game was 2011, and the opponent was Clemson. Hokies fans are hoping that this game is closer than the 38-10 drubbing suffered five seasons ago, but it’ll take a strong performance by the underdogs to avoid that.

The Tigers haven’t played like the No. 3 team in the country all season, but there is no denying that the offense has kept the team afloat several times already this season. Although Deshaun Watson hasn’t put up Heisman like numbers in 2016, but overall Clemson is still able to move the ball effectively against pretty much everyone. Even in the lone loss to Pittsburgh, the Tigers had 630 total yards offensively. Where Virginia Tech can make this interesting is with its own offense. Fuente has installed a very balanced offense with quarterback Jerod Evans as the focal point. Evans leads the team in rushing as well as passing and will be a handful for Clemson’s defense, which hasn’t been nearly as stifling as in prior years. If Evans is allowed time to work, he can keep the Tigers offense off the field, which is not what Dabo Swinney will want.

Washington has the tougher conference title game this week, but Clemson may be the most likely of the current top four to lose. The Tigers have been shaky against the top half of the ACC, giving up lots of points. This isn’t your father’s Virginia Tech football team – Justin Fuente has breathed new life into the offense and it is capable of hanging with the Clemson if it can control the pace of the game. The Hokies will come up a bit short, but it’ll be an exciting one.

My Pick: 34-28 Clemson

Kevin’s Take: A crushing defeat.. Clemson wins 42-17

#6 Wisconsin vs. #7 Penn State [game in Indianapolis, IN] (Saturday, 8 PM ET)

The fact that tickets have dropped to less than $20 in some cases is a testament to the overriding opinion about the Big Ten title game. In many people’s mind, it is nothing more than a Top Ten battle to decide who will scream the loudest when another Big Ten team ends up making the Playoff in favor of the actual conference champion. But if you take away all of the politics, this should be a very interesting game between two teams that have enjoyed a return to the national spotlight in 2016 after some time away from it.

Penn State may not have the vote of the general public, but the Nittany Lions have undergone a total makeover this year and have been surprising people all season. Led by Trace McSorley, Penn State has become one of the Big Ten’s top offenses and a more reliable one in the passing game than one Ohio State this season. McSorley has thrown just two interceptions since September, but still struggles with accuracy at times. Wisconsin’s pass defense is solid and leads the country with 21 interceptions, so it will be interesting to see if the Badgers can force McSorley into bad habits. Weather was a definite factor in his worst game, which won’t be an issue in this one thanks to the climate control of Lucas Oil Stadium.

While Penn State boasts a solid defense in its own right, this game will be about the power struggle between the Nittany Lions offense and the Badgers defense. If McSorley receives good protection in the pocket, he should be able to complete enough passes to put major pressure on the Wisconsin secondary. But if Penn State can’t connect and gives the Badgers enough chances, Corey Clement and the running game will take over. Expect a close game, but the Nittany Lions obviously have something to prove and that will be the slight difference.

My Pick: 28-27 Penn State

Kevin’s Take: Watch out…Wisconsin may crack top four with a win against PSU in the B1G Ten Championship game. Badgers win 31-21

5 Games to Flip To

#17 Western Michigan vs. Ohio [game in Detroit, MI] (Friday, 7 PM ET)

The Broncos are currently the highest ranked Group of Five team, but need a victory in the MAC title game to give themselves a shot at a Cotton Bowl berth.

Temple at #19 Navy (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

No Houston in the AAC title game, but still worth watching. If Navy wins, it could create the nasty situation where the Group of Five’s automatic bid to a New Year’s Six bowl can’t be determined until next weekend. The domino effect for other bowl selections would ensue.

Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky (Saturday, 12 PM ET)

The Hilltoppers will look to clinch back-to-back Conference USA titles and become the first school to do so since East Carolina in 2008 and 2009.

Baylor at #16 West Virginia (Saturday, 3:30 PM ET)

With so many conference championship games happening, this game’s redeeming factor will be the possibility of a shootout.

San Diego State at Wyoming (Saturday, 7:45 PM ET)

The Cowboys are at home, but realistically are the underdog in this one. Wyoming’s Mountain West worst 475 yards per game allowed are not complemented well by an offense that is only No. 5 in the conference. This is for the league title, however.

If you would like to become a guest prognosticator like Kevin 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.

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