It’s the final week of college football’s regular season – outside of Army-Navy next Saturday – so it will be the final NCAA week look-ahead of the year, although you can certainly expect plenty of bowl previews and the like for the postseason.
Thankfully, Notre Dame spared us another all-SEC National Championship game with its 22-13 win over Southern Cal. Had the Irish won that, No. 4 Florida would be sitting in the catbird’s seat right now while watching Alabama and Georgia battle it out in the SEC title game. It might have been fun to move the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party from Jacksonville to Miami on Jan. 7 in a Florida-Georgia rematch, however. Instead, the Irish get a ridiculous 44 days off to heal up and prepare for either the Tide or the Dawgs. Sportsbook.ag lists Alabama as a 9.5-point early favorite vs. Notre Dame, with UGA at -2.5.
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There is still plenty to play for this week. The Stanford-UCLA winner (Cardinal are -8.5) on Friday will face the Nebraska-Wisconsin winner (Huskers -2.5) in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal haven’t been there since 2000, while UCLA hasn’t since the year prior. We might be stuck with a Nebraska-UCLA rematch from Sept. 8 in the Rose Bowl, won by the Bruins 36-30 in their coming-out party.
Kansas State has yet to clinch the Big 12 title but will earn the conference’s BCS bowl berth with a win this week versus Texas or an Oklahoma loss at TCU (+7). The Wildcats are 12.5-point early favorites and won’t be facing former UT starter David Ash. The Horns, off last week ugly 20-13 home loss to TCU, will start Case McCoy.
Colt’s younger brother has come on in relief of Ash three times this year and led UT to a win with two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Kansas. He went 11-of-17 for 110 yards with an interception and a touchdown drive in relief of Ash against TCU. Ash apparently hurt a rib in the game and didn’t tell anyone before he was pulled. So he’s questionable even as a backup. McCoy’s last start was against Baylor last season, and he had four interceptions and two fumbles in a loss. Ash has solid stats, but four of his seven picks came in losses to OU and TCU. According to ESPN, Ash’s seven wins – it didn’t include the Kansas game, in which Ash also had two picks – came against defenses collectively rated 82nd overall and 87th in pass defense. The last thing UT wanted was another unsettled starter at QB heading into next season, but that seems a formality now.
As for KSU, it likely will be headed to the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon with a win. And QB Collin Klein is going to need a huge game to steal the Heisman away from Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel – like 300 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and about five-TDs kind of game in a victory. “Johnny Football” is the -500 favorite on Sportsbook.ag, with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o at +225 and Klein at +500.
(As an aside, next year’s Heisman race should be stacked. Manziel, USC’s Marqise Lee, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, UCLA’s Brett Hundley, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, to name a few).
Should Kansas State lose and OU win, the Wildcats might get shut out of a BCS bowl altogether. I will go deeper into this scenario later this week, but it’s possible that Kent State of the Mid-American Conference could steal a BCS bowl berth if it beats Northern Illinois -- or maybe even vice versa -- in Friday’s MAC title game. Long story short is that because the Big East stinks, a non-AQ team could qualify for an at-large BCS berth, and it could come at the Big 12 runner-up’s expense. Should KSU get in, it would have a domino effect on the Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls. But Oregon seems a lock for one spot in the Fiesta and Florida for one spot in the Sugar.
The ACC title game winner will lock up one half of the Orange Bowl, and the ACC really had a rough last week. First, it lost charter member Maryland to the Big Ten here in a few years. Then the ACC went out and laid an egg against SEC members: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10; Florida 37, Florida State 26; South Carolina 27, Clemson 17; Vanderbilt (Vanderbilt!) 55, Wake Forest 21.
The conference better hope that FSU doesn’t have a big letdown this week against 6-6 Georgia Tech in the for the conference crown. The Noles are 14-point favorites, and Tech would have to get a waiver from the NCAA just to play in a bowl game if it loses and finishes below .500 (UCLA got one last year). Clemson’s loss was the most puzzling, with USC starting backup QB Dylan Thompson. Yet he vastly outplayed likely ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd. The defeat could have cost Clemson a BCS bowl.
Last week, I hit on TCU covering vs. Texas (When I wrote the line was seven and I chose UT but said I would shift to TCU if it moved to 7.5, which it did), Florida covering vs. Florida State (although I thought FSU would win) and missed on USC covering vs. Notre Dame (Trojans would have if they could score on first-and-goal from the freaking one-yard line!). This week, I will preview Louisville at Rutgers (Thursday ESPN game), Friday’s MAC Championship Game and Saturday’s SEC Championship Game.
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