And So It Is Written ...
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The ten most important things to happen in the history of our great planet – at least this weekend. How will Week 14 of your college football season be remembered in the history books? And so it is written …
1. And then there were three … maybe
With Mississippi State losing to Ole Miss, No. 8 UCLA falling away and No. 9 Georgia missing out on playing in the SEC championship – and losing to Georgia Tech – there are now three key teams everyone will be focusing on this week. Alabama, Oregon and Florida State are going to be in the playoff no matter what with a win, but even if TCU moves up from five to four, it’s not a lock to stay around if Baylor rocks Kansas State and/or Ohio State rips apart Wisconsin. The spotlight is on, and style points and appearances absolutely count.
Of course there will be chaos of some sort in the final weekend of the year if any of the top three end up losing, but assuming Bama, FSU and Oregon win their respective conference championship games, it’s going to be a theoretical dogfight for that fourth spot.
Even if there are upsets in the biggest games, the SEC and Pac-12 title winners will probably be in no matter what – there’s no way the playoff committee is going to put in both TCU and Baylor – and Florida State could still be in the top four even if it loses to Georgia Tech. Everything will matter when TCU plays Iowa State, Baylor plays Kansas State and Ohio State plays Wisconsin. If all three win their respective games, all three can claim to be a conference champion – Baylor more than TCU, though – and all three will make a legitimate argument for getting into the final four. Ole Miss opened that door for them by winning the Egg Bowl.
Can TCU’s 30-7 win over Minnesota be enough to make the Best Non-Conference Win case over the Buckeyes and Bears? Will Baylor’s head-to-head win over TCU win out, or will its loss to West Virginia and struggle against a mediocre Texas Tech team matter? Will Ohio State be given extra credit for winning a 12th game over a hot Badger team, or will the loss to Virginia Tech still serve as an anchor? The two biggest question marks are going to be surrounding …
2. J.T. Barrett’s broken ankle & Bryce Petty’s brain
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee will adjust seeds based on whether or not key players are hurt, but those teams are still going to get their shot at the title. The football committee is different, and it’s about to be hit with a key question – how much will all of this be based on resume, and how much will be based on how good the teams are at the immediate moment? And that’s why Cardale Jones might be the most important player in college football next weekend.
With Buckeye star quarterback J.T. Barrett suffering a horrible injury in the win over Michigan, now it might not be enough for Ohio State to merely win the Big Ten championship over a strong Wisconsin team; it has to be fantastic and Jones has to look the part of a possible playoff quarterback.
The other key to the weekend will be the health of Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty after suffering a concussion on a frightening hit against Texas Tech. Seth Russell has enough experience and should be able to produce against Kansas State – if Petty can’t go – but for a team that has to do something special to push through the traffic to have a shot at the playoff four, it needs to win impressively no matter what.
3. The two-loss team question
So what happens if Arizona beat Oregon? What if Georgia Tech gets by Florida State? Could Wisconsin slip into the playoff if it blows up Ohio State? What happens if Missouri beats Alabama for the SEC championship?
All the talk about last-week No. 8 UCLA getting into the playoff by winning out now transfers over to Arizona. If the Pac-12 is the second best conference in college football – and it is – and if the Pac-12 South is the second-best division behind the SEC West, then if Arizona beats the No. 2 team for the second time this year, it’s probably in. Georgia Tech won’t be in if it beats Florida State, only because the ACC just hasn’t been strong enough – even with a tremendous weekend - and Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern is too much to overcome in the beauty contest, no matter what happens against the Buckeyes. Missouri is the interesting call, because to get in, it might have to get in over a one-loss Big 12 champ and possibly a 12-1 Ohio State. Also, the 34-0 home loss to Georgia and the stunning gaffe to Indiana at home are easy fodder for the SEC naysayers. The playoff has to put in an SEC team, right? Maybe not if FSU is 13-0, Oregon and Ohio State are 12-1, and both TCU and Baylor go 11-1. Missouri’s other issue is …
4. ACC 4, SEC East 0
There’s a big difference between the SEC West and the SEC East, but as a conference, the SEC isn’t coming into the final season with too much juice. The West is amazing, but all the cannibalization has been confused with weakness – which is why the playoff committee inexplicably didn’t put in LSU or Arkansas, at least based on resume. However, the ACC had its moment to not only show it can play a little bit, but also potentially boost the stock of Florida State – not that it needed much help.
Florida State beating Florida wasn’t a stunner, and Louisville getting by Kentucky was expected, but Georgia’s phenomenal comeback to beat Georgia in overtime, and Clemson’s blowout over South Carolina were huge feathers in the conference’s cap. It was the type of weekend that message boards and twitter types live for – the 4-0 will be brought up in various arguments throughout the offseason.
5. Bo Pelini won, and then lost his gig
Nebraska wants to win championships, Bo Pelini didn’t win championships, it didn’t seem like he was going to win any championships in the future, and the program is going to look for a head coach who can win championships. All Pelini did was win nine games or more in each of his seven seasons, and there’s a chance to make this a ten-win campaign with a bowl victory, but Wisconsin is playing for the Big Ten championship this week and Nebraska isn’t. The team played hard, and it fought back to beat Iowa when things weren’t going well, but none of it mattered. It’s not about the nine-plus wins a year, every year, it’s about the four losses every year but this one, with one game to go.
6. They’re not as good as they were last year, but …
No team 2013 conference championship game team that made it back in 2014 is better, just getting there is all that matters.
Missouri might have the best defensive line in the country, but the offense is a shadow of its 2013 self. It doesn’t matter – the Tigers won the SEC East title and are back in the SEC championship. Northern Illinois is hardly the same killer it was last year with Jordan Lynch at quarterback, and Bowling Green’s defense isn’t as tough or as nasty as the 2013 MAC champion version, but both the Huskies and Falcons are back in the conference title game playing each other. Florida State isn’t anywhere near as good as it was last year, but it’s returning to the ACC title game. Fresno State’s offense is a disaster compared to the high-flying version that ripped through everything it its path under Derek Carr, but it’s back defending its Mountain West championship. Ohio State has a loss and doesn’t have its star quarterback, but it’s in the Big Ten championship game again.
7. Western Kentucky 67, Marshall 66 in overtime & Boise State 50, Utah State 19
Not just one of the wildest games of the year, it also turned out to be one of the most important in the bowl picture. Marshall was ranked 24th last week – one spot behind Boise State – and deep in the hunt for the automatic New Year’s Day bowl spot from the Group of 5 conferences. It still might happen with a Conference USA championship win over Louisiana Tech, and a Fresno State win over Boise State in the Mountain West championship, but it’s going to take something special for it to happen. The game itself was something special on Friday with WKU’s Brandon Doughty throwing for 491 yards and eight touchdowns and Marshall’s Rakeem Cato adding 417 yards and seven scores. In all, WKU came up with 738 yards and Marshall 708, with the Hilltoppers winning on a two-point conversion in overtime.
Meanwhile, Boise State continues to fly under the radar despite hanging 50 points or more on the board in five of the last seven games, and winning seven straight, including a 50-19 blowout over Utah State to take the Mountain title to earn a spot in the Mountain West title game. The Broncos started out the season with a loss to Ole Miss, but they’ll get a chance against another elite Power 5 team – probably in the Fiesta Bowl – if they can win the Mountain West title.
8. The 2.5 man Heisman race
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon only ran for 151 yards, and he only averaged 5.21 yards per carry, but he ran for a touchdown and caught another in the Big Ten West-clinching win over Minnesota. Along the way, he broke Ron Dayne’s record for the greatest rushing season by any back in Big Ten history tearing off 2,260 yards with two games to go. He’s still deep in the Heisman race along with Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who treated his rivalry game against Oregon State like his own statistical plaything hitting 76% of his passes for 367 yards and four scores to go along with 39 rushing yards and two scores. There hasn’t been a third option in the hunt, but Alabama WR Amari Cooper earned a seat in the room after catching 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the wild 55-44 Iron Bowl win over Auburn. The sure-thing Biletnikoff winner has 103 catches for 1,573 yards and 14 scores on the year.
9. The five-win teams that didn’t get the job done
California appeared to be on the move after a miserable 2013 season with a 5-4 start and needing to win one of its last three games to get bowling. After getting bombed on by BYU in a 42-35 loss, the Bears lost three straight and missed out on the post-season. Virginia was also looking good at times this year with wins over Louisville and Pitt on the way to a 4-2 start, but it lost five of the last six games and lost a bowl elimination game to Virginia Tech, who won two of its last three games to avoid a disastrous collapse. Northwestern appeared to have a bowl spot locked up with wins on the road over Notre Dame and Purdue to get into position, just needing a home win over Illinois to get it done. Instead, the Illini ripped up the Cats 47-33 to become bowl eligible in an improbable year.
Michigan missed out on a bowl by losing to Ohio State, but no one expected otherwise, while Akron finished up one of the biggest gags after starting out winning four of its first six games. The Zips lost five of their last six including an inexplicable 27-24 gaffe against one-win Kent State to miss out on bowl eligibility.
The biggest loser, though, was Kentucky, who sat on the five-win mark since October 11th and couldn’t bring it home. The Wildcats were 5-1 to start the year with only the controversial overtime loss to Florida as the blip, but then can reality with losses to LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Louisville on the way to a 5-7 record and no free swag.
10. Three really cool things that you missed because you were doing something else with your life that you think were slightly more important than watching college football on a Friday and Saturday you silly, silly person
- Georgia Southern closed out its season with a win over ULM to go 9-3 and earn the honor of being the Sun Belt’s best team, but as a transitional program it can’t go bowling – the NCAA denied its petition to get into the post-season. Appalachian State closed out red hot with six straight wins to finish third in the Sun Belt – beating Idaho 45-28 – and it has its own petition into the NCAA for a bowl after going 7-5, but it’s not going to happen.
- Old Dominion got ripped apart by Middle Tennessee and Marshall, and gave up 66 points to WKU and 42 to UTEP on the way to a 3-6 start, but it rallied with three straight wins, including a 30-27 shocker over Louisiana Tech, to get to six wins and bowl eligibility. It’s a longshot to get an invite, but the 31-28 win over Florida Atlantic closed out a sensational finish as Satchel Ziffer hit a 27-yard field goal with no time left on the clock. Meanwhile, amid all the concerns of potentially shutting down the program, UAB came up with a 45-24 win over lowly Southern Miss to finish 6-6 and also become bowl eligible.
- In the best game you didn’t see, just when it seemed like Wyoming was going to break New Mexico’s heart, with Stuart Williams hitting a 29-yard field goal with just over two minutes to play for a 30-28 lead, Carlos Wiggins came back with a 97-yard kickoff return for a score on the ensuing play to close out the Lobos season with a dramatic win. Wyoming held the ball for close to 42 minutes, and New Mexico missed on all seven of its third down chances, but it got the victory.