College Football Handicapping: Key Matchups Week 14
by Trevor Whenham - 11/25/2013
As we enter the last full week of the regular season in college football, the reality is that a lot of games just don’t matter very much. Teams can change their place in the standings a little, and maybe change where they will play a bowl game, but in meaningful ways the season is already finished. Those games can be very challenging to handicap because you never really know how committed the teams are going to be and how close to their full effort you will see. Will they look to finish strong? Or are they just ready to be done with the grind of a long season? Luckily, there are still some games that are really important. Here are six games in which we can have faith that at least one team will be playing their hardest:
Alabama at Auburn: It doesn’t get much better than this. The Iron Bowl is one of the great blood feuds in college football at any time. This year, though, it’s arguably the most important it has ever been. Alabama needs to win to maintain their position as the top-ranked team in the country — and to keep their presumed spot in the National Championship Game reserved. Auburn would love to play spoiler, but there is more to it than that. They are already the top-ranked one-loss team, and they would only strengthen their profile with a win. If Florida State or Ohio State were to falter, then the Tigers would be positioned to play for all the marbles with a win.
Florida State at Florida: For Florida here there is nothing left to play for but a little pride. No bowl game and massive changes are awaiting them. Florida State should be able to win this one by about 50, and that’s just what they need to do. They can’t let the ease of the game, or the mounting pressure surrounding Jameis Winston and his legal woes, distract them here. They only need to win to keep on track, but the better they win, the more it will help them.
Ohio State at Michigan: The Game lacks some of the magic because the Wolverines have redefined incompetence over the last month (or two), and everyone knows just how much they have struggled. Ohio State needs to not only win this one, but they need to pick up some serious style points while doing it. They aren’t going to get past Florida State regardless of what they do, but they can gain respect and be in a better overall position by finishing out strong. Urban Meyer has been focused on this rivalry throughout his two years in Columbus, so you can be certain he’ll have his team fired up.
Texas A&M at Missouri: Things went very badly for the Aggies last week, and they’ll be looking to get back on track. That’s not what matters here, though. Missouri has a chance to be the very improbable winner of the SEC East with a win here. South Carolina has locked up a 6-2 record and beat Missouri, so 6-1 Missouri absolutely must win this game to have a shot to upset Alabama or Auburn in the SEC Championship and win their new conference in just their second year.
Arizona State vs. Arizona: The Sun Devils have already clinched their spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. By winning this rivalry game at home, though, they can have the privilege of hosting the conference championship since the Pac-12 doesn’t play at a neutral site for some reason. That would be a huge advantage against a tough Stanford team. Arizona, meanwhile, will be looking to prove that their decimation of Oregon was no fluke and that they are a squad on the rise.
Duke at North Carolina: Perhaps the least probable result of this whole season so far has been the rise of Duke. They have been a terrible team for so long that, well, they have never had a glory year. Until now. They have a chance to reach the lofty heights of 10 wins — a remarkable accomplishment for any team, never mind one like Duke. More significantly, though, a win here would clinch the ACC Coastal division. That means that they would have the privilege of getting crushed by Florida State in the ACC Championship, but at least they would get the extra game. A program with very little experience with success of any kind will now be facing immense pressure — but they will be ready.
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