With lots of joy and Christmas cheer, and hope for a happy new year, here’s you holiday edition of the Five for Friday…
1. Postseason football really cranks up for the ACC this weekend. For college football fans, the pre-Christmas malaise of bowl season serves as nothing more than a precursor to a vast array of games leading up to traditionally packed New Year’s Day. This weekend is when the season really gets going, with a ton of intriguing matchups on the horizon.
Last night, Pittsburgh eked out a win over Bowling Green, getting the conference off to a good start. (SIDE NOTE: Bowling Green is the centerpiece of a post I’m working on for next week about pulling for your conference. Stay tuned for that.)
Today’s slate of games features both Maryland and Syracuse, as the Terrapins face Marshall in the Military Bowl and the Orange go up against Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. Both are winnable games for league teams, although I’m not taking either one. This is Maryland’s final game as a member of the ACC, and it can either leave with its tongue hanging out or walk away in shame. Syracuse just isn’t very good at all, period.
Tomorrow’s schedule features two ACC schools, a third semi-member in Notre Dame, and a soon-to-be member as well. The Fighting Irish face punching bag Rutgers, who is as inept as any bowl team from any era ever. Resurgent North Carolina makes the voyage all the way to Charlotte to take on Cincinnati, who beat Duke in the game last year. Miami and Louisville will meet in the Russell Athletic Bowl in a conference preview game.
I’ve got North Carolina and Louisville winning those two games, just for the record. Whatever the outcome, this weekend is a good time to dust off those ACC car flags.
2. Once again, the BCS-busters of college football have been exposed as frauds. Don’t get me wrong: I think highly of Fresno State and Northern Illinois. Both are talented teams that are well-coached and have had tremendous success relative to their current standing in non-BCS leagues.
But neither squad should have warranted serious consideration for a BCS berth, yet it almost happened. A very special thanks goes out to Bowling Green and San Jose State for saving us yet again.
Yet again, the college football media has suffered from what I like to call the “Boise effect”. We are so self-conscious about leaving a non-BCS school out of the BCS that we treat every team that goes undefeated in its league like Boise State or Utah teams that were clearly a cut above the rest of their brethren. We overlooked the fact that, according to Jeff Sagarin, the Huskies (110th) and the Bulldogs (107th) played cupcake schedules all season while criticizing Florida State (63rd) and Ohio State (57th) for the exact same thing despite a significant difference according to the ratings.
Similarly, anyone who voted for Jordan Lynch on a Heisman ballot should be barred from voting ever again. Anytime he has played competition even remotely competent on defense, he looks like an average joe. Meanwhile, players like Tajh Boyd, Bryce Petty, Marcus Mariota, and Braxton Miller were left off ballots due to subpar performances against teams approximately one billion times better than anyone Northern Illinois played. It doesn’t make any sense.
The fact is that both NIU and Fresno had abhorrent defenses and benefited from having offenses good enough to score on defenses only slightly worse then their own. But collectively, college football seemed to throw its hands up, as if to say, “Well, they’re undefeated, so I guess we have to,” as votes were cast out of ignorance.
Sooner or later, we’ll learn—or maybe not.
3. Don’t forget about college hoops this weekend. It’s a blast from the past—like, last year—when Villanova and Syracuse duel on Saturday in a Big East reunion. I always love this game because it features Nova’s guard-oriented system against the Orange’s peculiar matchup zone defense. The Wildcats are content to hoist away from long range, which is often an equalizer against the freakish athleticism of a Jim Boeheim squad. Plus, both of these teams are in the top eight in the country.
Right after that game—2:00 on CBS, in case you were in need of that tidbit—Kentucky and Louisville play. This is one of the best rivalries in sports, in addition to one of the toughest tickets. It’s Rick Pitino’s veteran crafty squad against the young squirts of John Calipari’s Kentucky team. I’m partial to Pitino because of his X’s-and-O’s background, but the fierce competition in that state is unreal.
It’s hard to believe, but both of these games feature ACC teams, either present or future. Good luck remembering that when you’re watching.
4. Oh, Clemson is practicing again. The good news for Tiger fans is that we haven’t heard anything negative about guys being ineligible or suspended yet. That’s also the bad news, because that means it’s harder for us media hacks to find stories.
Here’s hoping stories remain tough to come by through the weekend, meaning Clemson will be taking its full allotment of players to Miami for a huge Orange Bowl showdown one week from today.
5. Have you checked out the NFL playoff picture lately? If you want crazy, this is it. Almost nothing has been decided heading into the final week of the regular season.
In the NFC, there are six teams vying for three spots that are currently up for grabs. No division has been decided yet, and two matchups—Cowboys-Eagles and Bears-Packers—are win-or-go-home. Seattle, Carolina, and San Francisco have all clinched playoff spots, and only Arizona is still alive for a wild card spot.
The AFC is whacked out of its mind. Five spots have been clinched, including all division champions, leaving one spot available for four teams. Seeding is still at stake for the top four teams, but there would have to be some massive upsets to trigger any shuffling.
Four potential suitors remain for the final wild card spot: Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, and Pittsburgh. Here’s the crazy part: None of these teams controls its own destiny. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
If any of the first three win, the Steelers are done (sorry, Will). If everyone wins, Miami goes. If Baltimore loses, Miami goes with a win. If everyone loses, Baltimore goes. If either Miami or San Diego loses, Baltimore goes with a win. San Diego gets in with a win and Miami and Baltimore losses.
Clear as mud? That’s what makes it fun.