It's my final Opening Line Report story of the 2016 college football regular season, although certainly Doc's will have you covered with all of the bowls and College Football Playoff action.
Overall, it's been a pretty chalk season. Alabama was the No. 1 team in the nation in both preseason polls and has never left that spot. The Tide were also preseason betting favorites to win another national title, and they still are at -150. If anything, they have been better than expected. But will Nick Saban be able to hang on to excellent offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin? He'll likely be up for a few head coaching gigs that might not have come open yet. In addition, when LSU made the surprising decision over the weekend to name interim head coach Ed Orgeron the full-time guy, Coach O made it known that he'd like to lure Kiffin to the bayou for the same role. Those two go back years. I don't pretend to know Saban, but it sure seems like it would be more pleasant working for Orgeron than Saban.
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Clemson opened the season as the No. 2 team in the polls and is No. 3 in both this week. The Tigers are third-favorites to win it all at +500, and they'll be back in the playoff with a victory on Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Ohio State (+250 to win it all) was No. 6 in the preseason AP poll and No. 5 in the USA Today version, and the best thing that might have ever happened to the Buckeyes, who were No. 2 in the most recent College Football Playoff Top 25, was to lose at Penn State earlier this season. Why was that a good thing? OSU now doesn't have to worry about playing in a Big Ten Championship Game to earn a spot in the national semifinals. The Buckeyes get to sit home and watch that game. They are going to be in the playoff following a thrilling overtime win against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines probably miss the playoff even though they beat both Wisconsin and Penn State, the two teams in the Big Ten title game, earlier this season. UM crushed the Nittany Lions.
Perhaps the only "surprise" playoff team would be Washington (+900), which opened at No. 14 in the AP poll. The Huskies are No. 4 in both polls this week and probably move up to that spot in the new CFP Top 25. So there might not be much drama in terms of the playoff field this weekend if all the favorites win as I expect them to. The final CFP Top 25 comes out Sunday, which also helps determine the other New Year's Six bowls.
Here are a few Week 14 opening lines that caught my eye. Rankings from the last College Football Top 25 (will change Tuesday). Games Saturday unless noted.
No. 21 Western Michigan vs. Ohio (+19), Friday: It's the Mid-American Conference Championship Game from Ford Field in Detroit. And it's certainly the biggest game in WMU history. The Broncos got a break from another set of Broncos in Week 13 as Boise State was upset at Air Force. That gave the Mountain West's Mountain Division to Wyoming, meaning that Boise State is ineligible to play in a New Year's Six bowl game because only the highest-ranked conference champion from a Group of Five league earns that spot. Boise had been two spots ahead of Western, the only unbeaten other than Alabama, in the most recent CFP Top 25. So a Cotton Bowl berth should be WMU's as long as it wins this game. These teams didn't play during the regular season. They did last year and Ohio lost 49-14 at home. The pick: Bobcats will cover but not win.
No. 9 Colorado vs. No. 5 Washington, Friday (-7): The Pac-12 title game from Levi's Stadium outside San Francisco. As noted above, UW should be in the playoff with a victory even though the Huskies have a pretty lousy strength of schedule rating overall. But I don't see how the committee could keep a Pac-12 champion Washington team with just one loss out. I also don't see much of a way for Colorado to get into the playoff even with a win (CU lost by 17 earlier this year at Michigan so it can't possibly jump the Wolverines). But Mike MacIntyre has worked wonders there and should be the national coach of the year. CU is probably headed to the Rose Bowl with a loss. These teams last played in 2014 when the Buffs were lousy and UW just mediocre. The pick: Huskies.
No. 10 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Oklahoma (-12): This is the last year the Big 12 is without a conference title game, but if that was in place this season these two would play again in it regardless of this result because Big 12 officials opted to not split the league into two divisions. There would need to be chaos up higher in the rankings for the red-hot Sooners to reach the playoff even with a victory in the Bedlam game. There's no realistic path for OSU after an early-season home loss to MAC school Central Michigan, although the Pokes were jobbed by the refs in that game. OU routed Oklahoma State last year in Stillwater, 58-23, but did lose in 2014 at home to the Cowboys. The pick: Sooners.
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 15 Florida (+22): It's the SEC title game from the Georgia Dome (last year there). The Tide could lose here and they are still going to make the playoff, unless I suppose it's 72-0 or something. But the Gators could play Alabama five times and probably not total 72 points. Their offense can be inept at times and sure was this past Saturday in losing at Florida State, 31-13. Florida had just 205 yards and was 0-for-12 on third-down conversions. So it will clearly drop quite a bit in the CFP Top 25 and has no chance at a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Tide played four games in November and allowed only 18 points with no touchdowns. As dominant as Alabama has been in recent years, it hasn't finished a season unbeaten since 2009. In last year's SEC title game, the Tide beat the Gators 29-15 behind a big day from Heisman winner Derrick Henry. UF had 180 yards and was 0-for-11 on third down. I expect much of the same. The pick: Tide.
No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 7 Penn State (+3): The Big Ten Championship Game from Indianapolis and where ESPN GameDay will be. I am fascinated to see what the committee does with the winner here. Could Penn State win and miss the playoff even though it beat Ohio State (but lost to an average Pitt team)? I say yes. Does Wisconsin deserve a playoff spot with a win even though it lost to both OSU and Michigan (both were close). I say no. If Alabama, Clemson and Washington all win their games, then what happens here is probably a moot point and the winner would go to the Rose Bowl. Badgers starting QB Alex Hornibrook is being called day-to-day after leaving Saturday's win over Minnesota with a head injury. The pick: Badgers regardless.
No. 4 Clemson vs. Virginia Tech (+8.5): The ACC Championship Game was moved from Charlotte to Orlando earlier this year because of that so-called bathroom law in North Carolina. The Tigers should be No. 3 in the new CFP Top 25 and likely stay there with a victory here, thus avoiding a rematch with Alabama in the semifinals. I suppose if Clemson wins ugly and Washington destroys Colorado that the Huskies could leap the Tigers. Could Clemson QB Deshaun Watson steal the Heisman from Louisville's Lamar Jackson with a huge night? The pick: Tigers.
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