Will Moon's Deep Football Thoughts from Outer Space: Championship Week Preview
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I picked a bad week to get sick. Traveling and some sort of bug have eaten up my time the last couple of days, but I feel the need to play through the illness (a la Michael Jordan) and get something written during one of the more dizzying stretches in recent college football history. Let's get to it, in somewhat abbreviated form.
Iron Bowl Recap
We won! Wooooooooo!
I could just leave it at that, but let's properly celebrate Auburn's first win over Alabama by more than ten points since 1969. It wasn't quite the beatdown that Auburn laid on Georgia earlier in November, but it was a statement nonetheless, enough of one that it vaulted the Tigers up to #2 in the most recent playoff rankings. Plenty of digital ink has been spilled over this game in the last couple of days, but it was impressive stuff from the home team. Auburn controlled both lines of scrimmage, got a wonderful effort from QB Jarrett Stidham, and were endlessly creative with their play design. It's the kind of effort that's worthy of celebration. Special kudos again to Kerryon Johnson, Auburn's bellcow, and here's hoping he's ready to go against Georgia on Saturday. WR Ryan Davis has received much praise in this space before, and he saved his best for the Iron Bowl, too, as he was one of the biggest difference-makers in the game with the way he continually challenged the Tide's back seven.
On the other side of the ball, the line once again ate the opposing front up, which makes things really easy for the rest of the defense. LB Tre Williams played well just one week after leaving with a scary-looking injury against ULM, and the tackling from the defensive backs (and everybody, really) was outstanding. I can't say I understand much of what Bammer was trying to do on offense, but whatever it was, Auburn handled it. They hit one long throw and had one scary good drive running the ball. Everything else was take care of by the Tigers, even after that infuriating 12 men on the field 4th down call. JK Scott's mishandled snap on the field goal late in the 3rd quarter was a big momentum changer, but the Tide never really looked like a match for the home team. Auburn scoring on four consecutive possessions spread over the final three quarters showed just how much the Tigers controlled the action. Now let's just get everybody healthy.
SEC Championship Game Preview
Auburn's reward for their stellar effort was another date with Georgia, this time in Atlanta at the new dome. I've long hated the cliche that it's hard to beat a team twice in the same season, as teams tend to win rematches, especially in college football. For every 'LSU-Bammer 2011' situation, there's four or five 'Oklahoma-TCU this season' deals, where one team just looks like it's well out in front of another. I expect the Bulldogs to come at Auburn a little harder this time around, and the Tigers won't have the Jordan-Hare advantage, but the way AU dominated up front three weeks ago makes me think it unlikely that Georgia can pull off the upset. The game back on Veteran's Day was no fluke whatsoever. Auburn handled business where it mattered that day, up front, and everything's in place for that to happen again. Obviously, a mostly healthy Kerryon Johnson would make things a lot easier for the Tigers, and I do expect him to be able to play. Auburn's faced a rematch in three of their five SEC title game appearances, with the winner of the first game winning the rematch all three times. I expect the Tigers to make it four-for-four.
Auburn 31, Georgia 17
Rest of the Menu
Championship Weekend kicks off on Friday (there are no Thursday games at all this week in college) with the Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara (7 CT on ESPN). We have a rematch here as well, as #10 USC tries to take down #12 Stanford for the second time this season. (The first was a decisive Trojan win in the Coliseum waaaay back in week two.) The teams have evolved a lot since then, but I still feel like USC's just an all-around better squad than the Cardinal this year. Despite winning the tougher North division, Stanford just doesn't seem all that great. Gimme Tommy Trojan by a reasonable margin.
Four conference championship games tee it up in the early window on Saturday. ESPN carries the MAC Championship Game from Detroit (11 CT), which appears to be quite the mismatch. 10-2 Toledo takes on a 7-5 Akron team that they've already housed once this season (48-21 in mid-October). I see no reason to expect an upset. Gimme the Rockets.
At the same time on ABC, a much better Group of Five league title game kicks off in Orlando. Undefeated Central Florida and once-beaten Memphis try to ignore all the speculation about their head coaches' futures and win the American Athletic title, with the winner also likely to play a big dog in the Peach Bowl. I actually do see an upset here, as Mike Norvell's Tigers have all the offensive firepower they need to upset the Knights in their own house. This should be a fun game, and I'm calling the Tigers to pull the road upset. (Yes, they play this league title game in one of the team's home stadiums.)
Finally at 11 Central, the Conference USA title game kicks off on ESPN2. Lane Kiffin's Florida Atlantic Owls host the Mean Green of North Texas down in Boca Raton, and I'm not expecting the Green to be mean enough to derail the Lane Train this week. (And since the Owls are playing at home, it's less likely that Lane will get left behind by the team, something he's excelled at over the years.) A now coach-less Florida State tries to get bowl eligible against Louisiana-Monroe during this time slot as well.
Half an hour later, the Big 12 Championship Game returns to existence at Jerry World (11:30 CT on FOX). As referenced earlier, Oklahoma handled Texas Christian with little difficulty just a couple of weeks ago, and I fully expect them to do so again. As much as I'd love to see Baker Mayfield not the win the Heisman (or anything), I don't expect the Horned Frogs to keep that from happening either. This is the path of least resistance for Bammer to slide back into the final four, but OU's chances of winning are pretty darn high.
Auburn and Georgia have the afternoon mostly to themselves (3 CT on CBS). There's a smattering of stray regular season games going on in the afternoon, mostly involving Sun Belt teams, but there's not much else that's likely to draw any significant attention.
The final three league title games all go at night. First up is the Mountain West title game at 6:45 CT on ESPN. Fresno State and Boise State just played last week, with Fresno winning, and now they'll play again, which has only happened once before in college football history (Stanford and UCLA played in back-to-back weeks a few years ago in the Pac-12). The Bulldogs won at home last week, but now have to travel to the Smurf Turf to close the deal. If other games go Bama's way, this game could have an unexpected impact on their playoff chances, seeing as how they beat Fresno way back in September. That said, I think Boise wins.
Two more huge games both kick off at 7 CT. ABC's Game of the Universe is the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. This one lost a tad of luster when Miami was upset by previously 4-7 Pitt last week, but the winner is still practically guaranteed a playoff slot. The biggest effect last week had was removing any chance of both teams qualifying for the playoff. Miami's been a cool story this year, but Clemson's better and showed as much last week at South Carolina. I thought they may have peaked too early, but maybe I (and everyone) should stop doubting Dabo. Clemson wins.
The final game on our list is the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis (7 CT on FOX). This is the game where everything gets kind of murky. The winners of the SEC and ACC title games are in, the losers are out. Oklahoma is in if they beat TCU, the Horned Frogs are out either way. Both Pac-12 teams are out. Here, both teams have a shot at making it in, but Ohio State's prospects are cloudy. I kind of think the Buckeyes get in over Bama if they win, but who the hell knows? We do know that Wisconsin's in if they get another W and finish undefeated. If tOSU wins, it becomes an off-field battle between two of college football's most disliked programs to see which one's obvious red flags are less of an issue. Bama hasn't played a particularly difficult schedule and they have no signature win, but they do have a better record and were dominant for a good chunk of the year. The Buckeyes would have a conference title in their back pocket if they win, plus notable victories over Wisconsin and Penn State and some credit for at least playing a team as good as Oklahoma out of conference. But they also have two pretty lopsided losses, especially the debacle at 7-5 Iowa. Basically all of the criteria the committee says they use to determine who gets in are scattered all over these two teams. They're probably hoping Wisconsin wins and keeps this simple. They won't, and we'll hear the howls from all across the country after the Buckeyes state their case for playoff selection.
This is really a whole separate article, but dear Grodd, it's been crazy. Tennessee's a dumpster fire beyond belief right now, while Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and UCLA have all quickly made their hires. Arkansas' gearing up to at least offer Gus the job, with not many other names being connected to the job outside of him. (I still don't think he goes, even if Auburn loses this week.) UCLA and Florida both hired the guys I originally expected (here and here), and I expect both programs to do well with their new coaches. State seemed to have hired a promising guy, but I don't have much to go on with Joe Moorhead. Their search was pretty sharp and professional, though, unlike some programs in the league. And Ole Miss, who just got walloped by the NCAA, probably did the only responsible thing and kept Matt Luke around to tread water.
Jimbo Fisher's a home run for the Aggies, and I would imagine Memphis' Mike Norvell will figure into Arkansas and Tennessee's searches at some point, with Arkansas looking like the far more palatable option right now. And if Nebraska really can bring Scott Frost home even with so many other programs coveting him (including Florida), then bully for them. That seems to be what's about to happen. I have thoughts, as does everybody, on the Tennessee disaster, but I'll save those for when (if?) they actually hire somebody without rioting. There's a lot there, and I just don't have the energy right now. (Plus, new crazy crap gets dumped out of Knoxville hourly these days.)
This was your in-brief recap of a whirlwind time in the sport. Hopefully, I'm back on my feet for next week, when all the playoff and bowl matchups are set, and even more coaching carousel nonsense will be there to be examined. Enjoy the games, everybody.