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NCAA Fact or Fanatic: Week 12 Edition and Picks

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fact-or-fanatic350pixels_use-this-oneWelcome back to NCAA Fact or Fanatic! In a year where college football has turned into a succession of pigskin fiascos and only two weeks remain in the regular season, you’d think things would have settled down after the absolute chaos that occurred last week. But no, last night the Houston Cougars shut down Heisman front runner Lamar Jackson and the #5 Louisville Cardinals with emphasis, effectively booting Coach Bobby Petrino and UL off the national stage.

It was a fitting end not only for a coach who last week opined that Clemson should be ranked #1 over Alabama, but his players who spent the week haunting Twitter, complaining about how disrespected they were by the playoff committee, who’d not put them into the top four. It’s been our experience that when a coach and his team start to complain about issues off the field, disaster usually follows. This week just emphasized how crazy this season has been so far. With two more regular season games to go and then Championship Week, the insanity isn’t over yet. We repeat our warning from last week: there will be more huge upsets, more ranked teams getting upended by teams they should handle easily, and the top ten will shuffle significantly.

The Year No One Wants To Win

Right now, there is one undefeated Power 5 team in the nation. The University of Alabama, aided by a few lucky breaks, is cruising toward the playoffs with only UT-Chattanooga, #15 Auburn, and the SEC Championship game in their headlights. They have defeated multiple ranked teams en route to a fairly dominating regular season performance. Some of those ranked teams were at full strength, while others had been decimated by injuries. In the end it didn’t matter. The Crimson Tide has been a model of efficiency so far this season.

We’ve mentioned frequently how this season feels like 2007, The Sequel. It’s unfolded like a disaster movie, and now we’re getting very close to the zombie apocalypse. Just check out the CFP rankings if you don’t believe us.

The first CFP ranking had Alabama #1, followed in order by Clemson, Michigan, Texas A&M, Washington, and Ohio State. Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, and Washington were all undefeated.

The second CFP ranking had Alabama #1, followed in order by Clemson, Michigan, Washington, Ohio State, and Louisville after Texas A&M lost a stunner to Mississippi State. The top four teams were all still undefeated, while Louisville and Ohio State were both one-loss teams.

This week’s CFP ranking has Alabama #1, followed in order by Ohio State, Michigan (who lost last week to unranked Iowa but somehow didn’t drop in the rankings), Clemson (who lost last week to unranked Pitt), Louisville (who complained they weren’t in the top four and then lost to Houston last night), and Washington (who lost to #20 USC last week).

So what have we learned from this?

For one thing, apparently if a school has the right name, it will not drop in the rankings after a late-season loss to an unranked opponent. It is, in our opinion, indefensible that Michigan, Clemson, and Washington were all still in the top six of the CFP rankings. And for those people who are already whining, “But the rest of the top ten has two-loss teams!” – stop for a moment and think.

Wisconsin is a two-loss team sitting at #7. Both their losses were to top five opponents, Michigan and Ohio State. #8 Penn State is a two-loss team as well, but has also defeated the #2 ranked Buckeyes in their head-to-head matchup. #9 Oklahoma is a two-loss team who also lost to high-ranked opponents: Ohio State and Houston.

So here’s our question, and it’s one to consider seriously. What does it take for a Power 5 team to drop in the rankings? Earlier this year, we saw teams plummet 10 places or more after a win over an underrated opponent. We’ve also seen teams lose to unranked teams and barely drop at all. And at least three times, we’ve seen teams lose and not drop in the polls at all.

Might be a good thing to revisit in the off-season, because if the CFP rankings are going to be subjective and without statistical validity, then we might as well expand the playoff into a 24-team set up and determine the national champion on the field. In football, the rankings rules should be simple. If you lose, you drop in the rankings. If you win and a team ahead of you loses, you should move up. Because when Michigan loses to an unranked Iowa and stays ranked #3 while Washington falls from #4 to #6 after a loss to a ranked opponent? Well that makes us think there’s something rotten in Denmark, and that’s a fact.

The B1G is the best conference in CFB, baby!

No, it isn’t. The B1G is improving, yes. But the bottom half of the B1G features some of the worst teams in D-1 football, several B1G teams have abysmal schedules and no strong out-of-conference opponents, and only four teams would be able to compete in other Power 5 conferences with any sort of consistent success this year. Sure: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Nebraska are all ranked in the Top 25, and this has been a great year for the conference as a whole. But pump the brakes on the best conference in football chatter, because only a fanatic would seriously buy into that. Last week the Wolverines were the pro forma national champions already, and this week they learned the hard way that not only could they not play a quality opponent out of state, but they couldn’t play lowly Iowa away and eke out a win. The time to determine the best conference in CFB is after bowls and playoffs are done. Last year, the SEC was down and the B!G was the best conference–until bowl season saw the SEC go 9-2 and the B1G 3-3 and 1-2 head to head with SEC foes. Maybe Michigan should focus on surviving their upcoming trip to Columbus and stop measuring themselves for their national championship rings.

Just a thought.

Let’s Go Pickin’!

So last week, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger on a few upsets that, in hindsight, we should have. We should have ignored our gut instincts and gone with Iowa, we shouldn’t have dismissed USC as readily as we did. That being said, we still went 3-2 and correctly bagged the Georgia upset of Auburn. Next week is rivalry week when it all goes out the window statistically and turns into a week of motivation and who wants it most. So keeping in mind that we know it’s going to be crazy, let’s take a look at this week’s slate of games.

#9 Oklahoma at #14 West Virginia

1024px-soonerschoonerWas it really just two weeks ago that West Virginia was a top ten, undefeated team headed for Big XII glory while Oklahoma was still scrapping its way back from two early losses? Yep, it was. What makes this interesting is that while West Virginia only has one loss, that loss came to conference foe Oklahoma State. Meanwhile Oklahoma’s two losses were to OOC foes Ohio State and Houston, so their conference record is flawless. In a conference without a championship game, this game is for all the marbles. Literally. So how to pick this game? Well, we personally think the Mountaineers have gotten a bit of a shaft. While Oklahoma’s offense is cranking up huge numbers, they have not beaten a ranked team all year. The two top twenty-five squads they did play, they lost to. On the flip side, WVU has played with consistency and seeming purpose all year. It doesn’t make sense to us that Oklahoma is ranked five spots ahead of WVU. But we expect that to make a lot more sense after Saturday. Oklahoma’s more seasoned, and everything is running on all cylinders. We anticipate this being a wild, shoot ’em up sort of game – the kind that literally comes down to who has the ball last. Considering how the Sooners’ defense has shaped up in the last month? We’ll give them the nod.

Oklahoma 45 WVU 42

#11 Oklahoma State at TCU

amoncarterstadiumWho would have thought TCU wouldn’t be ranked right now? Raise your hands if you didn’t.

Yeah, we didn’t either. The Horned Frogs are 5-4 as they welcome the Cowboys to Fort Worth, while Oklahoma State would be a legitimate playoff contender if it wasn’t for the fact that the refs who called their game with Central Michigan don’t understand the rules of the game. That illegal untimed down after the clock expired resulted in a CMU win, and blasted the Cowboys’ hopes for the season right out of the corral.

Or so we thought. Now OKST is banging on the door of the top ten again, and a win over TCU could mean big things for the team. If West Virginia knocks off Oklahoma on Saturday and the expected chaos continues with playoff contending teams, there’s no telling where the Cowboys could end up playing come January. But first things first – the Horned Frogs, and as then 8th-ranked Baylor found out a couple of weeks ago, these aren’t the same Horned Frogs who dropped to Texas Tech in 2OT. These Frogs are feisty, and coming off a bye week to boot. But sometimes, football karma is just, and it owes the Cowboys a few favors this year. Here again, this will be a much closer game than some expect. These two teams are so similar statistically that there’s no way the match up isn’t close and hotly contested. And while the FPI has TCU pulling out the win and almost every other picks site agrees, we can’t buy into that. The Cowboys keep their heads on straight and pulls out a close one, setting up the rivalry game with the Sooners on December 3 for the conference championship.

Oklahoma State 35 TCU 28

#2 Ohio State at Michigan State
1892_michigan_state_normal_football_teamAll right. This game shouldn’t even be a question. This game shouldn’t be an issue. The Buckeyes are riding high and looking like a juggernaut, while Sparty is rebuilding and hasn’t got a lot going for it. Ohio State is still furious they lost to MSU last year – a loss that kept them out of the playoffs and sent the Spartans instead. The final score should be 50-0, right?

Well, maybe not. For one thing, B1G teams haven’t played well on the road this year. Ohio State’s lone L came on the road in Happy Valley, and East Lansing is at least as unfriendly. For another, the weather is going to be execrable with a winter storm sliding into the area over the weekend. For a third, MSU head coach has had Urban Meyer’s number, and there’s nothing the Spartans would love more than to redeem their 3-7 start by absolutely demolishing the Buckeyes’ plans for a B1G championship and the Final Four.

The key in this game is going to be the MSU pass rush. IF they can get into the backfield and disrupt OSU QB JT Barrett’s game plan, MSU might be able to pull the upset. We don’t care what the pundits say – we think this game will be close, it will be ugly, and it will be fun to us.

Just like last week we can’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger and call the upset, but we will not be surprised if Michigan State wins. Meyer-coached teams have a nasty habit of getting complacent late in the season, as if they are entitled to win without really working for it. If the Buckeyes meet the Spartans with the same lackluster attitude they had last year, they will lose again. And let’s not forget this is a long-running rivalry game – since 1897, in fact. So toss out the stats and buckle up.

Ohio State 21 Michigan State 20

#22 Washington State at #10 Colorado

Okay, let’s be honest: seeing both these teams ranked is an awesome thing.

You have to love Wazzu, home of the world’s favorite and constant school flag on College GameDay, and it’s great to see Colorado quietly building up into a power in the PAC-12. The conference has been the Trojan and Duck two-team song and dance for far too long. New territory is great.

WSU’s offense is putting up ridiculous yards this season, averaging well over 500 yards per game. Flip side is that they’re giving up almost 400 YPG to their opponents. Colorado isn’t as gaudy, but they’re more effective. While both teams are 8-2 heading into this matchup, WSU still is undefeated in the conference while Colorado has that lone loss to a resurgent USC team a few weeks ago.

ESPN’s FPI has Colorado as the favorite in this game, with a 59% chance to win the game. But you know what? We’re not buying in. The Cougars are on a roll, and as long as they’re not looking ahead too much to the rivalry game with Washington next week, we’re looking for them to emerge from a crazy shootout with the win.

Washington State 48 Colorado 45

#23 Florida at #16 LSU

Welcome to the Hurricane Bowl, where men are Tigers and Gators are scared.

After the weeks of agonizing, drawn-out, immature crap that floated to the surface in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, both sides grudgingly agreed to make up the game this weekend, punting two OOC cupcakes in order to make that happen. But oh, what a difference a month makes. If this game had been played in October, it would have been in Gainesville, not Death Valley. All-American RB Leonard Fournette wouldn’t have played due to an ankle fracture, and Florida would have brought a formidable rush defense to counter a second-stringer and a limping offense.

How times have changed. Death Valley will be more unfriendly than usual, after the Gators celebrated the death of LSU’s beloved mascot with a dead cat skeleton draped in Mardi Gras beads. Leonard Fournette is not only back, but his backup Derrius Guice is just as formidable a rusher. And Florida’s defense is down its top three tacklers, three offensive linemen, and their starting QB.

Let us pause for a moment of football karma.

They know how to cook Gator in Louisiana. The recipe is simple: woeful Florida offense, meet the absolutely crushing LSU defense; throw in a few voodoo dolls, a killer rushing attack, and new energy until interim HC Ed Orgeron, and the aroma of Gator stew will waft from Death Valley all the way to Gainesville. The Tigers rickroll the Gators and serve them with hush puppies.

LSU 42 Florida 10

Ready for another crazy weekend of college football? We certainly are. With our picks record sitting at 35-15, we’re pleased with the chaos we’ve managed to get right. The real wackiness begins next weekend. Between the rivalry games and conference championships, we are tentatively expecting over half of the current top ten to fall.

Yes, you read that correctly. Over half.

It ain’t over ’til the agents of chaos sing.

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About Celina Summers

Celina Summers is a speculative fiction author who mashes all kinds of genres into one giant fantasy amalgamation. Her first fantasy series, The Asphodel Cycle, was honored with multiple awards--including top ten finishes for all four books in the P&E Readers' Poll, multiple review site awards, as well as a prestigious Golden Rose nomination. Celina also writes contemporary literary fantasy under the pseudonym CA Chevault. Celina has worked as an editor for over a decade, including managing editor at two publishing houses. Celina blogs about publishing, sports, and politics regularly. A well-known caller on the Paul Finebaum Show and passionate football fan, when Celina takes times off it's usually on Saturdays in the fall. You can read her personal blog at www.kaantira.blogspot.com and her website is at www.cachevault.org