Feels like about five minutes ago that South Carolina and North Carolina kicked off the 2015 college football season in Charlotte on Sept. 3. Rather ironically, the Tar Heels lost close in that one but haven't been beaten since and they have a chance in Charlotte on Saturday to upend the College Football Playoff with an upset of No. 1 Clemson (-5). If that doesn't happen, then I believe Sunday's final CFP rankings will be met with a giant yawn because the national semifinalists will be Clemson, Alabama (-18 vs. Florida), Oklahoma and the Big Ten Championship Game winner between No. 4 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State (-3.5).
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But outside the Top 4, the rankings are still relevant in determining which teams fill out the other four major bowls, this year the Rose, Sugar, Peach and Fiesta Bowls. Even though at No. 6 Ohio State is currently behind both Iowa and MSU, it's likely the loser of that game slips behind the Buckeyes. Thus, the Rose Bowl would snag OSU instead of the Big Ten runner-up, which in theory it's supposed to do when the conference champion is in the playoff.
I think we have a chalk weekend, so my projections are such: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl semifinal and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Yes, Sparty will jump current No. 3 Oklahoma with the Sooners sitting at home this weekend.
The Sugar Bowl is locked in with a Big 12 vs. SEC matchup and should pair Baylor (-20.5 vs. Texas on Saturday) and Ole Miss. The Rose is Big Ten vs. Pac-12 as usual and likely will be OSU vs. Stanford (-4.5 vs. USC in Pac-12 title game). The Fiesta and Peach take at-large teams and would pick among Florida State, Iowa, Notre Dame and the American Athletic Conference title game winner between Houston (-6) and Temple for the Group of Five bid. Those bowls can pick on location, which teams travel best where, etc. An FSU-Notre Dame matchup would be interesting since they played a great game last year and current FSU quarterback Everett Golson played for the Irish last year -- but he has recently been relegated to backup on the Noles. If the Rose takes Iowa, Ohio State-Houston has the Tom Herman story line as the Cougars' head coach was Urban Meyer's former offensive coordinator.
And one bowl that has to happen outside the New Year's Six: Georgia vs. Miami. Of course, the Hurricanes just snapped up recently-fired Dawgs coach Mark Richt, who had planned to coach UGA in its bowl game but now apparently will not. Still, Richt is expected to lure a handful of former assistants from there. Would he help his current team in terms of a scouting report?
Here are some news, notes and any line moves for some of this weekend's games around the country, in no particular order. Could be my final news update of the season, although I may do a busy bowl week or two if news/line movements warrant.
Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois (+12.5, 69.5): The line on Friday's Mid-American Conference Championship Game from Detroit has moved more than any game this weekend, opening at 9.5. And I believe I know why even though NIU is taking the majority lean. The Huskies, in their sixth straight MAC title game, are going to have to give true freshman QB Tommy Fiedler his first career start. He was the fifth-stringer in camp. Drew Hare opened the season as the starter but was hurt in November. A couple of other guys had surgery in fall camp. Redshirt freshman Ryan Graham had been starting since Hare went out but was hurt in the regular-season finale loss to Ohio. Fiedler, a lefty, went 9-for-17 with 113 yards and a touchdown in that game after Graham left. By comparison, Bowling Green has one of the nation's most prolific quarterbacks and the MAC Offensive Player of the Year in Matt Johnson. He has thrown for 4,465 yards (No. 1 nationally) and 41 touchdowns (No. 2) and is about to break conference records in both. This is the third straight year BGSU and NIU have faced off in this game. The Falcons won in a 47-27 rout in 2013 when Johnson threw for 393 yards and five scores. He missed all but the opener last year due to injury, and Northern Illinois crushed Bowling Green in the title game 51-17.
Southern Miss at Western Kentucky (-7.5, 74): This line has dropped a point but the total has jumped three for Saturday's Conference USA Championship Game in Bowling Green, Ky. And it should be the highest-scoring game of the weekend. It's the home finale for one of the best mid-major quarterbacks ever in the Hilltoppers' Brandon Doughty. The senior, a finalist for the Manning Award, leads the FBS in completion percentage (72.5) and touchdowns (42), while ranking fifth in passing yards (4,184) and third in points responsible for per game (21.8). He is only the third quarterback in FBS history to have consecutive seasons with 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. WKU is looking for its first conference title at the FBS level. It ranks fourth nationally in points (44.2), while Southern Miss is ninth (41.7). USM enters having scored at least 56 points in three straight games. These teams haven't met in three years.
Air Force at San Diego State (-6.5, 50): Bit surprised the line on the Mountain West Championship Game from San Diego hasn't moved because SDSU quarterback Maxwell Smith, a transfer from Kentucky, was hurt in the regular-season finale and is done for the season. Well, probably. Smith tore his ACL but is going to try and play in whatever bowl game in which the Aztecs land. Smith is out of eligibility, so you can see why he wouldn't want to go out like this. San Diego State is a very run-heavy offense with 1,200 more yards rushing than passing, so Smith might not be missed as much as many starting QBs would be. Smith is 110-for-200 for 1,529 yards, 13 TDs and two picks. He's not a runner at all. Redshirt freshman Christian Chapman will make his first career start. He's 12-for-24 for 120 yards with a pick. You may not see more than 20 passes in this game because Air Force almost never runs the ball, ranking No. 3 nationally in rushing yards per game. SDSU enters on an eight-game winning streak, all by double digits, and has won five straight in this series.
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